The Sisters-In-Law by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Alexina stood alone in the strong room of the bank leaning heavily against the wall with its endless rows of compartments from one of which she had taken the dispatch box in which she had kept her bonds.
The box had fallen to the floor. If there had been any one in the room with her he would have started and turned as the box clanged with a hollow echo on the steel surface.
The box was empty.
It was a large box. It had contained forty thousand dollars' worth of bonds, nearly a third of her fortune. The securities were among the soundest the country afforded, for Alexander Groome, wild as he may have been when relieving the monotony of life with too many diversions, not the least of which was speculation, never made a mistake in his permanent investments; and others had been bought with equal prudence by Judge Lawton or Tom Abbott.
But the bonds had been negotiable. She recalled Tom Abbott's warning to keep them always in her safe deposit box and the key hidden. They might be traced if stolen, but State's Prison for the thief would be cold comfort if the bonds had been cashed and the money spent.
She had always had one of the lighter Italian pieces in her bedroom, a beautiful cabinet of carved and gilded oak nearly black with age. Like all such it had a secret drawer and here she had kept her keys, and her jewels during the winter.
Who knew of this secret drawer, which opened by pressing a certain little gilded face on the panel?...All her friends, of course: Aileen, Sibyl, Alice, Olive, Janet, Helene....Unthinkable to have a secret drawer in an old Italian cabinet which had belonged to some Borgia or other, and not exhibit it to one's chosen friends.
She had even shown it to Gora, but to no one else but Mortimer. She had kept his love letters in it for a time, written while the family was applying the polite methods of the modern inquisition at Rincona, They had remained there, forgotten, until her mother's death, when she had remembered the secret drawer as a safe hiding place for her keys and jewels; which, with her mother's, had formerly reposed in the safe under the stairs.
It was a deep drawer and when she was in town held the few valuable stones, reset, that she had inherited from her mother, besides the fine pieces she had received as wedding-gifts; when all the old friends of the family out-did themselves, and not a few of the less distinguished but more opulent, whose floors Alexina had graced while her mother slept. Her pearl necklace had been the present of her more intimate group of friends.
Alexina was not a little proud of her collection of jewels, although she seldom wore anything but her pearls. She had left it when she went abroad, in the safe deposit vault, and she sent a quick terrified glance in the coffer's direction like that of a cornered rat.
But her attention riveted itself once more on the empty box at her feet. A third of her fortune, and gone beyond redemption. Her stunned mind grasped that fact at once. No one stole bonds to keep them. But who was the thief?
Not any of her old friends. They might gamble, or drink, or deceive their legal guardians, but they drew the line at stealing. Certain sins lie within the social code and others do not. Women of her class, unless kleptomaniac, did not steal. It wasn't done. With reason or unreason they classed thieves of any sort with harlots, burglars, firebugs, embezzlers, forgers, murderers, and common people who overdressed and drank too much in public; and withdrew their skirts.
Moreover, Aileen had been with her in Europe. Olive lived there. Janet and Sibyl had more money than they could spend. The Ruylers were ranching, and Helene was in Adler's Sanatorium with a new baby. Alice had gone to Santa Barbara before she left and had not returned.
It was insulting even to pass them in review, but the mind works in erratic curves under shock.
Gora had taken the thousand dollars Mortimer had returned to her and gone first to Lake Tahoe and then to Honolulu to write a novel. She would return on the morrow.
It was incredible. Monstrous. She was outrageous even to link his name with such a deed. He was the soul of honor. He might not be a genius but no man had a cleaner reputation. She had lived with him now for over six years and she had never...never...never...
And she knew, unconsentingly, infallibly, that Mortimer had stolen the bonds.