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   Chapter 4 ENTER FREDDIE SWAIN

The Gloved Hand By Burton Egbert Stevenson Characters: 13404

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


I fell, rather than climbed, down the ladder, snatched the white missile from the grass, and saw that it was, indeed, a sealed and addressed envelope. I had somehow expected that address to include either Godfrey's name or mine; but it did neither. The envelope bore these words:

MR. FREDERIC SWAIN,

1010 Fifth Avenue,

New York City.

If not at this address,

please try the Calumet Club.

I sat down on the lowest rung of the ladder, whistling softly to myself. For Freddie Swain's address was no longer 1010 Fifth Avenue, nor was he to be found in the luxurious rooms of the Calumet Club. In fact, it was nearly a year since he had entered either place. For some eight hours of every week-day, he laboured in the law offices of Royce & Lester; he slept in a little room on the top floor of the Marathon; three hours of every evening, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays excepted, were spent at the law school of the University of New York; and the remaining hours of the twenty-four in haunts much less conspicuous and expensive than the Calumet Club.

For Freddie Swain had taken one of these toboggan slides down the hill of fortune which sometimes happen to the most deserving. His father, old General Orlando Swain, had, all his life, put up a pompous front and was supposed to have inherited a fortune from somewhere; but, when he died, this edifice was found to be all fa?ade and no foundation, and Freddie inherited nothing but debts. He had been expensively educated for a career as an Ornament of Society, but he found that career cut short, for Society suddenly ceased to find him ornamental. I suppose there were too many marriageable daughters about!

I am bound to say that he took the blow well. Instead of attempting to cling to the skirts of Society as a vendor of champagne or an organiser of fêtes champêtres, he-to use his own words-decided to cut the whole show.

Our firm had been named as the administrators of the Swain estate, and when the storm was over and we were sitting among the ruins, Freddie expressed the intention of going to work.

"What will you do?" Mr. Royce inquired. "Ever had any training in making money?"

"No, only in spending it," retorted Freddie, easily. "But I can learn. I was thinking of studying law. That's a good trade, isn't it?"

"Splendid!" assented Mr. Royce, warmly. "And there are always so many openings. You see, nobody studies law-lawyers are as scarce as hen's teeth."

"Just the same, I think I'll have a try at it," said Freddie, sturdily. "There's always room at the top, you know," he added, with a grin. "I can go to the night-school at the University, and I ought to be able to earn enough to live on, as a clerk or something. I know how to read and write."

"That will help, of course," agreed Mr. Royce. "But I'm afraid that, right at first, anyway, you can scarcely hope to live in the style to which you have been accustomed."

Freddie turned on him with fire in his eyes.

"Look here," he said, "suppose you give me a job. I'll do my work and earn my wages-try me and see."

There was something in his face that touched me, and I glanced at Mr. Royce. I saw that his gruffness was merely a mantle to cloak his real feelings; and the result was that Freddie Swain was set to work as a copying-clerk at a salary of fifteen dollars a week. He applied himself to his work with an energy that surprised me, and I learned that he was taking the night-course at the University, as he had planned. Finally, one night, I met him as I was turning in to my rooms at the Marathon, and found that he had rented a cubby-hole on the top floor of the building. After that, I saw him occasionally, and when six months had passed, was forced to acknowledge that he was thoroughly in earnest. I happened to remark to Mr. Royce one day that Swain seemed to be making good.

"Yes," my partner agreed; "I didn't think he had it in him. He had a rude awakening from his dream of affluence, and it seems to have done him good."

But, somehow, I had fancied that it was from more than a dream of affluence he had been awakened; and now, as I sat staring at this letter, I began to understand dimly what the other dream had been.

The first thing was to get the letter into his hands, for I was certain that it was a cry for help. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was nearly half past twelve. Swain, I knew, would be at lunch, and was not due at the office until one o'clock. Slipping the letter into my pocket, I turned back to the house, and found Mrs. Hargis standing on the front porch.

"I declare, I thought you was lost, Mr. Lester," she said. "I was just going to send William to look for you. Ain't you 'most starved?"

"Scarcely starved, Mrs. Hargis," I said, "but with a very creditable appetite, when you consider that I ate breakfast only two hours ago."

"Well, come right in," she said. "Your lunch is ready."

"I suppose there's a telephone somewhere about?" I asked, as I followed her through the hall.

"Yes, sir, in here," and she opened the door into a little room fitted up as a study. "It's here Mr. Godfrey works sometimes."

"Thank you," I said, "I've got to call up the office. I won't be but a minute."

I found Godfrey's number stamped on the cover of the telephone book, and then called the office. As I had guessed, Swain was not yet back from lunch, and I left word for him to call me as soon as he came in. Then I made my way to the dining-room, where Mrs. Hargis was awaiting me.

"How does one get out here from New York, Mrs. Hargis?" I asked, as I sat down. "That is, if one doesn't happen to own a motor car?"

"Why, very easily, sir. Take the Third Avenue elevated to the end of the line, and then the trolley. It runs along Dryden Road, just two blocks over."

"Where does one get off?"

"At Prospect Street, sir."

"And what is this place called?"

"This is the old Bennett place, sir."

"Thank you. And let me tell you, Mrs. Hargis," I added, "that I have never tasted a better salad."

Her kindly old face flushed with pleasure.

"It's nice of you to say that, sir," she said. "We have our own garden, and William takes a great pride in it."

"I must go and see it," I said. "I've always fancied I'd like to potter around in a garden. I must see if Mr. Godfrey won't let me in on this."

"He spends an hour in it every morning. Sometimes he can hardly tear himself away. I certainly do like Mr. Godfrey."

"So do I," I agreed heartily. "He's a splendid fellow-one of the nicest, squarest men I ever met-and a friend worth having."

"He's all of that, sir," she agreed, and stood for a moment, clasping and unclasping her hands

nervously, as though there was something else she wished to say. But she evidently thought better of it. "There's the bell, sir," she added. "Please ring if there's anything else you want," and she left me to myself.

I had pushed back my chair and was filling my pipe when the telephone rang. It was Swain.

"Swain," I said, "this is Mr. Lester. I'm at a place up here in the Bronx, and I want you to come up right away."

"Very good, sir," said Swain. "How do I get there?"

"Take the Third Avenue elevated to the end of the line, and then the trolley which runs along Dryden Road. Get off at Prospect Street, walk two blocks west and ask for the old Bennett place. I'll have an eye out for you."

"All right, sir," said Swain, again. "Do you want me to bring some papers, or anything?"

"No; just come as quickly as you can," I answered, and hung up.

I figured that, even at the best, it would take Swain an hour and a half to make the journey, and I strolled out under the trees again. Then the thought came to me that I might as well make a little exploration of the neighbourhood, and I sauntered out to the road. Along it for some distance ran the high wall which bounded Elmhurst, and I saw that the wall had been further fortified by ugly pieces of broken glass set in cement along its top.

I could see a break in the wall, about midway of its length, and, walking past, discovered that this was where the gates were set-heavy gates of wrought iron, very tall, and surmounted by sharp spikes. The whole length of the wall was, I judged, considerably over a city block, but there was no other opening in it.

At the farther end, it was bounded by a crossroad, and, turning along this, I found that the wall extended nearly the same distance in this direction. There was an opening about midway-a small opening, closed by a heavy, iron-banded door-the servants' entrance, I told myself. The grounds of a row of houses facing the road beyond ran up to the wall at the back, and I could not follow it without attracting notice, but I could see that there was no break in it. I was almost certain that the wall which closed the estate on Godfrey's side was also unbroken. There were, then, only the two entrances.

I walked back again to the front, and paused for a glance through the gates. But there was nothing to be seen. The driveway parted and curved away out of sight in either direction, and a dense mass of shrubbery opposite the gate shut off any view of the grounds. Even of the house, there was nothing to be seen except the chimneys and one gable. Evidently, Mr. Vaughan was fond of privacy, and had spared no pains to secure it.

Opposite the Vaughan place, a strip of woodland ran back from the road. It was dense with undergrowth, and, I reflected, would form an admirable hiding-place. The road itself seemed little travelled, and I judged that the main artery of traffic was the road along which the trolley ran, two blocks away.

I returned to my starting point, and assured myself that the wall on that side was indeed without a break. Some vines had started up it here and there, but, for the most part, it loomed grey and bleak, crowned along its whole length by that threatening line of broken glass. I judged it to be twelve feet high, so that, even without the glass, it would be impossible for anyone to get over it without assistance. As I stood there looking at it, resenting the threat of that broken glass, and pondering the infirmity of character which such a threat revealed, it suddenly struck me that the upper part of the wall differed slightly from the lower part. It was a little lighter in colour, a little newer in appearance; and, examining the wall more closely, I discovered that originally it had been only eight or nine feet high, and that the upper part had been added at a later date-and last of all, of course, the broken glass!

As I turned back, at last, toward the house, I saw someone coming up the drive. In a moment, I recognised Swain, and quickened my steps.

"You made good time," I said.

"Yes, sir; I was fortunate in catching an express and not having to wait for the trolley."

"We'd better go into the house," I added. "I have a message for you-a confidential message."

He glanced at me quickly, but followed silently, as I led the way into Godfrey's study and carefully closed the door.

"Sit down," I said, and I sat down myself and looked at him.

I had always thought Swain a handsome, thoroughbred-looking fellow; and I saw that, in the past few months, he had grown more thoroughbred-looking than ever. His face was thinner than when he had first gone to work for us, there was a new line between his eyebrows, and the set of his lips told of battles fought and won. A year ago, it had seemed natural to call him Freddie, but no one would think of doing so now. His father's creditors had not attempted to take from him his wardrobe-a costly and extensive one-so that he was dressed as carefully, if not quite as fashionably, as ever, in a way that suggested a young millionaire, rather than a fifteen-dollar-a-week clerk. At this moment, his face was clouded, and he drummed the arm of his chair with nervous fingers. Then he shifted uneasily under my gaze, which was, perhaps, more earnest than I realised.

"You said you had a message for me, sir," he reminded me.

"Yes," I said. "Have you ever been out this way before?"

"Yes, I have been out this way a number of times."

"You know this place, then?"

"I have heard it mentioned, but I have never been here before."

"Do you know whose place that is next door to us?"

"Yes," and his voice sank to a lower key. "It belongs to Worthington Vaughan."

"And you know him?"

"At one time, I knew him quite well, sir," and his voice was still lower.

"No doubt," I went on, more and more interested, "you also knew his very fascinating daughter."

A wave of colour crimsoned his face.

"Why are you asking me these questions, Mr. Lester?" he demanded.

"Because," I said, "the message I have is from that young lady, and is for a man named Frederic Swain."

He was on his feet, staring at me, and all the blood was gone from his cheeks.

"A message!" he cried. "From her! From Marjorie! What is it, Mr. Lester? For God's sake...."

"Here it is," I said, and handed him the letter.

He seized it, took one look at the address, then turned away to the window and ripped the envelope open. He unfolded the sheet of paper it contained, and as his eyes ran along it, his face grew whiter still. At last he raised his eyes and stared at me with the look of a man who felt the world tottering about him.

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