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Chapter 14 A SUBTLE ATTACK

  • Voles was brought from Boston. Though Meiklejohn dreaded the man, condition_ight arise which would call for a bold and ruthless rascality not quit_racticable for a Senator.
  • The lapse of time, too, had lulled the politician’s suspicions of the police.
  • They seemed to have ceased prying. He ascertained, almost by chance, tha_lancy was hot on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters. “The yacht mystery” had apparently become a mere memory in the Bureau.
  • So Voles came, with him Mick the Wolf, carrying a left arm in splints, and th_enator thought he was taking no risk in calling at the up-town hotel wher_he pair occupied rooms the day after Carshaw blurted out Winifred’s name t_elen Tower. He meant paying another visit that day, so was attired _d_igueur_ , a fact at which Voles, pipe in mouth and lounging in pajamas, promptly scoffed.
  • “Gee!” he cried. “Here’s the Senator mooching round again, dressed up to th_ines—dust coat, morning suit, boots shining, all the frills—but visiting lo_ompanions all the same. Why doesn’t the man turn over a new leaf and becom_ood?”
  • “Oh, hold your tongue!” said William. “We’ve got the girl, Ralph!”
  • “Got the girl, have we? Not the first girl you’ve said that about—is it, m_ily William?”
  • “Listen, and drop that tone when you’re speaking to me, or I’ll cut you ou_or good and all!” said Meiklejohn in deadly earnest. “If ever you had need t_e serious, it is now. I said we’ve got her, but that only means that we ar_bout to get her address; and the trouble will be to get herself afterward.”
  • “Tosh! As to that, only tell me where she is, an’ I’ll go and grab her by th_eck.”
  • “Don’t be such a fool. This is New York and not Mexico, though you insist o_onfounding the two. Even if the girl were without friends, you can’t go an_eize people in that fashion over here, and she has at least one powerfu_riend, for the man who beat you hollow that night, and carried her off unde_our very nose, is Rex Carshaw, a determined youngster, and rich, though no_o rich as he thinks he is. And there must be no failure a second time, Ralph.
  • Remember that! Just listen to me carefully. This girl is thinking of going o_he stage! Do you realize what that means, if she ever gets there? You hav_ourself said she is the living image of her mother. You know that her mothe_as well known in society. Think, then, of her appearing before the public, and of the certainty of her being recognized by some one, or by many, if sh_oes. Fall down this time, and the game’s up!”
  • “The thing seems to be, then, to let daylight into Carshaw,” said Voles.
  • “Oh, listen, man! Listen! What we have to do is to place her in a lonel_ouse—in the country—where, if she screams, her screams will not be heard; an_he only possibility of bringing her there is by ruse, not by violence.”
  • “Well, and how get her there?”
  • “That has to be carefully planned, and even more carefully executed. It seem_o me that the mere fact of her wishing to go on the stage may be made _andle to serve our ends. If we can find a dramatic agent with whom she is i_reaty, we must obtain a sheet of his office paper, and write her a letter i_is name, making an appointment with her at an empty house in the country, some little distance from New York. None of the steps presents any grea_ifficulty. In fact, all that part I undertake myself. It will be for you, your friend Mick, and Rachel Craik to receive her and keep her eternally whe_ou once have her. You may then be able so to work upon her as to persuade he_o go quietly with you to South America or England. In any case, we shall hav_hut her away from the world, which is our object.”
  • “Poor stuff! How about this Carshaw? Suppose he goes with her to keep th_ppointment, or learns from her beforehand of it? Carshaw must be wiped out.”
  • “He must certainly be dealt with, yes,” said Meiklejohn, “but in anothe_anner. I think—I think I see my way. Leave him to me. I want this girl out o_ew York State in the first instance. Suppose you go to the Oranges, in Ne_ersey, pick out a suitable house, and rent it? Go to-day.”
  • Voles raised his shaggy eyebrows.
  • “What’s the rush?” he said amusedly. “After eighteen years—”
  • “Will you never learn reason? Every hour, every minute, may bring disaster.”
  • “Oh, have it your way! I’ll fix Carshaw if he camps on my trail a secon_ime.”
  • Meiklejohn returned to his car with a care-seamed brow. He was bound now fo_rs. Carshaw’s apartment.
  • If he was fortunate enough to find her in, and alone, he would take that firs_tep in “dealing with” her son which he had spoken of to Voles. He made n_rior appointment by phone. He meant catching her unawares, so that Rex coul_ave no notion of his presence.
  • Mrs. Carshaw was a substantial lady of fifty, a society woman of the type t_hom the changing seasons supply the whole duty of man and woman, and th_orld outside the orbit of the Four Hundred is a rumor of no importance.
  • She had met Senator Meiklejohn in so many places for so many years that the_ight be called comrades in the task of dining and making New York loo_legant. She was pleased to see him. Their common fund of scandal and epigra_ould carry them safely over a cheerful hour.
  • “And as to the good old firm of Carshaw—prosperous as usual, I hope,” sai_eiklejohn, balancing an egg-shell tea-cup.
  • Mrs. Carshaw shrugged.
  • “I don’t know much about it,” she said, “but I sometimes hear talk of ba_imes and lack of capital. I suppose it is all right. Rex does not see_oncerned.”
  • “Ah! but the mischief may be just there,” said Meiklejohn. “The rogue may b_hrowing it all on the shoulders of his managers, and letting things slide.”
  • “He may—he probably is. I see very little of him, really, especially jus_ately.”
  • “Is it the same little influence at work upon him as some months ago?” aske_eiklejohn, bending nearer, a real confidential crony.
  • “Which same little influence?” asked the lady, agog with a sense of secrecy, and genuinely anxious as to anything affecting her son.
  • “Why, the girl, Winifred Bartlett.”
  • “Bartlett! As far as I know, I have never even heard her name.”
  • “Extraordinary! Why, it’s the talk of the club.”
  • “Tell me. What is it all about?”
  • “Ah, I must not be indiscreet. When I mentioned her, I took it for grante_hat you knew all about it, or I should not have told tales out of school.”
  • “Yes, but you and I are of a different generation than Rex. He belongs to th_pring, we belong to the autumn. There is no question of telling tales out o_chool as between you and him. So now, please, you are going to tell m_all_.”
  • “Well, the usual story: A girl of lower social class; a young man’s hea_urned by her wiles; the conventions more or less defied; business yawned at; mother, friends, everything shelved for the time being, and nothing importan_ut the one thing. It’s not serious, perhaps. So long as business is not _too_uch neglected, and no financial consequences follow, society thinks not _hit worse of a young man on that account—on one condition, mark you! Ther_ust be no question of marriage. But in this case there _is_ that question.”
  • “But this is merely ridiculous!” laughed Mrs. Carshaw shrilly. “Marriage! Ca_ son of mine be so quixotic?”
  • “It is commonly believed that he is about to marry her.”
  • “But how on earth has it happened that I never heard a whisper of thi_reposterous thing?”
  • “It _is_ extraordinary. Sometimes the one interested is the last to hear wha_very one is talking about.”
  • “Well, I never was so—amused!” Yet Mrs. Carshaw’s wintry smile was not joyous.
  • “Rex! I must laugh him out of it, if I meet him anywhere!”
  • “That you will not succeed in doing, I think.”
  • “Well, then I’ll frown him out of it. This is why—I see all now.”
  • “There you are hardly wise, to think of either laughing or frowning him out o_t,” said Meiklejohn, offering her worldly wisdom. “No, in such cases there i_ better way, take my word for it.”
  • “And that is?”
  • “Approach the girl. Avoid carefully saying one word to the young man, bu_pproach _the girl_. That does it, if the girl is at all decent, and has an_ensibility. Lay the facts plainly before her. Take her into you_onfidence—this flatters her. Invoke her love for the young man whom she i_urting by her intimacy with him—this puts her on her honor. Urge her to fl_rom him—this makes her feel herself a martyr, and turns her on the heroi_ack. That is certainly what I should do if I were you, and I should do i_ithout delay.”
  • “You’re right. I’ll do it,” said Mrs. Carshaw. “Do you happen to know wher_his girl is to be found?”
  • “No. I think I can tell, though, from whom you might get the address—Hele_ower. I heard your son talking to her last night about the girl. He wa_anting to know whether Helen could put him in the way of placing her on th_tage.”
  • “What! Is she one of those scheming chorus-girls?”
  • “It appears so.”
  • “But has he had the effrontery to mention her in this way to other ladies? I_s rather amusing! Why, it used to be said that Helen Tower was his _bell_mie_.”
  • “All the more reason, perhaps, why she may be willing to give you the address, if she knows it.”
  • “I’ll see her this very afternoon.”
  • “Then I must leave you at leisure now,” said Meiklejohn sympathetically.
  • An hour later Mrs. Carshaw was with Helen Tower, and the name of Winifre_artlett arose between them.
  • “But he did not give me her address,” said Mrs. Tower. “Do you want i_ressingly?”
  • “Why, yes. Have you not heard that there is a question of marriage?”
  • “Good gracious! Marriage?”
  • The two women laid their heads nearer together, enjoying the awfulness of th_hing, though one was a mother and the other was pricked with jealousy in som_ecret part of her nature.
  • “Yes—marriage!” repeated the mother. Such an enormity was dreadful.
  • “It sounds too far-fetched! What will you do?”
  • “Senator Meiklejohn recommends me to approach the girl.”
  • “Well, perhaps that is the best. But how to get her address? Perhaps if _sked Rex he would tell it, without suspecting anything. On the other hand, h_ight take alarm.”
  • “Couldn’t you say you had secured her a place on the stage, and make him sen_er to you, to test her voice, or something? And then you could send her on t_e,” said the elder woman.
  • “Yes, that might be done,” answered Helen Tower. “I’d like to see her, too.
  • She must be extraordinarily pretty to capture Rex. Some of those common girl_re, you know. It is a caprice of Providence. Anyway, I shall find her out, o_ave her here somehow within the next few days, and will let you know. Firs_f all, I’ll write Rex and ask him to come for bridge to-night.”
  • She did this, but without effect, for Carshaw was engaged elsewhere, havin_aken Winifred to a theater.
  • However, Meiklejohn was again at the bridge party, and when he asked whethe_rs. Carshaw had paid a visit that afternoon, and the address of the girl ha_een given, Helen Tower answered:
  • “I don’t know it. I am now trying to find out.”
  • The Senator seemed to take thought.
  • “I hate interfering,” he said at last, “but I like young Carshaw, and hav_nown his mother many a year. It’s a pity he should throw himself away on som_hit of a girl, merely because she has a fetching pair of eyes or a sli_nkle, or Heaven alone knows what else it is that first turns a young man’_ind to a young woman. I happen to have heard, however, that Winifred Bartlet_ives in a boarding-house kept by Miss Goodman in East Twenty-seventh Street.
  • Now, my name must not—”
  • Helen Tower laughed in that dry way which often annoyed him.
  • “Surely by this time you regard me as a trustworthy person,” she said.
  • So Fowle had proven himself a capable tracker, and Winifred’s persecutors wer_gain closing in on her. But who would have imagined that the worst and mos_eadly of them might be the mother of her Rex? That, surely, was somethin_kin to steeping in poison the assassin’s dagger.