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The Substitute Millionaire written by Hulbert Footner who was a Canadian writer of non-fiction and detective fiction. This book was published in 1919. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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The Substitute Millionaire
On a certain morning, just as on six mornings in the week (barring holidays) and fifty weeks in the year, Jack Norman wormed his way into a crowded subway local at Fiftieth street, and, propping himself against the end of a cross seat, opened his paper. But this morning, like everybody else in the train, he approached the headlines with an unusual thrill of interest, for an immense sensation was in process of being unrolled in the press.
Two days before, Silas Gyde, the millionaire miser and usurer, had been blown to pieces in the street by a bomb. The assassin, arrested, proved to be not one of those who had a grievance against the old money lender (there were supposed to be many such) but a maniac of anarchistic proclivities. His name was Emil Jansen. He was already on the way to an asylum for the criminal insane.
The main facts of the case having been given in previous issues, space in the paper to-day was largely devoted to anecdotes illustrating the extraordinary eccentricities of the dead man. It was said that with an income of perhaps six millions a year, he spent no more than six hundred. He bought his clothes at an immigrant outfitters' on Washington street, and even so had not had a new suit in two years. To keep himself from spending money it was his habit to go about with empty pockets, and borrow what few cents he needed from bootblacks, newsboys and applewomen to whom he was well known. But he was scrupulous in repaying these debts. Every day, even when he had become old and feeble, he turned up at the office of a certain corporation for the sake of a free lunch provided to the directors, though he had to walk a mile from the Wall street district where all his business was transacted. It was at the door of this office that he had met his end. And so on. And so on.
Silas Gyde died a bachelor, and had left no kin so far as was known. His wealth was said to be well in excess of a hundred million dollars. The paper gave a tempting list of the gilt-edge securities he was supposed to own; but nothing was known for sure, for though continually engaged in litigation, he had left no personal attorney; he had not sufficiently trusted any man. No one could say, now, where he had kept his wealth or how he had intended to dispose of it.
Young Jack Norman read of the millions with the kind of aching gusto that a hungry man pictures a good dinner. Jack's earnings were twelve dollars a week. He knew little about sociology or economics, but he could not but feel a dim dissatisfaction with the scheme of things that restricted him, with all a youth's capacity for living largely, to twelve dollars weekly, while it provided the old man with the tastes of a hermit crab, with a hundred thousand.
Twelve dollars a week meant that Jack's still boyish appetite daily had to be less than satisfied by the fare of a second rate boarding house; it meant that he had to wear cheap clothes when the instinct of his years was to array himself like Solomon; it meant that his lip must curl with envy as the pleasures of the town passed him by; hardest of all to bear, it meant that the joys of honorable courtship were denied him. A fellow must have money to take a girl out in town.
Jack's case was not peculiar. The same expression of sullen wistfulness might have been read in many a young face on the same train. What distinguished this face from the others was a latent fire in the eyes which suggested that, given the opportunity, the possessor had the capacity to play a larger part in life than twelve dollars a week permitted.
He got off at Worth street and made his way East to Centre where he worked as book-keeper in Fisher's sash and blind factory. Walking the street, like many another young head that morning, his was light with dreams.
"If I had Silas Gyde's money I wouldn't be pounding the concrete like this. I'd be fluffing down to Wall street in my Rolls-Royce. Or my yacht would be putting me ashore at the Battery. Or a special train up from Lakewood. First thing I'd do would be to tell Fisher to go to Hell. Oh, that would be worth a million!
"I'd say to Fisher: 'Who do you think you are, you little two-spot bankrupt carpenter with your business in your wife's name! One would think you were William K. Astorbilt, the airs you give yourself. Why I could buy you out for the price of what I spend for a meal!'"
As he turned in at the door of Fisher's place Jack's eyes involuntarily sought a window in the establishment of the hardware jobber opposite. As present the window was tenantless; later it would be sanctified by a chestnut head bending over a typewriter. Jack's dreams were diverted into another channel.
"If I had Silas Gyde's money she wouldn't have to pay for her own lunch when she eats with me. And I could take her out nights. Oh! Automobile, dress-suit, box seats at the Opera, supper at the Bienvenu and a dance! Lord! And they say old Gyde lived on my salary!"
The offices of the Fisher factory were on the second floor. As Jack turned in from the hall, Fisher himself was standing at the door of his private office; hands in pockets, cigar rolling between thick lips, hat on the back of his head, on his face the customary brutal sneer.
"You're late!" he rasped. "Can't you get out of bed in the mornings?"
This was a regular performance at Fisher's. The boss took his pleasure that way, and the office employees were hardened to it. But at the moment Jack was exalted. In his imagination he was still the master of millions.
"The clock's fast," he said curtly, meeting Fisher square in the eye.
"You lie!" said that gentleman.
By way of answer Jack pulled out his watch and compared it with the wall clock. The glance was not complimentary to Fisher's battered time-piece. Fisher purpled with rage.
"You —— ——! Don't give me any of your lip!"
"Who do you think you are?" said Jack coolly. The words were fatally ready to his tongue. "You little two-by-four sash and blind maker with your business in your wife's name! Better pay your bills before you talk that way to honest men!"
Behind the fright in the eyes of the thin office-boy and the pale typist, gleamed a wondering delight. Never had such words been heard in that place!
"Get out of here! Get out of here!" roared Fisher on the verge of apoplexy. "Get out before I throw you out!"
"As to that," said Jack, "you're not man enough," and he took a step nearer the boss.
Fisher precipitately retired into his private office, slamming the door behind him. The office boy tittered, and clapped a scared hand over his mouth. Jack turned on his heel, and coolly lit a cigarette—lit it and blew a whole cloud of smoke, there in those sacred precincts! The eyes of the other two regarded him with a kind of adoration.
From behind the partition Fisher was still shouting: "Get out! You're fired!"
"Much obliged," said Jack. "It was worth it."
But even while he spake the brave words his heart was sinking like a stone in deep water. It was Wednesday, and his salary was always spent in advance of course. All he possessed in the world was a dollar twenty and his watch—fortunately out of hock for the time being. By this time, he thought Fisher was probably sorry too, and would take him back at a word of contrition—but with those admiring eyes on him, he could not speak it.
"So long, Kids," he said airily, and started for the door.
"Oh, wait a minute," said the boy. "Here's a letter for you this morning."
Jack thrust it carelessly into his pocket and went on down-stairs. At the street door he stopped at a loss. Turned loose on the street at nine o'clock of a working morning, which way was one to turn? He glanced across the street again, the window was still vacant. Anyway, he couldn't very well see her, jobless as he was. Better just drop of sight. This thought cost him a shrewd pang. He started walking quickly in the direction opposite to that whence she would presently come.
He remembered the letter and took it out. Letters were not so frequent in his life that he could afford to disdain them. This was a business envelope, large, square, and made of thick, fine paper. "National New York Bank" was neatly embossed on the flap. It was addressed in long-hand, an untidy but powerful scrawl.
"Some high-class ad," thought Jack. "Want to sell me bonds, I suppose." He chuckled with bitter humor.
Inside he found this communication in the same hand:
"Dear Mr. Norman:
"Will you please call me up at my office to-morrow morning. I shall arrive there about nine-thirty. The number of my private phone is —— Broad. You will not find it in the book.
"Very truly yours, "Walter Delamare."
Jack, being a true American youth, regarded this skeptically. "What kind of a con is he handing me?" he thought. "Who the deuce is Walter Delamare?"
The name rang familiarly in his ears. He glanced at the note head again. Under the name of the bank was printed: "Office of the President." Of course! Walter Delamare, President of the National New York Bank. His name was in the papers every day. It wielded a magic influence in the nation.
Jack still suspected a hoax of some kind, though the expensive note paper and the scrawly, characteristic hand were impressive. He examined the latter with fresh care. It was surely real handwriting, not process work.
"Oh well, it's worth a nickel for a telephone call," he thought. "I have nothing to lose."
He had nearly half an hour to kill before nine-thirty, and no twenty-five minutes ever passed more slowly. He walked down to Wall street and had a look at the outside of the National New York Bank, an imposing colonnade a whole block long. He circumnavigated it three times, and at nine thirty-one, precisely, went into a cigar store and called up the number that had been given him.
After a due interval he heard a voice at the other end of the wire that certainly sounded like that of a man of mark—crisp, serene, potent; humorous and kindly, too.
"This is Delamare. You are prompt. Can you come down to see me this morning?"
"Can you come right away? Later I shall be very busy."
"Good! Better taxi down. And by the way, it would be better if you sent in an assumed name. I will explain why when I see you. Call yourself—let me see—call yourself Mr. Robinson."
"Very well. I shall be expecting you. Good-by."
Jack issued from the telephone booth a little dazed. A great captain of finance asking him, the humble bookkeeper, to call! Putting Jack on an equal footing by referring to himself as "Delamare"! A mystery suggested by the use of an assumed name! What could it all mean! On the one hand the skeptic in Jack whispered: "Some one is putting up a game on you!" On the other hand the dear hidden ego in us all that only needs a little appreciation to show its head said: "Why shouldn't Walter Delamare have private business with you as well as anybody?"
Jack had only to walk across the street to the bank. The argument within him showed itself in a kind of defiant sheepishness as he passed the great portal and found himself under the far-flung vaulted ceiling. It had been designed to impress, and impressive it was. With its rare marbles and mural paintings it was more like a palace than a place of sober business. It was not yet the opening hour, but many elegant clerks were already starting to work behind the brass grills. Shabby Jack eyed their cravats and fine linen wistfully.
He asked one of the uniformed attendants the way to Mr. Delamare's office, half expecting a roar of laughter to go up. But nothing of the sort occurred. He next found himself opposed by a silvery-haired old gentleman whose exquisite courtesy was the same to all.
"Whom do you wish to see?"
"Mr. Delamare can be seen only by appointment."
"I have an appointment."
The courteous old gentleman permitted himself a glance of surprise. "What name shall I say?"
"Very good, sir."
He returned with an air of slightly heightened respect. "Please step this way, sir."
"It is all right," thought Jack. "Nobody is hoaxing me."
He followed his conductor down a mahogany and plate glass corridor.
Jack was introduced to a room of truly noble proportions, vast and high, with a row of tall windows with round tops, looking down a narrow street to the harbor. In the center was a flat-topped desk as big as a banquet board and behind it sat a man, dwarfed in size by the vastness of his surroundings—but immeasurably increased in significance. The whole place focused in him.
Jack's silken-tongued conductor announced him, and softly withdrew. The man at the desk raised his head and bent a look of strong interest and quizzical amusement on Jack. It was the face of a man well-assured of his place in the world; serene and careless; a man who consorted on equal terms with labor leaders and kings.
"So this is what you're like!" he said.
The unexpected look of interest and the strange words instead of heartening Jack had the contrary effect. His knees shook under him a little, his mouth went dry.
"Sit down," said Mr. Delamare, indicating a chair opposite him.
Jack obeyed, walking jerkily like an automaton.
"I suppose you're wondering why I sent for you?"
"You have no idea?"
"I will tell you as soon as you have answered a few questions. I must make sure first that I have got hold of the right man."
He pulled out a drawer, and taking from it a typewritten sheet, read his question from it.
"Your full name?"
"John Farrow Norman."
"Both dead, sir."
"John Goadby Norman."
"Place of your birth?"
"Cartonsville, New York."
There were other questions of a similar tenor, and Jack's answers were apparently satisfactory to Mr. Delamare. He folded the paper, and searched in the drawer for something else. His next question was an odd one.
"Are you wearing your father's watch?"
"Why, yes," stammered Jack.
It was the one article of value that he possessed. He unhooked it from its chain and passed it over. The banker opened the back of the case as if aware of what was to be found there, and the smiling face of Jack's mother as a bride was revealed. From the drawer he took an old-fashioned cabinet photograph, and compared it with the picture in the watch case.
Jack catching sight of the second picture was startled out of his diffidence. "My mother's picture! Where did you get that?"
Mr. Delamare showed him the two faces side by side. "Not the same photograph, but unquestionably the same woman. You may have both now."
He handed them over. The picture he had taken from the drawer showed Jack's mother at an earlier period, just graduating into womanhood with all the touching innocence of youth about her. Jack's eyes filled.
"What does it mean?" he murmured.
"One more question," said Mr. Delamare. "Give me a brief account of yourself as far back as you can remember."
Jack did so, wonderingly, and the banker checked his story with another typewritten sheet that he held.
"That will do," he said at last. "I'm satisfied."
"How did you learn all this?" asked Jack. "I didn't think anybody in the world was interested what jobs I had or where I lived."
"One never knows," was the smiling answer. "Write your name and I'll tell you."
Jack obeyed. The banker compared it with a signature he had.
"Now then," he said. "How would you like to be rich?"
Jack stared at him in a daze.
Delamare laughed. "Rich beyond the dreams of avarice! Worth eighty million dollars in fact."
"Eighty million!" muttered Jack stupidly.
"As you sit there this minute you are worth eighty million—perhaps more."
"Where—did I get it?" stammered Jack helplessly.
"Silas Gyde bequeathed you all he possessed."
Jack's face was a study in amazement, incredulity—not to say downright alarm. At the sight Mr. Delamare threw back his head and laughed a peal.
"Don't take it so hard! You'll live it down!"
"What was I to Silas Gyde?" murmured Jack.
"I don't know the whole story. Mr. Gyde took no man on earth into his confidence. I judge, though, that he was an unsuccessful suitor for your mother. The affair must have cut deep, for he never married."
"Eighty million!" murmured Jack, unable to grasp the idea of such a sum.
"Nearly five million a year; four hundred thousand a month; say thirteen thousand a day."
The figures had a convincing ring. The color stole back into Jack's cheeks, and a delicious warmth crept around his heart. He had no great difficulty in believing his good fortune, because he had already pictured it to himself in fancy. His first thought was of Kate. "I can buy her anything now!"
For a moment or two he found nothing to say. Delamare seeing his eyes become dreamy, smiled again. "Spending it already, I see!"
Jack blushed and descended to earth. "Please tell me all about it," he said.
"I'll tell you what I know. As I said, I was not in Mr. Gyde's full confidence—no man was. Indeed I knew him but slightly. He was a good customer of the bank, but he did everything in his own peculiar way. He rented a large vault from us, and had the locks changed under his own supervision. I believe he kept the major part of his securities there, but he may have other vaults too.
"Some five years or so ago, he came to me saying he wanted to rent a small lock box in our vaults, the kind that we get ten dollars a year for. He was so insistent upon the necessity for secrecy that we allowed him to have it under an assumed name. Another officer of the bank and myself were taken into the secret. Mr. Gyde left me a duplicate key to this box with instructions to open it if ever a day passed without my hearing from him. I believe he used to visit the box himself to make sure that I had not been tampering with it, but his peculiarities were so well known, one didn't mind that in him.
"Since then, every day of his life he dropped in here, or called me or my secretary on the phone, just to report, he said. In the beginning I often wondered why he had set himself such a task, but as time went on it became a mere form, and at last I forgot how the custom had started.
"When word of his death was brought me day before yesterday, all recollection of the small box had passed from my mind. My secretary brought it back by remarking that the old gentleman's daily report was now at an end. I found the keys and opened the box. The papers were sealed into the box itself, so that they could not be removed without breaking the wax. Very characteristic of Mr. Gyde.
"The contents consisted of his will; detailed instructions to me how to find you and identify you, and several keys which I was directed to hand you. Here they are. And here is the will, a model of clearness and brevity you see."
Jack read: "I, Silas Gyde, being of sound mind and in the full possession of my senses, do hereby devise and bequeath all that I die possessed of to John Farrow Norman, son of John Goadby Norman and Phoebe Farrow, and do appoint the said John Farrow Norman and Walter Delamare, President of the National New York Bank, my executors."
"My instructions state," Mr. Delamare resumed, "that the witnesses to the will were two clerks employed by Mr. Gyde at that time. You see he forgot nothing.
"As to those keys, they are for the various doors in Mr. Gyde's apartment at the Hotel Madagascar. I am told here not to deliver them into any hands but yours, and you are instructed to visit the apartment at once, and alone. Always mysterious, you see. By the way, Mr. Gyde was the sole owner of the Madagascar, and it is therefor now yours."
"I suppose there will be lawyers to see, and so on," said Jack.
"Mr. Gyde had no personal attorneys. He was always suing and being sued, but he retained a new man for every case. Obviously he has made these arrangements on his own initiative. I expect it will be up to you and me to ferret out his properties. I will have my attorney probate the will. You had better have a lawyer to advise you. Have you any one in mind?"
Jack shook his head.
"Very well, I will give you a note to a friend of mine for whose integrity and ability I will vouch. His name is Hugh Brome. He is young like yourself, and this matter will mean a big thing for him—that is if you have no objection to his youth?"
"No indeed!" said Jack.
Mr. Delamare wrote a note and handed it over. "Go and look him over before you commit yourself. If you approve of him the three of us can have a talk here later."
"Haven't you forgotten something?" asked Mr. Delamare smiling.
"What?" said Jack blankly.
Jack blushed. "I didn't think I could get any yet."
"Certainly! As much as you want. Mr. Gyde left a large balance here. Of course I can't hand that over to you yet, but the bank is prepared to advance you whatever you require. The bank hopes that you will continue to favor it with your patronage."
More than anything Mr. Delamare had said, this last little sentence made Jack feel like a millionaire.
"Here's a pocket check book. Make out your check and I'll send it to the teller with my O.K. You don't want to go out there yourself for the reporters are lying in wait for you. That's why I told you to send in an assumed name. They pester the life out of me. As soon as you're safely out of the way I'll give out the story and be rid of them."
Jack took the offered pen and wrote his check, the banker watching him with a smile. At the line for the amount Jack stuck; he thought of a hundred dollars, five hundred, a thousand; higher than a thousand he dared not go.
"Is that too much?" he asked, gasping a little.
"Not at all!" said Mr. Delamare, laughing. "Merely your income for about half an hour!"
So Jack Norman came out of the National New York Bank eighty millions richer than he went in. He left the building walking on air, and being unaccustomed to that form of exercise it is not surprising that he staggered a little, and collided with more than one matter-of-fact Wall Street figure. A delightful insane phantasmagoria whirled through his brain, blinding him to his earthly surroundings. He walked five blocks before he had the least idea where he was going. Here a wild taxi-cab almost ran him down, and he was brought back to earth with a bump.
"Good Lord! Suppose I'd been laid out before I had a chance to spend a dollar!" he thought with horror.
He looked at his watch. It was only half-past ten. It had taken him less than an hour to acquire eighty millions. An hour and a half must still pass before he could satisfy his great need of telling Kate what had happened—that is unless he descended on her office and carried her off bodily in a taxi-cab, like young Lochinvar. But he was doubtful how Kate would take this. He was a little afraid of Kate.
In the meantime he had to see his lawyer. But he couldn't very well go and ask a man to take charge of an eighty million dollar estate while he looked like a tramp. Clothes!—enchanting thought; he was able to buy anything in New York that caught his fancy. It need not be supposed that the fair sex enjoys a monopoly of this passion; the young male, being more restricted in his choice, brings to it a deeper, more concentrated passion. The difference in shirt patterns! The design of a cravat of which only four square inches is shown!
He retreated into the shelter of a doorway to consider this matter, watching the passers-by meanwhile for inspiration. But he did not see what he wanted. The young men looked either grubby or flash. Jack discovered that he had a definite taste in clothes that he had never been able to indulge.
He was aware of course of the subtle differences between ready-made and made-to-order. But while he took the time to search out the best tailor in New York he had to have something. Dimly he remembered having heard of a fine old firm that outfitted men from top to toe. It was on Madison avenue. He looked about for the nearest subway station, and then remembered with a delightful start that there were such things as taxi-cabs in the world, and his pocket was full of money.
He held up a negligent finger to a passing cab. He got in and, leaning back luxuriously, wondered how the people who looked at him would look if they knew!
At a few minutes before noon, an elegantly dressed young fellow, conspicuous for his graceful figure and sparkling brown eyes, was walking nervously up and down Centre street; ten paces each way and back. A taxi-cab waited at the curb beside him. In one hand the young man carried a pair of yellow chamois gloves, and swung a yellow malacca stick in the other. He wore a boutonnière of corn-flowers.
As he waited his nervousness increased. It suddenly occurred to him that to greet Kate with a flourish of the new Fedora, and hand her into the waiting taxi might create a scandal in the eyes of her fellow workers. Indeed he was not at all sure but that she might turn him down flat. At the same time he began to worry about the yellow gloves and the yellow stick—a thought too conspicuous for Centre street, perhaps.
Finally he went to the cab and, unobtrusively dropping the stick inside, paid the man off and let him go. He then thrust the gloves and the boutonnière in his pocket, and felt much better.
When Kate finally did come down-stairs, her first glance overlooked the new clothes entirely, and went straight to his eyes. Seeing the beaming smile there, her eyes fell demurely. Then did she perceive the finery from the feet up, but was too well bred to make any comment. Jack was obliged to ask her very off-hand:
"Notice any change?"
"You look very nice to-day."
"Oh, I got tired going round like a rag-picker!"
She made no further remark, and Jack who had counted on creating more of an effect than this, felt a little aggrieved. You never could get any change out of this girl, he reflected. But just let her wait! She was due to be surprised for once in her young life!
At the corner he held her in talk for a moment, while he searched for a taxi out of the tail of his eye.
"Let's not go to Geiger's to-day."
"Geiger's is all right."
"I'm sick of the joint!"
"It's as good as any of the places around here."
"Let's go down-town."
"But you know I only have an hour."
A taxi came bowling through from the Bowery with its little "vacant" flag raised. Jack held up a finger. It drew up beside them with squealing brakes, and the chauffeur opened the door. Kate who had not observed Jack's signal, turned her back on it.
"Get in," said Jack.
That was when she received her first shock. Her eyes opened very wide. "Why, Mr. Norman!" she began.
"Get in!" said Jack so peremptorily, that in her state of fluster she actually obeyed.
"Café Savarin," said Jack to the chauffeur.
The cab started with a jerk, throwing them back on the cushions. "Let me out!" she said—but not very strongly.
He affected not to hear. There was a delicious satisfaction in seeing the self-possessed little lady overcome with confusion, if only for a moment.
"To-morrow I'll come for you in my own car," he said, nonchalantly.
"Are you crazy?" she murmured, really alarmed.
He laughed. "Can't I have a car as well as anybody?"
"But I thought—that is—you always said——"
"That I was as poor as Job's turkey, eh? Only a stall. I just worked for Fisher for the sociological experience. I don't have to work really."
She looked at him with troubled eyes.
He couldn't resist the temptation to tease her a little. "My old man's a multi-millionaire," he rattled on. "Of course I get sick of that life sometimes, and scout about a bit."
Her eyes became so reproachful his heart smote him.
"Oh, that's only a joke," he said quickly. "Lord knows the poverty was real enough—but it's over for good!" "For both of us," he would have liked to add, but did not quite dare. "Look!" he cried, drawing his hand out of his pocket with the great roll of yellow-backed bills. "My income for half an hour!"
"Where did you get it?" she said aghast
He laughed again. "Honest, I didn't steal it."
He told her at last. The story sounded strange in his own ears. When he came to the end he saw to his astonishment that there were tears in her eyes.
"Why—why, what's the matter?" he cried.
"I don't know," she said smiling through the rain. "Am I not silly? But I suppose it means change. And I hate changes!"
"A change for the better, only. If you knew how I hated poverty!"
Her eyes dropped. "I, too," that meant, but she did not care to tell him so, audibly.
"If you knew how mean I felt every day when we went to that beanery together, and you had to pay for your own lunch!"
"But what was the difference? We both work for our living."
"A man feels differently. Why I never would ask you if I could come to see you in the evenings, because I couldn't take you out anywhere. I was afraid I couldn't keep my end up with your gang."
"I haven't any gang," she murmured.
"Well all that's ended now! Now there's no limit but the sky! And here we are. The lawyer guy told me this was the swellest place down-town."
A fresh panic seized her. "I can't eat in a place like this! I'm not fit to be seen!"
"Nonsense! You always look like a lady!"
Circumstances were too strong for her. She found herself being wafted across the sidewalk, and was delivered into the hands of the maid in the lobby, before she could think of an effective resistance. Indeed they were seated at a snowy little board brightened by an electric candle, before she really got her breath. At Jack's elbow stood a post-graduate waiter with a deferential bend in his back, and at just the right distance an orchestra was discussing the Meditation from Thaïs.
A sigh escaped Kate, for after all she was a perfectly human girl. "Oh, this is heavenly!"
Jack's eyes sparkled. "Good! I was wondering when you'd begin to let yourself go." He leaned forward. "You should worry! You're the prettiest girl here—and the best dressed!"
Which was true—on both counts. There was no doubt about her prettiness; Heaven had attended to that. Eyes of the deepest blue with a glance steady and deep; an adorable little nose, and a mouth at once firm and most kissable. As for her clothes, it may be they were of cheap materials, but the taste that had chosen redeemed them. The hat, most important item, was of Kate's own manufacture, being copied from the window of a milliner whose name is a household word.
"Don't be silly," said the wearer severely. "The waiter is waiting."
"That's what he's here for! Oh, dear! I wish we could stay all afternoon!"
This was put forth really as a proposal rather than a wish. But Kate was relentless.
"We'll have to hurry," she said firmly.
"Well, we've time for a cup of green turtle, a lobster paté and a coupe St. Jacques," said Jack. A whispered order was added, and one of the yellow backs changed hands. The waiter departed.
"One would think you had been coming here all your life," said Kate demurely.
This was delicious flattery. "I've planned it in dreams," he said.
Presently the waiter returned, smiling from ear to ear, and bearing a bunch of violets almost as big as a cart wheel. Their delicious fragrance filled all the air. With a flourish he placed them before Kate.
She gasped. "Oh! How wonderful! For me!"
"Who do you think?" said Jack.
"But—but what shall I do with them?"
"Put them on. Any woman can wear violets without hurting."
"But what will they think when I get back to the office."
"The worst!" said Jack solemnly.
"Oh, Mr. Norman!"
"Why go back to the office?" asked Jack very offhand.
"Oh, Mr. Norman!" she said again, with a scandalized air.
"My name is Jack," he said unabashed.
She made believe not to hear.
"I can't bear to think of you working even for a day longer in that stuffy hole! Why, my first thought when I heard the news was I can take her out of that! What fun will it be for me to fluff around town spending money when you are still jailed there, punishing the alphabet."
"What do you mean?" she said, trying to look indignant.
"You know what I mean. Or if you don't, look at me and you'll see!"
She did not avail herself of the invitation. "You don't seem to have thought much of me. What I might like. Am I nothing to you, but a sort of little follower, a hanger-on to help you spend money!"
"Oh, Katy, that's unjust. Look at me! Katy darling, I love you. Will you marry me?"
"Somebody will hear you," she murmured glancing nervously around.
"That's no answer."
"Why—I scarcely know you!"
"Time will fix that."
"You're not in earnest."
"I am! Look at me! I know you well! For months I have thought of you night and day. Oh, I tried to cut you out at first; I thought I was only storing up trouble for myself. Poor devil of a stool-warmer like me. What chance did I have? But I couldn't help myself! Every time I saw your face at the window I forgot my hard-headed resolutions. You see you had me at a disadvantage. I had an ideal of what a lady was, that I got from my mother—but knocking round in cheap boarding houses, well you don't meet that kind. It was just plumb luck my meeting you. First time I heard your voice you just knocked me out. That was what I had wanted—all my life. Look at me! Don't you think I'm in earnest now?"
"Please, not here!" she murmured.
He suddenly realized that a girl is entitled to a certain degree of privacy in receiving a proposal. "Oh! I clean forgot where we were!" he said contritely. "I'm sorry. The two things are so mixed up in my mind, I felt I couldn't tell you quick enough."
A silence fell between them. He studied her face wistfully, but could read nothing in the closed lips and downcast eyes.
"Katy, dear, can't you give me one word to go on?"
She shook her head.
"Nothing definite, Katy—but just a hint I can't stand the suspense."
She murmured softly: "My answer is no."
"Oh, Katy!" he said brokenly. "Sometimes I thought you looked at me as if—my mistake, I suppose. Don't you like me, Katy?"
"One doesn't marry on liking. I used to like you as a poor boy; But money changes people's characters. I'll have to wait and see."
Having left Kate at the office to which she most unreasonably insisted on returning, Jack bethought himself of the charge laid upon him to visit Silas Gyde's rooms alone. Kate's last words had not been too discouraging, and there was a pleasant suggestion of mystery in this new errand. Jack's spirits were good.
Another taxi-cab whirled him up-town to the Madagascar. Even now, occasionally the feeling came over him that he was living in a dream. He fingered the roll of bills in his pocket for reassurance.
"This is certainly me, Jack Norman," he thought. "And this is my money! The roll's not much smaller either. It must be real money because I have eaten it, drunk it, smoked it and am wearing it!"
He entered the hotel, one of Manhattan's greatest, with an odd little thrill in his breast. "This is mine," he told himself, "all this marble and onyx and plate glass; these tapestries, these Oriental rugs, these tropical plants, all mine! These good-looking bell-hops work for me; the Duke himself yonder at the desk will have to bend his haughty head when he finds out who I am!"
Jack was a little shy of asking to be shown to the late Mr. Gyde's rooms. Having no credentials, he suspected that his story might very well be laughed at, and he himself be shown the door. Anyway, he felt an instinctive repugnance to telling his story to all and sundry. If he could only find out where the rooms were he needn't apply at the desk, since he had the keys.
An attractive young woman at the news counter caught his attention. He bought a magazine from her, and while she made change sought to engage her in conversation.
"They say Mr. Silas Gyde used to live here."
"Yes, he owned this hotel."
"He must have been a queer Dick if you can believe what you read."
"Oh, the half of his queerness hasn't been printed."
"Was he a customer of yours?"
"No indeed. He never bought anything in the hotel. Said he could get it cheaper outside. Got his meals over on Eighth avenue and around."
"I wonder he lived here at all. Did he have a fine suite?"
"No, the cheapest rooms in the house."
"Where were they?"
"On the second floor at the back on the Forty ——th street side."
"He must have been a funny sight here in the lobby with his old hand-me-downs."
"He seldom showed himself here. He went in and out by his private entrance on Forty ——th street."
"So he had a private entrance, eh?"
"Yes, it was a regular thing to see him going in and out carrying his little oil-can."
"Well, you see, when he rented the hotel to the management, he saved out his rooms rent free, but there wasn't anything said about steam heat or electric current, and when the management sent him a bill for heat and light, he made them take out the radiators and the fixtures, and he burned an oil lamp and a little oil heater."
"Here, in the Madagascar! Well, that beats all!"
"It sure does!"
In this little colloquy Jack had learned all that he desired. It was a simple matter to leave the hotel, turn the corner into Forty ——th street and proceed to the private entrance. It was at the extreme end of the hotel building, a modest door with the street numeral painted on it. Adjoining the hotel on this side was a deserted dwelling with boarded up windows below, and blinds pulled down above, the whole bearing the signs of long neglect.
One of Jack's keys fitted the door. Inside he found a single flight of stairs ending on a dark landing with another door. This door was not locked. Opening it he found himself in the sitting-room of the suite, a small room with two windows looking out on the street he had just left.
It was a typical hotel room, furnished by contract expensively but without taste. An amusingly incongruous note was furnished by the oil heater in the center of the rug, and the cheap lamp on the table. The naked ugliness of the latter object was not even mitigated by a shade. There was nothing to suggest that the room had been a man's home for several years, no personal belongings of any description.
Yet it was neat enough, and Jack guessed that Silas Gyde's arrangement with the hotel must have included maid service. From the bedroom there was a door to the hotel corridor, through which servants might have entered. This bedroom and a bathroom, both almost entirely without light or air, completed the suite. Jack had no difficulty in believing that it was one of the least desirable apartments in the hotel.
Jack's first glance around revealed nothing out of the common. The only signs of human occupancy were a few cheap toilet articles on the bureau. But there were several closets. That in the bedroom was locked. Opening it with one of his keys, Jack was faced by his first surprise—a modern and highly efficient steel vault door.
An alluring picture of heaped coin, greenbacks, securities, stored inside, arose before him, but the door was locked of course, and he had no instructions as to the combination. He wondered, not without chagrin, if Silas Gyde had been a practical joker. Why had he been instructed to proceed there alone merely for the pleasure of looking at a locked vault.
He went through the rooms more carefully. In the sitting-room there was a little fancy desk. He had a key to this, and upon its being opened, one of the pigeon-holes yielded up a packet of dusty, faded papers. He went over them one by one; advertisements, unimportant business letters, receipts for small amounts; not until he reached the last envelope of all was he rewarded.
This was sealed, and on it was written in an old man's cramped and tremulous hand:
"For my heir."
It was like a voice from beyond the grave.
But the contents were matter-of-fact enough: no more than this:
"You are to go to James Renfrew, 120 Broadway, who will hand you a communication from me."
This simple sentence revived the lure of mystery, and another taxi-cab was soon bearing Jack downtown. Since the old man's note had been written, the famous office building at 120 Broadway had burned down, and had risen again to five times its former height. The firm of Renfrew, Bates and Meldrum, the eminent lawyers, still had their offices there, and Jack succeeded in seeing the senior member without too much delay.
This testy old gentleman with a snort of scorn for what he termed "Gyde's foolishness" put Jack through a cross-examination similar to that he had undergone from Delamare earlier in the day. Jack's answers being satisfactory, he received another note in Silas Gyde's cramped hand.
This contained a row of cabalistic figures, and further instructions for him to go to Nathan Harris, the well-known banker. At this office the performance was exactly repeated, with the exception that Mr. Harris evinced a good deal of curiosity on his own account. But since it was no part of Jack's instructions to take him into his confidence, he confined himself to polite and non-committal answers.
The note he received here, besides giving him more figures, sent him to the office of Sanford Gair, another eminent lawyer. At this stage Jack was brought to a stand by the information that Mr. Gair had been dead for a year. But Jack's blood was up now: persistent questioning finally elicited the fact that Mr. Gair's son and executor did indeed have a note for him.
This contained another line of figures followed by the word: "Complete." Underneath was written: "You are to enter alone."
"Complete?" thought Jack with knitted brows. "What is complete? What am I to enter alone?"
Then a light broke upon him. "The Vault of course! This is the combination!"
He lost no time in returning to the Madagascar.
It may be remarked here, that when Jack afterwards told Mr. Delamare about these visits the banker laughed heartily. "Isn't that like old Gyde! Renfrew, Nathan Harris and Gair, bitter enemies! He wasn't going to take any chances of their getting together!"
It was about five o'clock when Jack entered Silas Gyde's rooms the second time. He double-locked the door leading to the hotel corridor, and set to work on the combination with a burglarious feeling, which all his assurances to himself that it was his own property could not quite dissipate.
Jack had had no experience with such elaborate locks as this, but after all the principle was the same as that of Fisher's safe where he had been accustomed to keeping his books at night. After a number of false starts and misses, the steel bolts finally rang back, and the great door swung noiselessly outward.
Alas for Jack's expectations! The vault inside was as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. There was not so much as a scrap of paper to be seen, let alone the dazzling stores he had pictured. The wall down each side were lined with shelves on which lay a thick, undisturbed coating of dust. Apparently there never had been anything kept there; at least not for a long time.
Jack was thoroughly disgusted. All that chasing around town for nothing! Was his benefactor's only purpose in taking those elaborate precautions to make a fool of his heir? Perhaps the old man had been really insane.
But having taken all that trouble Jack did not mean to give up until he had made very sure there was nothing to be gained from it. He examined the vault anew, and presently made a curious discovery in the steel door. Differing from any safe he had ever seen, the handle which operated the bolt ran right through to the inside of the door, also the dial and knob of the combination were reproduced inside.
"What did he want that for?" thought Jack, with perplexed brow. "Almost looks as if he wanted to lock himself up inside."
It was dark within the vault, and Jack lit the oil lamp and carried it in. He had not paid much attention to the back of the vault, for his eye had told him it was flush with the outer wall of the building, but he was now struck by the fact that whereas the sides of the vault were of concrete the back wall was of steel, and there were no shelves covering it.
In short, the lamp revealed the outline of a door in the back wall, a steel door so beautifully fitted that only the tiniest of lines marked its boundaries. In it was a tiny slit that Jack's fourth and last key exactly fitted. When it was pressed home, the door swung towards him on a spring.
Here he received another surprise. Instead of the shallow wall cupboard he expected, for he knew he was against the outer wall of the hotel, the beams of the lamp illuminated a large cupboard heaped with rubbish in the corners. At the same moment he was greatly startled to hear an electric bell start ringing somewhere further within.
He realized of course that he had stumbled on a secret way into the house adjoining the hotel. He remembered the aspect of that house from the street, shuttered, neglected, dirty. What would the inside reveal? The feeble, fretful alarm of the electric bell perturbed him. He closed the steel door and it stopped: he let it swing open and the sound recommenced. For whom was it a warning? Inside the closet on his right there was an ordinary wooden door. It did not help to compose his nerves to hear a soft urgent whining and scratching on the other side of it. The lamp trembled a little in his hand.
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