OGDEN SECOR did not recognize June Lathrop as Maggie Lynch, the girl from Farris's, and it was with relief that almost found expression in an audible sigh that the girl returned to her desk in her own office.
Here she surprised the lank and somber office-boy, Sammy, in the act of closing one of the drawers of her desk.
"What do you want, Sammy?" she asked pleasantly.
The youth went from white to red, and from red to scarlet. He stammered and coughed--trying to frame an apology, until June, from mild wonderment, became keenly suspicious.
"I'm awfully sorry, Miss Lathrop," he managed to get out at last. "I didn't mean any harm--I was only practising."
"Practising?" exclaimed the girl. "Practising what?"
"I suppose," said Sammy, "that I'll have to tell you now; but I didn't want any one to know until I had graduated and got a position with Pinkerton."
"Pinkerton?" questioned June, still at a loss to make head or tail of what the youth was leading to. "What has practising or Pinkerton to do with searching my desk surreptitiously? It was a very ungentlemanly thing to do, Sammy, and I really ought to tell Mr. Stickler about it."
"Oh, please don't do that," wailed Sammy. "Please don't and I'll tell you all about it."
"All right," said June, "now tell me."
"You see," said Sammy nervously, "I'm taking a correspondence course in a detective school, and a part of each lesson is to put into practise what I have learned in former lessons. Just now I was practising searching a burglar's flat. Almost every day I practise shadowing."
"Shadowing?" exclaimed June. "What is shadowing? How do you do it?"
"Oh, it's easy," replied Sammy, his confidence returning as he discovered that June appeared to have forgiven the liberties he had taken with her desk.
"You see," he continued, "a detective has to be able to follow a suspect all over without being seen himself. I practise on lots of people--Mr. Stickler, Mr. Secor, Miss Smith, and the rest of them. When they go to lunch I shadow them, a different one nearly every noon. Friday I shadowed you--right into the Lunch Club on Wabash Avenue, and ate at a table behind you, and followed you back to the office and you never got onto me at all."
"Ugh!" shivered June. "How uncanny. Don't you ever dare shadow me again Sammy--promise me," and Sammy promised.
After the new stenographer had left his office, Ogden Secor tried to recall where he had known her before. He was positive that her face was familiar, and connected with some event in his life that was none too pleasant; but try as he would he could not place the girl. At last he dropped the matter from his mind.
For several months thereafter the routine of June's new life ran on smoothly and uninterruptedly. She saved the major portion of her salary, and once more met Eddie the Dip in the little restaurant that she might pay him the balance of the money she owed him.
Daily association with the life of the office of John Secor & Co. and its president eventually dulled the first revulsion she had experienced at thought of taking employment there. She found Ogden Secor all that she had grown to believe him since the day that he had come into her life from out of the grand jury room.
Of Mr. Stickler she grew more and more suspicious. There was no tangible overt act upon his part on which she could put her finger; nevertheless, she could have sworn, after a month of him, that he was a "hunter" without the nerve to hunt. He was, she grew sure, the sort that would take advantage of her first misstep to snare her, and so, without fearing him, she watched him and herself lest he might find some pretext upon which to make an initial advance toward her.
With the exception of Sammy, the office force was most uninteresting to any one outside themselves. Sammy was a never-ending source of joy to her now that she understood the motives which prompted his stealthy, catlike tread, his furtive glances, and his highly melodramatic appearances from directions in which one would least expect him to materilize.
As June never laughed at him--openly--he took a great liking to her, coming to her with his new lessons, with his hopes and his aspirations. His one and only ambition was to become a Pinkerton man, and he fully believed that once armed with the diploma of the correspondence school to which he paid half his weekly salary, it would be simply a matter of presenting it to the head of the detective agency to insure him an open-armed reception and an immediate appointment--didn't the prospectus of the school say so almost in so many words?
So secure had June grown to feel in the belief that her old life was absolutely dead and forgotten, and that Ogden Secor would never know that his private stenographer had been an inmate of Abe Farris's, that the shock of an occurrence through which she had to pass four months after taking the position all but unnerved her.
There was a caller in Secor's office, and as the buzzer upon June's desk sounded she took up her note-book and pencil to respond as she was called upon to do a dozen times in a day.
Scarce had she entered the inner office, however, than her heart seemed to cease its beating. Facing her, and looking squarely into her eyes as she passed through the doorway, sat the Rev. Theodore Pursen.
A look of half-recognition lighted his expression at sight of her. Instantly June jumped to the conclusion that he had come there to expose her but she managed to hold herself under perfect control as she advanced across the room to Secor's side, nor did she even, by a second glance at the visitor's face, betray the fact that she recalled ever having seen him before.
Secor handed her a memorandum.
"Make out a check," he said, "for this amount to the order of the Society for the Uplift of Erring Women."
June took the slip of paper and returned to her own office.
"Your secretary's face is quite familiar to me," remarked Pursen, after the girl had closed the door.
"Yes?" queried Secor politely, and uninterestedly. As a matter of fact, he was interested in nothing much that interested the Rev. Mr. Pursen--other than Sophia Welles.
"I am quite sure that I know her, but I cannot place her," continued Mr. Pursen. "Possibly her name might recall her to me."
"Her name is Lathrop," replied Secor.
Pursen shook his head. "I must be mistaken after all," he said, "I never knew any one of that name," and then June returned with the check.
For several days she was in a state of nervous apprehension, momentarily expecting a summons from either Mr. Secor or Mr. Stickler that would close her career with John Secor & Co.; but why she should dread discharge she could not guess, for she no longer felt a single doubt but that she should always be able to find pleasant and lucrative employment.
As a matter of fact, she finally decided, it was not so much discharge she feared, as that Ogden Secor should know her for what she once had been. The thought sent her white with terror, and with it came another thought--how much did her daily contact with Ogden Secor mean to her more than she had even faintly suspected?
Never before had this idea impinged upon her thoughts. She tried to thrust it from her. It was horrible. How horrible only she could guess; and yet, once fastened upon her, it clung tenaciously, a mighty load upon her conscience--a veritable Old Man of the Sea--so that she dreaded coming into Secor's presence for fear he might guess not only her secret, but as well the awful truth which made it the hideous thing it was.
Weeks rolled by. September came. June was once more lulled into a feeling of security. Secor was in New York on business. Sammy had been diligently practising his lesson on thieves' jargon upon June until, convulsed with laughter, she had sent him back to his desk in the outer office.
Two rings of her buzzer called her to Mr. Stickler's desk. That fateful buzzer! Since the day that it had summoned her into the Rev. Theodore Pursen's presence she had never heard it without an inward shudder. To her relief she found that Mr. Stickler wished her merely upon an unimportant matter of detail. As he talked, Sammy entered, lynx-eyed and pussy-footed--Sammy could not cross the outer office, even to the water-cooler, without assuming a Hawkshawian gait that would have turned that worthy sleuth green with envy could he have seen it.
"Mr. Stickler!" he whispered, "two harness bulls are looking for you."
"Harness bulls!" exclaimed Stickler.
"What are harness bulls, Sammy?"
"Harness bulls," quoted Sammy from his recent lesson on criminal slang, "are policemen in uniform."
The sudden sickly pallor which overspread the face of the office manager did not pass unnoticed by either June or Sammy.
"Did they say what they wanted of me?" asked Mr. Stickler, controlling his voice with an effort.
Sammy lowered his own to a mysterious whisper. "They want you," he said, "to buy some tickets to the annual policemen's benefit at the Auditorium."
"Show them in," commanded Mr. Stickler in evident relief--even the best of men are often obsessed with an inexplicable terror of the minions of the law.
"That is all, Miss Lathrop," he added, turning toward June. "You may go."
As the girl left Mr. Stickler's office to cross the outer room to her own she saw two burly officers trailing in the wake of a suddenly metamorphosed Sammy. The youth walked with devilish swagger and outruffed chest. In his mind's eye Sammy was leading his trusty bluecoats to the arrest of a gang of counterfeiters whom he had tracked to their bidden lair.
As June passed the three she glanced casually into the faces of the policemen, and as her eyes met those of one of them it required every ounce of her self-control to hide both her surprise and terror.
It was Doarty.
A very suave and gracious Mr. Stickler laughed and chatted with the two policemen, purchased ten tickets to the benefit with John Secor & Co.'s money, and passed out a handful of John Secor & Co.'s cigars. As the two were about to leave, one of them turned to Mr. Stickler.
"How long have you had Maggie Lynch in your employ?" he asked.
"Maggie Lynch?" repeated Mr. Stickler. "We have no one by that name on our pay-roll."
"Well, then," said Mr. Doarty, "the young woman who came out of your office just before we came in?"
"Oh," said Mr. Stickler, "that is Miss Lathrop--Mr. Secor's private stenographer."
"Do you know anything about her?" asked Mr. Doarty, "or don't you want to?"
"Why, she seems to be all right," said Mr. Stickler. "But we know nothing about her other than that she had satisfactory references from former employers."
"Did she bring one from Abe Farris?" asked Doarty with a grin.
"Abe Farris?" exclaimed Mr. Stickler, and there was a little choking sound in his voice that entirely escaped the wily Mr. Doarty.
"Sure," said he, and then he leaned down and whispered into Mr. Stickler's ear for a moment. "--and," he concluded, "I just thought that maybe Mr. Secor might like to know the training his private secretary has had in the past--you'd better keep an eye on her. Good day, and much obliged to you for taking those tickets."
It was not until nearly five o'clock that June's buzzer rang again, summoning her to Mr. Stickler's office. Already the force in the outer office was preparing to depart for the day. Mr. Stickler wished to dictate an "important letter," though to June, after he had commenced it it seemed rather too trivial for an overtime epistle.
For fifteen minutes Mr. Stickler dragged out his monotonous dictation. Then he rose and went to the door of his office. All had departed--the office was empty. He returned to his desk.
"Miss Lathrop," he said, "I have always liked you--in fact, I have grown very fond of you since you have been with us. I have been thinking that I must ask Mr. Secor to increase your salary; but before I do so I should like to feel that we are good friends--very good friends indeed, for only in connection with the most harmonious relations may we work together to the best advantage."
June was at a loss to guess what the man might be driving at. All she knew was that she did not like the sly expression of his little, close-set eyes, or the familiar manner in which he was hitching his chair closer to hers.
"I am afraid that I do not quite understand you," she said, her tone respectful, but cold and keen as a razor edge.
"I mean," said Mr. Stickler, "that I would like to see more of you outside of business hours--it will mean a lot to you in the way of advancement," he hastened to add as be saw the steely glitter that leaped to her eyes at his words.
June Lathrop rose. Mr. Stickler realized that never before had be seen any one quite so majestic, or quite so beautiful.
"Fortunately," she said, "Mr. Secor will return to-morrow. Otherwise I should leave at once. I shall not work another day in the same office with you, and to-morrow I shall give you an hour after Mr. Secor returns to tell him precisely what has passed between us in this office, then I shall go to him with my resignation and tell him myself."
Mr. Stickler went white with fear. He knew that the girl would do just what she threatened--unless-- He glared at her and caught at the one straw that could save him.
"What else will you tell him?" he asked. "What else will Maggie Lynch tell Mr. Ogden Secor?"
It was June's turn to pale. Stickler saw the color leave her face and took advantage of the point in his favor.
"Come," he said, "be a good fellow. I don't want to be hard on you, and I'll forget all I know about Maggie Lynch and her job at Abe Farris's if you'll treat me right. Let's forget we've had any unpleasantness. We'll go over to the Bismark and have a bite to eat and talk it over. Come on, little one, be a sport!"
The sneer on the girl's lip was sufficient reply to Mr. Stickler's suggestion. As she turned her back upon him and moved toward the door he sprang to his feet.
"Very well," he shouted, "I'll teach you. You're fired--do you understand? You're fired. I won't have any fast woman in this office, and if you show your face around here again I'll have Officer Doarty waiting for you."
June made no reply. Quietly she gathered up her personal belongings and left the office. When she had gone, Mr. Stickler banged to the office door and strode angrily toward the elevators.
No sooner had he left than a very pale and shaky Sammy emerged from beneath the sanitary filing-case in Mr. Stickler's office. He was "frightened stiff "; but with a grim determination that was upborne by a glorious enthusiasm he set forth to "shadow" Mr. Stickler.