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- Constance Dunlap - 1/46 -
THE CRAIG KENNEDY SERIES
ARTHUR B. REEVE
I THE FOEGEES
II THE EMBEZZLERS
III THE GUN RUNNERS
IV THE GAMBLERS
V THE EAVESDROPPERS
VI THE CLAIRVOYANTS
VII THE PLUNGERS
VIII THE ABDUCTORS
IX THE SHOPLIFTERS
X THE BLACKMAILERS
XI THE DOPE FIENDS
XII THE FUGITIVES
There was something of the look of the hunted animal brought to bay at last in Carlton Dunlap's face as he let himself into his apartment late one night toward the close of the year.
On his breath was the lingering odor of whisky, yet in his eye and hand none of the effects. He entered quietly, although there was no apparent reason for such excessive caution. Then he locked the door with the utmost care, although there was no apparent reason for caution about that, either.
Even when he had thus barricaded himself, he paused to listen with all the elemental fear of the cave man who dreaded the footsteps of his pursuers. In the dim light of the studio apartment he looked anxiously for the figure of his wife. Constance was not there, as she had been on other nights, uneasily awaiting his return. What was the matter? His hand shook a trifle now as he turned the knob of the bedroom door and pushed it softly open.
She was asleep. He leaned over, not realizing that her every faculty was keenly alive to his presence, that she was acting a part.
"Throw something around yourself, Constance," he whispered hoarsely into her ear, as she moved with a little well-feigned start at being suddenly wakened, "and come into the studio. There is something I must tell you tonight, my dear."
"My dear!" she exclaimed bitterly, now seeming to rouse herself with an effort and pretending to put back a stray wisp of her dark hair in order to hide from him the tears that still lingered on her flushed cheeks. "You can say that, Carlton, when it has been every night the same old threadbare excuse of working at the office until midnight?"
She set her face in hard lines, but could not catch his eye.
"Carlton Dunlap," she added in a tone that rasped his very soul, "I am nobody's fool. I may not know much about bookkeeping and accounting, but I can add--and two and two, when the same man but different women compose each two, do not make four, according to my arithmetic, but three, from which,"--she finished almost hysterically the little speech she had prepared, but it seemed to fall flat before the man's curiously altered manner--"from which I shall subtract one."
She burst into tears.
"Listen," he urged, taking her arm gently to lead her to an easy- chair.
"No, no, no!" she cried, now thoroughly aroused, with eyes that again snapped accusation and defiance at him, "don't touch me. Talk to me, if you want to, but don't, don't come near me." She was now facing him, standing in the high-ceilinged "studio," as they called the room where she had kept up in a desultory manner for her own amusement the art studies which had interested her before her marriage. "What is it that you want to say? The other nights you said nothing at all. Have you at last thought up an excuse? I hope it is at least a clever one."
"Constance," he remonstrated, looking fearfully about. Instinctively she felt that her accusation was unjust. Not even that had dulled the hunted look in his face. "Perhaps--perhaps if it were that of which you suspect me, we could patch it up. I don't know. But, Constance, I--I must leave for the west on the first train in the morning." He did not pause to notice her startled look, but raced on. "I have worked every night this week trying to straighten out those accounts of mine by the first of the year and--and I can't do it. An expert begins on them in a couple of days. You must call up the office to-morrow and tell them that I am ill, tell them anything. I must get at least a day or two start before they--"
"Carlton," she interrupted, "what is the matter? What have you--"
She checked herself in surprise. He had been fumbling in his pocket and now laid down a pile of green and yellow banknotes on the table.
"I have scraped together every last cent I can spare," he continued, talking jerkily to suppress his emotion. "They cannot take those away from you, Constance. And--when I am settled--in a new life," he swallowed hard and averted his eyes further from her startled gaze, "under a new name, somewhere, if you have just a little spot in your heart that still responds to me, I--I--no, it is too much even to hope. Constance, the accounts will not come out right because I am-- I am an embezzler."
He bit off the word viciously and then sank his head into his hands and bowed it to a depth that alone could express his shame.
Why did she not say something, do something? Some women would have fainted. Some would have denounced him. But she stood there and he dared not look up to read what was written in her face. He felt alone, all alone, with every man's hand against him, he who had never in all his life felt so or had done anything to make him feel so before. He groaned as the sweat of his mental and physical agony poured coldly out on his forehead. All that he knew was that she was standing there, silent, looking him through and through, as cold as a statue. Was she the personification of justice? Was this but a foretaste of the ostracism of the world?
"When we were first married, Constance," he began sadly, "I was only a clerk for Green & Co., at two thousand a year. We talked it over. I stayed and in time became cashier at five thousand. But you know as well as I that five thousand does not meet the social obligations laid on us by our position in the circle in which we are forced to move."
His voice had become cold and hard, but he did not allow himself to be betrayed into adding, as he might well have done in justice to himself, that to her even a thousand dollars a month would have been only a beginning. It was not that she had be accustomed to so much in the station of life from which he had taken her. The plain fact was that New York had had an over-tonic effect on her.
"You were not a nagging woman, Constance," he went on in a somewhat softened tone. "In fact you have been a good wife; yon have never thrown it up to me that I was unable to make good to the degree of many of our friends in purely commercial lines. All you have ever said is the truth. A banking house pays low for its brains. My God!" he cried stiffening out in the chair and clenching his fists, "it pays low for its temptations, too."
There had been nothing in the world Carlton would not have given to make happy the woman who stood now, leaning on the table in cold silence, with averted head, regarding neither him nor the pile of greenbacks.
"Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed through my hands every week," he resumed. "That business owed me for my care of it. It was taking the best in me and in return was not paying what other businesses paid for the best in other men. When a man gets thinking that way, with a woman whom he loves as I love you--something happens."
He paused in the bitterness of his thoughts. She moved as if to speak. "No, no," he interrupted. "Hear me out first. All I asked was a chance to employ a little of the money that I saw about me--not to take it, but to employ it for a little while, a few days, perhaps only a few hours. Money breeds money. Why should I not use some of this idle money to pay me what I ought to have?
"When Mr. Green was away last summer I heard some inside news about a certain stock, go it happened that I began to juggle the accounts. It is too long a story to tell how I did it. Anybody in my position
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