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During all these days Larry waited for news of the result of the experiment in psychology which meant so much to his life. He had not expected to hear directly from Maggie; but he had counted upon learning at once from Dick, if not by words, then either from eloquent dejection which would proclaim Dick's refusal (and Larry's success) or from an ebullient joy which would proclaim that Maggie had accepted him. But Dick's sober but not unhappy behavior announced neither of these two to Larry; and the matter was too personal, altogether too delicate, to permit Larry to ask Dick the result, however subtly he might ask it.

So Larry could only wait—and wonder. The truth did not occur to Larry; he did not see that there might be another alternative to the two possible reactions he had calculated upon. He did not bear in mind that Maggie's youthful obstinacy, her belief in herself and her ways, were too solid a structure to yield at once to one moral shock, however wisely planned and however strong. He did not at this time hold in mind that any real change in so decided a character as Maggie, if change there was to be, would be preceded and accompanied by a turbulent period in which she would hardly know who she was, or where she was, or what she was going to do—and that at the end of such a period there might be no change at all.

Inasmuch as just then Maggie was his major interest, it seemed to Larry in his safe seclusion that he was merely marking time, and marking time with feet that were frantically impatient. He felt he could not stand much longer his own inactivity and his ignorance of what Maggie was doing and what was happening to her. He could not remain in this sanctuary pulling strings, and very long and fragile strings, and strings which might be the mistaken ones, for any much greater period. He felt that he simply had to walk out of this splendid safety, back into the dangers from which he had fled, where he might at least have the possible advantage of being in the very midst of Maggie's affairs and fight for her more openly and have a more direct influence upon her.

He knew that, sooner or later, he was going to throw caution aside and appear suddenly among his enemies, unless something of a definite character developed. But for these slow, irritating days he held himself in check with difficulty, hoping that things might come to him, that he would not have to go forth to them.

He had brought Hunt's portrait of Maggie to Cedar Crest in the bottom of his trunk, and kept it locked in his chiffonier. During these days, more frequently than before, he would take out the portrait and in the security of his locked room would gaze long at that keen-visioned portrayal of her many characters. No doubt of it: there was a possible splendid woman there! And no doubt of it: he loved that woman utterly!

During these days of his ignorance, while Maggie was struggling in the darkness of her unexplored being, Larry drove himself grimly at the business to which under happier circumstances he would have gone under the irresistible suasion of pure joy. One afternoon he presented to Miss Sherwood an outline for his growing plan for the development of the Sherwood properties on the basis of good homes at fair rentals. He discovered that, in spite of her generous giving, she had much the same attitude toward Charity as his own: that the only sound Charity, except for those temporarily or permanently handicapped or disabled, was the giving of honest values for honest returns—and that was not Charity at all.

The project of reforming the shiftless character of the Sherwood properties, and of relieving even in a small degree New York's housing congestion, appealed at once to her imagination and her sensible idealism.

“A splendid plan!” she exclaimed, regarding Larry with those wise, humorous eyes of hers, which were now very serious and penetrating. “You have been working much harder than I had thought. And if you will pardon my saying it, you have more of the soundly humane vision which big business enterprise should have than I had thought.”

“Thank you!” said Larry.

“That's a splendid dream,” she continued; “but it will take hard work to translate that dream into a reality. We shall need architects, builders, a heavy initial expense, time—and a more modern and alert management.”

“Yes, Miss Sherwood.”

She did not speak for a moment. Her penetrating eyes, which had been fixed on him in close thought, were yet more penetrating. Finally she said:

“That's a big thing, a useful thing. The present agents wish to be relieved of our affairs as soon as I can make arrangements—and I'd like nothing better than for Dick to drop what he's doing and get into something constructive and useful like this. But Dick cannot do it alone; he's too unsettled, and too inexperienced to cope with some of the sharper business practices.”

She paused again, still regarding him with those keen eyes, which seemed to be weighing him. Finally she said, almost abruptly:

“Will you take charge of this with Dick? He likes you and respects your judgment; I'm sure you'd help steady him down. Of course you lack practical experience, but you can take in a practical man who will supply this element. Practical experience is one of the commonest articles on the market; vision and initiative are among the rarest—and you have them. What do you say?”

Larry could not say anything at once. The suddenness of her offer, the largeness of his opportunity, bewildered him for the moment. And his bewilderment was added to by his swift realization of quite another element involved in her frank proposition. He was now engaged in the enterprise of foisting a bogus article, Maggie, upon this woman who was offering him her complete confidence—an enterprise of most questionable ethics and very dubious issue. If he accepted her offer, and the result of this enterprise were disaster, what would Miss Sherwood then think of him?

He took refuge in evasion. “I'm not going to try to tell you how much I appreciate your proposition, Miss Sherwood. But do you mind if I hold back my answer for the present and think it over? Anyhow, to do all that is required I must be able to work in the open—and I can't do that until I get free of my entanglements with the police and my old acquaintances.”

Thus it was agreed upon. Miss Sherwood turned to another subject. The pre-public show of Hunt's pictures had opened the previous day.

“When you were in the city yesterday, did you get in to see Mr. Hunt's exhibition?”

“No,” he answered. “Although I wanted to. But you know I've already seen all of Mr. Hunt's pictures that Mr. Graham has in his gallery. How was the opening?”

“Crowded with guests. And since they had been told that the pictures were unusual and good, of course the people were enthusiastic.”

“What kind of prices was Mr. Graham quoting?”

“He wasn't quoting any. He told me he wasn't going to sell a picture, or even mention a price, until the public exhibition. He's very enthusiastic. He thinks Mr. Hunt is already made—and in a big way.”

And then she added, her level gaze very steady on Larry:

“Of course Mr. Hunt is really a great painter. But he needed a jolt to make him go out and really paint his own kind of stuff. And he needed some one like you to put him across in a business way.”

When she left, she left Larry thinking: thinking of her saying that Hunt “needed a jolt to make him go out and really paint his own kind of stuff.” Hidden behind that remark somewhere could there be the explanation for the break between these two? Larry began to see a glimmer of light. It was entirely possible that Miss Sherwood, in so finished and adroit a manner that Hunt had not discerned her purpose, had herself given him this jolt or at least contributed to its force. It might all have been diplomacy on her part, applied shrewdly to the man she understood and loved. Yes, that might be the explanation. Yes, perhaps she had been doing in a less trying way just what he was seeking to do under more stressful circumstances with Maggie: to arouse him to his best by indirectly working at definite psychological reactions.

That afternoon Hunt appeared at Cedar Crest, and while there dropped in on Larry. The big painter, in his full-blooded, boyish fashion, fairly gasconaded over the success of his exhibit. Larry smiled at the other's exuberant enthusiasm. Hunt was one man who could boast without ever being offensively egotistical, for Hunt, added to his other gifts, had the divine gift of being able to laugh at himself.

Larry saw here an opportunity to forward that other ambition of his: the bringing of Hunt and Miss Sherwood together. And at this instant it flashed upon him that Miss Sherwood's seemingly casual remarks about Hunt had not been casual at all. Perhaps they had been carefully thought out and spoken with a definite purpose. Perhaps Miss Sherwood had been very subtly appointing him her ambassador. She was clever enough for that.

“Stop declaiming those self-written press notices of your unapproachable superiority,” Larry interrupted. “If you use your breath up like that you'll drown on dry land. Besides, I just heard something better than this mere articulated air of yours. Better because from a person in her senses.”

“Heard it from whom?”

“Miss Sherwood.”

“Miss Sherwood! What did she say?”

“That you were a really great painter.”

“Huh!” snorted Hunt. “Why shouldn't she say that? I've proved it!”

“Hunt,” said Larry evenly, “you are the greatest painter I ever met, but you also have the distinction of being the greatest of all damned fools.”

“What's that, young fellow?”

“You love Miss Sherwood, don't you? At least you've the same as told me that in words, and you've told me that in loud-voiced actions every time you've seen her.”

“Well—what if I do?”

“If you had the clearness of vision that is in the glassy eye of a cold boiled lobster you would see that she feels the same way about you.”

“See here, Larry”—all the boisterous quality had gone from Hunt's voice, and it was low-pitched and a bit unsteady—“I don't mind your joshing me about myself or my painting, but don't fool with me about anything that's really important.”

“I'm not fooling you. I'm sure Miss Sherwood feels that way.”

“How do you know?”

“I've got a pair of eyes that don't belong to a cold boiled lobster. And when I see a thing, I know I see it.”

“You're all wrong, Larry. If you'd heard what she said to me less than a year ago—”

“You make me tired!” interrupted Larry. “You two were made for each other. She's waiting for you to step up and talk man's talk to her—and instead you sulk in your tent and mumble about something you think she might have thought or said a year ago! You're too sensitive; you're too proud; you've got too few brains. It's a million dollars to one that in your handsome, well-bred way you've fallen out with her over something that probably never existed and certainly doesn't exist now. Forget it all, and walk right up and ask her!”

“Larry, if I thought there was a chance that you are right—”

“A single question will prove whether I'm right!”

Hunt did not speak for a moment. “I guess I've never seen my part of it all in the way you put it, Larry.” He stood up, his whole being subdued yet tense. “I'm going to slide back into town and think it all over.”

Larry followed him an hour later, bent on routine business of the Sherwood estate. Toward seven o'clock he was studying the present decrepitude and future possibilities of a row of Sherwood apartment houses on the West Side, when, as he came out of one building and started into another, a firm hand fell upon his shoulder and a voice remarked:

“So, Larry, you're in New York?”

Larry whirled about. For the moment he felt all the life go out of him. Beside him stood Detective Casey, whom he had last seen on the night of his wild flight when Casey had feigned a knockout in order to aid Larry's escape from Gavegan. Any other man affiliated with his enemies Larry would have struck down and tried to break away from. But not Casey.

“Hello, Casey. Well, I suppose you're going to invite me to go along with you?”

“Where were you going?”

“Into this house.”

“Then I'll invite myself to go along with you.”

He quickly pushed Larry before him into the hallway, which was empty since all the tenants were at their dinner. Larry remembered the scene down in Deputy Police Commissioner Barlow's office, when the Chief of Detectives had demanded that he become a stool-pigeon working under Gavegan and Casey, and the grilling and the threats, more than fulfilled, which had followed.

“Going to give me a little private quiz first, Casey,” he asked, “and then call in Gavegan and lead me down to Barlow?”

“Not unless Gavegan or some one else saw and recognized you, which I know they didn't since I was watching for that very thing. And not unless you yourself feel hungry for a visit to Headquarters.”

“If I feel hungry, it's an appetite I'm willing to make wait.”

“You know I don't want to pinch you. My part in this has been a dirty job that was just pushed my way. You know that I know you've been framed and double-crossed, and that I won't run you in unless I can't get out of it.”

“Thanks, Casey. You're too white to have to run with people like Barlow and Gavegan. But if it wasn't to pinch me, why did you stop me out there in the street?”

“Been hoping I might some day run into you on the quiet. There are some things I've learned—never mind how—that I wanted to slip you for your own good.”

“Go to it, Casey.”

“First, I've got a hunch that it was Barney Palmer who tipped off the police about Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt, and then spread it among all the crooks that you were the stool and squealer.”

“Yes, I'd guessed that much.”

“Second, I've got a hunch that it really was from Barney Palmer that Barlow got his idea of making you become a stool-pigeon. Barney is a smooth one all right, and he figured what would happen. He knew you would refuse, and he knew Barlow would uncork hell beneath you. Barney certainly called every turn.”

“What—what—” stammered Larry. “Why, then Barney must be—” He paused, utterly astounded by the newness of the possibility that had just risen in his mind.

“You've got it, Larry,” Casey went on. “Barney is a police stool. Has been one for years. Works directly for Barlow. We're not supposed to know anything about it. He's turned up a lot of big ones. That's why it's safe for Barney to pull off anything he likes.”

“Barney a police stool!” Larry repeated in the stupor of his amazement.

“Guess that's all the news I wanted to hand you, Larry, so I'll be on my way. Here's wishing you luck—and for God's sake, don't let yourself be pinched by us. So-long.” And with that Casey slipped out of the hallway.

For a moment Larry stood moveless where Casey had left him. Then fierce purpose, and a cautious recklessness, surged up and took mastery of him. It had required what Casey had told him to end his irksome waiting and wavering. No longer could he remain in his hiding-place, safe himself, trying to save Maggie by slow, indirect endeavor. The time had now come for very different methods. The time had come to step forth into the open, taking, of course, no unnecessary risk, and to have it out face to face with his enemies, who were also Maggie's real enemies, though she counted them her friends—to save Maggie against her own will, if he could save her in no other way.

And having so decided, Larry walked quickly out of the hallway into the street.


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