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CHAPTER XXII
After Larry's many days and nights of futile searching of his brain for a plan that would accord with his fundamental idea for awakening the unguessed other self of Maggie, the plan, which finally came to him complete in all its details in a single moment, was so simple and obvious that he marveled it could have been plainly before his eyes all this while without his ever seeing it. Of course the plan was dangerous and of doubtful issue. It had to be so, because it involved the reactions of strong-tempered persons as yet unacquainted who would have no foreknowledge of the design behind their new relationship; and because its success or failure, which might also mean his own complete failure, the complete loss of all he had thus far gained, depended largely upon the twist of events which he could not foresee and therefore could not guide.

Briefly, his plan was so to manage as to have Maggie received in the Sherwood household as a guest, to have her receive the frank, unquestioning hospitality (and perhaps friendship) of such a gracious, highly placed, unpretentious woman as Miss Sherwood, so distinctly a native of, and not an immigrant to, the great world. To be received as a friend by those against whom she plotted, to have the generous, unsuspecting friendship of Miss Sherwood—if anything just then had a chance to open the blinded Maggie's eyes to the evil and error of what she was engaged upon, if anything had a chance to appeal to the finer things he believed to exist unrecognized or suppressed in Maggie, this was that thing.

And best part of this plan, its effect would be only within Maggie's self. No one need know that anything had happened. There would be no exposure, no humiliation.

Of course there was the great question of how to get Miss Sherwood to invite Maggie; and whether indeed Miss Sherwood would invite her at all. And there was the further question, the invitation being sent, of whether Maggie would accept.

Larry decided to manipulate his design through Dick Sherwood. Late that afternoon, when Dick, just returned from the city, dropped into, as was his before-dinner custom, the office-study which had been set aside for Larry's use, Larry, after an adroit approach to his subject, continued:

“And since I've been wished on you as a sort of step-uncle, there's something I'd like to suggest—if I don't seem to be fairly jimmying my way into your affairs.”

“Door's unlocked and wide open, Captain,” said Dick. “Walk right in and take the best chair.”

“Thanks. Remember telling me about a young woman you recently met? A Miss Maggie—Maggie—”

“Miss Cameron,” Dick prompted. “Of course I remember.”

“And remember your telling me that this time it's the real thing?”

“And it IS the real thing!”

“You haven't—excuse me—asked her to marry you yet?”

“No. I've been trying to get up my nerve.”

“Here's where you've got to excuse me once more, Dick—it's not my business to tell you what should be your relations with your family—but have you told your sister?”

“No.” Dick hesitated. “I suppose I should. But I hadn't thought of it—yet. You see—” Again Dick hesitated.

“Yes?” prompted Larry.

“There are her relatives—that cousin and uncle. I guess it must have been my thinking of them that prevented my thinking of what you suggest.”

“But you told me they hadn't interfered much, and never would interfere.” Larry gently pressed his point: “And look at it from Miss Cameron's angle of view. If it's the real thing, and you're behaving that way toward her, hasn't she good grounds for thinking it strange that you haven't introduced her to your family?”

“By George, you're right, Captain! I'll see to that at once.”

“Of course, Dick,” Larry went on, carefully feeling his way, “you know much better than I the proper way to do such things—but don't you think it would be rather nice, when you tell your sister, that you suggest to her that she invite Miss Cameron out here for a little visit? If they are to meet, I know Miss Cameron, or any girl, would take it as more of a tribute to be received in your own home than merely to meet in a big commonplace hotel.”

“Right again, Captain! I'd tell Isabel to-night, and ask her to send the invitation—only I'm booked to scoot right back to the city for a little party as soon as I get some things together, and I'll stay overnight in the apartment. But I'll attend to the thing to-morrow night, sure.”

“May I ask just one favor in the meantime?”

“One favor? A dozen, Captain!”

“I'll take the other eleven later. Just now I only ask, since you haven't proposed, that you won't—er—commit yourself any further, in any way, with Miss Cameron until after you've told your sister and until after Miss Cameron has been out here.”

“Oh, I say now!” protested Dick.

“I am merely suggesting that affairs remain in statu quo until after Miss Cameron's visit with your sister. That's not asking much of you, Dick—nor asking it for a very long time.”

“Oh, of course I'll do it, Captain,” grumbled Dick affectionately. “You've got me where I'll do almost anything you want me to do.”

But Dick did not speak to his sister the following evening. The next morning news came to Miss Sherwood of a friend's illness, and she and her novel-reading aunt hurried off at once on what was to prove to be a week's absence. But this delay in his plan did not worry Larry greatly as it otherwise would have done, for Dick repeated his promise to hold a stiff rein upon himself until after he should have spoken to his sister. And Larry believed he could rely upon Dick's pledged word.

During this week of waiting and necessary inactivity Larry concentrated upon another phase of his many-sided plan—to make of himself a business success. As has been said, he saw his chance of this in the handling of Miss Sherwood's affairs; and saw it particularly in an idea that had begun to grow upon him since he became aware, through statements and letters from the agents turned over to him, of the extent of the Sherwood real-estate holdings and since he had got some glimmering of their condition. His previous venturings about the city had engendered in him a sense of moderate security; so he now began to make flying trips into New York in the smart roadster Miss Sherwood had placed at his disposal.

On each trip Larry made swift visits to several of the properties, until finally he had covered the entire list Miss Sherwood had furnished him through the agents. His survey corroborated his surmise. The property, mostly neglected apartment and tenement houses, was in an almost equally bad way whether one regarded it from the standpoint of sanitation, comfort, or cold financial returns. The fault for this was due to the fact that the Sherwoods had left the property entirely in the care of the agents, and the agents, being old, old-fashioned, and weary of business to the point of being almost ready to retire, had left the property to itself.

Prompted by these bad conditions, and to some degree by the then critical housing famine, with its records of some thousands of families having no place at all to go and some thousands of families being compelled for the sake of mere shelter to pay two and three times what they could afford for a few poor rooms, and with its records of profiteering landlords, Larry began to make notes for a plan which he intended later to elaborate—a plan which he tentatively entitled: “Suggestions for the Development of Sherwood Real-Estate Holdings.” Larry, knowing from the stubs of Miss Sherwood's checkbook what would be likely to please her, gave as much consideration to Service as to Profit. The basis of his growing plan was good apartments at fair rentals. That he saw as the greatest of public services in the present crisis. But the return upon the investment had to be a reasonable one. Larry did not believe in Charity, except for extreme cases. He believed, and his belief had grown out of a wide experience with many kinds of people, that Charity, of course to a smaller extent, was as definitely a source of social evil as the then much-talked-of Profiteering.

In the meantime he was seeing his old friend, Joe Ellison, every day; perhaps smoking with Ellison in his cottage after he had finished his day's work among the roses, perhaps walking along the bluff which hung above the Sound, whose cool, clear waters splashed with vacation laziness upon the shingle. The two men rarely spoke, and never of the past. Larry was well acquainted with, and understood, the older man's deep-rooted wish to avoid all talk bearing upon deeds and associates of other days; that was a part of his life and a phase of existence that Joe Ellison was trying to forget, and Larry by his silence deferred to his friend's desire.

On the day after Joe Ellison's visit to the Duchess, Larry had received a note from his grandmother, addressed, of course, to “Mr. Brandon.” There was no danger in her writing Larry if she took adequate precautions: mail addressed to Cedar Crest was not bothered by postal and police officials; it was only mail which came to the house of the Duchess which received the attention of these gentlemen.

The note was one which the Duchess, after that night of thought which had so shaken her old heart, had decided to be a necessity if her plan of never telling of her discovery of Maggie's real paternity were to be a success. The major portion of her note dwelt upon a generality with which Larry already was acquainted: Joe's desire to keep clear of all talk touching upon the deeds and the people of his past. And then in a careless-seeming last sentence the Duchess packed the carefully calculated substance of her entire note:

“It may not be very important—but particularly avoid ever mentioning the mere name of Jimmie Carlisle. They used to know each other, and their acquaintance is about the bitterest thing Joe Ellison has to remember.”

Of course he'd never mention Old Jimmie Carlisle, Larry said to himself as he destroyed the note—never guessing, in making this natural response to what seemed a most natural request, that he had become an unconscious partner in the plan of the warm-hearted, scheming Duchess.

There was one detail of Joe Ellison's behavior which aroused Larry's mild curiosity. Directly beneath one of Joe's gardens, hardly a hundred yards away, was a bit of beach and a pavilion which were used in common by the families from the surrounding estates. The girls and younger women were just home from schools and colleges, and at high tide were always on the beach. At this period, whenever he was at Cedar Crest, Larry saw Joe, his work apparently forgotten, gazing fixedly down upon the young figures splashing about the water in their bright bathing-suits or lounging about the pavilion in their smart summer frocks.

This interest made Larry wonder, though to be sure not very seriously. For he had never a guess of how deep Joe's interest was. He did not know, could not know, that that tall, fixed figure, with its one absorbing idea, was thinking of his daughter. He could not know that Joe Ellison, emotionally elated and with a hungry, self-denying affection that reached out toward them all, was seeing his daughter as just such a girl as one of these—simple, wholesome, well-brought-up. He could not know that Joe, in a way, perceived his daughter in every nice young woman he saw.

Toward evening of the seventh day of her visit, Miss Sherwood returned. Larry was on the piazza when the car bearing her swept into the white-graveled curve of the drive. The car was a handsome, powerful roadster. Larry had started out to be of such assistance as he could, when the figure at the wheel, a man, sprang from the car and helped Miss Sherwood alight. Larry saw that the man was Hunt—such a different Hunt!—and he had begun a quick retreat when Hunt's voice called after him:

“You there—wait a minute! I want a little chin-chin with you.”

Larry halted. He could not help overhearing the few words that passed between Hunt and Miss Sherwood.

“Thank you ever so much,” she said in her even voice. “Then you're coming?”

“I promised, didn't I?”

“Then good-bye.”

“Good-bye.”

They shook hands friendly enough, but rather formally, and Miss Sherwood turned to the house. Hunt called to Larry:

“Come here, son.”

Larry crossed to the big painter who was standing beside the power-bulged hood of his low-swung car.

“Happened to drop in where she was—brought her home—aunt following in that hearse with its five-foot cushions she always rides in,” Hunt explained. And then: “Well, I suppose you've got to give me the once-over. Hurry up, and get it done with.”

Larry obeyed. Hunt's wild hair had been smartly barbered, he had on a swagger dust-coat, and beneath it flannels of the smartest cut. Further, he bore himself as if smart clothes and smart cars had always been items of his equipment.

“Well, young fellow, spill it,” he commanded. “What do I look like?”

“Like Solomon in all his glory. No, more like the he-dressmaker of the Queen of Sheba.”

“I'm going to run you up every telephone post we come to for that insult! Hop in, son, and we'll take a little voyage around the earth in eighty seconds.”

Larry got in. Once out of the drive the car leaped away as though intent upon keeping to Hunt's time-table. But after a mile or two Hunt quieted the roaring monster to a conversational pace.

“Get one of the invitations to my show?” he asked.

“Yes. Several days ago. That dealer certainly got it up in great shape.”

“You must have hypnotized Graham. That old paint pirate is giving the engine all the gas she'll stand—and believe me, he's sure getting up a lot of speed.” Hunt grinned. “That private pre-exhibition show you suggested is proving the best publicity idea Graham ever had in his musty old shop. Everywhere I go, people are talking about the darned thing. Every man, woman and child, also unmarried females of both sexes, who got invitations are coming—and those who didn't get 'em are trying to bribe the traffic cop at Forty-Second Street to let 'em in.”

Hunt paused for a chuckle. “And I'm having the time of my young life with the people who always thought I couldn't paint, and who are now trying to sidle up to me on the suspicion that possibly after all I can paint. What's got that bunch buffaloed is the fact that Graham has let it leak out that I'm likely to make bales of money from my painting. The idea of any one making money out of painting, that's too much for their heads. Oh, this is the life, Larry!”

Larry started to congratulate him, but was instantly interrupted with:

“I admit I'm a painter, and always will admit it. But this present thing is all your doing. We'll try to square things sometime. But I didn't ask you to come along to hear verbostical acrobatics about myself. I asked you to learn if you'd worked out your plan yet regarding Maggie?”

“Yes.” And Larry proceeded to give the details of his design.

“Regular psychological stuff!” exclaimed Hunt. And then: “Say, you're some stage-manager! Or rather same playwright! Playwrights that know tell me it's one of their most difficult tricks—to get all their leading characters on the stage at the same time. And here you've got it all fixed to bring on Miss Sherwood, Dick, Maggie, yourself, and the all-important me—for don't forget I shall be slipping out to Cedar Crest occasionally.”

“As for myself,” remarked Larry, “I shall remain very much behind the scenes. Maggie'll never see me.”

“Well, here's hoping you're good enough playwright to manage your characters so they won't run away from you and mix up an ending you never dreamed of!”

The car paused again in the drive and Larry got out.

“I say, Larry,” Hunt whispered eagerly, “who's that tall, white-haired man working over there among the roses?”

“Joe Ellison. He's that man I told you about my getting to know in Sing Sing. Remember?”

“Oh, yes! The crook who was having his baby brought up to be a real person. Say, he's a sure-enough character! Lordy, but I'd love to paint that face!... So-long, son.”

The car swung around the drive and roared away. Larry mounted to the piazza. Dick was waiting for him, and excitedly drew him down to one corner that crimson ramblers had woven into a nook for confidences.

“Captain, old scout,” he said in a low, happy voice, “I've just told sis. Put the whole proposition up to her, just as you told me. She took it like a regular fellow. Your whole idea was one hundred per cent right. Sis is inside now getting off that invitation to Miss Cameron, asking her to come out day after to-morrow.”

Larry involuntarily caught the veranda railing. “I hope it works out—for the best,” he said.

“Oh, it will—no doubt of it!” cried the exultant Dick. “And, Captain, if it does, it'll be all your doing!”


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