As the car swung to the north into the broad thoroughfare along the lake, Secor glanced up mechanically at the windows of his offices in the Railway Exchange, as he had done upon countless other occasions that he had passed the building.
To his surprise he saw that the rooms were lighted. It was past the hour that the janitor’s assistants ordinarily cleaned his suite.
“Stickler,” he thought. “He must be working on something of importance tonight. Pull up here, Jim!” to the chauffeur. “I’ll run across to the office a minute before I go home.”
For years Ogden Secor had entered his private office through a doorway that opened directly off the main corridor. The custom had become so strong a habit that to-night he passed the main entrance of the well-lighted outer office, unlocked the door to his own unlighted office and entered, noiselessly, upon the soft, heavy rug that covered the floor.
A moment later he had crossed to the door that opened into the main office. Scarcely had he swung the door partially aside than his attitude of careless ease gave place to one of tense excitement. Directly across the office from him, with their backs toward him, two men bent to the combination of the great safe.
Secor’s first impulse was to rush in upon them before they should damage the expensive and intricate mechanism of the lock with the charge of nitro-glycerine he imagined they were preparing to detonate; but as he took a step forward he suddenly realized that one of the men was turning the combination knob while the other read off the figures to him from a little slip of paper.
They had the combination. Where could they have obtained it? Only Stickler, Miss Lathrop and himself knew it. He looked at the men closely—he did not remember ever having seen either of them before.
Presently the door of the safe swung open, and Secor saw him who had manipulated the knob reach directly and without hesitation for the inner drawer that contained, ordinarily, a considerable quantity of negotiable paper. He waited to see no more.
Without a sound he ran quickly across the office, his only weapon, a light walking stick, swinging in his right hand. The first that either of the cracksmen knew that they were not alone in the office was the sudden and painful descent of the walking stick across be back of the head of one of them.
What happened after that happened rapidly—and almost noiselessly.
Two hours later Jim, the chauffeur, commenced to wonder if his employer had fallen asleep up there in his office. The North-East wind from off the lake was chill and penetrating. For another half hour Jim walked up and down the deserted sidewalk in a vain attempt to keep warm.
He had about decided to go up to the office and politely remind his employer that it would soon be time to breakfast when be heard a shot, apparently from the rear of the Railway Exchange across the street. The shot was immediately followed by hoarse shouts, and the sound of running men, and then another shot.
Almost immediately after the second shot Jim saw a man run out of Jackson Boulevard across Michigan Avenue toward Grant Park. He reached the center of the street only to crumple suddenly into a little heap. Behind him came a uniformed watchman, and presently a little crowd gathered.
“Caught him trying to make his getaway through the alley,” explained the watchman to a city policeman who, attracted by the shots, had run over from Wabash Avenue. “There was another guy with him, but he broke in the opposite direction and got away. They’d been up to something in the Railway Exchange.”
Instantly Jim thought of his employer and the unaccountably long stay he had been making in his office. Could these men have been the cause of his detention? Turning at the thought, he ran across the street and into the building.
At first the night elevator-man was disinclined to take him up; but when be explained who he was and what his fears, the man not only carried him aloft but accompanied him to the office of John Secor & Co.
Here they found the door to the main office ajar, and within, upon the opposite side of the room in front of the open safe, the unconscious form of Ogden Secor. His head and face were covered with blood—even a casual glance proclaimed the fact that he had been terribly beaten. An ambulance from St. Luke’s bore Ogden Secor to the hospital. It was late the following morning before the physicians would permit any one to enter his room, and then only after the greatest insistence on the part of their patient.
Miss Welles and the Rev. Mr. Pursen were the first to come. They were closely followed by Mr. Stickler, for whom Secor had sent. Mr. Stickler entered, white and shaky. It was quite evident that the accident to his employer had been a terrible shock to him.
Mr. Stickler had read an account of the daring robbery in his morning paper. He had known that Ogden Secor lay at St. Luke’s hospital; but he had paced up and down his office for two hours before receiving Secor’s summons to his bedside. Even then he had put off the ordeal for another half hour—surely Mr. Stickler’s must have been a most sympathetic temperament, which shrank from the sight of the mangled countenance of his employer!
Before he started for the hospital he used the telephone.
“Is Officer Doarty there?” he asked, when he had obtained his connection.
“Hello, Mr. Doarty. You’ve read of what happened to Mr. Secor last night?
“And did you notice that the fellow they got—the one who was wounded—has been recognized as an habitué of Abe Farris’s? Yes, and do you remember what you told me about that Lynch girl yesterday? Did you know she knew the combination to the safe? Sure; I thought of that right away.
“Yes, you bet. Wait a minute—I’ve got it here in my file. Here it is—Calumet Avenue,” and he gave a number, “she’s rooming there. You’d better hurry. You’ll be lucky if she hasn’t left town already.
“What? Oh, I don’t know yet—I’ve been too upset to figure it up, but it must have been close to twenty-five thousand dollars. No, bring her right to the hospital—I’ll be there. All right. Good-by.”
Half an hour later Mr. Stickler, on tiptoe and hat in hand, approached the bedside of his wounded chief. On his face was an expression of funereal sorrow.
“This is terrible,” he murmured huskily.
“Well,” said Secor with a wan smile, “they didn’t quite get me, though it wasn’t any fault of theirs that they didn’t. Have you discovered just what they got away with, Stickler?”
Mr. Stickler hemmed and hawed. Evidently the answering of that question was one he dreaded.
“Why, I’m not quite sure yet, Mr. Secor,” he said at last; “but there was, unfortunately, a considerable amount of negotiable securities as well as currency in the safe last night. You see, we had an exceptionally large pay roll on two big jobs for to-day, and we had drawn the cash yesterday because to-day, being Saturday, and a short day, we wanted to have everything in readiness to pay off promptly at noon.”
“We’ve never been in the habit of doing that, Mr. Stickler,” was Secor’s only comment. “But come, how much did they get?”
“Close to twenty-five thousand dollars,” whispered Mr. Stickler, and that it cost him an effort to say it was apparent to those about the bedside as well as to the injured man.
“But I think we’ll get it all back,” Mr. Stickler hastened to add. “They caught one of the fellows, and Doarty—of the detective bureau—telephoned me this morning that he expected to make an arrest within a few hours of the principal in the case.”
“Good,” exclaimed Secor. “But I cannot imagine who it could have been, or how they obtained the combination to the safe. Do you suspect any one in the office, Stickler?”
“I’d rather not say just yet, Mr. Secor,” replied Stickler, “though I have my suspicions. When Doarty comes I think he will bring a big surprise along with him.”
“It must have been through the connivance of some one in the office that they obtained the combination,” said Miss Welles.
Mr. Pursen nodded. In the back of his brain an almost dead memory was struggling toward the light. Somehow it was inextricably confused with recollection of the face of Ogden Secor’s stenographer, and a haunting, though vague, conviction that he had met the girl before and under no pleasant circumstances.
A moment later there came a knock upon the door. Mr. Pursen crossed the room and opened it, admitting a young woman and a large man. One glance at the latter would have been all sufficient to identify him to one city bred. There is something about the usual plain clothes man—whether his build, his carriage, or the way be wears his clothes, is difficult to say—that tags him almost as convincingly as would a uniform.
“Ah, Mr. Doarty, good morning,” purred Mr. Pursen. He recognized June with an inclination of his head—very slight indeed.
The girl crossed directly to Secor’s side.
“Oh, Mr. Secor,” she exclaimed, her voice trembling with emotion. “It is awful. I had not seen a paper this morning and did not know until Mr. Doarty came for me, and told me.”
She did not say what else Mr. Doarty had told her, principally by innuendo. Self was forgotten in the real affliction she felt at sight of her employer’s pitiable condition. Secor looked up at her, his old, pleasant smile lighting his features.
“Oh, I guess it’s not so bad,” he said. “They ought to have me out of here in no time.”
Miss Welles came closer to the bedside. Instinctively she guessed why Doarty had brought the girl here. Secor alone seemed to realize no connection between Mr. Stickler’s recent hint and the coming of June Lathrop with the plain clothes man.
Doarty crossed the room to June’s side, laying a heavy hand upon her arm.
“None of the soft stuff, Mag,” he said roughly; “cut it out.”
Secor looked up at the man in surprise, a frown crossing his face.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked. “Miss Lathrop is my secretary. There has been nothing in her manner at all offensive—to me.”
“I guess you don’t know who she is, Mr. Secor,” said Doarty. “Her name ain’t Lathrop—it’s Lynch, Maggie Lynch, and when I first seen her she was an inmate of Abe Farris’s joint on Dearborn.”
Secor looked at June questioningly. There was an expression of disbelief in his eyes. The girl dropped her own before his steady gaze.
The horror of it! If he could know—if Ogden Secor of all other men on earth could but know the truth—the truth that not even the shrewd Mr. Doarty had guessed.
At the voicing of the name Maggie Lynch, the Rev. Mr. Pursen stepped suddenly forward. The mists had been swept from his memory. As distinctly as it had been yesterday he recalled the humiliation that this girl had put upon him before the representatives of several of the city’s great dailies. Even now he flushed at the memory of the keen shafts of ridicule that had resulted, and which had made the papers of the following day such frightful nightmares to him.
“Don’t you remember her, Mr. Secor?” he cried. “She’s the woman we tried so hard to help, and who ignored our godly efforts.”
Mr. Secor remembered. He recalled the scene within the Grand jury room, and in the antechamber without. And he recalled many other things of which the others knew nothing—the intelligence and the loyalty of the girl since she had been in his employ. He remembered the several occasions upon which her tact or judgment had saved him from severe losses. He thought of the pleasure that he had always experienced in taking up the day’s work since June Lathrop had been with him—something that he had never realized until that moment—and something of a dull ache oppressed his heart with the sudden knowledge that it was all over.
He had always thought of her merely as a part of the office force. He had never for a moment considered her in any other light than a faithful and almost flawless stenographer—nor did he now; yet there was a distinct sensation of personal loss accompanying the knowledge that he could now no longer employ her in so intimate a capacity as that of private secretary. His Puritanical prudery was too deeply ingrained to permit even a thought to the contrary.
To him, so far as his own personal association with such a person was concerned, the girl was as good as damned. He would as easily have considered consociation with a leper, though he would have been equally as willing to have helped either one or the other in any other way that did not require him to come into contact with them.
“What did you bring her here for?” he asked wearily. “There has been nothing in her deportment since she has been in my employ but what was entirely proper. It seems unnecessary that she should be subjected to this humiliation.”
“Her deportment in the office may have been all right,” spoke up Mr. Doarty, “but we don’t know so much what she was doin’ with her time after office hours.”
Mr. Stickler nodded his head portentously.
“You see, Mr. Secor,” went on the plain-clothes man, “one of the guys that slugged you hangs out at Abe Farris’s saloon, an’ I seen Mag here, not so long ago, feedin’ up in a beanery with another crook that hangs out at Farris’s—Eddie the Dip’s his name,” and Doarty shot a sudden look in June’s direction in time to see the quick intake of her breath in consternation and surprise.
“We got a drag-net out for Eddie now, an’ when we get him I guess we’ll have all three of ’em,’’ concluded Mr. Doarty. He was very proud of this piece of police work of his.
“What has Miss Lathrop to do with it?” asked Secor. “She did not slug me.”
“She knew the combination to your safe didn’t she?” asked Doarty.
During the conversation June was aware that Miss Welles had drawn away from her, casting such a look of horror and disgust in her direction as might have withered her completely could looks wither.
Mr. Pursen, too, stood coldly aloof, while Stickler looked nervously down into Michigan Avenue from the window of the room, not once meeting the girl’s eyes squarely.
Ogden Secor half raised himself upon his elbow. He looked straight into June Lathrop’s eyes, and hers met his, as level and unflinching.
“Miss Lathrop,” he said, in a very quiet voice, “are you in any way responsible for the rifling of the safe—tell me the truth.”
The girl’s eyes never left his for a moment. Her reply was but a single word, delivered without emphasis, in a very ordinary tone.
“No,” she said.
Secor sank back upon his pillow.
“That is all,” he said, “you may go.”
The doctor had just entered the room.
“You may all go!” he cried in a petulant voice. “I am surprised, Miss Castrol,” to the nurse, “that you should have permitted this—come, get out, all of you.”
Doarty came closer to the bed.
“You wish this woman held, of course?” he asked.
“Has any complaint been lodged against her?” asked Secor.
“There will be none—you may let her go,” said Secor.
Doarty looked his surprise, and seemed on the point of arguing, when the doctor placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Quick!” said the physician. “Get out of here, or I cannot be responsible for the recovery of this patient.”
June took an impulsive step toward the injured man.
“How can I thank you for believing in me?” she cried.
With a weary sigh Ogden Secor turned away from her—he made no reply. The doctor led her to the door.
“Leave the room,” he said.
Outside were those who had preceded her from the apartment. Mr. Pursen was the first to speak. He pointed toward the elevator.
“Leave the hospital at once,” he said.
Her eyes filled with unshed tears, the girl walked quickly down the hall. At the elevator stood Doarty.
“You’d better beat it, Mag,” he said.
“This town’s too wicked for an innocent girl like you,” and from his tone she knew that he meant it—that much of it which warned her to leave the city.