This installment is a nice, long read, all the way to the end of our story. Enjoy.
Summary of preceding chapters: A novel situation develops when after a ten minutes’ talk in the park with young Anthony Vance, whom she has never seen before, Hope Damon decides to marry him so that he may inherit his uncle’s great fortune which will be forfeited to Logan, Vance’s enemy, if Vance does not marry by noon of that day. Dicky Masson and lawyer Gilman are Hope’s staunch allies. Elsie Damon, Hope’s sister-in-law, and Cecile Talmadge, Logan’s sweetheart who jilted Vance for him, make Hope’s life miserable, and Gilman’s daughter, Barbara, is in love with Hope’s married brother, Dr. Jim. Hope decides to live with her husband in his Madison Avenue home and help him in his fight for the senatorship.
Hope was seated on the top of the high library steps. Her gown billowed and shimmered about her; she glowed like a tea rose against the somber background of the dark shelves. She had dressed early and had hurried to the library to find a book. Of course it was on the very top shelf. Having found it she had immediately become absorbed in its contents.
“Reading in that wretched light, you foolish girl?” came a protesting voice.
Startled, she looked down into Anthony’s mirthful eyes. Since he had so coolly dismissed her from this very room on her arrival two days before, she had not seen him. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes brilliant as she smiled down upon him.
“Oh, stranger of blessed memories, where do you hail from?” she queried flippantly, to hide her embarrassment.
“Electioneering, as usual, Hope. I haven’t seen you for so long that I stole a moment to make sure you were still here. Are you happy and all right?”
“As happy as a queen,” she cried gaily. “Babs, the Fortunate, and Dickie Masson,” she remembered his suspicion about Masson and hurried on, “and–and a lot of the others are coming in for tea. Can’t you stay?”
“No. Sorry, but I must be off. Come down, shake hands and wish me luck, Hope,” he commanded.
“Why don’t you come up?” she challenged.
“I will!” There was a light in his eyes which made the girl straighten up as though she had touched a live wire.
“No, Tony! No! I was only in fun! Of course I’ll come down and speed the senator on his way.” She spoke breathlessly and started to descend. Half way down her foot slipped, and she would have caught an ugly fall had not Vance intercepted it. He held her for a throbbing moment in his arms. “Pride and its consequences”–he chided.
She slipped away from him.
“I didn’t fall!” she contradicted, hotly. “That is my customary way of coming down stairs. Just think what a lot of time it saves!” Then with a rippling laugh, “But tell me, is everything going on all right?”
“Yes, but it’s a hard fight. However, to-morrow night’s rally will settle it one way or the other. If I make good and there is no slip-up, I believe I shall win.”
“You must win,” Hope exclaimed. “Here, wear this!” And she took a pale pink rosebud from the moist, dewy roses thrust into her belt and fastened it in the lapel of his coat. In another moment Jamieson announced that Vance’s car was waiting and he left, carrying with him a vision of a graceful girl in white with radiant eyes. He had been gone only a moment when a laughing, chattering group swept into the room for tea. Everyone was enquiring for Tony, and Tommy Mandell asked if Hope had heard him speak at one of his political rallies.
“No, but I intend to. Will you take me to the rally to-morrow night, Dicky?” she asked Masson in a soft aside.
“Sure! I’ll be delighted.”
“Come for me then to-morrow evening at seven. Be sure not to tell Tony. I’d rather he wouldn’t know. Oh, here’s Bobsy!” She rose quickly and went forward to greet a blonde woman who entered the room followed by a small boy.
“I am glad to see you, Elsie,” Hope said to her sister-in-law.
Barbara Gilman, who was standing beside Masson, drew a quick breath. “That wretched woman!” she whispered. “She’s just a cat. I’ll wager she makes Dr. Jim’s life a burden.” Her voice trembled.
Masson saw the tears. “Babs, my dear girl, my dear!” he protested in surprised consternation. He knew that Jim Damon had been much at the Gilman’s professionally. Could it be possible that Barbara cared for him–a married man! Ah, but life was a hopeless muddle!
Bobsy in a blue linen suit the color of his eyes was leaning against his aunt’s knee.
“Dear, it is good to see you,” she said tenderly, as she brushed back his wavy hair.
The boy looked about him, gave a little satisfied sigh and patted Hope’s face.
“Sweetness, this is most as pretty as the Harvest Moon. I think I shall like it here,” he observed patronizingly.
Barbara Gilman dropped on her knees beside the child and gave him a little convulsive hug. The white collie pushed his way into the group, and after a moment of inspection snuggled his nose into the boy’s neck. Bobsy squirmed and gave a ringing laugh.
“Oh, you tickle!” he cried, but flung his arm around the dog’s neck and laid his soft cheek on the animal’s head.
“Where have you been this afternoon?” asked Hope.
The great blue eyes grew black with interest and excitement as the child answered, “To a movie! And what do you think I saw, sweetness? A picture where some naughty boys had put a little girl’s dog on a raft and set him afloat in the river. The little girl cried and cried–” his voice was husky with sympathy.
Hope drew him closer. “What else did you see, dear?”
With the lightning change of childhood from grave to gay, Bobsy laughed.
“Well, there was a long story about a pretty lady who left her little boy and the little boy’s father in the country and went to the city and wore pretty shining clothes. And there was a big man who liked her and the big man went to the little boy’s father and said to him, ‘I’ll give you twenty thousand dollars for the pretty lady.’ Then what do you think Gretchen said, sweetness? Gretchen took me, you know. She kind of sniffed and said right out loud, ‘Ach Himmel! I could let her go for twenty cents!’ And then the men beside her said ‘Ha! Ha!’ so loud that the people laughed.
“Good for Gretchen!” applauded Masson. He turned to the child. “You see, Bobsy, a lady who would leave her little boy isn’t worth more than twenty cents.”
“Thin ice, my friend, thin ice!” warned Tommy Mandell in a sepulchral tone in Masson’s ear.
“Isn’t she?” asked Bobsy wonderingly. “Then why did the big man want her?”
“Who is reading The Moonstone?” interrupted Mrs. Jim Damon, quickly. Her lips were white and the color had left her face. She lifted a book from the table and held it toward Hope.
“I am,” the girl answered. “I began it a few moments before you came. It is thrilling.”
“Miss Talmadge,” announced Jamieson.
“It is very good of you to come and welcome me in my new home,” Hope said with sweet graciousness, as she greeted Cecile.
The latest arrival was perfectly gowned. Her yellow hair was brought into picturesque relief by the hat-brim of black. The firelight transformed the brooch at her throat into a circle of fire.
“You will, of course, be glad to see the end of this senatorial fight,” she drawled, her hostile eyes veiled by their long lashes. “It must be maddening to have one’s bridegroom so engrossed that–but,” she added with malicious meaning, “you can hardly be called a bride and groom, can you? Your wedding was so er–unusual, to say the least, that one may be pardoned for forgetting–“
“Dicky!” warned Barbara Gilman quickly. Masson had come forward, his face crimsoning angrily.
“Come away, Scott,” commanded Hope quickly, as the white collie growled and sniffed at Cecile. Her eyes were shining and her color was high.
“Oh, do take him away,” shuddered Cecile with affected horror. “I hate dogs, and I am frightened to death of those big brutes. Would you mind sending him out of the room?”
Hope gave an order to Jamieson in a low voice. The man snapped his fingers and the animal followed obediently.
“Thank heaven,” exclaimed Cecile fervently. “He won’t come back, I hope?”
“No. One of the servants will take him out for his exercise. After that he goes over to the garage. When I am at home I keep him with me, but I am dining with the Gilmans to-night.”
“Is Tony going with you?” Masson asked.
“Tony! He won’t be home until after midnight.”
There was a ceaseless coming and going of guests. Mrs. Jim Damon left very soon, the child, Bobsy, giving Hope a lingering hug. Elsie Damon had made a desperate effort not to show the envy which embittered her at sight of Hope’s surroundings. After the last guest had departed, Jamieson approached Hope.
“Mrs. Gilman has telephoned that she would like to have you call her up as soon as possible, Mrs. Vance.”
“Very well. I will telephone from my own room.” Hope went out, and the man followed.
A log in the fireplace crumbled and sent a shower of sparks up the chimney; the crimson and gold of the sunset over the mantel seemed to take on an aspect of mystery.
The heavy hangings at one of the windows, designed to shut out the bustle and noise of the street, stirred, for a moment; the fire sizzled drowsily, the hangings stirred again. Cecile Talmadge peered cautiously from behind them. She stood for a moment listening; then she tip-toed swiftly over to the desk. She started to open a drawer but drew her hand back quickly, as though she had touched fire. A woman’s face was smiling up at her from its golden frame. With a shrug she turned the miniature face down on the desk. Hurriedly she pulled out one other drawer. Her eyes grew keen, her mouth hard; at last she found one which yielded to the pressure of her fingers. She gently drew it out and carefully extracted the papers without turning on the desk light. She looked them over feverishly, giving a quickly repressed exclamation; then the beating of her heart stopped; the breath strangled in her throat. A hand had gripped her shoulder; she thrust the papers into her wrist bag, forcing herself to turn. Anthony Vance stood behind her.
“You? You, Tony?” she stammered. She attempted a light laugh which died away in an unmeaning gurgle. “How–how you startled me! Mrs. Vance went upstairs to answer the telephone and I–I came over here to look at your mother’s miniature; I haven’t seen–“
She stopped as she followed the man’s stern eyes and saw the picture lying face downward. She shrugged and moved quickly toward the door. “I really must go. I won’t wait to see Mrs. Vance again, now that you have come.”
Vance caught her by the shoulder in a grip which hurt. “I want those papers, Cecile.”
The effect of her fright had begun to disappear and her eyes were cool and contemptuous as she drawled:
“The papers you have just taken from my desk.”
She drew herself up with angry hauteur. “Do you mean that you accuse me of theft? Is this your revenge for my little mistake of two years ago?” Her eyes grew misty and her lips tender as she laid a pleading hand on his arm. “It was a silly, girlish prank which I have regretted ever since. Won’t you believe me, Tony?”
Vance shook off the hand. His lips were set in a grim line. There was a dangerous light in his eyes.
“Give me those papers! So, you’re doing the dirty work for Logan, are you? Well, he’s the sort to let you,” contemptuously.
Cecile Talmadge laughed tauntingly. “Yes?” she struck back. “He is not the only one though. If I remember right, the immaculate Anthony Vance took refuge behind a woman two years ago to save a fortune.”
Every vestige of color left the man’s face. “I want those papers,” he reiterated roughly.
She threw back her head as she faced the door which Vance had left open.
“Well, you won’t get them!”
He seized her by the shoulders. He heard the very slightest sound of surprise from her, then her arms were flung about his neck in reckless abandon. She leaned her head against his breast and looked with half-closed, smoldering eyes into his face.
“How can I refuse you anything, Tony?” she cried, as though the words had been forced from her by a very passion of love and longing.
Stunned at the quick change in her tone, Vance gazed at her.
There was a little gasp of horror from the hall. Vance wrenched Cecile’s arm from about his neck and wheeled. Though he was nonplussed, he snatched the bag from Cecile’s hand. Hope stood there in the doorway.
“Oh,” she whispered again, bewildered. “I didn’t know! I had just a few moments to read. I came down for my book. I thought Miss Talmadge left with the others! I beg your pardon.” With a little sob she covered her face with her hands and went swiftly upstairs.
Vance followed her with his eyes for a moment, deliberately drew the papers from the mesh bag and placed them in his pocket.
“Your audience has departed, Cecile,” he announced drily. “You may abandon your pose of tempted sinner. I advise you after this to let Logan do his own foul work. Good-night!” He handed her the bag, crossed to the door and opened it for her.
She glanced at him disdainfully and went out into the hall.
He listened till he heard the outer door close, then he counted the papers and replaced them in the desk and righted the miniature. Passing out into the hall he mounted the stairs quickly At the door of Hope’s boudoir, he knocked imperatively. Without waiting for permission he opened the door and entered the room.
Hope stood in the center of the room, her hand pressed to her heart; her red lips and dark eyes made the whiteness of her face more startling. She had evidently been dressing for dinner, for a rose-colored negligee was thrown over her bare shoulders, below which fluffed the delicate lace of her petticoat.
As Vance approached, Hope retreated. He followed her quickly and caught her hands.
“Don’t misunderstand that effective tableau in the library, Hope,” he said. “Cecile came here to steal some papers which will compromise Logan. I was taking them from her when–“
“Did she have to throw her arms about your neck to protect herself?” the girl interrupted scathingly, as she struggled to free her hands.
He looked into her angry eyes till she could endure his glance no longer and turned her head away. The color stole into his face. He laughed softly and he caught her in his arms and bent his head over hers.
“Don’t you know the difference between an embrace which is forced and one like this?” he whispered. “Don’t you, sweetheart, don’t you”
She put a protesting hand against his face. Her breath came sobbingly.
“First Cecile, then me!” she repeated.
Vance crushed her in his arms, the primitive man in him roused to fury by her rebuff. His eyes glowed with passion. “Don’t dare push me away like that, Hope! You are mine, mine! Do you think for an instant–“
“Tony!” it was a shocked, incredulous, terrified whisper.
Vance stared down at her for a moment, a white line about his lips. Then his arm relaxed and he turned away.
“I beg your pardon, Hope. I honestly beg your pardon. I lost my head,” he apologized hoarsely. He threw back his shoulders as though assuming a burden. “I remember you told me there was someone else. I also remember my promise, that after the election we would settle our own problems. I’ll keep that promise. Have patience for forty-eight hours more” He opened the door and closed it softly behind him.
The girl stood still for a moment. Then a little sob tore up from the depths of her heart. A soft knock came at her door.
“It is Mary, ma’am. Were you forgetting the Gilman dinner?”
“Yes, Elsie! This is Hope. Can I come to you? Bobsy is not well? Why, yes, of course; it is six now. I must be back at seven. I’m going with Richard Masson to hear Tony speak at the rally.”
Hope Vance looked at the clock again as she hung up the receiver, then rang for her maid.
“Mary,” as the woman entered, “Bobsy, my little nephew, is not well and my sister-in-law is sending Doctor Damon’s car for me. I shall return here before seven, for Mr. Masson is coming to take me to the rally to hear Mr. Tony speak. Have a bit to eat ready for me when I get back, for I shall be in a rush.”
When she was dressed for the street the maid brought her a muffler of soft yellow silk. “You’d better wear this if you are going in an open car,” she advised with motherly concern.
“Mary, you fuss over me like a hen with one chicken! I’ll take it to please you.” Hope laughed as she threw the scarf about her throat. “If Mr. Masson comes before I return, ask him to wait in the library for me,” she said to the butler. Jamieson put her in the car and turning to close the front door was startled to see a messenger boy at his heels.
“Is this Mr. Anthony Vance’s house?” the boy asked.
“Do you expect him home before he goes to the rally?”
“Sure now? Because if he ain’t coming’ I’m to take this letter on to the Hall and see that he gets it. There ain’t to be no mistake. Them’s my orders. Get me?”
“He’ll be here. He ‘phoned a few minutes ago that he was coming. You can give me the letter.”
“Here you are then; but you see that he gets it or I’ll lose my job. See?”
Jamieson laid the envelope in plain sight on the great carved chest in the hall, thought better of it, mounted to the library and placed the letter under the lamp on the table, then went below stairs for an early supper.
The tall clock in the library struck seven as Richard Masson entered. He paced the floor thoughtfully, thinking of Hope as he waited for her to come downstairs.
That Van loved his beautiful wife was evident. Did she care for him? If not, would he stand a chance? Then he flushed in shame at his disloyalty to his dearest friend. Hope was not made of the stuff that quits. She would never crawl out of a bargain because she was not satisfied.
The clock struck the half-hour. Masson rang the bell.
“Where is Mrs. Vance?” he inquired, when the servant appeared.
“Mary, Mrs. Vance’s maid, is quite troubled that she has not returned, sir. I’ll send her to you,” the maid said.
Mary, when questioned, was inclined to be tearful. “Oh, Mr. Masson,” she exclaimed, “Mrs. Damon said, when I telephoned, that Mrs. Vance left her apartment at a quarter before seven to return here. And just as I was going to hang up, she asked if Mr. Vance came home before he went to the rally. When I said I thought not, she gave a long, surprised ‘O-o-oh!’ and said ‘Are you sure he didn’t get a note that was left for him?'”
A note! Masson looked at the envelope under the lamp. It was from Logan! Why should Mrs. Jim Damon know of a note which Logan had sent to Tony? Could it be possible that she was helping him in one of his dastardly schemes?
“Order Mr. Vance’s racing car brought round for me,” he said quickly. As the woman left the room, he seized the note and deliberately tore it open.
Dear Tony–When you get this I shall be on my way with your wife to La Sourire. You will receive this note in ample time to overtake us, but, if you do, my respected cousin, you will miss the rally and Haas will have you licked to a frazzle. Take your choice between rescuing your beauty in distress or winning the senatorial fight.
Masson’s lips were white. His hand shook. “La Sourire!” he whispered. “Hope in that desperate, notorious hole! What a conspiracy! But I’ll smash it for you, Tony, old boy. Make your speech. I’ll save Hope!” He crushed the note into his pocket and bounded down the stairs. From a closet in the hall he helped himself to coat and driving gloves.
When he reached the Damon’s apartment, Mrs. Damon appeared in answer to his summons. Masson crossed the space between them in a stride.
“Where is Hope?” he demanded harshly. “Don’t lie,” as a well simulated look of surprise widened her eyes. “You know where she is. You’ve had a hand in this rotten scheme of Logan’s! I read Logan’s note! Vance did not come home before he went to the rally. Tell me the truth or I’ll go to your husband with the whole story of your gambling and –your relations with a person who shall be nameless for the present. Now don’t pretend to faint!” He shook her roughly. “Get on your coat and come with me. We’ll go to La Sourire and get Hope. There will be no scandal if you two are there together.”
The woman’s lips were stiff with fright. “I don’t know–” she began uncertainly, then shifted her eyes.
“Yes, you do know! You have gambling debts. Logan knows this. I know this too. He also knows about Arthur S–” She put up her hand imploringly and the name died on his lips. “Logan bribed you to get Hope and then he took her away in his car, from your apartment. Isn’t that the fact?”
“No, they were to take my car–” She bit off the words. The color flamed under her fair skin, then died away again.
“So! I have the truth. Get into your things! Quick!” Masson’s anger was lashing him and he pushed her none too gently.
She started toward the door. “Ring the bell and have your coat brought here. I won’t trust you out of my sight, ” curtly.
With a hopeless little shrug she obeyed.
Masson hurried out to the car and started.
Not a word was spoken. Occasionally there was a low, gasping sob from the woman but Masson took no notice of it. He was crouched over the wheel, his eyes fixed on the road.
He felt as if he were in a nightmare. From time to time he was conscious of a shiver in the figure by his side. The road became more deserted. Suddenly he checked the car with a jerk which threw them both forward. There was a dark object ahead. He slowed down till they came to a stop beside a car which was tilted up against the bank. Masson turned to Elsie Damon:
“Is that your machine?”
With staring eyes she looked at it, then nodded dumbly. Masson jumped out. The lights of the racer illumined the stalled car. He looked over it and under it. The brakes had evidently been jammed on hard. In the catch of the right-hand door something light caught his eye. He leaned over and pulled out a bit of yellow silk. He knew the color, he had seen Hope wear a scarf of that material many times during the summer. What had happened? Had Logan dragged Hope along? He studied the ground. The road was hard and smooth, there was not a sign of a footprint nor the slightest indication that anything had passed there. He climbed up the bank and looked into the field. He could see nothing alive, nothing moving.
Masson returned to the road and pushed the Damon car back to the level. He looked at the wheels, examined the engine and the steering gear, tested the brake. Everything was in perfect working order. What could have sent the car up the bank? He returned to his own machine.
“What did you find?” gasped the woman.
“Nothing! We’ll go on!” He had the bit of silk in his glove.
He drove slowly and peered from side to side. Twice he left the car and searched through the thick shrubbery. When they reached the inn, La Sourire, Masson brought his machine to a standstill in the shadow of the great trees.
“Remain in the car. There is no necessity of your being seen here unless I find Hope,” he said to Elsie Damon.
The frightened, angry woman huddled still lower in her seat. With a nervous hand she righted her hat which had been shaken from her head in her mad ride. Masson hesitated a second, then locked the wheel plug and put it in his pocket. She made no protest, but he saw her bite her lips as she looked at him with virulent hate.
Many minutes passed before Masson could procure an audience with the proprietor of the inn. Back and forth the office floor he paced while he waited. When that wily person finally appeared he answered his visitor’s questions very evasively. No, he had not expected Mr. Logan that evening. In fact, with a deprecatory wave of his hand, he hadn’t seen Mr. Logan for some time. He hoped that he was well–with unctuous suavity.
Masson knew the man was lying. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, very well, if you know nothing about it, Logan’s been stringing me, that’s all. He knew that I had never been here; that I wanted to know the place. He told me to meet him; that he would order a dinner and engage a private room. I have a friend outside in the car, but of course–“
The jovial landlord grew smooth and familiar. “I guess you’re all right. Mr. Logan did order dinner but he must have suddenly changed his plans, for about twenty minutes ago he ‘phoned from somewhere that he had met with an accident and couldn’t get here. Now everything is ready. You and your lady–”
“I didn’t say my friend was a lady!” snapped Masson; then as the man’s eyes narrowed suspiciously he gave a rough laugh. “Confound Logan,” he said cheerfully. “This is the second time he has fooled me. I won’t stop to-night, but now that I’ve found the way, landlord, I’ll come again.”
Once back in the car, he drove slowly, searching the road at every shadow. When he arrived where he had left the Damon car he stopped with a jerk. There was not a sign of the car anywhere! Something glittered on the ground; eagerly he seized upon it. It was a silver shoe-buckle.
“What in the name of–” he began, and moved within the light of the big lamps to examine his find. With a little gasping cry the woman in the car leaned toward him.
“Don’t worry about Bobsy, Elsie.” Hope looked down upon the sleeping child. “It’s only a slight cold. He has no fever but I am glad to come. I must hurry now, though. Is the car waiting?”
“I told the man to change to my new one. It is a five passenger which Jim gave me for our anniversary”
“Do you intend to drive it yourself?” Hope asked in surprise. “I supposed you didn’t care for that sort of thing.”
“I never have, until lately, but Arthur Sturgis has taught me to drive his car and this is the same make.”
“Arthur Sturgis! Do you drive with him? Oh, Elsie!”
She did not finish her sentence. An ugly look of obstinacy was hardening the woman’s pretty lips. Hope knew the look, knew the utter futility of argument or pleading when that expression marred her sister-in-law’s face.
“Why shouldn’t I drive with Arthur Sturgis? I must have some recreation. Jim never takes me anywhere. Of course you can’t understand why a person should want anything, you, who have luxury and money and jewels lavished upon you. Then you come here and criticize me–” her tone was shrill and venomously bitter.
“I wasn’t criticizing you, Elsie,” Hope replied gently. “I just don’t care for Sturgis, that’s all. He is no proper company for any decent woman. Good-night!”
The chauffeur was slouched down behind the wheel when she reached the sidewalk. The door of the car was open. She stepped in and he indolently reached around and closed it. Hope was indignant at the man’s insolent indifference. “I wonder if Jim knows that he behaves like that,” she thought.
She settled back into a corner of the seat and began to think. Elsie’s angry words recurred to her. Poor old Jim, what a lot to be linked to such a woman! She closed her eyes and lived over the few days since she had come to New York. She visualized her arrival at Anthony Vance’s house; the merry group at tea; the situation upon which she had stumbled in the library. From the library her mental vision shifted to those few moments in her boudoir. Her heart raced, her face burned as she heard Tony’s impassioned cry:
“You’re mine, mine!“
She shivered and sat erect. She had been absolutely unconscious of her surroundings. Where was she? Surely she should be on Madison Avenue by this time! She peered into the shadows. Why, that was the river! She leaned forward and spoke sharply to the chauffeur:
“Where are you going? Didn’t you understand that you were to take me home?”
The man made no reply; he merely increased the speed of the car.
All sorts of horrible stories flashed through Hope’s mind.
“Why don’t you speak? Where are we going?” There was no tremor in her voice now; it was steady and determined.
“I’m taking you out for a little supper, Mrs. Vance,” the man replied with cool insolence. The girl bent forward:
“Logan!” she exclaimed in horrified understanding. “Logan!“
“That’s my name.” A sinister smile twitched at his lips but he kept his eyes fixed on the road. “This being Van’s busy evening, I thought you might be lonely. I left a note for him in case he wanted to join us. I suggested that he could find you with me at La Sourire, if he cared more for you than he did for the senatorship. I’m out of the fight, but I wanted to give Haas a chance.” He grinned fiendishly.
“Why you–you cur!” gasped the girl. “Did you think for an instant that I will go anywhere with you?”
Logan gave a short laugh. “You are going with me, whether you want to or not, so you might as well make up your mind to it.”
Hope’s face went white; her breath came in little panting gasps. “I must think! I must keep tight hold of my mind and think!” she admonished herself. How should she get away? She was cooling down now and she wouldn’t admit, even to herself, that she couldn’t escape. The car raced along. It would be madness to jump. She peeled off her gloves. The wind snatched at her yellow muffler and blew it against the door. Its fringe caught in the handle and she pulled the soft, knitted thing from her neck and jerked it free. As she held it in her hand an idea flashed into her mind. She looked at the bushes along the top of the hill.
Stealthily she unlatched the door of the tonneau and swung it wide. She smoothed her scarf out on her knees and gripped it near each end with firm hands. Then with a quick breath she leaned forward and dexterously threw it over Logan’s head and drew it tight across his eyes and mouth. In a flash she had knotted it.
At the first impact of the thing upon his face, the man instinctively shut off his engine and jammed on the brake. He clutched the wheel but the car veered to the right and started up the incline before it stopped.
With incredible swiftness the girl leaped out and climbed the bank. She heard Logan struggling and muttering muffled curses. She disappeared behind the trees and bushes and ran in the direction in which they had been driving.
“Of course she will think I have turned back,” she argued to herself as she raced on at full speed. The ground was uneven and she stumbled as she ran. It was quite dark. She caught her foot; the earth seemed to give way and she fell at full length into a ditch.
Climbing out with difficulty she clenched her teeth, pulled herself together and began to run again. Her clothes were damp and she was chilled to the bone. She was quite near a house now. It was glittering with lights; it must be an inn. She parted the roadside bushes to creep through when she heard the purring of an approaching automobile.
“Logan!” she whispered, and crouched low.
The car came to a stop. There were two persons in it. The man jumped out, spoke to his companion, stopped to do something to the machine, then walked hurriedly to the house. Hope parted the screen of bushes. The person left behind was a woman. Now she could get help! She waited till the man was out of sight, crawled through the hedge, then stopped and knelt where she was, paralyzed with surprise.
The woman in the car was running back along the road as fast as she could go! Was she being kidnapped too? Had the whole world gone mad? She had a sudden inspiration. Her eyes glowed with excitement. She would take the woman’s place in the car. She needn’t speak. The man would think his companion had turned sulky, that would be all. She must get out of Logan’s clutches.
With the utmost caution she made her way through the bushes on the bank and into the car. At her feet lay the hat, the property of the woman who had run away. Hope jammed it on her head, and tied the veil down smartly. She huddled down and drew the robe to her chin. An automobile flew by. The girl wondered if its solitary occupant would give the escaping woman a lift. She heard footsteps. She heard her breath as her unknown escort came to the side of the car, unlocked the wheel, squeezed himself in behind it and turned the machine without a word to her. He drove very slowly, seeming to be searching for something. The girl was in a fever of impatience and when her companion stopped the car she choked back a groan of disappointment and fright.
He jumped from the automobile. She saw him stoop, pick up something and move with it into the glare from the lamps. As he bent to examine the article the light shone full upon it–her silver buckle!
“Oh!” she gasped. She started to her feet. “Dicky! Dicky Masson!” she cried. She was sobbing and laughing now from sheer relief.
John Gilman stood at the back of the crowded hall. Haas finished his speech and sat down amidst deafening cheers. The lawyer’s confidence in his candidate wavered for a moment. Tony would have to make “some argument,” as he expressed it, to turn the tide his way. The room was packed to the limit and among the crowd he discovered many of his acquaintances who were there out of sheer curiosity to hear what the heir to the Vance millions had to say.
“Mr. Gilman!” The man who kept the aisle clear touched him on the arm. “Some one has sent this note to Vance. He said that it must be delivered before he began to speak. You are his friend and adviser. What shall I do about it? It may play the very deuce with his speech. A very excited woman left it, and I have a hunch–” he dropped an eyelid over one eye in an explanatory wink.
Gilman with a nod took the twisted paper and stepped into the corridor. As he read the address scrawled in pencil on the note, he gave a growl of disgust.
“What deviltry is that little cat up to now?” he exclaimed, deliberately opening the message which had been written on a page torn from an engagement book.
Dear Tony–Your wife has gone to the La Sourire with her lover, Dick Masson. Am sorry to tell you but you ought to stop them.
Gilman read the note and thrust it into his pocket, then with a frowning brow stepped back into the hall. Vance was still speaking. When the magnetic voice ceased, the applause broke out. It was deafening and seemed to be sincere. The lawyer touched Vance’s campaign manager on the shoulder. “I have a very important message here for Vance. Get him away from that crowd, will you?”
“Sure! He’s dead beat, away. There’s nothing more for him to do but await the returns to-morrow. Young Vance has begun to climb, I tell you. I’ll get him for you, all right.”
“Good old Tony has given the voters something to think about,” Gilman chuckled. “Oh here you are, boy. Come along with me. I have a message for you. My car is outside.”
Without giving him time to protest, he pushed Vance ahead. “Now wait till you get to the house before you ask questions. No. No!” As he saw Vance grow white and his lips form the word “Hope?” “Hope is all right,” he lied stoutly. “Just trust me.”
Not another word was spoken until Gilman had closed the door behind him in the library. He took a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and smoothed it out under the light of the lamp.
“Read that!” he commanded.
Vance picked up the paper and read the message through twice. He turned it over and looked at the address.
“Where did you get this?” he asked sharply.
“I didn’t let it go to you because you had just begun to answer Haas, and I had a feeling that this was some deviltry to break you up,” defiantly.
“What does the note mean?” hoarsely.
“It means that that little cat of a Damon woman is jealous and has begun to spit and claw, that’s all.”
“But there must be some foundation to this,” persisted Vance.
“Tony!” roared Gilman. “You don’t believe what that little liar says, do you? You don’t for an instant think that Hope has gone to that place with–” indignation choked him.
“Do you suppose I would be sitting here if I did?” demanded Vance roughly, his eyes blazing. “Hope couldn’t do anything wrong but I also know that she loves Masson.”
“What? What? Well, I’ll be–Tony you’re crazy! Hope is no more in love with Masson than I am with–with that Damon woman,” he sputtered.
“You’re wrong, sir. She just the same as acknowledged that she was. After the election I shall–“
There was a sound of hurried footsteps and a murmur of voices in the hall. Vance went to the door and threw it wide. Hope and Richard Masson confronted him. Her face was white, there was a long scratch across her chin; her dark hair was damp and curled in little rings around her temples. Her eyes were like stars.
She ran into the room and seized Vance’s arm.
“Did you make your speech, Tony? did you?” She was half laughing, half crying, and her voice shook uncontrollably.
The color crept back into his face. He took her hands in his.
“What has happened, Hope?” he asked with tender directness.
“Never mind what has happened to me,” she implored, “just tell me that you have made your speech. If you don’t, I’ll cry, I think. It’s coming!” She tried to laugh but dropped into a chair and leaned her head back with a little sob.
Vance laid his hand tenderly over the wide, excited eyes which stared up at him. “Yes, Hope; yes, dear. Mr. Gilman will tell you that I put it all over Haas.” He tried to speak jestingly and nodded to the lawyer.
“My dear girl, he had the whole house on its feet yelling for him. ”
“Then, Tony, I guess we’ve beaten Logan!” She had begun with a tremulous laugh but at mention of the man’s name she gave a little shudder which ended in a gasping sob.
Vance wheeled on Masson. “Dicky, you’ve been somewhere with Hope! Explain what this means!”
Masson’s face was a study. “I’ll tell you, Tony. It’s a long story and a nasty one.”
Hope sprang to her feet. “Don’t tell him to-night, Dicky! Wait until after to-morrow,” she pleaded.
Vance caught her. He held her close in one arm. “Go on, Dicky!” he commanded through stiff lips. Hope turned and hid her face on his breast. He laid his lips on her soft hair. Masson finished his story in which he had included Hope’s experiences as she had told them to him.
Anthony Vance’s face was livid. “I’ll get Logan for this,” he muttered and started for the door, but Hope threw her arms around his neck.
“No, Tony! No!” she protested. “Please, please stay with me! I can’t bear any more now.” Her composure melted with the last word and she dropped her face against his breast again.
Vance gazed down at her in troubled uncertainty. Then he looked at Masson.
The latter shook his head. “She’s about all in,” he warned, with a tender glance at the girl. “Better do as she says, Van. Here’s Logan’s note.”
“Have you read this?” He handed Mrs. Jim’s message to Vance.
“Yes.” Anthony Vance looked straight into the angry eyes. “And I take it for what it is worth, Dicky.”
Hope looked from one tense face to the other. “What is it?” Then as they did not answer she held out her hand. “Give it to me, please. I think I ought to know.”
Vance took the outstretched hand in his.
“Don’t ask for it, Hope. It has to do only with Masson and me, and we understand.”
The telephone rang sharply. John Gilman answered it.
“Yes! This is the Vance residence.”
“Mrs. Vance? Wait a minute!” He turned to Hope. “Someone at the Damon’s wants you. Will you answer?”
“Yes! Bobsy must be ill,” the girl exclaimed as she hurried to the telephone.
“Is this Gabrielle speaking? Is anything wrong with Bobsy? What?” there was a note of horror in the sharp exclamation. “I’ll come at once! Can’t you reach Dr. Damon? We must! Good-bye!”
She dropped the receiver, turned and braced herself against the table. Her eyes were wide with horror. She tried to speak, moistening her stiff lips.
“It’s Elsie! She was driving her car home! She got confused, they think, and ran into a trolly car. She–she’s dead!”
With a little cry of utter exhaustion, she stretched out her arms toward Vance and for the first time in her life, fainted.
Phone on his stomach on the brown rocks sprawled Bobsy Damon. Beside him stretched the white collie, watching the boy as he carefully guided his little boat across the clear pool of sea water. The frail craft was laden with a cargo of tiny star-fish and when the chubby fingers of the master mariner could compass it, a sidling crab occupied the deck.
The child’s cheeks were flushed as he reached for the scuttling creature, unsuccessfully.
“I’ll get you yet–you bonehead!” he cried, shaking his fist at the scurrying crab.
“Bobsy!” protested Hope. The girl was a picture in her yellow silk sweater and white skirt as she sat in the shadow of a great boulder. She smiled lazily at her brother, Dr. Jim, who puffed contentedly at his pipe.
“Where did you get that word, ‘bonehead?’ What does it mean?”
“Mean? Why, why, it means, I guess, someone that doesn’t know what’s good for him. Don’t you think, Daddy, that that crab would be more comfortabler in my nice ship than in that cold water?”
Jim Damon smiled by way of answer and turned to his sister.
“When did you see Tony last, Hope?”
“I haven’t seen him since that day, three months ago, when he came to your apartment to offer me my freedom.” The color stained her face and she drew her soft hat lower over her eyes.
“Why didn’t you take it?” coolly.
“Jim, do you think I make a solemn compact and then break it?”
“Are you sure that he didn’t want his freedom?”
The color faded from the girl’s face. “What do you mean by that, Jim?” she asked falteringly.
Damon looked thoughtfully off across the water. The ocean sparkled and shone in the sun. In the distance a mountainous island loomed purple against the horizon; across the sapphire of the sky white gulls flapped and doves uttered their discordant cries.
“Let’s talk this over a bit, Hope. No, you can’t evade it,” as she moved restlessly. “You have a man’s sense of justice but you’ve been doping it for the last six months. When, after Elsie–” his voice caught in his throat, but with determination he made a fresh start, “When, after Elsie’s death, you came to stay with me, I was too horrified at what had happened and the revelations which followed, to realize what you were doing. You said that Bobsy needed you; I needed you to keep me sane, I know that. When, three months ago, I was preparing to go to Europe to forget myself in the work there, Vance came and told me that he had promised you your freedom, that he was convinced you loved Masson. I assured him that he was mistaken. I didn’t tell him what I was surer of, that you loved him.”
He held up his hand as the girl opened her lips impetuously. “Of course, I thought you would set him right. But you didn’t, and back he went to Albany. You don’t look so very happy, Hope. Are you sure that you are not like Bobsy’s boneheaded crab, ‘somebody that doesn’t know what’s good for him?’ But you haven’t told me why you have not written to Vance from here?”
“I shall be glad to tell you, Jimmy. Tony did offer me my freedom and I refused. We were in the midst of our discussion when Richard Masson called. I was confused and–and I might as well admit it, I overacted my joy at seeing him, I suppose. You know Dicky and his caressing, enthusiastic way. My greeting went to his head a little, perhaps, and he just grasped my hands as though he would never let me go. Tony looked on with that impassive expression of his, and departed, more convinced than ever, of course, of my love for Masson.
“Since then he has never written nor telephoned to me, and I hear that he is tremendously busy. I thought perhaps–he didn’t care. Now that he is a full-fledged senator, he hasn’t much time.”
“What has become of Wilfred Logan?”
“He is in Cuba. I never knew what happened after that horrible night”–she shivered–“until Babs Gilman told me. It seems that her father just forced Tony to keep quiet, to avoid any scandal, but Mr. Gilman and Richard Masson had one interview with Logan, after which the latter resigned from all his clubs, settled up his business and went away.
“After Bobsy got over the scarlet fever and we were to be released from quarantine, I came down here. I thought at first I would open the Harvest Moon, but Mr. Gilman almost snapped my head off when I asked if I might have it. ‘What do you want that for?’ he growled. ‘Go live in your husband’s house,’ and I meekly obeyed him. After he had cooled down a bit he told me that he had given the Bungalow to Babs.”
“To Babs! What for? Is she going to be married?” The question was abrupt.
“Some time, I suppose,” with a spice of mischief. Then she added gently, “Bonehead!”
The boy and dog had gone clear down to the shore, the collie yelping and making mad dashes after the gulls.
The voice came from the direction of the house. Jim Damon peered around the corner of the boulder.
“Here is Babs now,” Hope cried.
At the risk of breaking her neck, she sprang from rock to rock in her frantic effort to escape.
“You! Dr. Jim?” Amazement and some quite different emotions crimsoned Barbara Gilman’s face as she stepped around the boulder. “They told me at the house that Hope was here–so I–you–when did you return?”
“Three days ago. Sit here, Barbara, while I tell you about it.”
“I have had a wonderful three months,” he began, “but before I relate my own experiences I will deliver Dicky Masson’s message. He sent his best love to you. He has joined the aviation corps and is doing fine work. And I am to be Hall’s assistant here in New York, Barbara!”
Her hands went out to him in sympathetic congratulation. “I’m so glad, Dr. Jim! And you won’t have to leave New York! And you would condescend to come and see us if we were desperately ill,” she teased.
“You don’t look as though you could possibly be ill, Babs. Are you all right now?”
She rose to her feet with a little passionate gesture of indignation. “Don’t look at me with that detached professional expression of yours, Dr. Jim,” she protested hotly. “Ever since my illness I’ve been nothing but a patient to you! Why can’t you look at me as you would at any girl?”
He caught her hand in his. “I’ll never look at you professionally again, Babs,” he laughed tenderly. “But I can’t look at you as I would at any girl, because–you’re the only girl to me.”
Her eyes flew to his in startled questioning.
“I came to persuade Hope to let me take Bobsy back to Stone Acres for a few days,” she hurriedly explained, her eyes averted. “Dad and mother are crazy to see him. May I have him?” with eager pleading.
“If you will take his father with him.”
“Will you come, Dr. Jim? Really, will you? Oh, here they are!” She wrenched her hands from his and ran down the shore to meet Hope and the boy.
An hour later Hope stood on the veranda of The Ledges watching Barbara Gilman’s car as it sped down the drive. Her brother Jim was beside the girl at the wheel. Bobsy sat with Gretchen on the back seat. As they had driven away, the child had turned and waved his hand with a suddenly remembered, “Good-bye, Aunt Hope!” HIs eyes were shining with excitement, for Miss Babs had promised that he should run her motor boat.
A feeling of utter loneliness came over Hope. Of course she was delighted to see Jim so like his happy self, and of course she didn’t mind if Bobsy did care more for Babs, but he needn’t have forgotten to kiss her good-bye. A little sob caught at her breath. She saw a car enter the drive. “Visitors! And my eyes red,” she murmured.
When she reached her boudoir the storm broke. All the anxiety of the last weeks of Bobsy’s illness, her uncertainty as to her future plans; the gnawing uneasiness as to the reason for Vance’s silence culminated, as she flung herself face downward on the divan.
“Hope! Hope, dear! What is the trouble?”
A man’s hand on her shoulder and a man’s voice brought her to her feet at once.
“Tony!” she gasped. Her face flamed. “I’ve been crying,” she announced ingenuously, as he brought a chair and seated himself beside her. “I don’t often cry, but when I do I indulge myself royally,” with gay bravado.
“So I see. What’s the trouble, Hope?”
“N-nothing! But Jim has gone with Babs and Bobsy–and Bobsy didn’t remember to kiss me good-bye and he–he just said ‘Aunt Hope” and he didn’t call me Sweet-sweetness and–I’m all alone!” She buried her face in the pillows.
The man’s eyes were very tender as he looked down upon her.
“You’e not alone now, dear. I’m here.”
“Are you going to s-stay?” in a smothered voice.
“Didn’t Jim tell you I was coming today? I wrote him. I have a two weeks’ holiday and very soon the summer recess will begin. What shall I do with it, Hope? Dry your eyes–dress for dinner and come down and talk it over,” in a tone of frank good-fellowship.
“I’m not a baby, Tony! You’ve never seen me cry before, have you?”
He could see the flush which crimsoned her cheeks as she corrected herself. “Well, only once. Go away now! I’m a fright!” the voice muffled by pillows had regained its crispness.
“Whatever you say goes, Sweetness,” with tender mockery. “I’ll see you at dinner.” The girl heard him whistling cheerily as he went along the hall.
She sat up and brushed her tumbled hair from her eyes. She looked in the mirror and shook her head at her reflection.
“Lucky for you that you do not weep more than once in two years,” she remarked to the dark, drenched eye which gazed back at her.
Dinner was over. Hope and Anthony Vance were having coffee at a small table on the terrace. There was an emotional thread in the girl’s voice which warned Vance, and he had kept the conversation away from personal matters. He had told of the progress of his work; of the many delightful friends he had made.
“Any interesting girls?” Hope queried indifferently as she peered into the depths of her cup.
“Lots of them, charming ones,” promptly.
He stood up with an abruptness which sent Hope’s heart fluttering into her throat. She clasped her hands in her lap to steady them.
“Logan and Cecile Talmadge were married yesterday. They are to live in Cuba.”
“Oh, Tony! Do you care?” breathlessly.
He laid his hands on her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. “You know that I don’t, Hope,” he said compellingly.
She twisted away from him. He took one or two quick steps along the terrace. Then he faced her again.
“I saw Dick Masson yesterday. He told me that he had cashed in his interest in the business and was going abroad for a time. He is planning to be away for years. Hope, do you care?” huskily.
For an instant she hesitated, then, with a tremulous laugh she laid her hands on his shoulders and with an attempt at a shake, echoed:
“You know I don’t, Tony!”
She walked to the edge of the terrace. The moon made a shimmering path on the sea; it gilded the rocks on the shore and silvered the soft white of the girl’s frock.
Vance tossed away his cigar and followed her. “Sing for me, Hope,” he commanded.
“Sing for me! Say, ‘please, Hope,'” she teased.
There was a glint in his eyes which belied the humility of his tone as he echoed: “Please, Hope!”
She disappeared through the French window into the great living room. “What will you have?” she called.
He strolled into the room and leaned on the piano, facing her. “Gilman’s song.”
Without replying she struck the soft chords of the prelude and sang:
“‘Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be–‘”
She sprang to her feet. “Please, Tony, I just can’t sing it to-night,” she apologized contritely.
He put his arm about her shoulders. “That is enough, Hope. Those two lines contain all there is of earth and a little bit of heaven for me. Come over here to the light.”
He drew her close beside him as he seated himself on the edge of the table and took a little box from his pocket.
“Hope, do you remember the night I gave you Mother’s jewel case? This was in it. It belongs to you, if you will take it now.” He placed it in her hand.
She read the inscription on it. “For Tony’s wife from Mother.” She looked up at Vance, then as she caught the smouldering glow in his eyes, her eyes dropped.
“Open it!” he prompted gently.
With unsteady fingers she untied the dainty ribbons. From the morocco case, the dimpled face of a child laughed up at her. His golden hair curled softly; two teeth, like tiny white pearls, gleamed between the parted red lips; the cheeks were flushed; the expression of the blue-gray eyes mischievously joyous.
“Oh-o-o you darling! You lovely baby!” The girl glanced at Vance with tantalizing daring.
“Land sakes, but you’ve growed, Mr. Tony!” she quoted gaily. She looked down at the miniature and with a little impulsive cry raised it–
Vance caught her hand. “No, no, Hope, not the boy, the man!” he cried jealously, as he crushed her in his arms and kissed her passionately upon the lips.
“Hope, do you care for me? Do you?” he asked a long moment later. “I’ve loved you ever since the night we met at the Gilman’s. It has seemed such a long, long time.”
“Long? Pouf!” She leaned against his encircling arms and forced her eyes to meet his gray ones for an instant. Their expression made her lips tremble, as she added audaciously:
“I’ve loved you ever since the hour we first met in the Park, Mr. Anthony Vance.”
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Happy landings, everyone!