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- Constance Dunlap - 6/46 -
There was a certain deference in his manner, too, which did not accord with Constance's ideas of a detective. Yet he did know something of her. How much! Was it merely what the rest of the world knew? She could not help seeing that the man was studying her, while she studied him. There was a fascination about it, a fascination that the human mystery always possesses for a woman. On his part, he showed keenly his interest in her.
Constance had met him with more frankness as she encountered him often during the days that followed. She had even tried to draw him out to talk of himself.
"I came here," he had said one day when they were passing the spot where he had overtaken her first, "without knowing a soul, not expecting to meet any one I should care for, indeed hoping to meet no one."
Constance had said nothing, but she felt that at last he was going to crash down the barrier of reserve. He continued earnestly, "Somehow or other I have come to enjoy these little walks."
"So have I," she admitted, facing him; "but, do you know, sometimes I have thought that Malcolm Dodd is not your real name?"
"Not my real name?" he repeated.
"And that you are here for some other purpose than--just to rest. You know, you might be a detective."
He had looked at her searchingly. Then in a burst of confidence, he had replied, "No, my name is not Dodd, as you guessed. But I am not a detective, as you suspected at first. I have been watching you because, ever since I heard your story here, I have been--well, not suspicious, but--attracted. You seem to me to have faced a great problem. I, too, have come to the parting of the ways. Shall I run or shall I fight?"
He had handed her a card without hesitation. It bore the name, "Murray Dodge, Treasurer, Globe Importing Company."
"What do you mean?" she had asked quickly, hardly expecting an answer. "What have you done?"
"Oh, it is the usual trouble, I suppose," he had replied wearily, much to her surprise. "I began as a boy in the company and ultimately worked myself up as it grew, until I became treasurer. To cut it short, I have used funds belonging to the company, lost them. I don't need to tell you how a treasurer or a cashier can do that."
Constance was actually startled. Was he what he represented himself to be? Or was he leading her on in this way to a confession of her own part, which she had covered so well, in the forgeries of her dead husband?
"How did you begin?" she asked tentatively.
"A few years ago," he answered with a disconcerting lack of reserve, "the company found that we could beat our competitors by a very simple means. The largest stockholder, Mr. Dumont, was friendly with some of the customs officials and--well, we undervalued our goods. It was easy. The only thing necessary was to bribe some of the officials. The president of the company, Walton Beverley, put the dirty work on me as treasurer. Now you can imagine what that meant."
He had fallen into a cynical tone again.
"It meant that I soon found, or, rather, thought I found, that every man has his price--some higher, some lower, but a price, nevertheless. It was my business to find it, to keep it as low as I could with safety. So it went, from one crooked thing to another. I knew I was crooked, but not as bad, I think, as the rest who put the actual work on me. I was unfortunate, weak perhaps. That is all. I tried to get mine, too. I lost what I meant to put back after I had used it. They are after me now, or soon will be--the crooks! And here I am, momentarily expecting some one to walk up quietly behind me, tap me on the shoulder and whisper, 'You're wanted.'"
Time had not softened the bitterness of Constance's feelings. Somehow she felt that the world, or at least society owed her for taking away her husband. The world must pay. She sympathized with the young man who was appealing to her for friendship. Why not help him?
"Do you really, really want to know what I think?" asked Constance after he had at last told her his wretched story. It was the first time that she had looked at him since she realized that he was unburdening the truth to her.
"Yes," he answered eagerly, catching her eye. "Yes," he urged.
"I think," she said slowly, "that you are running away from a fight that has not yet begun."
It thrilled her to be talking so. Once before she had tasted the sweetness and the bitterness of crime. She did not stop to think about right or wrong. If she had done so her ethics would have been strangely illogical. It was enough that, short as their acquaintance had been, she felt unconsciously that there was something latent in the spirit of this man akin to her own.
Murray also felt rather than understood the bond that had been growing so rapidly between them. His was the temperament that immediately translates feeling into action. He reached into his breast pocket. There was the blue-black glint of a cold steel automatic. A moment he balanced it in his hand. Then with a rapid and decisive motion of the arm he flung it far from him. As it struck the water with a sound horribly suggestive of the death gurgle of a lost man, he turned and faced her.
"There," he exclaimed with a new light in the defiant, desperate smile that she had observed many times before, "there. The curtain rises--instead of falls."
Neither spoke for a few moments. At last he added, "What shall I do next?"
"Do?" she repeated. She felt now the weight of responsibility for interfering with his desperate plans, but it did not oppress her. On the contrary, it was a pleasant burden. "According to your own story," she went on, "they know nothing yet, as far as you can see. You would have forestalled them by taking this little vacation during which you could disappear while they would discover the shortage. Do? Go back."
"And when they discover it?" he asked evidently prepared for the answer she had given and eager to know what she would propose next.
Constance had been thinking rapidly.
"Listen," she cried, throwing aside restraint now. "No one in New York outside my former little circle knows me. I can live there in another circle unobserved. For weeks I have been amusing myself by the study of shorthand. I have picked up enough to be able to carry the thing off. Discharge your secretary. Put an advertisement in the newspapers. I will answer it. Then I will be able to help you. I cannot say at a distance what you should do next. There, perhaps, I can tell you."
What was it that had impelled her to say it? She could not have told. Murray looked at her. Her very presence seemed to infuse new determination into him.
It was strange about this woman, what a wonderful effect she had on him.
A few days before he would have laughed at any one who had suggested that any woman might have aroused in him the passions that were now surging through his heart. Ten thousand years ago, perhaps, he would have seized her and carried her off. in triumph to his clan or tribe. To-day he must, he would win her by more subtle means.
His mind was made up. She had pointed the way. That night Dodge left Woodlake hastily for New York.
To Constance a new purpose seemed to have entered into a barren life. She was almost gay as she packed her trunks and grips and quietly slipped into the city a few hours later and registered at a quiet hotel for business women.
Sure enough in the Star the next morning was the advertisement. She wrote in a formal way, giving her telephone number. That afternoon, apparently as soon as the letter had been delivered, a call came. The following morning she was the private secretary of Murray Dodge, sitting unobtrusively before a typewriter desk in a sort of little anteroom that guarded the door to his office.
She took pains to act the part of private secretary and no more. As appeared natural to the rest of the office force at first she was much with Murray, who made the most elaborate explanations of the detail of the business.
"Do they suspect anything?" she asked anxiously as soon as they were absolutely alone.
"I think so," he replied. "They said nothing except that they had not expected me back so soon, I think the 'so soon' was an afterthought. They didn't expect me back at all. For," he added significantly, "I've been in fear and trembling until I could get you. They already have asked the regular audit company to go over the books in advance of the time when we usually employ them. I didn't ask why. I merely accepted it with a nod. It might have meant bringing matters to a crisis now."
He felt safer with Constance installed as his private secretary. True, Beverley and Dumont had viewed her from the start with suspicion.
Constance had been thinking hard out in her little office since she had begun to understand how matters stood. "Well?" she demanded. "What of it? Don't try to conceal it. Let them discover it. Go further. Dare them. Court exposure."
It was bold and ingenious. What a woman she was for meeting emergencies. Murray, who had a will that had been accustomed to bend others to his purposes except in the instance where they had bent him and nearly broken him, recognized the masterful mind of Constance. He was willing to allow her to play the game.
Thus Constance began collecting the very data that would have sent Murray to jail for bribery. Day by day as she worked on, the
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