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Title: Honor Bright Author: Max Brand (Frederick Faust) * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402051h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2014 Most recent update: May 2014 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of 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 of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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ADRIENNE stepped into the library through the French window—her family's garden adjoins mine—and sat down in the red tapestry chair near the fire. My Adrienne—your Adrienne, every man's Adrienne—selected that chair because it made a perfect background for her black velvet evening wrap, and she wanted to be near the fire so that the bright blaze of it would throw up little golden lights into her hair. I got up and poured her favorite drink, which is a bit of plain water without ice, just stained with Scotch.
"This is very pretty, Adrienne," I said. "With your profile just so and your head leaning a little, you look like a child."
"When you know the truth, does it matter how I look?" she said. "How is your poor back, Uncle Oliver?"
I had been moving some great heavy pots of hydrangeas a few days before on the terrace and had given myself a wrench, but it was not sympathy that caused Adrienne to ask that question; something in my speech had annoyed her, and she wished to remind me, in her sweetly poisonous way, that the first sign of age is weakness in the small of the back.
"I'm perfectly well," I said.
"I'm very glad, darling" said my Adrienne, "but don't insist on being so strong and manly just now, dear."
I looked up from filling my pipe and waited.
"You know you prefer cigarettes," she explained.
I put the pipe aside without a word and picked up a cigarette.
Adrienne rose and came, rustling, to stand over me with her fragrance while she held the lighter. "Isn't that the wrong end, dear?" she suggested.
I reversed the infernal cigarette, and she lighted it. These near approaches or forays of Adrienne's often make me nervous, and of this truth she is exquisitely aware.
"Are you angry?" she asked.
"Just enough to give you my full attention," I told her.
"It's your usual system."
"But I don't come here to annoy you, do I, Uncle Oliver?" she wanted to know. "You don't really feel that I come here to annoy you, Uncle Oliver?" she said sadly.
"You come here to think out loud, because I'm so old and safe," I answered.
"Oh no; not really so safe," she said.
"Well, well! Who is it this time?" I asked.
"Something terrible happened," she told me.
"What's his name?" I asked cannily. "And who is he?"
"It's not so much a 'who' as a 'what,'" decided Adrienne. "Will you help me, dear Uncle Oliver?"
"I suppose so," I said.
She went back to her chair and held out one hand to be gilded by the firelight, yet I felt that only part of her attention was being given to the composition of this picture and that she was in real trouble. I was astonished and touched.
"I have an appointment for eight o'clock," she said. "You won't let me be late? It's frightfully important."
"Very well," I answered. "I won't let you be late. But now let's get on with your problem. What's his name?"
"Gilbert Ware," she said.
I felt a shock of loss and regret. For years I had realized that my Adrienne was growing up, but still it had remained easy for me to think of her in short skirts and with her hair in braids. A child belongs to every man; a woman belongs to one only; and so my heart shrank at the name of Gilbert Ware. He filled both the imagination and the eye. If he was not one of the richest ten men in the country, he was not far behind them. On his mother's side he went back to the best of Massachusetts, and by his father he was Old Virginia; placed in the diplomatic corps by the Ware dynasty, he had tasted the best the world offers by the time he was thirty; and finally he had the beauty, together with the raised eyebrows, of one of the Founding Fathers. I daresay that he was the catch of the whole country. Such a man did not waste his time on children, which meant that my Adrienne was now a woman.
She explained, "He gave a week-end party at his house in the country, and I was there."
"At his country house?" I said. "Why, Adrienne, you really are getting on."
She did not answer but continued to look sidelong thoughts, so that I understood she was about to tell her story. I took my drink in hand, comforted my sight with her, and prepared to listen. Of course, "uncle" is merely a title that she chose for me, but I have watched Adrienne and listened carefully for several years without coming to the end of her. She is strangely combined of warmth and aloofness. Not even her school friends could nickname her "Addie," and no one fails to put the accent on the last syllable of "Adrienne" because she seems, if not a Latin, at least very different. Actually, her blood is mostly of the far north—Norwegian, I think—and those people of the endless nights have gifts of deep brooding and long, long dreams.
Adrienne is continually in and out of love like a trout in sun and shadow, but the net never seems to take her. When I thought of the name and place of Gilbert Ware in the world, I wondered if this might not be the time. I wondered also how much truth might be mingled in this story with the fictions of Adrienne, for, though I hope she is not a deliberate teller of untruths, she is at least a weaver who loves to have many colors in her web. With the question there came to me a sudden surety that tonight, at least, I should hear nothing but the truth. Also I knew, for no proper reason, that she was to speak of a great event. At this point in my thoughts she began to talk in that voice so light and musical that more than once, it surprises me to say, she has talked me to sleep.
She was quite excited, she said, when the invitation came, for she had seen Gilbert Ware only a few times and, though she had done her very best, she had not been sure that he noticed her. Now she put her mind thoroughly upon the future, as she laid out the things for her maid to pack. She hesitated particularly over the jewels for, if she took none, she might seem dull, and too many might be pretentious. At last she hit on a diamond bracelet—a mere thread of light—and a little ruby pendant of the finest pigeon's blood. The two together might be worth some thirty-five hundred or four-thousand dollars. (Adrienne is very good at figures.)
Long before her packing was finished or her thoughts arranged, young Harry Strode stopped by to drive her down to the country. She permitted this service from him, but not with pleasure. She had been quite fond of Strode at one time and, during an extremely dull evening, she had permitted herself to tell him so. But, since Adrienne cannot endure sulky men with long memories, her liking afterwards had turned the other way.
Once in the car, she was as pleasant as possible. However, this was a dark afternoon with such a roar and rushing of rain that conversation meant straining the voice. She had intended to be kind to Harry, but not in the face of such difficulties. Adrienne, who has more than one of the talents of a cat, found herself, while considering the next subject for talk, so comfortable that presently she was asleep.
She roused when Harry paused to take a hitchhiker in out of the downpour. He was a pale man of about my age, she said, with his head thrust forward at the end of a long neck like a caricature of all the bookkeepers in the world. A certain restless hunger in his eyes intrigued her for a moment, but then, in spite of the best intentions, she was asleep again; and the fellow sat quietly in the back seat.
At the entrance to Ware's driveway, Strode let out his extra passenger—the lights of a town were only a short distance down the road—and Adrienne remembers how the poor fellow stood in the rain with his hat in his hand, thanking them and waiting for the car to pass on. This roused her so that she was wide awake when they entered the house.
The place was quite a disappointment to her for it combined two faults: it was both baronial and new. Yet she could understand that a man like Ware might simply pick the best of architects and say to him, "Here is the land. Select a proper site and build me an appropriate country house. Suppose you take a year to do it, gardens and all." But the moment she went into the living room she was warmed by the realization that Ware was giving the party entirely for her. Every one of the dozen or more house guests had been chosen from among her younger friends. It was only a pity, said Adrienne, that he had not included some of the older ones. Saying this, she smiled at me.
In the great living room, huge as a Tudor hall, tea was being served in delicate porcelain with faint chimings of silver; and there was Gilbert Ware, as ingratiating and observant a host as though he were by no means the catch of a continent. Adrienne made up her mind to have him. Her tactics were to strike at once and to keep on striking.
When Ware asked her about the trip down, she said, "I don't want to think about it."
"No—please! It was only a hitchhiker we picked up, and I simply started imagining things about him."
"Something is bothering you," said Gilbert Ware, "so let's have it out." He had a doctor's air, attentive for humane reasons even to foolish stories.
"It was like something you're afraid of seeing by night," said Adrienne.
The storm jumped suddenly at the house and set the tall windows trembling. Since it was only twilight, the curtains had not been drawn, and she looked out over a shimmer of lawn into the green gloom.
"Harry had his eyes glued to the road," she said. "He's such a careful driver, but it seemed to me that he must have known what I was seeing as I sat there, pretending to be asleep. In the mirror I could see the man's face; I think I'll always see it."
"It was so pale," said Adrienne. "It was so long and dead and white... Please don't make me remember."
"Don't talk about it; you look sick," said Ware.
"I'll be all right. It was only a dream. There wasn't any reality about it. Nothing so evil could be real. You know, the sort of horror that smiles at you in the dark?"
Ware was listening to her but with plenty of reservation in those raised eighteenth-century eyebrows. She realized then that, if she married him, she might find herself playing a part forever. The thought excited her as she went on with the embroideries of her little story. Actually there had been something strange about the hitchhiker. Now she enlarged upon him.
She said she had seen the devil wake up in the eyes of the man when, as she raised her hand to her hat, her sleeve fell back and showed the diamond bracelet; she had seen the beast of prey in him appear like some grisly shape that floats up under water, never clearly seen. It wasn't the thought of mere robbery and loss that troubled her but that brooding sense of a monstrous presence.
Gradually the man leaned forward in his seat, preparing to act. She was trying desperately to convey a warning to Harry Strode. If it were too overt, the signal would bring the attack on them instantly. She tried to signal with her eyes, with her hand. She slipped her foot over and touched Strode's. But he remained impervious, simply fixing his eyes on the road and singing a song, said Adrienne, which declared that for alma mater he would stand like a wall and never, never fall; also, when he took the field, he would never yield.
When she talked about the college hymn, something melted in Ware's eyes. A barrier fell, admitting her, and whether or not he believed all the tale, plainly he enjoyed the art of it.
She made a quick ending. A police car, she said, suddenly came up behind them, used its siren, and went by. This was enough to make the hitchhiker change his mind. Perhaps the sight of the uniforms recalled to him certain unforgettable years of punishment. He relaxed in his seat, and a moment later they were letting him out at the entrance to the Ware place. She never would forget him standing in the rain with that faint white mockery of a smile, thanking them for the ride. She had reached the house still half sick, but what saved the day for her was a desire to laugh, because Harry Strode had gone through it all aware of nothing but a desire to rally around a banner and, with a heart so true, die for the red and blue.
Ware chuckled at this. Then he said that the guest rooms of his place were cottages scattered through the grounds but, if she were nervous after her experience, she should have a place in the main building.
"No, no!" said Adrienne. "I've talked it all out now, and I won't think of it again. You were so right to make me tell you everything. I didn't want to say anything about it before the rest of them; there's something so ugly about that kind of a story, don't you think?"
Ware's eyes dwelt on her for a moment before he agreed; then he let the general conversation flow in upon them, and Adrienne found the eyes of the other girls fixed on her a little grimly. They took it for granted that she merely had succeeded in putting herself on trial, but her resolution was hardening every instant. She would take this man, to have and to hold; she would take him—if for no other reason—because he was hard to get.
Everyone went to change, and Adrienne was shown to her cottage. There were a number of these cabins, each tucked into a special environment: one by a pool, another drenched in vines, one lost in towering woods, and a fourth sunning itself on a little green hilltop, though there was only rain streaming down when Adrienne was taken to it. It was built snug and tight as a ship's cabin, but it was a complete job even to a sunken pool in the bathroom.
When she had dressed—in black, she said, with only her ruby pendant—she put on overshoes and a featherweight cellophane slicker which were provided and went back to the house with a flashlight. There was only a misting rain, by this time, but the trees still looked a little wild from the storm.
A few moments after her return to the house, dinner was announced. When they went in, she found herself at the right hand of Ware and felt that the game was half won. Yet he made no particular effort at the table; he preferred to watch her and smile.
She was surprised when suddenly he asked her what she thought of the house.
"Doesn't it need something?"
"Does it? What would you say? More color?"
"No, but more time."
This seemed to please him. For an instant he came out of the distance and sat within touch of her, his eyes clear and keen, but after that she felt that he had drawn away again. She did not feel that she had failed but that he needed more leisure to make up his mind. She determined to give it to him, so she pleaded a frightful headache and went off to bed early.
By this time the storm had slid away down the sky and out of sight, but a few clouds were flying. The moon hit one of them and dashed the whole weight of it into a shining spray like a bow wave. Adrienne enjoyed these things. She knew that she was on trial—for fifty million, so to speak—but her eye was turned confidently to the future.
She decided, as she lay stretched on her bed in the cottage, looking at the apple-green ceiling, that Gilbert Ware probably wanted a restful creature for a wife. He was an unhurried sight-seer in life, determined to take nothing but the best. She, with her imaginings and her acting, had amused him for a time. She should have adopted an entirely different role and made herself, like him, a quiet observer, a little tired by the game. Adrienne decided that in the morning she would show him a change of pace.
The moment she reached this intelligent conclusion she grew sleepy, but as she yawned, her arms wide open to welcome the aching drowsiness, she heard a slight sound and observed that the knob of her door was turning. She had locked the door, but a thrill of horror froze her heart. Not since she was a child and ghosts had haunted her in dark corridors had she felt such a thoroughly sufficient chill. She reached for the telephone and turned the dial. The bell in the main house began to buzz with a deep, soft voice. The buzzing continued, a far-away sound on the wire and a hollow echoing in Adrienne. Then not a servant but Ware himself spoke.
"It's Adrienne Lester," she whispered. "Someone is trying to get into my cottage!"
He said, with his eternal calm, "Someone with a long, white, evil face, no doubt?" He laughed and rang off.
She could not believe it, but there it was. Her play-acting had been perfectly patent to him.
The doorknob no longer was turning. Instead, there was a very discreet sound of metal scratching on metal. She remembered now not the sins of her past but the old fable about the little boy who had called "Wolf! Wolf!" once too often. For an instant she thought of being merely beautiful and helpless; instead, she got up and seized the heavy poker which stood in the brass bucket beside the fire. At the same time the door opened.
A gust of night air came in along with her hitchhiker who looked "like a caricature of all the bookkeepers in the world." He closed the door with his foot and pushed his hands into his coat pockets. He was very wet. When he moved, his feet made squashy sounds in his shoes. The rim of his hat, which he did not remove, hung down around his long, pallid face. A thin purple dye, which soaked out of his coat, had streaked the white of his shirt and, since the coat collar was turned up, had left a mark like a cut across his throat. He looked at Adrienne and at the poker she held, then turned his back on her and went to the bedside table where her jewels were lying. He dropped them into a coat pocket.
He was quite hunched and so thin that she could almost count the vertebrae through his coat, but in spite of his apparent weakness she put the poker back into the brass bucket. She was young, swift, strong, but only as a woman. And, though he was by no means a big man, she knew that he could pluck the weapon out of her hands with ease. The knowledge sickened her a little; for the first time she was insufficient in an emergency. My Adrienne slipped quietly toward the door.
"No," said the hitchhiker, and shook his head at her.
She turned for an instant toward the blackness of the outer night, but she dared not flee because of the nightmare that might pursue her. She went back to the fire.
A small pool was collecting around the man's feet; she watched the growth of it on the Chinese rug across the tongue and lower jaw of a little dragon.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"I'm all right," said Adrienne.
"You're not afraid?"
"I was, terribly. But it's better now that you're talking," she said.
She thought that it was a pleasant remark, and she made it with a smile, but all the time the sickness of the fear was deepening in her, thickening like a new taste, because the hitchhiker was aware of her from head to foot and from foot to head. It was only for a moment that his eyes touched her in this fashion, but the screaming muscles began to tremble in her throat.
He kept nodding his head up and down in understanding. He ran the tip of his tongue over his lips. "It always makes me kind of laugh," he said, "the way you people get scared. Once I got into a place and in the first bedroom, where I didn't expect it, there was a young fellow lying reading. He'd heard something. He knew I was inside the room, but he didn't dare to turn his head. I stood there and watched. The magazine was resting on his chest, and his heart was thumping so hard that it made the pages keep stirring like leaves in a wind. He was young, and he was twice as big as me; but nothing is as big as the things that come out of the night."
"What happened, then? What did you do?" asked Adrienne.
"Don't scream or nothing," said the thief. "I'm gonna turn out the light."
He turned out the light so that there was only the fire to send his shadow and hers up the wall and over the ceiling in waves and tremblings.
Adrienne picked up the poker again.
"Yeah, you'd fight, wouldn't you?" he said, and laughed a little. "Got anything to drink in here?"
"No," said Adrienne.
"What's over here?" and he pulled open a small door set into the wall.
Two flasks of cut glass glimmered inside the niche. He sniffed at them.
"Brandy and Scotch. Funny how you people never know that bourbon is better than Scotch... Have some?"
"No," said Adrienne.
"Here's down the hatch!"
"Don't drink it!" cried Adrienne.
"Please don't drink it!" she begged.
"Ah, that's what you think, is it? Well, here's down the hatch!"
He took a good swallow, and while his head was back, his eyes half closed, she freshened her grip on the poker, but still she could not act. She put the poker back in place for the second time, because it came to her that all the danger she dreaded was, in fact, closed in the room with her and that she would have to meet it with a different kind of force.
He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, which made a smear across his face, and then he sat down beside the fire. Adrienne sank into the opposite chair.
"They spent some money on you all right," he said. "I remember hearing a rich feller say, once... I used to be a plumber, and plumbers hear what people say, but a length of cast-iron pipe rolled on me, and it gave me a kind of a twist in the back, so I wasn't any good, after that. I had to use the old bean, so I used it..." He seemed to have lost his place in the conversation. "Where was I at?" He took another drink.
"You were about to say how much money is spent on us."
"This feller was saying that his girl cost ten thousand a year from twelve years up. Travel, governess, maid, school—he said ten thousand wouldn't cover it. Ten thousand for ten years. That's a hundred grand. How many languages you got?"
"French and Italian, a little. And a bit of German."
"You don't look like you would know any German."
"They sent me to Vienna for a year. To study singing."
"I guess you can do that pretty good."
"Sing 'Home on the Range,' dead soft."
She sang "Home on the Range" softly. He finished the flask of Scotch while he listened. He hummed the last part of it in unison with her.
"I never was West," he said, "but I like that song. It's kind of American. It reminds me how big we are... I've heard plenty sing it better than you."
"Of course you have." She managed to smile again.
He stared hard watching for the end of the smile, but she kept it, after a fashion, in the corners of her mouth and in her eyes.
"There ain't hardly a good swallow in one of these flasks. Go fetch me the other one, will you?"
"Certainly," said my Adrienne.
She rose and went to the little cupboard. As she turned with the flask of brandy in her hand, she saw that the plumber sat a little higher in his chair, and then she was aware that his body was rigid as she came up behind him. He was waiting, tense and set, for whatever she might attempt to do, but he would not turn his head an inch toward her. She went slowly by him and gave him the flask—and her smile.
He relaxed in his chair. "You feel better, don't you?"
"A lot better," she said.
"I guess you been scrubbed clean every day of your life. I guess you never wear anything but silk?"
"Oh, yes. Oh, lots of other things," she said.
"You don't mind me now if I drink this?"
"I don't mind at all."
"Look," he said.
"Yes," said my Adrienne.
"Maybe there's better singers, but I never heard nobody talk so good. You bet I never heard anybody talk so good." He stood up. "You been pretty all right, and I sort of hate taking your stuff. You know?"
For the first time, in a way that was strange to Adrienne, he opened his eyes and looked at her with an appeal for understanding. He was apparently about to go, and she would not have to keep on smiling. She felt she had done enough acting in those few minutes to last her the rest of her life.
"It's all right," she said to him." We all have to get along somehow."
"Thanks. I believe you're on the square, but I'll fix this first." He pulled the telephone wire from the wall socket. Then he lifted a finger at her. "You won't budge out of here for ten minutes?"
"I won't budge."
"Ten whole minutes? Honor bright?"
"Honor bright," said Adrienne, and crossed herself automatically.
"Well, I guess that's all right then. Good night to you."
He went out of the cottage.
There was a little clock above the fireplace. She noted the hands at five past eleven and resolved to wait for the ten whole minutes, honor bright; but all at once, said Adrienne, she thought of what a scene there would be when she rushed into the big house and told them, how everyone would be roused, and there would be calls for the police, and Gilbert Ware looking frightfully mortified and, for once, thoroughly alert. She thought of these things and ran from the cottage, but before she had taken three steps, the man moved out from behind the corner of the little building. He came straight toward her, slowly, with his hands in his coat pockets, and his black shadow slid silently over the ground beside him, like a man and his ghost or a man and the black devil, said Adrienne. I wonder why she did not use those quick feet of hers to fly away to the big house, but all she could do was to creep away from him through the open door of the cottage. She backed up until the wall stopped her. Her knees gave way. My Adrienne crouched with her eyes closed, because she dared not look for another instant at the long, white, deadly face of the hitchhiker. But she could feel his shadow falling over her, cold on her face and breast, she said.
"Well, so there isn't any honor bright," he said. "I thought maybe you were one of the things for the country to be proud of. But you ain't. You ain't all right at all. You're dirt. You're just dirt."
It seemed to Adrienne that the chill of his shadow still was falling on her, but when she looked up, after a long time—after a long time when the breath seemed to be stopping in her body—she saw that he was gone, and she was able to get to the chair by the fire and drop into it.
Only a moment later Gilbert Ware came in. He looked at the black, wet footprints on the floor, and then dropped on one knee beside her chair. She was reminded dimly of other young men who had taken the same position—my Adrienne always is reminded of someone else, no matter what a man does.
"I've been a fool—I've been a goddamned fool!" said Ware, in just as trembling a passion of regret as any other man. "What happened? What has he done?"
My Adrienne said nothing, not because she was incapable of speech, nor because she was remembering the theft and her fear, but because she was thinking of a loss far more vital, for which she could not find a name. So she kept on thinking until her thoughts went jogging all the way back to childhood, which was the last time "honor bright" had troubled her soul. She was holding out her hands to the fire which, against all nature, gave her no comfort.
Gilbert Ware took those hands and turned her suddenly toward him so that she had to see his face, all savage with resolution. There was no trace now of that astute and critical spirit which had looked so carefully through her.
"When did he go? Has he hurt you? Tell me. Do you hear me, dear Adrienne? What has he done?"
There was one word in this speech which could not help partially reviving such a practical girl as my Adrienne, and yet she still was half lost in that unhappy dream as she answered,
"He took the bracelet and pendant. I don't know when he left. The hitchhiker..."
"Was it that fellow? And I thought it was only a story!" cried Ware.
He jumped for the phone, found it was disconnected, sprang back to her.
"Let him go!" she said. "I don't want ever to see him again. Don't make me see him again, Gilbert."
Gilbert Ware threw a blanket around her and lifted her to her feet. He helped her along the path to the main house.
"You won't have to see him. Of course you won't have to see him. Don't talk, my sweet girl, my Adrienne. You've had a frightful shock. Will you be able to forgive me?"
Miserable as she was, she could not help thinking how easy it might be to forgive fifty million and Gilbert Ware.
The party at the house had not broken up, and everyone hurried to be of help. Faces leaned over Adrienne as she lay on the couch wrapped in the blanket. Someone chafed her feet. Her fingers were around a mug of hot toddy that warmed her hands and her lips and her throat but could not melt the ice around her heart.
She was conscious of much telephoning back and forth, but she was not prepared for the return of her philosophical hitchhiker, flanked by a pair of proud policemen. In that frame he was a wretchedly starved picture of a man. He had left the muddy country lanes for a highway, and the police had picked him up at once. Ware, bending close beside Adrienne, was saying, "There's only one word for you to speak, and then it's all over. Simply identify the jewels and the man. The law takes on after that. Don't move, Adrienne. Don't sit up."
She did sit up, however, because it was mortally necessary for her to face again those eyes which had looked into her so shamefully far. But the inquiring mind was gone from the thief. All that had been free and dangerous and of the night now was faded into a dim creature who had suffered before and was prepared once more to endure.
"I guess this is the stuff, Miss?" said one of the policemen, holding out the jewels in the palm of his hand. "You just identify it, and he'll take a trip."
She kept trying to catch the glance of the thief, but he stared straight forward at the years of labor, of silence and of shame. His wet hat, now a shapeless sponge, was crushed in one hand, and it was upon this hand that Adrienne was forced, most unwillingly, to focus her attention. There was something abnormal, misshapen and oversized about it. By contrast, Gilbert Ware had such slender fingers, such a rounded but inadequate wrist, that one wondered how he could swing a polo mallet. The thumb of the hitchhiker, for instance, was broadened, thickened and fleshed on the inside to a surprising degree. Across his wrist lay two forking veins as big as her little finger, and all at once she penetrated the mystery. It was simply that the thief had been a laborer. By swinging sledge hammers, by tugging with all his might at powerful wrenches, he had deformed and desensitized his hands until they were merely gross tools, vaguely prehensile.
". . . just a matter of identification," a policeman was saying.
"They aren't mine," she said.
The smiles of the policemen persisted a moment, wavered and went out like lanterns in a sudden wind.
"But wait—but, Adrienne!" said Gilbert Ware.
She shook her head. "Not mine."
"But this is the very fellow you were talking about!" cried Ware.
"I never saw him before."
"My dear Adrienne," said Ware, looking hard at her, "if you're doing this out of charity, please remember that the law has a rightful place in this affair."
She lost track of his voice, watching comprehension break up the calm of the plumber, but even as the hope entered him, and he saw that after all she seemed to be giving him some chance of escape, the manhood seemed to go out of him. Something of his spirit came leering, groveling at her feet.
Ware asked everyone to leave the room. Then he sat down beside Adrienne. "Now what's it all about?" he asked, and he looked at her as a dealer might look at a picture of uncertain authentication.
"I don't know."
"I'm sure you always think your way through before you do anything."
"I try to," she admitted, and she kept searching her mind only to discover that the deeper she went, the more unknown was this new Adrienne.
He was waiting.
"I don't know what the whole truth about this is," she said, "but I have a horrible, naked feeling that I'm going to tell it."
After all, he had lived a bit. He showed it now by saying nothing.
"Did you see his hands?" she asked. "They were real, don't you think?"
"He's worked like an honest man, and he's been a thief. He's been in prison, too, and that's real enough. He could see that I'm all make-believe. I'm not even honestly looking for a husband. I'm just as honest as a cat that wants kittens. I try to be clever, but I'm only silly and young. I've never even made a beginning. I hate it. Oh, you don't know how I hate it.'
"There's something pretty final about this," he said. "I think you're writing me down as one of the people who never have made a beginning."
And now, in this interval, Adrienne found that she could not tell a pleasant lie. She knew that every second of the silence was saying good-by to fifty million dollars but, instead of speaking, she could only remember the voice of the thief saying, "You're dirt! You're just dirt!"
After a while Ware stood up slowly, still with something between anger and entreaty in his eyes, but when that frightful silence continued, he said, "I'll tell them the hitchhiker isn't the man."
He left the room.
A fortune vanished with him, but with a very convinced longing Adrienne wanted to be out of that house. That was what she told the doctor, when he came a few minutes later.
He said, "You've had a shock, my girl."
"Have I? I'm going to be better, though, now."
"You'd better stay in bed for two or three days."
"Oh, no; I won't need to do that. There's someone I have to see.
"You'd better do as I say, though," he advised.
"But I know me so well," said my Adrienne.
Here she finished her drink, and I knew that her story was finished also; her timing is so perfect.
I blew some smoke upward and watched it vanish. "Fifty million dollars all gone?" I said, but then I saw that there was a shadow on Adrienne, a strange dimness.
"Now tell me about everything," she said, looking at the place where the smoke had vanished.
"Why, it's not difficult, my dear," I told her. "You're unhappy about it because you don't understand the big, quick movement of your own heart; when you saw Ware bearing down with all the dogs of the law on that poor, hunted devil—"
"Oh, nonsense," said Adrienne. "Just as poor and hunted as a wolf. You don't know. I mean, a wolf that's perfectly at home in the woods, snow or shine. Don't you see? What am I looking for? Why, I'm looking for a man, and that evening I thought I'd found him. But I hadn't. I'd only found a sort of beautiful social legend, or something. The hitchhiker was more of a man."
"Well, yes. Well... of course," I said, and gave myself a twist that hurt my back. "I hadn't thought of that. But—just to return a bit—who was it you wanted to see in the pinch? You remember you spoke to the doctor about him."
"Oh, an old, old friend," said Adrienne. "His voice was with me all through it. He's the one I'm to see tonight."
"Better be on your way, then," I told her. "It's ten to eight now."
"Really? Is it as late as that? Then may I ring for Jericho?"
She was pressing the button as I said, "What the devil do you want with him?"
Jericho came in. He is made of white hair, yellow parchment, and heavenly spirit.
"Jericho dear," said Adrienne, "is there any cold, cold champagne?"
"There is one just barely turnin' to ice," said Jericho.
"Then we'll have that for an aperitif," she told him. "And is that pheasant big enough for two?"
"Just perfect, Miss Adrienne."
"Then serve it that way, please," said Adrienne.
"Do you mean that I'm the appointment?" I asked, when Jericho left.
"You're the only person who knows enough to tell me what's wrong with me," she said desolately. "But I don't need the telling actually. I know already. Say something or I'm going to cry," said Adrienne, who now was sitting on the arm of my chair.
Jericho brought in the champagne and paid no attention to Adrienne as he began opening the bottle.
"Well, I'll tell you a fact that's better than a story," I said.
"I hate facts," said Adrienne.
"When the Arab mare comes out of the tent in the morning—because the Arabs value their mares most, you know..."
"What silly people!"
"They're not silly at all."
"Oh, aren't they?"
"No, they're not. But when the mare comes out of the tent, she looks away off beyond the tribe and over the heads of the family that owns her, and across the desert to the edge of the horizon. She has her tail arched and her head raised, and there's a tremendous expectation in her eyes that makes her master sad."
"Because he knows she's saying to herself: 'When will the real master come!'"
"How rather lovely," said Adrienne.
Jericho had placed in my hand a glass in which the bubbles broke with a crisping sound. "Here's to the real master, my dear," I said.
"Will you find him for me?"
"This is just nonsense, Adrienne," I told her with severity.
"But I'm tired—oh, I'm tired to death!" she said. "I want my life to start."
"Come, come! Let's have this drink."
"Not until you promise me."
"Either find me a husband—I'll ask no questions—or marry me yourself."
"Are you really so shocked?"
"But I'm old enough to be—"
"You are old enough, you see. Shall we drink to it!"
"I shall find you somebody," said I.
"Of course you will," said Adrienne, raising her glass slowly as though waiting for permission.
I lifted mine in turn and, looking up, saw her all shining and golden through the color of the wine.
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