Margaret Penrose.

Dorothy Dale in the City





For some reason that Tavia could not then fathom, she trembled, and quickly jumped up, saying to Dorothy:

Lets get off here! Id rather walk the rest of the way; wouldnt you?

As Dorothy had been about to suggest that very thing, she looked in surprise from the man to Tavia and saw him raise his hat.

This is a very fortunate meeting, said Mr. Akerson to Tavia, I couldnt have asked for anything more timely. Mrs. White, your aunt, expects to be at my office in twenty minutes and she expressed a desire, over the telephone, to have you girls meet her there. How strangely things happen! I am so fortunate as to be able to deliver the message, and you will get there almost as soon as she will. He spoke easily, and with a slight smile about his lips.

My aunt? repeated Tavia, mystified, I havent an aunt!

Isnt Mrs. White your aunt, he asked.

Mrs. White is my aunt, interrupted Dorothy. Who are you please?

Mr. Akerson, Mrs. Whites real estate manager. Have I the pleasure of addressing her niece?

Dorothy assented with a quick nod of her head. But we were not informed of her visit to your office, she said quickly.

Do just as you like, said Mr. Akerson, coolly, I get off here. I only thought it lucky to have had the pleasure of carrying out Mrs. Whites wishes. Dont misunderstand me, he added, I did not start out to hunt through the New York shops for you, it was merely a happy coincidence that we met. Mrs. White phoned me after you left and merely mentioned that as she was coming down town she wished she could meet you. Well, Ive an engagement on this block for five minutes, and then I return to meet Mrs. White in my office.

He left the bus and the girls just stared!

How did that man know us? cried Dorothy, too astounded to think of any answer to her own question.

I know how he knew me, said Tavia, grimly. But how did he know I knew? Oh, dear me, its all knows and knews; what am I trying to say?

Can people in New York sense relationship as folk pass by on top of buses? questioned Dorothy, of the dazzling sunlight.

Why, queried Tavia, should Aunt Winnie tell him that she wanted us to meet her at his office?

Or how, demanded Dorothy, did he happen to be in just this section of the city and jump on our very bus?

But Mrs. White may even now be waiting for us, anxiously hoping for our arrival, exclaimed Tavia; though of course she couldnt guess he would meet us. It must be a strange chance, as he says.

Of course we start down town immediately, declared Dorothy, I know the address.

Well Dorothy, said Tavia, mysteriously, Mr. Akerson may be a shrewd business man, and be playing a skillful game, but I am not one whit afraid to go directly to his office, and see the whole thing through to the end!

Its exactly what I intend to do, said Dorothy, decidedly. This, I rather feel, may be our unexpected opportunity to quickly squelch the well-laid plans of this man.

But, Tavia, arent you just a little bit dubious about going alone? Hadnt we better return home first?

No, well take the next car downtown, and we must work together to lay bare the real facts! declared Tavia as they ran for a downtown Broadway car.

CHAPTER XXI
FRIGHT AND COURAGE

With unhesitating steps, Tavia led Dorothy, without any of the confusion of her own first visit, directly to Mr. Akersons offices.

The same switchboard operator sat sleepy-eyed at the telephone, and the same young person conducted the girls through the office suite, the only difference was that the hour was near twelve, and most of the desks were empty, as the clerks had left the building for lunch.

The offices seemed strangely quiet, as the girls sat, with their hearts beating wildly, waiting for the door marked Private to open. When it did, Mr. Akerson came forth with a genial smile.

I arrived a little ahead of you, said he, and he led the girls into his private office.

But where is Mrs. White? demanded Dorothy.

Evidently delayed in reaching here, answered Mr. Akerson, pulling his watch from his pocket. No doubt shell be here directly.

With this the girls had to be content. Dorothy watched the door, expecting to see Aunt Winnie enter at every sound.

Well, said the man, balancing himself on his heels, and what is the decision in regard to the apartment you wanted?

Tavia shot a meaning glance in Dorothys direction and Dorothy quickly suppressed a start of surprise at the mans words. She decided instantly that she must watch Tavias every glance, if she were to follow the hidden meaning.

Havent decided yet, carelessly answered Tavia. Besides, theres plenty of time.

Are you sure it was an apartment you wanted, or the man wheeled about his desk chair and arranged himself comfortably before continuing was it just a womans curiosity? He smiled broadly at the girls; his look was that of a very kindly disposed gentleman.

My reasons were just as I stated I may want an apartment I liked the arrangement of the Court Apartments, and was seeking information for my own future use, defiantly replied Tavia.

Of course, of course, Mr. Akerson replied. But why come to me? Couldnt er your friend here have secured the information from well say, from Mrs. White?

Mrs. White, I regret to say, Mr. Akerson, responded Dorothy, seems to be ill-informed about her own property.

Mrs. White has access to my books, he replied coldly, whenever she chooses to look them over. Everything is there in black and white.

Except your verbal statements to me, said Tavia, standing up and facing Mr. Akerson. Your statement that rents used to be thirty-five dollars, and are now one hundred dollars.

Dorothy guessed instantly whither Tavia was leading.

And the difference between the thirty-five dollars and the one hundred dollars, she asked, goes to whom? Some charitable institution perhaps?

Ha! Ha! laughed Mr. Akerson, thats rich! So you, he turned to Tavia, took all my nonsense so seriously that youre convinced Im a scoundrel. His teeth gleamed wickedly through his stubby mustache, and Dorothy wished that Aunt Winnie would hurry. She did not like this man.

By your own statements youve convicted yourself, declared Tavia. The morning I interviewed you, you did not know me, and told me your prices.

Youre wrong; I did know you, declared the man bluntly. I knew you to be a friend of Mrs. Berghams, that you had listened to a rambling tale of that feeble-minded woman, and came to me expecting to have it confirmed and, as you know, I fully confirmed it. By the way, Mrs. Bergham moves to-day, but I suppose you are thoroughly conversant with her affairs.

Like a shot the thought came to Dorothy and Tavia, as they exchanged glances, could Mrs. Bergham, who certainly did not seem dependable, misrepresent matters to gain sympathy for herself? But as quickly came the picture of patient Miss Mingle, and all doubt vanished at once.

Thats true, confessed Tavia, the first inkling of absolute wrong-doing came quite unexpectedly through Mrs. Bergham. Im sorry, though, that she has been ordered to move on account of it.

Mrs. Bergham will not move, said Dorothy, quietly. We have sufficient evidence, I should say, Mr. Akerson, to convince even you that your wrong-doings have at last been found out.

Mr. Akerson jumped to his feet, a sudden rage seeming to possess him.

He sprang to the door and locked it and turned on the girls. Tavia slipped instinctively behind a chair, but Dorothy stood her ground, facing the enraged man with courage and aloofness.

You cant frighten me, Mr. Akerson, she said to him. White with rage the man approached nearer and nearer to Dorothy.

Just what do you mean? he asked, and there was that in the cool, and incisive quality of his tones that made both girls feel, if they had not before, that they had rather undertaken too much in coming to the office.

There was silence for a moment in the office, a silence that seemed yet to echo to the rasping of the lock in the door, a sound that had a sinister meaning. And yet it seemed to flash to Dorothy that, at the worst, the man could only frighten them force them, perhaps, to some admission that would make his own case stand out in a better light, if it came to law procedings.

Too late, Dorothy realized, as perhaps did Tavia, that they had been indiscreet, from a legal standpoint, in thus coming into the camp of an enemy, unprotected by a lawyers advice.

All sorts of complications might ensue from this hasty proceeding. Yet Dorothy, even in that moment of trouble, realized that she must keep her brain clear for whatever might transpire. Tavia, she felt, might do something reckless well meant, no doubt, but none the less something that might put a weapon in the hands of the man against whom they hoped to proceed for the sake of Aunt Winnie.

Just what do you mean? snapped the man again, and he seemed master of the situation, even though Dorothy thought she detected a gleam of was it fear? in his eyes. I am not in the habit of being spoken to in that manner, he went on.

I am afraid I shall have to ask you to explain yourself. It is the first time I have ever been accused of wrongdoing.

I guess it isnt the first time it has happened, though, murmured Tavia.

Whats that? demanded the man, quickly turning toward her. Even bold Tavia quailed, so menacing did his action seem.

There always has to be a first time, she substituted in louder tones.

I dont know whether you are aware of it, or not, young ladies, the agent proceeded, but it is rather a dangerous proceeding to make indiscriminate accusations, as you have just done to me.

Danger dangerous? faltered Dorothy.

Exactly! and the sleek fellow smiled in unctuous fashion. There is such a thing as criminal libel, you know.

But we havent published anything! retorted Tavia. I I thought a libel had to be published.

The publishing of a libel is not necessarily in a newspaper, retorted Mr. Akerson. It may be done by word of mouth, as our courts have held in several cases. I warn you to be careful of what you say.

He seems to be well up on court matters, thought Tavia, taking heart. I guess he isnt so innocent as he would like to appear.

I would like to know what you young ladies want here? the agent blurted out.

Information, said Tavia, sharply.

What for?

What is information generally for? asked Tavia, verbally fencing with the man. We want to know where we stand.

Do you mean you want to find out what sort of apartments they are whether they are of high class?

He was assuming a more and more defiant attitude, as he plainly saw that the girls, as he thought, were weakening.

Something of that sort yes, answered Tavia. You know we want to start right. But then, of course, and she actually smiled, we would like to know all the ins and outs. We are not at all business-like I admit that and we certainly did not mean to libel you. Crafty Tavia! Thus, she thought she might minimize any unintentional indiscretion she had committed.

Mrs. White doesnt know much about business, either, she went on. She would like to, though, wouldnt she, Dorothy?

Oh, yes yes, breathed Dorothy, scarcely knowing what she said. She was trying to think of a way out of the dilemma in which she and Tavia found themselves.

I will give Mrs. White any information she may need, said Mr. Akerson, coldly.

But about the apartments themselves, said Tavia. She wants to know what income they bring in about the new improvements the class of tenants Oh, the thousand and one things that a woman ought to know about her own property.

Rather indefinite, sneered the man.

I dont mean to be so, flashed Tavia. I want to be very definite as very definite as it is possible for you to be, and she looked meaningly at the agent. We want to know all you can tell us, she went on, and, growing bolder, added: We want to know why there is not more money coming from those apartments; dont we, Dorothy? and she moved over nearer to her chum.

Yes yes, of course, murmured Dorothy, hardly knowing what she was saying, and hoping Tavia was not going too far.

More money? the agent cried.

Yes, retorted Tavia. What have you done that you should be entitled to more than the legal rate?

I brought those apartments up to their present fitness, he snarled, and whatever I get over and above the regular rentals, is mine; do you understand that? What do you know about real estate laws? Ill keep you both locked in this office, until I grind out of your heads the silliness that led you to try and trap me. Ill keep you here until

You will not, said Dorothy.

Where did she go? He suddenly missed Tavia, and Dorothy, turning, saw too that Tavia had disappeared.

This is nothing but a scheme to get us down here, cried Dorothy, after several moments of anxiety, Aunt Winnie was never expected, and now Tavia has gone!

Oh, no I havent, cried Tavia, as she stepped from a sound-proof private telephone booth. Ive just been looking about the office. Its an interesting place, and the melodrama of Mr. Akerson I found quite wearisome.

Also that my private phone isnt connected; didnt you? he said. Suddenly dropping the pose of the villain in a cheap melodrama, he smiled again and rubbing his hands together said, as though there never had been a disagreeable word uttered:

Seriously, girls, that Bergham woman is out of her head, thats a fact. You must know there is something queer about her.

On that point he certainly had Dorothy and Tavia puzzled. Mrs. Bergham surely was not the kind of a person either Tavia or Dorothy would have selected as a friend, and they looked at the man with hesitation. He followed up the advantage he had gained quickly.

Heres something you young ladies knew nothing about that woman has hallucinations! It has nearly driven her poor little sister, Miss Mingle, distracted. Why, girls, she tells Miss Mingle such yarns, and the poor little woman believes them and blames me. He looked terribly hurt and misunderstood.

To show your good faith, demanded Dorothy, unlock the door. Then we will listen to all you have to say. But, first, I must command you to talk to us with the doors wide open!

With pleasure, it was stupid to have locked it at all, he agreed affably. Now if youll just come with me to the bookkeepers department Ill prove everything to your entire satisfaction, and since Mrs. White has not seen fit to keep her appointment, you may convey the intelligence to her, just where you stand in this matter.

About the apartment we might wish to rent, said Tavia, serenely, have you the floor plan, that we might look over it?

Tavia was just behind Mr. Akerson, and Dorothy brought up the rear.

Im not as much interested in the books as in the floor plan, explained Tavia.

The only one I have is hanging on the wall of my private office, he said slowly, looking Tavia over from head to foot.

If youll show me the books, so that I can explain matters to my aunt, while Miss Travers is looking over the plan of the apartment she may wish to take, said Dorothy seriously, we can bring this rather unpleasant call to an end.

Im sure I am sorry for any unpleasantness, said Mr. Akerson, but youll admit your manner of talking business is just a little crude. No man wants to be almost called a scoundrel and a cheat.

The books, I hope, Dorothy answered bringing out her words slowly and clearly, will show where the error lies. By the way, do you collect these rents in person, or do you employ a sub-agent?

This, you understand, is not a company matter. Its a little investment of my own, and I take such pride in that house, that I allow no one to interfere with it. Yes, I collect the rents and give my personal attention to all repairing. If I do say it myself, it is the best-cared-for apartments in this city to-day. And Ill tell you this confidently, Miss Dale, five per cent. for collecting doesnt pay me for my time. But Im interested in the up-building of that house, you understand.

Tavia strolled leisurely back to the private office, while Mr. Akerson went into a smaller office just off the private one, and while he was bending over the combination of the safe, quick as a flash, Dorothy took off the receiver of the desk telephone from the hook, and, in almost a whisper, asked central for their Riverside home number.

Ned, she gasped, when she heard his voice, quick, dont waste a moment! This is Dorothy. We are in Akersons office and are frightened! Come downtown at once! Im afraid we wont be able to hold out much longer! Quick, quick, Ned! Then she softly put the receiver back and turned just in time to see Mr. Akerson rising from before the safe with a bundle of books in his arms. Dorothy to hide her confusion bent over a blue print that had been hanging on the walls, but all she saw was a confused bunch of white lines drawn on a blue background, and from the outer room came the sound of Tavias voice, as she and Mr. Akerson went over the pages of the ledger, the alert girl seizing the opportunity to dip into the books as well as look at the floor plans in order to gain more time.

CHAPTER XXII
CAPTURED BY TWO GIRLS

Dorothy pored over the blue print for a long time. She was growing so nervous that all the little white lines on the paper began dancing about and grinning at her, and Mr. Akersons voice and Tavias in the other room became louder and louder. Every footstep as the clerks returned, one by one, from lunch, set her heart palpitating, and she clenched her hands nervously. She feared that Mr. Akerson would in some way evade them, disappear before Ned and the boys could arrive!

Tavia seemed so calm and self-possessed and examined the books so critically that Dorothy marveled at her! Surely Tavia could not understand so complicated a thing as a ledger! Off in the distance, at the end of the suite, Dorothy suddenly saw a familiar brown head, and behind a shaggy white head, and then a pair of great, braid shoulders, and in back of them a modish bonnet framing the dignified face of Aunt Winnie!

Dorothy, she called, running forward. Here they are!

Dorothys interest in the prints ceased instantly, and she sprang after Tavia.

Mr. Akersons face blanched and he withdrew to his private office.

All the clerks returned discreetly to their work, typewriters clicking merrily, as the family filed down through the offices and into Mr. Akersons private room. He faced them all until he met the clear eyes of Mrs. White, then he shifted uneasily and requested Bob, who came in last, to close the door.

Whats it all about, Dorothy? asked Bob in clear, cool tones, as he looked with rather a contemptuous glance at the agent. Has someone been annoying you? and he seemed to swell up his splendid muscles under his coat-sleeves muscles that had been hardened by a healthy, active out-of-door life in camp.

If there has, continued Bob, as he looked for a place in the paper-littered office to place his hat, if there has, Id just like to have a little talk with them outside, and the lad nodded significantly toward the hall.

Oh, Bob! began Dorothy. You mustnt that is Oh, Im sure its all a mistake, she said, hastily.

Thats more like it, said Mr. Akerson, and he seemed to smile in relief. Somehow he looked rather apprehensively at Bob, Tavia thought. She, herself, was admiring the lads manliness.

But you telephoned, Bob continued. We were quite alarmed over it. You said

Young ladies arent always responsible for what they say over the phone, put in Mr. Akerson, with what he meant to be a genial smile at Bob. I fancy er we men of the world realize that. If Miss Dale has any complaint to make he paused suggestively.

Oh, I dont know what to do! cried Dorothy. There certainly seems to be some need of a complaint, and yet

Doro, dear, have you been trying to straighten out my business for me? demanded Mrs. White, with a gracious smile.

Aunt Winne I dont exactly know. Tavia here, she

Were trying the straightening-out process, put in Tavia. We had just started after being locked

Careful! warned the agent. I cautioned you about libel, you remember, and that snapping shut of the lock on the door was an error, I tell you.

Never mind about that part, broke in Tavia. Tell us about the business end of it. About the rents, why they have fallen off, and all the rest.

Have you really been going over the books with him, Dorothy? asked Mrs. White, in wonder.

Allow me to tell about matters, interrupted Akerson. I think I understand it better.

You ought to, murmured Tavia.

I will listen to you, Mr. Akerson, said Mrs. White, gravely. You may proceed.

As I have just been saying to Miss Dale, he went on, pointing to the ledgers on his desks, this matter can be explained in two minutes, if you will just glance over these entries.





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