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Title: The Destroying Angel
Author: Vance, Louis Joseph, 1879-1933
Language: English
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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.

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THE DESTROYING ANGEL

by

LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE

Author of "The Brass Bowl," "The Bronze Bell," "The Bandbox," "Cynthia
of the Minute," Etc.

With Four Illustrations by Arthur I. Keller



A. L. Burt Company
Publishers New York

Copyright, 1912,
By Louis Joseph Vance.

All rights reserved, including those of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.

Published, October, 1912.



TO

ROBERT HOBART DAVIS



[Illustration: Whitaker's jaw dropped and his eyes widened with wonder
and pity]



CONTENTS


       I. DOOM

      II. THE LAST STRAW

     III. "MRS. MORTEN"

      IV. MRS. WHITAKER

       V. WILFUL MISSING

      VI. CURTAIN

     VII. THE LATE EXTRA

    VIII. A HISTORY

      IX. ENTR'ACTE

       X. THE WINDOW

      XI. THE SPY

     XII. THE MOUSE-TRAP

    XIII. OFFSHORE

     XIV. DÉBÂCLE

      XV. DISCLOSURES

     XVI. THE BEACON

    XVII. DISCOVERY

   XVIII. BLIGHT

     XIX. CAPITULATION

      XX. TEMPERAMENTAL

     XXI. BLACK OUT



ILLUSTRATIONS


Whitaker's jaw dropped and his eyes widened with wonder and pity

Her eyes fastened dilating, upon his. The scene faltered perceptibly

Whitaker felt land beneath his feet

"I do not love you. You are mad to think it"



THE DESTROYING ANGEL



I

DOOM


"Then I'm to understand there's no hope for me?"

"I'm afraid not...." Greyerson said reluctantly, sympathy in his eyes.

"None whatever." The verdict was thus brusquely emphasized by Hartt, one
of the two consulting specialists.

Having spoken, he glanced at his watch, then at the face of his
colleague, Bushnell, who contented himself with a tolerant waggle of his
head, apparently meant to imply that the subject of their deliberations
really must be reasonable: anybody who wilfully insists on footing the
measures of life with a defective constitution for a partner has no
logical excuse for being reluctant to pay the Piper.

Whitaker looked quickly from one to the other of his three judges,
acutely sensitive to the dread significance to be detected in the
expression of each. He found only one kind and pitiful: no more than
might have been expected of Greyerson, who was his friend. Of the
others, Hartt had assumed a stony glare to mask the nervousness so
plainly betrayed by his staccato accents; it hurt him to inflict pain,
and he was horribly afraid lest the patient break down and "make a
scene." Bushnell, on the other hand, was imperturbable by nature: a man
to whom all men were simply "cases"; he sat stroking his long chin and
hoping that Whitaker would have the decency soon to go and leave them
free to talk shop--his pet dissipation.

Failing to extract the least glimmering of hope from the attitude of any
one of them, Whitaker drew a long breath, unconsciously bracing himself
in his chair.

"It's funny," he said with his nervous smile--"hard to realize, I mean.
You see, I _feel_ so fit--"

"Between attacks," Hartt interjected quickly.

"Yes," Whitaker had to admit, dashed.

"Attacks," said Bushnell, heavily, "recurrent at intervals constantly
more brief, each a trifle more severe than its predecessor."

He shut his thin lips tight, as one who has consciously pronounced the
last word.

Greyerson sighed.

"But I don't understand," argued the prisoner at the bar, plaintively
bewildered. "Why, I rowed with the Crew three years hand-running--not a
sign of anything wrong with me!"

"If you had then had proper professional advice, you would have spared
yourself such strains. But it's too late now; the mischief can't be
undone."

Evidently Bushnell considered the last word his prerogative. Whitaker
turned from him impatiently.

"What about an operation?" he demanded of Greyerson.

The latter looked away, making only a slight negative motion with his
head.

"The knife?" observed Hartt. "That would merely hasten matters."

"Yes," Bushnell affirmed....

There was a brief uneasy silence in the gloomy consulting room. Then
Whitaker rose.

"Well, how long will you give me?" he asked in a strained voice.

"Six months," said Greyerson, miserably avoiding his eye.

"Three," Hartt corrected jerkily.

"Perhaps...." The proprietor of the last word stroked his chin with a
contemplative air.

"Thanks," said Whitaker, without irony. He stood for an instant with his
head bowed in thought. "What a damned outrage," he observed
thoughtfully. And suddenly he turned and flung out of the room.

Greyerson jumped to follow him, but paused as he heard the crash of the
street door. He turned back with a twitching, apologetic smile.

"Poor devil!" he said, sitting down at his desk and fishing a box of
cigars from one of the drawers.

"Takes it hard," commented Hartt.

"You would, too, at his age; he's barely twenty-five."

"Must feel more or less like a fellow whose wife has run off with his
best friend."

"No comparison," said Bushnell bluntly. "Go out, get yourself arrested
for a brutal murder you didn't commit, get tried and sentenced to death
within six months, the precise date being left to the discretion of the
executioner--_then_ you'll know how he feels."

"If you ask me"--Greyerson handed round the box--"he feels pretty shaky
and abused, and he wants a drink badly--the same as me."

He unlocked a cellaret.

"Married?" Hartt inquired.

"No. That's the only mitigating circumstance," said Greyerson,
distributing glasses. "He's quite alone in the world, as far as I
know--no near relatives, at least."

"Well off?"

"Tolerably. Comes of good people. Believe his family had a lot of money
at one time. Don't know how much of it there was left for Whitaker. He's
junior partner in a young law firm down-town--senior a friend or
classmate of his, I understand: Drummond & Whitaker. Moves with the
right sort of people. Young Stark--Peter Stark--is his closest
friend.... Well.... Say when."



II

THE LAST STRAW


Greyerson was right in his surmise as to Hugh Whitaker's emotions. His
soul still numb with shock, his mind was altogether preoccupied with
petulant resentment of the unfairness of it all; on the surface of the
stunning knowledge that he might count on no more than six months of
life, floated this thin film of sensation of personal grievance. He had
done nothing to deserve this. The sheer brutality of it....

He felt very shaky indeed.

He stood for a long time--how long he never knew--bareheaded on a
corner, just as he had left Greyerson's office: scowling at nothing,
considering the enormity of the wrong that had been put upon him. Later,
realizing that people were staring, he clapped on his hat to satisfy
them and strode aimlessly down Sixth Avenue. It was five o'clock in the
afternoon of a day late in April--a raw, chilly, dark, unseasonable
brute of a day. He found himself walking fast, instinctively, to keep
his blood in warm circulation, and this struck him as so inconsistent
that presently he stopped short and snarled at himself:

"You blithering fool, what difference does it make whether you're warm
or cold? Don't you understand you're going to die within half a year?"

He strove manfully to grapple with this hideous fact. He felt so well,
so strong and efficient; and yet he walked in the black shadow of death,
a shadow from which there was for him no escape.

He thought it the damnedest sensation imaginable!

On top of this reflection came the third clause of Greyerson's analysis:
he made the discovery that he wanted a drink--a lot of drinks: in point
of fact, more than he had ever had before, enough to make him forget.

He turned across-town toward Fifth Avenue, came to his club, and went
in. Passing through the office, force of habit swung his gaze to the
letter-rack. There was a square white envelope in the W pigeonhole, and
it proved to be addressed to him. He knew the handwriting very well--too
well; his heart gave a great jump as he recognized it, and then sank
like a stone; for not only must he die, but he must give up the girl he
loved and had planned to marry. The first thing he meant to do (after
getting that drink) was to write to her and explain and release her from
her promise. The next thing....

He refused to let the idea of the next step form in his mind. But he
knew very well what it would be. In the backwards of his understanding
it lurked--a gray, grisly, shameful shadow.

"Anyhow," he muttered, "I'm not going to stick round here, dying by
inches, wearing the sympathy of my friends to tatters."

But as yet he dared not name the alternative.

He stuffed the letter into his pocket, and passed on to the elevator
gates, meaning to go up to the library and there have his drink and read
his letter and write the answer, in peace and quiet. The problem of that
answer obsessed his thoughts. It would be hard--hard to write--that
letter that meant the breaking of a woman's faithful heart.

The elevator kept him waiting a moment or two, just round the corner
from the grill-room door, whence came a sound of voices talking and
laughing. One was Billy Hamilton's unmistakable semi-jocular drawl.
Whitaker knew it without thinking of it, even as he heard what was being
said without, at first, comprehending--heard and afterwards remembered
in vivid detail.

"Seems to be the open season for runaways," Hamilton was saying. "It's
only a few days since Thurlow Ladislas's daughter--what's her
name?--Mary--took the bit between her teeth and bolted with the old
man's chauffeur."

Somebody asked: "How far did they get before old Ladislas caught up?"

"He didn't give chase. He's not that kind. If he was put to it, old
Thurlow could play the unforgiving parent in a melodrama without any
make-up whatever."

"That's right," little Fiske's voice put in. "Chap I know on the
_Herald_--reporter--was sent to interview him, but old Ladislas told him
quite civilly that he'd been misinformed--he hadn't any daughter named
Mary. Meaning, of course, that the girl had defied him, and that his
doors were thenceforth barred to her."

"He's just like that," said Hamilton. "Remember his other daughter,
Grace, eloping with young Pettit a few years ago? Old Ladislas had a
down on Pettit--who's a decent enough kid, notwithstanding--so Grace was
promptly disowned and cast into the outer darkness, where there's
weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, because Pettit's only
something-on-a-small-salary in the diplomatic service, and they've no
hope of ever touching a penny of the Ladislas coin."

"But what became of them--Mary and the stoker-person?"

"Nobody knows, except possibly themselves. They're laying low
and--probably--getting first-hand information as to the quantity of
cheese and kisses they can afford on chauffeur's pay."

"What's she like, this Mary-quite-contrary?" inquired George Brenton's
voice. "Anybody ever see her?"

"Oh, nothing but a kid," said little Fiske. "I used to see her often,
last summer, kiting round Southampton on a bike. The old man's so mean
he wouldn't let her use the car alone.... Weedy little beggar, all legs
and eyes--skirts to her shoe-tops and hair to her waist."

"Not over eighteen, I gather?"

"Oh, not a day," little Fiske affirmed.

The elevator was waiting by this time, but Whitaker paused an instant
before taking it, chiefly because the sound of his own name, uttered by
Hamilton, had roused him out of the abstraction in which he had
overheard the preceding conversation.

"Anyhow, I'm sorry for Hugh Whitaker. He's going to take this hard,
mighty hard."

George Brenton asked, as if surprised: "What? I didn't know he was
interested in that quarter."

"You must be blind. Alice Carstairs has had him going for a year.
Everybody thought she was only waiting for him to make some big
money--he as much as anybody, I fancy."

Brenton added the last straw. "That's tough," he said soberly.
"Whitaker's a white man, and Alice Carstairs didn't deserve him. But I
wouldn't blame any man for feeling cut-up to be thrown over for an
out-and-out rotter like Percy Grimshaw...."

Whitaker heard no more. At the first mention of the name of Alice
Carstairs he had snatched her letter from his pocket and thrust his
thumb beneath the flap. Now he had withdrawn the enclosure and was
reading.

When a mean-spirited, selfish woman starts in to justify herself
(especially, on paper) for doing something thoroughly contemptible, the
result is apt to be bitterly unfair to everybody involved--except
herself. Nobody will ever know just what Alice Carstairs saw fit to
write to Hugh Whitaker when she made up her mind to run away with
another man; but there can be little doubt that they were venomous words
he read, standing there under the curious eyes of the elevator boy and
the pages. The blood ebbed from his face and left it ghastly, and when
he had torn the paper to shreds and let them flutter about his feet, he
swayed perceptibly--so much so that one of the pages took alarm and
jumped to his side.

"Beg pardon, Mr. Whitaker--did you call me?"

Whitaker steadied himself and stared until he recognized the boy. "No,"
he said thickly, "but I want you. Give me a bar order."

The boy produced the printed form and Whitaker hastily scribbled his
order on it. "Bring that up to the library," he said, "and be quick
about it."

He stumbled into the elevator, and presently found himself in the
library. There was no one else about, and Whitaker was as glad of that
as it was in him to be glad of anything just then. He dropped heavily
into a big arm-chair and waited, his brain whirling and seething, his
nerves on edge and screeching. In this state Peter Stark found him.

Peter sauntered into the room with a manner elaborately careless.
Beneath that mask he was anything but indifferent, just as his
appearance was anything but fortuitous. It happened that the page who
had taken Whitaker's order, knowing that Peter and Hugh were close
friends, and suspecting that something was wrong with the latter, had
sought out Peter before going to get the order filled. Moreover, Peter
had already heard about Alice Carstairs and Percy Grimshaw.

"Hel-_lo_!" he said, contriving by mere accident to catch sight of
Whitaker, who was almost invisible in the big chair with its back to the
body of the room. "What you doing up here, Hugh? What's up?"

"It's all up," said Whitaker, trying to pull himself together.
"Everything's up!"

"Don't believe it," said Stark, coolly. "My feet are on the ground; but
you look as if you'd seen a ghost."

"I have--my own," said Whitaker. The page now stood beside him with a
tray. "Open it," he told the boy, indicating a half-bottle of champagne;
and then to Peter: "I'm having a bath. Won't you jump in?"

Peter whistled, watching the wine cream over the brandy in the long
glass. "King's peg, eh?" he said, with a lift of disapproving eyebrows.
"Here, boy, bring me some Scotch and plain water for common people."

The boy disappeared as Whitaker lifted his glass.

"I'm not waiting," he said bluntly. "I need this now."

"That's a question, in my mind, at least. Don't you think you've had
about enough for one day?"

"I leave it to your superior knowledge of my capacity," said Whitaker,
putting aside the empty glass. "That's my first to-day."

Peter saw that he was telling the truth, but the edge of his disapproval
remained keen.

"I hope," he said thoughtfully, "that the man who started that lie about
drink making a fellow forget died the death of a dog. He deserved to,
anyway, because it's one of the cruellest practical jokes ever
perpetrated on the human race. I know, because I've tried it on,
hard--and waked up sick to my marrow to remember what a disgusting ass
I'd made of myself for all to behold." He stopped at Whitaker's side and
dropped a hand on his shoulder. "Hugh," he said, "you're one of the
best. Don't...."

Whatever he had meant to say, he left unfinished because of the return
of the page with his Scotch; but he had said enough to let Whitaker
understand that he knew about the Carstairs affair.

"That's all right," said Whitaker; "I'm not going to make a damn' fool
of myself, but I am in a pretty bad way. Boy--"

"Hold on!" Peter interrupted. "You're not going to order another? What
you've had is enough to galvanize a corpse."

"Barring the negligible difference of a few minutes or months, that's
me," returned Whitaker. "But never mind, boy--run along."

"I'd like to know what you mean by that," Peter remarked, obviously
worried.

"I mean that I'm practically a dead man--so near it that it makes no
difference."

"The devil you say! What's the matter with you?"

"Ask Greyerson. I can't remember the name--it's too long--and I couldn't
pronounce it if I did."

Peter's eyes narrowed. "What foolishness has Greyerson been putting into
your head?" he demanded. "I've a good mind to go punch his--"

"It isn't his fault," Whitaker asserted. "It's my own--or rather, it's
something in the nature of a posthumous gift from my progenitors;
several of 'em died of it, and now it seems I must. Greyerson says so,
at least, and when I didn't believe him he called in Hartt and Bushnell
to hold my ante-mortem. They made it unanimous. If I'm uncommonly lucky
I may live to see next Thanksgiving."

"Oh, shut up!" Peter exploded viciously. "You make me tired--you and
your bone-headed M.D.'s!"

He worked himself into a comforting rage, damning the medical fraternity
liberally for a gang of bloodthirsty assassins and threatening to commit
assault and battery upon the person of Greyerson, though Whitaker did
his best to make him understand that matters were what they
were--irremediable.

"You won't find any higher authorities than Hartt and Bushnell," he
said. "They are the court of last resort in such cases. When they hand
down a decision, there's no come-back."

"You can't make me believe that," Peter insisted. "It just can't be so.
A man like you, who's always lived clean.... Why, look at your athletic
record! Do you mean to tell me a fellow could hold a job as undisputed
best all-round man in his class for four years, and all the time
handicapped by a constitutional...? Oh, get out! Don't talk to me. I'm
far more likely to be doing my bit beneath the daisies six months from
now.... I won't believe it!"

His big, red, generous fist described a large and inconclusive gesture
of violence.

"Well," he growled finally, "grant all this--which I don't, not for one
little minute--what do you mean to do?"

"I don't mind telling you," said Whitaker: "I don't know. Wish I did. Up
to within the last few minutes I fully intended to cut the knot with my
own knife. It's not reasonable to ask a man to sit still and watch
himself go slowly to pieces...."

"No," said Stark, sitting down. "No," he admitted grudgingly; "but I'm
glad you've given that up, because I'm right and all these fool doctors
are wrong. You'll see. But...." He couldn't help being curious. "But
why?"

"Well," Whitaker considered slowly--"it's Alice Carstairs. You know what
she's done."

"You don't mean to say you're going--that you think there's any
consideration due her?"

"Don't you?" Whitaker smiled wearily. "Perhaps you're right. I don't
know. We won't discuss the ethics of the situation; right or wrong, I
don't mean to shadow whatever happiness she has in store for her by
ostentatiously snuffing myself out just now."

Peter gulped and succeeded in saying nothing. But he stared.

"At the same time," Whitaker resumed, "I don't think I can stand this
sort of thing. I can't go round with my flesh creeping to hear the
whisperings behind my back. I've got to do something--get away
somewhere."

Abrupt inspiration sparked the imagination of Peter Stark, and he began
to sputter with enthusiasm.

"I've got it!" he cried, jumping to his feet. "A sea trip's just the
thing. Chances are, it'll turn the trick--bring you round all right-O,
and prove what asses doctors are. What d'you say? Are you game for a
sail? The _Adventuress_ is laid up at New Bedford now, but I can have
her put in commission within three days. We'll do it--we'll just light
out, old man! We'll try that South Seas thing we've talked about so
long. What d'you say?"

A warm light glowed in Whitaker's sunken eyes. He nodded slowly.



III

"MRS. MORTEN"


It was three in the morning before Peter Stark, having to the best of
his endurance and judgment tired Whitaker out with talking, took his hat
and his departure from Whitaker's bachelor rooms. He went with little
misgiving; Whitaker was so weary that he would have to sleep before he
could think and again realize his terror; and everything was arranged.
Peter had telegraphed to have the _Adventuress_ rushed into commission;
they were to go aboard her the third day following. In the meantime,
Whitaker would have little leisure in which to brood, the winding up of
his affairs being counted upon to occupy him. Peter had his own affairs
to look to, for that matter, but he was prepared to slight them if
necessary, in order that Whitaker might not be left too much to
himself....

Whitaker shut the hall door, when the elevator had taken Peter away, and
turned back wearily into his living-room. It was three in the morning;
his body ached with fatigue, his eyes were hot and aching in their
sockets, and his mouth hot and parched with excess of smoking; yet he
made no move toward his bedchamber. Insomnia was a diagnostic of his
malady: a fact he hadn't mentioned to his friend. He had little wish to
surrender his mind to the devils that haunt a wakeful pillow, especially
now when he could feel the reaction setting in from the anodynous
excitement of the last few hours. Peter Stark's whirlwind enthusiasm had
temporarily swept him off his feet, and he had yielded to it,
unresisting, selfish enough to want to be carried away against the wiser
counsels of his intuition.

But now, alone, doubts beset him.

Picking his way across a floor littered with atlases, charts, maps and
guide-books, he resumed his chair and pipe and with the aid of a copy of
"The Wrecker" and a nightcap, strove to drug himself again with the
fascination of the projected voyage. But the savour had gone out of it
all. An hour before he had been able to distil a potent magic, thought
obliterating, by sheer force of repetition of the names, Apia, Hawaii,
Tahiti, Samoa.... Now all their promise was an emptiness and a mockery.
The book slipped unheeded from his grasp; his pipe grew cold between his
teeth; his eyes burned like lamps in their deep hollows, with their
steady and undeviating glare....

Dawn-dusk filled the high windows with violet light before he moved.

He rose, went to the bath-room and took a bottle of chloral from the
medicine-closet. He wondered at the steadiness of the hand that measured
out the prescribed dose--no more, no less. He wondered at the strength
of will which enabled him to take no more. There was enough in the
bottle to purchase him eternity.

What he took bought him three hours of oblivion. He rose at eight,
ordered his breakfast up by telephone, bathed and dressed. When the tray
came up, his mail came with it. Among others there was one letter in a
woman's hand which he left till the last, amusing himself by trying to
guess the identity of the writer, the writing being not altogether
strange to him. When at length he gave over this profitless employment,
he read:

     "DEAR HUGH: I can call you that, now, because you're Peter's
     dearest friend and therefore mine, and the proof of that is that
     I'm telling you first of all of our great happiness. Peter and I
     found out that we loved one another only yesterday, so we're going
     to be married the first of June and...."

Whitaker read no more. He could guess the rest, and for the moment he
felt too sick a man to go through to the end. Indeed, the words were
blurring and running together beneath his gaze.

After a long time he put the letter aside, absent-mindedly swallowed a
cup of lukewarm coffee and rose from an otherwise untasted meal.

"That settles that, of course," he said quietly. "And it means I've got
to hustle to get ahead of Peter."

He set busily about his preparations, thinking quickly while he packed.
It occurred to him that he had, after all, several hours in which to
catch together the loose ends of things and make an exit without leaving
the businesses of his clients in a hopeless snarl; Peter Stark would
sleep till eleven, at least, and it would be late in the afternoon
before the young man could see his fiancée and find out from her that
Whitaker knew of the sacrifice Peter contemplated for friendship's sake.

Whitaker packed a hand-bag with a few essentials, not forgetting the
bottle of chloral. He was not yet quite sure what he meant to do after
he had definitely put himself out of Peter Stark's sphere of influence,
but he hadn't much doubt that the drug was destined to play a most
important part in the ultimate solution, and would as readily have
thought of leaving it behind as of going without a toothbrush or railway
fare.

Leaving the bag in the parcels-room at the Grand Central Station, he
went down-town to his office and put in a busy morning. Happily his
partner, Drummond, was out of town for the day; so he was able to put
his desk in order unhindered by awkward questionings. He worked
expeditiously, having no callers until just before he was ready to
leave. Then he was obliged to admit one who desired to make a settlement
in an action brought against him by Messrs. Drummond & Whitaker. He took
Whitaker's receipt for the payment in cash, leaving behind him fifteen
one-hundred-dollar notes. Whitaker regarded this circumstance as a
special dispensation of Providence to save him the bother of stopping at
the bank on his way up-town; drew his personal check for the right
amount and left it with a memorandum under the paper-weight on
Drummond's desk; put a match to a shredded pile of personal
correspondence in the fireplace; and caught a train at the Grand Central
at one-three.

Not until the cars were in motion did he experience any sense of
security from Peter Stark. He had been apprehensive until that moment of
some unforeseen move on the part of his friend; Peter was capable of
wide but sure casts of intuition on occasion, especially where his
affections were touched. But now Whitaker felt free, free to abandon
himself to meditative despair; and he did it, as he did most things,
thoroughly. He plunged headlong into an everlasting black pit of terror.
He considered the world through the eyes of a man sick unto death, and
found it without health. Behind him lay his home, a city without a
heart, a place of pointing fingers and poisoned tongues; before him the
brief path of Fear that he must tread: his broken, sword-wide span
leaping out over the Abyss....

He was anything but a patient man at all times, and anything but sane in
that dark hour. Cold horror crawled in his brain like a delirium--horror
of himself, of his morbid flesh, of that moribund body unfit to sheathe
the clean fire of life. The thought of struggling to keep animate that
corrupt Self, tainted by the breath of Death, was invincibly terrible to
him. All sense of human obligation disappeared from his cosmos; remained
only the biting hunger for eternal peace, rest, freedom from the bondage
of existence....

At about four o'clock the train stopped to drop the dining-car. Wholly
swayed by blind impulse, Whitaker got up, took his hand-bag and left the
car.

On the station platform he found himself pelted by a pouring rain. He
had left Town in a sodden drizzle, dull and dismal enough in all
conscience; here was a downpour out of a sky three shades lighter than
India ink--a steadfast, grim rain that sluiced the streets like a
gigantic fire-hose, brimming the gutters with boiling, muddy torrents.

The last to leave the train, he found himself without a choice of
conveyances; but one remained at the edge of the platform, an aged and
decrepit four-wheeler whose patriarchal driver upon the box might have
been Death himself masquerading in dripping black oilskins. To
Whitaker's inquiry he recommended the C'mercial House. Whitaker agreed
and imprisoned himself in the body of the vehicle, sitting on stained
and faded, threadbare cushions, in company with two distinct odours, of
dank and musty upholstery and of stale tuberoses. As they rocked and
crawled away, the blind windows wept unceasingly, and unceasingly the
rain drummed the long roll on the roof.

In time they stopped before a rambling structure whose weather-boarded
façade, white with flaking paint, bore the legend: COMMERCIAL HOUSE.
Whitaker paid his fare and, unassisted, carried his hand-bag up the
steps and across the rain-swept veranda into a dim, cavernous hall whose
walls were lined with cane-seated arm-chairs punctuated at every second
chair by a commodious brown-fibre cuspidor. A cubicle fenced off in one
corner formed the office proper--for the time being untenanted. There
was, indeed, no one in sight but a dejected hall-boy, innocent of any
sort of livery. On demand he accommodatingly disentangled himself from a
chair, a cigarette and a paper-backed novel, and wandered off down a
corridor, ostensibly to unearth the boss.

Whitaker waited by the desk, a gaunt, weary man, hag-ridden by fear.
There was in his mind a desolate picture of the room up-stairs when
he--his soul: the imperishable essence of himself--should have finished
with it....

At his elbow lay the hotel register, open at a page neatly headed with a
date in red ink. An absence of entries beneath the date-line seemed to
indicate that he was the first guest of the day. Near the book was a
small wooden corral neatly partitioned into stalls wherein were herded
an ink-well, toothpicks, matches, some stationery, and--severely by
itself--a grim-looking raw potato of uncertain age, splotched with ink
and wearing like horns two impaled penholders.

Laboriously prying loose one of the latter, Whitaker registered; but
two-thirds of his name was all he entered; when it came to "Whitaker,"
his pen paused and passed on to write "Philadelphia" in the residence
column.

The thought came to him that he must be careful to obliterate all
laundry marks on his clothing.

In his own good time the clerk appeared: a surly, heavy-eyed, loutish
creature in clothing that suggested he had been grievously misled by
pictures in the advertising pages of magazines. Whitaker noted, with
insensate irritation, that he wore his hair long over one eye, his mouth
ajar, his trousers high enough to disclose bony purple ankles. His
welcome to the incoming guest was comprised in an indifferent nod as
their eyes met, and a subsequent glance at the register which seemed
unaccountably to moderate his apathy.

"Mr. Morton--uh?" he inquired.

Whitaker nodded without words.

The youth shrugged and scrawled an hieroglyph after the name. "Here,
Sammy," he said to the boy--"Forty-three." To Whitaker he addressed the
further remark: "Trunks?"

"No."

The youth seemed about to expostulate, but checked when Whitaker placed
one of his hundred-dollar notes on the counter.

"I think that'll cover my liability," he said with a significance
misinterpreted by the other.

"I ain't got enough change--"

"That's all right; I'm in no hurry."

The eyes of the lout followed him as he ascended the stairs in the path
of Sammy, who had already disappeared. Annoyed, Whitaker quickened his
pace to escape the stare. On the second floor he discovered the bell-boy
waiting some distance down a long, darksome corridor, indifferently
lighted by a single window at its far end. As Whitaker came into view,
the boy thrust open the door, disappeared for an instant, and came out
minus the bag. Whitaker gave him a coin in passing--an attention which
he acknowledged by pulling the door to with a bang the moment the guest
had entered the room. At the same time Whitaker became aware of a
contretemps.

The room was of fair size, lighted by two windows overlooking the tin
roof of the front veranda. It was furnished with a large double bed in
the corner nearest the door a wash-stand, two or three chairs, a
bandy-legged table with a marble top; and it was tenanted by a woman in
street dress.

She stood by the wash-stand, with her back to the light, her attitude
one of tense expectancy: hardly more than a silhouette of a figure
moderately tall and very slight, almost angular in its slenderness. She
had been holding a tumbler in one hand, but as Whitaker appeared this
slipped from her fingers; there followed a thud and a sound of spilt
liquid at her feet. Simultaneously she cried out inarticulately in a
voice at once harsh and tremulous; the cry might have been "_You!_" or
"_Hugh!_" Whitaker took it for the latter, and momentarily imagined that
he had stumbled into the presence of an acquaintance. He was pulling off
his hat and peering at her shadowed face in an effort to distinguish
features possibly familiar to him, when she moved forward a pace or two,
her hands fluttering out toward him, then stopped as though halted by a
force implacable and overpowering.

"I thought," she quavered in a stricken voice--"I thought ... you ... my
husband ... Mr. Morton ... the boy said...."

Then her knees buckled under her, and she plunged forward and fell with
a thump that shook the walls.

"I'm sorry--I beg pardon," Whitaker stammered stupidly to ears that
couldn't hear. He swore softly with exasperation, threw his hat to a
chair and dropped to his knees beside the woman. It seemed as if the
high gods were hardly playing fair, to throw a fainting woman on his
hands just then, at a time when he was all preoccupied with his own
absorbing tragedy.

She lay with her head naturally pillowed on the arm she had
instinctively thrown out to protect her face. He could see now that her
slenderness was that of youth, of a figure undeveloped and immature. Her
profile, too, was young, though it stood out against the dark background
of the carpet as set and white as a death-mask. Indeed, her pallor was
so intense that a fear touched his heart, of an accident more serious
than a simple fainting spell. Her respiration seemed entirely suspended,
and it might have been merely his fancy that detected the least
conceivable syncopated pulsation in the icy wrist beneath his fingers.

He weighed quickly half a dozen suggestions. His fundamental impulse, to
call in feminine aid from the staff of the hotel, was promptly relegated
to the status of a last resort, as involving explanations which might
not seem adequate to the singular circumstances; besides, he entertained
a dim, searching, intuitive suspicion that possibly the girl herself
would more cheerfully dispense with explanations--though he hardly knew
why.... He remembered that people burned feathers in such emergencies,
or else loosened the lady's stays (corsets plus a fainting fit equal
stays, invariably, it seems). But there weren't any feathers handy,
and--well, anyway, neither expedient made any real appeal to his
intelligence. Besides, there were sensible things he could do to make
her more comfortable--chafe her hands and administer stimulants: things
like that.

Even while these thoughts were running through his mind, he was
gathering the slight young body into his arms; and he found it really
astonishingly easy to rise and bear her to the bed, where he put her
down flat on her back, without a pillow. Then turning to his hand-bag,
he opened it and produced a small, leather-bound flask of brandy; a
little of which would go far toward shattering her syncope, he fancied.

It did, in fact; a few drops between her half-parted lips, and she came
to with disconcerting rapidity, opening dazed eyes in the middle of a
spasm of coughing. He stepped back, stoppering the flask.

"That's better," he said pleasantly. "Now lie still while I fetch you a
drink of water."

As he turned to the wash-stand his foot struck the tumbler she had
dropped. He stopped short, frowning down at the great, staring, wet,
yellow stain on the dingy and threadbare carpet. Together with this
discovery he got a whiff of an acrid-sweet effluvium that spelled
"_Oxalic Acid--Poison_" as unmistakably as did the druggist's label on
the empty packet on the wash-stand....

In another moment he was back at the bedside with a clean glass of
water, which he offered to the girl's lips, passing his arm beneath her
shoulders and lifting her head so that she might drink.

She emptied the glass thirstily.

"Look here," he said almost roughly under the lash of this new
fear--"you didn't really drink any of that stuff, did you?"

Her eyes met his with a look of negation clouded by fear and
bewilderment. Then she turned her head away. Dragging a pillow beneath
it, he let her down again.

"Good," he said in accents meant to be enheartening; "you'll be all
right in a moment or two."

Her colourless lips moved in a whisper he had to bend close to
distinguish.

"Please...."

"Yes?"

"Please don't ... call anybody...."

"I won't. Don't worry."

The lids quivered down over her eyes, and her mouth was wrung with
anguish. He stared, perplexed. He wanted to go away quickly, but
couldn't gain his own consent to do so. She was in no condition to be
left alone, this delicate and fragile child, defenceless and beset. It
wasn't hard to conjecture the hell of suffering she must have endured
before coming to a pass of such desperation. There were dull blue
shadows beneath eyes red with weeping, a forlorn twist to her thin,
bloodless lips, a pinched look of wretchedness like a glaze over her
unhappy face, that told too plain a story. A strange girl, to find in a
plight like hers, he thought: not pretty, but quite unusual: delicate,
sensitive, high-strung, bred to the finer things of life--this last was
self-evident in the fine simplicity of her severely plain attire. Over
her hair, drawn tight down round her head, she wore one of those knitted
motor caps which were the fashion of that day. Her shoes were still wet
and a trifle muddy, her coat and skirt more than a trifle damp,
indicating that she had returned from a dash to the drug store not long
before Whitaker arrived.

A variety of impressions, these with others less significant, crowded
upon his perceptions in little more than a glance. For suddenly Nature
took her in hand; she twisted upon her side, as if to escape his regard,
and covered her face, her palms muffling deep tearing sobs while waves
of pent-up misery racked her slender little body.

Whitaker moved softly away....

Difficult, he found it, to guess what to do; more difficult still to do
nothing. His nerves were badly jangled; light-footed, he wandered
restlessly to and fro, half distracted between the storm of weeping that
beat gustily within the room and the deadly blind drum of the downpour
on the tin roof beyond the windows. Since that twilight hour in that
tawdry hotel chamber, no one has ever been able to counterfeit sorrow
and remorse to Whitaker; he listened then to the very voice of utter
Woe.

Once, pausing by the centre-table, he happened to look down. He saw a
little heap of the hotel writing-paper, together with envelopes, a pen,
a bottle of ink. Three of the envelopes were sealed and superscribed,
and two were stamped. The unstamped letter was addressed to the
Proprietor of the Commercial House.

Of the others, one was directed to a Mr. C. W. Morton in care of another
person at a number on lower Sixth Avenue, New York; and from this
Whitaker began to understand the singular manner of his introduction to
the wrong room; there's no great difference between _Morton_ and
_Morten_, especially when written carelessly.

But the third letter caused his eyes to widen considerably. It bore the
name of Thurlow Ladislas, Esq., and a Wall Street address.

Whitaker's mouth shaped a still-born whistle. He was recalling with
surprising distinctness the fragment of dialogue he had overheard at his
club the previous afternoon.



IV

MRS. WHITAKER


He lived through a long, bad quarter hour, his own tensed nerves
twanging in sympathy with the girl's sobbing--like telegraph wires
singing in a gale--his mind busy with many thoughts, thoughts strangely
new and compelling, wearing a fresh complexion that lacked altogether
the colouring of self-interest.

He mixed a weak draught of brandy and water and returned to the bedside.
The storm was passing in convulsive gasps ever more widely spaced, but
still the girl lay with her back to him.

"If you'll sit up and try to drink this," he suggested quietly, "I think
you'll feel a good deal better."

Her shoulders moved spasmodically; otherwise he saw no sign that she
heard.

"Come--please," he begged gently.

She made an effort to rise, sat up on the bed, dabbed at her eyes with a
sodden wisp of handkerchief, and groped blindly for the glass. He
offered it to her lips.

"What is it?" she whispered hoarsely.

He spoke of the mixture in disparaging terms as to its potency, until at
length she consented to swallow it--teeth chattering on the rim of the
tumbler. The effect was quickly apparent in the colour that came into
her cheeks, faint but warm. He avoided looking directly at her, however,
and cast round for the bell-push, which he presently found near the head
of the bed.

She moved quickly with alarm.

"What are you going to do?" she demanded in a stronger voice.

"Order you something to eat," he said. "No--please don't object. You
need food, and I mean to see you get it before I leave."

If she thought of protesting, the measured determination in his manner
deterred her. After a moment she asked:

"Please--who are you?"

"My name is Whitaker," he said--"Hugh Morten Whitaker."

She repeated the name aloud. "Haven't I heard of you? Aren't you engaged
to Alice Carstairs?"

"I'm the man you mean," he said quietly; "but I'm not engaged to Alice
Carstairs."

"Oh...." Perplexity clouded the eyes that followed closely his every
movement. "How did you happen to--to find me here?"

"Quite by accident," he replied. "I didn't want to be known, so
registered as Hugh Morten. They mistook me for your husband. Do you mind
telling me how long it is since you've had anything to eat?"

She told him: "Last night."

He suffered a sense of shame only second to her own, to see the dull
flush that accompanied her reply. His fingers itched for the throat of
Mr. C. W. Morton, chauffeur. Happily a knock at the door distracted him.
Opening it no wider than necessary to communicate with the bell-boy, he
gave him an order for the kitchen, together with an incentive to speed
the service.

Closing the door, he swung round to find that the girl had got to her
feet.

"He won't be long--" Whitaker began vaguely.

"I want to tell you something." She faced him bravely, though he refused
the challenge of her tormented eyes. "I ... I have no husband."

He bowed gravely.

"You're so good to me--" she faltered.

"O--nothing! Let's not talk about that now."

"I must talk--you must let me. You're so kind, I've got to tell you.
Won't you listen?"

He had crossed to a window, where he stood staring out. "I'd rather
not," he said softly, "but if you prefer--"

"I do prefer," said the voice behind him. "I--I'm Mary Ladislas."

"Yes," said Whitaker.

"I ... I ran away from home last week--five days ago--to get married to
our chauffeur, Charles Morton...."

She stammered.

"Please don't go on, if it hurts," he begged without looking round.

"I've got to--I've got to get it over with.... We were at Southampton,
at my father's summer home--I mean, that's where I ran away from.
He--Charley--drove me over to Greenport and I took the ferry there and
came here to wait for him. He went back to New York in the car,
promising to join me here as soon as possible...."

"And he didn't come," Whitaker wound up for her, when she faltered.

"No."

"And you wrote and telegraphed, and he didn't answer."

"Yes--"

"How much money of yours did he take with him?" Whitaker pursued.

There was a brief pause of astonishment. "What do you know about that?"
she demanded.

"I know a good deal about that type of man," he said grimly.

"I didn't have any money to speak of, but I had some jewellery--my
mother's--and he was to take that and pawn it for money to get married
with."

"I see."

To his infinite relief the waiter interrupted them. The girl in her turn
went to one of the windows, standing with her back to the room, while
Whitaker admitted the man with his tray. When they were alone once more,
he fixed the place and drew a chair for her.

"Everything's ready," he said--and had the sense not to try to make his
tone too cheerful.

"I hadn't finished what I wanted to tell you," said the girl, coming
back to him.

"Will you do me the favour to wait," he pleaded. "I think things will
seem--well, otherwise--when you've had some food."

"But I--"

"Oh, please!" he begged with his odd, twisted smile.

She submitted, head drooping and eyes downcast. He returned to his
window, rather wishing that he had thought to order for himself as well
as for the girl; for it was suddenly borne strongly in upon him that he
himself had had little enough to eat since dinner with Peter Stark. He
lighted a cigarette, by way of dulling his appetite, and then let it
smoulder to ashes between his fingers, while he lost himself in profound
speculations, in painstaking analysis of the girl's position.

Subconsciously he grew aware that the storm was moderating perceptibly,
the sky breaking....

"I've finished," the girl announced at length.

"You're feeling better?"

"Stronger, I think."

"Is there anything more--?"

"If you wouldn't mind sitting down--"

She had twisted her arm-chair away from the table. Whitaker took a seat
a little distance from her, with a keen glance appraising the change in
her condition and finding it not so marked as he had hoped. Still, she
seemed measurably more composed and mistress of her emotions, though he
had to judge mostly by her voice and manner, so dark was the room.
Through the shadows he could see little more than masses of light and
shade blocking in the slender figure huddled in a big, dilapidated
chair--the pallid oval of her face, and the darkness of her wide,
intent, young eyes.

"Don't!" she cried sharply. "Please don't look at me so--"

"I beg your pardon. I didn't mean to--"

"It's only--only that you make me think of what you must be thinking
about me--"

"I think you're rather fortunate," he said slowly.

"Fortunate!"

He shivered a little with the chill bitterness of that cry.

"You've had a narrow but a wonderfully lucky escape."

"Oh! ... But I'm not glad ... I was desperate--"

"I mean," he interrupted coolly, "from Mr. Morton. The silver lining is,
you're not married to a blackguard."

"Oh, yes, yes!" she agreed passionately.

"And you have youth, health, years of life before you!"

He sighed inaudibly....

"You wouldn't say that, if you understood."

"There are worse things to put up with than youth and health and the
right to live."

"But--how can I live? What am I to do?"

"Have you thought of going home?"

"It isn't possible."

"Have you made sure of that? Have you written to your
father--explained?"

"I sent him a special delivery three days ago, and--and yesterday a
telegram. I knew it wouldn't do any good, but I ... I told him
everything. He didn't answer. He won't, ever."

From what Whitaker knew of Thurlow Ladislas, he felt this to be too
cruelly true to admit of further argument. At a loss, he fell silent,
knitting his hands together as he strove to find other words wherewith
to comfort and reassure the girl.

She bent forward, elbows on knees, head and shoulders cringing.

"It hurts so!" she wailed ... "what people will think ... the shame, the
bitter, bitter shame of this! And yet I haven't any right to complain. I
deserve it all; I've earned my punishment."

"Oh, I say--!"

"But I have, because--because I didn't love him. I didn't love him at
all, and I knew it, even though I meant to marry him...."

"But, why--in Heaven's name?"

"Because I was so lonely and ... misunderstood and unhappy at home.
You don't know how desperately unhappy.... No mother, never daring
to see my sister (she ran away, too) ... my friendships at school
discouraged ... nothing in life but a great, empty, lonesome house
and my father to bully me and make cruel fun of me because I'm not
pretty.... That's why I ran away with a man I didn't love--because
I wanted freedom and a little happiness."

"Good Lord!" he murmured beneath his breath, awed by the pitiful,
childish simplicity of her confession and the deep damnation that had
waited upon her.

"So it's over!" she cried--"over, and I've learned my lesson, and I'm
disgraced forever, and friendless and--"

"Stop right there!" he checked her roughly. "You're not friendless yet,
and that nullifies all the rest. Be glad you've had your romance and
learned your lesson--"

"Please don't think I'm not grateful for your kindness," she
interrupted. "But the disgrace--that can't be blotted out!"

"Oh, yes, it can," he insisted bluntly. "There's a way I know--"

A glimmering of that way had only that instant let a little light in
upon the darkness of his solicitous distress for her. He rose and began
to walk and think, hands clasped behind him, trying to make what he had
in mind seem right and reasonable.

"You mean beg my father to take me back. I'll die first!"

"There mustn't be any more talk, or even any thought, of anything like
that. I understand too well to ask the impossible of you. But there is
one way out--a perfectly right way--if you're willing and brave enough
to take a chance--a long chance."

Somehow she seemed to gain hope of his tone. She sat up, following him
with eyes that sought incredulously to believe.

"Have I any choice?" she asked. "I'm desperate enough...."

"God knows," he said, "you'll have to be!"

"Try me."

He paused, standing over her.

"Desperate enough to marry a man who's bound to die within six months
and leave you free? I'm that man: the doctors give me six months more of
life. I'm alone in the world, with no one dependent upon me, nothing to
look forward to but a death that will benefit nobody--a useless end to a
useless life.... Will you take my name to free yourself? Heaven my
witness, you're welcome to it."

"Oh," she breathed, aghast, "what are you saying?"

"I'm proposing marriage," he said, with his quaint, one-sided smile.
"Please listen: I came to this place to make a quick end to my
troubles--but I've changed my mind about that, now. What's happened in
this room has made me see that nobody has any right to--hasten things.
But I mean to leave the country--immediately--and let death find me
where it will. I shall leave behind me a name and a little money,
neither of any conceivable use to me. Will you take them, employ them to
make your life what it was meant to be? It's a little thing, but it will
make me feel a lot more fit to go out of this world--to know I've left
at least one decent act to mark my memory. There's only this far-fetched
chance--I _may_ live. It's a million-to-one shot, but you've got to bear
it in mind. But really you can't lose--"

"Oh, stop, stop!" she implored him, half hysterical. "To think of
marrying to benefit by the death of a man like you--!"

"You've no right to look at it that way." He had a wry, secret smile for
his specious sophistry. "You're being asked to confer, not to accept, a
favour. It's just an act of kindness to a hopeless man. I'd go mad if I
didn't know you were safe from a recurrence of the folly of this
afternoon."

"Don't!" she cried--"don't tempt me. You've no right.... You don't know
how frantic I am...."

"I do," he countered frankly. "I'm depending on just that to swing you
to my point of view. You've got to come to it. I mean you shall marry
me."

She stared up at him, spell-bound, insensibly yielding to the domination
of his will. It was inevitable. He was scarcely less desperate than
she--and no less overwrought and unstrung; and he was the stronger; in
the natural course of things his will could not but prevail. She was
little more than a child, accustomed to yield and go where others led or
pointed out the path. What resistance could she offer to the domineering
importunity of a man of full stature, arrogant in his strength
and--hounded by devils? And he in the fatuity of his soul believed that
he was right, that he was fighting for the girl's best interests,
fighting--and not ungenerously--to save her from the ravening
consequences of her indiscretion!

The bald truth is, he was hardly a responsible agent: distracted by the
ravings of an ego mutinous in the shadow of annihilation, as well as by
contemplation of the girl's wretched plight, he saw all things in
distorted perspective. He had his being in a nightmare world of
frightful, insane realities. He could have conceived of nothing too
terrible and preposterous to seem reasonable and right....

The last trace of evening light had faded out of the world before they
were agreed. Darkness wrapped them in its folds; they were but as voices
warring in a black and boundless void.

Whitaker struck a match and applied it to the solitary gas-jet. A thin,
blue, sputtering tongue of flame revealed them to one another. The girl
still crouched in her arm-chair, weary and spent, her powers of
contention all vitiated by the losing struggle. Whitaker was trembling
with nervous fatigue.

"Well?" he demanded.

"Oh, have your own way," she said drearily. "If it must be...."

"It's for the best," he insisted obstinately. "You'll never regret it."

"One of us will--either you or I," she said quietly. "It's too
one-sided. You want to give all and ask nothing in return. It's a fool's
bargain."

He hesitated, stammering with surprise. She had a habit of saying the
unexpected. "A fool's bargain"--the wisdom of the sage from the lips of
a child....

"Then it's settled," he said, business-like, offering his hand. "Fool's
bargain or not--it's a bargain."

She rose unassisted, then trusted her slender fingers to his palm. She
said nothing. The steady gaze of her extraordinary eyes abashed him.

"Come along and let's get it over," he muttered clumsily. "It's late,
and there's a train to New York at half-past ten, you might as well
catch."

She withdrew her hand, but continued to regard him steadfastly with her
enigmatic, strange stare. "So," she said coolly, "that's settled too, I
presume."

"I'm afraid you couldn't catch an earlier one," he evaded. "Have you any
baggage?"

"Only my suit-case. It won't take a minute to pack that."

"No hurry," he mumbled....

They left the hotel together. Whitaker got his change of a hundred
dollars at the desk--"Mrs. Morten's" bill, of course, included with
his--and bribed the bell-boy to take the suit-case to the railway
station and leave it there, together with his own hand-bag. Since he had
unaccountably conceived a determination to continue living for a time,
he meant to seek out more pleasant accommodations for the night.

The rain had ceased, leaving a ragged sky of clouds and stars in
patches. The air was warm and heavy with wetness. Sidewalks glistened
like black watered silk; street lights mirrored themselves in fugitive
puddles in the roadways; limbs of trees overhanging the sidewalks
shivered now and again in a half-hearted breeze, pelting the wayfarers
with miniature showers of lukewarm, scented drops.

Turning away from the centre of the town, they traversed slowly long
streets of residences set well back behind decent lawns. Warm lamplight
mocked them from a hundred homely windows. They passed few people--a
pair of lovers; three bareheaded giggling girls in short, light frocks
strolling with their arms round one another; a scattering of men
hurrying home to belated suppers.

The girl lagged with weariness. Awakening to this fact, Whitaker
slackened his impatient stride and quietly slipped her arm through his.

"Is it much farther?" she asked.

"No--not now," he assured her with a confidence he by no means felt.

He was beginning to realize the tremendous difficulties to be overcome.
It bothered him to scheme a way to bring about the marriage without
attracting an appalling amount of gratuitous publicity, in a community
as staid and sober as this. He who would marry secretly should not
select a half-grown New England city for his enterprise....

However, one rarely finds any really insuperable obstacles in the way of
an especially wrong-headed project.

Whitaker, taking his heart and his fate in his hands, accosted a
venerable gentleman whom they encountered as he was on the point of
turning off the sidewalk to private grounds.

"I beg your pardon," he began.

The man paused and turned upon them a saintly countenance framed in hair
like snow.

"There is something I can do for you?" he inquired with punctilious
courtesy.

"If you will be kind enough to direct me to a minister...."

"I am one."

"I thought so," said Whitaker. "We wish to get married."

The gentleman looked from his face to the girl's, then moved aside from
the gate. "This is my home," he explained. "Will you be good enough to
come in?"

Conducting them to his private study, he subjected them to a kindly
catechism. The girl said little, Whitaker taking upon himself the brunt
of the examination. Absolutely straightforward and intensely sincere, he
came through the ordeal well, without being obliged to disclose what he
preferred to keep secret. The minister, satisfied, at length called in
the town clerk by telephone; who issued the license, pocketed his fee,
and, in company with the minister's wife, acted as witness....

Whitaker found himself on his feet beside Mary Ladislas. They were being
married. He was shaken by a profound amazement. The incredible was
happening--with his assistance. He heard his voice uttering responses;
it seemed something as foreign to him as the voice of the girl at his
side. He wondered stupidly at her calm--and later, at his own. It was
all preposterously matter-of-fact and, at the same time, stupidly
romantic. He divined obscurely that this thing was happening in
obedience to forces nameless and unknown to them, strange and terrific
forces that worked mysteriously beyond their mortal ken. He seemed to
hear the droning of the loom of the Fates....

And they were man and wife. The door had closed, the gate-latch clicked
behind them. They were walking quietly side by side through the scented
night, they whom God had joined together.

Man and wife! Bride and groom, already started on the strangest,
shortest of wedding journeys--from the parsonage to the railroad
station!

Neither found anything to say. They walked on, heels in unison pounding
the wet flagstones. The night was sweet with the scent of wet grass and
shrubbery. The sidewalks were boldly patterned with a stencilling of
black leaves and a milky dappling of electric light. At every corner
high-swung arcs shot vivid slants of silver-blue radiance through the
black and green of trees.

These things all printed themselves indelibly upon the tablets of his
memory....

They arrived at the station. Whitaker bought his wife a ticket to New
York and secured for her solitary use a drawing-room in the sleeper.
When that was accomplished, they had still a good part of an hour to
wait. They found a bench on the station platform, and sat down. Whitaker
possessed himself of his wife's hand-bag long enough to furnish it with
a sum of money and an old envelope bearing the name and address of his
law partner. He explained that he would write to Drummond, who would see
to her welfare as far as she would permit--issue her an adequate monthly
allowance and advise her when she should have become her own mistress
once more: in a word, a widow.

She thanked him briefly, quietly, with a constraint he understood too
well to resent.

People began to gather upon the platform, to loiter about and pass up
and down. Further conversation would have been difficult, even if they
had found much to say to one another. Curiously or not, they didn't.
They sat on in thoughtful silence.

Both, perhaps, were sensible of some relief when at length the train
thundered in from the East, breathing smoke and flame. Whitaker helped
his wife aboard and interviewed the porter in her behalf. Then they had
a moment or two alone in the drawing-room, in which to consummate what
was meant to be their first and last parting.

"You'll get in about two," said Whitaker. "Better just slip across the
street to the Belmont for to-night. To-morrow--or the day
after--whenever you feel rested--you can find yourself more quiet
quarters."

"Yes," she said....

He comprehended something of the struggle she was having with herself,
and respected it. If he had consulted his own inclinations, he would
have turned and marched off without another word. But for her sake he
lingered. Let her have the satisfaction (he bade himself) of knowing
that she had done her duty at their leave-taking.

She caught him suddenly by the shoulders with both her hands. Her eyes
sought his with a wistful courage he could not but admire.

"You know I'm grateful...."

"Don't think of it that way--though I'm glad you are."

"You're a good man," she said brokenly.

He knew himself too well to be able to reply.

"You mustn't worry about me, now. You've made things easy for me. I can
take care of myself, and ... I shan't forget whose name I bear."

He muttered something to the effect that he was sure of that.

She released his shoulders and stood back, searching his face with
tormented eyes. Abruptly she offered him her hand.

"Good-by," she said, her lips quivering--"Good-by, good friend!"

He caught the hand, wrung it clumsily and painfully and ... realized
that the train was in motion. He had barely time to get away....

He found himself on the station platform, stupidly watching the rear
lights dwindle down the tracks and wondering whether or not
hallucinations were a phase of his malady. A sick man often dreams
strange dreams....

A voice behind him, cool with a trace of irony, observed:

"I'd give a good deal to know just what particular brand of damn'
foolishness you've been indulging in, this time."

He whirled around to face Peter Stark--Peter quietly amused and very
much the master of the situation.

"You needn't think," said he, "that you have any chance on earth of
escaping my fond attentions, Hugh. I'll go to the ends of the earth
after you, if you won't let me go with you. I've fixed it up with Nelly
to wait until I bring you home, a well man, before we get married; and
if you refuse to be my best man--well, there won't be any party. You can
make up your mind to that."



V

WILFUL MISSING


It was one o'clock in the morning before Whitaker allowed himself to be
persuaded; fatigue reënforced every stubborn argument of Peter Stark's
to overcome his resistance. It was a repetition of the episode of Mary
Ladislas recast and rewritten: the stronger will overcame the
admonitions of a saner judgment. Whitaker gave in. "Oh, have your own
way," he said at length, unconsciously iterating the words that had won
him a bride. "If it must be...."

Peter put him to bed, watched over him through the night, and the next
morning carried him on to New Bedford, where they superintended the
outfitting of Peter's yacht, the _Adventuress_. Beyond drawing heavily
on his bank and sending Drummond a brief note, Whitaker failed to renew
communication with his home. He sank into a state of semi-apathetic
content; he thought little of anything beyond the business of the
moment; the preparations for what he was pleased to term his funeral
cruise absorbed him to the exclusion of vain repinings or anxiety for
the welfare of his adventitious wife. Apparently his sudden
disappearance had not caused the least ripple on the surface of life in
New York; the newspapers, at all events, slighted the circumstance
unanimously: to his complete satisfaction.

Within the week the _Adventuress_ sailed.

She was five months out of port before Whitaker began to be conscious
that he was truly accursed. There came a gradual thickening of the
shadows that threatened to eclipse his existence. And then, one day as
they dined with the lonely trader of an isolated station in the
D'Entrecasteaux Islands, he fell from his chair as if poleaxed. He
regained consciousness only to shiver with the chill of the wind that's
fanned by the wings of death. It was impossible to move him. The agonies
of the damned were his when, with exquisite gentleness, they lifted him
to a bed....

Stark sailed in the _Adventuress_ before sundown of the same day,
purposing to fetch a surgeon from Port Moresby. Whitaker said a last
farewell to his friend, knowing in his soul that they would never meet
again. Then he composed himself to die quietly. But the following
morning brought a hapchance trading schooner to the island, and with it,
in the estate of supercargo, a crapulous Scotch gentleman who had been a
famous specialist of London before drink laid him by the heels. He
performed an heroic operation upon Whitaker within an hour, announced by
nightfall that the patient would recover, and the next day sailed with
his ship to end his days in some abandoned Australian boozing-ken--as
Whitaker learned in Sydney several months later.

In the same place, and at the same time, he received his first authentic
news of the fate of the _Adventuress_. The yacht had struck on an
uncharted reef, in heavy weather, and had foundered almost immediately.
Of her entire company, a solitary sailor managed to cling to a life-raft
until picked up, a week after the wreck, by a tramp steamship on whose
decks he gasped out his news and his life in the same breaths.

Whitaker hunted up an account of the disaster in the files of a local
newspaper. He read that the owner, Peter Stark, Esq., and his guest, H.
M. Whitaker, Esq., both of New York, had gone down with the vessel.
There was also a cable despatch from New York detailing Peter Stark's
social and financial prominence--evidence that the news had been cabled
Home. To all who knew him Whitaker was as dead as Peter Stark.

Sardonic irony of circumstance, that had robbed the sound man of life
and bestowed life upon the moribund! Contemplation wrought like a toxic
drug upon Whitaker's temper, until he was raving drunk with the black
draught of mutiny against the dictates of an Omnipotence capable of such
hideous mockeries of justice. The iron bit deep into his soul and left
corrosion there....

    "There is a world outside the one you know
      To which for curiousness 'Ell can't compare;
    It is the place where wilful missings go,
      As we can testify, for we are there."

Kipling's lines buzzed through his head more than once in the course of
the next few years; for he was "there." They were years of such
vagabondage as only the South Seas countenance: neither unhappy nor very
strenuous, not yet scarred by the tooth of poverty. Whitaker had between
four and five thousand dollars in traveller's checks which he converted
into cash while in Sydney. Memory of the wreck of the _Adventuress_ was
already fading from the Australian mind; no one dreamed of challenging
the signature of a man seven months dead. And as certainly and as
quietly as the memory, Whitaker faded away; Hugh Morten took his place,
and Sydney knew him no more, nor did any other parts wherein he had
answered to his rightful name.

The money stayed by him handsomely. Thanks to a strong constitution in a
tough body (now that its malignant demon was exorcised) he found it easy
to pick up a living by one means or another. Indeed, he played many
parts in as many fields before joining hands with a young Englishman he
had grown to like and entering upon what seemed a forlorn bid for
fortune. Thereafter he prospered amazingly.

In those days his anomalous position in the world troubled him very
little. He was a Wilful Missing and a willing. The new life intrigued
him amazingly; he lived in open air, in virgin country, wresting a
fortune by main strength from the reluctant grasp of Nature. He was one
of the first two men to find and mine gold in paying quantities in the
Owen Stanley country.... Now that Peter Stark was dead, the ties of
interest and affection binding him to America were both few and slender.
His wife was too abstract a concept, a shadow too vague in his memory,
to obtrude often upon his reveries. Indeed, as time went on, he found it
anything but easy to recall much about the physical appearance of the
woman he had married; he remembered chiefly her eyes; she moved mistily
across the stage of a single scene in his history, an awkward,
self-conscious, unhappy, childish phantasm.

Even the consideration that, fortified by the report of his death, she
might have married again, failed to disturb either his slumbers or his
digestion. If that had happened, he had no objection; the tie that bound
them was the emptiest of forms--in his understanding as meaningless and
as powerless to make them one as the printed license form they had been
forced to procure of the State of Connecticut. There had been neither
love nor true union--merely pity on one side, apathy of despair on the
other. Two souls had met in the valley of the great shadow, had paused a
moment to touch hands, had passed onward, forever out of one another's
ken; and that was all. His "death" should have put her in command of a
fair competence. If she had since sought and found happiness with
another man, was there any logical reason, or even excuse, for Whitaker
to abandon his new and pleasant ways of life in order to return and
shatter hers?

He was self-persuaded of his generosity toward the girl.

Casuistry of the Wilful Missing!...

It's to be feared he had always a hard-headed way of considering matters
in the light of equity as distinguished from the light of ethical or
legal morality. This is not to be taken as an attempt to defend the man,
but rather as a statement of fact: even as the context is to be read as
an account of some things that happened rather than as a morality....

When at length he did make up his mind to go Home, it wasn't because he
felt that duty called him; plain, everyday, human curiosity had
something to do with his determination--a desire to see how New York was
managing to get along without him--together with a dawning apprehension
that there was an uncomfortable amount of truth in the antiquated
bromidiom about the surprising littleness of the world.

He was in Melbourne at that time, with Lynch, his partner. Having
prospered and laid by a lump of money, they had planned to finance their
holdings in the traditional fashion--that is, to let in other people's
money to do the work, while they rested and possessed their souls and
drew dividends on a controlling interest. Capital in Melbourne had
proved eager and approachable; the arrangement they desired was quickly
consummated; the day the papers were signed, Whitaker passed old friends
in the street. They were George Presbury and his wife--Anne Forsythe
that was--self-evident tourists, looking the town over between steamers.
Presbury, with no thought in his bumptious head of meeting Hugh Whitaker
before the Day of Judgment, looked at and through him without a hint of
recognition; but his wife was another person altogether. Whitaker could
not be blind to the surprise and perplexity that shone in her eyes, even
though he pretended to be blind to her uncertain nod; long after his
back alone was visible to her he could feel her inquiring stare boring
into it.

The incident made him think; and he remembered that he was now a man of
independent fortune and of newly idle hands as well. After prolonged
consideration he suddenly decided, told Lynch to look out for his
interests and expect him back when he should see him, and booked for
London by a Royal Mail boat--all in half a day. From London Mr. Hugh
Morten crossed immediately to New York on the _Olympic_, landing in the
month of April--nearly six years to a day from the time he had left his
native land.

He discovered a New York almost wholly new--an experience almost
inevitable, if one insists on absenting one's self even for as little as
half a decade. Intimations of immense changes were borne in upon
Whitaker while the steamer worked up the Bay. The Singer Building was an
unfamiliar sky-mark, but not more so than the Metropolitan Tower and the
Woolworth. The _Olympic_ docked at an impressive steel-and-concrete
structure, new since his day; and Whitaker narrowly escaped a row with a
taxicab chauffeur because the fellow smiled impertinently when directed
to drive to the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

A very few hours added amazingly to the catalogue of things that were
not as they had been: a list so extensive and impressive that he made up
his mind to maintain his incognito for a few days, until familiar with
the ways of his home. He was quick to perceive that he would even have
to forget most of the slang that had been current in his time, in
addition to unlearning all he had picked up abroad, and set himself with
attentive ears pricked forward and an open mind to master the new,
strange tongue his countrymen were speaking, if he were to make himself
intelligible to them--and them to him, for that matter.

So he put up at the Ritz-Carlton, precisely as any foreigner might be
expected to do, and remained Hugh Morten while he prowled around the
city and found himself. Now and again in the course of his wanderings he
encountered well-remembered faces, but always without eliciting the
slightest gleam of recognition: circumstances that only went to prove
how thoroughly dead and buried he was in the estimation of his day and
generation.

Nothing, indeed, seemed as he remembered it except the offerings in the
theatres. He sat through plays on three successive nights that sent him
back to his hotel saddened by the conviction that the tastes of his
fellow-countrymen in the matter of amusements were as enduring as
adamant--as long-enduring. Some day (he prophesied) New York would be
finished and complete; then would come the final change--its
name--because it wouldn't be New York unless ever changing; and when
that was settled, the city would know ease and, for want of something
less material to occupy it, begin to develop a soul of its own--together
with an inclination for something different in the way of theatrical
entertainment.

But his ultimate and utter awakening to the truth that his home had
outgrown him fell upon the fourth afternoon following his return, when a
total but most affable gentleman presented himself to Whitaker's
consideration with a bogus name and a genuine offer to purchase him a
drink, and promptly attempted to enmesh him in a confidence game that
had degenerated into a vaudeville joke in the days when both of them had
worn knickerbockers. Gently but firmly entrusting the stranger to the
care of a convenient policeman, Whitaker privately admitted that he was
outclassed, that it was time for him to seek the protection of his
friends.

He began with Drummond. The latter, of course, had moved his offices; no
doubt he had moved them several times; however that may be, Whitaker had
left him in quiet and contracted quarters in Pine Street; he found him
independently established in an imposing suite in the Woolworth
Building.

Whitaker gave one of Mr. Hugh Morten's cards to a subdued office-boy.
"Tell him," he requested, "that I want to see him about a matter
relating to the estate of Mr. Whitaker."

The boy dived through one partition-door and reappeared by way of
another with the deft certainty of a trained pantomime.

"Says t' come in."

Whitaker found himself in the presence of an ashen-faced man of
thirty-five, who clutched the side of his roll-top desk as if to save
himself from falling.

"Whitaker!" he gasped. "My God!"

"Flattered," said Whitaker, "I'm sure."

He derived considerable mischievous amusement from Drummond's patent
stupefaction. It was all so right and proper--as it should have been. He
considered his an highly satisfactory resurrection, the sensation it
created as complete, considered in the relation of anticipation to
fulfilment, as anything he had ever experienced. Seldom does a scene
pass off as one plans it; the other parties thereto are apt to spoil
things by spouting spontaneously their own original lines, thus cheating
one out of a crushing retort or cherished epigram. But Drummond played
up his part in a most public-spirited fashion--gratifying, to say the
least.

It took him some minutes to recover, Whitaker standing by and beaming.

He remarked changes, changes as striking as the improvement in
Drummond's fortunes. Physically his ex-partner had gone off a bit; the
sedentary life led by the average successful man of business in New York
had marked his person unmistakably. Much heavier than the man Whitaker
remembered, he wore a thick and solid air of good-natured prosperity.
The hair had receded an inch or so from his forehead. Only his face
seemed as it had always been--sharply handsome and strong. Whitaker
remembered that he had always somewhat meanly envied Drummond his good
looks; he himself had been fashioned after the new order of
architecture--with a steel frame; but for some reason Nature, the master
builder, had neglected sufficiently to wall in and conceal the skeleton.
Admitting the economy of the method, Whitaker was inclined to believe
that the effect must be surprising, especially if encountered without
warning....

He discovered that they were both talking at once--furiously--and, not
without surprise, that he had a great deal more enlightenment to impart
to Drummond than he had foreseen.

"You've got an economical streak in you when it comes to
correspondence," Drummond commented, offering Whitaker a sheet of paper
he had just taken from a tin document-box. "That's Exhibit A."

Whitaker read aloud:

     "'DEAR D., I'm not feeling well, so off for a vacation. Burke has
     just been in and paid $1500 in settlement of our claim. I'm
     enclosing herewith my check for your share. Yours, H. M. W.'"

"Far be it from me to cast up," said Drummond; "but I'd like to know why
the deuce you couldn't let a fellow know how ill you were."

Whitaker frowned over his dereliction. "Don't remember," he confessed.
"I was hardly right, you know--and I presume I must have counted on
Greyerson telling."

"But I don't know Greyerson...."

"That's so. And you never heard--?"

"Merely a rumour ran round. Some one--I forget who--told me that you and
Stark had gone sailing in Stark's boat--to cruise in the West Indies,
according to my informant. And somebody else mentioned that he'd heard
you were seriously ill. More than that nothing--until we heard that the
_Adventuress_ had been lost, half a year later."

"I'm sorry," said Whitaker contritely. "It was thoughtless...."

"But that isn't all," Drummond objected, flourishing another paper. "See
here--Exhibit B--came in a day or so later."

"Yes." Whitaker recognized the document. "I remember insisting on
writing to you before we turned in that night."

He ran through the following communication:

     "DEAR DRUMMOND: I married here, to-night, Mary Ladislas. Please
     look out for her while I'm away. Make her an allowance out of my
     money--five hundred a month ought to be enough. I shall die
     intestate, and she'll get everything then, of course. She has your
     address and will communicate with you as soon as she gets settled
     down in Town.

     "Faithfully--

     "HUGH MORTEN WHITAKER."

"If it hadn't been so much in character," commented Drummond, "I'd've
thought the thing a forgery--or a poor joke. Knowing you as well as I
did, however ... I just sat back to wait for word from Mrs. Whitaker."

"And you never heard, except that once!" said Whitaker thoughtfully.

"Here's the sole and only evidence I ever got to prove that you had told
the truth."

Drummond handed Whitaker a single, folded sheet of note-paper stamped
with the name of the Waldorf-Astoria.

     "CARTER S. DRUMMOND, Esq., 27 Pine Street, City.

     "DEAR SIR: I inclose herewith a bank-note for $500, which you will
     be kind enough to credit to the estate of your late partner and my
     late husband, Mr. Hugh Morten Whitaker.

     "Very truly yours,

     "MARY LADISLAS WHITAKER."

"Dated, you see, the day after the report of your death was published
here."

"But why?" demanded Whitaker, dumfounded. "_Why?_"

"I infer she felt herself somehow honour-bound by the monetary
obligation," said the lawyer. "In her understanding your marriage of
convenience was nothing more--a one-sided bargain, I think you said she
called it. She couldn't consider herself wholly free, even though you
were dead, until she had repaid this loan which you, a stranger, had
practically forced upon her--if not to you, to your estate."

"But death cancels everything--"

"Not," Drummond reminded him with a slow smile, "the obligation of a
period of decent mourning that devolves upon a widow. Mrs. Whitaker may
have desired to marry again immediately. If I'm any judge of human
nature, she argued that repayment of the loan wiped out every
obligation. Feminine logic, perhaps, but--"

"Good Lord!" Whitaker breathed, appalled in the face of this contingency
which had seemed so remote and immaterial when he was merely Hugh
Morten, bachelor-nomad, to all who knew him on the far side of the
world.

Drummond dropped his head upon his hand and regarded his friend with
inquisitive eyes.

"Looks as though you may have gummed things up neatly--doesn't it?"

Whitaker nodded in sombre abstraction.

"You may not," continued Drummond with light malice, "have been so
generous, so considerate and chivalric, after all."

"Oh, cut that!" growled Whitaker, unhappily. "I never meant to come
back."

"Then why did you?"

"Oh ... I don't know. Chiefly because I caught Anne Presbury's sharp
eyes on me in Melbourne--as I said a while ago. I knew she'd talk--as
she surely will the minute she gets back--and I thought I might as well
get ahead of her, come home and face the music before anybody got a
chance to expose me. At the worst--if what you suggest has really
happened--it's an open-and-shut case; no one's going to blame the woman;
and it ought to be easy enough to secure a separation or divorce--"

"You'd consent to that?" inquired Drummond intently.

"I'm ready to do anything she wishes, within the law."

"You leave it to her, then?"

"If I ever find her--yes. It's the only decent thing I can do."

"How do you figure that?"

"I went away a sick man and a poor one; I come back as sound as a bell,
and if not exactly a plutocrat, at least better off than I ever expected
to be in this life.... To all intents and purposes I _made_ her a
partner to a bargain she disliked; well, I'll be hanged if I'm going to
hedge now, when I look a better matrimonial risk, perhaps: if she still
wants my name, she can have it."

Drummond laughed quietly. "If that's how you feel," he said, "I can only
give you one piece of professional advice."

"What's that?"

"Find your wife."

After a moment of puzzled thought, Whitaker admitted ruefully: "You're
right. There's the rub."

"I'm afraid you won't find it an easy job. I did my best without
uncovering a trace of her."

"You followed up that letter, of course?"

"I did my best; but, my dear fellow, almost anybody with a decent
appearance can manage to write a note on Waldorf stationery. I made sure
of one thing--the management knew nothing of the writer under either her
maiden name or yours."

"Did you try old Thurlow?"

"Her father died within eight weeks from the time you ran away. He left
everything to charity, by the way. Unforgiving blighter."

"Well, there's her sister, Mrs. Pettit."

"She heard of the marriage first through me," asserted Drummond. "Your
wife had never come near her--nor even sent her a line. She could give
me no information whatever."

"You don't think she purposely misled you--?"

"Frankly I don't. She seemed sincerely worried, when we talked the
matter over, and spoke in a most convincing way of her fruitless
attempts to trace the young woman through a private detective agency."

"Still, she may know now," Whitaker said doubtfully. "She may have heard
something since. I'll have a word with her myself."

"Address," observed Drummond, dryly: "the American Embassy, Berlin....
Pettit's got some sort of a minor diplomatic berth over there."

"O the devil!... But, anyway, I can write."

"Think it over," Drummond advised. "Maybe it might be kinder not to."

"Oh, I don't know--"

"You've given me to understand you were pretty comfy on the other side
of the globe. Why not let sleeping dogs lie?"

"It's the lie that bothers me--the living lie. It isn't fair to her."

"Rather sudden, this solicitude--what?" Drummond asked with open
sarcasm.

"I daresay it does look that way. But I can't see that it's the decent
thing for me to let things slide any longer. I've got to try to find
her. She may be ill--destitute--in desperate trouble again--"

Drummond's eyebrows went up whimsically. "You surely don't mean me to
infer that your affections are involved?"

This brought Whitaker up standing. "Good heavens--no!" he cried. He
moved to a window and stared rudely at the Post Office Building for a
time. "I'm going to find her just the same--if she still lives," he
announced, turning back.

"Would you know her if you saw her?"

"I don't know." Whitaker frowned with annoyance. "She's six years
older--"

"A woman often develops and changes amazingly between the ages of
eighteen and twenty-four."

"I know," Whitaker acknowledged with dejection.

"Well, but what _was_ she like?" Drummond pursued curiously.

Whitaker shook his head. "It's not easy to remember. Matter of fact, I
don't believe I ever got one good square look at her. It was twilight in
the hotel, when I found her; we sat talking in absolute darkness, toward
the end; even in the minister's study there was only a green-shaded lamp
on the table; and on the train--well, we were both too much worked up, I
fancy, to pay much attention to details."

"Then you really haven't any idea--?"

"Oh, hardly." Whitaker's thin brown hand gesticulated vaguely. "She was
tall, slender, pale, at the awkward age...."

"Blonde or brune?"

"I swear I don't know. She wore one of those funny knitted caps, tight
down over her hair, all the time."

Drummond laughed quietly. "Rather an inconclusive description,
especially if you advertise. 'Wanted: the wife I married six years ago
and haven't seen since; tall, slender, pale, at the awkward age; wore
one of those funny knit--'"

"I don't feel in a joking humour," Whitaker interrupted roughly. "It's a
serious matter and wants serious treatment.... What else have we got to
mull over?"

Drummond shrugged suavely. "There's enough to keep us busy for several
hours," he said. "For instance, there's my stewardship."

"Your which?"

"My care of your property. You left a good deal of money and securities
lying round loose, you know; naturally I felt obliged to look after 'em.
There was no telling when Widow Whitaker might walk in and demand an
accounting. I presume we might as well run over the account--though it
is getting late."

"Half-past four," Whitaker informed him, consulting his watch. "Take too
long for to-day. Some other time."

"To-morrow suit you?"

"To-morrow's Sunday," Whitaker objected. "But there's no hurry at all."

Drummond's reply was postponed by the office boy, who popped in on the
heels of a light knock.

"Mr. Max's outside," he announced.

"O the deuce!" The exclamation seemed to escape Drummond's lips
involuntarily. He tightened them angrily, as though regretting the lapse
of self-control, and glanced hurriedly askance to see if Whitaker had
noticed. "I'm busy," he added, a trace sullenly. "Tell him I've gone
out."

"But he's got 'nappointment," the boy protested. "And besides, I told
him you was in."

"You needn't fob him off on my account," Whitaker interposed. "We can
finish our confab later--Monday--any time. It's time for me to be
getting up-town, anyway."

"It isn't that," Drummond explained doggedly. "Only--the man's a bore,
and--"

"It isn't Jules Max?" Whitaker demanded excitedly. "Not little Jules
Max, who used to stage manage our amateur shows?"

"That's the man," Drummond admitted with plain reluctance.

"Then have him in, by all means. I want to say howdy to him, if nothing
more. And then I'll clear out and leave you to his troubles."

Drummond hesitated; whereupon the office boy, interpreting assent,
precipitately vanished to usher in the client. His employer laughed a
trifle sourly.

"Ben's a little too keen about pleasing Max," he said. "I think he looks
on him as the fountainhead of free seats. Max has developed into a
heavy-weight entrepreneur, you know."

"Meaning theatrical manager? Then why not say so? But I might've guessed
he'd drift into something of the sort."

A moment later Whitaker was vigorously pumping the unresisting--indeed
the apparently boneless--hand of a visibly flabbergasted gentleman, who
suffered him for the moment solely upon suspicion, if his expression
were a reliable index of his emotion.

In the heyday of his career as a cunning and successful promoter of
plays and players, Jules Max indulged a hankering for the picturesquely
eccentric that sat oddly upon his commonplace personality. The hat that
had made Hammerstein famous Max had appropriated--straight crown, flat
brim and immaculate gloss--bodily. Beneath it his face was small of
feature, and fat. Its trim little mustache lent it an air of
conventionality curiously at war with a pince-nez which sheltered his
near-sighted eyes, its enormous, round, horn-rimmed lenses sagging to
one side with the weight of a wide black ribbon. His nose was
insignificant, his mouth small and pursy. His short, round little body
was invariably by day dressed in a dark gray morning-coat, white-edged
waistcoat, assertively-striped trousers, and patent-leather shoes with
white spats. He had a passion for lemon-coloured gloves of thinnest kid
and slender malacca walking-sticks. His dignity was an awful thing, as
ingrained as his strut.

He reasserted the dignity now with a jerk of his maltreated hand, as
well as with an appreciable effort betrayed by his resentful glare.

"Do I know you?" he demanded haughtily. "If not, what the devil do you
mean by such conduct, sir?"

With a laugh, Whitaker took him by the shoulders and spun him round
smartly into a convenient chair.

"Sit still and let me get a _good_ look," he implored. "Think of it!
Juley Max daring to put on side with me! The impudence of you, Juley!
I've a great mind to play horse with you. How dare you go round the
streets looking like that, anyway?"

Max recovered his breath, readjusted his glasses, and resumed his stare.

"Either," he observed, "you're Hugh Whitaker come to life or a damned
outrage."

"Both, if you like."

"You sound like both," complained the little man. "Anyway, you were
drowned in the Philippines or somewhere long ago, and I never waste time
on a dead one.... Drummond--" He turned to the lawyer with a vastly
business-like air.

"No, you don't!" Whitaker insisted, putting himself between the two men.
"I admit that you're a great man; you might at least admit that I'm a
live one."

A mollified smile moderated the small man's manner. "That's a bargain,"
he said, extending a pale yellow paw; "I'm glad to see you again, Hugh.
When did you recrudesce?"

"An hour ago," Drummond answered for him; "blew in here as large as life
and twice as important. He's been running a gold farm out in New Guinea.
What do you know about that?"

"It's very interesting," Max conceded. "I shall have to cultivate him; I
never neglect a man with money. If you'll stick around a few minutes,
Hugh, I'll take you up-town in my car." He turned to Drummond,
completely ignoring Whitaker while he went into the details of some
action he desired the lawyer to undertake on his behalf. Then, having
talked steadily for upwards of ten minutes, he rose and prepared to go.

"You've asked him, of course?" he demanded of Drummond, nodding toward
Whitaker.

Drummond flushed slightly. "No chance," he said. "I was on the point of
doing it when you butted in."

"What's this?" inquired Whitaker.

Max delivered himself of a startling bit of information: "He's going to
get married."

Whitaker stared. "Drummond? Not really?"

Drummond acknowledged his guilt brazenly: "Next week, in fact."

"But why didn't you say anything about it?"

"You didn't give me an opening. Besides, to welcome a deserter from the
Great Beyond is enough to drive all other thoughts from a man's mind."

"There's to be a supper in honour of the circumstances, at the Beaux
Arts to-night," supplemented Max. "You'll come, of course."

"Do you think you could keep me away with a dog?"

"Wouldn't risk spoiling the dog," said Drummond. He added with a
tentative, questioning air: "There'll be a lot of old-time acquaintances
of yours there, you know."

"So much the better," Whitaker declared with spirit. "I've played dead
long enough."

"As you think best," the lawyer acceded. "Midnight, then--the Beaux
Arts."

"I'll be there--and furthermore, I'll be waiting at the church a week
hence--or whenever it's to come off. And now I want to congratulate
you." Whitaker held Drummond's hand in one of those long, hard grips
that mean much between men. "But mostly I want to congratulate her. Who
is she?"

"Sara Law," said Drummond, with pride in his quick color and the lift of
his chin.

"Sara Law?" The name had a familiar ring, yet Whitaker failed to
recognize it promptly.

"The greatest living actress on the English-speaking stage," Max
announced, preening himself importantly. "My own discovery."

"You don't mean to say you haven't heard of her. Is New Guinea, then, so
utterly abandoned to the march of civilization?"

"Of course I've heard--but I have been out of touch with such things,"
Whitaker apologized. "When shall I see her?"

"At supper, to-night," said the man of law. "It's really in her
honour--"

"In honour of her retirement," Max interrupted, fussing with a gardenia
on his lapel. "She retires from the stage finally, and forever--she
says--when the curtain falls to-night."

"Then I've got to be in the theatre to-night--if that's the case," said
Whitaker. "It isn't my notion of an occasion to miss."

"You're right there," Max told him bluntly. "It's no small matter to
me--losing such a star; but the world's loss of its greatest
artist--_ah!_" He kissed his finger-tips and ecstatically flirted the
caress afar.

"'Fraid you won't get in, though," Drummond doubted darkly. "Everything
in the house for this final week was sold out a month ago. Even the
speculators are cleaned out."

"_Tut!_" the manager reproved him loftily. "Hugh is going to see Sara
Law act for the last time from my personal box--aren't you, Hugh?"

"You bet I am!" Whitaker asserted with conviction.

"Then come along." Max caught him by the arm and started for the door.
"So long, Drummond...."



VI

CURTAIN


Nothing would satisfy Max but that Whitaker should dine with him. He
consented to drop him at the Ritz-Carlton, in order that he might dress,
only on the condition that Whitaker would meet him at seven, in the
white room at the Knickerbocker.

"Just mention my name to the head waiter," he said with magnificence;
"or if I'm there first, you can't help seeing me. Everybody knows my
table--the little one in the southeast corner."

Whitaker promised, suppressing a smile; evidently the hat was not the
only peculiarity of Mr. Hammerstein's that Max had boldly made his own.

Max surprised him by a shrewd divination of his thoughts. "I know what
you're thinking," he volunteered with an intensely serious expression
shadowing his pudgy countenance; "but really, my dear fellow, it's good
business. You get people into the habit of saying, 'There's Max's
table,' and you likewise get them into the habit of thinking of Max's
theatre and Max's stars. As a matter of fact, I'm merely running an
immense advertising plant with a dramatic annex."

"You are an immense advertisement all by your lonesome," Whitaker agreed
with a tolerant laugh, rising as the car paused at the entrance of the
Ritz.

"Seven o'clock--you won't fail me?" Max persisted. "Really, you know,
I'm doing you an immense favour--dinner--a seat in my private box at
Sara Law's farewell performance--"

"Oh, I'm thoroughly impressed," Whitaker assured him, stepping out of
the car. "But tell me--on the level, now--why this staggering
condescension?"

Max looked him over as he paused on the sidewalk, a tall, loosely built
figure attired impeccably yet with an elusive sense of carelessness, his
head on one side and a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. The twinkle was
momentarily reflected in the managerial gaze as he replied with an air
of impulsive candour: "One never can tell when the most unlikely-looking
material may prove useful. I may want to borrow money from you before
long. If I put you under sufficient obligation to me, you can't well
refuse.... Shoot, James!"

The latter phrase was Max's way of ordering the driver to move on. The
car snorted resentfully, then pulled smoothly and swiftly away. Max
waved a jaunty farewell with a lemon-coloured hand, over the back of the
tonneau.

Whitaker went up to his room in a reflective mood in which the
theatrical man had little place, and began leisurely to prepare his
person for ceremonious clothing--preparations which, at first, consisted
in nothing more strenuous than finding a pipe and sitting down to stare
out of the window. He was in no hurry--he had still an hour and a half
before he was due at the Knickerbocker--and the afternoon's employment
had furnished him with a great deal of material to stimulate his
thoughts.

Since his arrival in New York he had fallen into the habit of seeking
the view from his window when in meditative humour. The vast sweep of
gullied roofs exerted an almost hypnotic attraction for his eyes. They
ranged southward to the point where vision failed against the false
horizon of dull amber haze. Late sunlight threw level rays athwart the
town, gilding towering westerly walls and striking fire from all their
windows. Between them like deep blue crevasses ran the gridironed
streets. The air was moveless, yet sonorously thrilled with the measured
movement of the city's symphonic roar. Above the golden haze a drift of
light cloud was burning an ever deeper pink against the vault of
robin's-egg blue.

A view of ten thousand roofs, inexpressibly enchaining....
Somewhere--perhaps--in that welter of steel and stone, as eternal and as
restless as the sea, was the woman Whitaker had married, working out her
lonely destiny. A haphazard biscuit tossed from his window might fall
upon the very roof that sheltered her: he might search for a hundred
years and never cross her path.

He wondered....

More practically he reminded himself not to forget to write to Mrs.
Pettit. He must try to get the name of the firm of private detectives
she had employed, and her permission to pump them; it might help him, to
learn the quarters wherein they had failed.

And he must make an early opportunity to question Drummond more closely;
not that he anticipated that Drummond knew anything more than he had
already disclosed--anything really helpful at all events.

His thoughts shifted to dwell temporarily on the two personalities newly
introduced into his cosmos, strikingly new, in spite of the fact that
they had been so well known to him of old. He wondered if it were
possible that he seemed to them as singularly metamorphosed as they
seemed to him--superficially if not integrally. He had lost altogether
the trick of thinking in their grooves, and yet they seemed very human
to him. He thought they supplemented one another somewhat weirdly: each
was at bottom what the other seemed to be. Beneath his assumption, for
purposes of revenue only, of outrageous eccentricities, Jules Max was as
bourgeois as César Birotteau; beneath his assumption of the
steady-going, keen, alert and conservative man of affairs, Drummond was
as romantic as D'Artagnan. But Max had this advantage of Drummond: he
was not his own dupe; whereas Drummond would go to his grave believing
himself bored to extinction by the commonplaceness of his fantastical
self....

Irresponsibly, his reverie reëmbraced the memory he had of the woman who
alone held the key to his matrimonial entanglement. The business bound
his imagination with an ineluctable fascination. No matter how far his
thoughts wandered, they were sure to return to beat themselves to
weariness against that hard-faced mystery, like moths bewitched by the
light behind a clouded window-glass. It was very curious (he thought)
that he could be so indifferent and so interested at one and the same
time. The possibility that she might have married a second time did not
disturb his pulse by the least fraction of a beat. He even contemplated
the chance that she might be dead with normal equanimity. Fortunate,
that he didn't love her. More fortunate still, that he loved no one
else.

It occurred to him suddenly that it would take a long time for a letter
to elicit information from Berlin.

Incontinently he wrote and despatched a long, extravagant cablegram to
Mrs. Pettit in care of the American Embassy, little doubting that she
would immediately answer.

Then he set whole-heartedly about the business of making himself
presentable for the evening.

When eventually he strode into the white room, Max was already
established at the famous little table in the southeast corner. Whitaker
was conscious of turning heads and guarded comment as he took his place
opposite the little fat man.

"Make you famous in a night," Max assured him importantly. "Don't happen
to need any notoriety, do you?"

"No, thanks."

"Dine with me here three nights hand-running and they'll let you into
the Syndicate by the back door without even asking your name. P.T.A.'s
one grand little motto, my boy."

"P.T.A.?"

"Pays to advertise. Paste that in your hat, keep your head small enough
to wear it, and don't givadam if folks do think you're an addle-pated
village cut-up, and you'll have this town at heel like a good dog as
long as--well," Max wound up with a short laugh, "as long as your luck
lasts."

"Yours seems to be pretty healthy--no signs of going into a premature
decline."

"Ah!" said Max gloomily. "Seems!"

With a morose manner he devoted himself to his soup.

"Look me over," he requested abruptly, leaning back. "I guess I'm some
giddy young buck, what?"

Whitaker reviewed the striking effect Max had created by encasing his
brief neck and double chin in an old-fashioned high collar and black
silk stock, beneath which his important chest was protected by an
elaborately frilled shirt decorated with black pearl studs. His waist
was strapped in by a pique waistcoat edged with black, and there was a
distinctly perceptible "invisible" stripe in the material of his evening
coat and trousers.

"Dressed up like a fool," Max summed up the ensemble before his guest
could speak. "Would you believe that despair could gnaw at the vitals of
any one as wonderfully arrayed?"

"I would not," Whitaker asserted.

"Nobody would," said Max mournfully. "And yet, 'tis true."

"Meaning--?"

"Oh, I'm just down in the mouth because this is Sara's last appearance."
Max motioned the waiter to remove the débris of a course. "I'm as
superstitious as any trouper in the profession. I've got it in my knob
that she's my mascot. If she leaves me, my luck goes with her. I never
had any luck until she came under my management, and I don't expect to
have any after she retires. I made her, all right, but she made me, too;
and it sprains my sense of good business to break up a paying
combination like that."

"Nonsense," Whitaker contended warmly. "If I'm not mistaken, you were
telling me this afternoon that you stand next to Belasco as a producing
manager. The loss of one star isn't going to rob you of that prestige,
is it?"

"You never can tell," the little man contended darkly; "I wouldn't bet
thirty cents my next production would turn out a hit."

"What will it cost--your next production?"

"The show I have in mind--" Max considered a moment then announced
positively: "between eighteen and twenty thousand."

"I call that big gambling."

"Gambling? Oh, that's just part of the game. I meant a side bet. If the
production flivvers, I'll need that thirty cents for coffee and sinkers
at Dennett's. So I won't bet.... But," he volunteered brightly, "I'll
sell you a half interest in the show for twelve thousand."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

"I mean it," Max insisted seriously; "though I'll admit I'm not crazy
about your accepting--yet. I've had several close calls with Sara--she's
threatened to chuck the stage often before this; but every time
something happened to make her change her mind. I've got a hunch maybe
something will happen this time, too. If it does, I won't want any
partners."

Whitaker laughed quietly and turned the conversation, accepting the
manager's pseudo-confidences at their face value--that is, as pure
bluff, quite consistent with the managerial pose.

They rose presently and made their way out into the crowded, blatant
night of Broadway.

"We'll walk, if you don't mind," Max suggested. "It isn't far, and I'd
like to get a line on the house as it goes in." He sighed affectedly.
"Heaven knows when I'll see another swell audience mobbing one of my
attractions!"

His companion raised no objection. This phase of the life of New York
exerted an attraction for his imagination of unfailing potency. He was
more willing to view it afoot than from the windows of a cab.

They pushed forward slowly through the eddying tides, elbowed by a
matchless motley of humanity, deafened by its thousand tongues, dazzled
to blindness by walls of living light. Whitaker experienced a sensation
of participating in a royal progress: Max was plainly a man of mark; he
left a wake of rippling interest. At every third step somebody hailed
him, as a rule by his first name; generally he responded by a curt nod
and a tightening of his teeth upon his cigar.

They turned east through Forty-sixth Street, shouldered by a denser
rabble whose faces, all turned in one direction, shone livid with the
glare of a gigantic electric sign, midway down the block:

    THEATRE MAX

    SARA LAW'S
     FAREWELL

It was nearly half-past eight; the house had been open since seven; and
still a queue ran from the gallery doors to Broadway, while still an
apparently interminable string of vehicles writhed from one corner to
the lobby entrance, paused to deposit its perishable freight, and
streaked away to Sixth Avenue. The lobby itself was crowded to
suffocation with an Occidental durbar of barbaric magnificence, the
city's supreme manifestation of its religion, the ultimate rite in the
worship of the pomps of the flesh.

"Look at that," Max grumbled through his cigar. "Ain't it a shame?"

"What?" Whitaker had to lift his voice to make it carry above the
buzzing of the throng.

"The money I'm losing," returned the manager, vividly disgusted. "I
could've filled the Metropolitan Opera House three times over!"

He swung on his heel and began to push his way out of the lobby. "Come
along--no use trying to get in this way."

Whitaker followed, to be led down a blind alley between the theatre and
the adjoining hotel. An illuminated sign advertised the stage door,
through which, _via_ a brief hallway, they entered the postscenium--a
vast, cavernous, cluttered, shadowy and draughty place, made visible for
the most part by an unnatural glow filtering from the footlights through
the canvas walls of an interior set. Whitaker caught hasty glimpses of
stage-hands idling about; heard a woman's voice declaiming loudly from
within the set; saw a middle-aged actor waiting for his cue beside a
substantial wooden door in the canvas walls; and--Max dragging him by
the arm--passed through a small door into the gangway behind the boxes.

"Curtain's just up," Max told him; "Sara doesn't come on till near the
middle of the act. Make yourself comfortable; I'll be back before long."

He drew aside a curtain and ushered his guest into the right-hand
stage-box, then vanished. Whitaker, finding himself the sole occupant of
the box, established himself in desolate grandeur as far out of sight as
he could arrange his chair, without losing command of the stage. A
single glance over the body of the house showed him tier upon tier of
dead-white shirt-bosoms framed in black, alternating with bare gleaming
shoulders and dazzling, exquisite gowns. The few empty stalls were
rapidly filling up. There was a fluent movement through the aisles. A
subdued hum and rustle rose from that portion of the audience which was
already seated. The business going on upon the stage was receiving
little attention--from Whitaker as little as from any one. He was
vaguely conscious only of a scene suggesting with cruel cleverness the
interior of a shabby-genteel New York flat and of a few figures peopling
it, all dominated by a heavy-limbed, harsh-voiced termagant. That to
which he was most sensitive was a purely psychological feeling of
suspense and excitement, a semi-hysterical, high-strung, emotional state
which he knew he shared with the audience, its source in fact. The
opening scene in the development of the drama interested the gathering
little or not at all; it was hanging in suspense upon the unfolding of
some extraordinary development, something unprecedented and extraneous,
foreign to the play.

Was it due simply to the fact that all these people were present at the
last public appearance--as advertised--of a star of unusual popularity?
Whitaker wondered. Or was there something else in their minds, something
deeper and more profoundly significant?

Max slipped quietly into the box and handed his guest a programme.
"Better get over here," he suggested in a hoarse whisper, indicating a
chair near the rail. "You may never have another chance to see the
greatest living actress."

Whitaker thanked him and adopted the suggestion, albeit with reluctance.
The manager remained standing for a moment, quick eyes ranging over the
house. By this time the aisles were all clear, the rows of seats
presenting an almost unbroken array of upturned faces.

Max combined a nod denoting satisfaction with a slight frown.

"Wonderful house," he whispered, sitting down behind Whitaker. "Drummond
hasn't shown up yet, though."

"That so?" Whitaker returned over his shoulder.

"Yes; it's funny; never knew him to be so late. He always has the aisle
seat, fourth row, centre. But he'll be along presently."

Whitaker noted that the designated stall was vacant, then tried to fix
his attention upon the stage; but without much success; after a few
moments he became aware that he had missed something important; the
scene was meaningless to him, lacking what had gone before.

He glanced idly at his programme, indifferently absorbing the
information that "Jules Max has the honour to present Miss Sara Law in
her first and greatest success entitled JOAN THURSDAY--a play in three
acts--"

The audience stirred expectantly; a movement ran through it like the
movement of waters, murmurous, upon a shore. Whitaker's gaze was drawn
to the stage as if by an implacable force. Max shifted on the chair
behind him and said something indistinguishable, in an unnatural tone.

A woman had come upon the stage, suddenly and tempestuously, banging a
door behind her. The audience got the barest glimpse of her profile as,
pausing momentarily, she eyed the other actors. Then, without speaking,
she turned and walked up-stage, her back to the footlights.

Applause broke out like a thunderclap, pealing heavily through the big
auditorium, but the actress showed no consciousness of it. She was
standing before a cheap mirror, removing her hat, arranging her hair
with the typical, unconscious gestures of a weary shop-girl; she was
acting--living the scene, with no time to waste in pandering to her
popularity by bows and set smiles; she remained before the glass,
prolonging the business, until the applause subsided.

Whitaker received an impression as of a tremendous force at work across
the footlights. The woman diffused an effect as of a terrible and
boundless energy under positive control. She was not merely an actress,
not even merely a great actress; she was the very soul of the drama of
to-day.

Beyond this he knew in his heart that she was his wife. Sara Law was the
woman he had married in that sleepy Connecticut town, six years before
that night. He had not yet seen her face clearly, but he _knew_. To find
himself mistaken would have shaken the foundations of his understanding.

Under cover of the applause, he turned to Max.

"Who is that? What is her name?"

"The divine Sara," Max answered, his eyes shining.

"I mean, what is her name off the stage, in private life?"

"The same," Max nodded with conviction; "Sara Law's the only name she's
ever worn in my acquaintance with her."

At that moment, the applause having subsided to such an extent that it
was possible for her to make herself heard, the actress swung round from
the mirror and addressed one of the other players. Her voice was clear,
strong and vibrant, yet sweet; but Whitaker paid no heed to the lines
she spoke. He was staring, fascinated, at her face.

Sight of it set the seal of certainty upon conviction: she was one with
Mary Ladislas. He had forgotten her so completely in the lapse of years
as to have been unable to recall her features and colouring, yet he had
needed only to see to recognize her beyond any possibility of doubt.
Those big, intensely burning eyes, that drawn and pallid face, the
quick, nervous movements of her thin white hands, the slenderness of her
tall, awkward, immature figure--in every line and contour, in every
gesture and inflection, she reproduced the Mary Ladislas whom he had
married.

And yet ... Max was whispering over his shoulder:

"Wonderful make-up--what?"

"Make-up!" Whitaker retorted. "She's not made up--she's herself to the
last detail."

Amusement glimmered in the manager's round little eyes: "You don't know
her. Wait till you get a pipe at her off the stage." Then he checked the
reply that was shaping on Whitaker's lips, with a warning lift of his
hand and brows: "Ssh! Catch this, now. She's a wonder in this scene."

The superb actress behind the counterfeit of the hunted and hungry
shop-girl was holding spell-bound with her inevitable witchery the most
sophisticated audience in the world; like wheat in a windstorm it swayed
to the modulations of her marvellous voice as it ran through a
passage-at-arms with the termagant. Suddenly ceasing to speak, she
turned down to a chair near the footlights, followed by a torrent of
shrill vituperation under the lash of which she quivered like a whipped
thoroughbred.

Abruptly, pausing with her hands on the back of the chair, there came a
change. The actress had glanced across the footlights; Whitaker could
not but follow the direction of her gaze; the eyes of both focussed for
a brief instant on the empty aisle-seat in the fourth row. A shade of
additional pallor showed on the woman's face. She looked quickly,
questioningly, toward the box of her manager.

Seated as he was so near the stage, Whitaker's face stood out in rugged
relief, illumined by the glow reflected from the footlights. It was
inevitable that she should see him. Her eyes fastened, dilating, upon
his. The scene faltered perceptibly. She stood transfixed....

[Illustration: Her eyes fastened, dilating, upon his. The scene faltered
perceptibly]

In the hush Max cried impatiently: "What the devil!" The words broke the
spell of amazement upon the actress. In a twinkling the pitiful
counterfeit of the shop-girl was rent and torn away; it hung only in
shreds and tatters upon an individuality wholly strange to Whitaker: a
larger, stronger woman seemed to have started out of the mask.

She turned, calling imperatively into the wings: "_Ring down!_"

Followed a pause of dumb amazement. In all the house, during the space
of thirty pulse-beats, no one moved. Then Max rapped out an oath and
slipped like quicksilver from the box.

Simultaneously the woman's foot stamped an echo from the boards.

"Ring down!" she cried. "Do you hear? Ring down!"

With a rush the curtain descended as pandemonium broke out on both sides
of it.



VII

THE LATE EXTRA


Impulsively Whitaker got up to follow Max, then hesitated and sank back
in doubt, his head awhirl. He was for the time being shocked out of all
capacity for clear reasoning or right thinking. Uppermost in his
consciousness he had a half-formed notion that it wouldn't help matters
if he were to force himself in upon the crisis behind the scenes.

Beyond all question his wife had recognized in him the man whom she had
been given every reason to believe dead: a discovery so unnerving as to
render her temporarily unable to continue. But if theatrical precedent
were a reliable guide, she would presently pull herself together and go
on; people of the stage seldom forget that their first duty is to the
audience. If he sat tight and waited, all might yet be well--as well as
any such hideous coil could be hoped ever to be....

As has been indicated, he arrived at his conclusion through no such
detailed argument; his mind leaped to it, and he rested upon it while
still beset by a half-score of tormenting considerations.

This, then, explained Drummond's reluctance to have him bidden to the
supper party; whatever ultimate course of action he planned to pursue,
Drummond had been unwilling, perhaps pardonably so, to have his romance
overthrown and altogether shattered in a single day.

And Drummond, too, must have known who Sara Law was, even while denying
knowledge of the existence of Mary Ladislas Whitaker. He had lied, lied
desperately, doubtless meaning to encompass a marriage before Whitaker
could find his wife, and so furnish him with every reason that could
influence an honourable man to disappear a second time.

Herein, moreover, lay the reason for the lawyer's failure to occupy his
stall on that farewell night. It was just possible that Whitaker would
not recognize his wife; and _vice versa_; but it was a chance that
Drummond hadn't the courage to face. Even so, he might have hidden
himself somewhere in the house, waiting and watching to see what would
happen.

On the other hand, Max to a certainty was ignorant of the relationship
between his star and his old-time friend, just as he must have been
ignorant of her identity with the one-time Mary Ladislas. For that
matter, Whitaker had to admit that, damning as was the evidence to
controvert the theory, Drummond might be just as much in the dark as Max
was. There was always the chance that the girl had kept her secret to
herself, inviolate, informing neither her manager nor the man she had
covenanted to wed. Drummond's absence from the house might be due to any
one of a hundred reasons other than that to which Whitaker inclined to
assign it. It was only fair to suspend judgment. In the meantime....

The audience was getting beyond control. The clamour of comment and
questioning which had broken loose when the curtain fell was waxing and
gaining a high querulous note of impatience. In the gallery the gods
were beginning to testify to their normal intolerance with shrill
whistles, cat-calls, sporadic bursts of hand-clapping and a steady,
sinister rumble of stamping feet. In the orchestra and dress-circle
people were moving about restlessly and talking at the top of their
voices in order to make themselves heard above the growing din. Had
there been music to fill the interval, they might have been more calm;
but Max had fallen in with the theatrical _dernier cri_ and had
eliminated orchestras from his houses, employing only a peal of gongs to
insure silence and attention before each curtain.

Abruptly Max himself appeared at one side of the proscenium arch. It was
plain to those nearest the stage that he was seriously disturbed. There
was a noticeable hesitancy in his manner, a pathetic frenzy in his
habitually mild and lustrous eyes. Advancing halfway to the middle of
the apron, he paused, begging attention with a pudgy hand. It was a full
minute before the gallery would let him be heard.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he announced plaintively, "I much regret to
inform you that Miss Law has suffered a severe nervous shock"--his gaze
wandered in perplexed inquiry toward the right-hand stage-box, then was
hastily averted--"and will not be able to continue for a few moments. If
you will kindly grant us your patience for a very few minutes...." He
backed precipitately from view, hounded by mocking applause.

A lull fell, but only temporarily. As the minutes lengthened, the
gallery grew more and more obstreperous and turbulent. Wave upon wave of
sound swept through the auditorium to break, roaring, against the
obdurate curtain. When eventually a second figure appeared before the
footlights, the audience seemed to understand that Max dared not show
himself again, and why. It was with difficulty that the man--evidently
the stage-manager--contrived to make himself disconnectedly audible.

"Ladies and ..." he shouted, sweat beading his perturbed forehead ...
"regret ... impossible to continue ... money ... box-office...."

An angry howl drowned him out. He retreated at accelerated discretion.

Whitaker, slipping through the stage-door behind the boxes, ran into the
last speaker standing beside the first entrance, heatedly explaining to
any one who would listen the utter futility of offering box-office
prices in return for seat checks which in the majority of instances had
cost their holders top-notch speculator prices.

"They'll wreck the theatre," he shouted excitedly, mopping his brow with
his coat sleeve, "and damned if I blame 'em! What t'ell'd she wana pull
a raw one like this for?"

Whitaker caught his arm in a grasp compelling attention.

"Where's Miss Law?" he asked.

"You tell me and I'll make you a handsome present," retorted the man.

"What's happened to her? Can't you find her?"

"I dunno--go ask Max."

"Where is _he_?"

"You can search me; last I saw of him he was tearing the star
dressin'-room up by the roots."

Whitaker hurried on just in time to see Max disappearing in the
direction of the stage-door, at which point he caught up with him, and
from the manager's disjointed catechism of the doorkeeper garnered the
information that the star had hurried out of the building while Max was
making his announcement before the curtain.

Max swung angrily upon Whitaker.

"Oh, it's you, is it? Perhaps you can explain what this means? She was
looking straight at you when she dried up! I saw her--"

"Perhaps you'd better find Miss Law and ask her," Whitaker interrupted.
"Have you any idea where she's gone?"

"Home, probably," Max snapped in return.

"Where's that?"

"Fifty-seventh Street--house of her own--just bought it."

"Come on, then." Passing his arm through the manager's, Whitaker drew
him out into the alley. "We'll get a taxi before this mob--"

"But, look here--what business've _you_ got mixing in?"

"Ask Miss Law," said Whitaker, shortly. It had been on the tip of his
tongue to tell the man flatly: "I'm her husband." But he retained wit
enough to deny himself the satisfaction of this shattering rejoinder. "I
know her," he added; "that's enough for the present."

"If you knew her all the time, why didn't you say so?" Max expostulated
with passion.

"I didn't know I knew her--by that name," said Whitaker lamely.

At the entrance to the alley Max paused to listen to the uproar within
his well-beloved theatre.

"I'd give five thousand gold dollars if I hadn't met you this
afternoon!" he groaned.

"It's too late, now," Whitaker mentioned the obvious. "But if I'd
understood, I promise you I wouldn't have come--at least to sit where
she could see me."

He began gently to urge Max toward Broadway, but the manager hung back
like a sulky child.

"Hell!" he grumbled. "I always knew that woman was a Jonah!"

"You were calling her your mascot two hours ago."

"She'll be the death of me, yet," the little man insisted gloomily. He
stopped short, jerking his arm free. "Look here, I'm not going. What's
the use? We'd only row. And I've got my work cut out for me back
there"--with a jerk of his head toward the theatre.

Whitaker hesitated, then without regret decided to lose him. It would be
as well to get over the impending interview without a third factor.

"Very well," he said, beckoning a taxicab in to the curb. "What's the
address?"

Max gave it sullenly.

"So long," he added morosely as Whitaker opened the cab door; "sorry I
ever laid eyes on you."

Whitaker hesitated. "How about that supper?" he inquired. "Is it still
on?"

"How in blazes do I know? Come round to the Beaux Arts and find out for
yourself--same's I'll have to."

"All right," said Whitaker doubtfully. He nodded to the chauffeur, and
jumped into the cab. As they swung away he received a parting impression
of Max, his pose modelled on the popular conception of Napoleon at
Waterloo: hands clasped behind his back, hair in disorder, chin on his
chest, a puzzled frown shadowing his face as he stared sombrely after
his departing guest.

Whitaker settled back and, oblivious to the lights of Broadway streaming
past, tried to think--tried with indifferent success to prepare himself
against the unhappy conference he had to anticipate. It suddenly
presented itself to his reason, with shocking force, that his attitude
must be humbly and wholly apologetic. It was a singular case: he had
come home to find his wife on the point of marrying another man--and
_she_ was the one entitled to feel aggrieved! Strange twist of the
eternal triangle!...

He tried desperately, and with equal futility, to frame some excuse for
his fault.

Far too soon the machine swerved into Fifty-seventh Street, slipped
halfway down the block, described a wide arc to the northern curb and
pulled up, trembling, before a modest modern residence between Sixth and
Seventh avenues.

Reluctantly Whitaker got out and, on suspicion, told the chauffeur to
wait. Then, with all the alacrity of a condemned man ascending the
scaffold, he ran up the steps to the front door.

A man-servant answered his ring without undue delay.

Was Miss Law at home? He would see.

This indicated that she was at home. Whitaker tendered a card with his
surname pencilled after that of _Mr. Hugh Morten_ in engraved script. He
was suffered to enter and wait in the hallway.

He stared round him with pardonable wonder. If this were truly the home
of Mary Ladislas Whitaker--her property--he had builded far better than
he could possibly have foreseen with that investment of five hundred
dollars six years since. But who, remembering the tortured, half-starved
child of the Commercial House, could have prefigured the Sara Law of
to-day--the woman who, before his eyes, within that hour, had burst
through the counterfeit of herself of yesterday like some splendid
creature emerging from its chrysalis?

Soft, shaded lights, rare furnishings, the rich yet delicate atmosphere
of exquisite taste, the hush and orderly perfection of a home made and
maintained with consummate art: these furnished him with dim, provoking
intimations of an individuality to which he was a stranger--less than a
stranger--nothing....

The man-servant brought his dignity down-stairs again.

Would Mr. Whitaker be pleased to wait in the drawing-room?

Mr. Whitaker surrendered top-coat and hat and was shown into the
designated apartment. Almost immediately he became aware of feminine
footsteps on the staircase--tapping heels, the faint murmuring of
skirts. He faced the doorway, indefinably thrilled, the blood quickening
in throat and temples.

To his intense disappointment there entered to him a woman impossible to
confuse with her whom he sought: a lady well past middle-age, with the
dignity and poise consistent with her years, her manifest breeding and
her iron-gray hair.

"Mr. Whitaker?"

He bowed, conscious that he was being narrowly scrutinized, nicely
weighed in the scales of a judgment prejudiced, if at all, not in his
favor.

"I am Mrs. Secretan, a friend of Miss Law's. She has asked me to say
that she begs to be excused, at least for to-night. She has suffered a
severe shock and is able to see nobody."

"I understand--and I'm sorry," said Whitaker, swallowing his chagrin.

"And I am further instructed to ask if you will be good enough to leave
your address."

"Certainly: I'm stopping at the Ritz-Carlton; but"--he demurred--"I
should like to leave a note, if I may--?"

Mrs. Secretan nodded an assent. "You will find materials in the desk
there," she added, indicating an escritoire.

Thanking her, Whitaker sat down, and, after some hesitation, wrote a few
lines:

     "Please don't think I mean to cause you the slightest inconvenience
     or distress. I shall be glad to further your wishes in any way you
     may care to designate. Please believe in my sincere regret...."

Signing and folding this, he rose and delivered it to Mrs. Secretan.

"Thank you," he said with a ceremonious bow.

The customary civilities were scrupulously observed.

He found himself in the street, with his trouble for all reward for his
pains. He wondered what to do, where to go, next. There was in his mind
a nagging thought that he ought to do something or other, somehow or
other, to find Drummond and make him understand that he, Whitaker, had
no desire or inclination to stand in his light; only, let the thing be
consummated decently, as privately as possible, with due deference to
the law....

The driver of the taxicab was holding the door for him, head bent to
catch the address of the next stop. But his fare lingered still in
doubt.

Dimly he became aware of the violent bawlings of a brace of news-vendors
who were ramping through the street, one on either sidewalk. Beyond two
words which seemed to be intended for "extra" and "tragedy" their cries
were as inarticulate as they were deafening.

At the spur of a vague impulse, bred of an incredulous wonder if the
papers were already noising abroad the news of the fiasco at the Theatre
Max, Whitaker stopped one of the men and purchased a paper. It was
delivered into his hands roughly folded so that a section of the front
page which blazed with crimson ink was uppermost--and indicated,
moreover, by a ridiculously dirty thumb.

"Ther'y'are, sir. 'Orrible moider.... Thanky...."

The man galloped on, howling. But Whitaker stood with his gaze riveted
in horror. The news item so pointedly offered to his attention was
clearly legible in the light of the cab lamps.

     LATEST EXTRA

     TRAGIC SUICIDE IN HARLEM RIVER

     Stopping his automobile in the middle of Washington Bridge at 7.30
     P.M., Carter S. Drummond, the lawyer and fiancé of Sara Law the
     actress, threw himself to his death in the Harlem River. The body
     has not as yet been recovered.



VIII

A HISTORY


Whitaker returned at once to the Theatre Max, but only to find the front
of the house dark, Forty-sixth Street gradually reassuming its normal
nocturnal aspect.

At the stage-door he discovered that no one knew what had become of the
manager. He might possibly be at home.... It appeared that Max occupied
exclusive quarters especially designed for him in the theatre building
itself: an amiable idiosyncrasy not wholly lacking in advertising value,
if one chose to consider it in that light.

His body-servant, a prematurely sour Japanese, suggested grudgingly that
his employer might not improbably be found at Rector's or Louis
Martin's. But he wasn't; not by Whitaker, at least.

Eventually the latter realized that it wasn't absolutely essential to
his peace of mind or material welfare to find Max that night. He had
been, as a matter of fact, seeking him in thoughtless humour--moved
solely by the gregarious instinct in man, which made him want to discuss
the amazing events of the evening with the one who, next to himself and
Sara Law, was most vitally concerned with them.

He consulted a telephone book without finding that Drummond had any
private residence connection, and then tried at random one of the clubs
of which they had been members in common in the days when Hugh Whitaker
was a human entity in the knowledge of the town. Here he had better
luck--luck, that is, in as far as it put an end to his wanderings for
the night; he found a clerk who remembered his face without remembering
his name, and who, consequently, was not unwilling to talk. Drummond, it
seemed, had lived at the club; he had dined alone, that evening, in his
room; had ordered his motor car from the adjacent garage for seven
o'clock; and had left at about that hour with a small hand-bag and no
companion. Nothing further was known of his actions save the police
report. The car had been found stationary on Washington Bridge, and
deserted, Drummond's motor coat and cap on the driver's seat. Bystanders
averred that a man had been seen to leave the car and precipitate
himself from the bridge to the stream below. The body was still
unrecovered. The club had notified by telegraph a brother in San
Francisco, the only member of Drummond's family of whom it had any
record. Friends, fellow-members of the club, were looking after
things--doing all that could and properly ought to be done under the
circumstances.

Whitaker walked back to his hotel. There was no other place to go: no
place, that is, that wooed his humour in that hour. He could call to
mind, of course, names of friends and acquaintances of the old days to
whom there was no reason why he shouldn't turn, now that he had elected
to rediscover himself to the world; but there was none of them all that
he really wanted to see before he had regained complete control of his
emotions.

He was, indeed, profoundly shocked. He held himself measurably
responsible for Drummond's act of desperation. If he had not wilfully
sought to evade the burden of his duty to Mary Ladislas, when he found
that he was to live rather than die--if he had been honest and generous
instead of allowing himself to drift into cowardly defalcation to her
trust--Drummond, doubtless, would still be alive. Or even if, having
chosen the recreant way, he had had the strength to stick to it, to stay
buried....

Next to poor Peter Stark, whom his heart mourned without ceasing, he had
cared most for Drummond of all the men he had known and liked in the old
life. Now ... he felt alone and very lonely, sick of heart and forlorn.
There was, of course, Lynch, his partner in the Antipodes; Whitaker was
fond of Lynch, but not with the affection that a generous-spirited youth
had accorded Peter Stark and Drummond--a blind and unreasoning affection
that asked no questions and made nothing of faults. The capacity for
such sentiment was dead in him, as dead as Peter Stark, as dead as
Drummond....

It was nearly midnight, but the hour found Whitaker in no humour for bed
or the emptiness of his room. He strolled into the lounge, sat down at a
detached table in a corner, and ordered something to drink. There were
not many others in the room, but still enough to mitigate to some extent
his temporary horror of utter loneliness.

He felt painfully the heaviness of his debt to the woman he had married.
He who had promised her new life and the rich fulfilment thereof had
accomplished only its waste and desolation. He had thrust upon her the
chance to find happiness, and as rudely had snatched it away from her.
Nor could he imagine any way in which he might be able to expiate his
breach of trust--his sins of omission and commission, alike deadly and
unpardonable!

Unless ... He caught eagerly at the thought: he might "die" again--go
away once more, and forever; bury himself deep beyond the groping
tentacles of civilization; disappear finally, notifying her of his
intention, so that she might seek legal freedom from his name. It only
needed Max's silence, which could unquestionably be secured, to insure
her against the least breath of scandal, the faintest whisper of
gossip.... Not that Max really knew anything; but the name of Whitaker,
as identified with Hugh Morten, might better be permitted to pass
unechoed into oblivion....

And with this very thought in mind he became aware of the echo of that
name in his hearing.

A page, bearing something on a salver, ambled through the lounge, now
and again opening his mouth to bleat, dispassionately: "Mista Whitaker,
Mista Whitaker!"

The owner of that name experienced a flush of exasperation. What right
had the management to cause him to be advertised in every public room of
the establishment?... But the next instant his resentment evaporated,
when he remembered that he remained Mr. Hugh Morten in the managerial
comprehension.

He lifted a finger; the boy swerved toward him, tendered a blue
envelope, accepted a gratuity and departed.

It was a cable message: very probably an answer to his to Grace Pettit.
Whitaker tore the envelope and unfolded the enclosure, glancing first at
the signature to verify his surmise. As he did so, he heard his name a
second time.

"Pardon me; this is Mr. Whitaker?"

A man stood beside the little table--one whom Whitaker had indifferently
noticed on entering as an equally lonely lounger at another table.

Though he frowned involuntarily with annoyance, he couldn't well deny
his identity.

"Yes," he said shortly, looking the man up and down with a captious eye.

Yet it was hard to find much fault with this invader of his
preoccupation. He had the poise and the dress of a gentleman: dignity
without aggressiveness, completeness without ostentation. He had a
spare, not ungraceful body, a plain, dark face, a humorous mouth, steady
eyes: a man easily forgotten or overlooked unless he willed it
otherwise.

"My name is Ember," he said quietly. "If you'll permit me--my card." He
offered a slip of pasteboard engraved with the name of Martin Ember.
"And I'll sit down, because I want to talk to you for a few minutes."

Accordingly he sat down. Whitaker glanced at the card, and questioningly
back at Mr. Ember's face.

"I don't know you, but ... What are we to talk about, please?"

The man smiled, not unpleasingly.

"Mrs. Whitaker," he said.

Whitaker stared, frowned, and jumped at a conclusion.

"You represent Mrs. Whitaker?"

Mr. Ember shook his head. "I'm no lawyer, thank God! But I happen to
know a good deal it would be to your advantage to know; so I've taken
this liberty."

"Mrs. Whitaker didn't send you to me? Then how--? What the deuce--!"

"I happened to have a seat near your box at the theatre to-night," Mr.
Ember explained coolly. "From--what I saw there, I inferred that you
must be--yourself. Afterwards I got hold of Max, confirmed my suspicion,
and extracted your address from him."

"I see," said Whitaker, slowly--not comprehending the main issue at all.
"But I'm not known here by the name of Whitaker."

"So I discovered," said Ember, with his quiet, engaging smile. "If I
hadn't remembered that you sometimes registered as Hugh Morten--as, for
instance, at the Commercial House six years ago--"

"You were there!"

"A considerable time after the event--yes." The man nodded, his eyes
glimmering.

Whitaker shot a quick glance round the room, and was relieved to find
they were not within earshot of any of the other occupied tables.

"Who the devil are you?" he demanded bluntly.

"I was," said the other slowly, "once, a private detective. Now--I'm a
person of no particular employment, of independent means, with a
penchant--you're at liberty to assume--for poking my nose into other
people's business."

"Oh...."

A word, "blackmail," leapt into Whitaker's consciousness, and served to
harden the hostility in his attitude.

"Mrs. George Pettit once employed me to find her sister, Miss Mary
Ladislas, who had run away with a chauffeur named Morton," pursued the
man, evenly. "That was about the time--shortly after--the death of
Thurlow Ladislas; say, two months after the so-called elopement."

"Just a minute," said Whitaker suddenly--"by your leave--"

Ember bowed gravely. For a thought longer Whitaker's gaze bored into his
eyes in vain effort to fathom what was going on behind them, the animus
undiscovered by his words; then, remembering, he looked down at the
cable message in his hand.

"_Martin Ember_ (it ran) _private agency 1435 Broadway Grace Pettit_."

Whitaker folded the paper and put it away in a pocket.

"Go on, please," he said quietly.

"In those days," Mr. Ember resumed, "I did such things indifferently
well. I had little trouble in following the runaways from Southampton to
Greenport. There they parted. The girl crossed to the Connecticut shore,
while the man went back to New York with the automobile. He turned the
machine in at the Ladislas garage, by the way, and promptly fell into
the hands of the police. He was wanted for theft in a former position,
was arrested, convicted and sent to Sing Sing; where he presently died,
I'm glad to say.... I thought this information might interest you."

Whitaker nodded grimly.

"Can I order you something to drink?"

"No, thank you--and I'm already smoking." Mr. Ember dropped the ash from
a cigar. "On the Connecticut side (because it was my business to find
out things) I discovered that Miss Ladislas had registered at the
Commercial House as Mrs. Morton. She was there, alone, under that name,
for nearly a week before you registered as Hugh Morten, and in the space
of a few hours married her, under your true name, and shipped her off to
New York."

"Right," Whitaker agreed steadily. "And then--?"

"I traced her to the Hotel Belmont, where she stopped overnight, then
lost her completely; and so reported to Mrs. Pettit. I must mention
here, in confidence, in order that you may understand my subsequent
action, that my bill for the investigation was never paid. Mr. Pettit
was not in very comfortable circumstances at the time.... No matter. I
didn't press him, and later was glad of it, for it left me a free
agent--under no obligation to make further report."

"I don't understand you."

"In a moment.... I came into a little money about that time, and gave up
my business: gave it up, that is, as far as placing myself at the
service of the public was concerned. I retained my devouring curiosity
about things that didn't concern me personally, although they were often
matters of extreme interest to the general public. In other words, I
continued to employ my time professionally, but only for my private
amusement or in the interests of my friends.... After some time Mr.
Drummond sought me out and begged me to renew my search for Mrs.
Whitaker; you were dead, he told me; she was due to come into your
estate--a comfortable living for an independent woman."

"And you found her and told Drummond--?"

Whitaker leaned over the table, studying the man's face with intense
interest.

"No--and yes. I found Mrs. Whitaker. I didn't report to Drummond."

"But why--in Heaven's name?"

Ember smiled sombrely at the drooping ash of his cigar. "There were
several reasons. In the first place I didn't have to: I had asked no
retainer from Drummond, and I rendered no bill: what I had found out was
mine, to keep or to sell, as I chose. I chose not to sell because--well,
because Mrs. Whitaker begged me not to."

"Ah!" Whitaker breathed, sitting back. "Why?"

"This was all of a year, I think, after your marriage. Mrs. Whitaker had
tasted the sweets of independence and--got the habit. She had adopted a
profession looked upon with abhorrence by her family; she was succeeding
in it; I may say her work was foreshadowing that extraordinary power
which made her the Sara Law whom you saw to-night. If she came forward
as the widow of Hugh Whitaker, it meant renunciation of the stage; it
meant painful scenes with her family if she refused to abandon her
profession; it meant the loss of liberty, of freedom of action and
development, which was hers in her decent obscurity. She was already
successful in a small way, had little need of the money she would get as
claimant of your estate. She enlisted my sympathy, and--I held my
tongue."

"That was decent of you."

The man bowed a quiet acknowledgment. "I thought you'd think so....
There was a third reason."

He paused, until Whitaker encouraged him with a "Yes--?"

"Mr. Whitaker"--the query came point-blank--"do you love your wife?"

Whitaker caught his breath. "What right--!" he began, and checked
abruptly. The blood darkened his lean cheeks.

"Mrs. Whitaker gave me to understand that you didn't. It wasn't hard to
perceive, everything considered, that your motive was pure
chivalry--Quixotism. I should like to go to my grave with anything half
as honourable and unselfish to my credit."

"I beg your pardon," Whitaker muttered thickly.

"You don't, then?"

"Love her? No."

There was a slight pause. Then, "I do," said this extraordinary man,
meeting Whitaker's gaze openly. "I do," he repeated, flushing in his
turn, "but ... hopelessly.... However, that was the third reason," he
pursued in a more level voice--"I thought you ought to know about
it--that induced me to keep Sara Law's secret.... I loved her from the
day I found her. She has never looked twice at me.... But that's why I
never lost interest."

"You mean," Whitaker took him up diffidently--"you continued to--ah--?"

"Court her--as we say? No." Ember's shoulders, lifting, emphasized the
disclaimer. "I'm no fool: I mean I'm able to recognize a hopeless case
when it's as intimate to me as mine was--and is. Doubtless Mrs. Whitaker
understands--if she hasn't forgotten me by this time--but, if so, wholly
through intuition. I have had the sense not to invite the thunderbolt.
I've sat quietly in the background, watching her work out her
destiny--feeling a good deal like a god in the machine. She doesn't know
it, unless Max told her against my wish; but it was I who induced him to
take her from the ranks of a provincial stock company and bring her
before the public, four years ago, as _Joan Thursday_. Since then her
destiny has been rather too big a thing for me to tamper with; but I've
watched and wondered, sensing forces at work about her of which even she
was unsuspicious."

"What in blazes do you mean?" Whitaker demanded, mystified.

"Did it strike you to wonder at the extraordinary mob her farewell
performance attracted to-night--the rabble that packed the street,
though quite hopeless of even seeing the inside of the theatre?"

"Why--yes. It struck me as rather unusual. But then, Max had done
nothing but tell me of her tremendous popularity."

"That alone, great as it is, wouldn't have brought so many people
together to stare at the outside of a theatre. The magnet was something
stronger--the morbid curiosity of New York. Those people were waiting,
thrilled with expectancy, on tiptoe for--what do you think?"

"I shall think you mad in another moment, if you don't explain
yourself," Whitaker told him candidly.

Ember's smile flashed and vanished. "They were waiting for the sensation
that presently came to them: the report of Drummond's death."

"What the devil--!"

"Patience!... It had been discounted: if something of the sort hadn't
happened, New York would have gone to bed disappointed. The reason? This
is the third time it has happened--the same thing, practically: Sara Law
on the verge of leaving the stage to marry, a fatal accident
intervening. Did Max by any chance mention the nickname New York has
bestowed on Sara Law?"

"Nickname? No!"

"They call her 'The Destroying Angel.'"

"What damnable rot!"

"Yes; but what damnable coincidence. Three men loved her--and one by one
they died. And now the fourth. Do you wonder...?"

"Oh, but--'The Destroying Angel'--!" Whitaker cried indignantly. "How
can they blame her?"

"It isn't blame--it's superstition. Listen...."

Ember bent forward, holding Whitaker's gaze with intent, grave eyes.
"The first time," he said in a rapid undertone, "was a year or so after
her triumph as _Joan Thursday_. There were then two men openly
infatuated with her, a boy named Custer, and a man I believe you
knew--William Hamilton."

"I knew them both."

"Custer was making the pace; the announcement of his engagement to Sara
Law was confidently anticipated. He died suddenly; the coroner's jury
decided that he had misjudged the intentions of a loaded revolver.
People whispered of suicide, but it didn't look quite like that to me.
However ... Hamilton stepped into his place. Presently we heard that
Sara Law was to marry him and leave the stage. Hamilton had to go abroad
on business; on the return trip--the wedding was set for the day after
he landed here--he disappeared, no one knew how. Presumably he fell
overboard by accident one night; sane men with everything in the world
to live for do such things, you know--according to the newspapers."

"I understand you. Please go on."

"Approximately eighteen months later a man named Thurston--Mitchell
Thurston--was considered a dangerous aspirant for the hand of Sara Law.
He was exceedingly well fixed in a money way--a sort of dilettantish
architect, with offices in the Metropolitan Tower. One day at high noon
he left his desk to go to lunch at Martin's; crossing Madison Square, he
suddenly fell dead, with a bullet in his brain. It was a rifle bullet,
but though the square was crowded, no one had heard the report of the
shot, and no one was seen carrying a rifle. The conclusion was that he
had been shot down by somebody using a gun with a Maxim silencer, from a
window on the south side of the square. There were no clues."

"And now Drummond!" Whitaker exclaimed in horror. "Poor fellow! Poor
woman!"

A slightly sardonic expression modified the lines of Ember's mouth. "So
far as Mrs. Whitaker is concerned," he said with the somewhat pedantic
mode of speech which Whitaker was to learn to associate with his moments
of most serious concentration--"I echo the sentiment. But let us suspend
judgment on Drummond's case until we know more. It is not as yet an
established fact that he is dead."

"You mean there's hope--?"

"There's doubt," Ember corrected acidly--"doubt, at least, in my mind.
You see, I saw Drummond in the flesh, alive and vigorous, a good half
hour after he is reported to have leaped to his death."

"Where?"

"Coming up the stairs from the down-town Subway station in front of the
Park Avenue Hotel. He wore a hat pulled down over his eyes and an old
overcoat buttoned tight up to his chin. He was carrying a satchel
bearing the initials C. S. D., but was otherwise pretty thoroughly
disguised, and, I fancied, anxious enough to escape recognition."

"You're positive about this?"

"My dear man," said Ember with an air, "I saw his ear distinctly."

"His ear!"

"I never forget an ear; I've made a special study of them. They're
the last parts of the human anatomy that criminals ever think
to disguise; and, to the trained eye, as infallible a means of
identification--nearly--as thumb-prints. The man I saw coming up from
the Subway kept as much as possible away from the light; he had
successfully hidden most of his face; but he wore the inches, the
hand-bag, and the ear of Carter S. Drummond. I don't think I can be
mistaken."

"Did you stop him--speak to him?"

Ember shook his head. "No. I doubt if he would have remembered me. Our
acquaintance has been of the slightest, limited to a couple of meetings.
Besides, I was in a hurry to get to the theatre, and at that time had
heard nothing of this reputed suicide."

"Which way did he go?"

"Toward the Pennsylvania station, I fancy; that is, he turned west
through Thirty-third Street. I didn't follow--I was getting into a taxi
when I caught sight of him."

"But what did you think to see him disguised? Didn't it strike you as
curious?"

"Very," said Ember dryly. "At the same time, it was none of my
affair--then. Nor did it present itself to me as a matter worth meddling
with until, later, my suspicions were aroused by the scene in the
theatre--obviously the result of your appearance there--and still later,
when I heard the suicide report."

"But--good Lord!" Whitaker passed a hand across his dazed eyes. "What
can it mean? Why should he do this thing?"

"There are several possible explanations.... How long has Drummond known
that you were alive?"

"Since noon to-day."

"Not before?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Still, it's possible. If he has a sensitive nature--I think he
hasn't--the shame of being found out, caught trying to marry your wife
when he had positive knowledge you still lived, may have driven him to
drop out of sight. Again.... May I ask, what was the extent of your
property in his trust?"

"A couple of hundred-thousands."

"And he believed you dead and was unable to find your widow ..."

"Oh, I don't think _that_!" Whitaker expostulated.

"Nor do I. We're merely considering possible explanations. There's a
third ..."

"Well?"

"He may have received a strong hint that he was nominated for the fate
that overtook young Custer, Hamilton and Thurston; and so planned to
give his disappearance the colour of a similar end."

"You don't mean to say _you_ think there was any method in that train of
tragedies?"

"I'm not in the least superstitious, my dear man. I don't for an instant
believe, as some people claim to, that Sara Law is a destroying angel,
hounded by a tragic fate: that her love is equivalent to the death
warrant of the man who wins it."

"But what do you think, then?"

"I think," said Ember, slowly, his gaze on the table, "that some one
with a very strong interest in keeping the young woman single--and on
the stage--"

"Max! Impossible!"

Ember shrugged. "In human nature, no madness is impossible. There's not
a shred of evidence against Jules Max. And yet--he's a gambler. All
theatrical managers are, of course; but Max is a card-fiend. The tale of
his plunging runs like wild-fire up and down Broadway, day by day. A
dozen times he's been on the verge of ruin, yet always he has had Sara
Law to rely upon; always he's been able to fall back upon that asset,
sure that her popularity would stave off bankruptcy. And he's
superstitious: he believes she is his mascot. I don't accuse him--I
suspect him, knowing him to be capable of many weird extravagances....
Furthermore, it's a fact that Max was a fellow-passenger with Billy
Hamilton when the latter disappeared in mid-ocean."

Ember paused and sat up, preparatory to rising. "All of which," he
concluded, "explains why I have trespassed upon your patience and your
privacy. It seemed only right that you should get the straight,
undistorted story from an unprejudiced onlooker. May I venture to add a
word of advice?"

"By all means."

"Have you told Max of your relations with Sara Law?"

"No."

"Or anybody else?"

"No."

"Then keep the truth to yourself--at least until this coil is
straightened out."

Ember got up. "Good night," he said pleasantly.

Whitaker took his hand, staring. "Good night," he echoed blankly.
"But--I say--why keep it quiet?"

Ember, turning to go, paused, his glance quietly quizzical. "You don't
mean to claim your wife?"

"On the contrary, I expect to offer no defence to her action for
divorce."

"Grounds of desertion?"

"I presume so."

"Just the same, keep it as quiet as possible until the divorce is
granted. If you live till then ... you may possibly continue to live
thereafter."



IX

ENTR'ACTE


Dawn of Sunday found Whitaker still awake. Alone in his uncheerful hotel
bedchamber, his chair tilted back against the wall, he sat smoking and
thinking, reviewing again and again every consideration growing out of
his matrimonial entanglement.

He turned in at length to the dreamless slumbers of mental exhaustion.

The morning introduced him to a world of newspapers gone mad and
garrulous with accounts of the sensation of the preceding night. What
they told him only confirmed the history of his wife's career as
detailed by the gratuitous Mr. Ember. There was, however, no suggestion
in any report that Drummond had not in fact committed suicide--this,
despite the total disappearance of the hypothetical corpse. No doubts
seemed to have arisen from the circumstance that there had been,
apparently, but a single witness of the _felo de se_. A man, breathless
with excitement, had run up to the nearest policeman with word of what
he claimed to have seen. In the subsequent confusion he had vanished.
And so thoroughly, it seemed, had the mind of New York been prepared for
some fatal accident to this latest lover of Sara Law that no one dreamed
of questioning the authenticity of the report.

Several sensational sheets ran exhaustive résumés, elaborately
illustrated, of the public life of "The Destroying Angel."

Some remarked the fact that little or nothing was known of the history
of Sara Law prior to her appearance, under the management of Jules Max,
as _Joan Thursday_.

Whitaker learned that she had refused herself to the reporters who
besieged her residence.

It seemed to be an unanimous assumption that the news of Drummond's
suicide had in some manner been conveyed to the woman while on the
stage.

No paper mentioned the name of Whitaker....

In the course of the forenoon a note for Whitaker was delivered at the
hotel.

The heavy sheet of white paper, stamped with the address in
Fifty-seventh Street, bore this message in a strong but nervous hand:

     "I rely upon the generosity you promise me. This marriage of ours,
     that is no marriage, must be dissolved. Please let my
     attorneys--Landers, Grimshaw & Clark, 149 Broadway--know when and
     where you will accept service. Forgive me if I seem ungrateful and
     unfeeling. I am hardly myself. And please do not try to see me now.
     Some day I hope to see and thank you; to-day--it's impossible. I am
     going away to forget, if I can.

     "MARY LADISLAS WHITAKER."

Before nightfall Whitaker had satisfied himself that his wife had, in
truth, left her town house. The servants there informed all who inquired
that they had been told to report and to forward all letters to Messrs.
Landers, Grimshaw & Clark.

Whitaker promptly notified those attorneys that he was ready to be
served at their convenience. He further desired them to inform their
client that her suit would be uncontested. But beyond their brief and
business-like acknowledgment, he heard nothing more of the action for
divorce.

He sought Max several times without success. When at length run to
ground in the roulette room of a Forty-fourth Street gambling-house, the
manager was grimly reticent. He professed complete ignorance of his
star's welfare and whereabouts. He advised Whitaker to consult the
newspapers, if his interest was so insatiable.

Warned by the manager's truculent and suspicious tone that his secret
was, after all, buried no more than skin-deep, Whitaker dissembled
artfully his anxiety, and abandoned Max to his pet vices.

The newspapers reported Sara Law as being in retirement in several
widely separated sections of the country. She was also said to have gone
abroad, sailing incognito by a second-class steamship from Philadelphia.

The nine-days' wonder disintegrated naturally. The sobriquet of "The
Destroying Angel" disappeared from the newspaper scare-heads. So also
the name of Drummond. Hugh Morten Whitaker, the dead man come to life,
occupied public interest for a brief half-day. By the time that the
executors of Carter Drummond and the attorneys representing his clients
began to make sense of his estate and interests, their discoveries
failed to command newspaper space.

This phenomenon was chiefly due to the fact that Whitaker didn't care to
raise an outcry about his loss. Ember, it seemed, had guessed shrewdly:
Drummond had appropriated to his own uses every dollar of the small
fortune left in his care by his erstwhile partner. No other client of
his had suffered, however. His peculations had been confined wholly to
the one quarter whence he had had every reason to anticipate neither
protest nor exposure. In Whitaker's too-magnanimous opinion, the man had
not been so much a thief as one who yielded to the temptation to convert
to his own needs and uses a property against which, it appeared, no
other living being cared to enter a claim.

Whether or not he had ever learned or guessed that Sara Law was the wife
of Whitaker, remained problematic. Whitaker inclined to believe that
Drummond had known--that he had learned the truth from the lips of his
betrothed wife. But this could not be determined save through her. And
she kept close hidden.

The monetary loss was an inconsiderable thing to a man with an interest
in mines in the Owen Stanley country. He said nothing. Drummond's name
remained untarnished, save in the knowledge of a few.

Of these, Martin Ember was one. Whitaker made a point of hunting him up.
The retired detective received confirmation of his surmise without any
amazement.

"You still believe that he's alive?"

"Implicitly," Ember asserted with conviction.

"Could you find him, if necessary?"

"Within a day, I think. Do you wish me to?"

"I don't know..."

Ember permitted Whitaker to consider the matter in silence for some
moments. Then, "Do you want advice?" he inquired.

"Well?"

"Hunt him down and put him behind the bars," said Ember instantly.

"What's the good of that?"

"Your personal safety."

"How?"

"Don't you suppose he misses all he's been accustomed to?--living as he
does in constant terror of being discovered, the life of a hunted thing,
one of the under-world, an enemy of society! Don't you suppose he'd be
glad to regain all he's lost--business, social position, the esteem of
his friends, the love of a woman who will soon be free to marry him?"

"Well?"

"With you out of the way, he could come back without fear."

"Oh--preposterous!"

"_Is_ it?"

"Drummond's not that sort. He's weak, perhaps, but no criminal."

"A criminal is the creature of a warped judgment. There'd be no
criminals if every one were able to attain his desires within the law.
Misfortunes breed weird maggots in a man's brain. Drummond's dragging
out a wretched existence in a world of false perspectives; he's not to
be blamed if he presently begins to see things as they are not."

Ember permitted another pause to lengthen, unbroken by Whitaker.

"Shall I try to find him for you?" he asked quietly, in the end.

"No," Whitaker decided. "No. Let him alone--poor devil!"

Ember disclaimed further responsibility with a movement of his
shoulders.

"But my wife? Could you find her as readily?"

"Possibly," the detective admitted cautiously. "But I don't mean to."

"Why not?"

"Because you don't want me to. Do you?"

"No..."

"But principally because she doesn't want me to. Otherwise she'd let you
know where to look for her."

"True."

These fragments of dialogue are from a conversation that took place in
the month of June, nearly seven weeks after the farewell performance at
the Theatre Max. Interim, Whitaker had quietly resumed his place in the
life of the town, regaining old friendships, renewing old associations.
Save for the fact that he pursued no gainful occupation, all with him
was much as it had been: as if the intervening six years of exile had
been blotted out, or had never been. The mild excitement occasioned by
his reappearance had already subsided; he was again an accepted and
substantial factor in the society of his kind.

He had abandoned all thought of returning to New Guinea, entertained,
indeed, no inclination whatever to do so. The life he now led was more
or less normal to him. Yet he was sensible of a growing restlessness. He
had nothing to busy himself with: this was the unguessed secret of his
unsettled temper. And the approach of hot weather was narrowing the
circle of his acquaintances. People were leaving town daily, for Europe,
for the seashore, for the mountains.

He began to receive invitations for week-ends and longer visits out of
town. A few of the former he accepted--always, however, returning to New
York with a sense of necessity strong upon his spirit. Something held
him there, some influence elusive of analysis. He was discontented, but
felt that he could not find content elsewhere.

Gradually he began to know more hours of loneliness than suited his
tastes. His rooms--the old rooms overlooking Bryant Park, regained and
refurnished much as they had been six years before--knew his solitary
presence through many a long evening. July came with blistering breath,
and he took to the Adirondacks, meaning to be gone a month. Within ten
days he was home again, drawn back irresistibly by that strange
insatiable craving of unformulated desire. Town bored him, yet he could
not seem to rest away from it.

He wandered in and out, up and down, an unquiet, irresolute soul,
tremendously perplexed....

There came one dark and sultry night, heavy beneath skies overcast, in
August. Whitaker left a roof-garden in the middle of a stupid
performance, and walked the streets till long after midnight, courting
the fatigue that alone could bestow untroubled sleep. On his return, a
sleepy hall-boy with a wilted collar ran the elevator up to his
tenth-floor landing and, leaving him fumbling at the lock of his door,
dropped clankingly out of sight. Whitaker entered and shut himself in
with the pitch-blackness of his private hall.

He groped along the wall for the electric switch, and found only the
shank of it--the hard-rubber button having disappeared. And then, while
still he was trying to think how this could have happened, he sustained
a murderous assault.

A miscalculation on the part of the marauder alone saved him. The
black-jack (or whatever the weapon was) missing his head by the
narrowest shave, descended upon his left shoulder with numbing force.
Notwithstanding his pain and surprise, Whitaker rallied and grappled,
thus escaping a second and possibly more deadly blow.

But his shoulder was almost useless, and the pain of it began to sicken
him, while the man in his grip fought like a devil unchained. He found
himself wedged back into a corner, brutal fingers digging deep into the
flesh round his windpipe. He fought desperately to escape strangulation.
Eventually he struggled out of the corner and gave ground through the
doorway into his sitting-room.

For some minutes the night in that quiet room, high above the city, was
rendered wild and violent with the crashes of overthrown furniture and
the thud and thump of struggling bodies. Then by some accident little
short of miraculous, Whitaker broke free and plunged across the room in
what he imagined to be the direction of a dresser in which he kept a
revolver. His foot slipped on the hardwood floor, the ankle twisted, and
he fell awkwardly, striking his head against a table-leg with such force
that he lay half-stunned. An instant later his assailant emptied five
chambers of a revolver into the darkness about him, and then, alarmed by
a racket of pounding on the hall door, fled successfully by way of the
fire-escape to adjoining roofs and neighbouring back-yards.

By the time Whitaker was able to pull himself together and hobble to the
door, a brace of intelligent policemen who had been summoned by the
hall-boy were threatening to break it down. Admitted, they took his
safety into their care and, simultaneously, the revolver which he
incautiously admitted possessing. Later they departed, obviously
disgruntled by the unprofessional conduct of the "crook" who had left no
"clues," with a warning to the house-holder that he might expect to be
summoned to court, as soon as he was able to move, to answer for the
crime of keeping a weapon of defence.

Whitaker took to his bed in company with a black temper and the aroma of
arnica.

He entertained, the next day, several persons: reporters; a physician; a
futile, superfluous, unornamental creature misleadingly designated a
plain-clothes man; finally his friend (by now their acquaintance had
warmed to real friendship) Ember.

The retired investigator found Whitaker getting into his clothes: a
ceremony distinguished by some profanity and numerous grunts.

"Afternoon," he said, taking a chair and surveying the sufferer with
slightly masked amusement. "Having a good time?"

"You go to thunder!" said Whitaker in disgust.

"Glad to see you're not hurt much," pursued the other, unabashed.

Whitaker withered him with a glare. "I suppose it's nothing to have a
shoulder and arm black-and-blue to the elbow! a bump on the side of my
head as big as a hard-boiled egg! a bruised throat and an ankle next
door to sprained! Oh, no--I'm not much hurt!"

"You're lucky to be alive," observed Ember, exasperatingly philosophic.

"A lot you know about it!"

"I'm a canny little guesser," Ember admitted modestly.

"Where'd you get your information, then?"

Ember waved a non-committal hand. "I hear things...."

"Oh, yes--you know a lot. I suppose you could lay this thug by the heels
in a brace of shakes?"

"Just about," Ember admitted placidly. "I wouldn't mind trying."

"Then why don't you?" Whitaker demanded heatedly.

"I had a notion you wouldn't want me to."

Whitaker stared aggressively. "You mean ... Drummond?"

The answer was a nod.

"I don't believe it."

"You'll at all events do me the credit to recall that I warned you two
months ago."

"All the same, I don't believe it was Drummond."

"You haven't missed any property, I believe?"

"No."

"So presumably the fellow had some motive other than a desire to thieve.
Besides, if he'd been on the loot he might much more easily have tried
one of the lower floors--and more sensibly."

"It would seem so," Whitaker admitted sulkily.

"And that missing switch-button--"

"What do _you_ know about that?"

"My sources of information.... It strikes me that a man who took that
much trouble to prevent your turning on the light must have been rather
anxious to avoid recognition. I shed the inference for its intrinsic
worth, merely."

"Well...." Whitaker temporized.

"And I'd like to know what you mean to do."

"About what?"

"With the understanding that you're content to leave the case of
burglary and assault to the mercies of the police: what do you mean to
do with yourself?"

"I don't know--hadn't thought."

"Unless you're hell-bent on sticking around here to get your head bashed
in--I venture respectfully to suggest that you consign yourself to my
competent care."

"Meaning--?"

"I've got a bungalow down on Long Island--a one-horse sort of a bachelor
affair--and I'm going to run down there this evening and stay awhile.
There's quiet, no society and good swimming. Will you come along and be
my guest until you grow tired of it?"

Whitaker looked his prospective host over with a calculating, suspicious
eye.

"I ought to be able to take care of myself," he grumbled childishly.

"Granted."

"But I've a great mind to take you up."

"Sensibly spoken. Can you be ready by three? I'll call with the car
then, if you can."

"Done with you!" declared Whitaker with a strong sense of relief.

As a matter of fact, he was far less incredulous of Ember's theory than
he chose to admit.



X

THE WINDOW


Though they left New York not long after three in the afternoon,
twilight was fast ebbing into night when the motor-car--the owner
driving, Whitaker invalided to the lonely grandeur of the tonneau--swept
up from a long waste of semi-wooded countryside, sparsely populated,
bumped over railroad tracks, purred softly at sedate pace through the
single street of a drowsy village, and then struck away from the main
country road.

Once clear of the village bounds, as if assured of an unobstructed way,
Ember gave the motor its head; with a long, keen whine of delight it
took the bit between its teeth and flung away like a thoroughbred
romping down the home-stretch. Its headlights clove a path through
darkness, like a splendid sword; a pale shining ribbon of road seemed to
run to the wheels as if eager to be devoured; on either hand woodlands
and desolate clearings blurred into dark and rushing walls; the wind
buffeted the faces of the travellers like a soft and tender hand,
seeking vainly if with all its strength to withstand their impetus: only
the wonderful wilderness of stars remained imperturbable.

Whitaker, braced against the jolting, snatched begrudged mouthfuls of
air strong of the sea. From time to time he caught fugitive glimpses of
what seemed to be water, far in the distances to the right. He had no
very definite idea of their whereabouts, having neglected through sheer
indifference to question Ember, but he knew that they were drawing
minute by minute closer to the Atlantic. And the knowledge was soothing
to the unquiet of his soul, who loved the sea. He dreamed vaguely, with
yearning, of wave-swept shores and their sonorous silences.

After some time the car slowed to a palpitant pause at a spot where the
road was bordered on one hand by a woods, on the other by meadow-lands
running down to an arm of a bay, on whose gently undulant surface the
flame-tipped finger of a distant lighthouse drew an undulant path of
radiance.

Ember jumped out to open a barred gate, then returning swung the car
into a clear but narrow woodland road. "Mine own domain," he informed
Whitaker with a laugh, as he stopped a second time to go back and close
the gate. "Now we're shut of the world, entirely."

The car crawled cautiously on, following a path that, in the searching
glare of headlights, showed as two parallel tracks of white set apart by
a strip of livid green and walled in by a dense tangle of scrub-oak and
pine and second growth. Underbrush rasped and rattled against the
guards. Outside the lighted way arose strange sounds audible above even
the purring of the motor--vast mysterious whisperings and rustlings:
stealthy and murmurous protests against this startling trespass.

Whitaker bent forward, inquiring: "Where are we?"

"Almost there. Patience."

Whitaker sat back again, content to await enlightenment at the pleasure
of his host. Really, he didn't much care where they were: the sense of
isolation, strong upon his spirit, numbed all his curiosity.

He reckoned idly that they must have threaded a good two miles of
woodland, when at length the car emerged upon a clearing and immediately
turned aside to the open doorway of a miniature garage.

For the first time in five hours he was aware of the hush of Nature; the
motor's song was ended for the night.

The clearing seemed no more than a fair two acres in extent; the forest
hemmed it in on three sides; on the fourth lay water. Nor was it an
unqualified clearing; a hundred yards distant the lighted windows of a
one-story structure shone pleasantly through a scattering plantation of
pine.

Linking arms the better to guide his guest, Ember drew him toward the
lights.

"Bungalow," he explained, sententious, flourishing his free hand:
"hermitage--retreat."

"Paradise," Whitaker summed up, in the same humour.

"Still-water swimming at the front door; surf bathing on the beach
across the bay; sailing, if you care for it; fishing, if you don't care
what you say; all sorts of civilized loafing and no society except our
own."

"No women?"

"Not a petticoat."

"No neighbours?"

"Oh"--Ember motioned to his left as they faced the water--"there's a
married establishment over there somewhere, but we don't bother one
another. Fellow by the name of Fiske. I understand the place is shut
up--Fiske not coming down this year."

"So much the better. I've been wanting just this all summer, without
realizing it."

"Welcome, then, to Half-a-loaf Lodge!"

Skirting the edges of the plantation, they had come round to the front
of the house. An open door, warm with light, welcomed them. They entered
a long and deep living-room with walls of peeled logs and, at one end, a
stone fireplace wherein a wood fire blazed heartily. Two score candles
in sconces furnished an illumination mellow and benign. At a comfortable
distance from the hearth stood a table bright with linen, silver and
crystal--covers for two. The rear wall was broken by three doors, in one
of which a rotund Chinaman beamed oleaginously. Ember hailed him by the
title of Sum Fat, explaining that it wasn't his name, but claiming for
it the virtue of exquisite felicity.

"My servant in town, here man-of-all-work; I've had him for years;
faithful and indispensable...."

Toward the end of an excellent dinner, Whitaker caught himself nodding
and blinking with drowsiness. The fatigue of their long ride, added to
the nervous strain and excitement of the previous night, was proving
more than he had strength to struggle against. Ember took laughing
compassion upon him and led him forthwith to a bedroom furnished with
the rigid simplicity of a summer camp. Once abed he lay awake only long
enough to recognize, in the pulsating quiet, the restless thunder of
surf on the beach across the bay. Then he slept round the clock.

He recovered consciousness to lie luxuriating in the sensation of
delicious and complete repose, and to listen lazily to the drum of
raindrops on the low roof--too lazy, indeed, to turn his head and
consult his watch. Yet he knew it must be late in the morning, for the
light was broad, if gray.

The shrill, imperative rattle of a telephone bell roused him more
thoroughly. Lifting on his elbow, he eyed his watch, then hastily swung
his legs out of bed; for it was nearly ten o'clock.

As he dressed he could hear the voice of Ember in the living-room
talking over the telephone. Presently there came a tap at his door, and
his host entered.

"Up, eh?" he said cheerfully. "I was afraid I'd have to wake you. You're
surely a sincere young sleeper.... I say!" His smile vanished beneath
the clouds of an impatient frown. "This is the devil of a note: I've got
to leave you."

"What's the trouble?"

"That's what I'm called upon to find out. A friend of mine's in a tight
place, and I've got to go and help pull him through. He just called me
up--and I can't refuse. D'you mind being left alone for a day or so?"

"Certainly not--only I'm sorry."

"No more than I. But I'll try to get back to-morrow. If I don't, the
next day--or as soon as I possibly can. Meanwhile, please consider
yourself lord and master here. Sum Fat will take good care of you.
Anything you want, just ask him. Now I've got to get into waterproofs:
it's raining like all get-out, but I can't wait for a let-up."

By the time Whitaker was ready for breakfast, his host had splashed off
to his motor car.

Later, while Sum Fat crooned to himself over the dish-pan in the
kitchen, Whitaker explored his quarters; to begin with, not in the least
disconsolate to be left alone. The place had for his imagination the
zest of novelty and isolation. He rather enjoyed the sensation of
complete dissociation from the rest of the world, of freedom to humour
his idlest whim without reference to the prejudices of any neighbour.

Within-doors there was every comfort conceivably to be desired by any
other than a sybarite; without--viewed from the shelter of a wide
veranda--a vague world of sweeping mist and driving rain; pine trees
Japanesque against the mist, as if etched in bronze-green on frosted
silver; a breadth of rough, hummocky ground sloping down to the water's
edge, with a private landing-stage and, farther out, a courtesying
cat-boat barely discernible.

The wind, freshening and driving very respectable if miniature rollers
against the beach, came in heavy gusts, alternating with periods of
steady, strong blowing. At times the shining lances of the rain seemed
to drive almost horizontally. Whitaker shivered a little, not
unpleasantly, and went indoors.

He poked his head into the kitchen. In that immaculate place, from which
every hint of breakfast had disappeared as if by magic, Sum Fat was
religiously cleaning his teeth--for the third time that morning, to
Whitaker's certain knowledge.

When he had finished, Whitaker put a question:

"Sum Fat, which way does the wind blow--do you know?"

Sum Fat flashed him a dazzling smile.

"East'ly," he said in a cheerful, clucking voice. "I think very fine
damn three-day blow."

"At least," said Whitaker, "you're a high-spirited prophet of evil. I
thank you."

He selected a book from several shelves stocked with a discriminating
taste, and settled himself before the fire.

The day wore out before his patience did, and with every indication of
fulfilling the prognosis of Sum Fat; by nightfall the wind had developed
into an enthusiastic gale, driving before it sheeted rain and great
ragged wastes of mist. Whitaker absolutely enjoyed the sensation of
renewed intimacy with the weather, from which his life in New York had
of late divorced him so completely. He read, dozed, did full justice to
the admirable cuisine of Sum Fat, and between whiles considered the
state of his soul, the cycle of the suns, his personal marital
entanglement, and the further preservation, intact, of his bruised
mortal body.

The ceaseless pattering on the shingled roof reminded him very strongly
of that dark hour, long gone, when he had made up his mind to wed a
strange woman. He marvelled at that madness with an inexhaustible wonder
and with an equally vast, desolate, poignant regret.

He considered faithfully what he had gained by reasserting his identity,
and found it an empty thing. He had been happier when a Wilful Missing,
unmissed, unmourned. It seemed as if it might be best to go away again,
to eliminate Hugh Whitaker from the coil his reappearance had created.
Then his wife could gain her freedom--and incidentally free him--and
marry as she willed. And Drummond would be free to come to life--with
hands unstained, his honour besmirched only in the knowledge of a few
who would not tell.

Did he remain, Drummond, he feared, would prove a troublesome problem.
Whitaker was, in the light of sober after-thought, more than half
convinced that Ember had guessed cunningly at the identity of his
assailant. The thing was conceivable, at least, of Drummond: the
hedonist and egoist seeking to regain his forfeited world in one
murderous cast. And it was hardly conceivable that he would hesitate to
make a second attempt whenever opportunity offered. New York, Whitaker
saw clearly, was far too small to contain them both while Drummond
remained at liberty. By attempting to stay there he would simply invite
a second attempt upon his life, merely strengthen Drummond's temptation.

He thought it very curious that he had heard nothing more of the
proposed action for divorce. It might be well to communicate again with
his wife's attorneys.

He went to bed with a mind unsettled, still curious, speculative, unable
to fix upon any definite course of conduct.

And the second day was like unto the first: a day of rain and wind and
fog periodically punctuated by black squalls that tore shrieking across
the bay with the blind fury of spirits of destruction gone stark, raving
mad.

The third day broke full of the spirit of the second; but toward noon
the rain ceased, and by mid-afternoon the violence of the wind had
moderated perceptibly to a stiffish but failing breeze beneath a
breaking cloud-rack. With the disappearance of fog, for the first time
since Whitaker's arrival the neighbourhood discovered perspectives. By
evening, when the wind went down with the sun, leaving absolute calm,
the barrier beach far across the quiet waters of the shallow, landlocked
bay shone like a bar of ruddy gold against a horizon of melting mauve.

In the evening, too, a telegram from Ember was transmitted by telephone
to the bungalow, advising Whitaker of his host's intention to return by
the following night at the latest.

This communication worked with the turn of the weather to effect a
change in the temper of Whitaker, who by this time had managed to fret
himself to the verge of incontinent departure for Australia _via_ New
York. He decided, however, to wait and thank Ember for his hospitality,
and thought seriously of consulting him as to the wisest and fairest
course to pursue.

None the less, the restlessness and impatience bred of nearly three days
of enforced inaction possessed him like a devil. After another of Sum
Fat's admirable dinners, his craving for open air and exercise drove him
out, despite the failing light, to explore the clearing rather
thoroughly, and to some extent the surrounding woodlands. At one time,
indeed, he caught sight, through thinning trees, of a summer home
somewhat more pretentious than Half-a-loaf Lodge--evidently the property
termed by Ember "the Fiske place." But it was then so nearly dark that
he didn't pause to investigate an impression that the place was
tenanted, contradictory to his host's casual statement; and he was back
on the bungalow porch in time to see the moon lift up like a great
shield of brass through the haze beyond the barrier beach.

Sounds of splashings and of song drew him down to the water's edge, to
find that Sum Fat had rowed out to the anchored cat-boat and, almost as
naked as industrious, was bailing it clear of the three days'
accumulation of rain-water. He came in, presently, and having performed
what was probably at least the eighth cleaning of his teeth since
morning, went to bed.

Wearying at length of the lunar spectacle, and quite as weary of the
sedulous attentions of a cloud of famished mosquitoes, Whitaker lounged
disconsolately indoors to a pipe and a book by candle-light. But the one
needed cleaning, and the other was out of tune with his temper, and the
flame of the candle excited the amorous interest of a great fluttering
fool of a moth until Whitaker blew it out and sat on in darkness, not
tired enough to go to bed, too tired to bestir himself and seek
distraction from a tormenting train of thought.

A pool of limpid moonlight lay like milk upon the floor beneath a window
and held his dreaming gaze while memory marshalled for his delectation a
pageant of wasted years, infinitely desolate and dreary in his vision. A
life without profit, as he saw it: an existence rendered meaningless by
a nameless want--a lack he had not wit to name.... The romance of his
life enchanted him, its futility furnished him a vast and profound
perplexity. To what end?--this was the haunting burden of his
complaint....

How long he sat unstirring, preoccupied with fruitless inquiry, he did
not guess. But later he reckoned it could not have been long after ten
o'clock when he was disturbed. The sound of a footfall, hushed and
stealthy on the veranda, roused him with a start, and almost at the same
instant he became aware of a shadow that troubled the pool of moonlight,
the foreshortened shadow of a man's head and shoulders. He sat up,
tense, rigid with surprise and wonder, and stared at the silhouetted
body at pause just outside the window. The fellow was stooping to peer
in. Whether he could distinguish Whitaker in the shadows was debatable,
but he remained motionless through a long minute, as if fascinated by
the undeviating regard returned by Whitaker. Then the latter broke the
spell with a hasty movement. Through the feeling of surprised resentment
there had filtered a gnawing suspicion that he was acquainted with the
pose of that head and the set of those shoulders. Had Drummond hunted
him down to this isolate hiding-place? On the thought he leaped up, in
two strides slammed out through the door.

"I say!" he cried loudly. But he cried, apparently, to empty air. The
man was gone--vanished as strangely and as quietly as he had appeared.

Whitaker shut teeth on an oath and, jumping down from the veranda, cast
wildly about the bungalow without uncovering a single sign of the
trespasser. In transit from his chair to the door, he had lost sight of
the fellow for no more, certainly, than half a second; and yet, in that
absurdly scanty space of time, the trespasser had managed to effect an
absolute disappearance. No conjuring trick was ever turned more neatly.
There one instant, gone the next!--the mystery of it irritated and
perplexed more than did the question of identity. It was all very
plausible to suspect Drummond--but whither could Drummond have juggled
himself in the twinkling of an eyelash? That it was no trick of an idle
imagination, Whitaker was prepared to swear: he was positive he had seen
what he had seen. And yet.... It was, on the other hand, impossible to
say where in the plantation of pines the man might not then be skulking.
Whitaker instituted a narrow search, but fruitless.

Eventually pausing and glaring round the clearing in complete
bewilderment, he detected or else fancied a slight movement in the
shadows on the edge of the encompassing woodland. Instantly, heedless of
the risk he ran if the man were indeed Drummond and if Drummond were
indeed guilty of the assault now four nights old, Whitaker broke for the
spot. It proved to be the entrance to one of the woodland paths, and
naturally--whether or no his imagination were in fault--there was nobody
waiting there to be caught.

But if any one had been there, he had unquestionably fled along the
trail. Whitaker in a rage set himself to follow, sticking to the path
partly through instinct, mainly thanks to a spectral twilight
manufactured in the forest by moon-beams filtered thin through
innumerable leaves and branches. Once or twice he paused to listen, then
again plunged on: misled perhaps by the mysterious but inevitable noises
of the nocturnal woodland. Before he realized he could have covered half
the distance, he emerged abruptly into the clearing of the Fiske place.

Here he pulled up, for the first time alive to the intrinsic idiocy of
his conduct, and diverted besides by the discovery that his impression
of the early evening, that the cottage was tenanted, had been well
founded.

The ground floor windows shone with a dim but warm illumination. There
was one quite near him, a long window opening upon the railed veranda,
through which he could see distinctly part of a living-room rather
charmingly furnished in a summery way. At its farther end a dark-haired
woman in a plain black dress with a short apron and lace cap sat reading
by lamplight: evidently a maid. Her mistress--judged by appearances--was
outside on the lawn below the veranda, strolling to and fro in company
with a somewhat short and heavy man who wore an automobile duster and
visored cap. By contrast, her white-clad figure, invested with the
illusion of moonlight, seemed unusually tall. Her hair was fair, shining
like a head-dress of palest gold as she bent her head, attentive to her
companion. And Whitaker thought to discern an unusual quality in her
movements, a quality of charm and a graciousness of mien rarely to be
noticed even in the most beautiful of the women he had known.

Of a sudden the man paused, produced a watch from beneath his duster,
consulted it briefly and shut the case with a snap. He said something in
a brusque tone, and was answered by what sounded like a pleasant
negative. Promptly, as if annoyed, he turned and strode hastily away,
disappearing round the house.

Alone, the woman watched him as long as he was in sight, her head to one
side with an effect of critical amusement. Then with a low laugh she
crossed the veranda and entered the lighted room. At the same time,
Whitaker, lingering and watching without in the least understanding or
even questioning why he was doing this thing so contrary to his
instincts, heard the heavy rumble of a motor-car on the far side of the
house and saw the machine swing off across the clearing and into the
woods.

In the living-room the woman was saying: "You may go now, Elise. I'll be
ready for bed before long."

"Yes, madam." The maid rose and moved briskly out of sight.

Her mistress, casting aside a scarf of embroidered Chinese brocade,
moved about the room with an air at once languid and distrait. Pausing
beside a table, she took up a book, opened it, shut it smartly,
discarding it as if hopeless of finding therein any sort of diversion.
She stood for a moment in deep thought, her head bowed, the knuckle of a
slender forefinger tapping her chin--charmingly posed. Whitaker abruptly
understood why it was he loitered, peeping: she was absolutely
beautiful, a creature both exquisite and superb, a matchless portrait
for the galleries of his memory.

With a sigh and a quick movement of impatience, seating herself at a
cottage piano she ran her fingers over the keys. Whitaker recognized the
opening bars of something or other of Beethoven's--he couldn't say
precisely what, at the instant; and even as he tried a thing happened
which drove the music altogether from his mind: in short, he discovered
that he was not the only watcher below the window.

Something--a movement or perhaps a slight sound--had drawn his attention
from the woman. He saw the other man standing boldly in full moonlight,
all his attention concentrated on the brilliant picture framed by the
window. He was unquestionably without knowledge of the nearness of the
other--of Whitaker in the shadows. And though his back was to the moon
and his face further shadowed by a peaked cap, Whitaker was absolutely
sure of the man: he was certainly Drummond.

Without pause for thought he sprang toward him, in a guarded voice
uttering his name--"Drummond!" But the fellow proved too alert and quick
for him. Whitaker's hands closed on nothing more substantial than thin
air; at the same time he received a blow upon his bruised shoulder smart
and forcible enough to stagger him and evoke an involuntary grunt of
pain. And before he could regain his balance the fellow was thrashing
noisily away through the woodland underbrush.

Involuntarily Whitaker glanced through the window to see if the woman
had been alarmed. But apparently a succession of sonorous chords from
the piano had deafened her to all other sounds. She played on with every
sign of total unconsciousness.

Forthwith he struck off and blundered senselessly through the forest,
misled by its elusive phantasmagoria, until, realizing at length he did
but duplicate an earlier folly, he gave up the chase in disgust and
slowly made his way back to the bungalow.

And yet (for all the mystery and the wonder of his experience) it was
with a somewhat sheepish feeling that he took the precaution of locking
the doors and windows before turning in. After all, what grounds had he
for his suspicions? Merely a hasty guess at the identity of one who
might turn out to be nothing more than a hapchance tramp--a skulking
vagabond on the watch for a chance to pilfer and fly.

If he were Drummond and as murderous-minded as Ember claimed, why had he
neglected his dozen opportunities to ambush his prey in the woods?

A shade of incredulity insensibly began to color Whitaker's
apprehensions. In time, with impatience, he dismissed them altogether
from his mind.

He dozed off while dwelling upon the vision of a fair-haired woman
idling over a piano, swaying slightly as she played.



XI

THE SPY


Whitaker slept soundly but lightly: the adventures of the evening had
not been so fatiguing as to render his slumbers profound, after three
days of sheer loafing. And he awoke early, roused by a level beam of
blood-red light thrown full upon his face by the rising sun.

He lay for a time languid, watching the incarnadined walls and lazily
examining the curious thrill of interest with which he found himself
anticipating the day to come. It seemed a long time since he had looked
forward to the mere routine of existence with so strong an assurance of
emotional diversion. He idled in whimsical humour with an odd conceit to
the effect that the roots of his soul had somehow been mysteriously
watered, so that it was about to burgeon like a green bay tree--whatever
that might mean. And with this he experienced an exhilarating glow of
well-being that had of late been more a stranger to his body than he
liked to admit.

He wondered why. Was the change in the weather responsible? Or had the
mere act of withdrawing from the world for a little time wrought some
esoteric change in the inscrutable chemistry of his sentiments? Had the
recent innocuous waste of time somehow awakened him to the value of the
mere act of living? Or, again--absurd surmise!--was all this due simply
to the instinct of sex: was it merely the man in him quickening to the
knowledge that a pretty woman existed in his neighbourhood?

At this last he laughed openly, and jumped out of bed. At all events, no
healthy man had any business dawdling away a single minute of so rare a
morning.

Already the sun was warm, the faint breeze bland. Standing at the window
and shading his eyes against the glare, he surveyed a world new-washed
and radiant: the sun majestically climbing up and away from the purple
lattice-work of cloud that barred the nitid mauve horizon; the distant
beach, a violet-tinted barrier between the firmament and sea; the
landlocked bay dimpled with vagrant catspaws and smitten with sunlight
as with a scimitar of fire; the earth fresh and fragrant, steaming
faintly in the ardent glow of dawn.

In another moment he was at the kitchen door, interrupting Sum Fat's
first matutinal attentions to his teeth with a demand for a
bathing-suit. One of Ember's was promptly forthcoming, and by happy
accident fitted him indifferently well; so that three minutes later
found him poised on the end of the small dock, above fifteen feet of
water so limpid bright that he could easily discern the shapes of
pebbles on the bottom.

He dived neatly, coming to the surface with his flesh tingling with
delight of the cool water; then with the deliberate and powerful
movements of an experienced swimmer, struck away from the land.

Two hundred yards out he paused, rolled over on his back and, hands
clasped beneath his head, floated serenely, sunlight warming his
upturned face, his body rejoicing in the suave, clean, fluid embrace, an
almost overpowering sense of physical sanity and boundless strength
rioting through him. Quietly, intimately, he smiled at the sound, good
old world, athrill with the wonder and beauty of life.

Then something disturbed him: a dull fluttering, vibrant upon his
submerged eardrums. Extending his arms and moving his hands gently to
preserve his poise, he lifted his head from the water. The neighbouring
shore-line leaped flashing to his vision like an exquisite disclosure of
jewelled marquetry. His vision ranged quickly from Ember's landing-stage
to that on the water-front of the Fiske place, and verified a surmise
with the discovery of a motor-boat standing out from the latter. The
churning of its propeller had roused him.

Holding its present course, the boat would clear him by several hundred
yards. He lay quiet, watching. Despite its generous proportions--it was
a fair-sized cabin cruiser, deep-seaworthy in any ordinary weather--he
could see but a single person for all its crew. Seated astern, dividing
her attention between the side steering-wheel and the engine, she was
altogether ignorant of the onlooker. Only her head and shoulders showed
above the coaming: her head with its shining golden crown, her shoulders
cloaked with a light wrap gathered at the throat.

Whitaker, admiring, wondered....

Sweeping in a wide arc as it gathered speed, the boat presently shot out
smartly on a straight course for the barrier beach.

Why? What business had she there? And at an hour so early?

No affair of his: Whitaker admitted as much, freely. And yet, no reason
existed why he should not likewise take an impersonal interest in the
distant ocean beach. As a matter of fact (he discovered upon
examination) he was vastly concerned in that quarter. Already he was
beginning his fourth day on the Great West Bay without having set foot
upon its Great South Beach! Ridiculous oversight! And one to be remedied
without another hour's delay.

Grinning with amused toleration of his own perverse sophistry, he turned
over on his side and struck out in the wake of the motor-boat. He had
over a mile to go; but such a distance was nothing dismaying to a
swimmer of Whitaker's quality, who had all his life been on very
friendly terms with the sea.

No one held a watch on him; but when at length he waded ashore he was
complacent in the knowledge that he had made very good time.

He found the motor-boat moored in shallow water at the end of a long and
substantial dock. The name displayed in letters of brass on its stern
was, frankly, _Trouble_. He paused waist-deep to lean over the side and
inspect the cockpit; the survey drew from him an expression of approval.
The boat seemed to be handsomely appointed, and the motor exposed by the
open hatch of the engine pit was of a make synonymous with speed and
reliability. He patted the flanks of the vessel as he waded on.

"Good little boat!" said he.

A weather-beaten sign-board on the dock advertised a surf-bathing
station. Ashore a plank walk crossed first a breadth of sedge marsh and
then penetrated a tumbled waste of dunes. Where the summits of the
latter met the sky, there were visible a series of angular and unlovely
wooden edifices.

Whitaker climbed up on the walk and made seawards. He saw nothing of the
lady of the motor-boat.

In fact, for some time he saw nothing in human guise; from other
indications he was inclined to conclude that the bathing station was
either closed for the season or else had been permanently abandoned
within a year or so. There was a notable absence of rowboats and sailing
craft about the dock, with, as he drew nearer to the shuttered and
desolate cluster of bath-houses, an equally remarkable lack of garments
and towels hanging out to dry.

Walking rapidly, he wasn't long in covering the distance from shore to
shore. Very soon he stood at the head of a rude flight of wooden steps
which ran down from the top of a wave-eaten sand bluff, some ten or
twelve feet in height, to the broad and gently shelving ocean beach.
Whipping in from the sea, a brisk breeze, from which the dunes had
heretofore sheltered him, now cooled his dripping bathing-suit not
altogether pleasantly. But he didn't mind. The sight of the surf
compensated.

He had long since been aware of its resonant diapason, betokening a
heavy sea; but the spectacle of it was one ever beautiful in his sight.
Whitecaps broke the lustrous blue, clear to its serrated horizon.
Inshore the tide was low; the broad and glistening expanse of naked wet
sand mirrored the tender blueness of the skies far out to where the
breakers weltered in confusion of sapphire, emerald and snow. A mile
offshore a fishing smack with a close-reefed, purple patch of sail was
making heavy weather of it; miles beyond it, again, an inward-bound
ocean steamship shouldered along contemptuously; and a little way
eastwards a multitude of gulls with flashing pinions were wheeling and
darting and screaming above something in the sea--presumably a school of
fish.

Midway between the sand bluff and the breaking waters stood the woman
Whitaker had followed. (There wasn't any use mincing terms: he _had_
followed her in his confounded, fatuous curiosity!) Her face was to the
sea, her hands clasped behind her. Now the wind modelled her cloak
sweetly to her body, now whipped its skirts away, disclosing legs
straight and slender and graciously modelled. She was dressed, it
seemed, for bathing; she had crossed the bay for a lonely bout with the
surf, and having found it dangerously heavy, now lingered, disappointed
but fascinated by the majestic beauty of its fury.

Whitaker turned to go, his inquisitiveness appeased; but he was aware of
an annoying sense of shame, which he considered rather low on the part
of his conscience. True, he had followed her; true, he had watched her
at a moment when she had every reason to believe herself alone with the
sky, the sand, the sea and the squabbling gulls. But--the beach was free
to all; there was no harm done; he hadn't really meant to spy upon her,
and he had not the slightest intention of forcing himself upon her
consciousness.

Intentions, however, are one thing; accidents, another entirely. History
is mainly fashioned of intentions that have met with accidents.

Whitaker turned to go, and turning let his gaze sweep up from the beach
and along the brow of the bluff. He paused, frowning. Some twenty feet
or so distant the legs of a man, trousered and booted, protruded from a
hollow between two hummocks of sand. And the toes of the boots were
digging into the sand, indicating that the man was lying prone; and that
meant (if he were neither dead nor sleeping) that he was watching the
woman on the beach.

Indignation, righteous indignation, warmed Whitaker's bosom. It was all
very well for him to catch sight of the woman through her cottage
window, by night, and to swim over to the beach in her wake the next
morning, but what right had anybody else to constitute himself her
shadow?... All this on the mute evidence of the boots and trousers:
Whitaker to his knowledge had never seen them before, but he had so
little doubt they belonged to the other watcher by the window last night
that he readily persuaded himself that this must be so.

Besides, it was possible that the man was Drummond.

Anyway, nobody was licensed to skulk among sand-dunes and spy upon
unescorted females!

Instantly Whitaker resolved himself into a select joint committee for
the Promulgation of the Principles of Modern Chivalry and the
Elucidation of the Truth.

He strode forward and stood over the man, looking down at his back. It
was true, as he had assumed: the fellow was watching the woman. Chin in
hands, elbows half-buried in sand, he seemed to be following her with an
undeviating regard. And his back was very like Drummond's; at least, in
height and general proportion his figure resembled Drummond's closely
enough to leave Whitaker without any deterring doubt.

A little quiver of excitement mingled with anticipative satisfaction ran
through him. Now, at last, the mystery was to be cleared up, his future
relations with the pseudo suicide defined and established.

Deliberately he extended his bare foot and nudged the man's ribs.

"Drummond...." he said in a clear voice, decided but unaggressive.

With an oath and what seemed a single, quick motion, the man jumped to
his feet and turned to Whitaker a startled and inflamed countenance.

"What the devil!" he cried angrily. "Who are you? What do you want? What
d'you mean by coming round here and calling me Drummond?"

He was no more Drummond than he was Whitaker himself.

Whitaker retreated a step, nonplussed. "I beg pardon," he stammered
civilly, in his confusion; "I took you for a fr--a man I know."

"Well, I ain't, see!" For a moment the man glowered at Whitaker, his
features twitching. Apparently the shock of surprise had temporarily
dislocated his sense of proportion. Rage blazed from his bloodshot,
sunken eyes, and rage was eloquent in the set of his rusty, square-hewn
chin and the working of his heavy and begrimed hands.

"Damn you!" he exploded suddenly. "What d'you mean by butting in--"

"For that matter"--something clicked in Whitaker's brain and
subconsciously he knew that his temper was about to take the
bridge--"what the devil do _you_ mean by spying on that lady yonder?"

It being indisputably none of his concern, the unfairness of the
question only lent it offensive force. It was quite evidently more than
the man could or would bear from any officious stranger. He made this
painfully clear through the medium of an intolerable epithet and an
attempt to land his right fist on Whitaker's face.

The face, however, was elsewhere when the fist reached the point for
which it had been aimed; and Whitaker closed in promptly as the fellow's
body followed his arm, thrown off balance by the momentum of the
unobstructed blow. Thoroughly angered, he had now every intention of
administering a sound and salutary lesson.

In pursuance with this design, he grappled and put forth his strength to
throw the man.

What followed had entered into the calculations of neither. Whitaker
felt himself suddenly falling through air thick with a blinding, choking
cloud of dust and sand. The body of the other was simultaneously
wrenched violently from his grasp. Then he brought up against solidity
with a bump that seemed to expel every cubic inch of air from his lungs.
And he heard himself cry out sharply with the pain of his weak ankle
newly twisted....

He sat up, gasping for breath, brushed the sand from his face and eyes,
and as soon as his whirling wits settled a little, comprehended what had
happened.

Half buried in the débris of a miniature landslide, he sat at the foot
of the bluff, which reared its convex face behind and over him.
Immediately above his head a ragged break in its profile showed where
the sand, held together solely by beach grass, had given way beneath the
weight of the antagonists.

A little distance from him the other man was picking himself up,
apparently unhurt but completely surfeited. Without delay, with not even
so much as a glance at Whitaker, he staggered off for a few paces, then
settled into a heavy, lumbering trot westward along the beach.

This conduct was so inconsistent with his late belligerent humour that
Whitaker felt inclined to rub his eyes a second time. He had
anticipated--as soon as in condition to reason at all--nothing less than
an immediate resumption of hostilities. Yet here was the fellow running
away. Incomprehensible!

And yet, save at the first blush, not so incomprehensible: the chief of
the man's desire had been unquestionably to see without being seen; his
rage at being detected had led him to a misstep; now he was reverting to
his original plan with all possible expedition. He did not wish the
woman to recognize him; therefore he was putting himself out of her way.
For she was approaching.

When Whitaker caught sight of her, she was already close at hand. She
had been running. Now as their glances met, hers keenly inquiring of
Whitaker's still bewildered eyes, she pulled up abruptly and stood
astare. He saw, or fancied, something closely akin to fright and
consternation in her look. The flush in her cheeks gave way to a swift
pallor. The hands trembled that drew her beach-cloak close about her.
She seemed to make an ineffectual effort to speak.

On his part, Whitaker tried to get up. A keen twinge in his ankle,
however, wrung an involuntary grunt from him, and with a wry grimace he
sank back.

"Oh!" cried the woman, impulsively. "You're hurt!" She advanced a pace,
solicitous and sympathetic.

"Oh, not much," Whitaker replied in a tone more of hope than of
assurance. He felt tenderly of the injured member. "Only my
ankle--twisted it a few days ago, and now again. It'll be all right in a
moment or two."

Her gaze travelled from him to the edge of the bluff.

"I didn't see--I mean, I heard something, and turned, and saw you trying
to sit up and the other man rising."

"Sorry we startled you," Whitaker mumbled, wondering how the deuce he
was going to get home. His examination of the ankle hadn't proved
greatly encouraging.

"But I--ah--how did it happen?"

"A mere misunderstanding," he said lightly. "I mistook the gentleman for
some one I knew. He resented it, so we started to scrap like a couple of
schoolboys. Then ... I wish to Heaven it had been his leg instead of
mine!"

"But still I hardly understand...."

She was now more composed. The colour had returned to her face. She
stood with head inclined a trifle forward, gaze intent beneath delicate
brows; most distractingly pretty, he thought, in spite of the
ankle--which really didn't hurt much unless moved.

"Well, you see, I--ah--I'm visiting Ember--the cottage next to yours, I
believe. That is, if I'm not mistaken, you have the Fiske place?"

She nodded.

"And so, this morning, it struck me as a fine young idea to swim over
here and have a look at the beach. I--ah--you rather showed me the way,
with your motor-boat. I mean I saw you start out."

He felt better after that: open confession is a great help when one
feels senselessly guilty. He ventured an engaging smile and noted with
relief that it failed either to terrify or to enrage the young woman.

On the other hand, she said encouragingly: "I see."

"And then I found that chap watching you--"

That startled her. "How do you mean--watching me?"

"Why--ah--that's what he seemed to be doing. He was lying at full length
up there, half hidden--to all appearances watching you from behind a
screen of beach grass."

"But--I don't understand--why should he have been watching me?"

"I'm sure I don't know, if you don't."

She shook her head: "You must be mistaken."

"Daresay. I generally am when I jump at conclusions. Anyway, he didn't
like it much when I called him out of his name. I gathered, in fact,
that he was considerably put out. Silly, wasn't it?"

"Rather!" she agreed gravely.

For a moment or two they eyed one another in silence, Whitaker wondering
just how much of a fool she was thinking him and dubiously considering
various expedients to ingratiate himself. She was really quite too
charming to be neglected, after so auspicious an inauguration of their
acquaintance. Momentarily he was becoming more convinced that she was
exceptional. Certain he was he had never met any woman quite like
her--not even the fair but false Miss Carstairs of whom he had once
fancied himself so hopelessly enamoured. Here he divined an uncommon
intelligence conjoined with matchless loveliness. Testimony to the
former quality he acquired from eyes serenely violet and thoughtful. As
for the latter, he reflected that few professional beauties could have
stood, as this woman did, the acid test of that mercilessly brilliant
morning.

"I don't seem to think of anything useful to say," he ventured. "Can you
help me out? Unless you'd be interested to know that my name's
Whitaker--Hugh Whitaker--?"

She acknowledged the information merely by a brief nod. "It seems to
me," she said seriously, "that the pressing question is, what are you
going to do about that ankle? Shall you be able to walk?"

"Hard to say," he grumbled, a trifle dashed. He experimented gingerly,
moving his foot this way and that and shutting his teeth on groans that
the test would surely have evoked had he been alone. "'Fraid not. Still,
one can try."

"It isn't sprained?"

"Oh, no--just badly wrenched. And, as I said, this is the second time
within a week."

With infinite pains and the aid of both hands and his sound foot, he
lifted himself and contrived to stand erect for an instant, then bore a
little weight on the hurt ankle--and blenched, paling visibly beneath
his ineradicable tan.

"I don't suppose," he said with effort--"they grow--crutches--on this
neck of land?"

And he was about to collapse again upon the sands when, without warning,
he found the woman had moved to his side and caught his hand, almost
brusquely passing his arm across her shoulders, so that she received no
little of his weight.

"Oh, I say--!" he protested feebly.

"Don't say anything," she replied shortly. "I'm very strong--quite able
to help you to the boat. Please don't consider me at all; just see if we
can't manage this way."

"But I've no right to impose--"

"Don't be silly! Please do as I say. Won't you try to walk?"

He endeavoured to withdraw his arm, an effort rendered futile by her
cool, firm grasp on his fingers.

"Please!" she said--not altogether patiently.

He eyed her askance. There was in this incredible situation a certain
piquancy, definitely provocative, transcending the claims his injury
made upon his interest. Last night for the first time he had seen this
woman and from a distance had thought her desirable; now, within twelve
hours, he found himself with an arm round her neck!

He thought it a tremendously interesting neck, slender, not thin, and
straight and strong, a milk-white column from the frilled collar of her
bathing-cloak to the shimmering tendrils that clustered behind her ears.
Nor was the ear she presented to his inspection an everyday ear, lacking
its individual allure. He considered that it owned its distinctive
personality, not unworthy of any man's studious attention.

He saw her face, of course, en profile: her head bowed, downcast lashes
long upon her cheeks, her mouth set in a mould of gravity, her brows
seriously contracted--signifying preoccupation with the problem of the
moment.

And then suddenly she turned her head and intercepted his whole-hearted
stare. For a thought wonder glimmered in the violet eyes; then they
flashed disconcertingly; finally they became utterly cold and
disdainful.

"Well?" she demanded in a frigid voice.

He looked away in complete confusion, and felt his face burning to the
temples.

"I beg your pardon," he mumbled unhappily.

He essayed to walk. Twenty feet and more of treacherous, dry, yielding
sand separated them from the flight of steps that ascended the bluff. It
proved no easy journey; and its difficulty was complicated by his
determination to spare the woman as much as he could. Gritting his
teeth, he grinned and bore without a murmur until, the first stage of
the journey accomplished, he was able to grasp a handrail at the bottom
of the stairs and breathe devout thanks through the medium of a gasp.

"Shall we rest a bit?" the woman asked, compassionate, ignoring now the
impertinence she had chosen to resent a few moments ago.

"Think I can manage--thanks," he said, panting a little. "It'll be
easier now--going up. I shan't need help."

He withdrew his arm, perhaps not without regret, but assuredly with a
comforting sense of decent consideration for her, as well as with some
slight and intrinsically masculine satisfaction in the knowledge that he
was overcoming her will and her resistance.

"No--honestly!" he insisted. "These handrails make it easy."

"But please be sure," she begged. "Don't take any chances. _I_ don't
mind...."

"Let me demonstrate, then."

The stairway was comfortably narrow; he had only to grasp a rail with
either hand, and half lift himself, half hop up step by step. In this
manner he accomplished the ascent in excellent, if hopelessly
ungraceful, style. At the top he limped to a wooden seat beside one of
the bath-houses and sat down with so much grim decision in his manner
that it was evident to the woman the moment she rejoined him. But he
mustered a smile to meet her look of concern, and shook his head.

"Thus far and no farther."

"Oh, but you must not be stubborn!"

"I mean to be--horrid stubborn. In fact, I don't mind warning you that
there's a famous strain of mule in the Whitaker make-up."

She was, however, not to be diverted; and her fugitive frown bespoke
impatience, if he were any judge.

"But seriously, you must--"

"Believe me," he interrupted, "if I am to retain any vestige of
self-respect, I must no longer make a crutch of you."

"But, really, I don't see why--!"

"Need I remind you I am a man?" he argued lightly. "Even as you are a
very charming woman...."

The frown deepened while she conned this utterance over.

"How do you mean me to interpret that?" she demanded, straightforward.

"The intention was not uncomplimentary, perhaps," he said gravely;
"though the clumsiness is incontestable. As for the rest of it--I'm not
trying to flirt with you, if that's what _you_ mean--yet. What I wished
to convey was simply my intention no longer to bear my masculine weight
upon a woman--either you or any other woman."

A smile contended momentarily with the frown, and triumphed brilliantly.

"I beg your pardon, I'm sure. But do you mind telling me what you do
mean to do?"

"No."

"Well, then--?" The smile was deepening very pleasantly.

"I mean to ask you," he said deliberately, taking heart of this
favourable manifestation: "to whom am I indebted--?"

To his consternation the smile vanished, as though a cloud had sailed
before the sun. Doubt and something strongly resembling incredulity
informed her glance.

"Do you mean to say you don't _know_?" she demanded after a moment.

"Believe me, I've no least idea--"

"But surely Mr. Ember must have told you?"

"Ember seemed to be labouring under the misapprehension that the Fiske
place was without a tenant."

"Oh!"

"And I'm sure he was sincere. Otherwise it's certain wild horses
couldn't have dragged him back to New York."

"Oh!" Her tone was thoughtful. "So he has gone back to town?"

"Business called him. At least such was the plausible excuse he advanced
for depriving himself of my exclusive society."

"I see," she nodded--"I see...."

"But aren't you going to tell me? Or ought I to prove my human
intelligence by assuming on logical grounds that you're Miss Fiske?"

"If you please," she murmured absently, her intent gaze seeking the
distances of the sea.

"Then that's settled," he pursued in accents of satisfaction. "You are
Miss Fiske--Christian name at present unknown to deponent. I am one
Whitaker, as already deposed--baptized Hugh. And we are neighbours. Do
you know, I think this a very decent sort of a world after all?"

"And still"--she returned to the charge--"you haven't told me what you
mean to do, since you refuse my help."

"I mean," he asserted cheerfully, "to sit here, aping Patience on a
monument, until some kind-hearted person fetches me a stick or other
suitable piece of wood to serve as emergency staff. Then I shall make
shift to hobble to your motor-boat and thank you very kindly for
ferrying me home."

"Very well," she said with a business-like air. "Now we understand one
another, I'll see what I can find."

Reviewing their surroundings with a swift and comprehensive glance, she
shook her head in dainty annoyance, stood for an instant plunged in
speculation, then, light-footed, darted from sight round the side of the
bath-house.

He waited, a tender nurse to his ankle, smiling vaguely at the benign
sky.

Presently she reappeared, dragging an eight-foot pole, which, from
certain indications, seemed to have been formerly dedicated to the
office of clothes-line prop.

"Will this do?"

Whitaker took it from her and weighed it with anxious judgment.

"A trifle tall, even for me," he allowed. "Still...."

He rose on one foot and tested the staff with his weight. "'Twill do,"
he decided. "And thank you very much."

But even with its aid, his progress toward the boat necessarily consumed
a tedious time. It was impossible to favour the injured foot to any
great extent. Between occasional halts for rest, Whitaker hobbled with
grim determination, suffering exquisitely but privately. The girl
considerately schooled her pace to his, subjecting him to covert
scrutiny when, as they moved on, his injury interested him exclusively.

He made little or no attempt to converse while in motion; a spirit of
bravado alone, indeed, would have enabled him to pay attention to
anything aside from the problem of the next step; and bravado was a
stranger to his cosmos then, if ever. So she had plenty of opportunity
to make up her mind about him.

If her eyes were a reliable index, she found him at least interesting.
At times their expression was enigmatic beyond any rending. Again they
seemed openly perplexed. At all times they were warily regardful.

Once she sighed quietly with a passing look of sadness of which he was
wholly unaware....

"Odd--about that fellow," he observed during a halt. "I was sure I knew
him, both times--last night as well as to-day."

"Last night?" she queried with patent interest.

"Oh, yes: I meant to tell you. He was prowling round the
bungalow--Ember's, I mean--when I first saw him. I chased him off, lost
him in the woods, and later picked him up again just at the edge of your
grounds. That's why I thought it funny that he should be over here this
morning, shadowing you--as they say in detective stories."

"No wonder!" she commented sympathetically.

"And the oddest thing of all was that I should be so sure he was
Drummond--until I saw--"

"Drummond!"

"Friend of mine.... You don't by any chance know Drummond, do you?"

"I've heard the name."

"You must have. The papers were full of his case for a while. Man
supposed to have committed suicide--jumped off Washington Bridge a week
before he was to marry Sara Law, the actress?"

"Why ... yes. Yes, I remember. But.... 'Supposed to have committed
suicide'--did you say?"

He nodded. "He may have got away with it, at that. Only, I've good
reason to believe he didn't.... I may as well tell you: it's no secret,
although only a few people know it: Ember saw Drummond, or thinks he
did, alive, in the flesh, a good half-hour after the time of his
reported suicide."

"Really!" the girl commented in a stifled voice.

"Oh, for all that, there's no proof Ember wasn't misled by an accidental
resemblance--no real proof--merely circumstantial evidence. Though for
my part, I'm quite convinced Drummond still lives."

"How very curious!" There was nothing more than civil but perfunctory
interest in the comment. "Are you ready to go on?"

And another time, when they were near the boat:

"When do you expect Mr. Ember?" asked the girl.

"To-night, probably. At least, he wired yesterday to say he'd be down
to-night. But from what little I've seen of him, you can never be sure
of Ember. He seems to lead the sedentary and uneventful life of a flea
on a hot griddle."

"I shall be glad to see him," said the girl in what Whitaker thought a
curious tone. "Please tell him, will you? Don't forget."

"If that's the way you feel about him, I shall be tempted to wire him
not to come."

"Just what do you mean by that?" asked the woman sharply, a glint of
indignation in her level, challenging stare.

"Merely that your tone sounded a bit vindictive. I thought possibly you
might want to have it out with him, for the sin of permitting me to
infest this neck o' the woods."

"Absurd!" she laughed, placated.

When finally they came to the end of the dock, he paused, considering
the three-foot drop to the deck of the motor-boat with a dubious look
that but half expressed his consternation. It would be practically
impossible to lower himself without employing the painful member to an
extent he didn't like to anticipate. He met the girl's inquiring glance
with one wholly rueful.

"If it weren't low tide...." he explained, crest-fallen.

She laughed lightly. "But, since it is low tide, you'll have to let me
help you again."

Cautiously lowering himself to a sitting position on the dock, feet
overhanging the boat, he nodded. "'Fraid so. Sorry to be a nuisance."

"You're not a nuisance. You're merely masculine," the girl retorted,
jumping lightly but surely to the cockpit.

She turned and offered him a hand, eyes dancing with gay malice.

Whitaker delayed, considering her gravely.

"Meaning--?" he inquired pleasantly.

"Like all men you must turn to a woman in the end--however brave your
strut."

"Oh, it's that way, is it? Thank you, but I fancy I can manage."

And with the aid of the clothes-prop he did manage to make the descent
without her hand and without disaster.

"Pure _blague_!" the girl taunted.

"That's French for I-think-I'm-smart-don't-I--isn't it?" he inquired
with an innocent stare. "If so, the answer is: I do."

Her lips and eyes were eloquent of laughter repressed.

"But now?" she argued, sure of triumph. "You've got to admit you
couldn't do without me now!"

"Oh, I can manage a motor, if that's what you mean," he retorted
serenely; "though I confess there are a few new kinks to this one that
might puzzle me a bit at the start. That chain-and-cogwheel affair to
turn the flywheel with, for instance--that's a new one. The last time I
ran a marine motor in this country we had to break our backs and run
chances of breaking our arms as well, turning up by hand."

The girl had gone forward, over the cabin roof, to cast off. She
returned along the outboard, pushing the boat clear, then, jumping back
into the cockpit, started the engine with a single, almost effortless
turn of the crank which Whitaker had mentioned, and took the wheel as
the boat swung droning away from the dock. Not until she had once or
twice advanced the spark and made other minor adjustments, did she
return attention to her passenger.

Then, in a casual voice, she inquired: "You've been out of the country
for some time, I think you said?"

"Almost six years on the other side of the world--got back only last
spring."

"What," she asked, eyes averted, spying out the channel--"what does one
do on the other side of the world?"

"This one knocked about, mostly, for his health's sake. That is, I went
away expecting to die before long, was disappointed, got well and strong
and--took to drifting.... I beg your pardon," he broke off hastily; "a
civil answer to a civil question needn't necessarily be the history of
one's life."

The girl put the wheel down slowly, swinging the boat upon a course
direct to the landing-stage at Half-a-loaf Lodge.

"But surely you didn't waste six years simply 'drifting'?"

"Well, I did drift into a sort of business, after a bit--gold mining in
a haphazard, happy-go-lucky fashion--did pretty well at it and came home
to astonish the natives."

"Was it a success?"

"Rather," he replied dryly.

"I meant your plan to astonish the natives."

"So did I."

"You find things--New York--disappointing?" she analyzed his tone.

"I find it overpowering--and lonely. Nobody sent a brass band to greet
me at the dock; and all the people I used to know are either married and
devoted to brats, or divorced and devoted to bridge; and my game has
gone off so badly in six years that I don't belong any more."

She smiled, shaping her scarlet lips deliciously. The soft, warm wind
whipped stray strands of hair, like cords of gold, about her face. Her
eyelids were half lowered against the intolerable splendour of the day.
The waters of the bay, wind-blurred and dark, seemed a shield of
sapphire fashioned by nature solely to set off in clear relief her
ardent loveliness.

Whitaker, noting how swiftly the mainland shores were disclosing the
finer details of their beauty, could have wished the bay ten times as
wide.



XII

THE MOUSE-TRAP


Late in the afternoon of the same day, Ember, appearing suddenly in
front of the bungalow, discovered Whitaker sitting up in state; a
comfortable wicker chair supported his body and a canvas-seated camp
stool one of his feet; which last was discreetly veiled in a dripping
bath-towel. Otherwise he was fastidiously arrayed in white flannels and,
by his seraphic smile and guileless expression, seemed abnormally at
peace with his circumstances.

Halting, Ember surveyed the spectacle with mocking disfavour, as though
he felt himself slightly at a disadvantage. He was, indeed, in a state
that furnished an admirable contrast to that of the elegant if disabled
idler. His face was scarcely whiter with the impalpable souvenirs of the
road than was his slate-coloured mohair duster. The former, indeed,
suffered by comparison, its personal coat of dust being deep-rutted with
muddy paths of perspiration; beneath all lay the dull flush of flesh
scorched by continuous exposure to sunlight and the swift rush of
superheated air. None the less, his eyes, gleaming bright as through a
mask, were not unamiable.

"Hel-_lo_!" he observed, beginning to draw off his gauntlets as he
ascended the veranda steps and dropped into another wicker chair.

"How _do_ you do?" returned Whitaker agreeably.

"I'm all right; but what the deuce's the matter with you?"

"Game leg, thanks. Twisted my ankle again, this morning. Sum Fat has
been doctoring it with intense enthusiasm, horse liniment and chopped
ice."

"That's the only proper treatment for sprains. Bad, is it?"

"Not very--not half as bad as I thought it would be at first. Coming on
top of the other wrench made it extra painful for a while--that's all.
By to-morrow morning I'll be skipping like the silly old hills in the
Scriptures."

"Hope so; but you don't want to overdo the imitation, you know. Give
nature a chance to make the cure complete. Otherwise--well, you must've
had a pretty rotten stupid time of it, with that storm."

"Oh, not at all. I really enjoyed it," Whitaker protested.

"Like this place, eh?"

"Heavenly!" asserted the invalid with enthusiasm. "I can't thank you
enough."

"Oh, if you forgive me for leaving you alone so much, we'll call it
square." Ember lifted his voice: "Sum Fat, ahoy!"

The Chinaman appeared in the doorway, as suddenly and silently as if
magically materialized by the sound of his name. He bore with
circumspection a large tray decorated with glasses, siphons, decanters
and a bowl of cracked ice.

"I make very remarkable damn fine quick guess what you want first," he
observed suavely, placing the tray on a small table convenient to
Ember's hand. "That all now?"

"You're a sulphur-coloured wizard with pigeon-toed eyes," replied Ember
severely. "Go away from here instantly and prepare me all the dinner in
the establishment, lest an evil fate overtake you."

"It is written," returned Sum Fat, "that I die after eight-seven years
of honourable life from heart-failure on receiving long-deferred raise
in wages."

He shuffled off, chuckling.

"Scotch or Irish?" demanded Ember, clinking glasses.

"Irish, please. How's your friend's case?"

"Coming along. You don't seem surprised to see me."

"I had your telegram, and besides I heard your car, just now."

"Oh!" There was a significance in the ejaculation which Whitaker chose
to ignore as he blandly accepted his frosted glass. "You
weren't--ah--lonely?" Ember persisted.

"Not in the least."

"I fancied I saw the flutter of a petticoat through the trees, as I came
up to the house."

"You did."

"Found a--ah--friend down here?"

"Acquaintance of yours, I believe: Miss Fiske."

"Miss Fiske!" There was unfeigned amazement in the echo.

"Anything wonderful about that?" inquired Whitaker, sharply. "I fancied
from what she said that you two were rather good friends."

"Just surprised--that's all," said Ember, recovering. "You see, I didn't
think the Fiske place was open this year."

He stared suspiciously at Whitaker, but the latter was transparently
ingenuous.

"She expressed an unaccountable desire to see you--told me to tell you."

"Oh? Such being the case, one would think she might've waited."

"She had just started home when you drove in," Whitaker explained with
elaborate ease. "She'd merely run over for a moment to inquire after my
ankle, and couldn't wait."

"Thoughtful of her."

"Wasn't it?" To this Whitaker added with less complacency: "You'll have
to call after dinner, I suppose."

"Sorry," said Ember, hastily, "but shan't be able to. Fact is, I only
ran in to see if you were comfortable--must get back to town immediately
after dinner--friend's case at a critical stage."

"Everybody loves me and worries about my interesting condition--even
you, wretched host that you are."

"I apologize."

"Don't; you needn't. I wouldn't for the world interfere with your
desperate business. I'm really quite happy here--alone."

"Alone--I think you said?" Ember inquired after a brief pause.

"Alone," Whitaker reiterated firmly.

"I'm glad you like the place."

"It's most attractive, really.... I say, who are the Fiskes, anyway?"

"Well ... the Fiskes are the people who own the next cottage."

"I know, but--"

"Oh, I never troubled to inquire; have a hazy notion Fiske does
something in Wall Street." Ember passed smoothly over this flaw in his
professional omniscience. "How did you happen to meet her?"

"Oh, mere accident. Over on the beach this morning. I slipped and hurt
my ankle. She--ah--happened along and brought me home in her
motor-boat."

On mature reflection, Whitaker had decided that it would be as well to
edit his already sketchy explanation of all reference to the putative
spy who wasn't Drummond; in other words, to let Ember's sleeping
detective instincts lie. And with this private understanding with
himself, he felt a little aggrieved because of the quarter toward which
Ember presently saw fit to swing their talk.

"You haven't seen Drummond--or any signs of him, have you?"

"Eh--what?" Whitaker sat up, startled. "No, I ... er ... how should I?"

"I merely wondered. You see, I.... Well, to tell the truth, I took the
liberty of camping on his trail, while in town, with the idea of serving
him with notice to behave. But he'd anticipated me, apparently; he'd
cleared out of his accustomed haunts--got away clean. I couldn't find
any trace of him."

"You're a swell sleuth," Whitaker commented critically.

"You be damn'.... That's the true reason why I ran down to-day, when I
really couldn't spare the time; I was a bit worried--afraid he'd maybe
doped out my little scheme for keeping you out of harm's way."

"Oh, I say!" Whitaker expostulated, touched by this evidence of
disinterested thoughtfulness. "You don't mean--"

"On the contrary, I firmly believe him responsible for that attack on
you the other night. The man's a dangerous monomaniac; brooding over his
self-wrought wrongs has made him such."

"You persuade yourself too much, old man. You set up an inference and
idolize it as an immortal truth. Why, you had me going for a while. Only
last night there was a fellow skulking round here, and I was just dippy
enough, thanks to your influence, to think he resembled Drummond. But
this morning I got a good look at him, and he's no more Drummond than
you are."

"The hell you say!" Ember sat up, eyes snapping. "Who was he then?"

"Simply a good-for-nothing vagabond--tramp."

"What'd he want?"

"Search me."

"But why the devil didn't you tell me this before?"

"You don't mean to say you attach any importance to the mere fact that
an ordinary tramp--"

"I attach importance to many things that other people overlook. That's
my artfulness. I don't suppose it has occurred to you that tramps follow
the railroads, and that Long Island is free of the vermin for the simple
reason that the Long Island Railroad doesn't lead anywhere any
self-respecting tramp would care to go?"

"It's true--I hadn't thought of that. So that makes the appearance of a
tramp in these parts a cir-spicious sus-cumstance?"

"It does. Now tell me about him--everything."

So the truth would out, after all. Whitaker resignedly delivered himself
of the tale of the mare's-nest--as he still regarded it. When he had
come to the lame conclusion thereof, Ember yawned and rose.

"What are you going to do about it?" Whitaker inquired with irony.

"Wash and make myself fit to eat food," was the response. "I may
possibly think a little. It's an exhilarating exercise which I don't
hesitate to recommend to your distinguished consideration."

He was out of earshot, within the bungalow, before Whitaker could think
up an adequately insolent retort. He could, however, do no less than
smile incredulously at the beautiful world: so much, at least, he owed
his self-respect.

He lolled comfortably, dreaming, forgetful of his cold-storage foot,
serene in the assurance that Ember was an alarmist, Drummond (if alive)
to a degree hand-bound by his own misconduct, a wretched creature
self-doomed to haunt the under-world, little potent either for good or
for evil; while it was a certainty, Whitaker believed, that to-morrow's
sun would find him able to be up and about--able to hobble, even if with
difficulty, at least as much as the eighth of a mile.

Long shadows darkened athwart the clearing. The bay was quick with
moving water, its wonderful deep blue shading to violet in the distant
reaches. Beyond the golden arm of the barrier beach drifted the lazy
purple sails of coastwise schooners. Gradually these blushed red, the
golden arm took on a ruddy tinge, the bosom of the waters a translucent
pink, mirroring the vast conflagration in the western skies.

Somewhere--not far away--a whippoorwill whistled with plaintive
insistence.

In the deepening twilight a mental shadow came to cloud the brightness
of Whitaker's confident contentment. He sat brooding and mumbling curses
on the ache in his frost-bitten foot, and was more than slightly
relieved when Sum Fat lighted the candles in the living-room and
summoned Ember to help the invalid indoors.

Neither good food nor good company seemed able to mitigate this sudden
seizure of despondency. He sat glooming over his plate and glass, the
burden of his conversation _yea, yea_ and _nay, nay_; nor was anything
of Ember's intermittent banter apparently able to educe the spirited
retorts ordinarily to be expected of him.

His host diagnosed his complaint from beneath shrewd eyebrows.

"Whitaker," he said at length, "a pessimist has been defined as a dog
that won't scratch."

"Well?" said the other sourly.

"Come on. Be a sport. Have a good scratch on me."

Whitaker grinned reluctantly and briefly.

"Where's my wife?" he demanded abruptly.

"How in blazes--!"

"There you are!" Whitaker complained. "You make great pretensions, and
yet you fall down flat on your foolish face three times in less than as
many hours. You don't know who the Fiskes are, you've lost track of your
pet myth, Drummond, and you don't know where I can find my wife. And yet
I'm expected to stand round with my mouth open, playing Dr. Watson to
your Sherlock Holmes. I could go to that telephone and consult
'Information' to better advantage!"

"What you need," retorted the other, unmoved, "is a clairvoyant, not a
detective. If you can't keep track of your trial marriages yourself...!"

He shrugged.

"Then you don't know--haven't the least idea where she is?"

"My dear man, I myself am beginning to doubt her existence."

"I don't see why the dickens she doesn't go ahead with those divorce
proceedings!" Whitaker remarked morosely.

"I've met few men so eager for full membership in the Alimony Club.
What's your hurry?"

"Oh, I don't know." Which was largely truth unveneered. "I'd like to get
it over and done with."

"You might advertise--offer a suitable reward for information concerning
the whereabouts of one docile and dormant divorce suit--"

"I might, but you'd never earn it."

"Doubtless. I've long since learned never to expect any reward
commensurate with my merits."

Ember pushed back his chair and, rising, strolled to the door. "Moonrise
and a fine, clear night," he said, staring through the wire mesh of the
screen. "Wish you were well enough to go riding with me. However, you
won't be laid up long, I fancy. And I'll be back day after to-morrow.
Now I must cut along."

And within ten minutes Whitaker heard the motor-car rumble off on the
woodland road.

He wasn't altogether sorry to be left to his own society. He was, in
fact, rather sharp-set for the freedom of solitude, that he might pursue
one or two self-appointed tasks without interruption.

For one of these Sum Fat, not without wonder, furnished him materials:
canvas, stout thread, scissors, a heavy needle, a bit of beeswax: with
which Whitaker purposed manufacturing an emergency ankle-strap. And at
this task he laboured diligently and patiently for the better part of
two hours, with a result less creditable to his workmanship than to a
nature integrally sunny and prone to see the bright side of things.
Whitaker himself, examining the finished product with a prejudiced eye,
was fain to concede its crudity. It was not pretty, but he believed
fatuously in its efficiency.

His other task was purely one of self-examination. Since afternoon he
had found reason gravely to doubt the stability of his emotional poise.
He had of late been in the habit of regarding himself as one whose mind
retained no illusions; a bit prematurely aged, perhaps, but wise with a
wisdom beyond his years; no misogynist, but comfortably woman-proof; a
settled body and a sedate, contemplating with an indulgent smile the
futile antics of a mad, mad world. But now he was being reminded that no
man is older than his heart, and that the heart is a headstrong member,
apt to mutiny without warning and proclaim a youth quite inconsistent
with the years and the mentality of its possessor. In fine, he could not
be blind to the fact that he was in grave danger of making an ass of
himself if he failed to guide himself with unwonted circumspection.

And all because he had an eye and a weakness for fair women, a lonely
path to tread through life, and a gregarious tendency, a humorous
faculty and a keen appreciation of a mind responsive to it....

And all in the face of the fact that he was not at liberty to make
love....

And all this problem the result of a single day of propinquity!

He went to bed, finally, far less content with himself than with the
crazy issue of his handicraft. The latter might possibly serve its
purpose; but Hugh Whitaker seemed a hopeless sort of a proposition, not
in the least amenable to the admonitions of common sense. If he were,
indeed, he would have already been planning an abrupt escape to Town. As
matters stood with him, he knew he had not the least intention of doing
anything one-half so sensible.

But in spite of his half-hearted perturbation and dissatisfaction, the
weariness of a long, full day was so heavy upon him that he went to
sleep almost before Sum Fat had finished making him comfortable.

Extinguishing the candle, the Chinaman, moving with the silent assurance
of a cat in the dark, closed and latched the shutters, then sat down
just outside the living-room door, to wait and watch, sleeplessly alert.

An hour passed in silence, and another, and yet another: Sum Fat sat
moveless in the shadow, which blended so perfectly with his dark
blue-silk garments as to render him almost indistinguishable: a figure
as patient and imperturbable as any bland, stout, graven god of his
religion. Slowly the moonlight shifted over the floor, lengthened until
it almost touched the toe of one of his felt-soled shoes, and
imperceptibly withdrew. The wind had fallen, and the night was very
quiet; few sounds disturbed the stillness, and those inconsiderable: the
steady respiration of the sleeping man; such faint, stealthy creakings
as seemingly infest every human habitation through the night; the dull
lisp and murmur of the tide groping its way along the shore; the muted
grumble of the distant surf; hushed whisperings of leaves disturbed by
wandering airs.

Sum Fat heard all and held impassive. But in time there fell upon his
ears another sound, to which he stirred, if imperceptibly--drawing
himself together, tensing and flexing his tired muscles while his eyes
shifted quickly from one quarter to another of the darkened living-room
and the still more dark bedchamber.

And yet, apparently all that had aroused him was the drowsy whistle of a
whippoorwill.

Then, with no other presage, a shadow flitted past one of the side
windows, and in another reappeared more substantially on the veranda.
Sum Fat grew altogether tense, his gaze fixed and exclusively focussed
upon that apparition.

Cautiously, noiselessly, edging inch by inch across the veranda, the man
approached the door. It was open, hooked back against the wall; only the
wire screen was in his way. Against this he flattened his face; and a
full, long minute elapsed while he carefully surveyed what was visible
of the interior. Even Sum Fat held his breath throughout that
interminable reconnoissance.

At length, reassured, the man laid hold of the screen and drew it open.
It complained a little, and he started violently and waited another
minute for the alarm which did not ensue. Then abruptly he slipped into
the room and slowly drew the screen shut behind him. Another minute: no
sound detectable more untoward than that of steady respiration in the
bedroom; with a movement as swift and sinister as the swoop of a vulture
the man sprang toward the bedroom door.

Leaping from a sitting position, with a bound that was little less than
a flight through the air, the Chinaman caught him halfway. There
followed a shriek, a heavy fall that shook the bungalow, the report of a
revolver, sounds of scuffling....

Whitaker, half dazed, found himself standing in the doorway, regardless
of his injury.

He saw, as one who dreams and yet is conscious that he does but dream,
Ember lighting candles--calmly applying the flame of a taper to one
after another as he made a round of the sconces. The moonlight paled and
the windows turned black as the mellow radiance brightened.

Then a slight movement in the shadow of the table drew his attention to
the floor. Sum Fat was kneeling there, on all fours, above something
that breathed heavily and struggled without avail.

Whitaker's sleep-numbed faculties cleared.

"Ember!" he cried. "What in the name of all things strange--!"

Ember threw him a flickering smile. "Oh, there you are?" he said
cheerfully. "I've got something interesting to show you. Sum Fat"--he
stooped and picked up a revolver--"you may let him up, now, if you think
he's safe."

"Safe enough." Sum Fat rose, grinning. "Had damn plenty."

He mounted guard beside the door.

For an instant his captive seemed reluctant to rise; free, he lay
without moving, getting his breath in great heaving sobs; only his gaze
ranged ceaselessly from Ember's face to Whitaker's and back again, and
his hands opened and closed convulsively.

Ember moved to his side and stood over him, balancing the revolver in
his palm.

"Come," he said impatiently. "Up with you!"

The man sat up as if galvanized by fear, got more slowly to his knees,
then, grasping the edge of the table, dragged himself laboriously to a
standing position. He passed a hand uncertainly across his mouth,
brushed the hair out of his eyes and tried to steady himself, attempting
to infuse defiance into his air, even though cornered, beaten and
helpless.

Whitaker's jaw dropped and his eyes widened with wonder and pity. He
couldn't deny the man, yet he found it hard to believe that this
quivering, shaken creature, with his lean and pasty face and desperate,
glaring eyes, this man in rough, stained, soiled and shapeless garments,
could be identical with the well set-up, prosperous and confident man of
affairs he remembered as Drummond. And yet they were one. Appalling to
contemplate the swift devastating course of moral degeneration, that had
spread like gangrene through all the man's physical and mental fibre....

"Take a good look," Ember advised grimly. "How about that pet myth
thing, now? What price the astute sleuth--eh? Perhaps you'd like to take
a few more funny cracks at my simple faith in hallucinations."

"Good God!" said Whitaker in a low voice, unable to remove his gaze from
Drummond.

"I had a notion he'd be hanging round," Ember went on; "I thought I saw
somebody hiding in the woods this afternoon; and then I was sure I saw
him skulking round the edges of the clearing, after dinner. So I set Sum
Fat to watch, drove back to the village to mislead him, left my car
there and walked back. And sure enough--!"

Without comment, Whitaker, unable to stand any longer without
discomfort, hobbled to a chair and sat down.

"Well?" Drummond demanded harshly in a quavering snarl. "Now that you've
got me, what're you going to do with me?"

There was a high, hysterical accent in his voice that struck
unpleasantly on Ember's ear. He cocked his head to one side, studying
the man intently.

Drummond flung himself a step away from the table, paused, and again
faced his captors with bravado.

"Well?" he cried again. "Well?"

Ember nodded toward Whitaker. "Ask him," he said briefly.

Whitaker shook his head. It was difficult to think how to deal with this
trapped animal, so wildly different from the cultivated gentleman he
always had in mind when he thought of Drummond. The futility of
attempting to deal with him according to any code recognized by men of
honour was wretchedly apparent.

"Drummond," he said slowly, "I wish to God you hadn't done this thing."

Drummond laughed discordantly. "Keep your mealy-mouthed compassion for
yourself," he retorted, sneering. "I'm no worse than you, only I got
caught." He added in a low tone, quivering with uncontrollable hatred:
"Damn you!"

Whitaker gave a gesture of despair. "If you'd only been content to keep
out of the way...! If only you'd let me alone--"

"Then _you_ let Sara Law alone, d'you hear?"

Surprised, Whitaker paused before replying. "Please understand," he said
quietly, "that Mrs. Whitaker is seeking a divorce from me. After that,
if she has any use for you, I have no objection to her marrying you. And
as for the money you stole, I have said nothing about that--intend to
say nothing. If you'd had the sense to explain things to me--if I could
count on you to leave me alone and not try again to murder me--"

"Oh, go to hell!"

The interruption was little short of a shriek. Ember motioned to Sum
Fat, who quietly drew nearer.

"I swear I don't know what to do or say--"

"Then shut up--"

"That'll be about all," Ember interposed quietly. At a glance from him,
Sum Fat closed in swiftly and caught and pinioned Drummond's arms from
behind.

A disgusting change took place in Drummond. In an instant he was
struggling, screaming, slavering: his face congested, eyes starting,
features working wildly as he turned and twisted in his efforts to free
himself.

Sum Fat held him as he would have held an unruly child. Whitaker looked
away, feeling faint and sick. Ember looked on with shrewd and
penetrating interest, biding the time when a break in Drummond's ravings
would let him be heard. When it came at length, together with a gradual
weakening of the man's struggles, the detective turned to Whitaker.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't dare take any further chances. He'd've been
at your throat in another minute. I could see him working himself up to
a frenzy. If Sum Fat hadn't grabbed him in time, there's no telling what
might not have happened."

Whitaker nodded.

"It isn't as if we had simply an everyday crook to deal with," Ember
went on, approaching the man. "He's not to be trusted or reasoned with.
He's just short of a raving morphomaniac, or I miss my guess."

With a quick movement he caught Drummond's left arm, pulled the sleeve
of his coat back to the elbow, unbuttoned and turned back his cuff.
"_Hmm_--yes," he continued bending over to inspect the exposed forearm,
in spite of Drummond's efforts to twist away. "Deadly work of the busy
little needle. Good Lord, he's fairly riddled with punctures!"

"That explains...." Whitaker muttered, sickened.

"It explains a lot." Ember readjusted the sleeve and turned away. "And
it shows us our path of duty, clear," he continued, despite
interruptions from the maddened drug fiend. "I think a nice little
sojourn in a sanatorium--what?"

"Right," Whitaker agreed, relieved.

"We'll see what a cure does for him before we indulge in criminal
proceedings--shall we?"

"By all means."

"Good." Ember glanced at his watch. "I'll have to hurry along now--must
be in town not later than nine o'clock this morning. I'll take him with
me. No, don't worry--I can handle him easily. It's a bit of a walk to
the village, but that will only help to quiet him down. I'll be back
to-morrow; meanwhile you'll be able to sleep soundly unless--"

He checked, frowning thoughtfully.

"Unless what?"

Ember jerked his head to indicate the prisoner. "Of course, this isn't
by any chance the fellow you mixed it up with over on the beach--and so
forth?"

"Nothing like him."

"Queer. I can't find any trace of him--the other one--nor can I account
for him. He doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. However"--his expression
lightened--"I daresay you were right; he's probably only some idle,
light-fingered prowler. I'd keep my eyes open for him, but I don't
really believe you need worry much."

Within ten minutes he was off on his lonely tramp through two miles of
woodland and as many more of little travelled country road, at dead of
night, with a madman in handcuffs for sole company.



XIII

OFFSHORE


"You ask me, I think very excellent damn quick cure."

Sum Fat having for the third time since morning anointed with liniment
and massaged Whitaker's ankle, tenderly adjusted and laced the makeshift
canvas brace, drew a sock over it, and then with infinite care inserted
the foot in a high-cut canvas tennis shoe.

He stood up, beaming.

Whitaker extended his leg and cast a critical eye over the heavily
bandaged ankle.

"Anyway," he observed, "the effect is arresting. I look like a half
Clydesdale."

Sum Fat's eyes clouded, then again gleamed with benevolent interest.
"You take it easy one day or two--no walk much--just loaf--no go see
pretty ladies--"

"Go 'way, you heathen--go clean your teeth!" cried Whitaker,
indignantly.

"--and I think be all well and sound," concluded Sum Fat.

He waddled away, chuckling.

Waiting till he was well out of sight, Whitaker got up, and with the aid
of a cane made a number of tentative experiments in the gentle art of
short-distance pedestrianism. The results were highly satisfactory: he
felt little or no pain, thanks to Sum Fat's ice-packs and assiduous
attentions in general; and was hampered in free movement solely by the
stiff brace and high-laced shoe.

On the other hand, he felt that the advice to which he had just listened
was sound; it would be unwise to attempt a neighbourly call within at
least another twenty-four hours.

He resumed his chair on the veranda, and sighed. It was late afternoon,
and he was lonely. After the interest and excitement of the preceding
day and night, to-day seemed very dull and uneventful; it had been, in
truth, nothing less than stupid--a mere routine of meals and pipes
interrupted by no communication from the outer world more blood-stirring
than the daily calls of the village grocer and butcher. Ember had not
telephoned, as Whitaker had hoped he would; and the chatelaine of the
neighbouring cottage had not manifested any interest whatever in the
well-being of the damaged amateur squire of dames.

Whitaker felt himself neglected and abused. He inclined to sulks. The
loveliness of a day of unbroken calm offered him no consolation.
Solitude in a lonely lodge is all very well, if one cares for that sort
of thing; but it takes two properly to appreciate the beauties of the
wilderness.

The trouble with him was (he began to realize) that he had lived too
long a hermit. For six years he had been practically isolated and cut
off from the better half of existence; femininity had formed no factor
in his cosmos. Even since his return to America his associations had
been almost exclusively confined to the wives and daughters of old
friends, the former favouring him only with a calm maternal patronage,
the daughters obviously regarding him as a sort of human curio old
enough to be entitled to a certain amount of respectful consideration,
but not to be taken seriously--"like a mummy," Whitaker told himself,
not without sympathy for the view-point of the younger generation.

But now, of a sudden, he had been granted a flash of insight into the
true significance of companionship between a man and a woman who had
something in common aside from community in their generation. Not two
hours altogether of such intercourse had been his, but it had been
enough to infuse all his consciousness with a vague but irking
discontent. He wanted more, and wanted it ardently; and what Whitaker
desired he generally set himself to gain with a single-hearted
earnestness of purpose calculated to compass the end in view with the
least possible waste of time.

In this instance, however, he was handicapped to exasperation by that
confounded ankle!

Besides, he couldn't in decency pursue the woman; she was entitled to a
certain amount of privacy, of freedom from his attentions.

Furthermore, he had no right as yet to offer her attentions. It seemed
necessary frequently to remind himself of that fact, in spite of the
vile humour such reminders as a rule aroused.

He passed into one such now, scowling darkly in the face of an
exquisite, flawless day.

One thing was settled, he assured himself: as soon as he was able to get
about with comfort, he would lose no time in hunting up his wife's
attorneys and finding out why they were slow about prosecuting her case.
Failing satisfaction in that quarter--well, he would find some way to
make things move. It wasn't fair to him to keep him bound to the vows of
a farcical union. He was not prepared to submit to such injustice. He
would, if needs must, hire detectives to find him his wife, that he
might see and in person urge upon her his equal right to release from an
unnatural bondage!

He had lashed himself into a very respectable transport of resentful
rage before he realized what way his thoughts were leading him; but he
calmed down as quickly when, chancing to lift his eyes from their
absorbed study of the planks composing the veranda floor, he discovered
a motor-boat drawing in toward the landing-stage.

At once a smile of childlike serenity displaced the scowl. Instinctively
he gathered himself together to rise, but on reconsideration retained
his seat, gallantry yielding to an intuitive sense of dramatic values; a
chair-bound invalid is a much more sympathetic object than a man
demonstrating a surprisingly quick recovery from an incapacitating
accident.

Nevertheless, there seemed no objection to his returning a cheerful
flourish to the salute of a slender arm, brown and bare to the point
where a turned-back shirtwaist sleeve met a rounded elbow.

At precisely the proper distance from the dock, the motor ceased its
purring; the boat swept on, white water crisping beneath its stem,
ripples widening fanlike from its flanks and sketching sweeping plumes
of purple on the calm ultra-marine surface--its speed at first not
perceptibly moderated. Gradually, then, it yielded to the passive
resistance of the waters, moving slower and more slow until at length it
nosed the landing-stage with a touch well-nigh as gentle as a caress.

Poised lightly over the bows, the woman waited, her figure all in white
sharp-cut against the blue of sky and water, with an effect as vital as
it was graceful. Then at the right instant leaping to the dock with the
headwarp, she made the little vessel fast with two deft half-hitches
round the out-most pile, and turning came swinging to dry land and up
the gentle slope to the veranda, ease and strength and joy of living
inherent in every flowing movement, matching well the bright comeliness
of her countenance and the shining splendour of her friendly eyes.

No imaginable consideration, however selfish, could have kept Whitaker
any longer in his chair.

"The most amiable person I know!" he cried, elated. "Greetings!"

She paused by the steps, looking up, a fascinating vision.

"No--please! I've only stopped for an instant. Do sit down."

"Shan't--until you do."

"But I really can't stop."

She ascended the steps and dropped coolly into a chair, laughing at her
own lack of consistency. Whitaker resumed his seat.

"You're really able to stand without assistance?"

"I'm ashamed to admit it. Between you and me--a dead secret--there's
nothing really the matter with me any more. Sum Fat's a famous
physician. I could run a race--only it's pleasanter to pretend I
mustn't."

"Very well. Then I shan't waste any more sympathy on you."

"As a matter of fact, I can move only at the cost of excruciating
agony."

She considered him with a sober face and smiling eyes. "I don't believe
you. You're a fraud. Besides, I didn't come to see you at all; I came to
find out why Mr. Ember dares so to neglect me. Did you deliver my
invitation?"

"I did, unwillingly. He was desolated, but he couldn't accept--had to
run back to town immediately after dinner."

"He's as great a fraud as you. But since he isn't here, I shall go."

She got up with a very evident intention of being as good as her word.
Whitaker in despair sought wildly for an excuse to detain her.

"Please--I'm famished for human society. Have pity. Sit down. Tell me
where you've been with the boat."

"Merely to the head of the bay to have the gasoline tanks filled. A most
boresome errand. They've no proper facilities for taking care of
motor-boats. Imagine having to sit with your hands folded while
garrulous natives fill a sixty-gallon tank by hand."

"Expressions of profound sympathy. Tell me some more. See, I even
consent not to talk about myself as an extra inducement--if you'll only
stay."

"No--really--unique though the prospect be! I left Elise and the cook
alone, two poor defenceless women; the gardener is taking his weekly
day-off in the village. We won't see anything of him till morning,
probably--when he'll show up very meek and damp about the head."

"Aren't you afraid?"

"I? Nonsense! I'm shamelessly able-bodied--and not afraid to pull a
trigger, besides. Moreover, there aren't any dangerous characters in
this neighbourhood."

"Then I presume it's useless for me to offer my services as watch-dog?"

"Entirely so. And when I choose a protector, I shall pick out one sound
of limb as well as wind."

"Snubbed," he said mournfully. "And me that lonesome.... Think of the
long, dull evening I've got to live through somehow."

"I have already thought of it. And being kind-hearted, it occurred to me
that you might be one of those mean-spirited creatures who can enjoy
double-dummy."

"It's the only game I really care for with a deathless passion."

"Then, if I promise to come over this evening and play you a rubber or
two--will you permit me to go home now?"

"On such terms I'll do anything you can possibly suggest," he declared,
enchanted. "You mean it--honest Injun?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die--"

"But ... how will you get here? Not alone, through the woods! I can't
permit that."

"Elise shall row me down the shore and then go back to keep cook
company. Sum Fat can see me home--if you find it still necessary to keep
up the invalid pose."

"I'm afraid," he laughed, "I shall call my own bluff.... Must you really
go so soon?"

"Good afternoon," she returned demurely; and ran down the steps and off
to her boat.

Smiling quietly to himself, Whitaker watched her cast the boat off, get
under way, and swing it out of sight behind the trees. Then his smile
wavered and faded and gave place to a look of acute discontent.

He rose and limped indoors to ransack Ember's wardrobe for evening
clothes--which he failed, perhaps fortunately, to find.

He regarded with an overwhelming sense of desolation the tremendous arid
waste of time which must intervene before he dared expect her: a good
four hours--no, four and a half, since she would in all likelihood dine
at a sensible hour, say about eight o'clock. By half-past eight, then,
he might begin to look for her; but, since she was indisputably no woman
to cheapen herself, she would probably keep him waiting till nearly
nine.

Colossal waste of time, impossible to contemplate without
exacerbation...!

To make matters worse, Sum Fat innocently enough served Whitaker's
dinner promptly at six, under the misapprehension that a decent
consideration for his foot would induce the young man to seek his bed
something earlier than usual.

Three mortal hours to fritter away in profitless anticipation ...

At seven Whitaker was merely nervous.

By eight he was unable to sit still.

Half an hour later the house was too small to contain him. He found his
cane and took to the veranda, but only to be driven from its shelter by
a swarm of mosquitoes attracted by the illuminated windows. Not in the
least resentful, since his ankle was occasioning him no pain whatever,
he strolled down toward the shore: not a bad idea at all--to be there to
welcome her.

The night was loud and dark. The moon was not to rise for another
half-hour, and since sundown the wind had come in from the southwest to
dissipate the immaculate day-long calm and set the waters and the trees
in motion with its urgent, animating breath. Blowing at first fitfully,
it was settling momentarily down into a steady, league-devouring stride,
strong with the promise of greater strength to come.

Whitaker reflected: "If she doesn't hurry, she won't come by boat at
all, for fear of a wetting."

He thought again: "And of course--I might've known--she won't start till
moonrise, on account of the light."

And again, analyzing the soft, warm rush of air: "We'll have rain before
morning."

He found himself at the end of the dock, tingling with impatience, but
finding some little consolation in the restless sweep of the wind
against his face and body. He stood peering up along the curve of the
shore toward the other landing-stage. He could see little--a mere
impressionistic suggestion of the shore-line picked out with the dim,
semi-phosphorescent glow of breaking wavelets. The night was musical
with the clash of rushing waters, crisp and lively above the long,
soughing drone of the wind in the trees. Eastward the barrier beach was
looming stark and black against a growing greenish pallor in the sky. A
mile to the westward, down the shore, the landlocked lighthouse reared
its tower, so obscure in gloom that the lamp had an effect of hanging
without support, like a dim yellow Japanese lantern afloat in mid-air.

Some minutes elapsed. The pallor of the east grew more marked. Whitaker
fancied he could detect a figure moving on the Fiske dock.

Then, startled, he grew conscious of the thick drone of a
heavily-powered motor boat near inshore. Turning quickly, he discovered
it almost at once: a black, vague shape not twenty yards from where he
stood, showing neither bow nor side-lights: a stealthy and mysterious
apparition creeping toward the dock with something of the effect of an
animal about to spring.

And immediately he heard a man's voice from the boat, abrupt with anger:

"Not this place, you ass--the next."

"Shut up," another voice replied. "There's somebody on that dock."

At the same time the bows of the boat swung off and the shadow slipped
away to westward--toward the Fiske place.

A wondering apprehension of some nameless and desperate enterprise,
somehow involving the woman who obsessed his thoughts, crawled in
Whitaker's mind. The boat--running without cruising lights!--was seeking
the next landing-stage. Those in charge of it had certainly some reason
for wishing to escape observation.

Automatically Whitaker turned back, let himself down to the beach, and
began to pick his way toward the Fiske dock, half running despite his
stiff ankle and following a course at once more direct and more
difficult than the way through the woods. That last would have afforded
him sure footing, but he would have lost much time seeking and sticking
to its meanderings, in the uncertain light. As it was, he had on one
hand a low, concave wall of earth, on the other the wash of crisping
wavelets; and between the two a yard-wide track with a treacherous
surface of wave-smoothed pebbles largely encumbered with heavy
bolster-like rolls of seaweed, springy and slippery, washed up by the
recent gale.

But in the dark and formless alarm that possessed him, he did not stop
to choose between the ways. He had no time. As it was, if there were
anything evil afoot, no earthly power could help him cover the distance
in time to be of any aid. Indeed, he had not gone half the way before he
pulled up with a thumping heart, startled beyond expression by a cry in
the night--a cry of wild appeal and protest thrown out violently into
the turbulent night, and abruptly arrested in full peal as if a hand had
closed the mouth that uttered it.

And then ringing clear down the wind, a voice whose timbre was
unmistakably that of a woman: "_Aux secours! Aux secours!_"

Twice it cried out, and then was hushed as grimly as the first
incoherent scream. No need now to guess at what was towards: Whitaker
could see it all as clearly as though he were already there; the
power-boat at the dock, two women attacked as they were on the point of
entering their rowboat, the cry of the mistress suddenly cut short by
her assailant, the maid taking up the appeal, in her fright
unconsciously reverting to her native tongue, in her turn being forcibly
silenced....

All the while he was running, heedless of his injured foot--pitching,
slipping, stumbling, leaping--somehow making progress.

By now the moon had lifted above the beach high enough to aid him
somewhat with its waxing light; and, looking ahead, he could distinguish
dimly shapes about the dock and upon it that seemed to bear out his most
cruel fears. The power-boat was passably distinct, her white side
showing plainly through the tempered darkness. Midway down the dock he
made out struggling figures--two of them, he judged: a man at close
grips with a frantic woman. And where the structure joined the land, a
second pair, again a man and a woman, strove and swayed....

And always the night grew brighter with the spectral glow of the moon
and the mirroring waters.

For all his haste, he was too slow; he was still a fair thirty yards
away when the struggle on the dock ended abruptly with the collapse of
the woman; it was as if, he thought, her strength had failed all in an
instant--as if she had fainted. He saw the man catch her up in his arms,
where she lay limp and unresisting, and with this burden step from the
stage to the boat and disappear from sight beneath the coaming. An
instant later he reappeared, standing at full height in the cockpit.
Without warning his arm straightened out and a tongue of flame jetted
from his hand; there was a report; in the same breath a bullet buried
itself in the low earth bank on Whitaker's right. Heedless, he pelted
on.

The shot seemed to signal the end of the other struggle at the
landing-stage. Scarcely had it rung out ere Whitaker saw the man lift a
fist and dash it brutally into the woman's face. Without a sound audible
at that distance she reeled and fell away; while the man turned, ran
swiftly out to the end of the dock, cast off the headwarp and jumped
aboard the boat.

She began to sheer off as Whitaker set foot upon the stage. She was
twenty feet distant when he found himself both at its end and at the end
of his resource. He was too late. Already he could hear the deeper
resonance of the engine as the spark was advanced and the throttle
opened. In another moment she would be heading away at full tilt.

Frantic with despair, he thrashed the air with impotent arms: a fair
mark, his white garments shining bright against the dark background of
the land. Aboard the moving boat an automatic fluttered, spitting ten
shots in as many seconds. The thud and splash of bullets all round him
brought him to his senses. Choking with rage, he stumbled back to the
land.

On the narrow beach, near the dock, a small flat-bottomed rowboat lay,
its stern afloat, its bows aground--as it had been left by the women
surprised in the act of launching it. Jumping down, Whitaker put his
shoulder to the stem.

As he did so, the other woman roused, got unsteadily to her feet,
screamed, then catching sight of him staggered to his side. It was--as
he had assumed--the maid, Elise.

"_M'sieur!_" she shrieked, thrusting a tragic face with bruised and
blood-stained mouth close to his. "_Ah, m'sieur--madame--ces
canailles-là--!_"

"Yes, I know," he said brusquely. "Get out of the way--don't hinder me!"

The boat was now all afloat. He jumped in, dropped upon the middle
thwart, and fitted the oars in the rowlocks.

"But, m'sieur, what mean you to do?"

"Don't know yet," he panted--"follow--keep them in sight--"

The blades dipped; he bent his back to them; the rowboat shot away.

A glance over his shoulder showed him the boat of the marauders already
well away. She now wore running lights; the red lamp swung into view as
he glanced, like an obscene and sardonic eye. They were, then, making
eastwards. He wrought only the more lustily with the oars.

Happily the Fiske motor-boat swung at a mooring not a great distance
from the shore. Surprisingly soon he had the small boat alongside.
Dropping the oars, he rose, grasped the coaming and lifted himself into
the cockpit. Then scrambling hastily forward to the bows, he disengaged
the mooring hook and let it splash. As soon as this happened, the
liberated _Trouble_ began to drift sluggishly shoreward, swinging
broadside to the wind.

Jumping back into the cockpit, Whitaker located the switch and closed
the battery circuit. An angry buzzing broke out beneath the engine-pit
hatch, but was almost instantly drowned out by the response of the motor
to a single turn of the new-fangled starting-crank which Whitaker had
approved on the previous morning.

He went at once to the wheel. Half a mile away the red light was
slipping swiftly eastward over silvered waters. He steadied the bows
toward it, listening to the regular and business-like _chug-chug_ of the
motor with the concentrated intentness of a physician with an ear over
the heart of a patient. But the throbbing he heard was true if slow;
already the boat was responding to the propeller, resisting the action
of wind and water, even beginning to surge heavily forward.

Hastily kicking the hatch cover out of the way, he bent over the open
engine-pit, quickly solved the puzzle of the controlling levers,
accelerated the ignition and opened the throttle wide. The motor
answered this manipulation with an instantaneous change of tune; the
staccato drumming of the slow speed merged into a long, incessant rumble
like the roll of a dozen muffled snare-drums. The _Trouble_ leaped out
like a live thing, settling to its course with the fleet precision of an
arrow truly loosed.

With a brief exclamation of satisfaction, Whitaker went back to the
wheel, shifted the ignition from batteries to magneto; and for the first
time since he had appreciated the magnitude of the outrage found himself
with time to think, to take stock of his position, to consider what he
had already accomplished and what he must henceforward hold himself
prepared to attempt. Up to that moment he had acted almost blindly,
swayed by impulse as a tree by the wind, guided by unquestioning
instinct in every action. Now....

He had got the boat under way with what in retrospect appealed to him as
amazing celerity, bearing in mind his unfamiliarity with its equipment.
The other boat had a lead of little if any more than half a mile; or so
he gauged the distance that separated them, making due allowance for the
illusion of the moon-smitten night. Whether that gap was to diminish or
to widen would develop before many minutes had passed. The _Trouble_ was
making a fair pace: roughly reckoned, between fourteen and sixteen miles
an hour. He suspected the other boat of having more power, but this did
not necessarily imply greater speed. At all events (he concluded) twenty
minutes at the outside would see the end of the chase--however it was to
end: the eastern head of the bay was not over five miles away; they
could not long hold to their present course without running aground.

He hazarded wild guesses as to their plans: of which the least
implausible was that they were making for some out-of-the-way landing,
intending there to transfer to a motor-car. At least, this would
presumably prove to be the case, if the outrage were what, at first
blush, it gave evidence of being: a kidnapping uncomplicated by any
fouler motive.... And what else could it be?... But who was he to say?
What did he know of the woman, of her antecedents and circumstances?
Nothing more than her name, that she had attracted him--as any handsome
woman might have--that she had been spied upon within his personal
knowledge and had now been set upon and carried off by _force majeure_.

And knowing no more than this, he had without an instant's thought of
consequences elected himself her champion! O headlong and infatuate!

Probably no more severe critic of his own chivalric foolishness ever set
himself to succour a damsel in distress. Withal he entertained not the
shadow of a thought of drawing back. As long as the other boat remained
in sight; as long as the gasoline and his strength held out; as long as
the _Trouble_ held together and he retained the wit to guide her--so
long was Whitaker determined to stick to the wake of the kidnappers.

A little more than halfway between their starting-point and the head of
the bay, the leading boat swung sharply in toward the shore, then shot
into the mouth of a narrow indentation. Whitaker found that he was
catching up quickly, showing that speed had been slackened for this
man[oe]uvre. But the advantage was merely momentary, soon lost. The boat
slipped out of sight between high banks. And he, imitating faithfully
its course, was himself compelled to throttle down the engine, lest he
run aground.

For two or three minutes he could see nothing of the other. Then he
emerged from a tortuous and constricted channel into a deep cut, perhaps
fifty feet in width and spanned by a draw-bridge and a railroad trestle.
At the farther end of this tide-gate canal connecting the Great West Bay
with the Great Peconic, the leading power boat was visible, heading out
at full speed. And by the time he had thrown the motor of the _Trouble_
back into its full stride, the half-mile lead was fully reëstablished,
if not improved upon.

The tide was setting in through the canal--otherwise the gates had been
closed--with a strength that taxed the _Trouble_ to surpass. It seemed
an interminable time before the banks slipped behind and the boat picked
up her heels anew and swept out over the broad reaches of the Peconic
like a hound on the trail. The starboard light of the leader was slowly
becoming more and more distinct as she swung again to the eastward. That
way, Whitaker figured, with his brows perplexed, lay Shelter Island,
Greenport, Sag Harbor (names only in his understanding) and what else he
could not say. Here he found himself in strange waters, knowing no more
than that the chase seemed about to penetrate a tangled maze of islands
and distorted channels, in whose intricacies it should prove a matter of
facility to lose a pursuer already well distanced.

Abandoning the forward wheel in favour of that at the side, near the
engine pit, for a time he divided his attention between steering and
tinkering with the motor, with the result that the _Trouble_ began
presently to develop more speed. Slowly she crept up on the leader,
until, with Robins Island abeam (though he knew it not by name) the
distance between them had been abridged by half. But more than that she
seemed unable to accomplish. He surmised shrewdly that the others,
tardily observing his gain, had met it with an equalizing demand upon
their motor--that both boats were now running at the extreme of their
power. The _Trouble_, at least, could do no better. To this he must be
resigned.

Empty of all other craft, weird and desolate in moonlight, the Little
Peconic waters widened and then narrowed about the flying vessels. Shore
lights watched them, now dim and far, now bright and near at hand.
Shelter Island Sound received them, slapped their flanks encouragingly
with its racing waves, sped them with an ebbing tide that tore seawards
between constricted shores, carried them past high-wooded bluffs and low
wastes of sedge, past simple cottage and pretentious country home, past
bobbing buoys--nun and can and spar--and moored flotillas of small
pleasure craft, past Sag Harbor and past Cedar Island Light, delivering
them at length into the lonelier wastes of Gardiner's Bay. Their
relative positions were unchanged: still the _Trouble_ retained her
hard-won advantage.

But it was little comfort that Whitaker derived from contemplation of
this fact. He was beginning to be more definitely perplexed and
distressed. He had no watch with him, no means of ascertaining the time
even roughly; but unquestionably they had been upwards of two hours if
not more at full tilt, and now were braving wilder waters; and still he
saw no sign of anything resembling a termination of the adventure. In
fact, they were leaving behind them every likely landing place.

"Damn it!" he grumbled. "What are they aiming at--Boston?"

Near the forward wheel a miniature binnacle housing a compass with
phosphorescent card, advised him from time to time, as he consulted it,
of the lay of their course. They were just then ploughing almost due
northeast over a broad expanse, beckoned on by the distant flicker of a
gas-buoy. But the information was less than worthless, and every
reasonable guess he might have made as to their next move would have
proved even more futile than merely idle; for when they had rounded the
buoy, instead of standing, as any reasonable beings might have been
expected to, on to Fisher's Island or at a tangent north toward the
Connecticut littoral, they swung off something south of east--a course
that could lead them nowhere but to the immensities of the sea itself.

Whitaker's breath caught in his throat as he examined this startling
prospect. The Atlantic was something a trifle bigger than he had
bargained for. To dare its temper, with a southwester brewing (by every
weather sign he knew) in what was to all intents an open boat, since he
would never be able to leave the cockpit for an instant's shelter in the
cabin in any sort of a seaway--!

He shook a dubious, vastly troubled head. But he held on grimly in the
face of dire forebodings.

Once out from under the lee of Gardiner's Island, a heavier run of waves
beset them, catching the boats almost squarely on the beam: fortunately
a sea of long, smooth, slow shouldering rollers, as yet not angry. Now
and again, for all that, one would favour the _Trouble_ with a
quartering slap that sent a shower of spray aboard her to drench
Whitaker and swash noisily round the cockpit ere the self-bailing
channels could carry it off. He was quickly wet to the skin and
shivering. The hour was past midnight, and the strong air whipping in
from the open sea had a bitter edge. His only consolation inhered in the
reflection that he had companions in his misery: those who drove the
leading boat could hardly escape what he must suffer; though he hoped
and believed that the woman was shut below, warm and dry in the cabin.

Out over the dark waste to starboard a white light lifted, flashing. For
a while a red eye showed beneath it, staring unwinkingly with a
steadfast and sardonic glare, then disappeared completely, leaving only
the blinking white. Far ahead another light, fixed white, hung steadily
over the port counter, and so remained for over an hour.

Then most gradually the latter wore round upon the beam and dropped
astern. Whitaker guessed at random, but none the less rightly, that they
were weathering Block Island to the south with a leeway of several
miles. Indisputably the Atlantic held them in the hollow of its
tremendous hand. The slow, eternal deep-sea swell was most perceptible:
a ceaseless impulse of infinite power running through the pettier, if
more threatening, drive of waves kicked up by the wind. Fortunately the
course, shifting to northeast by east, presently took them out of the
swinging trough of the sea. The rollers now led them on, an endless
herd, one after another falling sullenly behind as the two boats shot
down into their shallow intervals and began to creep slowly up over the
long gray backs of those that ran before.

It was after three in the morning, and, though Whitaker had no means of
knowing it, they were on the last and longest leg of the cruise. They
still had moonlight, but it was more wan and ghastly and threatened
presently to fail them altogether, blotted out by the thickening
weather. The wind was blowing with an insistent, unintermittent force it
had not before developed. A haze, vaguely opalescent, encircled the
horizon like a ghost of absinthe. The cold, formless, wavering dusk of
dawn in time lent it a sickly hue of gray together with a seeming more
substantial. Swathed in its smothering folds, the moon faded to the
semblance of a plaque of dull silver, then vanished altogether. By
four-thirty, when the twilight was moderately bright, Whitaker was
barely able to distinguish the leading boat. The two seemed as if
suspended, struggling like impaled insects, the one in the midst, the
other near the edge, of a watery pit walled in by vapours.

He recognized in this phenomenon of the weather an exceptionally
striking variation of what his sea-going experience had taught him to
term a smoky sou'wester.

That hour found him on the verge of the admission that he was, as he
would have said, about all in: the limit of endurance nearly approached.
He was half-dazed with fatigue; his wet skin crawled with goose-flesh;
his flesh itself was cold as stone. In the pit of his stomach lurked an
indefinite, sickening sensation of chilled emptiness. His throat was
sore and parched, his limbs stiff and aching, his face crusted with
stinging particles of salt, his eyes red, sore and smarting. If his
ankle troubled him, he was not aware of it; it would need sharp agony to
penetrate the aura of dull, interminable misery that benumbed his
consciousness.

With all this, he tormented himself with worry lest the tanks run dry.
Though they had been filled only the day before, he had no clear notion
of the horse-power of the motor or its hourly consumption of gasoline;
and the drain upon the supply could not have been anything but
extraordinary. If it were to run out before they made a landing or safe
anchorage, he would find himself in ticklish straits; but this troubled
him less than the fear that he might be obliged to give up the chase to
which he had stuck so long and with a pertinacity which somewhat
surprised even his own wonder.

And to give up now, when he had fought so far ... it was an intolerable
thought. He protested against it with a vain, bitter violence void of
any personal feeling or any pride of purpose and endurance. It was his
solicitude for the woman alone that racked him. Whatever the enigmatic
animus responsible for this outrage, it seemed most undeniable that none
but men of the most desperate calibre would have undertaken it--men in
whose sight no crime would be abominable, however hideous. To
contemplate her fate, if abandoned to their mercies...!

The end came just before dawn, with a swiftness that stunned the
faculties--as though one saw the naked wrath of God leap like lightning
from the sky.

They were precisely as they had been, within a certain distance of one
another, toiling on and ever on like strange misshapen spirits doomed to
run an endless race. The harsh, shapeless light of imminent day alone
manufactured a colour of difference: Whitaker now was able to see as two
dark shapes the men in the body of the leading boat. The woman was not
visible, but the doors to the cabin were closed, confirming his surmise
that she at least had been sheltered through the night. One of the men
was standing by the wheel, forward, staring ahead. The other occupied a
seat in the cockpit, head and shoulders alone visible above the coaming.
For the most part he seemed sunk in lethargy, head fallen forward, chin
on chest; but now and then he looked up and back at the pursuing boat,
his face a featureless patch of bleached pink.

Now suddenly the man at the wheel cried out something in a terrible
voice of fright, so high and vehement that it even carried back against
the booming gale for Whitaker to hear. Simultaneously he put the wheel
over, with all his might. The other jumped from his seat, only to be
thrown back as the little vessel swung broadside to the sea, heeling
until she lay almost on her beam ends. The next instant she ceased,
incredibly, to move--hung motionless in that resistless surge, an
amazing, stupefying spectacle. It seemed minutes before Whitaker could
force his wits to comprehend that she had struck and lay transfixed upon
some submerged rock or reef.

A long, gray roller swept upon and over her, brimming her cockpit with
foaming water. As it passed he saw the half-drowned men release the
coamings, to which they had clung on involuntary impulse to escape being
swept away, scramble upon the cabin roof, and with one accord abandon
themselves to the will of the next wave to follow. As it broke over the
boat and passed, he caught an instantaneous glimpse of their heads and
arms bobbing and beating frantically as they whirled off through the
yeasty welter.

But he saw this without pity or compassion. If he had been able to have
his will with them, he would have sunk both ten fathoms deep without an
instant's respite. His throat was choked with curses that welled up from
a heart wrenched and raging at this discovery of cowardice unparalleled.

They had done what they could for themselves without even hesitating to
release the woman imprisoned in the cabin.



XIV

DÉBÂCLE


The _Trouble_, meantime, was closing in upon the scene of tragedy with
little less than locomotive speed. Yet, however suddenly disaster had
overtaken the other vessel, Whitaker saw what he saw and had time to
take measures to avoid collision, if what he did was accomplished wholly
without conscious thought or premeditation. He had applied the reversing
gear to the motor before he knew it. Then, while the engine choked,
coughing angrily, and reversed with a heavy and resentful pounding in
the cylinder-heads, he began to strip off his coat. He was within ten
yards of the wreck when a wave overtook the _Trouble_ and sent a sheet
of water sprawling over her stern to fill the cockpit ankle-deep. The
next instant he swung the wheel over; the boat, moving forward despite
the resistance of the propeller, drove heavily against the wreck,
broadside to its stern. As this happened Whitaker leaped from one to the
other, went to his knees in the cockpit of the wreck, and rose just in
time to grasp the coaming and hold on against the onslaught of a
hurtling comber.

It came down, an avalanche, crashing and bellowing, burying him deep in
green. Thunderings benumbed him, and he began to strangle before it
passed....

He found himself filling his lungs with free air and fighting his way
toward the cabin doors through water waist-deep. Then he had won to
them, had found and was tearing frantically at the solid brass bolt that
held them shut. In another breath he had torn them open, wide,
discovering the woman, her head and shoulders showing above the flood as
she stood upon a transom, near the doorway, grasping a stanchion for
support. Her eyes met his, black and blank with terror. He snatched
through sheer instinct at a circular life-preserver that floated out
toward him, and simultaneously managed to crook an arm round her neck.

Again the sea buried them beneath tons of raging dark water. Green
lightnings flashed before his eyes, and in his ears there was a crashing
like the crack of doom. His head was splitting, his heart on the point
of breaking. The wave passed on, roaring. He could breathe. Now if
ever....

As if stupefied beyond sensibility, the woman was passive to his
handling. If she had struggled, if she had caught at and clung to him,
or even if she had tried to help herself, he would in all likelihood
have failed to cheat destruction. But she did none of these things, and
he managed somehow to drag her from the cabin to the cockpit and to jam
the life ring over her head and under one arm before the next wave bore
down upon them.

As the wall of living green water drew near, he twisted one hand into
the life-line of the cork ring and lifted the woman to the seat of the
cockpit.

They were borne down, brutally buffeted, smothered and swept away. They
came to the surface in the hollow of a deep, gray swale, fully fifty
feet from the wreck. Whitaker retained his grasp of the life-preserver
line. The woman floated easily in the support. He fancied a gleam of
livelier consciousness in her staring eyes, and noticed with a curiously
keen feeling of satisfaction that she was not only keeping her mouth
closed, but had done so, apparently, while under water.

Relieved from danger of further submersion, at all events for the time
being, he took occasion to rally his wits and look about him as well as
he was able. It was easy, now, to understand how the kidnappers had come
to their disaster; at this distance he could see plainly, despite the
scudding haze, the profile of a high bluff of wave-channelled and bitten
earth rising from a boulder-strewn beach, upon which the surf broke with
a roar deafening and affrighting. Even a hardy swimmer might be pardoned
for looking askance at such a landing. And Whitaker had a woman to think
of and care for. Difficult to imagine how he was to drag her, and
himself, through that vicious, pounding surf, without being beaten to
jelly against the boulders....

As the next billow swung them high on its racing crest, he, gaining a
broader field of vision, caught an instantaneous impression of a stark
shoulder of the land bulking out through the mists several hundred yards
to the left; suggesting that the shore curved inward at that spot. The
thought came to him that if he could but weather that point, he might
possibly find on the other side a better landing-place, out of the more
forcible, direct drive of surf. It would be next to an impossibility to
make it by swimming, with but one arm free, and further handicapped by
the dead weight of the woman. And yet that way lay his only hope.

In that same survey he saw the _Trouble_, riding so low, with only bow
and coamings awash, that he knew she must be waterlogged, rolling
beam-on in to the beach. Of the two men from the other boat he saw
nothing whatever. And when again he had a similar chance to look, the
hapless power-boat was being battered to pieces between the boulders.
Even such would be their fate unless....

He put forth every ounce of strength and summoned to his aid all his
water wisdom and skill. But he fought against terrible odds, and there
was no hope in him as he fought.

Then suddenly, to his utter amazement, the lift of a wave discovered to
him a different contour of the shore; not that the shore had changed,
but his position with regard to it had shifted materially and in
precisely the way that he had wished for and struggled to bring about.
Instead of being carried in to the rock-strewn beach, they were in the
grip of a backwash which was bearing them not only out of immediate
danger, but at the same time alongshore toward the point under whose lee
he hoped to find less turbulent conditions.

It was quite half the battle--more than half; he had now merely to see
that the set of this backward flow did not drag them too far from shore.
Renewed faith in his star, a sense of possible salvation, lent strength
to his flagging efforts. Slowly, methodically, he worked with his charge
toward the landward limits of the current, cunningly biding the time to
abandon it. And very soon that time came; they were abreast the point;
he could see something of a broad, shelving beach, backed by lesser
bluffs, to leeward of it. He worked free of the set with a mighty
expenditure of force, nervous and physical, and then for a time, rested,
limiting his exertion strictly to the degree requisite to keep him
afloat, while the waves rocked him landwards with the woman. He found
leisure even to give her a glance to see whether she still lived, was
conscious or comatose.

He found her not only fully aware of her position, but actually swimming
a little--striking out with more freedom than might have been expected,
considering how her arms and shoulders were hampered by the life-ring. A
suspicion crossed his mind that most probably she had been doing as much
for a considerable time, that to her as much as to himself their escape
from the offshore drift had been due. Certainly he could not doubt that
her energies had been subjected to a drain no less severe than he had
suffered. Her face was bloodless to the lips, pale with the pallor of
snow; deep bluish shadows ringed eyes that had darkened strangely, so
that they seemed black rather than violet; her features were so drawn
and pinched that he almost wondered how he could have thought her
beautiful beyond all living women. And her wondrous hair, broken from
its fastenings, undulated about her like a tangled web of sodden
sunbeams.

Three times he essayed to speak before he could wring articulate sounds
from his cracked lips and burning throat.

"You ... all right?"

She replied with as much difficulty:

"Yes ... you may ... let go...."

To relax the swollen fingers that grasped the life-line was pure
torture.

He attempted no further communication. None, indeed, was needed. It was
plain that she understood their situation.

Some minutes passed before he became aware that they were closing in
quickly to the shelving beach--so swiftly, indeed, that there was reason
to believe the onward urge of the waves measurably reënforced by a
shoreward set of current. But if they had managed to escape the greater
fury on the weather side of the point, they had still a strong and angry
surf to reckon with. Only a little way ahead, breakers were flaunting
their white manes, while the thunder of their breaking was as the
thundering of ten thousand hoofs.

Whitaker looked fearfully again at the woman. But she was unquestionably
competent to care for herself. Proof of this he had in the fact that she
had contrived to slip the life-preserver up over her head and discard it
altogether. Thus disencumbered, she had more freedom for the impending
struggle.

He glanced over his shoulder. They were on the line of breakers. Behind
them a heavy comber was surging in, crested with snow, its concave belly
resembling a vast sheet of emerald. In another moment it would be upon
them. It was the moment a seasoned swimmer would seize.

[Illustration: Whitaker felt land beneath his feet]

His eye sought the girl's. In hers he read understanding and assent. Of
one mind, they struck out with all their strength. The comber overtook
them, clasped them to its bosom, tossed them high upon its great glassy
shoulder. They fought madly to retain that place, and to such purpose
that they rode it over a dozen yards before it crashed upon the beach,
annihilating itself in a furious welter of creaming waters. Whitaker
felt land beneath his feet....

The rest was like the crisis of a nightmare drawn out to the limit of
human endurance. Conscious thought ceased: terror and panic and the
blind instinct of self-preservation--these alone remained. The undertow
tore at Whitaker's legs as with a hundred murderous hands. He fought his
way forward a few paces--or yard or two--only to be overwhelmed, ground
down into the gravel. He rose through some superhuman effort and lunged
on, like a blind, hunted thing.... He came out of it eventually to find
himself well up on the beach, out of the reach of the waves. But the
very earth seemed to billow about him, and he could hardly keep his
feet. A numbing faintness with a painful retching at once assailed him.
He was but vaguely aware of the woman reeling not far from him, but
saved....

Later he found that something of the worst effects had worn away. His
scattered wits were reëstablishing intercommunication. The earth was
once more passably firm beneath him. He was leaning against the careened
hulk of a dismantled cat-boat with a gaping rent in its side. At a
little distance the woman was sitting in the sands, bosom and shoulders
heaving convulsively, damp, matted hair veiling her like a curtain of
sunlit seaweed.

He moved with painful effort toward her. She turned up to him her
pitiful, writhen face, white as parchment.

"Are you--hurt?" he managed to ask. "I mean--injured?"

She moved her head from side to side, as if she could not speak for
panting.

"I'm--glad," he said dully. "You stay--here.... I'll go get help."

He raised his eyes, peering inland.

Back of the beach the land rose in long, sweeping hillocks, treeless but
green. His curiously befogged vision made out a number of shapes that
resembled dwellings.

"Go ... get ... help ..." he repeated thickly.

He started off with a brave, staggering rush that carried him a dozen
feet inland. Then his knees turned to water, and the blackness of night
shut down upon his senses.



XV

DISCLOSURES


Sleep is a potent medicine for the mind; but sometimes the potion is
compounded with somewhat too heavy a proportion of dreams and nonsense;
when it's apt to play curious tricks with returning consciousness. When
Whitaker awoke he was on the sands of Narragansett, and the afternoon
was cloudy-warm and bright, so that his eyes were grateful for the shade
of a white parasol that a girl he knew was holding over him; and his age
was eighteen and his cares they were none; and the girl was saying in a
lazy, laughing voice: "I love my love with a P because he's Perfectly
Pulchritudinous and Possesses the Power of Pleasing, and because he
Prattles Prettily and his socks are Peculiarly Purple--"

"And," the man who'd regained his youth put in, "his name is Peter and
he's Positively a Pest...."

But the voice in which he said this was quite out of the picture--less a
voice than a croak out of a throat kiln-dry and burning. So he grew
suspicious of his senses; and when the parasol was transformed into the
shape of a woman wearing a clumsy jacket of soiled covert-cloth over a
non-descript garment of weirdly printed calico--then he was sure that
something was wrong with him.

Besides, the woman who wasn't a parasol suddenly turned and bent over
him an anxious face, exclaiming in accents of consternation: "O dear! If
he's delirious--!"

His voice, when he strove to answer, rustled and rattled rather than
enunciated, surprising him so that he barely managed to say: "What
nonsense! I'm just thirsty!" Then the circuit of returning consciousness
closed and his lost youth slipped forever from his grasp.

"I thought you would be," said the woman, calmly; "so I brought water.
Here...."

She offered a tin vessel to his lips, as he lay supine, spilling a
quantity of its contents on his face and neck and a very little into his
mouth, if enough to make him choke and splutter. He sat up suddenly,
seized the vessel--a two-quart milk-pail--and buried his face in it,
gradually tilting it, while its cool, delicious sweetness irrigated his
arid tissues, until every blessed drop was drained. Then, and not till
then, he lowered the pail and with sane vision began to renew
acquaintance with the world.

He was sitting a trifle out of the shallow imprint of his body in the
sands, in the lee of the beached cat-boat he now recalled as one might
the features of an incubus. The woman he had rescued sat quite near him.
The gale was still booming overhead, but now with less force (or so he
fancied); and the surf still crashed in thunders on the beach a hundred
feet or more away; but the haze was lighter, and the blue of the sky was
visible, if tarnished.

Looking straight ahead from where he sat, the sands curved off in a wide
crescent, ending in a long, sandy spit. Beyond this lay a broad expanse
of maddened water, blue and white, backed by the empurpled loom of a
lofty headland, dim in the smoky distance.

On his right lay the green landscape, reminiscent even as the boat was
reminiscent in whose shadow he found himself: both fragments of the
fugitive impressions gathered in that nightmare time of landing. There
was a low, ragged earth-bank rising from the sands to a clutter of
ramshackle, unpainted, hideous wooden buildings--some hardly more than
sheds; back of these and stretching away on either hand, a spreading
vista of treeless uplands, gently undulant and richly carpeted with
grass and under-growth in a melting scheme of tender browns and greens
and yellows, with here and there a trace of dusky red. Midway between
the beach and where the hazy uplands lifted their blurred profile
against the faded sky, set some distance apart from the community of
dilapidated structures, stood a commonplace farm-house, in good repair,
strongly constructed and neatly painted; with a brood of out buildings.
Low stone fences lined the uplands with wandering streaks of gray. Here
and there, in scattered groups and singly, sheep foraged. But they were
lonely evidences of life. No human being was visible in any quarter.

With puzzled eyes Whitaker sought counsel and enlightenment of the
woman, and found in her appearance quite as much to confound
anticipation and deepen perplexity. She was hardly to be identified with
the delightfully normal, essentially well-groomed creature he
remembered. What she had worn when setting forth to call on him,
accompanied by her maid, the night before, he could not say; but it
certainly could have had nothing in common with her present dress--the
worn, stained, misshapen jacket covering her shoulders, beneath it the
calico wrapper scant and crude beyond belief, upon her feet the rusty
wrecks that once had been shoes.

As for himself, a casual examination proved that the rags and tatters
adorning him were at least to be recognized as the remains of his own
clothing. His coat was lost, of course, and his collar he had torn away,
together with a portion of his shirt, while in the water after the
disaster; but his once white flannel trousers were precious souvenirs,
even if one leg was ripped open to the knee, and even though the cloth
as a whole had contracted to an alarming extent--uncomfortable as well;
while his tennis shoes remained tolerably intact, and the canvas brace
had shrunk upon his ankle until it gripped it like a vise.

But all these details he absorbed rather than studied, in the first few
moments subsequent to his awakening. His chiefest and most direct
interest centred upon the woman; and he showed it clearly in the
downright, straightforward sincerity of his solicitous scrutiny. And,
for all the handicap of her outlandish dress, she bore inspection
wonderfully well.

Marvellously recuperative, as many women are, she had regained all her
ardent loveliness; or, if any trace remained of the wear and tear of her
fearful experience, he was in no condition to know it, much less to
carp. There was warm color in the cheeks that he had last seen livid,
there was the wonted play of light and shadow in her fascinating eyes;
there were gracious rounded curves where had been sunken surfaces,
hollowed out by fatigue and strain; and there remained the ineluctable
allurement of her tremendous vitality....

"You are not hurt?" he demanded. "You are--all right?"

"Quite," she told him with a smile significant of her appreciation of
his generous feeling. "I wasn't hurt, and I've recovered from my shock
and fright--only I'm still a little tired. But you?"

"Oh, I ... never better. That is, I'm rested; and there was nothing else
for me to get over."

"But your ankle--?"

"I've forgotten it ever bothered me.... Haven't you slept at all?"

"Oh, surely--a great deal. But I've been awake for some time--a few
hours."

"A few hours!" His stare widened with wonder. "How long have I--?"

"All day--like a log."

"But I--! What time is it?"

"I haven't a watch, but late afternoon, I should think--going by the
sun. It's nearly down."

"Good heavens!" he muttered, dashed. "I _have_ slept!"

"You earned your right to.... You needed it far more than I." Her eyes
shone, warm with kindness.

She swayed almost imperceptibly toward him. Her voice was low pitched
and a trifle broken with emotion:

"You saved my life--"

"I--? Oh, that was only what any other man--"

"None other did!"

"Please don't speak of it--I mean, consider it that way," he stammered.
"What I want to know is, where are we?"

Her reply was more distant. "On an island, somewhere. It's uninhabited,
I think."

He could only echo in bewilderment: "An island...! Uninhabited...!"
Dismay assailed him. He got up, after a little struggle overcoming the
resistance of stiff and sore limbs, and stood with a hand on the coaming
of the dismantled cat-boat, raking the island with an incredulous stare.

"But those houses--?"

"There's no one in any of them, that I could find." She stirred from her
place and offered him a hand. "Please help me up."

He turned eagerly, with a feeling of chagrin that she had needed to ask
him. For an instant he had both her hands, warm and womanly, in his
grasp, while she rose by his aid, and for an instant longer--possibly by
way of reward. Then she disengaged them with gentle firmness.

She stood beside him so tall and fair, so serenely invested with the
flawless dignity of her womanhood that he no longer thought of the
incongruity of her grotesque garb.

"You've been up there?" he asked, far too keenly interested to scorn the
self-evident.

She gave a comprehensive gesture, embracing the visible prospect. "All
over.... When I woke, I thought surely ... I went to see, found nothing
living except the sheep and some chickens and turkeys in the farmyard.
Those nearer buildings--nothing there except desolation, ruin, and the
smell of last year's fish. I think fishermen camp out here at times. And
the farm-house--apparently it's ordinarily inhabited. Evidently the
people have gone away for a visit somewhere. It gives the impression of
being a home the year round. There isn't any boat--"

"No boat!"

"Not a sign of one, that I can find--except this wreck." She indicated
the cat-boat.

"But we can't do anything with this," he expostulated.

The deep, wide break in its side placed it beyond consideration, even if
it should prove possible to remedy its many other lacks.

"No. The people who live here must have a boat--I saw a mooring-buoy out
there"--with a gesture toward the water. "Of course. How else could they
get away?"

"The question is, how we are to get away," he grumbled, morose.

"You'll find the way," she told him with quiet confidence.

"I! I'll find the way? How?"

"I don't know--only you must. There must be some way of signalling the
mainland, some means of communication. Surely people wouldn't live here,
cut off from all the World.... Perhaps we'll find something in the
farm-house to tell us what to do. I didn't have much time to look round.
I wanted clothing, mostly--and found these awful things hanging behind
the kitchen door. And then I wanted something to eat, and I found
that--some bread, not too stale, and plenty of eggs in the hen-house....
And you--you must be famished!"

The reminder had an effect singularly distressing. Till then he had been
much too thunderstruck by comprehension of their anomalous plight to
think of himself. Now suddenly he was stabbed through and through with
pangs of desperate hunger. He turned a little faint, was seized with a
slight sensation of giddiness, at the thought of food, so that he was
glad of the cat-boat for support.

"Oh, you are!" Compassion thrilled her tone. "I'm so sorry. Forgive me
for not thinking of it at once. Come--if you can walk." She caught his
hand as if to help him onward. "It's not far, and I can fix you
something quickly. Do come."

"Oh, surely," he assented, recovering. "I am half starving--and then
some. Only I didn't know it until you mentioned the fact."

The girl relinquished his hand, but they were almost shoulder to
shoulder as they plodded through the dry, yielding sand toward firmer
ground.

"We can build a fire and have something hot," she said; "there's plenty
of fuel."

"But--what did you do?"

"I--oh, I took my eggs _au naturel_--barring some salt and pepper. I was
in too much of a hurry to bother with a stove--"

"Why in a hurry?"

She made no answer for an instant. He turned to look at her, wondering.
To his unutterable astonishment she not only failed to meet his glance,
but tried to seem unconscious of it.

The admirable ease and gracious self-possession which he had learned to
associate with her personality as inalienable traits were altogether
gone, just then--obliterated by a singular, exotic attitude of
constraint and diffidence, of self-consciousness. She seemed almost to
shrink from his regard, and held her face a little averted from him, the
full lips tense, lashes low and trembling upon her cheeks.

"I was ... afraid to leave you," she said in a faltering voice, under
the spell of this extraordinary mood. "I was afraid something might
happen to you, if I were long away."

"But what _could_ happen to me, here--on this uninhabited island?"

"I don't know.... It was silly of me, of course." With an evident
exertion of will power she threw off this perplexing mood of shyness,
and became more like herself, as he knew her. "Really, I presume, it was
mostly that I was afraid for myself--frightened of the loneliness,
fearful lest it be made more lonely for me by some accident--"

"Of course," he assented, puzzled beyond expression, cudgelling his wits
for some solution of a riddle sealed to his masculine obtuseness.

What could have happened to influence her so strangely? Could he have
said or done--anything--?

The problem held him in abstraction throughout the greater part of their
walk to the farm-house, though he heard and with ostensible intelligence
responded to her running accompaniment of comment and suggestion....

They threaded the cluster of buildings that, their usefulness outlived,
still encumbered the bluff bordering upon the beach. The most careless
and superficial glance bore out the impression conveyed by the girl's
description of the spot. Doorless doorways and windows with shattered
sashes disclosed glimpses of interiors fallen into a state of ruin
defying renovation. What remained intact of walls and roofs were mere
shells half filled with an agglomeration of worthlessness--mounds of
crumbled, mouldering plaster, shards, rust-eaten tins, broken bottles,
shreds of what had once been garments: the whole perhaps threatened by
the overhanging skeleton of a crazy staircase.... An evil, disturbing
spot, exhaling an atmosphere more melancholy and disheartening than that
of a rain-sodden November woodland: a haunted place, where the hand of
Time had wrought devastation with the wanton efficacy of a destructive
child: a good place to pass through quickly and ever thereafter to
avoid.

In relief against it the uplands seemed the brighter, stretching away in
the soft golden light of the descending sun. The wind sang over them a
boisterous song of strength and the sweep of open spaces. The air was
damp and soft and sweet with the scent of heather. Straggling sheep
suspended for a moment their meditative cropping and lifted their heads
to watch the strangers with timorous, stupid eyes. A flock of young
turkeys fled in discordant agitation from their path.

Halfway up to the farm-house a memory shot through Whitaker's mind as
startling as lightning streaking athwart a peaceful evening sky. He
stopped with an exclamation that brought the girl beside him to a
standstill with questioning eyes.

"But the others--!" he stammered.

"The others?" she repeated blankly.

"They--the men who brought you here--?"

Her lips tightened. She moved her head in slow negation.

"I have seen nothing of either of them."

Horror and pity filled him, conjuring up a vision of wild, raving
waters, mad with blood-lust, and in their jaws, arms and heads
helplessly whirling and tossing.

"Poor devils!" he muttered.

She said nothing. When he looked for sympathy in her face, he found it
set and inscrutable.

He delayed another moment, thinking that soon she must speak, offer him
some sort of explanation. But she remained uncommunicative. And he could
not bring himself to seem anxious to pry into her affairs.

He took a tentative step onward. She responded instantly to the
suggestion, but in silence.

The farm-house stood on high ground, commanding an uninterrupted sweep
of the horizon. As they drew near it, Whitaker paused and turned,
narrowing his eyes as he attempted to read the riddle of the enigmatic,
amber-tinted distances.

To north and east the island fell away in irregular terraces to wide,
crescent beaches whose horns, joining in the northeast, formed the sandy
spit. To west and south the moorlands billowed up to the brink of a
precipitous bluff. In the west, Whitaker noted absently, a great
congregation of gulls were milling amid a cacophony of screams, just
beyond the declivity. Far over the northern water the dark promontory
was blending into violet shadows which, in turn, blended imperceptibly
with the more sombre shade of the sea. Beyond it nothing was
discernable. Southeast from it the coast, backed by dusky highlands, ran
on for several miles to another, but less impressive, headland; its
line, at an angle to that of the deserted island, forming a funnel-like
tideway for the intervening waters fully six miles at its broadest in
the north, narrowing in the east to something over three miles.

There was not a sail visible in all the blue cup of the sea.

"I don't know," said Whitaker slowly, as much to himself as to his
companion. "It's odd ... it passes me...."

"Can't you tell where we are?" she inquired anxiously.

"Not definitely. I know, of course, we must be somewhere off the south
coast of New England: somewhere between Cape Cod and Block Island. But
I've never sailed up this way--never east of Orient Point; my boating
has been altogether confined to Long Island Sound.... And my
geographical memory is as hazy as the day. There _are_ islands off the
south coast of Massachusetts--a number of them: Nantucket, you know, and
Martha's Vineyard. This might be either--only it isn't, because they're
summer resorts. That"--he swept his hand toward the land in the
northeast--"might be either, and probably is one of 'em. At the same
time, it may be the mainland. I don't know."

"Then ... then what are we to do?"

"I should say, possess our souls in patience, since we have no boat. At
least, until we can signal some passing vessel. There aren't any in
sight just now, but there must be some--many--in decent weather."

"How--signal?"

He looked round, shaking a dubious head. "Of course there's nothing like
a flagpole here--but me, and I'm not quite long enough. Perhaps I can
find something to serve as well. We might nail a plank to the corner of
the roof and a table-cloth to that, I suppose."

"And build fires, by night?"

He nodded. "Best suggestion yet. I'll do that very thing to-night--after
I've had a bite to eat."

She started impatiently away. "Oh, come, come! What am I thinking of, to
let you stand there, starving by inches?"

They entered the house by the back door, finding themselves in the
kitchen--that mean and commonplace assembly-room of narrow and pinched
lives. The immaculate cleanliness of decent, close poverty lay over it
all like a blight. And despite the warmth of the air outside, within it
was chill--bleak with an aura of discontent bred of the incessant
struggle against crushing odds which went on within those walls from
year's end to year's end....

Whitaker busied himself immediately with the stove. There was a full
wood-box near by; and within a very few minutes he had a brisk fire
going. The woman had disappeared in the direction of the barn. She
returned in good time with half a dozen eggs. Foraging in the pantry and
cupboards, she brought to light a quantity of supplies: a side of bacon,
flour, potatoes, sugar, tea, small stores of edibles in tins.

"I'm hungry again, myself," she declared, attacking the problem of
simple cookery with a will and a confident air that promised much.

The aroma of frying bacon, the steam of brewing tea, were all but
intolerable to an empty stomach. Whitaker left the kitchen hurriedly
and, in an endeavour to control himself, made a round of the other
rooms. There were two others on the ground floor: a "parlour," a
bedroom; in the upper story, four small bedchambers; above them an
attic, gloomy and echoing. Nowhere did he discover anything to moderate
the impression made by the kitchen: it was all impeccably neat,
desperately bare.

Depressed, he turned toward the head of the stairs. Below a door whined
on its hinges, and the woman called him, her voice ringing through the
hallway with an effect of richness, deep-toned and bell-true, that
somehow made him think of sunlight flinging an arm of gold athwart the
dusk of a darkened room. He felt his being thrill responsive to it, as
fine glass sings its answer to the note truly pitched. More than all
this, he was staggered by something in the quality of that full-throated
cry, something that smote his memory until it was quick and vibrant,
like a harp swept by an old familiar hand.

"Hugh?" she called; and again: "Hugh! Where are you?"

He paused, grasping the balustrade, and with some difficulty managed to
articulate:

"Here ... coming...."

"Hurry. Everything's ready."

Waiting an instant to steady his nerves, he descended and reëntered the
kitchen.

The meal was waiting--on the table. The woman, too, faced him as he
entered, waiting in the chair nearest the stove. But, once within the
room, he paused so long beside the door, his hand upon the knob, and
stared so strangely at her, that she moved uneasily, grew restless and
disturbed. A gleam of apprehension flickered in her eyes.

"Why, what's the matter?" she asked with forced lightness. "Why don't
you come in and sit down?"

He said abruptly: "You called me Hugh!"

She inclined her head, smiling mischievously. "I admit it. Do you mind?"

"Mind? No!" He shut the door, advanced and dropped into his chair, still
searching her face with his troubled gaze. "Only," he said--"you
startled me. I didn't think--expect--hope--"

"On so short an acquaintance?" she suggested archly. "Perhaps you're
right. I didn't think.... And yet--I do think--with the man who risked
his life for me--I'm a little justified in forgetting even that we've
never met through the medium of a conventional introduction."

"It isn't that, but...." He hesitated, trying to formulate phrases to
explain the singular sensation that had assailed him when she called
him: a sensation the precise nature of which he himself did not as yet
understand.

She interrupted brusquely: "Don't let's waste time talking. I can't wait
another instant."

Silently submissive, he took up his knife and fork and fell to.



XVI

THE BEACON


Through the meal, neither spoke; and if there were any serious thinking
in process, Whitaker was not only ignorant of it, but innocent of
participation therein. With the first taste of food, he passed into a
state of abject surrender to sheer brutish hunger. It was not easily
that he restrained himself, schooled his desires to decent expression.
The smell, the taste, the sight of food: he fairly quivered like a
ravenous animal under the influence of their sensual promise. He was
sensible of a dull, carking shame, and yet was shameless.

The girl was the first to finish. She had eaten little in comparison;
chiefly, perhaps, because she required less than he. Putting aside her
knife and fork, she rested her elbows easily on the table, cradled her
chin between her half-closed hands. Her eyes grew dark with speculation,
and oddly lambent. He ate on, unconscious of her attitude. When he had
finished, it was as if a swarm of locusts had passed that way. Of the
more than plentiful meal she had prepared, there remained but a beggarly
array of empty dishes to testify to his appreciation.

He leaned back a little in his chair, surprised her intent gaze, laughed
sheepishly, and laughing, sighed with repletion.

A smile of sympathetic understanding darkened the corners of her lips.

"Milord is satisfied?"

"Milord," he said with an apologetic laugh, "is on the point of passing
into a state of torpor. He begins to understand the inclination of the
boa-constrictor--or whatever beast it is that feeds once every six
months--to torp a little, gently, after its semi-annual gorge."

"Then there's nothing else...?"

"For a pipe and tobacco I would give you half my kingdom!"

"Oh, I'm _so_ sorry!"

"Don't be. It won't harm me to do without nicotine for a day or two."
But his sigh belied the statement. "Anyway, I'll forget all about it
presently. I'll be too busy."

"How?"

"It's coming on night. You haven't forgotten our signal fires?"

"Oh, no--and we must not forget!"

"Then I've got my work cut out for me, to forage for fuel. I must get
right at it."

The girl rose quickly. "Do you mind waiting a little? I mustn't neglect
my dishes, and--if you don't mind--I'd rather not be left alone any
longer than necessary. You know...."

She ended with a nervous laugh, depreciatory.

"Why, surely. And I'll help with the dish-cloth."

"You'll do nothing of the sort. I'd rather do it all myself. Please."
She waved him back to his chair with a commanding gesture. "I mean
it--really."

"Well," he consented, doubtful, "if you insist...."

She worked rapidly above the steaming dish-pan, heedless of the effects
upon her hands and bared arms: busy and intent upon her business, the
fair head bowed, the cheeks faintly flushed.

Whitaker lounged, profoundly intrigued, watching her with sober and
studious eyes, asking himself questions he found for the present
unanswerable. What did she mean to him? Was what he had been at first
disposed to consider a mere, light-hearted, fugitive infatuation,
developing into something else, something stronger and more enduring?
And what did it mean, this impression that had come to him so suddenly,
within the hour, and that persisted with so much force in the face of
its manifest impossibility, that he had known her, or some one strangely
like her, at some forgotten time--as in some previous existence?

It was her voice that had made him think that, her voice of marvellous
allure, crystal-pure, as flexible as tempered steel, strong, tender,
rich, compassionate, compelling.... Where had he heard it before, and
when?

And who was she, this Miss Fiske? This self-reliant and self-sufficient
woman who chose to spend her summer in seclusion, with none but servants
for companions; who had comprehension of machinery and ran her
motor-boat alone; who went for lonely swims in the surf at dawn; who
treated men as her peers--neither more nor less; who was spied upon,
shadowed, attacked, kidnapped by men of unparalleled desperation and
daring; who had retained her self-possession under stress of
circumstance that would have driven strong men into pseudo-hysteria; who
now found herself in a position to the last degree ambiguous and
anomalous, cooped up, for God only knew how long, upon a lonely
hand's-breadth of land in company with a man of whom she knew little
more than nothing; and who accepted it all without protest, with a
serene and flawless courage, uncomplaining, displaying an implicit and
unquestioning faith in her companion: what manner of woman was this?

At least one to marvel over and admire without reserve; to rejoice in
and, if it could not be otherwise, to desire in silence and in pride
that it should be given to one so unworthy the privileges of desiring
and of service and mute adoration....

"It's almost dark," her pleasant accents broke in upon his revery.
"Would you mind lighting the lamp? My hands are all wet and sticky."

"Assuredly."

Whitaker got up, found matches, and lighted a tin kerosene lamp in a
bracket on the wall. The windows darkened and the walls took on a sombre
yellow as the flame grew strong and steady.

"I'm quite finished." The girl scrubbed her arms and hands briskly with
a dry towel and turned down her sleeves, facing him with her fine,
frank, friendly smile. "If you're ready...."

"Whenever you are," he said with an oddly ceremonious bow.

To his surprise she drew back, her brows and lips contracting to level
lines, her eyes informed with the light of wonder shot through with the
flashings of a resentful temper.

"Why do you look at me so?" she demanded sharply. "What are you
thinking...?" She checked, her frown relaxed, her smile flickered
softly. "Am I such a fright--?"

"I beg your pardon," he said hastily. "I was merely thinking,
wondering...."

She seemed about to speak, but said nothing. He did not round out his
apology. A little distance apart, they stood staring at one another in
that weird, unnatural light, wherein the glow from the lamp contended
garishly with the ebbing flush of day. And again he was mute in
bewildered inquiry before that puzzling phenomenon of inscrutable
emotion which once before, since his awakening, had been disclosed to
him in her mantling colour, in the quickening of her breath, and the
agitation of her bosom, in the timid, dumb questioning of eyes grown
strangely shy and frightened.

And then, in a twinkling, an impatient gesture exorcised the
inexplicable mood that had possessed her, and she regained her normal,
self-reliant poise as if by witchcraft.

"What a quaint creature you are, Hugh," she cried, her smile whimsical.
"You've a way of looking at one that gives me the creeps. I see
things--things that aren't so, and never were. If you don't stop it, I
swear I shall think you're the devil! Stop it--do you hear me, sir? And
come build our bonfire."

She swung lithely away and was out of the house before he could regain
his wits and follow.

"I noticed a lot of old lumber around the barn," she announced, when he
joined her in the dooryard--"old boxes and barrels and rubbish. And a
wheelbarrow. So you won't have far to go for fuel. Now where do you
purpose building the beacon?"

He cast round, peering through the thickening shades of dusk, and
eventually settled upon a little knoll a moderate distance to leeward of
the farm-house. Such a location would be safest, even though the wind
was falling steadily with the flight of the hours; and the fire would be
conspicuously placed for observation from any point in the north and
east.

Off in the north, where Whitaker had marked down the empurpled headland
during the afternoon, a white light lanced the gloom thrice with a
sweeping blade, vanished, and was replaced by a glare of angry red,
which in its turn winked out.

Whitaker watched it briefly with the finger-tips of his right hand
resting lightly on the pulse in his left wrist. Then turning away, he
announced:

"Three white flashes followed by a red at intervals of about ten
seconds. Wonder what _that_ stands for!"

"What is it?" the girl asked. "A ship signalling?"

"No; a lighthouse--probably a first-order light--with its characteristic
flash, not duplicated anywhere along this section of the Atlantic coast.
If I knew anything of such matters, it would be easy enough to tell from
that just about where we are. _If_ that information would help us."

"But, if we can see their light, they'll see ours,--won't they?--and
send to find out what's the matter."

"Perhaps. At least--let's hope so. They're pretty sure to see it, but as
to their attaching sufficient importance to it to investigate--that's a
question. They may not know that the people who live here are away. They
may think the natives here are merely celebrating their silver wedding,
or Roosevelt's refusal of a third term, or the accession of Edward the
Seventh--or anything."

"Please don't be silly--and discouraging. Do get to work and build the
fire."

He obeyed with humility and expedition.

As she had said, there was no lack of fodder for the flames. By dint of
several wheelbarrow trips between the knoll and the farmyard, he had
presently constructed a pyre of impressive proportions; and by that time
it was quite dark--so dark, indeed, that he had been forced to hunt up a
yard lantern, carrying the which the girl had accompanied him on his two
final trips.

"Here," he said clumsily, when all was ready, offering her matches. "You
light it, please--for luck."

Their fingers touched as she took the matches. Something thumped in his
breast, and a door opened in the chambers of his understanding, letting
in light.

Kneeling at the base of the pyre, she struck a match and applied it to a
quantity of tinder-dry excelsior. The stuff caught instantly, puffing
into a brilliant patch of blaze; she rose and stood back, _en
silhouette_, delicately poised at attention, waiting to see that her
work was well done. He could not take his gaze from her.

So what he had trifled and toyed with, fought with and prayed against,
doubted and questioned, laughed at and cried down, was sober, painful
fact. Truth, heart-rending to behold in her stark, shining beauty, had
been revealed to him in that moment of brushing finger-tips, and he had
looked in her face and known his unworthiness; and he trembled and was
afraid and ashamed....

Spreading swiftly near the ground, the flames mounted as quickly, with
snappings and cracklings, excavating in the darkness an arena of reddish
radiance.

The girl retreated to his side, returning the matches.

A tongue of flame shot up from the peak of the pyre, and a column of
smoke surpassed it, swinging off to leeward in great, red-bosomed
volutes and whorls picked out with flying regiments of sparks.

"You'd think they couldn't help understanding that it's a signal of
distress."

"You would think so. I hope so. God knows I hope so!"

There was a passion in his tones to make her lift wondering eyes to his.

"Why do you say that--that way? We should be thankful to be safe--alive.
And we're certain to get away before long."

"I know--yes, I know."

"But you spoke so strangely!"

"I'm sorry. I'd been thinking clearly; for the first time, I believe,
since I woke up."

"About what? Us? Or merely me?"

"You. I was considering you alone. It isn't right that you should be in
this fix. I'd give my right hand to remedy it!"

"But I'm not distressed. It isn't altogether pleasant, but it can't be
helped and might easily have been worse."

"And still I can't help feeling, somehow, the wretched injustice of it
to you. I want to protest--to do something to mend matters."

"But since you can't"--she laughed in light mockery, innocent of
malice--"since we're doing our best, let's be philosophical and sit down
over there and watch to see if there's any answer to our signal."

"There won't be."

"You _are_ a difficult body. Never mind. Come along!" she insisted with
pretty imperiousness.

They seated themselves with their backs to the fire and at a respectful
distance from it, where they could watch the jetting blades of light
that ringed the far-off headland. Whitaker reclined on an elbow,
relapsing into moody contemplation. The girl drew up her knees, clasped
her arms about them, and stared thoughtfully into the night.

Behind them the fire flamed and roared, volcanic. All round it in a
radius of many yards the earth glowed red, while, to one side, the grim,
homely façade of the farm-house edged blushing out of the ambient night,
all its staring windows bloodshot and sinister.

The girl stirred uneasily, turning her head to look at Whitaker.

"You know," she said with a confused attempt to laugh: "this is really
no canny, this place. Or else I'm balmy. I'm seeing things--shapes that
stir against the blackness, off there beyond the light, moving, halting,
staring, hating us for butchering their age-old peace and quiet. Maybe
I'll forget to see them, if you'll talk to me a little."

"I can't talk to you," he said, ungracious in his distress.

"You can't? It's the first time it's been noticeable, then. What's
responsible for this all-of-a-sudden change of heart?"

"That's what's responsible." The words spoke themselves almost against
his will.

"What--change of heart?"

"Yes," he said sullenly.

"You're very obscure. Am I to understand that you've taken a sudden
dislike to me, so that you can't treat me with decent civility?"

"You know that isn't so."

"Surely"--she caught her breath sharply, paused for an instant, then
went on--"surely you don't mean the converse!"

"I've always understood women knew what men meant before the men did,
themselves." His voice broke a little. "Oh, can't you see how it is with
me? Can't you see?" he cried. "God forgive me! I never meant to inflict
this on you, at such a time! I don't know why I have...."

"You mean," she stammered in a voice of amaze--"you mean--love?"

"Can you doubt it?"

"No ... not after what's happened, I presume. You wouldn't have
followed--you wouldn't have fought so to save me from drowning--I
_suppose_--if you hadn't--cared.... But I didn't know."

She sighed, a sigh plaintive and perturbed, then resumed: "A woman never
knows, really. She may suspect; in fact, she almost always does; she is
obliged to be so continually on guard that suspicion is ingrained in her
nature; but...."

"Then you're not--offended?" he asked, sitting up.

"Why should I be?" The firelight momentarily outlined the smiling, half
wistful countenance she turned to him.

"But"--he exploded with righteous wrath, self-centred--"only a scoundrel
would force his attentions upon a woman, in such circumstances! You
can't get away from me--I may be utterly hateful to you--"

"Oh, you're not." She laughed quietly. "You're not; nor am I
distressed--because of the circumstances that distress you, at least.
What woman would be who received as great and honourable a
compliment--from you, Hugh? Only"--again the whimsical little laugh that
merged into a smothered sigh--"I wish I knew!"

"Wish you knew what?"

"What's going on inside that extraordinary head of yours: what's in the
mind behind the eyes that I so often find staring at me so curiously."

He bowed that head between hands that compressed cruelly his temples.
"I wish _I_ knew!" he groaned in protest. "It's a mystery to me,
the spell you've laid upon my thoughts. Ever since we met you've
haunted me with a weird suggestion of some elusive relationship, some
entanglement--intimacy--gone, perished, forgotten.... But since you
called me to supper, a while ago, by name--I don't know why--your voice,
as you used it then, has run through my head and through, teasing my
memory like a strain of music from some half-remembered song. It
half-maddens me; I feel so strongly that everything would be so straight
and plain and clear between us, if I could only fasten upon that
fugitive, indefinable something that's always fluttering just beyond my
grasp!"

"You mean all that--honestly?" she demanded in an oddly startled voice.

"Most honestly." He looked up in excitement. "You don't mean _you_'ve
felt anything of the sort?"

"No, I"--her voice broke as if with weariness--"I don't mean that,
precisely. I mean.... Probably I don't know what I do mean. I'm really
very tired, too tired to go on, just now--to sit here with you,
badgering our poor wits with esoteric subtleties. I think--do you
mind?--I'd better go in."

She rose quickly, without waiting for his hand. Whitaker straightened
out his long body with more deliberation, standing finally at full
height, his grave and moody countenance strongly relieved in the ruddy
glow, while her face was all in shadow.

"One moment," he begged humbly--"before we go in. I ... I've something
else to say to you, if I may."

She waited, seriously attentive.

"I haven't played fair, I'm afraid," he said, lowering his head to
escape her steadfast gaze. "I've just told you that I love you, but...."

"Well?" she demanded in an odd, ringing voice. "Isn't it true?"

"True?" He laughed unnaturally. "It's so true I--wish I had died before
I told you!"

"Why?"

"Because ... because you didn't resent my telling you...."

It seemed impossible for him to speak connectedly or at any length,
impossible to overcome his distaste for the hateful confession he must
make. And she was intolerably patient with him; he resented her quiet,
contained patience; while he feared, yet he was relieved when she at
length insisted: "Well?"

"Since you didn't resent that confession, I am led to believe you
don't--exactly--dislike me. That makes it just so much the harder to
forfeit your regard."

"But must you?"

"Yes."

"Please explain," she urged, a trace wearily.

"I who love you with all my heart and mind and soul--I am not free to
love you."

"You aren't free--!"

"I.... No."

After several moments, during which he fought vainly with his inability
to go on, she resumed her examination with a manner aloof and yet
determined:

"You've told me so much, I think you can hardly refuse to tell more."

"I," he stammered--"I am already married."

She gave a little, stifled cry--whether of pain or horror or of
indignation he could not tell.

"I'm sorry--I--" he began.

"Don't you think you might have thought of this before?"

"I ... you don't understand--"

"Are you in the habit of declaring yourself first and confessing
later?... Don't answer, if you don't want to. I've no real right to
know. I asked out of simple curiosity."

"If you'd only listen to me!" he broke out suddenly. "The thing's so
strange, so far off--dreamlike--that I forget it easily."

"So it would seem," she put in cruelly.

"Please hear me!"

"Surely you must see I am listening, Mr. Whitaker."

"It was several years ago--nearly seven. I was on the point of
death--had been told to expect death within a few months.... In a moment
of sentimental sympathy--I wasn't at all myself--I married a girl I'd
never seen before, to help her out of a desperate scrape she'd got
into--meaning simply to give her the protection of my name. She was in
bad trouble.... We never lived together, never even saw one another
after that hour. She had every reason to think me dead--as I should have
been, by rights. But now she knows that I'm alive--is about to sue for a
divorce.... Now you know just what sort of a contemptible hound I am,
and why it was so hard to tell you."

After a long pause, during which neither stirred, she told him, in a
faint voice: "Thank you."

She moved toward the house.

"I throw myself upon your mercy--"

"Do you?" she said coolly, pausing.

"If you will forgive me--"

"Oh, I forgive you, Mr. Whitaker. My heart is really not quite so
fragile as all this implies."

"I didn't mean that--you know I didn't. I'm only trying to assure you
that I won't bother you--with this trouble of mine--again. I don't want
you to be afraid of me."

"I am not."

The words were terse and brusque enough; the accompanying swift gesture,
in which her hand rested momentarily on his arm as if in confidence
approaching affection, he found oddly contradictory.

"You don't see--anything?" she said with an abrupt change of manner,
swinging to the north.

He shaded his eyes, peering intently through the night, closely sweeping
its encompassing obscurity from northwest to southeast.

"Nothing," he said, dropping his hand. "If there were a boat heading
this way, we couldn't help seeing her lights."

"Then there's no use waiting?"

"I'm afraid not. They'd hardly come to-night, anyway; more likely by
daylight, if they should happen to grow suspicious of our beacon."

"Then I think I'll go to bed. I'm very, very tired, in spite of my sleep
on the sands. That didn't rest me, really."

"Of course."

"And you--?"

"Oh, I'm all right."

"But what are you going to do?"

"Why--keep the fire going, I presume."

"Is it necessary, do you think? Or even worth while?"

He made a doubtful gesture.

"I wish," she continued--"I wish you'd stay in the house. I--I'm really
a bit timid: unnerved, I presume. It's been, you know, rather a
harrowing experience. Anything might happen in a place like this...."

"Oh, certainly," he agreed, something constrained. "I'd feel more
content, myself, to know I was within call if anything should alarm
you."

They returned to the kitchen.

In silence, while Whitaker fidgeted about the room, awkward and unhappy,
the girl removed a glass lamp from the shelf above the sink, assured
herself that it was filled, and lighted it. Then, over her shoulder:

"I hope you don't mean to stay up all night."

"I--well, I'm really not sleepy."

"Oh, but you are," she contradicted calmly.

"Honestly; I slept so long down there on the beach--"

"Please don't try to deceive me. I know that slumbers like those--of
exhaustion--don't rest one as they should. Besides, you show how tired
you are in every gesture, in the way you carry yourself, in your very
eyes."

"You're mistaken," he contended, looking away for fear lest his eyes
were indeed betraying him. "Besides, I mean merely to sit up here, to
see that everything is all right."

"How should it be otherwise?" She laughed the thought away, yet not
unkindly. "This island is as empty as a last-year's bird's-nest. What
could happen to harm, or even alarm us--or me?"

"You never can tell--"

"Nonsense! I'm not in the least frightened. And furthermore I shan't
sleep a wink--shan't even try to sleep unless you promise me not to be
silly. There's a comfortable room right at the foot of the stairs. If
you sleep there, I shall feel more than secure. Will you promise?"

He gave in at discretion: "Yes; I promise."

"As soon as you feel the least need of sleep, you'll go to bed?"

"I promise."

"Very well, then."

The insistent note faded from her tones. She moved toward the table, put
the lamp down, and hesitated in one of her strange, unpresaged moods of
diffidence, looking down at the finger-tips with which she traced a
meaningless pattern on the oil-cloth.

"You are kind," she said abruptly, her head bowed, her face hidden from
him.

"Kind!" he echoed, dumfounded.

"You are kind and sweet and generous to me," she insisted in a level
voice. "You have shown me your heart--the heart of a gentleman--without
reserve; but of me you have asked nothing."

"I don't understand--"

"I mean, you haven't once referred to what happened last night. You've
been content to let me preserve my confidence, to remain secretive and
mysterious in your sight.... That is how I seem to you--isn't it?"

"Secretive and mysterious? But I have no right to your confidence; your
affairs are yours, inviolable, unless you choose to discuss them."

"You would think that way--of course!" Suddenly she showed him her face
illumined with its frank, shadowy smile, her sweet eyes, kind and as
fearless as the eyes of a child. "Other men would not, I know. And you
have every right to know."

"I--!"

"You; and I shall tell you.... But not now; there's too much to tell, to
explain and make understandable; and I'm too terribly tired. To-morrow,
perhaps--or when we escape from this weird place, when I've had time to
think things out--"

"At your pleasure," he assented gently. "Only--don't let anything worry
you."

Impulsively she caught both his hands in a clasp at once soft and
strong, wholly straightforward and friendly.

"Do you know," she said in a laughing voice, her head thrown back, soft
shadows darkening her mystical eyes, the lamplight caressing her hair
until it was as if her head were framed in a halo of pure gold, bright
against the sombre background of that mean, bare room--"Do you know,
dear man, that you are quite, quite blind?"

"I think," he said with his twisted smile, "it would be well for me if I
were physically blind at this instant!"

She shook her head in light reproof.

"Blind, quite blind!" she repeated. "And yet--I'm glad it's so with you.
I wouldn't have you otherwise for worlds."

She withdrew her hand, took up the lamp, moved a little away from him,
and paused, holding his eyes.

"For Love, too, is blind," she said softly, with a quaint little nod of
affirmation. "Good night."

He started forward, eyes aflame; took a single pace after her; paused as
if against an unseen barrier. His hands dropped by his sides; his chin
to his chest; the light died out of his face and left it gray and deeply
lined.

In the hallway the lamp's glow receded, hesitated, began to ascend,
throwing upon the unpapered walls a distorted silhouette of the rude
balustrade; then disappeared, leaving the hall cold with empty darkness.

An inexplicable fit of trembling seized Whitaker. Dropping into a chair,
he pillowed his head on his folded arms. Presently the seizure passed,
but he remained moveless. With the drift of minutes, insensibly his taut
muscles relaxed. Odd visions painted the dark tapestries of his closed
eyes: a fragment of swinging seas shining in moonlight; white swords of
light slashing the dark night round their unseen eyrie; the throat of a
woman swelling firm and strong as a tower of ivory, tense from the
collar of her cheap gown to the point of her tilted chin; a shrieking,
swirling rabble of gulls seen against the fading sky, over the edge of a
cliff....

He slept.

Through the open doorway behind him and through the windows on either
hand drifted the sonorous song of the surf, a muted burden for the
stealthy disturbances of the night in being.



XVII

DISCOVERY


In time the discomfort of his posture wore through the wrappings of
slumber. He stirred drowsily, shifted, and discovered a cramp in his
legs, the pain of which more effectually aroused him. He rose, yawned,
stretched, grimaced with the ache in his stiffened limbs, and went to
the kitchen door.

There was no way to tell how long he had slept. The night held
black--the moon not yet up. The bonfire had burned down to a great
glowing heap of embers. The wind was faint, a mere whisper in the void.
There was a famous show of stars, clear, bright, cold and distant.

Closing and locking the door, he found another lamp, lighted it, and
took it with him to the corner bedchamber, where he lay down without
undressing. He had, indeed, nothing to change to.

A heavy lethargy weighed upon his faculties. No longer desperately
sleepy, he was yet far from rested. His body continued to demand repose,
but his mind was ill at ease.

He napped uneasily throughout the night, sleeping and waking by fits and
starts, his brain insatiably occupied with an interminable succession of
wretched dreams. The mad, distorted face of Drummond, bleached and
degraded by his slavery to morphine, haunted Whitaker's consciousness
like some frightful and hideous Chinese mask. He saw it in a dozen
guises, each more pitiful and terrible than the last. It pursued him
through eons of endless night, forever at his shoulder, blind and
weeping. Thrice he started from his bed, wide awake and glaring,
positive that Drummond had been in the room but the moment gone.... And
each time that he lay back and sleep stole in numbing waves through his
brain, he passed into subconsciousness with the picture before his eyes
of a seething cloud of gulls seen against the sky, over the edge of a
cliff.

He was up and out in the cool of dawn, before sunrise, delaying to
listen for some minutes at the foot of the stairway. But he heard no
sound in that still house, and there was no longer the night to affright
the woman with hinted threats of nameless horrors lurking beneath its
impenetrable cloak. He felt no longer bound to stand sentinel on the
threshold of her apprehensions. He went out.

The day would be clear: he drew promise of this from the gray bowl of
the sky, cloudless, touched with spreading scarlet only on its eastern
rim. There was no wind; from the cooling ashes of yesternight's
beacon-fire a slim stalk of smoke grew straight and tall before it
wavered and broke. The voice of the sea had fallen to a muffled
throbbing.

In the white magic of air like crystal translucent and motionless, the
world seemed more close-knitted and sane. What yesterday's veiling of
haze had concealed was now bold and near. In the north the lighthouse
stood like a horn on the brow of the headland, the lamp continuing to
flash even though its light was darkened, its beams out-stripped by the
radiant forerunners of the sun. Beyond it, over a breadth of water
populated by an ocean-going tug with three barges in tow and a becalmed
lumber schooner, a low-lying point of land (perhaps an island) thrust
out into the west. On the nearer land human life was quickening: here
and there pale streamers of smoke swung up from hidden chimneys on its
wooded rises.

Whitaker eyed them with longing. But they were distant from attainment
by at the least three miles of tideway through which strong waters
raced--as he could plainly see from his elevation, in the pale, streaked
and wrinkled surface of the channel.

He wagged a doubtful head, and scowled: no sign in any quarter of a boat
heading for the island, no telling when they'd be taken off the cursed
place!

In his mutinous irritation, the screaming of the gulls, over in the
west, seemed to add the final touch of annoyance, a superfluous addition
to the sum of his trials. Why need they have selected that island for
their insane parliament? Why must his nerves be racked forever by their
incessant bickering? He had dreamed of them all night; must he endure a
day made similarly distressing?

What _was_ the matter with the addle-pated things, anyway?

There was nothing to hinder him from investigating for himself. The girl
would probably sleep another hour or two.

He went forthwith, dulling the keen edge of his exasperation with a
rapid tramp of half a mile or so over the uneven uplands.

The screaming was well-nigh deafening by the time he stood upon the
verge of the bluff; beneath him gulls clouded the air like bees
swarming. And yet he experienced no difficulty in locating the cause of
their excitement.

Below, a slow tide crawled, slavering, up over the boulder-strewn sands.
In a wave-scooped depression between two of the larger boulders, the
receding waters had left a little, limpid pool. In the pool lay the body
of a man, face downward, limbs frightfully sprawling. Gulls fought for
place upon his back.

The discovery brought with it no shock of surprise to the man on the
bluff: horror alone. He seemed to have known all along that such would
be the cause. Yet he had never consciously acknowledged the thought. It
had lain sluggish in the deeps beneath surfaces agitated by emotions
more poignant and immediate. Still, it had been there--that
understanding. That, and that only, had so poisoned his rest....

But he shrank shuddering from the thought of the work that lay to his
hand--work that must be accomplished at once and completely; for she
must know nothing of it. She had suffered enough, as it was.

Hastening back to the farmstead, he secured a spade from the barn and
made his way quickly down to the beach by way of the road through the
cluster of deserted fishermen's huts.

Fifteen minutes' walk brought him to the pool. Ten minutes' hard work
with the spade sufficed to excavate a shallow trench in the sands above
high-water mark. He required as much time again to nerve himself to the
point of driving off the gulls and moving the body. There were likewise
crabs to be dealt with....

When it was accomplished, and he had lifted the last heavy stone into
place above the grave, he dragged himself back along the beach and round
a shoulder of the bluff to a spot warmed by the rays of the rising sun.
There, stripping off his rags, he waded out into the sea and cleansed
himself as best he might, scrubbing sand into his flesh until it was
scored and angry; then crawled back, resumed his garments, and lay down
for a time in the strength-giving light, feeling giddy and faint with
the after-effects of the insuppressible nausea which had prolonged
intolerably his loathsome task.

Very gradually the bluish shadows faded from about his mouth and eyes,
and natural colour replaced his pallor. And presently he rose and went
slowly up to the house, all his being in a state of violent rebellion
against the terror and mystery of life.

What the gulls and the crabs and the shattering surf had left had been
little, but enough for indisputable identification.

Whitaker had buried Drummond.



XVIII

BLIGHT


By the time he got back to the farm-house, the woman was up, dressed in
the rent and stained but dry remnants of her own clothing (for all their
defects, infinitely more becoming than the garments to which she had
been obliged to resort the previous day) and busy preparing breakfast.

There was no question but that her rest had been sound and undisturbed.
If her recuperative powers had won his envy before, now she was wholly
marvellous in his eyes. Her radiant freshness dazzled, her elusive but
absolute quality of charm bewitched--and her high spirits dismayed him.
He entered her presence reluctantly, yielding alone to the spur of
necessity. To keep out of her way was not only an impossibility, but
would have served to rouse her suspicions; and she must not know:
however difficult the task, he must dissemble, keep her in ignorance of
his discovery. On that point he was resolved.

"Well, sir!" she called heartily over her shoulder. "And where, pray,
have you been all this long time?"

"I went for a swim," he said evasively--"thought it might do me good."

"You're not feeling well?" She turned to look him over.

He avoided her eye. "I had a bad night--probably because I had too much
sleep during the day. I got up feeling pretty rusty--the weight of my
years. Cold water's ordinarily a specific for that sort of thing, but it
didn't seem to work this time."

"Still got the hump, eh?"

"Still got the hump," he assented, glad thus to mask his unhappiness.

"Breakfast and a strong cup of tea or two will fix that," she announced
with confidence. "It's too bad there's no coffee."

"Yes," he said--"sorry!"

"No signs of a response to our C. Q. D.?"

"None as yet. Of course, it's early."

He lounged out of the kitchen with a tin bowl, a towel and a bar of
yellow soap, and splashed conscientiously at the pump in the dooryard,
taking more time for the job than was really necessary.

From her place by the stove, she watched him through a window, her eyes
like a sunlit sea dappled with shadows of clouds speeding before the
wind.

He lingered outside until she called him to breakfast.

His stout attempts to match her cheerfulness during the meal fell
dismally short of conviction. After two or three false starts he gave it
up and took refuge in his plea of indisposition. She humoured him with a
covert understanding that surmised more in a second than he could have
compressed into a ten-minute confession.

The meal over, he rose and sidled awkwardly toward the door.

"You'll be busy for a while with the dishes and things, won't you?" he
asked with an air meant to seem guileless.

"Oh, yes; for some time," she replied quickly.

"I--I think I'll take a stroll round the island. There might be
something like a boat hidden away somewhere along the beach."

"You prefer to go alone?"

"If you don't mind."

"Not in the least. I've plenty to occupy my idle hands. If I can find
needle and thread, for instance...." She indicated her clothing with a
humorously rueful gesture.

"To be sure," he agreed, far too visibly relieved. Then his wits
stumbled. "I want to think out some things," he added most
superfluously.

"You won't go out of sight?" she pleaded through the window.

"It can't be done," he called back, strolling out of the dooryard with
much show of idle indecision.

His real purpose was, in fact, definite. There was another body to be
accounted for. It was quite possible that the sea might have given it up
at some other point along the island coast. True: there was no second
gathering of gulls to lend colour to this grisly theory; yet the danger
was one to be provided against, since she was not to know.

Starting from its northwestern extreme, he made a complete circuit of
the island, spending the greater part of the time along the edges of the
western and southern bluffs, where he had not seldom to pause and
scrutinize carefully the beach below, to make sure he had been deceived
by some half-buried rock or curiously shaped boulder.

To his intense relief, he made no further discovery other than a
scattering drift of wreckage from the motor-boats.

By the time he had finished, the morning was well advanced. He turned at
length and trudged wearily up from the northern beach, through the
community of desolation, back toward the farm-house.

Since breakfast he had seen nothing of the girl; none of the elaborately
casual glances which he had from time to time cast inland had discovered
any sign of her. But now she appeared in the doorway, and after a slight
pause, as of indecision, moved down the path to meet him.

He was conscious that, at sight of her, his pulses quickened. Something
swelled in his breast, something tightened the muscles of his throat.
The way of her body in action, the way of the sun with her hair...!

Dismay shook him like an ague; he felt his heart divided against itself;
he was so glad of her, and so afraid.... He could not keep his eyes from
her, nor could he make his desire be still; and yet ... and yet....

Walking the faster of the two, she met him midway between the house and
the beach.

"You've taken your time, Mr. Whitaker," said she.

"It was a bit of a walk," he contended, endeavouring to imitate her
lightness of manner.

They paused beside one of the low stone walls that meandered in a
meaningless fashion this way and that over the uplands. With a satisfied
manner that suggested she had been seeking just that very spot, the girl
sat down upon the lichened stones, then looked up to him with a smile
and a slight movement of the head that plainly invited him to a place
beside her.

He towered above her, darkly reluctant.

"Do sit down. You must be tired."

"I am."

Dubiously he seated himself at a little distance.

"And only your pains for your trouble?"

He nodded.

"I watched you, off and on, from the windows. You might have been
looking for a pin, from your painstaking air, off there along the
cliffs."

He nodded again, gloomily. Her comment seemed to admit of no more
compromising method of reply.

"Then you've nothing to tell me?"

He pursed his lips, depreciatory, lifted his shoulders not quite
happily, and swung one lanky leg across the other as he slouched,
morosely eyeing the sheets of sapphire that made their prison walls.

"No. There's no good news yet."

"And you've no inclination to talk to me, either?"

"I've told you I don't feel--well--exactly light-hearted this morning."

There was a little silence. She watched him askance with her fugitive,
shadowy, sympathetic and shrewd smile.

"Must I make talk, then?" she demanded at length.

"If we must, I suppose--you'll have to show the way. My mind's hardly
equal to trail-breaking to-day."

"So I shall, then. Hugh...." She leaned toward him, dropping her hand
over his own with an effect of infinite comprehension. "Hugh," she
repeated, meeting his gaze squarely as he looked up, startled--"what's
the good of keeping up the make-believe? You _know_!"

The breath clicked in his throat, and his glance wavered uneasily, then
steadied again to hers. And through a long moment neither stirred, but
sat so, eye to eye, searching each the other's mind and heart.

At length he confessed it with an uncertain, shamefaced nod.

"That's right," he said: "I do know--now."

She removed her hand and sat back without lessening the fixity of her
regard.

"When did you find it out?"

"This morning. That is, it came to me all of a sudden--" His gaze fell;
he stammered and felt his face burning.

"Hugh, that's not quite honest. I know you hadn't guessed, last night--I
_know_ it. How did you come to find it out this morning? Tell me!"

He persisted, as unconvincing as an unimaginative child trying to
explain away a mischief:

"It was just a little while ago. I was thinking things over--"

"Hugh!"

He shrugged sulkily.

"Hugh, look at me!"

Unwillingly he met her eyes.

"How did you find out?"

He was an inexpert liar. Under the witchery of her eyes, his resource
failed him absolutely. He started to repeat, stammered, fell still, and
then in a breath capitulated.

"Before you were up--I meant to keep this from you--down there on the
beach--I found Drummond."

"Drummond!"

It was a cry of terror. She started back from him, eyes wide, cheeks
whitening.

"I'm sorry.... But I presume you ought to know.... His body ... I buried
it...."

She gave a little smothered cry, and seemed to shrink in upon herself,
burying her face in her hands--an incongruous, huddled shape of grief,
there upon the gray stone wall, set against all the radiant beauty of
the exquisite, sun-gladdened world.

He was patient with her, though the slow-dragging minutes during which
she neither moved nor made any sound brought him inexpressible distress,
and he seemed to age visibly, his face, settling in iron lines, gray
with suffering.

At length a moan--rather, a wail--came from the stricken figure beside
him:

"Ah, the pity of it! the pity of it!... What have I done that this
should come to me!"

He ventured to touch her hand in gentle sympathy.

"Mary," he said, and hesitated with a little wonder, remembering that
this was the first time he had ever called her by that name--"Mary, did
you care for him so much?"

She sat, mute, her face averted and hidden.

"I'd give everything if I could have mended matters. I was fond of
Drummond--poor soul! If he'd only been frank with me from the start, all
this could have been avoided. As soon as I knew--that night when I
recognized you on the stage--I went at once to you to say I would clear
out--not stand in the way of your happiness. I would have said as much
to him, but he gave me no chance."

"Don't blame him," she said softly. "He wasn't responsible."

"I know."

"How long have you known?" She swung suddenly to face him.

"For some time--definitely, for two or three days. He tried twice to
murder me. The first time he must have thought he'd done it.... Then he
tried again, the night before you were carried off. Ember suspected,
watched for him, and caught him. He took him away, meaning to put him in
a sanitarium. I don't understand how he got away--from Ember. It worries
me--on Ember's account. I hope nothing has happened to him."

"Oh, I hope not!"

"You knew--I mean about the cause--the morphine?"

"I never guessed until that night. Then, as soon as I got over
the first awful shock, I realized he was a madman. He talked
incoherently--raved--shouted--threatened me with horrible things. I
can't speak of them. Later, he quieted down a little, but that was after
he had come down into the cabin to--to drug himself.... It was very
terrible--that tiny, pitching cabin, with the swinging, smoking lamp,
and the madman sitting there, muttering to himself over the glass in
which the morphine was dissolving.... It happened three times before the
wreck; I thought I should go out of my own mind."

She shuddered, her face tragic and pitiful.

"Poor girl!" he murmured inadequately.

"And that--that was why you were searching the beach so closely!"

"Yes--for the other fellow. I--didn't find him."

A moment later she said thoughtfully: "It was the man you saw watching
me on the beach, I think."

"I assumed as much. Drummond had a lot of money, I fancy--enough to hire
a desperate man to do almost anything.... The wages of sin--"

"Don't!" she begged. "Don't make me think of that!"

"Forgive me," he said.

For a little she sat, head bowed, brooding.

"Hugh!" she cried, looking up to search his face narrowly--"Hugh, you've
not been pretending--?"

"Pretending?" he repeated, thick-witted.

"Hugh, I could never forgive you if you'd been pretending. It would be
too cruel.... Ah, but you haven't been! Tell me you haven't!"

"I don't understand.... Pretending what?"

"Pretending you didn't know who I was--pretending to fall in love with
me just because you were sorry for me, to make me think it was _me_ you
loved and not the woman you felt bound to take care of, because
you'd--you had--"

"Mary, listen to me," he interrupted. "I swear I didn't know you.
Perhaps you don't understand how wonderfully you've changed. It's hard
for me to believe you can be one with the timid and distracted little
girl I married that rainy night. You're nothing like.... Only, that
night on the stage, as _Joan Thursday_, you _were_ that girl again. Max
told me it was make-up; I wouldn't believe him; to me you hadn't changed
at all; you hadn't aged a day.... But that morning when I saw you first
on the Great South Beach--I never dreamed of associating you with my
wife. Do you realize I had never seen you in full light--never knew the
colour of your hair?... Dear, I didn't know, believe me. It was you who
bewitched me--not the wife for whose sake I fought against what I
thought infatuation for you. I loved--I love you only, you as you
are--not the poor little girl of the Commercial House."

"Is it true?" she questioned sadly, incredulous.

"It is true, Mary. I love you."

"I have loved you always," she said softly between barely parted
lips--"always, Hugh. Even when I thought you dead.... I did believe that
you were drowned out there, Hugh! You know that, don't you?"

"I have never for an instant questioned it."

"It wouldn't be like you to, my dear; it wouldn't be you, my Hugh....
But even then I loved the memory of you.... You don't know what you have
meant in my life, Hugh. Always, always you have stood for all that was
fine and strong and good and generous--my gentlest man, my knight _sans
peur et sans reproche_.... No other man I ever knew--no, let me say
it!--ever measured up to the standard you had set for me to worship.
But, Hugh--you'll understand, won't you?--about the others--?"

"Please," he begged--"please don't harrow yourself so, Mary!"

"No; I must tell you.... The world seemed so empty and so lonely, Hugh:
my Galahad gone, never to return to me.... I tried to lose myself in my
work, but it wasn't enough. And those others came, beseeching me,
and--and I liked them. There was none like you, but they were all good
men of their kind, and I liked them. They made love to me and--I was
starving for affection, Hugh. I was made to love and to be loved. Each
time I thought to myself: 'Surely this time it is true; now at last am I
come into my kingdom. It can't fulfil my dreams, for I have known the
bravest man, but'--"

Her voice broke and fell. Her eyes grew dull and vacant; her vision
passed through and beyond him, as if he had not been there; the bitter
desolation of all the widowed generations clouded her golden face. Her
lips barely moved, almost inaudibly enunciating the words that were
shaken from her as if by some occult force, ruthless and inexorable:

"Each time, Hugh, it was the same. One by one they were taken from me,
strangely, terribly.... Poor Tom Custer, first; he was a dear boy, but I
didn't love him and couldn't marry him. I had to tell him so. He killed
himself.... Then Billy Hamilton; I became engaged to him; but he was
taken mysteriously from a crowded ship in mid-ocean.... A man named
Mitchell Thurston loved me. I liked him; perhaps I might have consented
to marry him. He was assassinated--shot down like a mad dog in broad
daylight--no one ever knew by whom, or why. He hadn't an enemy in the
world we knew of.... And now Drummond...!"

"Mary, Mary!" he pleaded. "Don't--don't--those things were all
accidents--"

She paid him no heed. She didn't seem to hear. He tried to take her
hand, with a man's dull, witless notion of the way to comfort a
distraught woman; but she snatched it from his touch.

"And now"--her voice pealed out like a great bell tolling over the
magnificent solitude of the forsaken island--"and now I have it to live
through once again: the wonder and terror and beauty of love, the agony
and passion of having you torn from me!... Hugh!... I don't believe I
can endure it again. I can't _bear_ this exquisite torture. I'm afraid I
shall go mad!... Unless ... unless"--her voice shuddered--"I have the
strength, the strength to--"

"Good God!" he cried in desperation. "You must not go on like this!
Mary! Listen to me!"

This time he succeeded in imprisoning her hand. "Mary," he said gently,
drawing closer to her, "listen to me; understand what I say. I love you;
I am your husband; nothing can possibly come between us. All these other
things can be explained. Don't let yourself think for another instant--"

Her eyes, fixed upon the two hands in which he clasped her own, had
grown wide and staring with dread. Momentarily she seemed stunned. Then
she wrenched it from him, at the same time jumping up and away.

"No!" she cried, fending him from her with shaking arms. "No! Don't
touch me! Don't come near me, Hugh! It's ... it's death! My touch is
death! I know it now--I had begun to suspect, now I _know_! I am
accursed--doomed to go through life like pestilence, leaving sorrow and
death in my wake.... Hugh!" She controlled herself a trifle: "Hugh, I
love you more than life; I love you more than love itself. But you must
not come near me. Love me if you must, but, O my dear one! keep away
from me; avoid me, forget me if you can, but at all cost shun me as you
would the plague! I will not give myself to you to be your death!"

Before he could utter a syllable in reply, she turned and fled from him,
wildly, blindly stumbling, like a hunted thing back up the ascent to the
farm-house. He followed, vainly calling on her to stop and listen to
him. But she outdistanced him, and by the time he had entered the house
was in her room, behind a locked door.



XIX

CAPITULATION


Grimly Whitaker sat himself down in the kitchen and prepared to wait the
reappearance of his wife--prepared to wait as long as life was in him,
so that he were there to welcome her when, her paroxysm over, she would
come to him to be comforted, soothed and reasoned out of her distorted
conception of her destiny.

Not that he had the heart to blame or to pity her for that terrified
vision of life. Her history was her excuse. Nor was his altogether a
blameless figure in that history. At least it was not so in his sight.
Though unwittingly, he had blundered cruelly in all his relations with
the life of that sad little child of the Commercial House.

Like sunlight penetrating storm wrack, all the dark disarray of his
revery was shot through and through by the golden splendour of the
knowledge that she loved him....

As for this black, deadly shadow that had darkened her life--already he
could see her emerging from it, radiant and wonderful. But it was not to
be disregarded or as yet ignored, its baleful record considered closed
and relegated to the pages of the past. Its movement had been too
rhythmic altogether to lack a reason. His very present task was to read
its riddle and exorcise it altogether.

For hours he pondered it there in the sunlit kitchen of the silent
house--waiting, wondering, deep in thought. Time stole away without his
knowledge. Not until late in the afternoon did the shifted position of
the sun catch his attention and arouse him in alarm. Not a sound from
above...!

He rose, ascended the stairs, tapped gently on the locked door.

"Mary," he called, with his heart in his mouth--"Mary!"

Her answer was instant, in accents sweet, calm and clear:

"I am all right. I'm resting, dear, and thinking. Don't fret about me.
When I feel able, I will come down to you."

"As you will," he assented, unspeakably relieved; and returned to the
kitchen.

The diversion of thought reminded him of their helpless and forlorn
condition. He went out and swept the horizon with an eager and hopeful
gaze that soon drooped in disappointment. The day had worn on in
unbroken calm: not a sail stirred within the immense radius of the
waters. Ships he saw in plenty--a number of them moving under power east
and west beyond the headland with its crowning lighthouse; others--a
few--left shining wakes upon the burnished expanse beyond the farthest
land visible in the north. Unquestionably main-travelled roads of the
sea, these, so clear to the sight, so heartbreakingly unattainable....

And then his conscience turned upon him, reminding him of the promise
(completely driven out of his mind by his grim adventure before dawn,
together with the emotional crisis of mid-morning) to display some sort
of a day-signal of distress.

For something like half an hour he was busy with the task of nailing a
turkey-red table-cloth to a pole, and the pole in turn (with the
assistance of a ladder) to the peak of the gabled barn. But when this
was accomplished, and he stood aside and contemplated the drooping,
shapeless flag, realizing that without a wind it was quite meaningless,
the thought came to him that the very elements seemed leagued together
in a conspiracy to keep them prisoners, and he began to nurse a
superstitious notion that, if anything were ever to be done toward
winning their freedom, it would be only through his own endeavour,
unassisted.

Thereafter for a considerable time he loitered up and down the dooryard,
with all his interest focussed upon the tidal strait, measuring its
greatest and its narrowest breadth with his eye, making shrewd guesses
at the strength and the occasions of the tides.

If the calm held on and the sky remained unobscured by cloud, by eleven
there would be clear moonlight and, if he guessed aright, the beginning
of a period of slack water.

Sunset interrupted his calculations--sunset and his wife. Sounds of some
one moving quietly round the kitchen, a soft clash of dishes, the
rattling of the grate, drew him back to the door.

She showed him a face of calm restraint and implacable resolve, if
scored and flushed with weeping. And her habit matched it: she had
overcome her passion; her eyes were glorious with peace.

"Hugh"--her voice had found a new, sweet level of gentleness and
strength--"I was wondering where you were."

"Can I do anything?"

"No, thank you. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am."

"For what, in Heaven's name?"

She smiled.... "For neglecting you so long. I really didn't think of it
until the sunlight began to redden. I've let you go without your lunch."

"It didn't matter--"

"I don't agree. Man must be fed--and so must woman. I'm famished!"

"Well," he admitted with a short laugh--"so am I."

She paused, regarding him with her whimsical, indulgent smile. "You
strange creature!" she said softly. "Are you angry with
me--impatient--for this too facile descent from heroics to the
commonplace? But, Hugh"--she touched his arm with a gentle and
persuasive hand--"it _must_ be commonplace. We're just mortals, after
all, you know, no matter how imperishable our egos make us feel: and the
air of the heights is too fine and rare for mortals to breathe long at a
time. Life is, after all, an everyday affair. We've just got to blunder
through it from day to day--mostly on the low levels. Be patient with
me, dear."

But, alarmed by his expression, her words stumbled and ran out. She
stepped back a pace, a little flushed and tremulous.

"Hugh! No, Hugh, no!"

"Don't be afraid of me," he said, turning away. "I don't mean to bother.
Only--at times--"

"I know, dear; but it must _not_ be." She had recovered; there was cool
decision in her accents. She began to move briskly round the kitchen,
setting the table, preparing the meal.

He made no attempt to reason with her, but sat quietly waiting. His rôle
was patience, tolerance, strength restrained in waiting....

"Shall you make a fire again to-night?" she asked, when they had
concluded the meal.

"In three places," he said. "We'll not stay another day for want of
letting people know we're here."

She looked down, shyly. Coquetry with her was instinctive,
irrepressible. Her vague, provoking smile edged her lips:

"You--you want to be rid of me again, so soon, Hugh?"

He bent over the table with a set face, silent until his undeviating
gaze caught and held her eyes.

"Mary," he said slowly, "I want _you_. I mean to have you. Only by
getting away from this place will that be possible. You must come to me
of your own will."

She made the faintest negative motion of her head, her eyes fixed to his
in fascination.

"You will," he insisted, in the same level tone. "If you love me, as you
say, you must.... No--that's nonsense I won't listen to! Renunciation is
a magnificent and noble thing, but it must have a sane excuse.... You
said a while ago, this was a commonplace world, life an everyday affair.
It is. The only thing that lifts it out of the deadly, intolerable rut
is this wonderful thing man has invented and named Love. Without it we
are as Nature made us--brute things crawling and squabbling in blind
squalor. But love lifts us a little above that: love _is_ supernatural,
the only thing in all creation that rises superior to nature. There's no
such thing as a life accursed; no such thing as a life that blights;
there are no malign and vicious forces operating outside the realm of
natural forces: love alone is supreme, subject to no known laws. I mean
to prove it to you; I mean to show you how little responsible you have
been in any way for the misfortunes that have overtaken men who loved
you; I shall show you that I am far more blameworthy than you.... And
when I have done that, you will come to me."

"I am afraid," she whispered breathlessly--"I am afraid I shall."

He rose. "Till then, my dearest girl, don't, please don't ever shrink
from me again. I may not be able to dissemble my love, but until your
fears are done away with, your mind at rest, no act of mine, within my
control, shall ever cause you even so much as an instant's annoyance or
distress."

His tone changed. "I'll go now and build my fires. When you are
ready--?"

"I shan't be long," she said.

But for long after he had left her, she lingered moveless by a window,
her gaze following him as he moved to and fro: her face now wistful, now
torn by distress, now bright with longing. Strong passions contended
within her--love and fear, joy and regret; at times crushing
apprehensions of evil darkened her musings, until she could have cried
out with the torment of her fears; and again intimations possessed her
of exquisite beauty, warming and ennobling her heart, all but persuading
her.

At length, sighing, she lighted the lamp and went about her tasks, with
a bended head, wondering and frightened, fearfully questioning her own
inscrutable heart. Was it for this only that she had fought herself all
through that day: that she should attain an outward semblance of calm so
complete as to deceive even herself, so frail as to be rent away and
banished completely by the mere tones of his mastering voice? Was she to
know no rest? Was it to be her fate to live out her days in yearning,
eating her heart alone, feeding with sighs the passing winds? Or was she
too weary to hold by her vows? Was she to yield and, winning happiness,
in that same instant encompass its destruction?...

When it was quite dark, Whitaker brought a lantern to the door and
called her, and they went forth together.

As he had promised, he had built up three towering pyres, widely apart.
When all three were in full roaring flame, their illumination was hot
and glowing over all the upland. It seemed impossible that the world
should not now become cognizant of their distress.

At some distance to the north of the greatest fire--that nearest the
farm-house--they sat as on the previous night, looking out over the
black and unresponsive waters, communing together in undertones.

In that hour they learned much of one another: much that had seemed
strange and questionable assumed, in the understanding of each, the
complexion of the normal and right. Whitaker spoke at length and in much
detail of his Wilful Missing years without seeking to excuse the
wrong-minded reasoning which had won him his own consent to live under
the mask of death. He told of the motives that had prompted his return,
of all that had happened since in which she had had no part--with a
single reservation. One thing he kept back: the time for that was not
yet.

A listener in his turn, he heard the history of the little girl of the
Commercial House breaking her heart against the hardness of life in what
at first seemed utterly futile endeavour to live by her own efforts,
asking nothing more of the man who had given her his name. To make
herself worthy of that name, so that, living or dead, he might have no
cause to be ashamed of her or to regret the burden he had assumed: this
was the explanation of her fierce striving, her undaunted renewal of the
struggle in the face of each successive defeat, her renunciation of the
competence his forethought had provided for her. So also--since she
would take nothing from her husband--pride withheld her from asking
anything of her family or her friends. She cut herself off utterly from
them all, fought her fight alone.

He learned of the lean years of drifting from one theatrical
organization to another, forced to leave them one by one by conditions
impossible and intolerable, until Ember found her playing ingenue parts
in a mean provincial stock company; of the coming of Max, his interest
in her, the indefatigable pains he had expended coaching her to bring
out the latent ability his own genius divined; of the initial
performance of "Joan Thursday" before a meagre and indifferent audience,
her instant triumph and subsequent conquest of the country in half a
dozen widely dissimilar rôles; finally of her decision to leave the
stage when she married, for reasons comprehensible, demanding neither
exposition nor defence.

"It doesn't matter any longer," she commented, concluding: "I loved and
I hated it. It was deadly and it was glorious. But it no longer matters.
It is finished: Sara Law is no more."

"You mean never to go back to the stage?"

"Never."

"And yet--" he mused craftily.

"Never!" She fell blindly into his trap. "I promised myself long ago
that if ever I became a wife--"

"But you are no wife," he countered.

"Hugh!"

"You are Mrs. Whitaker--yes; but--"

"Dear, you are cruel to me!"

"I think it's you who would be cruel to yourself, dear heart."

She found no ready answer; was quiet for a space; then stirred,
shivering. Behind them the fires were dying; by contrast a touch of
chill seemed to pervade in the motionless air.

"I think," she announced, "we'd better go in."

She rose without assistance, moved away toward the house, paused and
returned.

"Hugh," she said gently, with a quaver in her voice that wounded his
conceit in himself; for he was sure it spelled laughter at his expense
and well-merited--"Hugh, you big sulky boy! get up this instant and come
back to the house with me. You know I'm timid. Aren't you ashamed of
yourself?"

"I suppose so," he grumbled, rising. "I presume it's childish to want
the moon--and sulk when you find you can't have it."

"Or a star?"

He made no reply; but his very silence was eloquent. She attempted a
shrug of indifference to his disapproval, but didn't convince even
herself; and when he paused before entering the house for one final look
into the north, she waited on the steps above him.

"Nothing, Hugh?" she asked in a softened voice.

"Nothing," he affirmed dully.

"It's strange," she sighed.

"Lights enough off beyond the lighthouse yonder," he complained: "red
lights and green, bound east and west. But you'd think this place was
invisible, from the way we're ignored. However...."

They entered the kitchen.

"Well--however?" she prompted, studying his lowering face by lamplight.

"Something'll have to be done; if they won't help us, we'll have to help
ourselves."

"Hugh!" There was alarm in her tone. He looked up quickly. "Hugh, what
are you thinking of?"

"Oh--nothing. But I've got to think of something."

She came nearer, intuitively alarmed and pleading. "Hugh, you wouldn't
leave me here alone?"

"What nonsense!"

"Promise me you won't."

"Don't be afraid," he said evasively. "I'll be here--as always--when you
wake up."

She drew a deep breath, stepped back without removing her gaze from his
face, then with a gesture of helplessness took up her lamp.

"Good night, Hugh."

"Good night," he replied, casting about for his own lamp.

But when he turned back, she was still hesitating in the doorway. He
lifted inquiring brows.

"Hugh...."

"Yes?"

"I trust you. Be faithful, dear."

"Thank you," he returned, not without flavour of bitterness. "I'll try
to be. Good night."

She disappeared; the light of her lamp faded, flickering in the draught
of the hall, stencilled the wall with its evanescent caricature of the
balustrade, and was no longer visible.

"Hugh!" her voice rang from the upper floor.

He started violently out of deep abstraction, and replied inquiringly.

"You won't forget to lock the door?"

He swore violently beneath his breath; controlled his temper and
responded pleasantly: "Certainly not."

Then he shut the outside door with a convincing bang.

"If this be marriage...!" He smiled his twisted smile, laughed a little
quietly, and became again his normal, good-natured self, if a little
unusually preoccupied.

Leaving the kitchen light turned low, he went to his own room and, as on
the previous night, threw himself upon the bed without undressing; but
this time with no thought of sleep. Indeed, he had no expectation of
closing his eyes in slumber before the next night, at the earliest; he
had no intention other than to attempt to swim to the nearest land. In
the illusion of night, his judgment worked upon by his emotions, that
plan which had during the afternoon suggested itself, been thoroughly
considered, rejected as too desperately dangerous, and then reconsidered
in the guise of their only possible chance of escape at any reasonably
early date, began to assume a deceptive semblance of feasibility.

He did not try to depreciate its perils: the tides that swept through
that funnel-shaped channel were unquestionably heavy: heavier than even
so strong a swimmer as he should be called upon to engage; the chances
of being swept out to sea were appallingly heavy. The slightest error in
judgment, the least miscalculation of the turn of the tide, and he was
as good as lost.

On the other hand, with a little good luck, by leaving the house shortly
after moonrise, he should be able to catch the tide just as it was
nearing high water. Allowing it to swing him northwest until it fulled,
he ought to be a third of the way across by the time it slackened, and
two-thirds of the distance before it turned seawards again. And the
distance was only three miles or so.

And the situation on the island had grown unendurable. He doubted his
strength to stand the torment and the provocation of another day.

Allow an hour and a half for the swim--say, two; another hour in which
to find a boat; and another to row or sail back: four hours. He should
be back upon the island long before dawn, even if delayed. Surely no
harm could come to her in that time; surely he ought to be able to
reckon on her sleeping through his absence--worn down by the stress of
the day's emotions as she must certainly be. True, he had given her to
understand he would not leave her; but she need not know until his
return; and then his success would have earned him forgiveness.

An hour dragged out its weary length, and the half of another while he
reasoned with himself, drugging his conscience and his judgment alike
with trust in his lucky star. In all that time he heard no sound from
the room above him; and for his part he lay quite unstirring, his whole
body relaxed, resting against the trial of strength to come.

Insensibly the windows of his room, that looked eastward, filled with
the pale spectral promise of the waning moon. He rose, with infinite
precaution against making any noise, and looked out. The night was no
less placid than the day had been. The ruins of his three beacons shone
like red winking eyes in the black face of night. Beyond them the sky
was like a dome of crystal, silvery green. And as he looked, an edge of
silver shone on the distant rim of the waters; and then the moon,
misshapen, wizened and darkling, heaved sluggishly up from the deeps.

Slowly, on tiptoes, Whitaker stole toward the door, out into the hall;
at the foot of the stairs he paused, listening with every nerve tense
and straining; he fancied he could just barely detect the slow, regular
respiration of the sleeping woman. And he could see that the upper
hallway was faintly aglow. She had left her lamp burning, the door open.
Last night, though the lamp had burned till dawn, that door had been
closed....

He gathered himself together again, took a single step on toward the
kitchen; and then, piercing suddenly the absolute stillness within the
house, a board squealed like an animal beneath his tread.

In an instant he heard the thud and patter of her footsteps above, her
loud, quickened breathing as she leaned over the balustrade, looking
down, and her cry of dismay: "Hugh! Hugh!"

He halted, saying in an even voice: "Yes; it is I." She had already seen
him; there was no use trying to get away without her knowledge now;
besides, he was no sneak-thief to fly from a cry. He burned with
resentment, impatience and indignation, but he waited stolidly enough
while the woman flew down the stairs to his side.

"Hugh," she demanded, white-faced and trembling, "what is the matter?
Where are you going?"

He moved his shoulders uneasily, forcing a short laugh. "I daresay
you've guessed it. Undoubtedly you have. Else why--" He didn't finish
save by a gesture of resignation.

"You mean you were going--going to try to swim to the mainland?"

"I meant to try it," he confessed.

"But, Hugh--your promise?"

"I'm sorry, Mary; I didn't want to promise. But you see ... this state
of things cannot go on. Something has got to be done. It's the only way
I know of. I--I can't trust myself--"

"You'd leave me here while you went to seek death--!"

"Oh, it isn't as dangerous as all that. If you'd only been asleep, as I
thought you were, I'd've been back before you knew anything about it."

"I should have known!" she declared passionately. "I _was_ asleep, but I
knew the instant you stirred. Tell me; how long did you stand listening
here, to learn if I was awake or not?"

"Several minutes."

"I knew it, though I was asleep, and didn't waken till the board
squeaked. I knew you would try it--knew it from the time when you
quibbled and evaded and wouldn't give me a straight promise. Oh, Hugh,
my Hugh, if you had gone and left me...!"

Her voice shook and broke. She swayed imperceptibly toward him, then
away, resting a shoulder against the wall and quivering as though she
would have fallen but for that support. He found himself unable to
endure the reproach of those dark and luminous eyes set in the mask of
pallor that was her face in the half-light of the hallway. He looked
away, humbled, miserable, pained.

"It's too bad," he mumbled. "I'm sorry you had to know anything about
it. But ... it can't be helped, Mary. You've got to brace up. I won't be
gone four hours at the longest."

"Four hours!" She stood away from the wall, trembling in every limb.
"Hugh, you--you don't mean--you're not going--_now_?"

He nodded a wretched, makeshift affirmation.

"It must be done," he muttered. "Please--"

"But it must not be done! Hugh!" Her voice ascended "I--I can't let you.
I won't let you! You ... It'll be your death--you'll drown. I shall have
let you go to your death--"

"Oh, now, really--" he protested.

"But, Hugh, I _know_ it! I feel it here." A hand strayed to rest,
fluttering, above her heart. "If I should let you go ... Oh, my dear
one, don't, don't go!"

"Mary," he began hoarsely, "I tell you--"

"You're only going, Hugh, because ... because I love you so I ... I am
afraid to let you love me. That's true, isn't it? Hugh--it's true?"

"I can't stay ..." he muttered with a hang-dog air.

She sought support of the wall again, her body shaken by dry sobbing
that it tore his heart to hear. "You--you're really going--?"

He mumbled an almost inaudible avowal of his intention.

"Hugh, you're killing me! If you leave me--"

He gave a gesture of despair and capitulation.

"I've done my best, Mary. I meant to do the right thing. I--"

"Hugh, you mean you won't go?" Joy from a surcharged heart rang vibrant
in every syllable uttered in that marvellous voice.

But now he dared meet her eyes. "Yes," he said, "I won't go"--nodding,
with an apologetic shadow of his twisted smile. "I can't if ... if it
distresses you."

"Oh, my dear, my dear!"

Whitaker started, staggered with amaze, and the burden of his wife in
his arms. Her own arms clipped him close. Her fragrant tear-gemmed face
brushed his. He knew at last the warmth of her sweet mouth, the dear
madness of that first caress.

The breathless seconds spun their golden web of minutes. They did not
move. Round them the silence sang like the choiring seraphim....

Then through the magical hush of that time when the world stood still,
the thin, clear vibrations of a distant hail:

"_Aho-oy!_"

In his embrace his wife stiffened and lifted her head to listen like a
startled fawn. As one their hearts checked, paused, then hammered
wildly. With a common impulse they started apart.

"You heard--?"

"Listen!" He held up a hand.

This time it rang out more near and most unmistakable:

"Ahoy! The house, ahoy!"

With the frenzied leap of a madman, Whitaker gained the kitchen door,
shook it, controlled himself long enough to draw the bolt, and flung out
into the dim silvery witchery of the night. He stood staring, while the
girl stole to his side and caught his arm. He passed it round her,
lifted the other hand, dumbly pointed toward the northern beach. For the
moment he could not trust himself to speak.

In the sweep of the anchorage a small white yacht hovered ghostlike,
broadside to the island, her glowing ports and green starboard lamp
painting the polished ebony of the still waters with the images of many
burning candles.

On the beach itself a small boat was drawn up. A figure in white waited
near it. Issuing from the deserted fishing settlement, rising over the
brow of the uplands, moved two other figures in white and one in darker
clothing, the latter leading the way at a rapid pace.

With one accord Whitaker and his wife moved down to meet them. As they
drew together, the leader of the landing party checked his pace and
called:

"Hello there! Who are you? What's the meaning of your fires--?"

Mechanically Whitaker's lips uttered the beginning of the response:
"Shipwrecked--signalling for help--"

"Whitaker!" the voice of the other interrupted with a jubilant shout.
"Thank God we've found you!"

It was Ember.



XX

TEMPERAMENTAL


Seldom, perhaps, has an habitation been so unceremoniously vacated as
was the solitary farm-house on that isolated island. Whitaker delayed
only long enough to place a bill, borrowed from Ember, on the kitchen
table, in payment for what provisions they had consumed, and to
extinguish the lamps and shut the door.

Ten minutes later he occupied a chair beneath an awning on the after
deck of the yacht, and, with an empty glass waiting to be refilled
between his fingers and a blessed cigar fuming in the grip of his teeth,
stared back to where their rock of refuge rested, brooding over its
desolation, losing bulk and conformation and swiftly blending into a
small dark blur upon the face of the waters.

"Ember," he demanded querulously, "what the devil is that place?"

"You didn't know?" Ember asked, amused.

"Not the smell of a suspicion. This is the first pleasure, in a manner
of speaking, cruise I've taken up along this coast. I'm a bit weak on
its hydrography."

"Well, if that's the case, I don't mind admitting that it is No Man's
Land."

"I'm strong for its sponsors in baptism. They were equipped with a
strong sense of the everlasting fitness of things. And the other--?"

"Martha's Vineyard. That's Gay Head--the headland with the lighthouse.
Off to the north of it, the Elizabeth Islands. Beyond them, Buzzards
Bay. This neat little vessel is now standing about west-no'th-west to
pick up Point Judith light--if you'll stand for the nautical patois.
After that, barring a mutiny on the part of the passengers, she'll swing
on to Long Island Sound. If we're lucky, we'll be at anchor off East
Twenty-fourth Street by nine o'clock to-morrow morning. Any kick
coming?"

"Not from me. You might better consult--my wife," said Whitaker with an
embarrassed laugh.

"Thanks, no: if it's all the same to you. Besides, I've turned her over
to the stewardess, and I daresay she won't care to be interrupted. She's
had a pretty tough time of it: I judge from your rather disreputable
appearance. Really, you're cutting a most romantical, shocking figger."

"Glad of that," Whitaker remarked serenely. "Give me another drink.... I
like to be consistent--wouldn't care to emerge from a personally
conducted tour of all hell looking like a George Cohan chorus-boy....
Lord! how good tobacco does taste after you've gone without it a few
days!... Look here: I've told you how things were with us, in brief; but
I'm hanged if you've disgorged a single word of explanation as to how
you came to let Drummond slip through your fingers, to say nothing of
how you managed to find us."

"He didn't slip through my fingers," Ember retorted. "He launched a
young earthquake at my devoted head and disappeared before the dust
settled. More explicitly: I had got him to the edge of the woods, that
night, when something hit me from behind and my light went out in a
blaze of red fire. I came to some time later with a tasty little gag in
my mouth and the latest thing in handcuffs on my wrists, behind my
back--the same handcuffs that I'd decorated Drummond with--and several
fathoms of rope wound round my legs. I lay there--it was a sort of open
work barn--until nearly midnight the following night. Then the owner
happened along, looking for something he'd missed--another ass, I
believe--and let me loose. By the time I'd pulled myself together, from
what you tell me, you were piling up on the rocks back there."

"Just before dawn, yesterday."

"Precisely. Finding you'd vacated the bungalow, I interviewed Sum Fat
and Elise, and pieced together a working hypothesis. It was easy enough
to surmise Drummond had some pal or other working with him: _I_ was
slung-shotted from behind, while Drummond was walking ahead. And two men
had worked in the kidnapping of Mrs. Whitaker. So I went sleuthing;
traced you through the canal to Peconic; found eye-witnesses of your
race as far as Sag Harbor. There I lost you--and there I borrowed this
outfit from a friend, an old-time client of mine. Meanwhile I'd had a
general alarm sent out to the police authorities all along the
coast--clear to Boston. No one had seen anything of you anywhere. It was
heavy odds-on, that you'd gone to the bottom in that blow, all of you;
but I couldn't give up. We kept cruising, looking up unlikely places.
And, at that, we were on the point of throwing up the sponge when I
picked up a schooner that reported signal fires on No Man's Land.... I
think that clears everything up."

"Yes," said Whitaker, sleepily. "And now, without ingratitude, may I ask
you to lead me to a bath and my bunk. I have just about fifteen minutes
of semi-consciousness to go on."

Nor was this exaggeration; it was hard upon midnight, and he had been
awake since before dawn of a day whose course had been marked by a
succession of increasingly exhaustive emotional crises, following a
night of interrupted and abbreviated rest; add to this the inevitable
reaction from high nervous tension. His reserve vitality seemed barely
sufficient to enable him to keep his eyes open through the rite of the
hot salt-water bath. After that he gave himself blindly into Ember's
guidance, and with a mumbled, vague good night, tumbled into the berth
assigned him. And so strong was his need of sleep that it was not until
ten o'clock the following morning, when the yacht lay at her mooring in
the East River, that Ember succeeded in rousing him by main strength and
good-will.

This having been accomplished, he was left to dress and digest the fact
that his wife had gone ashore an hour ago, after refusing to listen to a
suggestion that Whitaker be disturbed. The note Ember handed him
purported to explain what at first blush seemed a singularly ungrateful
and ungracious freak. It was brief, but in Whitaker's sight eminently
adequate and compensating.

     "DEAREST BOY: I won't let them wake you, but I must run away. It's
     early and I _must_ do some shopping before people are about. My
     house here is closed; Mrs. Secretan is in Maine with the only keys
     aside from those at Great West Bay; and I'm a _positive fright_ in
     a coat and skirt borrowed from the stewardess. I don't want even
     you to see me until I'm decently dressed. I shall put up at the
     Waldorf; come there to-night, and we will dine together. Every
     fibre of my being loves you.

     "MARY."

Obviously not a note to be cavilled at. Whitaker took a serene and
shining face to breakfast in the saloon, under the eyes of Ember.

Veins of optimism and of gratulation like threads of gold ran through
the texture of their talk. There seemed to exist a tacit understanding
that, with the death of Drummond, the cloud that had shadowed the career
of Sara Law had lifted, while her renunciation of her public career had
left her with a future of glorified serenity and assured happiness. By
common consent, with an almost superstitious awe, they begged the
question of the shadowed and inexplicable past--left the dead past to
bury itself, bestowing all their fatuous concern with the to-day of
rejoicing and the to-morrow of splendid promise.

Toward noon they parted ashore, each taking a taxicab to his lodgings.
The understanding was that they were to dine together--all three,
Whitaker promising for his wife--upon the morrow.

At six that evening, returning to his rooms to dress, Whitaker found
another note awaiting him, in a handwriting that his heart recognized
with a sensation of wretched apprehension.

He dared not trust himself to read it in the public hall. It was agony
to wait through the maddeningly deliberate upward flight of the
elevator. When he at length attained to the privacy of his own
apartment, he was sweating like a panic-stricken horse. He could hardly
control his fingers to open the envelope. He comprehended its contents
with difficulty, half blinded by a swimming mist of foreboding.

     "MY DEAR: I find my strength unequal to the strain of seeing you
     to-night. Indeed, I am so worn out and nerve-racked that I have had
     to consult my physician. He orders me immediately to a sanatorium,
     to rest for a week or two. Don't worry about me. I shan't fail to
     let you know as soon as I feel strong enough to see you. Forgive
     me. I love you dearly.

     "MARY."

The paper slipped from Whitaker's trembling hand and fluttered unheeded
to the floor. He sprang to the telephone and presently had the Waldorf
on the wire; it was true, he learned: Mrs. Whitaker had registered at
the hotel in the morning, and had left at four in the afternoon. He was
refused information as to whether she had left a forwarding address for
her mail.

He wrote her immediately, and perhaps not altogether wisely, under
stress of distraction, sending the letter by special delivery in care of
the hotel. It was returned him in due course of time, embellished with a
pencilled memorandum to the effect that Mrs. Whitaker had left no
address.

He communicated at once with Ember, promptly enlisting his willing
services. But after several days of earnest investigation the detective
confessed himself baffled.

"If you ask me," he commented at the conclusion of his report, "the
answer is: she means to be let alone until she's quite ready to see you
again. I don't pin any medals on myself for this demonstration of
extraordinary penetration; I merely point out the obvious for your own
good. Contain yourself, my dear man--and stop gnawing your knuckles like
the heavy man in a Third Avenue melodrama. It won't do any good; your
wife promised to communicate with you as soon as her health was
restored. And not only is she a woman who keeps her promise, but it is
quite comprehensible that she should have been shaken up by her
extraordinary experience to an extent we can hardly appreciate who
haven't the highly sensitive organization of a woman to contend with.
Give her time."

"I don't believe it!" Whitaker raged. "She--she loved me there on the
island. She couldn't change so quickly, bring herself to treat me so
cruelly, unless some infernal influence had been brought to bear upon
her."

"It's possible, but I--"

"Oh, I don't mean that foolishness about her love being a man's
death-warrant. That may have something to do with it, but--but, damn
it!--I conquered that once. She promised ... was in my arms ... I'd won
her.... She loved me; there wasn't any make-believe about it. If there
were any foundation for that poppycock, I'd be a dead man now--instead
of a man damnably ill-used!... No: somebody has got hold of her, worked
on her sympathies, maligned me...."

"Do you object to telling me whom you have in mind?"

"The man you suspect as well as I--the one man to whom her allegiance
means everything: the man you named to me the night we met for the first
time, as the one who'd profit the most by keeping her from leaving the
stage!"

"Well, if it's Max, you'll know in time. It won't profit him to hide the
light of his star under a bushel; he can only make money by displaying
it."

"I'll know before long. As soon as he gets back in town--"

"So you've been after him?"

"Why not? But he's out on the Pacific coast; or so they tell me at the
theatre."

"And expected back--when?"

"Soon."

"Do you know when he left?"

"About the middle of July--they say in his office."

"Then that lets him out."

"But it's a lie."

"Well--?"

"I've just remembered: Max was at the Fiske place, urging her to return,
the night before you caught Drummond at the bungalow. I saw them,
walking up and down in front of the cottage, arguing earnestly: I could
tell by her bearing she was refusing whatever he proposed. But I didn't
know her then, and naturally I never connected Max with the fellow I
saw, disguised in a motoring coat and cap. Neither of 'em had any place
in my thoughts that night."

Ember uttered a thoughtful "Oh?" adding: "Did you find out at all
definitely when Max is expected back?"

"Two or three weeks now, they say. He's got his winter productions to
get under way. As a matter of fact, it looks to me as if he must be
neglecting 'em strangely; it's my impression that the late summer is a
producing manager's busiest time."

"Max runs himself by his own original code, I'm afraid. The chances are
he's trying to raise money out on the Coast. No money, no
productions--in other words."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"But there may be something in what you say--suspect, that is. If I
agree to keep an eye on him, will you promise to give me a free hand?"

"Meaning--?"

"Keep out of Max's way: don't risk a wrangle with him."

"Why the devil should I be afraid of Max?"

"I know of no reason--as yet. But I prefer to work unhampered by the
indiscretions of my principals."

"Oh--go ahead--to blazes--as far as you like."

"Thanks," Ember dryly wound up the conference; "but these passing
flirtations with your present-day temper leave me with no hankering for
greater warmth...."

Days ran stolidly on into weeks, and these into a month. Nothing
happened. Max did not return; the whispered rumour played wild-fire in
theatrical circles that the eccentric manager had encountered financial
difficulties insuperable. The billboards flanking the entrance to the
Theatre Max continued to display posters announcing the reopening early
in September with a musical comedy by Tynan Dodd; but the comedy was not
even in rehearsal by September fifteenth.

Ember went darkly about his various businesses, taciturn--even a trace
more than ever reserved in his communication with Whitaker--preoccupied,
but constant in his endeavour to enhearten the desponding husband. He
refused to hazard any surmises whatever until the return of Max or the
reappearance of Mary Whitaker.

She made no sign. Now and then Whitaker would lose patience and write to
her: desperate letters, fond and endearing, passionate and insistent,
wistful and pleading, strung upon a single theme. Despatched under the
address of her town house, they vanished from his ken as mysteriously
and completely as she herself had vanished. He received not a line of
acknowledgment.

Day by day he made up his mind finally and definitely to give it up, to
make an end of waiting, to accept the harsh cruelty of her treatment of
him as an absolute definition of her wishes--to sever his renewed life
in New York and return once and for all to the Antipodes. And day by day
he paltered, doubted, put off going to the steamship office to engage
passage. The memory of that last day on the lonely island would not
down. Surely she dared not deny the self she had then revealed to him!
Surely she must be desperately ill and unable to write, rather than
ignoring him so heartlessly and intentionally. Surely the morrow would
bring word of her!

Sometimes, fretted to a frenzy, he sought out Ember and made wild and
unreasonable demands upon him. These failing of any effect other than
the resigned retort, "I am a detective, not a miracle-monger," he would
fly into desperate, gnawing, black rages that made Ember fear for his
sanity and self-control and caused him to be haunted by that gentleman
for hours--once or twice for days--until he resumed his normal poise of
a sober and civilized man. He was, however, not often aware of this
sedulous espionage.

September waned and October dawned in grateful coolness: an exquisite
month of crisp nights and enlivening days, of mellowing sunlight and
early gloamings tenderly coloured. Country houses were closed and
theatres reopened. Fifth Avenue after four in the afternoon became
thronged with an ever thickening army--horse, foot and motor-car.
Several main-travelled thoroughfares were promptly torn to pieces and
set up on end by municipal authorities with a keen eye for the
discomfort of the public. A fresh electric sign blazed on Broadway every
evening, and from Thirty-fourth Street to Columbus Circle the first
nights crackled, detonated, sputtered and fizzled like a string of cheap
Chinese firecrackers. One after another the most exorbitant restaurants
advanced their prices and decreased their portions to the prompt and
extraordinary multiplication of their clientèle: restaurant French for a
species of citizen whose birth-rate is said to be steadfast to the ratio
of sixty to the hour. Wall Street wailed loudly of its poverty and
hurled bitter anathemas at the President, the business interest of the
country continued to suffer excruciating agonies, and the proprietors of
leading hotels continued to add odd thousands of acres to their game
preserves.

Then suddenly the town blossomed overnight with huge eight-sheet posters
on every available hoarding, blazoning the news:

              JULES MAX
    begs to announce the return of
              SARA LAW
    in a new Comedy entitled FAITH
            by JULES MAX
    Theatre MAX--Friday October 15th

But Whitaker had the information before he saw the broad-sides in the
streets. The morning paper propped up on his breakfast table contained
the illuminating note under the caption, "News of Plays and Players":

     "Jules Max has sprung another and perhaps his greatest surprise on
     the theatre-going public of this city. In the face of the rumor
     that he was in dire financial straits and would make no productions
     whatever this year, the astute manager has been out of town for two
     months secretly rehearsing the new comedy entitled 'Faith' of which
     he is the author and in which Sara Law will return finally to the
     stage.

     "Additional interest attaches to this announcement in view of the
     fact that Miss Law has authorized the publication of her intention
     never again to retire from the stage. Miss Law is said to have
     expressed herself as follows: 'It is my dearest wish to die in
     harness. I have come to realize that a great artiste has no duty
     greater than her duty to her art. I dedicate my life and artistry
     to the American Public.'

     "The opening performance of 'Faith' will take place at the Theatre
     Max to-morrow evening, Friday, October 15. The sale of seats opens
     at the box-office this morning. Despite the short notice, a bumper
     house is confidently expected to welcome back this justly popular
     and most charming American actress in the first play of which Mr.
     Max has confessed being the author."

Whitaker glanced up incredulously at the date-line of the sheet. Short
notice, indeed: the date was Thursday, October fourteenth. Max had
planned his game and had played his cards cunningly, in withholding this
announcement until the last moment. So much was very clear to him whose
eyes had wit to read between those lines of trite press-agent
phraseology.

After a pause Whitaker rose and began to walk the length of the room,
hands in his pockets, head bowed in thought. He was telling himself that
he was not greatly surprised, after all; he was wondering at his
coolness; and he was conning over, with a grim, sardonic kink in his
twisted smile, the needless precautions taken by the dapper little
manager in his fear of Whitaker's righteous wrath. For Whitaker had no
intention of interfering in any way. He conceived it a possibility that
his congé might have been more kindly given him, but ... he had received
it, and he was not slow to recognize it as absolute and without appeal.
The thing was finished. The play was over, so far as concerned his part
therein. He had no doubt played it poorly; but at least his exit would
not lack a certain quality of dignity. Whitaker promised himself that.

He thought it really astonishing, his coolness. He analyzed his
psychological processes with a growing wonder and with as much, if less
definite, resentment. He would not have thought it credible of himself.
Search as he would, he could discover no rankling indignation, no
smouldering rage threatening to flame at the least breath of
provocation, not even what he might have most confidently looked forward
to--the sickening writhings of self-love mortally wounded and impotent
to avenge itself: nothing but some self-contempt, that he had allowed
himself to be so carried away by infatuation for an ignoble woman, and a
cynic humour that made it possible for him to derive a certain
satisfaction from contemplating the completeness of this final
revelation of herself.

However, he had more important things to claim his attention than the
spectacle of a degraded soul making public show of its dishonour.

He halted by the window to look out. Over the withered tree-tops of
Bryant Square, set against the rich turquoise of that late autumnal sky,
a gigantic sign-board heralded the news of perfidy to an unperceptive
world that bustled on, heedless of Jules Max, ignorant (largely) of the
existence of Hugh Whitaker, unconcerned with Sara Law save as she
employed herself for its amusement.

After all, the truth was secret and like to stay so, jealously husbanded
in four bosoms at most. Max would guard it as he would a system for
winning at roulette; Mary Whitaker might well be trusted never to
declare herself; Ember was as secret as the grave....

Returning to the breakfast table, he took up the paper, turned to the
shipping news and ran his eye down the list of scheduled sailings:
nothing for Friday; his pick of half a dozen boats listed to sail
Saturday.

The telephone enabled him to make a hasty reservation on the biggest and
fastest of them all.

He had just concluded that business and was waiting with his hand on the
receiver to call up Ember and announce his departure, when the door-bell
interrupted. Expecting the waiter to remove the breakfast things, he
went to the door, threw it open, and turned back instantly to the
telephone. As his fingers closed round the receiver a second time, he
looked round and saw his wife....

His hand fell to his side. Otherwise he did not move. But his glance was
that of one incuriously comprehending the existence of a stranger.

The woman met it fairly and fearlessly, with her head high and her lips
touched with a trace of her shadowy, illegible smile. She was dressed
for walking, very prettily and perfectly. There were roses in her
cheeks: a healthful glow distinguishable even in the tempered light of
the hallway. Her self-possession was faultless.

After a moment she inclined her head slightly. "The hall-boys said you
were busy on the telephone. I insisted on coming directly up. I wish
very much to see you for a few moments. Do you mind?"

"By no means," he said, a little stiffly but quite calmly. "If you will
be good enough to come in--"

He stood against the wall to let her pass. For a breath she was too
close to him: he felt his pulses quicken faintly to the delicate and
indefinite perfume of her person. But it was over in an instant: she had
passed into the living-room. He followed, grave, collected, aloof.

"I had to come this morning," she explained, turning. "This afternoon we
have a rehearsal...."

He bowed an acknowledgment. "Won't you sit down?"

"Thank you." Seated, she subjected him to a quick, open appraisal,
disarming in its naïve honesty.

"Hugh ... aren't you a bit thinner?"

"I believe so." He had a match for that impertinence: "But you, I see,
have come off without a blemish."

"I am very well," she admitted, unperturbed. Her glance embraced the
room. "You're very comfortable here."

"I have been."

"I hope that doesn't mean I'm in the way."

"To the contrary; but I sail day after to-morrow for Australia."

"Oh? That's very sudden, isn't it? You don't seem to have done any
packing. Or perhaps you mean to come back before a great while?"

"I shan't come back, ever."

"Must I believe you made up your mind this morning?"

"I have only just read the announcement of your opening to-morrow
night."

"Then ... I am driving you out of the country?"

Her look was impersonal and curious. He prided himself that he was
managing his temper admirably--at least until he discovered that he had,
inexplicably, no temper to speak of; that he, in fact, suffered mostly
from what seemed to be nothing more than annoyance at being hindered in
making the necessary arrangements against his departure.

His shoulders moved negligently. "Not to rant about it," he replied: "I
find I am not needed here."

"Oh, dear!" Her lips formed a fugitive, petulant moue: "And it's my
fault?"

"There's no use mincing matters, is there? I am not heartbroken, and if
I am bitterly disappointed I don't care to--in fact, I lack the
ability--to dramatize it."

"You are taking it well, Hugh," said she, critical.

Expressionless, he waited an instant before inquiring pointedly:
"Well...?"

Deliberately laying aside her light muff, her scarf and hand-bag, she
rose: equality of poise was impossible if he would persist in standing.
She moved a little nearer, examining his face closely, shook her head,
smiled almost diffidently, and gave a helpless gesture.

"Hugh," she said in a voice of sincerity, "I'm awfully sorry--truly I
am!"

He made no reply; waited.

"Perhaps I'm wrong," she went on, "but I think most women would have
spared themselves this meeting--"

"Themselves and the man," he interjected dryly.

"Don't be cross, Hugh.... I had to come. I had to explain myself. I
wanted you to understand. Hugh, I--" She was twisting her hands together
with a manner denoting great mental strain. Of a sudden she checked and
dropped them, limp and open by her sides. "You see," she said with the
apologetic smile, "I'm _trying_ not to act."

"Oh," he said in a tone of dawning comprehension--"so that's it!"

"I'm afraid so, Hugh.... I'm dreadfully sorry for you--poor boy!--but
I'm afraid that's the trouble with me, and it can never be helped.
I was born with a talent for acting; life has made me an actress.
Hugh ... I've found out something." Her eyes appealed wistfully. "I'm
not genuine."

He nodded interestedly.

"I'm just an actress, an instrument for the music of emotions. I've been
trained to respond, until now I respond without knowing it, when there's
no true response here." She touched the bosom of her frock.

He said nothing.

With a half sigh she moved away to the window, and before she spoke
again posed herself very effectively there, looking out over the park
while she cleared her mind.

"Of course, you despise me. I despise myself--I mean, the self that was
me before I turned from a woman into an actress. But it's the truth: I
have no longer any real capacity for emotion, merely an infinite
capacity for appreciation of the artistic delineation of emotion, true
or feigned. That ... that is why, when you showed me you had grown to
love me so, I responded so quickly. You _were_ in love--more honestly
than I had ever seen love revealed. It touched me. I was proud to have
inspired such a love. I wanted, for the time being, to have you with me
always, that I might always study the wonderful, the beautiful
manifestations of your love. Why, Hugh, you even managed to make me
believe I was worth it--that my response was sufficient repayment for
your adoration...."

He said nothing. She glanced furtively at him and continued:

"I meant to be sweet and faithful when I left that note for you on the
yacht, Hugh; I was grateful, and I meant to be generous.... But when I
went to the Waldorf, the first person I met was Max. Of course I had to
tell him what had happened. And then he threw himself upon my
compassion. It seems that losing me had put him in the most terrible
trouble about money. He was short, and he couldn't get the backing he
needed without me, his call upon my services, by way of assurance to his
backers. And I began to think. I knew I didn't love you honestly, Hugh,
and that life with you would be a living lie. What right had I to
deceive you that way, just to gratify my love of being loved? And
especially if by doing that I ruined Max, the man to whom, next to you,
I owed everything? I couldn't do it. But I took time to think it
over--truly I did. I really did go to a sanatorium, and rested there
while I turned the whole matter over carefully in my mind, and at length
reached my decision to stick by Max and let you go, free to win the
heart of a woman worthy of you."

She paused again, but still he was mute and immobile.

"So now you know me--what I am. No other man has ever known or ever
will. But I had to tell you the truth. It seems that the only thing my
career had left uncalloused was my fundamental sense of honesty. So I
had to come and tell you."

And still he held silence, attentive, but with a set face that betrayed
nothing of the tenor of his thoughts.

Almost timidly, with nervously fumbling fingers, she extracted from her
pocket-book a small ticket envelope.

"Max was afraid you might upset the performance again, as you did on my
last appearance, Hugh," she said; "but I assured him it was just the
shock of recognizing you that bowled me over. So I've bought you a box
for to-morrow night. I want you to use it--you and Mr. Ember."

He broke in with a curt monosyllable: "Why?"

"Why--why because--because I want you--I suppose it's simply my
vanity--to see me act. Perhaps you'll feel a little less hardly toward
me if you see that I am really a great actress, that I give you up for
something bigger than just love--"

"What rot!" he said with an odd, short laugh. "Besides, I harbour no
resentment."

She stared, losing a little colour, eyes darkening with apprehension.

"I did hope you'd come," she murmured.

"Oh, I'll come," he said with spirit. "Wild horses couldn't keep me
away."

"Really, Hugh? And you don't mind? Oh, I'm _glad_!"

"I really don't mind," he assured her with a strange smile.
"But ... would you mind excusing me one moment? I've forgotten
something very important."

"Why, certainly...."

He was already at the telephone in the hallway, just beyond the
living-room door. It was impossible to escape overhearing his words. The
woman listened perforce with, in the beginning, a little visible wonder,
then with astonishment, ultimately with a consternation that shook her
with violent tremblings.

"Hello," said Whitaker; "get me Rector two-two-hundred....

"Hello? Rector two-two-hundred? North German Lloyd?... This is Mr. H. M.
Whitaker. I telephoned you fifteen minutes ago about a reservation on
the _George Washington_, sailing Saturday ... Yes.... Yes.... Yes, I
promised to call for the ticket before noon, but I now find I shan't be
able to go. Will you be kind enough to cancel it, if you please....
Thank you.... Good-by."

But when he turned back into the living-room he found awaiting him a
quiet and collected woman, perhaps a thought more pale than when she had
entered and with eyes that seemed a trifle darker; but on the whole
positively the mistress of herself.

"Why did you do that?" she asked evenly.

"Because," said Whitaker, "I've had my eyes opened. I've been watching
the finest living actress play a carefully rehearsed rôle, one that she
had given long study and all her heart to--but her interpretation didn't
ring true. Mary, I admit, at first you got me: I believed you meant what
you said. But only my mind believed it; my heart knew better, just as it
has always known better, all through this wretched time of doubt and
misery and separation you've subjected us both to. And that was why I
couldn't trust myself to answer you; for if I had, I should have laughed
for joy. O Mary, Mary!" he cried, his voice softening, "my dear, dear
woman, you can't lie to love! You betray yourself in every dear word
that would be heartless, in every adorable gesture that would seem
final! And love knows better always.... Of course I shall be in that box
to-morrow night; of course I shall be there to witness your triumph! And
after you've won it, dear, I shall carry you off with me...."

He opened his arms wide, but with a smothered cry she backed away,
placing the table between them.

"No!" she protested; and the words were almost sobs--"No!"

"Yes!" he exclaimed exultantly. "Yes! A thousand times yes! It must be
so!"

With a swift movement she seized her muff and scarf from the chair and
fled to the door. There pausing, she turned, her face white and blazing.

"It is not true!" she cried. "You are mistaken. Do you hear me? You are
utterly mistaken. I do not love you. You are mad to think it. I have
just told you I don't love you. I am afraid of you; I daren't stay with
you for fear of you. I--I despise you!"

[Illustration: "I do not love you. You are mad to think it"]

"I don't believe it!" he cried, advancing.

But she was gone. The hall door slammed before he could reach it.

He halted, turned back, his whole long body shaking, his face wrung with
fear and uncertainty.

"Good God!" he cried--"which of us is right--she or I?"



XXI

BLACK OUT


Toward eight in the evening, after a day-long search through all his
accustomed haunts, Ember ran Whitaker to earth in the dining-room of the
Primordial. The young man, alone at table, was in the act of topping off
an excellent dinner with a still more excellent cordial and a
super-excellent cigar. His person seemed to diffuse a generous
atmosphere of contentment and satisfaction, no less mental than physical
and singularly at variance with his appearance, which, moreover, was
singularly out of keeping not only with his surroundings but also with
his normal aspect.

He wore rough tweeds, and they were damp and baggy; his boots were
muddy; his hair was a trifle disorderly. The ensemble made a figure
wildly incongruous to the soberly splendid and stately dining-hall of
the Primordial Club, with its sparse patronage of members in
evening-dress.

Ember, himself as severely beautiful in black and white as the
ceremonious livery of to-day permits a man to be, was wonder-struck at
sight of Whitaker in such unconventional guise, at such a time, in such
a place. With neither invitation nor salutation, he slipped into a chair
on the other side of the table, and stared.

Whitaker smiled benignantly upon him, and called a waiter.

Ember, always abstemious, lifted his hand and smiled a negative smile.

Whitaker dismissed the waiter.

"Well...?" he inquired cheerfully.

"What right have you got to look like that?" Ember demanded.

"The right of every free-born American citizen to make an ass of himself
according to the dictates of his conscience. I've been exploring the
dark backwards and abysm of the Bronx--afoot. Got caught in the rain on
the way home. Was late getting back, and dropped in here to celebrate."

"I've been looking for you everywhere, since morning."

"I suspected you would be. That's why I went walking--to be lonesome and
thoughtful for once in a way."

Ember stroked his chin with thoughtful fingers.

"You've heard the news, then?"

"In three ways," Whitaker returned, with calm.

"How's that--three ways?"

"Through the newspapers, the billboards, and--from the lips of my wife."

Ember opened his eyes wide.

"You've been to see her?"

"On the contrary."

"The devil you say!"

"She called this morning--"

But Ember interrupted, thrusting a ready and generous hand across the
table:

"My dear man, I _am_ glad!"

Whitaker took the proffered hand readily and firmly. "Thank you.... I
was saying: she called this morning to inform me that, though wedded
once, we must be strangers now--and evermore!"

"But you--of course--you argued that nonsense out of her head."

"To the contrary--again."

"But--my dear man!--you said you were celebrating; you permitted me to
congratulate you just now--"

"The point is," said Whitaker, with a bland and confident grin; "I've
succeeded in arguing that nonsense out of my head--not hers--_mine_."

Ember gave a helpless gesture. "I'm afraid this is one of my stupid
nights...."

"I mean that, though Mary ran away from me, wouldn't listen to reason, I
have, in the course of an afternoon's hard tramping, come to the
conclusion that there is nothing under the sun which binds me to sit
back and accept whatever treatment she purposes according me by courtesy
of Jules Max."

Whitaker bent forward, his countenance discovering a phase of
seriousness hitherto masked by his twisted smile. He emphasized his
points with a stiff, tapping forefinger on the cloth.

"I mean, I'm tired of all this poppycock. Unless I'm an infatuated ass,
Mary loves me with all her heart. She has made up her mind to renounce
me partly because Max has worked upon her feelings by painting some
lurid picture of his imminent artistic and financial damnation if she
leaves him, partly because she believes, or has been led to believe, in
this 'destroying angel' moonshine. Now she's got to listen to reason.
So, likewise, Max."

"You're becoming more human word by word," commented Ember with open
approval. "Continue; elucidate; I can understand how a fairly resolute
lover with the gift of gab can talk a weak-minded, fond female into
denying her pet superstition; but how you're going to get round Max
passes my comprehension. The man unquestionably has her under
contract--"

"But you forgot his god is Mammon," Whitaker put in. "Max will do
anything in the world for money. Therein resides the kernel of my plan.
It's simplicity itself: I'm going to buy him."

"Buy Max!"

"Body--artistic soul--and breeches," Whitaker affirmed confidently.

"Impossible!"

"You forget how well fixed I am. What's the use of my owning half the
gold in New Guinea if it won't buy me what I already own by every moral
and legal right?"

"He won't listen to you; you don't know Max."

"I'm willing to lay you a small bet that there will be no first
performance at the Theatre Max to-morrow night."

"You'll never persuade him--"

"I'll buy the show outright and my wife's freedom to boot--or else Max
will begin to accumulate the local colour of a hospital ward."

Ember smiled grimly. "You're beginning to convince even me. When, may I
ask, do you propose to pull off this sporting proposition?"

"Do you know where Max can be found to-night?"

"At the theatre--"

"Then the matter will be arranged at the theatre between this hour and
midnight."

"I doubt if you succeed in getting the ear of the great man before
midnight; however, I'm not disposed to quibble about a few hours."

"But why shouldn't I?"

"Because Max is going to be the busiest young person in town to-night.
And that is why I've been looking for you.... Conforming to his custom,
he's giving an advance glimpse of the production to the critics and a
few friends in the form of a final grand dress-rehearsal to-night.
Again, in conformance with his custom, he has honoured me with a bid.
I've been chasing you all day to find out if you'd care to go--"

"Eight o'clock and a bit after," Whitaker interrupted briskly,
consulting his watch. "Here, boy," he hailed a passing page; "call a
taxicab for me." And then, rising alertly: "Come along; I've got to
hustle home and make myself look respectable enough for the occasion;
but at that, with luck, I fancy we'll be there before the first
curtain."

This mood of faith, of self-reliance and assured optimism held unruffled
throughout the dash homewards, his hurried change of clothing and the
ride to the theatre. Nothing that Ember, purposely pessimistic, could
say or do availed to diminish the high buoyancy of his humour. He
maintained a serene faith in his star, a spirited temper that refused to
recognize obstacles in the way of his desire.

In the taxicab, en route to the Theatre Max, he contrived even to distil
a good omen from the driving autumnal downpour itself.... The rain-swept
pavements, their polished blackness shot with a thousand strands of
golden brilliance; the painted bosom of the lowering, heavy sky; the
tear-drenched window-panes; even the incessant crepitation on the roof
of the scurrying, skidding cab seemed to lend a colour of assurance to
his thoughts.

"On such a day as this," he told his doubting friend, "I won her first;
on such a day I shall win her anew, finally and for all time!..."

From Broadway to Sixth Avenue, Forty-sixth Street was bright with the
yellow glare of the huge sign in front of the Theatre Max. But this
night, unlike that other night when he had approached the stage of his
wife's triumphs, there was no crawling rank of cabs, no eager and
curious press of people in the street; but few vehicles disputed their
way; otherwise the rain and the hurrying, rain-coated wayfarers had the
thoroughfare to themselves.... And even this he chose to consider a
favourable omen: there was not now a public to come between him and his
love--only Max and her frightened fancies.

The man at the door recognized Ember with a cheerful nod; Whitaker he
did not know.

"Just in time, Mr. Ember; curtain's been up about ten minutes...."

The auditorium was in almost total darkness. A single voice was audible
from the stage that confronted it like some tremendous, moonlight canvas
in a huge frame of tarnished gold. They stole silently round the
orchestra seats to the stage-box--the same box that Whitaker had on the
former occasion occupied in company with Max.

They succeeded in taking possession without attracting attention, either
from the owners of that scanty scattering of shirt-bosoms in the
orchestra--the critical fraternity and those intimates bidden by the
manager to the first glimpse of his new revelation in stage-craft--or
from those occupying the stage.

The latter were but two. Evidently, though the curtain had been up for
some minutes, the action of the piece had not yet been permitted to
begin to unfold. Whitaker inferred that Max had been dissatisfied with
something about the lighting of the scene. The manager was standing in
mid-stage, staring up at the borders: a stout and pompous figure,
tenacious to every detail of that public self which he had striven so
successfully to make unforgettably individual; a figure quaintly
incongruous in his impeccable morning-coat and striped trousers and
flat-brimmed silk hat, perched well back on his head, with his malacca
stick and lemon-coloured gloves and small and excessively glossy
patent-leather shoes, posed against the counterfeit of a moonlit formal
garden.

Aside from him, the only other occupant of the stage was Sara Law. She
sat on a stone bench with her profile to the audience, her back to the
right of the proscenium arch; so that she could not, without turning,
have noticed the entrance of Ember and her husband. A shy, slight,
deathlessly youthful figure in pale and flowing garments that moulded
themselves fluently to her sweet and girlish body, in a posture of
pensive meditation: she was nothing less than adorable. Whitaker could
not take his eyes from her, for sheer wonder and delight.

He was only vaguely conscious that Max, at length satisfied, barked a
word to that effect to an unseen electrician off to the left, and waving
his hand with a gesture indelibly associated with his personality,
dragged a light cane-seated chair to the left of the proscenium and sat
himself down.

"All ready?" he demanded in a sharp and irritable voice.

The woman on the marble seat nodded imperceptibly.

"Go ahead," snapped the manager....

An actor advanced from the wings, paused and addressed the seated woman.
His lines were brief. She lifted her head with a startled air,
listening. He ceased to speak, and her voice of golden velvet filled the
house with the flowing beauty of its unforgettably sweet modulations.
Beyond the footlights a handful of sophisticated and sceptical habitués
of the theatre forgot for the moment their ingrained incredulity and
thrilled in sympathy with the wonderful rapture of that voice of eternal
Youth. Whitaker himself for the time forgot that he was the husband of
this woman and her lover; she moved before his vision in the guise of
some divine creature, divinely unattainable, a dream woman divorced
utterly from any semblance of reality.

That opening scene was one perhaps unique in the history of the stage.
Composed by Max in some mad, poetical moment of inspired plagiarism, it
not only owned a poignant and enthralling beauty of imagery, but it
moved with an almost Grecian certitude, with a significance
extraordinarily direct and devoid of circumlocution, seeming to lay bare
the living tissue of immortal drama.

But with the appearance of other characters, there came a change: the
rare atmosphere of the opening began to dissipate perceptibly. The
action clouded and grew vague. The auditors began to feel the
flutterings of uncertainty in the air. Something was failing to cross
the footlights. The sweeping and assured gesture of the accomplished
playwright faltered: a clumsy bit of construction was damningly exposed;
faults of characterization multiplied depressingly. Sara Law herself
lost an indefinable proportion of her rare and provoking charm; the
strangeness of failing to hold her audience in an ineluctable grasp
seemed at once to nettle and distress her. Max himself seemed suddenly
to wake to the amazing fact that there was something enormously and
irremediably wrong; he began with exasperating frequency to halt the
action, to interrupt scenes with advice and demands for repetition. He
found it impossible to be still, to keep his seat or control his
rasping, irritable voice. Subordinate characters on the stage lost their
heads and either forgot to act or overacted. And then--intolerable
climax!--of a sudden somebody in the orchestra chairs laughed in
outright derision in the middle of a passage meant to be tenderly
emotional.

The voice of Sara Law broke and fell. She stood trembling and unstrung.
Max without a word turned on his heel and swung out of sight into the
wings. Four other actors on the stage, aside from Sara Law, hesitated
and drew together in doubt and bewilderment. And then abruptly, with no
warning whatever, the illusion of gloom in the auditorium and moonlight
in the postscenium was rent away by the glare of the full complement of
electric lights installed in the house.

A thought later, while still all were blinking and gasping with
surprise, Max strode into view just behind the footlights. Halting, he
swept the array of auditors with an ominous and truculent stare.

So quickly was this startling change consummated that Whitaker had no
more than time to realize the reappearance of the manager before he
caught his wrathful and venomous glance fixed to his own bewildered
face. And something in the light that flickered wildly behind Max's eyes
reminded him so strongly of a similar expression he had remarked in the
eyes of Drummond, the night the latter had been captured by Ember and
Sum Fat, that in alarm he half rose from his seat.

Simultaneously he saw Max spring toward the box, with a distorted and
snarling countenance. He was tugging at something in his pocket. It
appeared in the shape of a heavy pistol.

Instantly Whitaker was caught and tripped by Ember and sent sprawling on
the floor of the box. As this happened, he heard the voice of the
firearm, sharp and vicious--a single report.

Unhurt, he picked himself up in time to catch a glimpse of Max, on the
stage, momentarily helpless in the embrace of a desperate and frantic
woman who had caught his arms from behind and, presumably, had so
deflected his arm. In the same breath Ember, who had leaped to the
railing round the box, threw himself across the footlights with the
lithe certainty of a beast of prey and, seemingly in as many deft
motions, knocked the pistol from the manager's hand, wrested him from
the arms of the actress, laid him flat and knelt upon him.

With a single bound Whitaker followed him to the stage; in another he
had his wife in his arms and was soothing her first transports of
semi-hysterical terror....

       *       *       *       *       *

It was possibly a quarter of an hour later when Ember paused before a
door in the ground floor dressing-room gangway of the Theatre Max--a
door distinguished by the initials "S L" in the centre of a golden star.
With some hesitation, with even a little diffidence, he lifted a hand
and knocked.

At once the door was opened by the maid, Elise. Recognizing Ember, she
smiled and stood aside, making way for him to enter the small, curtained
lobby.

"Madam--and Monsieur," she said with smiling significance, "told me to
show you in at once, Monsieur Ember."

From beyond the curtains, Whitaker's voice lifted up impatiently: "That
you, old man? Come right in!"

Nodding to the maid, Ember thrust aside the portières and stepped into
the brightly-lighted dressing-room, then paused, bowing and smiling his
self-contained, tolerant smile: in appearance as imperturbable and
well-groomed as though he had just escaped from the attentions of a
valet, rather than from a furious hand-to-hand tussle with a vicious
monomaniac.

Mary Whitaker, as yet a little pale and distrait and still in costume,
was reclining on a chaise-longue. Whitaker was standing close beside his
wife; his face the theatre of conflicting emotions; Ember, at least,
thought with a shrewd glance to recognize a pulsating light of joy
beneath a mask of interest and distress and a flush of embarrassment.

"I am intruding?" he suggested gravely, with a slight turn as if
offering to withdraw.

"No."

The word faltering on the lips of Mary Whitaker was lost in an emphatic
iteration by Whitaker.

"Sit down!" he insisted. "As if we'd let you escape, now, after you'd
kept us here in suspense!"

He offered a chair, but Ember first advanced to take the hand held out
to him by the woman on the chaise-longue.

"You are feeling--more composed?" he inquired.

Her gaze met his bravely. "I am--troubled, perhaps--but happy," she
said.

"Then I am very glad," he said, smiling at the delicate colour that
enhanced her exquisite beauty as she made the confession. "I had hoped
as much." He looked from the one to the other. "You ... have made up
your minds?"

The wife answered for both: "It is settled, dear friend: I can struggle
no longer. I thought myself a strong woman; I have tried to believe
myself a genius bound upon the wheel of an ill-starred destiny; but I
find I am"--the glorious voice trembled slightly--"only a woman in love
and no stronger than her love."

"I am very glad," Ember repeated, "for both your sakes. It's a happy
consummation of my dearest wishes."

"We owe you everything," Whitaker said with feeling, dropping an awkward
hand on the other's shoulder. "It was you who threw us together, down
there on the Great West Bay, so that we learned to know one another...."

"I plead guilty to that little plot--yes," Ember laughed. "But, best of
all, this comes at just the right time--the rightest time, when there
can no longer be any doubts or questions or misunderstandings, no ground
for further fears and apprehensions, when 'the destroying angel' of your
'ill-starred destiny,' my dear"--he turned to the woman--"is
exorcised--banished--proscribed--"

"Max--!" Whitaker struck in explosively.

"--is on his way to the police-station, well guarded," Ember affirmed
with a nod and a grim smile. "I have his confession, roughly jotted down
but signed, and attested by several witnesses.... I'm glad you were out
of the way; it was rather a painful scene, and disorderly; it wouldn't
have been pleasant for Mrs. Whitaker.... We had the deuce of a time
clearing the theatre: human curiosity is a tremendously persistent and
resistant force. And then I had some trouble dealing with the misplaced
loyalty of the staff of the house.... However, eventually I got Max to
myself--alone, that is, with several men I could depend on. And then I
heartlessly put him through the third degree--forestalling my friends,
the police. By dint of asserting as truths and personal discoveries what
I merely suspected, I broke down his denials. He owned up, doggedly
enough, and yet with that singular pride which I have learned to
associate with some phases of homicidal mania.... I won't distress you
with details: the truth is that Max was quite mad on the subject of his
luck; he considered it, as I suspected, indissolubly associated with
Sara Law. When poor Custer committed suicide, he saved Max from ruin and
innocently showed him the way to save himself thereafter, when he felt
in peril, by assassinating Hamilton and, later, Thurston. Drummond only
cheated a like fate, and you"--turning to Whitaker--"escaped by the
narrowest shave. Max hadn't meant to run the risk of putting you out of
the way unless he thought it absolutely necessary, but the failure of
his silly play in rehearsal to-night, coupled with the discovery that
you were in the theatre, drove him temporarily insane with hate, chagrin
and jealousy."

Concluding, Ember rose. "I must follow him now to the police-station....
I shall see you both soon again--?"

The woman gave him both her hands. "There's no way to thank you," she
said--"our dear, dear friend!"

"No way," Whitaker echoed regretfully.

"No way?" Ember laughed quietly, holding her hands tightly clasped. "But
I see you together--happy--Oh, believe me, I am fully thanked!"

Bowing, he touched his lips gently to both hands, released them with a
little sigh that ended in a contented chuckle, exchanged a short, firm
grasp with Whitaker, and left them....

Whitaker, following almost immediately to the gangway, found that Ember
had already left the theatre.

For some minutes he wandered to and fro in the gangway, pausing now and
again on the borders of the deserted stage. There were but few of the
house staff visible, and those few were methodically busy with
preparations to close up. Beyond the dismal gutter of the footlights the
auditorium yawned cavernous and shadowy, peopled only by low rows of
chairs ghostly in their dust-cloths. The street entrances were already
closed, locked and dark. On the stage a single cluster-stand of electric
bulbs made visible the vast, gloomy dome of the flies and the
whitewashed walls against which sections of scenery were stacked like
cards. An electrician in his street clothes lounged beside the
door-keeper's cubicle, at the stage entrance, smoking a cigarette and
conferring with the doorman while subjecting Whitaker to a curious and
antagonistic stare. The muffled rumble of their voices were the only
sounds audible, aside from an occasional racket of boot-heels in the
gangways as one actor after another left his dressing-room and hastened
to the street, keen-set for the clash of gossiping tongues in theatrical
clubs and restaurants.

Gradually the building grew more and more empty and silent, until at
length Whitaker was left alone with the shadows and the two employees.
These last betrayed signs of impatience. He himself felt a little
sympathy for their temper. Women certainly did take an unconscionable
time to dress!...

At length he heard them hurrying along the lower gangway, and turned to
join his wife at the stage-entrance. Elise passed on, burdened with two
heavy hand-bags, and disappeared into the rain-washed alleyway. The
electrician detached his shoulders from the wall, ground his cigarette
under heel and lounged over to the switchboard.

Mary Whitaker turned her face, shadowy and mystical, touched with her
faint and inscrutable smile, up to her husband's.

"Wait," she begged in a whisper. "I want to see"--her breath
checked--"the end of it all."

They heard hissings and clickings at the switchboard. The gangway lights
vanished in a breath. The single cluster-stand on the stage
disappeared--and the house disappeared utterly with its extinguishment.
There remained alight only the single dull bulb in the doorman's
cubicle.

Whitaker slipped an arm round his wife. She trembled within his embrace.

"Black out," she said in a gentle and regretful voice: "the last exit:
Curtain--End of the Play!"

"No," he said in a voice of sublime confidence--"no; it's only
the prologue curtain. Now for the play, dear heart ... the real
play ... life ... love...."





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