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The Abductors
by [?]

“You–you poor little girl,” she sympathized.

Then a film came over her own eyes.

“New York took me at a critical time in my own life,” she said more to herself than to the girl. “She sheltered me, gave me a new start. What she did for me she will do for any other person who really wishes to make a fresh start in life. I made few acquaintances, no friends. Fortunately, the average New Yorker asks only that his neighbor leave him alone. No hermit could find better and more complete solitude than in the heart of this great city.”

Constance looked pityingly at the girl before her.

“Why can’t you tell them,” she suggested, “that you wanted to be independent, that you went away to make your own living?”

“But–they–my father–is well off. And they have this detective who follows me. He will find me some day–for the reward–and will tell the truth.”

“The reward?”

“Yes–a thousand dollars. Don’t you remember reading–“

The girl stopped short as if to check herself.

“You–you are Florence Gibbons!” gasped Constance as with a rush there came over her the recollection of a famous unsolved mystery of several months before.

The girl did not look up as Constance bent over and put her arms about her.

“Who was he?” she asked persuasively.

“Preston–Lansing Preston,” she sobbed bitterly. “Only the other day I read of his engagement to a girl in Chicago–beautiful, in society. Oh–I could KILL him,” she cried, throwing out her arms passionately. “Think of it. He–rich, powerful, respected. I–poor, almost crazy–an outcast.”

Constance did not interfere until the tempest had passed.

“What name did you give at the tea room?” asked Constance.

“Viola Cole,” answered Florence.

“Rest here,” soothed Constance. “Here at least you are safe. I have an idea. I shall be back soon.”

The Betsy Ross was still open after the rush of tired shoppers and later of business women to whom this was not only a restaurant but a club. Constance entered and sat down.

“Is the manager in?” she asked of the waitress.

“Mrs. Palmer? No. But, if you care to wait, I think she’ll be back directly.”

As Constance sat toying absently with some food at one of the snowy white tables, a man entered. A man in a tea room is an anomaly. For the tea room is a woman’s institution, run by women for women. Men enter with diffidence, and seldom alone. This man was quite evidently looking for some one.

His eye fell on Constance. Her heart gave a leap. It was her old enemy, Drummond, the detective. For a moment he hesitated, then bowed, and came over to her table.

“Peculiar places, these tea rooms,” observed Drummond.

Constance was doing some quick thinking. Could this be the detective Florence Gibbons had mentioned?

“The only thing lacking to make them complete,” he rattled on, “is a license. Now, take those places that have a ladies’ bar–that do openly what tea rooms do covertly. They don’t reckon with the attitude of women. This is New York–not Paris. Such things are years off. I don’t say they’ll not come or that women won’t use them–but not by that name–not yet.”

Constance wondered what his cynical inconsequentialities masked.

“I think it adds to the interest,” she observed, watching him furtively, “this evasion of the laws.”

Drummond was casting about for something to do and, naturally, to a mind like his, a drink was the solution. Evidently, however, there were degrees of brazenness, even in tea rooms. The Betsy Ross not only would not produce a labeled bottle and an obvious glass but stoutly denied their ability to fill such an order, even whispered.

“Russian tea?” suggested Drummond cryptically.

“How will you have it–with Scotch or rye?” asked the waitress.

“Bourbon,” hazarded Drummond.

When the “Russian tea” arrived it was in a neat little pot with two others, the first containing real tea and the second hot water. It was served virtuously in tea cups, so opaquely concealed that no one but the clandestine drinker could know what sort of poison was being served.