Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society
Edith Van Dyne
Part 2 out of 3
Mershone stared at her. Then he whistled, took a few turns up and down
the room, and reseated himself.
"Evidently!" he ejaculated, lighting a cigarette without permission and
then leaning back thoughtfully in his chair.
"Charlie," continued Diana, "you may as well marry Louise Merrick and
settle down to a life of respectability. You've a dashing, masterful way
which no girl of her sort can long resist. I propose that you make
desperate love to Louise Merrick and so cut Arthur Weldon out of the
deal entirely. My part of the comedy will be to attract him to my side
again. Now you have the entire proposition in a nutshell."
He smoked for a time in reflective silence.
"What's the girl like?" he enquired, presently. "Is she attractive?"
"Sufficiently so to fascinate Arthur Weldon. Moreover, she has just been
introduced in our set, and knows nothing of your shady past history.
Even if rumors came to her ears, young creatures of her sort often find
a subtle charm in a man accused of being 'naughty.'"
"If you win her, you get a wife easily managed and a splendid fortune to
squander as you please."
"Sounds interesting, Di, doesn't it? But--"
"In regard to preliminary expenses," she interrupted, calmly, "I have
said that your reward will be ample when you have won the game. But
meantime I am willing to invest the necessary funds in the enterprise. I
will allow you a thousand a month." "Bah! that's nothing at all!" said
he, contemptuously, as he flicked the ashes from his cigarette.
"What do you demand, then?"
"Five hundred a week, in advance. It's an expensive job, Di."
"Very well; I will give you five hundred a week; but only as long as you
work earnestly to carry out the plot. I shall watch you, Charlie. And
you must not lose sight of the ultimate reward."
"I won't, my sweet cousin. It's a bargain," he said, readily enough.
"When do I begin, and what's the program?"
"Draw your chair nearer," said Diana, restraining her triumphant joy.
"I'll explain everything to you in detail. It will be my part to plan,
and yours to execute."
"Good!" he exclaimed, with a cheerful grin. "I feel like an executioner
OPENING THE CAMPAIGN
Louise's little romance, which now began to thrive vigorously, was
regarded with calmness by her cousins and her mother, who knew of the
former episode between her and Arthur and attached little importance to
the renewed flirtation in which they indulged. That they were deceived
in their estimate was due to the girl's reputation for frivolity where
young men were concerned. She had been dubbed a "flirt" ever since she
first began to wear long dresses, and her nature was not considered deep
enough for her heart to be ever seriously affected. Therefore the young
girl was gravely misjudged.
Louise was not one to bare her heart, even to her most intimate friends,
and no one now suspected that at last her deepest, truest womanly
affections were seriously involved. The love for Arthur that had lain
dormant in her heart was aroused at a time when she was more mature and
capable of recognizing truly her feelings, so that it was not long
before she surrendered her reserve and admitted to him that life would
mean little for her unless they might pass the years together. For his
part, young Weldon sincerely loved Louise, and had never wavered from
his firm devotion during all the past months of misunderstanding.
The general impression that they were "merely flirting" afforded the
lovers ample opportunity to have their walks and drives together
undisturbed, and during these soulful communions they arrived at such a
perfect understanding that both were confident nothing could ever
disturb their trust and confidence.
It was at a theatre party that the three _debutantes_ first met Charlie
Mershone, but they saw little of him that first evening and scarcely
noticed his presence. Louise, indeed, noted that his eyes were fixed
upon her more than once with thinly veiled admiration, and without a
thought of disloyalty to Arthur, but acting upon the impulse of her
coquettish nature, she responded with a demure smile of encouragement.
Charlie Mershone was an adept at playing parts. He at first regarded
Louise much as a hunter does the game he is stalking. Patsy Doyle was
more jolly and Beth De Graf more beautiful than Miss Merrick; but the
young man would in any event have preferred the latter's dainty
personality. When he found her responsive to his admiring glances he was
astounded to note his heart beating rapidly--a thing quite foreign to
his usual temperament. Yes, this girl would do very nicely, both as a
wife and as a banker. Assuredly the game was well worth playing, as
Diana had asserted. He must make it his business to discover what
difficulties must be overcome in winning her. Of course Arthur Weldon
was the main stumbling-block; but Weldon was a ninny; he must be thrust
aside; Diana had promised to attend to that.
Never in his life had Charles Connoldy Mershone been in earnest before.
After his first interview with Louise Merrick he became in deadly
earnest. His second meeting with her was at Marie Delmar's bridge whist
party, where they had opportunity for an extended conversation. Arthur
was present this evening, but by some chance Mershone drew Louise for
his partner at cards, and being a skillful player he carried her in
progression from table to table, leaving poor Arthur far behind and
indulging in merry repartee and mild flirtation until they felt they
were quite well acquainted.
Louise found the young man a charming conversationalist. He had a
dashing, confidential way of addressing the girl which impressed her as
flattering and agreeable, while his spirits were so exuberant and
sparkling with humor that she was thoroughly amused every moment while
in his society. Indeed, Mr. Mershone was really talented, and had he
possessed any manly attributes, or even the ordinary honorable instincts
of mankind, there is little doubt he would have been a popular favorite.
But he had made his mark, and it was a rather grimy one. From earliest
youth he had been guilty of discreditable acts that had won for him the
contempt of all right-minded people. That he was still accepted with lax
tolerance by some of the more thoughtless matrons of the fashionable set
was due to his family name. They could not forget that in spite of his
numerous lapses from respectability he was still a Mershone. Not one of
the careless mothers who admitted him to her house would have allowed
her daughter to wed him, and the degree of tolerance extended to him was
fully appreciated by Mershone himself. He knew he was practically barred
from the most desirable circles and seldom imposed himself upon his
former acquaintances; but now, with a distinct object in view, he
callously disregarded the doubtful looks he encountered and showed
himself in every drawing-room where he could secure an invitation or
impudently intrude himself. He made frank avowals that he had "reformed"
and abandoned his evil ways forever. Some there were who accepted this
statement seriously, and Diana furthered his cause by treating him
graciously whenever they met, whereas she had formerly refused to
recognize her cousin.
Louise knew nothing at all of Charlie Mershone's history and permitted
him to call when he eagerly requested the favor; but on the way home
from the Delmars Arthur, who had glowered at the usurper all the
evening, took pains to hint to Louise that Mershone was an undesirable
acquaintance and had a bad record. Of course she laughed at him and
teased him, thinking he was jealous and rejoicing that in Mershone she
had a tool to "keep Arthur toeing the mark." As a matter of truth she
had really missed her lover's companionship that evening, but forbore to
apprise him of the fact.
And now the great Kermess began to occupy the minds of the three
cousins, who were to share the important "Flower Booth" between them.
The Kermess was to be the holiday sensation of the season and bade fair
to eclipse the horse show in popularity. It was primarily a charitable
entertainment, as the net receipts were to be divided among several
deserving hospitals; nevertheless it was classed as a high society
function and only the elect were to take active part in the affair.
The ball room at the Waldorf had been secured and many splendid booths
were to be erected for the sale of novelties, notions and refreshments.
There were to be lotteries and auctions, national dances given by groups
of society belles, and other novel entertainments calculated to empty
the pockets of the unwary.
Beth was somewhat indignant to find that she and her cousins, having
been assigned to the flower booth, were expected to erect a pavilion and
decorate it at their own expense, as well as to provide the stock of
flowers to be sold. "There is no fund for preliminary expenses, you
know," remarked Mrs. Sandringham, "and of course all the receipts are to
go to charity; so there is nothing to do but stand these little bills
ourselves. We all do it willingly. The papers make a good deal of the
Kermess, and the advertisement we get is worth all it costs us."
Beth did not see the force of this argument. She thought it was dreadful
for society--really good society--to wish to advertise itself; but
gradually she was learning that this was merely a part of the game. To
be talked about, to have her goings and comings heralded in the society
columns and her gowns described on every possible occasion, seemed the
desire of every society woman, and she who could show the biggest
scrap-book of clippings was considered of highest importance.. Uncle
John laughed joyously when told that the expenses of the flower booth
would fall on the shoulders of his girls and there was no later
"Why not?" he cried. "Mustn't we pay the fiddler if we dance?"
"It's a hold-up game," declared Beth, angrily. "I'll have nothing to do
"Yes, you will, my dear," replied her uncle; "and to avoid separating
you chicks from your pin-money I'm going to stand every cent of the
expense myself. Why, it's for charity, isn't it? Charity covers a
multitude of sins, and I'm just a miserable sinner that needs a
bath-robe to snuggle in. How can the poor be better served than by
robbing the rich? Go ahead, girls, and rig up the swellest booth that
money will build. I'll furnish as many flowers as you can sell, and
Charity ought to get a neat little nest-egg out of the deal."
"That's nice of you," said Patsy, kissing him; "but it's an imposition,
all the same."
"It's a blessing, my dear. It will help a bit to ease off that dreadful
income that threatens to crush me," he rejoined, smiling at them. And
the nieces made no further protest, well knowing the kindly old
gentleman would derive untold pleasure in carrying out his generous
The flower booth, designed by a famous architect, proved a splendid and
most imposing structure. It was capped by a monster bouquet of
artificial orchids in _papier-mache,_ which reached twenty feet into the
air. The three cousins had their gowns especially designed for the
occasion. Beth represented a lily, Louise a Gold-of-Ophir rose, and
Patricia a pansy.
The big ball room had been turned over to the society people several
days in advance, that the elaborate preparations might be completed in
time, and during this period groups of busy, energetic young folks
gathered by day and in the evenings, decorating, flirting, rehearsing
the fancy dances, and amusing themselves generally.
Arthur Weldon was there to assist Uncle John's nieces; but his pleasure
was somewhat marred by the persistent presence of Charlie Mershone, who,
having called once or twice upon Louise, felt at liberty to attach
himself to her party. The ferocious looks of his rival were ignored by
this designing young man and he had no hesitation in interrupting a
_tete-a-tete_ to monopolize the girl for himself.
Louise was amused, thinking it fun to worry Arthur by flirting mildly
with Mr. Mershone, for whom she cared not a jot. Both Patsy and Beth
took occasion to remonstrate with her for this folly, for having known
Weldon for a long time and journeyed with him through a part of Europe,
they naturally espoused his cause, liking him as much as they
intuitively disliked Mershone.
One evening Arthur, his patience well-nigh exhausted, talked seriously
"This fellow Mershone," said he, "is a bad egg, a despicable son of a
decadent family. His mother was Hedrik Von Taer's sister, but the poor
thing has been dead many years. Not long ago Charlie was tabooed by even
the rather fast set he belonged to, and the Von Taers, especially,
refused to recognize their relative. Now he seems to go everywhere
again. I don't know what has caused the change, I'm sure." "Why, he
has reformed," declared Louise; "Diana told me so. She said he had been
a bit wild, as all young men are; but now his behavior is
"I don't believe a word of it," insisted Arthur. "Mershone is a natural
cad; he's been guilty of all sorts of dirty tricks, and is capable of
many more. If you'll watch out, Louise, you'll see that all the girls
are shy of being found in his society, and all the chaperons cluck to
their fledglings the moment the hawk appears. You're a novice in society
just yet, my dear, and it won't do you any good to encourage Charlie
Mershone, whom everyone else avoids."
"He's very nice," returned Louise, lightly.
"Yes; he must be nicer than I am," admitted the young man, glumly, and
thereupon he became silent and morose and Louise found her evening
The warning did not fall on barren ground, however. In the seclusion of
her own room the girl thought it all over and decided she had teased her
true lover enough. Arthur had not scolded or reproached her, despite his
annoyance, and she had a feeling that his judgment of Charlie Mershone
was quite right. Although the latter was evidently madly in love with
her the girl had the discretion to see how selfish and unrestrained was
his nature, and once or twice he had already frightened her by his
impetuosity. She decided to retreat cautiously but positively from
further association with him, and at once began to show the young man
Mershone must have been chagrined, but he did not allow Louise to see
there was any change in their relations as far as he was concerned. He
merely redoubled his attentions, sending her flowers and bonbons daily,
accompanied by ardently worded but respectful notes. Really, Louise was
in a quandary, and she frankly admitted to Arthur that she had brought
this embarrassment upon herself. Yet Arthur could do or say little to
comfort her. He longed secretly to "punch Mershone's head," but could
find no occasion for such decided action.
Diana, during this time, treated both Arthur and Louise with marked
cordiality. Believing her time would come to take part in the comedy she
refrained from interfering prematurely with the progress of events. She
managed to meet her accomplice at frequent intervals and was pleased
that there was no necessity to urge Charlie to do his utmost in
separating the lovers.
"I'm bound to win, Di," he said grimly, "for I love the girl even better
than I do her fortune. And of one thing you may rest assured; Weldon
shall never marry her."
"What will you do?" asked Diana, curiously.
"Anything! Everything that is necessary to accomplish my purpose."
"Be careful," said she warningly. "Keep a cool head, Charlie, and don't
do anything foolish. Still--"
"If it is necessary to take a few chances, do it. Arthur Weldon must not
marry Louise Merrick!"
THE VON TAER PEARLS
Uncle John really had more fun out of the famous Kermess than anyone
else. The preparations gave him something to do, and he enjoyed
doing--openly, as well as in secret ways. Having declared that he would
stock the flower booth at his own expense, he confided to no one his
plans. The girls may have thought he would merely leave orders with a
florist; but that was not the Merrick way of doing things. Instead, he
visited the most famous greenhouses within a radius of many miles,
contracting for all the floral blooms that art and skill could produce.
The Kermess was to be a three days' affair, and each day the floral
treasures of the cast were delivered in reckless profusion at the flower
booth, which thus became the center of attraction and the marvel of the
public. The girls were delighted to be able to dispense such blooms, and
their success as saleswomen was assured at once. Of course the fair
vendors were ignorant of the value of their wares, for Uncle John
refused to tell them how extravagant he had been; so they were obliged
to guess at the sums to be demanded and in consequence sold priceless
orchids and rare hothouse flora at such ridiculous rates that Mr.
Merrick chuckled with amusement until he nearly choked.
The public being "cordially invited" Uncle John was present on that
first important evening, and--wonder of wonders--was arrayed in an
immaculate full-dress suit that fitted his chubby form like the skin of
a banana. Mayor Doyle, likewise disguised, locked arms with his
brother-in-law and stalked gravely among the throng; but neither ever
got to a point in the big room where the flower booth was not in plain
sight. The Major's pride in "our Patsy" was something superb; Uncle John
was proud of all three of his nieces. As the sale of wares was for the
benefit of charity these old fellows purchased liberally--mostly flowers
and had enough parcels sent home to fill a delivery wagon.
One disagreeable incident, only, marred this otherwise successful
evening--successful especially for the three cousins, whose beauty and
grace won the hearts of all.
Diana Von Taer was stationed in the "Hindoo Booth," and the oriental
costume she wore exactly fitted her sensuous style of beauty. To enhance
its effect she had worn around her neck the famous string of Von Taer
pearls, a collection said to be unmatched in beauty and unequaled in
value in all New York.
The "Hindoo Booth" was near enough to the "Flower Booth" for Diana to
watch the cousins, and the triumph of her late _protegees_ was very
bitter for her to endure. Especially annoying was it to find Arthur
Weldon devoting himself assiduously to Louise, who looked charming in
her rose gown and favored Arthur in a marked way, although Charlie
Mershone, refusing to be ignored, also leaned over the counter of the
booth and chatted continually, striving to draw Miss Merrick's attention
Forced to observe all this, Diana soon lost her accustomed coolness. The
sight of the happy faces of Arthur and Louise aroused all the rancor
and subtile wit that she possessed, and she resolved upon an act that
she would not before have believed herself capable of. Leaning down, she
released the catch of the famous pearls and unobserved concealed them in
a handkerchief. Then, leaving her booth, she sauntered slowly over to
the floral display, which was surrounded for the moment by a crowd of
eager customers. Many of the vases and pottery jars which had contained
flowers now stood empty, and just before the station of Louise Merrick
the stock was sadly depleted. This was, of course, offset by the store
of money in the little drawer beside the fair sales-lady, and Louise,
having greeted Diana with a smile and nod, turned to renew her
conversation with the young men besieging her.
Diana leaned gracefully over the counter, resting the hand containing
the handkerchief over the mouth of an empty Doulton vase--empty save for
the water which had nourished the flowers. At the same time she caught
Louise's eye and with a gesture brought the girl to her side. "Those
young men are wealthy," she said, carelessly, her head close to that of
Louise. "Make them pay well for their purchases, my dear."
"I can't rob them, Diana," was the laughing rejoinder.
"But it is your duty to rob, at a Kermess, and in the interests of
charity," persisted Diana, maintaining her voice at a whisper.
Louise was annoyed.
"Thank you," she said, and went back to the group awaiting her.
The floral booth was triangular, Beth officiated at one of the three
sides, Patsy at another, and Louise at the third. Diana now passed
softly around the booth, interchanging a word with the other two girls,
after which she returned to her own station.
Presently, while chatting with a group of acquaintances, she suddenly
clasped her throat and assuming an expression of horror exclaimed:
"What, the Von Taer pearls?" cried one.
"The Von Taer pearls," said Diana, as if dazed by her misfortune.
"And you've lost them, dear?"
"They're lost!" she echoed.
Well, there was excitement then, you may be sure. One man hurried to
notify the door-keeper and the private detective employed oh all such
occasions, while others hastily searched the booth--of course in vain.
Diana seemed distracted and the news spread quickly through the
"Have you left this booth at all?" asked a quiet voice, that of the
official whose business it was to investigate.
"I--I merely walked over to the floral booth opposite, and exchanged a
word with Miss Merrick, and the others there," she explained.
The search was resumed, and Charlie Mershone sauntered over.
"What's this, Di? Lost the big pearls, I hear," he said.
She took him aside and whispered something to him. He nodded and
returned at once to the flower booth, around which a crowd of searchers
now gathered, much to the annoyance of Louise and her cousins.
"It's all foolishness, you know," said Uncle John, to the Major,
confidentially. "If the girl really dropped her pearls some one has
picked them up, long ago."
Young Mershone seemed searching the floral booth as earnestly as the
others, and awkwardly knocked the Doulton vase from the shelf with his
elbow. It smashed to fragments and in the pool of water on the floor
appeared the missing pearls.
There was an awkward silence for a moment, while all eyes turned
curiously upon Louise, who served this side of the triangle. The girl
appeared turned to stone as she gazed down at the gems. Mershone laughed
disagreeably and picked up the recovered treasure, which Diana ran
forward and seized.
"H-m-m!" said the detective, with a shrug; "this is a strange
occurrence--a very strange occurrence, indeed. Miss Von Taer, do you
"No!" exclaimed Diana, haughtily. "I accuse no one. It is enough that an
accident has restored to me the heirloom."
Stiffly she marched back to her own booth, and the crowd quietly
dispersed, leaving only Arthur, Uncle John and the Major standing to
support Louise and her astonished cousins.
"Why, confound it!" cried the little millionaire, with a red face, "does
the jade mean to insinuate--"
"Not at all, sor," interrupted the Major, sternly; "her early education
has been neglected, that's all."
"Come dear," pleaded Arthur to Louise; "let us go home."
"By no means!" announced Beth, positively; "let us stay where we belong.
Why, we're not half sold out yet!"
Arthur Weldon met Mershone at a club next afternoon. "You low
scoundrel!" he exclaimed. "It was _your_ trick to accuse Miss Merrick of
a theft last night."
"Was she accused?" enquired the other, blandly. "I hadn't heard,
"You did it yourself!"
"Dear me!" said Mershone, deliberately lighting a cigarette.
"You or your precious cousin--you're both alike," declared Arthur,
bitterly. "But you have given us wisdom, Mershone. We'll see you don't
trick us again."
The young man stared at him, between puffs of smoke.
"It occurs to me, Weldon, that you're becoming insolent. It won't do, my
boy. Unless you guard your tongue--"
"Bah! Resent it, if you dare; you coward."
"Yes. A man who attacks an innocent girl is a coward. And you've been a
coward all your life, Mershone, for one reason or another. No one
believes in your pretended reform. But I want to warn you to keep away
from Miss Merrick, hereafter, or I'll take a hand in your punishment
For a moment the two eyed one another savagely. They were equally
matched in physique; but Arthur was right, there was no fight in
Mershone; that is, of the knock-down order. He would fight in his own
way, doubtless, and this made him more dangerous than his antagonist
"What right have you, sir, to speak for Miss Merrick?" he demanded.
"The best right in the world," replied Arthur. "She is my promised
"Indeed! Since when?"
"That is none of your affair, Mershone. As a matter of fact, however,
that little excitement you created last night resulted in a perfect
understanding between us." "_I_ created!"
"You, of course. Miss Merrick does not care to meet you again. You will
do well to avoid her in the future."
"I don't believe you, Weldon. You're bluffing."
"Am I? Then dare to annoy Miss Merrick again and I'll soon convince you
of my sincerity."
With this parting shot he walked away, leaving Mershone really at a loss
to know whether he was in earnest or not. To solve the question he
called a taxicab and in a few minutes gave his card to the Merrick
butler with a request to see Miss Louise.
The man returned with a message that Miss Merrick was engaged.
"Please tell her it is important," insisted Mershone.
Again the butler departed, and soon returned.
"Any message for Miss Merrick must be conveyed in writing, sir," he
said, "She declines to see you."
Mershone went away white with anger. We may credit him with loving
Louise as intensely as a man of his caliber can love anyone. His sudden
dismissal astounded him and made him frantic with disappointment.
Louise's treatment of the past few days might have warned him, but he
had no intuition of the immediate catastrophe that had overtaken him. It
wasn't his self-pride that was injured; that had become so battered
there was little of it left; but he had set his whole heart on winning
this girl and felt that he could not give her up.
Anger toward Weldon was prominent amongst his emotion. He declared
between his set teeth that if Louise was lost to him she should never
marry Weldon. Not on Diana's account, but for his own vengeful
satisfaction was this resolve made.
He rode straight to his cousin and told her the news. The statement that
Arthur was engaged to marry Louise Merrick drove her to a wild anger no
less powerful because she restrained any appearance of it. Surveying her
cousin steadily through her veiled lashes she asked:
"Is there no way we can prevent this thing?"
Mershone stalked up and down before her like a caged beast. His eyes
were red and wicked; his lips were pressed tightly together. "Diana,"
said he, "I've never wanted anything in this world as I want that girl.
I can't let that mollycoddle marry her!"
She flushed, and then frowned. It was not pleasant to hear the man of
her choice spoken of with such contempt, but after all their
disappointment and desires were alike mutual and she could not break
with Charlie at this juncture.
Suddenly he paused and asked:
"Do you still own that country home near East Orange?"
"Yes; but we never occupy it now. Father does not care for the place."
"Is it deserted?"
"Practically so. Madame Cerise is there in charge."
"Old Cerise? I was going to ask you what had become of that clever
"She was too clever, Charlie. She knew too much of our affairs, and was
always prying into things that did not concern her. So father took an
antipathy to the poor creature, and because she has served our family
for so long sent her to care for the house at East Orange."
"Pensioned her, eh? Well, this is good news, Di; perhaps the best news
in the world. I believe it will help clear up the situation. Old Cerise
and I always understood each other."
"Will you explain?" asked Diana, coldly.
"I think not, my fair cousin. I prefer to keep my own counsel. You made
a bad mess of that little deal last night, and are responsible for the
climax that faces us. Besides, a woman is never a good conspirator. I
know what you want; and I know what I want. So I'll work this plan
alone, if you please. And I'll win, Di; I'll win as sure as fate--if
you'll help me."
"You ask me to help you and remain in the dark?"
"Yes; it's better so. Write me a note to Cerise and tell her to place
the house and herself unreservedly at my disposal."
She stared at him fixedly, and he returned the look with an evil smile.
So they sat in silence a moment. Then slowly she arose and moved to her
escritoire, drawing a sheet of paper toward her and beginning to write.
"Is there a telephone at the place?" enquired Mershone abruptly.
"Then telephone Cerise after I'm gone. That will make it doubly sure.
And give me the number, too, so I can jot it down. I may need it."
Diana quietly tore up the note.
"The telephone is better," she said. "Being in the dark, sir, I prefer
not to commit myself in writing."
"You're quite right, Di," he exclaimed, admiringly. "But for heaven's
sake don't forget to telephone Madame Cerise."
"I won't Charlie. And, see here, keep your precious plans to yourself,
now and always. I intend to know nothing of what you do."
"I'm merely the cats-paw, eh? Well, never mind. Is old Cerise to be
depended upon, do you think?"
"Why not?" replied the girl. "Cerise belongs to the Von Taers--body and
THE BROWN LIMOUSINE
The second evening of the society Kermess passed without unusual event
and proved very successful in attracting throngs of fashionable people
to participate in its pleasures.
Louise and her cousins were at their stations early, and the second
installment of Uncle John's flowers was even more splendid and profuse
than the first. It was not at all difficult to make sales, and the
little money drawer began to bulge with its generous receipts.
Many a gracious smile or nod or word was bestowed upon Miss Merrick by
the society folk; for these people had had time to consider the
accusation against her implied by Diana Von Taer's manner when the
pearls were discovered in the empty flower vase. Being rather impartial
judges--for Diana was not a popular favorite with her set--they decided
it was absurd to suppose a niece of wealthy old John Merrick would
descend to stealing any one's jewelry. Miss Merrick might have anything
her heart desired with-out pausing to count the cost, and moreover she
was credited with sufficient common sense to realize that the Von Taer
heirlooms might easily be recognized anywhere. So a little gossip
concerning the queer incident had turned the tide of opinion in Louise's
favor, and as she was a recent _debutante_ with a charming personality
all vied to assure her she was held blameless.
A vast coterie of the select hovered about the flower booth all the
evening, and the cousins joyously realized they had scored one of the
distinct successes of the Kermess. Arthur could not get very close to
Louise this evening; but he enjoyed her popularity and from his modest
retirement was able to exchange glances with her at intervals, and these
glances assured him he was seldom absent from her thoughts.
Aside from this, he had the pleasure of glowering ferociously upon
Charlie Mershone, who, failing to obtain recognition from Miss Merrick,
devoted himself to his cousin Diana, or at least lounged nonchalantly in
the neighborhood of the Hindoo Booth. Mershone was very quiet. There
was a speculative look upon his features that denoted an undercurrent
Diana's face was as expressionless as ever. She well knew her action of
the previous evening had severed the cordial relations formerly existing
between her and Mr. Merrick's nieces, and determined to avoid the
possibility of a snub by keeping aloof from them. She greeted whoever
approached her station in her usual gracious and cultured manner, and
refrained from even glancing toward Louise.
Hedrik Von Taer appeared for an hour this evening. He quietly expressed
his satisfaction at the complete arrangements of the Kermess, chatted a
moment with his daughter, and then innocently marched over to the flower
booth and made a liberal purchase from each of the three girls.
Evidently the old gentleman had no inkling of the incident of the
previous evening, or that Diana was not still on good terms with the
young ladies she had personally introduced to society. His action amused
many who noted it, and Louise blushing but thoroughly self-possessed,
exchanged her greetings with Diana's father and thanked him heartily
for his purchase. Mr. Von Taer stared stonily at Charlie Mershone, but
did not speak to him.
Going out he met John Merrick, and the two men engaged in conversation
"You did the trick all right, Von Taer," said the little millionaire,
"and I'm much obliged, as you may suppose. You're not ashamed of my
three nieces, I take it?"
"Your nieces, Mr. Merrick, are very charming young women," was the
dignified reply. "They will grace any station in life to which they may
When the evening's entertainment came to an end Arthur Weldon took
Louise home in his new brown limousine, leaving Patsy and her father,
Uncle John and Beth to comfortably fill the Doyle motor car. Now that
the engagement of the young people had been announced and accepted by
their friends, it seemed very natural for them to prefer their own
"What do you think of it, Uncle John, anyhow?" asked Patsy, as they
rode home. "It's all right, dear," he announced, with a sigh. "I hate
to see my girls take the matrimonial dive, but I guess they've got to
come to it, sooner or later."
"Later, for me," laughed Patsy.
"As for young Weldon," continued Mr. Merrick, reflectively, "he has some
mighty good points, as I found out long ago. Also he has some points
that need filing down. But I guess he'll average up with most young men,
and Louise seems to like him. So let's try to encourage 'em to be happy;
eh, my dears?"
"Louise," said Beth, slowly, "is no more perfect than Arthur. They both
have faults which time may eradicate, and as at present they are not
disposed to be hypercritical they ought to get along nicely together."
"If 't was me," said the Major, oracularly, "I'd never marry Weldon."
"He won't propose to you, Daddy dear," returned Patsy, mischievously;
"he prefers Louise."
"I decided long ago," said Uncle John, "that I'd never be allowed to
pick out the husbands for my three girls. Husbands are a matter of
taste, I guess, and a girl ought to know what sort she wants. If she
don't, and makes a mistake, that's _her_ look-out. So you can all choose
for yourselves, when the time comes, and I'll stand by you, my dears,
through thick and thin. If the husband won't play fair, you can always
bet your Uncle John will." "Oh, we know, that," said Patsy, simply;
and Beth added: "Of course, Uncle, dear."
Thursday evening, the third and last of the series, was after all the
banner night of the great Kermess. All the world of society was present
and such wares as remained unsold in the booths were quickly auctioned
off by several fashionable gentlemen with a talent for such brigandage.
Then, the national dances and songs having been given and received
enthusiastically, a grand ball wound up the occasion in the merriest
Charlie Mershone was much in evidence this evening, as he had been
before; but he took no active part in the proceedings and refrained from
dancing, his pet amusement. Diana observed that he made frequent trips
downstairs, perhaps to the hotel offices. No one paid any attention to
his movements, except his cousin, and Miss Von Taer, watching him
intently, decided that underneath his calm exterior lurked a great deal
of suppressed excitement.
At last the crowd began to disperse. Uncle John and the Major took Beth
and Patsy away early, as soon as their booth was closed; but Louise
stayed for a final waltz or two with Arthur. She soon found, however,
that the evening's work and excitement had tired her, and asked to be
"I'll go and get the limousine around," said Arthur. "That new chauffeur
is a stupid fellow. By the time you've managed in this jam to get your
wraps I shall be ready. Come down in the elevator and I'll meet you at
the Thirty-second street entrance."
As he reached the street a man--an ordinary servant, to judge from his
appearance--ran into him full tilt, and when they recoiled from the
impact the fellow with a muttered curse raised his fist and struck young
Weldon a powerful blow. Reeling backward, a natural anger seized Arthur,
who was inclined to be hot-headed, and he also struck out with his
fists, never pausing to consider that the more dignified act would be to
call the police.
The little spurt of fistcuffs was brief, but it gave Mershone, who stood
in the shadow of the door-way near by, time to whisper to a police
officer, who promptly seized the disputants and held them both in a
"What's all this?" he demanded, sternly.
"That drunken loafer assaulted me without cause" gasped Arthur, panting.
"It's a lie!" retorted the man, calmly; "he struck me first."
"Well, I arrest you both," said the officer.
"Arrest!" cried Arthur, indignantly; "why, confound it, man, I'm--"
"No talk!" was the stern command. "Come along and keep quiet."
As if the whole affair had been premeditated and prearranged a patrol
wagon at that instant backed to the curb and in spite of Arthur Weldon's
loud protests he was thrust inside with his assailant and at once driven
away at a rapid gait.
At the same moment a brown limousine drew up quietly before the
Louise, appearing in the doorway in her opera cloak, stood hesitating on
the steps, peering into the street for Arthur. A man in livery
"This way, please, Miss Merrick," he said. "Mr. Weldon begs you to be
seated in the limousine. He will join you in a moment."
With this he led the way to the car and held the door open, while the
girl, having no suspicion, entered and sank back wearily upon the seat.
Then the door abruptly slammed, and the man in livery leaped to the seat
beside the chauffeur and with a jerk the car darted away.
So sudden and astounding was this _denouement_ that Louise did not even
scream. Indeed, for the moment her wits were dazed.
And now Charlie Mershone stepped from his hiding place and with a
satirical smile entered the vestibule and looked at his watch. He found
he had time to show himself again at the Kermess, for a few moments,
before driving to the ferry to catch the train for East Orange.
Some one touched him on the arm.
"Very pretty, sir, and quite cleverly done," remarked a quiet voice.
Mershone started and glared at the speaker, a slender, unassuming man in
"What do you mean, fellow?"
"I've been watching the comedy, sir, and I saw you were the star actor,
although you took care to keep hidden in the wings. That bruiser who
raised the row took his arrest very easily; I suppose you've arranged to
pay his fine, and he isn't worried. But the gentleman surely was in hard
luck pounded one minute and pinched the next. You arranged it very
Charlie was relieved that no mention was made of the abduction of
Louise. Had that incident escaped notice? He gave the man another sharp
look and turned away; but the gentle touch again restrained him.
"Not yet, please, Mr. Mershone."
"Who are you?" asked the other, scowling.
"The house detective. It's my business to watch things. So I noticed you
talking to the police officer; I also noticed the patrol wagon standing
on the opposite side of the street for nearly an hour--my report on that
will amuse them at headquarters, won't it? And I noticed you nod to the
bruiser, just as your victim came out."
"Let go of my arm, sir!"
"Do you prefer handcuffs? I arrest you. We'll run over to the station
and explain things."
"Do you know who I am?"
"Perfectly, Mr. Mershone. I believe I ran you in for less than this,
some two years ago. You gave the name of Ryder, then. Better take
"If you're the house detective, why do you mix up in this affair?"
enquired Mershone, his anxiety showing in his tone.
"Your victim was a guest of the house."
"Not at all. He was merely attending the Kermess."
"That makes him our guest, sir. Are you ready?"
Mershone glanced around and then lowered his voice.
"It's all a little joke, my dear fellow," said he, "and you are liable
to spoil everything with your bungling. Here," drawing; a roll of bills
from his pocket, "don't let us waste any more time. I'm busy."
The man chuckled and waved aside the bribe.
"You certainly are, sir; you're _very_ busy, just now! But I think the
sergeant over at the station will give you some leisure. And listen, Mr.
Mershone: I've got it in for that policeman you fixed; he's a cheeky
individual and a new man. I'm inclined to think this night's work will
cost him his position. And the patrol, which I never can get when I want
it, seems under your direct management. These things have got to be
explained, and I need your help. Ready, sir?"
Mershone looked grave, but he was not wholly checkmated. Thank heaven
the bungling detective had missed the departure of Louise altogether.
Charlie's arrest at this critical juncture was most unfortunate, but
need not prove disastrous to his cleverly-laid plot. He decided it would
be best to go quietly with the "plain-clothes man."
Weldon had become nearly frantic in his demands to be released when
Mershone was ushered into the station. He started at seeing his enemy
and began to fear a thousand terrible, indefinite things, knowing how
unscrupulous Mershone was. But the Waldorf detective, who seemed
friendly with the police sergeant, made a clear, brief statement of the
facts he had observed. Mershone denied the accusation; the bruiser
denied it; the policeman and the driver of the patrol wagon likewise
stolidly denied it. Indeed, they had quite another story to tell.
But the sergeant acted on his own judgment. He locked up Mershone,
refusing bail. He suspended the policeman and the driver, pending
investigation. Then he released Arthur Weldon on his own recognisance,
the young man promising to call and testify when required.
The house detective and Arthur started back to the Waldorf together.
"Did you notice a young lady come to the entrance, soon after I was
driven away?" he asked, anxiously.
"A lady in a rose-colored opera cloak, sir?"
"Why, she got into a brown limousine and rode away." Arthur gave a
sigh of relief.
"Thank goodness that chauffeur had a grain of sense," said he. "I
wouldn't have given him credit for it. Anyway, I'm glad Miss Merrick is
"Huh!" grunted the detective, stopping short. "I begin to see this thing
in its true light. How stupid we've been!"
"In what way?" enquired Arthur, uneasily.
"Why did Mershone get you arrested, just at that moment?"
"Because he hated me, I suppose."
"Tell me, could he have any object in spiriting away that young lady--in
abducting her?" asked the detective.
"Could he?" cried Arthur, terrified and trembling. "He had every object
known to villainy. Come to the hotel! Let's hurry, man--let's fly!"
At the Waldorf Arthur's own limousine was standing by the curb. The
street was nearly deserted. The last of the Kermess people had gone
Weldon ran to his chauffeur.
"Did you take Miss Merrick home?" he eagerly enquired.
"Miss Merrick? Why, I haven't seen her, sir, I thought you'd all
The young man's heart sank. Despair seized him. The detective was
carefully examining the car.
"They're pretty nearly mates, Mr. Weldon. as far as the brown color and
general appearances go," he said. "But I'm almost positive the car that
carried the young lady away was of another make."
"What make was it?"
The man shook his head.
"Can't say, sir. I was mighty stupid, and that's a fact. But my mind was
so full of that assault and battery case, and the trickery of that
fellow Mershone, that I wasn't looking for anything else."
"Can you get away?" asked Arthur. "Can you help me on this case?"
"No, sir; I must remain on duty at the hotel. But perhaps the young lady
is now safe at home, and we've been borrowing trouble. In case she's
been stolen, however, you'd better see Fogerty."
"Here's his card, sir. He's a private detective, and may be busy just
now, for all I know. But if you can get Fogerty you've got the best man
in all New York."
Arthur sprang into the seat beside his driver and hurried post-haste to
the Merrick residence. In a few minutes Mrs. Merrick was in violent
hysterics at the disappearance of her daughter. Arthur stopped long
enough to telephone for a doctor and then drove to the Doyles. He routed
up Uncle John and the Major, who appeared in pajamas and bath-robes, and
told them the startling news.
A council of war was straightway held. Uncle John trembled with
nervousness; Arthur was mentally stupefied; the Major alone was calm.
"In the first place," said he, "what object could the man have in
carrying off Louise?" Arthur hesitated.
"To prevent our marriage, I suppose," he answered. "Mershone has an idea
he loves Louise. He made wild love to her until she cut his
"But it won't help him any to separate her from her friends, or her
promised husband," declared the Major. "Don't worry. We're sure to find
her, sooner or later."
"How? How shall we find her?" cried Uncle John. "Will he murder her, or
"Why, as for that, John, he's safe locked up in jail for the present,
and unable to murder anyone," retorted the Major. "It's probable he
meant to follow Louise, and induce her by fair means or foul to marry
him. But he's harmless enough for the time being."
"It's not for long, though," said Arthur, fearfully. "They're liable to
let him out in the morning, for he has powerful friends, scoundrel
though he is. And when he is free--"
"Then he must be shadowed, of course," returned the Major, nodding
wisely. "If it's true the fellow loves Louise, then he's no intention
of hurting her. So make your minds easy. Wherever the poor lass has been
taken to, she's probably safe enough."
"But think of her terror--her suffering!" cried Uncle John, wringing his
chubby hands. "Poor child! It may be his idea to compromise her, and
break her heart!"
"We'll stop all that, John, never fear," promised the Major. "The first
thing to do is to find a good detective."
"Fogerty!" exclaimed Arthur, searching for the card.
"I don't know."
"Get the best man possible!" commanded Mr. Merrick. "Spare no expense;
hire a regiment of detectives, if necessary; I'll--"
"Of course you will," interrupted the Major, smiling. "But we won't need
a regiment. I'm pretty sure the game is in our hands, from the very
"Fogerty is highly recommended," explained Arthur, and related what the
house detective of the Waldorf had said.
"Better go at once and hunt him up," suggested Uncle John. "What time is
"After two o'clock. But I'll go at once." "Do; and let us hear from you
whenever you've anything to tell us," said the Major.
"Where's Patsy?" asked Arthur.
"Sound asleep. Mind ye, not a word of this to Patsy till she _has_ to be
told. Remember that, John."
"Well, I'll go," said the young man, and hurried away.
Q. Fogerty lived on Eleventh street, according to his card. Arthur drove
down town, making good time. The chauffeur asked surlily if this was to
be "an all-night job," and Arthur savagely replied that it might take a
week. "Can't you see, Jones, that I'm in great trouble?" he added. "But
you shall be well paid for your extra time."
"All right, sir. That's no more than just," said the man. "It's none of
my affair, you know, if a young lady gets stolen."
Arthur was wise enough to restrain his temper and the temptation to kick
Jones out of the limousine. Five minutes later they paused before a
block of ancient brick dwellings and found Fogerty's number. A card over
the bell bore his name, and Arthur lit a match and read it. Then he rang
Arthur rang a second time; waited, and rang again. A panic of fear took
possession of him. At this hour of night it would be well-nigh
impossible to hunt up another detective if Fogerty failed him. He
determined to persist as long as there was hope. Again he rang.
"Look above, sir," called Jones from his station in the car.
Arthur stepped back on the stone landing and looked up. A round spark,
as from a cigarette, was visible at the open window. While he gazed the
spark glowered brighter and illumined a pale, haggard boy's face,
surmounted by tousled locks of brick colored hair.
"Hi, there!" said Arthur. "Does Mr. Fogerty live here?"
"He pays the rent," answered a boyish voice, with a tinge of irony.
"What's wanted?" "Mr. Fogerty is wanted. Is he at home?"
"He is," responded the boy.
"I must see him at once--on important business. Wake him up, my lad;
"Wait a minute," said the youth, and left the window. Presently he
opened the front door, slipped gently out and closed the door behind
"Let's sit in your car," he said, in soft, quiet tones. "We can talk
more freely there."
"But I must see Fogerty at once!" protested Arthur.
"Quintus Fogerty--the first and last and only individual of that name."
Arthur hesitated; he was terribly disappointed.
"Are you a detective?" he enquired.
"But you can't be very old."
The boy laughed.
"I'm no antiquity, sir," said he, "but I've shed the knickerbockers
long ago. Who sent you to me?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I'm tired. I've been busy twenty-three weeks. Just finished my case
yesterday and need a rest--a good long rest. But if you want a man I'll
refer you to a friend."
"Gorman, of the Waldorf, sent me to you--and said you'd help me."
"Oh; that's different. Case urgent, sir?"
"Very. The young lady I'm engaged to marry was abducted less than three
Fogerty lighted another cigarette and the match showed Arthur that the
young face was deeply lined, while two cold gray eyes stared blankly
into his own.
"Let's sit in your limousine, sir," he repeated.
When they had taken their places behind the closed doors the boy asked
Arthur to tell him "all about it, and don't forget any details, please."
So Weldon hastily told the events of the evening and gave a history of
Mershone and his relations with Miss Merrick. The story was not half
told when Fogerty said:
"Tell your man to drive to the police station."
On the way Arthur resumed his rapid recital and strove to post the
young detective as well as he was able. Fogerty made no remarks, nor did
he ask a single question until Weldon had told him everything he could
think of. Then he made a few pointed enquiries and presently they had
arrived at the station.
The desk sergeant bowed with great respect to the youthful detective. By
the dim light Arthur was now able to examine Fogerty for the first time.
He was small, slim and lean. His face attested to but eighteen or
nineteen years, in spite of its deep lines and serious expression.
Although his hair was tangled and unkempt Fogerty's clothing and linen
were neat and of good quality. He wore a Scotch cap and a horseshoe pin
in his cravat.
One might have imagined him to be an errand boy, a clerk, a chauffeur, a
salesman or a house man. You might have placed him in almost any
middle-class walk in life. Perhaps, thought Arthur, he might even be a
good detective! yet his personality scarcely indicated it.
"Mershone in, Billy?" the detective asked the desk sergeant.
"Room 24. Want him?"
"Not now. When is he likely to go?"
"When Parker relieves me. There's been a reg'lar mob here to get
Mershone off. I couldn't prevent his using the telephone; but I'm a
stubborn duck; eh, Quintus? And now the gentleman has gone to bed,
"You're all right, Billy. We both know Mershone. Gentleman scoundrel."
"Exactly. Swell society blackleg."
"What name's he docked under?"
"Will Parker let him off with a fine?"
"Yes, or without it. Parker comes on at six."
"Good. I'll take a nap on that bench. Got to keep the fellow in sight,
"Go into my room. There's a cot there."
"Thanks, old man; I will. I'm dead tired."
Then Fogerty took Arthur aside. "Go home and try to sleep," he
advised. "Don't worry. The young lady's safe enough till Mershone goes
to her hiding place. When he does, I'll be there, too, and I'll try to
have you with me."
"Do you think you can arrange it alone, Mr. Fogerty?" asked Arthur,
doubtfully. The boy seemed so very young.
"Better than if I had a hundred to assist me. Why, this is an easy job,
Mr. Weldon. It 'll give me a fine chance to rest up."
"And you won't lose Mershone?"
"Never. He's mine."
"This is very important to me, sir," continued Arthur, nervously.
"Yes; and to others. Most of all it's important to Fogerty. Don't worry,
The young man was forced to go away with this assurance. He returned
home, but not to sleep. He wondered vaguely if he had been wise to lean
upon so frail a reed as Fogerty seemed to be; and above all he wondered
where poor Louise was, and if terror and alarm were breaking her heart.
Charlie Mershone had no difficulty in securing his release when Parker
came on duty at six o'clock. He called up a cab and went at once to his
rooms at the Bruxtelle; and Fogerty followed him.
While he discarded his dress-coat, took a bath and donned his walking
suit Mershone was in a brown study. Hours ago Louise had been safely
landed at the East Orange house and placed in the care of old Madame
Cerise, who would guard her like an ogre. There was no immediate need of
his hastening after her, and his arrest and the discovery of half his
plot had seriously disturbed him. This young man was no novice in
intrigue, nor even in crime. Arguing from his own stand-point he
realized that the friends of Louise were by this time using every
endeavor to locate her. They would not succeed in this, he was positive.
His plot had been so audacious and all clews so cleverly destroyed or
covered up that the most skillful detective, knowing he had abducted the
girl; would be completely baffled in an attempt to find her.
The thought of detectives, in this connection, led him to decide that he
was likely to be shadowed. That was the most natural thing for his
opponents to do. They could not prove Mershone's complicity in the
disappearance of Louise Merrick, but they might easily suspect him,
after that little affair of Weldon's arrest. Therefore if he went to the
girl now he was likely to lead others to her. Better be cautious and
wait until he had thrown the sleuths off his track.
Having considered this matter thoroughly, Mershone decided to remain
quiet. By eight o'clock he was breakfasting in the grill room, and
Fogerty occupied a table just behind him.
During the meal it occurred to Charlie to telephone to Madame Cerise for
assurance that Louise had arrived safely and without a scene to attract
the attention of strangers. Having finished breakfast he walked into the
telephone booth and was about to call his number when a thought struck
him. He glanced out of the glass door. In the hotel lobby were many
loungers. He saw a dozen pairs of eyes fixed upon him idly or curiously;
one pair might belong to the suspected detective. If he used the
telephone there would be a way of discovering the number he had asked
for. That would not do--not at all! He concluded not to telephone, at
present, and left the booth. His next act was to purchase a morning
paper, and seating himself carelessly in a chair he controlled the
impulse to search for a "scare head" on the abduction of Miss Merrick.
If he came across the item, very well; he would satisfy no critical eye
that might be scanning him by hunting for it with a show of eagerness.
The game was in his hands, he believed, and he intended to keep it
Fogerty was annoyed by the man's evident caution. It would not be easy
to surprise Mershone in any self-incriminating action. But, after all,
reflected the boy, resting comfortably in the soft-padded cushions of a
big leather chair, all this really made the case the more interesting.
He was rather glad Mershone was in no hurry to precipitate a climax. A
long stern chase was never a bad chase.
By and bye another idea occurred to Charlie. He would call upon his
cousin Diana, and get her to telephone Madame Cerise for information
about Louise. It would do no harm to enlighten Diana as to what he had
done. She must suspect it already; and was she not a co-conspirator?
But he could not wisely make this call until the afternoon. So meantime
he took a stroll into Broadway and walked leisurely up and down that
thoroughfare, pausing occasionally to make a trifling purchase and
turning abruptly again and again in the attempt to discover who might be
following him. No one liable to be a detective of any sort could he
discern; yet he was too shrewd to be lulled into a false belief that his
each and every act was unobserved.
Mershone returned to his hotel, went to his room, and slept until after
one o'clock, as he had secured but little rest the night before in his
primitive quarters at the police station. It was nearly two when he
reappeared in the hotel restaurant for luncheon, and he took his seat
and ate with excellent appetite.
During this meal Mr. Fogerty also took occasion to refresh himself,
eating modestly at a retired table in a corner. Mershone's sharp eyes
noted him. He remembered seeing this youth at breakfast, and
thoughtfully reflected that the boy's appearance was not such as might
be expected from the guest of a fashionable and high-priced hotel.
Silently he marked this individual as the possible detective. He had two
or three others in his mind, by this time; the boy was merely added to
the list of possibilities.
Mershone was a capital actor. After luncheon he sauntered about the
hotel, stared from the window for a time, looked at his watch once or
twice with an undecided air, and finally stepped to the porter and asked
him to call a cab. He started for Central Park; then changed his mind
and ordered the man to drive him to the Von Taer residence, where on
arrival Diana at once ordered him shown into her private parlor.
The young man found his cousin stalking up and down in an extremely
nervous manner. She wrung her delicate fingers with a swift, spasmodic
motion. Her eyes, nearly closed, shot red rays through their slits.
"What's wrong, Di?" demanded Mershone, considerably surprised by this
intense display of emotion on the part of his usually self-suppressed
and collected cousin.
"Wrong!" she echoed; "everything is wrong. You've ruined yourself,
Charlie; and you're going to draw me into this dreadful crime, also, in
spite of all I can do!"
"Bah! don't be a fool," he observed, calmly taking a chair.
"Am _I_ the fool?" she exclaimed, turning upon him fiercely. "Did _I_
calmly perpetrate a deed that was sure to result in disgrace and
"What on earth has happened to upset you?" he asked, wonderingly. "It
strikes me everything is progressing beautifully."
"Does it, indeed?" was her sarcastic rejoinder. "Then your information
is better than mine. They called me up at three o'clock this morning to
enquire after Louise Merrick--as if _I_ should know her whereabouts. Why
did they come to _me_ for such information? Why?" she stamped her foot
"I suppose," said Charlie Mershone, "they called up everyone who knows
the girl. It would be natural in case of her disappearance."
"Come here!" cried Diana, seizing his arm and dragging him to a window.
"Be careful; try to look out without showing yourself. Do you see that
man on the corner?"
"He has been patrolling this house since day-break. He's a detective!"
"What makes you think so, Di? Why on earth should they suspect you?"
"Why? Because my disreputable cousin planned the abduction, without
consulting me, and--"
"Oh, come, Di; that's a little too--"
"Because the girl has been carried to the Von Taer house--_my_ house--in
East Orange; because my own servant is at this moment her jailor, and--"
"How should they know all this?" interrupted Mershone, impatiently. "And
how do you happen to know it yourself, Diana?"
"Madame Cerise called me up at five o'clock, just after Louise's uncle
had been here for the second time, with a crew of officers. Cerise is in
an ugly mood. She said a young girl had been brought to her a prisoner,
and Mr. Mershone's orders were to keep her safely until he came. She is
greatly provoked at our using her in this way, but promised to follow
instructions if I accepted all responsibility."
"What did you tell her?"
"That I knew nothing of the affair, but had put the house and her
services at your disposal. I said I would accept no responsibility
whatever for anything you might do."
Mershone looked grave, and scowled.
"The old hag won't betray us, will she?" he asked, uneasily.
"She cannot betray me, for I have done nothing. Charlie," she said,
suddenly facing him, "I won't be mixed in this horrid affair. You must
carry out your infamous plan in your own way. I know nothing, sir, of
what you have done; I know nothing of what you intend to do. Do you
He smiled rather grimly.
"I hardly expected, my fair cousin, that you would be frightened into
retreat at this stage of the game, when the cards are all in our hands.
Do you suppose I decided to carry away Louise without fully considering
what I was doing, and the immediate consequences of my act? And wherein
have I failed? All has gone beautifully up to this minute. Diana, your
fears are absolutely foolish, and against your personal interests. All
that I am doing for myself benefits you doubly. Just consider, if you
will, what has been accomplished for our mutual benefit: The girl has
disappeared under suspicious circumstances; before she again rejoins her
family and friends she will either be my wife or Arthur Weldon will
prefer not to marry her. That leaves him open to appreciate the charms
of Diana Von Taer, does it not? Already, my dear cousin, your wishes are
accomplished. My own task, I admit, is a harder one, because it is more
The cold-blooded brutality of this argument caused even Diana to
shudder. She looked at the young man half fearfully as she asked:
"What is your task?"
"Why, first to quiet Louise's fears; then to turn her by specious
arguments--lies, if you will--against Weldon; next to induce her to
give me her hand in honest wedlock. I shall tell her of my love, which
is sincere; I shall argue--threaten, if necessary; use every reasonable
means to gain her consent."
"You'll never succeed!" cried Diana, with conviction.
"Then I'll try other tactics," said he blandly.
"If you do, you monster, I'll expose you," warned the girl.
"Having dissolved partnership, you won't be taken into my confidence, my
fair cousin. You have promised to know nothing of my acts, and I'll see
you don't." Then he sprang from his chair and came to her with a hard,
determined look upon his face. "Look here, Di; I've gone too far in this
game to back out now, I'm going to carry it through if it costs me my
life and liberty--and yours into the bargain! I love Louise Merrick! I
love her so well that without her the world and its mockeries can go to
the devil! There's nothing worth living for but Louise--Louise. She's
going to be my wife, Diana--by fair means or foul I swear to make her my
He had worked himself up to a pitch of excitement surpassing that of
Diana. Now he passed his hand over his forehead, collected himself with
a slight shudder, and resumed his seat.
Diana was astonished. His fierce mood served to subdue her own.
Regarding him curiously for a time she finally asked:
"You speak as if you were to be allowed to have your own way--as if all
society was not arrayed against you. Have you counted the cost of your
action? Have you considered the consequences of this crime?"
"I have committed no crime," he said stubbornly. "All's fair in love and
"The courts will refuse to consider that argument, I imagine," she
retorted. "Moreover, the friends of this kidnaped girl are powerful and
active. They will show you no mercy if you are discovered."
"If I fail," answered Mershone, slowly, "I do not care a continental
what they do to me, for my life will be a blank without Louise. But I
really see no reason to despair, despite your womanish croakings. All
seems to be going nicely and just as I had anticipated."
"I am glad that you are satisfied," Diana returned, with scornful
emphasis. "But understand me, sir; this is none of my affair in any
way--except that I shall surely expose you if a hair of the girl's head
is injured. You must not come here again. I shall refuse to see you. You
ought not to have come to-day."
"Is there anything suspicious in my calling upon my cousin--as usual?"
"Under such circumstances, yes. You have not been received at this house
of late years, and my father still despises you. There is another danger
you have brought upon me. My father seemed suspicious this morning, and
asked me quite pointedly what I knew of this strange affair."
"But of course you lied to him. All right, Diana; perhaps there is
nothing to be gained from your alliance, and I'll let you out of the
deal from this moment. The battle's mine, after all, and I'll fight it
alone. But--I need more money. You ought to be willing to pay, for so far
the developments are all in your favor."
She brought a handful of notes from her desk.
"This ends our partnership, Charlie," she said.
"Very well. A woman makes a poor conspirator, but is invaluable as a
"There will be no more money. This ends everything between us."
"I thought you were game, Di. But you're as weak as the ordinary
She did not answer, but stood motionless, a defiant expression upon her
face. He laughed a little, bowed mockingly, and went away.
A COOL ENCOUNTER
On leaving the house Mershone buttoned his overcoat tightly up to his
chin, for the weather was cold and raw, and then shot a quick glance
around him. Diana's suspect was still lounging on the corner. Charlie
had little doubt he was watching the house and the movements of its
in-mates--a bad sign, he reflected, with a frown. Otherwise the street
He had dismissed the cab on his arrival, so now he stepped out and
walked briskly around the corner, swinging his cane jauntily and looking
very unlike a fugitive. In the next block he passed a youth who stood
earnestly examining the conventional display in a druggist's window.
Mershone, observing this individual, gave a start, but did not alter his
pace. It was the same pale, red-haired boy he had noticed twice before
at the hotel. In his alert, calculating mind there was no coincidence in
this meeting. Before he had taken six more steps Mershone realized the
At the next crossing he stopped and waited patiently for a car. Up the
street he still saw the youth profoundly interested in drugs--a class of
merchandise that seldom calls for such close inspection. The car arrived
and carried Mershone away. It also left the red-haired youth at his post
before the window. Yet on arriving at the Bruxtelle some twenty minutes
later Charlie found this same queer personage occupying a hotel chair in
the lobby and apparently reading a newspaper with serious attention.
He hesitated a moment, then quietly walked over to a vacant chair beside
the red-haired one and sat down. The youth turned the paper, glanced
casually at his neighbor, and continued reading.
"A detective, I believe," said Mershone, in a low, matter of fact tone.
"Who? me?" asked Fogerty, lowering the paper.
"Yes. Your age deceived me for a time. I imagined you were a newsboy or
a sporting kid from the country; but now I observe you are older than
you appear. All sorts of people seem to drift into the detective
business. I suppose your present occupation is shadowing me."
Fogerty smiled. The smile was genuine.
"I might even be a lawyer, sir," he replied, "and in that case I should
undertake to cross-examine you, and ask your reasons for so queer a
"Or you might be a transient guest at this hotel," the other returned,
in the same bantering tone, "for I saw you at breakfast and luncheon.
Pretty fair _chef_ here, isn't he? But you didn't stick to that part,
you know. You followed me up-town, where I made a call on a relative,
and you studied the colored globes in a druggist's window when I went
away. I wonder why people employ inexperienced boys in such important
matters. In your case, my lad, it was easy enough to detect the
detective. You even took the foolish chance of heading me off, and
returned to this hotel before I did. Now, then, is my charge unfounded?"
"Why should you be under the surveillance of a detective?" asked
"Really, my boy, I cannot say. There was an unpleasant little affair
last night at the Waldorf, in which I was not personally concerned, but
suffered, nevertheless. An officious deputy caused my arrest and I
spent an unpleasant night in jail. There being nothing in the way of
evidence against me I was released this morning, and now I find a
detective shadowing me. What can it all mean, I wonder? These stupid
blunders are very annoying to the plain citizen, who, however innocent,
feels himself the victim of a conspiracy."
"I understand you, sir," said Fogerty, drily.
For some moments Mershone now remained silent. Then he asked; "What are
your instructions concerning me?"
To his surprise the boy made a simple, frank admission.
"I'm to see you don't get into more mischief, sir."
"And how long is this nonsense to continue?" demanded Mershone, showing
a touch of anger for the first time.
"Depends on yourself, Mr. Mershone; I'm no judge, myself. I'm so
"Who is your employer?"
"Oh, I'm just sent out by an agency."
"Is it a big paying proposition?" asked Charlie, eyeing the diffident
youth beside him critically, as if to judge his true caliber.
"Not very big. You see, if I'd been a better detective you'd never have
spotted me so quickly."
"I suppose money counts with you, though, as it does with everyone else
in the world?"
"Of course, sir. Every business is undertaken to make money."
Mershone drew his chair a little nearer.
"I need a clever detective myself," he announced, confidentially. "I'm
anxious to discover what enemy is persecuting me in this way. Would
it--er--be impossible for me to employ _you_ to--er--look after my
Fogerty was very serious.
"You see, sir," he responded, "if I quit this job they may not give me
another. In order to be a successful detective one must keep in the good
graces of the agencies."
"That's easy enough," asserted Mershone. "You may pretend to keep this
job, but go home and take life easy. I'll send you a daily statement of
what I've been doing, and you can fix up a report to your superior from
that. In addition to this you can put in a few hours each day trying to
find out who is annoying me in this rascally manner, and for this
service I'll pay you five times the agency price. How does that
proposition strike you, Mr.--"
"Riordan. Me name's Riordan," said Fogerty, with a smile. "No, Mr.
Mershone," shaking his head gravely, "I can't see my way to favor you.
It's an easy job now, and I'm afraid to take chances with a harder one."
Something in the tone nettled Mershone.
"But the pay," he suggested.
"Oh, the pay. If I'm a detective fifty years, I'll make an easy two
thousand a year. That's a round hundred thousand. Can you pay me that
much to risk my future career as a detective?"
Mershone bit his lip. This fellow was not so simple, after all, boyish
as he seemed. And, worse than all, he had a suspicion the youngster was
baiting him, and secretly laughing at his offers of bribery.
"They will take you off the job, now that I have discovered your
identity," he asserted, with malicious satisfaction.
"Oh, no," answered Fogerty; "they won't do that. This little interview
merely simplifies matters. You see, sir, I'm an expert at disguises.
That's my one great talent, as many will testify. But you will notice
that in undertaking this job I resorted to no disguise at all. You see
me as nature made me--and 't was a poor job, I'm thinking."
"Why were you so careless?"
"It wasn't carelessness; it was premeditated. There's not the slightest
objection to your knowing me. My only business is to keep you in sight,
and I can do that exactly as well as Riordan as I could by disguising
Mershone had it on his tongue's end to ask what they expected to
discover by shadowing him, but decided it was as well not to open an
avenue for the discussion of Miss Merrick's disappearance. So, finding
he could not bribe the youthful detective or use him in any way to his
advantage, he closed the interview by rising.
"I'm going to my room to write some letters," said he, with a yawn.
"Would you like to read them before they are mailed?"
Again Fogerty laughed in his cheerful, boyish way.
"You'd make a fine detective yourself, Mr. Mershone," he declared, "and
I advise you to consider the occupation. I've a notion it's safer, and
better pay, than your present line."
Charlie scowled at the insinuation, but walked away without reply.
Fogerty eyed his retreating figure a moment, gave a slight shrug and
resumed his newspaper.
Day followed day without further event, and gradually Mershone came to
feel himself trapped. Wherever he might go he found Fogerty on duty,
unobtrusive, silent and watchful. It was very evident that he was
waiting for the young man to lead him to the secret hiding place of
In one way this constant surveillance was a distinct comfort to Charlie
Mershone, for it assured him that the retreat of Louise was still
undiscovered. But he must find some way to get rid of his "shadow," in
order that he might proceed to carry out his plans concerning the girl.
During his enforced leisure he invented a dozen apparently clever
schemes, only to abandon them again as unpractical.
One afternoon, while on a stroll, he chanced to meet the bruiser who had
attacked Arthur Weldon at the Waldorf, and been liberally paid by
Mershone for his excellent work. He stopped the man, and glancing
hastily around found that Fogerty was a block in the rear.
"Listen," he said; "I want your assistance, and if you're quick and sure
there is a pot of money, waiting for you."
"I need it, Mr. Mershone," replied the man, grinning.
"There's a detective following me; he's down the street there--a mere
boy--just in front of that tobacco store. See him?"
"Sure I see him. It's Fogerty."
"His name is Riordan."
"No; it's Fogerty. He's no boy, sir, but the slickest 'tec' in the city,
an' that's goin' some, I can tell you."
"Well, you must get him, whoever he is. Drag him away and hold him for
three hours--two--one. Give me a chance to slip him; that's all. Can
you do it? I'll pay you a hundred for the job."
"It's worth two hundred, Mr. Mershone. It isn't safe to fool with
"I'll make it two hundred."
"Then rest easy," said the man. "I know the guy, and how to handle him.
You just watch him like he's watching you, Mr. Mershone, and if anything
happens you skip as lively as a flea. I can use that two hundred in my
Then the fellow passed on, and Fogerty was still so far distant up the
street that neither of them could see the amused smile upon his thin
A BEWILDERING EXPERIENCE
When Louise Merrick entered the brown limousine, which she naturally
supposed to belong to Arthur Weldon, she had not the faintest suspicion
of any evil in her mind. Indeed, the girl was very happy this especial
evening, although tired with her duties at the Kermess. A climax in her
young life had arrived, and she greeted it joyously, believing she loved
Arthur well enough to become his wife.
Now that the engagement had been announced to their immediate circle of
friends she felt as proud and elated as any young girl has a right to be
under the circumstances.
Added to this pleasant event was the social triumph she and her cousins
had enjoyed at the Kermess, where Louise especially had met with rare
favor. The fashionable world had united in being most kind and
considerate to the dainty, attractive young _debutante_, and only Diana
had seemed to slight her. This was not surprising in view of the fact
that Diana evidently wanted Arthur for herself, and there was some
satisfaction in winning a lover who was elsewhere in prime demand. In
addition to all this the little dance that concluded the evening's
entertainment had been quite delightful, and all things conspired to put
Louise in a very contented frame of mind. Still fluttering with the
innocent excitements of the hour the girl went to join Arthur without a
fear of impending misfortune. She did not think of Charlie Mershone at
all. He had been annoying and impertinent, and she had rebuked him and
sent him away, cutting him out of her life altogether. Perhaps she ought
to have remembered that she had mildly flirted with Diana's cousin and
given him opportunity for the impassioned speeches she resented; but
Louise had a girlish idea that there was no harm in flirting,
considering it a feminine license. She saw young Mershone at the Kermess
that evening paying indifferent attentions to other women and ignoring
her, and was sincerely glad to have done with him for good and all.
She obeyed readily the man who asked her to be seated in the limousine.
Arthur would be with her in a minute, he said. When the door closed and
the car started she had an impulse to cry out but next moment controlled
it and imagined they were to pick up Mr. Weldon on some corner.
On and on they rolled, and still no evidence of the owner of the
limousine. What could it mean, Louise began to wonder. Had something
happened to Arthur, so that he had been forced to send her home alone?
As the disquieting thought came she tried to speak with the chauffeur,
but could not find the tube. The car was whirling along rapidly; the
night seemed very dark, only a few lights twinkled here and there
Suddenly the speed slackened. There was a momentary pause, and then the
machine slowly rolled upon a wooden platform. A bell clanged, there was
a whistle and the sound of revolving water-wheels. Louise decided they
must be upon a ferry-boat, and became alarmed for the first time.
The man in livery now opened the door, as if to reassure her.
"Where are we? Where is Mr. Weldon?" enquired the girl, almost
"He is on the boat, miss, and will be with you shortly now," replied the
man, very respectfully. "Mr. Weldon is very sorry to have annoyed you,
Miss Merrick, but says he will soon explain everything, so that you will
understand why he left you."
With this he quietly closed the door again, although Louise was eager to
ask a dozen more questions. Prominent was the query why they should be
on a ferry-boat instead of going directly home. She knew the hour must
But while these questions were revolving in her mind she still suspected
no plot against her liberty. She must perforce wait for Arthur to
explain his queer conduct; so she sat quietly enough in her place
awaiting his coming, while the ferry puffed steadily across the river to
the Jersey shore.
The stopping of the boat aroused Louise from her reflections. Arthur not
here yet? Voices were calling outside; vehicles were noisily leaving
their positions on the boat to clatter across the platforms. But there
was no sign of Arthur.
Again Louise tried to find the speaking tube. Then she made an endeavor
to open the door, although just then the car started with a jerk that
flung her back against the cushions.
The knowledge that she had been grossly deceived by her conductor at
last had the effect of arousing the girl to a sense of her danger.
Something must be wrong. Something _was_ decidedly wrong, and fear crept
into her heart. She pounded on the glass windows with all her strength,
and shouted as loudly as she could, but all to no avail.
Swiftly the limousine whirled over the dusky road and either her voice
could not be heard through the glass cage in which she was confined or
there was no one near who was willing to hear or to rescue her.
She now realized how wrong she had been to sit idly during the trip
across the ferry, where a score of passengers would gladly have assisted
her. How cunning her captors had been to lull her fears during that
critical period! Now, alas, it was too late to cry out, and she had no
idea where she was being taken or the reason of her going.
Presently it occurred to her that this was not Arthur's limousine at
all. There was no speaking tube for one thing. She leaned forward and
felt for the leathern pocket in which she kept a veil and her street
gloves. No pocket of any sort was to be found.
An unreasoning terror now possessed her. She knew not what to fear, yet
feared everything. She made another attempt to cry aloud for help and
then fell back unconscious on the cushions.
How long she lay in the faint she did not know. When she recovered the
limousine was still rattling forward at a brisk gait but bumping over
ruts in a manner that indicated a country road.
Through the curtains she could see little but the black night, although
there was a glow ahead cast by the searchlights of the car. Louise was
weak and unnerved. She had no energy to find a way to combat her fate,
if such a way were possible. A dim thought of smashing a window and
hurling herself through it gave her only a shudder of repulsion. She
lacked strength for such a desperate attempt.
On, on, on. Would the dreary journey never end? How long must she sit
and suffer before she could know her fate, or at least find some
explanation of the dreadful mystery of this wild midnight ride?
At last, when she had settled down to dull despair, the car came to a
paved road and began to move more slowly. It even stopped once or twice,
as if the driver was not sure of his way. But they kept moving,
nevertheless, and before long entered a driveway. There was another stop
now, and a long wait.
Louise lay dismally back upon the cushions, sobbing hysterically into
her dripping handkerchief. The door of her prison at last opened and a
light shone in upon her.
"Here we are, miss," said the man in uniform, still in quiet, respectful
tones. "Shall I assist you to alight?"
She started up eagerly, her courage returning with a bound. Stepping
unassisted to the ground she looked around her in bewilderment.
The car stood before the entrance to a modest country house. There was a
light in the hall and another upon the broad porch. Around the house a
mass of trees and shrubbery loomed dark and forbidding.
"Where am I?" demanded Louise, drawing back haughtily as the man
extended a hand toward her.
"At your destination, miss," was the answer. "Will you please enter?"
"No! Not until I have an explanation of this--this--singular,
high-handed proceeding," she replied, firmly.
Then she glanced at the house. The hall door had opened and a woman
stood peering anxiously at the scene outside.
With sudden resolve Louise sprang up the steps and approached her. Any
woman, she felt, in this emergency, was a welcome refuge.
"Who are you?" she asked eagerly, "and why have I been brought here?"
"_Mademoiselle_ will come inside, please," said the woman, with a
foreign accent. "It is cold in the night air, _N'est-ce-pas_?"
She turned to lead the way inside. While Louise hesitated to follow the
limousine started with a roar from its cylinders and disappeared down
the driveway, the two men going with it. The absence of the lamps
rendered the darkness around the solitary house rather uncanny. An
intense stillness prevailed except for the diminishing rattle of the
receding motor car. In the hall was a light and a woman.
Louise went in.
MADAME CERISE, CUSTODIAN
The woman closed the hall door and locked it. Then she led the way to a
long, dim drawing-room in which a grate fire was smouldering. A stand
lamp of antique pattern but dimly illuminated the place, which seemed
well furnished in an old fashioned way.
"Will not you remove your wraps, Mees--Mees--I do not know ma'm'selle's
"What is your own name?" asked Louise, coming closer to gaze earnestly
into the other's face.
"I am called Madame Cerise, if it please you."
Her voice, while softened to an extent by the French accent, was
nevertheless harsh and emotionless. She spoke as an automaton, slowly,
and pausing to choose her words. The woman was of medium size, slim and
straight in spite of many years. Her skin resembled brown parchment; her
eyes were small, black and beady; her nose somewhat fleshy and her lips
red and full as those of a young girl. The age of Madame Cerise might be
anywhere between fifty and seventy; assuredly she had long been a
stranger to youth, although her dark hair was but slightly streaked with
gray. She wore a somber-hued gown and a maid's jaunty apron and cap.
Louise inspected her closely, longing to find a friend and protector in
this curious and strange woman. Her eyes were moist and pleading--an
appeal hard to resist. But Madame Cerise returned her scrutiny with a
wholly impassive expression.
"You are a French maid?" asked Louise, softly.
"A housekeeper, ma'm'selle. For a time, a caretaker."
"Ah, I understand. Are your employers asleep?"
"I cannot say, ma'm'seile. They are not here."
"You are alone in this house?"
"Alone with you, ma'm'seile."
Louise had a sudden access of alarm.
"And why am I here?" she cried, wringing her hands pitifully.
"Ah, who can tell that?" returned the woman, composedly. "Not Cerise,
indeed. Cerise is told nothing--except what is required of her. I but
obey my orders."
Louise turned quickly, at this.
"What are your orders, then?" she asked.
"To attend ma'm'selle with my best skill, to give her every comfort and
"To keep her safely until she is called for. That is all."
The girl drew a long breath.
"Who will call for me, then?"
"I am not inform, ma'm'selle."
"And I am a prisoner in this house?"
"Ma'm'selle may call it so, if it please her. But reflect; there is no
place else to go. It is bleak weather, the winter soon comes. And here I
can make you the comforts you need."
Louise pondered this speech, which did not deceive her. While still
perplexed as to her abduction, with no comprehension why she should have
been seized in such a summary manner and spirited to this lonely,
out-of-the-way place, she realized she was in no immediate danger. Her
weariness returned tenfold, and she staggered and caught the back of a
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