“YOUR Ma is a very sick woman, Mackie.” The older man, sitting at his desk, did not raise his eyes to his son as he spoke, and the other knew that it was because he feared to reveal the emotion that lay behind them, and thus give the boy greater cause for apprehension.
“I guessed as much when I got your message, Dad,” and as he spoke, Macklin Donovan arose, and walking to his father’s side laid his hand affectionately and sympathetically upon the broad shoulder of the police lieutenant. “May I see her?” he asked.
“That is all, Mackie—just see her,” replied his father. “She will not know you. We must be very quiet. The doctor has ordered absolute quiet.”
The younger man nodded, and together they tip-toed their way upstairs to a room on the second floor.
When they returned to the den again there was a hint of moisture on the lashes of both men.
“How did you find me,” asked the younger man, “through the department?”
“Yes. I telephoned Washington. You chief told me where you were.”
“I am still on the Thorn case. It has got us guessing. No one in the department believes Mr. Thorn to be more than a visionary philanthropist with conservative socialistic leanings. He wants to do good with his money, but doesn’t know how. At first we thought the Reds had gotten hold of him, but the more we investigate the less sure we are about it. We haven’t been able to identify a single avowed radical with him, yet we are sure that there is a bunch of Assurians with whom he has frequent dealings, often secretly. His son is as much mystified as we, and almighty worried, too. You know it was he who reported the matter to the department. He thinks they are after the old man’s money, and fears that they may influence him to finance some movement that will lay him liable to Federal prosecution.
“But there’s another angle to the whole case—something we haven’t sensed yet, even faintly; but I’m going to get it. I think I’m closer to it now than I have been at any time during the past month that I’ve been on the case. We came down from their summer place yesterday on Mr. Thorn’s yacht and things seem to have tightened up some way from the moment we got into his town house—there’s a sort of tenseness and air of mystery that wasn’t manifest at ‘Three Gables.’ About the only new element that seems to have been infused into the affair is Thorn’s butler, a fellow named Goertz, who was not at Three Gables. None of the rest of the town servants seems to count much that I can see, but this fellow Goertz I don’t like. He’s always pussy-footing. I can scarcely turn around without finding him behind me. I think he suspects me and is watching me accordingly. The other guests, beside myself, are Mrs. Glassock and her daughter—the Peabody Glassocks of Philadelphia, you know—and Count Saranov and his daughter. As far as the Glassocks are concerned they are out of my reckoning entirely—might as well connect young Roosevelt or Joe Cannon with Red activities as a Glassock of Philadelphia—but the Saranovs are different. They’re from Assuria. He’s supposed to be a political exile. I haven’t a thing on him, but I’ve filed him in the same folder with Goertz. The girl, his daughter, is all right—very much all right, plus.”
Lieutenant Terrance Donovan looked up quickly at his son and smiled. The latter grinned back at the older man, and flushed a little.
“Don’t be too sure about anybody, Mackie,” counseled the father. “The best friend I had when I was walkin’ beat tried to stab me in the back one night when we were raidin’ a joint in the old Tenderloin. And, anent that, are you sure about young Thorn?”
“He was the best friend I had in Harvard,” replied the son. “He asked to have me assigned to this case because he and I could work together better than strangers. He has done everything to aid me. Not a soul in the house knows who I really am. Thorn was afraid to even let ’em know that my father is a police lieutenant, for fear it might arouse suspicion as to my motives for being there. They think you’re a retired sugar king from San Francisco and that we’re lousy with money. Say, if Mrs. Peabody Glassock of Philadelphia knew the truth she’d throw a conniption.”
The older man’s face sobered, reflectively. “I’ll say she would,” he said, “—if she knew the truth.”
‘You ’aven’t got no families when servin’ of the Queen— You ’aven’t got no brothers, fathers, sisters, wives, or sons— If you want to win your battles, take an’ work your bloomin’ guns!’
He threw an arm about his father’s shoulders affectionately. “Buck up, Dad,” he said. “I’m sure Mother’ll pull through all right. Keep me posted, and if I can see her when she’s conscious, why—well, to Hell with the Queen. I’ll come.”
As he walked down the street he nodded pleasantly to the policeman at the corner who was guarding one end of the block that had been roped off against traffic to insure quiet for the sick woman lying unconscious on the second floor of the Donovan home. The cross street was covered with a layer of tan bark and as he felt it soft beneath his silent tread a realization of the reason for its being there brought a lump to his throat. “Mother!” he murmured, and then, shaking himself, stepped briskly to a waiting taxi at the opposite curb and was driven rapidly south toward an older part of the city.
The cab stopped, at last, in front of a tall, brown-stone house—one of several identical houses in a hideous, frowning block of them. Once upon a time each of them had housed a family of fashion and wealth, and even now some of the old timers remained in a few of them—men who, like Mason B. Thorn, had been born there. As Macklin Donovan mounted the steps the door was opened by a footman, just beyond whom Donovan saw Goertz, who bowed low—much too low the Secret Service man thought—as he stepped forward to take the guest’s hat.
“Mr. Thorn and the others are in the library, sir,” said Goertz.
“Thank you,” responded Donovan, curtly. At the library doorway he turned quickly to see Goertz’s eyes upon him. Instantly the butler turned away. There was a frown on the young man’s face as he entered the room.
“My!” exclaimed a tall, blonde girl; “whatever in the world is peeving our little Mackie?”
Donovan smiled as the others looked toward him. “Happy as a lark,” he answered the girl. “Sun’s awful out—been frowning all afternoon to keep my eyes from sunburning—haven’t got my face straightened out yet.”
Count Boris Saranov was standing upon the opposite side of the room facing him. Donovan was distinctly aware that Saranov’s eyes were looking past him and not at him, as were the eyes of the other occupants of the library. As he advanced into the room he drew his cigarette case from his pocket and as he did so let it drop to the floor behind him. With a laughing exclamation at his awkwardness he turned quickly to pick up the case, permitting his glance to pass swiftly toward the doorway through which he had just entered the room, and the hall beyond. Goertz was standing in the shadows of the hallway, a finger raised. As Donovan turned back toward the room he was still smiling—but he was the only one who knew why.
“We’re not going back to Three Gables tomorrow, Macklin,” announced his host. “Genevive has had enough of New York in the summer time.”
“I thought a little of it would go a long way with her when she asked you to bring her,” replied Donovan, smiling. “You are returning with us?”
The elder Thorn nodded. “Got my business all attended to. Shall be glad to get out of this devilish heat.”
“Hmph!” exclaimed Miss Euphonia Thorn, his sister. “You haven’t transacted a bit of business. Why in the world you wanted to drag us all down here this time of year is quite beyond me. Make us all suffer for nothing—absolutely nothing. Business—hmph!”
“I didn’t drag you down, Euphonia. As a matter of fact I tried to persuade you not to come. I know how you hate the city in summer. And as for my business, I’m a fast worker,” he added with a laugh. “I’ll finish up the tag ends after the rest of you are in bed tonight.” He glanced at Saranov and then relapsed into silence. Donovan was certain that the Assurian had shot a quick warning from those deep-set, somber eyes.
“Well!” snapped Euphonia, rising. “I’m going to dress for dinner, and I think the rest of you had better be doing the same.”
“Why, it isn’t four thirty yet, Aunt Phony,” exclaimed Percy Thorn.
“I don’t care what time it is, and I wish you wouldn’t call me Aunt Phony—it’s vulgar and disrespectful. If your Grandfather was alive, but then—”
“But then—he isn’t. Have a cigaret, Auntie?”
“You know I never smoke. I don’t approve of women smoking. You just ask that to annoy me. It is a filthy habit that I have never acquired.”
“I didn’t know that you had ever acquired any filthy habits, Auntie. But then it is a wise nephew who knows his own aunt, these days.”
The angular little woman moved majestically toward the doorway. Near it she turned and faced her brother. “Mason,” she announced, “I shall not remain to be insulted farther.”
Her brother laughed indulgently. “See you at dinner, Eu,” he called after her.
“You can sneak a smoke now, Genevive,” said Percy to the tall blonde.
“I have not ceased smoking,” replied the girl with a shrug. “I do not take your Aunt Euphonia seriously.”
“No one does except herself,” replied the young man.
“I wish you would cease smoking occasionally, Genevive,” reproved her mother. “Nariva never smokes, although she comes from a country where the women have smoked for generations, and she seems to be just as happy.”
“But I do not enjoy smoking,” exclaimed Miss Saranov. “I’m sure that I should smoke if I did enjoy it.”
The tall Miss Glassock arose from her chair, languidly, and walked to Donovan’s side. “Do you think I smoke too much, Mackie?” she inquired, purringly, placing a hand softly upon his arm.
Mrs. Glassock beamed. “Oh, those children!” she exclaimed. “It doesn’t make any difference what I think, or what anyone else thinks, as long as Mackie thinks it’s all right.” If she sought to suggest vexation she was not entirely convincing.
Macklin Donovan was visibly ill at ease for an instant, but he laughed it off quickly. Percy Thorn appeared bored and irritated. Could looks wither, Mrs. Peabody Glassock would have assumed the dimensions of a peanut, but she did not even guess that Percy Thorn was looking at her.
Donovan petted Genevive’s hand where it lay upon his sleeve. “I’m sure you wouldn’t do anything too much, Gene,” he assured her.
Saranov cast a quick glance at his daughter, caught her eye, and directed a furtive and very meaningful look toward Miss Glassock and Donovan. Nariva Saranov merely raised her delicate brows.
A little later the three women went to their rooms to dress. Saranov excused himself presently and was soon followed by the elder Thorn. Then Percy Thorn turned to Donovan.
“Look here, Mack,” he said. “What is there between you and Gene? I want to know.”
“Nothing, you old fool, except the Donovan millions,” and the speaker laughed. “Can’t you see that she doesn’t give a tinker’s dam for me—that it’s her mother who is egging her on?”
“I think she’s in love with you,” insisted Thorn.
“I want to see ’em when they learn the truth about me,” said Donovan.
“You may be right about the old lady—she’s after Dad for his bank roll; but Gene—never! She’s true blue, Mack. She’s the real thing, and it just about does me up to see her falling in love with one of my best friends.”
“Well, you ought to know your friends, Perce—if they’re not fit associates for Gene you ought not to bring ’em around.”
“Cut the comedy! I’m in love with her and you’re not—at least you say you’re not, though I don’t see how you can help being—and I don’t want to lose her, and I don’t want to play second fiddle.”
“Don’t worry, Perce. It won’t be for long now, unless I miss my guess. Things are coming to a head mighty quick. I have an idea that I’ll learn a lot before I’m many hours older, and it may be that I can fade away then in a hurry and not gum up your love affairs with my filthy millions.”
“It isn’t the money, Mack—she’s in love with you, I’m afraid. I’ve got money enough, as far as that’s concerned; but she can’t even see me when you’re around.”
“You mean when Mamma’s around,” corrected Donovan. “I saw her making eyes at you and rubbing up against you there at Three Gables and on the yacht every time Mamma wasn’t looking.”
Thorn shook his head. “I wish you were right,” he said, “but you ain’t. Come on, let’s go up and dress.” He arose and walked toward the door.
“I’ll be up in a minute—you run along,” replied Donovan. “I want to look around for a bit.”
Thorn nodded and ran up the stairs that, descending from the second floor, opened into the large library. When he had gone Donovan walked quickly to the doorway leading to the hall. As he did so the heavy hangings before a doorway on the opposite side from the library moved, but the hall was dark and Donovan did not see the movement. He had scarcely reached the doorway when his attention was attracted by the sound of light footsteps on the stairway above. Turning quickly, he saw Nariva Saranov descending. She had halted almost at the instant that he turned, but immediately resumed her downward course. Had he surprised her? Would she have turned back had he not discovered her? He wondered.
“Ah, Mister Donovan!” she exclaimed. “I thought everyone had gone to his room. I did not expect to meet anyone,” she flushed prettily.
He realized now why she might have wished to turn back unseen—she was in a negligée. A very beautiful creation that set off her dark loveliness bewitchingly. Donovan stood with one hand upon the newel post as the girl descended—his back toward the hall doorway.
“I left a little bag down here,” she explained. “It contained a few trinkets that I should not care to lose. Ah, there it is!” and she crossed quickly to the chair in which she had been sitting and picked up a small gold bag. As she returned to the stairway, where Donovan still stood, she paused on the lower step. “You had better hurry and dress for dinner, Mr. Donovan,” she said, with her pretty accent, “or you will be late.” As she spoke she played with the little gold bag, opening it and closing it. Donovan was aware of a very delicate and delectable fragrance about her.
“What a wonderful perfume,” he remarked.
The girl smiled and opened the bag again. “Yes,” she said, drawing a small jeweled phial from the receptacle and holding it toward his face, “it is very wonderful. The emperor of Assuria, before he was assassinated, gave it to my—to a friend of my father. There is no more like it in all the world. It is very old and has never been uncorked, yet it permeates whatever it comes in contact with. I just took it from my trunk today—you did not notice it before?”
“There was too much smoke in the room, I guess,” he replied. Suddenly he placed his hand upon hers. “I wanted to say this afternoon, but I couldn’t very well at the time, that I am glad you do not smoke.”
For just an instant an eager light shone in her eyes, and then she drew back.
“I am glad,” she said gently, “if I have pleased Mister Donovan.”
“Pleased me! Oh, Nariva, you must know—” he drew her suddenly close to him—“you must have seen that I—”
Quickly she place a cool, soft palm across his lips. “Stop!” she cried, and her eyes looked frightened.
The heavy hangings upon the opposite side of the hallway moved. Donovan’s back was toward them.
He clung to her. “I love you!” he cried, almost angrily, it seemed. “You must have known it—you must have! Why can’t you love me?”
She broke away. “Mon dieu!” she explained; “I do love you!” but there was horror in her eyes and in her voice as she turned and fled up the stairway.
Donovan looked after her for a moment with puzzled eyes, and then, passing his palm slowly across the back of his neck, he slowly ascended the stairs toward his room.
“The more you see of ’em, the less you know about ’em,” he soliloquized as he closed his bedroom door behind him.
In a room at the opposite end of the house and upon the other side of the hall Miss Glassock’s maid was arranging her mistress’s hair, while Mrs. Glassock sat before a dressing table appliquéing her face. “At your age I should have had him long before this,” Mrs. Glassock was remarking. “The girl of today lacks subtlety of contrivance in such matters.”
Her daughter shrugged her fair shoulders. “I don’t want him,” she said. “I want Percy. I should think the Thorn millions would be enough.”
“Genevive, you are vulgar!” her mother rebuked. “And anyway, if I marry Mr. Thorn I can expect nothing more than my dower rights in the event of his death, since Percy will inherit the bulk of the fortune; while Mr. Donovan, being an only child, I am told, will inherit his father’s entire estate—a matter of some hundreds of millions.”
Across the hall from the Glassocks Nariva Saranov stood before her mirror, scowling. In the doorway of her closet stood Count Boris Saranov. He, too, was scowling.
“You had him then,” he said in a low voice, accusingly.
The girl made no reply.
“Do not fail us again,” said Saranov—his tones were well modulated, but ugly. Then he stepped back into the closet and closed the door.
Nariva, her head upon one side, listened for a moment, then, almost fiercely, she pressed the back of her hand to her eyes, as one in pain. “I can’t! I can’t!” she murmured.