THE case of the People versus June Lathrop, alias Maggie Lynch, came to trial in the old Criminal Court Building. Since her arrest June had persistently refused to see Ogden Secor, though he had repeatedly endeavored to have word with her. She felt that his desire to come to her was prompted solely by gratitude for her loyalty to him when their positions had been reversed--when he had been the prisoner.
How the case had come to be revived no one seemed able to explain. A scarehead morning newspaper had used it as an example of the immunity from punishment enjoyed by the powers of the underworld--showing how murder, even, might be perpetrated with perfect safety to the murderer. It hinted at police indifference--even at police complicity. No Secor millions longer influenced the placing of advertising contracts.
The police in self-defense explained that they had never ceased to work upon the case, and that they were already in possession of sufficient evidence to convict--all they required was a little more time to locate the murderer. And then they got busy.
It happened that Doarty knew more about the almost forgotten details of the affair than any other officer on the force, so to Doarty was given the herculean task of locating Maggie Lynch. Another officer was entrusted with the establishment of a motive for the crime and an investigation of the antecedents of Maggie Lynch.
The results of the efforts of these two sagacious policemen were fully apparent as the trial progressed.
At first it seemed that there would be neither lawyer nor witnesses for the defense, but at the eleventh hour both were forthcoming. Ogden Secor had seen to that, and there was presented the remarkable spectacle of a young man working tooth and nail in the building up of the defense of the woman charged with the murder of his uncle.
All that he knew at first was that she had been an inmate of the house where John Secor had dropped dead of heart disease. The State, to establish a motive brought a slender, gray-haired woman from a little village fifty miles south of the metropolis.
She was sprung as a surprise upon the defense, and as she was called to the witness chair from the antechamber, June Lathrop half rose from her chair--her lips parted and her face dead white.
The eyes of the little woman ran eagerly over the court-room. When they rested at last upon the face of the defendant, tears welled in them, and with a faint cry and outstretched arms she took a step toward June.
"My daughter!" she whispered. "Oh, my daughter!"
A bailiff laid his hand gently upon her arm and led her to the witness chair.
Her story was a simple one, and simply told. She related the incident of the first meeting of "John Smith" and June Lathrop. Smith's automobile had stalled in front of the Lathrop homestead, and while the chauffeur tinkered, the master had come to the door asking for a drink of water. He had seen June, and almost from that instant his infatuation for the girl had been evident. Afterward he came often to the little village where the daughter and her widowed mother lived.
Finally he spoke of marriage. June had told her mother of it, and that she hesitated because of the great difference in their ages--she respected and admired John Smith, but she did not know that she loved him.
He brought her beautiful presents, and there were promises of a life of luxury and ease--something the girl had never known, for her father had died when she was a baby, and the mother had been able to eke out but a bare existence since. It had been the promise of ease and plenty for her mother's declining years that had finally influenced June to give a reluctant "yes."
They had been married quietly by a justice of the peace, and had been driven directly to town in Smith's machine.
The former Secor chauffeur established the identity of Smith as John Secor. He distinctly recalled their first visit to the Lathrop home, and almost weekly trips to the little town thereafter. He positively identified the defendant as the girl whom, with John Secor, he had driven from the Lathrop home to the city on the day of the wedding, at which he had been a witness.
"Where did you leave the couple after arriving here?" asked the State's attorney.
"At Abe Farris's place on Dearborn," replied the witness.
When June was called to the stand she corroborated all that had gone before. It seemed that a motive had been established.
"Did you know the nature of the place to which Mr. Smith took you at the time?" asked her attorney.
"I did not. He told me that it was a family hotel, and when, after we had been there a few days, I remarked on the strange actions of the other guests--their late hours, ribald songs, and evidences of intoxication, he laughed at me, saying that I must get used to the ways of a big city."
"Did you believe him?"
"Of course. I had never been away from home in my life. I knew absolutely nothing about the existence even of such places as that, or of the forms of vice and sin that were openly flaunted there. I was so ignorant of such things that I believed him when he told me that the men who came nightly to the place were the husbands of the women there. We had a room on the second floor, and though I heard much that passed in the house, I saw very little out of the way, as we kept closely to our room when we were in the place."
"When did you discover that your 'husband' already had a wife living, and that his name was John Secor and not John Smith?"
"About half an hour after he dropped dead in the hallway," she replied. "Abe Farris came to me and told me. He offered me a hundred dollars to keep still and pretend that I had never seen or heard of Mr. Secor. I didn't take the money. I was heartbroken and sick with horror and terror and shame. I wouldn't have told any one of my disgrace under any circumstances. Farris kept me there for two days longer, telling me that the police would arrest me if I went out. Finally I determined to leave, for at last I knew the whole truth of the sort of place I was in.
"Then Farris urged me to stay there and go to work for him. When I refused, he explained that I was already ruined, and even laughed when I told him that I did not know that I was not legally married to Mr. Smith. 'You don't think for a minute that any one'll swallow that yarn, do you?' he asked. 'If you want to keep out of jail you'd better stay right here--you can't never be no worse off than you are now.'
"I began to feel that he was right, yet I insisted on leaving, and then he had my clothes taken from me, saying that I owed him money for board that Mr. Secor had not paid, and that he would not let me go until I paid him.
"I think that I must have been almost mad from grief and terror. I know that at last I grew not to care what became of me, and when Farris made me think that I could escape arrest only by remaining with him, I gave up, for the thought that my mother would learn the awful truth were I to be brought to trial was more than I could bear."
Farris testified that he had been the first to tell the girl that the man she thought her husband was the husband of another woman.
"When did you tell her this?" asked the attorney for the defense.
"Half or three-quarters of an hour after Mr. Secor died."
Afterward two reputable physicians testified that they had performed a post-mortem examination upon John Secor's body--that there had been no evidence of poison in his stomach, or bruises, abrasions, or wounds upon his body, and that there could be no doubt but that death had been the result of an attack of acute endocarditis.
The jury was out but fifteen minutes, returning a verdict of not guilty on the first ballot. To June Lathrop it meant nothing. It was what she had expected; but though it freed her from an unjust charge, it could never right the hideous wrong that had been done her, first by an individual in conceiving and perpetrating the wrong, and then by the community, as represented by the police, in dragging the whole hideous fabric of her shame before the world.
As is customary upon the acquittal of a defendant in a criminal case, a horde of the morbidly curious thronged about June to offer their congratulations. She turned from them wearily, seeking her mother; but there was one who would not be denied--a tall, freckled youth who wormed his way to her side with uncanny stealthiness. It was Sammy, the one-time office-boy of the corporation known as John Secor & Co.
"Miss Lathrop," he whispered. "Miss Lathrop, I've been trying to find you for years. I'm a regular detective now; but the best job I ever did I did for you and nobody never knew anything about it. Don't you remember me?"
She shook hands with him, and he followed her from the court-room. There was another who followed her, too. A sun-tanned young man whose haggard features bore clear witness to the mental suffering he had endured.
Outside the building he touched her sleeve. She turned toward him.
"Do you loathe me," he whispered, "for what he did?"
"You know better than that," she answered; "but now you see why it was that I could not marry you. Now you will thank me for not being weak and giving in--God knows how sorely I was tempted!"
"There is nothing now to prevent," he said eagerly.
She looked at him in surprise. "You still want me?" she cried. "You can't mean it--it would be horrible!"
"I shall always want you, June," he said doggedly, "and some day I shall have you."
But still she shook her head.
"It would be wicked, Ogden," she said with a little shudder. "If he had been any one else--any one else in the world than your father!"
Secor looked at her in astonishment.
"My father!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean that you do not know--that John Secor was not my father?"
The girl's astonishment and incredulity were writ plain upon her face.
"Not your father?" It was scarce a whisper.
"I was the foster son of John Secor's brother. When he died I went to live with the John Secors, and after the death of their only son I entered Mr. Secor's office, taking the place of the son he had lost, later inheriting his business."
June continued to look in dull bewilderment at Secor. It could not be true! She cast about for another obstacle. Certainly she had no right to such happiness as she saw being surely pressed upon her.
"There is still the charge against me of having aided the men who robbed your safe--that is even worse, for it reproaches me with disloyalty and treachery toward one who had befriended me," she said faintly.
Sammy and June's mother had been standing a little apart as the two spoke together in whispers. June had slightly raised her voice as she recalled the affair in the office of John Secor & Co. the night that Ogden had received the blows that had resulted in all his financial troubles.
That part Sammy heard. Now he stepped forward.
"That's what I wanted to tell you about, Miss Lathrop," he said, excitedly. "It wasn't her at all" he went on, turning toward Secor. "It was that smooth scoundrel of a Stickler. I was hiding under his filing cabinet when he tried to make Miss Lathrop go out with him, and I heard her turn him down. Then I followed him, for I was just studying to be a detective then and I had to practise every chance I got. He went straight to Abe Farris's saloon, and there I saw him talking low and confidential-like to a couple of tough-lookin' guys for about two hours. He handed one of 'em a slip of paper, explaining what was on it. I couldn't see it, but from what happened after I knew it held the combination to your safe, for I seen the robber that was shot when he was put on trial, and he was one of the guys that Stickler met in Farris's. I was so scared I didn't dare tell nobody."
Ogden turned toward June with a faint smile. "You see," he said, "that one by one your defenses are reduced--aren't you about ready to capitulate?"
"I guess there is no other way," she sighed; "but it seems that the world must be all awry when hope of happiness appears so close within my grasp!"