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- Jane Cable - 3/52 -


his friends marvelled and--derided. A year of happiness followed. He grew accustomed to her frivolous ways, overlooked her merry whimsicalities and gave her the "full length of a free rope," as he called it. He was contented and consequently careless. She chafed under the indifference, and in her resentment believed the worst of him. Turmoil succeeded peace and contentment, and in the end, David Cable, driven to distraction, weakly abandoned the domestic battlefield and fled to the Far West, giving up home, good wages, and all for the sake of freedom, such as it was. He ignored her letters and entreaties, but in all those months that he was away from her he never ceased to regret the impulse that had defeated him. Nevertheless, he could not make up his mind to go back and resume the life of torture her jealousy had begotten.

Then, the unexpected happened. A letter was received containing the command to come home and care for his wife and baby. At once, David Cable called a halt in his demoralising career and saw the situation plainly. He forgot that she had "nagged" him to the point where endurance rebelled; he forgot everything but the fact that he cared for her in spite of all. Sobered and conscience-stricken, he knew only that she was alone and toiling; that she had suffered uncomplainingly until the babe was some months old before appealing to him for help. In abject humiliation, he hastened back to New York, reproaching himself every mile of the way. Had he but known the true situation, he would have been spared the pangs of remorse, and this narrative never would have been written.

CHAPTER III

JAMES BANSEMER

In the City of New York there was practising, at that time, a lawyer by the name of Bansemer. His office, on the topmost floor of a dingy building in the lower section of the city, was not inviting. On leaving the elevator, one wound about through narrow halls and finally peered, with more or less uncertainty and misgiving, at the half-obliterated sign which said that James Bansemer held forth on the other side of the glass panel.

It was whispered in certain circles and openly avowed in others that Bansemer's business was not the kind which elevates the law; in plain words, his methods were construed to debase the good and honest statutes of the land. Once inside the door of his office--and a heavy spring always closed it behind one--there was quick evidence that the lawyer lamentably disregarded the virtues of prosperity, no matter how they had been courted and won. Although his transactions in and out of the courts of that great city bore the mark of dishonour, he was known to have made money during the ten years of his career as a member of the bar. Possibly he kept his office shabby and unclean that it might be in touch with the transactions which had their morbid birth inside the grimy walls. There was no spot or corner in the two small rooms that comprised his "chambers" to which he could point with pride. The floors were littered with papers; the walls were greasy and bedecked with malodorous notations, documents and pictures; the windows were smoky and useless; the clerk's desk bore every suggestion of dissoluteness.

But little less appalling to one's aesthetic sense was the clerk himself. Squatting behind his wretched desk, Elias Droom peered across the litter of papers and books with snaky but polite eyes, almost as inviting as the spider who, with wily but insidious decorum, draws the guileless into his web.

If one passed muster in the estimation of the incomprehensible Droom, he was permitted, in due season, to pass through a second oppressive-looking door and into the private office of Mr. James Bansemer, attorney-at-law and solicitor. It may be remarked at this early stage that, no matter how long or how well one may have known Droom, one seldom lingered to engage in commonplaces with him. His was the most repellent personality imaginable. When he smiled, one was conscious of a shock to the nervous system; when he so far forgot himself as to laugh aloud, there was a distinct illustration of the word "crunching"; when he spoke, one was almost sorry that he had ears.

Bansemer knew but little of this freakish individual's history; no one else had the temerity to inquire into his past--or to separate it from his future, for that matter. Once, Bansemer ironically asked him why he had never married. It was a full minute before the other lifted his eyes from the sheet of legal cap, and by that time he was in full control of his passion.

"Look at me! Would any woman marry a thing like me?"

This was said with such terrible earnestness that Bansemer took care never to broach the subject again. He saw that Droom's heart was not all steel and brass.

Droom v/as middle-aged. His lank body and cadaverous face were constructed on principles not generally accredited to nature as it applies to men. When erect, his body swayed as if it were a stubborn reed determined to maintain its dignity in the face of the wind; he did not walk, he glided. His long square chin, rarely clean-shaven, protruded far beyond its natural orbit; indeed, the attitude of the chin gave one an insight to the greedy character of the man. At first glance, one felt that Droom was reaching forth with his lower jaw to give greeting with his teeth, instead of his hand.

His neck was long and thin, and his turndown collar was at least two sizes too large. The nose was hooked and of abnormal length, the tip coming well down over the short, upper lip and broad mouth. His eyes were light blue, and so intense that he was never known to blink the lashes. Topping them were deep, wavering, black eyebrows that met above the nose, forming an ominous, cloudy line across the base of his thin, high forehead. The crown of his head, covered by long, scant strands of black hair, was of the type known as "retreating and pointed." The forehead ran upward and back from the brows almost to a point, and down from the pinnacle hung the veil of hair, just as if he had draped it there with the same care he might have used in placing his best hat upon a peg. His back was stooped, and the high, narrow shoulders were hunched forward eagerly. Long arms and ridiculously thin legs, with big hands and feet, tell the story of his extremities. When he was on his feet Droom was more than six feet tall; as he sat in the low-backed, office chair he looked to be less than five feet, over all. What became of that lank expanse of bone and cuticle when he sat down was one of the mysteries that not even James Bansemer could fathom.

The men had been classmates in an obscure law school down in Pennsylvania. Bansemer was good-looking, forceful and young; while Droom was distinctly his opposite. Where he came from no one knew and no one cared. He was past thirty-five when he entered the school-at least twelve years the senior of Bansemer.

His appearance and attire proclaimed him to be from the country; but his sophistry, his knowledge of the world and his wonderful insight into human nature contradicted his looks immeasureably. A conflict or two convinced his fellow students that he was more than a match for them in stealth and cunning, if not in dress and deportment.

Elias Droom had not succeeded as a lawyer. He repelled people, growing more and more bitter against the world as his struggles became harder. What little money he had accumulated--Heaven alone knew how: he came by it--dwindled to nothing, and he was in actual squalor when, later, Bansemer found him in an attic in Baltimore. Even as he engaged the half-starved wretch to become his confidential clerk the lawyer shuddered and almost repented of his action.

But Elias Droom was worth his weight in gold to James Bansemer from that day forth. His employer's sole aim in life was to get rich and thereby to achieve power. His ambition was laudable, if one accepts the creed of morals, but his methods were not so praise-worthy. After a year of two of starvation struggles to get on with the legitimate, he packed up his scruples and laid them away--temporarily, he said. He resorted to sharp practice, knavery, and all the forms of legal blackmail; it was not long before his bank account began to swell. His business thrived. He was so clever that not one of his shady proceedings reacted. It is safe to venture that ninety-nine per cent, of the people who were bilked through his manipulations promised, in the heat of virtuous wrath, to expose him, but he had learned to smile in security. He knew that exposure for him meant humiliation for the instigator, and he continued to rest easy while he worked hard.

"You're getting rich at this sort of thing," observed Droom one day, after the lawyer had closed a particularly nauseous deal to his own satisfaction, "but what are you going to do when the tide turns?"

Bansemer, irritated on perceiving that the other was engaged in his exasperating habit of rubbing his hands together, did not answer, but merely thundered out: "Will you stop that!"

There was a faint suggestion of the possibility of a transition of the hands to claws, as Droom abruptly desisted, but smilingly went on:

"Some day, the other shark will get the better of you and you'll have nothing to fall back on. You've been building on mighty slim foundations. There isn't a sign of support if the worst comes to the worst," he chuckled.

"It's a large world, Droom," said his employer easily.

"And small also, according to another saying," supplemented Droom. "When a man's down, everybody kicks him--I'm afraid you could not survive the kicking."

Droom grinned so diabolically as again he resumed the rubbing of his hands that the other turned away with an oath and closed the door to the inside office. Bansemer was alone and where Droom's eyes could not see him, but something told him that the grin hung outside the door for many minutes, as if waiting for a chance to pop in and tantalise him.

Bansemer was a good-looking man of the coarser mould--the kind of man that merits a second look in passing, and the second look is not always in his favour. He was thirty-five years of age, but looked older. His face was hard and deeply marked with the lines of intensity. The black eyes were fascinating in their brilliancy,


Jane Cable - 3/52

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