from Red Book
by Ellis Parker Butler
In a room on the second floor of one of the most sedate of the mansions on upper Fifth Avenue two men and a young woman sat gloomily. One of the men, Mr. Horace Tubbel, was preposterously short and fat and bald; the other, Mr. Carlo Dorio Skink, was tall and thin and wore a pointed red-brown heard. The girl, who was garbed as the private secretary of a man of wealth should be, was young and beautiful, but her wonderful eyes were now weary-looking, as if she had not slept, and her handsome face had a morose look.
"But listen, kid," Mr. Tubbel was saying; "there ought to be something in a stock game. Don't all the swell con fellows work some kind of stock game now and then? What's the difference between bum stocks and a gold brick, anyhow?"
"Same thing." said Mr. Skink. "Stands to reason it's the same."
The girl did not seem impressed.
"And, look here." said Mr. Tubbel. "Listen to this, kid: this fellow will sell me the whole bundle for five dollars -- fifty thousand dollars' worth. It's Hot Stuff Silver Mine stock, and engraved as nice as Liberty Bonds -- maybe nicer. It looks like a chance to me. We ought to be able to do something with bum stock -- with good bum stock like that, it seems to me."
"How?" asked the girl. "How?"
"How do I know how?" said Mr. Tubbel, and then, as the girl shook her head and pushed out her lips disdainfully: "Oh. all right! We won't get anywhere if we don't do something. Me and Skink go agitate around, and we find this fellow with this Hot Stuff stock -- find him broke, so that five dollars looks like a fortune to him -- and we make a bid on the stock, and you turn the idea down."
"But how could we use it? Tell me how," the girl demanded. "If it is so easy, why don't you think of a way?"
"Well, you ought to be able to think of something," the fat Mr. Tubbel puffed angrily. "Me and Skink can't, but we oughtn't to be expected to. Big bunco ain't in our line. We don't pretend to be experts at it. But it seems to me that when a woman gets so she's known as the Queen of the Underworld and all that sort of business --"
The girl, Rosa Lind, made a gesture of annoyance.
"Oh, be still! For pity's sake, be still!" she exclaimed. "Haven't I enough to bother me without having you two men growling and growling?"
"We've got something to growl about," said the tall, thin Mr. Skink. "We've got fifty dollars a week -- each of us -- to growl about. How long is this Murchison man going to pay us if we don't get busy and begin to bunco him? We're a nice lot of bunco men, us three, if we can't think of a single confounded way to bunco him."
"Then why don't you think of a way yourself?" asked the girl angrily.
"Me think of one!" cried Mr. Skink. "Say, that's a swell idea, isn't it? Me think of a way to bunco him, when you went and made us promise to let you do the thinking for us. We're not con men. We're no Red-line Roses."
It was on the tip of Rosa Lind's tongue to confess that she was not Red-line Rose either; that there was no such queen of the underworld, that she was only a stenographer who had tried stage dancing and failed at it; but Mr. Tubbel did not give her a chance.
"Dod baste it!" he cried. "Dod double baste it! Get busy and think of something. If you can't show us how to get any more of this man Murchison's twenty-five million dollars, start something so he'll keep on paying us the fifty per week, anyway."
"Don't you talk to me like that!" said Rosa Lind, her eyes sparkling.
"Aw, tut!" exclaimed Mr. Tubbel disgustedly. "It makes me sick! I'll talk as I please!"
It was evident that Roger Murchison's Graft Syndicate was not working as well as he had hoped. As a matter of fact it was not working at all. For three hours on this, their first day of actual work, the three confederates had sat in consultation -- but not an idea had come to them.
In theory it should have been supremely easy for them to wrest thousands or even millions from Roger Murchison by bunco, con, graft or other criminal means, for he had hired them to do that very thing. Never, perhaps, in the history of the world had a man ever before done this, but Roger Murchison had done it, and now the grafters could not graft. The only thing they seemed able to do was to get angry at each other.
Murchison, for many years almost a recluse while he studied the vases of ancient Greece, had been rational enough in engaging three chance begging-letter writers to try to bunco him. For weeks he had not slept, his mind dwelling by day and by night on the two missing dancing figures that were needed to complete the twenty-four that had once formed the decoration of the famous ritual vase of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth. It was well known that each dancing figure represented one of the rites of the worship of Apollo, and such men as Gerking of Berlin and Pinzucci of Florence were also seeking to recreate the two missing figures.
To become the first to recreate these missing dancers had become an obsession with Roger Murchison. He could think of nothing else, and insomnia had come upon him. He feared madness or death unless he could find sleep, and he had hoped that, by contracting with these three to bunco him, he might drag his mind from its endless contemplation of the vase puzzle to an interest in trying to fathom and defeat their plans for taking his money from him. He had even gone so far as to promise to double any amount they could take from him by crooked means, and now his three grafters sat quarreling, unable to think of a single way to proceed.
"You're a swell con woman, you are!" said Mr. Skink sneeringly. "Everything made easy for us and you can't plan a thing. He goes and sells stocks and bonds, when he never sold them before; and he invites people to the house, and goes out himself, when he's been a hermit; and he tries to make new friends; and all to give us a chance, and you can't think of a game to work. Poor stuff, I call it."
"Now, stop!" said Rosa Lind, her tired eyes flashing. "It's hard. You think, just because he sits up this room in his own house for us and tells us to go as far as we like, that it is easy. It is just the opposite. Any fool knows that the success of confidence games depends on the victim having confidence in the workers, and a share of human cupidity. Where's Mr. Murchison's cupidity? And where's his confidence in us? Nowhere! He knows we're grafters. He hired us to be. It's hard, I tell you. You think, just because he lets me pose as his private secretary --"
She was interrupted by a jangling of the bell of the telephone at her elbow. She wheeled to the instrument, still angry, but let her voice take on tones of sweetness as she spoke into the instrument.
"Mr. Murchison? No, he is not in at present. This is his secretary speaking. Is it anything I can attend to?"
"I'm afraid not," came the answer. "This is Ann Warker. You don't know anything about the Sea and Shore National Bank, -- the stock in it, that is, -- do you?"
"I don't know; I might know something," said Rosa Lind. "What is it you wanted to know, Miss Warker?"
"I want to know what's the matter with the Sea and Shore National Bank," Ann Warker asked in her sprightly elderly voice. "My broker offers me a hundred shares of Sea and Shore National stock -- Roger Murchison's shares. I've been pestering Roger Murchison to sell me that stock for the last ten years and he would never sell a share of it and now he sells it, and not to me -- that is, not direct to me. I want to know what's the matter with that bank."
"Not a thing is the matter with it," said Rosa Lind promptly.
"How do you know that, young woman?" demanded Ann Warker.
"I know all Mr. Murchison's affairs," said Rosa Lind. "Mr. Murchison is not well and he has explained everything to me, in case he becomes really ill. He is selling many of his stocks and bonds. He means to buy, I think. Liberty Bonds -- the tax-free ones. He will not be bothered then with the income tax. He is in a very nervous state, and --"
"I dare say!" said Ann Warker.
"That income tax drives me crazy myself, but I'm tough; I can stand it. So the bank is all right; you're sure of that?"
"Quite sure," said Rosa Lind, although she knew nothing whatever about it.
"Then I'll buy," said Ann Warker. "And look here, young lady; if Roger Murchison is going to throw away anything else as good as this bank stock, let me know. I might as well save a broker's commission as save money any other way. I'll buy anything Roger Murchison says is good. He's no fool if he is crazy about his silly Greek stuff. Do you understand me? If Roger Murchison has anything else to sell, let me know. Ann Warker; don't forget my name."
As Rosa Lind hung up the receiver she turned to Mr. Tubbel and Mr. Skink with a beaming countenance.
"Did you hear that?" she asked, exultantly.
"No; what was it?" asked Mr. Skink.
"She wants to buy stocks. Or bonds. Anything Roger Murchison wants to sell. Glory, hallelujah! It falleth like the gentle rain from heaven! Tubby, and you, Skink, can go and dig up those worthless stocks you were talking about. Dead oil stock, wasn't it, or something? We'll sell it to her."
"I can get the whole bale of that Hot Scotch Silver Mine stock for the cost of the paper," puffed Mr. Tubbel. "It's dead enough. I'll bet, born dead and getting deader ever since. Come on, Skinky. Let's go."
"But, hold on a minute!" said Mr. Skink. "This is crooked. I don't want to get into jail. I did not sign up to bunco this Ann Warker. I signed up to bunco Murchison, with a free and clear guarantee he won't prosecute."
"That's right!" said Mr. Tubbel. "I don't bunco anybody but him. Not me!"
"But listen! Listen!" said Rosa Lind eagerly. "Can't you see through the hole in a doughnut? We will be bunking Mr. Murchison. He'll pay. He can't have it known that he is harboring crooks. He can't have his dear old friend Ann cheated. We'll get her money. She will have the stocks. He will have to buy them back. She will have his money. He will be the loser and we will be the gainers. He will be buncoed."
"Genius!" exclaimed Mr. Tubbel, rising and arranging his double chins over his collar. "Genius! Not a thing but genius."
"Which is no more than we expected from our leader, the Queen of the Underworld," said Mr. Skink as he too arose. "Come on, Tubby, we'll go and get the stocks."
"And now, thank goodness," said Rosa Lind, with a happy sigh, "we can tell Mr. Murchison we have something under way. I was actually hopeless."
A few hours earlier Roger Murchison, his lank form swathed in his faded dressing gown, had seated himself at the breakfast table while Miggs, his faithful butler, hovered over him, placing his modest repast.
"If I may say so, Mr. Roger," Miggs said, "you look not a little better this morning!"
"You notice that, do you, Miggs?" asked Murchison. "To tell you the truth, I feel better. Miggs, I believe I slept a little last night."
"Did you, indeed, sir?" said Miggs; and the tone of his voice, and his honest face, showed how happy the information made him.
"I did. I'll swear I did!" declared Murchison.
"I did not know it when I fell asleep but I caught myself awakening. The first sleep I have had in -- how long is it, Miggs? It seems like centuries."
"It must have seemed so, Mr. Roger," said Miggs sympathetically. Tears actually stood in the old man's eyes.
"Do you know, Miggs," Murchison continued. "I was beginning to think this private Graft Syndicate of mine was no good. Not a hint of anything doing. But they are clever, Miggs -- cleverer than I ever hoped."
"I am glad you find them so, sir," Miggs replied. "The two disreputable gentlemen did not strike me as seeming particularly brainy, if I may say so, although the young lady appears to know her way about."
"She's rather nice, don't you think?" asked Murchison, trying to make his tone indifferent.
"Quite a presentable young person, indeed, sir." the butler agreed.
"Yes, that's what I mean." said Murchison. "Quite presentable. Now, do you know, I had quite a different idea of the women of the underworld. I thought of them as flashy. You know what I mean, Miggs -- painted and showy and all that. Or Boweryish. If you heard of a woman as Red-line Rose you would think of a Bowery type -- something in the Apache line, wouldn't you? But I would call this girl modest; wouldn't you, Miggs?"
"Quite the modest type, sir," Miggs agreed.
"Yes. Glad to hear you say so," said Murchison. "I think I'll have a second egg this morning, Miggs. I feel hungry. I think the girl is the brains of the lot, although I must admit I did not give her credit for being quite as clever as she is. Miggs, if you were a confidence man and wanted to bunco me, where would you look for an opening?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir, never having thought along that line, if I may say so."
"Well, I know," said Murchison. "I've been giving that some thought the last few nights. Yes, I quite forgot the Apollo dancers for a while. 'How will these grafters of mine approach me?' I asked. I wonder if you will brown another piece of toast for me, Miggs? I tried to figure it out. Naturally, Miggs, I would be suspicious of everything -- of any proposal to buy stocks or invest in anything. 'What wouldn't I be suspicious of?' I asked myself. What wouldn't I, Miggs?"
"I'm sure I don't know, sir, under the circumstances," said Miggs.
"Why, the Apollo vase," said Murchison almost gleefully. "The Apollo vase is the natural avenue by which to approach me. Anyone would reason -- this girl reasoned -- that the approach must be by way of something in which I am already interested, and deeply interested. And I was right, Miggs. I reasoned that out by pure logic, and I was right. My gentle grafters are making use of the Apollo vase to bunco me."
"That is doubtless very clever, sir," said Miggs. "I'm afraid I have done this toast a bit too brown on one side; I can do another."
"Never mind; I can eat anything this morning. I believe I actually have an appetite," said Murchison, and added a question: "I say, Miggs, do you know anything about Henri, the head waiter at my club?"
"I'm afraid I do not, sir," said Miggs regretfully.
"I thought, perhaps, being in the -- well, you know what I mean."
"I know quite a few gentlemen in service, but I have never had the pleasure of meeting the head waiter you mention, Mr. Roger. If you wish I might make inquiries."
"I wish you would, Miggs," said Murchison. "I'd like to know whether he is the sort that could be approached. I mean bribed or bought up. This is what I mean: I dined at the club last night with Barker, and Henri led us to the table. I thought he seemed to hover about more than usual and finally he spoke to me. 'I hope you'll pardon me, sir,' he said, 'but I have heard you are worried a bit trying to make out certain missing dancing figures on a Greek vase.' Something like that."
"Most reprehensible, if I may venture to say so," said Miggs.
"Well, never mind that," said Murchison. "The point is he went on to say it had occurred to him that the dancing figures could not be anything but poses, and that Greek dancing was all poses, and he offered the suggestion that, perhaps, I could grasp the poses I was seeking more readily if I had a Greek dancer dance while I watched."
"My word!" exclaimed Miggs.
"But not a bad idea, at that," said Murchison. "A clever idea. I saw the cleverness at once. But then came the cat in the bag, Miggs. Old Henri said he had a niece who was quite a good hand at the Greek dance, and he was sure she would be much pleased to dance for me."
Miggs said nothing. No doubt his sense of propriety was severely shocked by Henri's forwardness.
"Well, don't you see?" asked Murchison. "It's my grafters. It is what they call the 'approach.' It will be blackmail, probably. Don't they call it 'vampire stuff?' Compromising situation with a female. Clever, isn't it?"
Miggs raised his eyes in horror.
"But we will be just a little bit cleverer," said Murchison, pushing back his chair. "We will be ready for them."
He tied the cord of his dressing gown a little more neatly.
"Miggs," he said, "I think we are going to get quite a little amusement out of our private Graft Syndicate after all. I told Henri to have his dancing niece call here, Miggs. If she does come let my fair grafter secretary, Miss Red-line Rose, interview her. I really think this ought to be amusing, Miggs, quite amusing."
Rosa Lind, when Mr. Tubbel and Mr. Skink had departed to secure the worthless stock certificates of the defunct Hot Scotch Silver Mine, pushed the button that summoned Miggs, and told him she would like to speak with Mr. Murchison, and the obsequious butler carried her message. Almost immediately the gaunt student-recluse stood in her doorway.
"Ah, Miss Lind, good morning!" Murchison said. "Miggs informed me you wished to see me, and I am glad to come, although an interview is hardly necessary. I know why you sent for me. It was to tell me my Graft Syndicate is at work and to warn me to be on my guard."
"How did you know that?" asked Rosa Lind. "You promised you would not use a dictaphone or try to overhear us. If you do not mean to play fair I'll tell you, now, we might as well quit."
Murchison entered the room and took one of the seats Mr. Tubbel and Mr. Skink had vacated. He tapped the tips of his fingers together as he leaned back, and studied the face of his chief grafter. It occurred to him, as he watched her while she scolded him -- yes, actually scolded him -- for not playing fair, that she was a remarkably attractive girl.
She was more than attractive, Murchison told himself; there was something pleasingly familiar about her. He had half felt this once or twice before, but now he knew that it was so. There was a puzzling, interestingly pleasant resemblance to some one he had liked or admired, a close resemblance such as a bachelor sometimes sees in the daughter of a woman he has loved when she was young. There was some reason why he should like this girl, or thrill at the memory of her whom the girl resembled, but for a long moment Murchison was at a loss.
Suddenly he found the key to this puzzle in the silhouetted shadow of Rosa Lind on the wall. In profile she was, to the tip of her chin and the tilt of her head, a facsimile of the third dancing figure of the Vase of Apollo! Looking into her wonderful eyes, he lost the likeness; it was when she looked away that she was the third figure of the vase, and in the silhouette on the wall the two heads seemed almost identical.
"That I should know you had found a way of buncoing me is not surprising," Murchison said slowly, for he could not take his eyes from Rosa Lind's face now; and, as he talked of the one thing, he was letting an amusing idea run through his mind. "I have noticed that you and your bully boys have been worried. As I am paying you fair wages to bunco me, one matter only should worry you: your inability to think of a practicable confidence game. When you send for me, therefore, and I see you cheerful again, I guess, as a matter of course, that you have thought of a plan and that you have sent for me to tell me so. You did this in order that I might begin to turn my thoughts to preventing your success and thus bring myself to forget for a few moments the missing dancers of the vase."
Rosa Lind, hearing the truth thus accurately guessed, uttered a little gasp of amazement.
"You are clever, aren't you?" she said with real admiration
"Perhaps I am unusually bright today," said Roger Murchison "I slept a little last night."
"Oh! I am so glad!" Rosa Lind exclaimed impulsively, and then colored. "I mean --" she said, and then looked at Murchison blankly. "But --"
She was about to tell him that if he had imagined he had thought of their scheme the night before, he had been mistaken, since it was but newly born, this morning, but she cautioned herself and held her tongue. If he had discovered what he thought was a clue, so much the better. He might follow the false scent while they took the other track.
"Yes, I slept," said Murchison. "Do you know," he added suddenly, as if just making the discovery, "that you have the perfect Greek profile?"
"I? What nonsense!"
"But you have, though!" said Murchison. "Yes, by Apollo! -- you'll let me swear by my favorite Greek god, Miss Lind -- you've a perfect Greek face."
"You're laughing at me," Rosa Lind said, as Murchison bent forward to look into her eyes.
There was, indeed, a twinkle in Murchison's eyes such as had not been there for many weeks, but it was a twinkle of amusement, not of irony.
"No, I am not," he said, and then clapped his hand on his knee. "I have it! It's the third dancing figure -- the one I call Flora, the flower-scatterer. Let me show you."
He hurried to his study and brought back the long strip of red-brown paper on which was painted a copy of the decoration of the Apollo Vase.
"It is like me -- somewhat," Rosa Lind admitted.
"A perfect silhouette portrait of you," said Murchison. "If you were in the classic Greek garb, and in this pose --"
He did it fairly well, his air of having caught a sudden, involuntary thought.
"I say!" he exclaimed. "It's an idea! Amazing!"
"I've been stupid, that's all." Murchison said, watching her face closely. "Your face has brought me to my senses. The two ritual figures of the Apollo Vase that I seek were, after all, only posed like the others. If I capture the pose, I capture the figure and its significance. This is my thought: I'll have a dancer do Greek dances, and I will watch her. I will catch the pose even as it passes and I will -- or may -- get my missing figures so. What do you think of that idea?"
He had expected her to show by some sign that she was at least momentarily annoyed by this broad hint that he had guessed the plot she had prepared against his money. Rosa Lind did not show any annoyance whatever.
"I think it is an excellent idea," she said. "You could have a terra-cotta hanging, with the dancer behind it and a light behind the dancer, to get the silhouette effect, as on the vase."
"Young lady," said Murchison to himself, "my next words will surprise you." Aloud, he said: "And you will dance for me, then?"
He was not disappointed this time. She was surprised and, it seemed to Murchison, annoyed.
"I? I dance for you!" she exclaimed. "But what do you mean? Why do you ask that?"
Murchison did not answer immediately and the two sat looking into each other's eyes, Rosa Lind questioning his and Roger Murchison seeking, rather gleefully, a certain confession in hers. The confession he sought was that he had been clever in guessing that Henri, the head waiter at the club, was her agent; the question her eyes asked was how much he knew of her past -- of her failure as a stage dancer. If he knew that, he knew she was not a confidence woman -- not a Red-line Rose.
"I asked," Murchison said at length, "because you are so admirably, classically Greek. You will dance for me, will you not? I'll have some one in to rig up a screen in the large reception room -- to plan the lights and all that. Are you willing?"
"Why not?" the girl asked.
"Why not, indeed?" replied Murchison, smiling. "No reason in the world. And the less reason in that I shall, of course, have a proper chaperon."
Rosa Lind opened her lips to say that he need not ask a chaperon, that she trusted him perfectly, but she closed them and turned red again as she realized that it was for his own protection and against her, as one of his Graft Syndicate, that he wished chaperonage.
"That is as you wish," she said.
"Excellent!" Murchison declared. "We will begin today. I will have everything made ready this afternoon by three and we can proceed at once, for I know the very person I want as chaperon. A dear, old, honest, simple, cranky soul -- a 'character,' as the word is -- who would do anything in the world for me."
"You mean Miggs?" asked Rosa Lind.
"I mean an old lady named Ann Warker," said Murchison.
"Oh!" said Rosa Lind, and then, faintly: "Oh!"
"Yes, this is going to be good, Miggs," Murchison told his butler that afternoon as they stood in the large reception room, watching the electrician and the theatrical gentleman arrange the transparent terra-cotta screen.
"I think I may venture to say so, Mr. Roger," Miggs said. "The light seems quite a bit more brilliant with the larger bulb in place."
"Oh, that!" scoffed Murchison. "I mean the whole business -- the trick, the trap. I believe I have been wasting my life. I should have been writing plays. It is a climax, Miggs, fit for the fourth act of a crime melodrama. Ding! Dang! Dong! The clock strikes three. My Rosa Lind, fair grafter, descends the stair clad in Grecian duds. Buzz! Buzz! Buzz! The doorbell clatters. Miggs throws the door wide. Enter Henri with his charming niece; she also clad in Grecian duds. It is going to be fun, Miggs. And old Ann Warker!"
"I am sure you will find it most amusing, sir," Miggs said, "and an excellent lesson for Henri, if, as we fear, he is implicated with these grafting persons."
"What time have you now?" asked Murchison.
"Half after two, sir."
In the office of the Graft Syndicate, on the floor above, Rosa Lind, Horace Tubbel and Carlo Dorio Skink sat. Miss Lind was very lovely in her Greek dancing costume, her hair bound with a fillet of gilt-paper leaves and her arms bare. On her feet were delicate golden sandals. Perhaps it was the first time in the history of the world that anyone had attended strictly to the business of grafting while wearing the costume of a priestess of Apollo. Rosa Lind had her hand on the telephone.
"Only ten thousand," she was saying to Mr. Tubbel. "I will not -- I cannot -- try for fifty thousand. It is too much. I have nerve, but I have not that much nerve. I'll try ten thousand."
"And I went and bought the whole lot, and paid that Higgins five dollars for it." mourned Tubbel puffily, looking at the pile of Hot Stuff Silver Mine certificates on Rosa's desk. "I could've saved four dollars. You might, as well --"
"Ten thousand or nothing," said Rosa Lind firmly.
"Go ahead! Go ahead!" urged Mr. Skink nervously.
Rosa Lind, removing the receiver, gave Ann Warker's number; the two men sat on the edges of their chairs, hardly breathing.
"Miss Warker?" asked Rosa Lind in her pleasantest voice. "This is Mr. Murchison's secretary -- Miss Lind. You asked me to let you know if he meant to sell any more of his good stocks. He is going to sell his Hot Stuff Silver Mine stock."
"What stock? I never heard of it!" chirped Ann Warker.
Rosa Lind took up one of the certificates and read from it.
"'Hot Stuff Silver Mining Company of Colorado,'" she read. "'Common stock. Par value one dollar per share.'"
"How many shares is he selling?" asked Ann Warker.
"Is it good? Is it what an old lady like me ought to invest in?"
"Oh, quite!" exclaimed Rosa Lind. "Mr. Murchison would not own it otherwise."
"I don't believe he would," said Ann Warker. "Roger is a canny soul. Does he say it is good?"
"Well, what does he want for it?" Ann Warker asked.
"Why. ten thousand dollars," said Rosa Lind. "It is ten thousand dollars' worth of stock, you know."
Mr. Tubble's face went purple. He raised his hands and shook his fists in the air. Rosa Lind looked at him and frowned, and he became quiet again. For an instant he had been ready to curse; stock is not sold at exact par once in a million times, and to ask flat par was to arouse suspicion, but when Red-line Rose, Queen of the Underworld, looked at him like that he could only be still. Red-line Rose must know the game, he thought.
"Yes. Thank you. Yes, indeed," Rosa Lind was saying. "Properly endorsed, of course. I will have that done. One moment, please."
She put her hand over the telephone's mouthpiece.
"She says she is coming here in a few minutes and she will bring a check," she said. "Will that do?"
"Got to," whispered Mr. Tubbel fatly. "I've got to forge the endorsements on the stock; I might as well forge one on the check. Tell her yes."
"A check will do very nicely, Miss Warker," Rosa Lind said. "You can just hand it to me. and I will give you the stock. And will you please not speak to Mr. Murchison about it? He is so nervous. He wants me to transact all such affairs for him."
The other two held their breaths.
"Thank you!" Rosa Lind said, and Mr. Tubbel and Mr. Skink breathed again,
"Where's that sample signature of our poor old goat?" Mr. Tubbel asked. "I'll get busy endorsing Mr. Roger Murchison's name on this voluptuous wad of stock."
At three o'clock, when Rosa Lind, after a last glance at herself in the mirror, began the descent of the stairway, she carried the beautifully engraved stock certificates in her hand.
Roger Murchison, still wrapped in his faded dressing gown, met Rosa Lind at the bottom of the stairs.
"Miss Ann is not here yet," he said, "nor is the photographer."
"A most essential accessory," said Mr. Murchison gravely. "You see how the reception room is arranged. I shall sit here. The camera will be here. No matter where Miss Ann sits. As you take the poses I shall watch the screen. When I cry 'hold!' you will hold that pose, the photographer will burn a bit of flash powder, and your pose will be registered permanently. Ah -- here is our dear Miss Ann!"
"Quite insane!" said Ann Warker, as she surveyed the room.
"I'm so glad you think so," said Murchison. "It is delightful to be insane. It gives one a feeling of irresponsibility."
It was then Miggs appeared.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Roger," he said clearly, as Roger had told him to speak, "but a person calling himself Monsieur Henri is at the door. He says you expect him, sir. He says he is from the club, sir."
Rosa Lind uttered a sharp cry and sank to the floor where she had been standing.
"What is it? What is wrong, Miss Lind?" asked Murchison. bending down to help her to arise. But his eyes showed none of the anxiety that he put into his voice.
"It's my ankle," the girl groaned. "That electric cable -- I turned my foot on it."
She tried to arise, holding Murchison's arm, but dropped back again.
"I can't stand on it," she cried at him angrily. "You did not hold me then; you let me fall. Please help me upstairs. I can't dance now. It is very painful."
"Monsieur Henri is bad for your ankle, I see," he said, "especially when he comes so unexpectedly. Perhaps you can rest in this chair."
"You brute!" she exclaimed. "You cruel brute."
She lay back in the chair, her face very white, and Murchison smiled at her.
"Bring Monsieur Henri here, Miggs," he said, and Miggs went. Miss Ann, her face showing how all this puzzled her, bent to kneel at Rosa Lind's feet.
"Don't bother. Miss Ann," Murchison said gaily. "It is all a part of our little game. It is an ingredient of my sleeping potion." But Ann Warker did go down on her bony old knees, unlacing Rosa Lind's golden sandal with her old fingers.
So it was, perhaps, that Henri, from the club, did not see Rosa Lind at first, although it may have been the bundle of Hot Stuff stocks that the girl held before her face that hid her identity.
"I'm extremely sorry, Mr. Murchison," Henri was saying contritely. "I regret to disappoint you, sir, but my niece was not to be found. She seems to have given up her career as a dancer, sir, and I was unable to learn her whereabouts in the short time at my disposal."
Roger Murchison laughed.
"Clever!" he said to Henri, and then "Clever!" to Rosa Lind. "But no matter. You can see, Miss Lind, that this particular plan has gone 'agley.' In other words, I guessed the riddle as I lay awake. Blackmail, wasn't it to be, Miss Lind? Vampire stuff? And very cleverly planned, even to the sprained ankle, which should have been sufficient to have allowed you to flee above and make room for Monsieur Henri's niece, if she had come."
"Come?" exclaimed Henri. "But she has come. This is my niece. This is my niece Rosa. You find her before I do, yes? I have looked for you everywhere, Rosa --"
"Oh, go away!" moaned Rosa Lind. "Can't you see everything is all wrong with me? Can't you see this ankle is killing me? I didn't plan any blackmail."
She was rocking back and forth, clasping her ankle, kneading it with the fingers that clasped it, and suddenly, as she thought of Mr. Tubbel and Mr. Carlo Dorio Skink awaiting her in the room above, she dropped the bundle of Hot Stuff Silver Mine securities on the floor and hid her face in the crook of her arm and wept.
Henri went to her, but she sobbed to him to go away, and, like an obedient head waiter and uncle, he went.
"A most peculiar affair, Mr. Miggs," he said at the door.
"If I may venture to say so. Monsieur Henri," said Miggs, "a most peculiar affair."
"And I don't know what you stand there grinning like a Cheshire cat for, Roger Murchison," said Ann Warker, "when this poor child is suffering like this. Look at her poor ankle."
"My God!" cried Murchison. "Why, it is hurt, isn't it?"
It was indeed hurt. Already it had swollen to twice its natural size -- as even Roger Murchison, unaccustomed to the study of other than the ankles of dancers on Greek vases, could see.
"Help her to the couch in the small reception room," Ann Warker ordered, "and if you have anything like medicine for such a case, send Miggs for it. Come, my dear, let him help you!"
He was an exceedingly awkward helper. He did not know exactly how to put his arm around the female waist so as to give the most support. He bungled the job, as a matter of fact, and once her lame foot, as she hopped slowly along, had to touch the floor to support her weight, and quite involuntarily she clasped him tight. In an almost miraculous manner he gained, instantly, a knowledge of the proper method of holding a young female grafter close to a faded brown dressing gown.
"Don't cry!" he whispered. "I can't stand it if you cry. I won't be able to sleep ever again if you cry."
"Then I won't cry," she said, smiling bravely.
"No, please," he begged. "Bunco ladies should not cry. We'll be afraid of you if you cry, and the Syndicate might go all to smash."
They were not in the least aware how long they were standing on one spot, but Ann Warker was aware.
"Just what he needs," she said to herself as she looked at their backs. "It's good for what's the matter with him, the poor fool of a bachelor." And she picked up the bundles of Hot Stuff Silver Mine stock and turned to head off Miggs.
"You'll not want us any more -- after this," said Rosa Lind.
"Want you? Of course, I'll want you," said Murchison cheerfully. "What has this got to do with our contract?"
"Nothing, of course," said Rosa Lind, "but -- weren't we on our way somewhere?"
"Bless my soul! So we were," said Roger Murchison.
A few minutes later, when Rosa Lind was comfortably stretched out on the couch and Murchison's housekeeper was binding the ankle tightly, Ann Warker approached Roger Murchison in the large reception room.
"Well, Roger," she said, "I'm going home."
"Home? Oh, yes -- home. Of course. That's where people always go," he said, rather inanely. "Well --?"
"She is," said Ann Warker.
"Is? Who is? What is she?" asked Murchison.
"A charming girl. Your secretary. I suppose that's what you want me to say. I don't know what else you got me here for."
"Here for?" said Murchison blankly. "Oh! Of course! It was for the stocks -- to buy the Hot Stuff stocks. Did you buy them?"
"Buy?" asked Ann Warker sarcastically. "With ankles twisted and uncles dropping down all over the place? What chance have I to do any buying when you pick the girl up and hold her for hours at a time in your arms?"
"My word!" exclaimed Murchison in a fierce undertone. "Didn't you give her that check? A pretty friend you are, Ann Warker! I lie awake at night and plan how to get that stock into the hands of these people, and plan how they can get rid of it, and you fail me! You are a fine friend. You'd let me die of insomnia! Go in there and give her that check. How much is it?"
"Ten thousand dollars."
"Ten thou -- and that poor child in there suffering the tortures of the infernal regions with that ankle! Only ten thousand Aunt Ann, I told you fifty thousand."
"But, Roger Murchison, she only asked for ten thousand," said Ann Warker.
"Asked?" said Roger Murchison with annoyance. "Asked? What has that to do with it? It's my Graft Syndicate, isn't it? If I want them to have a chance to bunco me out of a paltry fifty thousand, to encourage them and keep their spirits up, what right have you to change it? You go in and give her that check."
"And tomorrow," said Roger Murchison sternly, "see that you telephone for the other forty thousand dollars' worth. She has the most beautiful nose in the world."
And then he yawned. Insomnia is not an incurable disease.