"Right, and the same thing applies to the galaxies. Because even though the universe continues to expand, the force of gravity is working the other way. And one day, in a couple of billiuniswap price usdon years, gravity will perhaps cause the heavenly bodies to be packed together again as the force of the huge explosion begins to weaken. Then we would get a reverse explosion, a so-called implosion. But the distances are so great that it will happen like a movie that is run in slow motion. You might compare it with what happens when you release the air from a balloon."
"Just you wait," he went on cheechainlink gas feesrfully, "and I'll prove to youthat I'm on the level about this, that I'm really your friend....There was a letter came for you to your apartment. My menbrought it down to me. I've read it. Here it is. I'll read itto you!"He picked up an envelope, which had been lying on the desk, anddrew out the single sheet of paper it contained. Mary watchedhim, wondering much more than her expression revealed over thisnew development. Then, as she listened, quick interest touchedher features to a new life. In her eyes leaped emotions to makeor mar a life.
This was the letter:"I can't go without telling you how sorry I am. There won'tnever be a time that I won't remember it was me got you sent up,that you did time in my place. I ain't going to forgive myselfever, and I swear I'm going straight always."Your true friend, "HELENMORRIS."For once, Burke showed a certain delicacy. When he had finishedthe reading, he said nothing for a long minute--only, sat withhis cunning eyes on the face of the woman who was immobile therebefore him. And, as he looked on her in her slender elegance ofform and gentlewomanly loveliness of face, a lovelinessintelligent and refined beyond that of most women, he felt bornein on his consciousness the fact that here was one to berespected. He fought against the impression. It was to himpreposterous, for she was one of that underworld against which hewas ruthlessly at war. Yet, he could not altogether overcome hisinstinct toward a half-reverent admiration.... And, as the letterproved, she had been innocent at the outset. She had been thevictim of a mistaken justice, made outcast by the law she hadnever wronged.... His mood of respect was inevitable, since hehad some sensibilities, though they were coarsened, and theysensed vaguely the maelstrom of emotions that now swirled in thegirl's breast.To Mary Turner, this was the wonderful hour. In it, thevindication of her innocence was made complete. The story wasthere recorded in black and white on the page written by HelenMorris. It mattered little--or infinitely much!--that it cametoo late. She had gained her evil place in the world, was anotorious woman in fact, was even now a prisoner under suspicionof murder. Nevertheless, she felt a thrill of ecstasy over thiswritten document--which it had never occurred to her to wrestfrom the girl at the time of the oral confession. Now that it hadbeen proffered, the value of it loomed above almost all thingselse in the world. It proclaimed undeniably the wrong underwhich she had suffered. She was not the thief the court hadadjudged her. Now, there's nobody here but just you and me. Comeon, now--put me wise!"Mary was again the resourceful woman who was glad to pit herbrain against the contriving of those who fought her. So, atthis moment, she seemed pliant to the will of the man who urgedher thus cunningly. Her quick glance around the office was of asort to delude the Inspector into a belief that she was yieldingto his lure."Are you sure no one will ever know?" she asked, timorously.
"Nobody but you and me," Burke declared, all agog withanticipation of victory at last. "I give you my word!"Mary met the gaze of the Inspector fully. In the same instant,she flashed on him a smile that was dazzling, the smile of awoman triumphant in her mastery of the situation. Her face wasradiant, luminous with honest mirth. There was something simpleand genuine in her beauty that thrilled the man before her, theman trying so vindictively to trap her to her own undoing. Forall his grossness, Burke was of shrewd perceptions, andsomewhere, half-submerged under the sordid nature of his calling,was a love of things esthetic, a responsiveness to the appeals ofbeauty. Now, as his glance searched the face of the girl who wasbubbling with mirth, he experienced an odd warming of his heartunder the spell of her loveliness--a loveliness wholly feminine,pervasive, wholesome. But, too, his soul shook in a premonitionof catastrophe, for there was mischief in the beaming eyes ofsoftest violet. There was a demon of mockery playing in thecurves of the scarlet lips, as she smiled so winsomely.All his apprehensions were verified by her utterance. It came ina most casual voice, despite the dancing delight in her face.Nevertheless, she condescended to reply, with an exaggeration ofthe aristocratic drawl to indicate her displeasure.
"I was introduced to Miss Turner," she explained, "by Mr. RichardGilder. Perhaps you have heard of his father, the owner of theEmporium.""Oh, yes, I've heard of his father, and of him, too," Burkeadmitted, placatingly.But the girl relaxed not a whit in her attitude of offense."Then," she went on severely, "you must see at once that you areentirely mistaken in this matter." Her blue eyes widened furtheras she stared accusingly at the Inspector, who betrayed evidencesof perplexity, and hesitated for an answer. Then, the doll-like,charming face took on a softer look, which had in it a suggestionof appeal."Don't you see it?" she demanded.
"Well, no," Burke rejoined uneasily; "not exactly, I don't!" Inthe presence of this delicate and graceful femininity, heexperienced a sudden, novel distaste for his usual sledge-hammermethods of attack in interrogation. Yet, his duty required thathe should continue his questioning. He found himself in factbetween the devil and the deep sea--though this particular devilappeared rather as an angel of light.Now, at his somewhat feeble remark in reply to her query, thechildish face grew as hard as its curving contours would permit.
"Sir!" she cried indignantly. Her little head was thrown back inscornful reproof, and she turned a shoulder toward the officialcontemptuously."Now, now!" Burke exclaimed in remonstrance. After all, he couldnot be brutal with this guileless maiden. He must, however, makethe situation clear to her, lest she think him a beast--whichwould never do!"You see, young lady," he went on with a gentleness of voice andmanner that would have been inconceivable to Dacey and ChicagoRed; "you see, the fact is that, even if you were introduced tothis Mary Turner by young Mr. Gilder, this same Mary Turnerherself is an ex-convict, and she's just been arrested formurder."At the dread word, a startling change was wrought in the girl.She wheeled to face the Inspector, her slender body swaying alittle toward him. The rather heavy brows were lifted slightlyin a disbelieving stare. The red lips were parted, rounded to atremulous horror.
"Murder!" she gasped; and then was silent."Yes," Burke went on, wholly at ease now, since he had broken theice thus effectually. "You see, if there's a mistake about you,you don't want it to go any further --not a mite further, that'ssure. So, you see, now, that's one of the reasons why I mustknow just who you are." Then, in his turn, Burke put the querythat the girl had put to him a little while before. "You seethat, don't you?""Oh, yes, yes!" was the instant agreement. "You should have toldme all about this horrid thing in the first place." Now, thegirl's manner was transformed. She smiled wistfully on theInspector, and the glance of the blue eyes was very kind, subtlyalluring. Yet in this unbending, there appeared even moredecisively than hitherto the fine qualities in bearing of onedelicately nurtured. She sank down in a chair by the desk, andforthwith spoke with a simplicity that in itself was somehowpeculiarly potent in its effect on the official who gaveattentive ear."My name is Helen Travers West," she announced.Burke started a little in his seat, and regarded the speaker witha new deference as he heard that name uttered.
"Not the daughter of the railway president?" he inquired."Yes," the girl admitted. Then, anew, she displayed a seriousagitation over the thought of any possible publicity in thisaffair.
"Oh, please, don't tell any one," she begged prettily. The blueeyes were very imploring, beguiling, too. The timid smile thatwreathed the tiny mouth was marvelously winning. The neatlygloved little hands were held outstretched, clasped insupplication. "Surely, sir, you see now quite plainly why itmust never be known by any one in all the wide, wide world that Ihave ever been brought to this perfectly dreadful place--thoughyou have been quite nice!" Her voice dropped to a note of musicalprayerfulness. The words were spoken very softly and veryslowly, with intonations difficult for a man to deny. "Pleaselet me go home." She plucked a minute handkerchief from herhandbag, put it to her eyes, and began to sob quietly.The burly Inspector of Police was moved to quick sympathy.
Really, when all was said and done, it was a shame that one likeher should by some freak of fate have become involved in thesordid, vicious things that his profession made it obligatory onhim to investigate. There was a considerable hint of the paternalin his air as he made an attempt to offer consolation to theafflicted damsel."That's all right, little lady," he exclaimed cheerfully. "Now,don't you be worried--not a little bit. Take it from me, MissWest.... Just go ahead, and tell me all you know about thisTurner woman. Did you see her yesterday?"The girl's sobs ceased. After a final dab with the minutehandkerchief, she leaned forward a little toward the Inspector,and proceeded to put a question to him with great eagerness."Will you let me go home as soon as I've told you the teensylittle I know?""Yes," Burke agreed promptly, with an encouraging smile. And fora good measure of reassurance, he added as one might to analarmed child: "No one is going to hurt you, young lady.""Well, then, you see, it was this way," began the briskexplanation. "Mr. Gilder was calling on me one afternoon, and hesaid to me then that he knew a very charming young woman,who----"Here the speech ended abruptly, and once again the handkerchiefwas brought into play as the sobbing broke forth with increasedviolence. Presently, the girl's voice rose in a wail."Oh, this is dreadful--dreadful!" In the final word, the wailbroke to a moan.Burke felt himself vaguely guilty as the cause of such sufferingon the part of one so young, so fair, so innocent. As a culprit,he sought his best to afford a measure of soothing for this griefthat had had its source in his performance of duty."That's all right, little lady," he urged in a voice as nearlymellifluous as he could contrive with its mighty volume. "That'sall right. I have to keep on telling you. Nobody's going tohurt you--not a little bit. Believe me! Why, nobody ever wouldwant to hurt you!"But his well-meant attempt to assuage the stricken creature's wowas futile. The sobbing continued. With it came a plaintivecry, many times repeated, softly, but very miserably.
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!""Isn't there something else you can tell me about this woman?"Burke inquired in desperation before the plaintive outburst. Hehoped to distract her from such grief over her predicament.The girl gave no least heed to the question.
"Oh, I'm so frightened!" she gasped."Tut, tut!" the Inspector chided. "Now, I tell you there'snothing at all for you to be afraid of.""I'm afraid!" the girl asserted dismally. "I'm afraid youwill--put me--in a cell!" Her voice sank to a murmur hardlyaudible as she spoke the words so fraught with dread import toone of her refined sensibilities.
"Pooh!" Burke returned, gallantly. "Why, my dear young lady,nobody in the world could think of you and a cell at the sametime--no, indeed!"Instantly, the girl responded to this bald flattery. She fairlyradiated appreciation of the compliment, as she turned her eyes,dewy with tears, on the somewhat flustered Inspector."Oh, thank you!" she exclaimed, with naive enjoyment.
Forthwith, Burke set out to make the most of this favorableopportunity."Are you sure you've told me all you know about this woman?" hequestioned."Oh, yes! I've only seen her two or three times," came the readyresponse. The voice changed to supplication, and again theclasped hands were extended beseechingly."Oh, please, Commissioner! Won't you let me go home?"The use of a title higher than his own flattered the Inspector,and he was moved to graciousness. Besides, it was obvious thathis police net in this instance had enmeshed only the mostharmless of doves. He smiled encouragingly.
"Well, now, little lady," he said, almost tenderly, "if I let yougo now, will you promise to let me know if you are able to thinkof anything else about this Turner woman?""I will--indeed, I will!" came the fervent assurance. There wassomething almost--quite provocative in the flash of gratitudethat shone forth from the blue eyes of the girl in that moment ofher superlative relief. It moved Burke to a desire forrehabilitation in her estimation."Now, you see," he went on in his heavy voice, yet very kindly,and with a sort of massive playfulness in his manner," no one hashurt you--not even a little bit, after all. Now, you run righthome to your mother."The girl did not need to be told twice. On the instant, shesprang up joyously, and started toward the door, with a finalravishing smile for the pleased official at the desk.
"I'll go just as fast as ever I can," the musical voice madeassurance blithely."Give my compliments to your father," Burke requestedcourteously. "And tell him I'm sorry I frightened you."The girl turned at the door.... After all, too great haste mightbe indiscreet.
"I will, Commissioner," she promised, with an arch smile. "And Iknow papa will be so grateful to you for all your kindness tome!"It was at this critical moment that Cassidy entered from theopposite side of the office. As his eyes fell on the girl at thedoor across from him, his stolid face lighted in a grin. And, inthat same instant of recognition between the two, the color wentout of the girl's face. The little red lips snapped together ina line of supreme disgust against this vicissitude of fate afterall her manoeuverings in the face of the enemy. She stoodmotionless in wordless dismay, impotent before this disasterforced on her by untoward chance."Hello, Aggie!" the detective remarked, with a smirk, while theInspector stared from one to the other with rounded eyes ofwonder, and his jaw dropped from the stark surprise of this newdevelopment.
The girl returned deliberately to the chair she had occupiedthrough the interview with the Inspector, and dropped into itweakly. Her form rested there limply now, and the blue eyesstared disconsolately at the blank wall before her. She realizedthat fate had decreed defeat for her in the game. It was after aminute of silence in which the two men sat staring that at lastshe spoke with a savage wrath against the pit into which she hadfallen after her arduous efforts."Ain't that the damnedest luck!"For a little interval still, Burke turned his glances from thegirl to Cassidy, and then back again to the girl, who satimmobile with her blue eyes steadfastly fixed on the wall. Thepolice official was, in truth, totally bewildered. Here wasinexplicable mystery. Finally, he addressed the detective curtly."Cassidy, do you know this woman?""Sure, I do!" came the placid answer. He went on to explain withthe direct brevity of his kind. "She's little Aggie Lynch--con'woman, from Buffalo--two years for blackmail--did her time atBurnsing."With this succinct narrative concerning the girl who sat mute andmotionless in the chair with her eyes fast on the wall, Cassidyrelapsed into silence, during which he stared rather perplexedlyat his chief, who seemed to be in the throes of unusual emotion.
As the detective expressed it in his own vernacular: For thefirst time in his experience, the Inspector appeared to beactually "rattled."For a little time, there was silence, the while Burke sat staringat the averted face of the girl. His expression was that of onewho has just undergone a soul-stirring shock. Then, presently,he set his features grimly, rose from his chair, and walked to aposition directly in the front of the girl, who still refused tolook in his direction."Young woman----" he began, severely. Then, of a sudden helaughed. "You picked the right business, all right, all right!"he said, with a certain enthusiasm. He laughed aloud until hiseyes were only slits, and his ample paunch trembled vehemently.
"Well," he went on, at last, "I certainly have to hand it to you,kid. You're a beaut'!"Aggie sniffed vehemently in rebuke of the gross partiality offate in his behalf."Just as I had him goin'!" she said bitterly, as if inself-communion, without shifting her gaze from the blank surfaceof the wall.
Now, however, Burke was reminded once again of his officialduties, and he turned quickly to the attentive Cassidy."Have you got a picture of this young woman?" he askedbrusquely. And when Cassidy had replied in the negative, heagain faced the adventuress with a mocking grin--in whichmockery, too, was a fair fragment for himself, who had been sothoroughly within her toils of blandishment.