Will You Walk Into My Parlor?
by Theodore Dreiser
It was a sweltering noon in July. Gregory, after several
months of meditation on the warning given him by his
political friend, during which time nothing to substantiate
it had occurred, was making ready to return to the seaside
hotel to which his present prosperity entitled him. It was
a great affair, the Triton, about sixty minutes from his
office, facing the sea and amid the pines and sands of the
Island. His wife, 'the girl,' as he conventionally referred
to her, had been compelled, in spite of the plot which had
been revealed or suggested, owing to the ailing state of
their child, to go up to the mountains to her mother for
advice and comfort. Owing to the imminence of the fall
campaign, however, he could not possibly leave. Weekdays
and Sundays, and occasionally nights, he was busy ferreting
out and substantiating one fact and another in regard to
the mismanagement of the city, which was to be used as
ammunition a little later on. The mayor and his "ring," as
it was called, was to be ousted at all costs. He, Gregory,
was certain to be rewarded if that came to pass. In spite
of that he was eminently sincere as to the value and even
the necessity of what he was doing. The city was being
grossly mismanaged. What greater labor than to worm out the
details and expose them to the gaze of an abused and
But the enemy itself was not helpless. A gentleman in the
publishing business of whom he had never even heard called
to offer him a position in the Middle West which would take
him out of the city for four or five years at the least,
and pay him six or seven thousand dollars a year. On his
failure to be interested some of his mail began to
disappear, and it seemed to him as though divers strange
characters were taking a peculiar and undue interest in his
movements. Lastly, one of the politicians connected with
his own party called to see him at his office.
"You see, Gregory, it's this way," he said after a short
preamble, "you have got a line as to what's going on in
connection with that South Penyank land transfer. The mayor
is in on that, but he is absolutely determined that the
public is not going to find it out, and so is his partner,
Tilney--not until after the election, anyhow. They are
prepared to use some pretty rough methods, so look out for
yourself. You're fond of your wife, are you? Well, keep her
close beside you, and the kid. Don't let them get you away
from her, even for a moment, where you shouldn't be. You
saw what happened to Crothers two or three years ago,
didn't you? He was about to expose that Yellow Point Ferry
deal, but of course no one knew anything about that--and
then, zip!--all at once he was arrested on an old charge of
desertion, an old debt that he had failed to pay was
produced and his furniture seized, and his wife was induced
to leave him. Don't let them catch you in the same way. If
you have any debts bring them to us and let us see what we
can do about them. And if you are interested in any other
woman, break it off, send her away, get rid of her."
Gregory viewed him with an irritated, half-pitying smile.
"There isn't any other woman," he said simply. Think of his
being faithless to "the girl" and the kid--the blue-eyed,
"Don't think I'm trying to pry into your affairs," went on
the politician. "I'm just telling you. If you need any
further advice or help, come to me. But whatever you do,
look out for yourself," and with that he put on his high
silk hat and departed.
Gregory stood in the center of his office after his visitor
had gone, and gazed intently at the floor. Certainly, from
what he had discovered so far, he could readily believe
that the mayor would do just what his friend had said. And
as for the mayor's friend, the real estate plunger, it was
plain from his whispered history that no tricks or
brutalities were beneath him. Another politician had once
said in describing him that he would not stop short of
murder, but that one would never catch him red-handed or in
any other way, and certainly that appeared to be true. He
was wealthier, more powerful, than he had ever been, much
more so than the mayor.
Since he and his wife had come to this seaside hotel
several things had occurred which caused him to think that
something might happen, although there was no evidence as
yet that his suspicions were well-founded. An unctuous,
over-dressed, bejeweled, semi-sporty widow of forty had
arrived, a business woman, she indicated herself to be,
conducting a highly successful theatrical agency in the
great city, and consequently weltering in what one of
Gregory's friends was wont to describe as "the sinews of
war." She abounded in brown and wine-colored silks, brown
slippers and stockings, a wealth of suspiciously lustrous
auburn hair. Her car, for she had one, was of respectable
reputation. Her skill and willingness to risk at whist of
good report. She was, in the parlance of the hotel clerks
and idlers of the Triton veranda, a cheerful and liberal
spender. Even while Mrs. Gregory was at Triton Hall, Mrs.
Skelton had arrived, making herself comfortable in two
rooms and bath on the sea front, and finding familiar
friends in the manager and several stalwart idlers who
appeared to be brokers and real estate dealers, and who
took a respectable interest in golf, tennis, and the Triton
Grill. She was unctuous, hearty, optimistic, and neither
Gregory nor his wife could help liking her a little. But
before leaving, his wife had casually wondered whether Mrs.
Skelton would be one to engage in such a plot. Her
friendliness, while possible of any interpretation, was
still general enough to be free of suspicion. She might be
looking for just such a situation as this, though--to find
"Do be careful, dear," his wife cautioned. "If you become
too doubtful, leave and go to another place. At least that
will compel them to provide another set of people." And off
she went, fairly serene in her faith in her husband's
ability to manage the matter.
Thus, much against his will, at first, Gregory found
himself alone. He began to wonder if he should leave, or
weather it out, as he expressed it to himself. Why should
he be driven from the one comfortable hotel on this nearest
beach, and that when he most needed it, away from a region
where he was regularly encountering most of his political
friends, particularly at week-ends? For so near a place it
had many advantages: a delightful golf course, several
tennis courts, food and rooms reasonably well above
complaint, and a refreshing and delightful view of the sea
over a broad lawn. Besides it was absolutely necessary for
him to be in the near-by city the greater portion of every
single working day. His peculiar and pressing investigation
demanded it and a comfortable place to rest and recuperate
at night was also imperative.
"It's beautiful here," he said to himself finally, "and
here is where I stick. I haven't a car, and where is there
any other place as convenient? Besides, if they're going to
follow me, they're going to follow me."
In consequence, he traveled meditatively back and forth
between this place and the city, thinking of what might
happen. Becoming a little doubtful, he decided to call on
Frank Blount and talk it over with him. Blount was an old
newspaper man who had first turned lawyer and then broker.
Seemingly clientless the major portion of the time, he
still prospered mightily. A lorn bachelor, he had three
clubs, several hotels, and a dozen country homes to visit,
to say nothing of a high power car. Just now he was held
unduly close to his work, and so was frequenting this
coast. He liked golf and tennis, and, incidentally,
Gregory, whom he wished to see prosper though he could not
quite direct him in the proper way. Reaching the city one
morning, Gregory betook him to Blount's office, and there
laid the whole case before him.
"Now, that's the way it is," he concluded, staring at the
pink cheeks and partially bald head of his friend, "and I
would like to know what you would do if you were in my
Blount gazed thoughtfully out through the high towers of
the city to the blue sky beyond, while he drummed with his
fingers on the glass top of his desk.
"Well," he replied, after a time, scratching his cheekbone
thoughtfully, "I'd stick it out if I were you. If there is
to be a woman, and she is attractive, you might have some
fun out of it without getting yourself in any trouble. It
looks like a sporty summer proposition to me. Of course,
you'll have to be on your guard. I'd take out a permit to
carry a revolver if I were you. They'll hear of it if
they're up to anything, and it won't cheer them any. In the
next place, you ought to make out a day-to-day statement of
your exact movements, and swear to it before a notary. If
they hear of that it won't cheer them any either, and it
may make them try to think up something really original.
"Besides," he went on, "I haven't so very much to do
evenings and week-ends, and if you want me to I'll just be
around most of the time in case of trouble. If we're
together they can't turn much of anything without one of us
knowing something about it, and then, too, you'll have an
eye-witness." He was wondering whether the lady might not
be interesting to him also. "I'm over at Sunset Point, just
beyond you there, and if you want me I'll come over every
evening and see how you're making out. If any trick is
turned, I'd like to see how it is done," and he smiled in a
winsome, helpful manner.
"That's just the thing," echoed Gregory thoughtfully. "I
don't want any trick turned. I can't afford it. If anything
should happen to me just now I'd never get on my feet again
politically, and then there's the wife and kid, and I'm
sick of the newspaper business," and he stared out of the
"Well, don't be worrying about it," Blount insisted
soothingly. "Just be on your guard, and if you have to stay
in town late any night, let me know and I'll come and pick
you up. Or, if I can't do that, stay in town yourself. Go
to one of the big hotels, where you'll feel thoroughly
For several days Gregory, to avoid being a nuisance,
returned to the hotel early. Also he secured a permit, and
weighted his hip pocket with an unwieldy weapon which he
resented, but which he nevertheless kept under his pillow
at night. His uncertainty worked on his imagination to such
an extent that he began to note suspicious moves on the
part of nearly everybody. Any new character about the hotel
annoyed him. He felt certain that there was a group of
people connected with Mrs. Skelton who were watching him,
though he could not prove it, even to himself.
"This is ridiculous," he finally told himself. "I'm acting
like a five-year-old in the dark. Who's going to hurt me?"
And he wrote laughing letters to his wife about it, and
tried to resume his old-time nonchalance.
It wasn't quite possible, however, for not long after that
something happened which disturbed him greatly. At least he
persuaded himself to that effect, for that was a
characteristic of these incidents--their openness to
another interpretation than the one he might fix on. In
spite of Blount's advice, one night about nine he decided
to return to Triton Hall, and that without calling his
friend to his aid.
"What's the use?" he asked himself. "He'll be thinking I'm
the biggest coward ever, and after all, nothing has
happened yet, and I doubt whether they'd go that far,
anyhow." He consoled himself with the idea that perhaps
humanity was better than he thought.
But just the same, as he left the train at Triton and saw
it glimmering away over the meadows eastward, he felt a
little uncertain as to his wisdom in this matter. Triton
Station was a lonely one at nearly all times save in the
morning and around seven at night, and to-night it seemed
especially so. Only he alighted from the train. Most people
went to and fro in their cars by another road. Why should
he not have done as Blount had suggested, he now asked
himself as he surveyed the flat country about;--called him
to his aid, or stayed in the city? After all, hiring a car
would not have been much better either, as Blount had
pointed out, giving a possible lurking enemy a much sought
point of attack. No, he should have stayed in town or
returned with Blount in his car, and telling himself this,
he struck out along the lonely, albeit short, stretch of
road which led to the hotel and which was lighted by only a
half dozen small incandescent globes strung at a
considerable distance apart.
En route, and as he was saying to himself that it was a
blessed thing that it was only a few hundred yards and that
he was well-armed and fairly well constructed physically
for a contest, a car swerved about a bend in the road a
short distance ahead and stopped. Two men got out and, in
the shadow back of the lights, which were less flaring than
was usual, began to examine a wheel. It seemed odd to him
on the instant that its headlights were so dim. Why should
they be so dim at this time of night and why should this
strange car stop just here at this lonely bend just as he
was approaching it? Also why should he feel so queer about
it or them, for at once his flesh began to creep and his
hair to tingle. As he neared the car he moved to give it as
wide a berth as the road would permit. But now one of the
men left the wheel and approached him. Instantly, with
almost an involuntary urge, he brought the revolver out of
his hip pocket and stuffed it in his coat pocket. At the
same time he stopped and called to the stranger:
"Stay right where you are, Mister. I'm armed, and I don't
want you to come near me. If you do I'll shoot. I don't
know who you are, or whether you're a friend or not, but I
don't want you to move. Now, if there's anything you want,
ask it from where you are."
The stranger stopped where he stood, seemingly surprised.
"I was going to ask you for a match," he said, "and the way
to Trager's Point."
"Well, I haven't a match," returned Gregory savagely, "and
Trager's Point is out that way. There's the hotel...if
you're coming from there, why didn't you ask for directions
there, and for matches, too?" He paused, while the man in
the shadow seemed to examine him curiously.
"Oh, all right," he returned indifferently. "I don't want
anything you don't want to give," but instead of returning
to the car, he stood where he was, following Gregory with
Gregory's skin seemed to rise on the back of his neck like
the fur of a cat. He fairly tingled as he drew his revolver
from his pocket and waved it ominously before him.
"Now, I'm going to walk around you two," he called, "and I
want you to stand right where you are. I have you covered,
and at the first move I'll shoot. You won't have any
trouble out of me if you're not looking for it, but don't
move," and he began orienting his own position so as to
keep them directly in range of his eyes and weapon.
"Don't move!" he kept calling until he was well up the
road, and then suddenly, while the men, possibly in
astonishment, were still looking at him, turned and ran as
fast as he could, reaching the hotel steps breathless and
"That's the last lone trip for me," he said solemnly to
When he spoke to Blount about it the latter seemed inclined
to pooh-pooh his fears. Why should any one want to choose
any such open place to kill or waylay another? There might
have been other passengers on the train. A stray auto might
be coming along there at any time. The men might have
wanted a match, and not have been coming from the hotel at
all. There was another road there which did not turn in at
Still Gregory was inclined to believe that harm had been
intended him--he could scarcely say why to himself--just
plain intuition, he contended.
And then a day or two later--all the more significant now
because of this other incident--Mrs. Skelton seemed to
become more and more thoughtful as to his comfort and
well-being. She took her meals at one of the tables
commanding a view of the sea, and with (most frequently)
one or the other, or both, broker friends as companions, to
say nothing of occasional outside friends. But usually
there was a fourth empty chair, and Gregory was soon
invited to occupy that, and whenever Blount was present, a
fifth was added. At first he hesitated, but urged on by
Blount, who was amused by her, he accepted. Blount insisted
that she was a comic character. She was so dressy, sporty,
unctuous, good-natured--the very best kind of a seaside
"Why, man, she's interesting," the latter insisted one
night as they were taking a ride after dinner. "Quite a
sporty 'fair and forty,' that. I like her. I really do.
She's probably a crook, but she plays bridge well, and
she's good at golf. Does she try to get anything out of
"Not a thing, that I can see," replied Gregory. "She seems
to be simple enough. She's only been here about three
"Well, we'd better see what we can find out about her. I
have a hunch that she's in on this, but I can't be sure. It
looks as though she might be one of Tilney's stool pigeons.
But let's play the game and see how it comes out. I'll be
nice to her for your sake, and you do the same for mine."
Under the warming influence of this companionship, things
seemed to develop fairly rapidly. It was only a day or two
later, and after Gregory had seated himself at Mrs.
Skelton's table, that she announced with a great air of
secrecy and as though it were hidden and rather important
information, that a friend of hers, a very clever Western
girl of some position and money, one Imogene Carle of
Cincinnati, no less, a daughter of the very wealthy Brayton
Carle's of that city, was coming to this place to stay for
a little while. Mrs. Skelton, it appeared, had known her
parents in that city fifteen years before. Imogene was her
owny ownest pet. She was now visiting the Wilson Fletchers
at Gray's Cove, on the Sound, but Mrs. Skelton had
prevailed upon her parents to let her visit her here for a
while. She was only twenty, and from now on she, Mrs.
Skelton, was to be a really, truly chaperone. Didn't they
sympathize with her? And if they were all very nice--and
with this a sweeping glance included them all--they might
help entertain her. Wouldn't that be fine? She was a
darling of a girl, clever, magnetic, a good dancer, a
pianist--in short, various and sundry things almost too
good to be true. But, above all other things, she was
really very beautiful, with a wealth of brown hair, brown
eyes, a perfect skin, and the like. Neither Blount nor
Gregory offered the other a single look during this
recital, but later on, meeting on the great veranda which
faced the sea, Blount said to him, "Well, what do you
"Yes, I suppose it's the one. Well, she tells it well. It's
interesting to think that she is to be so perfect, isn't
it?" he laughed.
A few days later the fair visitor put in an appearance, and
she was all that Mrs. Skelton had promised, and more. She
was beautiful. Gregory saw her for the first time as he
entered the large dining room at seven. She was, as Mrs.
Skelton had described her, young, certainly not more than
twenty-one at most. Her eyes were a light gray-brown, and
her hair and skin and hands were full of light. She seemed
simple and unpretentious, laughing, gay, not altogether
fine or perfect, but fairly intelligent, and good to look
at--very. She was at Mrs. Skelton's table, the brokers
paying her marked attention, and, at sight, Blount liked
"Say," he began, "some beauty, eh? I'll have to save you
from yourself, I fancy. I'll tell you how we'll work it.
You save me, and I'll save you. The old lady certainly
knows how to select 'em, apparently, and so does Tilney.
Well now, my boy, look out!" and he approached with the air
of one who was anxious to be a poor stricken victim
Gregory had to laugh. However much he might be on his
guard, he was interested, and as if to heighten this she
paid more attention to Mrs. Skelton and her two friends
than she did to Gregory or Blount. She was, or pretended to
be absolutely sincere, and ignorant of her possible role as
a siren, and they in turn pretended to accept her at her
own valuation, only Blount announced after dinner very
gaily that she might siren him all she blanked pleased. He
was ready. By degrees, however, even during this first and
second evening, Gregory began to feel that he was the one.
He caught her looking at him slyly or shyly, or both, and
he insisted to himself stubbornly and even vainly enough
that he was her intended victim. When he suggested as much
to Blount the other merely laughed.
"Don't be so vain," he said. "You may not be. I wish I were
in your place. I'll see if I can't help take her attention
from you," and he paid as much attention to her as any one.
However, Gregory's mind was not to be disabused. He watched
her narrowly, while she on her part chattered gaily of many
things--her life the winter before in Cincinnati, the
bathing at Beachampton where she had recently been, a
yachting trip she had been promised, tennis, golf. She was
an expert at tennis, as she later proved, putting Gregory
in a heavy perspiration whenever he played with her, and
keeping him on the jump. He tried to decide for himself at
this time whether she was making any advances, but could
not detect any. She was very equitable in the distribution
of her favors, and whenever the dancing began in the East
room took as her first choice one of the brokers, and then
The former, as did Mrs. Skelton and the brokers, had
machines, and by her and them, in spite of the almost
ever-present Blount, Gregory was invited to be one of a
party in one or the other of their cars whenever they were
going anywhere of an afternoon or evening. He was
suspicious of them, however, and refused their invitations
except when Blount was on the scene and invited, when he
was willing enough to accept. Then there were whist,
pinochle, or poker games in the hotel occasionally, and in
these Gregory as well as Blount, when he was there, were
wont to join, being persistently invited. Gregory did not
dance, and Imogene ragged him as to this. Why didn't he
learn? It was wonderful! She would teach him! As she passed
amid the maze of dancers at times he could not help
thinking how graceful she was, how full of life and animal
spirits. Blount saw this and teased him, at the same time
finding her very companionable and interesting himself.
Gregory could not help thinking what a fascinating, what an
amazing thing, really, it was (providing it were true) that
so dark a personality as Tilney could secure such an
attractive girl to do his vile work. Think of it, only
twenty-one, beautiful, able to further herself in many ways
no doubt, and yet here she was under suspicion of him, a
trickster possibly. What could be the compulsion, the
"My boy, you don't know these people," Blount was always
telling him. "They're the limit. In politics you can get
people to do anything--anything. It isn't like the rest of
life or business, it's just politics, that's all. It seems
a cynical thing to say, but it's true. Look at your own
investigations! What do they show?"
"I know, but a girl like that now--" replied Gregory
But after all, as he insisted to Blount, they did not
know that there was anything to all this. She might
and she might not be a siren. It might be possible that
both of them were grossly misjudging her and other
absolutely innocent people.
So far, all that they had been able to find out concerning
Mrs. Skelton was that she was, as she represented herself
to be, the successful owner and manager of a theatrical
agency. She might have known the better days and
connections which she boasted. Gregory felt at times as
though his brain were whirling, like a man confronted by
enemies in the dark, fumbling and uncertain, but he and
Blount both agreed that the best thing was to stay here and
see it through, come what might. It was a good game even as
it stood, interesting, very. It showed, as Blount pointed
out to him, a depth to this political mess which he was
attempting to expose which previously even he had not
"Stick by," the other insisted sport-lovingly. "You don't
know what may come of this. It may provide you the very
club you're looking for. Win her over to your side if you
can. Why not? She might really fall for you. Then see what
comes of it. You can't be led into any especial trap with
your eyes open."
Gregory agreed to all this after a time. Besides, this very
attractive girl was beginning to appeal to him in a very
subtle way. He had never known a woman like this
before--never even seen one. It was a very new and
attractive game, of sorts. He began to spruce up and
attempt to appear a little gallant himself. A daily report
of his movements was being filed each morning, though.
Every night he returned with Blount in his car, or on an
early train. There was scarcely a chance for a compromising
situation, and still there might be--who knows?
On other evenings, after the fashion of seaside hotel life,
Gregory and Imogene grew a little more familiar. Gregory
learned that she played and sang, and, listening to her,
that she was of a warm and even sensuous disposition. She
was much more sophisticated than she had seemed at first,
as he could now see, fixing her lips in an odd inviting
pout at times and looking alluringly at one and another,
himself included. Both Blount and himself, once the novelty
of the supposed secret attack had worn off, ventured to
jest with her about it, or rather to hint vaguely as to her
"Well, how goes the great game to-night?" Blount once asked
her during her second or third week, coming up to where she
and Gregory were sitting amid the throng on the general
veranda, and eyeing her in a sophisticated or smilingly
"What game?" She looked up in seemingly complete innocence.
"Oh, snaring the appointed victim. Isn't that what all
attractive young women do?"
"Are you referring to me?" she inquired with considerable
hauteur and an air of injured innocence. "I'd have you know
that I don't have to snare any one, and particularly not a
married man." Her teeth gleamed maliciously.
Both Gregory and Blount were watching her closely.
"Oh, of course not. Not a married man, to be sure. And I
wasn't referring to you exactly--just life, you know, the
"Yes, I know," she replied sweetly. "I'm jesting, too."
Both Gregory and Blount laughed.
"Well, she got away with it without the tremor of an
eyelash, didn't she?" Blount afterward observed, and
Gregory had to agree that she had.
Again, it was Gregory who attempted a reference of this
kind. She had come out after a short instrumental
interpretation at the piano, where, it seemed to him, she
had been posing in a graceful statuesque way--for whose
benefit? He knew that she knew he could see her from where
"It's pretty hard work, without much reward," he suggested
"What is? I don't quite understand," and she looked at him
"No?" he smiled in a light laughing manner. "Well, that's a
cryptic way I have. I say things like that. Just a light
hint at a dark plot, possibly. You mustn't mind me. You
wouldn't understand unless you know what I know."
"Well, what is it you know, then, that I don't?" she
"Nothing definite yet. Just an idea. Don't mind me."
"Really, you are very odd, both you and Mr. Blount. You are
always saying such odd things and then adding that you
don't mean anything. And what's cryptic?"
Gregory, still laughing at her, explained.
"Do you know, you're exceedingly interesting to me as a
type. I'm watching you all the while."
"Yes?" she commented, with a lifting of the eyebrows and a
slight distention of the eyes. "That's interesting. Have
you made up your mind as to what type I am?"
"No, not quite yet. But if you're the type I think you are,
you're very clever. I'll have to hand you the palm on that
"Really, you puzzle me," she said seriously. "Truly, you
do. I don't understand you at all. What is it you are
talking about? If it's anything that has any sense in it I
wish you'd say it out plain, and if not I wish you wouldn't
say it at all."
Gregory stared. There was an odd ring of defiance in her
"Please don't be angry, will you?" he said, slightly
disconcerted. "I'm just teasing, not talking sense."
She arose and walked off, while he strolled up and down the
veranda looking for Blount. When he found him, he narrated
"Well, it's just possible that we are mistaken. You never
can tell. Give her a little more rope. Something's sure to
And thereafter it seemed as if Mrs. Skelton and some others
might be helping her in some subtle way about something,
the end or aim of which he could not be quite sure. He was
in no way disposed to flatter himself, and yet it seemed at
times as if he were the object of almost invisible
machinations. In spite of what had gone before, she still
addressed him in a friendly way, and seemed not to wish to
avoid him, but rather to be in his vicinity at all times.
A smug, dressy, crafty Jew of almost minute dimensions
arrived on the scene and took quarters somewhere in the
building, coming and going and seeming never to know Mrs.
Skelton or her friends, and yet one day, idling across some
sand dunes which skirted an adjacent inlet, he saw them,
Imogene and the antlike Jew, walking along together. He was
so astounded that he stopped in amazement. His first
thought was to draw a little nearer and to make very sure,
but realizing, as they walked slowly in his direction, that
he could not be mistaken, he beat a hasty retreat. That
evening Blount was taken in on the mystery, and at dinner
time, seeing the Hebrew enter and seat himself in state at
a distant table, he asked casually, "A newcomer, isn't he?"
Mrs. Skelton, Imogene, and the one broker present, surveyed
the stranger with curious but unacquainted indifference.
"Haven't the slightest idea," answered the broker.
"Never saw him before. Cloaks and suits, I'll lay a
"He looks as though he might be rich, whoever he is,"
innocently commented Imogene.
"I think he came Thursday. He doesn't seem to be any one in
particular, that's sure," added Mrs. Skelton distantly, and
the subject was dropped.
Gregory was tempted to accuse the young woman and her
friends then and there of falsehood, but he decided to wait
and study her. This was certainly becoming interesting. If
they could lie like that, then something was surely in the
air. So she was a trickster, after all, and she was so
charming. His interest in her and Mrs. Skelton and their
friends grew apace.
And then came the matter of the mysterious blue racer, or
"trailer," as Gregory afterward came to call it, a great
hulking brute of a car, beautifully, even showily, made,
and with an engine that talked like no other. There was a
metallic ring about it which seemed to carry a long way
through the clear air and over the sands which adjoined the
sea. It was the possession, so he learned later through
Mrs. Skelton, of one of four fortunate youths who were
summering at the next hotel west, about a mile away. The
owner, one Castleman by name, the son and heir to a very
wealthy family, was a friend of hers whom she had first met
in a commercial way in the city. They came over after
Imogene's arrival, she explained, to help entertain, and
they invariably came in this car. Castleman and his
friends, smart, showy youths all, played tennis and bridge,
and knew all the latest shows and dances and drinks. They
were very gay looking, at least three of them, and were
inclined to make much of Imogene, though, as Mrs. Skelton
cautiously confided to Gregory after a time, she did not
propose to allow it. Imogene's parents might not like it.
On the other hand, Gregory and Blount, being sober men both
and of excellent discretion, were much more welcome!
Almost every day thereafter Mrs. Skelton would go for a
ride in her own car or that of Castleman, taking Gregory if
he would, and Imogene for companions. Blount, however, as
he explicitly made clear at the very beginning, was opposed
"Don't ever be alone with her, I tell you, or just in the
company of her and her friends anywhere except on this
veranda. They're after you, and they're not finding it
easy, and they're beginning to work hard. They'll give
themselves away in some way pretty soon, just as sure as
you're sitting there. They want to cut me out, but don't
let them do it--or if you do, get some one in my place. You
don't know where they'll take you. That's the way people
are framed. Take me, or get them to use my machine and you
take some other man. Then you can regulate the conditions
Gregory insisted that he had no desire to make any other
arrangements, and so, thereafter, whenever an invitation
was extended to him, Blount was always somehow included,
although, as he could see, they did not like it. Not that
Imogene seemed to mind, but Mrs. Skelton always complained,
"Must we wait for him?" or "Isn't it possible, ever, to go
anywhere without him?"
Gregory explained how it was. Blount was an old and dear
friend of his. They were practically spending the summer
together. Blount had nothing to do just now. . . . They
seemed to take it all in the best part, and thereafter
Blount was always ready, and even willing to suggest that
they come along with him in his car.
But the more these accidental prearrangements occurred, the
more innocently perverse was Mrs. Skelton in proposing
occasional trips of her own. There was an interesting walk
through the pines and across the dunes to a neighboring
hotel which had a delightful pavilion, and this she was
always willing to essay with just Gregory. Only, whenever
he agreed to this, and they were about to set out, Imogene
would always appear and would have to be included. Then
Mrs. Skelton would remember that she had forgotten her
parasol or purse or handkerchief, and would return for it,
leaving Imogene and Gregory to stroll on together. But
Gregory would always wait until Mrs. Skelton returned. He
was not to be entrapped like this.
By now he and Imogene, in spite of this atmosphere of
suspicion and uncertainty, had become very friendly. She
liked him, he could see that. She looked at him with a
slight widening of the eyes and a faint distention of the
nostrils at times, which spelled--what? And when seated
with him in the car, or anywhere else, she drew near him in
a gently inclusive and sympathetic and coaxing way. She had
been trying to teach him to dance of late, and scolding him
in almost endearing phrases such as "Now, you bad boy," or
"Oh, butterfingers!" (when once he had dropped something),
or "Big, clumsy one--how big and strong you really are. I
can scarcely guide you."
And to him, in spite of all her dark chicane, she was
really beautiful, and so graceful! What a complexion, he
said to himself on more than one occasion. How light and
silken her hair! And her eyes, hard and gray-brown, and yet
soft, too--to him. Her nose was so small and straight, and
her lip line so wavily cut, like an Englishwoman's, full
and drooping in the center of the upper lip. And she looked
at him so when they were alone! It was disturbing.
But as to the Blue Trailer on these careening nights.
Chancing one night to be invited by Mrs. Skelton for a
twenty-five-mile run to Bayside, Blount accompanying them,
they had not gone ten miles, it seemed to him, when the hum
of a peculiarly and powerfully built motor came to him. It
was like a distant bee buzzing, or a hornet caught under a
glass. There was something fierce about it, savage. On the
instant he recalled it now, recognized it as the great blue
machine belonging to young Castleman. Why should he be
always hearing it, he asked, when they were out? And then
quite thoughtlessly he observed to Imogene:
"That sounds like Castleman's car, doesn't it?"
"It does, doesn't it?" she innocently replied. "I wonder if
it could be."
Nothing caused him to think any more about it just then,
but another time when he was passing along a distant road
he heard its motor nearby on another road, and then it
passed them. Again, it brought its customary group to the
same inn in which he and Blount and Imogene and Mrs.
Suddenly it came to him just what it meant. The last time
he had heard it, and every time before that, he now
remembered, its sound had been followed by its appearance
at some roadside inn or hotel whenever he Imogene and
Blount happened to be in the same party; and it always
brought with it this selfsame group of young men ("joy
riders," they called themselves), accidentally happening in
on them, as they said. And now he remembered (and this fact
was corroborated by the watchful Blount) that if the car
had not been heard, and they had not appeared, either Mrs.
Skelton or Imogene invariably sought the ladies' retiring
room once they had reached their destination, if they had
one, when later the car would be heard tearing along in the
distance and the "joy riders" would arrive. But what for?
How to compromise him exactly, if at all?
One night after Mrs. Skelton had left them in one of these
inns, but before the joy riders had arrived, Gregory was
sitting at the edge of a balcony overlooking a silent grove
of pines when suddenly it seemed to him that he heard it
coming in the distance, this great rumbling brute, baying
afar off, like a bloodhound on the scent. There was
something so eerie, uncanny about it or about the night,
which made it so. And then a few moments later it appeared,
and the four cronies strolled in, smart and summery in
their appearance, seemingly surprised to find them all
there. Gregory felt a bit cold and chill at the subtlety of
it all. How horrible it was, trailing a man in this way!
How tremendous the depths of politics, how important the
control of all the great seething cities' millions, to
these men--Tilney and his friends,--if they could find it
important to plot against one lone investigating man like
this! Their crimes! Their financial robberies! How well he
knew some of them--and how near he was to being able to
prove some of them and drive them out, away from the public
treasury and the emoluments and honors of office!
That was why he was so important to them now--he a
self-established newspaperman with a self-established
investigating bureau. Actually, it was villainous, so dark
and crafty. What were they planning, these two smiling
women at his side and these four smart rounders, with their
pink cheeks and affable manners? What could they want of
him really? How would it all end?
As Mrs. Skelton, Imogene, Blount and himself were preparing
to return, and Castleman and his friends were entering
their own car, a third party hitherto unknown to Blount or
Gregory appeared and engaged the two women in conversation,
finally persuading them to return with them in their car.
Mrs. Skelton thereupon apologized and explained that they
were old friends whom she had not seen for a long time, and
that they would all meet at the hotel later for a game of
bridge. Blount and Gregory, left thus to themselves,
decided to take a short cut to a nearby turnpike so as to
beat them home. The move interested them, although they
could not explain it at the time. It was while they were
following this road, however, through a section heavily
shaded with trees, that they were suddenly confronted by
the blazing lights of another machine descending upon them
at full speed from the opposite direction, and even though
Blount by the most amazing dexterity managed to throw his
car into the adjacent fence and wood, still it came so
close and was traveling at such terrific speed that it
clipped their left rear wheel as he did so.
"Castleman's car!" Blount said softly after it had passed.
"I saw him. They missed us by an inch!"
"What do you think of that!" exclaimed Gregory cynically.
"I wonder if they'll come back to see the result of their
Even as they were talking, however, they heard the big car
"Say, this looks serious! I don't like the looks of it!"
whispered Blount. "That car would have torn us to bits and
never been scratched. And here they are now. Better look
out for them. It's just as well that we're armed. You have
your gun, haven't you?"
The other group approached most brazenly.
"Hello! Any trouble?" they called from a distance. "So
sorry," and then as though they had just discovered it,
"--well, if it isn't Gregory and Blount! Well, well,
fellows, so sorry! It was an accident, I assure you. Our
steering gear is out of order."
Gregory and Blount had previously agreed to stand their
ground, and if any further treachery were intended it was
to be frustrated with bullets. The situation was partially
saved or cleared up by the arrival of a third car
containing a party of four middle-aged men who, seeing them
in the wood and the other car standing by, stopped to
investigate. It was Gregory's presence of mind which kept
"Do you mind staying by, Mister, until that other car
leaves?" he whispered to one of the newcomers who was
helping to extricate Blount's machine. "I think they
purposely tried to wreck us, but I'm not sure; anyway, we
don't want to be left alone with them."
Finding themselves thus replaced and the others determined
to stay, Castleman and his followers were most apologetic
and helpful. They had forgotten something back at the inn,
they explained, and were returning for it. As they had
reached this particular spot and had seen the light of
Blount's car, they had tried to stop, but something had
gone wrong with the steering gear. They had tried to turn,
but couldn't, and had almost wrecked their own car. Was
there any damage? They would gladly pay. Blount assured
them there was not, the while he and Gregory accepted their
apologies in seeming good part, insisting, however, that
they needed no help. After they had gone Blount and
Gregory, with the strangers as guards, made their way to
the hotel, only to find it dark and deserted.
What an amazing thing it all was, Gregory said to himself
over and over, the great metropolis threaded with plots
like this for spoil--cold blooded murder attempted, and
that by a young girl and these young men scarcely in their
middle twenties, and yet there was no way to fix it on
them. Here he was, fairly convinced that on two occasions
murder had been planned or attempted, and still he could
prove nothing, not a word, did not even dare to accuse any
one! And Imogene, this girl of beauty and gayety,
pretending an affection for him--and he half believing
it--and at the same time convinced that she was in on the
plot in some way. Had he lost his senses?
He was for getting out now posthaste, feeling as he did
that he was dealing with a band of murderers who were
plotting his death by "accident" in case they failed to
discredit him by some trick or plot, but Blount was of
another mind. He could not feel that this was a good time
to quit After all, everything had been in their favor so
far. In addition, Blount had come to the conclusion that
the girl was a very weak tool of these other people, not a
clever plotter herself. He argued this, he said, from
certain things which he had been able thus far to find out
about her. She had once been, he said, the private
secretary or personal assistant to a well known banker
whose institution had been connected with the Tilney
interests in Penyank, and whose career had ended in his
indictment and flight. Perhaps there had been some papers
which she had signed as the ostensible secretary or
treasurer, which might make her the victim of Tilney or of
some of his political friends. Besides, by now he was
willing to help raise money to carry Gregory's work on in
case he needed any. The city should be protected from such
people. But Blount considered Imogene a little soft or
easy, and thought that Gregory could influence her help him
if he tried.
"Stick it out," he insisted. "Stick it out. It looks pretty
serious, I know, but you want to remember that you won't be
any better off anywhere else, and here we at least know
what we're up against. They know by now that we're getting
on to them. They must. They're getting anxious, that's all,
and the time is getting short. You might send for your
wife, but that wouldn't help any. Besides, if you play your
cards right with this girl you might get her to come over
to your side. In spite of what she's doing, I think she
likes you." Gregory snorted. "Or you might make her like
you, and then you could get the whole scheme out of her.
See how she looks at you all the time! And don't forget
that every day you string this thing along without letting
them bring it to a disastrous finish, the nearer you are to
the election. If this goes on much longer without their
accomplishing anything, Tilney won't have a chance to frame
up anything new before the election will be upon him, and
then it will be too late. Don't you see?"
On the strength of this, Gregory agreed to linger a little
while longer, but he felt that it was telling on his
nerves. He was becoming irritable and savage, and the more
he thought about it the worse he felt. To think of having
to be pleasant to people who were murderers at heart and
trying to destroy you!
The next morning, however, he saw Imogene at breakfast,
fresh and pleasant, and with that look of friendly interest
in her eyes which more and more of late she seemed to wear
and in spite of himself he was drawn to her, although he
did his best to conceal it.
"Why didn't you come back last night to play cards with
us?" she asked. "We waited and waited for you."
"Oh, haven't you heard about the latest 'accident'?" he
asked, with a peculiar emphasis on the word, and looking at
her with a cynical mocking light in his eyes.
"No. What accident?" She seemed thoroughly unaware that
anything had happened.
"You didn't know, of course, that Castleman's car almost
ran us down after you left us last night?"
"No!" she exclaimed with genuine surprise. "Where?"
"Well, just after you left us, in the wood beyond
Bellepoint. It was so fortunate of you two to have left
just when you did." And he smiled and explained briefly and
with some cynical comments as to the steering gear that
As he did so, he examined her sharply and she looked at him
with what he thought might be pain or fear or horror in her
glance. Certainly it was not a look disguising a
sympathetic interest in the plans of her friends or
employers, if they were such. Her astonishment was so
obviously sincere, confusing, revealing, in a way that it
all but won him. He could not make himself believe that she
had had a hand in that anyhow. It must be as Blount said,
that she was more of a tool herself than anything else. She
probably couldn't help herself very well or didn't know the
lengths to which her pretended "friends" were prepared to
go. Her eyes seemed troubled, sad. She seemed weaker, more
futile, than at any time since he had known her, and this,
while it did not add particularly to his respect, softened
his personal animosity. He felt that under the
circumstances he might come to like her. He also thought
that she might be made to like him enough to help him. He
had the emotional mastery of her, he thought, and that was
something. He had described the incident with all the
vividness of detail that he could, showing how he and
Blount had escaped death by a hair's breadth. She seemed a
little sick, and shortly after left the table. Gregory had
taken good care to make it plain that the strangers in the
other car had been informed as to the exact details of the
case, and had offered their services as witnesses in case
they were wanted.
"But we don't propose to do anything about it," he said
genially, "not now, anyhow," and it was that she seemed to
become a little sick or faint, and left him.
Whether owing to this conversation or the accident itself,
or to circumstances concerning which he knew nothing, there
now seemed to come a temporary lull in the activities of
this group. The Blue Trailer disappeared as an active daily
fact in their lives. Mrs. Skelton was called to the city on
business for a few days, as well as Mr. Diamondberg, the
"cloak and suit man," as Blount always called him, who in
all the time he had been there had never publicly joined
them. Mrs. Skelton came back later as cheerful and
optimistic as ever, but in the meanwhile there had been an
approach on the part of Imogene toward himself which seemed
to promise a new order of things. She was freer, more
natural and more genial than she had been hitherto. She was
with him more, smiling, playful, and yet concerned, he
thought. Because of their conversation the morning after
the accident, he felt easier in her presence, more
confidential, as though he might be able to talk to her
about all this soon and get her to help him.
They had two hours together on the second afternoon of the
absence of the others which brought them within sight of
each other's point of view. It began after lunch, because
Gregory had some reports to examine and was staying here to
do it. She came over and stood beside him.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm looking up some facts," he replied enigmatically,
smiling up at her. "Sit down."
They fell into conversation first about a tennis match
which was being held here, and then about his work, which
he described in part after observing that she knew all
about it, or ought to.
"Why do you always talk to me that way about everything in
connection with you?" she asked after a moment's pause.
"You have such a queer way of speaking, as though I knew
something I ought not to know about your affairs."
"Well, you do, don't you?" he questioned grimly, staring at
"Now, there it is again! What do you mean by that?"
"Do you really need to have me explain to you?" he went on
in a hard cynical manner. "As though you didn't know! I
don't suppose you ever heard of the Union Bank of Penyank,
for instance? Or Mr. Swayne, its president? Or Mr. Riley,
or Mr. Mears, the cashier?"
At the mention of these, as at the mention of the
automobile accident, there was something which seemed to
click like a camera shutter in her eyes, only this time
there was no sign of pain, none even of confusion. She
seemed, except for a faint trace of color, to be fairly
calm and poised. She opened her mouth slightly, but more in
an attempted smile of tolerance than anything else.
"The Union Bank? Mr. Swayne? Mr. Tilney? What are you
talking about?" she persisted. "Who is Mr. Swayne, and
where is the Union Bank?"
"Really, now, Miss Carle," he said with a kind of dogmatic
fury, "if you want me to have any regard of any kind for
you in the future, quit lying about this. You know well
enough what I mean. You know who Mr. Swayne is, all right,
and why he left Eastridge. You also know Mr. Diamondberg,
although I heard you say you didn't, and that right after I
had seen you walking with him out here on the dunes three
weeks ago. You don't remember that, I suppose?" this as she
She stared, completely shaken out of her composure, and a
real flush spread over her cheeks and neck. For the moment
her expression hardened the least bit, then gave way to one
of mingled weakness and confusion. She looked more or less
guilty and genuinely distrait.
"Why, Mr. Gregory," she pleaded weakly, "how you talk!
Positively, I haven't the slightest idea of what you mean,
and I wish you wouldn't be so rough. I don't think you know
what you're talking about, or if you do you certainly don't
know anything about me. You must have me mixed up with some
one else, or with something that I don't know anything
about." She moved as if to leave.
"Now listen to me a minute," he said sharply, "and don't be
so ready to leave. You know who I am, and just what I'm
doing. I'm running an investigation bureau on my own
account with which I mean to break up the present city
political ring, and I have a lot of evidence which might
cause Mr. Tilney and the mayor and some others a lot of
trouble this fall, and they know it, and that's why you're
out here. Mr. Tilney is connected with the mayor, and he
used to be a bosom friend of your friend, Jack Swayne. And
Diamondberg and Mrs. Skelton are in his employ right now,
and so are you. You think I don't know that Castleman and
his friends were working with you and Mrs. Skelton, and
Diamondberg and these 'brokers' also, and that Castleman
tried to run into us the other night and kill me, and that
I'm being watched here all the time and spied on, but I am,
and I know it, and I'm not in the dark as to anything--not
one thing--not even you," and he leered at her angrily.
"Now wait a moment," he went on quickly as she opened her
mouth and started to say something. "You don't look to me
to be so crafty and devilish as all this seems, or I
wouldn't be talking to you at all, and your manner all
along has been so different--you've appeared so friendly
and sympathetic, that I've thought at times that maybe you
didn't know exactly what was going on. Now, however, I see
that you do. Your manner the other morning at breakfast
made me think that possibly you were not so bad as you
seemed. But now I see that you've been lying to me all
along about all this, just as I thought, only I must say
that up to now I haven't been willing to believe it. This
isn't the first time an attempt has been made to get people
in this way, though. It's an old political trick, only
you're trying to work it once more, and I don't propose
that you shall work it on me if I can help it. Plainly, you
people wouldn't hesitate to kill me, any more than Tilney
hesitated to ruin Crothers three years ago, or than he
would hesitate to ruin me or any other man or woman who got
in his path, but he hasn't got me yet, and he's not going
to, and you can tell him that for me. He's a crook. He
controls a bunch of crooks--the mayor and all the people
working with him--and if you're in with them, as I know you
are, and know what you're doing, you're a crook too."
"Oh, oh, oh! Don't!" she exclaimed. "Please don't! This is
too terrible! To think that you should talk to me in this
way!" but she made no attempt to leave.
"Now I want to tell you something more, Miss Carle--if
that's your real name--" Gregory went on as she was putting
her hands to her temples and exclaiming, and she winced
again. "As I said before, you don't look to me to be as bad
as you seem, and for that reason I'm talking to you now.
But just see how it is: Here I am, a young man just
starting out in the world really, and here you are trying
to ruin me. I was living here with my wife and my little
two-year-old baby peacefully enough until she had to go to
the mountains because our little boy was taken sick, and
then you and Mrs. Skelton and Diamondberg and Castleman and
the 'brokers' and all the rest of the crowd that are and
have been around here watching and spying, came and began
to cause me trouble. Now I'm not helpless. And you needn't
think I wasn't warned before you came, because I was. There
are just as many influential men on my side of the fence
right now as there are on Tilney's--will be--and he isn't
going to get away with this thing as easily as he thinks.
But just think of your part in all this! Why should you
want to ruin me or help these people? What have I ever done
to you? I can understand Tilney's wanting to do it. He
thinks that I have facts which will injure him, and I have,
and that because I haven't made any public statement the
evidence is still in my hands, and that if I am put out of
the way or discredited the whole thing will blow over and
nothing will happen to him--but it won't. Not now any more.
It can't. This thing will go on just the same, whether I am
here or not. But that isn't the point either. I was told
two months ago that you would come, not by Mrs. Skelton,
but by friends of mine, and that an attempt would be made
on my life," and at that she opened her eyes wide and sat
there apparently amazed, "and here you are on schedule time
and doing just as you were told, and apparently you aren't
the least bit ashamed to do it. But don't you think it's a
pretty shabby game for you to play?" He stared at her
wearily and she at him, but now for the moment she said
nothing, just sat there.
"That big blue machine that was to have killed me the other
night," he went on, stretching matters a little in so far
as his own knowledge was concerned, "was all arranged for
long before you came down here. I haven't the slightest
idea why you work for Tilney, but I know now that that's
what you're doing, and I'm sick of you and the whole thing.
You're just a plain little crook, that's all, and I'm
through with you and this whole thing, and I don't want you
to talk to me any more. What's more, I'm not going to leave
this hotel, either, and you can take that news to Tilney if
you want to, or Mrs. Skelton or whoever else is managing
things here for him. I've kept a day-to-day record of
everything that's happened so far, and I have witnesses,
and if anything more happens to me here I'm going to the
newspapers and expose the whole thing. If you had any sense
of decency left you wouldn't be in on anything like this,
but you haven't--you're just a shabby little trickster, and
that lets you out, and that's all I have to say."
He stood up and made as if to walk off, while Miss Carle
sat there, seemingly dazed, then jumped up and called after
"Mr. Gregory! Please! Please! Mr. Gregory, I want to tell
He stopped and turned. She came hurriedly up to him.
"Don't go," she pleaded, "not just yet. Wait a minute.
Please come back. I want to talk to you." And though he
looked at her rather determinedly, he followed her.
"Well?" he asked.
"You don't understand how it is," she pleaded, with a look
of real concern in her eyes. "And I can't tell you either,
just now, but I will some time if you will let me. But I
like you, and I really don't want to do you any harm.
Really, I don't. I don't know anything about these
automobile things you're telling about--truly I don't.
They're all terrible and horrible to me, and if they are
trying to do anything like that, I don't know it, and I
won't have anything more to do with it--really I won't. Oh,
it's terrible!" and she clenched her hands. "I do know Mr.
Diamondberg now, I admit that, but I didn't before I came
down here, and Mr. Swayne and Mr. Tilney. I did come here
to see if I could get you interested in me, but they didn't
tell me just why. They told me--Mrs. Skelton did--that you,
or some people whom you represented, were trying to get
evidence against some friends of theirs--Mr. Tilney's, I
believe--who were absolutely innocent, that you weren't
happy with your wife, and that if some one, any one, were
able to make you fall in love with her or just become very
good friends, she might be able to persuade you not to do
it, you see. There wasn't any plan, so far as I know, to
injure you bodily in any way. They didn't tell me that they
wanted to injure you physically--really they didn't. That's
all news to me, and dreadful. All they said was that they
wanted to get some one to get you to stop--make it worth
your while in a money way, if I could. I didn't think there
was anything so very wrong in that, seeing all they have
done for me in the past--Mr. Tilney, Mrs. Skelton and some
others. But after I saw you a little while I--" she paused
and looked at him, then away, "I didn't think you were that
kind of a man, you see, and so--well, it's different now. I
don't want to do anything to hurt you. Really I don't. I
"So you admit now that you do know Mr. Tilney," he
commented sourly, but not without a sense of triumph behind
"I just told you that," she said.
She stopped, and Gregory stared at her suspiciously. That
she liked him was plain, and in a sense it was different
from that of a mere passing flirtation, and as for
himself--well, he couldn't help liking her in a genial way.
He was free to admit that to himself, in spite of her
trickery, and that she was attractive, and as yet she
personally had not done anything to him, certainly nothing
that he could prove. She seemed even now so young, although
so sophisticated and wise, and much about her face, its
smoothness, the delicate tracery of hair about her
forehead, the drooping pout of the upper lip, sharpened his
interest and caused him to meditate.
"Well?" he inquired after a time.
"Oh, I wish you wouldn't turn on me so and leave me," she
pleaded. "I haven't done anything to you, have I? Not yet,
"That's just the point--not yet. There's the whole story in
"Yes, but I promise you faithfully that I won't, that I
don't intend to. Really I don't. You won't believe me, but
that's true. And I won't, I give you my word,--truly. Why
won't you still be friends with me? I can't tell you any
more about myself now than I have--not now--but I will some
time, and I wish you would still be friends with me. I
promise not to do anything to cause you trouble. I haven't
really, have I? Have I?"
"How should I know?" he answered testily and roughly, the
while believing that this was a deliberate attempt on her
part to interest him in spite of himself, to get him not to
leave yet. "It seems to me you've done enough, being with
these people. You've led me into going about with them, for
one thing. I would never have gone with them on most of
these trips except for you. Isn't that enough? What more do
you want? And why can't you tell me now," he demanded,
feeling in a way the authority of a victor, "who these
people are and all about them? I'd like to know. It might
be a help to me, if you really wanted to do something for
me. What are their plans, their game?"
"I don't know. I can't tell you any more than I have, truly
I can't. If I find out, maybe I will some time. I promise
to. But not now. I can't, now. Can't you trust me that
much? Can't you see that I like you, when I tell you so
much? I haven't any plan to injure you personally, truly I
haven't. I'm obliged to these people in one way and
another, but nothing that would make me go that far. Won't
you believe me?" She opened her eyes very wide in injury.
There was something new in her expression, a luring,
"I haven't any one who is really close to me any more," she
went on, "not anybody I like. I suppose it's all my own
fault, but--" her voice became very sweet.
In spite of his precautions and the knowledge that his wife
was the best and most suitable companion for him in the
world, and that he was permanently fixed through his
affection for his child and the helpful, hopeful mother of
it, nevertheless he was moved by some peculiarity of this
girl's temperament. What power had Tilney over her, that he
could use her in this way? Think of it--a beautiful girl
"What about Mrs. Skelton?" he demanded. "Who is she,
anyhow? And these three gardeners around here? What is it
they want?" (There were three gardeners of the grounds who
whenever he and Imogene had been alone together anywhere
managed somehow to be working near the scene--an arrival
which caused him always instanter to depart.) "And
She insisted that in so far as the gardeners were concerned
she knew absolutely nothing about them. If they were
employed by Mrs. Skelton or any one, it was without her
knowledge. As for Diamondberg, she explained that she had
only met him since she had come here, but that she really
did not like him. For some reason Mrs. Skelton had asked
her to appear not to know him. Mrs. Skelton, she persisted,
had known her years before in Cincinnati, as she had said,
but more recently in the city. She had helped her to get
various positions, twice on the stage. Once she had worked
for Mr. Swayne, yes, for a year, but only as a clerk. She
had never known anything about him or his plans or schemes,
never. When Gregory wanted to know how it was that he was
to be trapped by her, if at all, she insisted that she did
not believe that he was to be trapped. It was all to have
been as she said.
Gregory could not quite make out whether she was telling
him the exact truth, but it was near enough, and it seemed
to him that she could not be wholly lying. She seemed too
frank and wishful. There was something sensuously
affectionate in her point of view and her manner. He would
know everything in the future, she insisted, if he wanted
to, but only not now--please not now. Then she asked about
his wife, where she was, when she was coming back.
"Do you love her very much?" she finally asked naively.
"Certainly I love her. Why do you ask? I've a two-year-old
boy that I'm crazy about."
She looked at him thoughtfully, a little puzzled or
uncertain, he thought.
They agreed to be friends after a fashion before they were
through. He confessed that he liked her, but still that he
did not trust her--not yet. They were to go on as before,
but only on condition that nothing further happened to him
which could be traced to her. She frankly told him that she
could not control the actions of the others. They were
their own masters, and, after a fashion, hers, but in so
far as she could she would protect him. She did not believe
that they intended to try much longer. In so far as she was
concerned, he might go away if he chose. She could see him
anywhere, if he would. She was not sure if that would make
any difference in their plans or not. Anyhow, she would not
follow him if he did go unless he wished it, but she would
prefer that he did. Perhaps nothing more would happen here.
If she heard of anything she would tell him, or try to, in
time. But she could not say more than that now. After a
while, maybe, as soon as she could get out of here . . .
there were certain things over which she had no control.
She was very enigmatic and secretive, and he took it to
mean that she was involved in some difficult situation and
could not easily extricate herself.
"I wouldn't take too much stock in her, at that," Blount
reflected when Gregory had told him about it. "Just keep
your eyes open, that's all. Don't have anything to do with
her in a compromising way. She may be lying to you again.
Once a crook, always a crook." Such was his philosophy.
Mrs. Skelton returned on the third day after his long
conversation with Imogene, and in spite of the fact that
they had seemed to come closer together than ever before,
to have established a friendly semi-defensive pact, still
he sensed treachery. He could not make out what it was. She
seemed to be friendly, simple, gay, direct, even
wooing--and yet--what? He thought at one time that she
might be the unconscious psychologic victim of Mrs. Skelton
or of some one else; at other times, an absolutely
unprincipled political philanderer. While pretending to be
"on the level," as he phrased it, with him, she was
crossing his path in such odd ways, making him uncertain as
to whether, in spite of all she had said and was saying,
she was still engaged in trying to compromise him. The
whole thing began to take on the fascination of a game with
the unconquerable lure of sex at the bottom of it--steeled
as he was against compromising himself in any way.
Thus once, after a late card game, when he stepped out on a
small veranda or balcony which graced the end of the hall
nearest which his room was situated, and which commanded a
splendid view of the sea, he found her just outside his
door, alone, diaphanously attired, and very sympathetic and
genial. Now that they were friends and had had this talk,
there was something in her manner which always seemed to
invite him on to a closer life with her without danger to
himself, as she seemed to say. She would shield him against
all, at her own expense. At the same time he was far--very
far--from yielding. More than once he had insisted that he
did not want to have anything to do with her in an
affectional way, and yet here she was on this occasion, and
although there might or there might not have been anything
very alarming in that, he argued with himself afterward,
yet since he had told her, this could be made to look as
though she were trying to overpersuade him, to take him off
his guard. Any guest of the hotel might have done as much
(her room was somewhere near there), but Rule One, as laid
down by Blount, and as hitherto practised by him, was
never, under any circumstances which might be
misinterpreted, to be alone with her. And besides, when he
withdrew, as, he did at once, excusing himself lightly and
laughingly, he saw two men turning in at a cross corridor
just beyond, and one, seeing him turn back, said to the
other, "It must be on the other side, Jim." Well, there
might not have been anything very significant in that,
either. Any two men might accidentally turn into a hall on
an end balcony of which a maiden was sitting in very
diaphanous array, but still--
It was the same whenever he walked along the outer or sea
wall at night, listening to the thunder of the water
against the rapp which sustained the walk, and meditating
on the night and the beauty of the hotel and the shabbiness
of politics. Imogene was always about him when she might be
with safety, as he saw it, but never under such
circumstances as could be made to seem that they were alone
together. Bullen, one of the two brokers, who seemed not a
bad sort after his kind, came out there one night with Mrs.
Skelton and Imogene, and seeing Gregory, engaged him in
conversation and then left Imogene to his care. Gregory,
hating to appear asininely suspicious under such
circumstances, was genuinely troubled as to what to do in
such cases as these. Always now he was drawn to her,
painfully so, and yet-- He had told her more than once that
he did not wish to be alone with her in this way, and yet
here she was, and she was always insisting that she did not
wish him to be with her if he objected to it, and yet look
at this! Her excuse always was that she could not help it,
that it was purely accidental or planned by them without
her knowledge. She could not avoid all accidents. When he
demanded to know why she did not leave, clear out of all of
this, she explained that without great injury to herself
and Mrs. Skelton she could not, and that besides he was
safer with her there.
"What is this?" he asked on this occasion. "Another plan?"
Feeling her stop and pull back a little, he felt ashamed of
himself. "Well, you know what I've been telling you all
along," he added gruffly.
"Please don't be so suspicious, Ed. Why do you always act
so? Can't I even walk out here? I couldn't avoid this
to-night, truly I couldn't. Don't you suppose I have to
play a part too--for a time, anyhow? What do you expect me
to do--leave at once? I can't, I tell you. Won't you
believe me? Won't you have a little faith in me?"
"Well, come on," he returned crossly, as much irritated
with himself as any one. "Give me your arm. Give a dog a
bad name, you know," and he walked her courteously but
firmly in the direction of the principal veranda, trying to
be nice to her at the same time.
"I tell you, Imogene, I can't and I won't do this. You must
find ways of avoiding these things. If not, I'm not going
to have anything to do with you at all. You say you want me
to be friends with you, if no more. Very well. But how are
we going to do it?" and after more arguments of this kind
they parted with considerable feeling, but not altogether
antagonistic, at that.
Yet by reason of all this finally, and very much to his
personal dissatisfaction, he found himself limited as to
his walks and lounging places almost as much as if he had
been in prison. There was a little pergola at one end of
the lawn with benches and flowering vines which had taken
his fancy when he first came, and which he had been
accustomed to frequent as a splendid place to walk and
smoke, but not any more. He was too certain of being picked
up there, or of being joined by Mrs. Skelton and Imogene,
only to be left with Imogene, with possibly the three
gardeners or a broker as witnesses. He could not help
thinking how ridiculous it all was.
He even took Imogene, he and Blount, in Blount's car, and
Mrs. Skelton with them or not, as the case might be--it was
all well enough so long as Blount was along--to one place
or another in the immediate vicinity--never far, and always
the two of them armed and ready for any emergency or fray,
as they said. It seemed a risky thing to do, still they
felt a little emboldened by their success so far, and
besides, Imogene was decidedly attractive to both of them.
Now that she had confessed her affection for Gregory she
was most alluring with him, and genial to Blount, teasing
and petting him and calling him the watchdog. Blount was
always crowing over how well he and Gregory were managing
the affair. More than once he had pointed out, even in her
presence, that there was an element of sport or fascinating
drama in it, that she "couldn't fool them," all of which
was helping mightily to pass the time, even though his own
and Gregory's life, or at least their reputation, might be
"Go on, go on, is my advice," Blount kept saying now that
he was being amused. "Let her fall in love with you. Make
her testify on your behalf. Get a confession in black and
white, if you can. It would be a great thing in the
campaign, if you were compelled to use it." He was a most
practical and political soul, for all his geniality.
Gregory could not quite see himself doing that, however. He
was too fond of her. She was never quite so yielding, so
close to him, as now. When he and Blount were out with her,
now, the two of them ventured to rag her as to her part in
all this, asking her whether the other car were handy,
whether the gardeners had been properly lined up, and as to
who was behind this tree or that house. "There'd be no use
in going if everything wasn't just right," they said. She
took it all in good part, even laughing and mocking them.
"Better look out! Here comes a spy now," she would
sometimes exclaim at sight of a huckster driving a wagon or
a farm-hand pushing a wheelbarrow.
To both Blount and Gregory it was becoming a farce, and yet
between themselves they agreed that it had its charm. They
were probably tiring her backers and they would all quit
soon. They hoped so, anyhow.
But then one night, just as they had concluded that there
might not be so very much to this plot after all, that it
was about all over, and Mrs. Gregory was writing that she
would soon be able to return, the unexpected happened. They
were returning from one of those shorter outings which had
succeeded the longer ones of an earlier day, Blount and
Gregory and Imogene, and true to his idea of avoiding any
routine procedure which might be seized upon by the enemy
as something to expect and therefore to be used, Blount
passed the main entrance and drove instead around to a side
path which led to a sunk-in porch flanked on either side by
high box hedges and sheltered furry pines. True also to
their agreed plan of never being separated on occasions
like this, they both walked to the door with Imogene,
Blount locking his car so that it could not be moved during
his absence. On the steps of this side porch they chaffered
a little, bantering Imogene about another safe night, and
how hard it was on the gardeners to keep them up so late
and moving about in the dark in this fashion, when Imogene
said she was tired and would have to go. She laughed at
them for their brashness.
"You two think you're very smart, don't you?" she smiled a
little wearily. "It would serve you right if something did
happen to both of you one of these days--you know so much."
"Is that so?" chuckled Blount. "Well, don't hold any
midnight conferences as to this. You'll lose your beauty
sleep if you do."
To which Gregory added, "Yes, with all this hard work ahead
of you every day, Imogene, I should think you'd have to be
"Oh, hush, and go on," she laughed, moving toward the door.
But they had not gone more than a hundred and fifty feet
down the shadowy side path before she came running after
them, quite out of breath.
"Oh dear!" she called sweetly as she neared them, and they
having heard her footsteps had turned. "I'm so sorry to
trouble you, but some one has locked that side door, and I
can't open it or make them hear. Won't one of you come and
help me?" Then, as the two of them turned, "That's right. I
forgot. You always work in pairs, don't you?"
Blount chortled. Gregory smiled also. They couldn't help
it. It was so ridiculous at times--on occasions like this,
"Well, you see how it is," Gregory teased, "the door may be
very tightly closed, and it might take the two of us to get
Seeing that Blount was really coming, he changed his mind.
"I guess I can get it open for her. Don't bother this time.
I'll have to be going in, anyhow," he added. The thought
came to him that he would like to be with Imogene a little
while--just a few moments.
Blount left them after a cautioning look and a cheery good
night. In all the time they had been together they had not
done this, but this time it seemed all right. Gregory had
never felt quite so close to Imogene as he did this
evening. She had seemed so warm, laughing, gay. The night
had been sultry, but mellow. They had tittered and jested
over such trifling things, and now he felt that he would
like to be with her a while longer. She had become more or
less a part of his life, or seemingly so, such a genial
companion. He took her arm and tucked it under his own.
"It was nice over there at the Berkeley," he commented,
thinking of an inn they had just left. "Beautiful
grounds--and that music! It was delightful, wasn't it?"
They had been dancing together.
"Oh, dear," she sighed, "the summer will soon be over, and
then I'll have to be going back, I suppose. I wish it would
never end. I wish I could stay here forever, just like
this, if you were here." She stopped and looked at the
treetops, taking a full breath and stretching out her arms.
"And do look at those fire-flies," she added, "aren't they
wonderful?" She hung back, watching the flashing fire-flies
under the trees.
"Why not sit down here a little while?" he proposed as they
neared the steps. "It isn't late yet."
"Do you really mean it?" she asked warmly.
"You see, I'm beginning to be so foolish as to want to
trust you. Isn't that idiotic? Yes, I'm even going to risk
fifteen minutes with you."
"I wish you two would quit your teasing, just once," she
pleaded. "I wish you would learn to trust me and leave
Blount behind just once in a while, seeing that I've told
you so often that I mean to do nothing to hurt you without
telling you beforehand."
Gregory looked at her, pleased. He was moved, a little
sorry for her, and a little sorrier for himself.
In spite of himself, his wife and baby, as he now saw, he
had come along a path he should not have, and with one whom
he could not conscientiously respect or revere. There was
no future for them together, as he well knew, now or at any
other time. Still he lingered.
"Well, here we are," he said, "alone at last. Now you can
do your worst, and I have no one to protect me."
"It would serve you right if I did, Mr. Smarty. But if I
had suggested that we sit down for a minute you would have
believed that the wood was full of spies. It's too funny
for words, the way you carry on. But you'll have to let me
go upstairs to change my shoes, just the same. They've been
hurting me dreadfully, and I can't stand them another
minute. If you want to, you can come up to the other
balcony, or I'll come back here. I won't be a minute. Do
"Not at all," he assented, thinking that the other balcony
would not be as open as this, much too private for him and
her. "Certainly not. Run along. But I'd rather you came
back here. I want to smoke, anyhow," and he drew out his
cigar and was about to make himself comfortable when she
"But you'll have to get this door open for me," she said.
"I forgot about that."
"Oh, yes, that's right."
He approached it, looking first for the large key which
always hung on one side at this hour of the night, but not
seeing it, looked at the lock. The key was in it.
"I was trying before. I put it there," she explained.
He laid hold of it, and to his surprise it came open
without any effort whatsoever, a thing which caused him to
turn and look at her.
"I thought you said it wouldn't open," he said.
"Well, it wouldn't before. I don't know what makes it work
now, but it wouldn't then. Perhaps some one has come out
this way since. Anyhow, I'll run up and be down right
away." She hurried up the broad flight of stairs which
ascended leisurely from this entrance.
Gregory returned to his chair, amused but not conscious of
anything odd or out of the way about the matter. It might
well have been as she said. Doors were contrary at times,
or some one might have come down and pushed it open. Why
always keep doubting? Perhaps she really was in love with
him, as she seemed to indicate, or mightily infatuated, and
would not permit any one to injure him through her. It
would seem so, really. After all, he kept saying to
himself, she was different now to what he had originally
thought, and what she had originally been, caught in a
tangle of her own emotions and compelled by him to do
differently from what she had previously planned. If he
were not married as happily as he was, might not something
come of this? He wondered.
The black-green wall of the trees just beyond where he was
sitting, the yellow light filtering from the one bowl lamp
which ornamented the ceiling, the fireflies and the sawing
katydids, all soothed and entertained him. He was beginning
to think that politics was not such a bad business after
all, his end of it at least, or being pursued even. His
work thus far had yielded him a fair salary, furnishing as
it had excellent copy for some of the newspapers and
political organizations--the best was being reserved for
the last--and was leading him into more interesting ways
than the old newspaper days had, and the future, outside of
what had happened in the last few weeks, looked promising
enough. Soon he would be able to deal the current
administration a body blow. This might raise him to a high
position locally. He had not been so easily frustrated as
they had hoped, and this very attractive girl had fallen in
love with him.
For a while he stared down the black-green path up which
they had come, and then fixed his eyes in lazy
contemplation on one of the groups of stars showing above
the treetops. Suddenly--or was it suddenly?--more a whisper
or an idea--he seemed to become aware of something that
sounded, as he listened more keenly, like a light footfall
in the garden beyond the hedge. It was so very light, a
mere tickle of the grass or stirring of a twig. He pricked
up his ears and on the instant strained every muscle and
braced himself, not that he imagined anything very dreadful
was going to happen, but--were they up to their old tricks
again? Was this the wonderful gardeners again? Would they
never stop? Removing the cigar from his mouth and stilling
the rocker in which he had been slowly moving to and fro,
he decided not to stir, not even to move his hands, so well
concealed was he from the bushes on either side by the
arrangement of the posts, one of which was to the left of
him. In this position he might see and not be seen. Did
they know he was there? How had they found out? Were they
always watching yet? Was she a part of it? He decided to
get up and leave, but a moment later thought it better to
linger just a little, to wait and see. If he left and she
came back and did not find him there--could it be that
there was some new trick on foot?
While he was thus swiftly meditating, he was using his ears
to their utmost. Certainly there was a light footfall
approaching along the other side of the hedge to the left,
two in fact, for no sooner was one seemingly still, near at
hand, than another was heard coming from the same
direction, as light and delicate as that of a cat--spies,
trappers, murderers, even, as he well knew. It was so
amazing, this prowling and stalking, so desperate and
cruel, that it made him a little sick. Perhaps, after all,
he had better have kept Blount with him--not have lingered
in this fashion. He was about to leave, a nervous thrill
chasing up and down his spine, when he heard what he took
to be Imogene's step on the stair. Then she was coming
back, after all, as she had said. She was not a part of
this as he had feared--or was she? Who could tell? But it
would be foolish to leave now. She would see that he was
wholly suspicious again, and that stage had somehow seemed
to be passing between them. She had promised on more than
one occasion to protect him against these others, let alone
herself. Anyhow he could speak of these newcomers and then
leave. He would let her know that they were hanging about
as usual, always ready to take advantage of his good
But now, her step having reached the bottom of the stair
and ceased, she did not come out. Instead, a light that was
beside the door, but out at this hour, was turned on, and
glancing back he could see her shadow, or thought he could,
on the wall opposite, to the right. She was doing
something--what? There was a mirror below the light. She
might be giving her hair a last pat. She had probably
arrayed herself slightly differently for him to see. He
waited. Still she did not come. Then swiftly, a sense of
something treacherous came over him, a creeping sensation
of being victimized and defeated. He felt, over his taut
nerves, this thrilling fear which seemed to almost convey
the words: Move! Hurry! Run! He could not sit still a
moment longer, but, as if under a great compulsion, leaped
to his feet and sprang to the door just as he thought he
heard additional movements and even whispers in the dark
outside. What was it? Who? Now he would see!
Inside he looked for her, and there she was, but how
different! When she had gone upstairs she had been arrayed
in a light summery dress, very smart and out-door-ish, but
here she was clothed in a soft clinging housedress such as
one would never wear outside the hotel. And instead of
being adjusted with her customary care, it was decidedly
awry, as though she might have been in some disturbing and
unhappy contest. The collar was slightly torn and pulled
open, a sleeve ripped at the shoulder and wrist, the hang
of the skirt over the hips awry, and the skirt itself torn,
a ragged slit over the knee. Her face had been powdered to
a dead white, or she herself was overcome with fear and
distress, and the hair above it was disarranged, as though
it had been shaken or pulled to one side. Her whole
appearance was that of one who had been assailed in some
evil manner and who had come out of the contest disarranged
as to her clothes and shaken as to her nerves.
Brief as his glance was, Gregory was amazed at the
transformation. He was so taken aback that he could not say
anything, but just what it all meant came to him in an
intuitive flash. To fly was his one thought, to get out of
the vicinity of this, not to be seen or taken near it. With
one bound he was away and up the easy stair three at a
time, not pausing to so much as look back at her, meeting
her first wide half-frightened stare with one of
astonishment, anger and fear. Nor did he pause until he had
reached his own door, through which he fairly jumped,
locking himself in as he did so. Once inside, he stood
there white and shaking, waiting for any sound which might
follow, any pursuit, but hearing none, going to his mirror
and mocking at himself for being such a fool as to be so
easily outwitted, taken in, after all his caution and
sophisticated talk. Lord! he sighed. Lord!
And after all her protests and promises, this very evening,
too, he thought. What a revelation of the unreliability and
treachery of human nature! So she had been lying to him all
the time, leading him on in the face of his almost boastful
precautions and suspicions, and to-night, almost at the
close of the season, had all but succeeded in trapping him!
Then Tilney was not so easily to be fooled, after all. He
commanded greater loyalty and cunning in his employees than
he had ever dreamed. But what could he say to her, now that
he knew what she really was, if ever he saw her again? She
would just laugh at him, think him a fool, even though he
had managed to escape. Would he ever want to see her again?
Never, he thought. But to think that any one so young, so
smooth, so seemingly affectionate, could be so ruthless, so
devilishly clever and cruel! She was much more astute than
either he or Blount had given her credit for.
After moving the bureau and chairs in front of the door, he
called up Blount and sat waiting for him to come.
Actually, as he saw it now, she had meant to stage a
seeming assault in which he would have been accused as the
criminal and if they had sufficient witnesses he might have
had a hard time proving otherwise. After all, he had been
going about with her a great deal, he and Blount, and after
he had told himself that he would not
Her witnesses were there, close upon him, in the dark. Even
though he might be able to prove his previous good
character, still, considering the suspicious fact that he
had trifled with her and this treacherous situation so
long, would a jury or the public believe him? A moment or
two more, and she would have screamed out that he was
attacking her, and the whole hotel would have been aroused.
Her secret friends would have rushed forward and beaten
him. Who knows?--they might even have killed him! And their
excuse would have been that they were justified.
Unquestionably she and her friends would have produced a
cloud of witnesses. But she hadn't screamed--there was a
curious point as to that, even though she had had ample
time (and she had had) and it was expected of her and
intended that she should! Why hadn't she? What had
prevented her? A strange, disturbing exculpating thought
began to take root in his mind, but on the instant also he
did his best to crush it.
"No, no! I have had enough now," he said to himself. "She
did intend to compromise me and that is all there is to it.
And in what a fashion. Horrible. No, this is the end. I
will get out now to-morrow, that is one thing certain, go
to my wife in the mountains, or bring her home." Meanwhile,
he sat there trembling, revolver in hand, wiping the sweat
from his face, for he did not know but that even yet they
might follow him here and attempt the charge of assault
anyhow. Would they--could they? Just then some one knocked
on his door, and Gregory, after demanding to know who it
was, opened it to Blount. He quickly told him of his
"Well," said Blount, heavily and yet amusedly, "she
certainly is the limit. That was a clever ruse, say what
you will, a wonder. And the coolness of her! Why, she joked
with us about it! I thought you were taking a chance, but
not a great one. I was coming around to thinking she might
be all right, and now think of this! I agree with you that
it is time for you to leave. I don't think you'll ever get
her over to your side. She's too crafty."
The next morning Gregory was up early and on the veranda
smoking and meditating as to his exact course. He would go
now, of course, and probably never see this girl with her
fiend's heart again. What a revelation! To think that there
were such clever, ruthless, beautiful sirens about in the
same world with such women as his wife! Contrast them--his
wife, faithful, self-sacrificing, patient, her one object
the welfare of those whom she truly loved, and then put on
the other side of the scale this girl--tricky, shameless,
an actress, one without scruples or morals, her sole object
in life, apparently, to advance herself in any way that she
might, and that at the expense of everybody and everything!
He wanted to leave without seeing her, but in spite of
himself he sat on, telling himself that it would do no harm
to have just one last talk with her in order to clear up
whether she had really intended to scream or no--whether
she was as evil as he really thought now, confront her with
her enormous treachery and denounce her for the villainess
she was. What new lie would she have on her tongue now, he
wondered? Would she be able to face him at all? Would she
explain? Could she? He would like to take one more look at
her, or see if she would try to avoid him completely. This
morning she must be meditating on how unfortunately she had
failed, missed out, and only last night she had taken his
hand and smoothed it and whispered that she was not so bad,
so mean, as he thought her to be, and that some day he
would find it out. And now see!
He waited a considerable time, and then sent up word that
he wanted to see her. He did not want to see this thing
closed in this fashion with no chance to at least berate
her, to see what new lie she would tell. After a while she
came down, pale and seemingly exhausted, a weary look about
her eyes as though she had not slept. To his astonishment
she came over quite simply to where he was sitting, and
when he stood up at her approach as if to ward her off,
stood before him, seemingly weaker and more hopeless than
ever. What an excellent actress, he thought! He had never
seen her so downcast, so completely overcome, so wilted.
"Well," he began as she stood there, "what new lie have you
fixed up to tell me this morning?"
"No lie," she replied softly.
"What! Not a single lie? Anyhow, you'll begin by shamming
contrition, won't you? You're doing that already. Your
friends made you do it, of course, didn't they? Tilney was
right there--and Mrs. Skelton! They were all waiting for
you when you went up, and told you just what to do and how
it had to be done, wasn't that it? And you had to do it,
too, didn't you?" he sneered cynically.
"I told you I didn't have anything to say," she answered.
"I didn't do anything--I mean I didn't intend to--except to
signal you to run, but when you burst in on me that way--"
He waved an impatient hand. "Oh, all right," she went on
sadly. "I can't help it if you won't believe me. But it's
true just the same. Everything you think, all except that
automobile plot, and this is true, but I'm not asking you
to believe me any more. I can't help it if you won't. It's
too late. But I had to go through my part anyhow. Please
don't look at me that way, Ed--not so hard. You don't know
how really weak I am, or what it is that makes me do these
things. But I didn't want to do anything to hurt you last
night, not when I left you. And I didn't. I hadn't the
slightest intention, really I hadn't. Oh, well, sneer if
you want to! I couldn't help myself, though, just the
same--believe it or not. Nothing was farther from my mind
when I came in, only--oh, what a state my life has come to,
anyhow!" she suddenly exclaimed. "You don't know. Your
life's not a mess, like mine. People have never had you in
any position where they could make you do things. That's
just the trouble--men never know women really." ("I should
say not!" he interpolated.) "But I have had to do so many
things I didn't want to do--but I'm not pleading with you,
Ed, really I'm not. I know it's all over between us and no
use, only I wish I could make you believe that as bad as I
am I've never wanted to be as bad to you as I've seemed.
Really, I haven't. Oh, honestly--"
"Oh, cut that stuff, please!" he said viciously. "I'm sick
of it. It wasn't to hear anything like that that I sent for
you. The reason I asked you to come down here was merely to
see how far you would face it out, whether you would have
the nerve to come, really, that was all--oh, just to see
whether you would have a new lie to spring, and I see you
have. You're a wonder, you are! But I'd like to ask you
just one favor: Won't you please let me alone in the
future? I'm tired, and I can't stand it any longer. I'm
going away now. This fellow Tilney you are working for is
very clever, but it's all over. It really is. You'll never
get another chance at me if I know myself." He started to
"Ed! Ed!" she called. "Please--just a minute--don't go yet,
Ed," she begged. "There's something I want to say to you
first. I know all you say is true. There's nothing you can
say that I haven't said to myself a thousand times. But you
don't understand what my life has been like, what I've
suffered, how I've been pushed around, and I can't tell you
now, either--not now. Our family wasn't ever in society, as
Mrs. Skelton pretended--you knew that, of course,
though--and I haven't been much of anything except a slave,
and I've had a hard time, too, terrible," and she began
dabbing her eyes. "I know I'm no good. Last night proved it
to me, that's a fact. But I hadn't meant to do you any harm
even when I came alone that way--really I didn't. I
pretended to be willing, that was all. Hear me out, Ed,
anyhow. Please don't go yet. I thought I could signal you
to run without them seeing me--really I did. When I first
left you the door was locked, and I came back for that sole
reason. I suppose they did something to it so I couldn't
open it. There were others up there; they made me go
back--I can't tell you how or why or who--but they were all
about me--they always are. They're determined to get you,
Ed, in one way or another, even if I don't help them, and
I'm telling you you'd better look out for yourself. Please
do. Go away from here. Don't have anything more to do with
me. Don't have anything more to do with any of these
people. I can't help myself, honestly I can't. I didn't
want to, but--oh--" she wrung her hands and sat down
wearily, "you don't know how I'm placed with them, what it
"Yes? Well, I'm tired of that stuff," Gregory now added
grimly and unbelievingly. "I suppose they told you to run
back and tell me this so as to win my sympathy again? Oh,
you little liar! You make me sick. What a sneak and a crook
you really are!"
"Ed! Ed!" she now sobbed. "Please! Please! Won't you
understand how it is? They have watched every entrance
every time we've gone out since I came here. It doesn't
make any difference which door you come through. They have
men at every end. I didn't know anything about it until I
went upstairs. Really, I didn't. Oh, I wish I could get out
of all this! I'm so sick of it all. I told you that I'm
fond of you, and I am. Oh, I'm almost crazy! I wish
sometimes that I could die, I'm so sick of everything. My
life's a shabby mess, and now you'll hate me all the time,"
and she rocked to and fro in a kind of misery, and cried
silently as she did so.
Gregory stared at her, amazed but unbelieving.
"Yes," he insisted, "I know. The same old stuff, but I
don't believe it. You're lying now, just as you have been
all along. You think by crying and pretending to feel sad
that you might get another chance to trick me, but you
won't. I'm out of this to-day, once and for all, and I'm
through with you. There's no use in my appealing to the
police under this administration, or I'd do that. But I
want to tell you this. If you follow me any longer, or any
of this bunch around here, I'm going to the newspapers.
There'll be some way of getting this before the courts
somewhere, and I'll try it. And if you really were on the
level and wanted to do anything, there's a way, all right,
but you wouldn't do it if you had a chance, never, not in a
million years. I know you wouldn't."
"Oh, Ed! Ed! You don't know me, or how I feel, or what I'll
do," she whimpered. "You haven't given me a chance. Why
don't you suggest something, if you don't believe me, and
"Well, I can do that easily enough," he replied sternly. "I
can call that bluff here and now. Write me out a confession
of all that's been going on here. Let me hear you dictate
it to a stenographer, and then come with me to a notary
public or the district attorney, and swear to it. Now we'll
see just how much there is to this talk about caring for
me," and he watched her closely, the while she looked at
him, her eyes drying and her sobs ceasing. She seemed to
pause emotionally and stare at the floor in a speculative,
ruminative mood. "Yes? Well, that's different, isn't it? I
see how it is now. You didn't think I'd have just the thing
to call your bluff with, did you? And just as I thought,
you won't do it. Well, I'm onto you now, so good day. I
have your measure at last. Good-by!" and he started off.
"Ed!" she called, jumping up suddenly and starting after
him. "Ed! Wait--don't go! I'll do what you say. I'll do
anything you want. You don't believe I will, but I will.
I'm sick of this life, I really am. I don't care what they
do to me now afterwards, but just the same I'll come.
Please don't be so hard on me, Ed. Can't you see--can't you
see--Ed--how I feel about you? I'm crazy about you, I
really am. I'm not all bad, Ed, really I'm not--can't you
see that? Only--only--" and by now he had come back and was
looking at her in an incredulous way. "I wish you cared for
me a little, Ed. Do you, Ed, just a little? Can't you, if I
He looked at her with mingled astonishment, doubt,
contempt, pity, and even affection, after its kind. Would
she really do it? And if she did what could he offer her in
the way of that affection which she craved? Nothing, he
knew that. She could never extricate herself from this
awful group by which she was surrounded, her past, the
memory of the things she had tried to do to him, and he--he
was married. He was happy with his wife really, and could
make no return. There was his career, his future, his
present position. But that past of hers--what was it? How
could it be that people could control another person in
this way she claimed, especially scoundrels like these, and
why wouldn't she tell him about it? What had she done that
was so terrible as to give them this power? Even if he did
care for her what chance would he have, presuming her
faithfulness itself, to either confront or escape the horde
of secret enemies that was besetting him and her just now?
They would be discovered and paraded forth at their worst,
all the details. That would make it impossible for him to
come forth personally and make the charge which would
constitute him champion of the people. No, no, no! But why,
considering all her efforts against him, should she come to
his rescue now, or by doing so expect him to do anything
for her by way of return? He smiled at her dourly, a little
"Yes. Well, Imogene, I can't talk to you about that now,
not for the present, anyhow. You're either one of the
greatest actresses and crooks that ever lived, or you're a
little light in the upper story. At any rate, I should
think that you might see that you could scarcely expect me
to like you, let alone to love you, all things considered,
and particularly since this other thing has not been
straightened out. You may be lying right now, for all I
know--acting, as usual. But even so--let's first see what
you do about this other, and then talk."
He looked at her, then away over the sea to where some
boats were coming towards them.
"Oh, Ed," she said sadly, observing his distracted gaze,
"you'll never know how much I do care for you, although you
know I must care a lot for you, to do this. It's the very
worst thing I can do for me--the end, maybe, for me. But I
wish you would try and like me a little, even if it were
only for a little while."
"Well, Imogene, let's not talk about that now," he replied
skeptically. "Not until we've attended to this other,
anyhow. Certainly you owe me that much. You don't know what
my life's been, either--one long up-hill fight. But you'd
better come along with me just as you are, if you're
coming. Don't go upstairs to get any hat--or to change your
shoes. I'll get a car here and you can come with me just as
She looked at him simply, directly, beatenly.
"All right, Ed, but I wish I knew how this is going to end.
I can't come back here after this, you know, if they find
it out. I know I owe this to you, but, oh dear, I'm such a
fool! Women always are where love is concerned, and I told
myself I'd never let myself get in love any more, and now
look at me!"
They went off to the city together, to his office, to a
notary, to the district attorney's office--a great triumph.
She confessed all, or nearly so, how she had formerly been
employed by Mr. Swayne; how she had met Mr. Tilney there;
how, later, after Swayne had fled, Tilney had employed her
in various capacities, secretary, amanuensis, how she had
come to look upon him as her protector; where and how she
had met Mrs. Skelton, and how the latter, at Mr. Tilney's
request (she was not sure, only it was an order, she said)
had engaged--commanded, rather--her to do this work, though
what the compulsion was she refused to say, reserving it
for a later date. She was afraid, she said.
Once he had this document in his possession, Gregory was
overjoyed, and still he was doubtful of her. She asked him
what now, what more, and he requested her to leave him at
once and to remain away for a time until he had time to
think and decide what else he wished to do. There could be
nothing between them, not even friendship, he reassured
her, unless he was fully convinced at some time or other
that no harm could come to him--his wife, his campaign, or
anything else. Time was to be the great factor.
And yet two weeks later, due to a telephone message from
her to his office for just one word, a few minutes,
anywhere that he would suggest, they met again, this time
merely for a moment, as he told himself and her. It was
foolish, he shouldn't do it, but still-- At this interview,
somehow, Imogene managed to establish a claim on his
emotions which it was not easy to overcome. It was in one
of the small side booths in the rather out-of-the-way Grill
Parzan Restaurant in the great financial district.
Protesting that it was only because she wished to see him
just once more that she had done this, she had come here,
she said, after having dropped instantly and completely out
of the life at Triton Hall, not returning even for her
wardrobe, as he understood it, and hiding away in an
unpretentious quarter of the city until she could make up
her mind what to do. She seemed, and said she was, much
alone, distrait. She did not know what was to become of her
now, what might befall her. Still, she was not so unhappy
if only he would not think badly of her any more. He had to
smile at her seemingly pathetic faith in what love might do
for her. To think that love should turn a woman about like
this! It was fascinating, and so sad. He was fond of her in
a platonic way, he now told himself, quite sincerely so.
Her interest in him was pleasing, even moving, "But what is
it you expect of me?" he kept saying over and over. "You
know we can't go on with this. There's 'the girl' and the
kid. I won't do anything to harm them, and besides, the
campaign is just beginning. Even this is ridiculously
foolish of me. I'm taking my career in my hands. This lunch
will have to be the last, I tell you."
"Well, Ed," she agreed wistfully, looking at him at the
very close of the meal, "you have made up your mind,
haven't you? Then you're not going to see me any more? You
seem so distant, now that we're back in town. Do you feel
so badly toward me, Ed? Am I really so bad?"
"Well, Imogene, you see for yourself how it is, don't you?"
he went on. "It can't be. You are more or less identified
with that old crowd, even though you don't want to be. They
know things about you, you say, and they certainly wouldn't
be slow to use them if they had any reason for so doing. Of
course they don't know anything yet about this confession,
unless you've told them, and I don't propose that they
shall so long as I don't have to use it. As for me, I have
to think of my wife and kid, and I don't want to do
anything to hurt them. If ever Emily found this out it
would break her all up, and I don't want to do that. She's
been too square, and we've gone through too much together.
I've thought it all over, and I'm convinced that what I'm
going to do is for the best. We have to separate, and I
came here to-day to tell you that I can't see you any more.
It can't be, Imogene, can't you see that?"
"Not even for a little while?"
"Not even for a day. It just can't be. I'm fond of you, and
you've been a brick to pull me out of this, but don't you
see that it can't be? Don't you really see how it is?"
She looked at him, then at the table for a moment, and then
out over the buildings of the great city.
"Oh, Ed," she reflected sadly, "I've been such a fool. I
don't mean about the confession--I'm glad I did that--but
just in regard to everything I've done. But you're right,
Ed. I've felt all along that it would have to end this way,
even the morning I agreed to make the confession. But I've
been making myself hope against hope, just because from the
very first day I saw you out there I thought I wouldn't be
able to hold out against you, and now you see I haven't.
Well, all right, Ed. Let's say good-bye. Love's a sad old
thing, isn't it?" and she began to put on her things.
He helped her, wondering over the strange whirl of
circumstances which had brought them together and was now
spinning them apart.
"I wish I could do something more for you, Imogene, I
really do," he said. "I wish I could say something that
would make it a little easier for you--for us both--but
what would be the use? It wouldn't really, now would it?"
"No," she replied brokenly.
He took her to the elevator and down to the sidewalk, and
there they stopped for a moment.
"Well, Imogene," he began, and paused. "It's not just the
way I'd like it to be, but--well--" he extended his hand
"--here's luck and good-by, then."
He turned to go.
She looked up at him pleadingly.
"Ed," she said, "Ed--wait! Aren't you--don't you want to?"
she put up her lips, her eyes seemingly misty with emotion.
He came back and putting his arm about her, drew her
upturned lips to his. As he did so she clung to him,
seeming to vent a world of feeling in this their first and
last kiss, and then turned and left him, never stopping to
look back, and being quickly lost in the immense mass which
was swirling by. As he turned to go though he observed two
separate moving-picture men with cameras taking the scene
from different angles. He could scarcely believe his
senses. As he gazed they stopped their work, clapped their
tripods together and made for a waiting car. Before he
could really collect his thoughts they were gone--and
"As I live!" he exclaimed. "She did do this to me after
all, or did she? And after all my feeling for her!--and all
her protestations! The little crook! And now they have that
picture of me kissing her! Stung, by George! and by the
same girl, or by them, and after all the other things I've
avoided! That's intended to make that confession worthless!
She did that because she's changed her mind about me! Or,
she never did care for me." Grim, reducing thought!) "Did
she--could she--know--do a thing like that?" he wondered.
"Is it she and Tilney, or just Tilney alone, who has been
following me all this time?" He turned solemnly and
Now after all his career was in danger. His wife had
returned and all was seemingly well, but if he proceeded
with his exposures as he must, then what? This picture
would be produced! He would be disgraced! Or nearly so.
Then what? He might charge fraud, a concocted picture,
produce the confession. But could he? Her arms had been
about his neck! He had put his about her! Two different
camera men had taken them from different angles! Could he
explain that? Could he find Imogene again? Was it wise?
Would she testify in his behalf? If so what good would it
do? Would any one, in politics at least, believe a morally
victimized man? He doubted it. The laughter! The jesting!
The contempt! No one except his wife, and she could not
help him here.
Sick at heart and defeated he trudged on now clearly
convinced that because of this one silly act of kindness
all his work of months had been undone and that now, never,
so shy were the opposing political forces, might he ever
hope to enter the promised land of his better future--not
here, at least--that future to which he had looked forward
with so much hope--neither he nor his wife, nor child.
"Fool! Fool!" he exclaimed to himself heavily and
then--"fool! fool!" Why had he been so ridiculously
sympathetic and gullible? Why so unduly interested? but
finding no answer and no clear way of escape save in denial
and counter charges he made his way slowly on toward that
now dreary office where so long he had worked, but where
now, because of this he might possibly not be able to work,
at least with any great profit to himself.
"Tilney! Imogene! The Triton!" he thought--what clever
scoundrels those two were--or Tilney anyhow--he could not
be sure of Imogene, even now, and so thinking, he left the
great crowd at his own door, that crowd, witless, vast,
which Tilney and the mayor and all the politicians were
daily and hourly using--the same crowd which he had wished
to help and against whom, as well as himself, this little
plot had been hatched, and so easily and finally so