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- Constance Dunlap - 30/46 -
thought it was all right, ma'am."
"And then what?" inquired Constance breathlessly.
"Well, in about five minutes my bell rang. I ran the elevator up again, and, waiting, was this man with a girl I had never seen before. You understand--I thought it was all right--he told me he was going to meet some one."
"Yes--yes. I understand. Oh, my God, if I had only thought to leave word not to let her go. How did she look?"
"Her clothes, you mean, Ma'am?"
"No--her face, her eyes!"
"Beggin' your pardon, I thought she was--well, er,--acted queer-- scared--dazed-like."
"You didn't notice which way they went, I suppose!"
"No ma'am, I didn't."
Constance turned back again into her empty apartment, heart-sick. In spite of all she had planned and done, she was defeated--worse than defeated. Where was Florence! What might not happen to her! She could have sat down and cried. Instead she passed a feverishly restless night.
All the next day passed, and still not a word. She felt her own helplessness. She could not appeal to the police. That might defeat the very end she sought. She was single-handed. For all she knew, she was fighting the almost limitless power of brains and money of Preston. Inquiry developed the fact that Preston himself was reported to be in Chicago with his fiancee. Time and again she was on the point of making the journey to let him know that some one at least was watching him. But, she reflected, if she did that she might miss the one call from Florence for help.
Then she thought bitterly of the false hopes she had raised in the despairing father of Florence Gibbons. It was maddening.
Several times during the day Constance dropped into the Betsy Ross, without finding any word.
Late that night the buzzer on her door sounded. It was Mrs. Palmer herself, with a letter at last, written on rough paper in pencil with a trembling hand.
Constance almost literally pounced on it.
"Will you tell the lady who was so kind to me that while she was out seeing you at the tea room, there was a call at her door? I didn't like to open it, but when I asked who was there, a man said it was the steam-fitter she had asked to call about the heat.
"I opened the door. From that moment when I saw his face until I came to myself here I remember nothing. I would write to her, only I don't know where she lives. One of the bell-boys here is kind enough to smuggle this note out for me addressed to the Betsy Boss.
"Tell her please, that I am at a place in Brooklyn, I think, called Lustgarten's--she can recognize it because it is at a railroad crossing--steam railroads, not trolleys or elevateds.
"I know you think me crazy, Mrs. Palmer, but the other lady can tell you about it. Oh, it was the same horrible feeling that came over me that night as before. It isn't a dream; it's more like a trance. It comes in a second--usually when I am frightened. I suddenly feel nervous and shaky. I can't tell what is going on around me. I lose my hearing. Part of the time it is as though, I had a paralytic stroke of the tongue. The next day, perhaps, it is gone. But while it lasts it is terrifying. It's like walking into a new world, with everybody, everything strange about me."
The note ended with a most pathetic appeal.
Constance was already nervously putting on her hat.
"You are going to go there?" asked Mrs. Palmer.
"If I can locate the place," she answered.
"Aren't you afraid?" inquired the other.
Constance did not reply. She ostentatiously slipped a little ivory- handled revolver into her handbag.
"It's a new one," she explained finally, "like nothing you ever heard of before, I guess. I bought it only the other day after a friend of mine told me about it."
Mrs. Palmer was watching her closely.
"You--you are a wonderful woman," she burst out finally. "It isn't good business, it isn't good sense."
Constance stopped short in her preparations for the search. "What are business and sense compared to the--the life of--"
She checked herself on the very point of revealing the girl's real name.
"Nothing," replied Mrs. Palmer. "I had already made up my mind to go with you before I spoke--if you will let me."
In a moment the two understood each other better than after years of casual acquaintance.
Back and forth through the mazes of streets and car lines of the city across the river the two women traveled, asking veiled questions of every wearer of a uniform, until at last they found such a place as Florence had described in her note.
There, it seemed, had sprung up a little center of vice. While reformers were trying to clamp down tight the "lid" in New York, all the vicious elements were prying it up here. Crushed in one place, they rose again in another.
There was the electric sign--"Lustgarten." Even a cursory glance told them that it included a saloon on the first floor, with a sort of dance hall and second-rate cabaret. Above that was a hotel. The windows were darkened, with awnings pulled down, even on what must have been in the daytime the shady side.
"Shall we go in? Are you game?" asked Constance of her companion.
"I haven't gone so far without considering that," replied Mrs. Palmer, somewhat reproachfully.
Without a word Constance entered the door down the street followed by her companion.
A negro at the little cubby hole of an office pushed out a register at them. Constance signed the first names that came into her head, and a moment later they were on their way up to a big double room on the third floor, led by another, younger negro.
"Will you send the bell-boy up?" asked Constance as they entered the room.
"I'm the bell-boy ma'am," was his disconcerting reply.
"I mean the other one," replied Constance, hazarding, "the one who is here in the day time."
"There ain't no other boy, ma'am. There ain't no--"
"Could you deliver a note for me at a tea room in New York to- morrow?" interrupted Constance, striking while the iron seemed hot.
The boy turned around abruptly from his busy occupation of doing something useless that would elicit a tip. He quietly shut the door, and wheeled about with his hand still on the knob.
"Do you want to know what room she's in?" he asked.
Constance opened her handbag. Mrs. Palmer suppressed a little scream. She had expected that ivory-handled thing to appear. Instead there was a treasury note of a size that caused the white part of the boy's eyes to expand beyond all the laws of optics.
"Yes," she said, pressing it into his hand.
"Forty-two-down the hall, around the turn, on the other side," whispered the boy. "And for God's sake, ma'am, don't tell nobody I told you."
His shuffle down the hall had scarcely ceased before the two women were stealthily creeping in the opposite direction, looking eagerly at the numbers.
Constance had stopped abruptly around the turn. Through a transom of one of the rooms they could hear voices but could see no light.
"Well, go back then," growled a gruff voice. "Your family will never believe your story, never believe that you came again and stayed at Lustgarten's against your will. Why," the voice taunted with a harsh laugh, "if they knew the truth, they would turn you from the door, instead of offering a reward."
There was a moment of silence. Then a woman's voice, strangely familiar to Constance, spoke.
"The truth!" she exclaimed bitterly. "He knew it was a case of a girl who liked a good time, liked pretty clothes, a ride in an automobile, theaters, excitement, bright lights, night life--a girl with a romantic disposition in whom all that was repressed at home. He knew it," she repeated, raising the tone to an almost hysterical pitch, "led me on, made me love him because he could give them all to me. And when I began to show the strain of the pace-they all show it more than the men--he cast me aside like a squeezed-out lemon."
As she listened, Constance understood it all now. It was to make Florence Gibbons a piece of property, a thing to be traded in, bartered--that was the idea. Discover her--yes; but first to thrust her into the life if she would not go into it herself--anything to discredit her testimony beforehand, anything to save the precious reputation of one man.
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