“I snatched them up,” she murmured, “and ran. I am sure they will come after me. And Vine—I think that that man will kill Vine. His fingers were upon his throat when I left.”
“You brought them,” Phineas Duge asked calmly, “from Norris Vine’s rooms?”
She had no time to answer. The door was opened. Norris Vine stood there on the threshold. He looked in upon the little group and shrugged his shoulders.
“I am too late, then,” he said slowly.
Phineas Duge thrust his hand into the flames and held the papers there. Norris Vine seemed for a moment as though he would have sprung forward, but Littleson intervened, and Deane himself.
“They shall burn!” Duge cried. “If you are really the altruist you claim to be, Mr. Vine, you need not fear their destruction. We are changing our tactics. If the bill becomes law we will face its effect, whatever it may be. There shall be no bribery. There shall be no underground history. If the people of America attack us, we will fight our own battles.”
Norris Vine sighed.
“In another half an hour,” he said, “my cable would have been sent. To-morrow New York would have been indeed the city of unrest.”
Phineas Duge turned upon him coldly.
“You,” he said, “are one of those unpractical persons, who bring to the affairs of a purely utilitarian epoch the ‘faineant’ scruples of the dilettante and romanticist. You cannot regulate the flow of wealth any more than you can dam a river with shifting sand. Don’t you know that destiny, whether it be guided by other powers or not, was never meant to be shaped by the lookers-on?”
Norris Vine shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the door.
“Well,” he said, “I will not argue with you. Perhaps those papers are better where they are. You will learn your lesson. You, sir,” he added, turning to Littleson, “and those other of your friends who, at any rate, have known the shadow of an American prison, in some other way.”
Norris Vine put on his coat, lit a cigarette, and looked around the room with the satisfied air of a man who has successfully accomplished a difficult task. In front of him were two steamer trunks, a hold-all, hat-box, a case of guns, golf clubs, and some smaller packages, all fastened up and labelled “Vine, New York.” He moved toward the bell, meaning to ring for a porter, but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come in!” he called out, and Virginia entered. He looked at her in cold surprise. He recognized her, of course, but he recognized also that this young lady had nothing whatever to do with the pale-faced, desperate child, whose visits to him before had always seemed in a sense pathetic. He was an artist in such things, and he realized at once the dainty perfection of her muslin gown and