Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society
Edith Van Dyne
Part 3 out of 3
chair for support.
The old woman observed this.
"Ma'm'selle is tired," said she. "See; it is past four by the clock, and
you must be much fatigue by the ride and the nervous strain."
"I--I'm completely exhausted," murmured Louise, drooping her head
wearily. The next moment she ran and placed her hands on Madame Cerise's
shoulders, peering into the round, beady eyes with tender pleading as
she continued: "I don't know why I have been stolen away from my home
and friends; I don't know why this dreadful thing has happened to me; I
only know that I am worn out and need rest. Will you take care of me,
Madame Cerise? Will you watch over me while I sleep and guard me from
all harm? I--I haven't any mother to lean on now, you know; I haven't
any friend at all--but _you!_"
The grim features never relaxed a muscle; but a softer look came into
the dark eyes and the woman's voice took on a faint tinge of compassion
as she answered:
"Nothing can harm ma'm'selle. Have no fear, _ma chere_. I will take care
of you; I will watch. _Allons_! it is my duty; it is also my pleasure."
"Are there no--no men in the house--none at all?" enquired the girl,
peering into the surrounding gloom nervously. "There is no person at
all in the house, but you and I."
"And you will admit no one?"
The woman hesitated.
"Not to your apartment," she said firmly. "I promise it."
Louise gave a long, fluttering sigh. Somehow, she felt that she could
rely upon this promise.
"Then, if you please, Madame Cerise, I'd like to go to bed," she said.
The woman took the lamp and led the way upstairs, entering a large, airy
chamber in which a fire burned brightly in the grate. The furniture here
was dainty and feminine. In an alcove stood a snowy bed, the covers
invitingly turned down.
Madame Cerise set the lamp upon a table and without a word turned to
assist Louise. The beautiful Kermess costume, elaborately embroidered
with roses, which the girl still wore, evidently won the Frenchwoman's
approval. She unhooked and removed it carefully and hung it in a closet.
Very dextrous were her motions as she took down the girl's pretty hair
and braided it for the night. A dainty _robe de nuit_ was provided.
"It is my own," she said simply. "Ma'm'selle is not prepared." "But
there must be young ladies in your family," remarked Louise,
thoughtfully, for in spite of the stupor she felt from want of sleep the
novelty of her position kept her alert in a way. It is true she was too
tired and bewildered to think clearly, but slight details were
impressing themselves upon her dimly. "This room, for instance--"
"Of course, _ma chere_, a young lady has lived here. She has left some
odd pieces of wardrobe behind her, at times, in going away. When you
waken we will try to find a house-dress to replace your evening-gown.
Will ma'm'selle indulge in the bath before retiring?"
"Not to-night, Madame Cerise. I'm too tired for anything but--sleep!"
Indeed, she had no sooner crawled into the enticing bed than she sank
into unconscious forgetfulness. This was to an extent fortunate. Louise
possessed one of those dispositions cheery and equable under ordinary
circumstances, but easily crushed into apathy by any sudden adversity.
She would not suffer so much as a more excitable and nervous girl might
do under similar circumstances.
Her sleep, following the severe strain of the night's adventure, did
little to refresh her. She awoke in broad daylight to hear a cold wind
whistling shrilly outside and raindrops beating against the panes.
Madame Cerise had not slept much during the night. For an hour after
Louise retired she sat in her room in deep thought. Then she went to the
telephone and notwithstanding the late hour called up Diana, who had a
branch telephone on a table at her bedside.
Miss Von Taer was not asleep. She had had an exciting night herself. She
answered the old caretaker readily and it did not surprise her to learn
that the missing girl had been taken to the East Orange house by the
orders of Charlie Mershone. She enquired how Louise had accepted the
situation forced upon her, and was shocked and rendered uncomfortable by
the too plainly worded protest of the old Frenchwoman. Madame Cerise did
not hesitate to denounce the abduction as a heartless crime, and in her
communication with Diana swore she would protect the innocent girl from
harm at the hands of Mershone or anyone else.
"I have ever to your family been loyal and true, Ma'm'selle Diana," said
she, "but I will not become the instrument of an abominable crime at
your command or that of your wicked cousin. I will keep the girl here in
safety, if it is your wish; but she will be safe, indeed, as long as
Cerise guards her."
"That's right, Madame," stammered Diana, hardly knowing at the moment
what to say. "Be discreet and silent until you hear from me again; guard
the girl carefully and see that she is not too unhappy; but for heaven's
sake keep Charlie's secret until he sees fit to restore Miss Merrick to
her friends. No crime is contemplated; I would not allow such a thing,
as you know. Yet it is none of my affair whatever. My cousin has
compromised me by taking the girl to my house, and no knowledge of the
abduction must get abroad if we can help it. Do you understand me?"
"No," was the reply. "The safest way for us all is to send Miss Merrick
"That will be done as soon as possible."
With this the old Frenchwoman was forced to be content, and she did not
suspect that her report had made Miss Von Taer nearly frantic with
fear--not for Louise but for her own precious reputation. Accustomed to
obey the family she had served for so many years, Madame Cerise
hesitated to follow her natural impulse to set the poor young lady free
and assist her to return to her friends. So she compromised with her
conscience--a thing she was not credited with possessing--by resolving
to make the imprisonment of the "_pauvre fille_" as happy as possible.
Scarcely had Louise opened her eyes the following morning when the old
woman entered her chamber, unlocking the door from the outside to secure
She first rebuilt the fire, and when it was crackling cheerfully she
prepared a bath and brought an armful of clothing which she laid out for
inspection over the back of a sofa. She produced lingerie, too, and
Louise lay cuddled up in the bedclothes and watched her keeper
thoughtfully until the atmosphere of the room was sufficiently warmed.
"I'll get up, now," she said, quietly.
Madame Cerise was assuredly a skilled lady's maid. She bathed the girl,
wrapped her in an ample kimono and then seated her before the dresser
and arranged her _coiffure_ with dextrous skill.
During this time Louise talked. She had decided her only chance of
escape lay in conciliating this stern-faced woman, and she began by
relating her entire history, including her love affair with Arthur
Weldon, Diana Von Taer's attempt to rob her of her lover, and the part
that Charlie Mershone had taken in the affair.
Madame Cerise listened, but said nothing.
"And now," continued the girl, "tell me who you think could be so wicked
and cruel as to carry me away from my home and friends? I cannot decide
myself. You have more experience and more shrewdness, can't you tell me,
The woman muttered inaudibly.
"Mr. Mershone might be an enemy, because I laughed at his love-making,"
continued Louise, musingly. "Would a man who loved a girl try to injure
her? But perhaps his love has turned to hate. Anyhow, I can think of no
one else who would do such a thing, or of any reason why Charlie
Mershone should do it."
Madame Cerise merely grunted. She was brushing the soft hair with gentle
"What could a man gain by stealing a girl? If it was Mr. Mershone, does
he imagine I could ever forget Arthur? Or cease to love him? Or that
Arthur would forget me while I am away? Perhaps it's Diana, and she
wants to get rid of me so she can coax Arthur back to her side. But
that's nonsense; isn't it, Madame Cerise? No girl--not even Diana Von
Taer--would dare to act in such a high-handed manner toward her rival.
Did you ever hear of Miss Von Taer? She's quite a society belle. Have
you ever seen her, Madame Cerise?"
The woman vouchsafed no reply to this direct enquiry, but busied herself
dressing the girl's hair. Louise casually turned over the silver-mounted
hand mirror she was holding and gave a sudden start. A monogram was
engraved upon the metal: "D.v.T." She gazed at the mark fixedly and then
picked up a brush that the Frenchwoman laid down. Yes, the same monogram
appeared upon the brush.
The sharp eyes of Cerise had noted these movements. She was a little
dismayed but not startled when Louise said, slowly: "'D.v.T.' stands for
Diana Von Taer. And it isn't likely to stand for anything else. I think
the mystery is explained, now, and my worst fears are realized. Tell me,
Madame, is this Diana Von Taer's house?"
Her eyes shone with anger and round red patches suddenly appeared upon
her pallid cheeks. Madame Cerise drew a long breath.
"It used to be," was her quiet answer. "It was left her by her
grandmother; but Mr. Von Taer did not like the place and they have not
been here lately--not for years. Miss Von Taer informed me, some time
ago, that she had transferred the property to another."
"To her cousin--Mr. Mershone?" asked Louise quickly.
"That may be the name; I cannot remember," was the evasive reply.
"But you must know him, as he is Diana's cousin," retorted Louise. "Why
will you try to deceive me? Am I not helpless enough already, and do you
wish to make me still more miserable?"
"I have seen Mr. Mershone when he was a boy, many times. He was not the
favorite with Ma'm'selle Diana, nor with Monsieur Von Taer. For myself,
I hated him."
There was decided emphasis to the last sentence. Louise believed her and
felt a little relieved.
From the _melange_ of apparel a modest outfit was obtained to clothe the
girl with decency and comfort, if not in the prevailing style. The fit
left much to be desired, yet Louise did not complain, as weightier
matters were now occupying her mind.
The toilet completed, Madame Cerise disappeared to get a tray
containing a good breakfast. She seemed exceedingly attentive.
"If you will give me the proper directions I will start for home at
once," announced Louise, with firm resolve, while eating her egg and
"I am unable to give you directions, and I cannot let you go,
ma'm'selle," was the equally firm reply. "The day is much too
disagreeable to venture out in, unless one has proper conveyance. Here,
alas, no conveyance may be had."
Louise tried other tactics.
"I have no money, but several valuable jewels," she said, meaningly. "I
am quite sure they will obtain for me a conveyance."
"You are wrong, ma'm'selle; there is no conveyance to be had!" persisted
the old woman, more sternly.
"Then I shall walk."
"It is impossible."
"Where is this place situated? How far is it from New York? How near am
I to a street-car, or to a train?"
"I cannot tell you."
"But this is absurd!" cried Louise. "You cannot deceive me for long. I
know this is Diana Von Taer's house, and I shall hold Diana Von Taer
responsible for this enforced imprisonment."
"That," said Madame Cerise, coldly, "is a matter of indifference to me.
But ma'm'selle must understand one thing, she must not leave this
"At least, until the weather moderates," added the woman, more mildly.
She picked up the tray, went to the door and passed out. Louise heard
the key click in the lock.
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
Uncle John was both astounded and indignant that so bold and unlawful an
act as the abduction of his own niece could have been perpetrated in the
heart of New York and directly under the eyes of the police. Urged by
the Major, Mr. Merrick was at first inclined to allow Arthur Weldon to
prosecute the affair and undertake the recovery of the girl, being
assured this would easily be accomplished and conceding the fact that no
one had a stronger interest in solving the mystery of Louise's
disappearance than young Weldon. But when midday arrived and no trace of
the young girl had yet been obtained the little millionaire assumed an
important and decisive air and hurried down town to "take a hand in the
After a long interview with the Chief of Detectives, Mr. Merrick said
"Now, understand, sir; not a hint of this to the newspaper folks. I
won't have any scandal attached to the poor child if I can help it. Set
your whole force to work--at once!--but impress them with the need of
secrecy. My offer is fair and square. I'll give a reward of ten thousand
dollars if Miss Merrick is discovered within twenty-four hours; nine
thousand if she's found during the next twenty-four hours; and so on,
deducting a thousand for each day of delay. That's for the officer who
finds her. For yourself, sir, I intend to express my gratitude as
liberally as the service will allow me to. Is this all clear and
"It is perfectly clear, Mr. Merrick."
"The child must be found--and found blamed quick, too! Great Caesar! Can
a simple affair like this baffle your splendid metropolitan force?"
"Not for long, Mr. Merrick, believe me."
But this assurance proved optimistic. Day by day crept by without a clew
to the missing girl being discovered; without development of any sort.
The Inspector informed Mr. Merrick that "it began to look like a
Arthur, even after several sleepless nights, still retained his courage.
"I'm on the right track, sir," he told Uncle John. "The delay is
annoying, but not at all dangerous. So long as Fogerty holds fast to
Mershone Louise is safe, wherever she may be."
"Mershone may have nothing to do with the case."
"I'm positive he has."
"And Louise can't be safe while she's a prisoner, and in the hands of
strangers. I want the girl home! Then I'll know she's safe."
"I want her home, too, sir. But all your men are unable to find her, it
seems. They can't even discover in what direction she was taken, or how.
The brown limousine seems to be no due at all."
"Of course not. There are a thousand brown limousines in New York."
"Do you imagine she's still somewhere in the city, sir?" enquired
"That's my theory," replied Uncle John. "She must be somewhere in the
city. You see it would be almost impossible to get her out of town
without discovery. But I'll admit this detective force is the finest
aggregation of incompetents I've ever known--and I don't believe your
precious Fogerty is any better, either."
Of course Beth and Patsy had to be told of their cousin's disappearance
as soon as the first endeavor to trace her proved a failure. Patsy went
at once to Mrs. Merrick and devoted herself to comforting the poor woman
as well as she could.
Beth frowned at the news and then sat down to carefully think out the
problem. In an hour she had logically concluded that Diana Von Taer was
the proper person to appeal to. If anyone knew where Louise was, it was
Diana. That same afternoon she drove to the Von Taer residence and
demanded an interview.
Diana was at that moment in a highly nervous state. She had at times
during her career been calculating and unscrupulous, but never before
had she deserved the accusation of being malicious and wicked. She had
come to reproach herself bitterly for having weakly connived at the
desperate act of Charlie Mershone, and her good sense assured her the
result would be disastrous to all concerned in it. Contempt for herself
and contempt for her cousin mingled with well-defined fears for her
cherished reputation, and so it was that Miss Von Taer had almost
decided to telephone Madame Cerise and order her to escort Louise
Merrick to her own home when Beth's card came up with a curt demand for
a personal interview.
The natures of these two girls had never harmonized in the slightest
degree. Beth's presence nerved Diana to a spirit of antagonism that
quickly destroyed her repentant mood. As she confronted her visitor her
demeanor was cold and suspicious. There was a challenge and an
accusation in Beth's eyes that conveyed a distinct warning, which Miss
Von Taer quickly noted and angrily resented--perhaps because she knew it
It would have been easy to tell Beth De Graf where her cousin Louise
was, and at the same time to assure her that Diana was blameless in the
affair; but she could not endure to give her antagonist this
Beth began the interview by saying: "What have you done with Louise
Merrick?" That was, of course, equal to a declaration of war.
Diana was sneering and scornful. Thoroughly on guard, she permitted no
compromising word or admission to escape her. Really, she knew nothing
of Louise Merrick, having unfortunately neglected to examine her
antecedents and personal characteristics before undertaking her
acquaintance. One is so likely to blunder through excess of good nature.
She had supposed a niece of Mr. John Merrick would be of the right sort;
but the age is peculiar, and one cannot be too cautious in choosing
associates. If Miss Merrick had run away from her home and friends, Miss
Von Taer was in no way responsible for the escapade. And now, if Miss De
Graf had nothing further to say, more important matters demanded Diana's
Beth was furious with anger at this baiting. Without abandoning a jot
her suspicions she realized she was powerless to prove her case at this
time. With a few bitter and cutting remarks--made, she afterward said,
in "self-defense"--she retreated as gracefully as possible and drove
An hour later she suggested to Uncle John that he have a detective
placed where Diana's movements could be watched; but that had already
been attended to by both Mr. Merrick and Mr. Fogerty. Uncle John could
hardly credit Diana's complicity in this affair. The young lady's social
position was so high, her family so eminently respectable, her motive
in harming Louise so inconceivable, that he hesitated to believe her
guilty, even indirectly. As for her cousin, he did not know what to
think, as Arthur accused him unreservedly. It did not seem possible that
any man of birth, breeding and social position could be so contemptible
as to perpetrate an act of this character. Yet some one had done it, and
who had a greater incentive than Charlie Mershone?
Poor Mrs. Merrick was inconsolable as the days dragged by. She clung to
Patsy with pitiful entreaties not to be left alone; so Miss Doyle
brought her to her own apartments, where the bereft woman was shown
every consideration. Vain and selfish though Mrs. Merrick might be, she
was passionately devoted to her only child, and her fears for the life
and safety of Louise were naturally greatly exaggerated.
The group of anxious relatives and friends canvassed the subject
morning, noon and night, and the longer the mystery remained unsolved
the more uneasy they all became.
"This, ma'am," said Uncle John, sternly, as he sat one evening facing
Mrs. Merrick, "is the final result of your foolish ambition to get our
girls into society."
"I can't see it that way, John," wailed the poor woman. "I've never
heard of such a thing happening in society before, have you?"
"I don't keep posted," he growled. "But everything was moving smoothly
with us before this confounded social stunt began, as you must admit."
"I can't understand why the papers are not full of it," sighed Mrs.
Merrick, musingly. "Louise is so prominent now in the best circles."
"Of course," said the Major, drily; "she's so prominent, ma'am, that no
one can discover her at all! And it's lucky for us the newspapers know
nothing of the calamity. They'd twist the thing into so many shapes that
not one of us would ever again dare to look a friend in the eye."
"I'm sure my darling has been murdered!" declared Mrs. Merrick, weeping
miserably. She made the statement on an average of once to every five
minutes. "Or, if she hasn't been killed yet, she's sure to be soon.
Can't _something_ be done?" That last appeal was hard to answer. They
had done everything that could be thought of. And here it was Tuesday.
Louise had been missing for five days.
A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS
The Tuesday morning just referred to dawned cold and wintry. A chill
wind blew and for a time carried isolated snowflakes whirling here and
there. Gradually, as the morning advanced, the flakes became more
numerous, until by nine o'clock an old fashioned snowstorm had set in
that threatened to last for some time. The frozen ground was soon
covered with a thin white mantle and the landscape in city and country
seemed especially forbidding.
In spite of these adverse conditions Charlie Mershone decided to go out
for a walk. He felt much like a prisoner, and his only recreation was in
getting out of the hotel for a daily stroll. Moreover, he had an object
in going abroad to-day.
So he buttoned his overcoat up to his chin and fearlessly braved the
storm. He had come to wholly disregard the presence of the detective who
shadowed him, and if the youthful Fogerty by chance addressed him he was
rewarded with a direct snub. This did not seem to disconcert the boy in
the least, and to-day, as usual, when Mershone walked out Fogerty
followed at a respectful distance. He never appeared to be watching his
man closely, yet never for an instant did Mershone feel that he had
shaken the fellow off.
On this especial morning the detective was nearly a block in the rear,
with the snow driving furiously into his face, when an automobile
suddenly rolled up to the curb beside him and two men leaped out and
pinioned Fogerty in their arms. There was no struggle, because there was
no resistance. The captors quickly tossed the detective into the car, an
open one, which again started and turned into a side street.
Fogerty, seated securely between the two burly fellows, managed to
straighten up and rearrange his clothing.
"Will you kindly explain this unlawful act, gentlemen?" he enquired.
The man on the left laughed aloud. He was the same individual who had
attacked Arthur Weldon, the one who had encountered Mershone in the
street the day before.
"Cold day, ain't it, Fogerty?" he remarked. "But that makes it all the
better for a little auto ride. We like you, kid, we're fond of
you--awful fond--ain't we, Pete?"
"We surely are," admitted the other.
"So we thought we'd invite you out for a whirl--see? We'll give you a
nice ride, so you can enjoy the scenery. It's fine out Harlem way, an'
the cold'll make you feel good. Eh, Pete?"
"That's the idea," responded Pete, cheerfully.
"Very kind of you," said the detective, leaning back comfortably against
the cushions and pulling up his coat collar to shield him from the wind.
"But are you aware that I'm on duty, and that this will allow my man to
slip away from me?"
"Can't help that; but we're awful sorry," was the reply. "We just wanted
company, an' you're a good fellow, Fogerty, considerin' your age an'
"Thank you," said Fogerty, "You know me, and I know you. You are Bill
Leesome, alias Will Dutton--usually called Big Bill. You did time a
couple of years ago for knocking out a policeman."
"I'm safe enough now, though," responded Big Bill. "You're not working
on the reg'lar force, Fogerty, you're only a private burr."
"I am protected, just the same," asserted Fogerty. "When you knabbed me
I was shadowing Mershone, who has made away with a prominent society
"Oh, he has, has he?" chuckled Big Bill, and his companion laughed so
gleefully that he attracted Fogerty's attention to himself.
"Ah, I suppose you are one of the two men who lugged the girl off," he
remarked; "and I must congratulate you on having made a good job of it.
Isn't it curious, by the way, that the fellow who stole and hid this
girl should be the innocent means of revealing her biding place?"
The two men stared at him blankly. The car, during this conversation,
had moved steadily on, turning this and that corner in a way that might
have confused anyone not perfectly acquainted with this section of the
"What d'ye mean by that talk, Fogerty?" demanded Big Bill.
"Of course it was Mershone who stole the girl," explained the detective,
calmly; "we know that. But Mershone is a clever chap. He knew he was
watched, and so he has never made a movement to go to his prisoner. But
he grew restless in time, and when he met you, yesterday, fixed up a
deal with you to carry me away, so he could escape."
Big Bill looked uncomfortable.
"You know a lot, Fogerty," he said, doggedly.
"Yes; I've found that human nature is much the same the world over,"
replied the detective. "Of course I suspected you would undertake to
give Mershone his chance by grabbing me, and that is exactly what you
have done. But, my lads, what do you suppose I have done in the
They both looked their curiosity but said nothing.
"I've simply used your clever plot to my own advantage, in order to
bring things to a climax," continued Fogerty. "While we are joy-riding
here, a half dozen of my men are watching every move that Mershone
makes. I believe he will lead them straight to the girl; don't you?"
Big Bill growled some words that were not very choice and then yelled to
the chauffeur to stop. The other man was pale and evidently frightened.
"See here, Fogerty; you make tracks!" was the sharp command, as the
automobile came to a halt. "You've worked a pretty trick on us, 'cordin'
to your own showin', and we must find Mr. Mershone before it's too
late--if we can."
"Good morning," said Fogerty, alighting. "Thank you for a pleasant
ride--and other things."
They dashed away and left him standing on the curb; and after watching
them disappear the detective walked over to a drug store and entered the
"That you, Hyde?--This is Fogerty."
"Yes, sir. Mr. Mershone has just crossed the ferry to Jersey. Adams is
with him. I'll hear from him again in a minute: hold the wire."
Fogerty waited. Soon he learned that Mershone had purchased a ticket for
East Orange. The train would leave in fifteen minutes.
Fogerty decided quickly. After looking at his watch he rushed out and
arrested a passing taxicab.
"Ready for a quick run--perhaps a long one?" he asked.
"Ready for anything," declared the man.
The detective jumped in and gave hurried directions.
"Never mind the speed limit," he said. "No one will interfere with us.
Perhaps no one--not even Mrs. Merrick--was so unhappy in consequence of
the lamentable crime that had been committed as Diana Von Taer.
Immediately after her interview with Beth her mood changed, and she
would have given worlds to be free from complicity in the abduction.
Bitterly, indeed, she reproached herself for her enmity toward the
unsuspecting girl, an innocent victim of Diana's own vain desires and
Charles Mershone's heartless wiles. Repenting her folly and reasoning
out the thing when it was too late, Diana saw clearly that she had
gained no possible advantage, but had thoughtlessly conspired to ruin
the reputation of an honest, ingenuous girl.
Not long ago she had said that her life was dull, a stupid round of
social functions that bored her dreadfully. She had hoped by adopting
John Merrick's nieces as her _protegees_ and introducing them to society
to find a novel and pleasurable excitement that would serve to take her
out of her unfortunate _ennui_--a condition to which she had practically
But Diana had never bargained for such excitement as this; she had never
thought to win self abhorrence by acts of petty malice and callous
cruelties. Yet so intrenched was she in the conservatism of her class
that she could not at once bring herself to the point of exposing her
own guilt that she might make amends for what had been done. She told
herself she would rather die than permit Louise to suffer through her
connivance with her reckless, unprincipled cousin. She realized
perfectly that she ought to fly, without a moment's delay, to the poor
girl's assistance. Yet fear of exposure, of ridicule, of loss of caste,
held her a helpless prisoner in her own home, where she paced the floor
and moaned and wrung her hands until she was on the verge of nervous
prostration. If at any time she seemed to acquire sufficient courage to
go to Louise, a glance at the detective watching the house unnerved her
and prevented her from carrying out her good intentions.
You must not believe that Diana was really bad; her lifelong training
along set lines and practical seclusion from the everyday world were
largely responsible for her evil impulses. Mischief is sure to crop up,
in one form or another, among the idle and ambitionless. More daring
wickedness is said to be accomplished by the wealthy and aimless
creatures of our false society than by the poorer and uneducated
classes, wherein criminals are supposed to thrive. These sins are often
unpublished, although not always undiscovered, but they are no more
venial because they are suppressed by wealth and power.
Diana Von Taer was a girl who, rightly led, might have been capable of
developing a noble womanhood; yet the conditions of her limited
environment had induced her to countenance a most dastardly and
despicable act. It speaks well for the innate goodness of this girl that
she at last actually rebelled and resolved to undo, insofar as she was
able, the wrong that had been accomplished.
For four days she suffered tortures of remorse. On the morning of the
fifth day she firmly decided to act. Regardless of who might be
watching, or of any unpleasant consequences to herself, she quietly left
the house, unattended, and started directly for the East Orange mansion.
A TELEPHONE CALL
Still another laggard awoke to action on this eventful Tuesday morning.
Madame Cerise had been growing more and more morose and dissatisfied day
by day. Her grievance was very tangible. A young girl had been brought
forcibly to the house and placed in her care to be treated as a
prisoner. From that time the perpetrators of the deed had left the woman
to her own resources, never communicating with her in any way.
During a long life of servitude Madame Cerise had acquiesced in many
things that her own conscience did not approve of, for she considered
herself a mere instrument to be used at will by the people who employed
and paid her. But her enforced solitude as caretaker of the lonely house
at East Orange had given her ample time to think, and her views had
lately undergone a decided change.
To become the jailer of a young, pretty and innocent girl was the most
severe trial her faithfulness to her employers had ever compelled her to
undergo, and the woman deeply resented the doubtful position in which
she had been placed.
However, the chances were that Madame Cerise might have obeyed her
orders to the letter had not so long a period of waiting ensued. During
these days she was constantly thrown in the society of Louise, which had
a tendency to make her still more rebellious. The girl clung to Cerise
in her helplessness and despair, and constantly implored her to set her
free. This, indeed, the Frenchwoman might have done long ago had she not
suspected such an act might cause great embarrassment to Diana Von Taer,
whom she had held on her knee as an infant and sought to protect with
It was hard, though, to hear the pitiful appeals of the imprisoned girl,
and to realize how great was the wrong that was being done her. The old
woman was forced to set her jaws firmly and turn deaf ears to the
pleadings in order not to succumb to them straightway. Meantime she did
her duty conscientiously. She never left Louise's room without turning
the key in the lock, and she steadfastly refused the girl permission to
wander in the other rooms of the house. The prison was a real prison,
indeed, but the turnkey sought to alleviate the prisoner's misery by
every means in her power. She was indefatigable in her service, keeping
the room warm and neat, attending to the girl's every want and cooking
her delicious meals.
While this all tended to Louise's comfort it had little affect in
soothing her misery. Between periods of weeping she sought to cajole the
old woman to release her, and at times she succumbed to blank despair.
Arthur was always in her mind, and she wondered why he did not come to
rescue her. Every night she stole softly from her bed to try the door,
hoping Cerise had forgotten to lock it. She examined her prison by
stealth to discover any possible way of escape.
There were two small windows and one large one. The latter opened upon
the roof of a small porch, but, there were no way to descend from it
unless one used a frail lattice at one end, which in summer probably
supported a rose or other vine. Louise shrank intuitively from such a
desperate undertaking. Unless some dreadful crisis occurred she would
never dare trust herself to that frail support. Yet it seemed the only
possible way of escape.
Time finally wore out the patience of Madame Cerise, who was unable
longer to withstand Louise's pleadings. She did not indicate by word or
look that her attitude had changed, but she made a secret resolve to
have done with the affair altogether.
Often in their conversations the girl had mentioned Arthur Weldon. She
had given Cerise his address and telephone number, and implored her at
least to communicate with him and tell him his sweetheart was safe,
although unhappy. This had given the old woman the clever idea on which
she finally acted.
By telephoning Mr. Weldon she could give him the information that would
lead to his coming for Louise, without anyone knowing who it was that
had betrayed the secret. This method commended itself strongly to her,
as it would save her from any trouble or reproach.
Leaving Louise at breakfast on this Tuesday morning Madame Cerise went
down to the telephone and was soon in communication with Arthur. She
told him, in a quiet tone, that Miss Louise Merrick was being secluded
in a suburban house near East Orange, and described the place so he
could easily find it. The young man questioned her eagerly, but aside
from the information that the girl was well and uninjured she
vouchsafed no further comment.
It was enough, however. Arthur, in wild excitement, rushed to the
THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
Madame Cerise, well knowing she had accelerated the march of events to a
two-step, calmly sat herself down in the little housekeeper's room off
the lower hall and, leaving Louise to her moody solitude upstairs,
awaited the inevitable developments.
Outside the weather was cold and blustering. The wind whirled its burden
of snowflakes in every direction with blinding, bewildering
impartiality. It was a bad day to be out, thought the old Frenchwoman;
but a snowstorm was not likely to deter an anxious lover. She calculated
the time it would take Monsieur Weldon to arrive at the mansion: if he
was prompt and energetic he could cover the distance in an hour and a
half by train or three hours by motor car. But he must prepare for the
journey, and that would consume some time; perhaps she need not expect
him within two hours at the earliest.
She read, to pass away the time, selecting a book from a shelf of
well-worn French novels. Somehow she did not care to face her tearful
prisoner again until she could restore the unhappy girl to the arms of
her true lover. There was still romance in the soul of Madame Cerise,
however withered her cheeks might be. She was very glad that at last she
had summoned courage to act according to the dictates of her heart.
Eh? What is this? A rumble of wheels over the frozen snow caused her to
glance at the clock above the mantel. Not by any possibility could
Monsieur Weldon arrive so soon. Who, then, could it be?
She sat motionless while the doorbell rang, and rang again. Nothing must
interfere with the pretty _denouement_ she had so fondly anticipated
when Louise's faithful knight came to her.
But the one who had just now alighted was persistent. The vehicle had
been sent away--she heard the sound of receding wheels--and the new
arrival wanted to get in. The bell jerked and jangled unceasingly for a
time and then came a crash against the door, as if a stalwart shoulder
was endeavoring to break it down.
Madame Cerise laid down her book, placed her _pince-nez_ in the case,
and slowly proceeded down the hall. The door shook with another powerful
impact, a voice cried out demanding admittance.
"Who is it, then?" she called shrilly.
"Open the door, confound you!" was the irritated reply.
The woman reflected. This was surely young Mershone's voice. And she had
no excuse to deny him admittance. Quietly she unbolted the door and
allowed it to open an inch while she peered at the man outside.
"Oh! it is Monsieur Mershone."
"Of course it is," he roared, forcing the door open and stalking in.
"Who in thunder did you think it was?"
"A thousand pardons, m'sieur," said Cerise. "I must be cautious; it is
your own command. That you may be protected I deny admittance to all."
"That's all right," said Mershone gruffly, while he stamped his feet
upon the rug and shook the snow from his clothing. "Haven't you any fire
in this beastly old refrigerator? I'm nearly frozen. Where's Miss
"She is occupying Ma'm'selle Diana's room, in the west wing. Will
monsieur please to come this way?"
She led him to her own little room, and so engrossed were they that
neither remembered he had failed to rebolt the front door.
A good fire burned in the grate of Cerise's cosy den and Mershone threw
off his overcoat and warmed his hands as he showered questions upon the
"How is the girl behaving? Tears and hysterics?"
"At times, m'sieur."
"Takes it hard, eh?"
"She is very unhappy."
"Ever mention a man named Weldon?"
"Humph!" He did not like this report. "Has anyone been here to disturb
you, or to make enquiries?"
"No one, m'sieur."
"We're safe enough, I guess. It was a mighty neat job, Cerise, taken
altogether, although the fools have been watching me night and day.
That's the reason I did not come sooner."
She made no comment. Mershone threw himself into a chair and stared
thoughtfully at the fire.
"Has Louise--Miss Merrick, you know--mentioned my name at all?" "At
"In what way?"
"With loathing and contempt."
He scowled at her savagely.
"Do you think she suspects that I carried her away?"
"She seems to know it absolutely."
He stared at the fire again.
"I've got a queer job on my hands, Cerise, and I rely on you to help
me," said he presently, assuming a more conciliating manner. "Perhaps
I'm in a box, or a hole, or whatever else you like to call it, but it's
too late too back down now--I must push ahead and win. You see the case
is this: I love the girl and had her brought here to keep her from
another man. By hook or crook I'm going to make her my wife. She won't
take kindly to that at first, perhaps, but I'll make her happy in the
end. In one way this delay has been a good thing. It must have worn her
out and broken her spirits quite a bit; eh?"
"She seems very miserable," conceded the woman.
"Do you find her hard to manage? Does she show much temper? In other
words, do you suppose she'll put up a fight?"
Madame Cerise regarded him wonderingly.
"She is a good girl," was her reply. "She loves with much devotion the
man from whom you have stolen her. I am quite positive she will never
consent to become your wife."
"Oh, you are? Well, I intend she shall marry me, and that settles it.
She's unnerved and miserable now, and I mean to grind her down till she
hasn't strength to resist me. That sounds hard. I know; but it's the
only way to accomplish my purpose. After she's my wife I'll be very kind
to her, poor thing, and teach her to love me. A man can do anything with
a woman if he sets about it the right way. I'm not taking this stand
because I'm cruel, Cerise, but because I'm desperate. All's fair in love
and war, you know, and this is a bit of both."
He was pacing the floor by this time, his hands thrust deep in his
pockets, an anxious look upon his face that belied his bombastic words.
The Frenchwoman's expression was impassive. Her scorn for the wretch
before her was tempered with the knowledge that his cowardly plan was
doomed to defeat. It was she who had checkmated him, and she was glad.
Now and again her eyes sought the clock, while she silently calculated
the time to elapse before Arthur Weldon arrived. There would be a pretty
scene then, Cerise would have much enjoyment in witnessing the
"Now, then, take me to Louise," commanded Mershone, suddenly.
She shrank back in dismay.
"Oh, not yet, m'sieur!"
"The young lady is asleep. She will not waken for an hour--perhaps two."
"I can't wait. We'll waken her now, and give her an idea of the change
"But no, m'sieur! It is outrageous. The poor thing has but now sobbed
herself to sleep, after many bitter hours. Can you not wait a brief
hour, having waited five days?"
"No. Take me to her at once." As he came toward her the woman drew
"I cannot," she said firmly.
"See here, Cerise, I intend to be obeyed. I won't endure any nonsense at
this stage of the game, believe me," he announced fiercely. "In order to
win, there's just one way to manage this affair, and I insist upon your
following my instructions. Take me to Louise!"
"I will not!" she returned, the bead-like eyes glittering as they met
his angry gaze.
"Then I'll go alone. Give me the key."
She did not move, nor did she answer him. At her waist hung a small
bunch of household keys and this he seized with a sudden movement and
jerked loose from its cord.
"You miserable hag!" he muttered, inflamed with anger at her opposition.
"If you propose to defend this girl and defy me, you'll find I'm able to
crush you as I will her. While I'm gone I expect you to come to your
senses, and decide to obey me."
With these words he advanced to the door of the little room and opened
it. Just outside stood Fogerty, smiling genially.
"Glad to meet you again, Mr. Mershone," he said. "May I come in? Thank
While Mershone stood bewildered by this unexpected apparition the
detective entered the room, closed the door carefully, and putting his
back to it bowed politely to Madame Cerise.
"Pardon this seeming intrusion, ma'am," said he. "I'm here on a little
matter of business, having a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Charles
The grim face of Madame Cerise relaxed to allow a quaint smile to flit
across it. She returned Fogerty's bow with a deep curtsy.
Mershone, after one brief exclamation of dismay, wrested from him by
surprise, threw himself into the chair again and stared at the fire.
For a few moments there was intense stillness in the little room.
"How easy it is," said Fogerty, in soft, musing tones, "to read one's
thoughts--under certain circumstances. You are thinking, Mr. Mershone,
that I'm a boy, and not very strong, while you are an athlete and can
easily overpower me. I have come at a disagreeable time, and all your
plans depend on your ability to get rid of me. But I've four good men
within call, who are just now guarding the approaches to this house.
They'd like to come in, I know, because it's very cold and disagreeable
outside; but suppose we allow them to freeze for a time? Ah, I thought
you'd agree with me, sir--I overheard you say you were about to visit
Miss Merrick, who is confined in a room upstairs, but I'd like you to
postpone that while we indulge in a little confidential chat together.
The door-bell rang violently. Fogerty glanced at Madame Cerise. "Will
you see who it is?" he asked.
She arose at once and left the room. Mershone turned quickly.
"What's your price, Fogerty?" he asked, meaningly.
"For getting out of here--making tracks and leaving me alone. Every man
has his price, and I'm trapped--I'm willing to pay anything--I'll--"
"Cut it out, sir. You've tried this once before. I'm not to be bribed."
"Have you really a warrant for my arrest?"
"I've carried it since Friday. It's no use, Mershone, the game's up and
you may as well grin and bear it."
Mershone was about to reply when the door opened and Diana Von Taer came
in with a swift, catlike tread and confronted him with flaming eyes.
"You coward! You low, miserable scoundrel! How dare you come here to
annoy and browbeat that poor girl?" she cried in clear, cutting accents,
without noticing the presence of Fogerty.
"Oh, shut up, Di, you're in it as deep as I am," he retorted, turning
away with a flushed face.
"I'm not, sir! Never have I countenanced this wicked, criminal act," she
declared. "I have come here to-day to save Louise from your wiles and
carry her back to her friends. I dare you, or your confederates," with a
scornful look at the detective, "to interfere with me in any way." Then
she turned to Cerise and continued: "Where is Miss Merrick now?"
"In your own room, ma'm'seile."
"Come with me, then."
With a defiant glance at Mershone she turned haughtily and left the
room. Cerise followed obediently, somewhat astonished at the queer turn
Left alone with Mershone, Fogerty chuckled gleefully.
"Why, it seems I wasn't needed, after all," said he, "and we've both of
us taken a lot of trouble for nothing, Mershone. The chances are Miss
Von Taer would have turned the trick in any event, don't you think so?"
"No, you don't understand her. She wouldn't have interfered if she
hadn't been scared out," growled the other. "She's sacrificed me to save
herself, that's all."
"You may be right about that," admitted Fogerty; and then he got up to
answer the door-bell, which once more rang violently.
An automobile stood outside, and from it an excited party trooped into
the hallway, disregarding the cutting wind and blinding snowflakes that
assailed them as they passed in. There was Arthur Weldon and Uncle John,
Patricia and Beth; and all, as they saw the detective, cried with one
Fogerty had just managed to close the door against the wintry blast when
the answer came from the stairway just above:
"She is gone!"
The voice was shrill and despairing, and looking up they saw Diana
standing dramatically posed upon the landing, her hands clasped over her
heart and a look of fear upon her face. Over her shoulder the startled
black eyes of old Cerise peered down upon the group below.
The newcomers were evidently bewildered by this reception. They had come
to rescue Louise, whom they imagined confined in a lonely deserted villa
with no companion other than the woman who guarded her. Arthur's own
detective opened the door to them and Diana Von Taer, whom they
certainly did not expect to meet here, confronted them with the
thrilling statement that Louise had gone.
Arthur was the first to recover his wits.
"Gone!" he repeated; "gone where?"
"She had escaped--run away!" explained Diana, in real distress.
"When?" asked Uncle John.
"Just now. Within an hour, wasn't it, Cerise?"
"At ten o'clock I left her, now she is gone," said the old woman, who
appeared as greatly agitated as her mistress.
"Good gracious! you don't mean to say she's left the house in this
storm?" exclaimed Patsy, aghast at the very thought.
"What shall we do? What _can_ we do?" demanded Beth, eagerly.
Fogerty started up the stairs. Cerise turned to show him the way, and
the others followed in an awed group.
The key was in the lock of the door to the missing girl's room, but the
door itself now stood ajar. Fogerty entered, cast a sharp look around
and walked straight to the window. As the others came in, glancing
curiously about them and noting the still smouldering fire and the
evidences of recent occupation, the detective unlatched the French
window and stepped out into the snow that covered the roof of the little
porch below. Arthur sprang out beside him, leaving the rest to shiver in
the cold blast that rushed in upon them from the open window.
Fogerty, on his knees, scanned the snow carefully, and although Weldon
could discover no sign of a footprint the young detective nodded his
head sagaciously and slowly made his way to the trellis at the end. Here
it was plain that the accumulation of snow had recently been brushed
away from the frail framework. "It was strong enough to hold her,
though," declared Fogerty, looking over the edge of the roof. "I'll
descend the same way, sir. Go back by the stairs and meet me below."
He grasped the lattice and began cautiously to lower himself to the
ground, and Arthur turned to rejoin his friends in the room.
"That is the way she escaped, without doubt," he said to them. "Poor
child, she had no idea we were about to rescue her, and her long
confinement had made her desperate."
"Did she have a cloak, or any warm clothes?" asked Beth. Madame Cerise
hurriedly examined the wardrobe in the closets.
"Yes, ma'm'selle; she has taken a thick coat and a knit scarf," she
answered. But I am sure she had no gloves, and her shoes were very
"How long do you think she has been gone?" Patsy enquired.
"Not more than an hour. I was talking with Mr. Mershone, and--"
"Mershone! Is he here?" demanded Arthur.
"He is in my room downstairs--or was when you came," said the woman.
"That accounts for her sudden flight," declared the young man, bitterly.
"She doubtless heard his voice and in a sudden panic decided to fly. Did
Mershone see her?" he asked.
"No, m'sieur," replied Cerise.
With one accord they descended to the lower hall and the caretaker led
the way to her room. To their surprise they found Mershone still seated
in the chair by the fire, his hands clasped behind his head, a cigarette
between his lips.
"Here is another crime for you to account for!" cried Arthur, advancing
upon him angrily. "You have driven Louise to her death!"
Mershone raised one hand in mild protest.
"Don't waste time cursing me," he said. "Try to find Louise before it is
The reproach seemed justified. Arthur paused and turning to Mr. Merrick
"He is right. I'll go help Fogerty, and you must stay here and look
after the girls until we return." As he went out he passed Diana
without a look. She sat in a corner of the room sobbing miserably. Beth
was thoughtful and quiet, Patsy nervous and indignant. Uncle John was
apparently crushed by the disaster that had overtaken them. Mershone's
suggestion that Louise might perish in the storm was no idle one; the
girl was not only frail and delicate but worn out with her long
imprisonment and its anxieties. They all realized this.
"I believe," said Mershone, rising abruptly, "I'll go and join the
search. Fogerty has arrested me, but you needn't worry about my trying
to escape. I don't care what becomes of me, now, and I'm going straight
to join the detective."
They allowed him to go without protest, and he buttoned his coat and set
out in the storm to find the others. Fogerty and Arthur were by this
time in the lane back of the grounds, where the detective was advancing
slowly with his eyes fixed on the ground.
"The tracks are faint, but easily followed," he was saying, "The high
heels of her shoes leave a distinct mark."
When Mershone joined them Arthur scowled at the fellow but said nothing.
Fogerty merely smiled.
From the lane the tracks, already nearly obliterated by the fast falling
snow, wandered along nearly a quarter of a mile to a crossroads, where
they became wholly lost.
Fogerty looked up and down the roads and shook his head with a puzzled
"We've surely traced her so far," said he, "but now we must guess at her
further direction. You'll notice this track of a wagon. It may have
passed fifteen minutes or an hour ago. The hoof tracks of the horses are
covered, so I'm not positive which way they headed; I only know there
are indications of hoof tracks, which proves it a farmer's wagon. The
question is, whether the young lady met it, and caught a ride, or
whether she proceeded along some of the other trails. I can't find any
indication of those high-heeled shoes from this point, in any direction.
Better get your car, Mr. Weldon, and run east a few miles, keeping sharp
watch of the wagon tracks on the way. It was a heavy wagon, for the
wheels cut deep. Mershone and I will go west. When you've driven far
enough to satisfy yourself you're going the wrong direction, you may
easily overtake us on your return. Then, if we've discovered nothing on
this road, we'll try the other." Arthur ran back at once to the house
and in a few minutes had started on his quest. The motor car was
powerful enough to plow through the deep snow with comparative ease.
Those left together in Madam Cerise's little room were more to be pitied
than the ones engaged in active search, for there was nothing to relieve
their fears and anxieties. Diana, unable to bear the accusing looks of
Patsy and Beth, resolved to make a clean breast of her complicity in the
affair and related to them every detail of her connection with her
cousin's despicable plot. She ended by begging their forgiveness, and
wept so miserably that Uncle John found himself stroking her hair while
Patsy came close and pressed the penitent girl's hand as if to comfort
and reassure her.
Beth said nothing. She could not find it in her heart as yet to forgive
Diana's selfish conspiracy against her cousin's happiness. If Louise
perished in this dreadful storm the proud Diana Von Taer could not
escape the taint of murder. The end was not yet.
Mershone and Fogerty plodded through the snow together, side by side.
They were facing the wind, which cut their faces cruelly, yet neither
seemed to mind the bitterness of the weather. "Keep watch along the
roadside," suggested Mershone; "she may have fallen anywhere, you know.
She couldn't endure this thing long. Poor Louise!"
"You were fond of her, Mr. Mershone?" asked Fogerty, not
"Yes. That was why I made such a struggle to get her."
"It was a mistake, sir. Provided a woman is won by force or trickery
she's never worth getting. If she doesn't care for you it's better to
give her up."
"You're a bright fellow, Mershone, a clever fellow. It's a pity you
couldn't direct your talents the right way. They'll jug you for this."
"Never mind. The game of life isn't worth playing. I've done with it,
and the sooner I go to the devil the better. If only I could be sure
Louise was safe I'd toss every care--and every honest thought--to the
winds, from this moment."
During the silence that followed Fogerty was thoughtful. Indeed, his
mind dwelt more upon the defeated and desperate man beside him than upon
the waif he was searching for.
"What's been done, Mr. Mershone," he said, after a time, "can't be
helped now. The future of every man is always a bigger proposition than
his past--whoever he may be. With your talents and genius you could yet
make of yourself a successful and prosperous man, respected by the
community--if you could get out of this miserable rut that has helped
to drag you down."
"But I can't," said the other, despondently.
"You can if you try. But you'll have to strike for a place a good way
from New York. Go West, forget your past, and carve out an honest future
under a new name and among new associates. You're equal to it."
Mershone shook his head.
"You forget," he said. "They'll give me a jail sentence for this folly,
as sure as fate, and that will be the end of me."
"Not necessarily. See here, Mershone, it won't help any of those people
to prosecute you. If the girl escapes with her life no real harm has
been done, although you've caused a deal of unhappiness, in one way or
another. For my part, I'd like to see you escape, because I'm sure this
affair will be a warning to you that will induce you to give up all
trickery in the future. Money wouldn't bribe me, as you know, but
sympathy and good fellowship will. If you'll promise to skip right now,
and turn over a new leaf, you are free."
"Where could I go?"
"There's a town a mile ahead of us; I can see the buildings now and
then. You've money, for you offered it to me. I haven't any assistants
here, I'm all alone on the job. That talk about four men was only a
bluff. Push me over in the snow and make tracks. I'll tell Weldon you've
escaped, and advise him not to bother you. It's very easy."
Mershone stopped short, seized the detective's hand and wrung it
"You're a good fellow, Fogerty. I--I thank you. But I can't do it. In
the first place, I can't rest in peace until Louise is found, or I know
her fate. Secondly, I'm game to give an account for all my deeds, now
that I've played the farce out, and lost. I--I really haven't the
ambition, Fogerty, to make a new start in life, and try to reform.
What's the use?"
Fogerty did not reply. Perhaps he realized the case was entirely
hopeless. But he had done what he could to save the misguided fellow and
give him a chance, and he was sorry he had not succeeded.
Meantime Arthur Weldon, almost dazed by the calamity that had overtaken
his sweetheart, found an able assistant in his chauffeur, who, when the
case was explained to him, developed an eager and intelligent interest
in the chase. Fortunately they moved with the storm and the snow
presently moderated in volume although the wind was still blowing a
fierce gale. This gave them a better opportunity than the others to
observe the road they followed.
Jones had good eyes, and although the trail of the heavy wagon was lost
at times he soon picked it up again and they were enabled to make fairly
"I believe," said Arthur, presently, "that the marks are getting
"I know they are, sir," agreed Jones.
"Then we've come in the right direction, for it is proof that the wagon
was headed this way."
"Quite right, sir."
This back section was thinly settled and the occasional farm-houses they
passed were set well back from the road. It was evident from the closed
gates and drifted snowbanks that no teams had either left these places
or arrived during a recent period. Arthur was encouraged, moreover, by
the wagon ruts growing still more clear as they proceeded, and his
excitement was great when Jones abruptly halted and pointed to a place
where the wheels had made a turn and entered a farm yard.
"Here's the place, sir," announced the chauffeur.
"Can you get in?"
"It's pretty deep, sir, but I'll try."
The snow was crisp and light, owing to the excessive cold, and the
machine plowed through it bravely, drawing up at last to the door of an
As Arthur leaped out of the car a man appeared upon the steps, closing
the door softly behind him.
"Looking for the young lady, sir?" he asked.
"Is she here?" cried Arthur.
The man placed his finger on his lips, although the wind prevented any
sound of voices being heard within.
"Gently, sir, don't make a noise--but come in."
They entered what seemed to be a kitchen. The farmer, a man of advanced
years, led him to a front room, and again cautioning him to be silent,
motioned him to enter.
A sheet-iron stove made the place fairly comfortable. By a window sat a
meek-faced woman, bent over some sewing. On a couch opposite lay Louise,
covered by a heavy shawl. She was fast asleep, her hair disheveled and
straying over her crimson cheeks, flushed from exposure to the weather.
Her slumber seemed the result of physical exhaustion, for her lips were
parted and she breathed deeply.
Arthur, after gazing at her for a moment with a beating-heart, for the
mysterious actions of the old farmer had made him fear the worst, softly
approached the couch and knelt beside the girl he loved, thanking; God
in his inmost heart for her escape. Then he leaned over and pressed a
kiss upon her cheek.
Louise slowly opened her eyes, smiled divinely, and threw her arms
impulsively around his neck.
"I knew you would come for me, dear," she whispered.
A MATTER OF COURSE
All explanations were barred until the girl had been tenderly taken to
her own home and under the loving care of her mother and cousins had
recovered to an extent from the terrible experiences she had undergone.
Then by degrees she told them her story, and how, hearing the voice of
her persecutor Mershone in the hall below she had become frantic with
fear and resolved to trust herself to the mercies of the storm rather
than submit to an interview with him. Before this she had decided that
she could climb down the trellis, and that part of her flight she
accomplished easily. Then she ran toward the rear of the premises to
avoid being seen and managed to find the lane, and later the
cross-roads. It was very cold, but her excitement and the fear of
pursuit kept her warm until suddenly her strength failed her and she
sank down in the snow without power to move. At this juncture the farmer
and his wife drove by, having been on a trip to the town. The man sprang
out and lifted her in, and the woman tenderly wrapped her in the robes
and blankets and pillowed her head upon her motherly bosom. By the time
they reached the farm-house she was quite warm again, but so exhausted
that with a brief explanation that she was lost, but somebody would be
sure to find her before long, she fell upon the couch and almost
immediately lost consciousness.
So Arthur found her, and one look into his eyes assured her that all her
troubles were over.
They did not prosecute Charlie Mershone, after all. Fogerty pleaded for
him earnestly, and Uncle John pointed out that to arrest the young man
would mean to give the whole affair to the newspapers, which until now
had not gleaned the slightest inkling of what had happened. Publicity
was to be avoided if possible, as it would set loose a thousand
malicious tongues and benefit nobody. The only thing to be gained by
prosecuting Mershone was revenge, and all were willing to forego that
However, Uncle John had an interview with the young man in the office of
the prosecuting attorney, at which Mershone was given permission to
leave town quietly and pursue his fortunes in other fields. If ever he
returned, or in any way molested any of the Merricks or his cousin
Diana, he was assured that he would be immediately arrested and
prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Mershone accepted the conditions and became an exile, passing at once
out of the lives of those he had so deeply wronged.
The joyful reunion of the lovers led to an early date being set for the
wedding. They met all protests by pleading their fears of another
heartrending separation, and no one ventured to oppose their desire.
Mrs. Merrick quickly recovered her accustomed spirits during the
excitement of those anxious weeks preceding the wedding. Cards were
issued to "the very best people in town;" the _trousseau_ involved
anxiety by day and restless dreams by night--all eminently enjoyable;
there were entertainments to be attended and congratulations to be
received from every side.
Society, suspecting nothing of the tragedy so lately enacted in these
young lives, was especially gracious to the betrothed. Louise was the
recipient of innumerable merry "showers" from her girl associates, and
her cousins, Patsy and Beth, followed in line with "glass showers" and
"china showers" until the prospective bride was stocked with enough
wares to establish a "house-furnishing emporium," as Uncle John proudly
Mr. Merrick, by this time quite reconciled and palpably pleased at the
approaching marriage of his eldest niece, was not to be outdone in
"social stunts" that might add to her happiness. He gave theatre parties
and banquets without number, and gave them with the marked success that
invariably attended his efforts.
The evening before the wedding Uncle John and the Major claimed Arthur
for their own, and after an hour's conference between the three that
left the young fellow more happy and grateful than ever before, he was
entertained at his last "bachelor dinner," where he made a remarkable
speech and was lustily cheered.
Of course Beth and Patsy were the bridesmaids, and their cousin Kenneth
Forbes came all the way from Elmhurst to be Arthur's best man. No one
ever knew what it cost Uncle John for the wonderful decorations at the
church and home, for the music, the banquet and all the other details
which he himself eagerly arranged on a magnificent scale and claimed was
a part of his "wedding present."
When it was all over, and the young people had driven away to begin the
journey of life together, the little man put a loving arm around Beth
and Patsy and said, between smiles and tears:
"Well, my dears, I've lost one niece, and that's a fact; but I've still
two left. How long will they remain with me, I wonder?"
"Dear me, Uncle John," said practical Patsy; "your necktie's untied and
dangling; like a shoestring! I hope it wasn't that way at the wedding."
"It was, though," declared the Major, chuckling. "If all three of ye get
married, my dears, poor Uncle John will come to look like a scarecrow
--and all that in the face of swell society!"
"Aren't we about through with swell society now?" asked Mr. Merrick,
anxiously. "Aren't we about done with it? It caused all our troubles,
"Society," announced Beth, complacently, "is an excellent thing in the
abstract. It has its black sheep, of course; but I think no more than
any other established class of humanity."
"Dear me!" cried Uncle John; "you once denounced society."
"That," said she, "was before I knew anything at all about it."
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