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.