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Dare I believe--?"

Intimations of fears inexpressibly alleviated breathed in her cry.

"I believe it."

"On what grounds? Tell me!"

"The word of the lady herself, together with the evidence of his
confusion just now. What more do you need?"

Turning aside, the girl rested a hand upon the balustrade and gazed
blankly off through the night.

"But--I can't help thinking there must be some mistake--some terrible
mistake."

"If so, it is theirs--the Shaynons', father and son."

"But they've been bringing such pressure to bear to make me agree to
an earlier wedding day--!"

"Not even that shakes my belief in Mrs. Inche's story. As a matter of
fact, Bayard offered her half a million if she'd divorce him quietly,
without any publicity, in the West."

"And she accepted--?"

"She has refused, believing she stands to gain more by holding on."

"If that is true, how can it be that he has been begging me this very
night to marry him within a month?"

"He may have entertained hopes of gaining his end--his freedom--in
another way."

"It's--it's inexpressibly horrible!" the girl cried, twisting her
hands together.

"Furthermore," argued the little man, purposefully unresponsive, "he
probably thinks himself forced to seem insistent by the part he's
playing. His father doesn't know of this entanglement; he'd disinherit
Bayard if he did; naturally, Bayard wouldn't dare to seem reluctant to
hasten matters, for fear of rousing the old man's suspicions."

"It may be so," she responded vacantly, in the confusion of adjusting
her vision of life to this new and blinding light....

"Tell me," he suggested presently, stammering--"if you don't mind
giving me more of your confidence--to which I don't pretend to have
any right--only my interest in--in you--the mystery with which you
surround yourself--living alone there in that wretched boarding-house--"

He broke off with a brief uneasy laugh: "I don't seem to get
anywhere.... My fear lest you think me presumptuous--"

"Don't fear that for another instant--please!" she begged earnestly;
and swinging to face him again, gave him an impulsive hand. "I'm so
grateful to you for--for what you've saved me from--"

"Then..." Self-distrustful, he retained her fingers only transiently.
"Then why not tell me--everything. If I understood, I might be able to
offer some suggestions--to save you further distress--"

"Oh, no; you can't do that," she interrupted. "If what you've said is
true, I--I shall simply continue to live by myself."

"You don't mean you would go back to Thirty-eighth Street?"

"No," she said thoughtfully, "I'm--I don't mean that."

"You're right," he assured her. "It's no place for you."

"That wasn't meant to be permanent," she explained--"merely an
experiment. I went there for two reasons: to be rid for a while of
their incessant attempts to hasten my marriage with Bayard; and
because I suddenly realised I knew nothing about my father's estate,
and found I was to know nothing for another year--that is, until,
under his will, I come into my fortune. Old Mr. Shaynon would tell me
nothing--treated me as though I were still a child. Moreover I had
grown deeply interested in the way our girls were treated; I wanted to
know about them--to be sure they were given a fair chance--earned
enough to live decently--and other things about their lives--you can
imagine...."

"I think I understand," said P. Sybarite gravely.

"I had warned them more than once I'd run away if they didn't let me
alone.... You see, Mr. Shaynon insisted it was my father's wish that I
should marry Bayard, and on that understanding I promised to marry him
when I came into possession of the estate. But that didn't suit--or
rather, it seemed to satisfy them only for a little time. Very soon
they were pestering me again to marry at once. I couldn't see the
need--and finally I kept my word and ran away--took my room in
Thirty-eighth Street, and before long secured work in my own store. At
first I was sure they'd identify me immediately; but somehow no one
seemed to suspect me, and I stayed on, keeping my eyes open and
collecting evidence of a system of mismanagement and oppression--but I
can't talk about that calmly--"

"Please don't if it distresses you," P. Sybarite begged gently.

"At all events," she resumed, "it wasn't until to-night that Bayard
found out where I was living--as you saw. At first I refused to return
home, but he declared my disappearance was creating a scandal; that
one newspaper threatened to print a story about my elopement with a
chauffeur, and that there was other unpleasant talk about Mr.
Shaynon's having caused me to be spirited away so that he might gain
control of my estate--"

"Wonder what put _that_ into his head!" P. Sybarite broke in with
quickening curiosity.

"He insisted that these stories could only be refuted if I'd come home
for a few days and show myself at this dance to-night. And when I
still hesitated, he threatened--"

"What?" growled the little man.

"That, if I didn't consent, he'd telephone the paper to go ahead and
publish that awful story about the chauffeur."

P. Sybarite caught himself barely in time to shut his teeth upon an
expletive.

"There!" said the girl. "Don't let's talk about it any longer. After
what you've told me.... Well, it's all over now!"

P. Sybarite pondered this in manifest doubt.

"Are you sure?" he queried with his head thoughtfully to one side.

"Am I sure?" she repeated, puzzled. "Rather! I tell you, I've finished
with the Shaynons for good and all. I never liked either of
them--never understood what father saw in old Mr. Shaynon to make him
trust him the way he did. And now, after what has happened ... I shall
stop at the Plaza to-night--they know me there--and telephone for my
things. If Mr. Shaynon objects, I'll see if the law won't relieve me
of his guardianship."

"If you'll take a fool's advice, you'll do that, whether or no. An
uneasy conscience is a fine young traitor to its possessor, as a
rule."

"Now, what can you mean by that?"

"I don't believe there's been any whisper of suspicion that the
Shaynons had caused you to be spirited away."

"Then why did Bayard say--"

"Because he was thinking about it! The unconscious self-betrayal of
the unskilled but potential criminal."

"Oh!" cried the girl in horror. "I don't think _that_--"

"Well, I do," said P. Sybarite gloomily. "I know they're capable of
it. It wouldn't be the first time Brian Shaynon ruined a friend. There
was once a family in this town by the name of Sybarite--the family of
a rich and successful man, associated with Brian Shaynon in a business
way. I'm what's left of it, thanks to _my_ father's faith in old
Brian's integrity. It's too long a story to detail; but the old fox
managed to keep within the letter of the law when he robbed me of my
inheritance, and there's no legal way to get back at him. I'm telling
you all this only to show you how far the man's to be trusted."

"Oh, I'm sorry--!"

"Don't be, please. What I've endured has done me no harm--and to-night
has seen the turn of my fortunes--or else I'm hopelessly deluded.
Furthermore, some day I mean to square my account with Brian Shaynon
to the fraction of a penny--and within the law."

"Oh, I do hope you may!"

P. Sybarite smiled serenely. "I shall; and you can help me, if you
will."

"How?"

"Stick to your resolution to have no more to do with the family;
retain a good lawyer to watch your interests under old Brian's charge;
and look out for yourself."

"I'll surely do all that, Mr. Sybarite; but I don't understand--"

"Well, if I'm not mistaken, it'll help a lot. Public disavowal of your
engagement to Bayard will be likely to bring Shaynon's affairs to a
crisis. I firmly believe they're hard pressed for money--that it
wasn't consolidation of two going-concerns for mutual advantage, but
the finding of new capital for a moribund and insolvent house that
they've been seeking through this marriage. That's why they were in
such a hurry. Even if Bayard were free--as his father believes him to
be--why need the old man have been so unreasonable when all the delay
you ask is another twelvemonth? Believe me, he had some excellent
reason for his anxiety. Finally, if the old villain isn't fomenting
some especially foul villainy, why need he sneak from here to-night to
the lowest dive in town to meet and confer with a gang leader and
murderer like Red November?"

"What are you talking about now?" demanded the bewildered girl.

"An hour or so ago I met old Brian coming out of a dive known as Dutch
House, the worst in this old Town. What business had he there, if he's
an honest man? I can't tell you because I don't know. But it was
foul--that's certain. Else why need he have incited Red and his
followers to drug Peter Kenny into forgetfulness? Peter found him
there before I did. It was only after the deuce of a row that I got
the boy away alive."

Temporarily he suppressed mention of Peter's hurt. The girl had enough
to occupy her without being subjected to further drain upon her
sympathies.

"I'd like to know!" he wound up gloomily.... "That old scoundrel never
visited Dutch House out of simple curiosity; and whatever his purpose,
one thing's sure--it wasn't one to stand daylight. It's been puzzling
me ever since--an appointment of some sort he made with November just
as I hove within earshot. '_Two-thirty_,' he said; and November
repeated the hour and promised to be on the job. 'Two-thirty!'--what
_can_ it mean? It's later than that now but--mark my words!--something's
going to happen this afternoon, or to-morrow, or some time soon, at
half-past two o'clock!"

"Perhaps you're right," said the girl doubtfully. "And yet you may be
wrong in thinking me involved in any way. Indeed, I'm sure you must be
wrong. I can't believe that he could wish me actual harm."

"Miss Blessington," said P. Sybarite solemnly, "when you ran off in
that taxi at midnight, I had five dollars in all the world. This
minute, as I stand, I'm worth twenty-five thousand--more money than I
ever hoped to see in this life.



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