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“Curtis Waring!” ejaculated Dodger, his face showing intense surprise. “Is that the name of your husband?”
“Yes. Is it possible that you know him?” asked the woman, struck by Dodger’s tone.
“I know a man by that name. I will describe him, and you can tell me whether it is he. He is rather tall, dark hair, sallow complexion, black eyes, and a long, thin nose.”
“It is like him in every particular. Oh, tell me where he is to be found?”
“He lives in New York. He is the nephew of a rich man, and is expecting to inherit his wealth. Through his influence a cousin of his, a young lady, has been driven from home.”
“Was he afraid she would deprive him of the estate?”
“That was partly the reason. But it was partly to revenge himself on her because she would not agree to marry him.”
“But how could he marry her,” exclaimed the unfortunate woman, “when he is already married to me?”
“Neither she nor any one of his family or friends knew that he was already married. I don’t think it would trouble him much.”
“But it must be stopped!” she exclaimed, wildly. “He is my husband. I shall not give him up to any one else.”
“So far as Florence is concerned—she is the cousin—she has no wish to deprive you of him. But is it possible that you are attached to a man who has treated you so meanly?” asked Dodger, in surprise.
“There was a time when he treated me well, when he appeared to love me,” was the murmured reply. “I cannot forget that he is the father of my child.”
Dodger did not understand the nature of women or the mysteries of the female heart, and he evidently thought this poor woman very foolish to cling with such pertinacity to a man like Curtis Waring.
“Do you mind telling me how you came to marry him?” he asked.
“It was over four years ago that I met him in this city,” was the reply. “I am a San Francisco girl. I had never been out of California. I was considered pretty then,” she added, with a remnant of pride, “faded as I am to-day.”
Looking closely in her face, Dodger was ready to believe this.
Grief and privation had changed her appearance, but it had not altogether effaced the bloom and beauty of youth.
“At any rate, he seemed to think so. He was living at the Palace Hotel, and I made his acquaintance at a small social gathering at the house of my uncle. I am an orphan, and was perhaps the more ready to marry on that account.”
“Did Mr. Waring represent himself as wealthy?”
“He said he had expectations from a wealthy relative, but did not mention where he lived.”
“He told the truth, then.”
“We married, securing apartments on Kearney Street. We lived together till my child was born, and for three months afterward. Then Mr. Waring claimed to be called away from San Francisco on business. He said he might be absent six weeks. He left me a hundred dollars, and urged me to be careful of it, as he was short of money, and needed considerable for the expenses of the journey. He left me, and I have never seen or heard from him since.”
“Did he tell you where he was going, Mrs. Waring?”
“No; he said he would be obliged to visit several places—among others, Colorado, where he claimed to have some mining property. He told me that he hoped to bring back considerable money.”
“Do you think he meant to stay away altogether?”
“I don’t know what to think. Well, I lived on patiently, for I had perfect confidence in my husband. I made the money last me ten weeks instead of six, but then I found myself penniless.”
“Did you receive any letters in that time?”
“No, and it was that that worried me. When at last the money gave out, I began to pawn my things—more than once I was tempted to pawn my wedding-ring, but I could not bring my mind to do that. I do not like to think ill of my husband, and was forced, as the only alternative, to conclude that he had met with some accident, perhaps had died. I have not felt certain that this was not so till you told me this evening that you know him.”
“I can hardly say that I know him well, yet I know him a good deal better than I wish I did. But for him I would not now be in San Francisco.”
“How is that? Please explain.”
Dodger told her briefly the story of his abduction.
“But what motive could he have in getting you out of New York? I cannot understand.”
“I don’t understand myself, except that I am the friend of Florence.”
“But why should she be compelled to leave her uncle’s home?”
“Because Curtis Waring made him set his heart upon the match. She had her choice to marry Curtis or to leave the house, and forfeit all chance of the estate. She chose to leave the house.”
“She ought to know that he has no right to marry,” said the poor woman, who, not understanding the dislike of Florence for the man whom she herself loved, feared that she might yet be induced to marry him.
“She ought to know, and her uncle ought to know,” said Dodger. “Mrs. Waring, I can’t see my way clear yet. If I were in New York I would know just what to do. Will you agree to stand by me, and help me?”
“Yes, I will,” answered the woman, earnestly.
“I will see you again to-morrow evening. Here is some money to help you along for the present. Good-night.”
Dodger, as he walked away, pondered over the remarkable discovery he had made.
It was likely to prove of the utmost importance to Florence.
Her uncle’s displeasure was wholly based upon her refusal to marry Curtis Waring, but if it should be proved to him that Curtis was already a married man, there would seem no bar to reconciliation.
Moreover—and thas was particularly satisfactory—it would bring Curtis himself into disfavor.
Florence would be reinstated in her rightful place in her uncle’s family, and once more be recognized as heiress to at least a portion of his large fortune.
This last consideration might not weigh so much with Florence, but Dodger was more practical, and he wished to restore her to the social position which she had lost through the knavery of her cousin.
But in San Francisco—at a distance of over three thousand miles—Dodger felt at a loss how to act.
Even if Mr. Linden was informed that his nephew had a wife living in San Francisco, the statement would no doubt be denied by Curtis, who would brand the woman as an impudent adventuress.
“The absent are always in the wrong,” says a French proverb.
At all events, they are very much at a disadvantage, and therefore it seemed imperatively necessary, not only that Dodger, but that Curtis Waring’s wife should go to New York to confront the unprincipled man whose schemes had brought sorrow to so many.
It was easy to decide what plan was best, but how to carry it out presented a difficulty which seemed insurmountable.
The expenses of a journey to New York for Dodger, Mrs. Waring and her child would not be very far from five hundred dollars, and where to obtain this money was a problem.
Randolph Leslie probably had that sum, but Dodger could not in conscience ask him to lend it, being unable to furnish adequate security, or to insure repayment.
“If I could only find a nugget,” thought Dodger, knitting his brows, “everything would be easy.” But nuggets are rare enough in the gold fields, and still rarer in city streets.
He who trusts wholly to luck trusts to a will-o’-the-wisp, and is about as sure of success as one who owns a castle in Spain.
The time might come when Dodger, by his own efforts, could accumulate the needed sum, but it would require a year at least, and in that time Mr. Linden would probably be dead.
Absorbed and disturbed by these reflections, Dodger walked slowly through the darkened streets till he heard a stifled cry, and looking up, beheld a sight that startled him.
On the sidewalk lay the prostrate figure of a man. Over him, bludgeon in hand, bent a ruffian, whose purpose was only too clearly evident.
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