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- Constance Dunlap - 7/46 -
situation became more and more delicate. They found themselves alone much of the time now. Beverley was, or pretended to be, busy on other matters and avoided Dodge as much as possible. Only the regular routine affairs passed through his hands, but he said nothing. It gave him more time with her. Dumont came in as rarely as it was possible.
And as they worked along gathering the data Constance came to admire Murray more than ever. She worked patiently over the big books, taking only those on which the accountant was not engaged at such times as she could get them without exciting suspicion. Together they dug out the extent of the frauds that had been practiced on the Government for years back. From the letter files they rescued notes and orders and letters, pieced them together into as near a continuous record as they could make. With his own knowledge of the books Dodge could count on making better progress on the essential things than the regular accountant of the audit company. He felt sure that they would finish sooner and that they would have a closer report of the frauds of all kinds than could be uncovered by the man who had been set on the trail of Dodge to discover just how much of the illicit gains he had taken for himself.
Constance became aware soon that whenever she left the office at night she was being followed. She had at first studiously repelled the offers of Murray to see her home. It was not that he had taken advantage of the situation into which she had put herself. He would never have done that. Still, she wished a little more time to analyze her own conflicting feelings toward him. Then, too, several times in the crowded subway cars she had noticed a face that was familiar. It was Drummond, never looking directly at her, always engrossed in something else, yet never failing to note where she was going. That must be, she reasoned, some of the work of Beverley and Dumont.
Murray was now working feverishly. As he worked he found himself feeling differently toward the whole affair. He actually came to enjoy it with all its risks and uncertainty, to enjoy gathering the data which, he should have said, ought really to be destroyed. Often he caught himself wishing that everything had come out all right in the end and that Constance really was his private secretary.
Every moment with her seemed now to pass so quickly that he would willingly have smashed all the clocks and destroyed all the calendars. Association with other women had been tame beside his new friendship with her. She had suffered, felt, lived. She fascinated him, as often over the books they would stop to talk, talk of things the most irrelevant, yet to him the most interesting, until she would bring him back inevitably to the point of their work and start him again with a new power and incentive toward the purpose she had in mind.
To Constance he seemed to fill a blank spot in her empty life. If she had been bitter toward the world for what had happened to her, the pleasure of helping another to beat that harsh world seemed an unspeakably sweet compensation.
At last even Constance herself began to realize it. It was not, after all, merely the bitterness toward society, that lured her on. She was not a woman carved out of a block of stone. There was a sweetness about this association that carried her along as if in a dream. She was actually falling in love with him.
One day she had been working later than usual. The accountant had shown signs of approaching the end of his task sooner than they had expected. Murray was waiting, as was his custom, for her to finish before he left.
There was no sound in the almost deserted office building save the banging of a door echoing now and then, or an insistent ring of the elevator bell as an anxious office boy or stenographer sought to escape after an extra period of work.
Murray stood looking at her admiringly as she deftly shoved the pins into her hat. Then he held her coat, which brought them close together.
"It will soon be time for the final scene," he remarked. His manner was different as he looked down at her. "We must succeed, Constance," he went on slowly. "Of course, after it is over, it will be impossible for me to remain here with this company. I have been looking around. I must--we must clear ourselves. I already have an offer to go with another company, much better than this position in every way--honest, square, with no dirty work, such as I have had here."
It was a moment that Constance had foreseen, without planning what she would do. She moved to the door as if to go.
"Take dinner with me to-night at the Riverside," he went on, mentioning the name of a beautifully situated inn uptown overlooking the lights of the Hudson and thronged by gay parties of pleasure seekers.
Before she could say no, even though she would have said it, he had linked his arm in hers, banged shut the door and they were being whisked to the street in the elevator.
This time, as they were about to go out of the building, she noticed Drummond standing in the shadow of a corner back of the cigar counter on the first floor. She told Murray of the times she had seen Drummond following her. Murray ground his teeth.
"He'll have to hustle this time," he muttered, handing her quickly into a cab that was waiting for a fare.
Before he could give the order where to drive she had leaned out of the window, "To the ferry," she cried.
Murray looked at her inquiringly. Then he understood. "Not to the Riverside--yet," she whispered. "That man has just summoned a cab that was passing."
In her eyes Murray saw the same fire that had blazed when she had told him he was running away from a fight that had not yet begun. As the cab whirled through the now nearly deserted downtown streets, he reached over in sheer admiration and caressed her hand. She did not withdraw it, but her averted eyes and quick breath told that a thousand thoughts were hurrying through her mind, divided between the man in the cab beside her and the man in the cab following perhaps half a block behind.
At the ferry they halted and pretended to be examining a time table, though they bought only ferry tickets. Drummond did the same, and sauntered leisurely within easy distance of the gate. Nothing seemed to escape him, and yet never did he seem to be watching them.
The gateman shouted "All aboard!"
The door began to close.
"Come," she tugged at his sleeve.
They dodged in just in time. Drummond followed. They started across the wagonway to the opposite side of the slip. He kept on the near side. Constance swerved back again to the near side. Drummond had been opposite them and they had now fallen in behind him. He was now ahead, but going slowly. Murray felt her pulling back on his arm. With a little exclamation she dropped her purse, which contained a few coins. She had contrived to open it, and the coins ran in every possible direction. Drummond was now on the boat.
"All aboard," growled the guard surlily. "All aboard."
"Go ahead, go ahead," shouted Murray, trying to pick up the scattered change and scattering it the more. At last he understood. "Go ahead. We'll take the next boat. Can't you. see the lady has dropped her purse?"
The gates closed. The warning whistle blew, and the ferryboat, departed, bearing off Drummond alone.
Another cab toot them to the Riverside. A new bond of experience had been established between them. They dined quietly and as the lights grew mellow she told him more of her story than she had ever breathed to any other living soul.
As Murray listened he looked his admiration for the daring of the little woman opposite him at the table.
They drifted. ...
It was the day of the threatened exposure. Curiously enough, Dodge felt no nervousness. The understanding which he had reached or felt that he had reached with Constance made him rather eager than, otherwise to have the whole affair over with at once.
Drummond had been shut up for some time in the office of Beverley with Dumont, going over the report which the accountant had prepared and other matters--He had come in without seeing either Constance or Murray, though they knew he must be nursing his chagrin over the episode of the night before.
"They are waiting to see you," reported Constance to Dodge, half an hour later, after one of the office boys had been sent over as a formal messenger to their office.
"We are ready for them?" he asked, smiling at her.
"Then I shall go in. Wait a moment. When they have hurled their worst at me I shall call on you. Have the stuff ready."
There was no hesitation, no misgiving on the part of either, as he strode into Beverley's office. Constance had prepared the record which they had been working on, and for days had been momentarily expecting this crisis. She felt that she was ready.
An ominous silence greeted Dodge as he entered.
"We have had experts on your books, Dodge," began Beverley, clearing his throat, as Murray seated himself, waiting for them to speak first.
"I have seen that," he replied dryly.
"They are fifty thousand dollars short," shot out Dumont.
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