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Title: The Opal Pin Author: Rufus Gillmore * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1901131h.html Language: English Date first posted: November 2019 Most recent update: November 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore 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 Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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The tall, reserved-looking Englishman in evening dress, Inverness on arm, stick in hand, consulted his watch, then sauntered quietly out of the foyer of the Waldorf. Interested apparently only in the shop-windows and passing women, he walked slowly along Thirty-fourth Street. On Broadway he stopped to mail a letter. A few steps further he drew another letter from his pocket, tore it and dropped the pieces carelessly into the gutter. Without change of gait or look behind, he then entered the bar of the Martinique. Once inside, he glanced back guardedly through the door. The short, athletic but slightly corpulent man whom he had seen approach one of the Waldorf house detectives, was picking up the pieces.
Smiling, the tall, reserved-looking Englishman moved to the bar, bought a high-ball, drank it. After that he wandered out into the foyer and reserved two seats for the following night at the Little Theater. He gave the name of Howe. Then he descended to the grill room, ordered food and drink, and sat there placidly enduring the music of the negro-minstrels until one o’clock came and the room closed.
Now, he took the elevator to the office floor and started with a direct, swinging gait toward the Thirty-third Street exit of the hotel. Half way through the long vestibule he stopped suddenly, as if recalling something, retraced his steps and left the hotel by its Thirty-second Street exit. Along this street to Fifth Avenue, down the avenue to Thirty-first, along Thirty-first Street he sauntered. Not until he neared the corner of Madison Avenue did he venture his first look behind. Then he dropped his stick and turned in picking it up. The short, athletic but slightly corpulent man was far behind, on the other side of Thirty-first Street.
The Englishman turned up Madison Avenue. Around the corner he drew a master-key from his pocket and quickened his gait. The outer of the two doors of the house he was approaching someone had left ajar. After a hurried look back he entered the vestibule and noiselessly closed the outer door. With the master-key he opened the inner door.
It was a boarding house. Carpets, furniture, the absence of anything personal lying about, said so. Screened by the heavy hangings at the windows of the front parlor, he watched stealthily. He saw the man who had followed him stop at the corner of Thirty-second Street, look indecisively west, north, east, and then hurry away toward Fourth Avenue.
The tall, reserved-looking Englishman waited in the dark shadows of the parlor for nearly an hour. No one entered the boarding house, no one left it. At the end of this time he drew over his shoes a pair of thick black woolen hose. His tread thus muffled, he went up the stairs.
He walked as one who knew definitely where he was going. On the fourth floor he proceeded to the front room on the left. He tried the door. It was locked. He bent down and with a pair of nippers deftly turned the key in the lock. Then he extinguished the dimly burning hall light and entered the room.
The refracted light from the street made everything clear. He went straight to the bureau at the front of the room and surveyed the things scattered over its top. The photograph of an actor matinee-idol seemed to cause him doubt, and the sight of a piquant tri-cornered hat to increase it. He turned, looked sharply at the ink-black hair of the young woman asleep on the couch and shook his head.
His gaze returned with annoyance to the bureau and fell upon a few rings, pins and trinkets in a glass dish. Sneeringly he emptied them into his pocket. Immediately something happened.
“The opal pin! Had that anything to do with it? Carl! Carl! Tell me!”
The young woman was talking in her sleep. He bent down into the shadow beneath the sill of the window and waited to make sure that he had not roused her. Then he crossed the room and went out.
In the hall he listened an instant, then crept carefully down one flight. Again he used his nippers on the key in the door, put out the dim hall light and entered the room immediately under the one he had just left.
The lights in the street made this even brighter than the room above. His eyes gleamed as they fell on the bonnet of an older woman on the bureau; they glistened as they stopped on the pistol beside it. In the chambers and barrel of that pistol were the unset diamonds and pearls he sought.
They were just across the room, his in one moment. He stood quietly observing, weighing, relishing, before taking them. It was so easy now! All the rest, after what he had been through!
Suddenly he started and cocked his ears. The young woman in the room above had risen, was walking across her room, and her footsteps made what in the quiet night seemed like a vast noise. All the inaction went out of his manner; he stepped briskly toward his prize.
“Here! Here! What are you doing in my room?”
He stopped half way to the bureau. The woman had raised herself on her arms in the bed and was peering at him. Quickly he lifted an arm shielding his face from view.
“I—I beg your pardon, madam,” he stammered. “I—I must have got into the wrong room.”
“Well, make yourself scarce!” The woman seemed not a whit alarmed.
“I’m very sorry, madam—” he paused, gazing eagerly at the pistol containing the treasure and evidently reckoning his chances—”I’m very sorry to have made such a mistake and disturbed you.” After a quick glance at her under his arm, he turned and pretended to stagger out of the room.
He had been none too quick at arriving at his decision. As he ran down the stairs he heard her calling out the front window:
“Help! Murder! Thieves! Help!”
Her cries were arousing the people in the house and the whole street in front. He stopped to open the front door and to shut it with a slam that would mislead. Then he crept craftily downstairs, opened a window, stepped through into the back yard, and coolly closed the window behind him.
Hastily but noiselessly he scaled the fence into the yard beyond, scaled the fence of that into the next. Here, he paused to remove the mufflers from his shoes and to bury them deeply under the rubbish in a garbage barrel; then he passed through the gate of that yard into the adjacent alley and reconnoitered. The outcries had as yet attracted attention only to the front of the house. He walked slowly, very slowly, along Thirty-first Street to Fifth Avenue, made sure that no one saw him turn south, and a few minutes later crossed Madison Avenue to the east at Twenty-eighth Street. He must have calculated that the alarm further up the avenue would draw away the fixed policeman at this post.
Ten minutes later he was giving the railroad signal—two long and then two short rings—on one of the bells at a tenement house on the East Side. As soon as the door clicked he entered and ascended noiselessly to the back apartment on the second floor. On the door of this he knocked, repeating his former signal. Without waiting for answer he knocked out the signal again; then again, this time stopping after the first two slow knocks.
“Is that you, Brit?” some one called softly through the closed door.
“No,” he answered.
Apparently this was the countersign. The door opened.
The little dark man who admitted him wore a badge of one of the city inspection departments. He had shoebutton eyes, one a glittering black, the other the color of a deep purple. He followed his visitor silently into the inner room. Here double curtains were drawn tightly over the windows, the lamp was so shaded as to cast little light save upon the table, and the openings for heating pipes were snugly sealed with felt.
“Get ‘em, Brit?” The little dark man slumped confidently into the only comfortable chair.
British remained standing, meditating, one hand resting on the table. The question had to be repeated before it gained his attention.
“You told me third floor front. I made a mistake, went up three flights, and got into the wrong room.”
“Getting careless. Well?”
British made a gesture of impatience at the interruption to his thoughts. “This is all I got. I don’t know why I bothered to take them.” He threw upon the table the contents of his pocket.
“Chicken feed!” The little dark man eyed the loot contemptuously. But, his further questions remaining unanswered, he was soon at the table greedily overhauling the booty. Suddenly his attention became centered on a single piece. It was a scarf-pin, its large blue stone carved into the form of a devil’s head. The leering, sinister face seemed to fascinate him. His small eyes glittered until they both seemed black. He picked up the pin and examined closely the grinning head; even after he put it down he continued to poke it about upon the table, in order to bring out the wonderfully translucent, lifelike glints in the blue.
“Say, haven’t you pulled an opal here?” he exclaimed suddenly.
British gave it but a glance. “Mink, you’re a greedy little bounder! Blind to everything except the spoil, aren’t you?”
“Well, droppin’ to earth, what else is there to it?” Mink’s shoebutton eyes deserted the opal pin and rested for a moment on his frowning companion. One corner of his mouth curled sarcastically with the small certainty that he had asked an unanswerable question.
“There’s the game, though I can’t seem to make you see it.”
“The game! Guff!” Mink sneered. “If I was going round mixing in with the silk-stocking and lobster-palace ginks and ginkesses like you, but me—all I’m trusted with is the bell-hop, messenger-boy work. All I care about is the stuff. Don’t try to put over any more of that gentleman-preacher dope on me. The game! O mummer!” His voice ascended mockingly to the pitch of a woman’s. “ ‘Mrs. Sy-mansky—Mrs. Sy-man-sky!’” he called, “ ‘can your Arthur come over and play with my little Willie?’ ”
Brit smiled. “No respect left for me at all, have you?” he commented carelessly.
“Not when you hand over that line of talk.”
“It’s strange,” Brit considered him smilingly, “vulgar, sordid little beggar that you are, I can’t help wanting to convince you. Doesn’t it mean anything to you to have a hand in a game no one else has ever thought of playing? A lone game, and so splendidly protected! You’ve been wondering lately why nothing gets into the newspapers about our little operations. Do you know why? Because I mapped out a game in advance that would remove both the police and the newspapers from our track.”
“Gee! Some swelled-up, as well as swell guy, ain’t you?”
Brit went on, untouched. “We’ve taken nothing except the jewelry and unset stones smuggled in here from the Continent. Do you remember that, after the first few hauls, I stopped, laid low, waited, and you couldn’t understand why? That was head-work, Mink, and a part of my plan. Those first few losers made a great noise about their losses to the police and newspapers. Then your conscientious Collector of Customs did just what I had planned he should. He made those careless smugglers pay the tariff. After they had lost their jewels they had to pay the duty on them; delayed advices from the Continent told their value. They were robbed twice, once by us and afterward by your absurd Customs tariff. Do you understand now why later losers shut their mouths tight, never went near the police or reporters, and put only private detectives on our track?”
Mink evaded the issue. “Private detectives! Say, Brit, ain’t they a cinch?”
“Yes.” Brit waited hopefully. “Is that all you have to say?”
“Sure.” Mink grinned. “I might be more enthusiastic if I got a fairer share of the stuff.”
“Not even satisfied with the spoils! On my word, you’re a low-down, ungrateful gnome!” Brit turned intolerantly away. “But it doesn’t matter now, thanks be!”
“Well, I was shadowed for the first time tonight.”
“Hell, that’s nothing.” But Mink watched him anxiously.
“No; nothing. Quite right, Mink—because I know precisely what it means. Shall I explain? I don’t know why your low order of intelligence makes the attempt so fascinating.” He smiled when Mink this time trusted his head rather than his tongue to reply. “Well,” he went on, “I was shadowed to-night, not by a mere private detective, but by one of your Secret Service men. This means that your Government has waked up to the news we are getting from its social spies abroad about jewels to be smuggled. Your Government has gone over its secret files, found that I, up to last Summer one of its paid agents in Paris, have not only withdrawn from the work, but have fled—vanished without leaving address or ripple. Hence, it follows that your Secret Service men are on the track of me and everyone who even remotely resembles me in appearance.”
“Moonshine, Brit; nothing but moonshine! Probably he was nothing but a private bull.”
“July to March! Nearly nine months! Quite a little longer than I expected!” Brit passed a careless hand over his brow.
Mink’s jaw dropped. “Brit, you ain’t going to run?” he demanded nervously.
“I come of excellent family. I’m the only bad egg of the lot. This is the first time the bobbies have ever had a chance at me. It would be really witty of me, wouldn’t it, to wait for them to catch up with me?”
“Brit, you’re joking!”
“Can it be that you’re beginning to appreciate me?”
“It’s such a perfect game. A wonder! No man ever thought up a better one.”
“What? The game, too! My soul leaps up!” British laughed with a sort of good-natured disdain.
“But a trifle too late on your part. While you were fondling that opal pin I was thinking higher thoughts—planning how to cover and begin all over again.”
Mink swallowed. “How?” he asked with sudden meekness.
“Well, I have no objection to telling you. I remain here to-night. To-morrow or the next day I slip into my rooms for a few trifles whose absence will not be noticed. The police inherit all clothes, furnishings, et cetera, with my compliments. That night the clothes I now wear will be found over by the river, traced back to my rooms where a note will be discovered stating that I have drowned myself rather than bring disgrace on my family, and that is the last that will ever be seen or heard of this man named Howe. Afterward I remain in hiding here until I can get a new outfit, or as long as we can stand each other, and then you, like all the rest, lose me for good and ever.”
“Then this ain’t no con game? You’re really going to cut me out?”
“Gimme the clothes and furnishings in your Fifth Avenue rooms and I won’t say a word.”
“You don’t know now and you never shall know where my rooms on the Avenue are located.”
Mink was temporarily silenced. “How do I know but you’re just dropping me for somebody else?” he complained at last.
“You don’t know.”
Mink’s face grew white and his eyes vindictive. “Where are you going?” he demanded.
“Another thing you’re not to know.”
“Yes,” he sneered, “and, after your getaway, I suppose you’ll arrange to have all those foreign letters about the stones sent to you, instead of me.”
“No.” British smiled. “Burn them. Write that I’m dead and the game is up. Mention my suicide. Enclose a newspaper cutting to make sure.”
He of the shoebutton eyes, one black and the other purple, attempted to stare down his confederate, but failed. “Fine; but you come off your high-and-mighty or I’ll squeal on you to the cops,” he threatened.
“You don’t think I dare to?”
“No; and you’re too greedy. You know very well that I would see that you were plucked of everything you have set aside from our short but unhappy partnership in crime.”
Mink was extinguished. He sank back in his chair and relapsed into abject silence, his eyes on the floor. “Ain’t you going to tell me nothing?” he whined, after a long silence.
British looked at him, appeared to relent at his complete triumph. “Come, Mink, buck up, and I’ll tell you something about my new scheme,” he said with sudden kindness. “It’s better even than the old one. Ah, I thought that would gain your attention. Now listen carefully. Don’t miss a word. Before it’s too late I intend to begin all over and learn what I can accomplish as a gentleman. I’m thinking of prescribing a little marriage for myself. Has it ever occurred to you? Why should I run all these risks for money in small sums when I can probably carry an American heiress off her feet and marry a lump sum? I’ve determined to try it. I’m going to a new city, reform my late wicked ways, and try to marry back into the station in life I was born in, bred in, and belong in. Many a worse man has done that. Why shouldn’t I?”
“And you’re going to let them silk-stocking smugglers off with stuff that belongs to us as much as anyone?”
“Yes; I’m going to try something honest before I get so deep in I won’t care to get out; before crime gets me the way it does every one, and while I’ve got looks enough, yes, and character enough, left to be worth something. You don’t think I’m starting too late, do you?” British smiled ingratiatingly.
Mink did not answer, merely regarded him sullenly.
“You don’t think I’ve lost too much of my manners and polish to win one of your American heiresses and keep straight and make her happy, do you?”
“How do I know?” Mink turned away from him with a vicious impatience. “No; I don’t think you can do it, not in a thousand years,” he added with a snarl.
“Now you make me feel quite sure that I can.”‘ British laughed and passed into the adjoining room..
The young man was tall and slender; he had heavy black hair and peculiarly dark and lustrous brown eyes. The young man was well groomed, his clothes seemed to lend, and, at the same time, to take, a certain air of distinction. The young man had the aquiline nose of the man that ventures, but neither one nor all these details quite explained the strange interest he excited in two other passengers on that Boston-bound Knickerbocker Limited.
He was brooding, brooding over something so deeply that to him there was no other person in that parlor-car. But some queer cast of chance had deposited him in the next chair to Benjamin Bunce. And Bunce was—varying the old phrase to suit events—Bunce certainly was the dub in the machine.
Bunce, one gathered from a self-importance that fairly bugled, was a prominent Boston business man; Bunce was one of those short, corpulent, self-made men who overlap, who are so pleased with themselves that they are pleased to talk to the man in the next seat. The pleasure is mostly theirs.
Now, in that slow, tedious ride with which the railroad separates Boston from New York, it is common enough for men of Bunce’s order to endeavor to make friends; but, when all their early advances are checked by a certain positive, if polite, distance, they seldom try to force an acquaintance. Not a bit of it! That is not Boston-bound behavior. Also, it is common enough for a traveler, doomed to Boston, to be distant, to indicate plainly that he would like to be left to himself. But usually one thus frigid turns his chair toward the window, plants his feet upon the heating conduit and uses the high back of said chair as a bulwark against intrusion.
The young man in the smug Wagner had neglected to do this. He sat sprawled low in a chair still pointed up the aisle; and he seemed too engrossed in his thoughts even to be scratched by Bunce’s ludicrous determination to make his acquaintance.
Bunce retired from his vain attempt to drag the young man into conversation with a knowing nod of his fat, round head, and a smile where one would have expected a frown. He turned, and behind the high back of his own chair consulted again the picture, the headlines and the few paragraphs he had torn from an inner page of one of New York’s yellow newspapers. This time he folded over the picture, which was as like the stranger as newspaper cuts are like anybody, skipped the headlines which told the meat of the story and read eagerly the fervent language in which they were rehashed by a thoroughly impassioned rewrite man. They declared:
“Late last fall the wreck off the Balearic Islands of their yacht caused the loss to the Earl of Ashburton of his two eldest sons, and obliged him to summon from America a younger scion of his noble name upon whom devolved the title of Lord Bellmere. The present Lord Bellmere returned, endured the endless round of gaieties of English social life for one brief winter, and acted as became the son and heir of one of the wealthiest peers of the realm. One brief winter! And now he has fled the parental roof-tree and vanished into thin air.
“Rumor saith that the rebellious lord has had words with his hot-tempered father over the same old opinions that separated them of yore, and has hied him back to America to prove that his birthright is but a mess of pottage, and that he is capable of making a name and place in life for himself.
“Whether this be true or no, this much is known: The young and handsome Lord Bellmere thinks for himself, and is no longer to be found in his old haunts, while the Earl, his father, gruffly denies having any knowledge whatever of his present whereabouts, though he will say no more.
“More than likely, Lord Bellmere has returned to America, where he was educated and insisted upon living until summarily called home. During the brief London season, which he has just graced, he was known as ‘The American Lord’ because of his unconventional ideas and speech. He disdains society, and has even been known to use slang.
“Perhaps he is already among us, incognito, and making good as man was intended to make good. It is said that he conld easily be taken for one of us.
“Welcome, Lord Bellmere!”
Bunce hid the newspaper clipping away in an inner pocket and pondered, until a look of sly cunning appeared in his small eyes. He turned quickly toward the stranger.
“My lord,” he whispered.
The young man started, but reverted to his abstractions without turning his head.
Bunce grinned, resumed his louder tone and baited with a fresh subject.
“Awful rumpus those suffragettes are kicking up on the other side.”
The stranger nodded without looking up.
“Getting so it isn’t safe for a man to go out walking alone. Seen the afternoon papers?” Bunce thrust a bunch of them toward him.
The young man thanked him and took the papers, but, after a perfunctory glance at the topmost, allowed them to drop into his lap.
Bunce shook his head and turned toward his neglected companion on the other side. Here he could command attention, for this young man was in his employ.
“Ice, David; ice!” he muttered, taking for granted that his actions had been watched and his defeat noticed. “I tell you what, our Cabots and Endicotts and Coolidges may have walked with God, but they haven’t got a thing on this young man. You just know he’s somebody by the way he treats you—”
David Shaw, business manager of Benjamin Bunce & Company, recalled his eyes reluctantly from the young woman sitting a few seats ahead on the other side of the car.
He had happened to be looking in her direction when she turned to observe Bunce’s amusing pursuit of the stranger. He had seen a pair of dark eyes full of lurking mischief light casually on the victim, widen, and then remain fastened incredulously upon him. He had seen her look change from doubt to startled certainty, her face grow suddenly white, her lips fall apart as from dismay. Then Bunce—confound him!—had chosen this moment to speak to him.
As soon as Bunce grew less attentive David’s curiosity sent his eyes back to her. She had wheeled her chair around and was staring at the stranger with an intentness that enabled David to scrutinize her unobserved. And there was that in her appearance which intensified his interest. It was a face, dimpled and beguiling, without being weak; a face all curves, without the monotony of a single straight line, extraordinarily soft, intelligent and expressive. And the hair—heavy, abundant, raven-black— parted at one side, pressing over the brow in two great waves before allowing itself to be turned back over the ears, gave her a picturesque appearance of strength that her soft young face belied.
The panic had all but left her attitude by now; her dark eager eyes dwelt upon the stranger with the steady stare of recognition. David waited for the young man to lift his eyes from the floor and bow. He wanted to hear her voice and to see that interesting face light up again.
The young man glanced up. For an instant his eyes rested incuriously upon the girl who so obviously studied him. Then, without a sign of recognition, they returned to the floor. But not before the girl, blushing to her ears, had picked up her book, hastily, and in a very flutter of confusion.
Didn’t she know him? Then why, David wondered, had the mere sight of him given her such a shock? He watched her, his astonishment making him unashamed, but, though her chair remained pointed in their direction, she did not allow herself another glance toward the young man in the seat between them. And, although she kept her eyes scrupulously fixed upon her book, five—ten—minutes passed and she had not yet turned a page.
“Manner’n’ tone, David, manner’n’ tone! That’s what the four hundred have on us, and that’s all, too. One generation ices-up for the next, and the next gets in all right without so much as a struggle. ‘Tain’t a case of money, breeding or leading a vertical life—nothing of the sort—just cold storage. Take Gideon Tucker! What’s he got? Nothin’ but a name that once was, shiny clothes, and the patented freezing process. Gus Ames, social tramp; not money enough to buy a drink, too lazy to do anything but dance for a living—leads the swell Boston cotillions, doesn’t he? Hired, of course. We all know that. Sim Hodge, farmer’s boy, self-made man like me; how’d he wriggle into that Cold Roast Boston set? Married one of their cold-storage women. I could buy and sell Sim; we’re good friends still, but his hand now would give you a chill. Manner’n’ tone, frost an’ distance—that’s the recipe! Look at Algy Coolidge. . . .”
Bunce kept on down the list of Boston people of birth and rank, handling their names with the familiarity of a megaphone-man on a sight-seeing auto, talking to David but really addressing the neighborhood. David rejoiced because it left him free to observe others in whom he was more interested.
Bunce talked on tirelessly. The young man in the chair ahead apparently paid no attention. And the girl—was she still watching him? Was she, each time that she lifted her eyes from her book, using the highly polished mahogany paneling as a mirror?
The train clicked along, and David could not determine. Gradually lack of event made him weary of his espionage and brought his attention back to his employer. Bunce was an inveterate smoker; Bunce had always spent most of his time on the train in the buffet smoker at the end. They were within an hour of Boston and Bunce had yet to leave his seat. Why was he so greatly interested in the stranger? Bunce had ceased to talk, lay back in his chair, eyes closed, apparently dozing. Had he given up all hope of achieving acquaintance? That wasn’t like Bunce.
David, unable to decide, looked out the window at the moving pictures. He was aroused by a sudden movement on the part of his employer. He turned to find the stranger’s seat vacant and both the young woman and Bunce looking toward the rear exit of the car. Bunce waited a moment, then yawned and rolled to his feet.
“Come on, David, my boy,” he said, “let’s slip back for just one smoke before we get into the Hub of the Universe.”
There were a number of unoccupied chairs in the smoker, but Bunce stood in the entrance until he located the stranger. The young man was seated in one of the cross seats just at their left. David, securing his first fair view of him, noticed that he was tall and distinguished looking, that his face wore the tan of travel or leisure. He was sitting in the corner with his feet sprawled out beneath the table. In the long-fingered right hand upon the table a cigarette sent up thin ribbons of chiffon across the rays of the descending sun of April. The cigarette bore a long ash, suggesting that he had lighted it, taken a puff or two, forgotten it. Attitude, look, everything, indicated that he desired to be left to himself.
Bunce paused only to locate him. Overlooking all the empty chairs beyond, he whisked masterfully up to the compartment occupied by the stranger.
“These seats taken?” he asked, and then, not waiting for an answer, he waved toward the other seat. “You sit in there, David,” he ordered and himself stood waiting for the stranger to make room beside him.
“I hope you don’t mind, friend,” he apologized, “it makes me carsick to ride backward.”
For a moment the young man looked up at Bunce expressionlessly. Then he rose.
“It’s all right. I was just going,” he announced politely, attempting to get by Bunce out into the aisle.
“Now, see here, I won’t stand for driving you out,” declared Bunce without moving aside.
“Not at all, I assure you. Really, I was about to leave.” The young man smiled.
Bunce never budged. “See here, stranger,” he expostulated, “this isn’t being very friendly, now, is it? Sit down and have a drink or a smoke just to show there’s no ill feeling. I’m the last man in the world to think of driving a man off his own doorstep.”
“Thank you, but—”
Bunce took insult, started indignantly away. “Here, you keep your seat and we’ll go somewhere else,” he stormed. “Never dreamed you’d object to our sitting in with you.”
“My dear sir! I’ll stay, of course, if that’s the way you feel about it.”
The young man dropped back into his corner, and, without further ado, Bunce, beaming, planted himself beside him. “Have a cigar?” he asked, throwing two upon the table and biting off the end of a third himself.
The stranger held up his cigarette as an excuse for not taking one. With the other hand he opened and placed upon the table his own cigarette case. It was a huge affair of chased silver, monogrammed, containing thirty or forty cigarettes. “Perhaps you will have a cigarette,” he said to David.
David’s hand stopped on its way to one of Bunce’s cigars. He held the contempt for cigarettes of one without the habit, but the way the stranger had immediately included him in the party won his heart. He looked up and met his eyes. Certain of the Latin races issue those black-brown eyes, big and shining and intense, never dull or without luster, filled with a passion strangely touching when things go wrong. David looked into them and went under. His hand strayed from the desired cigar to one of the stranger’s undesired cigarettes.
Bunce granted only the respite necessary to get his own cigar drawing.
“Going to stop off long in Boston?” he began.
“I wish I knew.” The young man carefully killed his cigarette, and lighted one of Bunce’s cigars.
“Ah, undecided! Visiting friends?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I’m looking for work.”
“Work!” Bunce looked him over. “What!—with those clothes?”
“What’s the matter? Has the fashion passed me?”
“Work!—with those fancy hands!”
“They grew on me. What can I do—cut them off?”
Bunce decided to laugh. “Ho, ho, ho, ho!” he exploded. “The next thing you’ll be telling me you sign your checks with a cross.”
The young man smiled politely, but said nothing. “Say, friend, what kind of a con game are you trying to put over on us?”
Bunce stopped chuckling and got down to business. “Plenty of this what you call ‘work’ right in New York. Couldn’t you get away with any of it?”
“Yes; but I thought I’d like to try my fortune in another city.”
“Oh!” Bunce waited for further confidence; it did not come.
“What’s the matter? Overspent your allowance? Been living like a Pittsburgher?” he pushed on.
“If you asked me, I’d say your trouble was lockjaw.”
The stranger laughed.
Bunce took immediate advantage of the opening. “Well, what do you say to having a high-ball with us?” he asked, ringing for the porter.
Bunce affected not to notice the shake of the head that went with the words. He ordered and, when the stranger’s drink came with theirs, he made short work of his protest.
“Drink it, man, it won’t do you a bit of harm,” he insisted, “ain’t a Keeley-cure graduate, are you?”
The stranger smiled, poured, and allowed the porter to fill his glass with White Rock.
Bunce nodded approvingly and immediately assumed a more patronizing manner. “I’ve taken quite a fancy to you,” he said largely. “Now tell us all about it, son.”
The young man regarded Bunce with astonishment. “There’s nothing to tell except that I want to work,” he said politely after a moment.
Bunce took another tack. “What sort of work did you do in New York?” he asked.
“I worked in an advertising agency for a short time.”
“Short time! Hem! Couldn’t you make good?”
“Yes; they said I had ideas. I could have stayed.”
“Then why in the devil—” Bunce checked himself, but finished with a look.
The young man put down his cigar and patiently folded his hands upon the table. “As I stated, there were reasons why I didn’t want to remain in New York any longer.”
Bunce scowled. “Don’t mind looking like a runaway cashier or bank president, do you?”
The stranger laughed a little nervously. “You don’t notice any signs of the loot on me, do you?” he parried. “I don’t want to mislead you. I’m merely going to another city to begin over; that is, all I want is a chance to show what I can do—that’s about all there is to say.”
Bunce stared at him, plainly puzzled. “Great mistake, these half-confidences,” he muttered. “Young man, I’m one of the prominent business men of Boston. If you’d only tell—”
“Pardon me, you’ll have the same?” interrupted the stranger, signaling the porter.
“Don’t get nervous, I’m not going to offer you work.” Bunce sank into a moody silence which he managed to preserve until the drinks were ordered and brought. “Now, no offense, but how can I offer to do anything for a man who stops where you have? Just put yourself in my place.”
The stranger attempted a diversion by raising his drink in salute.
Bunce took a short sip, then put down his glass impatiently. “Strangest case I ever run up against,” he complained. “Here I am ready to lend you a hand and you just sit there and throw me down. Never saw anything like it.”
“I’m sorry, but what else can I do?” The young man gazed out the window.
“What else can you do? Tell me enough to take the fleeing criminal look off you. Just a little about your people and how you came to be looking for work rigged up like a swell. I’ll keep your incog., if that’s what’s eating you.”
“Incog.?” The young man reached nervously for his drink and drained it. As he put down the glass a thought seemed suddenly to startle him. He rose quickly to his feet. “I’ll have to ask you to excuse me for a few minutes,” he said.
Bunce, his face a study in disappointment, rose to allow him room to pass. “See here, you’re coming back again, aren’t you?” he exclaimed with alarm..
“Yes. I haven’t paid for the drinks yet.”
“Because if you shouldn’t—I want you to have my card, anyway.” Bunce thumbed a card nervously from his card-case and handed it to him. “I don’t know whether you want to give me one of yours or not,” he suggested awkwardly.
The stranger’s hand started instinctively for his card-case, but dropped. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t one with me,” he murmured. Then he appeared to catch the quick glint of suspicion on Bunce’s face. He paused uneasily. “But my name’s Durant— Richard Durant—if you can remember that,” he added restlessly. A moment later he disappeared through the door at the end of the car.
“ ‘Richard Durant’—there’s a name with some sound to it! You can’t fool me about the real ones. He’s the second man with some class I’ve got acquainted with on this train. I met Cornwallis Brooke this way. Mark my words, before we get through we’ll find he’s got his valet somewhere on this train or the next,” muttered Bunce triumphantly, for the first time deigning to notice David.
David could not forbear the covert sarcasm. “I agree with you that he acted like a gentleman from the start,” he admitted.
“Gentleman!” Bunce missed utterly the subtle criticism. “Gentleman! He’s either the real, quadruple-plated thing or I’ll eat my hat So you think he’s a gentleman, do you, David?” Bunce laughed quietly, with an irritating superiority.
“Yes—if he isn’t a crook or confidence man,” retorted David, looking up to observe the man in question beckoning through the door back of Bunce. For a moment he stared, doubting if the call were meant for him. Then he excused himself, left Bunce blissfully writing down the name, and went to meet the man who bore it.
Richard Durant opened the door and David joined him on the observation platform at the end of the train. They were the only occupants. A thin hail of cinders fell all about them and eddied around their eyes. Down the long, straight stretch of track clouds of dust sprang up in protest, pursued the trespassing train a short distance, and then gave over the chase to fresh ones. The air rushed back into the vacuum created by the swift passage of the train, and all the dirt and noise of travel fell upon them.
“I’m in deep water,” said the stranger.
“What?” David did not believe he heard aright above the din.
The stranger seemed disturbed by the sharpness of his tone. “Come on in where the hearing’s better,” he said after a moment’s hesitation.
David followed him meekly inside the car, wondering what was coming.
The stranger took one swift look at David, then his gaze wandered down the car, passing uneasily from passenger to passenger.
“I’m sorry to say that I’m in rather a bad fix— and I’m about to ask you to help me out,” he said hesitantly.
“Yes.” David pondered. Which did he wish help to escape, Bunce, the police—or, could it be the girl in the other car?
“I didn’t like to speak to the man you are with.”
It was Bunce! “No, that would be useless,” David advised, thinking quickly how the stranger could be loosened from Bunce’s clutch.
“Nor, on the other hand, did I feel sure I could fix it up with the porter.”
The porter! Then it was the police. David gloomed at the idea of serving as a confederate. “No,” he murmured unhappily.
“So I had no recourse except to you. But I shouldn’t be either surprised or hurt if you refused.”
Oh, Lord, it was the girl he wished to escape! David felt less inclined to mix in than ever. “I wish you’d tell me what’s the matter,” he suggested impatiently.
“I haven’t got money enough to pay for those drinks.”
David choked. Then, in spite of himself, he laughed. “You—you—you broke it so gently,” he gurgled, “that I thought you wanted me to murder or mutilate someone for you.”
“You took it so hard that I thought it was going to be a case of touch and go,” retorted Richard Durant.
“I feel more touched than hurt.” In their joint laughter David’s hand once again did a strange thing. It started for the pocket in which he kept his change; it kept on to an utterly different pocket. “Here, help yourself !” He was handing Durant his pocketbook.
Richard Durant’s face lighted, but he acted as if David’s offer were the most natural one in the world. He separated a single dollar from the array of bills and held out the pocketbook to its owner.
“Better take enough,” David was urgent.
“Thank you, I’m no highwayman. And—have you noticed this?” Durant drew the scarfpin from his tie and deposited it in David’s hand.
The stone was a blue opal, carved delicately, wonderfully into the semblance of a devil’s head. It was lifelike, sinister, leering. David exclaimed at the perfection of the workmanship.
“Keep it,” Durant invited him.
“Couldn’t think of robbing you,” David replied, attempting to return it.
“I’m an utter stranger to you. Keep it—at least until I call on you for it.” Durant ignored his protests, moved away. “Shall we go back now?” he asked, already on his way.
Bunce had evidently made use of their absence to map out a fresh campaign. There are people whose interest in another is only increased by the amount of reserve they encounter. Barely were they seated before he squared around toward Durant.
“Where are you going to put up in Boston?” he demanded.
“I haven’t decided yet.” Durant’s eyes twinkled as they caught those of the man from whom he had just borrowed the dollar. “Is there a Mills Hotel there?”
Bunce laughed shortly. “Now let’s cut out all this Mills Hotel business; we’re getting pretty close to town,” he advised. “Whom have you got letters to in Boston?”
“Then whom do you know there?”
“Not a soul.”
“Fine! You’re just going there to begin all over again, to start a clean slate, so to speak.” Bunce’s tone was guarded, but his look was satirical.
“Something like that.” Durant smiled.
“Fine! And, likewise, lucky for you that you fell into such good hands. Do you know a chap named Cornwallis Brooke? No? Well, he owes it to us that he’s right in with the best Boston society to-day. Met him, took a fancy to him, and now he’s hob-nobbing with the Cabots and all them.” Bunce enrolled him in the best set with a large, imperious gesture. “And, do you know what I’m going to do for you?” he went on. “I’m going to take you home with me to-night while we make your plans.”
“But—but—you don’t know anything about me!” Mr. Richard Durant seemed dumbfounded.
“What’s that got to do with it? I like your looks.”
“Hands and all?” Durant laughed nervously. “You’d better think first,” he cautioned.
“Benjamin Bunce has always been able to take care of Benjamin Bunce,” boasted the owner of that name, shooting a too venturesome cuff.
“Well, old King Cole—I’m a weak and friendless creature in a strange city.”
“Never mind, I took a fancy to you from the start. Let’s say you look like a long lost nephew of mine. Let it go at that.”
The stranger appeared still to teeter over the proposition. “If it’s just curiosity, I’ve told you all I shall about myself,” he warned.
“That’s all right. No questions asked. You just come along and make my home your own. Liberty Hall and all that. I like your looks, I tell you, and I want to see you start right. And, as for work— well, this will give us just the chance we need to talk that matter over.”
“That is so. One night—well, I don’t see why I shouldn’t do that,” mused Richard Durant.
“Then that’s settled!” Bunce placed both hands on the table as the cue for them all to rise.
“But I must say it’s exceedingly generous of you.”
“Don’t mention it, me lud. Now, suppose you just hand over your baggage checks.” Bunce rose hastily, as if not proposing to give his guest time to repent.
“Four pieces!” Bunce counted the checks. “Well, for a man looking for work you sure do travel with some baggage.” Bunce flourished the checks before David as if they augured well for the success of his purpose, whatever that might be.
David watched Bunce and his guest by capture leave the Back Bay Station in a taxi, and he could not forbear a chuckle as he remembered that Bunce had carried his guest’s bag as well as his own. Then he thought of the opal pin that this enforced guest had pledged with him. He dropped his suitcase upon the walk and was about to examine the pin when suddenly all further thought of it was driven from mind.
The young woman whom he had noticed on the train flung open one of the station doors and hurried by. At the edge of the walk she stood staring after the taxi in which Bunce and his guest had departed, as if eager not to lose sight of them.
“Keb, lady, keb?” In an instant she was confronted by two cab drivers scuffling to wrench the traveling bag from her hand. She appeared to ask them some question about the disappearing taxi, or its occupants, in answer to which they both shook their heads.
“On his trail. And she’s afraid of losing him.”
David’s tone showed his sympathy as well as regret.
She appeared to ask the cab driver another question that renewed the scuffle for her bag. They became rude, clamorous, and were patently attempting to bully her bag away from her. David picked up his suitcase and crossed the walk.
“But they told me that the Hotel Essex was right by the station,” he heard the girl protest.
“Mile and a half away. Gimme your bag!”
“Two dollar’s dirt cheap for the distance. Come on, lady!”
The girl hesitated.
“What the hell do you want?” One of the cab drivers, sensing David’s interference, attempted to scare him off.
The girl turned, and her eyes—not to speak of the troubled look in them—were excuse enough. “I beg your pardon, but if you were going to the Hotel Essex, you got off a station too soon,” David stated. “Oh!”
Neither paid any attention to the cab drivers. They left, muttering their opinion of David.
“The Hotel Essex is by the Terminal Station. This is the Back Bay Station.”
“Everybody seemed to be getting off here. I thought—”
“I fear we misled you. You can take the next train in or—”
“I merely intended to stay there overnight until I could find some good, not too expensive boarding house.” She smiled. “Perhaps you could tell me of one in this neighborhood?”
He liked the frank manner in which she consulted him. He liked her chic three-cornered hat and her trim blue tailored suit. He gave her a number of addresses, but he favored the boarding house in which he lived himself.
“That seems to me like just the place if—if it isn’t too expensive,” she exclaimed.
He found himself being won still more by the earnest, straightforward look in her velvety brown eyes. “Ten dollars a week. I hope that isn’t too much,” he confessed.
“N-o.” She considered him. She appeared to make up her mind about him in a flash. “But do you think I can get a room at that price in such a wonderful place?” she asked, twinkling.
He laughed. “Let me have your bag and we’ll soon learn. It’s not far—shall we go by car, or do you feel like a taxi?”
“Doesn’t a woman have to have a limousine figure to feel like a taxi?” she demanded, her dark young face lighting up until it fairly brimmed with humor.
David glowed at her quickness of response to word and mood. He found himself liking still better this tall, slender, animated young woman. “If there isn’t room there, we’ll have an addition built on,” he exclaimed as he climbed into the taxi beside her.
“If there isn’t”—she seemed properly disappointed—”perhaps I ought to have asked you to hire a carriage for me by the hour. Will you give me all those other addresses again? I hate to trouble you but—”
“ ‘Friends will kindly omit flowers.’ Have you no other friends except me here?”
“You? You move much faster than this taxi, don’t you?” She laughed and there was a lively, comradely ring to her laugh. “I am an utter stranger, and have but two other possible friends here. One is a girl with whom I went to St. Margaret’s years ago, and the other a society woman to whom I have a letter of introduction that I’m not at all likely to present.”
“Why? Don’t you want any more friends or acquaintances?”
“That isn’t it. I’ve discovered that letters of introduction are almost always to people lacking a sense of humor. Did you ever present one to a so-called social leader?”
“No one ever trusted me with one.”
“If you ever had!”
He liked her to threaten him.
“No, that isn’t quite it,” she went on. “Letters of introduction are so like social handcuffs; so often they take away your freedom and sentence you to certain sets. In the end you usually feel these a burden on you, or yourself a burden on them. I’ve come here for a complete rest. I feel sure I shall not present my letter; I may not even look up my old friend at convent, Hilda Cabot.”
“Yes, do you know her?”
“Know her?” David laughed. “No; she’s somewhat above my lowly station and degree. Her people antedate the Mayflower, trace back to Leif Ericson or the mound builders at least. Why, the old State House salaams to them. They’re IT socially. You simply must—” He was interrupted by the stopping of the taxi at their destination.
The boarding-house that they now entered was one of those fine old residences disowned by an impatient former occupant because of its bad associates. As neighboring residence after residence along Mount Vernon Street had gone the ill way of time, and been deserted to lodgers and boarders, its one-time, early-Cunard air of caste had become tarnished. Eventually, in despair, its sensitive owner had become enraged at its bad companions. He had cast it off, and it had fallen to the level of many another fine old house upon the brow of Beacon Hill.
Miss Cobb, its mistress, carried herself as if she might have been deserted with the house. Her station, too, had been sadly reduced by time, and she had feelings that the house didn’t. She was suspected of sleeping on or in one of the pieces of furniture in “The Drawing-room,” as she called the front parlor, but no one ever contrived to catch her at it. Ostentatiously, at ten o’clock each night, she locked its door and then faded miraculously from sight down the hall. People occupying the back parlor testified that they listened nightly in vain for the slightest sound behind its tightly fastened double-doors; boarders, mischievous and serious, knocked loudly on the hall-door to “The Drawing-room” without ever getting an answer after it was once locked. One short-term boarder, meaner or more venturesome than the rest, had even gone so far as to pommel on it at midnight and cry, “Fire!” without proving his contention that Miss Cobb slept in that room. And yet they all liked her despite the distance she religiously preserved between them and her. All Miss Cobb demanded was that same cold, distant civility she accorded her boarders.
Thin, tall, angular, with a frostiness which kept her from being annoyed with sympathy, she advanced on David and his companion in “The Drawing-room.” She stood coldly looking at him—waiting. There was in her manner that which said definitely that she forebore to speak to the young woman until introduced.
For a moment David stood dumbfounded, realizing what was required of him, realizing, likewise, that he did not himself know the young woman’s name. Then he moved between them.
“Miss Cobb,” he said, praying for the fates to be lenient, “I have the honor to introduce to you my friend, Miss Brrerer.”
Miss Cobb disdained to accept the mumbled name. “I beg your pardon, Miss—what was the name?” she demanded.
The blood surged up David’s neck. He was caught hard and fast. During those next few, torturesome seconds he felt as if he had been found with blood on his hands. Then:
“Miss Sherwood—Miss Rose Sherwood,” supplied that attentive young woman, stepping coolly forward, and not making the mistake of offering Miss Cobb her hand. “I would like very much to come here, if you have a room for me.”
David blessed her for his deliverance and rejoiced to note how accurately she had assumed a distance equal to Miss Cobb’s.
Miss Cobb unbent before it, as much as she ever permitted herself at first to unbend. “I’m sorry, Miss Sherwood, but I shall not have a room for another guest until to-morrow morning.”
But this was an emergency for which David had prepared. “Couldn’t Miss Sherwood occupy my room?” he asked. “I know she is anxious to get settled, and I could go out just for to-night.”
Miss Cobb assented readily enough. Rose, however, protested against his sacrifice, only giving in when she perceived the confusion she was causing. A moment later she began to reap her half of the embarrassment. Miss Cobb sternly demanded the names of some Boston people as references.
Fortunately Miss Cobb was not looking at her. She blushed—blushed palpably—and sent a look to David that begged for help.
David guessed instantly the nature of her predicament. She did not know his name; in the flutter of their equivocal situation probably she could not recall a solitary other name to give. It was his turn.
“Miss Sherwood refers to me, Miss Cobb, and also to Miss Hilda Cabot, with whom she was at convent—these will be enough, won’t they?” he asked with assurance.
“Miss Hilda Cabot!” Miss Cobb unbent still more and suddenly. “I couldn’t ask for any better name. I’ll send one of the maids at once to show you to your room.” She almost smiled as she turned to leave after making a precise little bow.
“I’ll take up Miss Sherwood’s bag, if you don’t mind,” David called after her.
“Goodness, those were narrow escapes! I felt as if I were going to fall through to the cellar and you—you were wonderful!” she whispered to him as soon as they were alone.
“And you—what were you?” he declared warmly, not daring to state his admiration in words.
David led the way upstairs to the back hallroom on the second floor. Once inside, they faced each other with twinkling eyes.
“After what we’ve just gone through I feel like an old friend of yours,” he exclaimed jocularly.
“And me—I feel old, a hundred years old, and I don’t know your name even yet.”
“David Shaw—at your service.”
“I shall commit it to memory,” she declared laughingly.
“Well, it’s an easy little mouthful,” countered David. “I suppose I’d better be going now,” he suggested questioningly.
“Not yet; that is, not unless you must,” she corrected herself smilingly. “Why, we’re friends without the formality of first becoming acquaintances. It’s shameful, delightful, isn’t it? We’ve all but compromised each other, and all we know is each other’s name. That’s a dubious situation in which to part—perhaps forever—isn’t it?”
David looked into a pair of brown eyes that sparkled with humor. He needed no urging to stay. “Ask me—ask me anything,” he said.
“Tell me—tell me everything,” she retorted.
She sank down on the couch which ran the length of the narrow room, and David deposited himself upon the only chair.
“Must I tell you the whole story of my life—from nursing bottle to bank account?” he asked lightly.
“Everything—everything!” she commanded.
David was what Bunce called “his right-hand-man,” that is to say, David was the hidden mainspring of Bunce’s highly profitable syndicate of commercial newspapers, and Bunce the open-faced claimant of honors and profits. But David was only biding his time when he should start a similar business of his own. The situation as described by David was essentially humorous. It amused his auditor so that he ran on for much longer than he had intended.
“Now, who and what are you?” he demanded jocularly at last.
“I—I’m an actress.” She proved it by pretending to be embarrassed.
“Actress! I thought—” David checked himself; in time, he hoped.
She was too observant. “What did you think I was?” she demanded alertly.
David struggled with his confusion until he realized he had better make the best of it. “Why, I thought, from what I noticed—of course, I was all wrong—I thought for a time that you were a detective or something of that sort.” He laughed loudly to prove how absurd the idea now seemed to him.
“A detective! Why?” She appeared to be more startled than displeased.
He told her.
She was silent for a long time, reflecting, all the liveliness gone from her expressive face. “Yes, I did turn,” she admitted at last, “but only to watch the ridiculous attempts of Mr. Bunce to scrape acquaintance with that young man. He talked so loudly I couldn’t help hearing.” Her lips parted as if she intended to explain further, but, instead, she once again became silent.
He waited, but she offered no explanation of the confusion she had shown at the sight of Richard Durant. Interested, he held to the subject. To lead her on, he told her how Bunce had finally succeeded in forcing acquaintance.
She bent forward and the glint of a quickened interest showed in her eyes. “Then you must have learned his name,” she exclaimed.
“Yes.” He waited to see if she would ask for it.
“What was it?” she asked without a moment’s hesitation.
“Richard Durant.” She merely repeated it, contributing nothing to satisfy his curiosity.
“Then you didn’t know?” he asked.
“Know?” She started, came back as from thoughts which had taken her a great distance. “Oh, you mean his name? No, I didn’t know that,” she said, returning instantly to her reflections.
David studied her, baffled, a little nettled at the way he was being left in the dark. “Strange, I thought you must know him from the way you looked at him,” he ventured.
“No; I had never seen him before.” She evaded his eyes, gazed out the window, lost herself.
Her inattention irritated David still more. He became silent, too.
“No; I had never seen him before,” she repeated musingly after a time and speaking more to herself than to him, “but there is one thing I wish I knew.”
“I wish I knew how, and where, he obtained that blue opal pin he wore in his tie.”
It was David’s turn to start. His hand all but went to the pocket in which that blue opal pin lay hidden, but something strangely ominous in her tone made him keep his counsel.
“Shall I ask if I meet him again?” he inquired discreetly.
The result was immediate and startling. “No, no, no, you mustn’t think of doing that, you mustn’t,” she cried, the speculative, faraway look gone wholly from her eyes.
“But you want to know.”
“Yes; but—” her eyes dropped before his.
“And he would never dream that I was inquiring for you.”
She appeared to debate, the agitated, troubled look refusing to leave.
“That wouldn’t do any harm, would it?” he demanded, thinking to stir her to decision.
“No—yes—oh, I wish you wouldn’t mention it again or do anything about it!”
“Don’t be alarmed. I won’t speak to him about it.”
He gazed at her in astonishment. She had shivered, risen to her feet, and walked restlessly to the window, as if desiring to be left to herself. What did it all mean? Had the pin been stolen from her? Was she reluctant to have anything said before the thief could be arrested? He had not deemed the scarf pin as a jewel of great value. On the other hand, it might be. Ought he not at least to tell her that he had it in his possession? He decided that he ought.
“That opal pin happens to be—”
He stopped instantly and changed his mind. She had turned a look on him so tremulous and agitated that he dared not go on.
“Well, for a man without money, I certainly am being most generously received by the proverbially cold little city of Boston,” remarked Richard Durant as the taxi bearing him and Bunce drew away from the station and turned into Dartmouth Street.
“Without money!” Bunce chuckled derisively.
“It’s jolly well so. You might as well know the worst.” Durant explained the contretemps he had been in. “You see, you made an egregious tactical error in introducing me to your traveling companion, Mr. Shaw.”
Bunce glared at him, as if prompted hastily to revise his opinion. Then he grinned. “I’ve always noticed that only those who have money talk poor,” he observed.
Durant’s protest was cut short. “Hullo, what’s blocking us here?” exclaimed Bunce.
A long two-horse truck that had lost one of its front wheels lay across the rails obstructing cars on both tracks. The chauffeur of their taxi had come to a stop. The hopeless tangle of truck, cars, and teams made progress impossible upon the right side of the street. With a jerk their chauffeur made a sharp turn and attempted to shoot by on the left. As he was about to speed past the end of the maimed truck he came to a second stop with an abruptness which made the taxi quiver and rattle as if it would shake apart. On the other side of the narrow opening, coming toward them, was another motor.
It was a long, low-bodied racing car painted gray, and at the wheel sat its single occupant, a young girl. Durant made an involuntary cry of admiration as he observed the quick, yet easy, manner in which she brought her car to a stop and forestalled a collision. He bent forward and seemed further engaged by the lack of tremor, nervousness, or irritation with which she faced them. Slender and young and fair, her eyes the soft blue of Summer skies, she sat quietly in her car looking toward them. Neither by word nor look did she assert her right of way. The likely twinkle in those blue, blue eyes seemed rather to claim only the mirth of this unexpected encounter.
None but a taxi chauffeur would have attempted to change the amiable aspect she imparted to the situation. It was a very pleasant little mishap to all save one. But their driver seemed determined to make the worst of it. He sat back in his seat and stubbornly faced her across the gap.
The girl smiled. “If you will give me about three feet, I’ll get by and out of your way,” she said in a tone that should have conciliated even a taxi chauffeur.
“Nothin’ doin’, lady. I’m on a dead-center,” snarled their chauffeur.
“If anything is on a dead-center I guess it’s your mind,” returned the girl trying another smile on him.
He sniffed and gave her a surly grin for her smile. “Whatever it is, you don’t budge me,” he announced with an unpleasant emphasis upon the pronoun.
The sparkle in her eyes changed to a flash and her face whitened a little. Durant turned to Bunce.
“Hadn’t you better order him to back up?” he asked. “We’re on the wrong side, aren’t we?”
Hidden behind the chauffeur Bunce was watching the clash of wills, eyes agog, and with a fixed attention that promised no intention of coming to the aid of the girl.
Durant knocked on the window of the taxi and signed for the chauffeur to reverse. The chauffeur turned and shook his head, then faced front and resolutely folded his arms.
Durant’s hand fumbled for the door-handle; before he could turn it Bunce had laid a restraining hand upon his arm.
“Wait,” he ordered, “let’s see what little high-and-mighty’s going to do in this pinch.”
Durant looked at him, then made another move toward the door, but, before he could act, the girl took the matter out of his hands.
The space between their taxi and the curb lacked less than a foot of the width of the girl’s gray car. In the gutter lay a short beam belonging to the wrecking crew at work on the broken-down truck. She gave a quick, estimating look at the too narrow space, and then began to back her car.
Their chauffeur disregarded her warning to remain where he was. Thinking to force his advantage he bent over his wheel. He threw in the clutch. The taxi trembled a moment before consenting to be an accessory to an act so ungentlemanly.
But the girl was quicker. There was a swift change of levers. Her car flew toward them, climbed to the curb over the wooden beam, and, with two wheels on the sidewalk and two on the street, fled past—a streak of gray—with barely an inch to spare.
Their chauffeur shut off his power by instinct, jumped up from his seat in alarm. Bunce’s hand hurried to the door on his side to arrange an escape. Durant jumped involuntarily to his feet.
In a single electrical instant she was past; the next Richard Durant was peering out of the back window of the taxi in the direction she had taken.
“Good heavens, there’s a girl brought up on something besides marshmallows,” he exclaimed after a look so long that it was time he said something. His eyes beamed, glistened. He withdrew from the window in the jolting taxi slowly, and, with many another lingering sidelong glance the way she had gone. “I—I wonder who she is,” he murmured with elaborate carelessness when eyes could no longer discern her.
“Who? She? Oh, that was Hilda Cabot,” Bunce stated.
Durant repeated the name—under his breath.
“Yes, that was Hilda,” chuckled Bunce, “and you had no call to butt in. She might have thought you were trying to scrape acquaintance. Then you’d have been frostbitten, sure as shooting.” His companion seemed too absorbed to partake of his jest; he went on: “Hilda’s family is the North Star here, so far as society is concerned; she’s troubled with money now, and has more trouble coming, but—like to meet her?” he demanded at a sudden movement and look from his companion.
“Yes. I would. Very much.”
“Funny how all men fall for a daring girl!” Bunce sniffed. “But I notice they don’t trample over one another when it comes to marrying one. Precipices! Fine, until you look over the edge. Then you draw back for fear of throwing yourself over. Now, there’s Cornwallis Brooke, he dropped us for her, but I guess he’s sorry by this time. He— but you said you didn’t know him, didn’t you?” Bunce shot a quick, doubting look at Durant. “He’s English—way-up English—thought you might,” he urged at Durant’s slow shake of his head. He was silent for a few moments. “Well, I guess we can arrange for you to meet her, if anyone can,” he added. “Yes, I’ll speak to the little heiress about it.”
“The little heiress,” proved to be Mildred Bunce, his host’s only child, as Durant learned later at their Commonwealth Avenue home.
“Come on in here and meet the little heiress,”
Bunce called out loudly to him when he came downstairs dressed for dinner.
“Don’t mind if father seems to be short-changing you,” apologized Mildred Bunce, biting her lip. “I’m so little that, when he calls me that, I feel like the miser’s mite.”
“Had you rather feel tall and gawky like a giraffe, as I do?” inquired Durant, smiling at her vivacity.
She was very little and very pretty—gray eyes, curly hair, bright and beaming face—the ingenue type in its afterglow, for she was no longer so young as she affected to be. However, she was so gushing and demonstrative that strangers always regarded her at first, and for some time, as a mere child.
“You simply must stop thanking us or you’ll end by making us self-conscious,” she broke out after they sat down to dinner, glaring at him so ferociously that he laughed.
She appropriated Durant immediately, planning drives in the new Bunce car, writing his name all over her social calendar, with an impulsive hospitality not to be withstood. It would take weeks for their guest for the night to live up to the engagements she made without waiting for his assent; but Durant seemed nothing loath.
“It’s wonderful, positively wonderful, having you here!” she kept interrupting herself to exclaim. “Oh, I’m so delighted to have someone at last to go on these long drives with!”
She would listen to no one except him. When the others attempted to turn the conversation away from her plans, she promptly brought it back. But, if she did this ruthlessly, only the victims winced; and, if she was wilful, she was likewise irresistibly witty.
Once Bunce thought to direct the talk by starting upon a long and boresome account of his rise from office-boy to publisher.
“Oh, father, you do fall on the conversation so like a landslide!” she interrupted him fearlessly. “Now, remember, talking about yourself and your business is barred, just for to-night.”
“But what am I going to talk about, if I don’t—”
“Well, you might talk about your asthma,” she suggested, but with an arch look and playful tone that took away the curse of its unkindness.
And again when stout, misguided Mrs. Bunce broke in, she quite saved the situation. Durant had expressed a doubt as to whether Mildred could stand all the excitement she planned.
“Now, Mr. Durant, you don’t think our Mildred is indelicate, do you?” demanded her mother.
“Motherrrr!” With a burr and a saucy imperiousness more laughable than the mistake Mildred extinguished her. “Then, there’s a little jewel of a drive to the Wayside Inn. You’ll just love the Wayside Inn!” she continued, covering the silence bordering on coma into which she had redeposited her mother.
But she had retrieved the talk from one of those unhappy silences which follow mistakes, and Durant manifestly regretted her withdrawal with her mother at the close of the dinner. It was hastened somewhat by the visitor’s card brought to her by Simms, the butler.
“Who’s that?” demanded Bunce.
“Mr. Brooke—Mr. Cornwallis Brooke,” returned his daughter with a significant look.
“Oho! Coming back now that we don’t need him! Well, I guess he’s on to the difference by now between you and that Cabot girl.” Bunce waved a pudgy hand exultantly and chuckled until long after his daughter and her mother had left the room. “Have a panatella, my lord?” he asked Durant at last, making an unnecessary sign to Simms, the butler.
“My lord!” Durant eyed him quizzically a moment before breaking into a loud laugh. “You’re having a bally lot of fun with me, old top, but I’m on, you know,” he declared. “Yes, I’m bally well on to your waggish chaff.”
Bunce laughed loudly, but his little pig-eyes never shifted from the victim of his curiosity. “Ah, educated in England?” he asked quickly.
“No.” Durant shook his head negligently. “The American factories of culture and learning were good enough for me.”
Bunce nodded. The fact tallied. He seemed about to ask further questions but changed his mind at the quick, searching look he encountered. “I’m mighty glad the little heiress took such a fancy to you,” he veered.
The doubtful look disappeared from Durant’s eyes. “I’m glad she liked me, if you think she did?” he said soberly. “It’s rather wonderful to arrive a stranger in a new city and be taken in so hospitably. I hope you realize that I’m properly grateful.”
“Oh, that’s all right!” Bunce’s manner involuntarily swelled a little as it suddenly dawned on him how generous he was being. “We business men like to be generous. This is Liberty Hall. What’s mine’s yours, I guess you can see that.”
“Yes, that’s what makes it so remarkable. I don’t mind telling you that I don’t know where I should have slept to-night, if you hadn’t taken me in here. I don’t know how I can repay you.”
Bunce laughed easily. “Oh, I guess we can find some use for you, if you’re so grateful as that.”
“You mean there may be some opening in your business? I hoped we should be able to talk over that.”
Bunce was obviously disconcerted. “No—yes,” he said grudgingly. “Seems to me you’re pretty anxious to get down to work,” he complained.
“That’s what I came to Boston for.” Durant smiled.
Bunce examined his smile. “Of course. We mustn’t forget that,” he agreed slowly.
“Well, you just look after Milly for a while, and I guess we’ll get round to talking about that work proposition soon enough,” Bunce shifted. “Time we went in now, anyway. Want you to meet our caller. He’s an Englishman, by the way.”
“Is this the Mr. Cornwallis Brooke of whom you spoke to me?” Durant had risen with him, but stood now, poking the ashes in his saucer, as if undecided whether or not to meet their visitor.
“Yes, that’s the man. The one who got in with the best through us.”
“I’m feeling rather fagged. I think, if you don’t mind—”
“Tut, tut! Come on in, if only for a few minutes.” Bunce seized him by the arm and dragged him away. “Mr. Brooke, shake hands with Mr. Durant,” he commanded breezily as they entered the parlor.
But, Mr. Cornwallis Brooke made no such overture. Instead he contented himself with bowing stiffly, and awarding their guest a quick penetrating glance before bending back over the glittering object on the table about which they gathered. He was a tall, compactly made Englishman with a moustache, broad-shouldered, full of face and with eyes extraordinarily quick and observant.
“I was showing Mr. Brooke my diamond sunburst,” exclaimed Mildred against the unexpectedly constrained silence that followed the meeting. She poked the glittering object on the table with a finger.
“Yes, you cost me that!” cried Bunce, looking savagely at Brooke. “If you hadn’t left us for—”
“Father!” Mildred stopped him with a look. “I won’t have you making feel so important; no, not even in jest. He gets quite enough of that elsewhere.”
“On my word, you give me an importance here that is quite unequaled anywhere else—also undeserved, I might add.” Brooke calmed them both with a smile that showed good teeth and an easy disposition. “Are you proposing to stay here long?” he asked Durant quickly across the table.
Durant started from the surprised silence into which the first view of Brooke had seemed to send him. Also, for the first time he removed his eyes from him. One might have inferred that he was relieved by the easier tone employed by his countryman. “I only planned to stay until—”
“Tut, tut! You stay as long as you can stand us,” interrupted Bunce.
“Why, Mr. Durant! Don’t you like us?” chimed in Mildred.
Brooke waited smilingly until the end of the argument. “You will find the Bunces astonishingly hospitable, astonishingly hospitable people,” he stated courteously. “I trust I shall meet you again. If I can be of any service to you—” He held out his hand.
There was a loud protest against his departure from the Bunces, father and daughter.
“I say, but you will make a conceited pop-head out of me. On my honor, I only dropped in on my way to keep another engagement, to learn how you all were,” Brooke parried. But as if not wishing to offend them or their guest, he remained some time, chatting affably about people he was meeting.
“There goes a man who owes his chances entirely to us,” announced Bunce as soon as he was out of hearing. “Boston society’s a funny thing. You have to have someone to vouch for you or—or you’ve got about as much chance as a baseball player or a pugilist.”
“It doesn’t differ from society anywhere else then, does it?” asked Durant.
“Well, I don’t know much about your English society, but—” Bunce launched upon a long discourse interrupted only by the return of his daughter from the door to which she had gone with the departing guest.
There was a long discussion between father and daughter as to Hilda Cabot’s chances of capturing Mr. Cornwallis Brooke, to which Durant listened with evident interest. But as soon as the talk drifted away to other subjects he excused himself and went up to his room.
Father and daughter waited in silence for the sound of the closing of his door. Then Bunce sent an imperative glare in the direction of Mrs. Bunce. “Well, mother?”
“Yes, I’m going, Benjamin.” Mrs. Bunce kissed her daughter and slipped away to her room.
Bunce glanced at the door fitted only with portieres. “Guess the library’s the best place for us to talk over things after all,” he declared.
Once behind the door of this retreat he turned triumphantly on his daughter. “Well, I didn’t make any mistake, did I?”
Mildred deftly punctured an assurance so inflated as to allow no other treatment.
“Now, Milly!” Bunce’s reproach was bitter. “Don’t you go to questioning my find just the way you did when I brought Brooke home.”
“I’m not, father, only—” Mildred frowned— “only I didn’t quite like the way Mr. Brooke acted about him. When I told him our guest was Lord Bellmere, he acted queerly, asked a lot of questions, and I was only able to keep him until you came in by showing him my diamond sunburst. And then, afterwards, didn’t you notice how little attention he paid to him?”
“Pish! Jealousy! He was sore because we’d secured a better guest in his place.”
“I hadn’t thought of that!” Mildred’s face was like sunshine breaking through a summer cloud.
“Durant tried to bluff me again about wanting to go to work, but I held him. After dinner I got a good look at the monogram on his cigarette-case. I couldn’t make the initials on it ‘R. D.’ or for that matter anything else, but I learned one thing.”
“He was educated in America. He told me so.”
“Yes, that agrees with the newspaper clipping.” Mildred smiled. “Queer thing about him is that if sometimes he’s an Englishman for reserve, at other times he’s a Frenchman for politeness, and an American for liveliness. Perhaps that’s what an English lord is like, but leave it to me, I’ll find out.”
“Now, see here, Milly,” Bunce’s tone compromised betwen a threat and a whine, “you let it get back to him that we’re saying he’s Lord Bellmere and we’ll lose him sure as fate. You ought never to have told Brooke that. You’ve got to be awful careful.”
All the feminine left Mildred’s appearance and manner. The curly-haired, child-like prettiness, the soft fluff of coquetry that bore it out, melted, vanished. All seemed to sharpen to a keen Damascan edge.
“You leave him to me and do just what I tell you,” she directed coldly. She avoided any argument by running downstairs to secure her diamond sunburst. In a moment she was calling frantically for her father.
“It’s gone. I can’t find it anywhere, and I left it right here on the table,” she declared with excitement. “What—what do you think could have become of it?”
Bunce joined furiously in the search. They removed everything on the table. It was not there. Nor was it upon the floor or elsewhere.
“Serves you right, that’s all I’ve got to say.” Bunce groaned at the effort of rising from his knees. “When did you last see it here? Was it here when we went upstairs?”
“I don’t know, father. I forgot to look.”
Bunce’s small eyes beaded. “You don’t think he could have taken it?” He pointed up, toward the chamber occupied by their guest.
“No, father, don’t be idiotic!”
“Servants, then! Well, I’m going to have the police look into this and right off.” He started to the telephone.
An inspector came. Everyone in the house except Durant was aroused and questioned. The servants were cross-examined with special care and their rooms searched. Nothing came of it. Then the inspector went, advising them that, since nothing else was taken, to keep sharp watch and to say nothing more whatever about their loss. It might turn up in one of the pawnshops. He would be on the lookout for it there.
If the Bunces entertained any doubt as to whether their guest were Lord Bellmere or not, at least no one except the victim himself was left in doubt as to their intentions. Their purpose was certainly sufficiently obvious to everyone else. They were baiting the social hook with Richard Durant.
During the first few days, Mildred and he were driven far and wide in the Bunce touring car, fulfilling itineraries arranged by her. When not flying to distant hostelries for luncheon or dinner, she bore him away for short rides through the adjacent parks or took him shopping with her. When the chauffeur rebelled at the constant use of the car, Mildred discharged him summarily; and thereafter Durant drove and she sat in the seat beside him. From early morning until late of nights daily she appeared in public with him. Durant had much ado to find time to visit Bunce’s office to redeem from David the opal pin; he made double use of the occasion by consulting Bunce about work, only once again to be put off.
Soon, Mildred began to take him to every tea, reception and other motley function to which she had access. The bait took. Her distinguished looking guest made headway at once; he gained real momentum as soon as she deftly started the rumor that he was really Lord Bellmere, “but be careful not to let him realize that you know.” Thereafter, girls who had met and carefully forgotten her put themselves out to renew acquaintance; older women crossed formerly frigid distances, talked long and cordially, to her the while they surreptitiously studied her handsome, well-dressed escort. And ever he appeared to do credit to her. Women, both young and old, liked him, and as a result invitations began to pour in for them both, invitations that she noted gleefully became steadily of a more promising character. Each night she and her father got together, discussed the prospects, and gloated over their social progress.
They were in raptures at the success of their undertaking. The loss of the diamond sunburst was well nigh forgotten. They dreaded only losing him, as they had Brooke. On one of Mildred’s first long drives with Durant, after prattling for an hour or more about herself, she had suddenly turned toward him.
“Tell me something about yourself. Why, it has just occurred to me that I don’t know a thing about you,” she exclaimed lightly.
“I’m six feet two, weigh a hundred and ninety pounds and want work,” he replied whimsically.
“I don’t want to know about you by the ton,” she responded. “Who are you and why?”
“Richard Durant, at your service,” he evaded quickly.
Something in his manner kept her from attempting to learn more. He was too useful.
And where she was discreet, her father was laudacious, if a word may be coined. When Durant protested at the way he was prolonging his stay with them, intimating that he must seek quarters elsewhere, Bunce exploded:
“No, sir! No, sirree. You’re our guest; deeply appreciate the honor; couldn’t get along without you. Now, you just tell me where would we find another one of God’s gentlemen like you?”
And as perforce his guest fled the fulsome praise, he called after him: “If you can think of anything more we can do for you to keep you contented, speak up. It’ll save us thinking. What’s mine’s yours, remember that, and the sky’s the limit!”
As the Bunces, father and daughter, desired or planned, things seemed inevitably to happen. They made it impossible for him to leave without provoking an open rupture. Their open-handed hospitality, their noisy if confusing rapture over him, would have tempted almost any man to prolong his stay, if further persuasion were needed than the society of a bright and very pretty young girl.
Mildred Bunce’s enthusiasm over him, instead of abating, appeared to roll on, and to add to itself. Her summary discharge of the chauffeur the moment he dared to show a will of his own should have served as a sign in the heavens to Richard Durant, if he had been looking for signs, but evidently he wasn’t. Apparently he accepted their hospitality on faith, and submitted to her wishes without question. If supremely masterful, at least she had a playful childlike way of covering it up.
If oblivious to this sign, he likewise shortly began to overlook or blink others. The first time that he mentioned Hilda Cabot’s name to Mildred, she answered his simple question without hesitation or suspicion. Later on, when he asked why they never encountered her at the teas, receptions and musicales to which they went, she replied that Miss Cabot seldom went to them because she was one of the manlike modern women who affected to despise them. This provoking no rejoinder, she ceased watching him from the corner of an eye, to add: “You wouldn’t like her, I’m sure. Why, she just purloins a living, never does a solitary thing for anyone else. Just think, Mr. Durant, she was the first girl in Boston to go up in an aeroplane, and I understand she’s having a bi-plane constructed in which to waste more of her time. It’s a shame, don’t you think so, not having any serious aim in life and just looking about for new ways to kill time? She spends every livelong minute of the day now at the Country Club and motoring. I think it’s sinful. You wouldn’t like her, I’m sure.”
If Durant perceived the inconsistency of such a criticism from so aimless a young woman as Mildred Bunce, he gave no sign of it.
Another day, lunching at one of the large seashore hotels, he espied Hilda Cabot at another table with a lively party of young people, and called Mildred’s attention to her.
“Your father promised to introduce me to her sometime,” he stated with apparent nonchalance.
“Did he?” Her eyes widened for a moment. “Of course—” she paused—“and we shall, but I hardly think we ought to break in on their party, and, besides, it looks so much like rain that we ought to be starting for home now just as soon as we can.” Mildred led him hastily away.
Half way back the gray car loomed up behind. In the seat beside Hilda, who was driving, sat Cornwallis Brooke with the ease of an accustomed companion. He was turned toward her, talking familiarly. His bow to them was urbane, neither cold nor particularly cordial. Durant took challenge either from this or the amused twinkle in Hilda Cabot’s eyes. He ran his car up to top speed, and it was miles along the straight, deserted road before the light, gray racer forged by.
“That was Mr. Brooke with her, wasn’t it?” he inquired of Mildred as soon as their heavier car converted them definitely into a poor second in the race.
“Yes, he’s always with her. People are saying—”
She stopped and looked at him, waited for questions to fathom the depth of his interest.
Again he was saved, though likely through no foresight of his own. Probably he was thinking of the light and merry laugh that had wafted to him from the gray car ahead the moment he gave up the race. Doubtless, he was trying to convince himself that Hilda Cabot was not laughing at him.
Always after that he seemed furtively interested in gray cars, increased or reduced their own speed until he gained a view of their occupants. But if he was actuated by a hope to see Hilda Cabot again, he kept his counsel.
One night he was motoring the Bunce family along a narrow, slightly traveled road which made into the Commonwealth Boulevard, when a light-colored car shot by in the dark without the slightest warning from its horn. There were two people in the front seat, and as he gasped with surprise at the closeness of the passage a jubilant laugh came back to him.
“Why, that must have been Hilda Cabot!” exclaimed Mildred from the seat beside him.
“Yes.” He agreed promptly.
Mildred regarded him with astonishment. “What makes you so sure?” she demanded.
“I heard her laugh,” he answered.
She was moodily silent for a long time before asking:
“Would you know me in the dark by my laugh?”
“Why—yes—I think so,” he stammered dubiously.
He could not have made a worse mistake.
On their arrival home Mildred went straight to her room without a word. For some time Bunce floundered around downstairs awaiting her return for their customary nightly talk; then he ascended, knocked on her door and entered quietly at her call.
“Why, what’s the matter, Milly?” he exclaimed, halted by the full force of the sullen frown with which she greeted him.
Mildred cast upon the dresser the hand mirror in which she had evidently been valuing herself. The noise lent emphasis to her reply. “I wish you would learn not to call me Milly. I’ve asked you often enough,” she snapped.
“There, there! What’s happened?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Mildred closed the half open door of her dresser with a bang.
“Hoity-toity! Come, spoiled child, don’t keep your fond father in the dark. What’s wrong?”
Mildred regarded him with a scorn before which he should have withered. “I understand you promised to introduce him to Hilda Cabot,” she stormed after a sulky silence.
“Well, what of it?” Bunce seemed relieved. “You know very well that we don’t know her, that we never can do it.”
“Why not?” Bunce held up a staying hand against her fury. “What’s to prevent your introducing him to her the first time you run across her at a tea or reception? She’s met so many people she won’t be sure whether she’s ever met you or not. Never thought of that, did you?” Bunce’s face gleamed with a glorified cunning. “Why, it’s the easiest thing to put over in the world. I’ve done it often with the big ones at the club.”
“Very well, if it’s so easy, you can do it. I shan’t.”
“He’s altogether too anxious to meet Hilda Cabot.”
“Well, but isn’t that in line with just what we’ve been working for?”
“I’m not going to be set aside again, to have him go the way of that tuft-hunter, Brooke.” Mildred shook her head decisively.
“It won’t happen again.”
“I’m not so sure of that, and besides—”
“Well—well—?” Bunce was as impatient as he dared to be.
“I won’t stand for Hilda Cabot’s taking him away from us. I’m not going to be used just as a stepping-stone.” Mildred rose and walked to the window to hide her anger.
Bunce eyed her with alarm. “Oh, getting interested in him, are you?” he ventured after a time.
“No, but—” She stopped and turned about, her white face and large gray eyes crackling with fire. “Interested in him!” she sneered. “Interested in that weak, puling imitation of a man that we don’t know anything about! Why, he’s nothing but a gentleman. I twist him around my finger and make him do everything I think of. Interested in that sort of a man! It seems to me you might have more sense—”
“There, there, I didn’t really think it.” Bunce recoiled before the avalanche he had dislodged.
“Well, that’s lucky for you.” Mildred eyed him with the vestiges of her resentment.
“There, there, we won’t say any more about that.”
“I want you to understand once for all that I’m not interested in him, not a particle. He’s nothing but a jack-in-the-box to me; he jumps up when I touch the spring, but, if Hilda Cabot or any other girl thinks she can step in and take him away from me, I won’t stand still and let her triumph! I’ll—” she finished with a broad, threatening gesture.
“What’ll you do?”
“Never mind.” She sat down, definitely closing the subject and stared at him coldly. “Father,” she broke out after a moment, “you’ve been plunging into this thing like a fool with his head in a bag. He’s got us an invitation to Ethel Hollins’ masquerade, he’s made people formerly cold to us warm up a little, but—” she paused for emphasis—“but there are a lot of things about him that you’ve never thought of, and that it’s time we talked over.”
“He told you when he came that he didn’t have a dollar to his name; he hasn’t borrowed any money from you nor had a chance to borrow from anyone else; then where has he got the money to pay for the luncheons and dinners at the inns where I’ve taken him?”
Bunce grinned. “Of course, if he’s what we believe he is, he has plenty of money right with him. That was all a bluff, like his wanting to go to work.”
“What?” Bunce sobered quickly.
“You shouldn’t have given him that latchkey. He’s been stealing out nights after we have all gone to our rooms.”
“Tut, nothing but long walks in that, probably.
He’s young and lively. I suppose he’s simply got to stretch his legs.” Bunce’s frown disappeared only to reappear. “Still, I discovered something this afternoon,” he announced with suspicion.
“What?” Mildred picked up her mirror again, and seemed much more interested in her appearance.
“I found that he had cut the labels and name-tags out of all his clothes.”
It was Mildred’s turn to defend their prize. “Of course. Wouldn’t the servants suspect things if they discovered another name? I don’t think there is any doubt that he is Lord Bellmere. Everything we have learned is as much proof that he is as that he isn’t.” Mildred studied in her mirror the effect of her brown curls looped lower on her forehead. “Father,” she called after a minute.
“Yes, Milly—Mildred, I mean.”
“Do you think Hilda Cabot is so much prettier than I am?”
“No. What rot! You put it all over her.”
“I wish I wasn’t such a Lilliputian.” Mildred tried the hand-mirror at a different angle. “I am pretty, but such a pigmy!”
“You’re the prettiest girl in Boston,” exclaimed Bunce warmly.
“Then why do I lose all the men?” Mildred glanced at him archly; she had resumed her softer mood and with it all her cajoling, winning, irresistible ways.
“You don’t. You tire of them first yourself.”
“Father, you do have a way of saying the right thing sometimes. You’re a nice old dad! I wish Cornwallis Brooke would make up his mind to marry that Hilda Cabot. Well—good night!”
Bunce started to go. Then he came cautiously back and stood behind his daughter. She was gazing at her own winsome face in the mirror. For a few moments he stood regarding it uneasily himself. At last he appeared to gain courage to say what he wished.
“You look a winner to-night, all right,” he began characteristically, “but there is one thing you don’t want to forget. That man Durant’s good enough for us to use, but—well, I guess that’s about all I need say to you. Don’t—”
“No, father, I won’t,” Mildred interrupted him hastily. “And, as for you, don’t be deceived by appearances. I may have to—” she hesitated, filled in with a toss of her pretty head— “but you’ll realize I don’t care for him. You’ll understand everything from now on, won’t you?” she demanded coldly.
Overnight, Mildred must have devoted considerable thought to the signs, and concluded that a complete change of attitude on her part would have a wholesome effect upon their guest. Each previous morning she had made a point of outlining to Durant plans for the day which kept them virtually inseparable. The next morning, however, she withdrew to the library with her father immediately after breakfast without making her desires known. And later, when Durant came downstairs seeking her, he was informed that she had gone out without leaving word for him.
The change did not pass unnoticed. Durant seemed surprised at the news, and obviously perplexed as to what to do. He walked up and down the hall a few moments, frowning. He started upstairs only to return immediately. Finally he asked for Mrs. Bunce.
Simms, the butler, informed him with something resembling a smirk that Mrs. Bunce was in the reception room. This was the small, crowded front room on the first floor, ostentatiously furnished with Vernis Martin furniture and yellow hangings, wherewith the Bunces had designed to put their feet into society. They had. As he entered, unannounced, Mrs. Bunce, sitting in one of the atrociously decorated chairs, hastily pulled up her overskirt to hide something in her lap. Durant failed to notice this action. He explained what had happened, and asked her at once if he had done anything to offend her daughter.
Mrs. Bunce was all attention and sympathy. Not being admitted to the secret councils of the two overmastering intellects of the Bunce family, she had no clew to the change of treatment they had agreed upon. Nor, placid, comfortable, and comforting soul that she was, did she feel that his misgivings were justified.
“No, I ain’t seen or heard anything for Mildred to get up her dandruff about,” she declared warmly.
Durant did not smile. “Very likely it means nothing,” he agreed. “I’ll just wait until she returns.”
“Yes, yes, I would,” assented Mrs. Bunce hastily, as one eager to move to a subject of more importance. “You won’t say anything about catchin’ me in here knitting?” she begged, a high color coming suddenly upon her plump face.
“Knitting?” Durant’s surprised, questioning look came finally upon the old-fashioned metal knitting needles projecting from her lap. He laughed and his gaze roamed from her to the pretentious furnishings of the room.
“Mrs. Bunce,” he exclaimed, “you’re so much more homelike and heart-cheering than anything else in this room!”
Mrs. Bunce purred as under a caress. “You’re just the dearest boy! I wish you was mine!” she said. Her face flooded with an answering smile, and then, as her eyes blurred, she took up her knitting to hide how much his praise touched her. “I used to knit all their stockings before these slazey silk ones came in, and they had to wear ’em to confirm to the canyons of taste,” she informed him with resignation. “I’m going to knit you a pair just for luck. You don’t have to wear ’em. I know they don’t go with the rest of your fine feathers.”
Durant spent most of the morning talking to her, and went away cheered, and with his earlier doubt evidently quite cleared from mind. Everyone always benefited by being with Mrs. Bunce. Large-hearted, happy by disposition and practice, she talked incorrectly and felt correctly; as placidly ignorant that everyone in the large world did not at all times mean well as she was of her own lapses from grammar. Language may have been invented to conceal the thoughts, as Talleyrand says, but it is seldom long successful in concealing the feelings. Her husband and daughter never dreamed it, but it was she who had made, and who held, the few friends of the family. She was unselfish and without guile—and she believed everybody else to be so.
But the doubt which her mother smoothed down Mildred took care to ruffle up again after luncheon. It was Simms whom she deputed to visit her further displeasure upon Durant.
“Miss Bunce’s compliments, sir, and she says she ’as left the car at the door for you to take to the garage.”
The order, sent to him through a servant, was significant, despite the weighted deference with which Simms conveyed it.
“All right, Simms, thank you. I’ll come right down. Please tell Miss Bunce I’d like to see her first,” he said after a moment.
“Sorry, sir, but she ’as gone hout.”
“Yes, sir, but she said if you wanted the car, you could ’ave it until night.”
“All right, Simms. That was very kind of her, I am sure,” Durant smiled. “Oh, by the way, did she happen to tell you where she was going?” he asked in an offhand manner.
Simms shuffled, and was silent. Not until Durant turned to learn the cause of his reticence did he venture to carry out the rest of his instructions.
“Yes, sir—but I was ’oping—”
“Go on, Simms.”
“Well, sir, she told me where she was going, but she said as ’ow, if you asked me, I was not to tell.”
“All right, Simms. Was that all?”
“Yes, sir, that was hall.”
“Very well. You may go.”
“Thanking you, sir.” Simms departed with alacrity and without looking back.
Durant crossed to the window and looked out. “The cold shoulder!” he muttered. His face took on a deep frown. “Idiot!” he accused himself after a time. “What else could I expect taking the easiest way? They’re tired of maintaining me in idleness. They don’t believe I want work. Well, there’s only one thing for me to do.”
He jumped into the automobile at the door, and hurried to Bunce’s office. He entered it at a pace that told of suddenly aroused determination.
“It took you a long time to get round to us again, but I’m glad to see you,” David Shaw greeted him.
“I—I’ve hardly had a free minute until to-day.”
“Yes, I’ve heard all about the trail of fire you’ve been leaving.”
“Trail of fire! Where, what, who has been saying things about me like that?”
“The boss.” David nodded toward the private office sacred to his superior. “He’s been that tickled at the huge dent you’ve made on society that he couldn’t keep it to himself. Suppose you came to see him?”
“Yes. I want to see him about work.”
“Work! Well, you’ve got to convince Mr. Benjamin Bunce. He—” David stopped as one who betrays a confidence.
“I’m here to convince him.” Durant smiled grimly.
“He’s at the club just now, but sit down a minute and I’ll call up and break the news to him gently of who’s here.” David’s manner indicated that he expected his words to bring Bunce running back to the office.
“Thank you.” Durant’s smile grew easier. “Will you tell him, please, that I am very anxious to see him at once about work?”
David disappeared into the telephone booth. He issued from it a few minutes later with a puzzled look on his face.
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Bunce says he has an engagement and won’t be able to get back to the office at all this afternoon,” he announced.
“Did you tell him I was very anxious to talk to him about work?”
“Yes.” David seemed disinclined to state more.
Durant frowned and nodded his head as if his suspicions were confirmed. “I—you don’t know of anyone who requires a man like me, do you?” he inquired.
“No, not right off the bat like this. I—this is so sudden—I’ll keep my eyes open, but—” David’s confusion showed that his mind was only half on the matter.
“I suppose I might try to catch Mr. Bunce at the club,” mused Durant.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“He—” David dropped his eyes and moved restively—“no, I’d rather not tell you. Only I wouldn’t see him to-day about anything of that sort if I were you.”
Durant smiled understandingly. His departure was abrupt. He broke the speed-laws driving back to the Bunce house. Here he secured from Simms, and took to his room, the three-cent Boston afternoon newspaper left at the house. Swiftly he turned over page after page until he came to the want advertisements.
“Five chances to be an office-boy, two to be a housemaid! Only one thing possible! Must I go out as an attendant to an infirm and elderly gentleman?” Durant threw the paper from him. A reckless glitter came into his eyes. He jumped to his feet, hurried downstairs and leaped into the car again.
Five—ten—fifteen miles, he flew over broad boulevards and then along dusty roads which strung thrifty, set-looking little towns to satisfied, sleepy-looking little villages. The gentle, brooding warmth of Spring lay over the country between, seemed to invest fields, trees, everything with comfort, content and hope. But all this seemed only to add to Durant’s irritation and recklessness. He forced his car to the utmost, mastered it as it had never been mastered before, making it bound and leap to his whims and impulses as one who cares not what happens.
It is written all over life, not so much in the books: Fortune smiles on the reckless. Chance hands the venturesome unexpected favors.
Durant left the orderly turnpike for a narrow road that led away through wooded fields. Barely had he turned into it when ahead he spied a team going in the same direction. He sounded the horn.
It was a heavily laden express wagon, and its driver clung obstinately to the middle of the road until Durant came up behind. They were going uphill; the car could not pass for the sharp rise in ground and the fence on the right nor for the gully bordered by thin woods on the left. He sounded his horn again and again, until the driver with a guffaw finally bore away slowly to the right of the road. Even before he had given room, Durant throttled up, gave his wheel the impulse which would enable him to shoot by on the left.
The clutch caught. The car turned sharply. And then as the wagon cleared his field of vision, there flew into it another car—not a rod away. It was a gray car and in its front seat, driving it madly, sat a young girl.
Only one thing could prevent that collision. Durant turned his car sharply to the left. There was a crash as it leaped down into the shallow gully, a nerve-racking strain as it leaped up the further bank. Beyond was a clump of scattered elm trees. With a quick shift of the wheel he managed to steer between the first two. He shot to the left and scraped between the next two. Before him in every direction, lay trees, trees, trees. Between no two, room. His mind, hands and legs worked together as they work in a last minute. He shut off the power; he jammed on the brake; and then, he leaped.
All men may be divided into two classes. There are men whose bodies wake first, who move restlessly in the morning before opening their eyes; and there are men of a different order who neither move nor stir another muscle until their eyes have informed them of their surroundings.
Durant opened his eyes wide. Slowly there came into them an expression of understanding. The girl bending over him drew away. Instantly he closed them and kept them closed until she bent back. Then, paying no heed to her questions, he half-raised his lids and covertly gazed up into eyes soft, tender, and extraordinarily blue with the strange, inert intentness of one reluctant to give over a pleasant dream. For a long time, he continued to ignore her questions, gazed on and on at her as if luxuriating in what he saw, as if purposely putting by the ending of the spell. Not until she felt the admiration in his look and started to rise did he speak. And he spoke in that spirit of banter which sometimes men affect with most at stake.
“It was the only way I could manage to meet you. I hope it will do,” he murmured.
She rose at once. The look of anxious sympathy left her eyes. They danced with his. “You forget. You didn’t stay to meet me,” she returned. The look of anxious sympathy came back. “Please see if you are hurt,” she requested.
“I would have met you head on, if anyone could,” he urged.
She laughed. “Please see if you are hurt.”
“No.” He smiled without moving. “I must know first, while I still have your sympathy, before admitting whether I am alive or dead, whether this constitutes an introduction.”
Her eyes escaped his to enjoy by themselves a fund of merriment. “Please—see—if you are hurt,” she commanded chokingly.
“I am hurt, seriously hurt, but only because you refuse to answer my question.” Durant raised himself, began to feel of his elbows.
“Cripes, this seems to be no place for father,” suddenly broke in a third voice.
Durant sat bolt upright and looked behind.
A heavy-jowled, leather-faced teamster, one of those with sermons on their sodden faces stood eyeing them. And Leather-face was cracked by a grin.
“You might at least remain until you have learned the worst,” exclaimed Durant good naturedly.
“Wa-al, bein’ as I ain’t neither a minister or a justice of the peace, I can’t see what you want of muh,” answered Leather-face, shuffling, but having no intention of leaving them at just this interesting stage.
“Wait a minute, please!” The girl took command, only the little caught laugh in her throat betrayed how greatly she enjoyed the situation. “Hadn’t you better see if you are hurt—in any other way?” she asked with a stifled laugh.
Durant rose to his feet and began to try his arms and legs while the others watched.
“Well, I’ll be dodgasted, nary a scratch, and I expected to have to sweep you up in a basket,” exclaimed Leather-face with disappointment.
Durant stood admitting it, ruefully; but Hilda Cabot broke into peals of laughter that made the first robins envious.
“I’m your disappointed undertaker, all right,” gloomed Leather-face.
“You both look so grieved that perhaps we’d better try it all over again,” suggested Hilda.
“You’re too ready to risk me,” retorted Durant; his eyes wandered to his car part way up one of the trees, “and anyway, my car appears to have mistaken a tree for a garage!”
All three moved laughingly over to it.
“The more of these little knick-knacks that get theirs, the more it pleases me,” commented Leather-face, but he engineered and contributed half the labor of getting the crippled car back to the road.
There, they examined it solemnly. The engine declined to work, the front axle was bent upward so that its wheels appeared slightly to toe-in, but the tires were undamaged and the brake was still effective.
“All that car needs is a junkman. I’ll send you one back from the next town,” suggested Leather-face.
“No. A few hundred dollars will make it as good as new,” reported Hilda Cabot, replacing the hood over the engine.
“Yes, it will only cost a few hundred—only a few hundred,” Durant exclaimed lightly.
Hilda looked at him sharply. “Is it your car?” she inquired.
“No. One can’t expect to have everything come out just right,” Durant replied with a smile.
Hilda rewarded him with a quick, friendly glance of approval. “If you wish, I’ll tow you in to Boston, Aladdin,” she announced twinkling.
“Aladdin?” he looked at her questioningly, then busied himself hitching his car to hers, until the sarcastic but helpful teamster had driven off.
“I did not want to introduce myself while our friend, the assassin, was here. My name is Richard Durant.”
“Yes, I know. Shall we start now, Aladdin?”
“Perhaps you’ll gratify my natural curiosity as to why you call me Aladdin after I’ve told you my prosaic name.”
She laughed mischievously and moved away toward her own machine.
“I feel hurt. This is the second time to-day you have wounded my sensitive feelings—no one half-appreciates how sensitive they are,” he flung after her.
“It’s shameful, I know. But it’s altogether too soon to tell you now,” she called back, bending forward to start her car.
“Women can’t bear to see dumb animals suffer. They stop on the street to pat staggering horses, and soothe sniveling, yelping curs, anything that has the luck to have four legs. It’s only men that they—”
But the gurgle and the rasp which came from the car ahead warned him. He had just time to leap into his own car before hers picked up the slack and began to drag its wrecked fellow away; toward Boston.
She drove wonderfully, taking the corners with a broad slow sweep that all but managed his car for him, and as soon as she learned the best pace his car could stand, she held to this on the long straight stretches. She drove wonderfully, as well as any man, but with a mind to her task that Durant found little to his liking. Again and again on the long ride in, he called out compliments to her loud enough to be heard above the rattle of the loosened mud-guards. The first few times she turned quickly as if fearful that something had happened to the car behind. Once or twice she answered his remarks with a smile. Thereafter, she indulged him no more, merely shook her head slowly and tolerantly without looking back.
“That’s right, don’t allow me to turn your head with my compliments on your looks and skill,” he fired as a final shot.
She stifled her laughter, permitting neither sign nor sound of it to reach him, nor making any response. And thereafter he, too, became silent as if fearful of carrying the thing too far and incurring her displeasure. He sat with one foot on the brake and a frown on his face for the rest of the drive.
At the garage he waited barely long enough to explain what had happened.
“I’m exceedingly sorry to have kept you so long. I wouldn’t have blamed you for making off,” he declared as he came out beside her.
“No. I am waiting to take you home,” she said quietly. “What did he say? Was your car seriously damaged?”
“I didn’t wait to learn.”
She smiled at the compliment, but brushed it aside. “Ah, you must have lakes of money to be so heedless!” she twitted him.
He laughed ironically.
“And the soul of a saint to belittle calamity!” Her blue eyes sparkled.
“Your hair is like sprayed sunshine,” he retorted.
“And more than that, I can’t bring myself to look on this as a calamity at all. Of course, after you are gone—”
She released the exhaust. There was a loud, nerve-racking report. The explosion startled everyone in the vicinity except the one man she intended to startle.
“—gone, I shall realize my misfortune,” he went on imperturbably.
She looked at him, nonplussed.
“I saw you do it. My ears were prepared for it,” he explained.
“Are you coming?” she demanded, inexorably throttling up the engine, and thrusting one small, eye-compelling foot upon the clutch.
“One minute, please.”
He ran to the garage, left his orders, then ran back, leaping into the seat beside her, breathless.
“If I had not met so many Italians and Frenchmen, I should have lost my head before all your crude flattery,” she commented as soon as the machine was underway.
“I am forced to take this course,” he stated. “If I had been injured, I feel that you would remember me and continue the acquaintance. As I was not—” he did not bother to finish.
“Be careful. I can be dangerous at this sort of a game myself,” she said with a mischievous glance.
“I court danger.”
“Clever! But remember, Aladdin, I have warned you.”
“Who is this man Aladdin I’ve been hearing so much about?”
She laughed luringly.
“Here’s the house! The third one in the block. You haven’t much time to tell me,” he warned.
She brought the car to a stop. Then turned and looked him full in the eyes and laughed again, fearlessly, challengingly.
“Aladdin?” he entreated.
“Aladdin!” she mocked.
“Aladdin?” he insisted.
“Aren’t you going to get out? Shall I take you to a hospital, Aladdin?”
Reluctantly, he descended from the car and came around to stand on the curb beside her. He inquired no more. He merely waited, patiently, silently, his big dark eyes twinkling with assurance.
“Do you really want to know?” she asked after a few moments.
“Well, I decided to call you Aladdin because you have such wonderful lamps.” She laughed. Then she started her car, and was off before he recovered.
“Wait a minute! I have thought of an answer,” he called after her.
But she replied only by a careless wave of her hand.
Nevertheless, a half hour later in the intimacy of her toilet for dinner, Hilda Cabot tried her maid’s patience sorely. Her mind kept wandering to events of that afternoon. Once she threw up her head and laughed. The comb caught and snarled in a twist of gold. And it was barely extricated before she rose, pulling the comb from the surprised maid’s fingers, and ran to the telephone. Her unbound hair fell at random over her neck and shoulders, the comb still hanging to a strand.
“No matter, Annette.” She waved the maid away. “Is that you, Cornwallis?” she called into the telephone.
“I’m keeping my promise. I met him to-day.”
“I met that Mr. Durant and in the most dramatic way.”
“Really? Tell me about it.”
“No. I want to hear first what you were going to tell me.”
“I didn’t say I had anything to tell you about him.”
“No, but you made me promise to let you know if I met him, and especially if I liked him.”
“Well, he’s very handsome.”
“On my word, I can’t see that!”
“No man ever thinks another is handsome. He probably wouldn’t admit that you are.” Hilda laughed. “But what have you to tell me about him?”
“I didn’t say—”
“He’s adorably bright and entertaining, almost as quick-witted as he is good looking. I was quite taken with him. You ought to tell me.”
“Can’t you tell me now, over the wire.”
“Well, I have no engagement after dinner tonight.”
“You seem curiously reluctant to tell me.”
“I am. On my word, I hoped I should never have to.”
“Why? It sounds ominous.” A puzzled frown appeared on Hilda’s face.
“Well—it’s most unpleasant—that is, for me to tell.”
“I’m really getting quite infatuated with him. Oughtn’t you to tell me?”
“Yes, I ought to, I suppose.”
“I say, Hilda, would you mind if I put the bally thing off a while, until—”
“No, I can’t wait I’m too curious. I’m coming round for you in my car after dinner. I’ll take you for a short drive and you—”
“It makes me feel so much like a rotter!”
“Then why did you tell me anything and excite my curiosity?”
“Only to protect you against—”
“Against—well now, if the man is an impostor, I ought to tell you, hadn’t I?”
“It’s your duty, your unquestionable duty.” Hilda’s tone was severe.
“Yes, and, on my word, as unpleasant as most forced duties.”
“I’m not forcing you, Cornwallis, and I understand your reluctance. But I shall be round for you in my car soon after half-past eight. That’s the woman of me. And you’d better tell me all about it—no, I shan’t tell you why you’d better.” With a laugh Hilda hung up the receiver. But her maid found her unusually silent and preoccupied the while she completed the rest of her coiffure.
As the gray car with Hilda Cabot at the wheel shot away down the avenue, Mildred withdrew from the open window of her room. Her mirror showed her a face white with anger. Hastily repairing this with a little rouge she hurried downstairs, the anger in her look changing to determination.
From the lowermost landing she observed Durant in the front hall. He was regarding something that Simms had just handed to him, staring at it with the fixed look of a man whose mind, seeming there, is really elsewhere.
“Ah, gifts left at your door by fair ladies?” she exclaimed, leaning coquettishly over the rail.
“N-o.” He started, and looked at the object in his hand as if to reassure himself as to what it was. “It’s my blue opal scarf pin that Simms picked up in the hall. I must have dropped it as I went out this afternoon.”
She waited until he brought it to her. “What a terrible leering face—and it’s an opal, too!” She shivered and dropped it back instantly into his hand.
His hand closed over it, hid it quickly from her sight “I’ll put it away,” he said promptly.
She laughed, came down a step or two, stood there, one hand resting lightly on the rail, still rendered a little taller than he by the remaining stairs. “I missed you this afternoon,” she announced, coquettishly dropping her head to one side.
“You weren’t here so I went out in the car and—” he hesitated—“by the way, I had the rare good fortune to meet Miss Cabot. She brought me home,” he stated watching her keenly.
“Miss Cabot! Oh, I’m so sorry! I wanted to introduce you myself. Isn’t she a pippin?”
“Y-es,” he admitted discreetly.
“Such wonderful coloring! Did you ever see such golden hair and such blue eyes? And her teeth and complexion—” Mildred made an enthusiastic gesture—“I don’t see how any man can resist her!”
“Nor I!” The doubt left Durant’s eyes; they gleamed.
Mildred smiled resolutely. “If only she weren’t quite so tall! Don’t you think she’s so tall that she’s just a little scrawny?” she shot.
“I hadn’t thought of it” Durant stirred uneasily.
“But—” Mildred switched quickly, “but you haven’t told me how you met her.”
“I—I all but ran into her with your automobile.” Durant explained their encounter and the mishap that had come of it to the Bunce car.
Mildred’s hand dropped from the rail. “You seem much more concerned about meeting her than about putting our car out of commission,” she commented.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think it is seriously damaged. Did you want to use it this evening?”
“Yes, we were going out for a drive to-night, but that doesn’t matter; no, not so long as you are sorry.” Mildred regained her smile. “Hadn’t you better hurry and dress for dinner?”
“I was waiting to break the news of the accident to your father.”
“You shan’t. I’m going to do that for you. No, no, I know just how you must dread it. I’ll be seriously offended with you if you don’t let me.” Despite his protests, Mildred sent him upstairs, and herself laid in wait for the coming of the head of the house.
“Put my car on the blink, did he, just to make a hit with Hilda Cabot? Now, can you beat that?”
“Father!” Mildred cautioned him to lower his voice.
“Let him hear. He might as well get it this way as straight from me when I meet him. And didn’t we agree this morning that he’d been looking her way too much and we’d been too easy with him?”
“Father, you’re going to tell him that it’s nothing at all, and that he is not to worry over the damage to the car, no, not for an instant.”
“I am, am I? Well, I haven’t broken the glad news to myself yet. If I don’t hand that fresh young galoot what’s coming to him, it’ll be because I have a stroke thinking up rough enough stuff.”
“Father, don’t forget that he’s more useful to us than ever, now that he’s got in with the Cabots.”
“I merely want you to realize that this is the worst moment in the world to lose your head, now that he can be of some real use to us.”
“Fine! A fine line of talk to a man who would like to feed him to a mangling machine, and then sell tickets to the execution!”
“Father, if you don’t stop making an exhibition of yourself!” Mildred sat upon the arm of his chair. “Now, listen!” She began to smooth down the wisps of gray-brown hair that bridged the clearing on the top of his head. For a time he managed to keep up a pretense of defiance; shortly he was discussing details of her plan; soon he was reduced to a state of utter subjection.
The extent of her power over her father became obvious in the complete change in his attitude when Durant finally came downstairs. Bunce came toward him, hand out, and with his former large, over cordial manner.
“Well, well, well, we managed to save that young lady’s life, didn’t we, even if it was at the cost of my machine?” he exclaimed, shaking Durant’s hand vigorously.
“It’s splendid of you to take it so generously, but I don’t think your car is badly damaged,” pleaded Durant. “I ordered it repaired at once, and the expense charged to me.”
“Expense charged to you! What are you talking about, son?” Bunce flared as at insult. “That’s my car, isn’t it? And I told you to use it, didn’t I?”
“Yes, but—” Durant laughed but regarded him uneasily.
“Laugh as much as you like, but that bill belongs to me,” insisted Bunce. “Isn’t that right, Mildred?”
Mildred nodded smilingly.
Durant looked from one to the other. “Why, that’s out of the question,” he protested. “Of course, I should be glad to have you pay the bill when it comes in, but I insist upon repaying you as soon as I can.”
“Not a word. Not another word out of you about it. That’s my car, and I intend to do just what I like about it.” Bunce turned away, arbitrarily refusing to listen to further argument. “Now you two go in to dinner. I’ve got some telephoning to do, and I’ll be there in a moment.”
“There, that’s all settled,” he declared as he joined them later. “They’re to put the car back in commission just as soon as possible, and I’m to fork out the needful. Oh, you can pay me back later if you insist upon being foolish,” he announced to quiet Durant’s look of objection.
“Did you hire a car for to-night, father?” asked Mildred.
“Yes, it’s to be here about eight. Come on, we’ll have to dig in, and stow away this food if we want to be ready in time.”
It was one of those soft warm April evenings, shot with the electric sparkle of a New England spring. Durant drove. “Just to prove that we don’t hold up anything against you,” insisted Bunce. And Mildred, beside him, chose the roads, leaned toward him, and chatted even more companionably than had been her wont.
“This car doesn’t run as smoothly as ours, does it, Richard?” she said soon after remarking that he seemed more abstracted than usual. “I’m going to call you Richard from now on. Why shouldn’t I, if you don’t mind?”
“Yes, why shouldn’t I? You’re more like one of our family than I believed any man could be.”
“Mother declares you are the salt of the earth; father wonders how we ever could have got along without you. It’s really quite wonderful how you have stepped in and won us all in so short a time. And me—no, I don’t think it would be maidenly to tell you what I think of you.” Mildred bent over toward him until her arm touched his. “You don’t seem a bit interested,” she complained after a moment.
“Interested?” Durant looked at her questioningly. “I couldn’t hear all you said on account of the noise that car made passing us. I don’t like to take anyone’s dust, but it alarms your mother, doesn’t it, if we run fast?”
“Yes, mother doesn’t like to go very fast,” Mildred returned, looking at him. She waited a moment, and then withdrew her arm from contact with his. But Durant apparently noticed neither this action nor her subsequent silence, and as he did not look at her, he could not have seen how hard her expression became.
They traveled slowly, comfortably along a winding, endless road, slipping from areas of hot, humid, rather enervating air to stretches, cold and dank with the stored breath of Winter. Spring had not yet routed her adversary from his last trenches, could not, until reinforced by Summer. Crickets chirped, frogs tried their lungs.
“Isn’t it getting very black?”
Durant started uneasily. “It’s the trees almost touching over the top of the road, isn’t it?” he urged.
“No, I thought I heard the rumble of thunder. There, did you hear that?” she exclaimed triumphantly.
He nodded, and slowed down the machine. “It seemed very far off. What shall we do? Turn back?” he asked.
“I think we’d better. I’m dreadfully afraid of thunder and lightning,” she said looking toward her father.
“Yes, I guess we’d better make a scoot for home,” Bunce added hastily, “these April showers are pretty lively little disturbances after they get going.”
Durant turned the car at the first widening of the road and pointed it back home. A great and sudden blanket of stillness had come over the woods which lately chirped. They came out into the broader boulevard to find the whole sky to the north overcast with a huge and menacing black cloud.
“We’re going right into the teeth of it. We shall have to speed,” he cried, advancing the throttle.
He forced the car to its utmost speed, and drew up before the Bunce house just as the first few scattered drops began to patter down upon them.
“I’ll take the car back to the garage,” he announced as the others descended and scampered for the door.
“No, no, no, you won’t do anything of the sort,” cried Mildred, leaving her parents to run back across the sidewalk toward him. “You’ll get soaked to the skin. Father can call up the garage, and ask them to send a man for it. Come, come, I say!”
The great, heavy drops were falling thicker, faster, and she stood there beside the car insistent, waiting. He sprang out and followed her across the sidewalk.
“Oh!” she put her hands to her ears as the door closed between them and the first heavy thunderclap.
“Why, Milly, dear, I didn’t know you was so afraid of lightning,” her mother exclaimed, stopping on her way upstairs.
“Afraid? I’m not afraid, I’m simply scared to death of it,” she cried impatiently, “but you two go along upstairs,” she advised, “and leave me alone with Richard. I won’t be half so silly and foolish about it before him.” She hurried into the parlor.
Durant followed her. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked sympathetically.
“Just stay here—please. I only want to be sure I am not alone.” She pointed to a divan at the right of the room.
He sat down on it.
There was a loud crash of thunder.
“Oh, isn’t it terrible, terrible, terrible! I don’t see what God does it for!” She paused before him for a moment, her voice excited, her hands fluttering hysterically, then walked nervously away toward the front of the room.
He rose and took a step toward her. “Don’t you want me to call your mother?”
She shook her head and quieted a little, but only for a moment She pulled aside the curtain at the window and stared out. “Oh!” she cried tumbling away before a blinding flash.
He sprang toward her. “Do let me get your father,” he begged.
“No, don’t mind me. I can’t help it,” she exclaimed, backing toward him, her eyes still on the window.
“Be careful! Look out for that rug,” he warned her, but too late.
She stumbled over its turned-up corner, and fell into his arms.
“What shall I do? Won’t it ever end?” She glanced up at him distractedly.
“Hadn’t we better join the others?” he asked, still steadying her.
“Oh!” she shivered and shrank a little nearer to him.
“I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry,” he kept repeating stupidly.
She placed her hand on his arm without turning toward him. “There! Oh, I feel so much better when there’s somebody near. It’s as if—oh, Lord!”
She jumped at the tremendous burst of thunder, wavered a moment, and then shrank back completely into his arms. They closed about her to keep her from falling.
She lay there trembling. “Oh, it’s so good, so good to feel someone near,” she murmured, taking his hand.
His hand did not close over hers. He held it awkwardly as if not knowing what else to do.
She sprang away from him, and then nestled back closer than before. After a moment she allowed her head to fall back over one of his arms. Her head tilted up. Her lips pursed. Her gray eyes caught his for the infinitesimal part of a second and then closed, ashamed.
He hesitated, bent toward her a moment, and then turned away.
There was a crash as if the whole city had been lifted in the air and smashed to the ground just outside the window. She stiffened, and then relaxed utterly into his arms, her face white, her lips again tilted pleadingly toward his.
“Please,” she murmured.
“Please what?” he asked, looking away.
“Please,” she pleaded, closing her eyes.
He bent down and kissed her lightly.
One of her arms uncoiled and went around his neck. “Kiss me. Make it go away,” she begged.
He kissed her again.
“Kiss me, kiss me! It makes me forget all about the awful old lightning.”
He bent down and kissed her again.
She pouted. “You don’t know how to kiss. You ought to take lessons,” she exclaimed, coquettishly turning her head away from his.
He laughed uneasily.
“You don’t want to kiss me,” she complained.
“I—” instead, he bent down and kissed her again.
There was a slight noise in the hall. She caught her breath, and started away from him. He turned. Bunce stood in the doorway, quietly watching them. After a moment he turned on his heel and, without a word, walked away.
They stood looking at each other.
“Father! He saw us! What shall I tell him?” she demanded.
He recoiled at the sharpness of her tone. “Tell him that I tried to kiss you and that you were angry,” he advised.
“But—but I wasn’t angry.” Her tone softened quickly; she looked up at him entreatingly.
He made an impetuous gesture and seemed about to speak, but reconsidered and moved away toward the window without a word. There came a last clap of thunder. He turned and looked at her.
She did not start as before. A blinding flash of lightning followed. She did not cry out; she merely stood there looking at him, waiting for his reply. He drew aside the curtain and gazed at the rain spattering on the granite sidewalk, pooling on the cold, hard surfaces of the street.
“I can’t—I won’t tell him that I’m angry,” she declared at last. “Why should I? You aren’t a child. You must have known what you were doing.”
The curtain slipped from his fingers; he turned soberly toward her. “I’m sorry you’re so wrought up. Suppose we don’t say anything more about it,” he said in a tone that was cold and formal.
She stared at him in open-mouthed astonishment. Durant turned, and walked slowly from the room.
The door of Mildred’s room across the hall closed with a slam. Durant rose, listened a moment, and then slipped quietly out of the house. On the sidewalk he shrugged his shoulders, and took a long breath as one grateful for his freedom. Then, a deep frown on his face, his attention given over to the problem he faced, he evidently allowed his feet to carry him where they willed.
Several minutes later he raised his eyes from the ground for the first time. That big, square, unpretentious house on the slope of Beacon Hill belonged to the Cabots. If he hoped to see Hilda, he was disappointed. Through the front windows showed only the dim lights left for the absent.
His eyes returned to the ground. He moved on. Shortly, he stopped, and looked up again. A few rods further up the hill, near its brow, Cornwallis Brooke was taking leave of someone in a gray motor. He watched Brooke enter the looming apartment house; his face lightened as the gray car with its single occupant coasted down the hill toward him. But Miss Cabot accorded him only a nod so curt and cold that he stopped, turned, and looked after her.
The car drew up at her door. She raised the hood from the engine, bent over it, and seemed either heedless or unaware of his presence. For a moment he stood irresolute, obviously wavering between an impulse to keep on uphill and away from the girl who had just parted from Cornwallis Brooke, and the temptation to retrace his steps to her side. At last he decided.
“Can I help you with that engine?”
“Oh, how do you do, Mr. Richard Durant! No, thank you!” With a smile as cold as her nod of greeting, Hilda Cabot dropped the hood back into place, and without another word tripped across the sidewalk and up the steps.
Durant raised his hat, and moved away down the hill. Just beyond Charles Street that same gray automobile flashed up to the sidewalk beside him, a hand waved, a voice, softened, called out:
“I’m sorry I was so rude to you. Forgive me!” Durant stammered, stuttered, gasped.
“Won’t you get in and let me take you for a spin?”
Durant murmured confused thanks, ran around the car and leaped into the seat beside her.
As if by magic the rain had vanished from the macadam streets; cooled, refreshed, these had drained and now welcomed the burden of the flying car with a new sound, a sound heard only after rain, a burbling murmur seemingly of content. Changed, also, was the air. The close, humid feeling of the early evening was gone; the air was cool, and stirred slightly by a wind upon which came to them little nosegays of sweet spring odors.
“I meant to punish you for daring to play with me, but I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings,” she announced as soon as they were fairly underway.
“But I wasn’t playing with you,” he protested.
She said nothing, maintained a silence that affirmed that she knew better.
He shook his head. “And what made you think I was hurt.”
“I could tell by your back as you walked away.”
“If human being could do it, I vow I’d keep my back toward you for the rest of time.”
“There! Now you’re playing with me again!” She shook her head.
“Yes, but only because I don’t dare to be serious with you—not yet. There’s too much at hazard.”
“You’re a very strange man to talk to me like this the second time we meet.”
“The second time we meet! This is the eighth time I’ve seen you.”
Hilda laughed. “What did I wear the first time?”
“Some sort of dark motoring costume.”
“Describe in detail what I wore each one of those eight times.”
“Correct!” She chuckled.
“Blue eyes and a smile and a laugh that have been very disturbing to say the least.”
“A little too wholesale!”
“That’s to repay you for expecting me to remember what you wore.” He gave her an account of the various occasions on which their paths had crossed.
“So you were the man with Mr. Bunce, who looked as if he wanted to thrash the taxi-driver?”
“Well, I—” he paused, embarrassed.
“It was very nice of you. That was why I inquired and learned all about you,” she declared.
“Inquired? Learned all about me?” He stared at her in amazement
She laughed. “There! You see! I warned you that I was not to be fussed with impunity.”
“Oh!” he laughed. “I was ass enough for a minute to think that you really had inquired about me.”
“But I did.” She dropped the statement like a bomb, watching him.
He regarded her with astonishment, speechless. “You don’t seem to be interested in what I learned,” she said, in turn becoming inquisitor.
“No, I’m too delighted to think that you cared enough to inquire.”
“I don’t care to have you think that.”
She looked straight ahead, but a passing streetlight did its duty, revealing the little pool of color on her cheek.
“How did you expect me to take so flattering a statement?” he inquired.
“Placidly. Like any other er—adventurer.” She faced him, a certain cold, mischievous, watchful disdain in the place of her blush.
He felt the change, and his eyes dropped from hers uneasily. “You evidently didn’t learn anything especially favorable.”
She shook her head.
“And you couldn’t have learned anything particularly unfavorable.”
“Because no one here knows anything about me.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”
Something in her tone arrested him, held his attention, appeared to increase his uneasiness. “Are you going to tell me what you learned about me?”
“Unfortunately, I can’t.”
“Was it so much to my discredit?”
“That’s according as one looks at it.”
“Oh!” He sank into a deep silence, meditating, gazing at her as if he hoped to learn from her averted face her feeling for him. At last he sighed. “I wonder. I wonder if I can do it,” he mused aloud.
“What?” Hilda turned and looked at him sharply.
“I don’t dare tell you.”
She turned away, obviously disappointed. “Have you enough confidence in me to tell why you came here?”
“Yes.” He paused as if to choose words. “I came here to make a place and a name for myself. I came here to get work.”
“Are you performing work of any kind?”
“Well, I’m serving as chauffeur for the Bunces.” Durant’s short laugh might have been at himself.
“And you are satisfied to live on them and be—” she allowed her look of disdain to complete the sentence.
“No. To-morrow I leave them in any event. To-morrow I get work of some kind or—”
“There! I knew I couldn’t be mistaken!” She turned impulsively toward him, her eyes alight with confidence; but gradually the light grew dim, flickered as in the wind of a new doubt. “But you mustn’t stay. You are playing a more dangerous game here than you can possibly be aware of.”
“I can’t tell you without violating a confidence.”
He started and stared at her. “Why! You’re warning me!” he cried ecstatically.
“Yes, I’m warning you to leave Boston by the very first train.”
“You’re warning me! Trying to protect—”
“I’m warning you against danger that I can’t tell you anything about, but that is sure to get you into the most awful difficulties here. Are you going?”
“Going? What, now? Never!”
“But you must! I tell you, you must! You don’t realize the risk you are running by staying here. Why won’t you go?”
His eyes glistened. “Shall I tell you?” he asked.
“Because you care enough to warn me.”
“Is that all?” she sighed.
“Do you think I’d leave just after learning this? Do you think that you—anyone—could induce—”
He stopped before the peal after peal of ironic laughter she turned on him. After a moment he joined in it, but his laugh was quiet, determined, and he ended it abruptly to exclaim, “What, leave now? Why, this is the hope that has kept me here under the most unpleasant conditions. I don’t leave now. I begin.”
“Then so do I.” Hilda’s laugh ceased, and her manner changed instantly. She slowed up the motor, cast a searching look ahead, and then in the first wide reach of the road turned the car toward home.
She did it without reversing; she did it at some speed and with only a foot or so to spare, but Durant’s admiration of her skill and judgment was apparently lost in another feeling.
“We’re going back?” he mourned.
“Yes, curfew has rung for you,” she announced lightly.
“It’s like a woman to ring it just after trying to stop it from ringing. You’re delightfully, wonderfully, atrociously human,” he declared amiably.
She answered with a laugh and by increasing the speed until the car seemed fairly to leap from cross-street to cross-street.
“I’m scared. I’m running away from you just as fast as I can,” she said, looking him boldly, fearlessly in the eyes.
“I’m not deceived. Never before was there such a daring woman! You fill life with challenge, excitement, you—”
“Humpty-Dumpty!” she jeered.
“Thank you. I like that much better than Aladdin.”
“Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.”
“Humpty-Dumpty was climbing for sour apples. Now I—”
“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty-Dumpty together again.”
“Perhaps—but don’t you think the right woman could have succeeded in—”
“How do you like the Bunces?” she broke in.
“Very much. They’re my hosts.”
His crisp statement won him a look. “Sometimes things you say lead me to believe that you may be what you pretend to be,” she stated.
“What do I pretend to be?”
“A-a-a-well, let us say, a gentleman.” She was jeering at him again.
His laugh was a little bitter. “You forget. Tomorrow I go to work.”
“Come out in your true colors. Be a man.”
“That would remove all chances of doing what I want to do.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to—” he stopped and flushed—“I almost forgot and told you.”
“Do it! Do it!” she pleaded.
“I can’t. Not yet.”
“You’ll regret, when it is too late.”
“No,” he paused, evidently weighing his chances. “No, I shall do what I want to do,” he affirmed calmly.
She laughed scornfully, and changed the subject. “Are you going to the Hollins’ masquerade?”
“Yes, are you?” his eyes brightened.
“Yes. I think so.” She nodded carelessly.
“Splendid! Meeting Number Nine. And so much sooner than I hoped!”
She smiled but remained provokingly silent.
“Don’t tell me what you’re going to wear,” he went on. “I should know you anywhere, by your hair, voice, figure—by your eyes, if by no other one feature. I’ll pick you out from the whole crowd. I’ll come up and speak to you.”
Her blue eyes sparkled. “I’d give the world to have you pick out the wrong woman.”
“I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t make such a mistake.”
Her blue eyes smouldered the while she mused.
“Will you promise to come and put me to the test?” he demanded after a long and defiant silence.
“Yes, since you are having so much fun with me, I don’t see why I shouldn’t have some with you.” Her air was that of one who accepts a challenge.
“Ah, you’re going to wear a man’s costume!” he exclaimed.
“No.” She regarded him serenely. “I shall not do anything quite so idiotic as that. I haven’t even thought what I shall wear, but—” her tone became mocking—“but you have stirred me deeply, Mr. Richard Durant, and it is in my heart to punish you for tampering with my young affections!”
Despite his protests, she refused his escort, left him arguing valiantly on the sidewalk before the Bunce house.
Durant walked happily up the stone steps into the house. As the door closed, Mildred Bunce leaned out of the window of her darkened room, and glared angrily at the little patch of gray speeding down the avenue.
Half way across the avenue in the park which ran through its middle, a little dark man, deeply interred in an old ulster, shifted his position on the cold park bench. The trunk and boughs of a bare tree now hid him from sight of the girl in the window.
“Gee,” he muttered, “that must ’a’ been the other dame piping him off at the window. He’ll get his from her all right.”
He bent over slowly, and stole another look at Mildred’s window.
“Gone to hand it to him,” he mumbled. “Well, this ain’t the time or place for me to tackle him. I’ve gotta get him feelin’ right so he’ll come across with a good lump. I kin wait, I guess.”
He rose, and looked down the avenue. His dark furtive face came out of the shadow. Its small, beadlike eyes glittered; one was black and the other of a different color, a dark purple.
After another long look at the unlighted house, he slouched away toward the West End.
Securing his freedom from the Bunces, Durant found to be an enterprise beset with difficulties; but he was aided and abetted in his determination by one upon whom he could hardly have reckoned.
“Going? Going where?” Bunce demanded wildly, when waylaid in the front hall the next morning.
“I don’t know yet. I have yet to locate a room or boarding house.”
“Dick, my boy, I won’t hear of it.” Bunce tried the objections successful often before. “You’re a part of the family. There’s nothing to it.”
“I appreciate your kindness but I’ve got to go.”
“Got to go? Fiddlededee! Why have you got to go away and leave us who rate you way up in G?” Bunce attempted to seem grieved and angry in the same breath.
“I owe it to myself to get out and be up and doing.”
“Get out and be up and doing? Oh, so you find it dull here, do you?”
“No. On the contrary, I—”
“Well, well, well!” Bunce cut him off. “Get out and be up and doing! Can’t see where we’ve fallen down at putting you next to the best people. Met the Cabots through us, didn’t you? Don’t you like the people we’re trotting out for you?”
“Very much, but it’s time I settled down somewhere and went to work.”
“Poppycock! You just like to hear the tinkle of your own words. They sound to you like a fire alarm, I know that, but to me—all poppycock!” Bunce brushed by toward his hat and door.
Richard flushed at the way Bunce was riding rough-shod over his wishes. “I thought I ought to tell you before I made my arrangements,” he said quietly. “I haven’t come to this decision without giving all things careful consideration.”
Bunce withdrew his hand from the door and turned. “What, determined as all that, are you? Well, if that wouldn’t make grandmother grieve over her porridge!” He inspected Durant hotly for a moment, then, “Milly!” he called.
Mildred appeared at the back of the hall with her mother hovering in her rear.
“No, it’s Milly I called for, and Milly I want.”
Bunce waved his wife back, visiting his annoyance at his guest on the target of a lifetime. “What do you think of him, Milly?” he cried. “What do you think of him, coming here, gettin’ us all het up about him, smashing our automobile into the bargain and then saying we ain’t good enough for him and he’s got to go and leave us?” Bunce softened the lunge with a jocular tone and a grin.
Durant laughed. “One of the reasons why I want work is to repay you for the damage done to your car,” he said with a smile.
Mildred remained silent, watchful, waiting for an opening.
“Didn’t I tell you that bill belonged to me? Now, don’t let me hear you open your yip about that again or it’s the cyclone cellar for you!” Bunce let out his anger again, the more violently this time because covered by a purpose so noble and safe. “No, what’s bothering and grieving me is that you think of leaving us in the lurch without notice. Why, even a kitchen maid gives a week’s notice. And here you turn on us in a single night!” Bunce’s tone was still jocular but there were blades behind it.
“Don’t you think it is time that I stopped being dependent upon you and secured work?”
“No.” Bunce saw his chance to hold him for downs.
“Don’t you believe—”
“Don’t you think—”
“Well, of course, if you don’t think—” Durant lost patience.
It was the exigency for which Mildred had waited. She sprang into the breach widening between them.
“I think you are perfectly right, Richard,” she said. “Of course, we can’t expect to keep you here forever!”
Bunce’s eyes signaled wildly to his insubordinate daughter. “He not only wants to leave us, but he wants to go to work,” he complained.
“And why shouldn’t he, if he wants to?”
“Why—why—” Bunce was flustered. He gazed at his daughter with amazement.
“Why not give him a position yourself? He’s too good a man for you to lose to someone else.”
“Why, so I could.” Bunce began to get a glimmer of her purpose. “Why, so I could—if he would take it.”
Durant announced that he was willing.
“Well, well, that’s something more like it. We’ll think it over, and see what we can do for you.” Bunce eased away as he had so often before.
“But—” Durant followed him toward the door.
“But it’s absolutely necessary for me to know about it definitely, at once.”
“So?” Bunce caught a determination not again to be trifled with. “Well, I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t begin work at once. That suits me. That suits me to a T. Come down to my office any time to-day, and we’ll start you off. How’s that for you?”
“Splendid—and I’m vastly obliged to you, Mr. Bunce.”
Thus the Bunces, forced to yield up their guest by capture, contrived still to keep a hold on him. And Bunce, catching quickly his daughter’s change of plan, went further. He gave Durant the address of Miss Cobb’s boarding house. He could rely upon David Shaw to tell him what happened there.
But he evidently still gave little credence to Durant’s avowal that he wanted work. He was obviously surprised that noon when his former guest appeared promptly in his office; he put off fulfilling his promise by taking Durant to luncheon.
“What do you suppose,” he telephoned Mildred afterward, “I took Dick to luncheon with me this noon at the Exchange Club and something happened. Old Theophilus Cabot was there talking to his partner, Sears. I took a chance. I led Dick up and introduced him; wanted to see with my own eyes how he got in with the icy ones. I gave Cabot a great send-off to Dick, and I gave Dick a nice little send-off to Hilda’s father, but that didn’t seem to make them warm to each other. But I’ve got to give Dick credit. The old man’s coldness and indifference didn’t have anything on his. They sparred gingerly about the weather for a few minutes, and then Dick led with something that just seemed to knock the old man all in a heap. What was it he said? You’d never guess.” Bunce paused until he could control his laughter. “Cabot said something about our treacherous New England weather. And the next thing I knew Dick was answering, ‘Yes, but a Southerner once told me that “one of the advantages of the New England climate was that few of the natives survived its rigors!”’
“Now, who would ever thought that a slam like that would have landed Old Theop.? Well, it did. He laughed until his face got wet, and he ended by inviting us to lunch with him and Sears. Milly, I tell you Dick’s the real thing, all right. He’s the only man I ever saw thaw out Theophilus Cabot Where’s Dick now? In my private office still harping on that notion that he wants to go to work for me. I suppose I’ve got to put him on, but, Lord, how I do dread it! An English lord out trying to get American advertising, can’t you see the foolishness? Why, it’s a hundred to one shot. Yes, yes, I know. Here goes, but it’s like giving him the money; I don’t expect any returns.”
Bunce, expecting nothing, disposed of the issue quickly. “Dick,” he said, picking up and putting down papers on his desk, in a flapping fury, “I haven’t got much loose time to talk to you, not this afternoon, very busy man to-day, but I’m going to keep my word and let you see what you can do on advertising for my paper, The Mercantile Record. Best trade paper going, best in the whole country, bar none, but you go out and see David; he’ll fill you up about all that. I’ll start you at—well, I guess I’ll be liberal and start you at ten dollars.”
Durant started. “You can’t possibly mean ten dollars a day?”
“A lot of work you’ve ever done!” Bunce roared. “I wonder you didn’t think I meant ten dollars a minute.”
“Well, you might have meant ten dollars a month,” Durant laughed with him.
“No, ten a week. Of course I know that you can’t live on that, but patience, man, patience! If you ever show pay-streak, I’ll do better, I’ll raise you without any nudging, all right.”
Later that afternoon Durant returned with a two-hundred-dollar advertising contract from Cabot, Sears and Company.
“Jumping galoshes!” exclaimed Bunce, forgetting in his excitement to hide his greed, “how’d you get that? Went right down and put your arms round Theophilus Cabot’s neck, didn’t you? What line of talk—what line of talk did you hand out to him?”
Durant smiled at his excitement. “We didn’t have time to talk over much of anything except Debussy and Richard Strauss,” he replied.
“Deb—” Bunce hurdled the unfamiliar name, “Strauss, Strauss, who are they?”
“Composers. Leaders of the modern schools of music.”
“Music! Oh, yes, to be sure!” Bunce rose and walked with his quick, incisive step to the window; a powerful waddle had Bunce. When he turned his excitement had calmed. He spoke of other things; he said nothing about raising his new advertising solicitor’s salary. And Durant seemed content to work on at a salary that could not possibly cover his living expenses.
* * * * * *
David Shaw, breakfasting the next morning, played idly with his food to kill time after many a look toward the door of Miss Cobb’s dining-room. It was a stir in the atmosphere rather than any sound from Rose Sherwood’s light feet that apprised him of her coming. He smiled happily. There she was in the seat beside him!
Rose accorded him the appreciative smile and greeting that daily made the somber boarding house take on something which it had never before possessed.
“You were out last night. I missed you,” he whispered. They were alone in the dining-room except for the trim Swedish maid departing to fill Rose’s order.
“Yes; I had a lovely dinner but”—the light in her eyes said the rest—“I had so much to talk over with you that I should simply have burst if you hadn’t waited for me this morning. Your friend, Mr. Durant, came yesterday morning just as I was getting ready to go out,” she announced.
“Yes; quite a drop from the Bunces to this penitentiary; I can’t quite make it out,” answered David. “Do you like him?”
“Yes, but not so much as our landlady,” laughed Rose. “He caught her good and fair on the rebound. It was warm and my door was open. ‘Is this Mrs. Cobb?’ I heard him ask. ‘Miss Cobb— Miss from choice, if you please,’ I heard her answer in her steeliest, and then he said or did something that simply made her absolutely his. Do you think he could have been brave enough to kiss the dear, distant old lady?”
“Well”—Rose laughed with him—“he was to have the front hall room on the floor above us, but she fairly flew upstairs, moved all the things out of the front square room beside mine and installed him there instead. I never saw her so excited before. She called all the servants, had his four trunks in there in an instant, and then fluttered about asking if there were anything else she could do for him. Afterward she came into my room just to be near in case he should think of something he needed. Why, it was all so shameless that she felt obliged to apologize. ‘I simply couldn’t agree to a young man with four trunks trying to live in one of my hall rooms,’ she explained.”
“Four trunks! That’s it!”
“No; it’s looks, manner, and a lot of other things.”
“Ah, you met him!” David’s tone begrudged something.
“No; I still have that to look forward to. You must introduce us. But I’ve heard so much about him from Hilda Cabot that I waited purposely this morning in order to breakfast with him and you. I—”
David frowned and his spoonful of coffee stopped midway in transit to his mouth. “Be careful, here he comes,” he interrupted.
Durant entered, was introduced, betook himself to the seat across table from Rose, and fell upon the clumsy silence, due to David’s frown. He smiled at Miss Cobb standing flutteringly in the doorway the while the Swedish maid received his order, and then took upon himself the burden of opening conversation.
“I’m in rather of a dilemma. I wonder if you could help me,” he announced, looking from David to Rose.
David merely looked questioningly at him; Rose smiled.
“I’m expected to make my debut at a masked ball this evening, and I wish you’d suggest a costume.”
Rose looked at him quickly, then dropped her eyes to her plate and said nothing. It was David who answered.
“Why not go as a real lady-killer, Don Cesar de Bazan, Sir Walter Raleigh, or Don Juan?” David thought he was jocular, but his jealousy flung a slight snarl into his tone.
“Because that would be too much of a joke.” Durant looked at him hard.
“People usually decide to go to masquerades as precisely what they aren’t, don’t they?” suggested Rose to bridge the gap.
“Yes—as what they think they are,” Durant agreed.
“Ah! tell us what you think of going as,” persisted David.
“I must have lots of character, for I haven’t been able to think of a single part for myself,” exclaimed Durant lightly. His eyes left them and caught Miss Cobb’s. She stood like a sentinel in the doorway overseeing every move of the maid placing his breakfast before him.
“Miss Cobb,” he called, “do you mind telling me what your first name is?”
Miss Cobb started. “Cynthia,” she murmured after an alarmed pause.
Rose and David dared not look at each other. “Miss Cynthia, will you come to my rescue? No one else will.”
“I’ll—I’ll do what I can.”
“What character do you suggest?”
Miss Cobb’s nervous hand fluttered half way to her thin, drawn face, then fell. “If you ask me, I think you look like Dante,” she answered in a voice that trembled a little. “I’ve been studying your profile. It’s—it’s so like a bust of him up in ‘The Drawing-room.’”
“Dante? The very thing? He isn’t alive to protest. Miss Cynthia, I knew you were full of stored up life, wisdom and brilliancy. I knew—”
But Miss Cobb, veteran against masculine wiles that she was, had fled to the more accustomed embarrassments of the kitchen.
David pushed back his chair. “Well, Don Juan, you sure have disturbed the air of sanctity that hangs about this room at meal time,” he announced more amicably.
Richard’s eyes gleamed. “Did you notice how all that stiffness ran out of her as from a tap? Wasn’t it worth while?” he asked proudly.
“Yes, her dear old face broke up like a hard winter. I have never seen anything so wonderful,” Rose exclaimed.
“Well, you certainly had your courage with you to jolly Miss Cobb.” David rose and went upstairs to wait for Rose. He waited a long time.
“I wouldn’t allow myself to get too interested in that Mr. Durant,” he blurted out as she came upstairs at last.
“Why not?” She regarded him with surprise.
“Oh, for a number of reasons.”
“A number of reasons! Have you found out something about that opal pin?” She seemed alarmed.
“No. You made me promise not to ask him any questions about that.”
Rose seemed relieved. “Well—what, then?”
“I don’t like the looks of this sudden break of his with the Bunces and—”
“Oh, well, his salary is only ten dollars a week, and I happen to know he didn’t have a cent when he reached town. And yet he’s been high rolling at the opera, theaters, and with motoring parties ever since he arrived. A man can’t do that without spending a lot of money. Now, where does he get it? It doesn’t look right.”
Signor Dante Alighieri, invested in a long, dark flowing robe and crowned with a chaplet of bay leaves, ascended the wide stairs to the billiard room on the top floor of the abode of the Hollinses in Brookline. As he set foot upon the long, smooth floor, cleared for dancing, he paused, and his glittering eyes quested searchingly among the gay, uneasy groups of masqueraders.
Many a fair eye of blue and gray and brown turned and dwelt where he stood in the doorway, for, what with his height, carriage and vestments, he made a majestic and an eye-holding figure. But from eye to eye and from group to group his own eyes quested only to rove to the next. He completed his survey of the entire array and then began anew.
Where he stood he partially obstructed the entrance. The cloaks and scabbards of men and the starched and furbelowed raiment of women, strutting ceaselessly in unwonted garments, brushed against him as they passed. But so absorbed was he in his quest that he neither noticed nor moved aside to give room. Nor did he yet remark one in the guise of the Florentine Misericordia, standing sentinel-like at the other side of the door, with eyes glued upon him.
Up the stairway back upon which his shadow fell came a nun. She was tall and garmented all in white save for the black mask whose narrow slits left but mice-holes for her eyes. She passed and, as she passed, gave him a quick glance so sharply withdrawn as to catch his attention.
The tall sister of the church hastened, hastened obviously away, sought to lose herself among the gayly dressed groups, but his eyes watched as she threaded her way unchallenged among them, never left her until at the end of the hall, shielded by the throng between, she turned and looked furtively back at him.
Signor Dante Alighieri forgot the dignity of his robe and hurried after her. As he started, Misericordia reached out and plucked him by the robe, as if to speak, but he brushed past him, forbidding conversation with an impatient look. Whereupon Misericordia scampered after him at such speed as his long, funereal hobbling garments permitted.
Past kings and queens, around cardinals and clowns, between Pierrots and Pierrettes, the tall nun fled, fled with a slow, swaying gait consistent with her garb, and with an eye to her pursuer that advised her ever to change her course. But he of the aquiline nose, unconscious of the Misericordia on his heels, kept to the chase, and at last surprised her face to face.
She stopped as the dark figure blocked her path, and then, without a word of offense or acknowledgment, without raising her eyes above the hem of his robe, turned quickly and took another way.
In a stride he was beside her. They walked together through one of the cleared spaces, neither speaking, she ignoring his very presence. At last, forced to speak, he spoke.
“I’ve found you. Aren’t you going to admit it?”
“Whom? Whom have you found?” she asked quietly, eyes cast down, one hand playing with the cross of emeralds and diamonds hanging by a long chain from her neck.
“The one woman who—”
“Be careful! Your rashness is unparalleled. Before you declare yourself to any masked woman, be sure you are not making a grave mistake. Suppose—”
“But I am sure it is you. I would be positive, if you would only allow me just a single look at your eyes.”
“Ah; that will make me still more careful!”
“You don’t propose to let me see them?”
“No. Perhaps by keeping you in doubt I may be able to prevent you from—”
“Pardon me, I am no longer in doubt, and as for preventing me from declaring myself, you may not know it, but I gain a sort of courage from the very fact that I am playing a part. If you refuse me, it is not I that you refuse. Do you see? But I am playing no part when I tell you that I am wild about you, that I can’t wait any longer to ask—”
“Cornwallis, please—please don’t—not here!”
He started, and stared at her; he walked beside her, frowning, buried in a deep silence, until the slight quiver of her shoulders betrayed that she was laughing. “You had me, hooked, caught, landed—for a minute!” he admitted. “But are you going to keep up this pretense of doubting my seriousness?”
She hesitated as one who avoids giving the real reason. “How could I believe anyone to be serious who says such things to a woman who is masked and unknown?” she demanded triumphantly.
“Then you only want to save me from saying what I have to say to the wrong woman?”
“Show me your eyes, and there will be no possibility of my making a mistake.”
“No. I am willing to rescue you, but I don’t care to be embarrassed by your thanks.”
“Must I turn cave man?” He bent toward her threateningly.
“Not without regretting it.” She put a little distance between them.
He was silenced. “You say you only want to save me,” he pursued after an interval, “do you mean it?”
He came up close beside her again. “Then, since you won’t show me your eyes, perhaps you will tell me their color.”
“I tell you they are brown.”
“Impossible!” He stopped abruptly. She stopped, too, without looking at him.
“I tell you they are brown. There, you see that I have saved you!” she exclaimed.
“Yes; you tell me they are brown, but—” For a moment he stood looking at her masked profile, the satire of his voice on his face, then impulsively he seized her arm and turned her until her face was toward his. He bent forward and gazed eagerly through the mice-holes in her mask. But she had been too quick for him. Only her white, fluttering lids showed through. She had closed her eyes.
With a sigh of disappointment he released her and turned away. He turned so suddenly that he all but stumbled over Misericordia at his heels. By the time he had apologized and recovered, he found that his companion had flown. She had slipped away, lost herself in the steadily increasing throng of maskers as completely as a quail in underbrush. His eyes coursed angrily about the room in vain.
“May I have just a word with you, sir!” Misericordia touched his arm.
He glared at the strangely dressed figure. His eyes just flickered by the long white slip drawn over the head, with holes cut for eyes, leaving trouser-legs and boots uncovered below.
“No; and I wish you had minded your own business,” he declared and started impetuously away on the hunt. He made but a surly return to the polite bow of the Sir Philip Sidney whom he passed a moment later.
“Cornwallis Brooke!” announced Signor Dante Alighieri to himself. He turned and looked after him. “Well, he seems to be looking for her, too,” he murmured, as he moved on again.
Impatiently he wove in and out among the throng, his eyes never resting, roaming from person to person, and avoiding all who recognized him.
A sprightly, dancing Pierrette rose from her seat by the wall and came tripping toward him, staring eagerly at him through the narrow piquant black mask that bridged her heavily powdered face. She was tiny of height and frame, slender of ankle and wrist, only a slight maturity of limb revealed that she was not the child she affected to be. She was pretty, engagingly, distractingly pretty and piquant, and she stopped directly in his path. But he found pretext to avoid her by turning suddenly away to the left and stopping a dignified Li Hung Chang in his stately promenade.
“Your daughter, can you tell me, is she here yet?” he inquired.
The austere far-easterner nodded. “I presume so,” he said.
“What is she wearing?”
“No one was permitted to learn except her maid.” Li Hung Chang regarded the disappearing back of the young man with amazement. Evidently he was astonished at the impolite haste with which the questioner had withdrawn from his august presence. But after a moment he nodded his head, and indulged himself in what for a Cabot was a grin.
A full half hour had elapsed since Signor Dante Alighieri had lost his Beatrice. “I have driven her away!” he muttered, coming to a stop by the door leading downstairs. “Well, I’ll know better than to make that mistake again,” he confessed somberly. He turned for one last vain survey of the throng on that floor.
A nun, tall and garmented all in white, came up the stairway, dispensed one quick, sharp glance at him through her narrow black mask and made away into the throng of dancers.
With a bound he was after her. Again she forced him to tag along behind and at her side as she dodged in and out among the dancers. Again she accorded him neither look nor word.
“I have been looking for you ever since,” he whispered into her ear when forced behind by the narrow way the dancers left.
She did not deign to answer. Only the slight tilt toward him of her head showed that she had condescended to listen.
“Am I to infer that my presence here is obnoxious to you?” he asked.
“Yes and no. That depends upon how you conduct yourself for the remainder of the evening,” she replied coldly.
“ ‘The remainder of the evening,’ ” his voice snatched at the promise. “May I have the honor of dancing the rest of this two-step with you?” he begged.
“No.” She spoke coldly, curtly, with none of the frolic formerly marking her words and manner.
“You are punishing me,” he ventured.
“For attempting to see my eyes after you were requested not to.”
“Oh!” He released a deep sigh of relief.
“You mustn’t do that again—or anything else I ask you not to do.”
She stopped and allowed him to come up with her.
“May I have the rest of this dance—now?” he asked contritely.
She shook her head, but less coldly. “No; if you don’t mind, I prefer not to dance. Take me some place where we can talk. Quick! Someone is coming I wish to avoid.”
Swiftly and with enthusiasm he managed her escape from the Sir Philip Sidney he saw approaching. They wove their way in and out among the press of people toward the door. As they neared it, the sprightly, dancing Pierrette again waylaid him, obviously attempting to catch his eye. He looked another way.
“One of the prettiest of the dancers, and she wanted to speak to you,” commented his companion after they had passed.
“Shall we go downstairs?” he asked, ignoring her remark.
“Yes; we are too conspicuous here,” she replied.
The rooms on the floor below were all reserved for dressing rooms. They descended another flight. Here the rooms were occupied by low-voiced couples whose looks gave notice of trespass.
“I fear we shall find nothing left for us except the cellar,” he lamented as they approached the last door. “I forgot my badge, but you may remember that Dante was one of the most trustworthy little guides to the lower regions. Are you game?”
A couple had just issued from the room. They etered to discover that it was an alcove of the library and that they were the sole occupants. He waited until she sat down on one of the wall-seats, and then drew a chair for himself directly in front of her.
“Be careful! You are forgetting your promise,” she warned, covering her eyes.
“That was sheer forgetfulness,” he apologized. He sat down beside her where he had a view only of her masked profile. “May I begin now where I left off when you ran away from me?” he asked laughingly.
“No. Decidedly not,” she replied sharply.
“You don’t seem the same to me,” he protested, looking over her garb. The jeweled cross, hanging by a long chain from her neck, seemed to reassure him. “Is the change due to anything beyond my attempting to see your eyes?”
He looked up at her silence. She was regarding Misericordia, who had appeared in the doorway, and who was now hastily withdrawing.
“We are likely to have only a few minutes alone together,” she cautioned him, “let us be serious.”
“Then you don’t think I was serious—before?” He bent toward her eagerly.
“No, no, no, you mustn’t begin to talk that way to me—not now—please—or I shall have to leave you again.” She shrank away from him nervously, started to rise.
“Very well, I’ll try not to,” he agreed instantly.
“I have something of much more importance to say to you.”
“Nothing could be of more importance, but—” he made a gesture of assent.
She waited until he withdrew his eyes. “I want to ask you about that opal pin,” she said slowly and as if with great effort.
“That opal pin?” He did not visibly move a muscle; his echo of her words manifested but a faint curiosity in the subject.
“Yes. Do you mind telling me how you got it?’
“No-o. I found it.”
“Found it!” She shrank away from him as if his answer displeased her.
He was silent a moment; he was silent a moment longer the while he seemed wholly interested in straightening out a fold in his cassock. “Perhaps you will tell me why you are so interested in the pin,” he suggested carelessly.
She did not answer his question; instead she asked one herself: “You no longer wear it. Is it still in your possession?” she inquired with some little agitation.
She removed her eyes from him in the very nick of time. “You must get rid of it as quickly as possible—give it away, throw it away, get it out of your possession just as quickly as you can,” she declared with feeling.
“Get rid of it!” His eyes stayed on her, widening with surprise at her sharp tone.
“Yes. I have warned you.”
“You are always warning me,” he complained. “You should be flattered that I take the trouble.”
“I am, but—is this the same thing you were warning me about the last time we met?”
“N-o-o—” She started back and drew away from him suddenly again. “We are being watched! Don’t look,” she warned.
His eyes dropped coolly to the floor. “Who is it?” he asked quietly.
“There’s some one on the stairs. She must have followed us. She keeps looking in at us through the door.”
“Yes; it’s a woman—or a young girl.”
“Oh; I thought it might be that strange man in the habit of the Misericordia. Did you notice, his eyes are of different colors—one black and the other; purple? I can’t place him, but he seems determined to speak to me. Do you—”
“I must go.” His companion arose with decision.
“You must go!” He rose, too, protesting, threatening to follow her.
“No. Sit down!” She waved him back to his seat. “If you follow, you won’t see me again this evening. There’s a storm on little Miss Bunce’s face that you must meet alone.” She flitted swiftly out of the nearest door. Without a word she ran by the Pierrette who stood upon the stairs glaring into the library with a scowl on her face that promised trouble.
Women are honey—and vitriol; or, as a great poet hath better sharpened the blunt half of a truth: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Pierrette appeared in the doorway, a tiny, floating, angelic vision of sweetness and prettiness. Pierrette floated across the room like gossamer. Pierrette addressed him in a tone into which she poured her last ounce of honey.
“You look wonderful, wonderful. I wasn’t sure it was you until I heard your voice.”
He rose and bowed. “And you—you look as if you had drifted out of a mist of Corot’s.”
“Do I?” she beamed. “I wore this costume simply because I hoped you’d like it.” The sparkle in her eyes changed to a steely glitter. “If you like it, why didn’t you answer when I spoke to you?”
“At a masquerade one hides his identity just as long as possible.”
“Twice—twice you cut me dead.”
“Part of the game.”
She sniffed and flounced down on the seat. “You might just as well be honest.”
“You surely don’t want me to be offensively so.”
“Don’t think I care how much of a spectacle you make of yourself running about after a certain woman like a trained dachshund.”
Her lips straightened into a narrow seam across her powdered face and her head perked to a vicious angle. He shifted uneasily on his feet. “Shall we return to the ballroom?” he suggested.
She rose instantly. “To be nearer her?” she sneered.
“If you insist upon putting it that way.”
She led the way back in a fit of sullenness which accorded no apparent attention to his words. At the entrance of the ballroom she stopped, turned and faced him upon the stairs, blocking his way.
“Who is she?” she demanded.
There was anger, accusation, insult even, in her manner, but Durant kept his patience. “She hasn’t unmasked yet,” he replied.
“No? Well, I don’t believe you’ll waste any time in finding out.” She moved contemptuously aside, making room for him to enter the ballroom.
A dance had just ended. The dancers, still masked, were scurrying in all directions toward seats. Durant’s eyes ran over them apparently searching for that tall sister of the church who seemed fated to be his particular will-of-the-wisp for that evening.
“You can make sure soon enough. They unmask at midnight,” scorned the jealous woman at his side.
He did not answer. She turned, the angrier for his indifference, and caught his eyes upon their quest.
“You got your invitation here through me, but that doesn’t matter,” she said in a tone quivering with rage. “Go and find her. I—I never want to see you again!” She left him abruptly.
Her rage had not been directed wholly at him. Durant turned. On the top step of the stairway stood the young woman for whom he had been looking.
“I seem to have made trouble for you. Don’t follow me,” she whispered as she passed him.
He moved on beside her, despite the protesting wave of her hand. “Let’s not talk about that,” he requested.
“Pierrette acted not only as if she were angry, but as if she had a right to be angry,” suggested his companion.
“I would rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.”
“But I must know.”
“I—I can’t see that there is anything to add to what you witnessed. Something or other that I did enraged her.”
“Anger or jealousy? Perhaps you didn’t see her glare at me.”
“I am sorry if she made you suffer for my fault.”
“Don’t you think you had better explain—or confess?”
“But I have nothing to explain or confess.”
“You have nothing to confess, after talking to me as you have this evening, and then being addressed with an air of proprietorship by another woman?”
“Air of proprietorship?”
“Yes—nothing else. If she had been your wife, she could not have glared at me more angrily. I believe you have misled her, as you have attempted to mislead me, and that she has taken you seriously.”
“That is not the case—I assure you.”
“You are the sort of man to do it—to make whatever woman you are with feel that she is the only woman in the world. Fortunately, you didn’t deceive me.”
“You? I never was more serious in my life than in what I said to you.”
“So you told me, but after what I have seen, you deserve almost any treatment at my hands.”
“I would be satisfied with almost any treatment at your hands.”
“Why—why don’t you get angry at me?” She stopped, forgot, and looked him fair in the face, but dropped her eyes before his caught hers.
“Oh, only because I don’t dare to quarrel with you, I fancy.”
The quiet, deep, vibrating tone in which he said them robbed the words of any casualness, lent them a deeper significance.
Something which appeared remarkably like a shiver crept up her back, but she translated it into a cynical shake of her shoulders. Yet, she turned and looked about as one who considers flight.
“I have never had a dance with you. Give me this one—please!” he pleaded.
“What is it?” she asked, mindlessly, as one gaining time.
She did not answer. He placed his arm about her waist. She appeared to indulge herself in a last few moments of irresolution. Then she yielded to his impulse, and they danced away along the smooth floor.
The music had but just started. Many of the masked throng had not yet chosen their partners. As yet there was room and some degree of privacy for them in the middle of the big floor, but they danced in silence, he smiling and content apparently with the privilege he had gained, and she with eyes closed and a complete surrender to his guidance. Yet her first words seemed to belie the mastery he had gained over her, and to hark back to the flippant spirit of their previous intercourse.
“Only a philanderer would say to a stranger what you have said to me to-night,” she remarked.
“You are no stranger to me,” he affirmed. “This is the eleventh time I have had the honor of seeing you.”
She laughed. “Oh, if you could but see the face behind this mask!”
“I do not need to.”
“You are so positive that you are doomed to be surprised.”
“Delighted, you mean.”
“Surprised, I said.”
“My triumph is so close at hand that it is hardly worth arguing,” he declared.
“Everyone unmasks after this dance,” he announced.
They danced on in silence a few moments, then: “The floor is getting frightfully crowded. I think I don’t care for the rest of this dance,” she declared, stopping near the door.
“Let us sit it out,” he suggested.
“No, thank you.”
“You aren’t going to leave me now just before the unmasking!”
“Yes. You are so positive, what does it matter!” She moved away toward the door.
His eyes gleamed. “You intend to go home before the unmasking,” he predicted.
“No.” She disappeared through the door after a hurried look beyond him.
It was this look that evidently made him turn in time to intercept Cornwallis Brooke. Brooke would have passed him to hasten after her down the stairs if he had not plucked him by the cloak.
“Oh, hello, Durant! Never saw you!” Brooke stopped and held out his hand, wiping out the oversight with a cordial smile and manner. “I say, don’t you find this affair a bally maze? I’ve been looking for someone the entire evening, and haven’t found her yet.” His eyes roamed away toward the stairs. “How are you anyway?”
“Tip-top! In a hurry? Got time to answer me a question?”
“All the time in the world, old chap. Fire away!” Brooke’s eyes returned to him.
“Hate to bother you, but you know the people here so much better than I.” Durant nodded toward a masker to their left without looking at him. “Can you tell me who that queer character is dressed as one of the Misericordia?”
Brooke turned and inspected him. “Haven’t the honor, I’m sure. Queer looking beggar, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he doesn’t look quite as if he belonged. I thought you might—”
“Hold on! That reminds me. Heard our host tell someone what he was earlier in the evening. If I didn’t have such a dashed bad memory!” Brooke put his hand to his head. “Hold on! I’ve got it.”
“Who is he?”
“No, he didn’t say who he was, but he did hint what he was!”
“What was that?” Durant looked away.
“Why—” Brooke turned for another look at Misericordia—“yes, that was the man all right. I heard Hollins tell someone that he was a detective or something of that sort. Of course you know they have to have them at all these masked balls to protect their guests. I say, old top, he hasn’t been following you, has he?” Brooke laughed heartily.
“Well, he’s been getting under my feet.” Durant joined in the laughter.
“Better look out, old chap. So long!”
Durant watched Brooke disappear down the stairway. Without giving the detective so much as another look, he waited until Brooke returned. Five minutes later he was on the front piazza of the house dressed to leave.
“May I have my word with you now, sir?”
The detective was again at his elbow. Durant’s face showed no sign either of recognition or annoyance. He was as cool and undisturbed as if the man had merely asked him for a match. His eyes rested quietly on him, then passed on casually beyond. Down the broad stairway inside the house came a young woman, still masked, a long hooded evening coat over her head and shoulders. The wind from the open door blew apart her unfastened coat, revealing the costume of a nun, and a jeweled cross dangling from a long chain. She was coming down the stairs slowly, looking behind, as if she feared being followed.
Durant stepped aside out of the light of the open door. His manner toward the detective changed instantly. “If you’ve got anything to say to me, you’ll have to choose another time,” he said, waving him away.
The detective followed his look, observed the approaching woman and accepted his curt dismissal without protest. With a “Very well, sir. ’Nother time,” he moved aside. A moment later he brushed past the woman in the doorway and vanished into the house.
Durant stepped out of the shadow. “I’m waiting. I trust I may have the honor of acting as your escort,” he said to the young woman.
She regarded him as coolly as if she had foreseen the encounter. “I don’t need any escort, but I presume you will insist,” she said.
“Shall I give the footman the number of your car?”
“My car is going to be a taxi. Does that change your purpose?”
“If you will wait here I will get one.” Durant started down the steps, then hurried back. “You won’t escape?” he demanded.
“No, I promise you.”
She kept her word; she kept everything except one of her gloves that he had to hasten back to pick up as they were about to enter the taxi. When he returned he found that she had already given the chauffeur the address.
“Thank you. It would be still more helpful if you would now remove your mask,” he suggested, after he had settled himself in the cab beside her.
“You are so positive of my identity that you render that unnecessary.”
Durant bent toward her. “Do you mean that you don’t intend to unmask at all before leaving me?”
“That is a frightful doubt to leave in the mind of a man who has said what I have said to you this evening.”
“Those who play must expect to be played with.”
“But I was not playing. Believe me, I was serious, just as serious as—”
“Those who play with fire must expect to be burned.”
“Capital! You are doing the thing to a turn. For a moment you raised grave doubts in me.” Durant sat back in his corner with an assured laugh.
“Then you are now convinced of my identity once again?”
“Yes, though I must give you all credit for playing two parts so well. I am so sure that I would like to make a little wager with you. Are you willing?”
“That depends. No, I think I would rather not.”
“Ah, I never expected you to show the white feather.”
“The white feather! I am not—” indignantly.
“What else? You refuse to wager, don’t you?” Her small gloved hands clenched, but she remained silent, looking out of the window on her side of the moving taxi.
“I really am quite astonished at you,” he went on, apparently determined to force his advantage.
“Not to say disappointed.”
“I have warned you.”
He laughed tauntingly.
“Very well,” she turned toward him with decision. “You have brought it upon yourself. Remember that.”
“Penalty?” he demanded instantly.
“For just us two?”
“Yes, if you agree.”
“Thank you. That isn’t a penalty, that’s a privilege.” He leaned back in his seat contentedly.
“You forget. I may be able to make it more of a penalty than you imagine. I have every excuse after the way you have forced me into this.” She leaned forward, an elbow on her knee, her chin bracketed in her hand, gazing out the window, as if meditating some dire punishment. “Why were you so determined that I should wager with you?” she asked after a time.
“Because that would compel you to unmask to decide the bet,” he stated after a long silence. “I dislike to confess it, but it was the only course you left open to me. Will you forgive me? To-morrow or the next day you could deny that you were Miss Cabot, and there would be nothing to substantiate my claim except my belief. It was a little underhand, wasn’t it? I am beginning to realize that. If you want to—”
He bent down and peered out of the window on his side of the taxi with surprise. The taxi had stopped, not before the Cabot house, but in front of Miss Cobb’s boarding house.
“But you are taking me home. I want to take you,” he protested.
She signed for him to get out.
“Ah, you intend to drop me here and then continue on home alone. Well for me that I forced you to make our wager.” He descended from the taxi.
He bent in through the door of the cab. “Now, Miss Cabot, if you will be so good as to remove your mask to decide the bet,” he requested.
Instead, she rose and followed him out upon the sidewalk. For a moment she stood silently facing him in the full glare of the corner light. Then with a laugh she pulled off her mask. It was Rose Sherwood.
He stared at her as if he could not believe his eyes. Manifestly he had to nerve himself before he could utter a word. First he forced a laugh that gritted like the hard edge of a pencil on a slate; it ran on and on until gradually it became natural and jocular; finally he obtained the spirit of a good loser.
“You—you win!” he admitted.
But Rose, alone in her room, discovered something later that put her triumph quite out of mind. Hilda’s long gold chain still hung about her neck, but the cross of diamonds and emeralds that had depended from it was gone. And the half-separated links indicated that it had been deftly wrenched from its place.
I’m terribly sorry, Hilda, dear, I called up the cab company. The taxi had just come in. They sealed it until I got over there. Then I searched it without finding a trace of your cross. I don’t see what could have become of it. You remember you changed it from your neck to mine after dancing with him? And I recall it striking against my skirt as I was leaving the house. If it wasn’t for that—well, when you told me about all those other people who lost jewelry at the dance last night I couldn’t help thinking that a thief or gang of thieves had got in there.”
“Nonsense! After every dance a lot of jewelry is lost that is found within a day or two. Now, don’t worry, Rose dear. It was something I never wore. When could I wear a cross all studded with diamonds and emeralds except at a masquerade?” She laughed at the absurdity of it. “And we did fool him, utterly, didn’t we? Twice he accepted you for me. By the way, Rose, why did you wait until you came back before telling Mr. Durant about the cross?”
“I don’t know. I—” Rose bit her lip.
“I should think you would have gone to him about its loss first of all.”
“Well—” again Rose hesitated and studied
Hilda dubiously—“I wish I could make out whether you really care for him or not,” she burst out.
“Care for a man who is obviously only trifling with me! Rose, what have I said or done to make you think that?”
“Nothing—only—” Rose hung to her look of doubt.
Hilda rose, turned away, and began to buff anew nails already highly manicured. “You didn’t suspect him?” she inquired casually after a moment.
“He was the only one who had a—” Rose stopped. Hilda had ceased buffing her nails, was listening intently, the buffer in mid air. “No, I can’t believe it. He was so game about our fooling him! Hilda, I’m sorry, I’m ashamed of myself for even thinking it. I wouldn’t have breathed it to a soul but you. You aren’t disgusted with me?”
“Rose!” Hilda replaced the buffer very carefully upon her dresser; she stood rearranging the other accessories of her toilet with an absorbed look; suddenly she turned impetuously, her face lit up with assurance. “No, I don’t think he’s capable of doing a thing like that,” she declared warmly. “He’s so frank and ingenuous and thoroughly likeable—likeable, that’s the word, isn’t it?—in spite of all his philandering with our sex. That’s enough for us to have against one man anyway, don’t you think so, Rose?” She smiled, then sighed. “Even if he took things that didn’t belong to him, I would still—”
“Hilda!” Rose was alarmed by the coming avowal.
“Well, wouldn’t you care more for a man who did that than for one who just butterflied around, collecting emotions from one woman and then flying on to the next? There are too many of that sort in society. Now if I thought he was like that—”
“But we do, Hilda, don’t we?”
“No—that is—” Hilda blushed—“at least we haven’t proved it yet.”
Rose laughed. “You’re so inconsistent that I believe—yes, you’re falling in love with him.”
“N-o-o.” Hilda appeared to weigh the possibility carefully. “I like him, but—”
Two things happened simultaneously to relieve her of the need of making any further declaration.
There came a knock at the door, and at the same instant the telephone in her room rang sibilantly.
“Come!” she called.
She took the card from the butler, nodded to him, and tossed it carelessly on her dresser.
“Shall I answer the telephone for you?” asked Rose.
Hilda could not have heard. She never would have allowed Rose to think that this card so lightly thrown aside had all her attention. “He has come. I suppose I have got to see him,” she announced, stealing a furtive look at herself in the mirror, “but what—what am I going to say to him after last night?” she turned toward Rose, trying to cover her absorbing delight with an agitated laugh.
But Rose was already at the telephone, which had rung again. “Someone wishes to talk to you personally, Hilda,” she announced. With a discreet smile and without glancing at the card, she departed hastily.
Hilda sat down at the telephone, her face alight and her blue eyes a soft haze of expectation. In a few moments all the light and softness had vanished, and she was demanding in a hard voice the name of the person at the other end of the wire. Evidently she failed to obtain it, for she rose with an exclamation and stood glaring at the door with a frown that boded ill for somebody.
The frown had quite gone from her face when she entered the room where Richard Durant stood awaiting her; in its place was a look of resolution even more ominous.
“Good morning. Have you come offering or asking explanations?” she asked with a lightness which would have deceived many another man.
“I have called to prove that I am not hurt by the little deception you practised on me last night,” he announced with a smile.
“Does it matter?”
“I hope so.”
“It doesn’t. Not in the least. That is, not to me.”
Her coldness drove away his smile. “You are being cruelly feminine,” he declared. “Is the victim further to be trifled with?”
“Trifled with!” She laughed scornfully. “You have done nothing but trifle with us poor women since you arrived in this city.”
“That is untrue and not at all fair, unless you are still playing a part.”
“Trifling with! Playing a part!” She made short shrift of his plea. “You are very quick to accuse others of your own faults.”
“Will you allow me to be absolutely serious with you for a few moments?”
“You couldn’t be.”
“I am as disgusted with this trifling as you are. I want to chuck it all and be serious with you. It may not seem possible, but I like you so much that—”
“No. It’s too late to stop me now. When I’m serious you try to put an end to it; and then you accuse me of trifling with you. I’m not trifling. I never was more serious in my life. I want to make you my—”
He stopped in the very heat of his declaration. At the beginning she had jumped to her feet as if he had touched her with a hot iron; this had failed to silence him, as had likewise the cold, cynical smile that followed, but now she laughed.
“Is this all such a laughing matter to you?” he demanded bitterly.
Her face became whiter, but she nodded.
“Why? Is it my lack of money or position?”
“No, no, no, no, nothing of that sort,” she defended hastily. “Are you determined to insult me in every possible way?”
“Insult you? Is it insulting you to ask you to marry me?”
“Why?” His voice was cold now.
“Because—do you insist upon my telling you?”
“Of course, I do.”
“You were saying the same things to me last night, trying to make me believe that I was the one and only woman who meant anything to you, and that same evening—well, you know what happened.”
“Anything I may have said to Miss Sherwood was meant for you, can’t you see that? I never dreamed that you would turn a proxy on me. There isn’t a human being on this earth who wouldn’t have been deceived. And was it quite fair—was it?”
“Clever! But I meant an entirely different woman.”
“What other woman?”
“Miss Bunce? What of her?”
“I have learned this morning that you are engaged to her.”
“Engaged to her! Engaged to Miss Bunce!”
“Yes, so I was just told.”
“Over the telephone.”
“The woman wouldn’t give her name.”
“Wouldn’t give her name? Anonymous! And you believed her?”
“Yes—after her actions last night.”
He stood staring into her blue eyes until she flushed and dropped them. He stood staring at her after this until she grew restless. And then he laughed.
She looked up quickly.
“At least you told me,” he stated.
Her flash of anger reached only her eyes; her words were checked by the entrance of the butler. “Ask him to wait a moment,” she said, taking the card from the tray without looking at it.
“I must ask you to excuse me. Good-bye, Mr. Durant,” she said in a tone so cold that it meant only one thing.
He made no reply until she gave him her eye. “Good-bye,” he agreed smilingly. “I will see Miss Bunce. I trust that word from her will convince you that I am not quite the bad lot you are trying to think me.”
She looked at him in amazement. “You intend to go to her about this?” she demanded.
“Isn’t that the straightforward, the only way of convincing you?”
“You seem to take for granted that I care to be convinced.”
“No?” He took a step toward her. “Why not?”
“Because it doesn’t matter—one way or the other.”
“Oh?” He was silenced for a moment. “Very well, then, I shall do it merely for my own satisfaction. You shall hear from Miss Bunce to-day, or by to-morrow at the latest. At least on this score, I can show a clean slate. And I will. No silly little trumped-up tale like this is going to be allowed to stand between us.” He held out his hand. She carefully avoided seeing it.
She welcomed Brooke, who was waiting, with the more cordiality because of her sense of outrage and because, in spite of herself, Durant had made a certain appeal.
“What is the matter with that dashed young beggar of a Durant?” he exclaimed. “He cut me in the hall. You haven’t been telling him what I was weak enough to confide in you, have you?”
“Well, I didn’t know. He went by me without seeing or speaking, and, on my word, he looked as if the bottom had fallen out of things.”
“I gave you my word, Cornwallis.” Hilda’s reproach was gentle.
“Of course. What a blundering imbecile I am!” Brooke’s fresh handsome face flushed.
“You needn’t reproach yourself. I dragged it out of you.”
“Well, it wasn’t quite nice of me to tell tales on a rival. He seems like a good sort. I ought to have given him every chance.”
“Then you haven’t told anyone else?”
“Oh, I say! I’ve been calling myself a bounder ever since I told you.”
Hilda’s voice softened. “Suppose—suppose it became necessary for me to ask you to tell him.”
“Oh, now, count me out on that, can’t you? Give the young chap a chance.”
Hilda moved toward him impulsively, her look unusually affectionate. “Cornwallis,” she said, “I believe you’re about the fairest and squarest man I ever met.”
“Hilda, you could make me the happiest, if you would only let me tell you what I want to.” Brooke bent toward her eagerly.
“No—not yet, Cornwallis.” But Hilda’s manner indicated that she was putting him off for only a short time.
A letter came to her from Durant that afternoon. He stated that he had seen Miss Bunce, and that she was as much astounded as he. She agreed to call up Miss Cabot at once and deny that an engagement existed between her and Durant. Would Miss Cabot send him word as soon as she received this denial?
It was not until the following day, however, that Hilda showed his letter to Rose, and only then to shut off further embarrassing questions.
“It’s a manly and straightforward letter!” declared Rose, starting to reread it more critically. “Of course, you’ve written him as he asked.”
“It seems only fair.”
“Yes—perhaps.” Hilda crossed the room and looked out the window.
“Why haven’t you done it, Hilda?”
‘‘For the simple reason that no word whatever has yet come to me from Miss Bunce.”
“What! She hasn’t telephoned as he said she would?” Rose’s hand holding the letter dropped to her lap. Her lips formed to vent her resentment, but the determined way in which Hilda kept her face turned away gave her pause. “She may have telephoned while you were out,” she suggested instead.
“How can you be sure?”
“I had Annette take down the names of every person who telephoned while I was out.”
“She may have telephoned while you were both out.”
“Annette sat in this room all the time I was away. That was all she had to do and—and I was out only an hour or so this morning.”
“Miss Bunce may—” Rose stopped, held in the thrall of a new suspicion. She debated, wavered, started to speak, reconsidered, her frown growing deeper with each new moment of silence.
Hilda turned sharply. “You see? It may have been only a subterfuge on his part? He may never have seen Miss Bunce at all?”
Rose met her eyes and nodded slowly.
“If it is, he has himself afforded me a still better reason for not seeing him,” announced Hilda.
“If it is, I would do anything in the world to punish him,” declared Rose hotly.
Each afternoon thereafter she learned with mounting resentment that no word had come. At the end of one week, Hilda informed her that Durant had called, but that she had refused to see him. The next day there was a letter which Hilda did not answer. Each day afterward either another letter or another calling card was added to the little pile on Hilda’s desk. Soon she merely pointed at them with a hard little laugh. Toward the end of the second week, Hilda saw him from a distance at the Country Club. Durant leaped to speak to her, but Hilda shot away in her car before he could reach her.
And the following day her suspicions were directed a new way. A stranger—a man who refused to give his name—called up and informed her that a valuable diamond sunburst had disappeared from the Bunce house while Durant was a guest there.
“A man this time, and a woman before! There must be something wrong when two different people go out of their way to tell such things about him,” exclaimed Rose, from a rage long smoldering.
“Her diamond sunburst, your cross, my opal pin, and Heavens knows how much more! Didn’t we learn, too, that none of those jewels lost at the Hollins’ masked ball were ever found?” Rose’s face was ablaze with indignation.
But Rose’s anger was only fanned by her friend’s credulity. “And there’s more I haven’t told you. He goes out late nights for an hour or so, always with a bundle, and returns without it. And one of the boarders saw him coming out of a pawnshop kept by a man whom he called ‘a notorious fence.’ And always after one of these visits he pays back to Mr. Shaw part of the money he owes him—only to borrow more later. And still he thinks to renew his friendship with you. The audacity of the man!”
Hilda smiled, no longer tried to check her. “It’s his audacity that interests me, not those things.”
“You don’t believe them?”
“No. I am only angry because he deceived me about Miss Bunce.”
“Then thank goodness for that!” Rose hastily retrieved her gloves from the floor. “But he had better keep out of my way. He exercises no such fascination over me. I’m glad we made a fool of him at the masked ball, and if I ever get another chance to punish him, I shall make the most of it. Hilda, you don’t know how revengeful I feel toward that man for the way he has treated you!”
Rose found an opportunity to indulge her desire for revenge that very afternoon. The dull, sad stir about Miss Cobb’s boarding house foreboded dinnertime as effectually as any clock when she left the telephone to encounter Durant coming toward it.
He stood aside in the narrow front hall, and, bowing, waited for her to pass. Her disdainful nod caught his attention.
“I’ve had barely more than a glimpse of you lately. Have you been avoiding me?” he asked.
“I’ve had the same feeling regarding you, only in your case I thought I understood why,” she replied with coldness.
“I avoid you? But why?”
“You owe me a dinner.”
“Oh, on our wager the night of the masquerade? So I do.”
“Ah, you had forgotten it?” She enjoyed his dismay. “Suppose we make it to-night, before you overlook it again.”
“Splendid, only I—” he flushed.
“Only you have an engagement?” she demanded with scorn.
“No, I haven’t an engagement, but if you don’t mind I would prefer—”
“To make it some other night. Precisely,” she said with more scorn.
“Well—yes—I really would,” he floundered. “Especially as I happen to lack the money to pay for one to-night.”
This was enough for Rose. “Ah, and you are quite without credit, too?” she persisted.
“You seem determined that it shall be to-night,” he retorted.
“Not as determined as you are it shall not be.” His look of amazement wandered from her to the telephone. “Very well, we will make it tonight,” he said suddenly. “It is hazardous, without a cent, but if you insist—will you be ready soon after seven? And above all, prepare your soul for the fate you have brought upon yourself.”
Still unrelenting, she arrayed herself in her prettiest gown and descended to meet him.
“No, there’s no taxi,” he said, in answer to her glance up and down the street. “You didn’t believe me when I said I had no money, did you?”
“No, I thought you were putting off the day of reckoning.”
“The day of reckoning may be to-night. I told you the truth. Remember, I’m paying not only my dinner bet but at least one old score.”
“I’m not to be scared. What’s going to happen?”
“Almost anything. I’m warning you. It’s not too late to return to Miss Cobb’s for dinner.”
“I have a superstition against going back. Are you as anxious as all that to give it up?”
“No, I am only anxious not to have you reproach me at anything that happens.”
There was a sort of challenge in his tone. “Very well, I won’t, I promise you,” she agreed.
“And you won’t ask embarrassing questions?”
“Very well. Now for our dinner for two without a penny! I know a way of getting one under compulsion.”
They went up the brownstone steps leading to the inner vestibule of one of the pretentious houses in that conventional block. Rose observed the ostentatiously useless jardinere, and studied the tessellated floor in the outer vestibule, but asked no questions. A butler in evening dress opened the door and nodded to Durant with deferential familiarity. A maid, pretty, trim and silent, conducted her to a room upstairs. The room was a chamber completely furnished. At its left was a cheval glass. Between the front windows was a dresser supplied with all accessories of the toilet, including a tiny make-up box. Rose noticed that there was a preposterous little tinkling French clock on the mantel over the open fireplace guessing the time o’ day at twenty minutes past seven. The trim maid stood waiting patiently.
“Dinner is to be served at what hour?” Rose asked.
“At half past seven, ma’am. Can I be of any service?”
Rose sent her away and freshened her own toilet. At half past seven to a second the trim maid, waiting outside the door, led her to a lavishly furnished drawing-room on the floor below, where Durant awaited her.
“Did you ask any questions of the maid?” he inquired.
“Only the hour for dinner.”
“By Jove, you’ve got courage!” he exclaimed with admiration.
“Yes, it sometimes goes by that name.” She smiled.
The functionary who had opened the door announced dinner. They entered the dining room. In its center was a large round table profusely decorated with flowers and gleaming with glass and silver. It was set for six.
“We won’t wait. Will you sit here at my left?” Rose sat where she was requested, and the butler left the room. She glanced at the four unoccupied seats at the big table and she smiled.
“Still no questions?”
She shook her head.
“How much have you guessed?”
“That you are leading a double life, and this is where you spend lavishly your ill-gotten gains.”
He laughed long and loud; the careworn, reckless look on his face when she had first met him vanished; in its place settled that lively zest for the day which had been there before his difference with Hilda Cabot.
“You realize that this is a private house, and yet don’t want to withdraw?” he inquired with admiration.
His delight was not to be withstood. Rose began to feel the fascination at which she had demurred in Hilda. “Withdraw!” she mocked. She dipped her spoon into the consomme with a relish that spoke for itself.
“The disadvantages of dining will, I hope, some day be solved,” he pronounced with a whimsical ponderousness. “If one dines in the music and chatter of a public dining room, one has at least a form of privacy. If one dines in a privacy like this, one escapes the music and chatter, but gives up all privacy because servants have ears.”
“There is no compensation for living richly and luxuriously—the rich and luxurious tell us so,” she responded satirically.
“How have I earned the right to eat richly sauced foods, served amid flowers and silver on shining damask; how have I earned the right while untold thousands starve for lack of a crust of bread!”
“Bromide! The rich foods are making you maudlin. Soon you will be breaking into tears.”
They both laughed; a new friendship was started. The dinner and their good feeling toward one another progressed without hindrance or shortcoming.
“Goodness, how we are racing,” she complained at the game course. “It reminds me of the food-to-face scrambles in my one-night-stand past.”
“Those without money eat fast. We are hurrying so that we may escape without paying the bill.”
“The watch over us has relaxed. Our lord-duke-earl, the butler, has left us alone for a strangely long time,” she suggested.
“Yes, and now I have my long-waited-for opportunity to explain. You haven’t asked any questions, so it’s a delight. This is the house of the Bunces. When I invited you for to-night I—”
Durant’s words froze on his lips. In the doorway stood a young girl. She wore over her hat and head a filmy chiffon veil or scarf, hinting that she had just come from a long automobile drive. The veil was raised, revealing eyes ablaze, and a face white with anger. Behind her stood the butler, his stiffness gone, cowering.
Durant rose. Mildred Bunce’s silent, icy look left the table with its four empty seats, flicked him with a quick touch of scorn, and settled upon Rose.
“Do you mind telling me who you are, and how you came to be dining in my house?” she demanded of Rose.
Durant waved for her not to answer. “I am responsible for that, and I will do all the explaining,” he said, “but first allow me to introduce you to—”
“I don’t care to meet a woman who comes to dine in my house when we are away.” Mildred advanced frostily into the dining room. Simms, the butler, followed abjectly.
Durant winced as a fiery blush spread over Rose’s face. He turned and confronted Mildred. “My guest—since you don’t care to meet her, she unquestionably doesn’t care to meet you—my guest was not aware either that this was your house or that she was to dine alone with me in a private house. That is all the explanation I care to make before servants. Simms, you may leave us,” he ordered.
“No, Simms, you may stay.” Mildred caught the departing butler by his sleeve. “Any explanation this woman may care to make must be good enough for you as well as me.”
Durant flushed. “Pardon me, I have already told you that I alone have anything to explain. Simms, you may go,” he said again and quietly.
“This is my house. Simms shall not go.”
“Simms, did you hear me?” Durant’s voice changed, took on a threatening quality.
“Yes, sir, but—” Simms stood in trembling indecision looking from the man he feared to the woman’s hand holding him by the sleeve.
“Simms, get out of here before I come and kick you out,” cried Durant, losing patience.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Thanking you, sir.” Simms freed himself with a sudden jerk, and bolted through the door.
Mildred looked at Durant long and venomously. “And I mistook you for a gentleman,” she said at last sneeringly.
“I am sorry. Now may I explain?” he asked humbly.
“No. I don’t care to hear any explanation of yours,” Mildred declared hotly. “You’re a swindler and a scoundrel! If I were only a man I’d take you out and throw you into the gutter where you belong. Oh, don’t think I don’t see you in your true colors at last.”
Durant smiled. “You may say what you like about me,” he said calmly, “but perhaps you would like to know before you go on that your father told me only this afternoon to use this house just as if it were my own.”
“Do you think that excuses you for doing what you have?”
“Yes—if he meant it.”
“That may excuse you, but it doesn’t excuse this woman.” Mildred’s glare dropped before his, turned upon Rose. “Have you known this gentleman longer than to-night?” she demanded spitefully.
Rose flushed, but answered despite Richard’s protest. “Yes, it happens that I have known him slightly longer than that,” she said coolly.
“Long enough to excuse you for dining alone with him in the house of a woman to whom he was engaged?”
“Engaged!” Rose sprang to her feet.
“Was engaged. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I would allow it to outlast this.”
The question on Rose’s lips went unasked as she noticed the effect of this announcement on Durant. He stood absolutely still, staring at Mildred as if incredulous of what he had heard. “Then there was some ground for that rumor that reached Miss Cabot,” he said at last more than half to himself.
Mildred laughed scoffingly.
Something in her laugh evidently made him start, look at her a moment, and then bend sharply toward her. “Did you telephone Miss Cabot that it was untrue, as you agreed?” he demanded.
“Yes.” The answer was ready.
“When?” The question leaped from Rose’s mouth.
“I don’t see how that can possibly concern you.”
“It does concern me. It—” Rose stammered.
At a sudden sense of the disclosure to which her warm impulse was bearing her, she stopped, and looked unhappily from one to the other, her face suffused, the color streaming like fire down her neck and arms. They were both staring at her, waiting for her to explain. Suddenly she realized that she was on her feet. She was saying something that sounded strange to her. And then she fled.
She came downstairs a few minutes later, however, with her composure quite regained and with her mind steeled to some parting conventional words with the daughter of the house. Durant, alone and habited for the street, pacing up and down the front hall, appeared to guess her intention. With a slight shake of the head he advised against it. He held open the door in silence and followed her mutely through it out upon the sidewalk.
“I’m sorry. I’m deeply sorry that my perverseness got you into so much trouble,” she murmured as they turned toward home.
His eyes opened wide with astonishment. “Miss Sherwood, you’re the most amazing woman,” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Here you are saying this to me when—why, if I apologized from now until the crack of doom I realize that I couldn’t begin to make up for the awful situation into which I led you.”
“Don’t. Don’t apologize,” she said meekly, “you only increase my regret at what I forced you into.”
“May I explain?” he asked.
“If you wish to.”
He nodded. “The Bunces were to entertain the Hollinses at dinner to-night and I was invited to fill in,” he began. “Late this afternoon I was in the Adams House when Mr. Bunce came hurrying out of the barber shop. The Hollinses were unable to come. The dinner was off. He had telephoned his wife and daughter to remain at Weston, where they were visiting, as he had to leave town. He had attended to everything except notifying his servants and he had to catch a train. Would I telephone Simms, his butler, that the dinner was off? Of course, I agreed. He started away, and then came hurrying back to reproach me for ever having left his house. ‘It’s yours. Use it just as if it were your own, and the sky’s the limit,’ he said before he ran away to make his train.”
Durant laughed, but whether at this or at what was to follow, one could not have told. “I went upstairs in the hotel to telephone,” he went on, “and I found I didn’t have money enough. I went down to the office to do it from there and the office was closed. Then I remembered that I could use the telephone at Miss Cobb’s. I was on my way down the hall to use her telephone when I met you and thought what a joke it would be to take Mr. Bunce at his word, allow the dinner to be served, and invite you to it. I did it on the spur of the moment. I never dreamed it would end as it did. I’ve been thinking all this time that the bottom of the river is the only place for me.”
Rose held up her hand. “Don’t say another word about that,” she protested. “I am rather glad that everything happened just as it did.”
He looked at her wonderingly.
“Did you know that Miss Bunce never telephoned denying that rumor as she said she would?” Rose asked after a moment.
“What? No! You mean she never sent Miss Cabot any word at all?” Durant’s look was blank.
“No.” Rose studied him, indulging a warm impulse to remove at least one slur from his name. It grew as she thought of the emergency into which she had forced him, the manner in which he had conducted himself, and the way he had assumed all the blame. She could withstand it no longer as she noted the troubled silence into which her news had driven him. She stopped.
Durant stopped, too, and he looked at her with amazement. They were in front of Hilda’s house. “You—you are going to stop here?” he asked with excitement.
“Yes. I have something to tell Miss Cabot.”
“Oh!” He looked at her eagerly, seemed about to ask her to do something, then to brush the idea aside. “Shall I wait for you?” he inquired after a moment.
“No. Good night.” Rose held out her hand. Then, actuated by another warm impulse, she bent toward him and whispered, “I want to tell her.”
Durant asked no questions. He merely reached forward and took her hand in both of his.
“Miss Sherwood, you’re a trump!” was all he said.
Rose was almost ominously reticent with Durant the next morning. She told him nothing except that, if he cared to call, Hilda Cabot would receive him. But this bare fact appeared to be enough. He thanked her profusely, and the pace at which he hurried to the Cabot house showed how brisk were his hopes.
The butler wavered an instant before ushering him into the front parlor. The haste with which he bore Durant’s card upstairs was rather unbutlerlike. And soon a door above was closed. If Durant recognized the fine, clear ring of that voice as Hilda’s he could no longer hear what she was demanding of someone whose wishes evidently crossed hers.
It was several minutes before Hilda came down, and her face was flushed as from argument. She received Durant with a new yet smiling seriousness which he evidently regarded as auspicious after her light, bantering, tantalizing treatment of the past.
“I am deeply, humbly sorry for what I credited against you,” she said immediately, “so sorry that I want you to realize fully how delighted I am that this matter has been cleared up.”
“Let’s not say another word about it, if you are willing,” he replied. “Of course, it is something that I cannot explain without appearing to act like a cad toward another woman, but”—he hesitated— “but I do want you to know that I was neither engaged nor attentive to any other woman while I—while I was saying what I—”
“Let’s not say anything about that either,” she interrupted hastily.
“Please. There is another story about you that’s troubling me.”
“Troubling you! Another story about me!” He gazed at her in amazement.
“Yes.” She blushed; her eyes left his before she went on. “Do you remember that the first time I met you I warned you of a risk you were running by remaining here?”
He nodded, his eyes fixed on her lips, as if to read her meaning ahead of her words.
“I was acting hardly better than an anonymous correspondent then, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t say more. I had been given information, but only after promising to hold it in the strictest confidence.”
“Certain information? Do you mean certain information against me?”
“No—-yes—I can’t quite make up my mind.”
“But”—he looked at her long and searchingly— “but if you have heard anything against me, it seems to me I have a right to know it.”
“I can tell you now. I have been released from my promise.”
“Ah!” He took a long breath. “What is it? Why did you think it necessary to warn me to leave Boston?”
“Because I happened to know that another Lord Bellmere was here.”
“Another Lord Bellmere!” He started, started perceptibly, and seemed too astonished to hold any other thought. “Another Lord Bellmere!” he repeated, staring at her.
“Another Lord Bellmere!” He seemed at last to pull himself together. “But what has that got to do with me?” he asked suddenly.
It was Hilda’s turn to be astonished. “Why, you—I thought—you claim to be Lord Bellmere, don’t you?”
“But then how—” she paused, her confusion taking on a look of pain, her look of pain changing to one of disdain.
His eyes fell before it. “I regret to disappoint you,” he murmured.
“But everyone has been led to believe that you are Lord Bellmere.”
“Led to believe? By whom?”
“By the Bunces and the others whom they told.”
“The Bunces? They had no authority, no reason, no excuse to make any such claim for me. A nice position they have put me into! Confound it, I could—” he appeared with an effort to gain control of himself, the flash in his eye died out, he gazed at her mournfully. “Is it possible that our acquaintance is due only to the fact that you believed me to be Lord Bellmere?” he asked gently.
She did not answer; she merely looked at him. “American girls have an exalted regard for titles,” he kept on.
“That’s a libel on us. I know dozens of girls that have married men instead of titles.”
“And you? What if a man came here, as I have, his people unknown, saying nothing about himself, beginning all over, intent only on making a place all by himself in a new city? Could you like such a man—just for himself?”
“I warned you. I liked you well enough to do that,” she faltered, blushing.
His face grew luminous. He took a step toward her. “Then what does all this matter?” he exclaimed triumphantly.
Her eyes widened. She retreated a step. “You mean—”
“I mean let’s not say anything more about it.
“You don’t seem quite so sure now.”
“I—I—it has gone too far.” She sank helplessly into a chair. “I have arranged for this other Lord Bellmere to meet you.”
“Brooke!” His eyes left hers nervously, came back. “Oh, so it was his title you thought I was usurping? That was why you warned me?”
“He told me—no one but me—that he was Lord Bellmere, here incognito. There couldn’t be two Lord Bellmeres—one must be an impostor—and so I—”
“And so you planned to bring us together to learn for yourself which one of us was the impostor?”
The hardness of his tone seemed at last to touch her spirit. She rose and surveyed him with her blue eyes grown cold, cold as the distant sky on a winter day. “You seem strangely to dread meeting Mr. Brooke,” she accused him.
“No. I object only to having it arranged for me. As a matter of fact, I shall make it a point to see him, and at once. If you will excuse me, I’ll go and attend to that now.” Durant moved hastily toward the door.
“Wait a moment, if you please!”
She rose, and touched the bell. There were a few moments of tense silence, during which neither moved nor looked at the other. Then, instead of the butler, into the room sauntered Cornwallis Brooke.
The two men nodded. Brooke took his stand by the side of Hilda, as if called to her protection; he nodded to her reassuringly, then turned slowly toward Durant as if reluctant for the task he faced. He smiled affably as if he would condone for his unpleasant duty in advance. He waited, as if putting off until the last minute an action for which he had no relish; he waited, as if preferring that the matter should be first broached by Durant.
And Durant, cold and frowning, seemed loath also to speak the opening word. He stood by the door toward which he had started, moving not a step either away or nearer, his eyes fixed watchfully on Brooke and Hilda, as if to miss not a sign or move. And his silence seemed to insist on it. It was Brooke who spoke first.
“Dash it, Durant,” Brooke broke out at last affably, “I’d have avoided this if I could.”
“Yes, I imagine so.” Durant’s slight emphasis on the “imagine” insinuated things.
Brooke passed it by. “Sorry, but you can’t go about using other people’s titles without getting into hot water sooner or later. On my word, you can’t.”
“I have small use for any title of yours, Brooke.” The affront was too cool to be overlooked. Hilda saw the look of angry astonishment spreading over Brooke’s face. She hastily touched his arm. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you, Cornwallis,” she stated quickly, “Mr. Durant says he doesn’t claim to be Lord Bellmere, that the Bunces started that story without authority, reason, or excuse.”
“So?” Brooke’s frown vanished; he smiled a moment before it returned. “But that hardly lets him out.” He turned abruptly from her to Durant. “You know, don’t you, that this doesn’t let you out?” he demanded.
“Don’t lean too hard on any mistaken notion that I feel responsible to you.”
Brooke waived the insult in his tone. “You know, don’t you, that it is not enough for you to stop laying hands on my title; that it is quite as much of an imposture, that it is even more offensive to me, to have you continue to call yourself Richard Durant?”
“Oh, so you propose to leave me no name at all?” Durant’s lips curled with a slight smile. He seemed unastonished at the sudden change of ground, without intention of asking the questions that would explain it. It was Hilda who broke out:
“But why—why? I thought—”
“Durant knows.” Brooke looked significantly from her to him.
“Perhaps you had better tell Miss Cabot. I would like to hear just how much you do know.”
“I like your nerve, Durant.”
“I can say as much as that for you.”
“Prodigious! You insist?”
“Oh, now, I don’t like to rub it in, you know.” Brooke waited for another nod before turning to Hilda. “I haven’t told you,” he stated, “because I felt it would be acting like a rotter, but Durant is our family name. I have a younger brother named Richard Durant. That name might have belonged to this man, too; I gave him credit for the possibility until I learned that he was claiming my title, also, until the two things together put the coincidence beyond the range of chance. Yet, even then, I held off, because he was a sort of protege of yours, because—well, hang it, some people did regard him as a sort of rival of mine. And then at last, when I start to take him down a peg or two, this blown-out impostor stands up to me, tries to face me down. I’m glad I’ve seen it through. I’m glad I’ve settled the whole matter for you for once and all. I have, haven’t I?”
Hilda’s eyes had dropped before Brooke’s as if she herself were the real culprit. Throughout his explanation, she played nervously with the linked stones of the emerald necklace about her neck. At his question, she querulously freed the necklace from her neck and tossed it upon the center table. “You’ve settled much, but not everything,” she exclaimed. She turned suddenly toward Durant. “Have you nothing to say to all this?” she demanded.
“Much, if you are sure you care to hear it.”
“I do, that is—” Her embarrassment at his insinuation made her pause. “Yes, I do,” she admitted steadfastly.
“Though you only half care, still I have something to say.” Durant moved over to the center table, stood with one hand upon it like an attorney about to examine a witness, turned toward Brooke. “You claim to be Lord Bellmere. What right have you to that title?” he inquired sharply.
“What right have I to that title?” Brooke flushed at the sudden question, came angrily toward him at the table, then appeared suddenly to change his mind. “None at all, you know, except the right of birth,” he replied with urbanity.
“Where?” Brooke smiled. “In Surrey, to be sure.”
“What parents do you also claim?”
Brooke laughed. “Pater, the Earl of Ashburton; mater, the Hon. Marianna Westover.”
“This brother Richard that you likewise claim, where is he now?”
“Bless me, let me see! It’s May now, isn’t it? In London probably.”
“How would you recognize him if you met him?”
“The beggar would be likely to borrow a bit more money.”
Durant appeared to repress his smile. “Who was the seventh Earl of Ashburton?”
“Oh, now, I say,” Brooke made a gesture of impatience. “I didn’t come here to submit to an examination into my whole family tree.”
“Your answers have been strangely correct so far.”
“How in the deuce would you know whether they were correct or not?”
“I have certain means of knowing.”
Brooke roared; he seemed unable to control his laughter. “He has certain means of knowing— Burke’s Peerage!—I say, Miss Cabot, I have an athletic heart—please ask him not to make me laugh like this.”
“Keep on. You’ve got a right to the first laugh. Better make it a long one.” Durant smiled.
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t answered my last question.”
“No, but who’s on trial here—you or I? You’ve asked me a bally lot of questions, young man, and now I propose to ask you one. Only one. How old are you?”
“Eh, twenty-five, are you?” Brooke bent on Hilda a look full of significance. “Something the matter with your arithmetic, young man, or else you should study your Burke better. If you’ll take my advice, you’ll cut and run before certain important discrepancies in your information are called to the attention of the police.”
“The running is to be all yours,” retorted Durant.
“A rat cornered! Why shouldn’t one give it a chance to escape?” Brooke approached Hilda, taking leave.
“Brooke, you are no more Lord Bellmere than the cook in the kitchen is.”
“I’d expose you in a minute if it were not for one thing.”
Durant moved forward, intercepted him on the way to the door. “I can find you at your rooms within half an hour?”
“Bluff! Sheer American bluff!”
Durant laughed. “I’ll be there. See that you are. We’ll settle this matter soon enough,” he declared confidently.
“It’s settled already, all except—” Brooke did not finish; he looked at Hilda as if he relied upon her to administer the coup de grace. Then, with the triumphant smile of a man who has acquitted himself creditably of an unpleasant task, he disappeared through the door.
For a moment Hilda hesitated, then she ran after him. She caught him at the outer door.
“Cornwallis,” she whispered, “you won’t do anything about this—not for a while? You’ll leave it in my hands?”
“The bounder treated me pretty shabbily,” he objected.
Brooke turned from her to look out through the open door. “He admitted he was twenty-five, and you remember I showed you in Burke that the present Lord Bellmere must be thirty-three—you want more?” he asked, frowning.
“Only a day or two more.” Hilda bent eagerly toward him.
Brooke sighed. “Well, I suppose I’ve got to allow it because you ask it,” he grudged, “but I’m sorry you’re so interested in the beggar.”
“Thank you. You’re a dear, Cornwallis!” Hilda bent affectionately forward, and rewarded him with a parting pat on his shoulder.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Cabot.”
Hilda turned to find Durant standing, hat in hand, directly behind her in the hall. She blushed, wondering if he had overheard.
“This matter of a title seems to be of vast importance to you,” he broke out severely before she could speak.
“Mr. Durant! How can you think that of me?” she demanded, repressing her anger.
“Then why all this?”
“Put yourself in my place. Suppose two men both claiming—”
“I have never claimed to be Lord Bellmere. I am only claiming that Brooke isn’t. Nothing can prove that Brooke is Lord Bellmere, for he isn’t.”
“But, if you are not, how can you be so positive that he is not?”
“That is something that I will settle conclusively —and with him.”
“But why not with me, here and now?” she looked at him imploringly.
“Are you as deeply interested as that in Mr. Cornwallis Brooke?”
“You have no right to ask me a question like that.”
“No, I perceive I haven’t.” He looked at her angrily. “But I hoped I had. Good morning.”
“Good morning.” She bowed coldly and allowed him to proceed to the door alone. It closed after him. For several seconds she stood gazing at its opaque pane. Then suddenly she started, and ran back into the parlor. She cast one quick, hopeful glance at the center table and then stood looking at it in hopeless dismay. The emerald necklace was gone!
In a frenzy of haste she removed everything from the table, searched the floor in its neighborhood, then stood staring vacantly at it.
“One of them must have taken it. But which one? Which one? How am I to know?”
The high pitch, the little break in her cry carried through the still house, as she never knew. The soft-footed butler entered, asked if she had called him, went away—unheard. She remained standing motionless in the center of the room, still staring vacantly at the table as if it alone could answer her question. After a long time she crept over to the couch and threw herself face down upon it. But if she were baffled, dismayed, heart-broken, she did not sob. Not a sound came from her.
The single gas jet in Rose’s front hall room dropped to a spindling flame. The two occupants looked at each other through the dim, shadowy gloom.
“Everybody stays in these rainy nights, so there isn’t gas enough to go around,” explained David.
Rose nodded. “Did Mr. Durant go out? He isn’t in his room, is he?” she asked.
“I knocked on his door, but there was no answer,” replied David. He frowned and looked at her furtively a number of times before adding, “Seems to me you’re getting more and more interested in the goings and comings of our star boarder.”
“Not so much, David, that you have any cause to be silly and jealous again,” cautioned Rose.
“Well, I’m from Missouri, the land of doubt and mules,” rejoined David. “I can’t help it, Rose. You know that I like you, and, liking you, I can’t stand still and see you get mixed up with a man who’s going under soon, surer than death. I don’t blame you for looking at me that way, but listen to this. Late last night I heard Durant stealing out of the house as usual. I did a dirty thing. I followed him. He had a bundle under his arm, and he went to one of the worst-known ‘fences’ on Eliot Street. He came out without his bundle, and this morning, instead of borrowing more money from me, he paid me five dollars on what he owed me. No, Rose, I’m not assuming that this indicates anything more than that he’s near the end of his rope. That’s all I want to prove to you. And, more than that, did you ever know there were some men who had eyes of different colors? Well, a man with one black and one purple eye has been at the office twice to-day trying to find Durant. He was a little wharf-rat of a man, shifting eyes and a sneaking gait. He looked like a crook, and I couldn’t get a word out of him— not even his name.”
“David! I made a mistake in ever telling you anything about poor Mr. Durant.”
“No. No, you didn’t.” David met her eyes calmly. “I only want to prove to you that he must be near the end of his rope. And listen to this: I’m going to quit Bunce within a few days.”
Rose regarded him with astonishment. “Why, David! what will they do without you?”
“That’s his lookout. I’ve been saving up, intending to go on to New York, and start a trade paper of my own for some time, and Bunce did something underhand to-day to Durant that I simply couldn’t stand for.”
“To Mr. Durant?”
“Yes. Some time ago Bunce had me pay an automobile repair shop a bill of about two hundred dollars for fixing up his car after that accident. Well, he must have soured on Durant pretty strong since, though he never lets on to his face, for to-day he called up that repair shop, told them to send back his money, and to get after Durant for it. ‘I’ll pay you again if you don’t get it from him,’ I heard Bunce say, ‘but I want you to put it in your lawyer’s hands, and push him hard for it just as soon as you can.’ ”
“The contemptible beast!” Rose’s eyes flashed. “Of course, he must know that Mr. Durant can’t pay it. If he dislikes Durant so, why does he keep him in his employ?”
David smiled. “Oh, only because Durant is earning thirty to forty dollars a week for him more than the ten he’s paying him. That’s what I can’t stand for. Bunce treats him like a lord to his face and then pulls this on him.”
There was a long silence, then Rose’s dark eyes gleamed. “But, David!” she exclaimed.
“What?” he demanded.
“You do like Mr. Durant, then. You wouldn’t give up your position on his account if you didn’t.”
“Well, he isn’t a piker like Bunce,” grudged David. “I can’t help liking him in spite of everything. I’ve lent him money and I’ll lend him more. If I were only out of Bunce’s employ already, I’d tip him on in a minute to what’s up. They’re liable to railroad him to jail if that bill isn’t paid. I wonder if I ought not to tell him anyway.” David’s gaze dropped to the floor.
Rose regarded him proudly, affectionately, until he looked up. Then she blushed, and looked hastily away. “I don’t think I would, David,” she said softly. “Probably it will all come out right without your interference.” She went on to talk about other things, but presently she grew absorbed. When he rose earlier than usual to go to his room she did not attempt to lengthen his stay. “Yes, David, perhaps you’d better go,” she agreed. “I’ve got to go downstairs to telephone. It’s too rainy to go out, isn’t it?” she asked inconsequently.
But after he had gone she seemed of two minds as to telephoning. She sank back in her chair, and seemed to meditate deeply. At last she started up impulsively to the door. Just as she put her hand on the knob, there came a knock. Rose opened the door, and her face lighted up.
Outside stood Hilda, her long, dark raincoat drenched, but her blue eyes sparkling and her cheeks pink and damp.
“I couldn’t stay inside a minute longer, it was such a wonderful, blustery, rainy night,” she explained, carefully closing the door behind her, “so I slipped out unnoticed and ran down to see you for a few minutes.”
“Oh, I’ve got so much to tell you! I was about to telephone,” exclaimed Rose, tearing Hilda’s raincoat and umbrella from her.
“Oh, I’ve got so much to tell you!” retorted Hilda, laughing. “Is he in?” she asked almost in the same breath, pointing toward the next room.
Rose shook her head. “You abandoned creature, running after him on a night like this! If he only knew!”
“Rose, you’re so witty!” Hilda turned her back, apparently to release her raincoat. “You know I don’t care for him in the way you suspect. What’s your news?” she demanded with haste.
“Well, so long as you have only a friendly interest in the young man, it is easier—much easier to tell you.” Rose sat down in a chair facing her visitor, a look of gentle satire on her face. It vanished. “Hilda, dear,” she exclaimed after a moment, “wouldn’t it be startling if it turned out that neither of them was Lord Bellmere?”
Hilda’s sage shake of her head seemed to dispose of the possibility.
“But, Hilda, each one says that the other isn’t, and—it’s shameful of me, but I couldn’t help hearing Mr. Durant trying wildly again and again the past few days to get Mr. Brooke on the telephone. He really seems to be determined to have it out with him. He wouldn’t do that unless he knew that Mr. Brooke was an impostor, would he?”
Hilda smiled. “Mr. Durant doesn’t claim that he’s Lord Bellmere, you mustn’t overlook that, Rose. And as for Mr. Brooke—well, I’ve received almost infallible proof to-day that he is. That’s what I came to tell you.”
“Oh, I’m so disappointed! Tell me.”
“Rose, you know you don’t care whether Mr. Durant is a lord or not except—”
“Except for your sake. Yes, but tell me, tell me!’’ Hilda laughed—a little too long. “Well,” she began hastily, “the English Consul here is an acquaintance of ours, and I heard that he had been at a house party with Lord Bellmere last Summer. So I made a point of being at the Country Club this afternoon when I knew he was to be there, and asked him to describe Lord Bellmere to me. He described Mr. Brooke.”
“No, I was really relieved. Mr. Durant doesn’t claim that he is Lord Bellmere, so you mustn’t think of him as an impostor.”
“No, but—” Rose hesitated.
“No, but what?”
“Why should Mr. Durant declare that Mr. Brooke isn’t?”
“I don’t know, Rose.” A look of perplexity came over Hilda’s face that she drove away with a forced smile. “But you said you had some news, didn’t you?” she demanded quickly.
“Yes, but it means more trouble for poor Mr. Durant.” Rose told her of Bunce’s action in regard to the automobile bill.
“Poor fellow! I’m so sorry for him,” murmured Hilda. A look of deep concern came over her face, but she said nothing more.
Rose told her of the suspicious-looking character who had attempted to find Durant at the office.
“But, Hilda, dear, you aren’t listening,” she complained. “I don’t believe you’ve heard a word of what I’ve just been telling you.”
Hilda started guiltily. “Yes, I have, Rose.” She made a conscious effort. “It was about a doubtful-looking character who called on Mr. Durant.” The faraway look left her blue eyes. “He had one black and one purple eye. Strange!” She started again. “There was just such a man waiting in the hall when I came up.”
“Ssshh!” Rose put a finger to her lips, kept silent until the sounds in the hall ceased and the door of the adjoining room closed. “Well, he seems to have waited until Mr. Durant came in,” she observed.
Hilda again seemed abstracted. “I can’t help feeling responsible for that automobile bill. I wonder if I ought not to do something about it,” she said more than half to herself.
Rose was not listening. “Whoever his caller is, they seem to be having high words,” she exclaimed.
“Rose, dear, do you think you could manage somehow to pay it for me—without his knowing anything about it.”
“Yes, Hilda, but listen!”
They heard the door of the next room thrown violently open and Durant’s voice, low but vibrating with anger, sounded through their own closed door.
“Get out, you treacherous little sneak. Don’t you dare show your face here again!” he stormed. Then his door slammed.
They heard his visitor laugh sneeringly, and then shuffle down the hall.
“Whoever his caller was, he didn’t stay long,” commented Rose. “And listen to that. He’s opening the windows to air out the room.”
Hilda made no response. The two girls merely looked at each other.
“I wonder if David can be right,” mused Rose.
“I wonder—” but she did not give voice to her misgivings; instead she indulged them in silence. “Yes, Hilda,” she announced at last, “I’ll pay that bill for you. And from now on I’m going to make it a point to keep you from getting involved in the affairs of Mr. Richard Durant No, Hilda, you mustn’t go now. Not just this minute—unless you want to meet him in the hall. He is going out.”
Cornwallis Brooke stepped out of the elevator and crossed the dimly lighted hall to his bachelor apartment in the Guernsey. The elevator descended with a wheeze. Brooke removed the key from the lock, thrust the door wide open, and passed confidently into his own hall. He did not hear or see the figure that flitted quickly through the door behind him. Not until he turned to close it did he observe the man who had attended to this for him.
“Who—who—” Brooke’s question was choked off by surprise. He assumed an attitude of defense against the ominous, dimly outlined figure standing in the dark between him and the door.
“Now don’t start anything, and you won’t have anything to regret,” warned the man with his back to the door.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Brooke found voice at last to ask.
“Turn on the light,” ordered his visitor.
The voice was peremptory. Brooke backed toward the end of the hall where the light switch was located, keeping his face toward the intruder.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he exclaimed with relief when he saw that his visitor was Richard Durant.
“There, that’s better. It’s your own fault that I had to surprise you like this.” Durant walked calmly past him into the living room unbidden.
Brooke swallowed visibly. “I don’t mind the bit of a scare,” he said warming, “but how and why in the devil you sneaked in here I’d like to know.”
Durant turned and faced him without removing his raincoat. “You escaped me several times when I telephoned I was coming to see you, didn’t you?”
“I was called out—unexpectedly.”
“You left orders with your man to tell anybody who telephoned that he didn’t know when you were going to be here, didn’t you?”
“You seem a bit sure of all that.”
“I am. I came up here myself this afternoon. You were here upon a number of occasions when I telephoned.”
“Well, what if I was?”
“So to-night I came up here—late—waited in the hall until you got back, and slipped in behind you. I was as determined to see you as you were not to see me.”
“Oh, I say, don’t be so bally theatrical about it all. What do you want?”
“Hadn’t you better close a few of these doors before I begin to tell you?”
“Very well.” Durant walked quietly to the big chair beside the center table, sat down, deposited his hat on the floor at his side, and waited.
Brooke watched him, fidgeted. “Well, I suppose I might close this one for your sake,” he grudged.
He turned and closed the door leading from the living room to the rear of the apartment. Then he took a position on the other side of the table from his visitor.
“Well?” he demanded, his eyes flicking to and from Durant, as if uncertain as to the meaning of his visit.
“You know what I’m here for.” Durant did not bother even to turn toward him. “There isn’t room for us two in the same city any longer.”
“No.” Brooke laughed grimly. “You must have found it decidedly embarrassing. Two Lord Bellmeres! And in a city like Boston, where bogus lords and counts and dukes have made the game so common! Old top, now why in the world didn’t you look the ground over first, and decide to be a prince, a rajah or something different? And me, the original Lord Bellmere, right here on the ground, to spoil your chance from the start. But I’m interested. What possessed you to make such a silly ass of yourself?”
“Are you going to give up that title and leave town or not?”
Brooke’s eyes widened at the peremptory tone. He became more serious. “Why? Do you intend to declare yourself Lord Bellmere? Are you going to bring it down to a question of birthmarks and thumb prints?”
“I merely intend to prove beyond all question that you’re an impostor.”
“Ah, going to play it safe, admit that you’re not Lord Bellmere yourself, say that the Bunces made a mistake, and cast all the suspicion on me, are you?”
“Why make all this unnecessary trouble for me? Why not be reasonable? Why not—” Brooke stopped as one who prepares to offer a bribe.
Durant looked at him with contempt. For the first time he raised his voice a little. “I am going to drive you out of here at any cost,” he said, “not for my own sake, but to protect a certain woman.”
“Oh!” Brooke bent toward him. “I see. Just to gain ground with her?”
“No. I no longer have anything to gain by doing that.”
Brooke stared at him with doubt in his look; then, as if convinced, he drew quietly back, relieved. His eyes glistened happily as if that statement made his own way clear; he tugged at his mustache thoughtfully as if he saw his own plan perfected to the last detail.
“You say you can prove that I am not Lord Bellmere. Why didn’t you do so before Miss Cabot?” he asked at last.
“Because I wanted to give you a chance—and because her house was scarcely the place for us two men to have it out. Also I had another reason.”
“Right-O! Something of a gentleman even if you are a crook, aren’t you? I presume you didn’t even tell her that you were coming here to-night?” Brooke’s look had a certain sly eagerness which he kept from his voice.
“No, neither her nor anyone else, but”—Durant jerked his chair round and faced him across the table—“what I want to learn from you is whether you’re going, or whether it’s a fight here to a finish? Look here, now, Brooke, answer me! Which is it to be? Are you going or not?”
“What if I tell you I’m not going?”
Durant pointed to the telephone on the table between them. “See that? I use your telephone to call up a New York lawyer named Stackpole. Know who he is? Well, don’t answer, if you dislike to show your ignorance. But it may help if I inform you that he represents the Earl of Ashburton’s interests in this country. I call him up, and tell him he must take the midnight train over here to expose an impostor representing himself to be Lord Bellmere. Will he come, do you think?”
Brooke grinned. “Well, rather, but, old top, why take all this trouble to expose yourself, also?”
“Never mind about me. Just think of yourself. Are you going?”
“Funny thing about that.” Brooke rose unperturbed, as if about to relate a humorous story.
“Are you going?” Durant rose impatiently.
“Funny thing about that.” Brooke calmly signed for him to follow. At the door of the adjoining chamber he pointed to his trunks and hand luggage all packed and ready to close. “The joke of it all is that you’ll think you drove me away when I am absolutely obliged to go to New York on business of my own.”
“That’s all right, so long as you leave.” Durant returned to the table and resumed his seat. “Berth engaged?”
“No. Plenty of time for that to-morrow.” Brooke moved leisurely back to his place on the other side of the table.
“To-morrow?” Durant eyed him fixedly. “Brooke, you leave on the midnight to-night.”
“Oh, I say, you’re bally mistaken about that.”
“Either you call up the station and make a reservation for to-night or I call up New York.”
“But I can’t possibly leave to-night.”
“Why can’t you?”
“None of your damned business.” Brooke sank into the chair on his side of the table, fell into a surly silence, but from the corner of his eye, slyly, he kept watch.
“You go to-night or—”
Brooke apparently paid no attention.
Durant waited a moment; then he drew the telephone toward him. “Hello, I want long distance,” he announced into the receiver. He glanced toward Brooke while he waited, then: “I want to talk to New York City. The name of the man I want is Stackpole, Eugene Stackpole—yes, that’s right. He’s a lawyer and I want you to get him at his home, 20 East Sixtieth Street. Yes, 20—that’s right. It’s important, will you hur—”
Durant stopped abruptly. Brooke had risen from his seat on the other side of the table, was bending across, waving for him to call it off. “Wait a minute,” he called hastily into the receiver, “don’t get that number for me unless I call again.” He hung up the receiver and turned expectantly toward Brooke.
Brooke stood still bent toward him, both hands resting upon the other side of the table, his eyes fixed on Durant as if calculating every word and expression. “I told you I couldn’t go to-night,” he began slowly. “I can’t. No, don’t call up again until I explain why,” he exclaimed as Durant made an impatient move toward the telephone. “Listen!” His voice dropped. “I have some letters and other things that I must return to a certain young woman here before leaving town. That alone is my reason for staying on. I can’t tell you any more, but that ought to be enough.”
“Letters? Yes.” It was Durant’s eyes that dropped this time, but his voice when he finally went on was inflexible. “You can send them by mail,” he advised coldly.
“I don’t care to.”
“You can send them by messenger.”
“I don’t care to.”
Durant turned uneasily away. “Very well, I will return them for you myself,” he said after a time.
“I don’t care to have you.”
Brooke shot a quick look at Durant. It was not as harassed as the situation warranted; in fact, it betrayed a sly complacence which he dissembled hastily at a movement across the table. “One minute,” he broke out musingly, “perhaps, if I could leave them with you—until—until she sends for them.” He watched Durant narrowly.
“Very well, let me have them.”
Durant’s eyes dropped to the floor.
“You give me your word not to tamper with the package.” Brooke bent toward him eagerly.
Durant simply stared at him.
“Don’t look so insulted. I wouldn’t have asked you that only—” Brooke rose and slipped into the other room. He was absent some time. He returned with a small package.
Durant slipped it quickly into his raincoat pocket. “To whom am I to give this?” he asked.
“That I must absolutely decline to tell you. Within a few days someone will ask you for a package that I left with you. You must give me your word not to ask any questions.”
“Very well.” Durant nodded coldly. “Now call up the railroad,” he ordered.
Brooke did so and engaged a berth on the train to New York for that night.
“How soon will you be ready?” Durant stood waiting to accompany him.
“On my word, if you think you’re going to escort me to the train like a criminal, you’re vastly mistaken. I’ll call it all off before I’ll submit to that.” Brooke glared at him.
“Very well, I guess you’ll go all right after this. If you don’t—” Durant finished with a threatening look. Then he strode coolly out of the apartment.
Brooke waited a discreet interval; then he laughed low and long. “The infernal impostor, but I handled him right,” he mused aloud. “I must move fast and sure now. Hilda’s protected. He’s evidently given up hope of her. I wonder if I could get Mildred Bunce on the telephone to-night. I’ll need her if Hilda fails me.” He looked at his watch. “No, I think I’d better wait until to-morrow. She’ll be ready enough, if I know anything about her.” He rose and paced calmly up and down the room a few turns.
“That blown-out impostor may be watching. I may as well play the game out,” he reflected. With a laugh, he reached for the telephone and summoned a taxi. On its arrival he descended, traveling bag in hand, and loudly directed the chauffeur to take him to the South Station.
If he embarked on that midnight train for New York, he evidently got off at the first way-station, for toward one o’clock that same night, after careful reconnoitering, he slipped back into his rooms in the Guernsey.
David was too agitated over the news to eat bread and butter pudding. One scornful glance at this dessert of doubtful lineage and he hurried away to Rose’s room to explain.
“The reason I threw up my job now, instead of waiting, was because Bunce has become such a subtler that he doesn’t fool anyone,” he announced. “Let me tell you what happened. That collector waiting here for Durant this morning told him he must pay the bill before three this afternoon, or they would enter suit. Durant said nothing, merely took the bill. We walked down to the office together. He never mentioned it, but I could see by his silence that something was frying in his mind. As soon as Bunce shows up, in goes Durant and asks Bunce if he had paid it as he said he had. Bunce says, ‘Yes, can’t understand it, must be a bill for additional charges.’ There was a long and sort of holy silence. I could feel Durant just looking at him. Then Durant asks if he isn’t worth more than ten dollars a week. Bunce hands him a lot of plated talk, but says, ‘No, he would like to pay him more, but he isn’t worth more—yet.’ At that Durant hands in his job. ‘Ah, you’ve got something else in view,’ says Bunce. Durant laughs and unfolds the news that Theophilus Cabot offered him double his salary his first day out. Another long and holy silence, then Bunce talks about ‘stretching a point,’ says he’ll take a chance on Durant’s future earning capacity—Lord, ‘that was where I began to gag!— begins to bid, offers him fifteen—twenty—thirty— fifty dollars a week to stay. But Durant says he wouldn’t work for him any longer at any price, and walks out. As soon as he hears the outer door close, Bunce has the boy get Theophilus Cabot on the phone; then he seals himself in his private office and talks low. I know that he’s busy queering any chance Durant may have with Cabot, slyly, dirtily, probably without giving his name. And the whole thing sickens me so that as soon as he gets through I go in and add my job to his little collection of returned favors.”
Rose smiled on him. “I’m glad, David, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re free of him, too. And you’re going right on to New York to start a trade paper of your own? I know you’ll make a success of it. You can’t help but succeed! You’ve got the grit and the ability, all you need is the dash. And now—”
“I need something more than that,” interrupted David with a look.
Rose’s smile faded. “Did you say that that bill had to be paid before three o’clock to-day?” she asked quickly.
A cloud settled over David’s face and manner. “Rose, did you pay that bill for him?” he demanded. At her silence and bent head his voice hardened. “I know it was paid. I met Durant before he went out to-night and he told me. He asked me if I had paid it. Rose, did you?”
“David, please don’t be emotional again.” There was entreaty in her voice.
Rose winced at the criticism in his tone. She rose, started impulsively toward him, but stopped before the white little bureau between them, both hands upon it. “David—please don’t be silly,” she begged.
He did not move; he sat there as if frozen in his chair. “You know I want to marry you. You won’t give any reason,” he mused, convincing himself. “I suppose I’d rather think it was he than because you found me stupid and uninteresting.”
“David, dear!” She came and stood before him. Her hand made a little movement as if she would have placed it upon his head. “I don’t think that, David. You know it.”
“You must have some reason,” he kept on, preserving his stand only by avoiding her eyes. “You must have some reason—what is it, then?”
“It’s only because I’m an actress, David.”
“What has that got to do with it?” David stared at her.
“I’ll tell you.” She returned, sat down in the chair at the other end of the room. “David,” she began, “once a woman has stage fever the way I have, only one thing can be done. It must be allowed to run its course. I want to succeed, David. I want to become a great actress more than anything else on earth. Nothing else counts, nothing else counts the least little bit. I’ve simply got to do it, or have my fair chance to do it, or—or else I’ll be so disgusted with myself, so unhappy, so miserable, so discontented that no one could possibly live with me. I can’t compromise with myself; with feelings like this I can’t play fast and loose with my purpose by marrying you.”
“I never had any intention of interfering with your career.”
“No, but you would.”
“I don’t see how.” David shook his head resolutely.
“I’d rather not go into that, but suppose we married. I’d either be away from you, traveling or playing most of the time, or else I’d give up my chances and settle down with you, a thoroughly discontented woman. Can’t you see, in either case you’d get the miserable, the empty portion?”
“Don’t bother about considering me.” There was a little bitterness in David’s tone now. “This all looks to me like the ‘I-want-to-be-a-sister-to-you’ act. I guess if you really cared for me, things wouldn’t look so doleful to you. Why not say that you don’t care for me and—”
“No, David, you’re wrong.” She rose and checked him with a wave of her hand. “I like you, like you almost well enough to give up my career. And don’t think I’m not strongly tempted to do that. I don’t think I’m such a wonderful woman now, David, as when I first went on the stage. The stage has a way of bringing one down to earth with a thump. After one has been knocking around one-night stands for two winters, freezing in unheated hotel rooms and draughty theaters, getting up before daylight and waiting about cold stations for train connections until one is chilled to the marrow— yes, and after one has done three seasons in summer stock, sweltering in stuffy dressing rooms, and wondering how one is to find time to get up the lines and costumes for next week’s part—don’t think it isn’t a temptation to settle down to a normal existence and get some of the leisure and comforts out of life that other women do.”
“I didn’t realize it was as bad as that. You poor girl!” David’s voice dropped with sympathy. “Only—only I can’t help thinking—well, I suppose I might as well get it out. You wouldn’t stand such conditions much longer, would you, if—well, say if Mr. Durant asked you to give them up for him?”
“Oh, David!” Rose’s tone was grieved.
“I can’t blink the fact that you’ve been intensely interested in him ever since you first met him on the train.”
“Not in him, David. In the opal pin.”
“In the opal pin!” David’s look changed from amazement to disbelief. “Oh, Rose!” he reproached her.
“You don’t believe me?”
“I can’t see how a mere scarf pin can account for your interest in all he says and does.”
“Suppose—” Rose stopped and sighed deeply.
“Are you going to force me to tell you?” she begged.
“No. Of course not.”
“But you’ll be disappointed with me if I don’t.”
“I’ll try not to be.”
“You will. You will. I can see you will.” She looked at him and caught his sense of injury at her silence. His humility, his constraint seemed to act upon her powerfully. “It—it’s a very painful subject, David. I came here to forget it, but—”
Her face grew grim. One of her hands made an impulsive gesture. “But I’ll tell you, David. Yes, there’s nothing else to do now.” She looked away as if to put it off as long as possible.
“I’ve never told you,” she began, “but I had an older brother who brought us all up after my mother died. I was his favorite. He was so good to me that I fear he spoiled me. It broke his heart when I went on the stage. He never answered my letters. He virtually disowned me. Perhaps he took that stand in order to cure me, but it didn’t work out that way. My father had left me enough to live on. I didn’t have to ask my brother Carl for money. And I felt my staying on with Carl kept him from marrying. He was very successful in business; he could have married easily enough.
“You see, David, there seemed to be every reason why I should go on the stage, and none why I shouldn’t, except his objection. I went. He disowned me. That only made me all the more eager to succeed, and to justify my action. I played in the chorus. Awful! I worked in stock. David, those Slavs in the steel mills don’t work harder nor any longer than the women in two-a-day stock. I went out on one-nighters, and came back fit for a sanitarium. But I stuck to it, and finally I secured my long-hoped-for chance on Broadway. It wasn’t a big part, but it was important to the play. I had a long emotional scene with the leading woman on which the success of the play hinged. And it was a straight part—at last I wasn’t playing character. For the first time I could look as pretty as I could make myself look.” A faint smile crept through the gloom of her face.
There was a long pause.
“I didn’t realize what it was going to cost me.” Her voice choked. She turned her face away. David had a feeling that she was crying. “My bro—ther” —she stopped until she regained control—“my brother used to rally me about my superstitions. One day he came home with that blue opal pin which he had bought in a pawn shop. I begged him not to keep it. But he did. And then misfortune after misfortune happened to us.”
She sank in a depth of thought from which David waited silently for her to emerge.
“A number of things happened to him even before I left home. After I left, everything happened. His business actually went to pieces—he failed. I didn’t learn this because nobody wrote me. And then one night I got word at the theater that he had locked himself in his room and shot himself.” The tears were raining down her face now. She made no effort to hide them. “David, I—I got that news the second night I was playing that first good part of mine. There was no one that they could put on in my place. I felt that perhaps I had helped make my brother—do—what he did—and—and they wouldn’t let me go to his funeral. God, no one knows what it is to be an actress! If they did, in time there wouldn’t be any.”
She rose and paced up and down.
“My brother Carl and I had been such good friends! For days I accused myself of being responsible for his death. Then I thought of the opal pin. It calmed me a little to think that possibly his misfortunes were due to that. One night at the theater I received a package and a letter. My younger brother had sent the opal pin to me as the one thing my brother Carl always wore. He had forgotten all about my superstition about it.
“I was almost glad to get it Now I could prove whether it was unlucky or not, whether it instead of I had brought those troubles to my brother. I opened the box, and left the pin on my dressing table. The girl who was using my room with me at the theater remonstrated. ‘Good Heavens, that’s double unlucky,’ she said, ‘it’s not only an opal but it’s a pin, too!’
“That night I went up in my lines twice, all but ruined the big scene with the leading woman. The next day I got caught in an elevator, and it was two hours before they could lower the cage and let me and the other passengers out. That made me late for our matinee performance. That night the manager gave me my notice. He didn’t dare to say so, but I saw that he and the leading woman were afraid to have me and that opal pin around. I offered to get rid of it, but he said it was too late, a friend of the leading woman’s had already signed for the part.
“I went home and cried my eyes out. Losing that part had spoiled my first good chance. I stuck the opal pin up on my dresser, knelt down before it, stared at it, and wondered. And as I knelt and looked at it, for the first time in my life I began to think of suicide. It was positively uncanny. Every time I looked at that pin the idea of self-destruction would come into my mind. And yet because it had belonged to my brother I did not think of destroying it. In a few days I was a nervous wreck. Then one night a burglar broke into my boarding house on Madison Avenue and stole it.”
“Stolen! Ah, I wondered!” exclaimed David, unnoticed.
“David,” Rose took a long breath and sank back into her seat, “that seemed like a stroke of Providence to me. You can’t imagine my relief at getting rid of it after all my bad luck. I was so run down and upset that I didn’t feel equal to looking for a summer engagement. I packed up and started for Boston to regain my nerve, and there, on the very train I took, only two seats away, was a man wearing that very opal pin! Do you wonder now that I just gaped at him? Do you wonder that I have shown the interest in him that I have? I feel partly responsible. I’ve never dared to let him know that it was mine because he might return it to me. All I could do was to sit and watch and ask questions to learn if that pin brought the same ill luck to him that it did to my brother and me. And it has. David, think of all that has happened to him since he came on here wearing that opal pin!” She rose and paced frantically up and down the room. “It’s that pin— I know it is!”
David started. “By Jove,” he muttered, “I had that pin for only a day or two, but on one of them I was knocked down by an automobile, and all but run over by a trolley car!”
“You, David, you had it?”
He told her how it had come into his possession, and why he had not spoken of it to her.
“You see, David, you see how it brings bad luck to everyone. It’s on my conscience that I haven’t told him, or gone into his room and stolen it, or done anything to get hold of it and throw it away where it could never cause any more trouble. I ought to have done it. I know I ought to have done it!” She ceased her frantic pacing and stood staring into space as if hypnotized by the necessity.
“He’s out. We might go into his room and get it now,” suggested David.
She did not answer. She sank into the chair at the other end of the room as though she had not heard.
David rose, his lips parted as if to urge her to the enterprise, but seemed to give over the idea before he could find words for it. He wavered a moment and then:
“Was that someone knocking at my door?” he inquired softly.
She did not seem to hear. After a long look at her he slipped out of the room, and closed the door quietly, carefully behind him.
In the hall he listened a moment, then entered the adjoining room and lighted the gas. Here he looked about him with interest. Long as they had been acquainted, Durant had never invited him in here. The room was big and square, yet all available space was taken up by trunks—four large ones. The only furniture was a bed, a chiffonier and one chair. Everything else had been removed to provide space for the trunks, and still there was barely more than room enough to move about.
“Well, I’ve heard of collectors of stamps, antique furniture and odd pieces of paper and string, but a trunk collector is a new one on me,” he exclaimed. “What in the deuce can he have tucked away in all those? Can’t be clothes, unless he’s a miser and hoards ’em. He sure hasn’t displayed any very wide repertoire of glad rags since he arrived here.” David approached the chiffonier. He continued talking softly to himself to distract his conscience, to keep up spirit for a venture undertaken impulsively.
“Come, you opal pin! Got to have you, little old opal pin!” he said encouragingly to himself. But he ransacked the chiffonier from top to bottom without coming upon a sign of it.
“Come, you opal pin! In for it! Simply got to get you now!” His obstinacy was aroused. He looked eagerly about the room and then made for the only closet. He opened and stood staring into it. He whistled softly to himself. His hand dropped from the knob of the door, and he moved on without bothering to close it.
“Come, you little old opal pin! No superstitions about you. Can’t escape me!”
He had to exert his strength to move the first trunk away from the wall so that it might be opened.
“Simply must have you—now!” he muttered, beginning to try his own keys on the lock. None of them fitted. He rose, ran his hand through his hair, and then made a dive to the top drawer of the chiffonier from which he secured a bunch of keys. The second one turned the lock of the trunk. He raised the lid; after a sweeping glance he lifted out the top tray, deposited it askew across the top of the trunk and bent forward to gaze eagerly below. He straightened up and whistled again. With pursed lips he bent down to look again, looked for a long time before leaving the tray where it was and moving sullenly on to the next trunk.
“Come, you little old opal—” He was staring by the dislodged tray into the bottom of the second trunk.
“Come, you little old—” His hand touched not a thing in the bottom of the third trunk.
“Come, you lit—” He was leaping from the third to the last trunk. He raised its lid, lifted out the tray and looked beneath.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed.
For perhaps a minute and a half he stood staring at the disorder he had wrought in the room. But obviously this was not what dismayed him. He was so nonplussed that he failed to hear the sounds in the hall. Then he shook himself, pulled open the door and all but ran into Rose emerging from her room.
“Rose! Rose! I was coming for you,” he cried.
“Why, David, how you scared me! What is it?”
“Come in here!” he seized her arm, drew her into Durant’s room and shut the door. “Your friend has either skipped or he’s about to,” he announced.
“Why, David, what makes you think that?”
“Practically everything that belongs to him gone, carried off in those bundles from time to time. Look!” He led her to the closet. It contained nothing except one dress suit hanging limply from its hanger; all the other hangers hung bare. “And look here, and here and here!” He dragged her from trunk to trunk. The top trays of each were empty. Beneath, on the bottom of every trunk, were single layers of bricks compactly packed.
“He’s gone, Rose.” He turned from the last trunk to look at her. “You don’t believe it? Then why all these bricks? He hasn’t said anything about intending to build a house for himself, and he isn’t a strike sympathizer.”
Rose stifled her smile. “David, how did you happen to come in here?” she asked.
“I decided that it was about time we took that opal pin away from him.”
“David, I’m ashamed of you!’’
“I’m ashamed of myself, but only for not getting it.”
“Oh, David!” she was as reproachful as she could manage to be. “What if he should return? Put everything back. Quick!” She closed the door of the yawning closet herself.
“No chance of his coming back,” grumbled David, beginning to restore order among the trunks. “Closets, trunks, room, everything prove he has departed for good plainer than daylight.”
“No, he may have taken his things away, piece by piece, to the pawn shops.”
“Might.” Slam! “May have a mania for collecting bricks.” Smash! “I always like to think the best of everyone.” Bang!
“David, please don’t handle those trays so roughly.”
“I’m sore. I don’t like to fail at anything I start out to do. I came in here to get that opal pin, and I won’t be happy until I have it. And, anyway, there isn’t anything in these.” To prove it, David teasingly shook the tray of the last trunk at arms length before her. Suddenly he stopped, rested one end of the tray on the edge of the trunk and groped with his free hand under the flap over the end compartment of the tray. His hand came forth with a large bunch of tickets held together by a rubber band.
“Good Lord, you’re right. Pawn tickets!” he announced.
David replaced the tray in the trunk. He raised the flap to restore the tickets to their hiding place.
An exclamation of astonishment brought Rose running to his side.
On the bottom of the tray lay a small oblong packet tied with red cord. The rough handling had loosened the cord; the stiff paper had sprung open at one end. Through the aperture gleamed Mildred Bunce’s diamond sunburst.
Evidently David had not heard of the theft. “Guess you’re right,” he muttered, “he surely wouldn’t run off and leave these valuables. Now, I wonder if that little old opal pin can be hiding here?”
Before Rose could object he had raised the packet and shaken it. Out upon the floor of the tray slid Hilda Cabot’s emerald necklace.
Rose stared at the jewels as though doubting her senses. Her hand reached out for them, stopped halfway, dropped to her side. For several moments she had not a word to say. Then she stiffened and her eyes flashed.
“Look, David, look!” she commanded. “See if there is a jeweled cross in that same packet.”
Her request was so sharp that David obeyed first. “No, nothing else except some envelopes, paper, or something.” Then his eyes shot to her. “Why, Rose, what’s the matter?” he demanded. “Is there anything wrong about his having these? You don’t think—”
“No, no,” she interrupted hastily. She shrank away from him as if dreading to explain. After a moment she managed to pull herself together.
“Put them back, David, put them back and let’s go,” she said with a decision of manner so icy and so hard that it effectually silenced further questions.
Heavy portieres divided the two rooms, but it was obvious that the two people talking were women. Cornwallis Brooke heard their voices with but a momentary, barely perceptible lift of his eyebrows. If he dreaded the ordeal he faced, he gave no other sign. Cool, collected, quite at ease, he waited. The conversation in the next room ended instantly when he was announced. Soon there was a faint swirl of the portieres. Hilda Cabot appeared and greeted him cordially.
“I fear you won’t be quite so glad to see me after you learn why I am here,” he said with an air of resignation.
She looked at him, surprised.
“I have an exceedingly unpleasant duty to perform.”
“What is it?” Hilda motioned toward a chair, moved slowly toward another herself.
“You have lost your emerald necklace, haven’t you?”
Hilda stopped abruptly before the chair to which she had moved; there was a moment during which she appeared to think; then she turned sharply toward him. “How did you know that? I haven’t told a soul,’’ she declared. Her eyes glistened.
Brooke shrugged his shoulders. “I saw you place it on this table when you and I and one other man were last in this room together,” he replied quickly.
“Yes.” There was still a hopeful, expectant look in her eyes.
“And soon afterward I saw it in the possession of that other man.”
“Oh!” Hilda turned away to hide her disappointment. Again she paused, staring dully down into the chair. “And so you thought because he had it that I had lost it?” she asked without looking at him.
“Yes—and worse, knowing the character of the man as I did.”
“You don’t seem to mind now showing how strongly prejudiced you are against that man.” Hilda still did not venture to look at him.
“Why should I? How would you feel against a man who had the presumption to steal your title, who was bally rascal enough to attempt to face you down when you laid claim to it?”
“You could stop him quickly enough if you wanted to.
“No, you’re wrong about that.” Brooke took a step toward her. “You heard him say that he had never claimed to be Lord Bellmere. When I ran him down afterward he had the side still to insist that if the Bunces spread the news they did it without his authority or knowledge. What can one do against such a cautious impostor as that? Nothing. Don’t think I haven’t looked into the matter long and carefully.”
“You mean—” Hilda began nervously to smooth down the nap of the brocade on the chair before her.
“I mean I’ve been to the police about it, and—”
Brooke stopped, ruffled by the effect this statement had upon Hilda; his tone became louder, more angry. “What can one do in this bally country of yours that doesn’t even protect a man’s own name? I ask the police to stop him from using my title, and they tell me it isn’t even a misdemeanor, that if I want to stop him I’ve got to bring a civil action against him that the courts will get round to Lord only knows when.”
“They couldn’t do anything about it?”
“Nothing except call him to Scotland Yard, or whatever you call it here, and try to scare him off. And what good would that do against the sort of scoundrel who had the effrontery to try to face me down? He won’t run; not he. Not until he has bagged the game.”
Brooke dwelt with a sinister emphasis on the last phrase, and waited as if expecting to be asked for an explanation. No such demand was made. He turned away impatiently. “That’s what I want to prevent. I don’t care so much about my title. I want to prevent him from taking advantage of you and—er—a lot of other people. I want to save—”
Hilda stopped him with a quiet wave of her hand. “You’re very good, but don’t bother about me,” she said with a slight smile. For the first time she turned toward him.
Brooke came impetuously toward her. “You know very well that I care more about that than all the rest put together. I’ve surely made my feelings plain to you. I can’t stand calmly, supinely here, and see that scoundrel crowd in between us. I want you for—”
“Yes. I know. We won’t go into that again.” Hilda checked him quickly. “We’re talking about something else now. You say you intend to save me. That’s amusing enough of itself, but let’s be serious. I don’t see how you’re going to drive him away. You’ve just said that there was nothing you could do.”
“Nothing unless—” Brooke leaned toward her eagerly.
“Unless you’ll help me.”
“Help you? How?”
Brooke frowned at the sharp change in her tone. “The police tell me that the only way to stop a scoundrel of this sort is to arrest him for some other crime. The time has been short. I had almost given up hope of discovering anything until—”
“Until I found him in possession of your emerald necklace.”
“Oh!” Hilda exclaimed. “Ah! you expect me to appear against him just to help you?”
“No, that isn’t the right way to look at it.” Brooke reddened. “You want to get back your necklace, don’t you? You want to punish the man who stole it, don’t you?”
“And you—you want to have him arrested so that he will be out of your way, don’t you? Isn’t that the one reason why you’re so anxious for my help?”
“That—and to help you,” admitted Brooke reluctantly. “He’ll be out of your way quite as much as out of mine and you’ll—”
“No more about saving me, please.”
“But you’ll do it?”
“What!” Brooke stared at her dumbfounded, his face flushing to a higher and higher color.
“I said no. I won’t have a hand in any such action.” Hilda met his eyes intrepidly, her blue eyes flashing, and her face white with determination.
“What!” For one silent, vibrating second Brooke stared at her, then his upper lip curled, showing his teeth. “You care as much for him as that, do you?” he demanded. Before she could answer he had turned on his heel, and was making for the door. “Then I’ll attend to this man myself,” he muttered.
Hilda turned swiftly toward him. “What are you going to do?” she demanded.
“I haven’t time—I can’t tell you—not now!” With an angry shake of his head Brooke passed through the door.
Hilda stood for a moment looking after him, then she sank into the chair before which she had stood throughout the interview. Several minutes passed. Finally the portieres parted, and Rose entered, her dark, expressive face anxious, and her manner-perturbed. For several moments she stood unnoticed, gravely studying Hilda. Once she started to withdraw, then slowly, unwillingly, she crossed the room and stood still, unnoticed, beside Hilda.
“Hilda, dear,” she said softly at last.
Hilda did not hear her.
Rose hesitated, then, “Hilda, dear,” she repeated, touching her arm gently.
Hilda looked up at her, startled, managed to smile wanly. “You heard?” she asked wearily.
“Yes. It must have been an awful blow to you.” Rose bent down impulsively and kissed her.
“Don’t!” Hilda started. “You believe it,” she accused. Her blue eyes sparkled with indignation. “I don’t. I’ve been thinking it over. I can’t believe it. Oh, if he had only given me time to tell him so! I’m disgusted with myself for standing here quietly and allowing him to say what he did, but now I know what to do.” She sprang to her feet.
“Hilda!” Rose stretched out a restraining hand. “One minute. I want to telephone.”
“What are you going to do?” Rose moved slowly between her and the door. “Please tell me,” she pleaded.
“I’m going to telephone him what Mr. Cornwallis Brooke is saying against him. I’m going to warn him in time so that he can stop the slander. I’m—”
“Hilda, dear, I wouldn’t do that”
“Why not?” Hilda turned on her a face ablaze with intention. “Why shouldn’t I when I know it is all a slander, a trick, a vile, malicious lie to discredit him with me? That necklace of mine is not a valuable one. It was the duplicate imitation set that was taken. I kept absolutely quiet about it to see who would mention it first. Mr. Cornwallis Brooke was the first man. Why should I take his word that another man has it, a man, too, that he is so anxious to get out of the way? He may have it himself, he may—”
Hilda stopped, astonished at the tone of the interruption. “What—what do you know about it?” she asked.
“I dislike to tell you, Hilda, but I know that your emerald necklace is in one of the trunks in Mr. Richard Durant’s room.”
“Yes, Hilda, it is there. I’m sorry, but I saw it last night. And not only that, but Mildred Bunce’s sunburst. Hilda, dear, I’m terribly sorry to have to tell you. I came here this morning to do it. I was just getting up my courage when Mr. Brooke came. I didn’t like to speak of it. You had never told me of its disappearance. You might have put it in his charge for some reason. I—I had to wait until I was sure I was making no mistake. But rather than have you telephone him, thinking that he—” Rose stopped breathless and unwilling to go on.
“Rose! Rose! You are sure? You couldn’t possibly be mistaken?” Hilda stared at her, breathless.
“No. Listen!” Rose explained how they had happened to come upon the emerald necklace. Urged on by Hilda’s defensive silence, she this time dwelt upon the discovery of Mildred Bunce’s diamond sunburst
“That, too! I can’t believe it”
“They were both there, Hilda, dear. I saw them with my own eyes.”
“Poor man! And those were the only things left in all his trunks?”
“Yes, except the pawn tickets.” Rose started with dismay at the look of resolution suddenly appearing on her companion’s face. “Where are you going? What do you intend to do?” she cried.
“I’m going to telephone him. I’m going to ask him to come here and explain.”
“But, Hilda, you mustn’t.”
“I must—now more than ever.” Hilda passed swiftly by her and out of the room.
Rose walked to the window and gazed gloomily out until Hilda returned; then she went quickly to her. “Hilda, you didn’t do it?” she begged.
“What did you say to him?”
“I—I couldn’t tell him by telephone. I intended to—I tried to, but I found I couldn’t, so—well, I asked him if he wouldn’t come right up here.”
“And he said he would?”
“Hilda, you mustn’t see him.”
“What will he think of you?”
“I don’t care.”
“He’ll think you’re just throwing yourself at him. He’ll think you’re so infatuated with him that he has only to hold up a finger and you’ll run away with him.”
“What does that matter?”
“Hilda, you wouldn’t, would you?”
“No. Don’t be silly.” Hilda laughed scornfully.
Rose studied her, dissatisfied with the ground she had gained. Several times she started to speak, and changed her mind. When she did it was in an entirely different tone.
“Hilda, I’m sorry I had to tell you this,” she said.
“Don’t reproach yourself. It couldn’t be helped.”
“I’m sorry for him, too. You know how much I liked him?”
“Yes. If I didn’t, do you suppose I would have asked you to pay that account of his for me?” Hilda drew away to the window.
There was a long silence. Neither of the two women moved or spoke. Rose slowly crossed the room, came up behind her.
“Hilda, it is going to be very hard for you to tell him,” she said softly.
“Yes, I realize that now.” Hilda spoke hollowly, without turning.
“Let me tell him for you.”
“It will be much easier for you both,”—imploringly.
“I ought to do it myself.”
“You can be in the next room—anywhere.”
“You wouldn’t be as kind about it as I.”
“I would. I could—because I am not so interested. You’ll either be too cold or too—sympathetic. You know that, don’t you, dear?”
“Yes, I suppose “
“Then let me tell him.”
The butler entered bearing a card.
“Ask him to come in.” Hilda handed the card to Rose and fled through the portieres into the other room.
Rose turned nervously. In the doorway stood Richard Durant, looking calmly about the room.
“Oh, how do you do? I was looking for Miss Cabot,” he said coolly.
Rose found it more difficult than she expected. “I—she—won’t you sit down?” she stammered.
After a quick, surprised glance, he seated himself in a big high-backed chair with its back to the door. “It’s a wonderful morning,” he said, evidently to cover her confusion.
“Yes,” she replied heedlessly, and then through sheer nervousness plunged headlong toward an issue that required tact. “Miss Cabot asked me to receive you in her place,” she began. “She—you will probably see her later.”
Again he raised his eyes to hers with surprise, but he nodded.
Her eyes dropped before his. “I don’t know how to begin,” she floundered, “do you know anything about an emerald necklace that disappeared from this room the last time you were here?”
The cool, calm readiness of his answer, his utter lack of interest and alarm shocked her, ended by increasing her confusion. “It disappeared—was lost —was taken—perhaps by mistake,” she stammered.
“Yes.” He seemed only slightly interested.
Rose turned away from him. Inevitably her voice and manner became colder. “And you didn’t notice it then?”
“Nor you haven’t seen it since?”
How could he have the effrontery to say this when she had seen it in his trunk? Involuntarily Rose looked her scorn. Obviously she shrank away from him.
He started and flushed; then he stiffened as if he caught for the first time the unmistakable meaning of her questions. “Oh, it was stolen, was it?” he demanded.
“Yes, we fear so.”
“And Miss Cabot requested you to ask me about it?”
“Intending to receive me if I didn’t seem guilty?”
“No, no; how can you think that of her?” Rose’s voice grew angry. “She sent for you to learn the truth, to ask you some questions, and I—”
“Why didn’t she allow the police to do that?” His inquiry was stern.
“Because—because she never thought of doing such a thing. She intended merely to give you a chance to—” She stopped in dismay at the slight sound behind the portieres. She looked toward them with alarm.
He followed her look, and his voice became harder. “How do I know but the police are there behind those portieres listening to all I say?” he demanded.
“May I look to make sure?”
“Ah!” He leaned back in his chair and regarded her in silence.
Rose looked from him to the portieres, from the portieres back to him. No further sound came from the other room. She attempted to give him a last chance to redeem himself.
“It—the necklace—is in a small oblong package tied with a red cord,” she ventured.
“Oh!” Durant threw his head back. It struck against the upholstered back of his chair with a dull sound. He paid no attention. He looked at her with eyes into which understanding seemed to flood, to flow away, and leave nothing except the cold glare of suspicion. His voice became icy. “How did you and Miss Cabot know I had that package?” he demanded.
But Rose had waited too long. Through the doorway behind Durant, thrusting aside the fat, polite, protesting butler, came Cornwallis Brooke, and he was followed by a stout, compactly made man, unquestionably of the police.
I found I must have you to enter complaint, so I brought the inspector back with me,” exclaimed Brooke, and then observed that he was addressing Rose. “Where’s Miss Cabot?” he demanded brusquely.
“Within reach, in all probability.”
Brooke turned at the dry, cynical, masculine speech and found himself facing Richard Durant. “You—er—here?” he exclaimed.
“Your surprise is admirably counterfeited,” replied Durant with more sarcasm.
“I dare say. I dare say.” Brooke repeated the phrase, looking about while he obtained his bearings.
“Yes, and you will now have to settle with me.”
Brooke had learned nothing from Rose’s startled face. He made a scornful gesture. “Inspector Hicks will attend to your case, I think,” he said quickly. He turned aside as if he preferred to have it thus.
“This the man?” Inspector Hicks, at Brooke’s nod, stationed himself in a chair by the door, content to await developments. His was the final work.
“Inspector Hicks,” Durant turned toward him with a quick nod, “you have yet to learn, I think, which one of us should be taken into custody. With your permission!”
“Go on. Go as far as you like.” The inspector settled himself comfortably. “Only anything you may say will be used against you.”
“Not against me.” Durant’s eyes, burning black as coals, were leveled at Brooke. “I let you off the other night, and you took advantage of it. Now I intend to show you up for an impostor.”
“What bally rot!” exclaimed Brooke. “Inspector, is it necessary to waste time allowing this criminal to bluster?”
“Let him tangle himself all up in bowknots and throw flipflaps, if he wants to,” said the inspector imperturbably. “You don’t care, do you? It may help some.”
“You surely can’t fear answering a few questions,” pursued Durant.
“Fear!” Brooke looked from the winking inspector to Durant. “Well, go on,” he agreed grudgingly.
“Thank you.” Durant turned away from him as if his eyes might betray his purpose. He spoke slowly, as one who is carefully choosing his words. “When you appear in court against me,” he began, “perhaps you don’t mind stating under what name you will testify.”
“What has that got to do with it?”
“Something. Your name isn’t Cornwallis Brooke, is it?”
“No. You know very well that I am here incognito”
“Yes, and your real name is?”
“I don’t know that I care to tell you that.”
“Just your Christian name, then.”
“Alexander. Yes, that’s right.” Durant made a slight gesture of satisfaction.
Brooke’s eyes widened and fixed on his inquisitor, but he said nothing.
“And your age?”
Brooke hesitated, but only for a moment. “Thirty-three,” he stated, never taking his eyes from Durant.
“Yes, that would be the proper age according to Burke.”
“Oh, you’ve been looking into Burke’s Peerage, have you?” Brooke smiled more comfortably. “It’s a pity you didn’t look first, before you picked out a title that you’re altogether too young for yourself.”
“Yes, I could hardly pass for thirty-three, I suppose. In fact, I’m only twenty-five.” Durant grazed him with a glance. “By the way, can you remember where you were last November?”
Brooke looked at him, puzzled, then slowly shook his head. “How can you expect that of me?” he asked.
“Last November 18th, to be exact?”
“Not an idea.”
“Were you off the Balearic Islands?”
“I may have been.”
“I’m sorry you can’t remember. Allow me to aid your memory. They’re in the Mediterranean, off the eastern coast of Spain. I wish you’d make the effort to remember. It’s important.”
“Important!” Brooke could not control his curiosity. “Why?” he asked.
“Because”—Durant for the first time allowed his eyes to dwell on Brooke—”because Alexander Durant, the late Lord Bellmere, whom you very much resemble, and are so cleverly impersonating, was drowned off the Balearic Islands on November 18th last”
“What!” Brooke, for all his nerve, was off his guard. His jaw dropped, and the high color perennial on his cheeks became spotted with white. “What rot!” he managed to exclaim after a time.
“It really seems to me,” Durant said very seriously, “that you ought to know if you were drowned last November.”
Brooke forced a laugh. “You’re chaffing!” he retorted, gradually regaining his ease. “How could I have been drowned? I am here.”
“Yes, you are here, but who are you—really? Unfortunately for you, my brother’s body was recovered, lies buried in our family vault in England.” Durant’s voice softened a little.
“Your brother! So you do claim—but what rubbish!” Brooke turned impatiently away from him.
“I let you off once, because you looked like this older brother of mine, and because I thought you would have sense enough to take yourself away, but now—now you must pay for it,” Durant stated coldly.
“Pay for it!” Brooke laughed sneeringly. “What has this trumped-up story got to do with the matter that brought us here?” Brooke glanced hopefully toward the sitting, watchful inspector. “You’re the thief here, not I. No wonder you’d like to vent your spite on me for informing on you, no wonder you’ve put together this astonishing cock-and-bull story. What else could you do? What does every criminal do when he’s caught in a situation like this?”
“Criminal!” Durant glared at him. “So you intend to pursue that charge, do you?”
“After the way you have acted? Well, rather!” Brooke’s face boiled.
“Nonsense! You’ll soon find it isn’t, not for you. What! Do you think a valuable necklace can be stolen from this room, be found later on you, and that then you can escape merely by assailing me and by calling the charge nonsense?”
“You know very well that if anyone took that necklace from this room, you did.”
“You gave it to me.”
“That’s as absolutely and utterly false as all you’ve said before to-day. Of course you had to trump up something against me because I informed on you. Of course you had to say I gave the necklace to you because you’ve got it. But—inspector, what have you to say about all this?”
“He says he has it. That is the only thing he’s said that interests me.” The inspector was still unperturbed.
“You surely don’t intend to press a charge made by this impostor?” Durant demanded.
“That’s what. Your hot air don’t count,” answered the inspector.
“Isn’t my word as good as his?” asked Durant hotly.
“Not on your tintype.” Inspector Hicks laughed.
“He accuses me of stealing this necklace, and I accuse him. Why should you act on his complaint and not on mine?”
“Lightly! Lightly! He has other witnesses. Have you any?”
“No, but do you mean to tell me that if I attempt to leave you will hold me?”
“That’s about it.”
“Where’s your warrant or indictment, or whatever else you have to have?”
“Coming!” Inspector Hicks dropped his hands on the arms of his chair and raised himself carelessly to his feet. “It’s coming, all right, and I guess I can stretch a point and hold you until it’s ready. What’s your dream? Going to resist arrest?”
Durant flushed angrily. “I’m amazed that after I’ve exposed this man as an impostor you’re willing to take his word against mine.’’
“That impostor business hasn’t got anything to do with this case of theft. Can’t you get that through your nut?”
“Very well. I’m ready to go along with you.”
“That’s the talk. No use in mixing it up here.” Inspector Hicks smiled affably. “No need of your looking so heavy about it. If you’re being misused, you can prove it soon enough in court.”
Durant nodded. “I won’t be under arrest long. Are you ready?” he demanded.
“Not quite.” The inspector turned significantly toward Brooke.
“In a minute,” answered Brooke. He moved over beside the officer with a satisfied smirk on his face. “Some little difference between paying me and getting paid yourself, isn’t there?” he demanded of Durant. “If you’d only been a trifle more decent—”
Durant’s eyes blazed; he took a step toward Brooke. “None of that,” he interrupted hotly. “Don’t think that it is your part in this that surprises me or hurts me.”
“No. It’s that a certain woman could look on us two and decide that I was the impostor. It’s that a certain woman could look on us two and decide that I, not you, was the thief.”
“I never—I never believed it!”
As puppets, maneuvered by a single string, they all turned, their faces changing with the varying degrees of their surprise. In the doorway between the two rooms, her face flushed and her eyes agleam, stood Hilda Cabot.
“Ah, then you were there?” Durant gave her only one short, sarcastic look. “The sooner we go now, the better it will suit me,” he declared, advancing toward the inspector.
Hilda looked at him without answering, a flash of anger darkening her blue eyes; then she walked slowly across the room to Inspector Hicks.
“I understand you are waiting for me to swear to something,” she said coldly. “You have been brought here under a misapprehension. I have nothing to swear to.”
“What!” The inspector gasped.
“Whoever took that necklace of mine took it with my consent.”
“But, lady—” The inspector prepared to expostulate.
She stopped him with a curt wave of her hand. “I don’t care to enter any complaint over the loss of my necklace. Does that render any further action on your part unnecessary?”
“But—” The inspector turned from her inexorable look. “Where’s that man Brooke?” he demanded angrily.
They looked for him in vain. In the confusion following her entrance, Brooke had managed to escape.
“Well, it begins to look to me as if—” Inspector Hicks paused and his gaze traveled questioningly from Durant to Hilda. “No charge against the man that’s flown, either?” he asked her.
“Well, you’ve got me!” The inspector’s look of amazement traveled back to his late prisoner.
Durant broke the heedless, sarcastic silence he had preserved since Hilda’s appearance. “Am I to understand that I am at liberty to do what Brooke did?” he asked.
“So far as I can see.” The inspector glanced inquiringly at Hilda.
“Then I’ll wish you all a very good afternoon.” Durant bowed and left the room.
“If you should happen to change your mind—” Inspector Hicks looked dubiously from one to the other of the two women, then, receiving neither answer nor encouragement, he, too, bolted.
Somewhere from the room behind the portieres came the slow, loud, ponderous ticking of a grandfather’s clock. There was the scraping of the outside door as the butler closed it behind the departing inspector, the quiet, respectful footsteps of the butler as he retreated down the long hall, but the solemn ticking of the clock was heard above them all.
Rose sighed, raised her head from the arm on which it had rested, and looked at Hilda for a long time. At last she crossed the room to where she stood gazing silently, movelessly, out of the window. Gently she put her hand on Hilda’s arm.
“Don’t speak to me—for a few minutes—please.”
Rose started at the hardness of Hilda’s tone. Then she left her and sat down.
One of those men who are unpopular because they are always hitting the nail on the head once said of a certain woman, “she just delights in roaming around among trouble and giving it a poke whenever it shows signs of quieting down.” The same might be said of Fate.
Rose, her conscience oppressing her for the part she had played in the drama of that day, returned to Miss Cobb’s late in the afternoon. She found David lying in wait for her.
“See! I got it from him. He came here in a tremendous hurry to borrow money to send a telegram. I gave him five dollars for this, knowing how badly you wanted it.” Before her face he flourished the opal pin.
Rose turned pale—shrank from it. “How long have you had it? Has anything happened to you?” she demanded breathlessly.
“No. I’ve only had it about half an hour.” David smiled at her alarm. “I thought you wanted it,” he urged.
“I did. I did, but I fear we got it from him too late,” she exclaimed. Hastily she recounted the events of that afternoon. “Come, come quick,” she cried, seizing him by the arm and dragging him toward the stairs, “we must get rid of it before something happens to you.”
Protesting, laughing a little, yet obeying, he submitted to being dragged away. At the foot of the stairs Miss Cobb was waiting. “You’re wanted at the telephone, Mr. Shaw,” she said.
“There! There! Something more! We’re too late,” Rose exclaimed brokenly. She followed closely. She stood by his side while he conducted a short but starded conversation over the wire. “What is it? Tell me! Quick!” she cried the moment he finished.
“Mr. Bunce thinks that Mr. Durant has eloped with his daughter,” David replied, gazing at her wide-eyed.
“He wanted to know if Durant were here. When I said he wasn’t, that he had gone out half an hour ago to send a telegram, he said he would get his car at once and come right up here. He hopes to catch him before they get away.”
“Come, David! Come quick! We must get rid of that pin before something happens to us.” Again she was impetuously dragging him, this time along the hall toward the door.
“But what are we going to do with it?” he demanded as she slammed the door behind him and they ran down the steps.
“We must throw it into the river, the ocean, some place where no one can ever lay hands on it again. Don’t laugh, David. I know all that has happened to Mr. Durant has been due to that pin. We must get rid of it now, at once, before something happens to you.” She set a quick pace, until they were all but running down the side of Beacon Hill.
Ten minutes later David threw the opal pin into the placid bosom of the Charles River.
From facts gathered later by Rose it was established that events strangely fortunate for Richard Durant began to happen the moment that the opal pin was safely deposited in the ready depths of the Charles. Rose was enabled to prove this because David looked at his watch soon after the opal pin sank into the river. It was twenty minutes after six. She and David decided to take a short walk along Beacon Street before returning to Miss Cobb’s for dinner. This walk was productive of a meeting most unexpected and important, but movements even more timely and miraculous must be mentioned first.
At six thirty-five to an instant Hilda Cabot ran down the steps from her house and entered her gray racing motor. She was able to recall the time definitely because she glanced at the clock in her car to learn how much time she had for a spin before dinner. And Richard Durant, too, was able later to state the precise time that he turned afoot from Massachusetts Avenue into Beacon Street. The clock in the corner store registered six thirty-seven. He walked on a short way, then, with a sigh, he began to retrace his steps toward Miss Cobb’s and dinner.
Allowing for differences between clocks, each one of those already mentioned may have received his or her impulse toward the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street at precisely the same moment. That cannot be established. But at least each moved to his or her place in readiness for the events of that evening as by a common impulse and miraculously soon after the disappearance of the opal pin.
To chronicle these events in the order of their importance, Richard Durant, turning back, did so just in time to observe a car containing a man and a woman swing round the corner of Massachusetts Avenue into Beacon Street. The speed at which the car made that corner caught his attention. He raised his hat mechanically to the man and the young woman occupying the front seats. Then he stopped and stared after them in amazement.
The man and the woman were Brooke and Mildred Bunce. They had met his eyes, then looked quickly, uneasily away, as if not caring either to recognize him or be recognized themselves. And the tonneau and rear seats of the car were piled with baggage as if they were off on a long journey.
Durant’s stare changed swiftly from amazement to certainty. “The scoundrel! He’s eloping with her. She doesn’t know!” he cried. He looked excitedly about for means of frustrating Brooke’s last move.
Against the curb, chugging, cheerful and ready, stood a large touring car, its chauffeur crossing the sidewalk toward one of the residences. Durant ran back toward it and leaped into the front seat.
“I’ve got to borrow this,” he yelled to the astonished chauffeur. At the same instant he threw in the clutch. As he flew away up Beacon Street he wasted not a look behind. Consequently he could not have been aware of all the excitement his act occasioned.
Across Massachusetts Avenue, on the downtown end of Beacon Street, a girl in a gray racing car, slowing up for the crossing, observed the theft of the car, also the consternation of its chauffeur. She ran her car to the curb without stopping its engine and looked eagerly about for a policeman. There was none in sight. Suddenly her eyes lighted on Rose and David approaching leisurely along the sidewalk.
“Get in here! Quick!” She called peremptorily.
They caught the need of quick action. David thrust Rose into the seat beside Hilda and tumbled himself into a seat on the floor at her feet. Trolley cars were approaching both ways along Massachusetts Avenue, but by a quick spurt and masterly in-and-out steering Hilda managed to graze between them.
“I’ll catch him for you,” she called in passing to the frantic chauffeur.
Brooke, with one quick, apprehensive glance, had taken in what had happened behind. Conscious of pursuit, he thought only of acquiring distance. Pushing his well-ballasted car to the limit out Beacon Street, he flew onto the Beacon Boulevard. Well along on this, he decided against lingering much longer on the main-traveled roads. A pursuer, hopelessly distanced, could notify the police, could telephone ahead to stop him. At the Chestnut Hill Reservoir he turned to the left into Brookline and began to retrace his course.
“You never should have left that note to your father. I told you so,” he grumbled sullenly.
“We’ll get to Worcester before he can do anything,” she said with one breath, and then, with the next, “If you’re going to be an ‘I told you so,’ you might as well take me back home.”
“I don’t dare try for Worcester now that we are followed,” he explained, all the querulousness gone from his tone.
“Where are you taking me—home?” she demanded after a look about.
“No, dear, to some place where they’ll least think of looking for us,” he answered more placably. “I wish I knew more about the blasted roads in this direction.” He turned off to the right into the Fenway.
Meantime, to the pursuers, the following things had happened. Durant, in a big, high-power, but unballasted car, found himself steadily losing ground. He lost sight of the car ahead just before the Beacon Street entrance to the Fenway, but continued on. At Chestnut Hill Reservoir he turned toward Newton before it occurred to him to take counsel of a policeman. No car with occupants such as he described had passed that spot any time within the past ten minutes.
“Of course! He would turn off at the very first road,” muttered Durant. He hurried back along Beacon Street and entered the Fenway at the point where he had last seen the other car.
Hilda, left far behind in her overburdened motor at the very start, had, however, followed a similar course of reasoning. She believed that the thief would leave the main road at the first turn. At the Beacon Street entrance she turned into the Fenway, and hence was the first of the three drivers to betake herself to its twisting, pursuit-losing roads.
Thus it happened, half an hour after the chase began, that all three gained a momentary view of each other and then resumed their former order in the chase. Hilda, stopping to light the lamps on her car, looked up at a loud series of blasts on the horn of an approaching automobile.
“Why, that’s—look!” she cried sharply to her two passengers as the Bunce car containing Mildred and Brooke shot past.
“I thought you said that Mr. Durant had eloped with—” Hilda’s exultant tone was lost in the noise of the swirl past them of another automobile. It was rattling as if it would shake itself apart, it was skidding on the turns from its high speed and lack of ballast. It was past before she had time to identify its single occupant. Involuntarily her eyes flew to its number.
“Why, that’s the car that was stolen!” she exclaimed, scrambling back to the wheel. Again she joined the pursuit.
The slow dusk of a night in early May was falling alike on pursued, pursuer and pursuer-pursued. They left the park for the highways, the highways for narrow, dusty, unfrequented country roads.
“We’re holding our own, but we’ll lose sight of him soon if he doesn’t light up,” announced Hilda disappointedly.
They turned from the thick, dusty ruts of one country road into a State road, ran along its smooth surface a few rods and then turned into another road more impossible than any of the others.
They floundered along clumsily for a few rods. Then their lights picked up a dark object ahead at the side of the road. Hilda stiffened, peered forward, became suddenly alert.
“He’s stopped to light up,” she exclaimed. “Now do just what I tell you. I’ll run the car ahead of him to block his way. As soon as I stop, you and Rose seize him. I’ll run back and get the switch plug out of his car so that he can’t start it again.”
With a swerve over the huge ruts that almost threw David out she contrived to place her gray car in front of the other one. She scrambled past Rose, not wasting time even for a glance at the man lighting the lamps, and hastily snapped the switch plug from the other car. She turned to find Rose and David releasing their hold of the prisoner and staring at him in open-mouthed astonishment.
“Hold him! Hold him!” she cried, running toward him.
The man turned. It was Richard Durant.
There were hasty, flurried explanations. Durant, after his first astonished look at Hilda, confined his attention and questions to the other two, conducting the conversation as if she were not present.
“Then I was right! They are eloping?” he demanded. “Quick! Get in and we’ll catch them. They’ve got to wait to light their lamps or the police will stop them.”
He hurried David and Rose summarily into the tonneau and leaped into the seat by the wheel, leaving Hilda standing ruefully in the road.
She watched his frantic endeavors to start the car. She laughed a little harshly.
“You can’t go without me,” she volunteered at last.
“Why not?” He did not look at her, but instead became extraordinarily busy about the mechanism of the car.
“Because I have the switch plug,” she stated quietly.
“Oh!—so you have!” He ceased his experiments and laughed a little consciously.’ “Won’t you come along? I hardly thought you would want to desert your own car.” He started to get out to help her in.
But she leaped in beside him and inserted the switch plug before he could rise. “I—I wondered if you didn’t want me,” she murmured laughingly.
“I did, but—” The quick, feminine change in her attitude was evidently too sudden for Durant. Again he became preposterously busy with the management of the car.
He reversed power, wormed gingerly by Hilda’s deserted car, and soon they were bumping over the deeply rutted road. The car ran much more easily because of the additional weight; the absurdly bad road required careful attention from Durant at the wheel, but he gave even more. He devoted himself utterly to its steering, saying not a word, looking at her, if at all, only out of the tail of an eye.
But in one of these furtive, sidelong glances perchance he caught the twinkle in her blue eyes, and realized that she declined to take his anger seriously, that she was only maintaining her mischievous silence because she knew that the very fact that they were together would bring its inevitable reconciliation. At any rate he took upon himself the burden of maintaining their quarrel.
“So you believed I stole this car, as well as a title and a few other things?” he demanded sternly, and with that bitterness wherewith man makes his last hopeless stand against woman.
“But you did steal the car, didn’t you?” she inquired with a directness not to be evaded and a laugh too delicious to be withstood.
“Yes, but—” He made the mistake of meeting her eyes. His anger crumpled, fell away visibly; in a moment he was laughing with her, surrendering without terms to a humor no longer to be gainsaid.
“Miss Cabot,’ how could you think for an instant—”
“Sssh!” She laid a quick yet gentle hand on his arm; then she pointed ahead.
They had come around a sharp bend in the road. Less than a rod ahead stood the Bunce car. The man at its front, who had been lighting the lamps, arose, a match still burning in his hand, started back.
“Look out for your heads!” Durant bent over the wheel. A sudden turn swerved them from the ruts. The car whipped the thick dust to a cloud, tore through the undergrowth, grazed a few saplings at the side of the narrow road, and stopped, shivering, palpitating, directly in front of the other car.
“One minute, if you please!” Durant was just in time to catch Brooke by the arm as he was clambering back into his seat. With a quick pull he jerked him from the running board to the ground facing him. Then he reached into the car to detach the switch plug.
“Look out, Mr. Durant!”
Durant turned sharply at Hilda’s cry of warning. Brooke had fallen back a step or two, was pointing something at him—something that glistened through the darkness.
There was a moment of alarmed, moveless silence, Durant and Brooke staring watchfully into each other’s eyes, the others not daring to make move or sound; then David began quietly edging around to the rear of Brooke.
“Stand where you are! Don’t move another step!” Brooke leaped further from Durant and pointed his weapon at David.
David obeyed. He stood looking helplessly at Durant. Hilda and Rose shrank toward each other. On them all was the stillness of the surprised, the submission of the vanquished. And then the silence was broken by a short, amused laugh.
“Put it up, Brooke! Put up that cigarette case!” exclaimed Durant.
Brooke started, stared sharply at Durant, wavered.
Durant removed his foot from the running board, took a step toward him.
Brooke laughed a forced laugh. “Oh, so it’s you, Durant, is it?” he inquired imperturbably. He dropped his arm and deposited his cigarette case in his pocket. “I thought at first you were highwaymen, and then I decided to give you a little scare. I got in too deep before I noticed that there were ladies present.” He bowed to the ladies in question.
“Yes.” Durant looked at him. “You’re in so deep that it’s time you began to think of wading out.”
“Oh, now, don’t be so beastly theatrical! What do you want of us, anyway, spoiling our little drive?”
“Brooke, I admire your audacity! If you were hemmed in by police I suppose you’d still brazen it out.” Durant’s tone yielded a little, only immediately to become stern again. “But this is no time to waste words. All we want of you is your companion, and we intend to free her from further association with you at once.” He turned toward Mildred. “Will you be good enough to get out and move into the car ahead?” he asked.
“And you think she will desert me upon your request?” interposed Brooke.
Durant paid no attention. His eyes were fastened upon Mildred. After a short look at him she turned and settled back in her seat in a way that showed she had no intention of doing as he asked. He started to remonstrate, then evidently changed his mind.
“Perhaps you will ask her to change?” he suggested, returning to Brooke.
“No. Why should I?” There was triumph in Brooke’s tone.
“I dislike to have to inform her what you are.”
“Don’t mind me.” Brooke’s voice and manner challenged him to do it.
“You insist upon my exposing you to her for the blustering sham, impostor, fortune hunter that—”
“Anything. Don’t mind me.”
“I shall have to do it.”
Durant regarded him in silence for a moment.
“I telegraphed for Mr. Stackpole to-day,” he stated. “He will be here to-morrow. He will put an end to your pretense to being Lord Bellmere.”
“He will take steps immediately to have you arrested for the theft of the jewelry you palmed off on me.”
“Brooke, I don’t like this.” Durant made an impatient gesture. “I don’t like telling in cold blood all I know about you. You’ve shown your courage. Now be a sport and ask your companion to change cars and allow us the honor of taking her home with us.”
“No. Go on.”
“Very well.” Durant’s voice hardened. “I had a call recently from a man named Mink,” he stated in a tone full of warning.
“Mink? Mink?” Brooke repeated the name as if he had never heard it before.
“Yes, a sneak, if I ever saw one, with eyes shifty and of different colors. Do you recognize him now?”
“He said he was a former friend of yours, and offered to sell me certain information against you.”
“Well, you bought him, of course, under the misguided hope of getting me out of your way.”
“No. I hadn’t the money, and I’m not quite such a rotter as that anyway. I told him I knew quite enough about you already. I sent him away.”
“Very noble of you, I’m sure.”
“But this Mr. Mink was arrested late this afternoon for having pawned certain jewelry stolen at the Hollins’ masked ball.”
“Yes—well—what has that got to do with me?” Brooke turned impatiently from his inquisitor, and looked up the road at the other automobile as if the noise of its still running engine annoyed him.
“What has that got to do with you?” Durant paused. “Nothing except that he has confessed that you got him his chance to serve as a private detective at that ball. Shall I go on?”
“If you wish. On my word, you are no worse than many another bore I have had to listen to, but—” Brooke cast another swift glance up the road—“but while I can stand it myself, I can perhaps save one lady from being bored any longer.” He walked coolly over to Mildred. “Do you mind getting out and sitting in the car ahead until I settle with this young man?” he asked urbanely.
He said something more under his breath. Instantly Mildred accepted his hand, descended and walked alone to the car ahead.
Brooke watched her, waited silently until she had got into the tonneau. Then he turned back to Durant.
“Well, you’ve got me,” he whispered. “What now?”
“I don’t know.” Durant looked at him doubtfully. “Brooke,” he said suddenly, “I understand why you appropriated the necklace, but why did you take Miss Bunce’s sunburst? You aren’t a common thief, you don’t have to do things like that, do you?”
“No.” Brooke drew a line in the road with the sole of his boot. “The only things I’ve laid hands on in Boston I turned over to you.”
“Why—why did you take them?” Durant’s voice was gentle.
“To get you out of the way. That was all. I— well, it’s hell to be caught in a situation such as I was. I was trying—but what’s the use of going into all that?” Brooke’s foot made a deep cleft in the soft soil.
Durant glanced compassionately at him. “I’m not a policeman and I don’t hold anything up against you,” he stated in a voice so low no one else could hear. “So far as I’m concerned you can go, when and where you please.”
“Thank you.” Brooke, his head dropped, appeared to consider. “But how?”
“Afoot, I fear. I presume I must take charge of this car as well as of Miss Bunce.”
“Of course. Yes, of course.” Brooke looked away. “You don’t mind my saying a few words of parting to Miss Bunce first?” he asked humbly.
Durant agreed. He watched Brooke proceed disconsolately to the car ahead. He waited a decent interval before sauntering after him. Then suddenly his pace changed to a frantic run.
Brooke had leaped into the seat at the wheel of the car ahead, had thrown in the clutch. He was off, leaving his pursuer clutching vainly at the hind trappings of the already flying car.
They lost time lighting the lamps of the Bunce car. They lost more valuable time rearranging the baggage in its tonneau so that the car would accommodate all four. By the time they started neither sign nor sound of the other car remained to guide them. They roamed about adjacent roads for an hour or more before reluctantly giving up the hunt, and returning to the spot where Hilda’s motor had been left
“I wouldn’t mind his getting away,” lamented Durant. “I liked his courage, but I do hate to face Mrs. Bunce without her daughter.”
“I understand.” Hilda stood beside her car with him in silent sympathy. “But you have nothing really to reproach yourself for. You did everything that any man would have thought of doing,” she insisted.
He shook his head and bent forward to start the engine.
“Did you really know in the dark that that was a cigarette case?” she asked.
“I—I took a chance,” he answered.
Her exultation seemed to embarrass him. “We have two cars to get back to Boston and only you and I to run them,” he broke in quickly. “Will you take the wheel of the other car and I’ll follow in yours?”
She agreed with alacrity to this separation, but drew up before the garage in the first town they entered.
“We must need gasoline by this time,” she announced.
Durant descended from the other car and hurried after her.
“Would you mind if I engaged a man to drive your car so that we can all be together?” he asked.
She blushed a little. “I have already arranged for that,” she said, turning away.
Shortly they discovered that they were famished, and stopped at the first country inn to attack its larder of cold food. They made weak holiday-end jests at it; they were frankly, arrantly silly until the proprietor regarded them from a distance with heavy disapproval.
Afterward, on the way home, alone together, they became strangely silent and conscious. It was then, to relieve the strain, that Hilda told him the history of the opal pin.
“Strange,” he muttered. “I wore it the night that man Mink called on me. He turned pale when he saw it. He never took his eyes from it. I wonder what he knew about it. I wonder if he threw it where I was to come along to find it!”
“Found it? Where?” Hilda asked.
“In the gutter on Twenty-eighth Street, near Broadway. It’s remarkable, isn’t it? The very next day I learned something that made me determine to leave New York.”
She asked no questions.
“I wonder if it really is as unlucky as they suppose,” he mused aloud. “I was obstinate about it. I deliberately held on to it because everyone said that opals were unlucky, but”—he stopped to look at her—“everything has come out wonderfully since it was thrown away—everything except the escape of Brooke.”
“Yes,” Hilda agreed. “Everything except Mr. Brooke’s escape.”
“I’m sorry we lost him. I must telephone the Bunces about it as soon as we reach Boston.”
There was a long silence, but the opal pin evidently remained a disturbing factor in his thoughts.
“Everything but the escape of Brooke!” he mused again. “I wonder if he could tell me whether Mink was the man who stole it?” he exclaimed suddenly.
“We shall never know now. It was stolen in the dark. Rose never saw the man who took it from her room.”
“I can’t quite bring myself to believe that it is as unlucky as she does—can they hear us?” he asked suddenly, nodding toward the occupants of the tonneau.
“Perhaps—but they aren’t likely to.”
“Rose returns to New York to-morrow to look for an engagement.”
“He’ll win her in the end, I think. He’s waiting as she asks, but he’s not waiting here. He’s going, too. Bunce offered him a partnership to remain, but he’s to start a paper of his own in New York.”
“Splendid! I’m going to do something for them both—if I can,” he said warmly. “Thank Heaven, I can now repay David and let him have all the capital he wants.”
They dropped Rose and David at Miss Cobb’s. Again, left alone, a mantle of conscious silence seemed to descend upon them both.
“Won’t you come in?” she asked as he helped her out of the car at her house.
“I ought to telephone to the Bunces,” he said doubtfully.
“But you can do that here, and quicker,” she urged, leading the way inside.
She went to her room the while he telephoned. She came down a radiant, freshened creature, to find him walking excitedly up and down the hall.
“What do you suppose has happened?” he cried. “The police arrested and held Brooke for being in that automobile I commandeered!”
“The opal pin!” she exclaimed. “Everything—every single thing has turned out right since Rose threw it away!”
“Yes, and listen to this. They were arrested in Quincy. Bunce went out and brought his daughter home, but refused to bail out Brooke. I got Brooke on the telephone and promised to secure his release—of course, I was the one who really stole that car—if he would tell me all he knew about that pin. He said that Mink had it in New York for several weeks. He lost his position with one of the city inspection departments. A number of other misfortunes happened to him. And then one day he was struck on the shoulder by a piece of masonry falling from a skyscraper under construction near Madison Square. As they were taking him along Broadway to the hospital he managed to drop it out of the ambulance.”
“Oh, Richard, I’m so glad you’ve got rid of it!”
There was a catch, a tremble in her voice such as has drawn man to maid from the beginning of time, and a warmth, a tenderness in her look that was like a call. In a moment they were in each other’s arms.
It was eleven of a late May night. Two people, now chattering ecstatically, now strangely quiet, heedlessly deserted an automobile at the curb of Beacon Street and crossed through a short side street to the Charles River Esplanade. The broad, still river, stirred, caressed by a soft breeze from the west, lapped the stone embankment on which they stood, caught the moonlight on its thousand facets. Here was night arrayed in all her jewels! On either hand arched bridges girdled the river, their distant yellow lights gleaming like topazes. Behind lay Boston, drowsing in its nightly stillness; before, far away across the river, lay the very hem of Cambridge, its factories and warehouses sleeping in alternate light and shadow against the nearer sparkle of the Charles. All was gentleness of sound. A soft wind playing, a river flowing—night in its meekest mood—peace!
For a long time they reveled in it; each seeing, each assured without words that the other saw, each reluctant to disturb the peace on and over everything.
At last he bent a little nearer to her along the iron rail, and whispered a question. “Couldn’t you see?” she asked. “I cared for you in the very beginning, when it seemed impossible that you could be what you’ve proved you are. Couldn’t you see, Aladdin?”
“It is you who have the wonderful eyes,” he retorted, gazing into them bullyingly until they dropped. “No, you are marrying me for my title,” he insisted.
“And you me for my money?” she twinkled.
They laughed, their eyes brightening into little fires at their amazing understanding.
“You haven’t told me yet why—why you were so anxious not to be known,” she said at last.
“Shall I? It was such a young and silly reason, but it has turned out so wonderfully,” he added as his eyes fell on her.
“Tell me—instantly!” she commanded.
He smiled and moved a little nearer to her. “I was a younger son, unlikely ever to inherit the title,” he explained, “and out of favor with my father because I seemed always to be getting into difficulties. While my mother lived she was always protecting me, hiding the perfectly harmless things I did until it made my father jealous, made him complain that she cared more for me than she did for him. Perhaps she did. At any rate, that was why I spent so much of my life away from home, here in America. After my mother died—after my mother died,” he repeated, “I wrote reproaching my father for not letting me know that she had been so ill, and that didn’t help matters much. His answer was short and angry and made me want to go home even less than ever. Even after my education here was completed, I lingered on, trying to decide what I should do besides being a younger son and just a gentleman. Then”—again he paused —“then came the news of the drowning of my two older brothers, and a peremptory cable from my father to come back. All the long way home—I was in Denver when the news came—all the way I was thinking of what a terrible blow to my father their deaths must be and seeing his side of our differences and determining to do everything in my power to please him. He must have been thinking on the same line, too, for we got along wonderfully. He was more indulgent to me than ever before, but he seemed possessed with a notion that I wouldn’t stay, that some day I would pack up and clear out as I had so many times before. That made him insist upon my marrying and settling down. He suggested girl after girl, but somehow that always made me conscious and embarrassed with them. Soon he got to twitting me upon my cowardice and placing me in embarrassing situations. That made it worse. Finally”—Durant sighed—“finally, in spite of all our good intentions on both sides, we had an open quarrel. I told him shortly that I intended to choose my own wife. He accused me of deliberately circumventing his wishes, of having no intention of settling down, of seeking any excuse not to do so, and of being the shiftless, conscienceless, disobedient son he had formerly thought me. He said one thing that really hurt. He said that if I weren’t born his son I would have been a beggar; that I had neither the industry nor the ability to earn enough to keep me from starving.
“I had lived so long in America that this cut deep. I told him I would show him whether I could earn my own living or not, and I packed up my things and came to New York. He wrote, begging me to forget what he had said and come back. I wouldn’t. He sent me my income through a New York lawyer. I refused to take it. And then I found that a detective was on my trail all the time to see that I didn’t suffer. This interference enraged me. I threw up my position in New York, escaped the detective, and came to Boston, more determined than ever to show that at least for a few months I could earn my own living. I haven’t—not here—but only because I got in wrong, because— However, none of that matters now.” He brushed it all away into the past. “My father and I have probably had our last difference. I shall cable him that we are to be married.”
She looked at him a long time before speaking her thought. “What—what if he objects to me?”
He laughed. He laughed so loudly and so long that she was forced to draw away from him a little to regain his attention.
He followed, drew up close beside her at the rail, until their arms touched.
“I’m thinking seriously of having this river dredged for the opal pin.”
She shivered a little involuntarily before catching the gleam in his eye, then, “Why?” she asked expectantly.
“Because if it hadn’t been for the opal pin I might never have come to Boston and met you.”
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