“Are you Miss Winifred Bartlett?” asked Mrs. Carshaw the next afternoon i_hat remote part of East Twenty-seventh Street which for the first time bor_he rubber tires of her limousine.
“Yes, madam,” said Winifred, who stood rather pale before that large an_legant presence. It was in the front room of the two which Winifred occupied.
“But—where have I seen you before?” asked Mrs. Carshaw suddenly, making pla_ith a pair of mounted eye-glasses.
“I cannot say, madam. Will you be seated?”
“What a pretty girl you are!” exclaimed the visitor, wholly unconscious of th_alm insolence which “society” uses to its inferiors. “I’m certain I have see_ou somewhere, for your face is perfectly familiar, but for the life of me _annot recall the occasion.”
Mrs. Carshaw was not mistaken. Some dim cell of memory was stirred by th_irl’s likeness to her mother. For once Senator Meiklejohn’s scheming ha_rought him to the edge of the precipice. But the dangerous moment passed.
Rex’s mother was thinking of other and more immediate matters. Winifred stoo_ilent, scared, with a foreboding of the meaning of this tremendous visit.
“Now, I am come to have a quiet chat with you,” said Mrs. Carshaw, “and I onl_ope that you will look on me as a friend, and be perfectly at your ease. I a_orry the nature of my visit is not of a quite pleasant nature, but no doub_e shall be able to understand each other, for you look good and sweet. Wher_ave I seen you before? You are a sweetly pretty girl, do you know? I can’_ltogether blame poor Rex, for men are not very rational creatures, are they?
Come, now, and sit quite near beside me on this chair, and let me talk t_ou.”
Winifred came and sat, with tremulous lip, not saying a word.
“First, I wish to know something about yourself,” said Mrs. Carshaw, tryin_onestly to adopt a motherly tone. “Do you live here all alone? Where are you_arents?”
“I have none—as far as I know. Yes, I live here alone, for the present.”
“But no relatives?”
“I have an aunt—a sort of aunt—but—”
“You are mysterious—‘a sort of aunt.’ And is this ‘sort of aunt’ with yo_ere?”
“No. I used to live with her, but within the last month we have—separated.”
“Is that my son’s doings?”
“So you are quite alone?”
“And my son comes to see you?”
“He comes—yes, he comes.”
“But that is rather defiant of everything, is it not?”
A blush of almost intense carmine washed Winifred’s face and neck. Mrs.
Carshaw knew how to strike hard. Every woman knows how to hurt another woman.
“Miss Goodman, my landlady, usually stays in here when he comes,” said she.
“All the time?”
“Most of the time.”
“Well, I must not catechise you. No one woman has the right to do that t_nother, and you are sweet to have answered me at all. I think you are goo_nd true; and you will therefore find it all the easier to sympathize with m_otives, which have your own good at heart, as well as my son’s. First of all, do you understand that my son is very much in love with you?”
“I—you should not ask me—I may have thought that he liked me. Has—he—told yo_o?”
“He has never mentioned your name to me. I never knew of your existence til_esterday. But it is so; he is fond of you, to such an unusual extent, tha_uite a scandal has arisen in his social set—”
“Not about me?”
“But there is nothing——”
“Yes; it is reported that he intends to marry you.”
“And is that what the scandal is about? I thought the scandal was when you di_ot marry, not when you did.”
Mrs. Carshaw permitted herself to be surprised. She had not looked for suc_eapons in Winifred’s armory. But she was there to carry out what she deeme_n almost sacred mission, and the righteous can be horribly unjust.
“Yes, in the middle classes, but not in the upper, which has its own mora_ode—not a strictly Biblical one, perhaps,” she retorted glibly. “With us th_candal is not that you and my son are friends, but that he should seriousl_hink of marrying you, since you are on such different levels. You see, _peak plainly.”
Winifred suddenly covered her face with her hands. For the first time sh_easured the great gulf yawning between her and that dear hope growing up i_er heart.
“That is how the matter stands before marriage,” went on Mrs. Carshaw, sur_hat she was kind in being merciless. “You can conceive how it would b_fterwards. And society is all nature—it never forgives; or, if it forgives, it may condone sins, but never an indiscretion. Nor must you think that you_ove would console my son for the great social loss which his connection wit_ou threatens to bring on him. It will console him for a month, but a wife i_ot a world, nor, however beloved, does she compensate for the loss of th_orld. If, therefore, you love my son, as I take it that you do—do you?”
Winifred’s face was covered. She did not answer.
“Tell me in confidence. I am a woman, too, and know—”
A sob escaped from the poor bowed head. Mrs. Carshaw was moved. She had no_ounted on so hard a task. She had even thought of money!
“Poor thing! That will make your duty very hard. I wish—but there is no use i_ishing! Necessity knows no pity. Winifred, you must summon all your strengt_f mind, and get out of this false position.”
“What am I to do? What can I do?” wailed Winifred. She was without means o_ccupation, and could not fly from the house.
“You can go away,” said Mrs. Carshaw, “without letting him know whither yo_ave gone, and till you go you can throw cold water on his passion b_retending dislike or indifference—”
“But could I do such a thing, even if I tried?” came the despairing cry.
“It will be hard, certainly, but a woman should be able to accomplis_verything for the man she loves. Remember for whose sake you will be doin_t, and promise me before I leave you.”
“Oh, you should give me time to think before I promise anything,” sobbe_inifred. “I believe I shall go mad. I am the most unfortunate girl that eve_ived. I did not seek him—he sought me; and now, when I—Have you no pity?”
“You see that I have—not only pity, but confidence. It is hard, but I fee_hat you will rise to it. I, and you, are acting for Rex’s sake, and I hope, _elieve, you will do your share in saving him. And now I must go, leaving m_ting behind me. I am so sorry! I never dreamed that I should like you s_ell. I have seen you before somewhere—it seems to me in an old dream. Good- by, good-by! It had to be done, and I have done it, but not gladly. Heave_elp us women, and especially all mothers!”
Winifred could not answer. She was choked with sobs, so Mrs. Carshaw took he_eparture in a kind of stealthy haste. She was far more unhappy now than whe_he entered that quiet house. She came in bristling with resolution. She wen_ut, seemingly victorious, but feeling small and mean.
When she was gone Winifred threw herself on a couch with buried head, and wa_till there an hour later when Miss Goodman brought up a letter. It was from _ramatic agent whom she had often haunted for work—or rather it was a lette_n his office paper, making an appointment between her and a “manager” at som_igh-sounding address in East Orange, New Jersey, when, the writer said, “business might result.”
She had hardly read it when Rex Carshaw’s tap came to the door.
About that same time Steingall threw a note across his office table to Clancy, who was there to announce that in a house in Brooklyn a fine haul of coiners, dies, presses, and other illicit articles, human and inanimate, had just bee_ade.
“Ralph V. Voles and his bad man from the West have come back to New Yor_gain,” said the chief. “You might give ’em an eye.”
“Why on earth doesn’t Carshaw marry the girl?” said Clancy.
“I dunno. He’s straight, isn’t he?”
“Strikes me that way.”
“Me, too. Anyhow, let’s pick up a few threads. I’ve a notion that Senato_eiklejohn thinks he has side-stepped the Bureau.”
Clancy laughed. His mirth was grotesque as the grin of one of those carve_vories of Japan, and to the effect of the crinkled features was added _hrill cackle. The chief glanced up.
“Don’t do that,” he said sharply. “You get my goat when you make that beastl_oise!”
These two were beginning again to snap at each other about the Senator and hi_ffairs, and their official quarrels usually ended badly for the other fellow.