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CHAPTER XIII
When Maggie rode away forever from the house of the Duchess with Barney Palmer and her father, after the denunciation of Larry by the three of them as a stool and a squealer, she was the thrilled container of about as many diversified emotions as often bubble and swirl in a young girl at one and the same time. There was anger and contempt toward Larry: Larry who had weakly thrown aside a career in which he was a master, and who had added to that bad the worse of being a traitor. There was the lifting sense that at last she had graduated; that at last she was set free from the drab and petty things of life; that at last she was riding forth into the great brilliant world in which everything happened—forth into the fascinating, bewildering Unknown.

Barney and Old Jimmie talked to each other as the taxicab bumped through the cobbled streets, their talk being for the most part maledictions against Larry Brainard. But their words were meaningless sounds to the silent Maggie, all of whose throbbing faculties were just then merged into an excited endeavor to perceive the glorious outlines of the destiny toward which she rode. However, as the cab turned into Lafayette Place and rolled northward, her curiosity about the unknown became conscious and articulate.

“Where am I going?” she asked.

“First of all to a nice, quiet hotel.” It was Barney who answered; somehow Barney had naturally moved into the position of leader, and as naturally her father had receded to second place. “We've got everything fixed, Maggie. Rooms reserved, and a companion waiting there for you.”

“A companion!” exclaimed Maggie. “What for?”

“To teach you the fine points of manners, and to help you buy clothes. She's a classy bird all right. I advertised and picked her out of a dozen who applied.”

“Barney!” breathed Maggie. She was silent a dazed moment, then asked: “Just—just what am I going to do?”

“Listen, Maggie: I'll spill you the whole idea. I'd have told you before, but it's developed rather sudden, and I've not had a real chance, and, besides, I knew you'd be all for it. Jimmie and I have canned that stock-selling scheme for good—unless an easy chance for it develops later. Our big idea now is to put YOU across!” Barney believed that there might still remain in Maggie some lurking admiration for Larry, some influence of Larry over her, and to eradicate these completely by the brilliance of what he offered was the chief purpose of his further quick-spoken words. “To put you across in the biggest kind of a way, Maggie! A beautiful, clever woman who knows how to use her brains, and who has brainy handling, can bring in more money, and in a safer way, than any dozen men! And I tell you, Maggie, I'll make you a star!”

“Barney!... But you haven't told me just what I'm to do.”

“The first thing will be just a try-out; it'll help finish your education. I've got it doped out, but I'll not tell you till later. The main idea is not to use you in just one game, Maggie, but to finish you off so you'll fit into dozens of games—be good year after year. A big actress who can step right into any big part that comes her way. That's what pays! I tell you, Maggie, there's no other such good, steady proposition on earth as the right kind of woman. And that's what you're going to be!”

Maggie had heard much this same talk often before. Then it had been vague, and had dealt with an indefinite future. Now she was too dazzled by this picture of near events which the eager Barney was drawing to be able to make any comment.

“I'll be right behind you in everything, and so will Jimmie,” Barney continued in his exciting manner—“but you'll be the party out in front who really puts the proposition over. And we'll keep to things where the police can't touch us. Get a man with coin and position tangled up right in a deal with a woman, and he'll never let out a peep and he'll come across with oodles of money. Hundreds of ways of working that. A strong point about you, Maggie, is you have no police record. Neither have I, though the police suspect me—but, as I said, I'll keep off the stage as much as I can. I tell you, Maggie, we're going to put over some great stuff! Great, I tell you!”

Maggie felt no repugnance to what had been said and implied by Barney. How could she, when since her memory began she had lived among people who talked just these same things? To Maggie they seemed the natural order. At that moment she was more concerned by a fascinating necessity which Barney's flamboyant enterprise entailed.

“But to do anything like that, won't I need clothes?”

“You'll need 'em, and you'll have 'em! You're going to have one of the swellest outfits that ever happened. You'll make Paris ashamed of itself!”

“No use blowing the whole roll on Maggie's clothes,” put in Old Jimmie, speaking for the first time.

Barney turned on him caustically, almost savagely. “You're a hell of a father, you are—counting the pennies on his own daughter! I told you this was no piker's game, and you agreed to it—so cut out the idea you're in any nickel-in-the-slot business!”

Old Jimmie felt physical pain at the thought of parting from money on such a scale. His earlier plans concerning Maggie had never contemplated any such extravagance. But he was silenced by the dominant force behind Barney's sarcasm.

“Miss Grierson—she's your companion—knows what's what about clothes,” continued Barney to Maggie. “Here's the dope as I've handed it to her. You're an orphan from the West, with some dough, who's come to New York as my ward and Jimmie's and we want you to learn a few things. To her and to any new people we meet I'm your cousin and Jimmie is your uncle. You've got that all straight?”

“Yes,” said Maggie.

“You're to use another name. I've picked out Margaret Cameron for you. We can call you Maggie and it won't be a slip-up—see? If any of the coppers who know you should tumble on to you, just tell 'em you dropped your own name so's to get clear of your old life. They can't do anything to you. And tell 'em you inherited a little coin; that's why you're living so swell. They can't do anything about that either. ... Here's where we get out. Got a sitting-room, two bedrooms and a bath hired for you here. But we'll soon move you into a classier hotel.”

The taxi had stopped in front of one of the unpretentious, respectable hotels in the Thirties, just off Fifth Avenue, and Maggie followed the two men in. This hotel did, indeed, in its people, its furnishings, its atmosphere, seem sober and commonplace after the Ritzmore; but at the Ritzmore she had been merely a cigarette-girl, a paid onlooker at the gayety of others. Here she was a real guest—here her great life was beginning! Maggie's heart beat wildly.

Up in her sitting-room Barney introduced her to Miss Grierson, then departed with a significant look at Old Jimmie, saying he would return presently and leaving Old Jimmie behind. Old Jimmie withdrew into a corner, turned to the racing part of the Evening Telegram, which, with the corresponding section of the Morning Telegraph, was his sole reading, and left Maggie to the society of Miss Grierson.

Maggie studied this strange new being, her hired “companion,” with furtive keenness; and after a few minutes, though she was shyly obedient in the manner of an untutored orphan from the West, she had no fear of the other. Miss Grierson was a large, flat-backed woman who was on the descending slope of middle age. She was really a “gentlewoman,” in the self-pitying and self-praising sense in which those who advertise themselves as such use that word. She was all the social forms, all the proprieties. She was deferentially autocratic; her voice was monotonously dignified and cultured; and she was tired, which she had a right to be, for she had been in this business of being a gentlewomanly hired aunt to raw young girls for over a quarter of a Century.

To the tired but practical eye of Miss Grierson, here was certainly a young woman who needed a lot of working over to make into a lady. And though weary and unthrillable as an old horse, Miss Grierson was conscientious, and she was going to do her best.

Maggie made a swift survey of her new home. The rooms were just ordinary hotel rooms, furnished with the dingy, wholesale pretentiousness of hotels of the second rate. But they were the essence of luxury compared to her one room at the Duchess's with its view of dreary back yards. These rooms thrilled her. They were her first material evidence that she was now actually launched upon her great adventure.

Maggie had dinner in her sitting-room with Old Jimmie and Miss Grierson—and of that dinner, mediocre and sloppy, and chilled by its transit of twelve stories from the kitchen, Miss Grierson, by way of an introductory lesson, made an august function, almost diagrammatic in its educational details. After the dinner, with Miss Grierson's slow and formal aid, which consisted mainly in passages impressively declaimed from her private book of decorum, Maggie spent two hours in unpacking her suitcase and trunk, and repacking her scanty wardrobe in drawers of the chiffonier and dressing-table; a task which Maggie, left to herself, could have completed in ten minutes.

Maggie was still at this task in her bedroom when she heard Barney enter her sitting-room. “He got away,” she heard him say in a low voice to Old Jimmie.

She slipped quickly out of her bedroom and closed the door behind her. An undefined something had suddenly begun to throb within her.

“Who got away, Barney?” she demanded in a hushed tone.

Her look made Barney think rapidly. He was good at quick thinking, was Barney. He decided to tell the truth—or part of it.

“Larry Brainard.”

“Got away from what?” she pursued.

“The police. They were after him on some charge. And some of his pals were after him, too. They were out to get him because he had squealed on Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt. Both parties were closing in on him at about the same time. But Larry got a tip somehow, and made his get-away.”

“When did it happen?”

“Must have happened a little time after we all left the Duchess's.”

“But—but, Barney—how did you learn it so soon?”

“Just ran into Officer Gavegan over on Broadway and he told me,” lied Barney. He preferred not to tell her that he had been upon the scene with Little Mick and Lefty Ed; for the third figure which Larry had descried through the misty shadows had indeed been Barney Palmer. Also Barney preferred not to tell what further subtle share he had had in the causes for Larry's flight.

“Do you think he—he made a safe get-away?”

“Safe for a few hours. Gavegan told me they'd have him rounded up by noon to-morrow.” Barney was more conscious of Maggie's interest than was Maggie herself, and again was desirous of destroying it or diverting it. “Generally I'm for the other fellow against the police. But this time I'm all for the coppers. I hope they land Larry—he's got it coming to him. Remember that he's a stool and a squealer.”

And swiftly Barney switched the subject. “Let's be moving along, Jimmie.”

He drew Maggie out into the hall, to make more certain that Miss Grierson would not overhear. “Well, Maggie,” he exulted, “haven't I made good so far in my bargain to put you over?”

“Yes.”

“Of course we're going slow at first. That's how you've got to handle big deals—careful. But you'll sure be a knock-out when that she-undertaker in there gets you rigged out in classy clothes. Then the curtain will go up on the real show—and it's going to be a big show—and you'll be the hit of the piece!”

With that incitement to Maggie's imagination Barney left her; and Old Jimmie followed, furtively giving Maggie a brief, uncertain look.


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