The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 3
MRS. HALE planned this informal dinner to be very formal; but her husband turned it as far as possible into a comfortable sort of family affair. He simply could not be stiff with young people whom he liked; he knew the subjects which interested them and talked in a way which started them because he really was interested in those subjects himself. There were ten at the table, two girls and two young men on each side, between Marjorie's father at one end of the board and her mother at the other. Gregg and Billy were on the same side with Marjorie between them, and with Mrs. Hale on the other side of Billy. At Gregg's left was Clara Sedgwick, whom he knew pretty well; she was about Marjorie's age, a light-haired, pleasant looking girl, almost pretty and with that agreeable ease of manner which upbringing in a family of established position gives a girl who has good sense. She talked when she had something to say and listened when she hadn't and never perpetrated those tiresome chatterings called "efforts" and never tried to be clever. Gregg liked her and thought her a nice, easy-going sort of a girl who could always be depended upon for normal, natural feelings and, being conservative, she seemed a good "best friend" for a live one like Marjorie. Across the table was Elsie Sedgwick, who was two years younger than Clara, with the same upbringing but with a quite dissimilar disposition. Elsie was one of an Evanston set who took social affairs very seriously and who consciously considered the Hales as a little beyond the edge of "acceptance" by their families. Seated between George Chaden and Fred Vane and on the same side of the table with Ethel Chaden, she was with others who more or less felt they were initiating the Hales into society; so there was plenty of vivacious effort on that side.
"The Follies; yes—wasn't that perfectly frightful?—Poiret model.—My dear, I saw her at the Casino and she said.—No; Chick Evans will play—well, it is absolutely certain they are engaged if not quietly married——"
Gregg could keep in that sort of talk without using his mind at all; usually he did so, but to-night he began thinking about these people who were entertaining him. He noticed that Mr. Hale, having put every one at ease as much as possible, had himself dropped out of the conversation and was contenting himself with following the lively, light-headed talk. Occasionally he seemed to become abstracted and his thought to go far from this table; but a word to him instantly drew him back. He watched his daughter almost continually, and Gregg, watching him, saw his eyes soften with his pride; now and then, in a manner which made Gregg think he was following an old, fond habit, he glanced at his wife and waited till her eyes met his, when he would smile in a way which seemed to say, "This is all pretty good, isn't it?"
One would say—Gregg speculated—that here was a man well satisfied with his family life. If an outsider were to judge from appearances, Mrs. Hale would seem the one discontented with the domestic circle and striving for something else.
In fact, one naturally had to think of Mrs. Hale in terms of progressing to a new position more cultured or secure or more satisfactory, in some manner, from an old situation less so. Frequently, like to-night, she was so obviously in progress that she made you think of her start which had been from Edgewater, in Chicago, when that part of the north shore of the city—which never was really smart—still was where educated and moderately successful men made their homes. When she married Charles Hale, and he took her to Irving Park, this clearly was a step down for her; but you could imagine her reckoning patiently, and correctly, that her husband was sure to enable her to more than better her old position. Now, of course, she had done so; how high was she hoping to go, Gregg wondered, as he glanced at her composed, self-trusting face.
Many people enthusiastically praised Mrs. Hale, appreciating her composure and the competency and the certainty with which she went about anything she had to do. When Gregg suddenly imagined word of Sybil Russell reaching her, he had to think of Mrs. Hale as yet calm; he could not think of her in any other way. But he thought also of her dealing with the circumstance with a thoroughness and relentlessness never approached before.
She was of about medium height and now forty-four years of age. She had dressed herself for this dinner after a fashion which, expressed by any sensuous woman, must have been considered daring; but you could not associate anything daring with Mrs. Hale. The exposure of most of the upper half of her beautifully formed, white body was absolutely without any corresponding consciousness of her body; and so it left a man like Gregg as cold as though he were observing a perfect statue. Her slender, perfectly kept hand in greeting always conveyed to Gregg cordial interest in him but never gave feeling; certainly never anything of warmth. Her eyes, large and deep blue and thoughtful, also were beautiful without warmth; even her lips, which naturally were full-blooded and red, suggested to Gregg no passion. She was admirable for the moderation in all things which was second nature to her; so she kept herself in excellent health. Gregg had never heard of her "lying down" or as being guilty of headaches such as punished other women who, in spasms of spectacular energy, accomplished much less for others than Mrs. Hale. For when at home, as she had been for several months now, she was perpetually active in her women's clubs, philanthropies, in her church and in civic and cultural movements. She assumed that young people really were concerned with such things, if they were not made ashamed in admitting it; and by enlisting Billy she at length succeeded in turning the table chatter from Dorothy Gish to the work of a hospital committee, of which she was member; and Gregg learned, consequently, that though she was going to the dance, she was later to attend a meeting of the committee at a neighbor's home.
"It's hardly a step from the club to the Cleves', Charles," she said to her husband, after she had mentioned the meeting. "So it seems ridiculous to keep Leonard out here to run me only half a block. He ought to take you down town to your train."
Mr. Hale started, decisively. "Leonard's business when I am away is to take you where you wish to go, and to see you safe home again, my dear. I'll take the elevated into the city."
"At least, you'll have Leonard run you to the elevated," his wife persisted.
Mrs. Hale told the butler to instruct the chauffeur to be ready to take Mr. Hale to the elevated train for Chicago, before driving her to the club; a few minutes later, they all arose, and after Mrs. Hale and the girls had left the dining room, Mr. Hale excused himself from the men and went upstairs. Gregg delayed uneasily and then, abruptly leaving Billy and the other two, he went up to a guest room which was open and lit for the use of the men. He was conscious of calling this an attempt to see Mr. Hale privately, though he could not help hoping that he would find no opportunity for words alone with his host. But in a few minutes, Mr. Hale passed the door and saw Gregg, and entered.
He had changed from his evening clothes to a sack suit and he had reverted, also, to his business manner of alert, practical speech.
"Gregg, Billy's told Marjorie and she's mentioned to me that Hartford's making you an offer. Come around and see me before you talk finally to him, will you?"
"Thanks; I'll be glad to," Gregg accepted, flushing; and then, forcing himself on, "You're going to St. Louis to-night?"
He did not mean to make it a challenge; but something of his doubt of the fact of the trip got into his tone.
"Why are you asking?" Mr. Hale said more coldly.
"I was thinking I couldn't see you until next week."
"No," said Hale. "No; of course not." He seemed to suspect that Gregg had something difficult to say to him; and he turned about and closed the door. "What's up, Gregg?
"Russell," Gregg said; and, having thus forced himself to go on; "It's none of my affair why he's talking about getting you; but I'm to tell you he means more than talk. Don't give him a chance to start anything to-night, sir. If you have to go to St. Louis, wait a while; and then let your own man take you down to the Alton Station."
Watching Marjorie's father, Gregg queerly experienced respect and disrespect for him, together; for mention of Russell's name brought not the slightest disturbance to him. Mr. Hale's control of himself was something to envy; yet Gregg had become certain that he was involved with Russell, and Gregg could no longer give him honor of the doubt of that which he previously had thought true, and yet which had been, until now, only hearsay.
Hale was studying Gregg silently. "Thank you, Mowbry," he said at last, neither by tone nor word admitting nor denying that he understood the warning. "I appreciate your thought for me. Don't worry about me, now or later."
He turned briskly and opened the door; a minute later, Gregg heard him saying good-by to his wife in the hall. She mentioned some matter which he told her not to bother herself about, but to leave for him to attend to upon his return. He kissed her; she spoke to him, fondly, and she went downstairs. Then Marjorie came from her room and whispered to him, and Gregg heard him laugh but forbid her, saying, "Don't do that, Sweetness."
"Why, it's all right enough; but I'm afraid it will worry your mother; you must not worry your mother."
"All right, then; I won't. 'Night, Daddy." Marjorie started away, and then, impulsively, came back.
"You're so fine! I love you so!"
"I like my girl. Kiss me, Marjey. Now, you're going to change that dress to-morrow and keep that scarf with you to-night."
"Yes; father, did you speak to Gregg?"
"I told him to come see me before closing any deal with Hartford."
"Then you don't want him to go with Mr. Hartford?"
"He mustn't be a changer; the boy mustn't spoil his life."
A moment later Gregg heard Mr. Hale downstairs saying good night to his guests; the front door opened and closed; outside a car started and Gregg knew that he was gone. Probably in about forty minutes he would reach that flat building, next to the one where Cuncliffe's Nyman lived and where Russell would be awaiting him; and Gregg, going back over his few words with Mr. Hale and recollecting his tone and manner, began to realize that Mr. Hale was bound there to-night because he had known that Russell was waiting for him; to-night he was departing, not with a purpose of further betraying this home, but to attempt to guard it from the consequences of what he already had done. And he knew that involved dangers.
Gregg went downstairs where he found the girls in their coats. "If we really want to dance, we'd better go over right away," Marjorie said. "It's at the club, but everybody will be there to-night and the floor will be perfectly impossible pretty soon."
"I'll take you and Bill over," Gregg offered Marjorie.
"Oh, Fred Vane's room for us in his machine."
"I'll take my bus, anyway," Gregg insisted. "I've not too much dope in the radiator; it needs heating up."
He wanted his car with him this night; so he took Marjorie and Billy in with him.
As other cars crowded the road, Gregg had to halt in the avenue when he came from the Hale's driveway, and Marjorie bent forward beside him and looked back at the lighted windows of her home beyond the black boughs of the trees, and with the yellow glow on the snow. The night had cleared to crisp, still winter, with stars glinting in the deep blue above the white roof; and it all made a picture of peace and contentment, such as children form in their first-heard poems of home life, and see in their pictures of a happy family home.
"I love that place," Marjorie whispered impulsively.
"It's a wonderful home, Marjorie," Billy agreed emotionally.
Gregg took out his cigarette case. "Mind if I smoke?"
Marjorie straightened. "Of course not; give me one."
"Have one, Bill?" Gregg offered.
"No," Billy refused, emphatically.
He never smoked when Marjorie did; and Gregg, holding a light for her, considered that he had never seen her smoke except before Billy. He doubted whether she really liked it.
"Billy, you're almost as bad about my vices as father," she teased him gently.
"You don't smoke before him any more," Billy returned.
"No; neither does mother. Poor mother, she tried it; and I think it's the one thing she's tried which she hasn't succeeded in doing."
"A pipe is the real smart thing now, Marjorie," Billy suggested, with heavy sarcasm.
Gregg left them at the door of the club and put up his car at the end of a row in the street, where he could get it out quickly. When he entered the club and went to the dancing floor, the orchestra was playing a fox trot; he found Ethel Chaden and danced with her; and the warm liveliness of the ballroom, the lilt to the music and the quick step, the sudden chatter and hand-clapping all about, when the music stopped; the nods and words back and forth with girls and men he knew, and now the music and dance again, shook Gregg out of the doldrums he had dropped into. He danced with Clara Sedgwick, then fox-trotted with Elsie; he got Marjorie away from Bill for a one step, and danced again with Ethel Chaden; and it was not until some time after Mrs. Hale appeared on the floor, and Gregg went over to sit out a dance with her, that he let himself get to thinking once more.
Mrs. Hale frequently gave dances and always attended, at least for a short time, the dances to which she was invited; but she did not much care to dance herself; she seemed to value the music and the liveliness chiefly as an invigorating accompaniment for talk about matters that interested her. As the orchestra started playing a slow waltz measure to the Barcarolle from "The Tales of Hoffman," she described to Gregg an innovation in hospital architecture which she had observed during her visit to Paris in the fall. She hoped to have it copied at "her" hospital in Chicago before she returned to France in the spring. She expected to take her daughter with her, and this time stop in Brittany for several months. She said it was too bad that Mr. Hale's business never would permit him to do more than take her across the ocean.
Mr. Hale—Gregg suddenly thought—by this time must be approaching that building next to Nyman's. Then Gregg drove his thoughts away, listening and mechanically replying to Mrs. Hale while he lost himself in the mood of the dance rhythm which seemed to have no effect on her at all.
These are passionate, caressing measures of Offenbach's; and they stirred Gregg to respond to their slow surge in dance; they made him long, not just for a partner within his arm and responding with him, but for one girl alone—for Marjorie. Since he could not have her for this waltz, he was glad that he was not dancing; then, while watching the floor, he saw Billy dancing with Marjorie; saw they had made up their little, teasing differences of the evening and were whispering intimately together as they danced with Billy's head bent over hers. Gregg could not get a good look at Marjorie's face, but he saw her cheek was flushed; and Billy was red.
She had been keeping her scarf about her bare shoulders; but now it slipped, and Gregg saw Billy catch it, and he drew it back over her arms with a new gesture so possessive that it shot a quick start through Gregg.
"Bill's!" he cried to himself, sharply. "Bill wouldn't touch her that way unless he has her. Bill's! She's Bill's!" For a moment he could feel nothing; then he tried to pull himself together and argue!
"Well, that's good, isn't it? Bill had to have her; and Bill—he's the marrying kind; he'll give her a home; make one for her; and keep it clean, too. That's what she wants, of course; a home—like hers; like what she thinks it is; and a damn good steady husband she can depend on; Bill! Now I—I'd be a bird for her, wouldn't I? I know; so I don't care—damn it, I don't care. She's just the girl I like a lot just now; an awfully good fellow. But there's more. That's a rotten lie; no one like her; never was; never will be; no one to look at you in just her way; and speak, her way, right at you; into you. She'll still do that, of course; I'll see her—a lot, if I'm not a damned quitter. She'll be Bill's."
He had never before that moment actually thought of that; and it brought him up short with a start which must have been visible. But the music stopped just then; there was the storm of clapping for an encore; the music was sure to start again, but Marjorie and Billy were leaving the floor. Gregg soon lost sight of Marjorie in the crowd and, in a minute, even Billy's tall head disappeared and Gregg knew they had reached the stairs.
Mrs. Hale had failed to observe them dancing, and now she did not miss them; she wanted to know which of the Raphaels in the Louvre Gregg preferred. He was entirely innocent of the fact that Raphaels belonged in the Louvre, which he had never attempted to visit on his furloughs from the Argonne; but he remembered that Billy had, and reported that all the great paintings had been stored during the war. So Gregg reminded Mrs. Hale of this. She said, "Of course; how stupid of me. It is half-past nine now; and I am saying good night to Mrs. Lovell and I will go to my committee. Tell my daughter, if I do not see her, that I will return home directly from Mrs. Cleve's."
So Gregg saw her to her car and afterwards stayed downstairs and smoked a cigarette, before returning to the dancing floor for his number with Marjorie, because he expected her to be late for that dance, if she appeared at all; and, in fact, he had gone upstairs and the encore was playing before he saw her hurrying in.
"Please forgive me; Billy and I were having a long talk," she admitted frankly, flushed to a warm excitement which made Gregg press his lips tightly, as he put his arm about her and they began to dance.
"Bill's," he repeated to himself. "Or, almost Bill's." He clung to an idea that possibly the long talk between Marjorie and Bill had not come to a conclusion; possibly they had been interrupted; possibly there had seemed more delight in waiting for a consummation at some better time or place; possibly she had been unwilling, even in her happiness, to do him the rudeness of cutting a dance. Gregg seldom had the sensation of dancing with a girl and realizing that she was absorbed in thoughts of some other man; but he now had that experience. "I beg your pardon."
"Oh, it was my fault."
She, who usually danced perfectly, had lost step for the evident reason that Billy, with another girl, had passed.
"Oh, mother's gone?" Marjorie asked, making an effort to talk.
"Just now, to the Cleves'. She said to tell you she's going home from there."
"That'll be long after we get back. She's determined to put her improvement scheme through her committee to-night; a couple of the other members won't have it, and she'll keep them all there until she succeeds."
"She always does; her determination is simply—appalling. It's awfully inconvenient sometimes; but I admire her for it. I didn't want you to think from the way I spoke about mother buying my dress that I was criticizing her. I only meant her ideas aren't mine, on some things. I'm mostly like father; we've always been particular pals."
The encore ended and Marjorie, in looking for Billy, forgot what she had been saying. Every one was clapping and the music resumed; so Gregg was offering again to dance, when he heard some one saying:
"Miss Hale! Excuse me, Miss Hale!" and they turned and faced a club servant.
"Some one wants Mrs. Hale on the telephone," the man explained. "I can't find her, Miss Hale; and the lady said it was very important."
"Oh, mother's gone to Mrs. Cleve's, tell her," Marjorie said; and the man turned away. "Shall we dance now?" she said to Gregg.
He recollected himself. "Yes; please."
"That probably was one of mother's patient committee."
"Probably," Gregg said; but the fear which had come to him in his car, on the way from Pearson Street, made him slow. He could not help watching the stair and soon saw the servant reappear and look about the hall for them.
"Will you come to the telephone, Miss Hale?" the man asked. "I told the lady that Miss Hale said her mother had gone to Mrs. Cleve's, and the lady said that she couldn't look up another number; if Miss Hale was here, she must speak with her at once."
"I'll come," Marjorie said, suddenly pale. For the servant had communicated to her alarm which he had received from "the lady" on the telephone. "You needn't come down," Marjorie said to Gregg; she was looking about for Billy, but, not finding him at once, she did not wait; Gregg went downstairs with her to the booth, and as he heard her make reply he knew that the thing he feared had happened; but, of course, knowledge of it could come to her only slowly.
"Yes; I am Miss Hale—the daughter of Charles Hale; yes," he heard her reply steadily. "My father went down to take the Alton train to St. Louis. No; he did not go there directly; he had an engagement first. I don't know where——" her voice was beginning to break, and Gregg clenched his hands tight while he waited. No one was about that end of the hall but the servant who had summoned them, and Gregg ordered him away.
"What has happened to my father? Where is he?" Gregg heard Marjorie's voice crying. "I don't know where he is, or of course I would tell you. I want to know where he is, myself. What do you know about him? What——"
Gregg pulled open the door of the booth, and as Marjorie turned about with the instrument in her hand and stared up at him, he attempted to take the telephone from her.
"Let me talk to them," he begged.
But the voice at the other end was speaking and Marjorie was hearing something which made her grip the telephone in a spasm of terror; the voice ceased, and she could not reply. Gregg saw her try to speak, but her lips failed; she looked up at him. "Where's Veerage Street?" she cried to him.
"Veerage Street, Gregg!"
"Never heard of it; why? Who's there?"
"Father! He's injured; at 4689 Veerage Street. They've sent for Doctor Grantham for him."
Gregg reached down and took the telephone from her trembling hands, and he said into the mouthpiece, "Hold the line a moment, please." A woman's voice said, "Very well," and Gregg placed the telephone on the stand with the receiver off the hook. "Come out, Marjorie," he begged. "I'll talk to them." He backed from the booth and Marjorie caught at the side of the doorframe, and pulled herself up and faced him.
"Who was that calling?" Gregg demanded of her.
"Doctor Grantham's office; the one at his house; the girl who stays there and takes his calls was talking to me, Gregg."
"Yes, go on," said Gregg. What she had told him, had been almost a relief; he had feared she might have been hearing more directly.
"Doctor Grantham is the surgeon, a friend of father's."
"I know Grantham," Gregg assured.
"Gregg!" She grasped the lapels of his coat with both her hands and clung to him in her sudden break from self-control. "Something serious has happened to father! Some one—a woman's voice it was—called Doctor Grantham's home a few minutes ago. She begged Doctor Grantham to come at once to father at 4689 Veerage Street, third apartment; she said it was a case of life or death and for the doctor to come with his instruments. Doctor Grantham wasn't home; but the girl knew where he was. She called him and he's on the way home for his instruments, and he told her to look up Veerage Street for him. He didn't know it; the girl couldn't find it in the guide, so she called our house. That's all they know!"
Gregg took her hands and led her to a chair. By a mercy, the encore to the last dance had been long, the intermission short, and now another dance was playing so that no one else was about that end of the lower floor. "Stay here, Marjorie," he begged compassionately, "I'll talk to her and see if I can find out anything else."
Her cold fingers clasped convulsively on his before she relaxed and let him go; she gazed into his eyes, but his now avoided hers; Gregg was trying to think at the same moment of all sides and bearings of this which had come; which, indeed, he had expected to come, and yet which presented itself now suddenly with amazing and unthought-of complexities. He entered the telephone booth and shut the door; but instead of taking up the receiver, he opened the directory at R and swiftly ran down the column of Russells, finding no one listed with an address on Veerage Street; but a Mrs. S. Russell was residing at 4689 Clearedge Street. Gregg jerked and look up Nyman; yes, there was one at 4687 Clearedge Street. There was no longer any doubt whatever of the nature of the disaster to Charles Hale.
Gregg took up the telephone. "Doctor Grantham's office?"
"Is the doctor there?"
"He is just coming in."
"Tell him the right address is Clearedge Street—4689." Gregg started to hang up the receiver, but could not. "And tell him for God's sake to get there quick!" Gregg cried in sudden bewilderment with himself, then he hung up and pushed the door to feel weight against it, and he knew that Marjorie had been just outside. She stepped back and let him out.
"How did you know that?" she said, trembling.
Gregg thought as quickly as he could. "The man your father had to see to-night lives there."
She suspected nothing of the truth, Gregg felt; only her terrible anxiety for her father, in order to be sure to get medical aid at once, was making her question.
"Your father mentioned his name to me. I looked it up just now; that was the address."
"Oh, I see. Then—then I can call him. I can find out what's happened; how father is. What's his name, Gregg? The number!"
Gregg stepped before her, blocking her away from the telephone booth till he had glanced in and made sure that he had closed the directory. "No, that wouldn't do any good," he denied her. "The doctor's on his way there now, Marjorie," he pleaded. "He came in when I was speaking."
"Why, Gregg! Mr. Mowbry; you're going to tell me the number. Of course you are; my father's there; injured——"
"Marjorie, later I'll call up, when the doctor can have got there." Of course he was struggling only to spare her, but he filled her with greater fear.
"Gregg, did that girl tell you that father is—dying?"
"No; no, Marjorie. Just what you know."
"Then you'll tell me the name where he is! It's too senseless, Gregg; I'm not a child." Then she suddenly defied him. "Why do you suppose you can keep me from my father? I know the address; 4689 Clearedge Street. I could make 'information' give me the number there. But I shan't; it'll take too long. I'll go there; where's Billy?"
She looked about, with an effort of memory recalling where they were and what they had been doing. Music and the quick rhythm of the dance came from above and Marjorie gathered herself and made a determined start for the stairs.
Gregg caught her wrist and turned her to him, while he pleaded, "Wait here, Marjorie. I'll bring Bill down. You mustn't go upstairs looking like that."
"You will get him?" she challenged him, directly.
"Yes," he promised.
"All right; I'll stay here. I must call Leonard, anyway, and get him to come back here now; and I suppose I must call mother and give her some sort of warning; poor mother."
Gregg's clasp on her wrist tightened. "Don't!" he said.
"Not call mother? Oh, of course, I'd rather not just yet—till we know more. I'll just call Leonard, then."
"No; you mustn't do even that!"
"Why not? Gregg, I'm going to my father."
"Let Bill and me go for you, Marjorie."
"And I stay here when he's—— Gregg, let go of me! I must call Leonard; and if I can't find him, I'll borrow Mrs. Chaden's car."
She wrenched her arm from him and he realized he could not physically struggle with her there; yet, unless he stopped her, in a moment she would tell other people and start for her father with them.
"Just wait here, Marjorie. I'll bring Bill down," Gregg offered a promise. "Then, if you will go, we'll take you to your father."
She accepted it for a promise. "You'll hurry, won't you? But don't let any one know anything's wrong, Gregg."
"Of course not."
He endeavored to wander on to the dance floor as casually as usual, but he found himself gazing at friends stupidly and staring at strangers. He could not think about these people; what a blow had struck Marjorie and, unless he could save her, what another was in store for her this night! The idea of it made him first hopelessly weak and then made him feel frantically strong. He felt like rushing down to her again and seizing her in his arms and holding her to him away from every one and everything else and bearing her far, far off. But that wild sensation, of course, was silly.
Suddenly he saw Bill's tall, blond head above the others; and Gregg's shoulders shuddered up. He hadn't been able to think of the blow this would be to Bill; he did not know, until this moment, how much he loved old Bill's idealism and the simple faiths about which he teased Bill; he had not known how he wanted Bill to keep them; why, they were Bill.
A flourish of the drums and saxophone warned that the dance was ending, and Gregg slipped to the side of the floor where that blond head was turning.
"Hello, Gregg," Bill hailed, happily. "Where've you been sitting out with Marjorie?"
"Telephone call; can you come downstairs?" Gregg replied. He led Billy, not to the telephone near which Marjorie was waiting, but to a corner of the coat room.
"See here, Gregg, what's up?" Billy demanded, fully aware now that Gregg had some serious communication.
"Bill, Mr. Hale's been hurt."
"Heh? Where? How? Gregg, where's Marjorie; does she know it?"
"Yes, old fellow. I was with her when she found out. She's going to need you to-night about as much as possible—maybe."
"Good Lord! Gregg, her father's not dead?"
"I don't know; she doesn't either. No one here does."
"What was it? Street hold up? Taxi accident? How did you hear?"
"When some one sent for Doctor Grantham. This way:" and as unemotionally as he could, Gregg related how the call had come, while Billy went white and his eyes were wet when Gregg told him how Marjorie heard.
"The poor little girl, Gregg! Where's she now?"
"Hush! Wait!" Gregg seized his sleeve and held him. "You understand the doctor's girl bungled the address; Marjorie didn't know where her father had gone; so I had to tell the doctor."
"I see; good you knew, Gregg. I'm going to Marjorie."
Gregg grasped Bill's sleeve and held him, but was unable to say anything more for he saw that Billy suspected nothing; and if he tried here and now to tell the whole truth to Bill, what a smash he would make of any chance he had of guarding Marjorie! Whatever else might happen, to tell Billy now was simply impossible; for Billy at first would be knocked out absolutely flat, just as Jim Cuncliffe had said; he would be useless and worse than useless to Marjorie at this moment; and then, he would try to take the affair into his own hands. No, to tell Bill was impossible.
Yet Billy must go with them; there would be no way to avoid that. And if he delayed Billy here much longer, Marjorie would come upstairs looking for him.
"What is it, Gregg?" Billy demanded.
"I'm taking you in my car," Gregg replied, weakly. "You get your coat and send for Marjorie's. It's better not to say anything to anybody and not to let her, till we find out just how things are. You see?"
"All right. I'll be at the door for you in five minutes."