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- Jane Cable - 6/52 -


One glance was sufficient. The tall, angular form stood almost over her; the two, wide, blue eyes looked down in feigned surprise; the never-to-be-forgotten voice greeted her, hoarsely:

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Cable! And how is the baby?"

"The baby!" she faltered. Struggle against it as she would, a sort of fascination drew her gaze toward the remarkable face of the old clerk. "Why--why--she's very well, thank you," she finally stammered. Her face was as white as a ghost; with a shudder she started to pass him. Droom, blocked the way.

"She was such a pretty little thing, I remember;" and then, insinuatingly: "Where is her father, now?"

"He--Mr. Cable," answered Mrs. Cable, feeling very much as a bird feels when it is charmed by a snake, "why, he's at home, of course."

"Indeed!" was all that Elias Droom said; for she had fled to escape the grin that writhed in and out among the wrinkles of his face.

As her carriage struggled through crowded Washington Street, an irresistible something compelled Frances Cable to glance back. Droom stood on the curb, his eyes following her almost hungrily. Half an hour later, when she reached home, she was in a state of collapse. Although there was no physical proof of the fact, she was positive that Elias Droom had followed her to the very doorstep.

In suspense and dread, she waited for days before there was a second manifestation of Droom. There was rarely a day when she did not expect her husband to stand before her and ask her to explain the story that had been carried to him by a demon in the form of man.

But Droom did not go to David Cable. He went to James Bansemer with the news.

James Bansemer's law and loan offices were not far from the river and, it is sufficient to say, not much farther from State Street. He who knows Chicago well cannot miss the location more than three blocks, either way, if he takes City Hall as a focal point. The office building in which they were located is not a pretentious structure, but its tenants were then and still are regarded as desirable. It may be well to announce that Bansemer, on reaching Chicago, was clever enough to turn over a new leaf and begin work on a clear, white page, but it is scarcely necessary to add that the black, besmirched lines on the opposite side of the sheet could be traced through every entry that went down on the fresh white surface. Bansemer was just as nefarious in his transactions, but he was a thousandfold more cautious. Droom sarcastically reminded him that he had a reputation to protect, in his new field and, besides, as his son was "going in society" through the influence of a coterie of Yale men, it would be worse than criminal to deteriorate.

Bansemer loathed Droom, but he also feared him. He was the only living creature that inspired fear in the heart of this bold schemer. It is true that he feared the effect an exposure might have on the mind of his stalwart son, the boy with his mother's eyes; but he had succeeded so well in blinding the youth in the years gone by, that the prospects of discovery now seemed too remote for concern. The erstwhile New York "shark" was now an eel, wily and elusive, but he was an eel with a shark's teeth and a shark's voraciousness. He had grown old in the study of this particular branch of natural history. Bansemer was fifty-five years old in this year of 1898. He was thinner than in the old New York days, but the bull-like vigour had given way to the wiry strength of the leopard. The once black hair was almost white, and grew low and thick on his forehead. Immaculately dressed, ever straight and aggressive in carriage, he soon became a figure of whom all eyes took notice, even in the most crowded of Chicago thoroughfares.

Graydon Bansemer, on leaving Yale with a diploma and some of the honours of his class, urged his father to take him into his office, and ultimately to make him a partner in the business. James Bansemer never forgot the malicious grin that crossed the face of Elias Droom when the young fellow made the proposition not more than a fortnight before the Bansemer establishment picked itself up and hastily deserted New York. That grin spoke plainer than all the words in language. Take him into the office? Make this honest, grey-eyed boy a partner? It was no wonder that Droom grinned and it is no wonder that he forgot to cover his mouth with his huge hand, as was his custom.

The proposition, while sincere and earnest, was too impossible for words. For once in his life, James Bansemer was at a loss for subterfuge. He stammered, flushed and writhed in the effort to show the young man that the step would be unprofitable, and he was sorely conscious that he had not convinced the eager applicant. He even urged him to abandon the thought of becoming a lawyer, and was ably seconded by Elias Droom, whose opinion of the law, as he had come to know it, was far from flattering.

Just at this time Bansemer was engaged in the most daring as well as the most prodigious "deal" of his long career. With luck, it was bound to enrich him to the extent of $50,000. The plans had been so well prepared and the execution had been so faultless that there seemed to be no possibility of failure. To take his fair-minded son--with the mother's eyes--into the game would be suicidal. The young fellow would turn from him forever. Bansemer never went so far as to wonder whence came the honest blood in the boy's veins, nor to speculate on the origin of the unquestioned integrity. He had but to recall the woman who bore him, the woman whose love was the only good thing he ever knew, the wife he had worshipped while he sinned.

For years and years he had plied his unwholesome trade in reputations, sometimes evading exposure by the narrowest of margins, and he had come to believe that he was secure for all time to come. But it was the "big job" that brought disaster. Just when it looked as though success was assured, the crash came. He barely had time to cover his tracks, throw the figurative pepper into the eyes of his enemies, and get away from the scene of danger. But, he had been clever and resourceful enough to avoid the penalty that looked inevitable and came off with colours trailing but uncaptured.

Perhaps no other man could have escaped; but James Bansemer was cleverest when in a corner. He backed away, held them at bay until he could recover his breath, and then defied them to their teeth. Despite their proof, he baffled them, and virtue was not its own reward--at least in this instance.

In leaving New York, he hoped that Ellas Droom--who knew too much--might refuse to go into the new territory with him, but the gaunt, old clerk took an unnatural and malevolent delight in clinging to his employer. He declined to give up his place in the office, and, although he hated James Bansemer, he came like an accusing shadow into the new offices near the Chicago River, and there he toiled, grinned and scowled with the same old faithfulness.

CHAPTER VI

IN SIGHT OF THE FANGS

At first, it was hard for James Bansemer to believe that his henchman had not been mistaken. Droom's description of the lady certainly did not correspond to what his memory recalled. Investigation, however, assured him that the Cables in the mansion near the lake were the people he had known in New York. Bansemer took no one into his confidence, not even Droom. Once convinced that the erstwhile fireman was now the rich and powerful magnate, he set to work upon the machinery which was to extract personal gain from the secret in his possession. He soon learned that the child was a young woman of considerable standing in society, but there was no way for him to ascertain whether Frances Cable had told the truth to her husband in those dreary Far West days.

Bansemer was rich enough, but avarice had become a habit. The flight from New York had deprived him of but little in worldly goods. His ill-gotten gains came with him; and investments were just as easy and just as safe in Chicago as in New York. Now, he saw a chance to wring a handsome sum from the rich woman whose only possession had been love when he first knew her. If the secret of Jane's origin still remained locked up in her heart, the effort would be an easy one. He learned enough of David Cable, however, to know that if he shared the secret, the plan would be profitless and dangerous.

It was this uncertainty that kept him from calling at the Cable home; likewise, from writing a note which might prove a most disastrous folly. Time and circumstance could be his only friends, and he was accustomed to the whims of both. He read of the dinners and entertainments given by the Cables, and smiled grimly. Time had worked wonders for them! Scandal, he knew, could undo all that ambition and pride had wrought. He could well afford to wait.

However, he did not have long to wait, for his opportunity came one night in Hooley's Theatre. Graydon and he occupied seats in the orchestra, near the stage and not far from the lower right-hand boxes. It was during the busy Christmas holidays, but the "star" was of sufficient consequence to pack the house. The audience was no end of a fashionable one. Time and again, some strange influence drew his gaze to the gay party in one of the lower boxes. The face of the woman nearest to him was not visible; but the two girls who sat forward, turned occasionally to look over the audience; and he saw that they were pretty, one exceptionally so. One of the men was grey-haired and strong-featured; the others were quite too insignificant to be of interest to him. The woman whose back he could see did not look out over the audience. Her indifference was so marked that it seemed deliberate.

At last, he felt that her eyes were upon him; he turned quickly. True enough, for with lips slightly parted, her whole attitude suggestive of intense restraint, Mrs. Cable was staring helplessly into the eyes of the man who could destroy her with a word.

The one thing that flashed through Bansemer's brain was the realisation that she was far more beautiful than he had expected her to be. There was a truly aristocratic loveliness in the rather piquant face, and she undeniably possessed "manner." Maturity had improved her vastly, he confessed with strange exultation; age had been kinder than youth. He forgot the play, seldom taking his eyes


Jane Cable - 6/52

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