The Breath of Scandal/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

GREGG turned away and walked to the window in an effort to think quickly and clearly; but he did not succeed well. "I don't know yet; we haven't got to say it yet, Marjorie. When we have to, you'd better not depend on me," Gregg admitted, when he turned back. "I've bungled about everything to-night; but we won't muddle this along any further. Before we say anything now, we have to think of more than your mother and your own people; we have to figure out something that will stick with business men—with men like Mr. Stanway, especially, and with the newspapers, maybe, and with the police. I don't fool myself that I'm competent to get that up; Bill's not; you can't, Marjorie. Whoever does it has to be able to think of a thousand things that can't possibly come into our minds now. He has to have experience; he's got to be an expert. And there are experts in these things; with lots of experience. That's why more things like this never come out; that's why this won't come out. Bill, you're a lawyer; and it's a lawyer who fixes everything. Who's the best man in Chicago to fix this?"

"Best man?" Billy parroted, dazed.

"He means the worst man in Chicago, Billy," Marjorie explained, compassionately almost, as though it were Billy, not she, who was suffering. "He means who's the lowest lawyer you know, Billy; or the lowest you've heard of? For you wouldn't know the sort of man we need, Billy; thank Heaven!"

"Lowest?" Billy parroted again.

"That's what we mean, isn't it, Gregg?" Marjorie appealed.

Gregg had no course but to accept. "He mustn't sell out his side, Bill. That fellow who got Leverell out of that mix-up that the papers dropped all of a sudden last fall, Bill; what was his name?"

"Felix Rinderfeld?"

"That's the man!"

"Good God!" Billy whispered to himself. It seemed as if he had not been able quite to grasp what Marjorie and he were involved in until Gregg connected Rinderfeld with them.

"Do you know anybody better, Bill?"

That buzzer from the front door, which Billy and Marjorie had sounded so long, vibrated again but only for an instant and gently. Gregg stepped back into the sun parlor and saw on the street a long, white-topped motor-car.

"The ambulance is here," he announced quietly. "Go down, Bill, and let the men in; stretcher, of course, tell them."

Billy obeyed, relieved at something to do; Marjorie became whiter as her thought returned wholly to the physical condition of her father. She went into the bedroom and Grantham and Carson came out.

"Any change, doctor?" Gregg asked.

"No."

"Where's that car from, sir?"

"I called Fursten; he's a private firm."

"You're not taking Mr. Hale to St. Luke's, are you?"

"No."

"Where to, sir?"

"Mowbry, before Charles Hale lost consciousness, he told that woman to send for me; he left word for me to do everything possible to protect his family, whether I found him alive or dead. So I'm taking him to Fursten's sanitarium. It's much nearer than St. Luke's." Grantham named the street and number. "There's a good operating room there; and good care. He'll have as much chance for his life there as anywhere; and no questions asked, Mowbry, if I'm able to pull him through. If I don't, of course, the State's got to find out what happened. We're taking a chance but——"

The doctor halted; Gregg nodded.

"I see, sir. You know, of course, that Marjorie found out."

"Yes."

"There's a lawyer named Rinderfeld who sees through things like this, doctor; fixes up the public explanation and all that, sir. I'm going to talk to him; he'll want to get in touch with you. You'll know now who he is."

"I think I've heard of him," Grantham acknowledged. He moved back into the bedroom as Billy appeared at the entrance door with the attendants from the ambulance; Grantham sent out Marjorie and after a minute, the men carried out her father. Grantham led the way downstairs and Marjorie and Billy followed. Gregg went as far as the top of the stairs, where he heard Grantham explaining to the tenants of the first apartment—whose door had again opened—that Mrs. Russell's brother had suffered a "stroke" and was being taken to a hospital. From the front sun parlor, Gregg observed the stretcher put into the ambulance and he saw Marjorie and Grantham enter to ride in it; Billy and Carson got into Grantham's car. A few people had gathered to watch but they seemed to Gregg idly curious. If they asked any questions, they evidently were satisfied that the ambulance was removing a man suddenly taken sick. The white car drove off and the doctor's black one followed.

"That's cleared," Gregg murmured to himself with great relief; but he let himself relax for only a moment before he stepped to the closed door of Mrs. Russell's room and rapped.

"Where is the telephone?" he asked.

She let him in and showed him the instrument.

There was only one Rinderfeld listed in the directory; his name was Felix and he had both an office in the loop and a residence number on the south side. Gregg called up the latter and when Rinderfeld answered, Gregg ascertained that he was the attorney who had handled the Leverell matter so Gregg gave his name and said:

"I wish to retain you on a case which has just come up."

"All right; when do you come to see me?"

"I would like to have you come here," Gregg said; and gave the directions. He left the room and went back through the apartment, which was all quiet now. He locked the rear door where he had broken the glass and he removed the key; entering the disordered room where Mr. Hale had lain, he swiftly stripped the bed and bundled the linen in a corner. He went forward and ascertained that no one was loitering in front of the building.

After he had delayed for a few minutes in the living room, Mrs. Russell came in.

"Where have they taken—Mr. Hale?" she questioned quietly.

Gregg told her.

She gazed at him, consideringly, and then she asked:

"Why are you waiting here?"

"I've sent for a lawyer named Rinderfeld; he'll be here in about an hour. You must tell him everything that happened here; and I think you had better tell him anything else he wants to know."

"Why?"

"He handles situations like this," Gregg explained shortly. "He'll know the best thing for us all to do."

"Oh! Then we're to—act together."

"Of course."

Gregg dropped into a chair near the front window where he could overlook the street. She took her place on the piano bench on the opposite side of the room and Gregg put her out of his mind after a moment; he half-turned his back to her and, bending down, he gazed toward the gay, new, tall residence hotels and two-room apartment structures which were visible by lights from their windows, and were etched in dim outline against the glare rising from the streets before them. In Gregg's mind, previously, the life about here had represented to him, vaguely, a modern stage of personal relationships, rapidly replacing the more familiar sort in which he had grown up. He had never bothered his mind about so silly a speculation as to whether this stage "ought" to replace the other; his brain did not function in such useless ways. He observed as a simple, obvious fact that the easy, irresponsible-appearing way of living, which was represented by this district, was becoming more and more popular; the old-fashioned "home" with sober duties and ideals was amazingly less so. If he thought at all of the transition stage, he had supposed it to be easy enough and natural,—merely a matter of choice for any individual as to how he preferred to live. For nothing had ever happened to Gregg to force him to feel anything else. But here, in this room where Marjorie's father had been shot and where a few minutes ago he had had to stand by and watch her learn "it," suddenly he revolted with savage aversion to these great indulgent buildings in such opposition to Marjorie's home and to his own, where he had been happy as a boy. He hated these places because they had hurt him and had hurt Marjorie so.

Yet he was aware that, in the great number of these rooms about, lived people who were married; right next door here was Nyman with his wife and their baby. The strange circumstance was that Gregg did not distinguish such neighbors as wholly different, in their relationship with each other, from Charles Hale and Sybil Russell. Gregg could not then figure out how or why; the simple fact was that he did not feel it.

It was partly this, perhaps, which held him from casting upon Sybil Russell that accusation of personal infamy which Billy had flung upon her. He thought that if she had never existed, in her place on that piano bench near the spot where Charles Hale had been shot, would be sitting some other young woman who represented to Marjorie's father the passion and the escape from duty and responsibilities which had drawn Charles Hale to this place. For to have his share in the life about here—the young, new, reckless independence of this district—rather than particularly for her, Charles Hale had come here.

Gregg sat back and straightened and, restlessly, he arose and strode down the hall, thinking. Not about Marjorie's father and Mrs. Russell; but about himself and Marjorie. For Gregg was no hypocrite and what he thought with himself was that if he married Marjorie, as to-night he had longed to in a way he had never desired anything else before, he would take her to some such neighborhood as this; some such life as that which went on about here would become hers and his. For he wanted her to live with him as his wife but he did not want to enter upon new duties and responsibilities with her; he meant to escape such things as far as possible to his wife and to himself.

"Good thing Bill's got you," Gregg muttered to himself. "Good thing you have old Bill. Oh, damn, damn."

He returned to the living room where Mrs. Russell, left alone, had become more frightened and was standing and staring absently about.

"They must have reached the hospital by this time!" she cried to Gregg.

"Yes; probably."

She started past him and he caught her wrist. "Don't telephone there; don't send any call from here to anywhere!"

For an instant she flared up, defying him: "You shall not tell me what I may do! I am going to know what is happening to him! He's mine! I—I love him, you—boy! Do you think that I——"

"I don't think at all," Gregg stopped her calmly and firmly, "about you and him. That's not my affair. But other people are thinking. We will hear if anything more happens. You'd better sit down there again, hadn't you?"

She had good sense, Gregg noticed; indeed, it was extraordinary how well she controlled herself, how little of the irresponsible she had indulged in. Now that he took time to observe her, he found her distinctly a person of marked individualities. His first impression of her as a woman lacking in the weakness and pliability which might be presumed of one in her situation had progressed to perception of more definite qualities of will and self-reliance than he often saw in women. Not for money, Gregg was sure, had she chosen to do what she had done. She had said she loved Hale; but, as Gregg went on talking with her, as impersonally as possible about what the doctors had discovered and about Mr. Hale's chances for recovery, she offered none of the usual, stale, socialistic "free love" excuses or arguments for her way of living.

Gregg was rather relieved at that; they always made him disgusted; at least the sort of people who put them forth always were to him a loathsome lot. This woman, whatever she was, had nothing to do with that lot. Her way of living asked for no approval of others; it was her own for reasons sufficient to herself and she did not trouble to defend or explain it further than to mention that she was down town, regularly, on business days; for she was a life-insurance agent. Then, forming a sudden decision, she made her sole direct reference to her life at the flat:

"Charles Hale and I split expenses here and everywhere; he paid his; I paid mine. Fifty-fifty. That's the one fact I care to have you, and members of his family, know. We went fifty-fifty from the first. I made seven thousand dollars of my own last year. Do you believe me?"

"Of course I do," said Gregg.

A few minutes after that—it was almost midnight—Felix Rinderfeld appeared.

His arrival was by means of a new which either was a Rolls-Royce or so perfect a copy that the difference was not distinguishable from the third floor sun parlor. Rinderfeld proved to be a young man, evidently not five years older than Gregg. As his name suggested, he was a Jew and he was of the type that keeps himself, while young, in vigorous physical condition; a man of medium height and ordinary proportions, he had cultivated an emphatic self-confidence of bearing sufficient to make most people describe him as having "presence." Gregg recognized him at once as a man who, without doing anything actually unmannerly, yet made it a custom to be conspicuous about such places as the Blackstone and the Drake; once, Gregg remembered, he had almost asked a waiter who the fellow was.

He was not embarrassed in the slightest about his business nor did he expect his clients to be about theirs. In fact, he entered as though he had dropped in upon personal friends for a casual midnight chat and was in no hurry to get to business. Gregg was. He informed Rinderfeld carefully of Charles Hale's position in respect to his family and also went into what details he could concerning Hale's situation in Tri-Lake, his recent rapid promotions and the opposition of Stanway; he related the facts which Marjorie knew and how Doctor Grantham had taken Hale with Marjorie and Whittaker to Fursten's. Rinderfeld seemed to approve heartily of Fursten's. Gregg submitted himself to the several questions which Rinderfeld put; then he left the room while Rinderfeld talked with Mrs. Russell.

It was nearly an hour before the final cessation of murmurs told Gregg that Rinderfeld had obtained from Mrs. Russell the information he needed and he stepped into the dining room where Gregg was waiting.

"All set now," announced Rinderfeld, reassuringly. "Of course, two elements in this are temporarily out of control. First, what George Russell may do. If the fool gets overcome with fright and gives himself up to the police, we'll have a somewhat difficult situation. But she doesn't think he'll do that. However, I'm going to have him found. Second, is Hale going to die? I'll take that in hand myself now. I'm going to Fursten's."

"What's the best thing for me to do now?" Gregg asked.

"Go home," Rinderfeld supplied promptly; and he made a note of Gregg's address and telephone number. "After I've had a look about Fursten's, I'll send word if I've need for you."

He thrust forward his hand and, with more reluctance than Gregg could recall feeling at such a formality, Gregg shook hands. Together they said good night to Mrs. Russell, who plainly had her instructions.

In his car, Gregg followed the shining coupé of Rinderfeld into Sheridan Road and down the boulevard to the street for Fursten's. When the lawyer made the turn, it was not recollection of his instruction which kept Gregg from turning after him; what held Gregg straight on the way to Pearson Street was thought of Marjorie and Billy together at the hospital; Bill had the right to be with her now; upon them Gregg had no reason to intrude.

He put up his car and ascended to his apartment, which was deserted at this hour; for Dora, the maid, was the daughter of the woman who cooked in the apartment below and she shared her mother's room on the lower floor. Gregg went into Billy's room to make sure that Bill had not returned; then, restlessly, he strolled through the empty rooms. He opened a bottle of whiskey and took a drink; he put a band record on the phonograph and played it over and over, while he sat stretched out in a Morris chair before it. A little after two o'clock, he turned out the lights and shut himself in his own room, where he lay on his bed without undressing. He could not drive off memory of what he had witnessed this night; and now he was not trying to. For his mind had ceased to give him again and again only the vision of that apartment on Clearedge Street; of Charles Hale lying like dead with the doctors bending over him; of Marjorie taking up her father's picture and dropping it and looking from Billy to him and learning. His visions were beginning to go back a little to Mr. Hale greeting his guests at the wide door of his home; to the dinner table with Mr. Hale at one end, all friendly and easy; and his wife at the other as she had been. And her voice seemed to come to Gregg again as, deliberately and merely as a matter of fact, she related incidents of her last long stay abroad and as she went on to her plans for returning to Brittany for several months "with my daughter this time, I hope. It is too bad Mr. Hale's business never permits him to do more than take me across the ocean."

Gregg clenched his fists in a queer instinctive spasm. He sat up. A few minutes later, he heard Bill's key in the front door. Evidently Bill hung up his coat and stood in the hall while he talked to himself:

"You wouldn't say it could happen! You wouldn't——"

Billy trod heavily to his room where he moved about, talking to himself. Gregg got up and opened the door from the bathroom into Billy's.

"How's Mr. Hale, Bill?"

Billy had been undressing while he walked about; he had his coat and waistcoat off and his collar in his hand when he turned. If Gregg had not known that Billy never drank, he must have supposed him drunk from the redness of his face and of his bloodshot eyes.

"Oh! You here, Gregg?" He did not add verbally, but he might as well have said, that he had forgotten all about Gregg. "We took Mr. Hale to a hospital, Gregg. A private one; Fursten's."

"Yes," said Gregg. "I know. I saw you start; what happened when you got there?"

"Oh, Doctor Grantham operated. It was successful, they think. They got the bullet. Probably Mr. Hale will live."

"That's good," said Gregg.

"Good?" Billy repeated. "I suppose so. Poor Marjorie! And Mrs. Hale, Gregg!"

"Oh, what about her, Bill? What have you told her? You took Marjorie home, of course."

Billy stared absently at Gregg and then nodded. "She was in her room, Mrs. Hale was; gone to bed but awake. She hadn't expected Marjorie earlier. We passed the club on the way; people were still dancing."

"Then Marjorie didn't see her mother?"

"Just called good night to her and she went to her room, Marjorie did. I waited downstairs; I heard her."

"I see. Then you decided to tell her nothing tonight. Rinderfeld wanted that?"

"Yes, if we didn't have to say anything."

"Then how about to-morrow?"

Billy started to reply and then went to his coat, from a pocket of which he extracted a sheet of paper covered with distinct, black handwriting.

"He wrote this out for you and me."

Gregg took it and read, in the legible flourishes which at each line recalled Felix Rinderfeld, these concise, practical instructions:

"For Willam Whittaker and Gregg Mowbry.

"Up to the occasion of the telephone call which reached Marjorie Hale and originated in Doctor Grantham's office, there is no need to correct your recollections.

"The occasion of the call was this: for many weeks Mr. Charles Hale had been aware of a soreness in his left side. Having consulted Doctor Grantham, he learned that there existed a pathological condition which might of itself subside but which might, on the other hand, suddenly become acute and endanger his life. He concealed this knowledge not only from his family but from his friends and business associates.

"His errand in the city last night, before the time he intended to take the train, was to consult Dr. Grantham, who examined him, discovered to his alarm that the condition had suddenly become acute and that an immediate and radical operation was necessary. Mr. Hale objected to this, wishing to avoid prolonged absence from his office at this difficult time; but upon Doctor Grantham pointing out that his life was in danger, he agreed to undergo an operation, provided the nature of it be kept secret. He believed that if it became known that a radical operation was performed, the directors of the Tri-Lake Corporation might be led to think that his health was permanently impaired; this presumption would be unjustifiable but, considering the internal situation of the corporation, Mr. Hale believed that it would seriously affect his prospects for promotion to Mr. Dorsett's position. Therefore, Mr. Hale arranged that Doctor Grantham operate in a small, private hospital and, during the period of his convalescence, he would give out that he was ill at home from an ordinary case of influenza.

"Doctor Grantham therefore took him to Fursten's, instructing his girl to communicate with Mrs. Hale; she telephoned to the Hale home, was informed that Mrs. Hale was at the club where Mrs. Lovell was giving a dance; and Doctor Grantham's girl called there, not finding Mrs. Hale, but Miss Hale, who, with the advice of William Whittaker and Gregg Mowbry, decided to spare Mrs. Hale anxiety and not inform her until the operation was performed.

"Miss Hale and William Whittaker and Mowbry immediately left for Fursten's and Miss Hale and Whittaker were actually present while the operation was performed; this was successful and Whittaker took Miss Hale to her home.

"The above constitute the essential facts. Comment: it is not expected that the belief that Mr. Hale is ill at home with influenza can be successfully maintained. However, this will be originally stated with the expectation that, sooner or later, others will discover he has been in a city hospital for a surgical operation. The 'truth' as above outlined will then be reluctantly admitted; that will be found to satisfy every one and nothing more damaging will be suspected."

Gregg looked up, as Billy came beside him impatiently and broke out again, "Good God, how could a man do a thing like that? How could he—could he?"

Gregg could endure no more emotion. "Like this?" he said, brandishing Rinderfeld's paper. "This is Rinderfeld's business, Bill. He does it all the time; and he's done us a good job, I'd say. That double lie alone is worth his price—whatever he charges for it. Giving the neighbors something to find out that will satisfy them when they've got it; now you and I, Bill, never would have figured out that. It's got to come from experience."

Billy stared, not hearing. "I mean Mr. Hale, Gregg! How could he do a thing like that?"

"Oh," Gregg said, as though recollecting. "Mr. Hale was up against something, Bill. He had about three things he could do; one and two others. I suppose maybe he tried the first for a while and then got tired sticking it or—something made him mad, maybe. That left him the choice of the other two; and I suppose he chose the one which he figured showed more consideration to his wife."

Billy gaped. "What did you say?"

Gregg repeated it; but Billy continued to stare as though Gregg had gone mad. "Why, Gregg——"

"That's all right and I'm all right too," Gregg assured. "I'm going to get some sleep now. You'd better make a stab at it, too. G'night, Bill. I forgot one thing. I'm glad, Bill."

"Glad? You are crazy, then?"

"About Marjorie and you, old fellow."

"Oh!"

"'Night, Bill." Then Gregg withdrew and, returning to his own room, for the first time he locked his door against Bill; for he knew that pretty soon Bill was coming to demand an explanation; and he didn't care to talk or have to think any more before he had a sleep. For he held no illusions that he was not in for an adventure which, sooner or later, was bound to try him out with himself and force him to find out what he was and, also, what he might be. Gregg's philosophy had never contemplated any such stirring up.

He reread the clear, succinct narrative of events which Rinderfeld had supplied Billy, a simple enough and a straightforward seeming story and one which, so far as Gregg could now discern, covered all probable contingencies. It was a good piece of work for Rinderfeld and, for its very simplicity, far better than Gregg or Billy or any other amateur in such affairs could have composed. But it could not be proof against every attack; indeed, at any moment a circumstance might become public which would scrap the whole careful scheme and thrust the truth into the open.

Well, suppose it did? Gregg, in his exhaustion of feeling, scarcely cared; for him, the calamity which he feared and which he had set himself to prevent, had happened. Marjorie knew; and the addition of public dishonor could hardly score her more. He thought of her as he had last seen her,—stupified, still, mercifully unable yet actually to feel the full effect of the blow which had struck her. But soon she must commence to feel; and when she would, Gregg longed to be with her. But he knew that he could not be; that would be Billy's right.

Gregg lay down and tried to summon sleep. He could not let himself think of her turning to Bill for help in these next days before her. What sort of help could Bill give; how could he aid her to understand? No use bothering about that; Bill would be the one with her, through these next days, and the result of them upon her probably would determine whether she was to become hard, disillusioned and reckless and do the wild, unforeseeable things which Marjorie Hale might do, or whether she would emerge from it all the Marjorie that Gregg dreamed she might be. Well, no use thinking about that; none of his business, anyway; she was Bill's and with Bill she must become what Bill and she would determine.