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Title: Hearts and Masks
Author: MacGrath, Harold, 1871-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hearts and Masks" ***

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HEARTS AND MASKS

by

HAROLD MACGRATH

Author of The Puppet Crown, The Grey Cloak, The Man on the Box

With Illustrations by Harrison Fisher



[Frontispiece: Five people dressed for costume ball, four sitting, one
standing.]



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers
Copyright 1905
The Bobbs-Merrill Company



TO MY WIFE



List of Illustrations


Five people dressed for costume ball, four sitting, one standing . . .
   (Frontispiece)

The handsomest girl I had set eyes upon in a month of moons.

"This is what I want.  How much?" I inquired.

Turning, I beheld an exquisite Columbine.

I led her over to a secluded nook.  We sat down.

And there we sat, calmly munching the apples.

"Madame, will you do me the honor to raise your mask?"

We watched the girl as she bathed and bandaged the wounded arm.

With a contented sigh she rested her blue-slippered feet on the brass
fender.



HEARTS AND MASKS


I

It all depends upon the manner of your entrance to the Castle of
Adventure.  One does not have to scale its beetling parapets or assault
its scarps and frowning bastions; neither is one obliged to force with
clamor and blaring trumpets and glittering gorgets the drawbridge and
portcullis.  Rather the pathway lies through one of those many little
doors, obscure, yet easily accessible, latchless and boltless, to which
the average person gives no particular attention, and yet which
invariably lead to the very heart of this Castle Delectable.  The
whimsical chatelaine of this enchanted keep is a shy goddess.
Circumspection has no part in her affairs, nor caution, nor
practicality; nor does her eye linger upon the dullard and the
blunderer.  Imagination solves the secret riddle, and wit is the guide
that leads the seeker through the winding, bewildering labyrinths.

And there is something in being idle, too!

If I had not gone idly into Mouquin's cellar for dinner that night, I
should have missed the most engaging adventure that ever fell to my
lot.  It is second nature for me to be guided by impulse rather than by
reason; reason is always so square-toed and impulse is always so
alluring.  You will find that nearly all the great captains were and
are creatures of impulse; nothing brilliant is ever achieved by
calculation.  All this is not to say that I am a great captain; it is
offered only to inform you that I am often impulsive.

A _Times_, four days old; and if I hadn't fallen upon it to pass the
twenty-odd minutes between my order and the service of it, I shouldn't
have made the acquaintance of the police in that pretty little suburb
over in New Jersey; nor should I have met the enchanting Blue Domino;
nor would fate have written Kismet.  The clairvoyant never has any fun
in this cycle; he has no surprises.

I had been away from New York for several weeks, and had returned only
that afternoon.  Thus, the spirit of unrest acquired by travel was
still upon me.  It was nearing holiday week, and those congenial
friends I might have called upon, to while away the evening, were
either busily occupied with shopping or were out of town; and I
determined not to go to the club and be bored by some indifferent
billiard player.  I would dine quietly, listen to some light music, and
then go to the theater.  I was searching the theatrical amusements,
when the society column indifferently attacked my eye.  I do not know
why it is, but I have a wholesome contempt for the so-called society
columns of the daily newspaper in New York.  Mayhap, it is because I do
not belong.

I read this paragraph with a shrug, and that one with a smirk.  I was
in no manner surprised at the announcement that Miss High-Culture was
going to wed the Duke of Impecune; I had always been certain this girl
would do some such fool thing.  That Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds was giving a
farewell dinner at the Waldorf, prior to her departure to Europe,
interested my curiosity not in the least degree.  It would be all the
same to me if she never came back.  None of the wishy-washy
tittle-tattle interested me, in fact.  There was only one little
six-line paragraph that really caught me.  On Friday night (that is to
say, the night of my adventures in Blankshire), the Hunt Club was to
give a charity masquerade dance.  This grasped my adventurous spirit by
the throat and refused to let go.

The atmosphere surrounding the paragraph was spirituous with
enchantment.  There was a genuine novelty about this dance.  Two packs
of playing-cards had been sent out as tickets; one pack to the ladies
and one to the gentlemen.  Charming idea, wasn't it?  These cards were
to be shown at the door, together with ten dollars, but were to be
retained by the recipients till two o'clock (supper-time), at which
moment everybody was to unmask and take his partner, who held the
corresponding card, in to supper.  Its newness strongly appealed to me.
I found myself reading the paragraph over and over.

By Jove, what an inspiration!

I knew the Blankshire Hunt Club, with its colonial architecture, its
great ball-room, its quaint fireplaces, its stables and sheds, and the
fame of its chef.  It was one of those great country clubs that keep
open house the year round.  It stood back from the sea about four miles
and was within five miles of the village.  There was a fine course
inland, a cross-country going of not less than twenty miles, a
shooting-box, and excellent golf-links.  In the winter it was cozy; in
the summer it was ideal.

I was intimately acquainted with the club's M. F. H., Teddy Hamilton.
We had done the Paris-Berlin run in my racing-car the summer before.
If I hadn't known him so well, I might still have been in durance vile,
next door to jail, or securely inside.  I had frequently dined with him
at the club during the summer, and he had offered to put me up; but as
I knew no one intimately but himself, I explained the futility of such
action.  Besides, my horse wasn't a hunter; and I was riding him less
and less.  It is no pleasure to go "parking" along the bridle-paths of
Central Park.  For myself, I want a hill country and something like
forty miles, straight away; that's riding.

The fact that I knew no one but Teddy added zest to the inspiration
which had seized me.  For I determined to attend that dance, happen
what might.  It would be vastly more entertaining than a possibly dull
theatrical performance.  (It was!)

I called for a messenger and despatched him to the nearest drug store
for a pack of playing-cards; and while I waited for his return I
casually glanced at the other diners.  At my table--one of those long
marble-topped affairs by the wall--there was an old man reading a
paper, and the handsomest girl I had set eyes upon in a month of moons.
Sometimes the word handsome seems an inferior adjective.  She was
beautiful, and her half-lidded eyes told me that she was anywhere but
at Mouquin's.  What a head of hair!  Fine as a spider's web, and the
dazzling yellow of a wheat-field in a sun-shower!  The irregularity of
her features made them all the more interesting.  I was an artist in an
amateur way, and I mentally painted in that head against a Rubens
background.  The return of the messenger brought me back to earth; for
I confess that my imagination had already leaped far into the future,
and this girl across the way was nebulously connected with it.

I took the pack of cards, ripped off the covering, tossed aside the
joker (though, really, I ought to have retained it!) and began
shuffling the shiny pasteboards.  I dare say that those around me sat
up and took notice.  It was by no means a common sight to see a man
gravely shuffling a pack of cards in a public restaurant.  Nobody
interfered, doubtless because nobody knew exactly what to do in the
face of such an act, for which no adequate laws had been provided.  A
waiter stood solemnly at the end of the table, scratching his chin
thoughtfully, wondering whether he should report this peculiarity of
constitution and susceptibility occasioning certain peculiarities of
effect from impress of extraneous influences (_vide_ Webster),
synonymous with idiocrasy and known as idiosyncrasy.  It was quite
possible that I was the first man to establish such a precedent in
Monsieur Mouquin's restaurant.  Thus, I aroused only passive curiosity.

From the corner of my eye I observed the old gentleman opposite.  He
was peering over the top of his paper, and I could see by the glitter
in his eye that he was a confirmed player of solitaire.  The girl,
however, still appeared to be in a dreaming state.  I have no doubt
every one who saw me thought that anarchy was abroad again, or that
Sherlock Holmes had entered into his third incarnation.

Finally I squared the pack, took a long-breath, and cut.  I turned up
the card.  It was the ten-spot of hearts.  I considered this most
propitious; hearts being my long suit in everything but love,--love
having not yet crossed my path.  I put the card in my wallet, and was
about to toss the rest of the pack under the table, when, a woman's
voice stayed my hand.

"Don't throw them away.  Tell my fortune first."

I looked up, not a little surprised.  It was the beautiful young girl
who had spoken.  She was leaning on her elbows, her chin propped in her
palms, and the light in her grey _chatoyant_ eyes was wholly innocent
and mischievous.  In Monsieur Mouquin's cellar people are rather
Bohemian, not to say friendly; for it is the rendezvous of artists,
literary men and journalists,--a clan that holds formality in contempt.

"Tell your fortune?" I repeated parrot-like.

"Yes."

"Your mirror can tell you that more accurately than I can," I replied
with a frank glance of admiration.

She drew her shoulders together and dropped them.  "I spoke to you,
sir, because I believed you wouldn't say anything so commonplace as
that.  When one sees a man soberly shuffling a pack of cards in a place
like this, one naturally expects originality."

"Well, perhaps you caught me off my guard,"--humbly.

"I am original.  Did you ever before witness this performance in a
public restaurant?"--making the cards purr.

"I can not say I have,"--amused.

"Well, no more have I!"

"Why, then, do you do it?"--with renewed interest.

"Shall I tell your fortune?"

"Not now.  I had much rather you would tell me the meaning of this
play."

I leaned toward her and whispered mysteriously: "The truth is, I belong
to a secret society, and I was cutting the cards to see whether or not
I should blow up the post-office to-night or the police-station.  You
mustn't tell anybody."

"Oh!"  She started back from the table.  "You do not look it," she
added suddenly.

"I know it; appearances are so deceptive," said I sadly.

Then the old man laughed, and the girl laughed, and I laughed; and I
wasn't quite sure that the grave waiter did not crack the ghost of a
smile--in relief.

[Illustration: The handsomest girl I had set eyes upon in a month of
moons.]

"And what, may I ask, was the fatal card?" inquired the old man,
folding his paper.

"The ace of spades; we always choose that gloomy card in secret
societies.  There is something deadly and suggestive about it," I
answered morbidly.

"Indeed."

"Yes.  Ah, if only you knew the terrible life we lead, we who conspire!
Every day brings forth some galling disappointment.  We push a king off
into the dark, and another rises immediately in his place.  Futility,
futility everywhere!  If only there were some way of dynamiting habit
and custom!  I am a Russian; all my family are perishing in Siberian
mines,"--dismally.

"Fudge!" said the girl.

"Tommy-rot!" said the amiable old gentleman.

"Uncle, his hair is too short for an anarchist."

"And his collar too immaculate."  (So the old gentleman was this
charming creature's uncle!)

"We are obliged to disguise ourselves at times," I explained.  "The
police are always meddling.  It is discouraging."

"You have some purpose, humorous or serious," said the girl shrewdly.
"A man does not bring a pack of cards--"

"I didn't bring them; I sent out for them."

"--bring a pack of cards here simply to attract attention," she
continued tranquilly.

"Perhaps I am a prestidigitator in a popular dime-museum," I suggested,
willing to help her out, "and am doing a little advertising."

"Now, that has a plausible sound," she admitted, folding her hands
under her chin.  "It must be an interesting life.  _Presto--change_!
and all that."

"Oh, I find it rather monotonous in the winter; but in the summer it is
fine.  Then I wander about the summer resorts and give exhibitions."

"You will pardon my niece," interpolated the old gentleman, coughing a
bit nervously.  "If she annoys you--"

"Uncle!"--reproachfully.

"Heaven forfend!" I exclaimed eagerly.  "There is a charm in doing
unconventional things; and most people do not realize it, and are
stupid."

"Thank you, sir," said the girl, smiling.  She was evidently enjoying
herself; so was I, for that matter.  "Do a trick for me," she commanded
presently.

I smiled weakly.  I couldn't have done a trick with the cards,--not if
my life had depended upon it.  But I rather neatly extricated myself
from the trap.

"I never do any tricks out of business hours."

"Uncle, give the gentleman ten cents; I want to see him do a
sleight-of-hand trick."

Her uncle, readily entering into the spirit of the affair, dived into a
pocket and produced the piece of silver.  It looked as if I were caught.

"There! this may make it worth your while," the girl said, shoving the
coin in my direction.

But again I managed to slide under; I was not to be caught.

"It is my regret to say,"--frowning slightly, "that regularity in my
business is everything.  It wants half an hour for my turn to come on.
If I tried a trick out of turn, I might foozle and lose prestige.  And
besides, I depend so much upon the professor and his introductory
notes: 'Ladies and gents, permit me to introduce the world-renowned
Signor Fantoccini, whose marvelous tricks have long puzzled all the
crowned heads of Europe--'"

"Fantoccini,"--musingly.  "That's Italian for puppet show."

"I know it, but the dime-museum visitors do not.  It makes a fine
impression."

She laughed and slid the dime back to her uncle.

"I'm afraid you are an impostor," she said.

"I'm afraid so, too," I confessed, laughing.

Then the comedy came to an end by the appearance of our separate
orders.  I threw aside the cards and proceeded to attack my dinner, for
I was hungry.  From time to time I caught vague fragments of
conversation between the girl and her uncle.

"It's a fool idea," mumbled the old gentleman; "you will get into some
trouble or other."

"That doesn't matter.  It will be like a vacation,--a flash of old
Rome, where I wish I were at this very moment.  I am determined."

"This is what comes of reading romantic novels,"--with a kind of
grumble.

"I admit there never was a particle of romance on your side of the
family," the girl retorted.

"Happily.  There is peace in the house where I live."

"Do not argue with me."

"I am not arguing with you.  I should only be wasting my time.  I am
simply warning you that you are about to commit a folly."

"I have made up my mind."

"Ah!  In that case I have hopes," he returned.  "When a woman makes up
her mind to do one thing, she generally does another.  Why can't you
put aside this fool idea and go to the opera with me?"

"I have seen _Carmen_ in Paris, Rome, London and New York," she replied.

(Evidently a traveled young person.)

"_Carmen_ is your favorite opera, besides."

"Not to-night,"--whimsically.

"Go, then; but please recollect that if anything serious comes of your
folly, I did my best to prevent it.  It's a scatter-brained idea, and
no good will come of it, mark me."

"I can take care of myself,"--truculently.

"So I have often been forced to observe,"--dryly.

(I wondered what it was all about.)

"But, uncle dear, I am becoming so dreadfully bored!"

"That sounds final," sighed the old man, helping himself to the
_haricots verts_.  (The girl ate positively nothing.)  "But it seems
odd that you can't go about your affairs after my own reasonable
manner."

"I am only twenty."

The old man's shoulders rose and fell resignedly.

"No man has an answer for that."

"I promise to tell you everything that happens; by telegraph."

"That's small comfort.  Imagine receiving a telegram early in the
morning, when a man's brain is without invention or coherency of
thought!  I would that you were back home with your father.  I might
sleep o' nights, then."

"I have so little amusement!"

"You work three hours a day and earn more in a week than your father
and I do in a month.  Yours is a very unhappy lot."

"I hate the smell of paints; I hate the studio."

"And I suppose you hate your fame?" acridly.

"Bah! that is my card to a living.  The people I meet bore me."

"Not satisfied with common folks, eh?  Must have kings and queens to
talk to?"

"I only want to live abroad, and you and father will not let
me,"--petulantly.

The music started up, and I heard no more.  Occasionally the girl
glanced at me and smiled in a friendly fashion.  She was evidently an
artist's model; and when they have hair and color like this girl's, the
pay is good.  I found myself wondering why she was bored and why Carmen
had so suddenly lost its charms.

It was seven o'clock when I pushed aside my plate and paid my check.  I
calculated that by hustling I could reach Blankshire either at ten or
ten-thirty.  That would be early enough for my needs.  And now to route
out a costumer.  All I needed was a grey mask.  I had in my apartments
a Capuchin's robe and cowl.  I rose, lighting a cigarette.

The girl looked up from her coffee.

"Back to the dime-museum?"--banteringly.

"I have a few minutes to spare," said I.

"By the way, I forgot to ask you what card you drew."

"It was the ten of hearts."

"The ten of hearts?"  Her amazement was not understandable.

"Yes, the ten of hearts; Cupid and all that."

She recovered her composure quickly.

"Then you will not blow up the post-office to-night?"

"No," I replied, "not to-night."

"You have really and truly aroused my curiosity.  Tell me, what does
the ten of hearts mean to you?"

I gazed thoughtfully down at her.  Had I truly mystified her?  There
was some doubt in my mind.

"Frankly, I wish I might tell you.  All I am at liberty to say is that
I am about to set forth upon a desperate adventure, and I shall be very
fortunate if I do not spend the night in the lock-up."

"You do not look desperate."

"Oh, I am not desperate; it is only the adventure that is desperate."

"Some princess in durance vile?  Some villain to smite?  Citadels to
storm?"  Her smile was enchantment itself.

I hesitated a moment.  "What would you say if I told you that this
adventure was merely to prove to myself what a consummate ass the
average man can be upon occasions?"

"Why go to the trouble of proving it?"--drolly.

"I am conceited enough to have some doubts as to the degree."

"Consider it positive."

I laughed.  "I am in hopes that I am neither a positive ass nor a
superlative one, only comparative."

"But the adventure; that is the thing that mainly interests me."

"Oh, that is a secret which I should hesitate to tell even to the
Sphinx."

"I see you are determined not to illuminate the darkness,"--and she
turned carelessly toward her uncle, who was serenely contemplating the
glowing end of a fat perfecto.

I bowed and passed out in Sixth Avenue, rather regretting that I had
not the pleasure of the charming young person's acquaintance.

The ten-spot of hearts seemed to have startled her for some reason.  I
wondered why.

The snow blew about me, whirled, and swirled, and stung.  Oddly enough
I recalled the paragraph relative to Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds.  By this time
she was being very well tossed about in mid-ocean.  As the old order of
yarn-spinners used to say, little did I dream what was in store for me,
or the influence the magic name of Hyphen-Bonds was to have upon my
destiny.

Bismillah!  (Whatever that means!)



II

After half an hour's wandering about I stumbled across a curio-shop, a
weird, dim and dusty, musty old curio-shop, with stuffed peacocks
hanging from the ceiling, and skulls, and bronzes and marbles,
paintings, tarnished jewelry and ancient armor, rare books in vellum,
small arms, tapestry, pastimes, plaster masks, and musical instruments.
I recalled to mind the shop of the dealer in antiquities in Balzac's
_La Peau de Chagrin_, and glanced about (not without a shiver) for the
fatal ass's skin.  (I forgot that I was wearing it myself that night!)
I was something of a collector of antiquities, of the inanimate kind,
and for a time I became lost in speculation,--speculation rather
agreeable of its kind, I liked to conjure up in fancy the various
scenes through which these curiosities had drifted in their descent to
this demi-pawnshop; the brave men and beautiful women, the clangor of
tocsins, the haze of battles, the glitter of ball-rooms, epochs and
ages.  What romance lay behind yon satin slipper?  What _grande dame_
had smiled behind that ivory fan?  What meant that tarnished silver
mask?

The old French proprietor was evidently all things from a pawnbroker to
an art collector; for most of the jewelry was in excellent order and
the pictures possessed value far beyond the intrinsic.  He was waiting
upon a customer, and the dingy light that shone down on his bald bumpy
head made it look for all the world like an ill-used billiard-ball.  He
was exhibiting revolvers.

From the shining metal of the small arms, my glance traveled to the
face of the prospective buyer.  It was an interesting face, clean-cut,
beardless, energetic, but the mouth impressed me as being rather hard.
Doubtless he felt the magnetism of my scrutiny, for he suddenly looked
around.  The expression on his face was not one to induce me to throw
my arms around his neck and declare I should be glad to make his
acquaintance.  It was a scowl.  He was in evening dress, and I could
see that he knew very well how to wear it.  All this was but momentary.
He took up a revolver and balanced it on his palm.

By and by the proprietor came sidling along behind the cases, the
slip-slip fashion of his approach informing me that he wore slippers.

"Do you keep costumes?" I asked.

"Anything you like, sir, from a crusader to a modern gentleman,"--with
grim and appropriate irony.  "What is it you are in search of--a
masquerade costume?'"

"Only a grey mask," I answered.  "I am going to a masked ball to-night
as a Grey Capuchin, and I want a mask that will match my robe."

"Your wants are simple."

From a shelf he brought down a box, took off the cover, and left me to
make my selection.  Soon I found what I desired and laid it aside,
waiting for Monsieur Friard to return.  Again I observed the other
customer.  There is always a mystery to be solved and a story to be
told, when a man makes the purchase of a pistol in a pawnshop.  A man
who buys a pistol for the sake of protection does so in the light of
day, and in the proper place, a gun-shop.  He does not haunt the
pawnbroker in the dusk of evening.  Well, it was none of my business;
doubtless he knew what he was doing.  I coughed suggestively, and
Friard came slipping in my direction again.

"This is what I want.  How much?" I inquired.

[Illustration: "This is what I want.  How much?" I inquired.]

"Fifty cents; it has never been worn."

I drew out my wallet.  I had arrived in town too late to go to the
bank, and I was carrying an uncomfortably large sum in gold-bills.  As
I opened the wallet to extract a small bill, I saw the stranger eying
me quietly.  Well, well, the dullest being brightens at the sight of
money and its representatives.  I drew out a small bill and handed it
to the proprietor.  He took it, together with the mask, and sidled over
to the cash-register.  The bell gave forth a muffled sound, not unlike
that of a fire-bell in a snow-storm.  As he was in the act of wrapping
up my purchase, I observed the silent customer's approach.  When he
reached my side he stooped and picked up something from the floor.
With a bow he presented it to me.

"I saw it drop from your pocket," he said; and then when he saw what it
was, his jaw fell, and he sent me a hot, penetrating glance.

"The ten of hearts!" he exclaimed in amazement.

I laughed easily.

"The ten of hearts!" he repeated.

"Yes; four hearts on one side and four on the other, and two in the
middle, which make ten in all,"--raillery in my tones.  What the deuce
_was_ the matter with everybody to-night?  "Marvelous card, isn't it?"

"Very strange!" he murmured, pulling at his lips.

"And in what way is it strange?" I asked, rather curious to learn the
cause of his agitation.

"There are several reasons,"--briefly.

"Ah!"

"I have seen a man's hand pinned to that card; therefore it is
gruesome."

"Some card-sharper?"

He nodded.  "Then again, I lost a small fortune because of that
card,"--diffidently.

"Poker?"

"Yes.  Why will a man try to fill a royal flush?  The man next to me
drew the ten of hearts, the very card I needed.  The sight of it always
unnerves me.  I beg your pardon."

"Oh, that's all right," said I, wondering how many more lies he had up
his sleeve.

"And there's still another reason.  I saw a man put six bullets into
the two central spots, and an hour later the seventh bullet snuffed the
candle of a friend of mine.  I am from the West."

"I can sympathize with you," I returned.  "After all that trouble, the
sight of the card must have given you a shock."

Then I stowed away the fatal card and took up my bundle and change.  I
have in my own time tried to fill royal flushes, and the disappointment
still lingers with a bitter taste.

"The element of chance is the most fascinating thing there is," the
stranger from the West volunteered.

"So it is," I replied, suddenly recalling that I was soon to put my
trust in the hands of that very fickle goddess.

He nodded and returned to his revolvers, while I went out of the shop,
hailed a cab, and drove up-town to my apartments in Riverside.  It was
eight o'clock by my watch.  I leaned back against the cushions,
ruminating.  There seemed to be something going on that night; the ten
of hearts was acquiring a mystifying, not to say sinister, aspect.
First it had alarmed the girl in Mouquin's, and now this stranger in
the curio-shop.  I was confident that the latter had lied in regard to
his explanations.  The card _had_ startled him, but his reasons were
altogether of transparent thinness.  A man never likes to confess that
he is unlucky at cards; there is a certain pride in lying about the
enormous stakes you have won and the wonderful draws you have made.  I
frowned.  It was not possible for me to figure out what his interest in
the card was.  If he was a Westerner, his buying a pistol in a pawnshop
was at once disrobed of its mystery; but the inconsistent elegance of
his evening clothes doubled my suspicions.  Bah!  What was the use of
troubling myself with this stranger's affairs?  He would never cross my
path again.

In reasonable time the cab drew up in front of my apartments.  I
dressed, donned my Capuchin's robe and took a look at myself in the
pier-glass.  Then I unwrapped the package and put on the mask.  The
whole made a capital outfit, and I was vastly pleased with myself.
This was going to be such an adventure as one reads about in the
ancient numbers of _Blackwood's_.  I slipped the robe and mask into my
suit-case and lighted my pipe.  During great moments like this, a man
gathers courage and confidence from a pipeful of tobacco.  I dropped
into a comfortable Morris, touched the gas-logs, and fell into a
pleasant dream.  It was not necessary for me to start for the
Twenty-third Street ferry till nine; so I had something like
three-quarters of an hour to idle away. . . .  What beautiful hair that
girl had!  It was like sunshine, the silk of corn, the yield of the
harvest.  And the marvelous abundance of it!  It was true that she was
an artist's model; it was equally true that she had committed a mild
impropriety in addressing me as she had; but, for all I could see, she
was a girl of delicate breeding, doubtless one of the many whose family
fortunes, or misfortunes, force them to earn a living.  And it is no
disgrace these days to pose as an artist's model.  The classic oils,
nowadays, call only for exquisite creations in gowns and hats;
mythology was exhausted by the old masters.  Rome, Paris, London;
possibly a bohemian existence in these cities accounted for her ease in
striking up a conversation, harmless enough, with a total stranger.  In
Paris and Rome it was all very well; but it is a risky thing to do in
unromantic New York and London.  However, her uncle had been with her;
a veritable fortress, had I over-stepped the bounds of politeness.

The smoke wavered and rolled about me.  I took out the ten of hearts
and studied it musingly.  After all, should I go?  Would it be wise?  I
confess I saw goblins' heads peering from the spots, and old Poe
stories returned to me!  Pshaw!  It was only a frolic, no serious harm
could possibly come of it.  I would certainly go, now I had gone thus
far.  What fool idea the girl was bent on I hadn't the least idea; but
I easily recognized the folly upon which I was about to set sail.
Heigh-ho!  What was a lonely young bachelor to do?  At the most, they
could only ask me to vacate the premises, should I be so unfortunate as
to be discovered.  In that event, Teddy Hamilton would come to my
assistance. . . .  She was really beautiful!  And then I awoke to the
alarming fact that the girl in Mouquin's was interesting me more than I
liked to confess.

Presently, through the haze of smoke, I saw a patch of white paper on
the rug in front of the pier-glass.  I rose and picked it up.


  NAME:  _Hawthorne_
  COSTUME:  _Blue Domino_
  TIME:  _5:30 P. M._
  RETURNED:
  ADDRESS:  _West 87th Street_

         FRIARD'S


I stared at the bit of pasteboard, fascinated.  How the deuce had this
got into my apartments?  A Blue Domino?  Ha!  I had it!  Old Friard had
accidentally done up the ticket with my mask.  A Blue Domino; evidently
I wasn't the only person who was going to a masquerade.  Without doubt
this fair demoiselle was about to join the festivities of some
shop-girls' masquerade, where money and pedigree are inconsequent
things, and where everybody is either a "loidy" or a "gent."  Persons
who went to my kind of masquerade did not rent their costumes; they
laid out extravagant sums to the fashionable modiste and tailor, and
had them made to order.  A Blue Domino: humph!

It was too late to take the ticket back to Friard's; so I determined to
mail it to him in the morning.

It was now high time for me to be off.  I got into my coat and took
down my opera hat.  Outside the storm was still active; but the snow
had a promising softness, and there were patches of stars to be seen
here and there in the sky.  By midnight there would be a full moon.  I
got to Jersey City without mishap; and when I took my seat in the
smoker, I found I had ten minutes to spare.  I bought a newspaper and
settled down to read the day's news.  It was fully half an hour between
Jersey City and Blankshire; in that time I could begin and finish the
paper.

There never was a newspaper those days that hadn't a war-map in some
one of its columns; and when I had digested the latest phases of the
war in the far East, I quite naturally turned to the sporting-page to
learn what was going on among the other professional fighters.  (Have I
mentioned to you the fact that I was all through the Spanish War, the
mix-up in China, and that I had resigned my commission to accept the
post of traveling salesman for a famous motor-car company?  If I have
not, pardon me.  You will now readily accept my recklessness of spirit
as a matter of course.)  I turned over another page; from this I
learned that the fair sex was going back to puff-sleeves again.  Many
an old sleeve was going to be turned upside down.

Fudge!  The train was rattling through the yards.  Another page
crackled.  Ha!  Here was that unknown gentleman-thief again, up to his
old tricks.  It is remarkable how difficult it is to catch a thief who
has good looks and shrewd brains.  I had already written him down as a
quasi-swell.  For months the police had been finding clues, but they
had never laid eyes on the rascal.  The famous Haggerty of the New York
detective force,--a man whom not a dozen New York policemen knew by
sight and no criminals save those behind bars, earthly and
eternal,--was now giving his whole attention to the affair.  Some
gaily-dressed lady at a ball would suddenly find she had lost some
valuable gems; and that would be the end of the affair, for none ever
recovered her gems.

The gentleman-thief was still at large, and had gathered to his account
a comfortable fortune; that is, if he were not already rich and simply
a kleptomaniac.  No doubt he owned one of my racing-cars, and was clear
of the delinquent lists at his clubs.  I dismissed all thought of him,
threw aside the paper, and mentally figured out my commissions on sales
during the past month.  It was a handsome figure, large enough for two.
This pastime, too, soon failed to interest me.  I gazed out of the
window and watched the dark shapes as they sped past.

I saw the girl's face from time to time.  What a fool I had been not to
ask her name!  She could easily have refused, and yet as easily have
granted the request.  At any rate, I had permitted the chance to slip
out of my reach, which was exceedingly careless on my part.  Perhaps
they--she and her uncle--frequently dined at Mouquin's; I determined to
haunt the place and learn.  It would be easy enough to address her the
next time we met.  Besides, she would be curious to know all about the
ten of hearts and the desperate adventure upon which I told her I was
about to embark.  Many a fine friendship has grown out of smaller
things.

Next, turning from the window, I fell to examining my fellow
passengers, in the hope of seeing some one I knew.  Conversation on
trains makes short journeys. . . .  I sat up stiffly in my seat.
Diagonally across the aisle sat the very chap I had met in the
curio-shop!  He was quietly reading a popular magazine, and
occasionally a smile lightened his sardonic mouth.  Funny that I should
run across him twice in the same evening!  Men who are contemplating
suicide never smile in that fashion.  He was smoking a small,
well-colored meerschaum pipe with evident relish.  Somehow, when a man
clenches his teeth upon the mouth-piece of a respectable pipe, it seems
impossible to associate that man with crime.  But the fact that I had
seen him selecting a pistol in a pawnshop rather neutralized the good
opinion I was willing to form.  I have already expressed my views upon
the subject.  The sight of him rather worried me, though I could not
reason why.  Whither was he bound?  Had he finally taken one of
Friard's pistols?  For a moment I was on the point of speaking to him,
if only to hear him tell more lies about the ten of hearts, but I
wisely put aside the temptation.  Besides, it might be possible that he
would not be glad to see me.  I always avoid the chance acquaintance,
unless, of course, the said chance acquaintance is met under favorable
circumstances--like the girl in Mouquin's, for instance!  After all, it
was only an incident; and, but for his picking up that card, I never
should have remembered him.

Behind him sat a fellow with a countenance as red and round and
complacent as an English butler's,--red hair and small twinkling eyes.
Once he leaned over and spoke to my chance acquaintance, who, without
turning his head, thrust a match over his shoulder.  The man with the
face of a butler lighted the most villainous pipe I ever beheld.  I
wondered if they knew each other.  But, closely as I watched, I saw no
sign from either.  I turned my collar up and snuggled down.  There was
no need of his seeing _me_.

Then my thoughts reverted to the ten of hearts again.  My ten of
hearts!  The wrinkle of a chill ran up and down my spine!  My ten of
hearts!

Hastily I took out the card and examined the _back_ of it.  It was an
uncommonly handsome back, representing Diana, the moon, and the
midnight sky.  A horrible supposition came to me: supposing they looked
at the back as well as at the face of the card?  And again, supposing I
was miles away from the requisite color and design?  I was staggered.
Here was a pretty fix!  I had never even dreamed of such a contingency.
Hang it!  I now wished I had stuck to my original plan, and gone to the
theater.  Decidedly I was in for it; there was no backing down at this
late hour, unless I took the return train for Jersey City; and I
possessed too much stubbornness to surrender to any such weakness.
Either I should pass the door-committee, or I shouldn't; of one thing I
was certain--

"Blankshire!" bawled the trainman; then the train slowed down and
finally came to a stop.

No turning back for me now.  I picked up my suit-case and got out.  On
the platform I saw the curio-shop fellow again.  Tramping on ahead, the
smell from his villainous pipe assailing my nostrils, was the man who
had asked for a match.  The former stood undecided for a moment, and
during this space of time he caught sight of me.  He became erect, gave
me a sudden sardonic laugh, and swiftly disappeared into the dark.  All
this was uncommonly disquieting; in vain I stared into the blackness
that had swallowed him.  What could he be doing here at Blankshire?  I
didn't like his laugh at all; there was at once a menace and a
challenge in it.

"Any baggage, sir?" asked one of the station hands.

"No."  But I asked him to direct me to a hotel.  He did so.

I made my way down the street.  The wind had veered around and was
coming in from the sea, pure and cold.  The storm-clouds were broken
and scudding like dark ships, and at times there were flashes of
radiant moonshine.

The fashionable hotel was full.  So I plodded through the drifts to the
unfashionable hotel.  Here I found accommodation.  I dressed, sometimes
laughing, sometimes whistling, sometimes standing motionless in doubt.
Bah!  It was only a lark. . . .  I thought of the girl in Mouquin's;
how much better it would have been to spend the evening with her,
exchanging badinage, and looking into each other's eyes!  Pshaw!  I
covered my face with the grey mask and descended to the street.

The trolley ran within two miles of the Hunt Club.  The car was crowded
with masqueraders, and for the first time since I started out I felt
comfortable.  Everybody laughed and talked, though nobody knew who his
neighbor was.  I sat in a corner, silent and motionless as a sphinx.
Once a pair of blue slippers attracted my eye, and again the flash of a
lovely arm.  At the end of the trolley line was a carryall which was to
convey us to the club.  We got into the conveyance, noisily and
good-humoredly.  The exclamations of the women were amusing.

"Good gracious!"

"Isn't it fun!"

"Lovely!"  And all that.  It must have been a novelty for some of these
to act naturally for once.  Nothing lasts so long as the natural
instinct for play; and we always find ourselves coming back to it.

Standing some hundred yards back from the road was the famous Hollywood
Inn, run by the genial Moriarty.  Sometimes the members of the Hunt
Club put up there for the night when there was to be a run the
following morning.  It was open all the year round.

We made the club at exactly ten-thirty.  Fortune went with me;
doubtless it was the crowd going in that saved me from close scrutiny.
My spirits rose as I espied Teddy Hamilton at the door.  He was on the
committee, and was in plain evening clothes.  It was good to see a
familiar face.  I shouldered toward him and passed out my ten dollars.

"Hello, Teddy, my son!" I cried out jovially.

"Hello!"--grinning.  Teddy thought it was some one he knew; well, so it
was.  "What's your card?" he cried, as I pressed by him.

"The ten of hearts."

"The ten of hearts," repeated Teddy to a man who was keeping tally on a
big cardboard.

This sight did not reassure me.  If they were keeping tally of all the
cards presented at the door, they would soon find out that there were
too many tens of hearts, too many by one!  Well, at any rate, I had for
the time being escaped detection; now for the fun.  It would be
sport-royal while it lasted.  What a tale to give out at the club of a
Sunday night!  I chuckled on the way to the ball-room: I had dispensed
with going up to the dressing-room.  My robe was a genuine one, heavy
and warm; so I had no overcoat to check.

"Grave monk, your blessing!"

Turning, I beheld an exquisite Columbine.

[Illustration: Turning, I beheld an exquisite Columbine.]

"_Pax vobiscum_!" I replied solemnly.

"_Pax_ . . .  What does that mean?"

"It means, do not believe all you see in the newspapers."

Columbine laughed gaily.  "I did not know that you were a Latin
scholar; and besides, you gave me to understand you were coming as a
Jesuit, Billy."

Billy?  Here was one who thought she knew me.  I hastened to
disillusion her.

"My dear Columbine, you do not know me, not the least bit.  My name is
not Billy, it is Dicky."

"Oh, you can not fool me," she returned.  "I heard you call out to
Teddy Hamilton that your card was the ten of hearts; and you wrote me,
saying that would be your card."

Complications already, and I hadn't yet put a foot inside the ball-room!

"I am sorry," I said, "but you have made a mistake.  Your Jesuit
probably told you his card would be the nine, not the ten."

"I will wager--"

"Hush!  This is a charity dance; no one makes wagers at such affairs."

"But--Why, my goodness! there's my Jesuit now!"  And to my intense
relief she dashed away.

I carefully observed the Jesuit, and made up my mind to keep an eye
upon him.  If he really possessed the ten of hearts, the man who kept
tally on the cardboard was doing some tall thinking about this time.  I
glided away, into the gorgeous ball-room.

What a vision greeted my eye!  The decorations were in red and yellow,
and it seemed as though perpetual autumnal sunset lay over everything.
At the far end of the room was a small stage hidden behind palms and
giant ferns.  The band was just striking up _A Summer Night in Munich_,
and a wonderful kaleidoscope revolved around me.  I saw Cavaliers and
Roundheads, Puritans and Beelzebubs, Musketeers, fools, cowboys,
Indians, kings and princes; queens and empresses, fairies and Quaker
maids, white and black and red and green dominoes.  Tom Fool's night,
indeed!

Presently I saw the noble Doge of Venice coming my way.  From his
portly carriage I reasoned that if he wasn't in the gold-book of Venice
he stood very well up in the gold-book of New York, He stopped at my
side and struck an attitude.

"_Pax vobiscum_!" said I, bowing.

"Be at the Inquisition Chamber, directly the clock strikes the midnight
hour," he said mysteriously.

"I shall be there to deliver the supreme interrogation," I replied.

"It is well."  He drifted away like a stately ship.

Delightful foolery!  I saw the Jesuit, and moved toward him.

"Disciple of Loyola, hast thou the ten of hearts?"

"My hearts number nine, for I have lost one to the gay Columbine."

"I breathe!  Thou art not he whom I seek."

We separated.  I was mortally glad that Columbine had made a mistake.

The women always seek the monk at a masquerade; they want absolution
for the follies they are about to commit.  A demure Quakeress touched
my sleeve in passing.

"Tell me, grave monk, why did you seek the monastery?"

"My wife fell in love with me,"--gloomily.

"Then you have a skeleton in the clothes-press?"

"Do I look like a man who owned such a thing as a clothes-press, much
less so fashionable a thing as a family skeleton?"

"Then what do you here?"

"I am mingling with fools as a penance."

A fool caught me by the sleeve and batted me gaily over the head with a
bladder.

"Merry come up, why am I a fool?"

"It is the fashion," was my answer.  This was like to gain me the
reputation of being a wit.  I must walk carefully, or these thoughtless
ones would begin to suspect there was an impostor among them.

"Aha!"  There was mine ancient friend Julius.  "Hail Caesar!"

He stopped.

"Shall I beware the Ides of March?" I asked jovially.

"Nay, my good Cassius; rather beware of the ten of hearts," said Caesar
in hollow tones, and he was gone.

The ten of hearts again!  Hang the card!  And then with a sigh of
relief I recollected that in all probability he, like Columbine, had
heard me call out the card to Hamilton.  Still, the popularity of the
card was very disquieting.  I wished it had been seven or five; there's
luck in odd numbers. . . .  A Blue Domino!  My heart leaped, and I
thought of the little ticket in my waistcoat pocket.  A Blue Domino!
If, by chance, there should be a connection between her and the ticket!

She was sitting all alone in a corner near-by, partly screened by a pot
of orange-trees.  I crossed over and sat down by her side.  This might
prove an adventure worth while.

"What a beautiful night it is!" I said.

She turned, and I caught sight of a wisp of golden hair.

"That is very original," said she.  "Who in the world would have
thought of passing comments on the weather at a masque!  Prior to this
moment the men have been calling me all sorts of sentimental names."

"Oh, I am coming to that.  I am even going to make love to you."

She folded her hands,--rather resignedly, I thought,--and the
rollicking comedy began.



III

When they give you a mask at a ball they also give you the key to all
manner of folly and impudence.  Even stupid persons become witty, and
the witty become correspondingly daring.  For all I knew, the Blue
Domino at my side might be Jones' wife, or Brown's, or Smith's, or even
Green's; but so long as I was not certain, it mattered not in what
direction my whimsical fancy took me.  (It is true that ordinarily
Jones and Brown and Smith and Green do not receive invitations to
attend masquerades at fashionable hunt clubs; but somehow they seem to
worry along without these equivocal honors, and prosper.  Still, there
are persons in the swim named Johnes and Smythe and Browne and Greene.
Pardon this parenthesis!)

As I recollected the manner in which I had self-invited the pleasure of
my company to this carnival at the Blankshire Hunt Club, I smiled
behind my mask.  Nerves!  I ought to have been a professor of clinics
instead of an automobile agent.  But the whole affair appealed to me so
strongly I could not resist it.  I was drawn into the tangle by the
very fascination of the scheme.  I was an interloper, but nobody knew
it.  The ten of hearts in my pocket did not match the backs of those
cards regularly issued.  But what of that?  Every one was ignorant of
the fact.  I was safe inside; and all that was romantic in my system
was aroused.  There are always some guests who can not avail themselves
of their invitations; and upon this vague chance I had staked my play.
Besides, I was determined to disappear before the hour of unmasking.  I
wasn't going to take any unnecessary risks.  I was, then, fairly secure
under my Capuchin's robe.

Out of my mind slipped the previous adventures of the evening.  I
forgot, temporarily, the beautiful unknown at Mouquin's.  I forgot the
sardonic-lipped stranger I had met in Friard's.  I forgot everything
save the little ticket that had accidentally slipped into my package,
and which announced that some one had rented a blue domino.

And here was a Blue Domino at my side.  Just simply dying to have me
talk to her!

"I am madly in love with you," I began.  "I have followed you often; I
have seen you in your box at the opera; I have seen you whirl up Fifth
Avenue in your fine barouche; and here at last I meet you!"  I clasped
my hands passionately.

"My beautiful barouche!  My box at the opera!" the girl mimicked.
"What a cheerful Ananias you are!"

"Thou art the most enchanting creature in all the universe.  Thou art
even as a turquoise, a patch of radiant summer sky, eyes of sapphire,
lips--"

"Archaic, very archaic," she interrupted.

"Disillusioned in ten seconds!" I cried dismally.  "How could you?"

She laughed.

"Have you no romance?  Can you not see the fitness of things?  If you
have not a box at the opera, you ought at least to make believe you
have.  History walks about us, and you call the old style archaic!
That hurts!"

"Methinks, Sir Monk--"

"There!  That's more like it.  By my halidom, that's the style!"

"Odds bodkins, you don't tell me!"  There was a second ripple of
laughter from behind the mask.  It was rare music.

"I _could_ fall in love with you!"

"There once was a Frenchman who said that as nothing is impossible, let
us believe in the absurd.  I might be old enough to be your
grandmother,"--lightly.

"Perish the thought!"

"Perish it, indeed!"

"The mask is the thing!" I cried enthusiastically.  "You can make love
to another man's wife--"

"Or to your own, and nobody is the wiser,"--cynically.

"We are getting on."

"Yes, we are getting on, both in years and in folly.  What are you
doing in a monk's robe?  Where is your motley, gay fool?"

"I have laid it aside for the night.  On such occasions as this, fools
dress as wise men, and wise men as fools; everybody goes about in
disguise."

"How would you go about to pick out the fools?"--curiously.

"Beginning with myself--"

"Thy name is also Candor!"

"Look at yonder Cavalier.  He wabbles like a ship in distress, in the
wild effort to keep his feet untangled from his rapier.  I'll wager
he's a wealthy plumber on week-days.  Observe Anne of Austria!  What
arms!  I'll lay odds that her great-grandmother took in washing.
There's Romeo, now, with a pair of legs like an old apple tree.  The
freedom of criticism is mine to-night!  Did you ever see such
ridiculous ideas of costume?  For my part, the robe and the domino for
me.  All lines are destroyed; nothing is recognizable.  My, my!
There's Harlequin, too, walking on parentheses."

The Blue Domino laughed again.

"You talk as if you had no friends here,"--shrewdly.

"But which is my friend and which is the man to whom I owe money?"

"What!  Is your tailor here then?"

"Heaven forbid!  Strange, isn't it, when a fellow starts in to pay up
his bills, that the tailor and the undertaker have to wait till the
last."

"The subject is outside my understanding."

"But you have dressmakers."

"I seldom pay dressmakers."

"Ah!  Then you belong to the most exclusive set!"

"Or perhaps I make my own dresses--"

"Sh!  Not so loud.  Supposing some one should overhear you?"

"It was a slip of the tongue.  And yet, you should be lenient to all."

"Kind heart!  Ah, I wonder what all those interrogation points
mean--the black domino there?"

"Possibly she represents Scandal."

"Scandal, then, is symbolized by the interrogation point?"

"Yes.  Whoever heard of scandal coming to a full stop, that is to say,
a period."

"I learn something every minute.  A hundred years ago you would have
been a cousin to Mademoiselle de Necker."

"Or Madame de Staël."

"Oh, if you are married--"

"I shall have ceased to interest you?"

"On the contrary.  Only, marriage would account for the bitterness of
your tone.  What does the Blue Domino represent?"

"The needle of the compass."  She stretched a sleeve out toward me and
I observed for the first time the miniature compasses woven in the
cloth.  Surely, one does not rent a costume like this.

"I understand now why you attracted me.  Whither will you guide
me?'"--sentimentally.

"Through dark channels and stormy seas, over tropic waters, 'into the
haven under the hill.'"

"Oh, if you go to quoting Tennyson, it's all up with me.  _Are_ you
married?"

"One can easily see that at any rate _you_ are not."

"Explain."

"Your voice lacks the proper and requisite anxiety.  It is always the
married woman who enjoys the mask with thoroughness.  She knows her
husband will be watching her; and jealousy is a good sign."

"You are a philosopher.  Certainly you must be married."

"Well, one does become philosophical--after marriage."

"But are you married?"

"I do not say so."

"Would you like to be?"

"I have my share of feminine curiosity.  But I wonder,"--ruminating,
"why they do not give masquerades oftener."

"That is easily explained.  Most of us live masquerades day by day, and
there might be too much of a good thing."

"That is a bit of philosophy that goes well with your robe.  Indeed,
what better mask is there than the human countenance?"

"If we become serious, we shall put folly out of joint," said I,
rising.  "And besides, we shall miss the best part of this dance."

She did not hesitate an instant.  I led her to the floor, and we joined
the dancers.  She was as light as a feather, a leaf, the down of the
thistle; mysterious as the Cumaean Sibyl; and I wondered who she might
be.  The hand that lay on my sleeve was as white as milk, and the
filbert-shaped horn of the finger-tips was the tint of rose leaves.
_Was_ she connected with the ticket in my pocket?  I tried to look into
her eyes, but in vain; nothing could I see but that wisp of golden hair
which occasionally brushed my chin as with a surreptitious caress.  If
only I dared remain till the unmasking!  I pressed her hand.  There was
an answering pressure, but its tenderness was destroyed by the low
laughter that accompanied it.

"Don't be silly!" she whispered.

"How can I help it?"

"True; I forgot you were a fool in disguise."

"What has Romance done to you that you should turn on her with the
stuffed-club, Practicality?"

"She has never paid any particular attention to me; perhaps that is the
reason."

As we neared a corner I saw the Honorable Julius again.  He stretched
forth his death's-head mask.

"Beware the ten of hearts!" he croaked.

Hang his impudence! . . .  The Blue Domino turned her head with a jerk;
and instantly I felt a shiver run through her body.  For a moment she
lost step.  I was filled with wonder.  In what manner could the ten of
hearts disturb _her_?  I made up my mind to seek out the noble Roman
and learn just how much he knew about that disquieting card.

The music ceased.

"Now, run away with your benedictions," said the Blue Domino
breathlessly.

"Shall I see you again?"--eagerly.

"If you seek diligently."  She paused for a moment, like a bird about
to take flight.  "Positive, fool; comparative, fooler; superlative,
foolest!"

And I was left standing alone: What the deuce did she mean by that?

After all, there might be any number of blue dominoes in the land; and
it seemed scarcely credible that a guest at the Hunt Club would go to a
costumer's for an outfit.  (I had gone to a costumer's, but my case was
altogether different.  I was an impostor.)  I hunted up _Imperator
Rex_.  It was not long ere we came face to face, or, to speak
correctly, mask to mask.

"What do you know about the ten of hearts?" I began with directness.

"I am a shade; all things are known to me."

"You may be a lamp-shade, for all I care.  What do you know about the
ten of hearts?"

"Beware of it,"--hollowly.  From under his toga he produced a ten of
hearts!

My knees wabbled, and there was a sense of looseness about my collar.
The fellow _knew_ I was an impostor.  Why didn't he denounce me?

"Is the back of your card anything like this one?"--ironically.  "I
dare say it isn't.  But have your good time, grave monk; doubtless you
are willing that the fiddlers shall be paid."  And wrapping his toga
about him majestically, he stalked away, leaving me staring
dumfoundedly after his receding form.

Discovered!

The deuce!  Had I been attired like yon Romeo, I certainly should have
taken to my heels; but a fellow can not run in a Capuchin's gown, and
retain any dignity.  I would much rather be arrested than laughed at.
I stood irresolute.  What was to be done?  How much did he know?  Did
he know who I was?  And what was his object in letting me run my
course?  I was all at sea. . . .  Hang the grisly old Roman!  I shut my
teeth; I would see the comedy to its end, no matter what befell.  If
worst came to worst, there was always Teddy Hamilton to fall back on.

I made off toward the smoking-room, rumbling imprecations against the
gods for having given me the idea of attending this masquerade, when it
would have been cheaper and far more comfortable to go to the theater.

But as soon as I entered the smoking-room, I laughed.  It was a droll
scene.  Here we were, all of us, trying savagely to smoke a cigar or
cigarette through the flabby aperture designated in a mask as the
mouth.  It was a hopeless job; for myself, I gave it up in disgust.

Nobody dared talk naturally for fear of being identified.  When a man
did open his mouth it was only to commit some banal idiocy, for which,
during office hours, he would have been haled to the nearest insane
asylum and labeled incurable.  Added to this was a heat matching
Sahara's and the oppressive odor of weltering paint.

By Jove!  Only one man knew that the back of my card was unlike the
others: the man who had picked it up in old Friard's curio-shop, the
man who had come to Blankshire with me!  I knew now.  He had been there
buying a costume like myself.  He had seen me on the train, and had
guessed the secret.  I elbowed my way out of the smoking-room.  It
wouldn't do me a bit of harm to ask a few polite questions of Mr.
Caesar of the sardonic laugh.

But I had lost the golden opportunity.  Caesar had gone to join the
shades of other noble Romans; in vain I searched high and low for him.
Once I ran into Hamilton.  His face was pale and disturbed and anxious.

"What's the trouble, Hamilton?" I asked, with forced gaiety.

He favored me with a penetrating glance.

"The very devil is the trouble," he growled.  "Several of the ladies
have begun to miss valuable jewels.  Anne of Austria has lost her
necklace and Queen Elizabeth is without a priceless comb; altogether,
about ten thousand dollars."

"Robbery?"  I looked at him aghast.

"That's the word.  Curse the luck!  There is always something of this
sort happening to spoil the fun.  But whoever has the jewels will not
get away with them."

"What are you going to do?"

"I have already sent for the village police.  Now I shall lock
all the doors and make every man and woman produce cards for
identification,"--abruptly leaving me.

Thunderbolts out of heaven!  My knees and collar bothered me again; the
first attack was trifling compared to this second seizure.  How the
devil was I to get out?

"Are you searching for me?" inquired a soft voice at my elbow.

I turned instantly.  The Blue Domino had come back to me.

"I have been searching for you everywhere," I said gallantly.

"Oh!  but that is a black one.  Never mind; the fib was well meant."

I led her over to a secluded nook, within a few feet of the door which
gave entrance to the club cellars.  This door I had been bearing in
mind for some time.  It is well to know your topography.  The door was
at the left of the band platform.  There was a twin-door on the other
side.  We sat down.

[Illustration: I led her over to a secluded nook.  We sat down.]

"Have you heard the news?" I asked.

"No.  Has some one been discovered making love to his own wife by
mistake?"

"It's serious.  Anne of Austria and Queen Elizabeth have been robbed of
some jewels."

"A thief among us?"

"A regular Galloping Dick.  I'm a thief myself, for that matter."

"You?" she drew away from me a bit.

"Yes.  My name is Procrastination."

"Ah, my grave Capuchin, we do not steal time; we merely waste it.  But
is what you tell me true?"

"I am very sorry to say it is.  The jewels were worth something like
ten thousand dollars."

"Merciful heavens!"

"It is true, infernally true,"--looking around to see if by chance
Caesar had reappeared on the scene.  (How was I to manage my escape?
It is true I might hie me to the cellars; but how to get out of the
cellars!)  "Have you seen Julius Caesar?" I asked.

"Caesar?"

"Yes, Miss Hawthorne--"

The Blue Domino swung about and leaned toward me, her hands tense upon
the sides of her chair.

"What name did you say?"--a strained note in her voice.

"Hawthorne," I answered, taking out the slip of pasteboard.  "See! it
says that one blue domino was rented of Monsieur Friard at five-thirty
this afternoon."

"How did you come by that ticket?" she demanded.

"It was a miracle.  I purchased a mask there, and this ticket was
wrapped up in my bundle by mistake."

"It is a curious coincidence,"--her voice normal and unagitated.

I was confused.  "Then I am mistaken?"--my chagrin evident.  (All this
while, mind you, I was wondering if that cellar-door was unlocked, and
how long it would take me to reach it before the dénouement!)

"One way or the other, it does not matter," said she.

"Yet, if I could reach the cellars,"--absently.  Then I bit my tongue.

"Cellars?  Who said anything about cellars?  I meant that this is not
the hour for unmasking or disclosing one's identity,"--coldly.

"And yet, when Caesar whispered 'Beware the ten of hearts' you turned
and shuddered.  What have you to offer in defense?"

"It was the horrid mask he wore."

"Well, it wasn't handsome of him."

"What did you mean by cellars?"--suddenly becoming the inquisitor in
her turn.

"I?  Oh, I was thinking what I should do in case of fire,"--nimbly.

"That is not the truth."

"Well, no, it isn't.  Can you keep a secret?" I whispered.

"If it isn't a terrible one."

"Well, I have no earthly business here.  I am an impostor."

"An impostor!"

"Yes.  And for the past few minutes, since I heard of the robbery, I've
been thinking how I could get out of here upon the slightest notice."
While the reckless spirit was upon me, I produced the fatal card and
showed the back to her.  "You will find that yours is of a different
color.  But _I_ am not the Galloping Dick; it was only a hare-brained
lark on my part, and I had no idea it would turn out serious like this.
I was going to disappear before they unmasked.  What would you advise
me to do?"

She took the card, studied it, and finally returned it.  There followed
an interval of silence.

"I have known the imposition from the first," she said.

"What!"

She touched the signet-ring on my little finger.  "I have seen that
once before to-night.  No," she mused, "you will not blow up the
post-office to-night, nor the police-station."

She lifted the corner of her mask, and I beheld the girl I had met in
Mouquin's!

"You?"

"Silence!  So this is the meaning of your shuffling those cards?  Oh,
it is certainly droll!"  She laughed.

"And are you Miss Hawthorne?"

"I am still in the mask, sir; I shall answer none of your questions."

"This is the finest romance in the world!" I cried.

"You were talking about getting out," she said.  "Shall I lend you my
domino?  But that would be useless.  Such a prestidigitator as Signor
Fantoccini has only to say--Presto! and disappear at once."

"I assure you, it is no laughing matter."

"I see it from a different angle."

An artist's model, and yet a guest at this exclusive function?

A commotion around the stage distracted us.  Presently we saw Teddy
Hamilton mount the stage and hold up his hands.

"Attention, ladies and gentlemen!" he called.

Silence gradually fell upon the motley groups of masqueraders.

"A thief is among us.  I have had all the exits closed.  Everybody will
be so kind as to present cards at the main entrance.  Three ten-spots
of hearts have been tallied on the comparing lists.  We have been
imposed upon.  The police are on the way.  Very sorry to cause you this
annoyance.  The identity of the holders of the cards will be known only
to those of us on the committee."

Silence and then a murmur which soon became a fuzzing like that of many
bees.

The Blue Domino suddenly clutched my arm.

"Please take me away, take me away at once!  I'm an impostor, too!"

Two of us!

This was disaster.  I give you my solemn word, there was nothing I
regretted so much as the fact that I hadn't gone to the theater.

But I am a man of quick thought and resource.  In the inelegant
phrasing of the day, me for the cellars!

"Come," said I to the girl; "There's only one chance in a hundred, but
we'll take it together."

"Together?  Where?"

"Why, to the cellars.  I've a pocketful of matches.  We can make a try.
For, if there's a thief around, and we are caught and proved
impostors--Well, I leave you to imagine!"

"I will go with you," she replied resolutely.

The gods were with us.  The door leading to the cellars was not locked.
I opened it, passed the girl before me, and closed the door.

"I am frightened!" she whispered.

"So am I," I offered, to reassure her.  "You are not afraid of rats,
are you?"

"No-o!"

"Bully!" I cried.  Then I laughed.

"How _can_ you laugh?  It is horrible!" she protested.

"You would come, though I heard your uncle warn you.  Look at it the
way I do.  It's a huge joke, and years from now you'll have great fun
telling it to your grandchildren."

"I wish, at this moment, I could see so far ahead--What was
that?"--seizing my arm.

Click!

Somebody had locked the door behind us!



IV

In other words, we had departed the scene of festivities none too soon.
I could readily understand why the door had been locked: it was not to
keep us in the cellars; rather it was to prevent any one from leaving
the ball-room by that route.  Evidently our absence had not been
noticed, nor had any seen our precipitate flight.  I sighed gratefully.

For several minutes we stood silent and motionless on the landing.  At
length I boldly struck a match.  The first thing that greeted my
blinded gaze was the welcome vision of a little shelf lined with
steward's candles.  One of these I lighted, and two others I stuffed
into the pocket of my Capuchin's gown.  Then we tiptoed softly down the
stairs, the girl tugging fearfully at my sleeve.

There was an earthy smell.  It was damp and cold.  Miles and miles away
(so it seemed) the pale moonshine filtered through a cobwebbed window,
It was ghostly; but so far as I was concerned, I was honestly enjoying
myself, strange as this statement may seem.  Here was I, setting forth
upon an adventure with the handsomest, wittiest girl I had ever laid
eyes upon.  If I extricated her neatly, she would always be in my debt;
and the thought of this was mighty pleasant to contemplate.

"Do you know the way out?"

I confessed that, so far as I knew, we were in one of the fabled
labyrinths of mythology.

"Go ahead," she said bravely.

"I ask only to die in your Highness' service,"--soberly.

"But I do not want you to die; I want you to get me out of this cellar;
and quickly, too."

"I'll live or die in the attempt!"

"I see nothing funny in our predicament,"--icily.

"A few moments ago you said that our angles of vision were not the
same; I begin to believe it.  As for me, I think it's simply immense to
find myself in the same boat with you."

"I wish you _had_ been an anarchist, or a performer in a dime-museum."

"You might now be alone here.  But, pardon me; surely you do not lack
the full allotment of the adventurous spirit!  It was all amusing
enough to come here under false pretenses."

"But I had not reckoned on any one's losing jewels."

"No more had I."

"Proceed.  I have the courage to trust to your guidance."

"I would that it might be always!"--with a burst of sentiment that was
not wholly feigned.

"Let us be on,"--imperatively.  "I shall not only catch my death of
cold, but I shall be horribly compromised."

"My dear young lady, on the word of a gentleman, I will do the best I
can to get you out of this cellar.  If I have jested a little, it was
only in the effort to give you courage; for I haven't the slightest
idea how we are going to get out of this dismal hole."

We went on.  We couldn't see half a dozen feet in front of us.  The
gloom beyond the dozen feet was Stygian and menacing.  And the great
grim shadows that crept behind us as we proceeded!  Once the girl
stumbled and fell against me.

"What's the matter?" I asked, startled.

"I stepped on something that--that moved!"--plaintively.

"Possibly it was a potato; there's a bin of them over there.  Where the
deuce are we?"

"If you swear, I shall certainly scream!" she warned.

"But I can swear in the most elegant and approved fashion."

"I am not inclined to have you demonstrate your talents."

"Aha!  Here is the coal-bin.  Perhaps the window may be open.  If so,
we are saved.  Will you hold the candle for a moment?"

Have you ever witnessed a cat footing it across the snow?  If you have,
picture me imitating her.  Cautiously I took one step, then another;
and then that mountain of coal turned into a roaring tread-mill.
Sssssh!  Rrrrr!  In a moment I was buried to the knees and nearly
suffocated.  I became angry.  I would reach that window--

"Hush!  Hush!  The noise, the noise!" whispered the girl, waving the
candle frantically.

But I was determined.  Again I tried.  This time I slipped and fell on
my hands.  As I strove to get up, the cord of my gown became tangled
about my feet.  The girl choked; whether with coal-dust or with
laughter I could not say, as she still had on her cambric-mask.

"Forgive me," she said.  And then I knew it was not the coal-dust.

"I'll forgive you, but I will not promise to forget."

"Merciful heavens! you must not try that again.  Think of the noise!"

"Was I making any noise?"--rubbing the perspiration from my forehead.
(I had taken off my mask.)

"Noise?  The trump of Judgment Day will be feeble compared to it.
Surely some one has heard you.  Why not lay that board on top of the
coal?"

A good idea.  I made use of it at once.  The window was unlatched, but
there was a heavy wire-screen nailed to the sills outside.  There was
no getting out that way.  The gods were evidently busy elsewhere.

"Nothing doing," I murmured, a bit discouraged.

"And even if there was, you really could not expect me to risk my neck
and dignity by climbing through a window like that.  Let us give up the
idea of windows and seek the cellar-doors, those that give to the
grounds.  I declare I shall leave by no other exit."

"It was very kind of you to let me make an ass of myself like that.
Why didn't you tell me beforehand?"

"Perhaps it's the angle of vision again.  I can see that we shall never
agree.  Seriously, I thought that if you got out that way, you might
find the other exit for me.  I am sorry if my laughter annoyed you."

"Not at all, not at all.  But wouldn't it be wise to save a little
laughter to make merry with when we get out?"

I stepped out of the bin and relieved her of the candle; and we went on.

"You did look funny," she said.

"Please don't!" I begged.

Soon we came to a bin of cabbages.  I peered in philosophically.

"I might find a better head in there than mine," I suggested.

"Now you are trying to be sarcastic," said the girl.

We went on.

"Wait a moment!" she cried.  "Here's a bin of nice apples."

Apples!  Well, my word, she was a cool one!  I picked up one, polished
it on my sleeve, and gave it to her.

"I'm hungry," she said apologetically.

"And plucky, too," I supplemented admiringly.  "Most women would be in
a weeping state by this time."

"Perhaps I am waiting till it is all over."

"You had better take off your mask."  In fact I felt positive that the
sight of her exquisite face would act like a tonic upon my nerves.

"I am doing very well with it on.  I can at least keep my face clean."
She raised the curtain and took a liberal bite of the apple--so
nonchalantly that I was forced to smile.

"Here's a box," said I; "let's sit down while we eat.  We are safe
enough.  If any one had heard the racket in the coal-bin, the cellar
would have been full of police by this time."

And there we sat, calmly munching the apples, for all the world as if
the iron hand of the law wasn't within a thousand miles of us.  It was
all very amusing.

[Illustration: And there we sat, calmly munching the apples.]

"Are--_are_ you the man they are hunting for?" she asked abruptly.

"I never stole anything more terrible than green apples--and ripe
ones"--with a nod toward the apple-bin.

"Pardon me!  I feel very guilty in asking you such a question.  You
haven't told me your name."

"Haven't I?  My name is Richard Comstalk.  My friends call me Dickey."

"Dickey," she murmured.  "It's a nice name."

"Won't you have another apple?" I asked impulsively.

"My appetite is appeased, thank you."

An idea came to me.  "Hamilton said there were three tens of hearts.
That meant that only one was out of order.  Where did you get your
card?"

"That I shall tell you--later."

"But are you really an impostor?"

"I should not be in this cellar else."

"You are very mystifying."

"For the present I prefer to remain so."

We tossed aside the apple-cores, rose, and went on.  It was the longest
cellar _I_ ever saw.  There seemed absolutely no end to it.  The
wine-cellar was walled apart from the main cellar, and had the
semblance of a huge cistern with a door opening into it.  As we passed
it, the vague perfume of the grape drifted out to us.

"Let's have a bottle," I began.

"Mr. Comstalk!"

"By absent-treatment!" I hastened to add.

"You will make a capital comrade--if we ever get out of this cellar."

"Trust me for that!" I replied gaily.  "Be careful; there's a pile of
empty bottles, yearning to be filled with tomato-catsup.  Give me your
hand."

But the moment the little digits closed over mine, a thrill seized me,
and I quickly bent my head and kissed the hand.  It was wrong, but I
could not help it.  She neither spoke nor withdrew her hand; and my
fear that she might really be offended vanished.

"We are nearly out of it," I said exultantly.  "I see the cellar-stairs
on ahead.   If only those doors are open!"

"Heaven is merciful to the fool, and we are a pair," she replied,
sighing gratefully.  "It seems strange that nobody should be in the
cellar on a night like this.  Hark!  They are playing again up stairs
in the ball-room."

"And wondering a whole lot where that third ten of hearts has gone."

"But, listen.  How are we to get back to the trolley?  We certainly can
not walk the distance in these clothes."

"Oh, that carryall will come to our rescue.  We are weary and are
leaving early, don't you know?  That part is simple; the complicated
thing is to shake the dust of this cellar."

"What a big furnace!" she exclaimed, as we came into view of the huge
heating apparatus.  "And there's more coal."

A man stepped out from behind the furnace, and confronted us.  A red
bandana covered the lower part of his face and his hat was pulled down
over his eyes.  But I recognized him instantly.  It was the fellow with
the villainous pipe!  Something glittered ominously at the end of his
outstretched arm.

"If you make any noise, sir, I'll have to plug you, sir," he said in
polite but muffled tones.

The candle slipped from my fingers, and the three of us stood in
darkness!



V

There was a clicking sound, and the glare of a dark-lantern struck my
blinking eyes.

"Pick up the candle, sir," said the tranquil voice from behind the
light.

I obeyed readily enough.  Fate was downright cruel to us.  Not a dozen
feet away was liberty; and now we were back at the beginning again,
with the end nowhere in sight.

"Shall I light it, sir?" I asked, not to be outdone in the matter of
formal politeness.

"Yes, sir, doubtless you will need it."

I struck a match and touched the candle-wick.

"Burglar?" said I.  (For all my apparent coolness, my heart-beats were
away up in the eighties!)

The girl snuggled close to my side.  I could feel her heart beating
even faster than mine.

"Burglar?" I repeated.

"Indeed, no, sir,"--reproachfully.  "Mine is a political job."

"A political job?"--thunderstruck.

"Yes, sir; I am an inspector of cellars,"--grimly.  "I couldn't get
around to this here cellar earlier in the day, sir, and a fellow's work
_must_ be done."

Here was a burglar with the sense of humor.

"What can I do for you?" I asked blandly.

"Firstly, as they say, you might tell me what you and this lady _are_
doing in this lonesome cellar."

"Say 'sir,' when you address me."

"Yes, sir."

"The lady and I were playing hide-and-seek."

"Nice game, sir,"--grinning.  "Were you trying to hide under the coal?"

"Oh, no; I was merely exploring it."

"Say 'sir,' when you address me."

"Sir."

"You're a cool hand, sir."

"I am gratified to learn that our admiration is mutual.  But what are
_you_ doing here?"

"I was ascertaining if the law was properly observed, sir," shaking
with silent laughter.

"But what puzzles me," I went on, "is the fact that you could gather
the gems in that garb."  For I was positive that this was the Galloping
Dick every one was looking for.

"I don't understand a word you say, sir.  I'm an inspector of cellars,
sir, not a jeweler.  So you and the lady was playing hide-and-seek?
Come, now, _what_ is your graft?  Is _all_ the push here to-night?"

"That depends,"--cursing under my breath that I wore a gown which
hampered my movements.  For, truth to tell, I was watching him as a cat
watches a mouse.

"Well, sir, we of the profession never interferes with gentlemanly
jobs, sir.  All I want of you is to help me out of here."

"I am not a burglar."

"Oh, I understand, sir; I understand completely.  A gentleman is always
a gentleman, sir.  Now, you can return to that coal-bin.  I was just
about to make for it when you lit that candle."

"Why not leave by the cellar-doors?"

"I have my reasons, sir; most satisfactory reasons, sir.  _I_ prefer
the window.  Get along!"--his tones suddenly hardening.

I got along.

"The lady may sit down, sir," he said courteously.

"Thank you, I will," replied the girl, plumping down on an empty
winecase.  (She afterward confessed that if she had not sat down on the
box, she would have sat down on the cellar-floor, as a sort of
paralysis had seized her knees.)

I stepped into the coal-bin, and rested the candle on the little shelf
for that purpose.  I was downright anxious to see the fellow safely
away.  There wasn't room in that cellar for the three of us.  His
presence doubly endangered us and multiplied the complications.  I was
in no position to force the gems from him.  A man who has ten thousand
dollars' worth of jewels on his person doesn't stop at shooting; and I
possessed a healthy regard for my skin.  I opened the window and caught
it to the ceiling by a hook I found there.

"There is a stout screen, my man."

"Take this, sir, and cut it out,"--handing me a pair of wire-clippers,
holding his lantern under his arm meanwhile.  The muzzle of the
revolver, during all this time, never wavered in its aim at my head.

I went to work at the screen, and presently it fell inward.

"Is that satisfactory?"--with impressive irony.

"You are the most _perfect_ gentleman that _I_ ever see, sir!"

The girl laughed hysterically.

"Now what?"  The fun was beginning to pall on me.

"Step out of the bin and stand aside.  Sit down by the lady.  Maybe
she's a bit frightened."

I obeyed him to the letter.

"Thanks!"  With the agility of a cat he leaped up and wriggled through
the window.  He turned.  "Good night, sir.  Sometime maybe I'll do the
same for you, sir."

"Go to the devil!" I snarled.

"My, my!  What a temper, sir!  I wouldn't have thought it of you, and a
nice lady in speaking distance!"

He disappeared.

The girl laid a hand on my arm.

"You have acted very sensibly, Mr. Comstalk.  If you had not, it is
quite certain he would have shot you."

"It would have been a good thing for me if he had.  He has gone, and
the jewels have gone with him.  I hadn't the least chance; the wretch!
He probably came disguised as a plumber, and nobody suspected him."

"But if he possessed the ten of hearts, why should he have left this
way?"

"Possibly my idea was only an imitation of his.  There must have been
at least a dozen tens of hearts.  My dear young lady, I would give a
good deal if you were well out of this.  I believed my plan was for the
best, and instead I have simply blackened the case against us.  I have
been too adventurous.  The situation looks very serious just now.  Of
course, in the long run, we shall clear ourselves; but it will take
some fine arguing to do it, and possibly half a dozen lawyers."

"It is a terribly embarrassing predicament; but since we started out
together, we'll hang together."  She held out her hand to me.  "It will
be fun to extricate ourselves with full honors."

"You're a brick!"  And I pressed her hand tightly.

"Now, I wonder why the burglar didn't try those cellar-doors?" she
murmured.

"By Jove, I'll soon find out!  Come on.  There's hope yet."

This time we reached the stone steps without interference.  I gave the
candle to the girl, cautiously put a shoulder against one of the doors,
and gave a gentle heave.  It was not locked.  Through the thin crack I
looked out upon the bright world of moonshine and crystal.  Instantly I
permitted the door to settle into its accustomed place.  I readily
understood the burglar's reasons.  Seated upon a box, less than a dozen
feet away, and blissfully smoking one of the club's cigars, sat a burly
policeman.  So _they_ had arrived upon the scene!

"What is it?" asked the girl, as I motioned her to retreat.

"The worst has come: the police!" dramatically.

"Gracious heavens, _this_ is frightful!  We shall never get out now.
Oh dear!  Why did I ever come?  It will be in the papers, with horrid
pictures.  We ought not to have left the ball-room.  Our very actions
will tell heavily against us.  Awful!"

"Now, don't you worry.  They will not take any notice of you, once they
set eyes upon me.  _Homo sum_!  They are looking for _me_.  There's
only one superfluous ten of hearts.  I have it."

"But I shall be found with you, and the stupid police will swear I am
an accomplice."  She wrung her hands.

"But no jewels will be found upon us," I argued half-heartedly.

"They will say we have already disposed of them."

"But the real burglar--"

"They will say that he came into the cellar at our bidding."

This girl was terribly reasonable and direct.

"Hang it!  I know Teddy Hamilton, the M. F. H.  He'll go my bail, and
yours, too, for that matter.  Come, let's not give up.  There _must_ be
some other way out."

"I wish I might believe it.  Why _did_ I come?"--a bit of a wail
stealing into the anger in her voice.

"This is Tom Fool's Night, and no mistake," I assented ruefully.

"But I am a bigger fool than you are; I had an alibi, and a good one."

"An alibi?  Why on earth, then, did you follow me?  What is your alibi?"

"Never mind now.  We should still be in this miserable
cellar,"--briefly.  "What a night!  I am so ashamed!  I shall be
horribly compromised."

"I'll take the brunt of it all.  I'm sorry; but, for the love of
Heaven, don't cry, or I shall lose what little nerve I have left."

"I am not crying!" she denied emphatically.  "My inclination is to
shriek with laughter.  I'm hysterical.  And who wouldn't be, with
police officers and cells staring one in the face?  Let us be going.
That policeman outside will presently hear us whispering if we stand
here much longer."

There was wisdom in this.  So, once again I took the candle, and we
marched back.  There wasn't a single jest left in my whole system, and
it didn't look as if there was ever going to be another supply.  We
took the other side of the furnace, and at length came to a flight of
wooden stairs, leading somewhere into the club.  It was our last
chance, or we should indeed be obliged to stay all night in some bin;
for it would not be long before they searched the cellars.  If this
flight led into the kitchen, we were saved, for I could bluff the
servants.  We paused.  Presently we ascended, side by side, with light
but firm step.  We reached the landing in front of the door without
mishap.  From somewhere came a puff of air which blew out the candle.
I struck a match viciously against the wall---and blundered into a
string of cooking-pans!  It was all over, the agony of suspense!

Blang!  Rumpity-bumpity-blang-blang!

I have heard many stage thunders in my time, but that racket beat
anything and everything this side of siege-guns.

Instantly the door opened and a policeman poked his head in.  Before I
had time to move, he grabbed me by the arm and yanked me--into the
ballroom!  The girl and I had made a complete circuit of the cellars,
and had stumbled into the ball-room again by the flight opposite to
that by which we left it.  Cheerful prospect, wasn't it?  The adventure
had ceased to have any droll side to it.

"Aha!" cried the base minion of the law.  "_Here_ you are, then!
Hello, everybody!  Hello!" he bawled.

Caught!  Here we were, the Blue Domino and myself, the Grey Capuchin,
both of us in a fine fix.  Discovery and ejection I could have stood
with fortitude and equanimity; but there was bad business afoot.  There
wasn't any doubt in my mind what was going to happen.  As the girl
said, there would be flaring head-lines and horrid pictures.  We were
like to be the newspaper sensation of the day.  Arrested and lodged in
jail!  What would my rich, doting old uncle say to that, who had
threatened to disinherit me for lesser things!  I felt terribly sorry
for the girl, but it was now utterly impossible to help her, for I
couldn't help myself.

And behold!  The mysterious stranger I had met in the curio-shop, the
fellow who had virtually haunted me for six hours, the fellow who had
masqueraded as Caesar, suddenly loomed up before me, still wearing his
sardonic smile.  At his side were two more policemen.  He had thrown
aside his toga and was in evening dress.  His keen glance rested on me.

"Here he is, Mr. Haggerty!" cried the policeman cheerfully, swinging me
around.

A detective!  And Heaven help me, he believed me to be the thief!  Oh,
for Aladdin's lamp!



VI

I stood with folded arms, awaiting his approach.  Nonchalance is always
respected by the police.  I must have presented a likely picture,
however--my face blackened with coal-dust, cobwebs stringing down over
my eyes, my Capuchin gown soiled and rent.  The girl quietly took her
place beside me.

"So you took a chance at the cellars, eh?" inquired the detective
urbanely.  "Well, you look it.  Will you go with us quietly, or shall
we have to use force?"

"In the first place, what do you and your police want of _me_?" I
returned coolly.

He exhibited his star of authority.

"I am Haggerty of the Central Office.  I want you for several things."

Several things?  I stared at him stupidly.  Several things?  Then it
came to me, with a jar like an earthquake.  The story in the newspaper
returned to my vision.  Oh, this was too much, altogether too much!  He
took me to be the fashionable thief for whom half the New York police
force were hunting.  My sight swam for a moment in a blur.

"What is it you think I have done?" I demanded.

"You have, or have had, several thousand dollars' worth of gems on your
person to-night."

I shrugged.  The accusation was so impossible that my confidence
returned.

"Mr. Haggerty, you are making a stupid mistake.  You are losing time,
besides.  I am not the man for whom you are hunting.  My name is
Richard Comstalk."

"One name or another, it does not matter."

"Plenty of gall," murmured one of the minions of the law, whom I
afterward learned was the chief of the village police.

"The card by which you gained admittance here," demanded the great
Haggerty truculently.

I surrendered it.  A crowd had by this time collected curiously about
us.  I could see the musicians on the stage peering over the plants.

"The thief you are looking for has gone," said I.  "He escaped by the
coal-window."  By this statement, my feet sank deeper still.

"What did I tell you?" cried Haggerty, turning to his men.  "They had
an accomplice hidden in the cellars."

"I beg to inform you that you are making a mistake that will presently
cost you dear,"--thinking of the political pull my uncle had in New
York.  "I am the nephew of Daniel Witherspoon."

"Worse and worse!" said the chief of police.

"We shall discuss the mistake later and at length.  Of course you can
easily explain how you came to impose upon these people,"--ironically.
"Bah! the game is up.  When you dropped that card in Friard's and said
you were going to a masquerade, I knew your game in a minute, and laid
eyes upon you for the first time since I began the chase.  I've been
after you for weeks.  Your society dodge has worked out, and I'll land
you behind the bars for some time to come, my gay boy.  Come,"--roughly.

"I request Mr. Hamilton to be called.  He will prove to you that you
are greatly mistaken."  Everything looked pretty black, I can tell you.

"You will see whom you please, but only after you are safely landed in
the lockup.  Now, Madame,"--turning swiftly upon the Blue Domino, "what
is your part in this fine business?"

"It certainly has no part in yours,"--icily.

Haggerty smiled.  "My skin is very thick.  Do you know this fellow?"

She shook her head.  He stood undecided for a space.

"Let me see your card."

"I decline to produce it,"--haughtily.

Haggerty seemed staggered for a moment.  "I am sorry to annoy you, but
you must be identified at once."

"And why?"--proudly.  "Was it forbidden to go into the club cellars for
such harmless things as apples?"

Apples!  I looked at her admiringly.

"Apples?" repeated Haggerty.  "Couldn't you have sent a servant for
them?"

She did not reply.

"You were with this clever gentleman in the cellars.  You may or may
not be acquainted with him.  I do not wish to do anything hasty in
regard to yourself, but your position is rather equivocal.  Produce
your card and be identified--if you really can."

"I refuse!"

"Then I shall ask you to accompany us to the room up stairs till the
police-patrol arrives."

"I will go,"--quietly.

"Nonsense!" I objected.  "On my word of honor, I do not know this lady.
Our presence in the cellar was perfectly harmless.  There is no valid
reason for detaining her.  It is an outrage!"

"I am not going to stand here arguing with you," said Haggerty.  "Let
the lady produce her card; let her disclose her identity.  That is
simple enough."

"I have already given you my determination on that subject," replied
the girl.  "I can very well explain my presence here, but I absolutely
decline to explain it to the police."

I didn't understand her at all.  She had said that she possessed an
alibi.  Why didn't she produce it?

So the two of us left the gorgeous ball-room.  Every one moved aside
for us, and quickly, too, as if we had had the plague.  I looked in
vain for Hamilton.  He was a friend in need.  We were taken into the
steward's office and the door was shut and locked.  The band in the
ball-room went galloping through a two-step, and the gaiety was in full
swing again.  The thief had been rounded up!  How the deuce was it
going to end?

"I can not tell you how sorry I am to have mixed you up in this," I
said to the girl.

"You are in no manner to blame.  Think of what _might_ have happened
had you blown up the post-office!"

She certainly was the least embarrassed of the two of us.  I addressed
my next remarks to the great Haggerty.

"Did you find a suitable pistol in Friard's?"

"A man in my business," said Haggerty mildly, "is often found in such
places.  There are various things to be recovered in pawnshops.  The
gentlemen of this club sent _me_ the original ten of hearts, my
presence being necessary at such big entertainments.  And when I saw
that card of yours, I was so happy that I nearly put you on your guard.
Lord, how long I've been looking for you!  I give you credit for being
a clever rascal.  You have fooled us all nicely.  Not a soul among us
knew your name, nor what you looked like.  And but for that card, you
might still be at large.  Until the lady submits to the simple process
of identification, I shall be compelled to look upon her and treat her
as an accomplice.  She has refused the offer I have made her, and she
can not blame me if I am suspicious, when to be suspicious is a part of
my business."  He was reasonable enough in regard to the girl.

He turned to the chief of the village police, who was sitting at the
desk ordinarily used by the club's steward.

"No reporters, mind you."

"Yes, sir.  We'll see that no reporter gets wind of the capture."

The telephone bell rang.  One of the police answered it.

"For you, Mr. Haggerty," he said.

Haggerty sprang to the telephone and placed the receiver to his ear.

"What?" we heard him exclaim.  "You have got the other fellow?  A horse
and carriage at once!"

"Take mine," said the chief excitedly.  "What is it?"

"My subordinate at the railway station has just landed the fellow with
the jewels.  Mighty quick work.  I must hustle into town at once.
There'll be plenty of time to attend to these persons.  Bring them to
town the moment the patrol arrives.  The gems are the most important
things just now."

"Yes, sir.  You can rely upon us, Mr. Haggerty.  Billy, go down with
Mr. Haggerty and show him my rig."

"Good!" said Haggerty.  "It's been a fine night's work, my lads, a fine
night's work.  I'll see that all get some credit.  Permit no one to
approach the prisoners without proper authority."

"Your orders shall be obeyed to the letter," said the chief
importantly.  He already saw his name figuring in the New York papers
as having assisted in the capture of a great thief.

I cursed under my breath.  If it hadn't been for the girl, I am ashamed
to confess, I should have cursed out loud.  She sat rigid and
motionless.  It must have been a cruel ordeal for her.  But what was
puzzling me was the fact that she made not the slightest effort to
spring her alibi.  If _I_ had had one!  Where was Hamilton?  I scarcely
inclined to the idea of sleeping in jail in a dress-suit.

Haggerty departed.  A silence settled gloomily down on us.  Quarter of
an hour passed.  The grim-visaged police watched us vigilantly.  Half
an hour, three-quarters, an hour.  Far away we heard the whistle of an
out-going train.  Would I had been on it!  From time to time we heard
faint music.  At length there was a noise outside the door, and a
moment later Hamilton and two others came in.  When he saw me, he
stopped, his eyes bulging and his mouth agape.

"Dicky Comstalk?" he cried helplessly.  "What the devil does this
mean?"--turning to the police.

"Do you know this fellow, Mr. Hamilton?" asked the chief.

"Know him?  Of course I know him," answered Teddy; "and I'll stake my
last dollar on his honesty."

(Thanks, Teddy!)  I began to breathe.

"But--" began the chief, seized with sudden misgivings.

"It is impossible, I tell you," interrupted Hamilton.  "I know this
gentleman is incapable of the theft.  There is some frightful mistake.
How the dickens did you get here, Dicky?"

And briefly I told him my story, my ass's ears growing inch by inch as
I went along.  Hamilton didn't know whether to swear or to laugh;
finally he laughed.

"If you wanted to come, why didn't you write me for an invitation?"

"I shouldn't have come to your old ball, had I been invited.  It was
just the idea of the lark."

"We shall have to hold him, nevertheless," said the chief, "till
everything is cleared up.  The girl--"

Hamilton looked at the Blue Domino.

"Madame, will you do me the honor to raise your mask?"

[Illustration: "Madame, will you do me the honor to raise your mask?"]

She did so; and I saw Hamilton draw in his breath.  Her beauty was
certainly of an exquisite pattern.  He frowned anxiously.

"I never saw this young woman before," he admitted slowly.

"Ha!" cried the chief, glad to find some one culpable.

"Did you receive your invitation through the proper channels?" asked
Hamilton.

"I came here to-night,"--coldly, "on the invitation of Mrs.
Hyphen-Bonds, who sailed for Europe Wednesday."

Here was an alibi that was an alibi!  I was all at sea.  Hamilton
bowed; the chief coughed worriedly behind his hand.  The girl had told
me she was an impostor like myself, that her ten of hearts was as
dark-stained as my own.  I could not make head or tail to it.  Mrs.
Hyphen-Bonds!  She was a law in the land, especially in Blankshire, the
larger part of which she owned.  What did it all mean?  And what was
her idea in posing as an impostor?

The door opened again.

"The patrol has come," said the officer who entered.

"Let it wait," growled the chief.  "Haggerty has evidently got us all
balled up.  I don't believe his fashionable thief has materialized at
all; just a common crook.  Well, he's got him, at any rate, and the
gems."

"You have, of course, the general invitation?" said Hamilton.

"Here it is,"--and she passed the engraved card to him.

"I beg a thousand pardons!" said Hamilton humbly.  "Everything seems to
have gone wrong."

"Will you guarantee this man?" asked the chief of Hamilton, nodding
toward me.

"I have said so.  Mr. Comstalk is very well known to me.  He is a
retired army officer, and to my knowledge a man with an income
sufficient to put him far beyond want."

"What is your name?" asked the chief of the girl, scowling.  It was
quite evident he couldn't understand her actions any better than I.

"Alice Hawthorne," with an oblique glance at me.

I had been right!

"What is your occupation?  I am obliged to ask these questions, Miss."

"I am a miniature painter,"--briefly,

Hamilton came forward.  "Alice Hawthorne?  Pardon me, but are you the
artist who recently completed the miniatures of the Emperor of Germany,
the Princess of Hesse, and Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds?"

"I am.  I believe there is no further reason for detaining me."

"Emperor of Germany?" echoed the now bewildered chief.  "Why didn't you
tell all this to Mr. Haggerty?"

"I had my reasons."

Once again the door opened.  A burly man in a dark business-suit
entered.  His face ruddy and his little grey eyes sparkled with
suppressed ire.  He reminded me of Vautrin, the only difference being
that Vautrin was French while this man was distinctly Irish.  His
massive shoulders betrayed tremendous strength.  He was vastly angry
about something.  He went to the chief's desk and rested his hands upon
it.

"You are a nice specimen for a chief of police, you are!" he began.

"And who the devil are _you_?" bawled the chief, his choler rising.

"I'll tell you who I am presently."

We all eyed him in wonder.  What was going to happen now?

"Which of you gentlemen is Mr. Hamilton?" asked the new-comer gruffly.

Hamilton signified that he was the gentleman by that name.

"Some ladies at your ball have been robbed of their diamonds, I
understand?"

"About ten thousand dollars' worth."

"Look here, sir," cried the chief, standing up and balling his fist, "I
want you to explain yourself, and mighty quick.  You can't come into my
presence in this manner."

"Bah!  You have just permitted the cleverest rascal in the state to
slip through your butterfingers.  _I_ am Haggerty."

The chief of police sat down suddenly.



VII

The consummate daring of it!  Why, the rascal ought to have been in
command of an army.  On the Board of Strategy he would have been
incomparable!

There followed a tableau that I shall not soon forget.  We all stared
at the real Haggerty much after the fashion of Medusa's victims.
Presently the tension relaxed, and we all sighed.  I sighed because the
thought of jail for the night in a dress-suit dwindled in perspective;
the girl sighed for the same reason and one or two other things; the
chief of the village police and his officers sighed because darkness
had suddenly swooped down on them; and Hamilton sighed because there
were no gems.  Haggerty was the one among us who didn't sigh.  He
scowled blackly.

This big athlete looked like a detective, and the abrupt authority of
his tones convinced me that he was.  Haggerty was celebrated in the
annals of police affairs; he had handled all sorts of criminals, from
titled impostors down to petty thieves.  He was not a man to trifle
with, mentally or physically, and for this reason we were all shaking
in our boots.  He owned to a keen but brutal wit; to him there was no
such thing as sex among criminals, and he had the tenacity of purpose
that has given the bulldog considerable note in the pit.  But it was
quite plain that for once he had met his match.

"I don't see how you can blame me," mumbled the chief.  "None of us was
familiar with your looks, and he showed us his star of authority, and
went to work in a business-like way--By George! and he has run away
with my horse and carriage!"--starting from his chair.

"Never mind the horse.  You'll find it safe at the railway station,"
snarled Haggerty.  "Now, then, tell me everything that has happened,
from beginning to end."

And the chief recounted the adventure briefly.  Haggerty looked coldly
at me and shrugged his broad shoulders.  As for the girl, he never gave
her so much as a single glance.  He knew a gentlewoman without looking
at her twice.

"Humph!  Isn't he a clever one, though?" cried Haggerty, in a burst of
admiration.  "Clever is no name for it.  I'd give a year of my life to
come face to face with him.  It would be an interesting encounter.
Hunted him for weeks, and to-day laid eyes on him for the first time.
Had my clumsy paws on him this very afternoon.  He seemed so willing to
be locked up that I grew careless.  Biff! and he and his accomplice, an
erstwhile valet, had me trussed like a chicken and bundled into the
clothes-press.  Took my star, credentials, playing-card, and
invitation.  It was near eleven o'clock when I roused the housekeeper.
I telegraphed two hours ago."

"Telegraphed!" exclaimed the chief, rousing himself out of a melancholy
dream.  (There would be no mention of him in the morrow's papers.)

"Yes, telegraphed.  The despatch lay unopened on your office-desk.
You're a good watch-dog--for a hen-coop!" growled Haggerty.  "Ten
thousand in gems to-night, and by this time he is safe in New York.
You are all a pack of blockheads.

"Used the telephone, did he?  Told you to hold these innocent persons
till he went somewhere to land the accomplice, eh?  The whistle of the
train meant nothing to you.  Well, that whistle ought to have told you
that there might be a mistake.  A good officer never quits his
prisoners.  If there is an accomplice in toils elsewhere, he makes them
bring him in, he does not go _out_ for him.  And now I've got to start
all over again, and he in New York, a bigger catacomb than Rome ever
boasted of.  He's not a common thief; nobody knows who he is or what
his haunts are.  But I have seen his face; I'll never forget him."

The chief tore his hair, while his subordinates shuffled their feet
uneasily.  Then they all started in to explain their theories.  But the
detective silenced them with a wave of his huge hand.

"I don't want to hear any explanations.  Let these persons go," he
commanded, with a jerk of his head in our direction.  "You can all
return to town but one officer.  I may need a single man," Haggerty
added thoughtfully.

"What are you going to do?" asked the chief.

"Never you mind.  I have an idea; it may be a good one.  If it is, I'll
telephone you all about it when the time comes."

He stepped over to the telephone and called up central.  He spoke so
low that none of us overheard what he said; but he hung up the
receiver, a satisfied smile on his face.

The girl and I were free to go whither we listed, and we listed to
return at once to New York.  Hamilton, however, begged us to remain, to
dance and eat, as a compensation for what we had gone through; but Miss
Hawthorne resolutely shook her head; and as there was nothing in the
world that would have induced me to stay without her, I shook my head,
too.  It seemed to me I had known this girl all my life, so closely
does misfortune link one life to another.  I had seen her for the first
time less than eight hours before; and yet I was confident that as many
years, under ordinary circumstances, would not have taught me her real
worth.

"Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds will never forgive me," said Hamilton dismally, "if
she hears that I've been the cause, indirectly and innocently, of
turning you away."

"Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds need never know," replied the girl, smiling
inscrutably.  "In fact, it would be perfectly satisfactory and
agreeable to me if she never heard at all."

"I will call a conveyance for you," said the defeated M. F. H.  "I
shall never forgive you, Dicky."

"Yes, you will, Teddy.  A loving-cup, the next time we meet at the
club, will mellow everything."

Quarter of an hour later Miss Hawthorne and I, wrapped in
buffalo-robes, our feet snugly stowed away in straw, slid away, to the
jangle and quarrel of sleighbells, toward Moriarty's Hollywood Inn.
The moon shone; not a cloud darkened her serene and lovely countenance.
The pearly whiteness of the world would have aroused the poetry in the
most sordid soul; and far, far away to the east the black, tossing line
of the sea was visible.

"What a beautiful night!" I volunteered.

"The beginning of the end."

"The beginning of the end?  What does that mean?"

"Why, when you first spoke to me, it was about the weather."

"Oh, but this isn't going to be the end; this is the true beginning of
all things."

"I wish I could see it in that light; but we can not see beauty in
anything when hunger lies back of the eyes.  I haven't had anything to
eat, save that single apple, for hours and hours.  I was so excited at
Mouquin's that I ate almost nothing."

"You are hungry?  Well, we'll fix that when we get to Moriarty's.  I'll
find a way of waking him up, in case he's asleep, which I doubt.  There
will be cold chicken and ham and hot coffee."

"Lovely!"

"And we shall dine with the gods.  And now it is all over and done, it
_was_ funny, wasn't it?"

"Terribly funny!"--with a shade of irony.  "It would have been funnier
still if the real Haggerty hadn't turned up.  The patrol had arrived."

"But it didn't happen.  I shall never forget this night,"--romantically.

"I should be inordinately glad to forget it completely,"--decidedly.

"Where's your romance?" I asked.

"I'd rather have it served to me between book-covers.  As I grow older
my love of repose increases."

"Do you know," I began boldly, "it seems that I have known you all my
life."

"Indeed!"

"Yes.  Why, I might really have known you all my life, and still not
have known you as well as I do this very minute,--and less than a dozen
hours between this and our first meeting.  You are as brave as a
paladin, wise as a serpent, cool, witty--and beautiful!"

"Shall I ask the driver to let me out?"  Then she laughed, a
rollicking, joyous laugh.

"What is so funny?"

"I was thinking of that coal-bin."

"Well, I didn't permit a lonely potato to frighten me," I retorted.

"No, you were brave enough--among the potatoes."

"You _are_ beautiful!"

"I am hungry."

"You are the most beautiful girl--"

"I want something to eat."

"--I ever saw!  Do you think it possible for a man to fall in love at
first sight?"

"Oh, nothing is impossible on Tom Fool's night.  Positive, fool;
comparative, fooler; superlative, foolest.  You are marching on with
your degrees, Mr. Comstalk."

"You might call me Dicky," I said in an aggrieved tone.

"Dicky?  Never!  I should always be thinking of paper collars."

"I wish _I_ were witty like that!"

She snuggled down beneath the robes.

An artist's model, thought I.  Never in this world.  I now understood
the drift of her uncle's remark about her earning capacity.  The Alice
Hawthorne miniatures brought fabulous prices.  And here I was, sitting
so close to her that our shoulders touched: and she a girl who knew
intimately emperors and princesses and dukes, not to mention the
worldly-rich.  I admit that for a moment I was touched with awe.  And
it was beginning to get serious.  This girl interested me marvelously.
I summoned up all my courage.

"Are--are you married?"

"No-o."

"Nor engaged to be married?"

"No-o.  But you mustn't ask all these questions."

"How would you like to ride around in a first-class motor-car the rest
of your days?"

She laughed merrily.  Possibly it _was_ funny.

"Are you always amusing like this?"

"Supposing I were serious?"

"In that case I should say you had not yet slipped off your fool's
motley."

This directness was discouraging.

"I wonder if the ten of hearts is lucky, after all," I mused.

"We are not in jail.  I consider that the best of good fortune."

"Give me your card," said I.

She gave me the card, and I put it with mine.

"Why do you do that?"

"Perhaps I want to bring about an enchantment,"--soberly.

"As Signor Fantoccini, or as Mr. Comstalk?"

"I have long since resigned my position in the museum; it was too
exciting."

She made no rejoinder; and for some time there was no sound but the
music of the bells.

Finally we drew up under the colonial portè-cochere of Hollywood Inn
and were welcomed by the genial Moriarty himself, his Celtic
countenance a mirror of smiles.

"Anything in the house to eat?" I cried, shaking the robes from me.

"Anything ye like, if you like cowld things.  I can hate ye a pot of
coffee on the gasolene-burner, and there's manny a vintage in the
cillars."

"That will be plenty!"--joyfully, helping Miss Hawthorne to alight.

"Sure, and ye are from the Hunt Club!"--noting our costumes.  "Well,
well!  They niver have anny too much grub.  Now, I'll putt ye in a
little room all be yersilves, with a windy and a log-fire; cozy as ye
plaze.  Ye'll have nearly two hours to wait for the car-r from the
village."

We entered the general assembly-room.  It was roomy and quaint, and
somewhere above us was the inevitable room in which George Washington
had slept.  The great hooded fireplace was merry with crackling logs.
Casually I observed that we were not alone.  Over yonder, in a shadowed
corner, sat two men, very well bundled up, and, to all appearances,
fast asleep.  Moriarty lighted a four-branched candelabrum and showed
us the way to the little private dining-room, took our orders, and left
us.

"This is romance," said I.  "They used to do these things hundreds of
years ago, and everybody had a good time."

"It is now all very wicked and improper," murmured the girl, laying
aside her domino for the first time; "but delightful!  I now find I
haven't the least bit of remorse for what I have done."

In that dark evening gown she was very beautiful.  Her arms and
shoulders were tinted like Carrara marble; and I knew instantly that I
was never going to recover.  I drew two chairs close to the grate.  I
sat down in one and she in the other.  With a contented sigh she rested
her blue-slippered feet on the brass fender.

[Illustration: With a contented sigh she rested her blue-slippered feet
on the brass fender.]

"My one regret is that I haven't any shoes.  What an adventure!"

"It's fine!"  Two hours in the society of this enchanting creature!  It
was almost too good to be true.  Ah, if it might always be like
this--to return home from the day's work, to be greeted warmly by a
woman as beautiful as this one!  I sighed loudly.

Moriarty came with the chicken and ham and coffee.

"If ye would like, it won't be a bit of trouble to show ye George
Washington's room; or"--with inimitable Irish drollery--"I can tell ye
that he dined in this very room."

"That will serve," smiled the girl; and Moriarty bowed himself out.

His departure was followed by the clatter of silver upon porcelain.  Of
a truth, both of us were hungry.

"I was simply ravenous," the girl confessed.

"And as for me, I never dreamt I could be so unromantic.  Now," said I,
pushing aside my plate, and dropping sugar into my coffee, and vainly
hunting in my pockets for a cigar, "there remains only one mystery to
be cleared up."

"And what might this mystery be?" she asked.  "The whereabouts of the
bogus Haggerty?"

"The bogus Haggerty will never cross our paths again.  He has skipped
by the light of the moon.  No, that's not the mystery.  Why did you
tell me you were an impostor; why did you go to the cellars with me,
when all the while you were at the ball on Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds'
invitation?"

She leaned on her elbows and smiled at me humorously.

"Would you really like to know, Signor?  Well, I was an impostor."  She
sat with her back to the fire, and a weird halo of light seemed to
surround her and frame her.  "Mrs. Hyphen-Bonds accidentally dropped
that invitation in my studio, a few days before she sailed for Europe.
I simply could not resist the temptation.  That is all the mystery
there is."

"And they still think you were there rightfully!"

"You are no longer mystified?"

"Yes; there is yet another mystery to solve: myself."  I knew it.
Without rhyme or reason, I was in love; and without rhyme or reason, I
was glad of it.

"Shall you ever be able to solve such a mystery?"--quizzically.

"It all depends upon you."

"Mr. Comstalk, you will not mar the exquisite humor of our adventure by
causing me any annoyance.  I am sure that some day we shall be very
good friends.  But one does not talk of love on eight hours'
acquaintance.  Besides, you would be taking advantage of my
helplessness; for I really depend upon you to see me safe back to New
York.  It is only the romance, the adventure; and such moonlight nights
often superinduce sentimentality.  What do you know of me?  Nothing.
What do I know of you?  Nothing, save that there is a kindred spirit
which is always likely to lead us into trouble.  Down in your heart you
know you are only temporarily affected by moonshine.  Come, make me a
toast!"--lifting her cup.

"You are right," said I.  "I am a gentleman.  But it was only
consistent that, having been the fool, I should now play the ass.
Here's!"--and I held up my cup.

But neither of us drank; there wasn't time.

For the door opened quietly, and in walked the two men we had seen upon
entering the Inn.  One of them gently closed the door and locked it.
One was in soiled every-day clothes, the other in immaculate evening
dress.  The latter doffed his opera hat with the most engaging smile
imaginable.  The girl and I looked up at him in blank bewilderment, and
set our cups down so mechanically that the warm amber liquid spattered
on the table-cloth.

Galloping Dick and the affable inspector of the cellars stood before us!



VIII

"The unexpected always happens," began the pseudo-detective, closing
his hat, drawing off his gloves and stuffing them into a pocket.  "As a
friend of mine used to say, it is the unexpected that always surprises
us.  We never expected to see these charming masqueraders again, did
we, William?"

"No, sir," said William, grinning affably, "we didn't.  The gentleman
was very nice and obliging to me, sir, when I was in the cellars."

"So I understand.  Now," continued the late Mr. Haggerty, with the
deadly affability of a Macaire, "I beg of you, Mr. Comstalk, I beg of
you not to move or to become unduly excited.  Physicians tell us that
excitement wastes the red corpuscles, that is to say, the life of the
blood."

"Your blood, sir, must be very thin," I returned coolly.  But I cursed
him soundly in my mind.  William's bulging side-pocket convinced me
that any undue excitement on my part would be exceedingly dangerous.

"William, you can always tell a gentleman," said the chief rogue
admiringly.  "A gentleman always recognizes his opportunities, and
never loses his sense of the balance of things."

"And he is usually witty, too, sir," William assented.

The girl sat pale and rigid in her chair.

"What do you want?" I demanded savagely.

"For one thing, I should like to question the propriety of a
gentleman's sitting down to dine with a lady without having washed his
face.  The coal-dust does not add to your manly beauty.  You haven't a
cake of soap about you, William, have you?"

"No, sir."  William's face expressed indescribable enjoyment of the
scene.

The girl's mouth stiffened.  She was struggling to repress the almost
irresistible smile that tickled her lips.

"In times like these," said I, determined not to be outdone, "we are
often thoughtless in regard to our personal appearances.  I apologize
to the lady."

"Fine, fine!  I sincerely admire you, Mr. Comstalk.  You have the true
spirit of adventure.  Hasn't he, William?"

"He certainly has, sir."

"Comes to a private ball without an invitation, and has a merry time of
it indeed.  To have the perfect sense of humor--that is what makes the
world go round."

"Aren't you taking extra risk in offering me these pleasantries?" I
asked.

"Risks?  In what manner?"

"The man you so cleverly impersonated is at the club."  I do not know
what prompted me to put him on his guard.

The rogue laughed lightly.  "I know Mr. Haggerty's habits.  He is
hustling back to New York as fast as he can.  He passed here ten
minutes ago in the patrol, lickety-clip!  He wishes to warn all
pawnbrokers and jewelers to be on the lookout for me to-morrow.  Ten
thousand in a night!"--jovially.

"A _very_ tidy sum, sir," said William.

"A fourth of which goes to you, my good and faithful friend."

"Thank you, sir," replied William.

Two cooler rogues I never wish to meet!

"But wouldn't it be well, sir, to hasten?" asked William.

"We have plenty of time now, my son."

"You have not entered this room," said the girl, her terror slipping
from her, "simply to offer these banalities.  What do you wish?"

"What perspicacity, William!" cried the rogue, taking out a cigarette
case.

"I don't know what that word means, sir, but as you do, it seems to fit
the occasion proper enough."

"It means, William, that this charming young lady scents our visit from
afar."

"I had a suspicion, sir, that it might mean that."  William leaned
against the wall, his beady eyes twinkling merrily.

The master rogue lighted a cigarette at one of the candles.

"Pardon me," he said, "but will you join me?"--proffering the handsome
gold case.

I took a cigarette and fired it.  (I really wanted it.)  I would show
up well before this girl if I died for it.  I blew a cloud of smoke at
the candle-flame.  There _was_ a sparkle of admiration in the girl's
eyes.

"Mr. Comstalk, my respect for you increases each moment."  The rogue
sat down.

"And to whom might this handsome case belong?" I asked, examining it
closely.

"Oh, that has always been mine.  There was a time,"--blowing rings at
the candelabrum,--"when I was respected like yourself, rich, sought
after.  A woman and a trusted friend: how these often tumble down our
beautiful edifices!  Yes, I am a scamp, a thief, a rogue; but not
because I need the money.  No,"--with retrospective eyes--"I need
excitement, tremendous and continuous,--excitement to keep my vigilance
and invention active day and night, excitement to obliterate memory.

"But we can't do it, my friend, we can't do it.  Memory is always with
us.  She is an impartial Nemesis; she dogs the steps of the righteous
and the unrighteous.  To obliterate memory, that is it!  And where
might I find this obliteration, save in this life?  Drugs?  Pah!  Oh, I
have given Haggerty a royal chase.  It has been meat and drink to me to
fool the cleverest policeman in New York.  Till yesterday my face, as a
criminal, was unknown to any man or woman, save William here, who was
my valet in the old days.  I have gone to my clubs, dined, played
billiards; a fine comedy, a fine comedy!  To-morrow William and I sail
for Europe.  Miss Hawthorne, you wear one of the most exquisite rubies
I have ever seen.  Permit me to examine it."

The girl tore the ring from her finger and flung it on the table.  I
made a move as though to push back my chair.

"I wouldn't do it, sir," warned William quietly.

My muscles relaxed.

"Do not commit any rash action, Mr. Comstalk," said the girl, smiling
bravely into my eyes.  "This gentleman would not appreciate it."

The master rogue picked up the ring and rolled it lovingly about his
palms.

"Beautiful, beautiful!" he murmured.  "Finest pigeon-blood, too.  It is
easily worth a thousand.  Shall I give you my note of exchange for
it?"--humorously.  The girl scorned to reply.  He took out a little
chamois bag and emptied its contents on the table.  How they sparkled,
scintillated, glowed; thousands in the whitest of stones!  How he ever
had got his fingers on them is something I shall never learn.  "Aren't
they just beautiful?" he asked naïvely.  "Can you blame me for coveting
them?"  He set the ruby on top of the glittering heap.  It lay there
like a drop of blood.  Presently he caught it up and--presented it to
the girl, who eyed him in astonishment.  "I only wanted to look at it,"
he said courteously.  "I like your grit as much as I admire your
beauty.  Keep the ring."

She slipped it mechanically over her finger.

"But you, my dear Mr. Comstalk!" he cried, turning his shining eyes
upon me, while his fingers deftly replaced the gems in the bag.

"I have no jewelry," I replied, tossing aside the cigarette.

"But you have something infinitely better.  I am rather observant.  In
Friard's curio-shop you carelessly exhibited a wallet that was simply
choking to death with long yellow-boys.  You have it still.  Will you
do me the honor?"--stretching out his slim white hand.

I looked at William; he nodded.  There wasn't the slightest chance for
me to argue.  So I drew out my wallet.  I extracted the gold-bills and
made a neat little packet of them.  It hurt, hurt like the deuce, to
part with them.  But--!

"Game, William, isn't he?  Most men would have flung the wallet at my
head."

"Oh, he is game, sir; never you doubt it, sir," said the amiable
William.

"I have some silver in change," I suggested with some bitterness.

"Far be it that I should touch silver," he said generously, did this
rogue.  "Besides, you will need something to pay for this little supper
and the fare back to New York."  My bills disappeared into his pocket.
"You will observe that I trust you implicitly.  I haven't even counted
the money."

William sniggered.

"And is there anything further?" I inquired.  The comedy was beginning
to weary me, it was so one-sided.

"I am in no particular hurry," the rogue answered, his sardonic smile
returning.  "It is so long since I have chatted with people of my kind."

I scowled.

"Pardon me, I meant from a social point of view only.  I admit we would
not be equals in the eye of the Presbyter."

And then followed a scene that reminds me to this day of some broken,
fantastic dream, a fragment from some bewildering nightmare.



IX

For suddenly I saw his eyes widen and flash with anger and
apprehension.  Quick as a passing sunshadow, his hand swept the
candelabrum from the table.  He made a swift backward spring toward the
door, but he was a little too late.  The darkness he had created was
not intense enough, for there was still the ruddy glow from the logs;
and the bosom of his dress-shirt made a fine target.  Besides, the eyes
that had peered into the window were accustomed to the night.

Blang!  The glass of the window shivered and jingled to the floor, and
a sharp report followed.  The rogue cried out in fierce anguish, and
reeled against the wall.  William whipped out his revolver, but, even
from his favorable angle, he was not quick enough.  The hand that had
directed the first bullet was ready to direct the second.

All this took place within the count of ten.  The girl and I sat
stiffly in our chairs, as if petrified, it was all so swiftly
accomplished.

"Drop it!" said a cold, authoritative voice, and I saw the vague
outlines of Haggerty's face beyond the broken window-pane.

William knew better than to hesitate.  His revolver struck the floor
dully, and a curse rolled from his lips.  Immediately a heavy body
precipitated itself against the door, which crashed inward, and an
officer fearlessly entered, a revolver in each hand.  This tableau,
which lasted fully a minute, was finally disturbed by the entrance of
Haggerty himself.

"Don't be alarmed, Miss," he said heartily; "it's all over, I'm sorry
for the bullet, but it had to be done.  The rascal has nothing more
serious than a splintered bone, I am a dead shot.  A fine
night!"--triumphantly.  "It's been a long chase, and I never was sure
of the finish.  You're the cleverest rogue it has been my good fortune
to meet this many a day.  I don't even know who you are yet.  Well,
well! we'll round that up in time."

Not till the candles again sputtered with light, and William was
securely handcuffed and disarmed, did I recollect that I possessed the
sense of motion.  The smoke of powder drifted across the flickering
candles, and there was a salty taste on my tongue.

"Horrible!" cried the girl, covering her eyes.

The master rogue and his valet were led out into the assembly-room, and
we reluctantly followed.  I saw it all now.  When Haggerty called up
central at the club, he ascertained where the last call had been from,
and, learning that it came from Hollywood Inn, he took his chance.  The
room was soon filled with servants and stable-hands, the pistol-shot
having lured them from their beds.  The wounded man was very pale.  He
sat with his uninjured hand tightly clasped above the ragged wound, and
a little pool of blood slowly formed at his side on the floor.  But his
eyes shone brightly.

"A basin of water and some linen!" cried the girl to Moriarty.  "And
send all these people away."

"To yer rooms, ivery one of ye!" snapped Moriarty, sweeping his hands.
"'Tis no place for ye, be off!"  He hurried the servants out of the
room, and presently returned with a basin of water, some linen and balm.

We watched the girl as she bathed and bandaged the wounded arm; and
once or twice the patient smiled.  Haggerty looked on approvingly, and
in William's eyes there beamed the gentle light of reverence.  It _was_
a picture to see this lovely creature playing the part of the good
Samaritan, moving here and there in her exquisite gown.  Ah, the tender
mercy!  I knew that, come what might, I had strangely found the right
woman, the one woman.

[Illustration: We watched the girl as she bathed and bandaged the
wounded arm.]

"You're a good little woman," said the rogue, his face softening; "and
a good woman is the finest thing God ever placed upon earth.  Had I
only found one!"  He turned whimsically toward me.  "Are you engaged to
marry this little woman?"

"No."

"Surely you love her!"

"Surely I do!"  I looked bravely at the girl as I spoke.

But she never gave any sign that she heard.  She pinned the ends of the
bandages carefully.

"And what brought you to this?" asked Haggerty, looking down at his
prisoner.

The prisoner shrugged.

"You've the making of a fine man in you," went on Haggerty generously.
"What caused you to slip up?"

"That subject is taboo," replied the thief.  "But I want to beg your
pardon for underestimating your cunning."

"It was all due to a chance shot at the telephone."

"I kept you guessing."

"Merrily, too.  My admiration is wholly yours, sir," returned Haggerty,
picking up the telephone exchange-book.  He rang and placed his lips to
the transmitter, calling a number.  "Hello!  Is this the chief of the
Blankshire police?  Yes?  Well, this is Haggerty.  That idea I hinted
to you was a mighty good one.  Prepare two strong cells and have a
doctor on hand.  What?  Oh, you will find your horse and carriage at
Moriarty's.  Good-by!"

My money was handed over to me.  I returned it to my wallet, but
without any particular enthusiasm.

"It's a bad business, William," said I.

"It's all in the game, sir,"--with a look at Haggerty that expressed
infinite hatred.  "In our business we can't afford to be careless."

"Or to talk too much," supplemented his master, smiling.  "Talk, my
friend, rounds me up with a bullet in the arm, and a long sojourn
behind stone walls.  Never talk.  Thank you, Miss Hawthorne, and you,
too, Mr. Comstalk, for the saving grace of humor.  If it were possible,
I should like to give Miss Hawthorne the pick of the jewels.  This is a
sordid world."

"Ye'er car-r is coming!" shouted Moriarty, running to the window.

So the girl and I passed out of Hollywood Inn, leaving Haggerty with
his mysterious prisoners.  I can't reason it out, even to this day, but
I was genuinely sorry that Haggerty had arrived upon the scene.  For
one thing, he had spoiled the glamour of the adventure by tingeing it
with blood.  And on the way to the car I wondered what had been the
rogue's past, what had turned him into this hardy, perilous path.  He
had spoken of a woman; perhaps that was it.  They are always behind
good actions and bad.  Heigh-ho!

Once we were seated in the lonely car, the girl broke down and cried as
if her heart would break.  It was only the general reaction, but the
sight of her tears unnerved me.

"Don't cry, girl; don't!" I whispered, taking her hand in mine.  She
made no effort to repulse me.  "I am sorry.  The rascal was a gallant
beggar, and I for one shouldn't have been sorry to see him get away.
There, there!  You're the bravest, tenderest girl in all this world;
and when I told him I loved you, God knows I meant it!  It is one of
those inexplicable things.  You say I have known you only eight hours?
I have known you always, only I had not met you.  What are eight hours?
What is convention, formality?  We two have lived a lifetime in these
eight hours.  Can't you see that we have?"

"To shoot a human being!" she sobbed.  Her head fell against my
shoulder.  I do not believe she was conscious of the fact.  And I did
not care a hang for the conductor.

I patted her hand encouragingly.  "It had to be done.  He was in a
desperate predicament, and he would have shot Haggerty had the
detective been careless in has turn; and he wouldn't have aimed to
maim, either."

"What a horrible night!  It will haunt me as long as I live!"

I said nothing; and we did not speak again till the first of the
Blankshire lights flashed by us.  By this time her sobs had ceased.

"I know I haven't done anything especially gallant to-night; no
fighting, no rescuing, and all that.  They just moved _me_ around like
a piece of stage scenery."

A smile flashed and was gone.  It was a hopeful sign.

"But the results are the same.  You have admitted to me that you are
neither engaged nor married.  Won't you take me on--on approval?"

"Mr. Comstalk, it all seems so like a horrid dream.  You _are_ a brave
man, and what is better, a sensible one, for you submitted to the
inevitable with the best possible grace.  But you talk of love as
readily as a hero in a popular novel."

"I never go back," said I.  "It seems incredible, doesn't it, that I
should declare myself in this fashion?  Listen.  For my part, I believe
that all this was written,--my Tom-foolery in Mouquin's, my imposture
and yours, the two identical cards,--the adventure from beginning to
end."

Silence.

"Suppose I should say," the girl began, looking out of the window,
"that in the restaurant you aroused my curiosity, that in the cellars
my admiration was stirred, that the frank manner in which you expressed
your regard for me to--to the burglar--awakened--"

"What?" I cried eagerly.

"Nothing.  It was merely a supposition."

"Hang it; I _do_ love you!"

"Are you still the Capuchin, or simply Mr. Comstalk?"

"I have laid aside all masks, even that which hides the heart."

She turned and looked me steadily in the eyes.

"Well?" said I.

"If I took you on--on approval, what in the world should I do with you
in case you should not suit my needs?"

"You could return me," said I laughing.

But she didn't.





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