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CHAPTER XXVII
On the sidewalk Larry glanced swiftly around him. Half a block down the street on the front of a drug-store was a blue telephone flag. A minute later he was inside a telephone booth in the drug-store, asking first for the Hotel Grantham, and then asking the Grantham operator to be connected with Miss Maggie Cameron.

There was a long wait. While he listened for Maggie's voice he blazed with terrible fury against Barney Paler. For Maggie to be connected with a straight crook, that idea had been bad enough. But for her to be under the influence of the worst crook of all, a stool, a cunning traitor to his own friends—that was more than could possibly be stood! In his rage in Maggie's behalf he forgot for the moment the many evils Barney had done to himself. He thought of wild, incoherent, vaguely tremendous plans. First he would get Maggie away from Barney and Old Jimmie—somehow. Then he would square accounts with those two—again by an undefined somehow.

Presently the tired, impersonal voice of the Grantham operator remarked against his ear-drum: “Miss Cameron don't answer.”

“Have her paged, please,” he requested.

Larry, of course, could not know that his telephone call was the very one which had rung in Maggie's room while Barney and Old Jimmie were with her, and which Barney had harshly forbidden her to answer. Therefore he could not know that any attempt to get Maggie by telephone just then was futile.

When he came out of the booth, the impersonal voice having informed him that Miss Cameron was not in, it was with the intention of calling Maggie up between eight and nine when she probably would have returned from dinner where he judged her now to be. He knew that Dick Sherwood had no engagement with her, for Dick was to be out at Cedar Crest that evening, so he judged it almost certain Maggie would be at home and alone later on.

Having nothing else to do for an hour and a half, he thought of a note he had received from the Duchess in that morning's mail asking him to come down to see her when he was next in town. Thirty minutes later he was in the familiar room behind the pawnshop. The Duchess asked him if he had eaten, and on his reply that he had not and did not care to, instead of proceeding to the business of her letter she mumbled something and went into the pawnshop.

She left Larry for the very simple reason that now that she had him here she was uncertain what she should say, and how far she should go. Unknown to either, one thread of the drama of Larry and Maggie was being spun in the brain and heart of the Duchess; and being spun with pain to her, and in very great doubt. True, she had definitely decided, for Larry's welfare, that the facts about Maggie's parentage should never be known from her—and since the only other person who could tell the truth was Jimmie Carlisle, and his interests were all apparently in favor of silence, then it followed that the truth would never be known from any one. But having so decided, and decided definitely and finally, the Duchess had proceeded to wonder if she had decided wisely.

Day and night this had been the main subject of her thought. Could she be wrong in her estimate of Maggie's character, and what she might turn out to be? Could she be wrong in her belief that, given enough time, Larry would outgrow his infatuation for Maggie? And since she was in such doubt about these two points, had she any right, and was it for the best, to suppress a fact that might so gravely influence both matters? She did not know. What she wanted was whatever was best for Larry—and so in her doubt she had determined to talk again to Larry, hoping that the interview might in some way replace her uncertainty with stability of purpose.

Presently she returned to the inner room, and in her direct way and using the fewest possible words, which had created for her her reputation of a woman who never spoke and who was packed with strange secrets, she asked Larry what he had done concerning Maggie. He told her of the plan he had evolved, of Maggie's visit to Cedar Crest, of his ignorance of Maggie's reactions. To all this his grandmother made response neither by word nor by change of expression. He then went on to tell her of what he had just learned from Casey of Barney's maneuvering his misfortunes.

The old head nodded. “Yes, Barney's just that sort,” she said in her flat monotone.

And then she came to the purpose of her sending for him. “How do you feel about Maggie now?”

“The same as before.”

“You love her?”

“Yes—and always will,” he said firmly.

She was silent once more. Then, “What are you going to do next?”

“Break things up between her and Barney and her father. Get her away from them.”

She asked no further questions. Larry was as settled as a man could be. But was Maggie worth while?—that was the great question still unanswered.

“Just what did you want me for, grandmother?” he asked her finally.

“Something which I thought might have developed, but which hasn't.”

And so she let him go away without telling him. And wishing to shape things for the best for him, she was troubled by the same doubts as before.

His visit with his grandmother had had no meaning to Larry, since he had no guess of the struggle going on within that ancient, inscrutable figure. The visit had for him merely served to fill in a nervous, useless hour. His rage against Barney had all the while possessed him too thoroughly for him to give more than the mere surface of his mind to what had passed between his grandmother and himself. And when he had left her, his rage at Barney's treachery and his impetuous desire to snatch Maggie away from her present influences, so stormed within him that his usually cautious judgment was blown away and recklessness swept like a gale into control of him.

When he called up the Grantham a second time, at nine o'clock, Maggie's voice came to him:

“Hello. Who this, please?”

“Mr. Brandon.”

He heard a stilted “Oh!” at the other end of the line “I'm coming right up to see you,” he said.

“I—I don't think you—”

“I'll be there in then minutes,” Larry interrupted the startled voice and hung up.

He counted that Maggie, after his sparing her at Cedar Crest, would receive him and treat him at least no worse than an enemy with whom there was a half hour's truce. Sure enough, when he rang the bell of her suite, Maggie herself admitted him to her sitting-room. She was taut and pale, her look neither friendly nor unfriendly.

“Don't you know the risk you're running,” she whispered when the door was closed—“coming here like this, in the open?”

“The time has come for risks, Maggie,” he announced.

“But you were safe enough where you were. Why take such risks?”

“For your sake.”

“My sake?”

“To take you away from these people you're tied up with. Take you away now.”

At an earlier time this would have been a fuse to a detonation of defiance from her. But now she said nothing at all, and that was something.

“Since I've come out into the open, everything's going to be in the open. Listen, Maggie!” The impulse had suddenly come upon him, since his plan to awaken Maggie by her psychological reactions had apparently failed, to tell her everything. “Listen, Maggie! I'm going to lay all my cards on the table, and show you every card I've played. You were invited to come out to Cedar Crest because I schemed to have you come. And the reason I schemed to have you invited was, I reasoned that being received in such a frank, generous, unsuspecting way, by a woman like Miss Sherwood, would make you sick of what you were doing and you would drop it of your own accord. But it seems I reasoned wrong.”

“So—you were behind that!” she breathed.

“I was. Though I couldn't have done it if Dick Sherwood hadn't been honestly infatuated with you. But now I'm through with working under cover, through with indirect methods. From now on every play's in the open, and it's straight to the point with everything. So get ready. I'm going to take you away from Barney and Old Jimmie.”

The mention of these two names had a swift and magical effect upon her. But instead of arousing belligerency, they aroused an almost frantic agitation.

“You must leave at once, Larry. Barney and my father were here before dinner, and they've just telephoned they were coming back!”

“Coming back! That's the best argument you could make for my staying!”

“But, Larry—they both have keys, and Barney always carries a gun!”

“I stay here, unless you leave with me. Listen to some more, Maggie. I laid all the cards on the table. Do you know the kind of people you're tied up with? I'll not say anything about your father, for I guess you know all there is to know. But Barney Palmer! He's the lowest kind of crook that breathes. There's been a lot of talk about squealers and police stools. Well, the big squealer, the big stool, is Barney Palmer!”

“I don't believe it!” she cried involuntarily.

“It's true! I've got it straight. Barney wanted to smash me, because I'd made up my mind to quit the old game and because he wanted to get me out of his way with you. So he framed it up so that I appeared to be a squealer, and started the gangmen after me. And he put Barlow up to the idea of forcing me to be a stool, and then framing me when I refused. It was Barney who fixed things so I had to go to jail, or be shot up, or run away. It was Barney Palmer who squealed on Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt, and who's been squealing on his other pals. And that's the sort you're stringing along with!”

She gazed at him in appalled half conviction. He remained silent to let his truth sink in.

They were standing so, face to face, when a key grated in the outer door of the little hallway as on the occasion of Larry's first visit here. And as on that occasion, Maggie sprang swiftly forward and shot home the bolt of the inner door. Then she turned and caught Larry's arm.

“It's Barney—I told you he was coming!” she whispered. “Oh, why didn't you go before? Come on!”

She tried to drag him toward her bedroom door, through which she had once helped him escape. But this time he was not to be moved.

“I stay right here,” he said to her.

There was the sound of a futile effort to turn the lock of the inner door; then Barney's voice called out: “What's the matter, Maggie? Open the door.”

Maggie, still clutching Larry's resisting arm, stood gasping in wide-eyed consternation.

“Open the door for them, Maggie,” Larry whispered.

“I'll not do it!” she whispered back.

“Open it, or I will,” he ordered.

Their gazes held a moment longer while Barney rattled at the lock. Then slowly, falteringly, her amazed eyes over her shoulder upon him, Maggie crossed and unlocked the door. Barney entered, Old Jimmie just bend him.

“I say, Maggie, what was the big idea in keeping us—” he was beginning in a grumbling tone, when he saw Larry just beyond her. His complaint broke off in mid-breath; he stopped short and his dark face twitched with his surprise.

“Larry Brainard!” he finally exclaimed. Old Jimmie, suddenly tense, blinked and said nothing.

“Hello, Barney; hello, Jimmie,” Larry greeted his former allies, putting on an air of geniality. “Been a long time since we three met. Don't stand there in the door. Come right in.”

Barney was keen enough to see, though Larry's attitude was careless and his tone light, that his eyes were bright and hard. Barney moved forward a couple of paces, alert for anything, and Old Jimmie followed. Maggie looked on at the three men, her girlish figure taut and hardly breathing.

“Didn't know you were in New York,” said Barney.

“Well, here I am all right,” returned Larry with his menacing cheerfulness.

By now Barney had recovered from his first surprise. He felt it time to assert his supremacy.

“How do you come to be here with Maggie?” he demanded abruptly.

“Happened to catch sight of her on the street to-day. Trailed her here to the Grantham, and to-night I just dropped in.”

Barney's tone grew more authoritative, more ugly. “We told you long ago we were through with you. So why did you come here?”

“That's easy answered, Barney. The last time we were all together, you'd come to take Maggie away. This is that same scene reproduced—only this time I've come to take Maggie away.”

“What's that?” snapped Barney.

Larry's voice threw off its assumed geniality, and became drivingly hard. “And to get Maggie to come, I've been telling her the kind of a bird you are, Barney Palmer! Oh, I've got the straight dope on you! I've been telling her how you framed me, and were able to frame me because you are Chief Barlow's stool.”

Barney went as near white as it was possible for him to become, and his mouth sagged. “What—what—” he stammered.

“I've been telling her that you are the one who really squealed on Red Hannigan and Jack Rosenfeldt.”

“You're a damned liar!” Barney burst out, and instantly from beneath his left arm he whipped an automatic which he thrust against Larry's stomach. “Take that back, damn you, or I'll blow you straight to hell!”

“Barney!—Larry!” interjected Maggie in sickened fright.

“This is nothing to worry over, Maggie,” Larry said. He looked back at Barney. “Oh, I knew you would flash a gun on me at some stage of the game. But you're not going to shoot.”

“You'll see, if you don't take that back!”

Larry realized that his hot blood had driven him into an enterprise of daring, in which only bluff and the playing of his highest cards could help him through.

“You don't think I was such a fool as to walk into this place without taking precautions,” he said contemptuously. “You won't shoot, Barney, because since I knew I might meet you and you'd pull a gun, I had myself searched by two friends just before I came up here. They'll testify I was not armed. They know you, and know you so well that they'll be able to identify the thing in your hand as your gun. So no matter what Maggie and Jimmie may testify, the verdict will be cold-blooded murder and the electric chair will be your finish. And that's why I know you won't shoot. So you might as well put the gun away.”

Barney neither spoke nor moved.

“I've called your bluff, Barney,” Larry said sharply. “Put that gun away, or I'll take it from you!”

Barney's glare wavered. The pistol sank from its position. With a lightning-swift motion Larry wrenched it from Barney's hand.

“Guess I'd better have it, after all,” he said, slipping it into a pocket. “Keep you out of temptation.”

And then in a subdued voice that was steely with menace: “I'm too busy to attend to you now, Barney—but, by God, I'm going to square things with you for the dirt you've done me, and I'm going to show you up for a stool and a squealer!” He wheeled on Old Jimmie. “And the only reason I'll be easy with you, Jimmie Carlisle, is because you are Maggie's father—though you're the rottenest thing as a father God ever let breathe!”

Old Jimmie shrank slightly before Larry's glower, and his little eyes gleamed with the fear of a rat that is cornered. But he said nothing.

Larry turned his back upon the two men. “We're through with this bunch, Maggie. Put on a hat and a wrap, and let's go. We can send for your things.”

“No you don't, Maggie,” snarled Barney, before Maggie could speak.

Old Jimmie made his first positive motion since entering the room. He shifted quickly to Maggie's side and seized her arm.

“You're my daughter, and you stay with me!” he ordered. “I brought you up, and you do exactly what I tell you to! You're not going with Larry—he's lying about Barney. You stay with me!”

“Come on, let's go, Maggie,” repeated Larry.

“You stay with me!” repeated Jimmie.

Thus ordered and appealed to, Maggie was areel with contradicting thoughts and impulses while the three men awaited her action. In fact she had no clear thought at all. She never knew later what determined her course at this bewildered moment: perhaps it was partly a continuance of her doubt of Larry, perhaps partly once more sheer momentum, perhaps her instinctive feeling that her place was with the man she believed to be her father.

“Yes, I'll stay with you,” she said to Old Jimmie.

“That's the signal for you to be on your way, Larry Brainard!” Barney snapped at him triumphantly.

Larry realized, all of a sudden, that his coming here was no more than a splendid gesture to which his anger had excited him. Indeed there was nothing for him but to be on his way.

“I've told you the truth, Maggie; and you'll be sorry that you have not left—if not sorry soon, then sorry a little later.”

He turned to Barney with a last shot; he could not leave the gloating Barney Palmer his unalloyed triumph. “I told you I had the straight dope on you, Barney. Here's some more of it. I know exactly what your game is, and I know exactly who your sucker is. We'll see if you put it over—you squealer! Good-night, all.”

With that Larry walked out. Old Jimmie regarded his partner with suspicion.

“How about that, Barney—you being a stool and a squealer?” he demanded.

“I tell you it's all a lie—a damned lie!” cried Barney with feverish emphasis.

“I hope it is!” breathed Old Jimmie.

This was a subject Barney wanted to get away from. “Maggie,” he demanded, “is what Larry Brainard said about how he came here the truth?—his seeing you on the street and then following you here?”

“How do I know where he first saw me?”

“But is to-night the first time you've seen him?”

“It is.”

“Sure you haven't been seeing him?” demanded Barney's quick jealousy.

“I have not.”

“Did he tell you where he came from?—where he hangs out?”

“No.”

Old Jimmie interrupted this cross-examination.

“You're wasting good time asking these questions. Barney, do you realize the cold fact that it's not a good thing for you, nor for us, for Larry Brainard to be back in New York, floating around as he pleases?”

“I should say not!” Barney saw he was facing a sudden crisis, and in the need for quick action he spoke without thought of Maggie. “We've got to look after him at once!”

“Tell the bunch he's back, and let them take care of him?” suggested Old Jimmie.

Barney considered rapidly. If Larry knew of his arrangement with the police, then perhaps his secret was beginning to leak through to others. He decided that for the present it would be wiser to keep from these old friends and allies.

“Not the bunch—the police!” he said inspiredly. “They're after him, anyhow, and are sore. All we've got to do is slip them word—they'll do the rest!” And then with the sharper emphasis of an immediate plan: “We don't want to lose a minute. I know where Gavegan hangs out at this time of night. Come on!”

With a bare “Good-night” to Maggie the two men hurried forth on their pressing mission. Left to herself, Maggie sank into a chair and wildly considered the many elements of this new situation. Presently two thoughts emerged to dominance: Whether Larry was right or wrong, he had risked coming out of his safety for her sake—perhaps had risked all he had won for her sake. And now the police were to be set after him, with that Gavegan heading the pack.

Perhaps the further thinking Maggie did did not result in cool, mature wisdom—for her thoughts were the operations of a panicky mind. Somehow she had to get warning to Larry of this imminent police hunt! Without doubt Larry would return to Cedar Crest sometime that night. Word should be sent to him there. A letter was too uncertain in such a crisis. Of course she had an invitation to go to Cedar Crest the following afternoon, and she might warn him then—but that might be too late. She dared not telephone or telegraph—for that might somehow direct dangerous attention to the exact spot where Larry was hidden. Also she had an instinct, operating unconsciously long before she had any thought of what she was eventually to do, not to let Barney or Old Jimmie find out, or even guess, that she had warned Larry—not yet.

There seemed nothing that she herself could do. Then she thought of the Duchess. That was the way out! The Duchess would know some way in which to get Larry word.

Five minutes later, in her plainest suit and hat, Maggie in a taxicab was rolling down toward the Duchess's—from where, only a few months back, she had started forth upon her great career.


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