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CHAPTER XVI
All this while Maggie, and what he was to do about her, and how do it, was in Larry's mind. Even this work he was doing for Miss Sherwood, he was doing also for Maggie in the hope that in some unseen way it might lead him to her and help lead her to herself. There were difficulties enough between them, God knew; but of them all two were forever presenting themselves as foremost: first, he did not dare go openly to see her; and, second, even if he so dared he did not know where she was.

When he had been with the Sherwoods some three weeks Larry determined upon a preliminary measure. By this time he knew that the letters mailed from Chicago, according to the plan he had arranged with Miss Sherwood, had had their contemplated effect. He knew that he was supposed by his enemies to be in Chicago or some other Western point, and that New York was off its guard as far as he was concerned.

His preliminary measure was to discover, if possible, Maggie's whereabouts. The Duchess seemed to him the most likely source of information. He dared not write asking her for this, for he was certain her mail was still being scrutinized. The safest method would be to call at the pawnshop in person; the police, and his old friends, and the Ginger Bucks would expect anything else before they would expect him to return to his grandmother's. Of course he must use all precautions.

Incidentally he was prompted to this method by his desire to see his grandmother and Hunt. He had an idea or two which he had been mulling over that concerned the artist.

He chose a night when a steady, blowing rain had driven all but limousined and most necessitous traffic from the streets. The rain was excuse for a long raincoat with high collar which buttoned under his nose, and a cap which pulled down to his eyes, and an umbrella which masked him from every direct glance. Thus abetted and equipped he came, after a taxi ride and a walk, into his grandmother's street. It was as seemingly deserted as on that tumultuous night when he had left it; and on this occasion no figures sprang out of the cover of shadows, shooting and cursing. He had calculated correctly and unmolested he gained the pawnshop door, passed the solemn-eyed, incurious Isaac, and entered the room behind.

His grandmother sat over her accounts at her desk in a corner among her curios. Hunt, smoking a black pipe, was using his tireless right hand in a rapid sketch of her: another of those swift, few-stroked, vivid character notes which were about his studio by the hundreds. The Duchess saw Larry first; and she greeted him in the same unsurprised, emotionless manner as on the night he had come back from Sing Sing.

“Good-evening, Larry,” said she.

“Good-evening, grandmother,” he returned.

Hunt came to his feet, knocking over a chair in so doing, and gripped Larry's hand. “Hello—here's our wandering boy to-night! How are you, son?”

“First-rate, you old paint-slinger. And you?”

“Hitting all twelve cylinders and taking everything on high! But say, listen, youngster: how about your copper friends and those gun-toting schoolmates of yours?”

“Missed them so far.”

“Better keep on missing 'em.” Hunt regarded him intently for a moment, then asked abruptly: “Never heard one way or another—but did you use that telephone number I gave you?”

“Yes.”

“Miss Sherwood take care of you?”

“Yes.”

“Still there?”

“Yes.”

Again Hunt was silent for a moment. Larry expected questions about Miss Sherwood, for he knew the quality of the painter's interest. But Hunt seemed quite as determined to avoid any personal question relating to Miss Sherwood as she had been about personal questions relating to him; for his next remark was:

“Young fellow, still keeping all those commandments you wrote for yourself?”

“So far, my bucko.”

“Keep on keeping 'em, and write yourself a few more, and you'll have a brand-new decalogue. And we'll have a little Moses of our own. But in the meantime, son, what's the great idea of coming down here?”

“For one thing, I came to ask for a couple of your paintings.”

“My paintings!” Hunt regarded the other suspiciously. “What the hell you want my paintings for?”

“They might make good towels if I can scrape the paint off.”

“Aw, cut out the vaudeville stuff! I asked you what you wanted my paintings for? Give me a straight answer!”

“All right—here's your straight answer: I want your paintings to sell them.”

“Sell my paintings! Say, are you trying to say something still funnier?”

“I want them to sell them. Remember I once told you that I could sell them—that I could sell anything. Let me have them, and then just see.”

“You'd sure have to be able to sell anything to sell them!” A challenging glint had come into Hunt's eyes. “Young fellow, you're so damned fresh that if you had any dough I'd bet you five thousand, any odds you like, that you couldn't even GIVE one of the things away!”

“Loan me five thousand,” Larry returned evenly, “and I'll cover the bet with even money—it being understood that I'm to sell the picture at a price not less than the highest price you ever received for one of your 'pretty pictures' which you delight to curse and which made your fortune. Now bring down your pictures—or shut up!”

Hunt's jaw set. “Young fellow, I take that bet! And I'll not let you off, either—you'll have to pay it! Which pictures do you want?”

“That young Italian woman sitting on the curb nursing her baby—and any other picture you want to put with it.”

Hunt went clumping up the stairway. When he was out of earshot, the Duchess remarked quietly:

“What did you really come for, Larry?”

Larry was somewhat taken aback by his grandmother's penetration, but he did not try to evade the question nor the steady gaze of the old eyes.

“I thought you might know where Maggie is, and I came to ask.”

“That's what I thought.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“Yes.”

“Where is she?”

The old eyes were still steady upon him. “I don't know that I should tell you. I want you to get on—and the less you have to do with Maggie, the better for you.”

“I'd like to know, grandmother.”

The Duchess considered for a long space. “After all, you're of age—and you've got to decide what's best for yourself. I'll tell you. Maggie was here the other day—dressed simple—to get some letters she'd forgotten to take and which I couldn't find. We had a talk. Maggie is living at the Grantham under the name of Margaret Cameron. She has a suite there.”

“A suite at the Grantham!” exclaimed Larry, astounded. “Why, the Grantham is in the same class with the Ritzmore, where she used to work—or the Plaza! A suite at the Grantham!”

And then Larry gave a twitching start. “At the Grantham—alone?”

“Not alone—no. But it's not what just came into your mind. It's a woman that's with her; a hired companion. And they're doing everything on a swell scale.”

“What's Maggie up to?”

“She didn't tell me, except to say that the plan was a big one. She was all excited over it. If you want to know just what it is, ask Barney Palmer and Old Jimmie.”

“Barney and Old Jimmie!” ejaculated Larry. And then: “Barney and Old Jimmie—and a suite at the Grantham!”

At that moment Hunt came back down the stairway, carrying a roll wrapped in brown paper.

“Here you are, young fellow,” he announced. “De-mounted 'em so the junk would be easier to handle. The Dago mother you asked for—the second painting may be one you'd like to have for your own private gallery. I'm not going to let you get away with your bluff—and don't you forget it!... Duchess, don't you think he'd better beat it before Gavegan and his loving friends take a tumble to his presence and mess up the neighborhood?”

“Yes,” said the Duchess. “Good-night, Larry.”

“Good-night,” said he.

Mechanically he took the roll of paintings and slipped it under his raincoat; mechanically he shook hands; mechanically he got out of the pawnshop; mechanically he took all precautions in getting out of the little rain-driven street and in getting into a taxicab which he captured over near Cooper Institute. All his mind was upon what the Duchess had told him and upon a new idea which was throbbingly growing into a purpose. Maggie and Barney and Old Jimmie! Maggie in a suite at the Grantham!

What Larry now did, as he got into the taxi, he would have called footless and foolhardy an hour before, and at any other hour his judgment might have restrained him. But just now he seemed controlled by a force greater than smooth-running judgment—a composite of many forces: by sudden jealousy, by a sudden desire to shield Maggie, by a sudden desire to see her. So as he stepped into the taxi, he said:

“The Grantham—quick!”


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