The Copper Disc
In which a battle for profit becomes a battle for love, and the villain of the piece suffers his first reverse
The story: Morley Kent, senior partner of the firm of Kent and Powers, electrical engineers, literally skids into adventure when a taxi in which he is a passenger crashes into a car carrying Gladys Hensley, daughter of Angus Hensley, millionaire radio manufacturer, whóm he rescues from an embarrassing situation following the accident. Friendship develops between the two and Kent learns that Gladys is under the influence of a mysterious power which at times seems to be able to control her will.
Kent suspects that Professor Martin Herzton, technical adviser to the Hensley firm, is in some way responsible for this control. Herzton is obviously interested in Gladys, as is also Gordon Brace, a friend of the Hensley family. Brace and Kent join forces in an effort to clear up the mystery of the “spell,” and Herzton at once counters by sending his agent, Peter Galut, to Kent with the story that Brace is plotting to secure a patent which the Hensley firm needs to perfect a new radio development. Galut is shot by a fixed revolver in the drawer of a desk in Brace’s office while attempting to secure evidence that his story about Brace is correct. After the shooting, Brace explains to Kent that Herzton himself is trying to secure the patent in his own name and, with the police on his trail, he leaves for Northern Ontario to search for Miles Freeman, the holder of the much wanted patent. While motoring with Gladys, Kent notices that the steering-wheel is coated with some substance which smudges his hands. A few hours after this drive, he receives a peremptory summons from Herzton to visit the latter in his laboratory, with the explanation: “It is about Galut.”
ANIGHT WATCHMAN answered the bell. “I am to see Professor Herzton,” Kent explained. The man nodded as though he had been waiting for him, and led him through the great building, now silent save for the tap of hammers where workmen repaired a machine. They went up in an elevator and along many passages until they stood before the door of Herzton’s office. The watchman tapped and called through the panels: “Here is your visitor, Mr. Herzton.” While Kent was summing up in his mind the precautions which had been taken in connection with his nocturnal call, the door opened and the incisive face of Professor Herzton appeared in the aperture. The smile which played about his thin lips did not entirely mask the sinister glitter in his eyes, but there was no apparent lack of cordiality in his greeting.
“Ah, Mr. Kent, I felt sure you would not disappoint me. Nothing short of a matter of the gravest importance could have induced me to trouble you at so late an hour.”
He ushered Kent into his reception room, indicated a chair, and produced cigars.
“I can best repay your courtesy in responding to my call at this time of night by coming to the point as quickly as possible. You know something of the tragedy which has cost the life of a faithful servant of the Hensley Radio Corporation, Mr. Peter Galut?”
“I have seen the papers,” Kent admitted, “but I do not recall that they associated Galut with this company.”
“Quite so. Every large concern such as ours, with its great ramification of interests, finds it necessary to employ a number of trusted men who do not openly appear to be connected with it.”
“Spies?” There was challenge in the tone in which Kent uttered the query. He was annoyed at his own brusqueness in a case where infinite tact would best serve his purpose.
Herzton smiled patiently. “A nasty name, applied only to the enemy,” he observed. “Persons having the same function, when employed by our own country, are called intelligence officers or by some such euphemistic title. Galut was an intelligence officer of the Hensley Radio Corporation.”
“Spies—or intelligence officers—are frequently shot in the discharge of their duties,” Kent rejoined, still unable to subdue his instinct of antagonism.
“Ah, that is the fortune of war. But the enemy does not escape reprisals, when they can be applied.”
Herzton’s attitude and demeanor were suave and respectful, but his keen eyes bored Kent’s with disconcerting intensity. “When they can be applied,” he repeated. “Fortunately, in the present instance, that is not only possible; it is easy; it is inevitable.”
Kent summoned his composure, although he had a feeling that the color was surging to and from his face in sudden floods. “I have no doubt you have much information on this subject which has not appeared in the papers,” he said, with a steady voice, allowing Herzton to infer as much as he liked. “And if there is any way in which I can be of service, either to the ends of justice, or to Mr. Hensley—well, it was some such hope that brought me here.”
“Yes, I believe I have some information which has not appeared in the papers,” Herzton agreed, and, taking up the thread, he traced the incidents which led to Galut’s death almost as accurately as Kent himself could have recounted them.
“You were in the room with Galut when he was shot,” Herzton’s deep voice boomed out like a judge pronouncing sentence, his long forefinger aimed at Kent like a prosecuting attorney’s. “You were with Galut, but you were not in any way accessory to the crime. There is no shred of suspicion against you . . . at piesent.”
Kent found it impossible to bridle entirely a note of sarcasm. “That is reassuring, Professor Herzton,” he sai ï, “but why the limitation as to time?”
‘Because suspicion is now, or immediately will be, d rected toward Gordon Brace. It was unfortunate for h.m that his pursuit of Miles Freeman at this moment hould place him in the light of a fugitive. He must not be allowed to find Freeman first. The whole future of this corporation will be jeopardized if those patents fall into hostile hands. That is where I want your help, Kent; you must find Freeman—and find him first.”
Herzton was speaking as a man who can dictate terms, and Kent bristled with resentment. “And the alternative?” he demanded.
Herzton drew on his cigar gently for a moment or two, and emitted clouds of smoke which hung caressingly about his head.
“I did not suppose there would bt any question of an
alternative where the interests of Angus Hensley are at stake,” he continued, his serenity quite undisturbed. “But from a considerable experience with men—and women—Mr. Kent, I have formed the habit of providing for the unexpected. Now it happens that on the body of* the dead man, and on the fire escape, there were fingerprints. They were not the fingerprints of Gordon Brace, Mr. Kent.”
“More likely they were those of Professor Herzton,” Kent shot in the dark.
“A fairly good guess, but I can make a better,” the professor returned, still unruffled. “Do you recognize this?”
From behind a chair he lifted the steering-wheel of an automobile.
“Don’t know that I do.”
“Well, the acquaintance can be established. It happens that this wheel was recently sprayed with sufficient lampblack to cover the grease that adheres to all steering-wheels. When you so kindly consented to drive Miss Hensley’s car for her, you supplied all the evidence necessary to connect you very directly with the shooting of Peter Galut.”
For a moment Kent was held immobile in his chair, his tongue stuck in his mouth. Then he sprang toward Herzton and seized the wheel. But he was astonished at the strength with which the wiry professor held it. There was a short scuffle which ended in Kent being shot back into his chair.
“Don’t be foolish, Kent. It would do you no good to destroy the wheel. The prints are already photographed and correspond exactly with those on the fire escape.”
Kent’s muscles went limp. The strength seemed suddenly to have seeped out of him. “And Gladys Hensley!” he said, in a strange voice, as one who talks in his sleep. “Do you tell me that Gladys Hensley was a party to this treachery?”
“I wouldn’t call it treachery, Kent. Miss Hensley would do more than that, much more than that, if her father’s interests demanded it.”
For some minutes Kent sat in silence, too utterly stunned for words. Then Herzton resumed:
“I would have spared you this, Kent, if you hadn’t insisted on knowing the alternative. You see the position you are in. You know you are innocent, and I know you are innocent, but how would you convince a judge and jury if I should care to disclose the evidence I hold? You, too, are an inventor, an experimenter with the secret forces of Nature. The motive for your presence in Brace’s room will not be hard to supply. It will be presumed that you were outside the range of the hidden revolver. Finding your associate in theft killed, you heroically threw him out of the window and made your exit by the fire escape. It isn’t a capital offense, Kent, and you would probably get off with three or four years in prison and the contempt of all classes of society. That is your alternative, Kent. Can I count on you to find Freeman?”
But while Herzton was delivering his ultimatum, Kent’s mind, stunned for the moment, again began to function with sudden alertness. It was as though the strength which had seeped out of him came surging back in a tidal wave. At a climacteric moment in his life, Nature, by some skilful alchemy, tapped in him unsuspected depths of resource and daring. He had an answer for Professor Herzton.
“One thing I must know,” he said, “before this matter goes any further. That is, whether or not Gladys Hensley was a conscious partner to the trickery by which you obtained my fingerprints. This is a time for frankness, Herzton, and in order that we may understand each other I may as well confess to you that my highest hopes are associated with Miss Hensley. If those hopes are unfounded I have no further interest in life, and you can do your worst. I shall take the first opportunity to find out just where I stand. If Miss Hensley convinces me that she knew nothing of this steering-wheel treachery I shall ask her hand in marriage. If she gives it I will be at her service and her fatherjs, though it should take me to the end of the world. If she refuses, nothing that you can do will be of the slightest concern to me. Carry your evidence to the police, but be prepared for the fact that I also shall have some evidence to submit. The fingerprints of two men were found on Galut’s body. One set of those fingerprints corresponds to mine. I shall be able to suggest to the police where they will find the originals of the other. Good night, Professor Herzton.”
^\N HIS way home Kent tried to turn over in his mind dispassionately the events of the evening. The sense of exultation which he had felt in meeting Herzton’s challenge faded out as his blood cooled in the commonplace associations of his rooms at 426 Eleventh Street, and at the end of an hour he was undecided whether his words had been inspired by genius or folly. He never had admitted to himself that he was in love with Gladys Hensley: and nothing had been further from h¡3 intention than that he should make such a
declaration to Professor Herzton, of all persons. But the declaration was made, and he now had to go through with it or stand abashed before Herzton for making a boast, involving Miss Hensley’s name, which he was unable to put into effect.
Just what it meant he tried to realize. It was almost outside the range of possibilities that Gladys would accept him. They were acquaintances of but a few days, and he had little to offer; nothing, it seemed to him, that could be attractive to a girl in her position. The little shop at 208 Eleventh Street netted barely enough to keep his head and Harry’s above water. There was just the possibility that they would strike something rich as a result of their inventions, but it would be time enough to ask any girl to share that prospect when it was on a fair way to being realized; at least, such a girl as Gladys Hensley, who was accustomed to wealth and luxury and would expect them as a matter of course.
On the other hand, there was the possibility—just the possibility—that Gladys would accept. Her attitude toward him certainly had not been that of ordinary friendship. She had seemed peculiarly eager to develop his acquaintanceship, and even with this last revelation so fresh upon him he found it hard to think evil of her. His pulses had not ceased tingling from contact with her before she was presented to him in this rôle of treachery. The incident about the steering-wheel must have some explanation, just as the incident at the coroner’s inquest . . . He stopped short with a realization that that affair never had been explained, except upon some strange theory about sinister outside influences over which she had no control. Taking her at her word, was a woman who admitted that she was subject to influences over which she had no control, likely to prove an amiable and satisfying wife? The prospect was fraught with the gravest kind of possibilities.
“Yet I believe what she told me,” Kent said to himself with decision, as he arose to prepare for bed.
“She is under an outside influence, and that influence ù Professor Herzton.” Suddenly he remembered that Galut had been present at the inquest; Galut, Herzton’s minion, had gone out of the room just before Gladys sudden change of attitude. Herzton himself had been present immediately before the second event of the kind—aí thedancewhen Gladyshadsaidshewasunderthespell. Anc now the steering-wheel—at Herzton’s. Always Herzton
Bit by bit he pieced the evidence together. Had noi Gladys told him, that very night, that she had gone tc take him for the drive while under the influence of om of her “moods?” And if Herzton was the power behinc these strange involuntary doings, what could bette; suit his purpose than the estrangement of Kent anc Gladys? There were a hundred simpler ways to get hi' fingerprints than resort to the clumsy device of ! steering-wheel. And how had Herzton got possession o the wheel? That was a question still to be answered but out of the bewildering haze one fact emerged witl definite form: every occasion upon which the conduct o Gladys seemed to warrant the loss of his friendship hac been when she was under the spell. Was it not, there fore, plain that the influence, wherever it came from was trying desperately to make a breach betweei himself and the daughter of Angus Hensley?
Kent found a great happiness in this conclusion. Thi efforts being made against him were evidence hov greatly he was feared, and that fear could be based oi only one assumption—the assumption that Gladys, i left to her own preferences, would gravitate toward him Kent stamped about the room in an access of happiness His challenge to Herzton had been a stroke of geniu after all. He had called the old fox’s bluff by stipulatin; conditions and an alternative neither of which he coul< accept. The joint conclusions that Gladys’ was tryini to reach him through a barrier of resistance artificiali; set up about her, and that he had matched Herzton a his own game, afforded ground for immeasurabl satisfaction.
Kent went to business next morning with the intentioi of calling on Gladys that night, hearing her explanations assuring her of his undying confidence, and pledgini himself to the complete uprooting of this mysteriou external influence if she would place herself entirely ii his care. There was but one way in which that could bdone, and he almost trembled at his temerity in thinkin; she would accept such a course. It meant marriage, ; condition under which he could protect her in the mos personal and intimate way. With the advantage of sucl protection he was sure he could discover the method o the interference—he already was convinced as to it source—and either destroy it or build up such a powerfu counter-influence that it would be ineffective. Ii addition to protecting Gladys, there was the possibility of discoveries of inestimable value. He could hardi; wait until evening to put his intentions into effect.
"Y\ 7HEN the oaken doors of the Hensley mansioi
** closed behind Gladys on that memorable eveninj when Kent had driven her home, her heart was stil a-flutter with a strange sense of happy adventure. Shi had found his companionship distinctly agreeable Whether or not the impulse to go driving with him hat come from sources outside herself, the hour spent in his presence had filled her with a tingle of happiness thaï was a new experience. Had there been any to observe he must have marked the color in her cheeks, the glow in her eyes, as with springing footstep she made hei way to her own room.
Once inside its sanctuary she dropped into a chair anc for a few moments allowed the happiness welling in hei heart to suffuse her whole being. She could no mort explain it than the rose explains the sun, but her mine ran back over those delicious minutes together when sht had made familiar use of Kent’s name and some unspoken understanding seemed cemented between them He would come again, she knew, at the earliest opportunity, and already it seemed too long to wait even until tomorrow evening. The world had suddenly become very sweet and beautiful, but all its sweetness and beauty were of him. Without him it would be unspeakably desolate.
She was still in this mood of ecstasy when her eyes, dreaming about the familiar contents of the room, became aware of the photograph of Gordon Brace which stood in its silver mountings in a place of honor on her dressing table. Gordon’s gaze was straight upon her; his aggressive little mustache seemed bristling with hurt concern. The sight of his familiar, silent, face, which for the moment had been banished from her consciousness, thrust her sternly back into the world of harsh realities.
With a sudden sympathetic cry, as of one who has done an unintended injury, she darted to the table and took the photograph in her hands. As she held it hér eyes grew misty; the face in the silver frame swam in an accusing blur.
“Dear boy, what does it all mean?” she cried. “Had I really forgotten you already? No! No! But this
îther . . . it’s different, something totally unlike ...” She did not complete the thought, for at that moment ¡he noticed that her hands, holding the frame before 1er, were heavily soiled with a thick black powder. It vas creased into the joints and about the fingertips; the ¡mudge of it showed on the silver frame.
“Well, where in the world ... I wonder if I was like ;hat when I was riding with him?” She darted to her lathroom. The plate mirror on the wall caught the varm reflection of her arms, her neck, her breast, as he dashed the disgraceful hands into fragrant water, [fie source of the powder, unexplained though it was, ;ave her less concern than the fear that Kent might lave seen her hands in such condition. Yet she had a noment for appraisal of the face that glowed back into 1er own. It was a comely face. She knew that was fair udgment, and not conceit. And she remembered that vhen Kent had looked, her face had been the magnet hat drew his eyes.
A tap on the door. “Dinner is ready, miss.” It was he maid, Manners. Gladys hurriedly made herself desentable and went downstairs to join the waiting md mildly aggrieved company.
Later in the evening came a message from Williams, he chauffeur, craving a word with her. Williams requently consulted her about the car, and the request iccasioned no surprise. He was admitted into her iresence.
“Excuse me, Miss Hensley, but did you find anything . . ah . . . funny about the car when you had it out?” “How do you mean? No, it was all right. Mr. Kent Irove it most of the time. Is anything wrong?” Williams, usually keen and alert, was obviously heepish. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered you .bout it,” he continued, apologetically. “But just now, oming through the garage, I happened to look at it, ,nd the steering-wheel was gone.”
“The steering-wheel gone!” A ripple of laughter scaped the girl’s lips. “You don’t imagine that we lost t somewhere on the street, do you?” Afterward she rondered why she had said “we.”
Williams smiled respectfully. “No, that would hardly íe possible,” he admitted. “But I just wondered ...” “It’ll turn up,” she assured him. “Maybe you took t off yourself, and have forgotten about it.”
“I’ve had everything from spark plugs to hub caps tolen from a car,” the perplexed Williams complained, s he returned to his quarters over the garage, “but this 3 the first time they’ve taken the steering-wheel. Miss lensley thought it a kind of joke, but what I want to ;now is, how did they get it, with the garage locked very minute I wasn’t inside?”
The company that night seemed exceptionally tireome, and it was with a sense of relief that Gladys at ast escaped to her own room. The photograph of jordon Brace, staring at her from the dressing table, >rought down again the cloud of apprehension which ter communion with Kent ¡ad momentarily dispelled. iVhere was Gordon, and vhy did he not come out nto the light? Not for a noment did she doubt his íonesty, or his ability to five satisfactory explanaions, but his absence, which*
:ould be interpreted only is flight, annoyed and ¡hamed her.
“Morley wouldn’t have lone that,” she said to îerself, as she slipped under fie light coverlet. Yet wen as she breathed the fiought, she had a pang of compunction lest she was ioing Gordon less than justice. These two men, who seemed to insist upon accupying in her mind a place large enough for only one, were continually being presented in contrasts in which her older friend appeared to the lesser advantage.
As she was about to turn out her light, the telephone on its stand beside the bed caught her attention. By means of it Morley was only an arm’s length distant.
Why not call him? For a moment she hesitated, but the impulse was irresistible.
By this time he might have news of Gordon. But as she gave his number, which now she knew by heart,
something honest within her clamored that it was Kent’s voice, rather than news of Brace, she really longed to hear.
There was no answer. She glanced at her bedroom clock. Twelve-thirty. Half an hour past midnight, and Morley not in? An altogether different pang—one that she resented, abhorred—caught her in a self-revealing grip. Suspicion, jealousy, something she had never known before; did these two go with—with whatever it was she felt toward Morley?
She tried to reason with herself. He might be in his workshop; he might be at the newspapers, seeking news of Gordon; he might be detained in a hundred legitimate ways. All very logical, but through the logic crept a little cold chill of fear that there might be someone else. He never had told her; she never had asked. She could only trust. And trusting, she fell asleep.
rT"'HE next day she came upon Williams in the garden.
“Strangest thing, Miss Hensley,” he volunteered. “The wheel was back this morning; back in its place, safe as a nut.”
She gave him the smile that had captured Kent, and against which even chauffeurs have no special armor. “I think you’re seeing things,” she said. “Or, rather, not seeing them. I’ll wager it was there all the time.”
Puzzled but unconvinced, Williams returned to his work at the garage, while the girl selected a shaded garden seat and settled down to read. But her mind refused to follow the printed lines. Strange, blended pictures of Brace and Kent intervened, and with them emotions as contradictory as any of those blind moods which came upon her at such unsuspected moments. Concern for Gordon, joy in her new friendship and understanding with Morley, stirred in her soul like the mottled shadows from the leaves overhead and the bright June sunshine which filtered through.
Slowly the day dragged by. The papers had no news; Morley did not telephone; there was no word from Brace. She resisted an impulse to motor down town, and on some pretext call at the little electric shop on Eleventh Street. When the heat of afternoon drove her to the wide verandahs of the house, she sat for hours with eyes half closed, watching the light shimmer on the lake while her emotions slowly crystallized within her.
But if the day proved uneventful the evening made amends. She was just finishing dinner when Florence Manners, bowing respectfully behind her chair, whispered a message that Professor Herzton was waiting in the drawing-room and wished to see her immediately.
“My dear Miss Hensley,” the professor burst upon her, extending his hands as shç. approached, “I owe you a thousand apologies for this untimely intrusion, but I’m in a devil of a difficulty. Madame Sardeau, who was to be the star performer on our programme tonight, has failed me. A quarrel with her husband—one of her husbands—I never can keep track of them ! At any
rate, a temperamental explosion, ignited by some untimely domestic friction, has incapacitated her. For violence, for vituperation, I have had a bad hour with her, Miss Hensley; but for tonight she is out of the question.”
Gladys never had seen Professor Herzton quite so excited. His little eyes snapped; his little beard bristled; his aquiline face seemed more incisive than ever. He was still holding her hands, and his deep voice boomed on her point blank like a barrage of artillery.
She motioned him to a seat. “Do sit down, Professor Herzton. It certainly is most annoying.”
“Annoying! Why do people who sing and play feel at liberty to work themselves into a temper and out of a job at the slightest provocation? But fortunately there are exceptions,” he hurried on in a gentler voice, and without waiting for an answer to his question: “You are an exception. In my dilemma I can turn to you.”
“To me?” She had not yet perceived his purpose.
“To you. Of course, it’s utterly unfair, but you must sing tonight in Madame Sardeau’s place. You alone can carry it off. And the idea of the daughter of the president stepping into the breach—think of the publicity value in that!”
“But I’ve nothing ready,” she protested. “I haven’t practised a thing, and I’m sure there are many experienced singers who would be glad of the chance ...”
“They won’t get it. I want you on our programme tonight. Sing anything. Without special preparation you are better than any of these others with it.”
“Oh, now you are flattering.”
“No, I assure you. Come; I know you won’t fail me. We have only half an hour to reach the studio.”
He arose as he spoke, taking her acquiescence for granted.
“Well, if I really can help ...”
“You can, tremendously.” Herzton was looking into her face with admiring eyes, and she returned his admiration. The professor prided himself upon the quality of the artists he engaged for the Hensley radio programme, and that she should be asked to substitute for'the famous Madame Sardeau was a compliment which could not be treated lightly.
“All right,” she answered. “Fortunately my audience will not see me; I can go almost as I am. I’ll be ready in a minute.”
“Any audience might be charmed to see you, just as you are,” he told her as, with a happy mounting of color, she turned to gather wraps and music.
THEY went straight to Herzton’s rooms in the Radio Corporation building. He showed fier in, deferentially, touching, as he entered, a switch which struck to life mild, shaded lamps and filled the place with a roseate twilight.
“We have ten minutes,” he said, glancing at a clock on the mantelpiece. "Compose yourself.”
He indicated a chair and, without speaking to her again, moved over to the piano at the far end of the room. Here, with all of an artist’s intuition, he began strumming gentle chords. Gladys, relaxed in her chair, felt a strange sense of peace and power stealing over her. Her mind reacted to his nimble fingers, responding to the touch of the master, but responding also, perhaps, to something which was neither of the piano nor the music, but of the player himself, powerful, self-confident, dominating.
When the clock reached one minute of the appointed time she crossed to his side and laid her music before him. “I will sing the ‘Song of Love’,” she said.
He nodded and smiled, and instantly struck into the opening bars of Schubert’s melody, as though her choice was no surprise to him, but rather a confirmation of his own purpose. She hummed the bars with him, and he knew that her voice was in tune with the piano and her mood with that of the composer.
“Good!” he said, stopping suddenly. “You’re
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Continued, from page 17
oing to sing into their very souls tonight, Gladys.” He did not often call her
rladys. “You understand? Into their ery souls !”
Her face was alight, her eyes glowing, he knew that, as he said, she would sing ito their very souls tonight.
A light flashed at the end of the piano, st was his direct-line telephone connectlg with the broadcasting studio.
“All ready, Professor Herzton?” a oice enquired.
“Announce our deep regret that ladame Sardeau is confined to her partments with a slight cold, which, 'hile not serious, compelled her to cancel er engagement this evening. Then say ïat Miss Gladys Hensley, daughter of Ir. Angus Hensley, president of the lensley Radio Corporation, has, at much ersonal inconvenience, etcetera, etilera ...”
Herzton rose from the piano and set íe microphone in just the position it iquired. His hand fell lightly on the irl’s arm, guiding her into a slightly hanged posture. “Now, my dear,” he hispered, “you are going to excel ourself !”
He switched on the microphone and irned again to the piano. At that îoment came the flash indicating that íe circuit was open, and his fingers ppled up the introductory notes.
Gladys sang. From the first bar she mg with a sense of power that she never ad known before, and when she reached íe sublime notes, “You are my song of >ve,” she poured them forth in an xaltation of spirit that left her exhausted ut ecstatic.
“Wonderful, wonderful!” Herzton exlaimed, when he had snapped off the licrophone. He sprang to her side, took er hands in his. “Gladys, you never sang ke that before. You have set ears ngling all over Canada . and
She smiled, amused in spite of herself, t the intensity of his appreciation. The Dior, which had fled from her as she mg, mounted again in her cheeks, terzton was no mean critic, and it was ot his habit to give unwarranted praise, lever before had he been so extravagant i his approval. And from somewhere rithin herself she knew that his comïendation had been well earned; that íe had touched tonight heights of selfxpression never before within her reach. 1er sense of power was almost limitless. “Shall I sing again?” she asked.
“No, no,” he exclaimed, as though she ere in danger of destroying something ire and beautiful. “It would be sacrilege -even for you. Let it sink in. There will e armfuls of applause messages; see if iere won’t. Oh, my dear, you have iade a name for yourself—for all of us— onight!”
Herzton’s ecstasy was as wonderful as er own. He held her at arm’s length, his yes glowing upon her, in a silence more ocal than speech.
A telephone bell tinkled. “You are ranted, Gladys,” said Herzton, when he ad answered the call. . “It’s your ïother.”
Mrs. Hensley hardly could speak. “My hild, it was wonderful,” she managed at mgth to say. “Whatever has happened o you?”
“I don’t know, mother. Nothing, I uess. I didn’t even have time to run ver it first. I just sang out of myself.” “That’s it. You sang right out of ourself. And there was something there hat never was there before.”
“Something that never was there lefore?” Gladys repeated as she turned rom the telephone, and the color in her heeks, the joy in her heart, mounted ñgher still. She knew. Herzton had seen ►nly the metal disc of the microphone.
But she had sung to the face, the soul, of her lover, Morley Kent!
CHE sank into a chair, oblivious to her ^ surroundings; oblivious even to the presence of Professor Herzton. It was a moment in which she came near to some realization of the Infinite. If Mr. Rogers were right, if the whole universe were really God, vibrating to every note, every thought, establishing instant connection with millions of stations everywhere— that might be some explanation of this strange sense of happiness and power. In tune with the Infinite? Perhaps.
She was recalled from her reverie by Herzton’s hand upon her shoulder. Herzton had been to her always as a part of the Hensley Radio Corporation machinery, as intricate, as inexplicable as the mysterious forces with which he dealt. She never had quite thought of him as a human being. But now, when his hand fell on her shoulder, her own fingers went up and rested gently on his. She felt that she was in love with all the world, even with this highly sensitized, intricate, technical machine which people called Professor Herzton.
The innocent gesture, speaking the comradeship of the human family, carried to Herzton a message far from anything the girl had intended. It gave courage to his purpose. This was his hour. Not for nothing had he bribed Madame Sardeau to relinquish her place on the evening’s programme with promise of a double fee and the glory of contrast with her immature substitute.
“Gladys,” he began, his deep voice modulated into a surprising tenderness, “I have known you since you were a child. It seems but yesterday that you were a little girl playing about your home. Do you remember how you used to call at the office on your way from school? That was before fortune had smiled on the Hensley Radio Corporation, but even then fortune had smiled on me. It smiled on me from those brown eyes of yours, Gladys. You were a child and I was a man, but even then I knew that some day—some night— I would say to you the words that will no longer remain silent within me.”
She stirred, and let her hand fall to her lap. Whatever did the man mean?
“I take that as a gesture of modest embarrassment, of retirement within yourself, but not of displeasure,” he continued, bending low until his lips were almost beside her ear. “The words must be said tonight. I love you, Gladys. I have loved you since you were a child. I love you now. I shall love you always. For years I have kept this love within my heart, but now it will be confined no longer. I love you, Gladys. I ask you to be my wife.”
Utterly surprised, the girl sat for a moment, motionless, speechless. Reading consent in her silence, Herzton bent beside her chair.
“Beautiful one,” he exclaimed, “you are worth all these years of waiting. And tonight, as you sang, you touched a chord within me that made longer silence impossible. Gladys, you must be mine. You must. You must.”
With a sudden realization that she must act at once or be swept away by his masterful presence, she sprang to her feet. “Professor Herzton, I appreciate the compliment you have paid me, but—I cannot say more. Please take me home.”
Although the treasure which had seemed so near a moment ago was slipping from his grasp, Professor Herzton was much too wise to press his suit after he had sensed her resistance. For a moment his eyes held her, and when he spoke the rich timbre of his Voice suggested the depth of his passion.
“If I have offended you, Gladys, it was because my love for you compelled me at
last to speak. That must be my plea for forgiveness. It was inconsiderate of me to speak tonight, when you have already drained your soul in the greatest effort of your career. But the confession had to be made and I am not sorry you know. I do not press for an immediate answer. Take time to think it over. I am prepared to await your answer. But tell me tonight, if you can, that I may have hope. Gladys, there is no one else? You are not committed to someone else?”
His earnestness touched her. “No, I am not committed to anyone,” she said.
He reached for her hands, and for a moment she gave them. “Thank you. Now I will drive you home.”
HTHE evening after Kent’s visit to Herzton’s laboratory he telephoned Gladys, bent upon having some explanation of her part in the steering-wheel incident. He was answered by the maid, Manners, who told him Miss Hensley was out, but did not volunteer the information that she was broadcasting. Obviously nothing could be done immediately, so Kent attempted to apply himself to the neglected experiments in his own workshop. Although he bent over it until after midnight he had to put away his equipment with the feeling that nothing had been accomplished. In his present frame of mind it was impossible to concentrate.
He spent a semi-wakeful night and went about his routine business the next day as usual, but the steering-wheel incident kept crowding in upon his consciousness, demanding explanation. The threat, or boast, which he had made to Herzton must be carried out. If Gladys accepted him, he was committed to the search for Miles Freeman. And if Gladys did not accept, what? Would Herzton place his fingerprints in the hands of the police? Would they lock him up and demand a confession? Would they try him for the shooting of Galut? Perhaps convict him? Perhaps show that he had lured Galut to that lonely room to do him to death under circumstances that would throw suspicion upon his rival, Brace? He smiled as he thought of such absurd conclusions. And yet he supposed that Justice, blindly heaping in her balance disconnected atoms of fact, sometimes tipped the scale that cost an innocent man his liberty or even his life.
He sincerely wished he had taken the police into his confidence when he could have done so voluntarily. Even if it did involve the Hensley Radio Corporation, the main blow would have fallen on Herzton, where it belonged. But it was now too late. His sixty hours of silence were themselves incriminating.
It all came back to Gladys and the steering-wheel. That had first to be cleaned up.
He telephoned her during the day. Would she see him that evening?
Delighted! If the weather continued fine perhaps they might drive into the country.
Her voice disarmed him, if, indeed, he were not disarmed already.. But he tried a chance shot before capitulation.
“No danger of the steering-wheel coming off again?” he enquired, innocently.
“Oh, did you know about that? The strangest thing! Williams missed it that night, but it was back on the car in the morning. Have you been playing tricks?”
“Tricks were being played, but I didn’t play them. That is what I want to talk to you about tonight.”
She laughed, as though he were having some kind of a joke with her. “It’s strange that you know about that,” she murmured. “Who told you?”
But that was a subject too big to discuss at the moment. “When shall I meet you?” he asked.
“I could drive down town and call for you at the'office,” she suggested, “if you don’t mind being unconventional. Shall we say six o’clock?”
Six o’clock? Powers and Vera would
be leaving just then, and although he was proud of his friendship with Gladys he had no desire to parade it before these two people.
“There are often things which have to be done after the shop closes,” he explained, rather lamely. “How about sixthirty?”
“All right. Six-thirty.”
It was six-twenty-five before Powers and Vera left the shop. Kent almost was convinced that they were loitering on his account. He pretended to be busy with his correspondence.
“Not ready yet?” Powers enquired, thrusting his head into the little office where Kent pored over a typewritten letter two days old. “Your industry excites suspicion.”
“I’ve been getting behind,” he temporized. “Think I’ll clean up a few things before I go.”
“All right, Vee,” Harry called, cheerfully accepting his dismissal. “The boss has a work-wave.”
They went out together, and Kent felt suddenly very much alone. As the shop door closed there was something ominous about the way in which it seemed to shut him from Powers and Vera. They were passing into a world different from his, or perhaps it was he who had penetrated a sphere into which they could not come.
The reflection gave him momentary discomfort, but as soon as silence settled upon the shop he began to listen for the tap which would announce the arrival of Gladys. He tried to arrange his thoughts, to rehearse the way in which he would lay the steering-wheel mystery before her, but the clamor of his heart was too insistent for coherent thinking.
HE WATCHED the time drag by.
Six-thirty; six-forty-five. Still no sign of Gladys. She probably had been caught in a six o’clock traffic tie-up. But when seven o’clock brought no word he could restrain his impatience no longer. He took up his telephone and called the now familiar number at Fifty-four Lake Boulevard.
A woman’s voice answered. “Is Miss Hensley in?” Kent enquired.
“Who is speaking, please?”
“Mr. Kent—Mr. Morley Kent.”
“Oh, yes. Miss Hensley left instructions that if you called she was not to be interrupted.”
“What!” Kent’s astonishment expressed itself in the involuntary rudeness of a single word.
“Miss Hensley does not wish to be disturbed,” the voice repeated.
“Now may I know who is speaking?” Kent demanded.
“That is not material. I am delivering Miss Hensley’s message.”
For a moment he held the telephone, too perplexed to answer. As he was still rallying his thoughts he heard the receiver click at the other end of the line.
“There’s funny work in this,” was his conclusion, “and I’m going to run the joker to earth.” He hurried outside and hailed a taxi.
When he pressed the bell at Hensley House he was surprised that it should be answered by the maid Manners. She held the door only partly ajar while he stated the purpose of his call.
“Miss Hensley has given instructions that she is not to be disturbed,” the maid told him, in a voice which instantly established the identity of the person who had answered his telephone call.
“Yes, you told me that over the telephone,” he answered brusquely, “but I am quite sure there is some mistake. Please let Miss Hensley know I have called.”
He made as though he would step inside, but the sturdy figure of the woman blocked the way. Her eyes met his, and he knew that he was fighting, not Florence Manners, but Professor Herzton. The sardonic smile on her hard lips
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seemed to say that at last he had met more than his equal.
“Gentlemen know when they are dismissed,” she said, and closed the door in his face.
He seized the handle, but realized at once that any resort to force would be both futile and ridiculous. But he was not to be so easily defeated. Once before he had definitely associated the maid Manners with Herzton and the peculiar influences to which Gladys was from time to time subjected; now he had no doubt whatever. He must, in some way, beat them at their game.
He went slowly down the walk, and, before he reached the gate, turned into a path which threaded the shrubbery of the lawn. The sun of the long summer day hung low over the city, and the imposing pile of Hensley House cut its sharp silhouette against the amber rays. Lights were on inside; he wondered if, from one of those window eyes, Gladys, at that moment a prisoner of unseen but relentless forces, might be looking out upon him.
The path joined the drive, and a little ahead lay the garage, its cavernous depths yawning behind a brick and stucco front. He walked toward it in unconscious response to the attraction of machinery. At the door he met the chauffeur Williams.
“Good evening, sir,” said Williams, recognizing the occasional guest at Hensley House. “Would you like to look at the cars, sir?” Williams’ voice was cultured and carried an unmistakably English accent.
“Why, yes, I’m always interested in cars.” He followed Williams into the garage, and had a sudden inspiration that he could trust this honest chap. If Herzton must have his accomplice under the Hensley roof, perhaps a friend in the garage was not to be despised.
Kent pretended to inspect the roadster, and tempered the chauffeur’s heart toward him with a word or two of praise.
“Yes, it’s a pretty smooth machine,and runs like a watch if I say it,” Williams admitted. Then he added, incidentally, “Miss Gladys said she would want it at six tonight, but she hasn’t called for it.”
Kent noted the information, and passed on. “Ever have any trouble with the steering-wheel?” he enquired.
The casual light in the chauffeur’s eyes took on a quick point of interest. “You know about that? The strangest thing!” The very words of Gladys.
“I know a little,” Kent admitted, “but not very much. Indeed, I’m quite mystified.”
“No more than I. The other night—it would be the night before last, the night Miss Gladys was out with the roadster—I suddenly noticed, as I was prowling about the garage for something, that the steering-wheel was missing. Well, sir, it seemed too absurd, but I reported the matter at once to Miss Gladys. She just laughed; seemed to think I was a bit off, if you know what I mean. Well, sir, in the morning there it was, back in its place. I began to wonder if I really was a bit off, but I could have sworn it was gone ...”
He left the sentence in the air. “Well, you weren’t off, and the wheel was,” Kent assured him. “I saw it later that night.”
“You did? Where?”
“You know Professor Herzton?”
“The wheel was in Herzton’s rooms at the plant that same night.”
“But Herzton—what did he want with it?”
“That’s your question. And how did he get it? That’s mine. Were you here all evening?”
“Well, round about. And if I wasn’t in the garage I had it locked. I’m careful about that; have been losing too many tools of late.”
“It seems to me we have a good deal
in common in this matter,” Kent re-! marked. “I’m with you if you’re with me.”
“Well, sir, I’m glad to hear you say that, for really I was beginning to wonder if my eyes were playing tricks on me. You can convince Miss Gladys.”
“You think she’d believe me?”
The chauffeur grinned. “You know it,” he said.
Kent’s heart warmed to this understanding ally. It might prove to be an exceptional bit of luck that he had fallen in with Williams.
“Now, if that’s understood, let us get down to business,” he suggested. “The garage was locked. How many keys are there? Of course, you have one.”
“And Miss Gladys.”
“We can rule that out.”
“And Mr. Hensley.”
“I think we can rule that out, too.” “Then there’s one in the house, just in case no other is handy.”
“Now we’re getting warm,” said Kent. “Who has access to it?”
“I suppose everybody about the house.” “The woman Manners, for example?” The chauffeur slapped his hands together. “By all th . toots of Klaxon,” he exclaimed, “why didn’t I think of her? I’ve seen her and Herzton talking, quiet like, more than once, as though they had some deviltry on foot together.”
“Well, that’s pretty good for one night,” said Kent. “Now, to change the subject: you have a telephone here?” “Two of ’em. An outside line, and a private wire into the house.”
“Connecting with Miss Hensley’s room?”
“Yes, if she’s there.”
“Would you mind calling, and saying I’m here?”
“Very good, sir. She may be at dinner, but I’ll try.”
Williams lifted a receiver, pressed a button, and waited. “That you, Miss Hensley? Mr. Kent is here, at the garage. He would like to speak to you.” A moment later Kent was in conversation with her. “Oh, Morley,” she exclaimed, “I’m so glad you’ve come. I have had an awful fight. You’re at the garage? I’ll be right out—through the door of the conservatory.”
A MINUTE or two later she came running down a path from a side entrance. As she approached she held out her arms, and for a moment he thought she would seize him in them. But she brought herself under control, although her flushed face told of a struggle the source of which Kent could only surmise.
“I’m so glad. I’ll tell you about it on the road,” was all she could say to him. “The car is in order, Williams?”
“Yes, Miss Hensley.”
She motioned Kent to the seat at the wheel, and without speech they threaded their way toward the open country. The sun was just setting, its great disc cut in two by the distant horizon, its light playing in mauve and copper against a fringe of clouds that laced the western sky. As they drove headlong into the face of that splendor Kent waited for her to speak. He cared not how far nor how fast he went so long as she was by his side.
When she spoke it was to bring him to earth. “Have you eaten?” she asked. “Not yet.”
“Nor I. There’s a tea room, the Crescent Moon, I think they call it; perhaps you have been there—where they serve a good enough meal.”
“Yes, I think I know.” The Crescent Moon was a popular rendezvous of young lovers.
In half an hour they pulled up at the tea room, and the girl led the way inside. “Let me be host tonight,” she whispered. “I know the place.”
It was evident, too, that she was known. The deference with which she was received was appropriate to a
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millionaire’s daughter. They followed the head waiter along a passage which skirted a dining room shaped like a crescent moon to an alcove opening to the outer air. Almost beneath them a silent lake mirrored the colors still burning overhead; in the distance wooded hills faded into the purple blue of night. A pink light, lending a subtle depth and glow to the cheeks of the girl, fell upon the little table for two, and from somewhere behind and above, the strains of an orchestra breathed gently through the embowered seclusion of the spot.
Whatever confusion had possessed the girl at the beginning of the drive had wholly disappeared. In Kent’s eyes she was the charming hostess carried to perfection. Her vivacity was spontaneous and infectious; before the meal was finished he hardly remembered that there were such things as fingerprints and mysterious influences.
It was she who first alluded to them.
“You are wondering why I did not keep my appointment with you tonight,” she opened the subject, “although you have been too polite to ask questions. Well, they, or he, or it, did its best to stop me. I had all arrangements made; had spoken to Williams to be sure and have the car ready, when suddenly I felt it coming on.”
“You mean one of those . . . ah . . . moods?”
“Yes, whatever it is. Morley, I could feel it, just as one might feel a magnet drawing him powerfully in some direction against his will. I fought it—oh, how I fought it!—but it seemed to sweep me irresistibly on. I felt that if I could get you you would save me. I clutched at you as my one hope.”
She was intensely in earnest, her face alight as with deep passion, her slender hands stretched out on the table before her. Kent folded them in his own. They were warm, pulsating; they set his nerves tingling. She pretended not to notice, and went on:
“I knew if I could get you it would be all right. You would be stronger than they, or it. I was just about to call you on the telephone when I—I went under, like one going under ether. So instead of telephoning you, I called Manners and ordered her not to admit you into the house. Can you believe that, and can you forgive it?”
He felt the pressure of her hands tighten in his. “I can believe it,” he said, “because she stopped me at the door. She seemed rather to enjoy her errand. That is why I went to the garage. And I can forgive it because it wasn’t you who did that thing, but Herzton.”
She looked up curiously. He never had known that eyes can draw one so.
“You think it’s Professor Herzton?” she asked.
“I am sure of it. Listen.”
He told her the whole story of his visit to Brace’s room in the old factory building. She sat motionless: surprise, concern, alarm, alternately pictured in her face. He knew as he spoke that this confidence was drawing them very close together, and he omitted no detail from the events of that tragic night. When he had told her of his flight down the fire escape he paused as though to intimate there was nothing more to say.
It was some minutes before she spoke. “I am so concerned,” she said at length. “This puts both you and Gordon in a pretty awkward position. Of course, I don’t believe he was trying to defraud father; he is too honest for that. As for Professor Herzton, it shocks me to think our confidence in him has been misplaced. Father trusts him implicitly, and I have always felt—well, I am sure you understand. Oh, why didn’t you tell me all this before?”
“What good would it have done?” he asked, with a gesture of helplessness. “I am not sure that I am right in telling you
now. And there are so many things still unexplained. I had hoped to get to the bottom of the mystery, and then lay it all before you, or your father, at once.” “But why shouldn’t I help you? Surely it would be better to work from two directions. Besides, I know some things that you don’t. I could have helped you a great deal. But I don’t understand; you say you left Galut’s body on the floor. The police found it on a ledge of the building. How do you account for that?” He approached her question obliquely, “Gladys, did you ever know something you couldn’t prove? Experience a sort of knowledge that doesn’t come from the •senses?”
“Well, that is the point we have reached. When I left Galut’s body lying on the floor I parted company with facts that can be proved. The rest, I suppose, would be called conjecture, but to me it is much more definite than that. Shall I tell you? When Galut failed to come back, Herzton, who had been waiting— perhaps in his laboratory, perhaps in the old building itself—went in search of him. Upon finding the body, he at once saw the disadvantage of having the shooting associated with Brace. It might unearth the whole plot to get control of Brace’s blueprints, and of Freeman’s patents. So he unceremoniously dumped his late fellow conspirator out of the window. You remember the police investigation showed the body had been handled by two men. They have the fingerprints.” He paused, awaiting her reaction. But the look she gave him was full of innocent enquiry.
“That is where the steering-wheel comes in,” he continued.
“The steering-wheel? I don’t understand.”
“Herzton in some way lea.ned that you were going to take me out in your car. He took a chance that you would let me drive. Then ...”
“Oh,” she interrupted, “I wonder if he sent me? Do you see what I mean? Perhaps you remember I told you I had a sudden impulse, just like one of my moods, to take you driving. I think I joked about it, wishing all my moods would be so pleasant. And it was all part of a deep-laid plan.”
“Then you suspect Herzton to be the source of these outside interferences?” “Who else? Of course, I can’t guess how he does it, or why ...” At the instant, recollection of Herzton’s proposal flashed across her mind. “Oh,” she cried. “Could it be that?”
“Could it be what?”
She steadied herself. “I don’t know. I was thinking. Go on.”
“Well, in some way he caused lampblack to be sprinkled on the steeringwheel. I supposed he was afraid of the microscopic film of oil which always adheres to it. And in some way, still unexplained, he got the wheel to his laboratory.”
“Is it possible? How do you know that?”
“Because I saw it there. He sent for me, and produced it as Exhibit A.”
Her eyes were almost incredulous. “But that proved nothing,” she exclaimed.
“Only that he had my fingerprints. He had already photographed them. Don’t you see, dear? Herzton has my fingerprints. The police have the fingerprints found on Galut, and on the fire escape. Herzton can, at any moment, combine these two pieces of evidence. The conclusion would be inevitable.” “Then he has you in a—in a trap?” “It would look that way. But I am not worrying over that. What worried me was the part you seemed to have had in it.”
She recoiled as though he had struck her. “You didn’t think I would ... I could . . . be capable of that?”
“No, not really. I felt he had used you.
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And now I know why. There were a thousand simpler ways of getting my fingerprints than the one he chose, but, don’t you see he wanted to involve you in it. He wanted me to think I couldn’t trust you.”
“But you do, don’t you?”
The waiter looked in, courteously impatient to clear his table. A red moon, rising, thrust a shaft of copper across the lake.
“I believe there are seats down by the water,” he suggested.
She arose, acquiescent, without speaking. A path, dimly lighted by green globes hung among the trees, led down to the shore. As they walked she slipped her arm in his, and he held it close against him.
They found a seat, limned only by the red glow from the rising moon, and sat down together. For the moment he had no words, and he thought she must hear, the beating of his heart. The touch of her shoulder against him sent his senses spinning.
“You do, don’t you?” she resumed their conversation.
“Yes, dear, I do. Perhaps I have no right to call you ‘dear,’ but you are. Shall I tell you what happened at Herzton’s?”
For all her interest in the Herzton case, there were other words she would have preferred just then. But she encouraged him to go on.
“He tried to dictate terms to me. I was to leave at once in search of Freeman. I must beat Brace to it. I must secure the precious patents for him. Of course, he represented it all adroitly as being for the Hensley Radio Corporation and for your father. But he was going to pit me against Brace, and incidentally get rid of both of us for the time being.”
He felt her body stir slightly against him. “But you didn’t agree?” he heard her whisper.
“No. I did a little dictating myself. Shall I repeat to you what I told him?” “If it concerns me, yes.”
“It does concern you. I told him I was going to find out what part you had in that steering-wheel treachery. Treachery —that is what I called it. Then, if I found you were innocent—and I was always sure of that—I would ask you to be my wife.” She stirred again, but did not draw away from him. “If you refused, he could hand the fingerprint photographs to the police. It would make no difference to me. If you agreed, then I would go to the ends of the earth to serve you, or your father. Gladys, I don’t need to tell you I love you. You know. And I think you love me.”
She turned toward him. Silently, gently, her lips met his, and their spirits fused in a sudden release of passion. His arms linked about her body, crushing her, holding her as though he never would let her go.
To be Continued