She Wrote Finis
In which a stage star’s confession throws new light on the death of Minna Lucas
Travelling by cab across New York to attend a house party,
LESLIE COLE, woman editor with a prominent book publishing house, and
ROBERT BOYER, author of a sensationally successful first novel, are puzzled by the fact of their being invited to the party which is being given by
MINNA LUCAS, author of an unpublished novel recently turned down by Leslie Cole. It is known to them that the failure of her novel has made Minna Lucas bitter, following closely as it has upon a motor accident in which she was badly scarred, an accident that, loo, had been the cause of her engagement being broken.
They arrive at the house to find a surprising group assembled. There is
GORDON KEATH, the literary agent who had handled Robert Boyer's successful book and Minna Lucas’ unsuccessful one;
JIMMY HARDING, who had dramatized Boyer's novel, and
FAITH FELTON, now Harding's wife, who had achieved stardom in its leading stage role.
DAVE WALKER, formerly engaged to Minna Lucas, is there with
YVONNE PREVOST, Walker’s present fiancée—everyone looking a bit uncomfortable. Thinking it odd that all the windows are open, and finding the house cold, Leslie Cole and Boyer go upstairs to the third-floor studio where there is a fireplace.
There they are shocked to find Minna Lucas lying dead upon the strewn pages of her book manuscript, in one hand a gun, in the other clutched a page of manuscript containing a suicide note.
It is plain to them then that, as a bizarre form of revenge, Minna Lucas has invited all her enemies, real and fancied, to be there for her suicide. The police are called and all the guests are held in the house under orders from
LIEUTENANT TRANT, who, following an investigation, announces that Minna Lucas was murdered.
The guests, after being questioned, are alloived to go, but later Leslie Cole is recalled by Trant, who has found evidence to show that the deceased, Minna Lucas, had been living in Dave Walker’s house by reason of what might be blackmail, also that Faith Felton had at one time been in penitentiary.
With a start Leslie recalls Faith’s earlier statement, her voice urgent and husky: “But '.he police are coming . . . there'll be papers, things that should be destroyed ...”
(This is the Third of Four Parts)
TRANT’S voice broke into her jumbled reflections. “W’ith this in her possession Miss Lucas might easily have persuaded one of her female friends to be—generous too.”
Leslie did not speak.
To her surprise the detective’s face seemed genuinely sympathetic now. Very quietly he said: “Miss Cole, there are two ways to handle a case like this. One way is to crowd all suspected parties into Center Street and shout at them until something happens. The other way is to use a little finesse.” He looked apologetic. “I'm afraid I have a bent toward finesse.”
“I’ve noticed that,” remarked Leslie.
“I’m glad.” Lieutenant Trant did not smile. “Because you may possibly see my position. I am looking for murder motives. These various documents obviously suggest certain motives; but they also look very much like extortion material. And the police are extremely reluctant to make use of blackmail information.”
He paused. “Of course, since this is a case of murder. I’m obliged to follow up every lead. Tonight I shall have to question both Miss Felton and Mr. Walker. But, if they are not involved in this actual case, they might easily be submitted to unwarranted embarrassment. That is something I want to avoid.”
For one brief second, which put Leslie instantly on her guard, he glanced down at his left thumbnail.
“This is how I propose to avoid it. It’s obviously impossible for me, in my official position, to—prepare them in any way. But I thought that if you, as a personal friend, just dropped in and told them exactly how much I know, at least it would be giving them a sporting chance to get their stories straight.”
In spite of his friendly smile, his persuasive eyes, Leslie felt, for the first time since that interview started, her old sensation of distrust. Such quixotic generosity coming from the canny Lieutenant Trant was beyond the realms of belief, unless somewhere buried in the bait was a skilfully concealed hook.
“Will you do that. Miss Cole?”
“You really want me to warn them?”
“Of course.” Trant’s smile was almost benign. “I should have thought you would be only too willing to do that for your—friends.”
Obeying reason rather than instinct. Leslie said: “All right. You want me to go straight away?”
“No, just one moment, Miss Cole. I’m afraid I have to make use of you on another little point. A rather interesting point—a point of typing. You type?”
“You type well?”
“Quite well. I used to type all my own letters at Morton and Bidlake.”
“Then I think you should be able to confirm a suspicion of mine.”
He bent and picked up one of the loose manuscript pages of Minna’s novel from the floor, handing it to her. Leslie gave a little shiver as she noticed a dry red stain on the edge. But he said quickly:
“Don’t worry, Miss Cole. That isn’t blood—just a smudge of Miss Lucas’ red ink. Sorry I chose that particular page, but I merely want you to cast a professional eye over the actual typing. Looks like a very smooth job to me. Did Miss Lucas type it?”
“I’m sure she did. She was an expert stenographer of course.”
“How about this?”
The detective handed her a single sheet of manuscript which he had taken from the safe. Leslie saw that it was typed in purple, on a different machine and in the French language. The irregular lines were interspersed with numerous pencilled corrections.
“This must be part of a rough draft of the French translation of ‘The Story of Mark,’ ” she said.
“Then the book has been translated?”
“Heavens, yes. Into seven or eight different languages. I collect ‘Mark’ editions, and I myself have a copy of the French, German and Spanish editions, each autographed by the translator.”
Trant was watching her. “What I really want to know is —did Miss Lucas type this?”
“Oh, no. It was translated in Paris. The translator died soon after publication, and Robert was sent all the ‘Mark’ manuscripts. Minna was his secretary at the time. That’s how she must have got this.”
“Thank you. Now, Miss Cole, I want you to give me a demonstration on Miss Lucas’ typewriter.” He looked at her soberly. “I want to know how well an efficient typist types with gloves on.”
LESLIE was past the stage of registering surprise as he 4 slipped into the typewriter the loose page of French manuscript so that she could writs or ts back.
“Just copy something—anything. This telegram, for example.” He laid the telegram irom the Labrador police by the machine and drew up a chair for her. “Type the first two lines as you would normally; finish the rest with your gloves on.”
Perched on the chair like a small, bespectacled owl, Leslie obeyed. Lieutenant Trant studied the finished product over her shoulder. Then he pulled it out of the machine.
“As I thought,” he murmured. “The part you typed with gloves on is only a little less smooth than the rest of it.”
Leslie was unable to control her curiosity any longer. “What is this all about anyway?”
“It’s about that note Mr. Keath said he received from Miss Lucas asking him to start the party for her this afternoon.” Trant’s voice was suddenly ominous. He produced the note from his pocket, unfolding it. “Take a look for yourself. The typing is very uneven. Some letters are joined together; some are much darker than others. Not at all up to Miss Lucas’ standard. I thought maybe she’d written it in a hurry before going out and had not bothered to remove her gloves. But you’ve proved very efficiently that even with gloves on a self-respecting typist doesn’t type as irregularly as this.”
Leslie stared. “Then you mean ...”
“There’s only one thing to mean. This note was written on that typewriter, but by someone less proficient than either Miss Lucas or yourself.”
“You don’t think Minna wrote it?”
“I’m sure she didn't.”
“Then who wrote it? Why ...”
“Come, Miss Cole, I’m not helping you. You’re helping me, and you’ve been very helpful indeed.” Lieutenant Trant’s voice was smooth but unyielding. He glanced at his watch. “I think it’s time for you to run your little errands now. Perhaps you’d tell me where you’re going first; I don’t want to visit anyone before they’re ready for me.”
“It’s too early to pick Faith up at the theatre. I’ll go to Dave Walker.”
“All right.” Lieutenant Trant had crossed to the desk and with a clip was attaching the copy of the telegram Leslie had just typed to iw.'» )ther documents. He handed them to her. “While you’re about it. I think you might return Mr. Walker his lease. You might show Mr. Boyer
that telegram, too. And the letter from the parole board— I’m sure Miss Felton would feel more secure with it in her own possession.”
Leslie was gazing at him incredulously now. Lieutenant Trant was investigating a murder case; he had discovered certain facts which gave certain people potential motives for murder. And yet he was asking her, Miss Leslie P. Cole, not only to warn those people, but to return to them documents which might be vital clues.
Lieutenant Trant was either wildly altruistic, very stupid, or—something else.
As Leslie stuffed the papers and her spectacles into her pocketbook, she decided that the detective almost certainly belonged in the last, unlabelled category.
AS A TAXI sped her through the wintry streets toward the apartment house where Dave Walker lived with his mother, Leslie felt distinctly nervous. She had known the young lawyer fairly well when he had been beau-ing
Minna. But they had never been intimate. Dave had a rough, almost harsh exterior which did not suggest easy confidences, and she had never discussed, either with him or with Minna herself, the cause underlying their sensationally broken engagement.
She knew, of course, that a great many people had condemned Dave for what looked like a piece of callous heartlessness; she knew also that the fountain of calumny had gushed afresh following his engagement to Yvonne Prévost. But Dave had scorned explanations. He had gone on his own independent way, a little grimmer, a little older looking, but always either indifferent or impervious to gossip.
Although, as Lieutenant Trant had pointed out, it was for Dave’s own good, Leslie did not relish the prospect of intruding into his private affairs.
Dave himself opened the door for her. His blond face with its stubborn, rather sulky eyes registered surprise. “You, Leslie!”
“May I come in?”
He hesitated. “Sure. Mother’s gone to bed. But Yvonne’s here.”
“I’ve come to talk about Minna, Dave. Is that all right in front of Yvonne?”
“Allright?” He gave a harsh laugh. “If there’s anything Yvonne doesn’t know about me and Minna, it’d be news to me too.”
He took her into a small, rather dreary living room, where Yvonne Prévost, very thin and dark, was pacing restlessly back and forth. When she saw Leslie, her large eyes went very alert.
Dave said : “She’s come about Minna. What is it,
Leslie produced the lease from her pocketbook. “Lieutenant Trant told me to give you this.”
Yvonne swirled to Dave’s side, staring at the document over his elbow. Dave’s mouth, went very tight.
“I knew he’d find this somewhere. But why the devil is he giving it back to me?”
“Don’t expect me to interpret Lieutenant Trant.” I^slie sank wearily into an overstuffed chair. “He’s coming to see you himself soon. He said he thought Minna might have forced you into letting her have the house free by some sort of—blackmail. He said it was against his policy to make use of blackmail information unless people were warned first.”
“Very considerate of him, I’m sure,” said Dave grimly, “but Minna never blackmailed me.”
“Never blackmailed you!” Yvonne’s voice quivered with indignation. “I'd like to know' what you call it. Holding that court action over your head, saying ...” “There’s no need to bring it up, Yvonne.”
“Why not? Everyone thinks you double-crossed Minna, broke the engagement just because she had her face messed up in that accident. I’m sick and fired of having everyone think you’re a—a heel. Can’t you at least put yourself right with Leslie?”
There was something oddly mo fing about the girl’s W'hite, impassioned face. There wvs something rather poignant about Dave too as he stood there, returning her fierce gaze, his lips twisted in a small, self-mocking smile. For the first time since she had seen these two violent, independent young people together, Leslie realized just how deeply, almost hurtingly in love they were.
Dave turned to her abruptly. “Were you particularly fond of Minna?”
Leslie’s hands gestured. “Was anyone?”
“Then you might as well hear my little—saga.” Dave looked very pale and haggard now. “What I’m going to tell you gives me a dandy motive for murder. I realize that. But I guess you’re suspecting me anyw'ay.”
He sat down next to Leslie. Yvonne dropped to the floor, slipping her hand in his. She looked like a rather beautiful wildcat play-acting at being a household pet.
“You know the beginning,” Dave began. “I made a fool of myself about Minna and before I could come up for air I found myself engaged to her. I don’t flatter myself she was in love wfith me. But you know how a guy is when he meets a girl like that. I built myself up as the coming young attorney; took her places I couldn’t really afford—just to put on dog. She got the idea 1 was much richer than I am, a comfortable financial port in a storm.”
He gave a short, mirthless laugh. “Oddly enough I didn’t mind at first. But then Yvonne started working on a new illustrated edition of ‘The Story of Mark.’ She was always at Boyer’s house when I went there to pick Minna up after work. And from the first time I saw her, I was absolutely nuts about her.”
HIS EYES moved to Yvonne’s, and once again Leslie felt that almost electric current of emotion passing between them.
“I was a fool about that, too. Yvonne seemed so clever, so—so exciting. I hardly dared talk to her, let alone tell her the way I felt. I guess I ought to have broken with Minna right away. I meant to, but I kept putting it off. Sheer lack of will, I guess. But finally, even though I’d scarcely spoken two words to Yvonne, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I’d driven Minna out to the country for dinner and—well, I snurk out to the bar several times to fortify myself for the ordeal of letting her know we were through.”
“And I was crazy about him,” cut in Yvonne suddenly. “All the time I was crazy about him—the dope.”
Dave’s lips curled again in that grim smile. “It was just my bad luck that Minna had chosen that particular night to break some news to me. She had decided she was tired of being Robert Boyer’s secretary; she figured she’d learned all the tricks in the writing game and she was going to write a novel herself. She had everything planned out. I was to be her meal ticket while she was creating her great work. We were to be married right away; we were to start housekeeping in that house of mine.”
Dave flung out his hands. “That floored me all right. I still hadn’t told her about Yvonne. I wasn't prepared. I told her I couldn’t afford to get married anyway, which was the truth. The house was rented at the time. I told her that if I had to give up that rent I wouldn’t have any income to support mother. It was all crazy. 11er enthusiasm for me lessened quite a bit when she realized I was just a poor struggling young lawyer. But Minna was smart as a whip. I think she’d guessed about Yvonne; and she wasn’t going to let her get away with anything. She was determined to be a great novelist, determined to live in my house, and determined to marry me.”
He moistened his lips. “I know this makes me sound like a cur; but that was one of Minna’s prize tricks, making the other guy seem in the wrong. I kept on hitting the money angle; and she got me stopped on that, too. She said she’d have enough money for both of us. I knew she was almost broke and asked her what she meant. She was vague, but I didn’t like the way the thing smelled. She said something about having a lot of rich friends who would be only too glad to help her out—Gordy, Boyer, Faith and Harding. I’m not sure she didn’t even mention you, too.”
“Me!” Leslie stared. “You mean she hinted she was going to blackmail them?”
"I was too het-up at the time to realize anything.
But that’s the way it struck me later. In any case, it was a devil of an evening. And, like a fool, I waited till the drive home before I sprang my bombshell about Yvonne.” His voice faltered. “Never tell a girl who wants to marry you that you’re in love with someone else, while you’re driving an automobile.
It’s a bad habit. Minna turned tigress on me, pails and all. Unfortunately, she chose a particularly tricky corner to grab at my elbow. The next thing I knew I was in bed and a doctor was asking me how I felt.”
“You see,” broke in Yvonne fiercely, “it was Minna herself who u'as responsible for the accident.
She got what was coming to her.”
“I’m only telling you this, Leslie,” said Dave quietly, “because I want someone to know the truth.
I don’t blame Minna. Poor devil, she was the one who suffered.”
“Suffered!” echoed Yvonne. “I wouldn’t call it exactly suffering to chisel your house out of you in exchange for a few scratches on her face.”
“That,” muttered Dave, “is another thing. I don’t know what I’d have done, Leslie, if Boyer hadn’t helped with the hospital bills. I felt bad about it, naturally, but Minna’s attitude didn’t exactly inspire sympathy. When I went to see her in the hospital, she was still fighting mad. She said she’d take every cent I had. or might get, on a damage suit; she said she’d sooner see me dead than married to Yvonne. That was all a build-up to get the one thing she wanted, of course. And she got it. She got the house for as long as she wanted it—rent free.”
“And she made him fix up that studio for her too.” broke in Yvonne impulsively. “Made him sjxmd hundreds of dollars in improvements. That’s why I said it was blackmail. It was. And it was worse, because she knew that by taking that house she made it impossible for Dave and me to get married. She did it just out of spite. She’s been sitting there all the time—gloating.”
DAVE was looking straight at Leslie now, deep lines around his mouth. “You see now, maybe, that even if I was a heel, she ran me a gœd second.
You see, too, just how much of a motive I might have had for murdering her.”
“But you didn’t have a motive ! Neither of us did.
Tell her the rest of the story.” Yvonne rose to her feet. “You heard Dave tell Lieutenant Trant that he had to telephone Minna yesterday. She’d wanted more work done on the studio and he just couldn’t afford it. He called to beg her to put it off for a while.
That’s when she invited him to the party; that’s when she sprang her little surprise. She said she was giving the party to celebrate her book and, if things turned out the way she hoped, she wouldn’t need Dave’s house any more. She’d soon be moving to a more fashionable neighborhood.”
Leslie’s blue eyes rounded in amazement. She stared at Dave. “Is—is that true?”
“Sure. Of course, it might just have been a gag.”
Yvonne broke in; “When we heard she was dead at the party, I—I thought she’d killed herself.” She laughed. “That’s what I thought she’d meant by moving to a more fashionable neighborhood. But now that we know she wras murdered, you must see how neither Dave nor I could have had a motive for shooting her. She was offering us our freedom. It was going to be possible for us to get married. Why should either of us have killed her when it was all going to be all right?”
That made sense, of course. If what they had told her was true, that certainly made sense.
Leslie felt tired and unaccountably dejected. She had heard everything now. There was no point in staying. Her knees rather shaky under her, she rose and managed a faint smile.
“Well, 1 guess that’s that. Lieutenant Trant should be here soon, so make up your minds what you’re going to tell him.” She held out her hand impulsively. “And, Dave, I’m so glad to have heard the truth. It’s nice to know you were the person I always thought you were. Best of luck to both of you.”
As she moved to the door, she glanced at them over her shoulder.
The two of them were standing very close together, white and haggard—staring after her.
Another taxi took Leslie downtown again to the theatre district. Her association with Robert Boyer and her status as Faith’s ex-roommate were open sesames at the Vandolan where “The Story of Mark,” produced, directed and adapted by Jim Harding, was still playing to standees.
Before going to the actress’s dressing room, she slipped into the wings for a moment to watch the end of the last act. It was a superb piece of theatre, and, though she had seen it numberless times, there was always a big thrill for her in the scene where Sally McCreedy had to choose be-
Saluting the Flag
By Blanche E. Holt Murison Salute the Flag!
Not only with your hand but with your heart.
Salute it proudly and with steadfast eyes;
This flag that flies from masthead and from mart. And battlements its spirit fortifies.
This is the flag of Sceptre and of Throne,
To champion its honor men have died;
This fair insignia for which we own Almighty God as guardian and guide.
This is not just a bit of colored rag —
This is our heritage — our Country's Flag.
Salute the Flag!
Its brave device — its triple crosses forge The noblest symbol of humanity;
St. Andrew and St. Patrick and St. George,
This was their flag of faith and victory.
The Flag of England and the first crusade.
The Flag of Scotland with its azure field.
The Flag on which St. Patrick's cross was laid.
The Flag Britannia wears upon her shield.
This is not just a bit of colored rag —
This is our heritage — our Country's Flag.
Salute the Flag!
Hold its repute and heraldry in trust.
For where it waves there liberty lifts high The torch no foe can trample in the dust;
Behind this flag the Empire marches by.
This is the Flag of Freedom — yours and mine. Beneath its folds — the British Family Kneels at one Altar — shares the Bread and Wine; This is the Banner of the Sanctuary.
This is not just a bit of colored rag —
This is our heritage — our Country's Flag.
Salute the Flag!
The emblem of unconquerable things:
Justice and mercy — love of home and friend. Faith of free men — courage of shining wings; The flag that flies its colors to the end.
For all the valor of its Yesterdays,
The chivalry of Red and White and Blue;
Defend it for Tomorrow — tell its praise And all its story means to me and you.
This is not just a bit of colored rag —
This is our heritage — our Country's Flag.
tween the two friends who loved her and finally chose— neither.
Faith, gorgeous in her eighteenth century costume, was playing like a streak that night. It was as if the emotional jolt of the afternoon had let loose an even greater force of drama in her. It was an inspired performance.
When the curtain finally fell, Leslie slipped away to Faith’s dressing room. The actress’s dresser, an elderly woman was bustling around. As Leslie heard the thunderous applause from the auditorium, she felt a little thrill of pride for Faith. Whatever might have happened in the past. Faith had worked hard for this; this was the life that was meat and drink for her, the life she deserved.
It was not particularly pleasant to have to break through all this glamour with the letter which Leslie was bringing.
Soon Faith swirled in, her radiant face reflecting the applause of the audience. But the instant she saw Leslie she stopped dead. A quick gesture dismissed the dresser, and she came to Leslie, taking her hands.
“Have they searched Minna’s house?” Her face was drawn and anxious now beneath the thick grease paint. “Tell me, have the police found—found anything?”
“Yes, darling, they found this.” Leslie handed her the letter from the parole board. “Lieutenant Trant asked me to give it to you. He’s coming around himself later.”
Faith stared blindly at the letter. “But why . . .” Leslie passed on to her the reasons Trant had given for his own magnanimity. She added: “You don’t have to tell me, darling. There’s no need for me to know anything.” Faith gave a short bitter laugh. “There’s nothing to know. It’s all so very, very simple. Faith Felton, Broadway’s latest dramatic find, served a jail term for theft. Until three months ago, Faith Felton had to sneak off every month to report to a parole officer. Lovely, lovely publicity.”
SHE BROKE off as the dressing-room door opened. Jim Harding came in, followed by Robert Boyer.
The author’s lean face lighted when he saw Leslie. He crossed to her side. Jimmy went straight to his wife and took her hands. In spite of their studied ironç, his dark eyes could not conceal their admiration. “I have an actress for a wife,” he said softly. “Do you know that, darling? You’re an actress.” He stopped as he saw Faith’s expression, and asked sharply, “What’s the matter? Something wrong?”
Leslie put her hand on Robert’s arm, steadying herself, as the actress thrust the letter into her husband’s hand.
“Read it, Jimmy. You’d better know the truthRobert had better know too. The police just found this—a pleasant little by-product of Minna’s murder.”
Jim Harding took the letter in both hands, gazing at it for a protracted moment. Slowly he raised his quizzical, intelligent eyes. Watching him, in a queer moment of revelation, Leslie felt certain that he had known or guessed something of this all along.
He said: “What was it for, darling?”
Faith was staring straight at her own reflection in the tall mirror now. When she spoke it was with the cautious deliberation of someone who had rehearsed the situation in her mind long before.
“Listen, darlings—Jimmy, Robert, Leslie, you’re my three friends, the people I like best. I want you to know. Maybe when you do, you won’t be my friends any more. It’s a risk I’ve got to take because it’s worse this way.”
She looked down at her own slim, beautiful hands. “I don’t want to make excuses. But heaven knows, anyone who was born in that dreary little dump where I lived ought to be given a bit of a break. I was an orphan, you know, brought up by the charity of Minna’s aunt. And if you think Minna was awful, you should have known her aunt. As soon as I was old enough to graduate from housework, they landed me a job in the local department store—in ladies’ dresses. Eight dollars a week, seven of which went to Minna’s sainted aunt for back rent. The only thing that ever happened was once when the local schoolteacher got up some amateur dramatics and gave me the lead—Juliet, it was, and I shall never forget it.”
Faith ran her hand through her hair in a slight, forlorn little gesture. Leslie, standing close to Robert Boyer, realized that even then, when she was baring her soul, she was giving them a performance.
“From the moment I started studying the part I knew I was an actress, that there was nothing else in the world I would ever do. I lived and breathed Juliet. My performance was quite a riot even in Poole City, and I upset a travelling salesman from New York so much that he came backstage and hailed me as a Cornell. Duse and Bernhardt combined.”
She paused. “Naturally I believed him. I believed him next day when, over a chocolate soda at the drugstore, he told me he had a lot of friends on Broadway who could get me a job as easy as falling off a log. It was merely a question of the fare to New York, he said, and he was willing to pay that just for the honor of discovering a new star.”
She laughed harshly. “I was only seventeen, and a fool. If he hadn’t been just a little too anxious—I’d probably have gone with him. As it was, he went alone.”
A faint smile flickered over Jimmy’s face, but he did not speak.
“I was very, very virtuous,” said Faith, “but afterward I -wished that I hadn’t been. It was worse when Minna went off to New York and later got a good job as Robert’s secretary. I wrote to her to help me get there too, but she never replied. And all the time, when there was a chance, I acted at the Poole City church hall, and every part I played, I knew, deep down inside me, that I was getting better and better. All I needed was the opportunity.”
SHE TOSSED back her hair. “And it came one day—it was a Saturday. The mayor’s wife came into the store to buy a fur coat in a hurry. I persuaded her to take a good one. at least one that in Poole City was considered fabulously opulent, and she actually paid spot cash. That was my opportunity and my temptation. No one had seen me make the sale. There were plenty of cheap-priced coats. I entered the sale as being for one of those and—kept the change. I thought, of course, they couldn’t check up on me till inventory time or at least I'd be safe until Monday.”
She sat down in front of the dressing table and started wiping cold cream into her face. “It was mad, of course. But I sneaked off that night. I carried my bag all the way to the next town where I wasn’t known and caught the midnight train East. I intended to send the money back, of course—just as soon as I had got a fat contract on Broadway.”
She shrugged. “They caught me getting off the train at Chicago. I shall never
forget that ride back. It was worse than the trial when the pompous old judge gave me the maximum sentence as a warning to other young girls who get lured into crime by the tinsel glamour of the stage. It was worse even than the penitentiary itself; for there, at least, I had a chance to be alone and dream of the time when I would be free to act the parts I used to learn by heart in my spare time. Shakespeare’s allowed even in prison, and I believe I could walk on tomorrow as Portia, Desdemona, Ophelia, without missing a single cue.
“I was so quiet and good they let me out on parole long before my time was up. It was pretty bad going back to Poole City and having the righteous local females shudder away from me. Luckily Minna’s aunt felt the disgrace as keenly as I, and finally listened to my pleas to be shipped off to New York where I would cease to be a burden to her.
“I arrived in New York with less than ten dollars. I had nowhere else to go, so I went straight to Minna although she hadn’t answered any of my letters. Even so, I don’t think she would have taken me in if you, Leslie, hadn’t been an angel and offered to let me share your room. And it was you who actually introduced me to Robert and Jimmy, although Minna always took the honors later when I looked like making the grade. Remember the night you brought them round and Jimmy read the dramatic script of ‘The Story of Mark’? I shall never forget it. I made up my mind then and there that I was going to be Sally McCreedy or bust.”
Jimmy spoke for the first time then, as if he felt there had to be someone to break through the poignant mood of that story. He said dryly, “You notice it was the part she really wanted—not me.”
“Maybe at first.” Faith smiled. “I got them both, anyway. And everything would have been heaven if it hadn’t been for having to report every month to that probation officer. Minna knew everything,
of course, from her buddies in Poole City. When that awful letter came, she managed to steal it and, even after I’d given up rooming with her, she never failed to call up regularly and remind me about it. She didn’t actually threaten me, though-, until one day just before the accident and the bust-up with Dave Walker. Then she told me she was sick of being a mere secretary and had made up her mind to be a novelist. She suggested I’d want to show my gratitude to the family by helping her out. And like a fool I did help her out—every month to the tune of half my salary.”
“Half your salary!” It was Robert who broke in, his jaw set, his lips very white. “Why the devil didn’t you tell us, Faith? Jimmy and I, we’d—we’d have—”
“How could I tell? Jimmy and I were only just married. I wasn’t really established as an actress. How could I risk having Minna tell the world I was a jailbird? Besides, if she was really blackmailing me, I did owe her something and I was earning a good salary. That’s how I figured it. But about two weeks ago something happened that made me realize I’d have to give up playing for a while. I wouldn’t be able to help Minna out any more. I went to her and told her so. She was just too, too sweet. She said money meant nothing to her anyway. All she wanted now was to make her name the way Jimmy and Robert and I had done. That’s when she broached the subject of Jimmy’s adapting her book.”
Her husband broke in: “So that’s why you worked on me so hard. Minna was holding you up at the point of the parole board!”
Faith nodded. “I knew you’d turn it down, of course. I was scared stiff. When I returned the manuscript with apologies. I sent a big cheque with it—more than I could afford. But I knew that wouldn’t hold her. I wasn’t surprised when she called up, all honey and molasses, to tell me about the party. It was being given to discuss her manuscript, she said, and she was sure that some way could be found to
make Jimmy change his mind about the dramatization.”
There was a long moment of silence. “What did she mean by that?” asked Jimmy uneasily.
“How do I know? How do I know anything? But I was still scared this afternoon when we went to the party— terribly scared. I was certain Minna was going to pull something particularly nasty and embarrassing.”
SHE WHEELED round to face them, her voice rising in a sudden, hysterical crescendo.
“And when I heard she was dead, I was glad. I was terrified they would find the parole board’s letter. But even so I’d never been so glad in my life. I could have shrieked for joy. I—I—”
Jimmy sprang to her side, gripping her shoulders. “Get hold of yourself, darling. Do you want everyone in the theatre to think you murdered her?”
“Why not? You think it, don’t you? You think I killed her because she was going to expose me in front of all of you as a thief.” She pulled herself away from him wildly. “A jailbird. And now a murderess. That’s swell, isn’t it? That’s a swell combination for the mother of your child !” Jimmy was staring blankly. “The mother of my—wha-at?”
“Child, darling.” Faith’s laughter was half stifled now. “That’s why I’m having to leave the show. That’s why I’m so crazy with joy that Minna’s dead. I couldn’t have trusted her not to tell about the penitentiary—ever.”
Jimmy’s jaw dropped. After a protracted pause, Robert gave a little twisted grin and said: “Congratulations, Faith.”
Faith smiled at him fleetingly, but her entire concentration was on her husband. She was watching him with a kind of destrate urgency.
“You—you don’t mind?” she faltered. “I mean about—everything, all I told you? It doesn’t make you despise me?” “Despise you!” Jimmy’s dark eyes had crinkled suddenly at the corners. “Darling, if it wasn’t for that mayor’s wife’s fur coat, I wouldn’t have met you, would I?”
“Jimmy!” Gradually the cloud of anxiety slipped out of Faith’s eyes. She took a small, uncertain step toward her husband, the full skirt of her old-fashioned costume rustling around her.
Then suddenly she was in his arms.
Robert, his eyes very grave, nodded Leslie to join him, and they slipped out of the room.
It was not until they had reached the stage door that Leslie realized she had
forgotten her pocketbcok. When she went back for it, neither Faith nor Jimmy seemed to notice her. Jimmy’s arm was still around his wife’s waist.
As Leslie tiptoed out, she heard his voice, very low. and husky:
“Darling, why didn't you tell me right from the very beginning? If only I’d known. I'd have murdered Minna— months ago.”
To be Concluded