Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Circumstantial Evidence and Other Stories (1934)
Author: Edgar Wallace (1875-1932)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900651.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2009
Date most recently updated: August 2009


This ebook was produced by:
Marcia Brooks, woodie4, D Alexander
& the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
at http://www.pgdp.net


Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Circumstantial Evidence and Other Stories (1934)
Author: Wallace, Richard Horatio Edgar (1875-1932)


CONTENTS:

Circumstantial Evidence
Fighting Snub Reilly
A Romance in Brown
Discovering Rex
The Man in the Golf Hut
A Tryst with Ghosts
The Child of Chance
The Dear Liar
The Christmas Princess
Findings are Keepings
The Little Green Man

* * *



Circumstantial Evidence


Colonel Chartres Dane lingered irresolutely in the broad and pleasant
lobby. Other patients had lingered awhile in that agreeable vestibule.
In wintry days it was a cozy place; its polished panelled walls
reflecting the gleam of logs that burnt in the open fireplace. There was
a shining oak settle that invited gossip, and old prints, and blue china
bowls frothing over with the flowers of a belated autumn or advanced
spring-tide, to charm the eye.

In summer it was cool and dark and restful. The mellow tick of the
ancient clock, the fragrance of roses, the soft breeze that came through
an open casement stirring the lilac curtains uneasily, these corollaries
of peace and order had soothed many an unquiet mind.

Colonel Chartres Dane fingered a button of his light dust-coat and his
thin patrician face was set in thought. He was a spare man of
fifty-five; a man of tired eyes and nervous gesture.

Dr. Merriget peered at him through his powerful spectacles and wondered.

It was an awkward moment, for the doctor had murmured his sincere, if
conventional, regrets and encouragements, and there was nothing left
but to close the door on his patient.

"You have had a bad wound there, Mr. Jackson," he said, by way of
changing a very gloomy subject and filling in the interval of silence.
This intervention might call to mind in a soldier some deed of his, some
far field of battle where men met death with courage and fortitude. Such
memories might be helpful to a man under sentence.

Colonel Dane fingered the long scar on his cheek.

"Yes," he said absently, "a child did that--my niece. Quite my own
fault."

"A child?" Dr. Merriget appeared to be shocked. He was in reality very
curious.

"Yes ... she was eleven ... my own fault. I spoke disrespectfully of her
father. It was unpardonable, for he was only recently dead. He was my
brother-in-law. We were at breakfast and she threw the knife ...
yes...."

He ruminated on the incident and a smile quivered at the corner of his
thin lips.

"She hated me. She hates me still ... yes...."

He waited.

The doctor was embarrassed and came back to the object of the visit.

"I should be ever so much more comfortable in my mind if you saw a
specialist, Mr.--er--Jackson. You see how difficult it is for me to give
an opinion? I may be wrong. I know nothing of your history, your medical
history I mean. There are so many men in town who could give you a
better and more valuable opinion than I. A country practitioner like
myself is rather in a backwater. One has the usual cases that come to
one in a small country town, maternity cases, commonplace ailments ...
it is difficult to keep abreast of the extraordinary developments in
medical science...."

"Do you know anything about Machonicies College?" asked the colonel
unexpectedly.

"Yes, of course." The doctor was surprised. "It is one of the best of
the technical schools. Many of our best doctors and chemists take a
preparatory course there. Why?"

"I merely asked. As to your specialists ... I hardly think I shall
bother them."

Dr. Merriget watched the tall figure striding down the red-tiled path
between the banked flowers, and was still standing on the doorstep when
the whine of his visitor's machine had gone beyond the limits of his
hearing.

"H'm," said Dr. Merriget as he returned to his study. He sat awhile
thinking.

"Mr. Jackson?" he said aloud. "I wonder why the colonel calls himself
'Mr. Jackson'?"

He had seen the colonel two years before at a garden party, and had an
excellent memory for faces.

He gave the matter no further thought, having certain packing to
superintend--he was on the eve of his departure for Constantinople, a
holiday trip he had promised himself for years.

On the following afternoon at Machonicies Technical School, a lecture
was in progress.

    " ... by this combustion you have secured true K.c.y.... which we
    will now test and compare with the laboratory quantities ... a
    deliquescent and colorless crystal extremely soluble...."

The master, whose monotonous voice droned like the hum of a distant,
big, stationary blue-bottle, was a middle-aged man, to whom life was no
more than a chemical reaction, and love not properly a matter for his
observation or knowledge. He had an idea that it was dealt with
effectively in another department of the college ... metaphysics ... or
was it philosophy? Or maybe it came into the realms of the biological
master?

Ella Grant glared resentfully at the crystals which glittered on the
blue paper before her, and snapped out the bunsen burner with a vicious
twist of finger and thumb. Denman always overshot the hour. It was a
quarter past five! The pallid clock above the dais, where Professor
Denman stood, seemed to mock her impatience.

She sighed wearily and fiddled with the apparatus on the bench at which
she sat. Some twenty other white-coated girls were also fiddling with
test tubes and bottles and graduated measures, and twenty pairs of eyes
glowered at the bald and stooping man who, unconscious of the passing
of time, was turning affectionately to the properties of potassium.

"Here we have a metal whose strange affinity for oxygen ... eh, Miss
Benson?... five? Bless my soul, so it is! Class is dismissed. And
ladies, _ladies, ladies!_ Please, please let me make myself heard. The
laboratory keeper will take from you all chemicals you have drawn for
this experiment...."

They were crowding toward the door to the change room. Smith, the
laboratory man, stood in the entrance grabbing wildly at little green
and blue bottles that were thrust at him, and vainly endeavoring by a
private system of mnemonics to commit his receipts to memory.

"Miss Fairlie, phial fairly; Miss Jones, bottle bones; Miss Walter,
bottle salter."

If at the end of his collection he failed to recall a rhyme to any name,
the owner had passed without cashing in.

"Miss Grant----?"

The laboratory of the Analytical Class was empty. Nineteen bottles stood
on a shelf and he reviewed them.

"Miss Grant----?"

No, he had said nothing about "aunt" or "can't" or "pant."

He went into the change room, opened a locker and felt in the pockets of
the white overall. They were empty. Returning to the laboratory, he
wrote in his report book:

"Miss Grant did not return experiment bottle."

He spelt experiment with two r's and two m's.

Ella found the bottle in the pocket of her overall as she was hanging it
up in the long cupboard of the change room. She hesitated a moment,
frowning resentfully at the little blue phial in her hand, and rapidly
calculating the time it would take to return to the laboratory to find
the keeper and restore the property. In the end, she pushed it into her
bag and hurried from the building. It was not an unusual occurrence that
a student overlooked the return of some apparatus, and it could be
restored in the morning.

Had Jack succeeded? That was the thought which occupied her. The miracle
about which every junior dreams had happened. Engaged in the prosecution
of the notorious Flackman, his leader had been taken ill, and the
conduct of the case for the State had fallen to him. He was opposed by
two brilliant advocates, and the judge was a notorious humanitarian.

She did not stop to buy a newspaper; she was in a fret at the thought
that Jack Freeder might not have waited for her, and she heaved a sigh
of relief when she turned into the old-world garden of the courthouse
and saw him pacing up and down the flagged walk, his hands in his
pockets.

"I am so sorry...."

She had come up behind him, and he turned on his heel to meet her. His
face spoke success. The elation in it told her everything she wanted to
know, and she slipped her arm through his with a queer mingled sense of
pride and uneasiness.

" ... the judge sent for me to his room afterwards and told me that the
attorney could not have conducted the case better than I."

"He is guilty?" she asked, hesitating.

"Who, Flackman ... I suppose so," he said carelessly. "His pistol was
found in Sinnit's apartment, and it was known that he quarrelled with
Sinnit about money, and there was a girl in it, I think, although we
have never been able to get sufficient proof of that to put her into the
box. You seldom have direct evidence in cases of this character, Ella,
and in many ways circumstantial evidence is infinitely more damning. If
a witness went into the box and said, 'I saw Flackman shoot Sinnit and
saw Sinnit die,' the whole case would stand or fall by the credibility
of that evidence; prove that witness an habitual liar and there is no
chance of a conviction. On the other hand, when there are six or seven
witnesses, all of whom subscribe to some one act or appearance or
location of a prisoner, and all agreeing ... why, you have him."

She nodded.

Her acquaintance with Jack Freeder had begun on her summer vacation, and
had begun romantically but unconventionally, when a sailing boat
overturned, with its occupant pinned beneath the bulging canvas. It was
Ella, a magnificent swimmer, who, bathing, had seen the accident and
had dived into the sea to the assistance of the drowning man.

"This means a lot to me, Ella," he said earnestly as they turned into
the busy street. "It means the foundation of a new life."

His eyes met hers, and lingered for a second, and she was thrilled.

"Did you see Stephanie last night?" he asked suddenly.

She felt guilty.

"No," she admitted, "but I don't think you ought to worry about that,
Jack. Stephanie is expecting the money almost by any mail."

"She has been expecting the money almost by any mail for a month past,"
he said dryly, "and in the meantime this infernal note is becoming due.
What I can't understand----"

She interrupted him with a laugh.

"You can't understand why they accepted my signature as a guarantee for
Stephanie's," she laughed, "and you are extremely uncomplimentary!"

Stephanie Boston, her some-time room mate, and now her apartmental
neighbor, was a source of considerable worry to Jack Freeder, although
he had only met her once. A handsome, volatile girl, with a penchant for
good clothes and a mode of living out of all harmony with the meager
income she drew from fashion-plate artistry, she had found herself in
difficulties. It was a condition which the wise had long predicted, and
Ella, not so wise, had dreaded. And then one day the young artist had
come to her with an oblong slip of paper, and an incoherent story of
somebody being willing to lend her money if Ella would sign her name;
and Ella Grant, to whom finance was an esoteric mystery, had cheerfully
complied.

"If you were a great heiress, or you were expecting a lot of money
coming to you through the death of a relative," persisted Jack, with a
frown, "I could understand Isaacs being satisfied with your acceptance,
but you aren't!"

Ella laughed softly and shook her head.

"The only relative I have in the world is poor dear Uncle Chartres, who
loathes me! I used to loathe him too, but I've got over that. After
daddy died I lived with him for a few months, but we quarrelled
over--over--well, I won't tell you what it was about, because I am sure
he was sorry. I had a fiendish temper as a child, and I threw a knife at
him."

"Good Lord!" gasped Jack, staring at her.

She nodded solemnly.

"I did--so you see there is very little likelihood of Uncle Chartres,
who is immensely rich, leaving me anything more substantial than the
horrid weapon with which I attempted to slay him!"

Jack was silent. Isaacs was a professional moneylender ... he was not a
philanthropist.

When Ella got home that night she determined to perform an unpleasant
duty. She had not forgotten Jack Freeder's urgent insistence upon her
seeing Stephanie Boston--she had simply avoided the unpalatable.

Stephanie's flat was on the first floor; her own was immediately above.
She considered for a long time before she pressed the bell.

Grace, Stephanie's elderly maid, opened the door, and her eyes were red
with recent weeping.

"What is the matter?" asked Ella in alarm.

"Come in, miss," said the servant miserably. "Miss Boston left a letter
for you."

"Left?" repeated Ella wonderingly. "Has she gone away?"

"She was gone when I came this morning. The bailiffs have been here...."

Ella's heart sank.

The letter was short but eminently lucid:

    "I am going away, Ella. I do hope that you will forgive me. That
    wretched bill has become due and I simply cannot face you again. I
    will work desperately hard to repay you, Ella."

The girl stared at the letter, not realizing what it all meant.
Stephanie had gone away!

"She took all her clothes, miss. She left this morning, and told the
porter she was going into the country; and she owes me three weeks'
wages!"

Ella went upstairs to her own flat, dazed and shaken. She herself had no
maid; a woman came every morning to clean the flat, and Ella had her
meals at a neighboring restaurant.

As she made the last turn of the stairs she was conscious that there was
a man waiting on the landing above, with his back to her door. Though
she did not know him, he evidently recognized her, for he raised his
hat. She had a dim idea that she had seen him somewhere before, but for
the moment could not recollect the circumstances.

"Good evening, Miss Grant," he said amiably. "I think we have met
before. Miss Boston introduced me--name of Higgins."

She shook her head.

"I am afraid I don't remember you," she said, and wondered whether his
business was in connection with Stephanie's default.

"I brought the paper up that you signed about three months ago."

Then she recalled him and went cold.

"Mr. Isaacs didn't want to make any kind of trouble," he said. "The bill
became due a week ago and we have been trying to get Miss Boston to pay.
As it is, it looks very much as though you will have to find the money."

"When?" she asked in dismay.

"Mr. Isaacs will give you until to tomorrow night," said the man. "I
have been waiting here since five o'clock to see you. I suppose it is
convenient, miss?"

Nobody knew better than Mr. Isaacs' clerk that it would be most
inconvenient, not to say impossible, for Ella Grant to produce four
hundred pounds.

"I will write to Mr. Isaacs," she said, finding her voice at last.

She sat down in the solitude and dusk of her flat to think things out.
She was overwhelmed, numbed by the tragedy. To owe money that she could
not pay was to Ella Grant an unspeakable horror.

There was a letter in the letter-box. She had taken it out mechanically
when she came in, and as mechanically slipped her fingers through the
flap and extracted a folded paper. But she put it down without so much
as a glance at its contents.

What would Jack say? What a fool she had been, what a perfectly reckless
fool! She had met difficulties before, and had overcome them. When she
had left her uncle's house as a child of fourteen and had subsisted on
the slender income which her father had left her, rejecting every
attempt on the part of Chartres Dane to make her leave the home of an
invalid maiden aunt where she had taken refuge, she had faced what she
believed was the supreme crisis of life.

But this was different.

Chartres Dane! She rejected the thought instantly, only to find it
recurring. Perhaps he would help. She had long since overcome any
ill-feeling she had towards him, for whatever dislike she had, had been
replaced by a sense of shame and repentance. She had often been on the
point of writing him to beg his forgiveness, but had stopped short at
the thought that he might imagine she had some ulterior motive in
seeking to return to his good graces. He was her relative. He had some
responsibility ... again the thought inserted itself, and suddenly she
made up her mind.

Chartres Dane's house lay twelve miles out of town, a great rambling
place set on the slopes of a wooded hill, a place admirably suited to
his peculiar love of solitude.

She had some difficulty in finding a taxi-driver who was willing to make
the journey, and it had grown dark, though a pale light still lingered
in the western skies, when she descended from the cab at the gateway of
Hevel House. There was a lodge at the entrance of the gate, but this had
long since been untenanted. She found her way up the long drive to the
columned portico in front of the house. The place was in darkness, and
she experienced a pang of apprehension. Suppose he was not there? (Even
if he were, he would not help her, she told herself.) But the
possibility of his being absent, however, gave her courage.

Her hand was on the bell when there came to her a flash of memory. At
such an hour he would be sitting in the window-recess overlooking the
lawn at the side of the house. She had often seen him there on warm
summer nights, his glass of port on the broad window-ledge, a cigar
clenched between his white teeth, brooding out into the darkness.

She came down the steps, and walking on the close-cropped grass
bordering the flower-beds, came slowly, almost stealthily, to the
library window. The big casement was wide open; a faint light showed
within, and she stopped dead, her heart beating a furious rat-a-plan at
the sight of a filled glass on the window-ledge. His habits had not
changed, she thought; he himself would be sitting just out of sight from
where she stood, in that window-recess which was nearest to her.
Summoning all her courage, she advanced still farther. He was not in his
customary place, and she crept nearer to the window.

Colonel Chartres Dane was sitting at a large writing-table in the center
of the room; his back was toward her, and he was writing by the light of
two tall candles that stood upon the table.

At the sight of his back all her courage failed, and, as he rose from
the table, she shrank back into the shadow. She saw his white hand take
up the glass of wine, and after a moment, peeping again, she saw him,
still with his back to her, put it on the table by him as he sat down
again.

She could not do it, she dare not do it, she told herself, and turned
away sorrowfully. She would write to him.

She had stepped from the grass to the path when a man came from an
opening in the bushes and gripped her arm.

"Hello!" he said, "who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"Let me go," she cried, frightened. "I--I----"

"What are you doing by the colonel's window?"

"I am his niece," she said, trying to recover some of her dignity.

"I thought you might be his aunt," said the gamekeeper ironically. "Now,
my girl, I am going to take you in to the colonel----"

With a violent thrust she pushed him from her; the man stumbled and
fell. She heard a thud and a groan, and stood rooted to the spot with
horror.

"Have I hurt you?" she whispered. There was no reply.

She felt, rather than saw, that he had struck his head against a tree in
falling, and turning, she flew down the drive, terrified, nearly
fainting in her fright. The cabman saw her as she flung open the gate
and rushed out.

"Anything wrong?" he asked.

"I--I think I have killed a man," she said incoherently, and then from
the other end of the drive she heard a thick voice cry:

"Stop that girl!"

It was the voice of the gamekeeper, and for a moment the blood came back
to her heart.

"Take me away, quickly, quickly," she cried.

The cabman hesitated.

"What have you been doing?" he asked.

"Take--take me away," she pleaded.

Again he hesitated.

"Jump in," he said gruffly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later John Penderbury, one of the greatest advocates at the
Bar, walked into Jack Freeder's chambers.

The young man sat at his table, his head on his arm, and Penderbury put
his hand lightly upon the shoulders of the stricken man.

"You've got to take a hold of yourself, Freeder," he said kindly. "You
will neither help yourself nor her by going under."

Jack lifted a white, haggard face to the lawyer.

"It is horrible, horrible," he said huskily. "She's as innocent as a
baby. What evidence have they?"

"My dear good fellow," said Penderbury, "the only evidence worth while
in a case like this is circumstantial evidence. If there were direct
evidence we might test the credibility of the witness. But in
circumstantial evidence every piece of testimony dovetails into the
other; each witness creates one strand of the net."

"It is horrible, it is impossible, it is madness to think that Ella
could----"

Penderbury shook his head. Pulling up a chair at the other side of the
table, he sat down, his arms folded, his grave eyes fixed on the younger
man.

"Look at it from a lawyer's point of view, Freeder," he said gently.
"Ella Grant is badly in need of money. She has backed a bill for a
girl-friend and the money is suddenly demanded. A few minutes after
learning this from Isaacs' clerk, she finds a letter in her flat, which
she has obviously read--the envelope was opened and its contents
extracted--a letter which is from Colonel Dane's lawyers, telling her
that the colonel has made her his sole heiress. She knows, therefore,
that the moment the colonel dies she will be a rich woman. She has in
her handbag a bottle containing cyanide of potassium, and that night,
under the cover of darkness, drives to the colonel's house and is seen
outside the library window by Colonel Dane's gamekeeper. She admitted,
when she was questioned by the detective, that she knew the colonel was
in the habit of sitting by the window and that he usually put his glass
of port on the window-ledge. What was easier than to drop a fatal dose
of cyanide into the wine? Remember, she admitted that she had hated him
and that once she threw a knife at him, wounding him, so that the scar
remained to the day of his death. She admitted herself that it was his
practice to put the wine where she could have reached it."

He drew a bundle of papers from his pocket, unfolded them, and turned
the leaves rapidly.

"Here it is," and he read:

    "Yes, I saw a glass of wine on the window-ledge. The colonel was in
    the habit of sitting in the window on summer evenings. I have often
    seen him there, and I knew when I saw the wine that he was near at
    hand."

He pushed the paper aside and looked keenly at the wretched man before
him.

"She is seen by the gamekeeper, as I say," he went on, "and this man,
attempting to intercept her, she struggles from his grasp and runs down
the drive to the cab. The cabman says she was agitated, and when he
asked her what was the matter, she replied that she had killed a
man----"

"She meant the gamekeeper," interrupted Jack.

"She may or may not, but she made that statement. There are the facts,
Jack; you cannot get past them. The letter from the lawyers--which
she says she never read--the envelope was found open and the letter
taken out; is it likely that she had not read it? The bottle of cyanide
of potassium was found in her possession, and--" he spoke
deliberately--"the colonel was found dead at his desk and death was due
to cyanide of potassium. A candle which stood on his desk had been
overturned by him in his convulsions, and the first intimation the
servants had that anything was wrong was the sight of the blazing papers
on the table, which the gamekeeper saw when he returned to report what
had occurred in the grounds. There is no question what verdict the jury
will return...."

It was a great and a fashionable trial. The courthouse was crowded, and
the public had fought for a few places that were vacant in the gallery.

Sir Johnson Grey, the Attorney-General, was to lead for the Prosecution,
and Penderbury had Jack Freeder as his junior.

The opening trial was due for ten o'clock, but it was half-past ten when
the Attorney-General and Penderbury came into the court, and there was a
light in Penderbury's eyes and a smile on his lips which amazed his
junior.

Jack had only glanced once at the pale, slight prisoner. He dared not
look at her.

"What is the delay?" he asked irritably. "This infernal judge is always
late."

At that moment the court rose as the judge came on to the Bench, and
almost immediately afterwards the Attorney-General was addressing the
court.

"My lord," he said, "I do not purpose offering any evidence in this case
on behalf of the Crown. Last night I received from Dr. Merriget, an
eminent practitioner of Townville, a sworn statement on which I purpose
examining him.

"Dr. Merriget," the Attorney-General went on, "has been traveling in the
Near East, and a letter which was sent to him by the late Colonel Dane
only reached him a week ago, coincident with the doctor learning that
these proceedings had been taken against the prisoner at the bar.

"Dr. Merriget immediately placed himself in communication with the Crown
officers of the law, as a result of which I am in a position to tell
your lordship that I do not intend offering evidence against Ella Grant.

"Apparently Colonel Dane had long suspected that he was suffering from
an incurable disease, and to make sure, he went to Dr. Merriget and
submitted himself to an examination. The reason for his going to a
strange doctor is, that he did not want to have it known that he had
been consulting specialists in town. The doctor confirmed his worst
fears, and Colonel Dane returned to his home. Whilst on the Continent,
the doctor received a letter from Colonel Dane, which I purpose
reading."

He took a letter from the table, adjusted his spectacles, and read:

    "DEAR DR. MERRIGET,--It occurred to me after I had left you the day
    before yesterday, that you must have identified me, for I have a dim
    recollection that we met at a garden party. I am not, as you
    suggested, taking any other advice. I know too well that this
    fibrous growth is beyond cure, and I purpose tonight taking a fatal
    dose of cyanide of potassium. I feel that I must notify you in case
    by a mischance there is some question as to how I met my
    death.--Very sincerely yours,
                                               "CHARTRES DANE."


"I feel that the ends of justice will be served," continued the
Attorney-General "if I call the doctor...."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not very long before another Crown case came the way of Jack
Freeder. A week after his return from his honeymoon, he was sent for to
the Public Prosecutor's office, and that gentleman interviewed him.

"You did so well in the Flackman case, Freeder, that I want you to
undertake the prosecution of Wise. Undoubtedly you will gain kudos in a
trial of this description, for the Wise case has attracted a great deal
of attention."

"What is the evidence?" asked Jack bluntly.

"Circumstantial, of course," said the Public Prosecutor, "but----"

Jack shook his head.

"I think not, sir," he said firmly but respectfully. "I will not
prosecute in another case of murder unless the murder is committed in my
presence."

The Public Prosecutor stared at him.

"That means you will never take another murder prosecution--have you
given up criminal work, Mr. Freeder?"

"Yes, sir," said Jack gravely; "my wife doesn't like it."

Today, Jack Freeder is referred to in legal circles as a glaring example
of how a promising career can be ruined by marriage.




Fighting Snub Reilly


Ten minutes before Snub Reilly left his dressing-room a messenger
delivered a letter. His seconds and his manager protested against his
reading anything which might well be disturbing at such a critical
moment, for the little man was fighting for his title, and Curly Boyd,
the aspirant to championship honors, had knocked out four successive
opponents before he claimed his right to a meeting with the World
Champion.

"Let me see it," said Snub, and he was something of an autocrat. The
letter was typewritten and was signed by two reputable men whose names
were honored in the sporting world.

Snub read the letter slowly.

"A challenge," he said tersely, "for £10,000 a side."

"Who is the feller?" asked his manager.

"They call him 'An Unknown'; he wants to meet the winner of tonight's
fight. Send a wire and say I accept."

His manager grinned. He was a stout man with a moist face, and he had
infinite confidence in Snub, but----

"Better wait till after the fight?" he suggested.

"Send it," said Snub curtly, and put on his dressing-gown.

Manager Seller dispatched the wire, not without some discomfort of mind.
The fourth round brought him relief.

Curly Boyd, an approved European champion, had himself to thank for such
an early ending to his rosy dreams. He had detected, as he thought, a
certain unsteadiness in Snub's leg movements, an uncertainty that was a
hint of a stagger. So Curly, relying upon his excellent fitness, had put
everything into a projected left and right. Incidentally he was fighting
the greatest ring strategist of his day, and when he uncovered his jaw
for the fraction of a second....

"Eight ... nine ... ten--out!" said a far-away voice in Curly's ear.
Somebody shook him by his gloved hand, and he heard above the roaring in
his head a louder roar, and dropped his head wearily to catch a glimpse
of a figure in a flowered dressing-gown slipping through the gangway
into the gloom behind the ring seats.

It was a fine thing for Snub, because the eyes of the world were on that
fight--outside the building limousines were parked twenty deep--and
before he reached his dressing-room the news of his victory was
quivering in dots and dashes on every line and cable that ran from the
city.

He stripped off his dressing-gown and submitted to the attentions of the
masseur with some sign of impatience. Ten minutes after the fight he
left the building by a side door, and mingled with the thousands who
crowded about the entrances. Modesty was Snub Reilly's favorite vice.

The echoes of such a combat were not to die down in a day, for Snub was
something of a national hero. This champion who never gave interviews,
who was so taciturn and secretive that his very seconds did not meet him
until the day before his fights, appealed to the popular imagination as
no other ring favorite had done. And when, at the end of the press
description, it was announced that "An Unknown" had challenged the
winner for a purse of $50,000 (£10,000), and the challenge had been
accepted, there was an added value to the news.

Even staid and sleepy Rindle, dedicated to the education of youth, was
excited, wildly excited for Rindle. The headmaster read the account of
the fight at breakfast and hummed and ha'd his approval of the lightning
stroke which laid the presumptuous Curly Boyd so low. And on the
opposite side of the breakfast table Vera Shaw, nineteen and beautiful,
hid a newspaper on her lap, read furtively and was thrilled. A group of
boys _en route_ from their dormitories-houses to prayers and morning
school, gathered about one daring soul who had broken all school
regulations by purchasing forbidden literature, and whooped joyously.

It was natural that Barry Tearle, the mathematical master, should stop
in the midst of correcting exercises, hitch up his gown at the neck for
comfort, and sit back to study the account. Natural, because he was also
games master and instructor of the noble art to Rindle School.

He put down the paper with a thoughtful frown and went back to his
exercises, lighting his pipe mechanically the while. Presently he
gathered the papers together and rose. The bell was clanging the warning
for prayers in Hall, at which solemn function all masters were expected
to be present. He hurried across the quadrangle-campus and under the
archway above which was part of the head's quarters. He never passed
under that arch without wondering whether Vera owned those rooms. It was
part of the daily routine of unconscious speculation, and he was so
wondering as he turned to join the stream of boys on the flagged path to
Hall, when he heard his name called.

He turned quickly, startled almost, and swept off his cap.

It was the subject of his thoughts.

"I saw you come home this morning."

She pointed an accusing finger and he blushed.

"Did--did you? My car had a breakdown near Northwood--I hope I didn't
disturb you?"

No errant boy called to his study to explain a delinquency could have
looked more patently guilty than he, and she laughed, and when Vera Shaw
laughed, it required all his self-possession to behave sanely.

"No, you didn't disturb me. I couldn't sleep and was sitting at the
window approving of the moon when you sneaked into the quad--there is no
other word for it. Did you see the fight?" she asked suddenly, and he
gasped.

"No, I did _not_ see the fight," he said severely; "and I'm
surprised----"

"Pooh!" She flicked her finger at him. "I've read every bit about it. Do
tell me who is 'An Unknown' who is going to fight that darling
Snub--run, you'll be late!"

The bell had stopped, the trembling note of the organ quivered in the
still air, and Barry gathered up his gown and sprinted. He hoped she
would be waiting when chapel ended, and was the first to leave after the
final "amen." She was standing where he had left her, but Sellinger was
with her, and, forgetful of the admirable charity toward all men which
he had so recently intoned, Barry cursed Sellinger most heartily.

John Sellinger lived in Rindle; his ancestors had founded Rindle School,
and he himself assumed the style and manner and mental attitude of
hereditary patron saint to the school. He was tall, overtopping Barry by
six inches, florid, well fed, and prosperous. He was good-looking too,
in a heavy, aquiline way. And he made no secret that his patronage of
Rindle might extend to acquiring relationship with its headmaster.

"Morning, Tearle. I suppose you didn't see the fight?"

"No, I _didn't_ see the fight," said Barry savagely. "Have I nothing
better to do--did you?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes, rather--I was just telling Vera all about it. Wonderful fellow,
Reilly. Smaller even than you."

"Is it possible?" asked Barry, affecting an extravagant surprise. "Could
you see him?"

"Don't be sarcastic," said Mr. Sellinger. "Of course you could see
him--you don't see much of him from where I sat, he doesn't stand still
long enough, but, boy, he's a fighter!"

"So the papers say," said Barry wearily.

"As to the unknown idiot who wants to fight him----"

"Good morning," said Barry shortly, and with a lift of his hat went on.

"Curious fellow that." Sellinger shook his head. "Can't quite make him
out, Vera."

"Mr. Sellinger." Her tone was very quiet.

"Yes, Vera?"

"Will you please not call me by my Christian name?"

He was surprised and hurt.

"But, my dear child----"

"But I'm not your dear child," she said in the same voice. "I'm not even
a child."

He drew himself erect, for he was a Sellinger of Rindle; and Sellingers
of Rindle have drawn themselves erect for several centuries at the mere
suggestion that they could not do just what their sweet fancy dictated.

"Of course, if you wish it, Ve--Miss--er--Shaw; by all means. I'm sorry
if I've offended you."

He was not sorry except for himself, of course; but it was the kind of
reply that a representative of the oldest family in the county should
make.

"You haven't offended me--only I don't like it. Why do you think that
Mr. Tearle is curious?"

"Well," he hesitated, "a schoolmaster isn't the best paid professional
in the world, and yet Tearle lives in style, has a car of his own, is
always dressed well."

She looked at him in that weary, patient way which women can make so
offensive.

"Other people have money--you have money, and yet it isn't curious," she
said coldly. "Or do you think it is curious because you haven't got it
all?"

He smiled indulgently.

"How like you to defend him!" he said, and before indignation could
permit an appropriate reply he went on: "Did your father say whether the
School Extension Committee was meeting at the usual hour?"

She shook her head and half turned to go.

"I wish----" he began, and stopped.

"You wish?"

"Well"--this time his halt of speech was less natural--"I wish that
other arrangements would be made about----"

"About what?" She was exasperated by his studied hesitations, but she
was curious.

"About the money that has been raised for the school extension. It is a
tremendous sum for a--well, for an ill-paid master to handle."

He knew he had made a mistake before the words were out, for the girl's
face had gone from crimson to white as the drift of his meaning
appeared.

"Do you"--she was breathless, and her voice sounded strange even to
her--"do you--mean to suggest that Mr. Tearle--gets his money for
motor-cars ... oh, it's too absurd--too wicked--how dare you!"

He blinked at her in amazement. He had never regarded her as anything
but a soft, fluffy, kitteny thing, and a possible ornament to his gloomy
house. He looked aghast upon a fury; her gray eyes, dark with passion,
her lips straight drawn and unbecoming. That is the impression he
carried away with him--her mouth was unbecoming in anger.

"My dear----" he began.

"You must have an evil mind to think such things," she flamed. "I hate
you!"

He stood as a man petrified until she had disappeared through the porch
of Dr. Shaw's study. Then he pulled up his collar, and stalked haughtily
through the schoolhouse gate.

"Very unbecoming," he spluttered to himself. "Very unladylike ... very
unnecessary...."

Vera Shaw saw him depart from the window of her bedroom, and made faces
at him which were unbecoming and certainly unladylike. Then she sat on
the edge of her bed and wept bitterly. Which was unnecessary.

Dr. Shaw came into lunch ten minutes earlier than she had expected, and
brought Sellinger with him, to the girl's intense annoyance.

"I've asked Sellinger to stay to lunch, Vera," he said. "Will you tell
Mrs. Burdon to put another place at the table? We have a meeting of the
Extension Committee this afternoon, and I cannot send Mr. Sellinger all
the way back."

A more sensitive man than Sellinger might have been hurt by the apology
for his invitation; but Sellinger was not that kind of man. He smiled
graciously upon the girl, and in that smile conveyed a tacit agreement
that what had happened that morning should be overlooked and forgotten.

Fortunately for Vera, there was little need for her to speak, for the
conversation centered about the afternoon committee meeting. She was
alert for any comment which might be remotely disparaging to Barry
Tearle; but Mr. Sellinger, with unexampled wisdom, was careful to keep
off the subject, and when Tearle's name came into the conversation it
was Dr. Shaw who was responsible.

"There was rather an unpleasant little incident this morning in town,"
he said--and when those of Rindle School referred to "town," they meant
all that part of Rindle which was not school. "I don't know what started
it, but I'm quite sure the boy was not in the wrong."

"Is one of the boys in trouble, Father?" asked Vera quickly.

"Well, not exactly in trouble. You remember--do you know the man
Crickley--he has a tumbledown shanty on the Jamaica Road?"

She nodded.

"An awful ruffian," she said; "he was at court last year, and he drinks,
doesn't he?"

"I should imagine he had been drinking this morning. He was going
through the town with his unfortunate wife, and apparently something she
said disagreed with him--at any rate, the brute hit her first with his
stick, and although I don't suppose he hurt her very much, one of the
boys of the fifth--young Tilling, to be exact--who happened to be
passing, interfered...."

"Good for him!" said the girl, her eyes sparkling.

Dr. Shaw smiled.

"It looked like being bad for him," he said. "For the blackguard turned
his attention to the boy, and had him by the scruff of his neck,
according to accounts, when Tearle, who was going over to the higher
mathematical set, came upon the scene. I understand he asked the man
very civilly to release the boy; whereupon he certainly loosed his hold
of the boy, but he struck at Tearle."

The girl opened her mouth in consternation.

"Was he--was he hurt?" she asked.

"No, I don't think he was," the doctor chuckled quietly. "Tearle, you
know"--he turned to Sellinger--"is our games master, and a rattling good
instructor in boxing. I saw the captain of the school, who witnessed the
encounter, and he is most enthusiastic about what followed."

"Did he strike the man? Was there a brawl?" asked Sellinger, ready to be
shocked.

"I don't think there was much of a brawl, but he certainly struck the
man," said the doctor dryly. "Crickley had to be assisted away."

Sellinger shook his head heavily.

"I don't know whether that sort of thing's good for Rindle," he said, in
his capacity of patron saint.

"Nonsense!" said the doctor sharply, and the girl beamed upon her
father. "A most excellent lesson and example to the boys. It means, of
course, that the boys in Tearle's form will give themselves airs, but it
is what I would term a most excellent thing to have happened."

Sellinger was discreetly silent on this conclusion.

"I talked to Tearle after school," he said. "Of course, Tearle was most
apologetic." He paused and frowned. "Do you know, Vera," he said, "I had
the most extraordinary impression when I was speaking to Tearle. In this
morning's paper--which, of course, you haven't read, my dear, at least
not the part that I am referring to--there was a reference to a
challenge which had been issued by a certain Unknown to the boxer, Snub
Reilly."

"You don't mean that----" she said breathlessly.

"Yes, I had that impression--that Tearle was the Unknown. You see, I
mentioned the fight of the previous evening, and I talked to him about
the challenge, just as I might talk to Sellinger here, in an ordinary
matter-of-fact way. And do you know that he went as red as a beetroot?"

Sellinger laughed loud and heartily.

"That would be too absurd," he said contemptuously. "I grant that our
friend Tearle may be a most excellent boxer, but an excellent amateur
has no earthly chance against even a third-class professional; and Snub
Reilly is at the top of his class."

Dr. Shaw shrugged.

"I agree it is ridiculous," he said.

"Besides," Sellinger went on, enlarging his argument, "before that match
can occur, somebody has got to find ten thousand pounds; and ten
thousand pounds is a lot of money----"

Vera was looking at him, and their eyes met. She saw in his the dawn of
a great suspicion, and her hand gripped the handle of her bread-knife
murderously. It was Sellinger who changed the subject abruptly, but the
girl knew that he was far from relinquishing his theory.

Sellinger went out to telephone to his house, and the girl was left
alone with her father.

"Daddie," she said, "do you like Mr. Sellinger?"

He looked at her over his glasses.

"No, dear; to be candid," he said slowly, "I think him a most
unmitigated bore."

She held out her hand solemnly and her father gripped it.

"I think you are the most wonderful father in the world," she said. "And
all this time I was thinking that you loved him."

"I loathe him," said her father frankly, "in so far as it is possible
for a person of my profession to loathe anybody. But the Sellingers are
a sort of tradition at Rindle, and one has to be civil to them."

"I'm going to tell you something."

She walked over and shut the door which Sellinger had left open.

"Do you know what he suggested to me this morning?"

"Who, Sellinger?"

She nodded.

"He suggested that the School Extension funds are being stolen by Mr.
Tearle."

Dr. Shaw jumped up, pink with anger.

"How dare he? It's a monstrous suggestion!" he said. "I shall tell
him----"

"No, you'll tell him nothing," said Vera hastily. "What is the use of my
giving you my confidence? I am only telling you for your guidance."

Mr. Shaw sat down in his chair again.

"A disgraceful suggestion," he rumbled, "and palpably stupid.
Certainly, Tearle as treasurer has control of the money."

"Is it cash? I mean, could you go into a room and take so many hundreds
or thousands from a box?" asked the girl, and Dr. Shaw laughed.

"Of course not. The money is represented by certain securities--stocks
in various industries and railways. Tearle has the handling and the care
of these stocks--he is a capital man of business. But to suggest----!"
he fumed, and it needed all the girl's power of persuasion to bring him
back to a condition of calm.

Mr. Sellinger went home that night deep in thought, and sat up until two
o'clock in the morning writing letters to his friends. One of these
friends was an editor of a newspaper closely identified with sport, and
from him in a few days he learned more particulars of the challenge
which had been issued to the great Snub Reilly. The fifty thousand
dollars had to be deposited by the fifth of the following month, the sum
being lodged in the bank in the name of three prominent sportsmen, one
of whom was the writer. Where would Tearle get his fifty thousand? He
was absolutely certain that Tearle was the challenger, and the news he
had from the school confirmed him in his opinion. Further confirmation
came one day at a committee meeting when Tearle had taken some papers
from his pocket. Amongst them Sellinger saw a somewhat gaudy print. It
was strangely familiar to him, but it was not until he got home that it
flashed upon him that the print was a program of the Reilly-Boyd fight!
So Tearle had been a spectator after all! And he had sworn that he had
not seen the fight! The master, too, was in strict training, and once,
looking from his bedroom in the dark hours of the morning--Sellinger was
not a good sleeper--he saw a figure in white vest and shorts run past
the lodge entrance, and recognized Barry Tearle as the runner.

The weeks that followed were for Mr. Sellinger weeks of interest and
investigation. At a meeting of the Extension Committee, which gathered
once a week to transact formal business, he asked for and secured a list
of the securities held by the treasurer. And with this in his possession
he bided his time.

There arrived at this period an unobtrusive individual who took lodgings
in the village and appeared to have very little to do except to loaf
about the school and watch the boys and the masters go in and out. He
was a charming man, who made friends with the postmaster, and was on
good terms with all the tradesmen before he had been in the village
three days. One night Sellinger was finishing his dinner when a visitor
was announced. It was the stranger, who greeted his employer
deferentially.

"Well, Mr. Sellinger," he said, with satisfaction, "I have a few items
of information for you which will interest you."

"Have you got him?" asked Mr. Sellinger eagerly.

"I wouldn't like to say that," said the detective, "but I rather fancy
that if we haven't got him, we've put him in a very tight corner."

He took a notebook from his pocket, and turned the leaves.

"Yesterday afternoon Tearle sent a registered envelope to Taylor and
Grime, the brokers. I got the address, because I'm a friend of the
postmaster's--anyway, that was easy. I went straight up to the city by
the night train, and called at Taylor and Grime the next morning, and it
couldn't have happened better for me, because there's a clerk in the
office who I know very well. As a matter of fact, I saved him from a
whole lot of trouble a couple of years ago."

"What was it that Tearle sent?" asked Sellinger, holding his breath.

"Five thousand shares in the Rochester and Holbeach Railroad, one
thousand shares in the Land Development Syndicate, and a thousand shares
in the Newport Dock Corporation."

"Wait a moment," said Sellinger hastily, and went to his desk. He came
back with a list.

"Read the names of those stocks over again," he said, and the detective
complied.

"That's it!" Sellinger nodded. "All these shares are held by Tearle on
behalf of the School Extension Fund!"

The detective looked at him curiously.

"Well, what are you going to do--pinch him?" he asked, and Mr. Sellinger
smiled.

"No," he said softly, "I don't think we need arrest him yet awhile."

He paced up and down the room.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," he said. "I'm having the masters up to
dinner tomorrow night. It's a practice that the Sellingers have always
followed since the foundation of the school--I suppose you know that
Rindle School was founded by one of my ancestors."

The detective did not know, but bowed reverently.

"Tearle lives with old Mrs. Gold in the High Street," Sellinger went on.
"She's as deaf as a brick, and I believe goes to bed every night at nine
o 'clock. His rooms are a long way from where she and the servants
sleep, and anyway she's so deaf that she wouldn't hear you."

"What's the idea?" asked the detective

"Whilst I have Mr. Tearle here"--Sellinger emphasized his words with a
regular thrust of his finger into his hireling's waistcoat--"you will
make a very careful search through Tearle's papers."

The detective nodded.

"I get you," he said. "But how am I to find my way into the house?"

"The front door is always unfastened when Tearle is out at night," said
Sellinger. "He was telling the Head last week that he never carried a
key, and most of the houses leave their doors open--there is no crime in
Rindle.

"Except what we commit," said the detective humorously.

"That," said Mr. Sellinger gravely, "is an impertinence. This is not a
crime: I am acting in the best interests of justice."

The Sellinger dinner, which, as Mr. Sellinger said, was a feature of
Rindle School life, was a deadly dull affair to two of the guests. For
the host, with commendable foresight, had so arranged the seats that
Vera Shaw sat at one end of the board on his right, and Barry Tearle at
the other end of the long table on Dr. Shaw's right. This arrangement
suited Mr. Sellinger admirably, because he had a proposal to make to
Vera, the terms of which had taken a good day's thought. The girl, who
would never have attended but for the fact that the three mistresses
which Rindle boasted were present, was openly bored--a fact which Mr.
Sellinger did not observe.

They were half-way through dinner when Sellinger exposed his grand
scheme.

"Miss Vera," he said (he had compromised to that extent), "I want to
make a suggestion to you, and I wonder how you'll take it?"

"That depends upon the suggestion," she said coolly.

"It may shock you," he began cautiously, lowering his voice. "But--how
would you like to see the fight?"

"See the fight?" she repeated, startled. "Do you mean the fight
between----"

"Between Snub Reilly and the Great Unknown," he said jocularly.

She thought a moment.

"I hardly think I'd like to see it at all," she said. "I do not approve
of women attending such exhibitions."

"Suppose the Great Unknown were a friend of yours?" he said
deliberately, and her face went pink.

"How absurd! Do you suggest----"

"I not only suggest, but I know," he said. "You must promise not to tell
Tearle, because, if my surmise is correct, he would be upset by your
knowing, and maybe the thing would peter out."

"But it's nonsense," she said contemptuously. "How could Mr. Tearle find
ten thousand----" She bit her lip.

"He may have friends," said Sellinger suavely.

There was a silence.

"Do you think he could win--supposing he were--the--Unknown?"

"Why not?" lied Sellinger. "I'm told he is a very brilliant boxer, and
I'm not so sure that Snub Reilly couldn't be beaten."

He saw the girl's head turn slowly, and, as if obeying a common impulse,
Barry Tearle raised his head at that moment.

"Why do you want me to go?" she asked suddenly. But he was prepared for
that: it was in framing the answer to such a question that he had spent
the morning.

"Because," he said stoutly, "I think he will win. And, what is more"--it
cost him a greater effort to deliver this sentiment than to carry out
the rest of the scheme--"because I've an idea that Tearle is fond of
you."

She turned quickly away, and did not reply for some minutes.

"I'll go on one condition," she said, "and I think that it can be
managed. I have to go to town, and my aunt has asked me to stay the
night--I can easily pretend that I am going to a theatre. Who will take
me?"

"I, of course," said Mr. Sellinger gallantly, and she nodded.

"What is the condition?" he asked.

"That if you find you are wrong, and the--the Unknown is not
Mr.--Tearle--you will take me away."

"Of course," said Mr. Sellinger heartily. "I wouldn't dream of allowing
you to see the fight unless our friend was involved. Now remember, Miss
Vera, it is absolutely necessary that you should not mention this matter
to Mr. Tearle. Let it be a surprise to him. I can imagine," he went on,
"how delighted he would be, how nerved for the--er--combat."

"Don't let us talk about it any more," she said.

To Barry Tearle's intense disappointment she left with her father, and
scarcely spoke two words to him. He was puzzled. What had she and
Sellinger been talking about so earnestly? he wondered. Did they
know--he went pale at the thought.

He walked back to his lodgings a greatly worried young man.

The last guest had hardly departed before the detective was ushered into
Sellinger's library, and one glance at his face revealed to that
gentleman the measure of his success.

"We've got him, sir," he said exultantly. "Here you are." He laid a
sheet of paper before the other.

"What is this?"

"I've copied them from a letter which I found on his table."

Mr. Sellinger picked up the paper and fixed his glasses. It was from a
city bank and acknowledged the receipt of fifty thousand dollars which
had been paid into Barry Tearle's account. But it was the second extract
which filled Mr. Sellinger with joy. It was merely three lines copied
from the counterfoil of Barry Tearle's check-book, which showed that the
sum of fifty thousand dollars had been made out in favor of the Fight
Committee!

Mr. Sellinger rubbed his hands.

"You've done splendidly, my friend, splendidly," he said. "Now, what
shall we do?"

"You ought to have him arrested at once," said the detective, shaking
his head. "Unless you take immediate steps, you'll never recover that
money."

"No, no," said Sellinger.

He knew something better than that, but this he did not explain to the
detective. He was going to see Tearle beaten--and somebody else was
going to see him beaten too. And when the fight was over, the comedy
would develop into drama and melodrama at that.

"I want somebody to have a lesson," he said solemnly, "a lesson which
they will never forget in their lives, and which may have a lasting
beneficial effect upon their future. To the uninitiated, my act may seem
a cruel one; but it is often necessary, my friend, that one should be
cruel to be kind."

"But what about the money?" asked the puzzled but practical detective.
"That is going to be lost."

"I don't think so," said Mr. Sellinger. "If it is, then I am happily in
a position to make good to the school the amount that this man has
stolen."

He might have kept his secret, he might have maintained his outward calm
to the grand dénouement; but it was impossible that he could keep his
knowledge pent so long. The girl left for town early on the morning of
the fight, and Barry, when he learned she had gone, and had gone without
seeing him, felt as though the motor of life had dropped out. He himself
went up by the afternoon train, having secured permission from the Head.
An hour before he left, Dr. Shaw sent for him, and the doctor was
obviously ill at ease.

"You wanted me, sir?" said Barry, coming into the study, and the Head
looked round with a start.

"Yes, er--yes, Tearle," said the doctor uncomfortably. "Sit down, will
you? I wanted to say to you--that I wish you luck."

He put out his hand.

"I'm a little worried, you know, Tearle, about it all, and to me it
seems that you haven't a ghost of a chance."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"I mean, I believe you are the Unknown who has challenged this boxer,
and somehow I wish you hadn't. It is not that I disapprove of boxing,
and although there is certain to be a little trouble if the truth comes
out that you are the challenger, we can get over that. No, it's the fear
that you have risked your own private fortune"--he hesitated--"unless,
of course, you persuaded your friends to assist you?"

"No, sir, it is all my own money," said Barry Tearle steadily.

"I hope you win." Dr. Shaw shook him cheerfully by the hand. "You're a
good fellow, Tearle, and--and I hope you win; and I'm sure if my--if my
girl knew, and of course she doesn't dream that you are taking part in
this contest, that she would echo my wishes."

Barry wrung his hand in silence and left with a little lump in his
throat.

It was a grand adventure for the girl. All day she had thought about
nothing else, and alternated between hope and dread. Sometimes it was
dread of the spectacle she would see; sometimes--and more often--it was
the picture of Barry Tearle's failure which made her shiver. The
faithful Mr. Sellinger arrived at nine o'clock in the evening. He was in
his most jovial mood, as he had reason to be, for he had just parted
from two Central Office detectives after putting them in possession of
the vital facts.

He had arranged that the girl should arrive at the theatre where the
fight was taking place, in time to miss some of the minor encounters
which preceded it, and it was while they were waiting in the vestibule
for one such contest to finish that he was hailed by a friend, and left
her for a moment.

Vera was feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable. It did not bring ease
to her mind that there were other ladies present. She felt ashamed and
furtive and mean, and for the first time she began to have serious
doubts as to what effect her presence would have upon the man whose
victory she desired.

She still told herself that Sellinger was mistaken, and that the
challenger was some other person than Barry, but in her heart of hearts
she knew that she would see the man she loved within that cruel ring;
and the thought of it set her heart thumping wildly.

"Talk to me later, Johnson. I'm going to get my seat," she heard
Sellinger say, and then he took her arm and led her down a long aisle.

The theatre was in darkness save for the brilliant lights which hung
above a square, white platform.

So that was the ring! It was smaller than she had expected. She looked
round at the spectators in the gloom, and thought she had never seen so
many thousands of faces so close together. She was seized with a panic
as to what all those thousands would say if Barry was defeated. Would
they cheer? She stopped, gripping fast to Sellinger's arm. She couldn't
bear that.

"I don't think I'll go in," she whispered. "I really don't think that I
can stand it."

"Come along," said Sellinger soothingly, and led her down to a ring
seat.

She was too near. She knew that she was too near. She would rather see
this thing at such a distance as made it impossible to distinguish
between one fighter and the other. But she was there now and she must
stay. And then it was that Sellinger could keep his secret no longer.

There was some delay, they learned. Snub had not arrived, but had
telephoned that he was on the way. But for the delay, and the
opportunity which it gave him, Sellinger might have maintained his
silence to the end. But now he bent over the girl, and step by step
traced the progress of his investigations, and she listened, chilled
with horror. She could not even find the words to protest.

He might have noticed her distress, and in pity have toned down his
lurid recital; but he was hot with triumph, and found a joy in his
brutality. And then the climax came, when the girl was clutching to the
arm of her chair, half fainting. The man to whom Sellinger had spoken in
the vestibule came up, and said Snub had arrived. Mr. Johnson was stout,
red faced, and white haired.

"Is the Unknown here?" demanded Sellinger with a grim smile.

"Oh yes, he's here. I'm told he's going to----"

"He's going nowhere," almost shouted Sellinger. "I've got a couple of
detectives waiting for him, my friend."

"Oh, don't, don't!" said Vera, white to her lips.

"A couple of detectives?" The man looked from one to the other. "Well, I
think that's rotten of you, Sellinger. The man has had his punishment.
Why should he have more?"

"You know him, then?"

"I know him very well indeed," said Sellinger. "I don't know about his
punishment."

"He had two years' imprisonment for forgery in Australia. He was one of
the best lightweights we've had in this country for years. I told them
that they ought to have come out boldly and told the public that it is
Kid Mackay who was challenging; but the men who are behind him insisted
on introducing him as 'An Unknown,' an idiotic piece of tactics."

The color was coming back to the girl's face as her eyes were fixed upon
the other.

"Who is he?" she whispered.

"Kid Mackay, madam," said Sellinger's friend, and went on: "One of the
best lads in the ring three years ago----"

"Then it's not Tearle?" wailed Sellinger.

Such a look of bewilderment was on his face that she could have laughed.
Then with a start she remembered.

"You must take me away. You promised that if it was not----"

Her words were interrupted by a roar. A man was coming down one of the
aisles in a purple dressing-gown. As he swung up between the ropes, his
broad, good-humored face all smiles, one half the audience recognized
the Unknown as the erstwhile champion and understood the reticence that
his backers had shown.

But now a greater roar shook the building. Another figure moved amidst
his seconds, and leaping lightly up to the ring, dodged through the
ropes. From every part of the vast hall came a shout:

"Snub--Snub Reilly!"

"Snub Reilly!" Mr. Sellinger's voice was hollow, and then Snub Reilly
turned, and the girl half rose from her seat.

For the man who stared down at her with wonder in his open eyes was
Barry Tearle!

Mr. Sellinger sat, stricken dumb, his mouth agape. As for the girl, she
looked on as if in a trance. She saw the preliminaries, watched the
opening of the first round, her eyes never leaving the lithe figure that
leaped and lunged. She could hear the thud of gloves as they struck,
but whose gloves they were and who was being struck she could not tell.
It was at the beginning of the second round that "the Unknown" forced
the fighting, in spite of the injunctions and prayers of his seconds to
remain strictly on the defensive for the first eight rounds. Right and
left flashed Snub's terrible fists. The Unknown staggered. A second blow
to the jaw landed, timed to the fraction of a second....

The fight was over. It was over, too, for Vera Shaw, and Barry Tearle
leaped the ropes in time to catch her as she fainted....

It was in the Head's study the next morning that Barry Tearle, unmarked
by his exertions the night before, told his story.

"My father was a boxer," he said. "He used to travel the country fairs,
and every penny he made he put into my education. He did something
more--he taught me the game as no man knew it better than he. He died
whilst I was at the University, and it looked as though my education was
going to stop short. I loved my studies, and I loved the life I had
planned for myself. But I wanted money. I had no friends or influence.
One morning at breakfast I saw in the sporting press a challenge issued
on behalf of a man whom I had seen fight, and whom I thought I could
beat. I pawned everything I had to cover his modest stake, and, adopting
the name of Snub Reilly--Reilly is my second name, by the way--I fought
him and won. I have fought during every vacation for three years,
and"--he looked down at the girl--"I have fought my last fight."

The doctor cleared his throat.

"Vera has told me something of Mr. Sellinger's accusation. You sold some
bonds?"

Barry nodded.

"They were my own bonds," he said. "I had to raise ten thousand pounds
to cover this challenge. They were bonds similar to those which you held
for the Extension Fund."

"Naturally," Dr. Shaw nodded, "you would buy the best stock, both for
the school and for yourself."

He was looking down at his blotting-pad thoughtfully.

"You have fought your last fight?" he said.

Barry nodded.

"Yes, sir. From now on, Snub Reilly disappears. I have made a
considerable sum, quite sufficient for my needs."

"Nobody at the school knows you are--Snub Reilly?"

"Except Mr. Sellinger," said Vera.

"I do not think Mr. Sellinger will be anxious to talk about the part he
has played in a business which is only discreditable in so far as he has
been concerned," said Dr. Shaw.

For the second time in twenty-four hours he put out his hand.

"I rather think," he said, "I should like to have seen that fight.
Wouldn't you, Vera?"

The girl shuddered and shook her head.

"Of course not, of course not. How could I ask such a thing?" said the
doctor tenderly, and he dropped his hand on her shoulder. "You couldn't
imagine my little girl in that sort of atmosphere, could you, Tearle?"

Mr. Barry Tearle shook his head. He and Vera went out together into the
old-world quadrangle, and neither spoke.

"I must go into the house now, Barry," she said. "You--you weren't very
much hurt last night?" she added anxiously. "Oh, my dear, I was so happy
when you won." She laid her hands impulsively on his breast. "And I've
quite forgiven your little lie!"

"My little lie!" He was astonished.

"You said you had not seen the fight that night."

He smiled.

"I didn't see it," he insisted. "I felt it--but I didn't see it."

Since the classrooms overlook the quadrangle, what followed would have
been witnessed by the whole of the fifth classical form but for the tact
of the head prefect of School House who happened to be standing by the
window, and closed it with a bang.




A Romance in Brown


"Romance ...? Yes, of a kind. Romance brings up the nine-fifteen ... and
there is romance in ... well, courtship and that sort of thing. But life
is fairly humdrum and unexciting. Wars ... at a distance are immensely
stirring, but close at hand, look rather like a street accident
multiplied by millions. Life is utterly devoid of sensation, and romance
is really sensation of a pleasant kind."

James Calcott Berkley sniffed.

"I wouldn't have your mind for money," he said, and his senior partner
chuckled softly to himself.

He was a stout man and comfortable. You could not imagine him without a
stiff collar and a heavy watch-guard. Jim often wondered what he looked
like in pyjamas--the chances were that he wore a nightshirt anyway--a
silk nightshirt with broad magenta stripes.

"Money doesn't buy experience," said Mr. Calley. "Years,
disappointments, knowing successions of exquisitely featured chorus
girls and small-part ladies, who look like Athens at its palmiest, and
talk like the Old Kent Road; it's being looked at with pure limpid eyes,
so big and innocent that you get a lump in your throat, and watching
them, change to granite when they price the little present you've given
to their owner."

This time Jim Berkley sighed.

"What a perfectly horrible past you must have, Calley!" he said.

"On the contrary," protested the stout Mr. Calley, "my life has been
singularly free from complications. There is a gray which has a purplish
tinge--that is the color which most nearly represents the past of Cæsar
Calley. We look at the matter from the standpoint of fifty and
twenty-seven. You ought to be married," he went on, and Jim closed his
eyes wearily. "That statement may make you dither, but it is a fact.
Marriage destroys the icing, but reveals the cake, and you can't live on
almond icing any more than you can make a square meal of Turkish
Delight. You're well off, you're nice looking, you have decent standards
of conduct ... in fact, you're a desirable match."

"I have never actually met anybody ..." said Jim. "There are thousands
of girls, of course----"

"But they lack the atmosphere of romance," interrupted the other dryly;
"they eat food and they ride to hounds, and they are entirely without
mystery. You'll never get married if you wait for mystery. There is
nothing mysterious about women--they are just men with a different code
of honor. They never pay their card debts, but they won't take tea in
your rooms unless they bring their aunts."

"Br-r!" shivered Jim. "Marriage! The wedding reception ... the awful
church and the best man and the tight boots and the confetti!"

Mr. Calley put on his gold-rimmed glasses and surveyed his partner
dispassionately.

"Even Prince Charming had to go through something of the sort when he
wed the Fairy Princess," he said, "and I guess the fairy princess sat up
half the night worrying whether the bridesmaids ought to wear gray
charmeuse or white tulle. There is nothing wholly romantic and nothing
wholly sordid. You can't have silk without worms."

Jim Berkley made a hasty exit. Marriage was a subject which irritated
and annoyed him. And when Galley said that no woman had mystery ...!

His watch said twenty minutes past three o'clock, and he stood at the
window looking down into Gresham Street. He was so standing, absorbed in
his thoughts, when Calley put his head in at the door.

"Hullo? Looking for the Brown Girl?" he asked.

"No!" said Jim loudly.

"Thought you might be; queer bird--I'm off. Shan't be up tomorrow--I'm
playing in a foursome at Mid-Surrey."

"Good-night," said Jim absently.

"As to romance," insisted Calley, "have you ever considered Boccaccio's
stories in cold blood? Why, there isn't a Sunday newspaper that doesn't
beat the story of Violante and Theodoro----"

"Oh, shut up!" snarled Jim, and his amiable partner closed the door
grinning.

The bells of St. Olives tolled the half-hour, and then James Calcott
Berkley reaped the regard of his vigil. The Brown Girl was walking
slowly along the pavement on the opposite side of the road--as she
walked every day when the bells of St. Olives rang the half-hour.

He took up the pair of field-glasses that were on his desk, and standing
back from the window, focused them. She was exquisitely beautiful--he
had never seen such loveliness in his life. Invariably she was dressed
in brown; but seldom did she wear the same costume twice. Who was she?
By the regularity of her appearance, he was certain that she was
employed somewhere in the neighborhood. Yet, she was too well dressed to
be an ordinary employee, too young to hold any responsible post. And
then, most unaccountable phenomenon of all, there was the little old
woman who was always waiting for her, and to whom she invariably handed
a letter with a little smile.

Every day this happened, the little old woman in the plaid shawl hobbled
across the street and took the letter; there was a brief exchange of
words and the little old woman crossed the street again, and the girl
passed on out of sight. That happened today.

It was Calley who had first seen her, and in his prosaic unimaginative
way had christened her "the Brown Girl." And yet it was a name which Jim
liked. "Queer bird!" He shuddered at the grossness of the description.
Presently she was out of sight, and he turned with a sigh and a sense of
bitter resentment to a review of the day's transactions, for Jim was a
stockbroker, as his father had been before him.

The arrival of his secretary with letters to sign gave him an idea.

"Thompson, I've often wondered how ... well, poor people, without
opportunities for meeting socially ... get acquainted."

"Yes, sir? Well, they sort of meet," said Thompson vaguely. "You mean
young men and young ladies?"

Jim, very hot, nodded, not daring to meet the eyes of his clerk, lest
his secret be read.

"Generally the girl's got a brother who asks a boy to the house, or they
meet at a dance. There are thousands of ways."

Jim coughed as he scribbled his name.

"Yes ... but suppose he doesn't know the brother--if there is a brother.
Just sees her on the street, and ... well ... falls in love with her and
all that sort of thing?"

Thompson was young, but experienced.

"That's a bit difficult," he said, "because no lady likes to be picked
up, in a manner of speaking. He just finds out who she is, and gets
somebody to introduce him."

Jim shook his head impatiently.

"But, suppose he doesn't know who she is ... suppose he just sees her
and doesn't know from Adam or Eve what her name is?"

Mr. Thompson considered this weighty problem.

"There are several stunts he can work, such as picking up a handkerchief
and saying 'Excuse me, miss, is this yours?' or he can follow her home
and make inquiries, or he can pretend that he's met her before----"

"None of which methods appeal to me, Thompson," said Jim sharply, and
went a fiery red under Thompson's suspicious scrutiny.

He went back to his flat in Portland Place, his mind wholly occupied by
the Brown Girl, her mystery, her glorious beauty. That night he dreamed
of her; she and he were sitting on the yellow sands, and before them
stretched the unbroken horizon of a sunlit sea. He was holding her hand,
sublimely, supremely happy, and she was looking at him shyly and saying,
"Harold, do you think you really will be happy?"

When he awoke, and recalling the dream realized that his name was not
"Harold," he was aggrieved until he remembered that dreams go
contrariwise, and that no unknown Harold would ever hold her hand.

Calley was away next morning and he was glad, because he had determined
to follow Thompson's advice--with modifications. He must discover who
she was. The uncertainty was worrying him--spoiling his days and
disturbing his nights.

At three-thirty, when the clock of St. Olives struck, he was waiting in
the doorway of his office. He saw the little old woman come into Gresham
Street from the Moorgate Street end, and take up her station.

And then he saw the Brown Girl. Nearer at hand, she was more radiantly
lovely than ever. Looking neither to left nor to right, she came slowly
on, and the little woman in the plaid shawl crossed the street to meet
her. There was a brief colloquy, the invariable flash of the Brown
Girl's smile, and then the little old woman recrossed the road,
clutching tightly at the white envelope. The Brown Girl resumed her
walk, and Jim, with a flutter at his heart, followed her boldly.

She turned into Moorgate Street, with Jim a dozen paces behind her. Her
costume _was_ expensive, her feet were daintily shod, her stockings of
silk--he knew this much of woman's mystery.

Suddenly, to his surprise she stopped by the side of a limousine that
was drawn up by the side of the street, opened the door and stepped in.
He could only stand still, paralyzed with astonishment. The car was on
the move, when the door opened and the girl stepped out. The reason for
this reckless action was not at first apparent, for Jim did not see the
bag she had dropped until after he had sprung forward and lifted her
from where she lay.

"It is nothing. I'm sorry to have troubled you ... I tapped on the
window, but Bennett did not hear me.... I was so alarmed about losing
my bag...."

Nevertheless, she limped as she walked to where the bag lay. Jim
snatched it up for her.

"Are you sure you aren't hurt?" he asked, and in his agitation his voice
sounded as though it belonged to somebody else.

"No ... really ... it was stupid of me."

"Can't I take you somewhere ... to a doctor's?" he asked, as he helped
her into the car. The crowd that every such occurrence attracts had
gathered.

"No ... yes, please come in with me," she said hurriedly, and when he
followed her and the machine moved on: "I'm really not hurt, but I
didn't wish to argue with you before all those people. I really am quite
well--you won't mind if I drop you at Liverpool Street? I am awfully
grateful to you."

She also was a little incoherent.

Jim sat by her side, bolt upright, hardly daring to breathe. He was
dazed and bewildered, and had not recovered when, in response to her
signal, the car pulled up.

"I feel I'm being very rude in turning you out," she said, and her smile
was adorable, "but ... I don't want mother to know that I have been in
the city."

"Of course not," said Jim. It seemed the most natural thing in the world
that she should not wish her mother to know that she had been in the
city.

He took her hand and dropped it instantly. She seemed amused. Watching
the car as it plunged into the traffic he saw her looking back through
the glass panel in the hood, and waved his hand. He was astounded at his
boldness.

That night he thought of her. He found time to have dinner and read the
evening newspapers, but these were the briefest interruptions to his
thoughts.

Calley was boisterously cheerful next morning. He and his partner had
unexpectedly beaten the club champions.

"My putting was a little short of marvelous," he said immodestly. "I'll
show you one shot I did--Ferguson, the pro., said he'd never seen
anything approaching it. Now, suppose this paper-weight is the ball...."

"And, by the way, Jim," he said, when he had finished his demonstration,
"I want to be away all next Thursday. I'll look in in the morning, but I
want to go almost immediately. I'm playing Jack Anderson, and we've got
a side bet of a tenner. Will you remember that? Somebody must be at the
office to deal with Balter's account--he's buying now, and he's a tetchy
devil."

"I'll be here," said Jim, "though it is deplorable that a man of your
age and substance should spend his days chasing an inoffensive ball."

"You don't know what golf is to an intellectual man," said Calley.

He went away after lunch and Jim was thankful. Ordinarily, golf talk
mildly interested. Today it was torture.

At three-thirty the Brown Girl came into Gresham Street. He was watching
her from the shadow of the doorway, and, waiting until the little drama
had been played out and the woman in the plaid shawl had left her, he
quickened his pace and overtook her as she turned the corner of the
street.

"Forgive me the unpardonable liberty," he stammered, hat in hand, "but I
was worried ... I wondered, I mean, if your ankle was better?"

For a second she looked at him distrustfully.

"Yes; it is quite well. It is kind of you to ask."

Here he was at a loss to find an excuse to continue the conversation,
but he was desperate.

"There is something I should like to say to you, Miss----"

He saw alarm in her eyes and cursed himself for being the cause.

"Jones--Ella Jones. My name isn't Jones, really, but I can't tell you
..." she said. "I'm afraid I can't wait ... I have an appointment ...
you aren't Signor Vallassini, are you?"

The question took him aback.

"No," he said. "I'm not. I'm--not Signor ... I didn't catch the name?"

"It doesn't matter--besides, I ought to have known that you weren't
Italian. Oh!"

She was frightened now, looking at him with wide-opened eyes.

"You're ... a detective!" she gasped.

He hadn't the presence of mind, nor yet the power of speech, to deny the
charge.

"Will you come with me, please?" she asked hurriedly, and he accompanied
her in silence to the waiting car. She gave some instructions to the
driver and then stepped in. Jim followed, his heart beating wildly.

A detective! What had she to fear and who was Signor Whatever-his-name
was? Into what tangle of trouble had this beautiful girl strayed?

"I won't ask you who you are, but I have a feeling that you have been
watching me."

She waited for him to speak.

"Yes," he hesitated. "I have been...."

"For long?"

He nodded miserably.

"And you have seen me give the envelope to the agent?"

"To the old lady," he said, and she bit her lower lip.

"I meant 'old lady,'" she said. "You think it is strange, but I cannot
explain. There are others involved--it is not my secret."

"I'm sure it isn't," said Jim. "My name, by the way, is Jim----"

"Don't tell me!" she begged earnestly. "I don't think it would be fair
to you. You are doing your duty and it is hateful of me even to suggest
that you can be bought----"

"I'm not a detective," said Jim. "Believe me, Miss Jones, I'm _not_ a
detective. I'm a very prosaic stockbroker, but if there is anything in
the world I can do for you, I'd ... I'd die to serve you!"

There was no mistaking his sincerity. Startled as she was by his
passionate declaration, she recognized the earnestness of the man by her
side. She went red and white, and then:

"I wonder if I can trust you?" she asked in a low voice.

Jim Berkley could only nod rapidly. He was incapable of speech.

"I can't tell you the whole story," she said, "but briefly it is this.
My father, as a young man, lived in Italy and became, half in fun, half
for the adventure of the thing, a member of a secret society. When he
left Italy he thought the matter was ended, and indeed for many years
the Milani--that was the name of the gang--left him alone. He became
rich and married. A year ago he received a summons from the Milani,
calling on him to assassinate----"

She mentioned a name revered in certain political circles, detested in
others, and Jim gasped.

"Alternatively he was to pay a certain sum of money every day. They
refused to accept a lump sum, wishing to give him a daily reminder of
his obligations to the gang. Every day I come to Gresham Street, where I
am met by one of the emissaries of the Milani----"

"That old woman?" asked Jim incredulously.

"That old woman," nodded the girl; "poor dear, I'm sure she doesn't
realize the dreadful character of her errand, or the kind of people she
is working for. The head of the movement is a villain named
Vallassini--an Italian."

"But why doesn't your father inform the police?" asked Jim.

"He would be shot dead tomorrow," said the girl. "No, that isn't the way
out. I have thought of a dozen."

"If you can tell me in what way I can help," said the fervent Jim, "I'll
do anything!"

The car was passing through the streets of Bloomsbury. They might have
been running along the top of the great wall of China for all that Jim
noticed. He was conscious only of this vital and blessed fact. He was
alone with the Brown Girl, her sleeve touched his, her little shoe was
against his. He touched it furtively.

"There is one thing you could do," she said, "but it would involve such
risks that I hardly dare ask you. You have been a soldier?"

"Yes--who hasn't?" said Jim, daring to smile for the first time. "And
please do not worry about risks. There is nothing on earth I wouldn't
face----"

"I'm sure," she said hastily; "but this is no ordinary risk. I want to
know where these people live. Especially the Italian."

"Vaselini?" asked Jim. "I can remember his name by thinking of cold
cream."

"Vallassini," corrected the girl; "the woman goes to him every day.
Follow her ... yet I hate asking you. These people are desperate----"

Jim drew a long breath.

"So am I," he said; "I'm desperately anxious to help you."

She dropped him at the end of Portland Place. It was a coincidence that
she chose this spot, and this time he held her hand a little longer.

"You will see me tomorrow. After the old woman has left me, follow her.
I will meet you ... where?"

Outside the Regent's Park Station he suggested, and to this she agreed.

It required a little maneuvering to get away from the office next day.
Calley was in one of his rare working moods.

"Going home?" he said in surprise, and looked up at the clock. "Well,
perhaps you're right.... I've a good mind to go myself. I'll walk with
you."

"Don't trouble," said Jim in haste. "I'm--I'm meeting somebody quite
close at hand."

"Somebody romantic, I hope," said Calley, crudely sarcastic.

Jim did not trouble to reply. Again he watched the meeting, but this
time he followed the little old woman. He saw the girl pause at the
corner of Moorgate Street and look back; he sensed approval and
gratitude in that glance, and his heart swelled with pride.

The woman in the plaid shawl made her slow way across Southwark Bridge.
On the other side she boarded a car and Jim followed....

At eight o'clock that night he met the girl at the appointed rendezvous.

"Your old woman's name is Murphy. She has a fruit stall near the
Exchange, and she lives at 47 Paton Street, Herne Hill--she has one
room," he reported. "She has twice been in the hands of the police for
violent assaults on other ladies of her calling, but of late years,
owing to infirmity and her conversion to the temperance movement, she
has lived a fairly uneventful life."

"And Vallassini?"

Jim shook his head.

"Nobody knows him; the old woman has no visitors so far as I can
discover."

They were pacing together the deserted pavement of Park Crescent. It was
very dark and once, when her foot slipped, she caught Jim's arm and did
not let it go.

"I want to ask you something," said Jim huskily, after they had walked
to and fro for a quarter of an hour, mainly in silence; "I want to ask
you something."

She inclined her head.

"I love you," said Jim.

He felt the arm in his shiver--but she did not take it away.

"I love you dearly.... I have loved you ever since I first saw you. You
are my dream girl ... the mystery I have worshipped...."

"Oh, please!" she whispered imploringly. "I can't...."

"I want you to marry me. I am ... well known ... I mean I'm not ... I
mean I can give you a position."

"Oh, Jim!" she murmured, and he stooped and kissed her.

"My father will be furious," she said in a muffled voice. He was holding
her very tightly at the time. "But I do love you ... and I don't know
your name even, except Jim ... and I hate the thought of marriage and
all the fuss that people make."

"I loathe it too, darling. I want to run away to some quiet registry
office----"

"That's just how I feel--but we'll have to tell father."

"I suppose so," said Jim. "Of course we must tell him. Why not now?"

She did not answer at once.

"Mother will be horrified," she said, "and father will hate you. He has
always wanted me to marry a rich man--are you rich?"

Jim laughed and kissed her again. He needed very little excuse.

"I'm not poor," he said. "Who was the man?"

"An awful person. I've never met him, but he must be a terrible prig. He
thinks women are commonplace, and he says he'll not marry until he meets
the ideal woman. I hate being trotted out for inspection like a prize
horse that has to impress the purchaser, so the only time he came to
dinner I went to bed."

"The brute!" said Jim. "Do I know him?"

"You may do. He's well known in the city--James Calcott Berkley."

"Eh?" said Jim Berkley hollowly.

"Do you know him? You must. Daddy has always poked fun at me because I
am romantic. I love romance and all that is colorable in life. I love
all that is out of the beaten ways. At first daddy's story thrilled
me--then it frightened me. When he asked me to help him, I was
glad--because he is a dear, even though he sneers at things that are
precious to me. He always says I'll never find romance in this humdrum
city--but he's wrong!"

She squeezed his arm and he kissed her again. He was calm now.

"What is your father's name, darling?" he asked softly.

"Cæsar Calley--of Berkley & Calley."

"Cæsar Calley!" repeated Jim. "Do you mind if we don't tell your father,
Ella? Do you mind if I get a license tomorrow and we're married secretly
the next day--that will be Thursday?"

She put up her face to his.

"Yes ... I have an idea that father is playing golf on Thursday."

"I have an idea that he isn't," said Jim Berkley.

So on Thursday morning they were married, and Cæsar Calley, with his
golf clubs propped against his desk, waited impatiently for the arrival
of his junior partner to release him for his match. In a sense the day
was spoilt for Mr. Cæsar Calley. In another sense it was the happiest
day of his life.

When the telegram came, he sat back and smiled and did not stop smiling
all day.

As the bells of St. Olives chimed the half-hour after three, he went
down into Gresham Street and interviewed the old apple woman in the
plaid shawl.

"The young lady hasn't come, sir," she said.

"No, and she won't come any more, Mrs. Murphy," said Cæsar Calley as he
opened his note-case. "You'll miss the little money I sent you every
day, but here is sufficient to last you for a year."

The little old woman took the notes and slid them into her skirt-pocket.

"Five shillings a day you used to send me," she quavered, "and I never
earnt money easier. Not quite right in her head, you said, sir?" she
asked.

"She's recovered now," said the shameless Calley; "quite recovered!"




Discovering Rex


In the office of the Public Prosecutor was a young lawyer named Keddler,
for whom the prospects were of the brightest until he grew impatient
with the type of evidence which was supplied him by the painstaking but
unimaginative constabulary, and went out single-handed to better their
efforts. And he succeeded so remarkably well that a reluctant
Commissioner of Police admitted his superiority as a detective and
offered him a post at New Scotland Yard.

This offer was enthusiastically accepted, but since the regulations do
not admit of amateur police work and he found himself relegated to the
legal department, where his work consisted of preparing statements of
evidence for his successor at the P.P. office to examine, he resigned at
the end of six months. To return to his former position was, at the
time, impossible, and against the advice of his friends and in face of
solemn warnings from his old chief, he opened an office in the city of
London, describing himself as an "Investigating Agent."

Despite the gloomy predictions of his associates, John Keddler grew both
opulent and famous. The opulence was welcome, but the fame was
embarrassing, not that John was unduly modest, but because it led on
three occasions to his identification at a moment when it was vitally
necessary that he should be unknown to the persons who detected him.

Starting on a small job for the Midland and County Bank, a matter of a
forged acceptance, in which the real police had failed to satisfy the
bank, he enlarged his clientele until he found himself working amicably
with Scotland Yard in the matter of Rex Jowder, alias Tom the Toy, alias
Lambert Sollon.

Rex was wanted urgently by several police departments for insurance
fraud, impersonation, theft, forgery, and general larceny, but only the
insurance fraud was really important because it involved a well-known
Chicago house in a loss of 700,000 dollars, which they were anxious to
recover before Rex, who was notoriously careless when he handled other
people's money, dissipated his fortune in riotous living. John Keddler
was commissioned by the London agents of the company to bring about this
desirable result, but unfortunately the lean, shrewd thief had learnt
from an indiscreet newspaper that John was his principal danger, and had
spent two days waiting in the country lane in which the detective's
modest little house was situated, and one dark night when John descended
from his car to open the gates of his demesne, six pounds weight of sand
had fallen upon his shoulder. The sand was enclosed in a sausage-shaped
bag, and it was intended for his neck.

Taken at this disadvantage Keddler was almost helpless and would have
ceased to worry Mr. Jowder until the inevitable give and take of the Day
of Judgment, only the assailant had placed himself in an unfavorable
position to follow up his attack, though it was helpful to him that the
red rear light of the car reflected on the polished steel of the gun
John pulled mechanically.

He dived to the cover of a hedge and ran, and John Keddler had been so
respectably brought up that he hesitated to scandalize the neighborhood
by discharging firearms to the public danger. In some respects John
Keddler was a slave of convention. But this mild adventure served to
concentrate his mind and attention still more closely upon the case of
Rex Jowder, and so well did he work that at the end of a week there was
a police raid upon a certain safe deposit in the city, and there was
discovered the bulk of the stolen money which the misguided Jowder had
cached (as he believed) beyond the fear of discovery.

Why this raid was carried out is a story made up of John's instinct, a
drunken man, a frightened woman (Rex was strong for ladies' society),
and an indiscreet reference, repeated by his terrorized lady friend, to
a mysterious key which hung about his neck. He would have been captured
also, only the police were a little over-elaborate in their
preparations.

With his money gone, the fruit of two years' clever and dangerous work,
Rex Jowder became something more than annoyed. Before him was a life
sentence, and standing at the focal point of his misfortune was one John
Keddler. From the point of view of the insurance company whose gratitude
he had earned, John was not a "good life."

"What about Jowder?" asked his confidential clerk.

"Jowder can wait," said John. "As a matter of fact I am not very much
interested in the man any longer."

But the man was very much interested in John, and he was content to wait
too, though his waiting had to be done in a mean Lambeth lodging.

As for John Keddler, he accepted in a joyous holiday spirit the
commission which followed the loss of Lady Bresswell's jewelry, for Lady
Bresswell lived on the Lake of Como, and John was partial to the Italian
lakes. Incidentally this visit was to introduce him to the Marchessa
Della Garda--that unhappy lady.

From the first the wisdom of Mona Harringay's marriage bristled with
notes of interrogation--those little sickles that trim the smothering
overgrowth of truth.

There was no doubt that the Della Garda family hated the Marchessa with
a hatred born of an enormous disappointment. They referred to Mona as
"The Señora Pelugnera" (they affected Spanish by virtue of their descent
from the Borgias), and "Mrs. Hairdresser" was adopted to keep fresh the
ghastly fact that Mona's father was the very rich proprietor of
Harringay's Elixir for the Hair.

The marriage was in every way an amazing one, for Giocomi was no
impoverished third cousin of the real nobility. Head of the Della Garda
clan and immensely wealthy, the ordinary excuses and explanations of a
marriage between an Italian marquis and the daughter of a rich American
were wanting. They had met in Harringay's Long Island home where Giocomi
was a guest. He was making his first long absence from the Continent of
Europe. Therefore he was home-sick and miserable when he met Mona, and
their marriage was the natural reaction. She, for her part, was
fascinated by his good looks and a little overwhelmed by the impetuosity
of his wooing. The wedding was the social event of a brilliant season.

Not until the liner was clear of Sandy Hook did Giocomi Della Garda
emerge from his delirium, and face the certainty of his relatives'
wrath. For all his good looks and his perfect manners, he was not a nice
young man. He had, in particular, a weakness for approval, one of the
most fatal to which the human soul is liable, and the nearer to Genoa
the vessel came, the more and more he resented the existence of a wife
who had already surrendered her mystery, that lure which had led Giocomi
into so many adventures, but which had never before yielded him a wife.

Mona, Marchessa Della Garda, realized the bleak failure of her life long
before she came home to the cold, oppressive atmosphere of the gloomy
palace which had housed sixteen generations of the family. Neither the
cold majesty of the Pallacco Della Garda, nor the exotic splendors of
the Villa Mendoza, set amidst the loveliness of Lake Como, brought
compensation to a disillusioned heart-sick girl. But her one and only
visit to the Como home was not without its consequences. Lady Bresswell,
a grateful and somewhat voluble lady (her lost jewels recovered without
the scandal which would have attended the investigations of the police),
was showing John Keddler the glories of the lake. They had brought her
ladyship's expensive motor-boat to a rest near Cadenabbia, and the
servants were spreading lunch when round a tiny headland came a boat,
the sole occupant of which was a girl.

She pulled with long, steady strokes and seemed oblivious to their
presence, although she only passed them a dozen yards away.

John Keddler, a man to whom all women were very much alike, gazed at her
fascinated. The sun in her russet gold hair, the appealing sadness of
her delicate face, the sweep of her perfect figure, took his breath
away. It was as though he had seen a vision of some other world.

He watched her until she brought the boat to a white landing-stage, and
stepping out and tying the boat, had disappeared behind a great fuchsia
bush.

Then he heaved a long sigh, and like a man waking from a dream turned
to meet the laughing eyes of his hostess.

"Who was that?" he asked, almost in a whisper.

"I've told you twice, Mr. Keddler," smiled Lady Bresswell, "but you were
so absorbed that you didn't hear me. She is lovely, isn't she?"

"Who is she?"

"The Marchessa Della Garda, an American girl who married Giocomi--poor
dear. Giocomi is rather a beast."

"Oh," said John, and that was all he said.

Sixteen generations on her father's side of hairdressers, general
workers, coal-miners, and peasants had supplied Mona Della Garda with
the capacity for endurance and patience, but on her mother's side, she
went back to some quick-drawing folks who had made the lives of
successive western sheriffs exasperatingly lively, and when, some six
months after John Keddler had seen her, Giocomi followed a flagrant
breach of his marriage vows by boxing her ears, she took a pistol from
the drawer of her dressing-table.

There was excellent reason for this act, for Giocomi was weeping with
rage at her mild reproach and had flung off to his room in search of a
hunting-crop. Following him went Pietro Roma, his valet, also in tears,
for this man worshipped the young Marchessa and would have died for her.
It nearly happened that he did, for in frenzy at his interference,
Giocomi clubbed him into insensibility with the heavy end of the stock.
He never used the whip.

The major-domo of his establishment, attending the cracked head of the
valet, heard a shot and mistook it for the crack of a whip, until the
Marchessa came downstairs wearing a heavy carriage coat over her evening
dress and carrying her jewel-case in her hand. Even then, he did no more
than wonder why the illustrious lady should go abroad on a night of
storm.

Later came doctors, examining magistrates, and, one by one, white-faced
Della Gardas to take counsel together. More than a week passed and
Giocomi Della Garda was laid away in the dingy family vaults of SS.
Theresa and Joseph, before the name of John Keddler was mentioned.

It came about that news reached Rome of Pietro Roma, who disappeared
with a broken head the day after his master's death and had been seen in
London.

"If she is in London too," said Philip Della Garda thoughtfully, "you
may be sure that she will never be discovered. The English and Americans
work hand in hand, and they will do everything that is humanly possible
to cover up her tracks. I am all for employing the man Keddler. He
recovered Lady Bresswell's jewelry last summer, and even at the British
Embassy they speak of him with respect."

Prince Paolo Crecivicca, his kinsman, stroked his white beard.

"I shall never be happy until this woman is brought to trial," he said,
"and I agree that this infernal rascal, Pietro, is probably in
communication with her, for, according to Dellimono, he was the man who
betrayed to 'The Hairdresser' poor Giocomi's little affair with the
Scala girl, and these vulgarians would be on terms of friendship. Employ
Mr. Keddler by all means. Wire to him at once."

John Keddler arrived in Rome thirty-six hours later--no miracle this,
with the London-Paris, Paris-Milan, Milan-Rome air services in full
operation. Though he answered the summons in such a hurry that Philip
Della Garda not unnaturally believed he was eager for the job, he
displayed no remarkable enthusiasm for the undertaking. Particularly was
this apathy noticeable after all that Prince Crecivicca described as the
"unfortunate facts" were revealed.

"In England, of course, she would be acquitted," he said, a little
stiffly, "and even in Italy--do you think it is wise to bring this
matter before your courts? The publicity ... the scandal ...?"

Philip Della Garda showed his small teeth in a smile.

"We are superior to public opinion," he said smugly. "Had this happened
two hundred years ago we would have dealt with the Hairdresser without
invoking the assistance of the courts. As it is----"

As it was explained by the Della Gardas in chorus, this woman must be
subjected to the humiliations of a trial, whatever be the jurors'
verdict.

"Of course," said John politely. "Have you a photograph of the lady?"

Not until then did he realize that he had been sent to track the woman
of his dreams--the woman who had no name to him but "The Girl in the
Boat." They saw him frown and a queer expression come to his face.

"I will do my best," he said.

When he had gone, leaving his employers with a sense of dissatisfaction,
Philip Della Garda, accounted by his friends as something of a
sportsman, had an inspiration.

"_Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?_" he demanded pedantically. "I will go
to London myself."

Passing through Paris, Keddler was seen by a journalist who happened to
be on the aviation ground, and it was his speculative note on the
occurrence which Mona Della Garda read in her Battersea lodging:

    "Among the famous people who now use the air express for their
    continental travels is Mr. John Keddler, the well-known private
    detective. Mr. Keddler, in an interview, says he finds the air-way
    an invaluable boon. He had been called to Rome in connection with
    the Della Garda murder, and was able to make the return journey in a
    little over twenty-four hours--a journey which ordinarily would
    have taken four to five days. He left immediately for London, and
    hopes to bring about the arrest of the Marchessa in a very short
    time."

Of course, John Keddler said nothing about the Della Garda murder, or
his hopes. He had grunted a "good afternoon" at the enterprising press
agent of the Aviation Company, and there began and ended the
interview--but Mona Della Garda, reading this paragraph, fell into a
blind panic.

For now, the sustaining heat of righteous anger had departed from her,
and the strain of the sixteen barber generations--they had been
law-abiding and for the most part timorous barbers, with exalted views
on the sanctity of human life--was asserting its pull. Murder in any
degree was to them merely a phenomenon of the Sunday newspapers, as
remote from reality as the moons of Saturn.

"I wonder, miss, if you ever read them agony columns in the newspapers!"
asked Mrs. Flemmish one morning.

Mrs. Flemmish was her landlady and a woman from the Wessex borders of
Devon, a woman of rolled sleeves and prodigious energy, whose stoves
were brighter than the panels of limousines.

Mona had found her room by accident and was perfectly served, for Mrs.
Flemmish had unbounded faith in the spoken word of her sex, and never
doubted that "Miss Smith" was a young lady who wrote for the press.
Mona had to excuse her feverish interest in the daily newspapers.

"Yes--yes," said Mona, going white. She lost her color readily in these
days, and her frequent pallors gave her delicate face a fragility which
Mrs. Flemmish in secret accepted as a symptom of lung trouble.

"I'd like to know who this 'Dad' is who keeps on advertising to 'M.',
telling her to communicant--communicate, I mean, with him. Where's Long
Island, miss?"

"In--in America," said the girl hurriedly, "near New York."

"I suppose she's run away from home," ruminated Mrs. Flemmish. "Girls be
girls all over the world--but she ought to let her father know, don't ye
think so, Miss Smith?"

Mona nodded. How could she let him know, other than by letter, and a
letter was on its way. Mr. Harringay would pass that epistle in
mid-ocean, for he had caught the first east-bound liner, a greatly
distracted man.

If she could only get into touch with the devoted Pietro. The poor
fellow was in London, searching for her--a mad search, since he would be
followed, and he could not find her without also betraying her.

A thought came to her on the third evening after the return of John
Keddler. There had been some reference to Pietro in the newspapers. A
reporter had found him amongst the outcast and homeless on the Thames
Embankment one night, and had secured a "good story" from him. Perhaps
he slept there every night? She would search for him. A man's help might
save her--even the help of this poor devoted servant.

"I am going out tonight, Mrs. Flemmish," she said.

Mrs. Flemmish made a little grimace.

"It's not a good night for ye, mum," she shook her head. "There's one of
them Lunnon fogs workin' up. Did ye read the paper tonight about the
Eye-talian lady, miss?"

Mona's heart almost stopped beating.

"N--no," she said; "is there any fresh--which Italian lady?" she asked.

Mrs. Flemmish had settled herself down in the chintz-covered arm-chair
and was stirring the fire economically.

"They a' set a detective on her, poor creature," she said. "Do you think
'twas her father that put the advertisement in the paper?"

Mona had a grip of herself now.

"Perhaps," she answered steadily, and Mrs. Flemmish, staring in the
orange depths of the fire, nodded.

"If I were her, her bein' a rich young woman, I know what I'd do, _ees
fay_!"

Mona frowned. She had never looked to this sturdy country woman for a
solution to her agonizing problems.

"What would you do?" she asked slowly.

"I'd marry a young Englishman," nodded Mrs. Flemmish. "My man were in a
lawyer's office an' clever he was, as all the Welsh people are, an'
often he's told me that you can't arrest an Englishwoman in England for
a crime in foreign parts."

The girl could only stare. That solution had not occurred to her, and if
it had, she would have rejected it, for even the enthusiastic scientist
is not prone to repeat the experiment which cost him everything short of
life by its failure.

"Her has money, by all accounts," said the woman, feeling furtively
between the bars of the fire to dislodge a glowing piece of slate. "Her
could buy a husband and divorce him, and even when she was divorced
her'd be safe."

Mona stood for a long time pinching her red lips in thought, and Mrs.
Flemmish turned her head to see if she was still there, a movement that
startled the girl into activity.

"I'll go now, Mrs. Flemmish," she said hastily. "I have the key...."

A light yellow mist lay upon the streets, which were crowded even at
this late hour, for it was Christmas week, as the cheery contents of the
shop windows showed. Great blobs of golden light looming through the fog
marked the blazing windows of the stores, and she passed through a road
lined with stalls that showed vivid coloring under the flaring, pungent
naphtha lamps.

She checked a sob that rose in her throat at the memory of other
Christmas weeks, and hurried her pace, glad, at last, to reach the
bleakness of the bridge that crossed a gray void where the river had
been.

A taxi-cab carried her to the West End, and this she dismissed in the
darkest corner of Trafalgar Square, making her way on foot toward
Northumberland Avenue. She had to pass under the brilliant portico
lights of the Grand Hotel, and had disappeared into the gloom beyond,
before the young man who was standing on the step waiting for his car,
realized it was she.

She heard his startled exclamation, and looking back in affright,
recognizing Philip Della Garda, ran. Swiftly, blindly through the
thickening fog she flew, crossing the wide thoroughfare and turning
backward into Graven Street.

Philip Della Garda!

He hated London in the best of seasons. There could be only one
incentive to his presence in the raw of December, and she was terrified.
They would arrest her and take her back to Italy and a lifelong
imprisonment. She had heard stories, horrifying stories, of the Italian
prisons, where the convicted murderers were buried in an underground
cell away from light and human companionship in the very silence of
death. None spoke to them, neither guardian nor priest. They lived
speechless until the thick darkness drove them mad.

She could have shrieked; the terror thus magnified by the uncanny mirk
in which she now moved had assumed a new and more hideous significance.

Marriage could save her! It was this mad panic thought that sent her
hurrying along the Strand, peering into the faces of men who loomed from
the nothingness of the fog and passed, none dreaming of her quest. There
were men who leered at her, men who stared resentfully at the eager
scrutiny she gave them in the fractional space of a second that the
light allowed.

And then the inspiration came, and she hurried down a steep slippery
street to the Thames Embankment. The benches were already filled with
huddled figures, so wrapped in their thread-bare coats that it was
almost impossible to tell that they were human.

"May I speak to you?"

Her heart was beating a stifling tattoo as she sat down in the one
unoccupied space which Providence had left by the side of the man whose
face she had glimpsed in the light thrown by a passing tramway car.

Instantly she had made her decision. There was a certain refinement
revealed in the lean face, a sense of purpose which seemed out of tune
with his situation. He did not answer her, but drew more closely to the
wreck that slumbered noisily at his side.

"I--I don't know how to begin," she said breathlessly, "but I'm in great
trouble. I--I must tell you the truth; the police are searching for me
for something I did in Italy----"

She stopped, physically unable to go on.

"The police are searching for you, are they?" There was an undercurrent
of amusement in the man's words. "Well, I sympathize with you--I'm
being sought for at this particular moment."

She shrank back almost imperceptibly, but he noticed the movement and
laughed. She recovered herself. She must go on now to the bitter end.

"Are you British?" she asked, and after a second's hesitation he nodded.
"Are you married?" He shook his head. "If I gave you money--a lot of
money, would you--would you marry me--at once?"

He half turned and stared at her.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because if--if I became British by marriage they would not arrest me. I
only want your name--I will pay you--anything, anything!"

Her voice was husky, and the underlying fear in it was not to be
mistaken.

"I see," he said; "you want to be naturalized by marriage. That's the
idea?"

She nodded.

"Could it be done--quickly?"

The man rubbed his chin.

"I think it could be done," he said. "Tomorrow is Thursday. If I gave
notice we could marry Saturday--where do you live?"

She told him and he rubbed his chin again.

"It might be done," he said. "I've got a sort of claim to Battersea. If
I--anyway you can meet me at the registrar's on Saturday at twelve. What
is your name?"

She told him that and gave him the other particulars he asked. He
seemed to be thinking the matter over, for he did not speak for a long
time. A policeman strolled past, flashing his lantern in their
direction, and he dropped his head.

"There is one thing I want to say," said Mona desperately. It took all
her courage to tell him this. "I only want your name. When--when it is
all over I shall divorce you ... you understand?"

"H'm," said the man, and got up.

"Let's walk along," he said. "I'll take you as far as Westminster
Bridge, and you don't mind if I cross the road occasionally; it might be
very awkward if I met a certain person, if I was with you."

The man kept close to the parapet, Mona nodded, and they were abreast of
Cleopatra's Needle when he caught her arm and drew her to the recess.
The fog had lifted and he had seen a tall saunterer walking near the
kerb and scrutinizing the sleepers on the bench.

The searcher did not see them, and the man at Mona's side looked after
him.

"If you weren't here," he said softly, "I'd have settled an old score
with that gentleman."

He left her at the end of the Embankment and Mona went home, not daring
to think. The next day was a day of torture. She was placing her life in
the hands of a man who, by his own confession, was a fugitive from
justice. And yet ... she must do it, she must, she must, she told
herself vehemently.

That morning the newspapers had given greater prominence to the Della
Garda murder. There was an interview with Philip Della Garda, who had
seen her and had told of his recognition in half a column of closely set
type. From this newspaper, too, she had a clue as to the identity of her
future husband. She found it in a note dealing with the activities of
John Keddler.

    "Mr. Keddler, who has been commissioned by the Della Garda family to
    assist the police in their search, is also on the track of Rex
    Jowder, an international swindler, supposed to be of British origin,
    who is wanted for frauds both in London and New York."

In a flash it came to her. That saunterer was Keddler--the man who was
tracking her down, and her chosen husband was an international swindler!
She wrung her hands in despair, and for a second wavered in her
resolution.

Nevertheless, a sleepless night spent in a painful weighing of this
advantage against that peril, brought her to the registrar's office.

She carried with her a large portion of the money she had brought from
Italy--happily, in view of a flight from the tyrannies of Giocomi Della
Garda, she had kept a considerable sum in the house. She realized with
consternation that she had fixed no sum; would he be satisfied with the
four thousand pounds she brought to him? But what did that matter? Once
she was married, she would be free to communicate with her father, and
he would satisfy the most extravagant demands of her husband.

There was only one fear in her heart as she walked through the pelting
rain to the dingy little office. Would the man repent of his bargain--or
worse, would he be unable to keep the appointment? Both aspects of her
doubt were cleared as soon as she set foot in the outer lobby of the
office. He was waiting, looking more presentable than she had expected.
His raincoat was buttoned to the chin and she thought him good looking
in the daylight.

"I had the certificate made out in your maiden name," he said in a low
voice. "It makes no difference to the legality of the marriage."

She nodded, and opening a door, they stepped into a chilly-looking
office, and to the presence of an elderly man who sat writing slowly and
laboriously at a big desk.

He glanced up over his spectacles.

"Oh yes--Mr.--er----" He looked helplessly at the certificate he was
filling. "Yes--yes, I won't keep you young people longer than a few
moments."

They sat down and Mona utilized the respite.

"Here is the money," she whispered, and pushed a roll of notes into his
outstretched hand.

He took the notes without any great display of interest and coolly
slipped them into the pocket of his raincoat without troubling to count
them.

Presently the old man rose and beckoned them.

As in a dream Mona Della Garda heard his monotonous voice, and then a
ring was pressed upon her cold finger.

"That's that," said her husband cheerfully. "Now come along and have
some food--you look half dead."

She stared from him to the golden circlet on her hand.

"But--but I don't want to go with you," she stammered in her agitation.
"It was understood ... I leave you now ... but you must tell me where I
can find you."

"Young lady," the man's voice was not unkind, "I have taken a few risks
for you and you must do something for me. There is a gentleman waiting
in the rain for me; he has been trailing me all the morning, and my only
chance of escaping a disagreeable occurrence is in your companionship."

"But I don't want ..." she began, and seeing his face, "very well, I
will go with you to a restaurant."

He nodded and they went out in the rain together. Three paces they had
taken when there was a sound like the sharp crack of a whip. Something
like an angry bee in terrific flight snapped past Mona's face, and her
husband leapt at a man who was standing half a dozen paces away. Again
came the explosion, but this time the bullet went high, and in a second
she was the terrified spectator of two men at grips.

The struggle did not last long. Three policemen came from nowhere and
one of the men was seized. The other came back to her wiping the mud
from his coat.

"I didn't think he was such a blackguard," he said.

She could only look at him in wide-eyed fear.

"Who was he?" she gasped.

"A fellow named Rex Jowder," said her husband; "he's been looking for me
for a month."

"Then you ...?"

"I'm John Keddler," he smiled, "and I think I've lost a good client.
Come along and lunch and I'll tell you how you can get your divorce--I'm
a bit of a lawyer, you know. Besides which I'd like to return all that
money you gave me."

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether or not, in the complicated terms of the Extradition Treaty
between Italy and Britain, Mona Keddler could have been tried in London
for a crime committed in Rome, no jurist would commit himself to say.
John Keddler in his wisdom did not challenge a decision. He had an
interview with his furious employer, who threatened and stormed--and
went home. Mona he sent to a place of safety until the storm blew over;
but the storm was the mildest of breezes.

The winter turned to spring and the spring to summer. The Italian
Government notified all persons concerned that the Della Garda "affair"
would be regarded as a lamentable family tragedy, for which nobody could
be held liable; and the summer came to autumn again before Mona Keddler
sailed for New York.

The question of divorce, in spite of many meetings at luncheon, dinner,
and tea-tables, had never been properly discussed by either. It was not
until the evening before she sailed for New York that Mona Keddler asked
the question that had puzzled her so through the six months of her
curiously pleasant married life.

"I cannot quite understand, Jack, why you did it," she said.

"Did what?"

She hesitated.

"Married me," she said. "It has practically ruined your career, for I
don't see just how we can divorce one another without ... well, without
unpleasantness. The divorce laws are so horribly strict in England. And
you are married--without a wife. It was selfish, miserably selfish of me
to let you do it--but why did you?"

He was unusually grave.

"For the last reason in the world you would suspect," he said.

"But what?" she asked.

Here he was adamantine.

"I'll keep my mystery," he said, "but I'll write my reason in a letter,
if you swear you will not break the seal of the envelope until your ship
is on the high seas."

She promised, and he watched the _Olympic_ drift from the pier at
Southampton with a little ache at his heart that nothing could
assuage--watched until the trim figure on the promenade deck and the
handkerchief she waved were indistinguishable from other figures and
other wildly waving handkerchiefs.

Then he went back to town, heavy hearted, feeling that life was almost
done with.

At that moment Mona Keddler was reading for the fortieth time the
scrawled words in pencil:

"Because I loved you from the day I saw you rowing on the Lake of Como."

Her trunks were piled on the deck and she was watching the low-lying
shores of France with a light in her eyes which no man had ever seen.

John Keddler had forgotten that the ship called at Cherbourg on the
outward voyage.




The Man in the Golf Hut


He walked down the stairs from the great man's study, and at every two
steps he came to a halt as some new aspect of the situation appeared to
him. He had an absurd desire to sit down on the heavily carpeted treads
and take his time over his musings, and once or twice he did lean on the
sloping and massive handrail to allow himself a physical ease that his
mind might work with greater smoothness.

Of course, the whole thing was madness--stark lunacy, and the greatest,
least reasonable, most extravagant of all the lunacies was John Jenner's
sublime egotism. _His_ name must be protected; _his_ honor must be
avenged; _he_ must face the world without blush or reproach.

Bobby Mackenzie chuckled hysterically but internally.

There were seven more stairs to descend before he came to the broad
landing from whence one reached the drawing-room and Leslie Jenner.

"Phew!" said Bobby, drew a handkerchief from his sleeve, and wiped his
brow.

He went down two steps and lingered ... down three more and halted,
drumming the handrail with nervous fingers ... then boldly took the
last two together, strode across the landing, laid a resolute hand upon
the doorknob, and found his knees shaking.

And yet he was a sturdy young man, good and healthy looking, practised
in the ways of social intercourse and one who was not unused to meeting
difficult situations. Once, in a shattered trench fronting the
Hindenburg line, he had pushed nerve-shattered men into action with a
ribald jest which had become an army classic. At this moment he did not
feel humorous.

He turned the knob with an effort of will which would have nerved a
condemned man to put the rope about his own neck.

A girl was standing against the fireplace, her back to him. She did not
look round even when he banged the door. He saw her shoulders shake, and
looked back at the door.

"Miss Jenner," he said huskily, "don't ... don't ...!"

She turned, and he gasped.

"You were ... laughing?" he asked incredulously.

"Of course I was laughing," she scoffed. "Isn't it laughable--father's
absurd scheme?"

He nodded very slowly. He was very fond of Leslie Jenner. Every man was
fond of her--a wisp of a girl, light-treading, lissome, quick-thinking.

"I told you some of the story before you went up to father," she said.
"I suppose he told you the rest?"

"I suppose he did," he admitted carefully.

"He told you that I had spent the night with an unknown man in the golf
hut?" she said.

He nodded again.

"I'll tell you the rest." She settled herself on a fender-seat and
pointed to the big arm-chair opposite to her. Bobby seated himself
meekly.

"I'd been to the Winslows," she said; "they're great pals of father's.
Old Winslow is one of the two gods of finance whom father worships;
father is the other. They had a birthday party--one of their numberless
children has reached twenty-one without mishap, and naturally they
wanted everybody to rejoice and be exceeding glad. Daddy was going, but
something colossal happened at the last minute--steel rose an eighth or
lard fell a twenty-fourth or something--and naturally the world stopped
revolving. I went alone--Winslows' place is about twelve miles out of
town, and you have to cross a piece of waste land that is called Smoke
Park. It is a desolation and an abomination----"

"Must you be scriptural?" pleaded Bobby. "I only ask because your parent
has been----"

"The Book of Job?" interrupted the girl quickly--"'He hath made me a
byword to the people, and I am become an open abhorring'--I thought he
might. Well, to continue this strange story. Nothing happened at the
dance except that I saw you flirting outrageously with Sybil
Thorbern----"

"Flirting!" groaned Bobby. "Oh lord!--well, go on."

"Anyway, you were talking most earnestly to her--Jack Marsh pointed out
that fact."

"He would," said Bobby. "I'm hardly likely to flirt with the wife of my
best pal--but go on."

"Coming back at a little after midnight," she continued, "my car
stopped. There was oil where gas should have been or gas where oil was
due, I can't tell you. Anyway, Anderson, that's the chauffeur,
disappeared into the interior of the bonnet and remained, uttering
strangled moans from time to time, and emerging at intervals to
apologize for the weather. You see, being a warm night I went in an open
car, without hood or anything, and it began to rain like ... like...."

"Hell," suggested the sympathetic man in the chair.

"Yes--thank you. I was getting wet through, and I remembered that there
was a shelter--a small respectable hut which had been erected for
golfers--we were on the course when we finally went dead. Without saying
a word to Anderson, I tripped daintily along a path and found the hut.
By this time it was raining--um--well, as you said. The door of the hut
was closed, but it opened readily enough and I stepped inside. I was
within hailing distance of the car, but the chauffeur had not seen me
go, you understand?"

The other nodded.

"No sooner was I inside when I had a horrible feeling that there was
somebody else there. I went spiney and shivery and made for the door.
Before I could reach it somebody caught me by the arm. He was very
gentle but very firm.

"'If you shout,' he said, in a disguised voice--I knew the voice was
disguised--'I'll knock your infernal head off!'"

"I see," said Bobby; "he was a gentleman."

"He wasn't bad," said the girl; "after that he was quite nice. He said
that he hated doing this, but it was all for my good, and he hoped that
I'd have the sense to see that he wouldn't have taken the step but for
circumstances over which he had no control. In fact, it struck me that
he was nervous himself."

"You couldn't see him?"

"No--it was absolutely dark. Then I heard the chauffeur's voice shout
'Are you there?' I was going to answer, but the man put his hand over my
mouth. Then I heard the car drone down the road. Anderson thought I must
have walked on, and went along to pick me up. I don't know what I said
to the gentleman in the hut--I think I was offensive. He didn't seem to
mind.

"'You will stay here till one-thirty,' he said, 'and then you can go
home.'"

"The brute! You were terribly frightened I suppose?" said Bobby.

"No--the queer thing is that I wasn't," replied the girl. "I just
recognized that this was an unusual person. I even made up stories about
him."

"Like what?" asked the interested Bobby.

"Well, perhaps he had committed a murder, an old feud, you know, and
that sort of thing, and was making his escape when I came in upon him. I
was puzzled about the one-thirty. Why did he want me to stay so long?
Presently, however, I got a clue. There was a sound of a car coming
along the road, and I saw its head-lamps appear over the rise. It was
from the same direction as I had come, and stopped at identically the
same spot where my car had stopped. I heard somebody get down, then I
heard a whistle. And this is where the queerest part of the adventure
began. My jailer literally pushed me into a corner of the hut.

"'Don't make a sound,' he said quite fiercely, and then he walked to the
door, opened it, and stepped out. I heard somebody say, 'Is that you?'
and then my man replied in a horrid, gruff, growling voice: 'Nothing
doing!' The other person made no reply, but I heard his feet scuttling
back to the car, and presently the car moved on, working up to a
terrific pace before it disappeared."

"What did your man do?" asked Bobby.

"He came back," said the girl, "and he was laughing as though at the
greatest joke in the world. But it was no joking matter for him, for
just as I started in to ask with all the dignity that I could command
that he should escort me at once to my home, along came papa's car from
the opposite direction and pulled up near the golf hut. I heard
father's loud voice cursing Anderson.

"'Of course she's in the golf hut, you fool,' he said. 'Do you think a
daughter of mine wouldn't have sufficient sense to come in out of the
rain? Give me one of those head-lamps.'

"He took the lamp in his hand, and then my jailer began to get agitated.

"'Is he coming here?' he whispered. 'Who is it?'

"'My father,' I said very coldly.

"'Your father!'"

"There was a kind of horror in his voice that went straight to my
heart," said Leslie. "He turned to me and asked: 'What is your name?' I
told him, and I think he nearly dropped."

"He didn't realize how important a prisoner he had, I suppose?"
suggested Bobby.

"Don't be sarcastic--at any rate, father was no sooner on the path
leading up to the hut, when my ruffian threw open the door and bolted
like a hare. I saw father's lamp turn in his direction, but daddy could
only have caught a glimpse of his back. And then, Bobby," said the girl
solemnly, "the fat was in the fire! Of course, if I'd had a glimmer of
intelligence, I should have told father the truth and stuck to my
story."

"Though it was an extremely improbable one," said Bobby gravely, and the
girl nodded.

"It was improbable, but it was true. The improbability of the yarn,
however, struck me first. My imagination was too keen. I pictured just
how father would stand with his hands on his hips and his legs apart,
glaring down at me, and I just didn't feel like explaining.

"'Who was that man?' demanded father, and his voice was so deceptively
mild and reasonable that I thought I had an easy escape--and I just gave
the name that came into my head!"

"Which happened to be mine," said Bobby sadly.

"Which happened to be yours," she agreed.

"Did it strike you," asked Bobby, "that you would have the devil of a
job explaining me away--especially as I bolted? That you were spoiling
my young career, blackening my fair name, and jeopardizing my
prospects?"

"Not until afterwards," she confessed ruefully. "When I got home I went
to daddy and told him the whole truth, and he said I was shielding you,
that by heavens I should make amends, by heavens he had half a mind to
shoot you, and by heavens such a large blot had never been splashed upon
the family escutcheon--of course, I knew I was wrong. I know I am wrong
now. I want you to forgive me, Bobby. It is pretty hard on me you
know--I've still to tell Jack Marsh."

"Oh, Jack Marsh!" said the young man softly. "Is he an interested party
in this business?"

She hesitated.

"In a way," she said; "you see, there's a sort of understanding--I'll
tell you frankly, Bobby. I'm rather fond of Jack, and I'm rather afraid
of him. I'm fond of you too, but I'm not afraid of you. You see?"

"I see," said Bobby, "and that is rather a good thing."

There was a certain significance in his words, and she looked at him
sharply.

"Oh, by the way, you haven't told me what happened upstairs. Did father
ask you to marry me?"

He nodded.

"He not only asked, he demanded."

"Poor boy," she smiled; "you had an awful difficulty in getting out of
it, didn't you?"

"Not at all," said Bobby, brushing invisible crumbs from his knees, "not
at all. In fact, I didn't get out of it."

"You didn't--get out of it?" she asked breathlessly, staring at him.

"No," said Bobby, "I didn't. I just said 'All right!'"

There was a long silence.

"What does that mean? Do you mean to say--that you accepted me?" she
asked faintly.

Bobby nodded.

"There was nothing else to do," he answered, with a dismal smile. "He
insisted upon the affair taking place at once, and was frightfully keen
on a quiet wedding."

She had nothing to say, being literally speechless.

"It is extremely tough on me," said Bobby bitterly. "I have always
looked forward to a wedding with bridesmaids and crossed swords in the
porch, and 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing!' and all that sort of stuff. I
was never so disappointed in my life as when he talked about a 'quiet
wedding.'"

"But--but Bobby," she wailed, "you haven't really----"

He nodded.

"I had to do it for the sake of your dear old family escutcheon," he
said. "I don't know very much about your escutcheon, but if it's
anything like mine it wants electro-plating. Our family has been making
mesalliances since the days of Robert Bruce."

Suddenly she realized the horrible fact that, quite unknown to her, she
was engaged.

"You mustn't do it," she cried vehemently. "Bobby, you must go straight
to father and tell him--tell him you weren't the man. The engagement
must be broken off! I insist upon this! It is--it is _awful!_"

Bobby sniffed.

"Suppose you go to father and _you_ tell him I'm not the man," he said;
"after all, you're better authority than I am."

"But this is tragic," she said, pacing the room; "it is monstrous!"

"Oh, I don't know," said Bobby, sitting back in his chair and putting
the tips of his fingers together; "I'm not so sure that it is so bad.
Mind you, you're not the kind of girl I should have chosen."

"Bobby, you're insulting!"

"No, I'm not," he said; "honest to goodness, I'm not. I have a
terrifically high opinion of you, and I should never have dared in my
position to have offered marriage. Your father, however, insists upon
the marriage taking place immediately, insists upon giving me £100,000
worth of shares in his shipping company----"

"He is going to pay you!" she gasped. "For marrying me! Bobby!" She
swallowed something, then walked quickly to the door. "I'm to see
father, and I'll tell him the whole hideous truth. I love him dearly and
I would do anything to save him unhappiness, but I am not going to have
my life wrecked--I'll tell him that."

"You might tell him something about my life being wrecked too," called
Bobby from the chair.

Probably she did not hear him, for she was out of the room and half-way
up the stairs before he had finished. She came to the door of the study
and no farther. Three minutes later she made a solemn re-entry to the
drawing-room, closing the door behind her.

"Bobby," she said soberly, "I dare not do it. Poor daddy! I just opened
the door, and he was----" she choked.

"Yes?" said Bobby interestedly.

"He was sobbing as if his heart would break," gulped the girl.

"I shouldn't have thought £100,000 would have affected him like that,"
said Bobby thoughtfully.

"You brute!" she flamed. "Of course, it wasn't the money. It was
me--me." She sat down, covering her face with her hands.

"It may have been me too," said the insistent Bobby; "after all, a nice
man like your father would be awfully cut up at the thought that a life
such as mine promises to be, and a career----"

"Your life and your career!" she interrupted angrily. "Oh, what a fool
I've been, what a fool!"

Bobby did not interrupt, to agree or deny, and presently she grew
calmer.

"I'll go through with it," she said wearily. "I could laugh if it were
not so terrible."

"I couldn't even laugh," said Bobby; then: "I wonder if I could persuade
him--I'd have had a try if you hadn't told me about Jack Marsh."

She swung round at him.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Just what I say," said Bobby coolly. "It was the mention of Jack Marsh
which has sealed your young fate."

"Bobby!"

Bobby was standing up, his back to the fire, and his lips were tight
pressed.

"We'll go through with this marriage," he said. "Maybe it is going to be
pretty rotten for both of us, but I have an idea that it'd be worse for
you if I didn't go through."

Another long silence, then:

"When shall it be?" she asked, averting her gaze.

Bobby scratched his chin.

"What are you doing next Thursday?" he demanded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks later they sat on opposite sides of a breakfast-table in a
private sitting-room of the Hotel Maurice reading their several
correspondence. Through the open window came the clatter and whirr of
the traffic on the Rivoli and the indefinable fragrance of a spring-time
which further advertised its presence in the masses of mimosa, the
golden clusters of daffodils, and in the shallow bowls of violets
occupying every table in the room.

The girl threw a letter across the table to her husband.

"You'd better read this," she said; "it is from Jack Marsh."

He took up the letter and read it from beginning to end, so slowly that
she grew impatient.

"Oh, do hurry," she complained; "there's nothing in it. I think Jack is
being very nice about the whole business."

"Very!" he handed the letter back. "If you take my advice, you'll write
to him, and having thanked him like a little lady, tell him that under
the circumstances it is inadvisable that you should meet again."

She could only stare at him.

"What on earth do you mean?" she demanded.

"You can add," he went on, "that your husband objects to the
continuation of the acquaintanceship."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," said the girl, the color coming to her
face, her eyes shining dangerously.

"It is my wish," said the lofty Bobby. "Forgive me if I pull out the
autocratic stop, but I have asked precious little of you since we have
been married, and it is not my intention to make any other demands upon
you. This, however, I insist upon. After we have been married a few
years I will allow you to divorce me, and you can take as your portion
those beautiful shipping shares which your dear father bestowed upon me
as a wedding gift. But, in the meantime, you will do as I wish. Jack
Marsh is an undesirable acquaintance."

"From your point of view," she scoffed.

"From your point of view too, only you haven't the--only you don't know
it," he said.

She checked an inclination to throw a fish-knife at his head, and sat
back, her hands folded on her lap.

"I shall take not the _slightest_ notice of anything you say," she said;
"my friends are my friends, and they will continue to be such. Perhaps
you would like to see my other letters? I had half a dozen from feminine
relatives, congratulating me upon my marriage and envying me my
happiness. Do you mind if I laugh?"

"Why not?" said the imperturbable Bobby. "I can show you letters that
I've had from maiden aunts, infinitely more comic. I could show you,
I've got it here somewhere," he searched among the pile of letters at
his elbow, "an epistle from Uncle Angus, reminding me that the
first-born of the Mackenzies is invariably called----"

She rose from the table.

"If you're going to be horrid, I will not stay," she said; "that sort of
humor doesn't amuse me."

They came back to London a week later to all appearances a happily
married couple, and London relieved them both of a particular strain,
for here each had friends and peculiar interests which neither shared
with the other. The marriage was the most unreal experience which had
come either to Bobby or to the girl.

Bobby described the ceremony as being rather like a joint application
for a dog license, and said that it left him with the same emotions that
would have been aroused by an appearance before an Income Tax
commissioner. The "honeymoon" had bored them both, save for the odd
intervals when they found a common pleasure amongst the treasures of the
Louvre.

London and its gaiety spelt relief.

A few nights after their return, Mrs. Vandersluis-Carter gave a dinner
and dance. Neither Leslie nor Bobby were invited to the dinner, but both
went on to the ball. About midnight Bobby, wandering about in search of
his wife, found her sitting in an alcove head to head with Jack Marsh.
Marsh was doing the talking, and by his doleful appearance Bobby
gathered that he was telling the girl the sad story of his life.

She looked up and saw something in Bobby's face which she didn't like,
and took a hasty farewell of her former fiancé.

"Will you go along, Leslie?" said Bobby. "I'll join you in a few
minutes. I want to speak to Marsh for a while."

"Let us go together," she said nervously.

"If you please," said Bobby, and his voice was firm, "will you go and
wait for me?"

Marsh was on his feet too, sensing trouble. Leslie still hesitated, and
the matter might have passed off quietly only Marsh felt it incumbent
upon him to say a few words.

"Leslie was just telling me," he said, with all the geniality at his
command, "that----"

"My wife's name is Mrs. Mackenzie," said Bobby. "You can forget that she
was ever called Leslie by you."

"Bobby, Bobby!" whispered his wife in terror of a scene.

"And I would add this," said Bobby, taking no notice of her, "that the
next time I catch you speaking with her I will take you by the scruff of
the neck and I will kick you into Kingdom Come. Does that appeal to
you?"

Marsh was white with rage.

"You're a pretty good talker, Mackenzie," he said; "you ought to be in
Parliament."

Bobby's answer was appallingly unexpected. Without drawing back, his
fist shot out and Mr. Marsh went to the floor.

"I'm not going to explain anything to you," said Bobby to his agonized
wife that night. "I'm only telling you that you must not meet Marsh or
there will be trouble. In a few years' time, I promise you, you can
divorce me--just as soon as it is decent. In the meantime, if you want
to avoid this kind of unpleasantness, you must also avoid J. Marsh." It
was unfortunate that Bobby's assault had been witnessed by the one
person beside Marsh who hated him.

Sybil Thorbern had reason enough by her own code. Into the sympathetic
ears of her husband she poured the story of Bobby's infamy. He, poor,
good man, listened uncomfortably because he was Bobby's oldest friend.

"The man is a savage," she said, "absolutely undisciplined."

"Bobby isn't bad," protested her husband feebly. He was a ruddy man,
twenty years his wife's senior, an out-of-doors man with a detestation
of any crisis which involved mental effort. "Bobby is a little wild,
Sybil, but if he hit Marsh, you can be sure that Marsh deserved it."

Whereupon, stung to indiscretion, Mrs. Thorbern blurted venom. She was a
pretty woman and had many admirers. Her husband took almost a pride in
the fact, but the kind of admiration which Bobby Mackenzie had
expressed to his wife (as she told the story) left a cloud on his brow.

"When did this happen?" he asked.

"The night of the Winslows' ball, a few days before this fellow married
Leslie Jenner."

"I can hardly believe it," he said, in a troubled voice, "and yet----"
he remembered certain circumstances, a packed valise lying in the hall,
the discovery of his wife in traveling clothes ready to go out after
midnight, and the lame excuse she made.

"I was mad," she excused herself; "every woman has that spasm of
madness, however much she loves her husband, and for a moment he carried
me off my feet. And then I realized how sweet you were and how good and
... Douglas, I hadn't the heart ...!"

She was weeping now passionately, but her hysteria was due more to
fright than to contrition. For she had said too much, made her
accusations too direct, and even in the exalted moment of her vengeance
was panic-stricken at the possible consequences of her "confession."

"Douglas, you won't say any more about it, will you?" she pleaded. "I
oughtn't to have told you."

"I'm glad you did," he said. "I remember----" he said slowly, "some
bruises on your arm that night--did he do that?"

She nodded.

"Yes, yes, but you won't go any farther with this matter, will you,
Douglas? Please, please, dear, for my sake!"

"I'll think about it," said Douglas Thorbern unsteadily, and went up to
his room.

The next morning there was a meeting between two distressed women. Bobby
was out when Mrs. Thorbern called at the hotel where the young people
were staying, and Leslie, who knew her well enough and disliked her
instinctively, received the wife of Bobby's best friend.

"Leslie, I want you to help me," she blurted. "I'm in an awful fix. I
was very annoyed with Bobby, and I told my husband something about him
and I'm afraid, I'm afraid ...!"

"What did you tell your husband about Bobby?" demanded Leslie coldly.

The fact that she had parted from Bobby that morning in a spirit of the
bitterest hostility did not lessen her feeling of antagonism toward Mrs.
Thorbern. The woman hesitated.

"I--I told him that Bobby wanted to run away with me."

Leslie sat down suddenly.

"Bobby wanted to run away with you?" she repeated incredulously.

The other nodded.

"When did this happen?"

"On the night of the Winslows' ball, you remember?"

"Oh, I remember," said Leslie grimly; "I have a very good reason for
remembering. So Bobby wanted to run away with you, did he?"

Again Mrs. Thorbern hesitated.

"I told my husband so, but----"

"Did you tell him the truth," asked Leslie, "or were you just lying?"

"I--well, there was some trouble with Bobby and me...."

"Were you speaking the truth or a lie?" asked Leslie again, and her
voice was steady. "Personally, I know you were lying, because Bobby
would not do so mean a thing."

"Naturally you would defend your husband," bridled Mrs. Thorbern.

"Naturally," said the girl calmly.

"He's a beast!" Mrs. Thorbern burst forth tearfully. "He has ruined my
life!"

Her sincerity was unmistakable, and Leslie felt a little pang at her
heart, but there was in her composition some of her father's shrewdness,
his dogged insistence.

"Did Bobby ask you to run away with him?" She returned to the question
and knew that her own future happiness was at stake, for she had dreamed
of a future which did not exclude from her life the man who met her at
meals and talked solemn nonsense about matrimony.

"Yes!" cried Mrs. Thorbern at last, and Leslie smiled.

"That, my dear girl, is a naughty, wicked lie!" she said. "Bobby never
wanted you to run away with him--in fact, I'm going to ask him to tell
me the story, because I am sure you are concealing something."

"All I want you to do is to warn Bobby to keep out of my husband's way."
Mrs. Thorbern's voice held a menace. "You're horribly unsympathetic,
Leslie; I did hope I should find a friend in you."

"What do you want me to do?" asked the girl; "agree with you that Bobby
is a blackguard? I rather think that I know him better than you."

"I'm glad you have that illusion," said Mrs. Thorbern icily. "Your
understanding of him was violently sudden; there was something rather
mysterious about your marriage."

"Mysterious?" drawled the girl; "but aren't all marriages a little
mysterious?"

Mrs. Thorbern shrugged her shoulders and was on her way to the door when
Leslie stopped her with a cry. The older woman looked round and saw a
light burning in the girl's eyes.

"Wait, wait," said Leslie excitedly, "this story about Bobby--this story
you told your husband--when did you arrange to run away with him?" and
then, as the other hesitated, she corrected, "when did you tell your
husband that Bobby wanted to run away with you?"

"On the night of the Winslows' ball."

"And did your husband--have any idea that you were going to run
away--with anybody?"

"He knew nothing," said Mrs. Thorbern, "he--oh, what is the good of
telling you?"

"Oh please, please tell me," begged Leslie. "I am really anxious to
know."

"Douglas found me dressed ready to go," said Mrs. Thorbern slowly, "and
he--he--discovered my dressing-bag in the hall. I didn't expect him
back that night. He had gone to Edinburgh on some business."

"And you were meeting--Bobby--somewhere near the Winslows?"

Again the hesitation.

"Yes, I was meeting him--him----"

"At any time?" asked the girl breathlessly, and Mrs. Thorbern looked at
her with suspicion.

"I told my husband," she was careful to say, "that I was meeting Bobby
between twelve and half-past one."

"I know," Leslie almost whispered the words; "you were meeting him at
the golf hut in Smoke Park!"

It was Mrs. Thorbern's turn to show astonishment and uneasiness.

"You were meeting him at the golf hut before half-past one--and it
wasn't Bobby you were meeting at all!"

"How do you know?" asked the woman harshly.

"It was Marsh--Jack Marsh--and Bobby knew you were going to run away,
and he stopped you--that's what you mean when you say he wrecked your
life!"

Mrs. Thorbern's breath was labored.

"Bobby is a sneak," she cried. "He listened, he listened! I'd have gone
with Jack then, but he caught me by the arm--your charming Bobby--I had
the bruise marks for days!"

"And he was waiting in the hut for you," said the girl slowly.

"Jack?"

Mrs. Thorbern looked at her open-mouthed, but the girl shook her head.

"No, Bobby," she said softly, "the splendid darling! It was he who was
in the hut all the time waiting for you to keep your appointment and
determined to save your husband's name. And that's why he wouldn't tell
me--because it meant giving you away."

"How do you know he was there?" asked the woman.

"Because I was there too," said Leslie proudly.

Bobby came down to dinner that night, glum of face, and found his wife
waiting for him in the hall.

"I'm in all sorts of trouble," he said. "I've had a perfectly rotten
letter from an old pal of mine."

"He'll write you an apology in the morning," said the girl cheerfully.

He stared at her.

"How do you know? Are you going in for clairvoyance or something?"

"He'll write you an apology, because I told his wife she had to tell him
the truth."

Bobby stopped dead.

"Look here, young person," he said, "what is the mystery?"

She smiled up in his face.

"Don't make a scene in public, Bobby," she said, "and do take that
gloomy look off your face. I want to start off on my second honeymoon
without a sad thought."

He stood gaping down at her.

"When do we start?" he asked hollowly.

"We'll go by the boat train that leaves Victoria at nine o'clock in the
morning," she said.

He looked at his watch.

"What about the train that goes to Bournemouth tonight?" said he.




A Tryst with Ghosts


Once upon a time, in the far-away days of war, there was a mythical or
semi-mythical individuality whom the British Tommies named "Quiff." He
was credited with a prescience which was quite inhuman. He knew when the
divisions were mustering for attack; he warned commanders of impending
raids; at his word battalion chiefs were superseded ... for he had an
uncanny instinct for weakness. He was the guardian angel of five hundred
miles of trench line, and was visualized as a white-bearded gentleman,
with a halo. When the enemy put a price on his head of 50,000 marks (in
those days marks were real money), thus proving his tangibility, the
line was immensely startled.

Nigel Porter was sitting in the shade of his porch one warm day in early
December, reading a Vancouver newspaper. It was the anniversary of a
battle in which the Canadians had been heavily engaged, and the writer
of the reminiscences which he was reading recalled the fact that "Quiff"
had warned the British higher command of the coming attack. This
interested Nigel considerably. Later he saw a brief reference to
himself, and the mention of his having been blown up by a land mine....
The paper dropped from his hands, and he jumped with an exclamation. He
picked the paper up and looked at the date. Then he went into his
house--too big for a well-to-do bachelor--and began routing out
cablegrams. In four days he was speeding eastward with two suit-cases
and a sense of guilt.

If anybody had asked him why he was taking that cold and very
comfortless journey, he would have been ashamed to say. A man who owns
farmlands in British Columbia views the barrier of the Rockies, which
keeps in check the shrivelling winds that roar down from the frozen
north, with the same satisfaction that a man, snuggled by a log fire, a
pipe between his teeth and a book on his knee, might regard the frosted
windows and the stout walls of the house that keeps from him the howling
gale without.

And here he was, a lover of comfort, and a man who grudged every second
of the cold months that took him from sight of the Pacific and smell of
cedar pine, tossing and pitching in the gray, wintry seas of the
Atlantic, in the teeth of a nor'westerly gale. The ship was not a large
one, the accommodation was fairly poor, his fellow-passengers ... but
there was a Compensation.

The Compensation was amazing in many respects, for Nigel was not a
woman's man, and was almost, if not wholly, unromantic. If you forgot
the extraordinary mission which was bringing him across the December
sea, you might have said that romance had no place in his equipment.
The Compensation came aboard at New York, and their eyes met for the
fraction of a second before she stumbled upon the slippery deck (it had
been snowing) and was caught in his strong arms. There was a murmured
apology, an embarrassed second of incoherence on his part, and then she
had vanished. He did not see her till the second day out, and then,
literally, he fell against her. He was on his way to the smoke-room, a
journey which involved alternate climbing and sliding along the
rubber-tiled alleyways, as bow and stern of the _Beranic_ went up and
down like delicately poised scales. Again she was in his arms for just
as long a time as it might take to count three, quickly.

On the fifth day he found her on deck, stretched in a chair,
inadequately covered by a rug. A little self-consciously, he arranged
the covering without invitation and they talked.

Her name was Elsie Steyne, and she was traveling alone. She gave no
explanation, such as fellow-passengers in the first moments of their
confidence give to one another, for her solitary journey. When, after
another day's acquaintance, he offered her the opportunity of telling
him why she was coming to Europe in Christmas week, she hesitated.

" ... It is a queer season for holiday-making in Europe," she confessed,
after a long and thoughtful pause, and then immediately; "but I am going
to see my brother. He went over last week; it was arranged that I
should spend Christmas with my mother in Ohio. But somehow ... I am a
little worried about him. And you, Mr. Porter? I suppose you are
traveling on business?"

Nigel's blue eyes twinkled for a second.

"No, not exactly," he said, and she looked up at him in surprise.

"The fact is," he said humorously, "I have a tryst with a ghost!"

To Nigel's astonishment he saw the color fade from her face. She
struggled up into a sitting position and stared at him.

"A tryst with a ghost?" she repeated, and her voice shook.

For a moment he was dumbfounded by the effect that his words had
produced on the girl, and he cursed himself for his grim jest. Probably
she was nervous; there were people in the world in whom the word "ghost"
produced a shiver.

"I am very sorry, Miss Steyne," he said apologetically. "I am afraid I
startled you."

Her eyes did not leave his.

"What do you mean?" she asked huskily. "A tryst with a ghost? Where did
you hear ..."

She stopped suddenly and, seeing the quick rise and fall of her breast,
the pallor of her face, the queer, hunted look in her blue eyes, Nigel
Porter became almost incoherent in his efforts to undo the mischief
which his ill-timed remark had produced.

"The fact is," he began, and then, realizing how fantastical and absurd
the explanation that he was on the point of making would sound, he
laughed. "It was a startling thing to say, wasn't it? I am afraid I have
a latent streak of melodrama in my composition. Won't you please forgive
me?"

She settled back in her chair, and for a while she gazed blankly out
over the tumbling gray seas.

"It was stupid of me," she said, "but my nerves aren't in very good
order. Would you ask the steward to bring a cup of tea?"

No further reference to his unfortunate _faux pas_ was made. He saw her
the next morning, when the ship was rolling through the English Channel
and Devonshire was a gray blur on the northern horizon; and she was
apparently so absorbed in the book she was reading that she only gave
him a nod before she returned to a steadfast scrutiny of the printed
page.

The morning on which they reached Cherbourg, Nigel made an unpleasant
discovery. He had been out of his cabin all the morning, walking the
deck, in the hope of seeing the girl. She did not put in an appearance,
however, and he went down to his cabin to prepare for lunch, with an
unsatisfactory feeling that the morning had been wasted. It was then
that he had his shock. Somebody had been in his cabin. A trunk which was
under the bed had been pulled out, and a brief examination of its
contents told him that it had been subjected to a hurried but thorough
search. His passport, which he kept with other confidential papers under
his pillow, was lying open on the bed. He rang the bell, and presently
the steward came.

"No, sir," said the man in surprise, "I've seen nobody in your cabin.
I've been on this deck all morning. Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure," said Nigel irritably. "Look at this trunk. And
that--I haven't opened that passport since I left New York."

The steward looked round inadequately.

"There's nobody been in your cabin, sir, as far as I know," he said. "Of
course, I haven't been watching it all the time, because I've been in
the other cabins, tidying up."

"Have you seen any of the passengers near the cabin?"

"No, sir--yes, I have," he corrected himself. "I saw that young lady in
87, Miss Steyne. She came down this alleyway by mistake. Her cabin is
two alleyways farther along."

Nigel scratched his chin in perplexity. "Of course, it couldn't have
been Miss Steyne," he said, and the steward, who was happy to agree that
it could not have been anybody at all, nodded.

"It has been a clean trip," he said. "There are none of the gangs on
board that usually work the line, and yours is the first complaint we've
had--would you like me to report this to the purser?"

Nigel shook his head.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

When the steward had gone, he made a search of his belongings to find if
anything had been stolen; but although the intruder had evidently made a
systematic search of his cabin, nothing was missing. With his passport
had been a letter of credit, and this apparently had not been taken from
its envelope. He was a fool, anyway, to leave important papers lying
around, he thought, and congratulated himself that he had not suffered
any important loss.

For some reason he could not escape the conviction that the search of
his cabin had been conducted with no other object than the examination
of his passport. The intruder had been searching for a document. What
that document was, Nigel could not guess, though he racked his brains
for some plausible explanation.

He saw the girl on the tender at Cherbourg, and to his surprise she was
not only friendly but communicative.

"I am going to Paris," she said. "You are going too, of course? Where are
you staying?"

"I am not going to Paris," said Nigel, with a little smile.

Again that look of suspicion and doubt appeared in her eyes, but she
made no further inquiries. He saw her through the Customs, and then made
his way in a crazy taxi-cab to the town, where, if his cabled
instructions had been carried out, the car would be waiting. He found
it--an ancient French machine, but suitable for his purpose. His
temptation was to stay the night in Cherbourg, but the time at his
disposal was short. He had landed at the French port on the 24th, and he
had less than twenty-four hours to reach his destination.

As the car bumped and jolted along the _pavé_ road that makes at long
last for Calais, he could only wonder at himself. It did not seem real,
and yet it was true that, a little more than a fortnight ago, he had
been sitting in the sunlight of British Columbia, when there had come to
him, in the nature of a shock, the realization that he was fast
approaching the Christmas of 1921. Once he remembered the date, there
was no other course for him to follow, being the man he was. He did not
regret his lost comfort; he did not feel sorry for himself; he did not
even regret that he was in a car of uncertain age, rattling through a
driving blizzard that obscured all view, that made the _pavé_ so
slippery that the car skidded every five minutes. And even when, tired
and hungry, with the dawn just showing in a gray sky, he came into the
station square at Ypres, he did not regard his adventure as being
outside the limitations of common sense.

Ypres was changed, he noticed silently. Handsome red villas were going
up in all directions. The Cloth Hall still pointed its maimed tower to
the sky, and here and there, half covered with snow, he recognized a
gaunt shell of a house that had been as familiar to him in those painful
days of war as the Eros in Piccadilly Circus, or the Statue of Liberty
in New York Harbor.

Early as was the hour, there were workers abroad. A goods train was
shunting noisily in a station which had been shelled out of existence in
his days. Facing the station was a brand-new hotel, and he got down,
gave an instruction to the weary-eyed French driver, and carried his bag
into the dimly lit hallway. A sleepy man was sweeping the floor.

"Yes, monsieur, Major Burns is here, but he is leaving by the early
train for England. He has twice been down to look for you. I will tell
him you have come."

Nigel made his way to the big, bare dining-room, redolent of new paint,
and lighted by one yellow carbon lamp. A table had been laid near the
window for two. This he noted with satisfaction. Burns had evidently
received his cable and the wire he had sent from Cherbourg.

There was a quick step in the hall, and the Major, wearing his long
military overcoat and (as usual) his cap perched rakishly on the side of
his head, hurried in and offered a gloved hand.

"I've been over to the station to fix my trunks. I'm going on a month's
leave," he said. "So you've come back to the salient? They all do. Had
some fellows here last week who knew you. We were talking of old
'Quiff.' Do you remember him? Wonder what happened to the old devil ...
never heard about him--hasn't even written a book! Do you remember that
night when he tipped us off about the gas attack ...?"

The Major rattled on reminiscently. He was a red-faced man, with a
bright, twinkling eye, and he was obviously amused. Men who are amused
at seven o'clock on a raw, wintry morning, amidst the sorrowful shades
of Ypres, may be written down as possessing a strong sense of humor.

"I suppose you think I'm mad?" asked Nigel, when the other stopped.

Major Burns pursed his lips.

"I don't think so," he said at last. "No, I really don't think so. I
suppose that, having lived in the midst of so much madness these past
years, one takes a generous view of human sanity. 'Joseph'"--he beckoned
the waiter--"'coffee.' I can give you half an hour," he said to his
_vis-à-vis_. "And by the way, here is the plan so far as I can
reconstruct it from the old operation plans of 1917."

He lugged out from his inside pocket a thin sheet of paper and spread it
on the table.

"There's Kelners Farm, there's Dead Horse Lane, and that's Windy Corner.
You'll recognize Windy Corner; it's one of the few bits of the old
battlefield that have been left. I had to get this, by the way, from the
Belgians, because it was on their front, I think, that this happened. I
must tell you that Houthulst Forest has entirely disappeared; you won't
find any trace of it, except a few straggling trees ... it's a perfect
beast of a place, Nigel."

Nigel was examining the plan, and now looked up as he folded the paper.

"Do you think I'm mad?" he said again.

"I don't, probably because my knowledge of the circumstances is more or
less shaky. If I had a larger understanding of what occurred, perhaps I
would be less charitable. I only know that you cabled me from British
Columbia that you wanted me to discover the exact place where you had
been blown up, because you wished to spend Christmas Day in the hole.
Which reminds me that I had a Belgian officer in here yesterday--Colonel
de Villiers--who said that the mine craters still exist."

Again Nigel nodded.

"It was lucky your being here. Luckier still that I remembered you were
here, Burns," he said, and then: "I'll tell you the story. It happened
on Christmas Eve of 1917. As a matter of fact, it happened on the
twenty-third of December. I was attached to the French corps that was
holding the southeastern edge of Houthulst Forest. I was working in
connection with the Canadian Intelligence, and my instructions were to
go over to discover the exact composition of the force that was holding
the Belgian front. The G.O.C. wasn't at all satisfied with the
intelligence he got from the Belgian staff, who were supposed to be _au
fait_ with these particulars, and of course the French had only recently
come up, and were not in a position to give any accurate information."

He paused and looked out of the window, and it came to him sadly that
this was not the Ypres he knew, that smouldering furnace of a town,
bombarded daily, hourly, every minute; rocked and shaken by high
explosive shells, a town that rumbled and thundered night and day, year
in and year out; a gray, dusty town, where long files of men crept
cautiously under such walls as existed, on their way to the muddy
inferno which lay along the ridges of the north. Sadly, for he was
thinking of all the brave hearts that were stilled and the bright,
boyish faces that had gone and were no more seen.

"The curious thing was that, at the identical moment I went over into No
Man's Land, a young German officer was sent to discover the exact
composition of the French force that was holding this sector. We met
half-way. To be exact, I stumbled over wire in the dark and slid down
the edge of the crater----"

"Crater No. 17," murmured Major Burns. "The hole is about twenty metres
away."

The other nodded.

"I was on the Hun before he knew what had happened. We both pulled our
guns, and by the most extraordinary coincidence we both missed fire. It
looked like being a real caveman's scrap, when the German chuckled and
threw down his pistol.

"'I think, my friend,' he said, 'we had better both go home again. It
would be stupid for us to batter one another with our fists, for that
would probably mean that we should both be killed in attempting to get
back to our lines in a condition of exhaustion.'

"The logic of it struck me, and we just sat down and talked. We not only
talked, but we exchanged confidences of a highly compromising character.
He told me that the 18th Bavarian Division was on our front, and I
responded politely with the information that the 43rd French Division
was on _his_ front. He didn't seem as interested as he might have been.
He produced a packet of sandwiches, I had a flask of whisky, and we sat
and talked, until----

"'It will be daylight soon,' he said. 'I think we'd better go home.'

"So we shook hands, and we were half-way up the crumbling slope of the
crater, when there broke out the most infernal fire that I had ever
heard before or since. The air seemed to be so thick with traveling
bullets and shells that you couldn't have put up a fishing-line without
getting it cut in three places simultaneously!

"'I think we'd better wait,' shouted the German.

"So we retired again to the shell-hole, and prayed fervently--at least I
did--that 'shorts' on either side would be few, and in other directions
than ours. Dawn broke, and the fury of the fire did not abate. And then
I found myself talking about things I never thought I would ever discuss
with a German. He didn't tell me a great deal about himself, except that
he was an officer in a Bavarian regiment. His English was perfect. I
could have sworn, when I first saw him, that he was an American. Well,
to cut a long story short, there we sat throughout the day. Christmas
Eve came, and there was no slackening of the fire. Every gun, big and
little, on both sides was in action, and we spent the night counting
Verey lights and speculating upon what was the cause of this unseemly
disturbance. Christmas Day came, but still there was practically no
reduction of fire. I afterwards discovered that this was the preliminary
bombardment to an attack which the French commander had planned, and
which he hoped would bring the Forest into his hands. Poor soul! He
never lived to know what a hell-trap that forest was! Later in the
morning the fire seemed to die down just a little, and I crawled to the
edge of the shell-hole to take observation. What happened I don't know.
I woke up to find my head on the German's knee, and he was draining the
last dregs of my whisky flask down my throat. My head was wet and
aching, my eyes seemed to be filled with sand.

"'Shell fragment,' he said. 'I don't think you're badly hurt. I have two
sandwiches and half a bottle of water left. We look like having a peach
of a Christmas Day.'"

"What was his name--did you find that out?" asked Burns curiously.

"Karl--that was all he told me," replied Nigel. "That fellow was some
prophet! I think both sides must have brought up all their reserves of
artillery and trebled their stock of machine-guns. It was when I
realized that we had had no 'Quiff' message from G.H.Q. that I knew the
initiative was on our side. It was toward the evening that Karl said:

"'If we get through this, my friend, I should like to have a little
dinner with you somewhere.'

"'When and where?' I asked.

"He thought a long time before he answered.

"'Maybe we shan't get through,' he said. 'But I'll tell you what I will
do. If I am alive in four years' time, I will come and meet you here;
and if you're not here, well, I'll keep a tryst with your ghost.'"

"Why four years?" asked Burns.

"He thought the war would last another three. He made it four to give us
a chance of getting a peace. Of course, it was lunatic, it was childish,
it was anything you like to call it, but there and then we made our
agreement. It was the sort of thing that schoolgirls do, and ... anyway,
there's something peculiarly simple and infantile about the full-grown
soldier.

"It was eleven o'clock that night that the French fired the mine. My own
impression was that it was just underneath where I was sitting, but my
recollections of the circumstances are necessarily hazy. I just remember
saying to Karl that I had a passion for marrons glacés, when I felt
somebody slapping my face, and looked up into the eyes of an English
surgeon who was in his shirt-sleeves. I just remember hearing him say
'He's all right,' and then I sort of dozed myself out of Belgium and
woke up in an English hospital. The body of Karl was found and buried on
the very edge of the crater. We took the ground and lost it, took it
again and lost it again, but I know he was found, because the officer
who picked me up after the mine was exploded was in the next bed to me
in hospital, and he told me all about it, how they found this poor chap
quite dead and buried him."

"Hum!" said Major Burns, gulping down his coffee. "I think you're a
fool, but it's the sort of fool thing I should have done myself."

He scrutinized the lowering skies through the window.

"You're going to have a cold Christmas Day, my lad," he said.

"I never expected any other."

Just before noon Nigel came out of the hotel with a basket, a bottle of
wine, and a box of cigars, which he stowed away in one of the car's
pockets. He himself went to the wheel, and in a few minutes was passing
slowly westward. The car sped down a perfectly gravelled road, and
passed cemetery upon cemetery crowded with white crosses, whiter for the
rim of snow which lay upon their edges, and presently, turning abruptly
from the main road, he came almost instantly into a region of
desolation. The new red buildings were behind him. The road was no
longer a road, it was a succession of deep holes and ruts.
Sharp-cornered paving-blocks jagged up from the sodden earth, stark
walls that had once been houses loomed through the sleet on either side.
Broken and jagged barbed wire, red with rust, trailed its tangled
lengths by the roadside, and here and there he saw the drunken outlines
of block-houses where men had lived horribly and had died in fear.
Presently the car was lurching between flat heaps of rubble that the
rains of the years had washed and pounded into little unrecognizable
plateaux. A village had been here once. Rotting weeds showed where love
and life had been, and holes gaped in the roadway before a medley of
black, wrought-iron crosses which marked a graveyard that had been set
around a church. There was no church.

These sights were too familiar to sadden him, though now it seemed, in
the years of peace, that the ugliness of war was emphasized more
strongly. He came at last, by the aid of his map, and after constant
backings and changing of direction, and guided at the very last by a
miserable-looking man who lived with his family in a deserted dug-out,
to the edge of what was once a forest but was now nothing. For all that
was left of the trees were blackened stumps and dead white stems that
stood starkly against the cold sky.

He stopped his car, got out and took his bearings, and instinctively he
went straight to the place he sought. The hole was deep: it was half
filled with yellow water. To the right was a smaller hole, also
water-logged, and he smiled faintly, contrasting the calm of that winter
day with no other sound in his ear but the sough and sigh of the wind
that swept down from the dunes, and the tawny sea beyond, with the
deafening fury of the storm that swept this spot four years before.
There was the grave: he saw it at once, a small black cross above a slab
of concrete that the Government had laid down to prevent farmers
ploughing ground hallowed by sacrifice.

Bending down, he read: "Allemand." Karl was "Allemand." In small letters
was the word "officer." It was not usual to distinguish the rank of the
dead. That was all. It stood for life and humor and courage, and God
knows what hope. It stood also for an enemy, but that was incidental and
meant nothing to Nigel Porter, sitting there on the edge of the crater,
with his fur collar pulled up about his ears.

His eyes roved around the starved landscape. It was such a foul setting
for the rare jewel of a soul.

"Well, my friend," he said--his tone was one of heavy jocularity;
insensibly he had recalled, and was reproducing, the very tone of the
man whom he apostrophised--"here am I, after four years! I owe you an
apology, because I nearly forgot my promise. If I hadn't read in a
Vancouver newspaper some highly flattering references to my services
during the war, I should certainly have broken my promise."

There was such quiet dignity in that black cross, such serenity in the
truncated pyramid of concrete that marked the abiding-place of this
"Allemand, officer," that his voice died down. The dead are so immensely
superior to the living that he felt abashed.

He sat for a long time, his gloved hands crossed on his knees, his head
bent forward in thought, and then he got up with a sigh and dusted his
coat.

"Well----" he began, and his jaw dropped.

Standing on the farther rim of the crater was a tall figure, draped from
neck to feet in a long, dark cloak. It was bareheaded, and the wind had
blown a lock of fair hair across the forehead of the man. Nigel stared
open-mouthed, speechless, and then:

"Karl!" he croaked.

The voiceless figure stirred.

"Thank God! I thought you were a ghost."

In a dozen strides Nigel had flown round the edge of the crater and
gripped the outstretched hand.

"What are you doing here!" he asked huskily.... "Stupid question to ask,
but you are----"

The other laughed.

"I'm keeping a tryst with a ghost," he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"You see, I thought you were ... dead. When our people took the ground
they found a grave here."

Suddenly he gripped the other by the arm.

"Let's get out of this beastliness," he said. "My God! How hideous war
is!"

They had nearly reached the sunken road where the stranger's car was
waiting, when Nigel remembered that he had some responsibility in the
matter of transportation.

"You can go back for it. I want to introduce you to my sister. By the
way, my name is Steyne."

And there Nigel found the girl.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was after dinner in the barrack-like dining-room of the Hotel d'Ypres
that Nigel Porter heard and understood.

"No, I'm not a German," said Mr. Charles Steyne, pulling gently at his
cigar, "I am an American. I was in the war from the very first month."

"On the German side?"

"Oh yes, I was on the German side. That is to say, I wore the German
uniform and served in the German Intelligence Department. There were
five of us originally, and we were employed by the most effective secret
service that the world has ever known. I speak respectfully of Great
Britain. Of the five only one is left alive. Taylor was shot in Hanover
after being tried by court-martial for running the secret wireless by
which the British were informed of the movement of German ships. Jack
Holtz suffered a like fate on the Russian frontier, when he was trying
to get through to the Russian headquarters the news of the German
concentration--he owed his death to the treachery of the Russian General
Staff, by the way; and Micky Thomas was killed by a night watchman at
the German Foreign Office after he had got away with some very important
documents which were necessary to your Whitehall. Long Bill Fenner was
accidentally killed by an aeroplane bomb dropped by an American airman.
And I was almost, but not quite, destroyed by the explosion of a
mine.... Well, you know that story. If Elsie had only told me that she
had met you on the ship, and had given me a hint about your keeping a
tryst with ghosts--a phrase of mine, by the way, which, coming from you,
so startled her that she nearly jumped out of her skin----"

Nigel was looking at the girl, and under his eyes the color came to her
face, for she had anticipated the question which was coming.

"Why did you want to see my passport, Miss Steyne?" he asked.

"I think I can answer that," replied Charles Steyne. "My sister doesn't
realize that war ever ends, and that the price the Germans put on the
head of their pet enemy is no longer offered. She pictured you a member
of the Government, tracking down the shy and elusive Quiff----"

"Quiff!" gasped Nigel. "Then you were--?"

The other nodded.

"I was on my way to the French lines to tell the General not to attack.
If I had told you I was 'Quiff' you would not have believed me."

"Phew!" Nigel sat back in his chair and stared at the girl, but she
averted her eyes.

"I'm glad ... you're not exactly German," he said, a little gauchely. "I
don't believe in mixed marriages.... I mean...."

The ghost smiled wisely.




The Child of Chance


It is absurd to say that truth is stranger than fiction because, as
everybody knows, fiction is the unstrangest product of life. That is to
say, fiction would be very strange if it was _not_ stranger. For if it
had no novelty, it would be no better than the News-That-is-Fit-to-Print,
which is just the dullest kind of printed matter (with the exception
of the Theology section of a Free Library catalogue) that offends the
eye of mankind.

There was a girl who lived in a tenement house in a very poor part of
London, who used to pray to God every night that a nice clean dragon
with blunt teeth would seize her and be starting to fly away with his
prey, when there would appear upon the scene a young and beautiful man
in shining armor, who would slice the head from the dragon and carry her
off to a white castle on a purple hill where she would be arrayed in
white garments by handmaidens, and given bread and milk in a golden
bowl.

She never reached very far beyond that breathless preamble, leaving it
to God to fill in the blanks of her imaginings and to supply an adequate
continuation of her story--which she had designed as a non-stop serial,
each chapter of which was to be more delicious than the last.

Her name was Verity Money, and her age was eighteen. She was very
pretty, very slim, and childlike, both in her appearance and in her
faith. Her uncle, for whom she kept house--there were two rooms and a
kitchen, and she slept in the kitchen, which was warm and cozy--was a
grim old market-porter intensely religious for eleven months and two
weeks of the year, and somewhat unsober for the remainder. He was never
unkind to the girl--indeed he was most lavish in his gifts, and had been
known to present her with such undreamt of luxuries as a feather boa and
a musical box.

For the other fifty weeks of the year he was a sober and taciturn
man--you can picture him lean faced, with a fringe of gray whiskers,
poring earnestly over the big print of his Testament and declaiming at
length on the virtues of Paul and the vacillations of Peter, the girl,
darning needle in hand, listening with every evidence of interest, but
her mind occupied by visions of the mythological youth in glittering
armor.

When Tom Money died, he left her about fifty pounds and all his
furniture. He had been a careful man, and it was discovered that he had
paid his rent in advance, and that there was still three years of
unexpired tenancy.

So Verity Money lived alone, earning just enough by her needle to keep
body and soul together, and was happy in her dreams, and as she had no
women friends, she suffered no disillusionment. Her ideals had undergone
a change, for a new factor had come into her life. The movies had opened
a new world to her and shifted the angle of her visions. Now, she was a
little girl with sunlight in her hair, with a slow dawning smile and
little uplift of the big, serious eyes to greet the handsome stranger
who had ridden into her picture from nowhere in particular. In fine, she
adored Mary Pickford, and pinned a picture of that lady on the wall so
that it was the first object she saw when she opened her eyes in the
morning.

She would slip from her bed, carefully remove the print, and re-pin it
above the mantelpiece. She could light the fire and wash the cups,
spread the table and take her morning tea and bread and butter with a
sense of companionship which was very precious to her.

Her heroes were no longer armed _cap-à-pie_. They were handsome young
men in sombreros and who wore sheepskin trousers. They rode fiery
mustangs and earned a precarious livelihood by shooting one another with
revolvers....

The war brought nothing of reality to Verity Money. The wilful murder on
a small scale which was screened for her amusement was more real, more
terrible, more thrilling than the grand murthering up and down the
hundred-league line, eighty miles from her door, where day and night the
guns of Flanders crashed and roared and massed ranks went down before
the spraying fire of machine-guns.

The war dawned upon her slowly as one by one her customers dropped their
orders. Her work was the finest embroidery on cambric and silk. There
was plenty of sewing work to be had, but she could not make soldiers'
shirts or stitch button-holes in such quantity as would give her a
living wage. She was slow and careful, and the few button-holes she made
were very beautiful indeed, but she earned exactly eightpence in two
days.

She had exhausted much of the money which had been left to her, and
there came a time when she had to reduce her expenditure to a point
which gave her one square meal a day.

She had no friends. There was neither boy nor man in her life. Her
lovers were living in the sunny places of the world, holding their
wide-brimmed hats on the pommels of high Mexican saddles whilst they
passed the time of day with lovely girls who wore divided skirts and
rode astride.

One day she started to starve and nobody knew anything about it. If she
had died, the coroner would have had some unpleasant things to say about
moving pictures, because she had spent her last threepence to see a
great railway picture where half the story was told in the cab of an
engine and half in the bullion van, where train robbers and bullion
guards took pot shots at one another with deadly effect.

On the second evening of her starvation she went to a house in Berkeley
Square to deliver some d'oyleys. The lady was not at home, and nobody
had orders to pay this girl with the curious pinched look in her face.

She came slowly down the steps of the house into the dark square, took a
few steps, and staggered. Somebody caught her by the arm and pulled her
to her feet.

"Hold up," said a voice, but she was beyond obedience, and the stranger
lifted her in his arms as though she were a child and stood for a moment
frankly embarrassed by the situation in which he found himself.

He looked helplessly around, then whistled to two bright points of light
in the distance.

The taxi drove up.

"Take me to the nearest hospital," said the stranger.

"Middlesex?" suggested the driver.

The stranger hesitated.

"Is it near?" he asked cautiously.

"It's nearest if your friend is badly hurt," said the driver.

"That's just what I can't say," said the other.

"Put her in the cab," suggested the chauffeur, getting down; "there's an
electric light inside."

"What a brain!" laughed the stranger.

He looked at the girl lying limp and white in one corner of the cab and
whistled softly.

Then he pushed back his khaki cap and scratched his head.

"Now what is the matter with her?" he asked irritably--irritability is a
natural condition of man in the presence of a sick woman.

"If you ask me," said the driver carefully, "she wants grub."

"Good Lord!" cried the soldier, startled; "food ... hungry?"

The driver nodded.

"I've seen them symptoms before--I've driven a cab for twenty-eight
years in London."

Still the rescuer was undecided.

"Drive around for a while and if she doesn't recover I'll tell you--then
you can go hell for lick to the nearest hospital."

The car had hardly moved before Verity blinked open her eyes and stared,
first at the cab and then with a frightened frown at the young man who
sat on the opposite seat.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

She saw a soldier, indistinguishable from any other of the thousands who
had passed her in the mist of her dreams. He was a good-looking mortal,
as clean shaven as any cowboy or train robber or even as the blessed
saint of England. His uniform was no different from any other, but the
badge upon his collar was a bronze leaf.

She was seized with a sudden panic.

"Can I get out please?" she asked in a flutter.

"Sure," he nodded, "but we'd better have some food--I'm starving, and
you've made me miss an appointment with a fellow of ours."

To say that she was horror-stricken at this last revelation, is to tell
no more than the truth. She had never intruded her influence upon the
machinery of society before. Not once, by any act, had she knowingly
affected the plans or movements of others. She felt, as she looked at
him with troubled eyes and parted lips, that no sacrifice she could make
could be too great to repair the mischief which she had caused.

"I'm--I'm very sorry," she gulped; "I would buy you some supper,
but--but...."

She went red and her eyes were moist and shining. The young man whistled
again--but quite inside himself.

"We will have supper together," said he, with a smile.

So he brought her to a golden palace of splendor. She was not
self-conscious and did not realize that she might be an incongruous
figure in the midst of all this amazing luxury. He noted that she was
neatly dressed and that she was very young--she saw only the clustering
bulbs of light in the gilded ceiling, the snowy tables glittering with
silver and glass, the gentlemanly waiters who spoke English so funnily,
the flowers ... beautifully dressed ladies ... some of them smoking....
She drew a long breath which was half a sigh and half a sob.

They brought her soup--thick white creamy soup and curly strips of crisp
brown sole, and white slithers of chicken, and an ice and coffee. The
man did not offer her wine, knowing instinctively that she would be
shocked, and for this reason he denied himself the half bottle of
Chablis his soul craved.

He tried to draw her, gently and tactfully, but it was not until he
touched on the cinema as a method of filling up odd moments of waiting
that she began to talk. He did not laugh, he did not even smile when she
revealed herself, her dreams (this she did with a naïveté which brought
a lump to his throat), and her illusions. He told her something of the
untamed places of the world, of the country north of Edmonton, of the
forest of Ontario, of lumber camps on the Kootenay lakes, and of
Alberta.

"Are you--you aren't American?" she asked suddenly.

He smiled.

"I am Canadian," he said, "but that is near enough."

She looked at him in awe.

"Do you have cowboys and--and things like that?" she asked. "I mean ...
is it dreadfully rough there?"

They sat until they were the last people in the restaurant and the
waiters stood about them in silent reproach, and in that time he had
learnt all there was to tell about her. He learnt, too, of the lady in
Berkeley Square who had ordered d'oyleys and had not paid. Then he drove
her home by way of the square.

"Lady Grant is a friend of mine," he lied, "and she would like me to see
that you were paid--I will go in and get the money."

"Her name is Lady Grey," corrected the girl timidly.

"Didn't I say Grey?" he asked in surprise.

Though she protested that her client should not be disturbed at that
hour of the night, he insisted; and stopping the cab some distance from
the house, he disappeared into the darkness, returning in triumph with a
whole pound note.

"Lady Green asked me to say----" he began.

She looked at him in consternation.

"You went to the wrong house!" she whispered in horror; "oh, you must go
back, please! It was Lady Grey----"

He groaned in spirit.

"Lady Grey asked me to say," he went on patiently, "that you----"

"But you said 'Green,'" she protested.

"I did not mention the fact," he answered gravely, "but I am color
blind--I always say Grey when I mean Green--anyway, she said the work
was so well done that she would like you to accept a little extra...."

All the way to her rooms on the south side of the river she was one
babble of gratitude and adoration; Lady Grey was so kind, so generous,
so good.

He caught himself yawning.

He went back to his hotel that night singularly thoughtful. A lean man
from Toronto sprawling on the settee in the vestibule of the hotel rose
up to meet him, and Private John Hamilton met his disapproving eye with
a guilty smile.

"I waited till nine o'clock for you at Frascati's," growled the man from
Toronto, clipping his canvas belt together, "you're the darnedest
old----"

"Gee, Corporal, I'm sorry!" said the young man humbly, "but I
met--my--er--cousin--and she--I mean he--well, he insisted----"

"Don't you try to put anything over me," warned the other, stretching
himself. "I wouldn't have waited up for you, but I've seen the
Colonel--he's going back tomorrow."

He looked round and lowered his voice.

"There's to be a big attack this week," he said, "and the Canadians will
be in it. I've made my will," he added.

Hamilton looked at his lank friend with a twinkling eye.

"You're a cheerful soul," he said.

"Yep," said the other complacently. "I've left twenty-four dollars
seventy-five cents, and any balance due from my army pay, to three
lawyer fellers in Toronto."

He elaborated the scheme of his will, which with any good fortune must
lead to endless law suits.

"I hate lawyers worse'n poison," he said, "and I guess I shall be as
cheerful as any poor guy that goes west this week."

Hamilton was a long time getting to bed that night. He wrote a letter to
his agents in Montreal and one to the manager of his office at
Toronto--he was Hamilton of the Hamilton Steel Corporation before he
became No. 79743, Private Hamilton of the 40th Canadian Infantry--and
another to his London banker.

For an hour he sat on the edge of his bed, his hands thrust deep into
his pockets, thinking.

At two o'clock in the morning he rang his bell and demanded of the
astounded night porter the address of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The
request was received tolerantly by the porter as an example of youthful
good spirits. When the young man angrily persisted, the porter diagnosed
the case as one of truculent intoxication and went in search of a
reference book.

Verity Money had never received a telegram in her life and had no idea
who "Hamilton" was. It was an imperative telegram ordering her to meet
the said Hamilton at Marble Arch at three o'clock.

She obeyed the summons meekly, for it would have been flying in the face
of Providence to disregard a message upon which nineteen cents had been
spent.

In truth, she never suspected the identity of the sender, and puzzled
her little brain to recall the Mrs. Hamiltons and the Misses Hamiltons
who had swum majestically into her placid sea, had thrown overboard
instructions and orders for embroidered nightdress cases and
pillow-slips, and had as majestically retired.

She was dressed very plainly and very neatly in black, and could have
found no more attractive setting to her undeniable beauty, for she was
fair and petite, with a complexion like milk and hair of spun gold. Her
big gray-blue eyes, her firm little chin, her generous mouth--all these
details Hamilton took in as he came forward to meet her. She was frankly
and unfeignedly surprised and glad to meet him. He had joined the
angels, did he but know it, and was one with St. George and Bronco Billy
and other great heroes.

"I want to talk to you," he said brusquely, and looked at his
wrist-watch. "We have only a quarter of an hour."

He led her to a seat in the park under a big oak. They were free from
interruption but, as the girl was relieved to discover, within call of
the police.

"My name is Hamilton," he said, without any further preliminary, "and I
am going back to the front by the six o'clock train."

She nodded and looked at him with a new interest. He was going back to
the front! It seemed rather splendid and she regretted that she had not
paid closer attention to the war. But then, of course, she had not known
that he was in it, and that all the bombardments, charges, minings, and
bombings had been either designed to destroy him, or to rescue him from
danger. For the first time she felt a sense of personal animosity
against the German Emperor.

"Now, I want to say this," he went on carefully, choosing his words and
speaking slower than was his practice, "I have no relations in the
world, and if I am killed nobody will be very miserable."

"I should be--awfully," she said, with an eagerness that brought a smile
to his tanned face.

"I am sure you would," he said gently, "and that is what I want to speak
about. You see, a man is always sorry for himself. The thought of dying
and not being able to continue being sorry for himself is one of the
most dreadful thoughts his mind can hold. You've read that in books,
haven't you?"

She was doubtful, but admitted that she had often read of people who
were quite bitter at the prospect of nobody being unhappy when they
died.

"Well," he said, after a pause, "I want _you_ to be unhappy----"

"But I shall be," she insisted, and he laughed again.

"I want you to have the right to be unhappy," he said; "naturally, I
don't want to put people who aren't--related--or connected with me to a
lot of trouble--so I thought it would be a good idea if you married me
before I left."

"Married you?" she said blankly, and stared at him.

He nodded.

"But I--I couldn't marry you, could I--without being your wife?"

It was an insane question and she knew it, but for any words she could
utter, she was grateful enough. She found speech almost a physical
impossibility, and was amazed that she could speak at all.

"I have a special license," he said deliberately, "and I have a parson
waiting. If you will marry me we shall have time for a meal before I
go."

"But--I don't think I love you," she faltered, "and that wouldn't be
right--would it?"

"I don't want you to love me," he said loudly; "all you have to do is to
marry me and be sorry."

"Oh!"

She looked round helplessly.

She could hardly call the policeman to assist her in coming to a
decision, and yet she felt the need of legal advice.

"I don't know what to do," she said at length, "I've never been--nobody
has ever asked me--suppose I were your--your sister, what would you
advise?"

"Come and be married," he said practically, and rose.

At five o'clock she stood upon the platform at Charing Cross Station and
waved adieu to the man whose name she bore.

She waited until the train was out of sight, gently twisting the gold
band upon her finger, and then with a little lift of her chin she came
out to the crowded courtyard.

"Cab, miss?"

She looked at the porter a little frightened, and then with no small
amount of dignity inclined her head.

The cab drew up.

"Where do you want to go, miss?" demanded the driver.

"Mrs. John Hamilton!" said the girl and grew for a moment incoherent. "I
mean--oh, Hagan's Rents, please!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Verity Money learnt much from books. Even by cultured standards she was
well read, but she found neither in Dickens, nor Dumas, nor in the
efforts of the modern authors any situation analogous to her own. Nor
did the cinema help her, though she indulged in a systematic search for
parallels.

She had letters from her husband--kindly, brotherly letters. He had been
in a big fight, and had come out without a scratch, though his friend
("you remember the Corporal who was at the church?") had been severely
wounded, though he was now on the way to recovery. Was she well? Did she
receive her allowance regularly? Had she moved as he suggested to the
furnished flat he had urged her to take?

She answered his letters in a firm, childish hand, perfectly punctuated,
and to his surprise and relief not only literate but literary in the
sense that they conveyed a freshness and a clarity of view which was
little short of marvelous.

"I shall try to be a good wife to you," she wrote, "and I am already
reading the newspapers carefully. I have written to Lord Kitchener----"

He sat back on the step of the trench and gasped--then he laughed and
laughed till the tears rolled down his face.

"I have written to Lord Kitchener to ask him when the war will be over,
and he has written to me saying that he isn't sure, but he will let me
know. I hope our marriage isn't a mistake, but I will try to be worthy
of a hero who is fighting for his country. I have a picture of a
Canadian soldier, and I am learning to sing 'The Maple Leaf.' I went to
the flower shop in Regent Street and asked them if they had any maple
leaves, but they had none. It was so silly of me, but I did want to buy
some."

When John Hamilton came out of the trenches he went to No. 8 Base
Hospital and saw a certain swathed and bandaged corporal, and discussed
matters.

"Well, Don Quixote, and how is Mrs. Don?" asked the voice behind a large
square of medicated gauze.

John sat on the bed and read extracts from the letter.

"I thought you were crazy," said the wounded man, "but I guess you've
instinct. There's the making of a woman in that child. You're not
feeling sorry for yourself?"

"On the contrary, I'm looking forward to life--it has possibilities,"
said the other.

Verity Hamilton in the Baker Street flat, with a maid of her own, was a
serious little figure facing those possibilities for herself.

She adored her ten-minute husband because she was made to adore those
who were kind to her. She prayed for him, she evolved great plans for
his future, and she fought hard against the pin-point of doubt which had
come into her mind and which was growing with every day which passed.

In a sense he had fulfilled her ideals and her dreams, for he had come
violently into her life and had in a sense saved her from destruction.
At any rate he had given her food when she was very hungry. And then she
had seen him again--and whisk! she was married!

She used to sit with compressed lips, and eyes that were fixed in the
far-away, wondering--and doubting.

He could not love her: he had never said that he did. He had not so much
as kissed her, and it was only the strong grip of his hand that she
remembered.

Her problem was a simple one. She loved her husband and he did not love
her. Why he had married her she did not ask herself, curiously enough.
Who was she to inquire into his godlike whims?

How could she make her husband love her? That was the problem, and
presently a fortuitous visit to the movies told her.

Four months after his marriage, John Hamilton was sent to England on
sick leave pending his discharge. The shrapnel bullet which was
responsible for so much left him with a perceptible limp, and there was
a big chance that he might rid himself of all traces of his wound (so
the army doctors told him), but it would take time.

He arrived at Southampton in the early hours of a spring morning, and
telegraphed to his wife that he would be staying at the Cranbourne Hotel
and that he would call and see her.

He expected she would be waiting for him at Waterloo, but here he was
disappointed and a little hurt. Yet--he had heard something of the
commotion she had caused at the War Office when the news of the wounding
had come through; of how she had appeared armed with a letter
authorizing her to call upon a high personage. Being somewhat vague as
to her husband's position in the army since he had been promoted to
lance-corporal, she had described him as "Colonel," which accounted for
her facilities.

And she had demanded to be taken at once to the Holy of Holies to meet
the steel-eyed man from Khartoum, and had wept on the breast of a
flustered field officer when that permission had been gently denied her.

All this John Hamilton had learnt, and, lying on his back in the
Versailles hospital, had chuckled the morning through at the recital.

Perhaps she had a surprise for him? She had indeed.

When he came to her flat the maid opened the door expectantly and
primly.

Would he go to the drawing-room--Mrs. Hamilton was waiting.

The drawing-room door was opened and he was announced. He did not hear
the door close behind him, for he stood out of breath and speechless
looking down at the girl.

She was seated in a low chair before the fire, and on her knees lay a
tiny pink-faced thing that scowled and spluttered and stared into space.

"My God!" whispered John Hamilton.

She looked up at him serenely with that smile which was peculiarly her
own.

"Isn't he lovely?" she whispered.

John Hamilton said nothing.

"Whose--whose baby is that?" he managed to say at last.

"Mine," she said gravely.

"Y-yours--how old is it?" he asked, a cold sweat of apprehension
breaking over him.

"Two months," she said.

He sat down heavily and she looked across at him with growing distress.

"Oh dear--please, aren't you glad?" she pleaded. "I thought you would
be----"

He glared from the child to Verity and from Verity to the child, and
then he laughed, but it was not a happy laugh.

"What an ass I am!" he said, half to himself. "What a stupid blind
fool!"

The tears were standing in her eyes, tears of disappointment and
chagrin. She was hurt--he saw the immeasurable pain in her eyes and was
kneeling by her side in an instant.

"My dear, my dear," he said softly, "I am an awful brute--but it was
such a surprise and I had no idea----"

"I thought--it would make you so happy," she sobbed. "I wanted you--to
love me--and children bring people together as nothing else does--I've
seen it in stories and things."

He patted her hand.

"Yes, dear--but this is not--my child."

She looked at him open-eyed.

"Of course it is your child!" she cried.

John Hamilton rose unsteadily.

"I think--I rather think you're wrong," he said, his head whirling.

She laid the unconscious cause of her unhappiness upon the downy deeps
of the big arm-chair and faced him, her hands clasped behind her back.

"It's no use trying," she said brokenly. "I thought you would love a
little baby about the house--I'll have to send it back."

She covered her face with her hands.

"Send it back!" he gasped.

He took her by the wrists and gently pulled her hands apart.

"I--I was going to adopt it," she gulped. "I have it on a week's--a
week's trial----"

He took her in his arms and his laughter filled the flat with joyful
sound. The baby on the sofa, scenting disaster for itself, opened its
little red mouth very wide, screwed up its eyes into the merest buttons
and added its voice to the chorus.




The Dear Liar


Sylvia Crest walked back to her surgery, her quick steps beating time to
the song of triumph in her heart. She had declined Jonas Picton's offer
to send her home in one of his many cars. Walking, movement of any kind,
physical action she wanted to work down the bubbling exuberance which
was within her. So she swung down the hill from the big house and
through Broadway into busy Market Street, and people who knew her and
who observed the lifted chin and the light in her eyes, saw Tollford's
one woman doctor as a new being. They saw, though this they could not
know, merely the reaction from months of depression bordering upon
despair, months of waiting when her most precious quality, her faith in
herself and her invincibility had been gradually shrinking until she had
almost lost hold.

For she had thrown down the gage to the town of Tollford, and until this
morning the glove lay moulding where it fell.

If Tollford had not been founded a couple of hundred years before the
birth of Jonas Picton, it might and undoubtedly would have been known to
history as Pictonville. It is on record that Jonas offered pretty
substantial inducements, including the building of a new Town Hall, the
presentation of a town park, and the equipment of a new Fire Station to
induce such a change of name; but Tollford was more conservative in
those days before Picton's tall smoke stacks stabbed the skyline east
and north, and his great glass-roofed factory buildings sprawled
half-way down the valley.

And when the Picton works, and some eight thousand Picton employees, had
become so important a factor in the municipal life of Tollford, Jonas
had outgrown the desire for advertisement and had found life held
something bigger than the flattery of a purchased honor.

Yet, in every other sense, Tollford remained conservative. Strangers who
came and surveyed the town and marked it down as easy, who saw gold
lying on the sidewalks waiting to be lifted, and returned joyously to
show Tollford how much better stores, theatres, and newspapers could be
run--these people lost money.

Dr. Sylvia Crest had come straight to Tollford from Mercer's Hospital,
her diploma painfully new but her heart charged with confidence. She,
too, had surveyed the land and had duly noted the poverty of medical
resources in the town. Of women doctors there were none--and there were
at least four thousand women employed at Picton's. She sat down the
night following her visit to Tollford, and, with a pencil and paper and
the local health statistics before her, she took stock of opportunity
and found the prospects beautiful.

So she arrived one dull day in February, rented a corner house,
furnished her rooms with proper severity, put up her sign, and waited.
The local newspaper man gave her a most outrageous puff, for Sylvia was
pretty--the prettiness of regular features and a skin like silk; but,
brazen sign and as brazen advertisement notwithstanding, few patients
sought the advice of the new doctor.

Tollford was conservative.

Moreover, working women did not like women doctors. About the female of
the medical profession all manner of legends circulated. Women
practitioners (by local and even more general account) did not treat
women as kindly as men doctors. They were liable to fainting spells, and
think what would happen if, in the middle of a critical operation, the
doctor needed medical attention!

All these things were said and agreed upon in the lunch hour at
Picton's, when the women talked over the new arrival.

"I'd as soon die as have a woman doctor fussing round me," said one
oracle, and her light-hearted preference for death before the attentions
of one of her sex was endorsed with unanimity.

A haggard and droop-lipped Jonas Picton sitting in his ornate office at
the works had heard of Dr. Sylvia Crest, and sighed. Where the great
Steyne, most famous of modern physicians, had failed to find any other
remedy than the knife, and offered even that dread remedy without
assurance of cure, what hope could a "bit of a girl" bring? His
secretary had pointed her out to him once when he was driving through
Tollford. And yet one day in sheer desperation he had sent for her. The
messenger had come at a moment when Dr. Sylvia was facing, perilously
near tears, an accumulation of bills which called for an earlier
settlement than her bank manager could sanction. No wonder that the sun
shone more wonderfully, and the homely folk of Tollford took on a
foreign charm under her benignant eyes as she made her way homeward.

Alan Brock was waiting in her study, and the hearth she had left clean
and tidy was strewn with his cigarette ends. She looked suspiciously at
him as she came in, his face was more yellow, his appearance more untidy
than usual, and he had not shaved.

He was the one doctor in Tollford who had given her welcome--he was more
presentable the first day he had called upon her--and she had been
grateful. She did not realize until later that in seeking her out he had
advertised his belief in her failure.

Alan Brock had neither friend nor practice in Tollford, and for good
reason.

She took off her wrap, her disapproving eyes upon the figure sprawling
in the one easy-chair she possessed.

"Doctor Brock, you have been taking morphine again," she said severely.

He chuckled, stretching out his hand to flick away the ashes of his
cigarette. "I must keep one patient, you know," he grinned, "to
alleviate suffering, to restore vitality--what used old Professor
Thingummy say were the three duties of medicine?"

She smiled.

She was too elated to take anything but a charitable view even of one
whose acquaintance she was determined to drop.

"Why don't you go away from here?" she asked. "You need not be a
doctor----"

"The good people of Tollford make it obvious," he growled.

"You have money," she went on; "why stay here where----" She stopped,
and he looked up.

"Where I'm not exactly respected, eh?" he asked. "Well, there are
several reasons, and you're one of them."

"Me?" she was genuinely surprised.

He nodded.

"Yes, you. Do you know, Sylvia, doctoring isn't your line. You haven't
the temperament for it, for one thing--it's a horrible profession for a
woman, anyway."

Her lips were set tight now.

"That isn't the view you took a month ago, Dr. Brock," she said, and he
waved his hand feebly.

"A few weeks ago I wanted to know you and I wasn't such a fool as to
start right in telling you your faults. Sylvia, you and I are both
hopeless failures."

He rose unsteadily and reached out his hand. Had she not moved quickly
it would have rested on her arm.

"I want you to listen to me, Dr. Brock," she said quietly. "There is
nothing in our relationship which justifies your calling me by my
Christian name. There is, I am sorry to say, very little in our common
profession which makes a continuance of our friendship possible or
desirable--even the communion of failure has no attraction for me."

He was standing by the table, swaying slightly. The effect of the
morphine was beginning to wear off and his face was drawn and haggard.
He muttered something and sank back to his chair. Then lifting his
sunken head with an unexpected alertness:

"Look here," he said, "I've got money, that's true. I tell you I'm
mighty fond of you, and that's true also. Why don't you throw up this
business and come away? It would make a new man of me, Sylvia."

She shook her head.

"Supposing I was fond of you, which I'm not, marrying a man to reform
him would be a pretty thin occupation; and, honestly, I don't think
you're going to be cured."

"You're certain about that, are you?" he said, with an ugly little
smile.

"Do you realize," he asked suddenly, "that you're certain about almost
everything?"

He was surprised to see the red come into her face. Later he was to
learn the reason why.

"I'm sorry," he said humbly. "Don't let us quarrel--anyway, I'm leaving
this hole. How did you get on this morning? Did you see the kid?"

"I saw the child," said the girl.

"Well?" He was looking at her queerly. There was something skeptical and
challenging in his attitude which annoyed her, until she remembered that
there had been a time when this broken man had been Picton's family
doctor.

"I saw the child," she said again, "and I think that the trouble is
local--in fact, I am certain." She cut the word short, as though it had
slipped out against her will, and again she flushed.

"You think the spinal trouble will yield to treatment--in fact, you're
certain, eh?" he said slowly. "Well, you're putting your opinion against
the biggest expert."

"I realize that," she replied; "but I must say what I believe. I gave
the child a thorough examination; she's a pretty little girl, isn't she?
I am satisfied that with massage and fairly simple local remedies, the
swelling on the back can be absorbed."

Brock was silent. He sat with his chin on his hands looking into the
fire.

At last he broke the silence.

"And naturally old man Picton fell on your neck and blessed you."

She looked at him in surprise.

"He was rather grateful--why?"

"Because," said the other grimly, "that's the kind of verdict he's been
trying to get for years. Jonas Picton hates the knife. His wife died on
the table. His mother died in similar circumstances, and I believe one
of his sisters had a very unhappy experience at the hands of a
fashionable surgeon. It is just the knife that he wants to avoid, and
naturally he believed you and was glad to swallow everything you told
him. Do you know what you are, Sylvia? You're the straw, and he clutched
you!"

The girl repressed her irritation with an effort.

"I gave what I believe to be an honest opinion," she said.

Dr. Brock had reached out his hand and taken a book from the bookcase
and was looking at it idly. He turned the cover.

"S.A.C.--your initials," he said. "'Sure and Certain,' eh?" He laughed.

This time she made no attempt to conceal her anger.

"You are not quite as original as you think, Dr. Brock," she said, her
lips trembling. "Those initials have been interpreted that way before by
a man who would be a little more competent than you to sit in judgment
on my diagnosis."

"Who is that?" he asked in surprise.

He had reached the stage in morphiomania where he found it impossible to
take offense at rebuffs more pointed than Sylvia Crest's.

"John Wintermere," she said shortly, and he whistled.

"I remember," he said softly. "I heard some story about it from Mercers.
He was rather sweet on you, wasn't he, and you had an awful row with him
when you were a student, and----"

The girl had opened the door.

"If you will excuse me now, Dr. Brock, I shall be very glad to have this
room," she said. "I am expecting some patients."

"Wintermere, eh?" He rose slowly, groping for his hat. "Good chap,
Wintermere. He's married now, isn't he?"

He saw the girl's face go white.

"Married?" she faltered. "I don't know--perhaps--at any rate, it's no
business of mine."

He chuckled. The effect of the marriage invention on the spur of the
moment satisfied him.

"Perhaps he isn't--now I come to think of it. I was wrong to say he was
married. Scared you, didn't it?"

She made no answer.

He turned at the door of the little house. "Jonas has taken you up and
you'll get all the patients you want now, but, take my advice, combine
business and pleasure by getting John Wintermere down to see Picton's
kid. Picton has funked sending for him, though he knows Wintermere's
opinion is the last word on spinal trouble----"

The door was slammed viciously in his face.

It seemed almost as though Brock's prophecy was to be fulfilled. As if
some secret courier had run from house to house telling Tollford that
the new woman doctor was under the sublime patronage of Jonas Picton and
was no longer to be avoided. Patients appeared miraculously. Never
before had Dr. Sylvia Crest's waiting-room been so crowded as it was
that night.

She called the next day at the big house to see her little patient.
Picton's car was at the door, and, as she walked up, the big man was
pulling on his gloves in the hall and greeted her with almost pathetic
eagerness.

"Just come into the library, doctor," he said, opening a door. "I want
to talk to you about Fay."

He ushered her into the room, closed the door behind her, and lowered
his voice.

"I didn't tell you yesterday, doctor, that I had consulted Dr. Steyne.
You've heard of Steyne?"

Sylvia nodded.

"I have heard of him," she smiled, "and I also know that you've
consulted him."

Picton looked relieved.

"I'm glad to hear that," he said. "Somehow I didn't like telling you for
fear"--he laughed a little nervously--"for fear the knowledge that
Steyne had seen her would influence your opinion. You know that he takes
a different view from yours? He calls the disease some infernal long
name and says that it cannot be cured save by an operation, and that it
is extremely rare that such operations are successful. Sit down, won't
you?"

He followed her example, stripping off his gloves as he spoke, and
gaining something of the animation and forcefulness which Tollford
associated with his dominating personality.

"There's another man, Wintermere," Picton went on. "You've heard of
him?"

"I've heard of him," said Sylvia steadily.

"Well, they wanted me to bring him down to see the child, and I've heard
that he's a pretty clever man. I met him when I was on my vacation, and
he seems a very clever fellow, though a bit young looking for a
specialist."

The name of John Wintermere invariably annoyed her. Today, with the
memory of Brock's gibes so fresh in her mind, there was sounder reason
for her irritation. But John Wintermere had been her master in surgery,
and common decency demanded a testimonial.

"I don't think I should be deceived by his youthful appearance, Mr.
Picton," she said. "I think he is the greatest surgeon in this country."

Jonas Picton pulled a wry face.

"I don't want any great surgeons," he said shortly. "I want a cure
without surgery. And you think you can do it, don't you?"

Only for the fraction of a second did Sylvia hesitate.

"Yes, I think so, yes, I am cer--I am confident I can cure the child,"
she said, and if he noticed her confusion of terms he made no comment.

He rose quickly and gripped her arm with his big hand.

"My friend," he said, and his voice was a little shaky, "put my girl
right and you shall never regret having come to Tollford."

Sylvia went up alone to the room of her patient, and she seemed to have
lost something of the sprightliness of mind with which she had greeted
the day.

In a large room chosen for its situation because its windows offered no
view of her father's commercial activities, was the center and soul of
Jonas Picton's existence.

"Hello, Miss Doctor!" said a cheery voice from the white bed, and Sylvia
went across to her patient and took the thin hand in hers.

Fay Picton was seventeen and a prodigious bookworm; books covered the
table by the side of the bed and filled two long cases which ran the
length of the room. She was a pretty, fairy-like thing who turned big,
smiling eyes to the newcomer.

"You're the first interesting doctor I've had," she said, "and I've had
a lot. Your name is Sylvia, and it's what I'm going to call you. I
couldn't tell you this yesterday because Daddy was here, and I had to
appear impressed by all that stuff you were talking."

"And weren't you impressed?" smiled Sylvia, as she sat by the bed.

"Not a dreadful lot," said the girl, with disconcerting frankness. "You
see, I know much more about my unhappy case than you or Daddy. I've read
a lot about it."

But Sylvia was nettled. To suggest the fallibility of the young is
outrageous.

"You ought not to have read any medical books," she said severely.

"Oh, skittles," said the patient contemptuously; "you don't suppose
they'd let me have medical books, do you?"

"Well, where did you read about it?"

"In the encyclopædia, of course. Everything's in the encyclopædia, isn't
it?"

Sylvia, for the first time in her life, was genuinely embarrassed.

"Well, anyway, we're going to cure you," she said cheerily, and Fay
Picton laughed quietly.

"Of course you're _not_ going to cure me," she said calmly. "This thing
is more or less incurable. The only remedy is an operation, and there
have been just four cases where an operation has been successful. Only
Daddy shrieks inside himself at the very idea--poor soul!"

This was not exactly the start which Dr. Sylvia Crest had expected. She
was dismayed at the thought that her task was to be doubly difficult and
that she had two fights to wage--one against the disease and one against
the skepticism of this self-possessed young person.

"You see, doctor dear, the spine and all its eccentricities is _terra
nova_ to the poor doctor," the patient went on remorselessly. She
stopped suddenly as she saw the look in Sylvia's face. "I'm awfully
sorry." She put out her hand and laid it on Sylvia's knee. "Anyway, it
doesn't matter; do your best and come every day and talk to me, and I'll
pray hard for faith in your treatment."

That was the beginning of the curious and torturing friendship which
shook the self-confidence of Sylvia Crest more than the admonitions of
professors or the jeers of Alan Brock.

"Fay is quite brightening up under the care of that woman doctor,"
Picton told his cronies, his managers, and the few who enjoyed the
privilege of intimate friendship with him. "Never saw her looking so
cheerful, my boy."

One afternoon Sylvia went in haste to her patient, obeying an urgent
telephone summons from the nurse, and found the girl lying on her side,
haggard and white, with a queer little smile on her face.

"Doctor, darling," said Fay, "send that gaunt female out of hearing and
I'll tell you something."

Sylvia dismissed the nurse.

"Bend down as they do in books," whispered the girl, with a little laugh
that ended in a grimace, "and I will tell you my guilty secret."

"What is wrong, dear?" asked Sylvia.

She was in a panic--an unreasonable, fearful panic--and there was need
to exercise control, lest her voice betrayed her. The girl's bright
eyes were fixed on hers, and there was elfish laughter struggling with
the pain in her voice.

"If we could have a little slow music," she whispered, "I think it would
be appropriate. Sylvia, you won't let that raw-boned creature weep over
me, will you?"

"For God's sake, Fay, be quiet," said Sylvia hoarsely. "What are you
talking about?"

"I'm going to glory," said the girl. "I sort of know it."

"Let me see."

Sylvia's hand trembled as she examined the spine. The tiny swelling
which it had been her daily care to reduce had grown ominously, and
there were other certain symptoms which could not be ignored.

Jonas Picton, called from a board meeting, came back to the house and
listened in silence whilst Sylvia told the new development.

He seemed to shrink visibly at the telling, and when he spoke his voice
was husky.

"I--I had a lot of confidence in you, doctor," he said. "Do you
think--do you think there is anything to be done----"

Sylvia was silent for a while. But he might have foretold her answer in
the sudden stiffening of her body and the upward throw of her chin.

"I still have faith in my treatment," she said.

He did not speak again, but sat on the edge of his chair, his head bent
forward, his fingers twining, and then without a word he rose and went
up to the girl's room.

Sylvia did not follow him. Somehow she knew instinctively that he wished
to go alone. She waited for ten minutes and then he came back. He did
not look at her, but walked to the window and stared out. Presently he
turned.

"Who is the best surgeon in this country?" he asked.

"John Wintermere of Mercer's Hospital," she replied.

He nodded and went out of the room. Then he came back and opened the
door wide, but he did not come into the room, nor did he look at her.

"You'd better go up and see Fay," he said. "I've telephoned to Dr.
Wintermere, and he will be here this evening."

Sylvia Crest walked heavily up the stairs. She had heard the doom of her
professional career, as though it were pronounced by a judge.

Fay lay with her face turned to the door, and as the girl entered she
beckoned her.

"I had to do it, Sylvia darling," she said. "You don't mind me taking
liberties with my staid old family doctor?"

She took the older girl's hand between hers and fondled it.

"Had to do what, dear?" asked Sylvia quietly.

"I had to tell him to send for Wintermere."

"You told him?" said Sylvia in surprise.

The girl nodded.

"You see, I've been thinking things out, and it occurred to me that I
might be the fifth case in history, and really, for poor Daddy's sake,
I ought to take a chance. You don't mind, do you, not really?"

Sylvia stooped and kissed the girl.

"No, dear," she said.

"It means a tremendous lot to you, in your profession, doesn't it, I
mean your--your----" Fay checked the words.

"My mistaken diagnosis," finished Sylvia, with a laugh. "Yes, I suppose
it does, but it means more to me that you should have the best
treatment, irrespective of my fine feelings, and even though the
treatment is contrary to my idea of what is right."

Sylvia waited at the house the whole of that afternoon, and she was
alone in the drawing-room when John Wintermere came. She had nerved
herself for the meeting, and was in consequence more cold and more
formal in her attitude than she intended.

He walked slowly across the room to her, and it seemed as though the
passage of six years had made no alteration in the disparity of their
relationships. He was still the professor, she was still the student,
though she felt she had grown older at a faster rate than he. But he was
also the man who had held her hand one sunny day in the hospital gardens
and had spoken incoherently of love, urging her to drop the profession
to which she had dedicated her life. Perhaps the memory of this added to
the awkwardness of the meeting.

"I'm glad to see you again, Sylvia," he said in that soft voice of his.
"It is curious I should be called into a case of yours. Won't you tell
me about it?"

She did not resent the "Sylvia." It came so naturally and rightly, and,
in the detailing of Fay Picton's case, her nervousness wore off. He
listened gravely, interjecting now and again a question, and when she
had finished he heaved a long sigh.

"Well?" she challenged.

He hesitated.

"It may be what you think," he said, "but it seems to me that the
symptoms suggest a series of complications. Have you"--he hesitated
again--"have you offered a definite opinion?"

She nodded.

"Did you tell Picton that the case would yield to your treatment?"

She nodded again, and his face lengthened.

"So if the opinion I give is in contradiction to yours ...?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"If that is the case," she said, "I shall regret not having followed the
advice you offered to me six years ago."

He was looking at her thoughtfully.

"It would mean ruin for you, of course," he said. "I--I wish I had not
been called in."

"That's absurd, Dr. Wintermere," she said sharply. "Personal friendship
and that sort of thing--I don't mean friendship," she went on confused,
"I mean----"

"I know what you mean," said Wintermere. "Will you take me up to the
child?"

Jonas Picton was in the room when they went in, and he remained by one
of the windows whilst the examination was in progress. After a while
Wintermere rearranged the bedclothes.

"Well?" said Fay, looking up into his face, with a smile; "to be or not
to be?"

He smiled back at her and gently twigged the end of her nose.

"That is the privilege of an eminent specialist," he said gravely.

"To be or not to be?" persisted the girl.

"Fay, Fay, don't talk about such things." It was her father who had come
to her bedside and had taken her little hand in his. "Don't talk about
things so flippantly, darling. You hurt your old Dad."

Then with sudden resolution he looked across the bed to Wintermere, and
asked harshly:

"Is an operation necessary?"

Sylvia held her breath. Her heart was pounding violently, and she felt
as though she were going to faint. What would the verdict be? She knew
too well what sentence would follow that verdict. She met the grave,
earnest eyes of John Wintermere, and there was in hers a momentary plea
for mercy. She hated herself for it. She knew that deep in her woman's
heart was only one desire--the health and the life of the frail child
who was looking with a quizzical smile from one to the other.

"Well?" asked Picton. "Is an operation necessary?"

Wintermere cleared his throat.

"An operation is not only necessary but imperative," he said steadily,
"and it must be performed at once."

Picton, with a groan, turned on his heel and walked from the room.

Sylvia saw the doctor only once again before the operation. At the
request of the girl she was staying in the house. Picton had retired to
his library and was not visible, and the girl was left alone in the big,
cheerless drawing-room to plan her new future. She would have offered to
help had Wintermere given her any encouragement, but he had (purposely,
it seemed) made her attendance unnecessary by telephoning for an
anæsthetist. So Sylvia sat and thought. She told herself a dozen times
that every doctor makes a mistake, and the fact that their diagnoses
were occasionally refuted does not ruin their career.

But it was not what the world might think of Sylvia Crest that worried
her and that drove her to a condition of blank despair. It was the
shattering of her own faith in Sylvia Crest.

At ten o'clock that night she went up to see the child and found her
cheerful--even gay.

"Sylvia, my duck, sit down here," said Fay Picton, patting the side of
the bed with her white hand, "and don't worry, because I'm going to be
the miraculous fifth. I like your Dr. Wintermere."

"My Dr. Wintermere?" The protest was forced from Sylvia.

"Your Dr. Wintermere," said the girl coolly. "He's awfully good-looking,
isn't he, and not so very old. I should hate having a man with whiskers
carving me about. And he's fond of you. I saw him looking at you like
the film hero looks at the poor but honest shop-girl. He devoured
you--that's the word, my dear."

"Don't talk nonsense, please, Fay. You ought to be preparing yourself."

"For a happier life," the patient laughed softly.

"Now go down and see father, and tell him that I am brave but happy."

She had left the room, and was at the head of the stairs when she met
Wintermere. They stopped, facing one another on the landing, and it was
Sylvia who spoke first.

"I hope it is going to be very successful, doctor," she said.

"I hope so," he replied drearily. "God knows, this is the most awful end
to six years of dreaming that could be imagined. Anybody but you--if it
had been anybody but you, Sylvia."

She shook her head.

"If I am wrong, I am terribly wrong," she said. "If you are right, I
shall thank God for it all my days."

He bowed his head for a second and walked past her.

To Sylvia's surprise she found Picton waiting for her in the
drawing-room. And he was calmer and more friendly than she had
expected. She delivered her message in a modified form, and he nodded
and turned the conversation to a more general subject. So they talked
for half an hour on matters which did not interest them, and their
hearts and minds were in the room above.

Unexpectedly the old man turned the conversation to Sylvia herself.

"Doctor," he said, "I know you did your best for my little girl, and
you've done all you could to make her happy--to make me happy too," he
added, then paused as though he was in some doubt as to how he should
proceed. "What I mean is this," he said, with an effort--"that whatever
is the outcome of this," he waved his hand to the door, "I do not blame
you."

"I shall not need your blame," said Sylvia in a low tone; "if I am
wrong, I shall never practice again."

"You'll never practice again," he repeated. "Then this is a tragedy for
both of us."

She bent her head. The handle of the door turned, and both sprang up as
John Wintermere came in. He wore a long white wrapper, and had evidently
come straight from his task. His face was white and drawn, and he looked
from one to the other in silence as he closed the door behind him.
Picton was shaking in every limb.

"Well--well?" he asked in a curiously squeaky voice.

John Wintermere nodded.

"Your daughter will recover," he said, "and, I believe, will be a
strong and healthy girl."

"Thank God for that!" gasped the old man, and falling into his chair, he
covered his face with his hands, his shoulders shaking.

"I want to say something else, please."

Picton lifted his tear-stained face to the man in the white wrapper, but
John Wintermere was looking at Sylvia.

"I want to say this," he said, "that when the operation was well
advanced I discovered that it was unnecessary."

"Unnecessary!" cried Sylvia.

And again he nodded.

"I am satisfied," he said, speaking slowly, "that had Dr. Crest's
treatment been continued, your daughter would have made a complete
recovery without recourse to the knife."

Then he walked from the room without another word.

It was the anæsthetist whom Sylvia saw just before he left the house
that night, and she talked to him as doctor to doctor.

"Yes, he's a wonderful chap, Wintermere," said that medico, with a sigh
of admiration and envy. "She'll recover all right. Yes, he's a wonderful
fellow. Good-night, doctor." She smiled to herself in the darkness of
the porch before the house.

Wintermere was saying good-night to Picton, who was almost hysterical in
his relief and happiness. When he came out, Sylvia was waiting for him.

"Send your car on," she said; "I want to walk a little way with you."

It was a slow and a silent walk, and when the time for parting came,
Sylvia turned to the man at her side and laid her hands on his
shoulders.

"John," she said, "I'm going out of this profession."

"You're mad," he said, and his voice trembled. "You--you were right in
this case."

She laughed quietly.

"You dear liar," she said, and kissed him.




The Christmas Princess


There were times when John Bennett Watson (abbreviated for office
purposes to "J. B.") wished he were not the Managing Director of the
Western Commercial Corporation; moments when he envied the manager of
the Broad Street branch of the Southern & Eastern Bank. This in spite of
the fact that he was a normal man of thirty-something, without any
business worries whatever, enjoying the best of health and an income
which, at a moderate estimate, was twenty times larger than the
hard-worked bank manager.

J. B. was a man who in no circumstances interfered in other people's
affairs; meddlers, he loathed; outside folks who knew how things could
be done better, he abominated, and yet there were certain domestic
arrangements of the Southern Bank that he would alter.

Gray, the manager, a harassed little man with a straggling beard, came
over to see him about a draft, and John made an awkward dive to the
matter that at once intrigued and irritated him.

"You are very busy at the bank, Mr. Gray?"

"Yes," sighed Gray, rising and gathering up his documents, "too busy!
With the annual audit coming on, the slump in industrials, the heavy
cash balances I must carry to meet end-of-the-quarter demands, I look
like having a happy New Year! Good morning!"

"I was working late in my office the other night," said John hastily,
arresting the official's departure, "and, looking across the road, I saw
a girl working at eleven o'clock--she was still working when I left, and
the next morning I saw her at her desk when I arrived."

The manager scratched his beard.

"Who can that be, now?" he asked absently. "Oh yes, that is Miss
Welford. She was secretary to our late accountant. Poor fellow! He died
leaving things in a terrible muddle, and if it wasn't for the fact that
she has an instinct for banking and has got his department work at her
finger-tips, I should be in a fearful muddle. She is the only member of
my staff that I would leave on the premises by herself, I assure you!"

"I thought I'd met her somewhere," said John carelessly and most
untruthfully.

"I dare say," said the bank manager. "She is the sort of girl who has
moved in a very good set. Her father lost his money in the rubber slump.
By the way, rubber is a market that looks like reviving, Mr. Watson."

"I dare say," said John, to whom the fluctuations of the rubber market
meant less than nothing. "I think I remember her--_Annie_ Welford, isn't
it?"

The manager shook his head.

"I don't know--'F. G.,' her initials are." He frowned. "I never trouble
about the names of people. Oh yes, it's Frances; that's the name. I've
often thought she's quite a good-looking girl."

"You've often thought that, have you?" said John scornfully.

The man was scarcely human, and yet he was loath to let him go, and
searched around in his mind for some excuse for detaining him.

"Where do you go for Christmas, Mr. Gray?"

"Home," said the other, showing the first sign of animation. "The two
days in the year I look forward to are Good Friday and Christmas Day.
Christmas is the one day I can't work and can be really a perfectly
happy man! I sit in front of a fire, and my children read to me or tell
me Christmas stories, and that's my idea of a perfectly happy day."

"Great heavens!" said John, aghast. "You _are_ human, after all! Though
I confess that, if anybody tried to tell me a Christmas story on
Christmas Day, I should go and look for a hatchet. And your staff--do
they work?"

"I'm sorry to say that headquarters won't allow that," said the manager
regretfully. "It would add to my enjoyment considerably if I knew that
somebody else was working."

John took an instant dislike to him, had thoughts of changing his bank.

"Do you mean to tell me you would let her--them, I mean--work on
Christmas Day? Why, it would be disgraceful!" he said hotly.

When the bank manager had gone, John strode over the carpeted floor of
his office and stood, staring across at the trim figure visible--more
visible than he had hoped--from the window.

"Quite a good-looking girl!"

He smiled at the impertinence of the man. She was beautiful, the
complete satisfaction of all his uncatalogued requirements. If he could
only hear her speak! He shrank from the possibility of disillusionment.
What would she do on Christmas Day? he wondered. Hold revel in her
suburban home, possibly in the company of her sweetheart. He made a
little grimace at the thought.

Yet it was perfectly ridiculous to suppose that such a girl would be
without admirers, and that from their hosts she should not have given
preference to one over all the rest.

If Gray had been just a little more human, it would have been possible
to secure an introduction, though he shrank even from that prospect.

He was staring at her when the girl looked up, saw his dim figure behind
the window-pane, and, as though conscious that she had been the object
of his scrutiny, got up quickly from the table, switched on the light,
and pulled down the shade. It was the first time she had ever noticed
him, he reflected glumly, and it was not very pleasing that her
acknowledgment of his admiration should be so emphatically resentful.

John Watson went back to his bachelor flat in St. James's with a feeling
that the day had not been well spent, and that something in this
one-sided intimacy had gone out of his life. He could no longer picture
himself speaking to her, could weave no more dreams in which she played
a complacent and agreeable part. Drawing the blind seemed to shut out
even the visions that a pipe and a fire and a sprawling terrier bring to
the most unimaginative. He must needs fall back upon the Princess.

Her Serene Highness had been a figure of speculation from the day when
old Nurse Crawley, who attended his infant needs, and was locally
credited with being possessed of the devil, predicted that he would
inherit a great fortune and marry a princess--a faith from which she
never wavered all the days of her life. Fortune had come unexpectedly
and vastly, and had been doubled and trebled by his own peculiar genius.
But the Princess remained amongst the glowing and shadowy shapes of the
fire, less tangible than the blue smoke that curled from his pipe.

And now the Princess bored him. He wanted to meet "F. G. Welford." He
wanted badly to meet her: first, to apologize for his rudeness, and then
to ask her ... well, just to ask her if life held any greater attraction
than the balancing of a late accountant's books.

The blind was drawn the next morning when he looked out. It was drawn on
the morning of Christmas Eve. He had brought his bag to the office and
lost two trains in the hope that she might relent. She was inexorable.
He always traveled to Tatterdown by train because the cottage (it had
been his father's before him) had no accommodation for a car, and
somehow his big limousine did not attune with the atmosphere of that
faded and fragrant place.

The taxi-cab that took him to the station was half-way up Broad Street
when he saw her. She was walking toward the office; had evidently been
out to tea; and his cab was near enough to the sidewalk to give him the
nearest view of her face he had yet had. He drew his breath at the sight
of her, and for a second was seized with an insane desire to stop the
cab, get out, and, on some desperate excuse or other, speak to her. But
before he could commit that folly, she was gone.

Gray was a slave-driver, he decided, a sweater, a man of no sensibility
or feeling. Christmas Eve! And to allow a girl to work.... Perhaps the
cunning devil had lied to him, and she was working on Christmas Day. He
hated the unhappy Mr. Gray, hated his baldness, his beard, and all that
was of him. Such a man had no soul, no proper appreciation of values. He
was a cold-blooded exploiter of all that was best and noblest in
humanity.

By the time he had reached Bullham Junction, John Bennett Watson was
better balanced in mind, could chuckle at his own extravagances without
wondering at them, which was ominous.

There was no conveyance at the station, and he walked through the one
street of Bullham to the Red Lion.

"Excuse me, Mr. Watson."

He turned, to see the rubicund countenance and the blue coat of a
policeman.

"Happy Christmas, Mr. Watson. You going out to Tatterdown?"

"Why, yes, sergeant, as soon as I can get a cab."

"Likely you'll see my dog Mowser round about the village; he's a rare
fellow for Tatterdown. There's a dog there he's always fighting. Will
you send him home with a flea in his ear? Give him a whack and he'll go.
Getting into bad habits, that dog. Comes home in the middle of the night
and scratches the door till I let him in."

J. B. smiled and promised.

Mowser, a bedraggled wire-haired terrier, he found literally on the
doorstep of the cottage, and Mowser's feud had evidently found
expression in violence, for he was slightly tattered.

John took him in and fed him. The hour was late, and he decided to send
him back in the morning--an arrangement wholly agreeable to Mowser, who
finished his scrap and went to sleep under the kitchen table.

So small was Tatterdown Cottage that the man and his wife who acted as
caretakers had no accommodation and slept at the village--a risky
proceeding, as an insurance company had told him, but one which he
preferred, for there were memories about this little house with its
thatched roof and Elizabethan chimneys which were very pleasant, and the
presence of strangers was insufferable. Here, for ten years, John
Watson had wakened to hail the Christmas morn and listen to the silvery
bells of the parish church, and had spent the morning in the sheltered
garden, tending those hardy plants that reveal their treasures in bleak
December. For ten Christmas Eves he had sat, huddled up in the big,
chintz-covered chair, with a pipe and a book and his pleasant thoughts,
listening to the drip of rain or the thin whine of the wind, or
watching, on one never-to-be-forgotten Christmas Eve, the snowflakes
building white cobwebs in the corner of every pane.

It was half-past eleven, and he had risen with a yawn to stretch himself
preparatory to going upstairs to bed, when there came to him from
outside a sound which was familiar. He passed down the little passage,
unbolted the front door, and stepped into the garden.

Out of the darkness came the peculiar and distinctive sound of an
aeroplane's engines that were not running sweetly, and presently,
peering overhead, he saw the shadow of great wings. Suddenly a blinding
white light showed in the skies, illuminating fields and road, so
brilliant that Tatterdown Parish Church, a mile away, was visible. The
light swooped in a circle, coming lower and lower, and finally vanished
behind the privet fence of the Hermitage field, its radiance throwing
the trim boundary hedge into silhouette.

Going back into the cottage for his coat, Watson ran through the
garden, across the road, and, vaulting the gate, stumbled over the
frozen plough-land to the place where the landing lights of the big
machine were flickering to extinction.

"Hello!" called a voice, and John answered the hail, and presently came
up with the two men who were standing by the under-carriage. One was
lighting a cigarette, and the newcomer caught a momentary glimpse of his
face, long, white, and blackly bearded. The other he could not see, but
it was he who spoke.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"Tatterdown, six miles from Pelworth," Watson answered. "You got down
without accident?"

There was no reply for a few seconds, and then the bearded man laughed
softly.

"We got down, but not without accident," he said, a dry note in his
voice. "Is there a house where...."

Here he stopped and said something to his companion in an undertone. The
short man grunted an inquiry in the same tone, and:

"I'll ask," he said. "Are we near to a village?"

"No--not nearer than a mile," said Watson. "I have a cottage, but it is
rather isolated."

"Wife and family?"

John laughed quietly.

"No," he said; "I am all alone."

Again the whispered colloquy.

"It may sound a little--unusual and impertinent, these questions," said
the tall man at last, "but we have a passenger who, for State reasons,
is traveling incognito. I must take you this much into my confidence and
tell you that she ought not to be within a thousand miles of England.
May I therefore rely upon your discretion?"

Dumbfounded, John Watson listened, his sense of adventure piqued.

"Certainly, you may rely upon me," he said. "I am a bachelor and live
alone--I usually come to Tatterdown to spend Christmas--and I haven't
even a servant in the house. I was born here, and have a certain
sentimental feeling towards the place. I am giving you confidence for
confidence. My name is Watson, by the way."

"Thank you," said the other simply. "My name is James--Colonel Alfred
James."

He walked towards the machine, and John heard him speak.

"You may descend, Highness," he said.

His eyes now accustomed to the darkness, J. B. saw a slim figure
descend, and waited whilst the two men and the woman spoke together in a
whisper. So far as he could gather, the lady said little, but the
conversation continued for so long that John began to feel the cold.

"Will you come this way?" he called.

"Lead on," said the gruff voice of the smaller man, and the owner of
Tatterdown Cottage led the way to the gate, and, after some delay,
opened it and ushered them across the road into the cottage.

The tall Colonel James followed, carrying two heavy bags; then came the
girl; and thirdly, the shorter of the two, a round, red-faced man with a
slight moustache and a pair of small eyes that were set a trifle too
close together.

The big man deposited the bags on the floor of the sitting-room.

"I present you, Mr. Watson, to Her Serene Highness, Princess Marie of
Thurgen," he said. "Her Highness has a very dear friend in London, but
owing to the War and the restrictions which have been placed upon
Germans visiting England, it has been necessary for Her Highness to make
a surreptitious and in some ways unauthorized trip to London. Whilst we
realize that to land in England without a passport and without the
necessary authority from the Home Office constitutes a technical
offense, my friend and I have gladly undertaken the risk to serve one to
whose father we are under a heavy debt of obligation."

All the time he had been speaking, John's wondering gaze had never left
the girl's pale face. She stood with eyes downcast, hands lightly
clasped in front of her, and only once during the interview did she look
up. Presently John found his voice, though he spoke with extraordinary
difficulty.

"I shall be happy to place my room at the disposal of Her Highness," he
said.

"You have no telephone here?" asked the little man suddenly.

John shook his head.

"No," he said, with a half-smile, "we have nothing quite so modern at
Tatterdown Cottage except a very modern bathroom leading from my room.
May I show Your Highness the way?"

The tall man inclined his head gravely.

"Will you go first, please?" he said.

Lighting a candle, John went up the narrow stairs, opened the door of
his chamber, a cozy room with its old four-poster and its log fire
smouldering in the grate.

"This will do very well," said the tall man, who had followed him. "In
here, Your Highness."

He put his hand on the girl's arm and led her into the room. Then,
coming out quickly, he closed the door behind him. At the foot of the
stairs stood the little fat man, grotesquely huge in his leather coat
and as grotesquely ridiculous in his leather headgear.

"Her Highness is comfortable," said the bearded man. "You can go to work
on the machine. Do you think you can get it right by the morning?"

"I ought to have it right in two hours," said the other, "but we
couldn't possibly take off in the dark. I don't know the size of the
field. It's plough-land, too, and that'll make it a bit more difficult,
but I'll certainly be ready for you at daybreak."

With that he was gone, leaving John alone with the colonel.

"Will you come into the sitting-room?" asked John.

"I think not," replied James. "You see, Mr. Watson, my responsibility is
a great one. Certain things have happened in London which have reduced
Her Highness to the verge of despair. She has enemies--personal enemies,
you understand?--who would not hesitate to take her life."

He pulled up his leather coat, and from his pocket slipped out a
long-barrelled Browning and snapped back the jacket.

"I will not detain you any longer, Mr. Watson. You may go to bed with
the full assurance that you have rendered an inestimable service to what
was once the greatest ruling house in Germany."

John laughed softly.

"Unfortunately," he said, "I have no bed, and if you mean that you are
going to sit up all night, you have relieved me of a great
embarrassment, for I should have had no place to offer you but the
settee in my sitting-room. You are welcome to that."

James shook his head.

"I will remain here," he said, and sat on the lower stair. Suddenly he
got up. "Is your sitting-room beneath your bedroom?"

John nodded.

"Should I hear any--any noise above?"

"Undoubtedly," said John. "Every floor in this old house creaks."

"Then I will join you. It is inclined to be draughty here."

He accompanied his host into the sitting-room and stripped the leather
coat he was wearing, pulled off his helmet, and sank, with a luxurious
sigh, into the deep arm-chair that John had vacated when the sound of
the aeroplane's engines had come to his ears.

"Christmas Eve, eh?" said the colonel. He extracted a cigarette from the
case and tapped it thoughtfully on his thumbnail. Then, seeing John's
eyes resting on the pistol that lay on the table by his elbow, he asked:
"Looks a little theatrical, don't you think? I suppose firearms are not
in your line, Mr. Watson?"

"I have an automatic at my London flat," said John, with a smile, "but I
can't say that I get a great deal of pistol practice. Do you seriously
mean that you would use that in certain extremities?"

The big man blew a cloud of smoke to the ceiling and nodded.

"I mean that," he said curtly.

"How fascinating!" said J. B. "And how un-Christmaslike!"

The other smiled broadly.

"There are one or two things about you that puzzle me," J. B. went on
slowly.

"Such as----?"

"Well," he hesitated, "did the Princess come to where the aeroplane
was? I presume it was somewhere outside of London?"

"We picked her up in a car," said the other shortly.

"I see," said J. B. "How queer!"

"What is queer?" frowned James.

"The whole thing," said J. B. Watson. "You can't say that it is a usual
experience for a bachelor to have a princess drop on to him from the
clouds. And, for a reason which you won't want me to explain, I am
especially interested in princesses. It goes back to a very old prophecy
that was made by my nurse."

There was a slight movement above their heads.

"Excuse me," said James, and, rising quickly, ran up the stairs.

The sound of a low-voiced conversation floated down to John Watson, and,
after a while, the footsteps of James upon the stairs. When he came in
he was looking a little worried.

"Did Her Highness require anything?"

"Nothing." This time the man's voice was curt. "She wanted to know when
the machine would be ready, that is all."

They sat in complete silence for half an hour till John rose.

"I'll make some coffee, or I shall go to sleep. And you would like some
coffee too?"

James hesitated.

"Yes, I think I should. I'll come with you and see you make it," he
said.

A sleeping Mowser lifted his wiry head inquiringly as the two men came
into the kitchen, and watched them with unconcern, till, realizing that
nothing in the shape of food was imminent, he tucked his head between
his paws and went to sleep again.

James took a chair and watched the percolator working without comment,
and J. B. could not escape a feeling that he stood in relationship to
the man as a convict stands to a prison guard, and this impression was
strengthened when, the coffee made, his guest walked behind him to the
sitting-room again. It was some time before the steaming cups had cooled
sufficiently to drink, and John took a sip and made a wry face.

"Do you take sugar?" he asked. "Because I do."

He went back to the kitchen, but this time the man did not accompany
him. But he was standing in the doorway when J. B. returned.

"You took some time to find it," he said gruffly, and saw that his tone
was a mistake, for he went on, with a laugh and a return to his old
suavity: "Forgive my infernal cheek, but this little adventure of ours
has got on my nerves."

"I couldn't find it," said John. "My caretaker discovers a new place to
hide her stores every visit I make to the cottage."

He dropped two lumps into his coffee and stirred it, and, finding that
the bearded colonel desired to do nothing more than to smoke an endless
chain of cigarettes, he took down a book from the shelf and began to
read.

Presently the heavy boots of the smaller man sounded on the paved
pathway outside the cottage, and John jumped up.

"That must be your friend," he said, and went to admit him.

The pilot, for such he seemed to be, came in, grimy of face and black of
hands.

"I've put it right," he said. "You can be ready to move as soon as you
like. I have explored the field, and there's plenty of room to take her
off."

"Go back to the machine and stand by," said the other sharply. And then,
to John: "I am extremely obliged to you for courtesy, and I'm glad we
have not had to trespass longer on your hospitality than was necessary.
And may I add the thanks of the Princess to mine?"

"You may," said John.

James ran up the stairs and knocked at the bedroom door.

"I am ready, Your Highness."

There was a pause, and then the key was turned and the door opened. It
closed again upon the man, and all that John Watson could hear was the
murmur of voices through the ceiling.

He laughed softly, pure joy in every note. So old Nurse Crawley had been
right, after all, and a princess had come into his life, and the
prophecy might yet be fulfilled.

The door was opened, two pairs of feet descended the stairs, and
presently James stood in the light of the table-lamp, which flowed
through the open door of the sitting-room into the passage. In each hand
he carried a bag, and behind him was a muffled figure in a fur coat, who
kept her face steadily averted from John's eyes.

"I thank you again, Mr. Watson. If I have put you to any expense----"

"None whatever," said John politely.

He stood with his back to the fire and watched. He heard James put down
his bag and turn the handle of the door, but it did not move. He tried
again, feeling for the bolts, and finding that the door was of stout oak
and the lock of ancient solidity, he came back to the sitting-room.

"I can't open your door, Mr. Watson."

"Very true," said John pleasantly, "very true!"

The man's brows gathered in a frown of suspicion.

"What do you mean--very true?" he asked harshly.

"You can't open it because I've locked it, and the key is in my pocket,"
said John.

Instantly the automatic appeared in James's hand.

"Give me that key," he said coldly, "or there'll be a village tragedy
that will mystify the reporters. I ought to have shot you anyway," he
said, "and, by God, if you don't--give me that key!"

John shook his head. His hands were still behind him, and, with a
smothered exclamation of rage, the man pressed the trigger. There was a
dull click.

"I took the precaution of unloading your pistol when you went upstairs
an hour or two ago, Mr. James, or Colonel James, as the case may be,"
said John in his conversational tone. "I have also sent, attached--via
the back door--to the collar of a small and intelligent dog, an urgent
message to the Bullham police to put in as early an appearance as
possible. I've been expecting them for the last five minutes."

With a roar of rage the big man sprang at him, and, as he did so, John
withdrew his right hand and struck at his assailant with the poker,
which it had held throughout the interview. Quick as a cat, the man
dodged the blow, and in another instant he had gripped the other in his
powerful hand. John wrenched his left arm free and struck twice at the
man, but his padded coat softened the blows, and it was not until a
lucky blow caught Colonel James under the jaw that he went floundering
to the ground. There was the sound of voices outside. John took the key
from his pocket and flung it at the foot of the terrified girl.

"Open the door, quick, Miss Welford!" he hissed, and turned to leap on
his half-maddened adversary, who had thrown open his coat and was
groping for a second pistol. Before it could be drawn, the room was full
of people, and he went down under the weight of two policemen and the
local blacksmith.

       *       *       *       *       *

"This is the real miracle-play," said John. "But to make the miracle
complete, you've got to stay here and have dinner, Miss Welford."

"But what I can't understand is, how you recognized me?" asked the
puzzled girl.

"I not only know your name, but I know the whole story," said John. "You
were working at the bank late, and these two gentlemen, who must have
long planned the coup, broke into the vault to secure the very large sum
in ready cash which would be on the bank premises on Christmas Eve. They
then discovered that you were among the treasures that the bank
contained----"

"I heard the noise and went down. They took me away with them in the car
because they were afraid that I should identify them. I had no idea
that, when the machine came down, they swore that, if I betrayed them,
they would not only kill me but kill you also. They had to explain me,
so I became a princess. But how _did_ you know that I was not?"

"I knew you were a princess all right," said John. "I've known you were
a princess ever since I started peeping into your palace window."

She drew a long breath.

"Oh, were _you_ the man?" she said. "I've often wondered since. I never
knew you."

"You know me now, and you will know me much better. Will you stay and
have Christmas dinner with me?"

She looked at him quickly, then dropped her eyes.

"I think I will," she said. "I owe you so much, Mr.----"

"On Christmas Day," he interrupted, "I am 'John,' even to my enemies,"
and she smiled.

"I don't feel like an enemy," she said.




Findings are Keepings


Findings are keepings. That was a favorite saying of Laurie Whittaker--a
slogan of Stinie Whittaker (who had other names), her father.

Laurie and a youthful messenger of the Eastern Telegraph Company arrived
simultaneously on the doorstep of 704 Coram Street, Bloomsbury, and
their arrival was coincident with the absence, in the little courtyard
at the back of the house, of the one domestic servant on duty in that
boarding-house. So that, while the electric bell tinkled in the kitchen,
the overworked domestic was hanging up dishcloths in the backyard.

"I'm afraid there's nobody in," said Laurie, flashing a bright smile at
the youth, and then saw the cablegram in his hand. "It's for Captain
John Harrowby, isn't it?" she asked. "I'll give it to him."

And the boy, who was new to his job, delivered the envelope and accepted
her signature in his book, without a very close regard to the
regulations of the Cable Company.

Laurie slipped the envelope in her bag and pressed the bell again. This
time the servant heard the signal and came, wiping her hands on her
apron, to open the door.

"No, miss, Captain Harrowby's out," she said, recognizing the visitor,
and giving her the deference and respect which were due to one who lived
in the grandest house in Bedford Square. "He's gone up to the city. Will
you step in and wait, miss?"

If Laurie felt annoyed, she did not advertise the fact. She gave her
sweetest smile to the servant, nodded pleasantly to the pretty girl who
came up the steps as she went down, and, re-entering her limousine, was
driven away.

"Who is the lady, Matilda?" asked the newcomer.

"Her?" said the girl-of-all-work. "That's Miss Whittaker--a friend of
Mr. Harrowby's. Surely he's told you about her, Miss Bancroft?"

Elsie Bancroft laughed.

"Mr. Harrowby and I are not on such terms that he discusses his friends
with me, Matilda," she said, and mounted to her tiny room on the top
floor, to turn over again more vital and pressing problems than Captain
Harrowby's friendship.

She was a stenographer in a lawyer's office, and if her stipend was not
generous it was fair, and might have been sufficient if she were not the
mother of a family--in a figurative sense. There was a small brother at
school in Broadstairs, and a smaller sister at a preparatory school at
Ramsgate, and the money which had been left by their father barely
covered the fees of one.

Two letters were propped on her mantelpiece, and she recognized their
character with a quaking heart. She stood for a long time surveying them
with big, grave eyes before, with a sigh, she took them down and
listlessly tore them open. She skimmed the contents with a little
grimace, and, lifting her typewriter from the floor, put it on to the
table, unlocked a drawer, and, taking out a wad of paper written in a
crabbed handwriting, began to type. She had got away from the office
early to finish the spare-time work which often helped to pay the rent.

She had been typing a quarter of an hour when there was a gentle tap at
the door, and, in answer to her invitation, a man came a few inches into
the room--a slim, brown-faced man of thirty, good-looking, with that
far-away expression in his eyes which comes to men who have passed their
lives in wide spaces.

"How are you getting on?" he asked, almost apologetically.

"I've done about ten pages since last night," she said. "I'm rather
slow, but----" She made a little grimace.

"My handwriting is dreadful, isn't it?" he said, almost humbly.

"It is rather," she answered, and they both laughed. "I wish I could do
it faster," she said. "It is as interesting as a novel."

He scratched his chin.

"I suppose it is, in a way," he said cautiously, and then, with sudden
embarrassment, "But it's perfectly true."

"Of course it's true," she scoffed. "Nobody could read this report and
think it wasn't true! What are you going to do with the manuscript when
you have finished it?"

He looked round the room aimlessly, before his eyes returned to the
pretty face that showed above the machine.

"I don't know," he said vaguely. "It might go into a magazine. I've
written it out for my own satisfaction, and because it makes what seems
a stupid folly look intelligent and excusable. Besides which, I am
hoping to sell the property, and this account may induce some foolish
person to buy a parcel of swamp and jungle--though I'd feel as though I
were swindling a buyer!"

She had pushed the typewritten sheets towards him, and he picked up the
first and read:

    "A Report on the Alluvial Goldfields of Quimbo,"

and, reading it, he sighed.

"Yes, the gold is there all right," he said mournfully, "though I've
never been able to find it. I've got a concession of a hundred square
miles--it's worth less than a hundred shillings. There isn't a railway
within five hundred miles; the roads are impossible; and even if there
was gold there, I don't know that I should be able to get it away.
Anyway, no gold has been found. I have a partner still pottering away
out there: I shall probably have his death on my conscience sooner or
later."

"Are you going back to Africa?" she asked curiously.

He shook his head.

"I don't think so." He hesitated. "My--my friends think I should settle
down in England. I've made a little money by trading. Possibly I'll buy
a farm and raise ducks."

She laughed softly.

"You won't be able to write a story about that," she said, and then,
remembering, "Did the maid tell you that Miss Whittaker had called?"

She saw his start, and the color deepen in the tanned face.

"Oh, did she?" he asked awkwardly. "Really? No, the girl told me
nothing." And in another minute he was running down the stairs. She did
not know whether to be angry or amused at this sudden termination of
their talk.

Captain Harrowby had been an inmate of the boarding-house for three
weeks, and she had gladly accepted the offer, that came through her
landlady, to type what she thought was the story he had written. The
"story" proved to be no more, at first glance, than a prosaic report
upon an African property of his, which, he told her, he was trying to
sell.

Who was Miss Whittaker? She frowned as she asked herself the question,
though she had no reason for personal interest in the smiling girl she
had met at the door. She decided that she did not like this smart young
lady, with her shingled hair and her ready smile. She knew that Captain
Harrowby spent a great deal of his time at the Whittakers' house, but
she had no idea that there was anything remarkable in that, until the
next day, when she was taking her lunch at the office, she asked old
Kilby, who knew the secret history of London better than most
process-servers.

"Whittaker?" the old man chuckled. "Oh, I know Stinie Whittaker all
right! He runs a gambling hell in Bloomsbury somewhere. He was convicted
about ten years ago for the same offense. I served a couple of writs on
him years and years ago. He's more prosperous now."

"But surely Miss Whittaker doesn't know?" said the shocked girl.
"She's--she's the friend of a--a friend of mine."

Old Kilby laughed uproariously.

"Laurie? Why, Laurie's brought more men to the old man's table than
anybody else! Know? Sure she does! Why, she spends all summer going
voyages in order to pick up likely birds for Stinie to kill!"

The news filled the girl with uneasiness, though she found it difficult
to explain her interest in the lonely man who occupied the room beneath
her. Should she warn him? At the mere suggestion she was in a panic. She
had quite enough trouble of her own, she told herself (and here she
spoke only the truth). And was it likely that a man of his experience
would be caught by card-sharps? For six days she turned the matter over
in her mind and came to a decision.

On the evening she reached this, John Harrowby dressed himself with
great care, took a roll of notes from his locked cash-box, and, after
contemplating them thoughtfully, thrust them into his pocket. His
situation was a serious one; more serious than he would admit to
himself. Laurie had cautioned him against playing for high stakes, but
she had not cautioned him against Bobby Salter, the well-dressed young
man-about-town, whom he had met first in the Bedford Square
drawing-room. Bobby had told him stories of fortunes made and lost at
cards, and even initiated him into a "system" which he himself had
tested, and had been at his elbow whenever he sat at the table, to urge
him to a course of play which had invariably proved disastrous.

John Harrowby was without guile. He no more thought of suspecting the
immaculate Bobby than he thought of suspecting Laurie herself. But
tonight he would play without the assistance of his mentor, he thought,
and drew a deep breath as he patted his pocket and felt the bulge of the
notes.

He threw a light coat over his arm, and, turning off the light, stepped
out on to the landing, to stare in amazement at a girl who was waiting
patiently, her back to the banisters, as she had been waiting for ten
minutes.

"I wanted to see you before you went, Captain Harrowby," said Elsie,
with a quickly beating heart.

"Anything wrong with the manuscript?" he asked in surprise.

She shook her head.

"No, it isn't that, only--only I'm wondering whether----"

Words failed her for a second.

He was palpably amazed at her agitation, and could find no reason for
it.

"Oh, Lord," he said, remembering suddenly. "I haven't paid you!"

"No, no, no, it isn't that." She pushed his hand from his pocket. "Of
course it isn't that, Captain Harrowby! It's something--well ... I know
you'll think I'm horribly impertinent, but do you think you ought to
play cards for money?" she asked breathlessly.

He stared at her open-mouthed.

"I don't quite know what you mean," he said slowly.

"Haven't you lost ... a lot of money at Mr. Whittaker's house?" She had
to force the words out.

The look in his face changed. From amazement, she saw his eyes narrow,
and then, to her unspeakable relief, he smiled.

"I have lost quite a sum," he said gently. "But I don't think you----"

"You don't think that's any business of mine? And neither is it," she
said, speaking rapidly. "But I wanted to tell you that Mr. Whittaker
... is a well-known----"

Here she had to stop. She could not say the man was a cheat or a thief;
she knew no more than old Kilby had hinted.

"I mean, he has always had ... play at his house," she faltered. "And
you're new to this country, and you don't know people as--as we know
them."

This time he laughed.

"You're talking as though you were in the detective service, Miss
Bancroft," he said, and then suddenly laid his hand on her shoulder. "I
quite understand that you are trying to do me a good turn. In my heart
of hearts I believe you're right. But, unfortunately, I have lost too
much to stop now--how you knew that I'd lost anything, I can't guess."

She nodded, and, without another word, turned abruptly away and ran up
the stairs to her own room, angry with herself, angry with him, but,
more than anything else, astounded at her own action.

No less puzzled and troubled was John Harrowby as he walked into Bedford
Square.

Elsie had some work to do; but somehow she could not keep her mind fixed
upon her task, and, after spoiling three sheets of paper, gave up the
attempt and, sitting back in her chair, let her mind rove at will.

At half-past nine the maid brought her up a cup of tea.

"That Miss Whittaker's just gone, miss," she announced.

Elsie frowned.

"Miss Whittaker? Has she been here?"

"Yes, miss; she come about a quarter of an hour ago and went up to
Captain Harrowby's room. That's what puzzles me."

Elsie stared at her, open-mouthed.

"Why on earth did she go there?" she demanded.

Matilda shook her head.

"Blest if I can tell, miss. She didn't know that I was watching her--she
sent me down to the kitchen to make a cup of tea for her, which was only
a dodge of hers, and if I hadn't come back to ask her whether she took
sugar, I wouldn't 'a' known she'd been out of the droring-room. I see
her coming out of Captain Harrowby's room as I was standing in the hall.
You can just see the door through the banisters."

Elsie rose, and went downstairs. Harrowby's door was ajar. She switched
on the light. What she expected to find, she did not know. There was no
sign of disorder. Possibly, she thought, and she found herself sneering,
it was a visit of devotion by a love-stricken lady; but there was a
cupboard door ajar, and half in and half out the cupboard, a japanned
box that was open. She took up the box. It was empty. She put the box
back in the cupboard and went thoughtfully out on to the landing.

"I think I'll go and see Captain Harrowby," she said, obeying a sudden
impulse, and, a few minutes later, she was walking through the rain to
Bedford Square.

She was within a dozen paces of the door of Mr. Whittaker's house when a
cab drew up, and she saw Laurie Whittaker alight, pay the cabman and,
running up the step, open the door of the house. Where had she been in
the meantime? wondered Elsie. But there was no mystery here. It had
begun to rain heavily as Laurie left the house in Coram Street, and she
had sheltered in a doorway until a providential taxi came along.

Possibly it was the rain that damped the enthusiasm of the amateur
detective; for now, with the Whittaker house only a few paces away, she
hesitated. And the longer she waited, the wetter she became. The
taxi-man who had brought Laurie lingered hopefully.

"Taxi, miss?" he asked, and Elsie, feeling a fool, nodded and climbed
into the cab, glad to escape for a second from the downpour, and hating
herself for her extravagance.

The cab had turned when her hand touched something on the seat. A
woman's vanity-bag----

"Findings are keepings," according to the proverb, though there is an
offense in law which is known as "stealing by finding."

Elsie Bancroft knew little of criminal law, but she was possessed of an
inelastic conscience, so that when her hand touched the bag in the
darkness, her first impulse was to tap at the window of the taxi-cab
and draw the attention of the driver to her find. And then, for some
reason, she checked the impulse. It was a fat bag, and the flap was
open. Her ungloved fingers stole absently into its interior, and she
knew that she was touching real money in large quantities.

During the war she had worked in a bank, and the feel of banknotes was
familiar. Mechanically, she slipped their edge between her nimble
fingers. One ... two ... three ... she went on, until....

"Eighty-four!"

They might be five-pound notes--four hundred and twenty pounds. She felt
momentarily giddy. Four hundred and twenty pounds! Sufficient to pay the
children's school fees--she had had an urgent, if dignified, request
from the principal of Tom's boarding-school and a no less pointed hint
from Joan's--sufficient to settle the problem of the holidays; but----

She heaved a deep sigh and looked through the rain-blurred windows. She
was painfully near to her destination, and she had to make her decision.
It came as a shock to her that any decision had to be made; her course
of duty was plain. It was to take the number of the cab, hand the bag to
the driver, and report her discovery to the nearest police station.

There was nothing else to be done, no alternative line of action for an
honest citizen....

The cab stopped with a jerk and, twisting himself in his seat, the
driver yanked open the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

Harrowby blinked twice at the retiring rake. A mahogany rake with a
well-worn handle, and with an underlip of brass so truly set that even
the flimsiest of banknotes could hardly escape its fine bevel. And there
were banknotes aplenty on the croupier's side of that rake. They showed
ends and corners and ordered edges, notes clean and unclean, but all
having a certain interest to Harrowby, because, ten minutes, or maybe
ten seconds before, they had been his, and were now the property of the
man who wore his evening suit so awkwardly and sucked at a dead cigar.

John Harrowby put his hand in his pocket; as an action it was sheerly
mechanical. His pocket, he knew, was a rifled treasury, but he felt he
must make sure.

Then came Salter, plump, philosophical, and sympathetic. Salter could
afford both his sympathy and philosophy; the house gave him a ten per
cent commission on all the easy money he touted, so that even his
plumpness was well inside his means.

"Well, how did you do?"

Harrowby's smile was of the slow dawning kind, starting at the corner of
his eyes and ending with the expanse of a line of white teeth.

"I lost."

Salter made a noise, indicative of his annoyance.

"How much?" he asked anxiously.

He gave the impression that if the loss could be replaced from his
pocket, it would be a loss no longer. And Stinie, he of the awkwardly
worn dinner-jacket, sometimes minimized a client's losses and based his
commission note on his pessimistic estimate.

"About two thousand pounds," said Harrowby.

"Two thousand pounds," said Salter thoughtfully.

He _would_ be able to buy the car that he had refused in the afternoon.
He felt pleased.

"Tough luck, old man--try another day."

"Yes," dryly.

Harrowby looked across to the table. The bank was still winning.
Somebody said "Banco!" in a sharp, strained voice. There was a pause, a
low consultation between the croupier and the banker, and a voice, so
expressionless and unemotional that Harrowby knew it was the croupier's,
said "I give."

And the bank won again.

Harrowby snuffled as though he found a difficulty in breathing.

He walked slowly down the stairs and paused for a second outside the
white-and-gold door of the drawing-room, where he knew Laurie would be
sitting. A moment's hesitation, then he turned the handle and went in.
She was cuddled up in the corner of a big settee, a cigarette between
her red lips, a book on her lap. She looked round, and for a second
searched his face with her hard, appraising eyes. She was a year or two
older than he ... he had thought her divine when he came back from
Central Africa, where he had spent five bitter years, a trader's
half-breed wife and an occasional missionary woman, shrivelled and
yellow with heat and fever, the only glimpses he had of womankind.

But now he saw her without the rosy spectacles which he had worn.

"Have you been playing?" she asked coolly.

He nodded.

"And lost?"

He nodded again.

"Really, father is too bad," she drawled. "I wish he wouldn't allow this
high play in the house. I hope you're not badly hurt?"

"I've lost everything," he said.

For a second her eyebrows lifted.

"Really?" It was a polite, impersonal interest she showed, no more.
"That's too bad."

She swung her feet to the floor, straightened her dress, and threw away
her cigarette.

"Then we shall not be seeing a great deal of you in the future, Captain
Meredith?"

"I'm afraid not," he said steadily.

Was this the girl he had known, who had come aboard at Madeira, who had
made the five days' voyage from Funchal to Southampton pass in a flash?
And now he must go back to scrape the earth, to trek into the
impenetrable jungle, seeking the competence which he had thought was
his.

"I think you are damnable!" he said.

For a second her brows met, then she laughed.

"My dear man, you're a fool," she said calmly. "I certainly invited you
to come to the house, but I never asked you to gamble. And really, John,
I thought you would take your medicine like a little gentleman."

His heart was thumping painfully. Between the chagrined man whose vanity
has been hurt, and the clean anger of one who all his life had detested
meanness and trickery, he was in a fair way to making a fool of himself.

"I'm sorry," he said in a low voice, and was walking out of the room
when she called him by name.

"I hate to part like this." Her voice was soft, had the old cooing
caress in it. "You'll think I'm horrid, John, but really I did my best
to persuade you not to play."

He licked his dry lips and said nothing.

"Don't let us part bad friends." She held out her hand, and he took it
automatically. "I thought we were going to have such a happy time
together," she went on, her pathetic eyes on his. "Can't I lend you some
money?"

He shook his head.

"I'm sure the luck would turn if you gave it a chance. Couldn't you sell
something?"

The cool audacity of the suggestion took his breath away.

"Sell? What have I to sell?" he demanded harshly. "Souls and bodies are
no longer negotiable, even if there was a twentieth-century
Mephistopheles waiting round the corner to negotiate the deal!"

She toyed with the fringe of a cushion.

"You could sell your mine," she said, and his laugh sounded loud and
discordant in the quietness of that daintily furnished room.

"That's worth twopence-ha'penny! It is a cemetery--a cemetery of hope
and labor. It is the real white man's grave, and I am the white man."

She brought her eyes back to his.

"As you won't borrow money from me, I'll buy it for a thousand pounds."

Again he shook his head.

"No, I'm afraid there's nothing to be done," he said, "except to wish
you good-night."

As he turned, she slipped between him and the door.

"I won't let you go like that, John," she said. "Won't you forgive me?"

"I've already forgiven you, if there's anything to forgive," he said.

"Sit down and write me a letter saying you forgive me. I want to have
that tangible proof," she pleaded.

He was impatient to be gone, and the foolery of the suggestion grated on
him.

"Then I'll write it," she said, sat down at the little escritoire and
scribbled a dozen words. "Now sign that."

He would have gone, but she clutched him by the sleeve.

"Do, please--please!"

He took the pen and scrawled his name, without reading the note, which
was half concealed by her hand. Looking through her open fingers, he saw
the words "Quimbo Concession."

"What's that?" he said sharply, but she snatched the letter away.

"Give me that paper!" he demanded sternly, reaching out for it, but in
another second an automatic pistol had appeared in her hand.

"Go whilst the going's good, Harrowby," she said steadily.

But she had not reckoned on this particular type of man. Suddenly his
hand shot out and gripped her wrist, pinning it to the table. In another
second he had snatched the letter and flung it into the little fire that
blazed on the hearth. He held her at bay till the last scrap of blue
paper had turned to black ashes, and then, with a little smile and a
nod, he went out of the room into the street and the pelting rain.

He was wet through as he opened the door of No. 704 Coram Street.
Matilda, half-way up the stairs, turned with her startling news. He
listened and frowned.

"Miss Whittaker been here?" he said incredulously.

"Yes, sir ... and Miss Bancroft went to tell you all about it. Didn't
you see her?"

He shook his head.

What had Laurie Whittaker wanted? he asked himself, as he went up the
stairs to his room. The girl must have been mistaken.

He took one glance at the open cupboard, and then the truth leapt at
him, and, snatching at the box, he put it on the table and threw open
the lid. There had been a square sheet of parchment in a broad envelope,
and on that parchment was inscribed his title to the Quimbo Concession.
It was gone.

He turned with an oath. A girl was standing watching him with grave
eyes.

"Is this what you're looking for?" she asked.

Her face was very pale. She held out the envelope, and he took it from
her hand.

"Where did this come from?" he said, in amazement.

"I stole it," she answered simply; "and I think this is yours."

He took the envelope from her hand with a frown, extracted a cable form
and read. It was from his partner.

    "Gold found in large quantities near Crocodile Creek.
    Congratulations."

"How did you get this?" he gasped.

She held out a little French vanity-bag, and he recognized it instantly.

"I found it in a cab; Miss Whittaker left it there," she said. "There is
also four hundred and twenty pounds which belongs to her."

"Which belong to us," said John Harrowby firmly. "Findings are keepings
in this case, my child. She found me and kept most of my money--I've got
fifty pounds left at the bank--and I think we're entitled to this
little salvage from the wreck."

And then he kissed her, and it seemed such a natural thing to do, that
she offered no protest.




The Little Green Man

I


An understanding, disturbed or terminated, has a more tragic aspect than
a broken contract. For understandings are without the foundations of
pledge and promise written or spoken.

There was an understanding between Molly Linden and Thursby Grant.
Neither was important, because they were young; they were as yet nebulæ,
hoping to be worlds. He was poor in the sense that he could afford no
more than a Kensington flat and the lightest of light cars; he was
(Molly thought) very handsome and very, very nice.

Mr. Fathergill amused her--fascinated her by reason of his great age and
romantic past. He was forty, and his immense riches were common
knowledge. But that did not count with Molly. She much preferred riding
in his smooth-running limousine to being buffeted and rattled in
Thursby's two-seater. Mr. Fathergill's little dinners at the Ritz had a
comfort which was not afforded by the solid restaurant where
table-cloths were only changed when absolutely necessary.

Still, there was a sort of understanding. If the matter had been
allowed to remain where Charles Fathergill left it, that warm night in
June when they paced the scented dusky garden, Thursby Grant might have
become a tender memory or a bitter disappointment, according to the way
he accepted his _congé_. Unhappily, Molly's father had been a little
tactless.

She carried the news to him in his study; she was fluttered, a little
tearful. One nice word about Thursby would have swung her definitely to
the side of Charles Fathergill.

Instead, Mr. Linden said:

"Thank God for that, Molly! You had better write to young Grant and tell
him he need not call again."

There was no reason in the world why he should not have called again;
why he should not have appeared with a sad, brave smile and a hearty,
"Good luck, old girl!"

But Mr. Linden had been brought up in the Victorian tradition. Then and
there Thursby Grant was martyred for love; became a radiant figure of
persecution. Worse, he himself accepted the martyr's rôle, and indited
severe and haughty letters to Molly's father, to Molly's fiancé.

One evening he walked fiercely down Pall Mall, entered the sublime
portals of the Disraeli Club and, thrusting his hat at an inoffensive
page-boy, was ushered into the smoke-room. For the greater part of an
hour he sat in a sort of trance, listening to Mr. Charles Fathergill,
who was never averse from talking....

Just beyond Fathergill's chair was a high marble pillar of a rich red,
broken by white spots and minute serpentines. Thursby Grant had been
staring at that pillar for twenty minutes with a painful intensity, some
place in his brain busy with the baffling quest for the exact part of
the world where such marble may be quarried. _Rosso antico_--that was
its technical description. He remembered a big house in Marlborough with
a fireplace. Rosso antico. That was it.

Behind the pillar, half concealed, was a hatchet-faced little waiter,
whose livery hung upon him in folds. He was staring out of the window at
the white façade of the Auto Club.

A big room, rather over decorated, with red paper and dingy gildings.
Scores of well-used, cozy chairs about round tables, where middle-aged
men sat smoking over their coffee and told one another of the queer
thing that happened to them, twenty?--no, it must be twenty-five--years
ago.

Rosso antico....

A buzz of talk as even as an asphalt pavement lay on the club
smoking-room. Fathergill's voice, pitched on an infinitesimally higher
plane, rippled along its surface.

All Thursby's brain which was not occupied by rosso antico was at
Fathergill's disposition.

" ... hundred, two hundred years ago, quite a lot of people would have
hired a bravo to cut me up. Possibly you would not have descended to
hiring an assassin. A quarrel in a coffee-house, chairs to Leicester
Gardens, and a few passes with our swords would have settled the matter.
Satisfactory--in a way. It would depend entirely upon who was pinked.
Now we take no risks, carry no swords, do nothing stupid, and only a few
things that are vulgar. Slay and heal with currency; the age of reason."

Fathergill's head was long and narrow. He had a dark face and black,
abundant hair brushed back from his forehead. He affected a tiny black
moustache, an adequate occupation for his long fingers in moments of
abstraction. His lank body was doubled up in a low chair, and he lay
back so that his knees were level with his chin. When he spoke he waved
one hand or the other to emphasize a point.

With the free part of his mind Thursby found himself wishing that the
man did not wear diamond studs in his dress shirt.

"I asked you to dinner tonight--you preferred to come in for coffee. I
appreciate your feelings. You are hurt. You are saying to yourself:
'Here am I, a struggling engineer, who has found a nice girl who likes
me'--I grant that--'and here is a fellow worth millions who comes along
and cuts me out, not because he's more attractive, but because he has
enough money to order life as he wishes it.'"

"It isn't much to boast about, is it?" asked Thursby, his voice husky
from a long, dry-mouthed silence.

Charles Fathergill shook his head.

"I am not boasting. You have suddenly found the door of a nice house on
Wimbledon Common closed to you--or only opened as far as is necessary to
tell you that Miss Molly Linden is not at home. All this is
unexpected--rather staggering. Your letters are returned, your telephone
messages not delivered. You know I am a friend of the family, and you
ask me if I can explain. I bring you to my club, and I tell you plainly
and honestly that I intend within the next twelve months marrying Molly
Linden, that her father has agreed, and that she--seems reconciled.
Could I be fairer?"

Thursby drew a long breath. It almost seemed that he had suddenly
awakened from a heavy, ugly sleep.

"Money could not have been the only inducement," he said.

Fathergill shrugged one shoulder, silently inserted a cigarette in the
end of a long holder, and lit it with deliberate puffs.

"The key to all power is knowledge," he said--"and ruthlessness."

Throughout the interview his tone, his manner, had been most friendly.
The wrath of this good-looking young guest, who had come with murder in
his heart, had been blanketed under the unconscious friendliness of one
whom Thursby Grant so little regarded as a host that he had not sipped
the coffee that had filmed itself cold under his eyes.

"I started life as a bricklayer's assistant"--Fathergill watched the
ragged wisps of smoke dissipating with an air of enjoyment--"and at an
early stage of my career I began to _know_. I knew that we were cheating
the Borough Surveyor. The Borough Surveyor gave me ten shillings for my
information. He took me into his office. He had a love affair with his
typist. I knew--I was assistant store-keeper at eighteen."

"That sounds almost like blackmail to me," frowned Thursby.

Mr. Fathergill smiled slowly.

"Never label things," he warned. "Know them, but never commit yourself
to labels."

"You mean you have some hold over Linden?"

"Melodrama," murmured the other, closing his eyes wearily. "How terribly
young you are! No. I know that John Linden wants to marry again. He is
fifty, and young for fifty. A good-looking man, with an ineradicable
sense of adventure. You would not be able to marry Molly for three
years--at least I would marry at once; she asks for a year. Molly must
have an establishment of her own before John Linden makes his inevitable
blunder and brings his inevitably youthful bride to Wimbledon!"

Again Thursby discovered that he was breathing heavily through his nose,
and checked his rising anger.

"I think that is about all I wanted to know," he said, and rose
awkwardly.

"You _know_: that is important," said Fathergill, and offered a lifeless
hand.

As much of this interview as he deemed necessary went forward to
Wimbledon.

John Linden, gray and red-faced, read scraps of the letter written on
club notepaper to his daughter. Over his glasses he looked to see how
she took the news. Her face was expressionless.

"I really think that a year will make all the difference," he told
her--and himself. "I like Thursby, but, my dear, I have to consider
you."

She raised her eyes from the plate. She was not especially beautiful:
she was distinctly pretty--the kind of cultivated-garden prettiness
which youth brings, and good, simply cut clothes adorn.

"Are you very rich, father?"

She had never asked him such a question before.

"Why, my dear? I'm not rich in money and not particularly rich in
property. Why?"

She looked past him through the leaded casement window.

"Only ... Charles never made the least suggestion that he wanted to
marry me until he came back from Roumania."

He laughed loudly at this.

"What a romantic little devil you are!" he said good-humoredly. "I see
how your queer little mind is working. Fathergill went to Roumania and
discovered my oil property is worth a fortune; he kept the knowledge to
himself and came back to propose to my daughter".

If she had not thought this, she should not have gone scarlet. He did
not add to her embarrassment.

"I should be glad to get back the money I have sunk in Roumanian oil,"
he said. "You seem to forget that I have an agent in Bukharest who keeps
me _au fait_ with all that is happening."

"Thursby says you can buy any Roumanian agent for a thousand _lei_," she
protested, and he shook his head.

"You seem to forget that Charles Fathergill is a millionaire----"

"He says so. Thursby says----"

Mr. Linden consigned Thursby to the devil.

"I really am in love with Thursby," she said haltingly.

Mr. Linden said nothing. Soon after she got up from the table hurriedly.
She was rather young.

It could not be said that Charles Fathergill was well known in the City.
The obvious is accepted without analysis: that is the deadly danger of
the obvious. One knows that Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square is built
of stone. Nobody knows or cares who built it or what stone was employed.
Everybody knew that Mr. Charles Fathergill was immensely rich. He had a
flat in Carlton House Gardens, and paid a twenty-thousand-pounds premium
to secure it. The cabmen he tipped, the club servants, the policeman on
the beat--who else matters?--could all testify to his wealth and
generosity. He grew richer by being rich. When interested people
inquired as to his stability, Stubbs pointed out the fact that he had
never had a judgment recorded against him; his lawyers certified him as
a desirable client or customer to any person who wished him as a client
or customer; one of his bank managers--he employed several
bankers--seconded the reference. There is only one peculiarity which
need be mentioned--each of his bankers was under the impression that
they were carrying his smallest account, and often hinted to him that
they would like to carry one of his heavier balances.

As has been remarked before, he was not known in the City, for he did
not speculate or engage in commerce. And not being known in the City has
this advantage, that nothing is known to your disadvantage.

Mr. Linden met his prospective son-in-law at the club a few days later.

"Going to Roumania?" Mr. Fathergill's eyes opened. "Good heavens!--why?
I haven't been back four months."

Mr. Linden tossed down a cocktail and wiped his mouth busily.

"I thought I'd go ... may meet the girl of my dreams, eh?" A long
chuckle: John Linden was old enough not to be ashamed of dreams.

"When do you think of leaving? I am going as far as Budapest. I have
some big interests there."

A rapid calculation produced the assurance that Mr. John Linden's many
directorships and annual general meetings would make it impossible to
leave before another month. Charles pursed his lips thoughtfully. He
must go before then, he said.

He left London within a week.

Thursby Grant was at Victoria Station saying good-bye to a friend who
was traveling to the Near East. He acknowledged Fathergill's smiling nod
without effort, being helped to toleration by a letter which crashed all
solemn promises made by the writer.

"Good Lord!" said Thursby's friend. "Do you know Charles Fathergill?
They say he is a millionaire five times over."

"Six times," said Thursby, suddenly sour. "Why damn his reputation for a
million?"


II

Mr. Linden's agent in Bukharest was a lawyer, one Bolescue. He was a
stout man, with a large, damp face, who loved food and music and
baccarat. Otherwise he and discretion and probity might have walked hand
in hand. As it was, he vociferated refusals, his countenance growing
moister, talked wildly of "committees," fearfully of engineers, but
never once of the majestic law, soon to be flaunted.

Charles Fathergill had a letter of credit for many thousands of pounds.
His French was not too good; the money spoke with the purest accent. M.
Bolescue, with his light heart fixed upon the gambling tables at Cinta,
agreed that certain reports might be postponed, an engineer's emphatic
opinion suppressed, borings now in progress slowed till the coming of
Mr. John Linden, and then suspended.

"After six months' more time all subterfuges is impossibility," said M.
Bolescue, who occasionally tried to speak good English.

"After six months nothing matters," replied the lank man.

His plan was to stay a fortnight in Bukharest, leaving for
Constantinople to avoid John Linden. But a fortnight is a long time, and
the joys of motoring in hired machines are too easily exhausted. Nor had
beautiful Cinta in the hills, with its glorious surroundings of mountain
and forest, any attraction for him.

On the eighth night he sent for the hall porter of the Petite Splendide,
and the official came quickly, Mr. Fathergill being a lordly dispenser
of tips. A short man, square-shouldered, bow-legged, resplendent in gold
lace, he came, hat in hand--would have crawled.

"I'm bored, Peter," said Mr. Fathergill.

His half-eaten dinner was on the table. He had scarcely touched his
wine.

"Ah!" said Peter, and beamed.

"I want amusing: somebody who can talk or sing. God! I'm sick of
Bukharest."

He was justified, for into Bukharest seem to have seeped the dregs of
ancient Rome--dregs that have gained a little foulness from Turk and
Slav. A rococo Rome.

"Talk ... seeng ... hum!"

Peter's stumpy hand caressed two of his blue-black chins.

"The book I can bring ... some beautiful ones--no? Talk and seeng--ah!
Gott of Gotts!"

He resolved into a windmill of waving palms; noises of pride and
exultation came from him.

"One who never came to the books! New--a princess, Mr. Fat'ergill! No! I
swear by Gott"--he put his hand on his heart and raised his eyes piously
to the ceiling--"I would not lie. You will say, Peter says this of all.
But a veritable princess. Russian ... from--I don't know--the Black Sea
somewhere. You say yes?" He nodded in anticipation, and then his face
fell. "You must be rich for this princess ... wait!"

He rummaged in the tail pocket of his frock coat and found a packet of
letters, fixed steel-rimmed pince-nez, and sought for something, his
lips moving in silent speech--a comical, cherubic bawd of a man.

"Here--it is in French ... I read. From she--to me!" He struck an
attitude. "Irene ... listen...."

He read rapidly. Charles could not understand half the letter: the
important half was intelligible.

"All right; tell her to come up and have a glass of wine with me."

"I shall telephone," said Peter....

Ten struck when Irene came. Charles, reading a week-old _Times_, looked
up over the newspaper at the click of the lock and saw the door opening
slowly. She stood in the doorway, looking at him. Very slim and lithe
and white. Her black hair dressed severely, parted in the center and
framing her face. Clear-skinned, no art gave her aid there. The
exquisite loveliness of her caught him by the throat. He rose
instinctively, and then the faintest smile twitched the corner of her
blood-red mouth.

Regal ... and Russian. Russia was in her dark eyes--the inscrutable
mystery of the Slav ... a million æons removed from Western
understanding.

"May I come in?"

Her voice was as he had expected--rather low and rich. There was a sort
of husky sweetness in it that made his slow pulses beat the faster. Her
English was faultless.

"May I have a cigarette?"

She was at the table, looking down at him, one hand already in the
silver box.

"Sit down, won't you?" He found his voice.

He drew up a chair so that he faced her.

"Do you want me to sing--really? I'm afraid my voice isn't awfully good.
Or don't you?"

He shook his head.

"What are you doing ... here?" His gesture embraced not only the
material part of Bukharest, but the place she occupied in its social
life.

Again that faint smile.

"One must live ... singing and ... and talking to people. I have not
really begun my career as ... an entertainer. You are my first audience.
It may prove to be very amusing after all."

"Very amusing," he repeated mechanically.

"So many things have seemed--impossible." She blew ring after ring of
smoke between her words. "So many nights I have sat on my bed and looked
at The Little Green Man and wondered ... and wondered. Then I have put
The Little Green Man under my pillow and said: 'Let me see tomorrow--it
may be fun.'"

She was smiling at his perplexity, reached for the black velvet handbag
that she had laid on the table, and, opening it, took out a small green
bottle. It was fashioned like a squat Russian moujik, wearing a heavy
overcoat belted at the waist. The hat was the stopper. As she held it up
to the light, Fathergill saw that it was three parts filled with a
fluid.

"In other words, poison. That's rather theatrical, isn't it?"

"Is it?" She was interested. "I don't know. Professor Bekinsky gave it
to me the week before he was arrested. He was a Jew and a good man. They
blew his brains out in front of the house where I was staying in Kieff."

Charles Fathergill was chilled: this was not amusing.

"Has it any special properties--arsenic ... aconite ...?"

She shook her head.

"I don't know. He called it 'knowledge'--he had a sense of humor." She
made a wry little face at him, then laughed softly. It was one of those
delicious chuckling laughs that are so beautiful when heard from a
woman. "You would rather I sang?"

"No ... only it _is_ rather depressing, isn't it?"

She asked him who he was. On the subject of Mr. Fathergill he could be
eloquent. To talk of himself without exposing his theory of life was
difficult. She listened gravely. He felt that it was impossible that she
could be startled.

Lovely, he thought as he talked--amazingly lovely. The contours of her
face had some indefinable value that he had not found in any other. In a
pause she asked:

"But you are ruthless!" (He rather liked that.) "You would stop at
nothing to reach your end?"

"Nothing. Knowledge is power only when it can be utilized for the
benefit of its holders."

She shook her head.

"That is strange--because it seems you have no objective. You wish to
get nowhere, only somewhere better at all costs. I could understand if
it was for a definite place."

He was flattered by her disapproval.

"Have you any objective?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Happiness ... security. The security that a peasant workman could give
his wife."

"In fact, marriage?" he smiled.

She nodded slowly and mushroomed the red end of her cigarette in the
silver ash-tray.

"Yes ... I would fight like a devil to retain that. It is my idea of
heaven. I have a little sister--here in Bukharest."

She looked up at him slowly.

"A sister is like a baby: one does things and puts The Little Green Man
under the pillow for her sake."

She seemed to shake herself as though she were throwing off an
unpleasant garment. When she spoke her voice was almost gay.

"We are getting tedious. Shall I sing, or shall we talk?"

"We have talked too much," said Fathergill.

He walked to the window and pulled the curtains together.


III

A few months later an eminent firm of lawyers wrote to Mr. Linden to the
effect that they had a client who wished to acquire oil land. They
understood he had a property, etc.

Mr. Linden, a very happy and cheerful man, wrote asking that the offer
should be reduced to sterling.

There were many reasons why adventures in Roumanian oil should have no
further appeal, and why he wished to convert a property of dubious value
into something which paid six per cent with monotonous regularity.

Mr. Fathergill, who had reached Paris, received the lawyers' intimation
with mild interest. It was curious, he mused, how much labor, how many
hours of anxiety are involved needlessly and uselessly because one
cannot foresee the end. In the months that had elapsed between his going
to Roumania and his return to Paris he had become a millionaire, and
every one of his banks believed that they carried his heaviest account.

He had met a man in Constantinople, an international financier, who
bought properties for a song and talked them into cantatas. Dog does not
eat dog except in Constantinople. Mr. Fathergill was unaware of this
exception. He acquired a tract of wild mountain-land, and a concession
sealed and signed by the Turkish Government. And on the day his check
was honored and the vendor was on his way, per Orient Express, to
acquire a timber concession in Sofia, a miracle happened. A forgotten
and unpaid prospector made a discovery. Mr. Fathergill believed in quick
profits, particularly if they were big profits. The syndicate which took
over his holding and his concession offered him a head-reeling sum.

The oil proposition was now an amusing sideline ... but there was Molly.

"That may be awkward," said Charles, and pulled at his nose
thoughtfully.

For Mr. Linden was married again. Molly had mentioned the fact in one of
her cold, proper letters. She did not tell him that John Linden had
become de-Victorianized and that Thursby Grant was a frequent visitor at
Wimbledon Common.

John Linden wrote. The letter was awaiting the wanderer on his arrival
at the Meurice. Would he come over and spend Christmas with the family?

    "I am getting rid of my oil lands--some foolish man wishes to buy
    and has offered me a good price."

Charles left for London on the next day: he would have preferred to have
spent Christmas in Paris. The boat train was crowded, the sea choppy.
Mr. Fathergill arrived in London a very ruffled man. Paris would have
been ideal at Christmas--or Bukharest. Irene! A most unsubstantial
dream. The fragrant memory of her caught at his heart. A week after he
had left Bukharest he had gone back to find her. Peter contorted himself
apologetically. The lady had left Bukharest: he had inquired for her;
some other guest had desired speech and song. It was a thousand pities.
She was a veritable princess. But (here he brightened) there was a
beautiful little girl, a veritable lady....

Charles Fathergill had shaken his head. He looked for her in Budapest;
caused inquiries to be made in Vienna ... no.

He stalked up and down his beautiful drawing-room, his hands in his
pockets. Wimbledon ... roast turkey ... plum pudding ... Molly Linden
... he shuddered.

Snow was falling heavily when his car pulled up under the portico, and
there was John Linden, rubicund and white, and there were holly wreaths
hanging on the panelled walls of the hall, and Molly, gauche and
awkward, and an uncomfortable Thursby Grant--Charles could have fallen
on his neck. And there too was a stranger--a pretty, slim child in
white, with a clear skin and dark hair and eyes, and....

"You haven't met Mrs. Linden, old boy." John was very jovial, very
excited. "I told you I would get my romance. We met on the train just
outside of Trieste ... Irene, darling!"

Irene, darling!

There she was, her calm, glorious self, framed in a doorway, as he had
seen her before. Only now she wore purple ... it suited her better than
black, completed her regality.

Her eyes met his. Only the faintest hint of recognition lit and died
within their unfathomable deeps. Had she been prepared, he would not
have seen even that.

"Glad to meet you ... Mrs. Linden."

He took her hand in his; the pressure was just as firm as, and no firmer
than, one would expect in a hostess.

"Come along to my study--the man will take the suitcase to your room."

In the study Charles drank a little port and listened.

"Um ... about Molly. I've been thinking--you don't mind if we have this
out right away?"

Fathergill shook his head. He preferred that the matter of Molly should
be disposed of.

"My wife--by the way, she was the Princess Irene Dalruski--had a
terrible time in the revolution; I will tell you all about it one of
these days--my wife thinks it would be a mistake for Molly to marry
except where her heart is. Old-fashioned, eh?--By the way, did you see
Vera--my wife's sister, a dear kid...."

How curiously futile everything was, Charles Fathergill thought. All his
scheming--the Roumanian lawyer with a moist face. Suppose now he had put
no spoke in the wheel, had let the reports go forward, and John Linden
had entered into his minor riches, and instead had fastened to himself
with hooks of iron this find of Peter's....

He was very silent at dinner; scarcely looked at the glorious being at
the head of this suburban table; permitted himself the fatuity of
wearing a paper cap. Molly thought he was sorrowing over a lost bride
and cried herself to sleep that night.

"Have a talk with Irene. I'd like you to know her," said John Linden.

There was a little drawing-room that was half conservatory, and was in
consequence a place that smelt faintly of the earth. Hostess and guest
detached themselves from the noisy group about a Christmas tree.

"Well, my dear?" Charles Fathergill closed the door. His heart was
beating a shade faster than usual, a sense of exhilaration made him feel
a little drunk.

"Well?"

She did not sit down. Curiously was the scene reminiscent of another
meeting--eighteen hundred miles away.

"You have reached your objective?" he said, and, when she slowly nodded:
"I have searched Europe for you."

She looked at him steadily.

"Why?"

He was nonplussed for a moment.

"Why do you think?" he asked, and went on quickly: "We're going to be
very good friends, aren't we?"

"I hope so. You won't come here again, of course?"

"Why not? Linden's a great friend of mine."

She nodded.

"That is the reason. I have heard a great deal about you, without
realizing who you were."

He smiled at this; the hinted disparagement pleased him. She had aroused
that kind of emotion once before.

"You still believe that knowledge is power?"

He still believed that. This was the moment he would have chosen to
hammer home the guiding principle of his life.

"And The Little Green Man?" he bantered. "Has he been smashed?"

She shook her head.

"No. Once or twice I thought I would bury him, with all that belongs to
his day. Something prevented me."

A very long, uncomfortable silence followed. The sound of laughter came
faintly from the larger drawing-room.

"I have rather a nice apartment in Carlton House Gardens. I hope you
will come along and see me. Often."

She made no reply. He repeated the invitation.

"You mean that I should enter a new bondage for an indefinite period?"

She looked round.

"It needs Peter to smooth over the crudities."

He thought she was being very sensible and was relieved.

"And if I cannot find time to see your beautiful flat? Will you grow
reminiscent some day when you meet John Linden?"

He did not hesitate.

"Yes. You may say: 'What purpose will that serve?' You asked me that
before. I reply now, as I replied then: 'Knowledge is of value so long
as it is used. A threat of its use, unless it is backed by the will to
use it, is so much foolish talk.' It is because you believe, rightly,
that not in a spirit of revenge, but as a logical consequence...."

"I see."

She half turned towards the door.

"I wanted to be sure. Come and be festive ... have you seen my little
sister?"

"A lovely child," he said conventionally.

That was all that passed between them: they did not speak again. He
asked for a glass of milk to be sent to his room, and this was done.

When he went upstairs to bed he looked for her, but she had already
retired. The servant who knocked at his door the next morning could not
make him hear. She went in and drew up the blinds, put down the tray,
and did not notice that the glass she had taken up the previous night
was gone.

"Your tea, sir," she said.

Even John Linden did not believe that Fathergill was dead until the
doctor came.

"I am sorry your Christmas has been spoilt," said Irene gravely, and
looked from him to the big fire which burnt in her bedroom. The Little
Green Man had already melted out of sight.

                *       *       *       *       *



+----------------------------------------------------------------------+
|                                                                      |
|  Transcriber's note.                                                 |
|                                                                      |
|  The following misspelled words have been corrected in the text:--   |
|                                                                      |
|  mechinaclly to mechanically                                         |
|  repentence  to repentance                                           |
|  impession   to impression                                           |
|  supose      to suppose                                              |
|  Fleminsh    to Flemmish                                             |
|  grimmace    to grimace                                              |
|  brindled    to bridled                                              |
|  woman       to women                                                |
|  possesed    to possessed                                            |
|  cooly       to coolly                                               |
|  descrption  to description                                          |
|  interveiw   to interview                                            |
|  gong        to going                                                |
|                                                                      |
|    All other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's    |
|                    spelling has been maintained.                     |
|                                                                      |
+----------------------------------------------------------------------+



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia