The Last Woman, p.1
E LAST WOMAN
Author of "Princess Zara"
Frontispiece by Howard Chandler Christy
New YorkGrosset & DunlapPublishers
Copyright, 1909--byW. J. Watt & Company
_If I could have my dearest wish fulfilled, And take my choice of all earth's treasures, too, And ask of Heaven whatsoe'er I willed-- I'd ask for you._
_There is more joy to my true, loving heart, In everything you think, or say, or do, Than all the joys of Heaven could e'er impart, Because--it's YOU._
I. THE PRICE 11
II. ONE WOMAN WHO DARED 36
III. A STRANGE BETROTHAL 56
IV. THE BOX AT THE OPERA 79
V. BEATRICE BRUNSWICK'S PLOT 96
VI. A REMARKABLE MEETING 115
VII. THE BITTERNESS OF JEALOUSY 126
VIII. BETWEEN DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHT 142
IX. PATRICIA'S COWBOY LOVER 147
X. MONDAY, THE 13TH 164
XI. MORTON'S ULTIMATUM 176
XII. THE QUARREL 185
XIII. SALLY GARDNER'S PLAN 192
XIV. PATRICIA'S WILD RIDE 201
XV. ALMOST A TRAGEDY 216
XVI. THE AUTOMOBILE WRECK 232
XVII. CROSS PURPOSES AT CEDARCREST 243
XVIII. MYSTERIES BORN IN THE NIGHT 258
XIX. RODERICK DUNCAN SEES LIGHT 272
XX. THE LAST WOMAN 285
XXI. THE REASON WHY 294
XXII. THE MYSTERY 307
THE LAST WOMAN
The old man, grim of visage, hard of feature and keen of eye, wasseated at one side of the table that occupied the middle of the floorin his private office. He held the tips of his fingers together, andleaned back in his chair, with an unlighted cigar gripped firmly inhis jaws. He seemed perturbed and troubled, if one could get behindthat stoical mask which a life in Wall street inevitably produces; butanyone who knew the man and was aware of the great wealth he possessedwould never have supposed that any perturbation on the part of StephenLangdon could arise from financial difficulties. And could his mostsevere critics have looked in upon the scene, and have seen it as itexisted at that moment, they would unhesitatingly have said that thesource of his discomfiture, if discomfiture there were, was thequeenly young woman who stood at the opposite side of the table,facing him.
She was Patricia Langdon, sometimes, though rarely, addressed as Patby her father; but he alone dared make use of the cognomen, since sheinvariably frowned upon such familiarities, even from him.
In private, among the women with whom she associated, she wasfrequently referred to as Juno; and when she was discussed by thegossips at the clubs, as she frequently was (for there are no greaternests of gossip in the world than the men's clubs of New York City),she was always Juno. There was a double and subtle purpose in bothcases; one felt it rather a dangerous proceeding to speakcriticizingly of Patricia Langdon, lest somehow what was said shouldget to her ears. She was one who knew how to retaliate, and to do soquickly. She was like a man in that she feared nothing, and hesitatedat nothing, so long as she knew it to be right. A precedent had noforce with her; if she desired to act, and there was no precedent forwhat she wished to do, she established one.
All her life, Patricia had been her father's chum; ever since shecould remember, they had talked together of stocks and bonds, and putsand calls, and opening and closing quotations, and she knew everyslang word that is uttered in "the street," that is used on the floorof the stock-exchange, or that appears in the financial columns of thenewspapers.
And these two, father and daughter, were as much alike in outwardbearing, in demeanor and in appearance, in gesture and in motion, as aman and a woman can be when the man is approaching seventy and thewoman is only just past twenty.
These two had been discussing an unprecedented circumstance. Thedaughter was plainly annoyed, as her glowing cheeks and flashing eyesevidenced. The man, if one could have read his innermost soul, wasafraid; for he knew his daughter as no other person did, and he fearedthat he had gone, or was about to go, a step too far with her.
The room was the typical private office of a present-day financialking, who is banker as well as broker, and who speaks of millions, byfifties and hundreds, as a farmer talks of potatoes by the bushel. Itwas a large, square room, solidly but not luxuriantly furnished. Theoblong table at which Stephen Langdon was seated, and upon which hisdaughter lightly rested the tips of the fingers of one hand, was onearound which directors of various great corporations gathered, almostdaily, to be told by "old Steve" what to do. Over in a far corner wasa roll-top desk with a swivel chair, at which Langdon usually seatedhimself when he was attending to his correspondence, or looking overprivate papers; beside it was a huge safe, and beyond that another,smaller one. Then, there were several easy chairs upholstered inleather, a couch and two other desks. There were three doors: one ofthese communicated with the main office of Stephen Langdon & Company,Bankers and Brokers; another was a private entrance from the streetthat ran along the side of the building, which Langdon owned; thethird communicated with a smaller room, really the _sanctum sanctorum_of Stephen Langdon, into which it was his habit to take any personwith whom he wished to have an absolutely confidential chat.
This room was supposed never to be entered save by himself and thosewhom he took with him--and by the cleaners who once a week attended toit. These three doors were now closed.
"Old Steve" moved nervously in his chair, shifted his feet uneasily,and rolled the unlighted cigar from one corner of his mouth to theother, biting savagely upon it as he did so.
"Well, Pat," he said, with as much impatience as he ever showed, "haveyou nothing to say?"
"There seems to be nothing for me to say, dad," replied his daughter,and the intonation of her voice was different from the one she wasaccustomed to use in addressing her father, whom she adored. Heattributed it, doubtless, to his abbreviation of her name, for hesmiled grimly.
"Haven't you heard what I said?" he demanded.
"Well, then, you know the situation, don't you?"
"I am not quite sure as to that," she replied, meditatively. "You havebeen somewhat ambiguous, and certainly quite enigmatical in yourstatement. Am I to gather from what you have told me that you arereally facing failure?"
"God knows I have made it plain enough," was the quick response andLangdon pushed his chair away from the table, stretched his legs outstraight in front of him, and thrust his hands deep into histrousers-pockets.
"I had not supposed it possible for you to face failure," saidPatricia, with her eyes fixed upon her father's mask-like face; "butif it is so, won't you tell me more about it?"
"It all came about through those infernal bonds that I have justdescribed to you. The men who were to go into the deal with mewithdrew at the last moment; I have already explained that fully toyou, and now, this Saturday afternoon, I find myself in a positionsuch as I have never faced before--where there are demands upon mewhich I cannot meet; and those demands, Patricia, must be met,somehow, at ten o'clock on Monday morning, or Stephen Langdon must goto the wall."
"You have never known very much about it," he replied, with ahalf-laugh, but with a kindly smile, which changed his iron facewondrously, and which was reflected by a softened expression in hisdaughter's eyes.
"Is there no one to come to your aid?" she asked him.
"No, Patricia, there is no one to whom I could apply without betrayingmy condition and situation, and that would be fatal. Such a coursewould be equivalent to going broke; for when once a man loses hiscredit, even for an instant, in Wall Street, it is lost forever,never to be regained. People will tell you that there are exceptionsto this, but I have been fifty years among the bulls and bears, andwolves, too, and I know better. When a man who occupies the positionthat I have held, and hold now, goes to the wall, it is the end."
During this statement, she had walked to one of the windows and stoodsilently looking out, for she wished to ask a question which her ownintuition had already answered. She knew what the answer would be, butshe did not quite know what form it would take. She felt that sort ofmisgiving which belongs only to women, and she feared that there wassomething beyond and behind, and perhaps beneath, all this presentcircumstance, which was being kept from her. For Patricia Langdon didknow of one man who would go to her father's assistance, and she couldnot understand why he had not already applied to that person.
Presently, she returned to the table.
"Patricia," said her father, with some impatience, "I wish to the Lordyou'd sit down. You make me nervous keeping on your feet all thewhile, and with those big eyes of yours fixed on your old dad's faceas if they had discovered something new and strange in the lines ofit."
She paid no heed to this remark--one would have supposed she did nothear it; but she asked:
"Will you tell me why you sent for me? and why you wished to consultwith me?"
Again, the cigar was whipped sharply to the opposite corner of the oldbanker's mouth; and he replied quickly, almost savagely:
"Because I have thought of a way by which you can help me out."
His daughter caught her breath; it was a little gasp, barely audible;but she uttered only one word in reply. It was:
For an instant, the banker hesitated at this abrupt question; then,with a suggestion of doggedness in his manner, he thrust forward hisaggressive chin and shut his teeth so tightly together that the cigar,bitten squarely off, dropped unheeded upon the rug where he stood. Byway of reply, he spoke a man's name.
"Roderick Duncan," he said, sharply.
Patricia did not seem to heed the strangeness of her father's reply,nor did she alter the expression of her eyes or features. She seemedto have anticipated what he would say. After a moment, she remarkedquietly:
"I should think it very likely that Roderick would assist you in yourextremity. I see no reason why he should not do so. His father wasyour partner in business. Indeed, I should regard it as his duty tocome to your aid, in an extremity like this. But why, if I may ventureto ask, was it necessary to consult me in regard to any applicationyou might make to him?"
The old man did not reply; he remained silent, and continued doggedlyto stare at his daughter. Presently, she asked him: "Have you alreadymade such a request of Mr. Duncan?"
A smile took the place of the old man's frown; his face softened.
"No; that is to say, not exactly so," he replied.
"You have, perhaps, suggested the idea to him?"
Old Steve shrugged his shoulders, and dropped back into the chair,kicking away the half of the cigar in front of him as he did so.
"Yes," he said, "I have suggested the idea to him, and he met thesuggestion more than half way, too. The reply he made to me is whatbrings your name into the question. If it were not for the fact that Iknow you to be fond of him, and that you are already half-promised--"
"Is that why you have sent for me?" She interrupted him with quietdignity, although the expression of her eyes was suddenly stormy.
"Yes; it is."
"Would you please be more explicit? I am afraid that I do not clearlyunderstand."
"Well, Pat, to put it in plain words, Roderick's answer implied that hewould be only too delighted to advance the sum I require--twenty-milliondollars--to his prospective father-in-law!"
Patricia stiffened where she stood. Her eyes fairly blazed with thesparks of anger they emitted. The hand that rested upon the table wasclenched tightly, until the glove upon it burst. Otherwise, she showedno emotion.
"So, that is it," she said, presently. "Roderick Duncan has made a bidfor me in the open market, has he? I am to be the collateral for aloan which you are to secure from him. Is that the idea? He has madeuse of your financial predicament to hasten matters with me. Iunderstand--now!"
"Humph! Roderick would be very much astonished if he heard yourdescription of the situation. He thought, and I thought, also--"
"But that is what it amounts to, isn't it?"
"Why, no, child; no, that is not what it amounts to, at all. You oughtto know that. Roderick has loved you ever since you were boy and girltogether, and you were always fond of him. His father and I bothbelieved that some day you would marry. I know that Duncan has askedyou time and time again, and I know, too, that you have never refusedhim. You have just put him off, again and again, that is all. You haveplayed fast and loose with him until he is--"
"Wait, dad. There is one thing that you never knew; or, if you didknow it once, you have forgotten what little you knew about it then. Irefer to a woman's heart. You ignored that part of me when you madeyour bargain. You forgot my pride, too. It is quite true that I havebeen fond of Roderick Duncan, all my life. It is equally true that hehas asked me to be his wife, and that I have seriously considered hisproposals. It is even true that I have thought of myself as his wife,that I have tried to believe that I loved him. All that is true, quitetrue--too true, indeed. But now--How dared you two discuss _me_, inthe manner you have?" She blazed forth at her father suddenly,forgetting her studied calm. "Oh, I read you correctly when I firstentered this room. I could see, even then, that some plot was afoot.But I never guessed--good heaven! who could have guessed?--that itwas anything like this. Do you realize what you have done? Your words,thus far, have only implied it, but I know! Shall I tell you?"
"You have found yourself in this financial muddle--if, indeed, it istrue that you are in one--and--"
"It is quite true."
"So much the worse for making me the victim of it. You have applied toRoderick Duncan for some of his millions; and you two, together, havediscovered in the incident a means of coercing me. Oh, it is plainenough. You are a poor dissembler in a matter of this kind, howeverexcellent you may be in others. I see it all, now, as clearly as ifyou had expressed it in words. You have asked Roderick, by intimation,if not in actual words, to go to your assistance to the amount of somany millions; and he, the man who professes to love me, whom I havethought I loved--he has, as bluntly, replied--oh, it is too terribleto contemplate!--he has told you that if I will hasten my decision, ifI will give my consent at once to the wedding he proposes, he willsupply the cash you need. You offer your daughter, as security for theloan; he accepts the collateral! That is the exact situation, isn'tit?"
"I suppose it is about that, although you put it rather brutally," hereplied.
"Brutally!" she laughed. "Why, dad, is not that the way to put it?Horses and cattle are bought and sold at auction, knocked down to thehighest bidder, or purchased at a private sale. The stocks and bondsand securities in which you deal are handled in precisely the sameway. And now, when you are in an extremity, when your back is to thewall, a man whom I had always supposed to be at least a gentlemancalmly makes a bid for your daughter, and you, my fa
"Look here, Pat--"
"Stop, father; let me finish."
The old man shrugged his shoulders, and the daughter continued:
"It is a habit with people to say, 'If I were in your place I should'do so-and-so. I tell you, had I been in your place when such asuggestion as that one was made I should have struck the man in theface; but you see in me a value which I did not know I possessed. Myfather, who has been my chum since I was a child, is willing todispose of his daughter for dollars and cents. And a man whom I haveinfinitely respected, calmly offers to make the purchase." Patriciaclenched her hands and glared stormily at her father. Then, when hemade no reply, she turned and walked to the window, staring out of itfor a moment, while the old man remained silently in his chair,knowing that it were better for him not to speak, until the firstviolence of the storm had passed. He knew this daughter of his, orthought he did; but he was presently to discover that he was less wisethan he had supposed. After a little, she returned and stood besidehim, leaning against the table with her hands behind her, clenchingit; but her words came calmly enough, when she spoke.
The old man raised his eyes to hers, as she approached him, and hisown widened with amazement when he studied his daughter's face withthat quick and penetrating glance which could read so unerringly theoperators of Wall street. He could not comprehend precisely what itwas that he saw in Patricia's face at this moment--only, he realizedit to be the expression of some kind of settled purpose. He had neverseen her thus before. Her strangely beautiful eyes had never blazedinto his in just this way. He had seen her tempers and had contendedagainst them, more or less, since she was left to his sole care, ather birth; but this attitude assumed now was new to him. StephenLangdon knew, by his knowledge of himself, that Patricia was like him;but here was something new, strange, almost unreal. He wondered at it,shrank from it, not knowing what it was. Settled purpose was all thathe was enabled to recognize. But what sort of settled purpose? Whatwas it that his daughter had decided upon?
He was not long in doubt. Her words were sufficiently direct, if thehidden purpose behind their outward meaning was not.
"Father," she said, with distinct calmness, "I will use a phrase thatis familiar to you. It seems to fit the occasion. You may tellRoderick Duncan that you will deliver the goods! Tell him to have thetwenty millions ready for you to deposit in your bank at ten o'clockMonday morning, and that you will be ready with the collateral hedemands."
"But, Patricia, my daughter, you take an unjust view of--"
"Stop, father! He must be told still more: he must be told that thecollateral, having certain rights and values of its own, will insistupon a few stated conditions; and when the bargain is concluded, atten o'clock Monday morning, Mr. Duncan must first have accepted thoseconditions."
She walked around to the other side of the table again and faced herfather across it; then she added, slowly and coolly:
"There must be a legal form of document drawn, in this transaction,and it must be signed, sealed and delivered exactly as would be doneif the collateral offered, and the thing ultimately to be sold in thisinstance, were the stocks and bonds in which you usually deal. He mustagree, in this document, that on the wedding day the woman he buysmust receive an additional sum in her own name, of ten milliondollars. One as rich as he is known to be will not object to apittance like that. You can make your own arrangements with himconcerning the loan of the twenty millions to you, the interest itdraws, and when the sum will be due; but the consideration paid forme, to me, must be absolute, and in cash, before the marriage-ceremony."
She turned quickly and strode to the end of the room. There, she threwopen that door which has been described as communicating with theinner sanctum of the banker, and standing at the threshold, she said,in the cold, even tone in which she had pronounced the ultimatum toher father:
"I have surmised that you are in this room, Roderick Duncan. If I amcorrect, you may come out, now, and conclude the terms of yourpurchase. Do not speak to me here, and now. It would not be wise to doso. You have heard, doubtless, all that has been said in this room."
She turned again, and before Stephen Langdon could intervene, hadpassed him, going into the main office of the suite, and thence to thestreet.
Outside the Langdon building was a waiting automobile which had takenPatricia to the office of her father for that interview, the purportof which she had not then even vaguely guessed. Under thesteering-wheel of the waiting car was seated a young man,smoothed-faced, keen of eye, strong-limbed, and muscular in everymotion that he made. A pair of expressive hazel eyes that seemed totake in everything at a glance, looked out from his handsome,clean-cut face, the attractiveness of which was augmented rather thanmarred by the strong, almost square chin, and the firm but perfectlyformed lips, just thin enough to show determination of character, yetsufficiently mobile to suggest that the man himself, though young inyears, had met with wide experiences. His personality was that of aman prepared to face any emergency or danger that might arise, and tomeet it with a smile of entire self-confidence in his ability toovercome it. The rear seats of the waiting car were occupied by twoyoung ladies, friends of Patricia; and the three were laughing andtalking together when Stephen Langdon's daughter approached them. Shedid not wait to be assisted, but sprang lightly into the seat besidethe young man who has just been described; and she said rathershortly, for she was still angry:
"Please, take me home, now, Mr. Morton."
He turned to face her, meeting her stormy eyes laughingly; andexclaimed:
"Gee! Miss Langdon, you sure do look as if you'd been having a run-inwith the governor. I'd hate mightily to meet up with you, if I werealone and unprotected, and you were as plumb sore at me, as you arenow at somebody you have just left inside that building. I sure would.Yes, indeed!"
He chuckled audibly as the car started forward toward Broadway. For atime, he gave his entire attention to the management of the car,purposely ignoring the young woman who was seated beside him, fornotwithstanding the fact that he had chaffed her about the anger inher eyes, he was fully aware that she had met with an unpleasantexperience of some sort, while he and the others were waiting outsidethe building.
The hiatus offered sufficient time for Miss Langdon entirely torecover her equanimity, and when at last Richard Morton's glance againsought her, he met the same cold, calm, unflinching gaze from herbeautiful eyes that he had discovered there less than two weeksbefore, and, since, had never been able to forget for a single moment.
"Miss Langdon," he said, with his characteristic smile, "if you hadbeen raised out west, in the country where I come from, you sure wouldhave been bad medicine for anybody who tried your temper a little bittoo far."
"What do you mean by that?" she asked him, quickly, but withoutoffense. She was smiling now, and Morton's colloquialisms alwaysinterested her.
"Well, I mean a lot--and then some. If you'd been raised with a gun onyour hip, and had been born a man instead of a woman, I reckon you'dhave been an unsafe proposition to r'il. You certainly did look madwhen you came out of that office-building; and the only regret I feelabout it, is that I didn't stand within comfortable easy reach of thegazabo that made you feel like that. One of us would--have gone outthrough the window."
"It was my father," she said, simply, but smilingly.
"Oh! was it? Well, even so, I'm afraid I wouldn't be much of arespecter of persons, if you happened to be on the other side of thescales. I reckon your dad wouldn't look bigger than any other man.Have you forgotten what I said to you the second time I ever saw you?"
"No," she replied, gently, "I haven't forgotten it, and I never willforget it; but I must remind you of your promise to me, at that samemeeting."
"Won't you call it off for just five minutes, Miss Langdon?" he askedin a low tone which had begun to vibrate with emotion. "Just call itoff for one minute, if you won't let it go for five. It su
"Mr. Morton!" She turned to him unsmilingly, her eyes cold andserious, and she spoke in a tone so low that even the sound of itcould not extend to the young ladies who occupied the rear seats inthe tonneau. "It is my duty to tell you that I have just become awilling party--a willing party, please understand--to a businesstransaction, by the terms of which I am now the affianced wife of--"Patricia paused abruptly. Morton, still guiding the machine delicatelyin and out through the traffic of the street, turned a shade palerunder his sun-burned skin, and Patricia could see that his handgripped almost fiercely upon the steering-wheel. She realized that hehad understood the important part of what she had said, and she didnot complete the unfinished sentence. There was a considerable silencebefore either of them spoke again, and then Morton asked calmly, butin a voice that was so changed as to be scarcely recognizable:
"Of whom, Patricia?" He made use of her given name unconsciously, andif she noticed the slip, she did not heed it.
"I need not mention the gentleman's name," she told him. "It isunnecessary."
"What do you mean by referring to it as a business transaction?" hedemanded, turning his face toward hers for an instant, and showing anangry glitter in his eyes. "If it is something that was forced uponyou--"
"I meant--it doesn't matter what I meant, Mr. Morton."
For just one instant, he flashed his eyes upon her again, and she sawthe lines of determination harden upon his face.
"It sounded mighty strange to me," he said, quietly, but with studiedpersistence. "I don't mind confessing that I can't quite savvy itsmeaning. I didn't know that 'business transaction,' was a stockexpression here, in the East, in connection with an engagement party.But I suppose I'm plumb ignorant. I feel so, anyhow."
"You have forgotten one thing, Mr. Morton; you have forgotten that Iused the words, 'a willing party.'" She spoke calmly, half-smiling;but he was still insistent.
"Did you mean by their use that I am to understand that thecircumstance meets with your entire approval?" he asked, slowly andwith distinctness. A heavy frown was gathering on his brows.
"Yes; quite so."
"Do you love the man who is the other party to the--er--businesstransaction?" This time, he turned his head and looked squarely ather, gazed with his serious hazel eyes, deep into her darkerones--gazed searchingly and longingly.
"You have no right to ask me such a question as that," she told him.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Langdon." He turned his eyes to the frontagain; "but I think I have a distinct right to do so, and I don'tbelieve it is your privilege to deny it. I have loved you from thefirst moment I saw you. Please, don't interrupt me now, for I must saythe few words I have in mind. I'll not look at you. The others won'thear me. By reason of my great love for you, even though there is noresponse in your heart for me, I certainly have the right to ask thatquestion; and, also, I believe I have the right to demand an answer.If you love that other man, and if you will tell me that you do, Ishall have nothing more to say; but if you do not love him, you shallnot be his wife so long as I have my two hands and can remember how tohold a gun." It sounded theatrical, but he did not mean it so; and a"gun" and its use, was the strongest form of expression he could thinkof, at that moment. It had formed the court of last resort throughouthis youth in the great West, and just now he felt that the expressionfitted the present case admirably. What reply Patricia might have madeto this characteristic statement by the young Montana ranchman willnever be known, for at that instant they were interrupted by the otherpassengers of the car, who sought to draw Patricia into conversationwith them.
She accepted the interruption gratefully as well as gracefully; itoffered an easy escape from a trying situation, and it was not untilthe car was drawn up in front of the door of her own home and she wasabout to leave it that she spoke again with Morton, save in a generalway. Now, he leaned quickly nearer to her and said, in a tone so lowthat the others could not hear:
"I shall call upon you to-morrow evening--Sunday--if I may." Then helaughed and, with narrowed eyelids, added: "I'll come to the housewhether I may or not. But you will receive me, won't you? Say that youwill!" And Patricia nodded brightly, in reply, as she crossed thepavement toward the front steps of her father's princely mansion. Atthe door, she paused and looked after the car as it rolled up theavenue; and, with a half-smile of troubled perplexity, she murmured:
"I wish, now, that I had not given my word to that 'businesstransaction.' Richard Morton might have offered a better solution ofmy problem. Only, it would have been unfair--and cruel; and I havenever been either the one, or the other; never, yet!" Then, she passedinto the house.
* * * * *
Downtown in the private office of Stephen Langdon, Roderick Duncanstepped from the inner sanctum into the presence of the banker just asthe latter started to his feet after the sudden and unexpecteddeparture of his daughter. For an interval, the young man and the oldfaced each other in silence, the latter with a cynical and satiricalsmile on his strong face, the former with an unmistakable frown ofanger.
"You're a darned old fool, Langdon!" Duncan exclaimed hotly, afterthat pause; and he clenched his hands until his knuckles turned whiteunder the strain, half-raising the right one, until it seemed as if heintended to strike a blow with it. But Patricia's father gave no heedto the gesture. Instead, he dropped back upon his chair, and laughedaloud, ere he replied:
"I suspect, my boy, that there is a pair of us."