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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Man on the Box" ***

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[Illustration: Henry E. Dixey in "The Man on the Box."]

THE MAN ON THE BOX

by

HAROLD MACGRATH

Author of The Grey Cloak, The Puppet Crown

Illustrated by scenes from Walter N. Lawrence's beautiful production of
the play as seen for 123 nights at the Madison Square Theatre, New York



To Miss Louise Everts



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

    I Introduces My Hero

   II Introduces My Heroine

  III The Adventure Begins

   IV A Family Reunion

    V The Plot Thickens

   VI The Man on the Box

  VII A Police Affair

 VIII Another Salad Idea

   IX The Heroine Hires a Groom

    X Pirate

   XI The First Ride

  XII A Ticklish Business

 XIII A Runaway

  XIV An Ordeal or Two

   XV Retrospective

  XVI The Previous Affair

 XVII Dinner is Served

XVIII Caught!

  XIX "Oh, Mister Butler"

   XX The Episode of the Stove Pipe

  XXI The Rose

 XXII The Drama Unrolls

XXIII Something About Heroes

 XXIV A Fine Lover

  XXV A Fine Heroine, Too

 XXVI The Castle of Romance



_He either fears his fate too much,
  Or his deserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch
  To win or lose it all._



_Dramatis Personae_

_Colonel George Annesley_      A retired Army Officer

_Miss Betty Annesley_          His daughter

_Lieutenant Robert Warburton_  Lately resigned

_Mr. John Warburton_           His elder brother, of the War
                                    Department

_Mrs. John Warburton_          The elder brother's wife

_Miss Nancy Warburton_         The lieutenant's sister

_Mr. Charles Henderson_        Her fiance

_Count Karloff_                An unattached diplomat

_Colonel Frank Raleigh_        The Lieutenant's Regimental
                                    Colonel

_Mrs. Chadwick_                A product of Washington life

_Monsieur Pierre_              A chef

_Mademoiselle Celeste_         A lady's maid

_Jane_                         Mrs. Warburton's maid

_The Hopeful_                  A baby

_William_                      A stable-boy

_Fashionable People_           Necessary for a dinner party

_Celebrities_                  Also necessary for a dinner party

_Unfashionables_               Police, cabbies, grooms, clerks,
                                    etc.



TIME--Within the past ten years.

SCENE--Washington, D.C., and its environs.



I

INTRODUCES MY HERO


If you will carefully observe any map of the world that is divided into
inches at so many miles to the inch, you will be surprised as you
calculate the distance between that enchanting Paris of France and the
third-precinct police-station of Washington, D. C, which is not
enchanting. It is several thousand miles. Again, if you will take the
pains to run your glance, no doubt discerning, over the police-blotter
at the court (and frankly, I refuse to tell you the exact date of this
whimsical adventure), you will note with even greater surprise that all
this hubbub was caused by no crime against the commonwealth of the
Republic or against the person of any of its conglomerate people. The
blotter reads, in heavy simple fist, "disorderly conduct," a phrase
which is almost as embracing as the word diplomacy, or society, or
respectability.

So far as my knowledge goes, there is no such a person as James
Osborne. If, by any unhappy chance, he _does_ exist, I trust that he
will pardon the civil law of Washington, my own measure of familiarity,
and the questionable taste on the part of my hero--hero, because, from
the rise to the fall of the curtain, he occupies the center of the
stage in this little comedy-drama, and because authors have yet to find
a happy synonym for the word. The name James Osborne was given for the
simple reason that it was the first that occurred to the culprit's
mind, so desperate an effort did he make to hide his identity.
Supposing, for the sake of an argument in his favor, supposing he had
said John Smith or William Jones or John Brown? To this very day he
would have been hiring lawyers to extricate him from libel and
false-representation suits. Besides, had he given any of these names,
would not that hound-like scent of the ever suspicious police have been
aroused?

To move round and round in the circle of commonplace, and then to pop
out of it like a tailed comet! Such is the history of many a man's
life. I have a near friend who went away from town one fall, happy and
contented with his lot. And what do you suppose he found when he
returned home? He had been nominated for alderman. It is too early to
predict the fate of this unhappy man. And what tools Fate uses with
which to carve out her devious peculiar patterns! An Apache Indian,
besmeared with brilliant greases and smelling of the water that never
freezes, an understudy to Cupid? Fudge! you will say, or Pshaw! or
whatever slang phrase is handy and, prevalent at the moment you read
and run.

I personally warn you that this is a really-truly story, though I do
not undertake to force you to believe it; neither do I purvey many
grains of salt. If Truth went about her affairs laughing, how many more
persons would turn and listen! For my part, I believe it all nonsense
the way artists have pictured Truth. The idea is pretty enough, but so
far as hitting things, it recalls the woman, the stone, and the hen. I
am convinced that Truth goes about dressed in the dowdiest of clothes,
with black-lisle gloves worn at the fingers, and shoes run down in the
heels, an exact portrait of one of Phil May's lydies. Thus it is that
we pass her by, for the artistic sense in every being is repelled at
the sight of a dowdy with weeping eyes and a nose that has been rubbed
till it is as red as a winter apple. Anyhow, if she _does_ go about in
beautiful nudity, she ought at least to clothe herself with smiles and
laughter. There are sorry enough things in the world as it is, without
a lachrymal, hypochondriacal Truth poking her face in everywhere.

Not many months ago, while seated on the stone veranda in the rear of
the Metropolitan Club in Washington (I believe we were discussing the
merits of some very old product), I recounted some of the lighter
chapters of this adventure.

_"Eempossible!"_ murmured the Russian attache, just as if the matter
had not come under his notice semi-officially.

I presume that this exclamation disclosed another side to diplomacy,
which, stripped of its fine clothes, means dexterity in hiding secrets
and in negotiating lies. When one diplomat believes what another says,
it is time for the former's government to send him packing. However,
the Englishman at my right gazed smiling into his partly emptied glass
and gently stirred the ice. I admire the English diplomat; he never
wastes a lie. He is frugal and saving.

"But the newspapers!" cried the journalist. "They never ran a line; and
an exploit like this would scarce have escaped them."

"If I remember rightly, it was reported in the regular police items of
the day," said I.

"Strange that the boys didn't look behind the scenes."

"Oh, I don't know," remarked the congressman; "lots of things happen of
which you are all ignorant. The public mustn't know everything."

"But what's the hero's name?" asked the journalist.

"That's a secret," I answered. "Besides, when it comes to the bottom of
the matter, I had something to do with the suppressing of the police
news. In a case like this, suppression becomes a law not excelled by
that which governs self-preservation. My friend has a brother in the
War Department; and together we worked wonders."

"It's a jolly droll story, however you look at it," the Englishman
admitted.

"Nevertheless, it had its tragic side; but that is even more than ever
a secret."

The Englishman looked at me sharply, even gravely; but the veranda is
only dimly illuminated at night, and his scrutiny went unrewarded.

"Eh, well!" said the Russian; "your philosopher has observed that all
mankind loves a lover."

"As all womankind loves a love-story," the Englishman added. "You ought
to be very successful with the ladies,"--turning to me.

"Not inordinately; but I shall not fail to repeat your epigram,"--and I
rose.

My watch told me that it was half after eight; and one does not receive
every day an invitation to a dinner-dance at the Chevy Chase Club.

I dislike exceedingly to intrude my own personality into this
narrative, but as I was passively concerned, I do not see how I can
avoid it. Besides, being a public man, I am not wholly averse to
publicity; first person, singular, perpendicular, as Thackeray had it,
in type looks rather agreeable to the eye. And I rather believe that I
have a moral to point out and a parable to expound.

My appointment in Washington at that time was extraordinary; that is to
say, I was a member of one of those committees that are born frequently
and suddenly in Washington, and which almost immediately after
registration in the vital statistics of national politics. I had been
sent to Congress, a dazzling halo over my head, the pride and hope of
my little country town; I had been defeated for second term; had been
recommended to serve on the committee aforesaid; served with honor, got
my name in the great newspapers, and was sent back to Congress, where I
am still to-day, waiting patiently for a discerning president and a
vacancy in the legal department of the cabinet. That's about all I am
willing to say about myself.

As for this hero of mine, he was the handsomest, liveliest rascal you
would expect to meet in a day's ride. By handsome I do not mean perfect
features, red cheeks, Byronic eyes, and so forth. That style of beauty
belongs to the department of lady novelists. I mean that peculiar manly
beauty which attracts men almost as powerfully as it does women. For
the sake of a name I shall call him Warburton. His given name in actual
life is Robert. But I am afraid that nobody but his mother and one
other woman ever called him Robert. The world at large dubbed him Bob,
and such he will remain up to that day (and may it be many years
hence!) when recourse will be had to Robert, because "Bob" would
certainly look very silly on a marble shaft.

What a friendly sign is a nickname! It is always a good fellow who is
called Bob or Bill, Jack or Jim, Tom, Dick or Harry. Even out of
Theodore there comes a Teddy. I know in my own case the boys used to
call me Chuck, simply because I was named Charles. (I haven't the
slightest doubt that I was named Charles because my good mother thought
I looked something like Vandyke's _Charles I_, though at the time of my
baptism I wore no beard whatever.) And how I hated a boy with a
high-sounding, unnicknamable given name!--with his round white collar
and his long glossy curls! I dare say he hated the name, the collar,
and the curls even more than I did. Whenever you run across a name
carded in this stilted fashion, "A. Thingumy Soandso", you may make up
your mind at once that the owner is ashamed of his first name and is
trying manfully to live it down and eventually forgive his parents.

Warburton was graduated from West Point, ticketed to a desolate
frontier post, and would have worn out his existence there but for his
guiding star, which was always making frantic efforts to bolt its
established orbit. One day he was doing scout duty, perhaps half a mile
in advance of the pay-train, as they called the picturesque caravan
which, consisting of a canopied wagon and a small troop of cavalry in
dingy blue, made progress across the desert-like plains of Arizona. The
troop was some ten miles from the post, and as there had been no sign
of Red Eagle all that day, they concluded that the rumor of his being
on a drunken rampage with half a dozen braves was only a rumor.
Warburton had just passed over a roll of earth, and for a moment the
pay-train had dropped out of sight. It was twilight; opalescent waves
of heat rolled above the blistered sands. A pale yellow sky, like an
inverted bowl rimmed with delicate blue and crimson hues, encompassed
the world. The bliss of solitude fell on him, and, being something of a
poet, he rose to the stars. The smoke of his corncob pipe trailed
lazily behind him. The horse under him was loping along easily.
Suddenly the animal lifted his head, and his brown ears went forward.

At Warburton's left, some hundred yards distant, was a clump of osage
brush. Even as he looked, there came a puff of smoke, followed by the
evil song of a bullet. My hero's hat was carried away. He wheeled, dug
his heels into his horse, and cut back over the trail. There came a
second flash, a shock, and then a terrible pain in the calf of his left
leg. He fell over the neck of his horse to escape the third bullet. He
could see the Apache as he stood out from behind the bush. Warburton
yanked out his Colt and let fly. He heard a yell. It was very
comforting. That was all he remembered of the skirmish.

For five weeks he languished in the hospital. During that time he came
to the conclusion that he had had enough of military life in the West.
He applied for his discharge, as the compulsory term of service was at
an end. When his papers came he was able to get about with the aid of a
crutch. One morning his colonel entered his subaltern's bachelor
quarters.

"Wouldn't you rather have a year's leave of absence, than quit
altogether, Warburton?"

"A year's leave of absence?" cried the invalid, "I am likely to get
that, I am."

"If you held a responsible position I dare say it would be difficult.
As it is, I may say that I can obtain it for you. It will be months
before you can ride a horse with that leg."

"I thank you, Colonel Raleigh, but I think I'll resign. In fact, I have
resigned."

"We can withdraw that, if you but say the word. I don't want to lose
you, lad. You're the only man around here who likes a joke as well as I
do. And you will have a company if you'll only stick to it a little
longer."

"I have decided, Colonel. I'm sorry you feel like this about it. You
see, I have something like twenty-five thousand laid away. I want to
see at least five thousand dollars' worth of new scenery before I
shuffle off this mortal coil. The scenery around here palls on me. My
throat and eyes are always full of sand. I am off to Europe. Some day,
perhaps, the bee will buzz again; and when it does, I'll have you go
personally to the president."

"As you please, Warburton."

"Besides, Colonel, I have been reading Treasure Island again, and I've
got the fever in my veins to hunt for adventure, even a treasure. It's
in my blood to wander and do strange things, and here I've been
hampered all these years with routine. I shouldn't care if we had a
good fight once in a while. My poor old dad traveled around the world
three times, and I haven't seen anything of it but the maps."

"Go ahead, then. Only, talking about Treasure Island, don't you and
your twenty-five thousand run into some old Long John Silver."

"I'll take care."

And Mr. Robert packed up his kit and sailed away. Not many months
passed ere he met his colonel again, and under rather embarrassing
circumstances.



II

INTRODUCES MY HEROINE


Let me begin at the beginning. The boat had been two days out of
Southampton before the fog cleared away. On the afternoon of the third
day, Warburton curled up in his steamer-chair and lazily viewed the
blue October seas as they met and merged with the blue October skies. I
do not recollect the popular novel of that summer, but at any rate it
lay flapping at the side of his chair, forgotten. It never entered my
hero's mind that some poor devil of an author had sweated and labored
with infinite pains over every line, and paragraph, and page-labored
with all the care and love his heart and mind were capable of, to
produce this finished child of fancy; or that this same author, even at
this very moment, might be seated on the veranda of his beautiful
summer villa, figuring out royalties on the backs of stray envelopes.
No, he never thought of these things.

What with the wind and the soft, ceaseless jar of the throbbing
engines, half a dream hovered above his head, and touched him with a
gentle, insistent caress. If you had passed by him this afternoon, and
had been anything of a mathematician who could straighten out
geometrical angles, you would have come close to his height had you
stopped at five feet nine. Indeed, had you clipped off the heels of his
low shoes, you would have been exact. But all your nice calculations
would not have solved his weight. He was slender, but he was hard and
compact. These hard, slender fellows sometimes weigh more than your men
of greater bulk. He tipped the scales at one hundred sixty-two, and he
looked twenty pounds less. He was twenty-eight; a casual glance at him,
and you would have been willing to wager that the joy of casting his
first vote was yet to be his.

The princess commands that I describe in detail the charms of this Army
Adonis. Far be it that I should disobey so august a command, being, as
I am, the prime minister in this her principality of Domestic Felicity.
Her brother has never ceased to be among the first in her dear regard.
He possessed the merriest black eyes: his mother's eyes, as I, a boy,
remember them. No matter how immobile his features might be, these eyes
of his were ever ready for laughter. His nose was clean-cut and
shapely. A phrenologist would have said that his head did not lack the
bump of caution; but I know better. At present he wore a beard; so this
is as large an inventory of his personal attractions as I am able to
give. When he shaves off his beard, I shall be pleased to add further
particulars. I often marvel that the women did not turn his head. They
were always sending him notes and invitations and cutting dances for
him. Perhaps his devil-may-care air had something to do with the
enchantment. I have yet to see his equal as a horseman. He would have
made it interesting for that pair of milk-whites which our old friend,
Ulysses (or was it Diomedes?) had such ado about.

Every man has some vice or other, even if it is only being good.
Warburton had perhaps two: poker and tobacco. He would get out of bed
at any hour if some congenial spirit knocked at the door and whispered
that a little game was in progress, and that his money was needed to
keep it going. I dare say that you know all about these little games.
But what would you? What is a man to do in a country where you may buy
a whole village for ten dollars? Warburton seldom drank, and, like the
author of this precious volume, only special vintages.

At this particular moment this hero of mine was going over the monotony
of the old days in Arizona, the sand-deserts, the unlovely landscapes,
the dull routine, the indifferent skirmishes with cattle-men and
Indians; the pagan bullet which had plowed through his leg. And now it
was all over; he had surrendered his straps; he was a private citizen,
with an income sufficient for his needs. It will go a long way,
forty-five hundred a year, if one does not attempt to cover the
distance in a five-thousand motor-car; and he hated all locomotion that
was not horse-flesh.

For nine months he had been wandering over Europe, if not happy, at
least in a satisfied frame of mind. Four of these months had been
delightfully passed in Paris; and, as his nomad excursions had
invariably terminated in that queen of cities, I make Paris the
starting point of his somewhat remarkable adventures. Besides, it was
in Paris that he first saw Her. And now, here he was at last,
homeward-bound. That phrase had a mighty pleasant sound; it was to the
ear what honey is to the tongue. Still, he might yet have been in Paris
but for one thing: She was on board this very boat.

Suddenly his eyes opened full wide, bright with eagerness.

"It is She!" he murmured. He closed his eyes again, the hypocrite!

Permit me to introduce you to my heroine. Mind you, she is not _my_
creation; only Heaven may produce her like, and but once. She is well
worth turning around to gaze at. Indeed I know more than one fine
gentleman who forgot the time of day, the important engagement, or the
trend of his thought, when she passed by.

She was coming forward, leaning against the wind and inclining to the
uncertain roll of the ship. A gray raincoat fitted snugly the youthful
rounded figure. Her hands were plunged into the pockets. You may be
sure that Mr. Robert noted through his half-closed eyelids these
inconsequent details. A tourist hat sat jauntily on the fine light
brown hair, that color which has no appropriate metaphor. (At least, I
have never found one, and I am _not_ in love with her and _never_ was.)
Warburton has described to me her eyes, so I am positive that they were
as heavenly blue as a rajah's sapphire. Her height is of no moment.
What man ever troubled himself about the height of a woman, so long as
he wasn't undersized himself? What pleased Warburton was the exquisite
skin. He was always happy with his comparisons, and particularly when
he likened her skin to the bloomy olive pallor of a young peach. The
independent stride was distinguishingly American. Ah, the charm of
these women who are my countrywomen! They come, they go, alone,
unattended, courageous without being bold, self-reliant without being
rude; inimitable. In what an amiable frame of mind Nature must have
been on the day she cast these molds! But I proceed. The young woman's
chin was tilted, and Warburton could tell by the dilated nostrils that
she was breathing in the gale with all the joy of living, filling her
healthy lungs with it as that rare daughter of the Cyprian Isle might
have done as she sprang that morn from the jeweled Mediterranean spray,
that beggar's brooch of Neptune's.

Warburton's heart hadn't thrilled so since the day when he first donned
cadet gray. There was scarce any room for her to pass between his chair
and the rail; and this knowledge filled the rascal with exultation.
Nearer and nearer she came. He drew in his breath sharply as the corner
of his foot-rest (aided by the sly wind) caught her raincoat.

"I beg your pardon!" he said, sitting up.

She quickly released her coat, smiled faintly, and passed on.

Sometimes the most lasting impressions are those which are printed most
lightly on the memory. Mr. Robert says that he never will forget that
first smile. And he didn't even know her name then.

I was about to engage your attention with a description of the villain,
but on second thought I have decided that it would be rather unfair.
For at that moment he was at a disadvantage. Nature was punishing him
for a few shortcomings. The steward that night informed Warburton, in
answer to his inquiries, that he, the villain, was dreadfully seasick,
and was begging him, the steward, to scuttle the ship and have done
with it. I have my doubts regarding this. Mr. Robert is inclined to
flippancy at times. It wasn't seasickness; and after all is said and
done, it is putting it harshly to call this man a villain. I recant.
True villainy is always based upon selfishness. Remember this, my wise
ones.

Warburton was somewhat subdued when he learned that the suffering
gentleman was _her_ father.

"What did you say the name was?" he asked innocently. Until now he
hadn't had the courage to put the question to any one, or to prowl
around the purser's books.

"Annesley; Colonel Annesley and daughter," answered the unsuspecting
steward.

Warburton knew nothing then of the mental tragedy going on behind the
colonel's state-room door. How should he have known? On the contrary,
he believed that the father of such a girl must be a most knightly and
courtly gentleman. He _was_, in all outward appearance. There had been
a time, not long since, when he had been knightly and courtly in all
things.

Surrounding every upright man there is a mire, and if he step not
wisely, he is lost. There is no coming back; step by step he must go on
and on, till he vanishes and a bubble rises over where he but lately
stood. That he misstepped innocently does not matter; mire and evil
have neither pity nor reason. To spend what is not ours and then to try
to recover it, to hide the guilty step: this is futility. From the
alpha men have made this step; to the omega they will make it, with the
same unchanging futility. After all, it _is_ money. Money _is_ the root
of all evil; let him laugh who will, in his heart of hearts he knows it.

Money! Have you never heard that siren call to you, call seductively
from her ragged isle, where lurk the reefs of greed and selfishness?
Money! What has this siren not to offer? Power, ease, glory, luxury;
aye, I had almost said love! But, no; love is the gift of God, money is
the invention of man: all the good, all the evil, in the heart of this
great humanity.



III

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS


It was only when the ship was less than a day's journey off Sandy Hook
that the colonel came on deck, once more to resume his interest in
human affairs. How the girl hovered about him! She tucked the shawl
more snugly around his feet; she arranged and rearranged the pillows
back of his head; she fed him from a bowl of soup; she read from some
favorite book; she smoothed the furrowed brow; she stilled the long,
white, nervous fingers with her own small, firm, brown ones; she was
mother and daughter in one. Wherever she moved, the parent eye followed
her, and there lay in its deeps a strange mixture of fear, and trouble,
and questioning love. All the while he drummed ceaselessly on the arms
of his chair.

And Mr. Robert, watching all these things from afar, Mr. Robert sighed
dolorously. The residue air in his lungs was renewed more frequently
than nature originally intended it should be. Love has its beneficences
as well as its pangs, only they are not wholly appreciable by the
recipient. For what is better than a good pair of lungs constantly
filled and refilled with pure air? Mr. Robert even felt a twinge of
remorse besides. He was brother to a girl almost as beautiful as yonder
one (to my mind far more beautiful!) and he recalled that in two years
he had not seen her nor made strenuous efforts to keep up the
correspondence. Another good point added to the score of love! And,
alas! he might never see this charming girl again, this daughter so
full of filial love and care. He had sought the captain, but that hale
and hearty old sea-dog had politely rebuffed him.

"My dear young man," he said, "I do all I possibly can for the
entertainment and comfort of my passengers, but in this case I must
refuse your request."

"And pray, why, sir?" demanded Mr. Robert, with dignity.

"For the one and simple reason that Colonel Annesley expressed the
desire to be the recipient of no ship introductions."

"What the deuce is he, a billionaire?"

"You have me there, sir. I confess that I know nothing whatever about
him. This is the first time he has ever sailed on my deck."

All of which perfectly accounts for Mr. Robert's sighs in what
musicians call the _doloroso_. If only he knew some one who knew the
colonel! How simple it would be! Certainly, a West Point graduate would
find some consideration. But the colonel spoke to no one save his
daughter, and his daughter to none but her parent, her maid, and the
stewardess. Would they remain in New York, or would they seek their
far-off southern home? Oh, the thousands of questions which surged
through his brain! From time to time he glanced sympathetically at the
colonel, whose fingers drummed and drummed and drummed.

"Poor wretch! his stomach must be in bad shape. Or maybe he has the
palsy." Warburton mused upon the curious incertitude of the human
anatomy.

But Colonel Annesley did not have the palsy. What he had is at once the
greatest blessing and the greatest curse of God--remembrance, or
conscience, if you will.

What a beautiful color her hair was, dappled with sunshine and shadow!
... Pshaw! Mr. Robert threw aside his shawl and book (it is of no real
importance, but I may as well add that he never completed the reading
of that summer's most popular novel) and sought the smoking-room,
where, with the aid of a fat perfecto and a liberal stack of blues, he
proceeded to divert himself till the boat reached quarantine. I shall
not say that he left any of his patrimony at the mahogany table with
its green-baize covering and its little brass disks for cigar ashes,
but I am certain that he did not make one of those stupendous winnings
we often read about and never witness. This much, however: he made the
acquaintance of a very important personage, who was presently to add no
insignificant weight on the scales of Mr. Robert's destiny.

He was a Russian, young, handsome, suave, of what the newspapers insist
on calling distinguished bearing. He spoke English pleasantly but
imperfectly. He possessed a capital fund of anecdote, and Warburton,
being an Army man, loved a good droll story. It was a revelation to see
the way he dipped the end of his cigar into his coffee, a stimulant
which he drank with Balzacian frequency and relish. Besides these
accomplishments, he played a very smooth hand at the great American
game. While Mr. Robert's admiration was not aroused, it was surely
awakened.

My hero had no trouble with the customs officials. A brace of old
French dueling pistols and a Turkish simitar were the only articles
which might possibly have been dutiable. The inspector looked hard, but
he was finally convinced that Mr. Robert was _not_ a professional
curio-collector. Warburton, never having returned from abroad before,
found a deal of amusement and food for thought in the ensuing scenes.
There was one man, a prim, irascible old fellow, who was not allowed to
pass in two dozen fine German razors. There was a time of it, angry
words, threats, protestations. The inspector stood firm. The old
gentleman, in a fine burst of passion, tossed the razors into the
water. Then they were going to arrest him for smuggling. A friend
extricated him. The old gentleman went away, saying something about the
tariff and an unreasonably warm place which has as many synonyms as an
octopus has tentacles.

Another man, his mouth covered by an enormous black mustache which must
have received a bath every morning in coffee or something stronger,
came forward pompously. I don't know to this day what magic word he
said, but the inspectors took never a peep into his belongings.
Doubtless they knew him, and that his word was as good as his bond.

Here a woman wept because the necklace she brought trustingly from
Rotterdam must be paid for once again; and here another, who clenched
her fists (do women have fists?) and if looks could have killed there
would have been a vacancy in customs forthwith. All her choicest linen
strewn about on the dirty boards, all soiled and rumpled and useless!

When the colonel's turn came, Warburton moved within hearing distance.
How glorious she looked in that smart gray traveling habit! With what
well-bred indifference she gazed upon the scene! Calmly her glance
passed among the circles of strange faces, and ever and anon returned
to the great ship which had safely brought her back to her native land.
There were other women who were just as well-bred and indifferent, only
Warburton had but one pair of eyes. Sighs in the _doloroso_ again. Ha!
if only one of these meddling jackasses would show her some disrespect
and give him the opportunity of avenging the affront!

(Come, now; let me be your confessor. Have you never thought and acted
like this hero of mine? Haven't you been just as melodramatic and
ridiculous? It is nothing to be ashamed of. For my part, I should
confess to it with the same equanimity as I should to the mumps or the
measles. It comes with, and is part and parcel of, all that strange
medley we find in the Pandora box of life. Love has no diagnosis, so
the doctors say. 'Tis all in the angle of vision.)

But nothing happened. Colonel Annesley and his daughter were old hands;
they had gone through all this before. Scarce an article in their
trunks was disturbed. There was a slight duty of some twelve dollars
(Warburton's memory is marvelous), and their luggage was free. But
alas, for the perspicacity of the inspectors! I can very well imagine
the god of irony in no better or more fitting place than in the United
States Customs House.

Once outside, the colonel caught the eye of a cabby, and he and his
daughter stepped in.

"Holland House, sir, did you say?" asked the cabby.

The colonel nodded. The cabby cracked his whip, and away they rolled
over the pavement.

Warburton's heart gave a great bound. She had actually leaned out of
the cab, and for one brief moment their glances had met. Scarce knowing
what he did, he jumped into another cab and went pounding after. It was
easily ten blocks from the pier when the cabby raised the lid and
peered down at his fare.

"Do you want t' folly them ahead?" he cried.

"No, no!" Warburton was startled out of his wild dream. "Drive to the
Holland House--no--to the Waldorf. Yes, the Waldorf; and keep your nag
going."

"Waldorf it is, sir!" The lid above closed.

Clouds had gathered in the heavens. It was beginning to rain. But
Warburton neither saw the clouds nor felt the first few drops of rain.
All the way up-town he planned and planned--as many plans as there were
drops of rain; the rain wet him, but the plans drowned him--he became
submerged. If I were an expert at analysis, which I am not, I should
say that Mr. Robert was not violently in love; rather I should observe
that he was fascinated with the first really fine face he had seen in
several years. Let him never see Miss Annesley again, and in two weeks
he would entirely forget her. I know enough of the race to be able to
put forward this statement. Of course, it is understood that he would
have to mingle for the time among other handsome women. Now, strive as
he would, he could not think out a feasible plan. One plan might have
given him light, but the thousand that came to him simply overwhelmed
him fathoms deep. If he could find some one he knew at the Holland
House, some one who would strike up a smoking-room acquaintance with
the colonel, the rest would be simple enough. Annesley--Annesley; he
couldn't place the name. Was he a regular, retired, or a veteran of the
Civil War? And yet, the name was not totally unfamiliar. Certainly, he
was a fine-looking old fellow, with his white hair and Alexandrian
nose. And here he was, he, Robert Warburton, in New York, simply
because he happened to be in the booking office of the _Gare du Nord_
one morning and overheard a very beautiful girl say: "Then we shall
sail from Southampton day after to-morrow." Of a truth, it is the
infinitesimal things that count heaviest.

So deep was he in the maze of his tentative romance that when the cab
finally stopped abruptly, he was totally unaware of the transition from
activity to passivity.

"Hotel, sir!"

"Ah, yes!" Warburton leaped out, fumbled in his pocket, and brought
forth a five-dollar note, which he gave to the cabby. He did not
realize it, but this was the only piece of American money he had on his
person. Nor did he wait for the change. Mr. Robert was exceedingly
careless with his money at this stage of his infatuation; being a
soldier, he never knew the real value of legal tender. I know that _I_
should never have been guilty of such liberality, not even if Mister
Cabby had bowled me from Harlem to Brooklyn. And you may take my word
for it, the gentleman in the ancient plug-hat did not wait to see if
his fare had made a mistake, but trotted away good and hearty. The cab
system is one of the most pleasing and amiable phases of metropolitan
life.

Warburton rushed into the noisy, gorgeous lobby, and wandered about
till he espied the desk. Here he turned over his luggage checks to the
clerk and said that these accessories of travel must be in his room
before eight o'clock that night, or there would be trouble. It was now
half after five. The clerk eagerly scanned the register. Warburton,
Robert Warburton; it was not a name with which _he_ was familiar. A
thin film of icy hauteur spread over his face.

"Very well, sir. Do you wish a bath with your room?"

"Certainly." Warburton glanced at his watch again.

"The price--"

"Hang the price! A room, a room with a bath--that's what I want. Have
you got it?" This was said with a deal of real impatience and a hauteur
that overtopped the clerk's.

The film of ice melted into a gracious smile. Some new millionaire from
Pittsburg, thought the clerk. He swung the book around.

"You have forgotten your place of residence, sir," he said.

"Place of residence!"

Warburton looked at the clerk in blank astonishment. Place of
residence? Why, heaven help him, he had none, none! For the first time
since he left the Army the knowledge came home to him, and it struck
rather deep. He caught up the pen, poised it an indecisive moment, then
hastily scribbled Paris: as well Paris as anywhere. Then he took out
his wallet, comfortably packed with English and French bank-notes, and
a second wave of astonishment rolled over him. Altogether, it was a
rare good chance that he ever came to the surface again. No plan, no
place of residence, no American money!

"Good Lord! I forgot all about exchanging it on shipboard!" he
exclaimed.

"Don't let that trouble you, sir," said the clerk, with real
affability. "Our own bank will exchange your money in the morning."

"But I haven't a penny of American money on my person!"

"How much will you need for the evening, sir?"

"Not more than fifty."

The clerk brought forth a slip of paper, wrote something on it, and
handed it to Warburton.

"Sign here," he said, indicating a blank space.

And presently Mr. Robert, having deposited his foreign money in the
safe, pocketed the receipt for its deposit along with five crisp
American notes. There is nothing lacking in these modern hostelries,
excepting it be a church.

Our homeless young gentleman lighted a cigar and went out under the
portico. An early darkness had settled over the city, and a heavy
steady rain was falling. The asphalt pavements glistened and twinkled
as far as the eye's range could reach. A thousand lights gleamed down
on him, and he seemed to be standing in a canon dappled with fireflies.
Place of residence! Neither the fig-tree nor the vine! Did he lose his
money to-morrow, the source of his small income, he would be without a
roof over his head. True, his brother's roof would always welcome him:
but a roof-tree of his own! And he could lay claim to no city, either,
having had the good fortune to be born in a healthy country town. Place
of residence! Truly he had none; a melancholy fact which he had not
appreciated till now. And all this had slipped his mind because of a
pair of eyes as heavenly blue as a rajah's sapphire!

Hang it, what should he do, now that he was no longer traveling, now
that his time was no longer Uncle Sam's? He had never till now known
idleness, and the thought of it did not run smoothly with the grain. He
was essentially a man of action. There might be some good sport for a
soldier in Venezuela, but that was far away and uncertain. It was quite
possible Jack, his brother, might find him a post as military attache,
perhaps in France, perhaps in Belgium, perhaps in Vienna. That was the
goal of more than one subaltern. The English novelist is to be blamed
for this ambition. But Warburton could speak French with a certain
fluency, and his German was good enough to swear by; so it will be seen
that he had some ground upon which to build this ambition.

Heigho! The old homestead was gone; his sister dwelt under the elder
brother's roof; the prodigal was alone.

"But there's always a fatted calf waiting in Washington," he laughed
aloud. "Once a soldier, always a soldier. I suppose I'll be begging the
colonel to have a chat with the president. There doesn't seem to be any
way of getting out of it. I'll have to don the old togs again. I ought
to write a letter to Nancy, but it will be finer to drop in on 'em
unexpectedly. Bless her heart! (So say I!) And Jack's, too, and his
little wife's! And I haven't written a line in eight weeks. But I'll
make it all up in ten minutes. And if I haven't a roof-tree, at least
I've got the ready cash and can buy one any day." All of which proves
that Mr. Robert possessed a buoyant spirit, and refused to be downcast
for more than one minute at a time.

He threw away his cigar and reentered the hotel, and threaded his way
through the appalling labyrinths of corridors till he found some one to
guide him to the barber shop, where he could have his hair cut and his
beard trimmed in the good old American way, money no object. For a plan
had at last come to him; and it wasn't at all bad. He determined to
dine at the Holland House at eight-thirty. It was quite possible that
he would see Her.

My only wish is that, when I put on evening clothes (in my humble
opinion, the homeliest and most uncomfortable garb that man ever
invented!) I might look one-quarter as handsome and elegant as Mr.
Robert looked, as he came down stairs at eight-ten that night. He
wasn't to be blamed if the women glanced in his direction, and then
whispered and whispered, and nodded and nodded. Ordinarily he would
have observed these signs of feminine approval, for there was warm
blood in his veins, and it is proverbial that the Army man is gallant.
But to-night Diana and her white huntresses might have passed him by
and not aroused even a flicker of interest or surprise on his face.
There was only one pair of eyes, one face, and to see these he would
have gladly gone to the ends of the earth, travel-weary though he was.

He smoked feverishly, and was somewhat troubled to find that he hadn't
quite got his land legs, as they say. The floor swayed at intervals,
and the throbbing of the engines came back. He left the hotel, hailed a
cab, and was driven down Fifth Avenue. He stopped before the fortress
of privileges. From the cab it looked very formidable. Worldly as he
was, he was somewhat innocent. He did not know that New York hotels are
formidable only when your money gives out. To get past all these
brass-buttoned lackeys and to go on as though he really had business
within took no small quantity of nerve. However, he slipped by the
outpost without any challenge and boldly approached the desk. A quick
glance at the register told him that they had indeed put up at this
hotel. He could not explain why he felt so happy over his discovery.
There are certain exultations which are inexplicable. As he turned away
from the desk, he bumped into a gentleman almost as elegantly attired
as himself.

"I beg your pardon!" he cried, stepping aside.

"What? Mr. _Warrr_burton?"

Mr. Robert, greatly surprised and confused, found himself shaking hands
with his ship acquaintance, the Russian.

"I am very glad to see you again, Count," said Warburton, recovering.

"A great pleasure! It is wonderful how small a city is. I had never
expect' to see you again. Are you stopping here?" I had intended to try
to reproduce the Russian's dialect, but one dialect in a book is
enough; and we haven't reached the period of its activity.

"No, I am at the Waldorf."

"Eh? I have heard all about you millionaires."

"Oh, we are not all of us millionaires who stop there," laughed
Warburton. "There are some of us who try to make others believe that we
are." Then, dropping into passable French, he added: "I came here
to-night with the purpose of dining. Will you do me the honor of
sharing my table?"

"You speak French?"--delighted. "It is wonderful. This English has so
many words that mean so many things, that of all languages I speak it
with the least fluency. But it is my deep regret, Monsieur, to refuse
your kind invitation. I am dining with friends."

"Well, then, breakfast to-morrow at eleven," Warburton urged, for he
had taken a fancy to this affable Russian.

"Alas! See how I am placed. I am forced to leave for Washington early
in the morning. We poor diplomats, we earn our honors. But my business
is purely personal in this case, neither political nor diplomatic." The
count drew his gloves thoughtfully through his fingers. "I shall of
course pay my respects to my ambassador. Do I recollect your saying
that you belonged to the United States Army?"

"I recently resigned. My post was in a wild country, with little or
nothing to do; monotony and routine."

"You limp slightly?"

"A trifling mishap,"--modestly.

"Eh, you do wrong. You may soon be at war with England, and having
resigned your commission, you would lose all you had waited these years
for."

Warburton smiled. "We shall not go to war with England."

"This Army of yours is small."

"Well, yes; but made of pretty good material--fighting machines with
brains."

"Ha!" The count laughed softly. "Bah! how I detest all these cars and
ships! Will you believe me, I had rather my little chateau, my
vineyard, and my wheat fields, than all the orders.... Eh, well, _my
country_: there must be some magic in that phrase. Of all loves, that
of country is the most lasting. Is that Balzac? I do not recall. Only
once in a century do we find a man who is willing to betray his
country, and even then he may have for his purpose neither hate,
revenge, nor love of power." A peculiar gravity sat on his mobile face,
caused, perhaps, by some disagreeable inward thought.

"How long shall you be in Washington?" asked Warburton.

The count shrugged. "Who can say?"

"I go to Washington myself within a few days."

"Till we meet again, then, Monsieur."

The count lifted his hat, a courtesy which was gracefully acknowledged
by the American; while the clerks at the desk eyed with tolerant
amusement these polite but rather unfamiliar ceremonies of departure.
These foreigners were odd duffers.

"A very decent chap," mused Warburton, "and a mighty shrewd hand at
poker--for a foreigner. He is going to Washington: we shall meet again.
I wonder if she's in the restaurant now."

Meet again? Decidedly; and had clairvoyance shown my hero that night
how he and the count were to meet again, certainly he would have
laughed.

If I dared, I should like to say a good deal more about this Russian.
But I have no desire to lose my head, politically or physically. Even
the newsboys are familiar with this great young man's name; and if I
should disclose it, you would learn a great many things which I have no
desire that you should. One day he is in Paris, another in Berlin, then
off to Vienna, to Belgrade, or St. Petersburg, or Washington, or
London, or Rome. A few months ago, previous to this writing, he was in
Manchuria; and to this very day England and Japan are wondering how it
happened; not his being there, mind you, but the result. Rich, that is
to say independent; unmarried, that is to say unattached; free to come
and go, he stood high up in that great army of the czar's, which I call
the uncredited diplomatic corps, because the phrase "secret service"
always puts into my mind a picture of the wild-eyed, bearded anarchist,
whom I most heartily detest.

What this remarkable diplomatic free-lance did in Washington was
honestly done in the interests of his country. A Russ understands honor
in the rough, but he lacks all those delicate shadings which make the
word honor the highest of all words in the vocabularies of the Gaul and
the Saxon. And while I do not uphold him in what he did, I can not
place much blame at the count's door. Doubtless, in his place, and
given his cast of mind, I might have done exactly as he did. Russia
never asks how a thing is done, but why it is _not_ done. Ah, these
Aspasias, these Circes, these Calypsos, these Cleopatras, with their
blue, their gray, their amber eyes! I have my doubts concerning Jonah,
but, being a man, I am fully convinced as to the history of Eve. And
yet, the woman in this case was absolutely innocent of any guile,
unless, a pair of eyes as heavenly blue as a rajah's sapphire may be
called guile.

Pardon me this long parenthesis. By this time, no doubt, Mr. Robert has
entered the restaurant We shall follow him rather than this aimless
train of thought.

Mr. Robert's appetite, for a healthy young man, was strangely
incurious. He searched the menu from top to bottom, and then from
bottom to top; nothing excited his palate. Whenever persons entered, he
would glance up eagerly, only to feel his heart sink lower and lower. I
don't know how many times he was disappointed. The waiter ahemmed
politely. Warburton, in order to have an excuse to remain, at length
hit upon a partridge and a pint of Chablis.

Nine o'clock. Was it possible that the colonel and his daughter were
dining in their rooms? Perish the possibility! And he looked in vain
for the count. A quarter-past nine. Mr. Robert's anxiety was becoming
almost unendurable. Nine-thirty. He was about to surrender in despair.
His partridge lay smoking on his plate, and he was on the point of
demolishing it, when, behold! they came. The colonel entered first,
then his daughter, her hand--on--the--arm--of--the--count! Warburton
never fully described to me his feelings at that moment; but, knowing
him as I do, I can put together a very, respectable picture of the
chagrin and consternation that sat on his countenance.

"To think of being nearly six days aboard," Mr. Robert once bawled at
me, wrathfully, "and not to know that that Russian chap knew her!" It
_was_ almost incredible that such a thing should happen.

The three sat down at a table seven times removed from Warburton's. He
could see only an adorable profile and the colonel's handsome but
care-worn face. The count sat with his back turned. In that black
evening gown she was simply beyond the power of adjectives. What
shoulders, what an incomparable throat! Mr. Robert's bird grew cold;
the bouquet from his glass fainted and died away. How her face lighted
when she laughed, and she laughed frequently! What a delicious curve
ran from her lips to her young bosom! But never once did she look in
his direction. Who invented mirrors, the Egyptians? I can not say.
There were mirrors in the room, but Mr. Robert did not realize it. He
has since confessed to me that he hadn't the slightest idea how much
his bird and bottle cost. Of such is love's young dream! (Do I worry
you with all these repetitious details? I am sorry.)

At ten o'clock Miss Annesley rose, and the count escorted her to the
elevator, returning almost immediately. He and the colonel drew their
heads together. From time to time the count shrugged, or the colonel
shook his head. Again and again the Russian dipped the end of his cigar
into his coffee-cup, which he frequently replenished.

But for Mr. Robert the gold had turned to gilt, the gorgeous to the
gaudy. She was gone. The imagination moves as swiftly as light, leaping
from one castle in air to another, and still another. Mr. Robert was
the architect of some fine ones, I may safely assure you. And he didn't
mind in the least that they tumbled down as rapidly as they builded:
only, the incentive was gone. What the colonel had to say to the count,
or the count to the colonel, was of no interest to him; so he made an
orderly retreat.

I am not so old as not to appreciate his sleeplessness that night. Some
beds are hard, even when made of the softest down.

In the morning he telephoned to the Holland House. The Annesleys, he
was informed, had departed for parts unknown. The count had left
directions to forward any possible mail to the Russian Embassy,
Washington. Sighs in the _doloroso_; the morning papers and numerous
cigars; a whisky and soda; a game of indifferent billiards with an
affable stranger; another whisky and soda; and a gradual reclamation of
Mr. Robert's interest in worldly affairs.

She was gone.



IV

A FAMILY REUNION


Warburton had not been in the city of Washington within twelve years.
In the past his furloughs had been spent at his brother's country home
in Larchmont, out of New York City. Thus, when he left the train at the
Baltimore and Potomac station, he hadn't the slightest idea where Scott
Circle was. He looked around in vain for the smart cab of the northern
metropolis. All he saw was a line of omnibuses and a few ramshackle
vehicles that twenty years back might very well have passed for
victorias. A grizzled old negro, in command of one of these sea-going
conveyances, caught Warburton's eye and hailed jovially. Our hero (as
the good novelists of the past generation would say, taking their
readers into their innermost confidences) handed him his traveling case
and stepped in.

"Whar to, suh?" asked the commodore.

"Scott Circle, and don't pommel that old nag's bones in trying to get
there. I've plenty of time."

"I reckon I won't pommel him, suh. Skt! skt!" And the vehicle rattled
out into broad Pennsylvania Avenue, but for the confusion and absurdity
of its architectural structures, the handsomest thoroughfare in
America. (Some day I am going to carry a bill into Congress and read
it, and become famous as having been the means of making Pennsylvania
Avenue the handsomest highway in the world.)

Warburton leaned back luxuriously against the faded horse-hair cushion
and lighted a cigar, which he smoked with relish, having had a hearty
breakfast on the train. It was not quite nine o'clock, and a warm
October haze lay on the peaceful city. Here were people who did not
rush madly about in the pursuit of riches. Rather they proceeded along
soberly, even leisurely, as if they knew what the day's work was and
the rewards attendant, and were content. Trucks, those formidable
engines of commerce, neither rumbled nor thundered along the pavements,
nor congested the thoroughfares. Nobody hurried into the shops, nobody
hurried out. There were no scampering, yelling newsboys. Instead, along
the curbs of the market, sat barelegged negro boys, some of them
selling papers to those who wanted them, and some sandwiched in between
baskets of popcorn and peanuts. There was a marked scarcity of the
progressive, intrusive white boy. Old negro mammies passed to and fro
with the day's provisions.

Glancing over his shoulder, Warburton saw the Capitol, shining in the
sun like some enchanted palace out of Wonderland. He touched his cap,
conscious of a thrill in his spine. And there, far to his left, loomed
the Washington monument, glittering like a shaft of opals. Some
orderlies dashed by on handsome bays. How splendid they looked, with
their blue trousers and broad yellow stripes! This was before the Army
adopted the comfortable but shabby brown duck. How he longed to throw a
leg over the back of a good horse and gallop away into the great green
country beyond!

In every extraordinary looking gentleman he saw some famed senator or
congressman or diplomat. He was almost positive that he saw the
secretary of war drive by in a neat brougham. The only things which
moved with the hustling spirit of the times were the cables, and
doubtless these would have gone slower but for the invisible and
immutable power which propelled them. On arriving in New York, one's
first thought is of riches; in Washington, of glory. What a difference
between this capital and those he had seen abroad! There was no
militarism here, no conscription, no governmental oppression, no signs
of discontent, no officers treading on the rights and the toes of
civilians.

But now he was passing the huge and dingy magic Treasury Building,
round past the Executive Mansion with its spotless white stone, its
stately portico and its plush lawns.

"Go slow, uncle; I haven't seen this place since I was a boy."

"Yes, suh. How d' y' like it? Wouldn' y' like t' live in dat house,
suh?"--the commodore grinned.

"One can't stay there long enough to please me, uncle. It takes four
years to get used to it; and then, when you begin to like it, you have
to pack up and clear out."

"It's de way dey goes, suh. We go eroun' Lafayette, er do yuh want t'
see de Wa' Depa'tment, suh?"

"Never mind now, uncle; Scott Circle."

"Scott Circle she am, suh."

The old ark wheeled round Lafayette Square and finally rolled into
Sixteenth Street. When at length it came to a stand in front of a
beautiful house, Warburton evinced his surprise openly. He knew that
his brother's wife had plenty of money, but not such a plenty as to
afford a house like this.

"Are you sure, uncle, that this is the place?"

"Dere's de Circle, suh, an' yuh can see de numbuh fo' y'se'f, suh."

"How much do I owe you?"

"I reckon 'bout fifty cents 'll make it, suh."

Warburton gave him a dollar, marveling at the difference between the
cab hire here and in New York. He grasped his case and leaped up the
steps two at a bound, and pressed the bell A prim little maid answered
the call.

"Does Mr. John Warburton live here?" he asked breathlessly.

"Yes, sir."

"Fortunate John!" he cried, pushing past the maid and standing in the
hall of his brother's household, unheralded and unannounced. "Jack!" he
bawled.

The maid eyed the handsome intruder, her face expressing the utmost
astonishment. She touched his arm.

"Sir!--" she began.

"It's all right, my dear," he interrupted.

She stepped back, wondering whether to scream or run.

"Hi, Jack! I say, you old henpecked, where are you?"

The dining-room door slid back and a tall, studious-looking gentleman,
rather plain than otherwise, stood on the threshold.

"Jane, what is all this--Why, Bob, you scalawag!"--and in a moment they
were pumping hands at a great rate. The little maid leaned weakly
against the balustrade.

"Kit, Kit! I say, Kit, come and see who's here!" cried John.

An extraordinarily pretty little woman, whose pallor any woman would
have understood, but no man on earth, and who was dressed in a charming
pink negligee morning-gown, hurried into the hall.

"Why, it's Bob!" She flung her arms around the prodigal and kissed him
heartily, held him away at arm's length, and hugged and kissed him
again. I'm not sure that Mr. Robert didn't like it.

Suddenly there was a swish of starched skirts on the stairs, and the
most beautiful woman in all the world (and I am always ready to back
this statement with abundant proofs!) rushed down and literally threw
herself into Mr. Robert's eager, outstretched arms.

"Nancy!"

"Bob! Bob! you wicked boy! You almost break our hearts. Not a line in
two months!--How could you!--You might have been dead and we not know
it!"--and she cried on his shoulder.

"Come now, Nancy; nonsense! You'll start the color running out of this
tie of mine!" But for all his jesting tone, Mr. Robert felt an
embarrassing lump wriggle up and down in his throat.

"Had your breakfast?" asked the humane and practical brother.

"Yep. But I shouldn't mind another cup of coffee."

And thereupon he was hustled into the dining-room and pushed into the
best chair. How the clear women fussed over him, pressed this upon him
and that; fondled and caressed him, just as if the beggar was worth all
this trouble and love and affection!

"Hang it, girls, it's worth being an outlaw to come to this," he cried.
He reached over and patted Nancy on the cheek, and pressed the young
wife's hand, and smiled pleasantly at his brother. "Jack, you lucky
pup, you!"

"Two years," murmured Nancy; "and we haven't had a glimpse of you in
two long years."

"Only in photograph," said the homeless one, putting three lumps of
sugar into his coffee because he was so happy he didn't know what he
was about.

"And you have turned twenty-eight," said Kit, counting on her fingers.

"That makes you twenty-four, Nan," Jack laughed.

"And much I care!" replied Nancy, shaking her head defiantly. I've a
sneaking idea that she was thinking of me when she made this
declaration. For if _I_ didn't care, why should she?

"A handsome, stunning girl like you, Nan, ought to be getting married,"
observed the prodigal. "What's the matter with all these dukes and
lords and princes, anyhow?"

An embarrassed smile ran around the table, but Mr. Robert missed it by
some several inches.

Jack threw a cigar across the table. "Now," said he, "where the deuce
did you come from?"

"Indirectly from Arizona, which is a synonym, once removed, for war."

Jack looked at his plate and laughed; but Mrs. Jack wanted to know what
Bob meant by that.

"It's a word used instead of war, as applied by the late General
Sherman," Jack replied. "And I am surprised that a brother-in-law of
yours should so far forget himself as to hint it, even."

Knowing that she could put him through the inquisition later, she asked
my hero how his leg was.

"It aches a little when it rains; that's about all."

"And you never let us know anything about it till the thing was all
over," was Nancy's reproach.

"What's the use of scaring you women?" Robert demanded. "You would have
had hysterics and all that."

"We heard of it quick enough through the newspapers," said Jack. "Come,
give us your own version of the rumpus."

"Well, the truth is,"--and the prodigal told them his tale.

"Why, you are a hero!" cried Mrs. Jack, clasping her hands.

"Hero nothing," sniffed the elder brother. "He was probably star-gazing
or he wouldn't have poked his nose into an ambush."

"Right you are, brother John," Robert acknowledged, laughing.

"And how handsome he has grown, Nancy," Mrs. Jack added, with an
oblique glance at her husband.

"He does look 'distangy'," that individual admitted. A handsome face
always went through John's cuirass. It was all nonsense, for his wife
could not have adored him more openly had he been the twin to Adonis.
But, there you are; a man always wants something he can not have. John
wasn't satisfied to be one of the most brilliant young men in
Washington; he also wanted to be classed among the handsomest.

"By the way, Jack," said my hero, lighting the cigar and blowing the
first puff toward the ceiling, his face admirably set with nonchalance,
"do you know of a family named Annesley--Colonel Annesley?" I knew it
would take only a certain length of time for this question to arrive.

"Colonel Annesley? Why, yes. He was in the War Department until a year
or so ago. A fine strategist; knows every in and out of the coast
defenses, and is something of an inventor; lots of money, too. Tall,
handsome old fellow?"

"That's the man. A war volunteer?"

"No, a regular. Crippled his gun-fingers in some petty Indian war, and
was transferred to the Department. He was a widower, if my recollection
of him is correct; and had a lovely daughter."

"Ah!" There was great satisfaction evident in this syllable. "Do you
know where the colonel is now?"

"Not the faintest idea. He lived somewhere in Virginia. But he's been
on the travel for several years."

Robert stirred his coffee and took a spoonful--and dropped the spoon.
"Pah! I must have put in a quart of sugar. Can you spare me another
cup?"

"Annesley?" Nancy's face brightened. "Colonel Annesley? Why, I know
Betty Annesley. She was my room-mate at Smith one year. She was in my
graduating class. I'll show you her picture later. She was the dearest
girl! How she loved horses! But why are you so interested?"--slyly.

"I ran across them coming home."

"Then you met Betty! Isn't she just the loveliest girl you ever saw?"

"I'm for her, one and indivisible. But hang my luck, I never came
within a mile of an introduction."

"What? You, and on shipboard where she couldn't get away?" John threw
up his hands as a sign that this information had overcome him.

"Even the captain shied when I approached him," said Robert, gloomily.

"I begin to see," said the brother.

"See what?"

"Have a match; your cigar has gone out."

Robert relighted his cigar and puffed like a threshing-machine engine.

John leaned toward Nancy. "Shall I tell him, Nan?"

Nancy blushed. "I suppose he'll have to know sooner or later."

"Know what?" asked the third person singular

"Your charming sister is about to bring you a brother-in-law."

"What?" You could have heard this across the street.

"Yes, Bobby dear. And don't look so hurt. You don't want me to become
an old maid, do you?"

"When did it happen?"--helplessly. How the thought of his sister's
marrying horrifies a brother! I believe I can tell you why. Every
brother knows that no man is good enough for a good woman. "When did it
happen?" Mr. Robert repeated, with a look at his brother, which said
that _he_ should be held responsible.

"Last week."

Robert took in a long breath, as one does who expects to receive a blow
of some sort which can not be warded off, and asked: "Who is it?" Nancy
married? What was the world coming to, anyhow?

"Charlie Henderson,"--timidly.

Then Robert, who had been expecting nothing less than an English duke,
let loose the flaming ions of his righteous wrath.

"Chuck Henderson?--that duffer?" (Oh, Mr. Robert, Mr. Robert; and after
all I've done for you!)

"He's not a duffer!" remonstrated Nancy, with a flare in her mild eyes.
(How I wish I might have seen her as she defended me!) "He's the
dearest fellow in the world, and I love him with all my heart!" (How do
you like that, Mr. Robert? Bravo, Nancy! I may be a duffer, true
enough, but I rather object to its being called out from the
housetops.) And Nancy added: "I want you to understand distinctly,
Robert, that in my selection of a husband you are not to be consulted."

This was moving him around some.

"Hold on, Nan! Drat it, don't look like that! I meant nothing, dearie;
only I'm a heap surprised. Chuck _is_ a good fellow, I'll admit; but
I've been dreaming of your marrying a prince or an ambassador, and
Henderson comes like a jolt. Besides, Chuck will never be anything but
a first-rate politician. You'll have to get used to cheap cigars and
four-ply whisky. When is it going to happen?"

"In June. I have always loved him, Bob. And he wants you to be his best
man."

Robert appeared a bit mollified at this knowledge. "But what shall I do
after that?" he wailed. "You're the only person I can order about, and
now you're going the other side of the range."

"Bob, why don't you get married yourself?" asked Mrs. Warburton. "With
your looks you won't have to go far nor begging for a wife."

"There's the rub, sister mine by law and the admirable foresight of my
only brother. What am I good for but ordering rookies about? I've no
business head. And it's my belief that an Army man ought never to wed."

"Marry, my boy, and I'll see what can be done for you in the diplomatic
way. The new administration will doubtless be Republican, and my
influence will have some weight,"--and John smiled affectionately
across the table. He loved this gay lad opposite, loved him for his own
self and because he could always see the mother's eyes and lips. "You
have reached the age of discretion. You are now traveled and a fairly
good linguist. You've an income of forty-five hundred, and to this I
may be able to add a berth worth two or three thousand. Find the girl,
lad; find the girl."

"Honestly, I'll think it over, Jack."

"Oh!"

Three of the quartet turned wonderingly toward Mrs. Jack.

"What's the matter?" asked Jack.

"We have forgotten to show Bob the baby!"

"Merciful heavens!" bawled Robert. "A baby? This is the first time I've
heard anything about a baby,"--looking with renewed interest at the
young mother.

"Do you mean to tell me, John Warburton, that you failed to mention the
fact in any of your letters?" indignantly demanded Mrs. John.

"Why--er--didn't I mention it?" asked the perturbed father.

"Nary a word, nary a word!" Robert got up. "Now, where is this
wonderful he?--or is it a she?"

"Boy, Bob; greatest kid ever."

And they all trooped up the stairs to the nursery, where Mr. Robert was
forced to admit that, as regarded a three-months-old, this was the
handsomest little colt he had ever laid eyes on! Mr. Robert even
ventured to take the boy up in his arms.

"How d'ye hold him?" he asked.

Mrs. John took the smiling cherub, and the manner in which she folded
that infant across her young breast was a true revelation to the
prodigal, who felt his loneliness more than ever. He was a rank
outsider.

"Jack, you get me that diplomatic post, and I'll see to it that the
only bachelor in the Warburton family shall sleep in yonder cradle."

"Done!"

"How long is your furlough?" asked Nancy.

"Whom do you think the baby resembles?" asked the mother.

"One at a time, one at a time! The baby at present doesn't resemble any
one."

"There's your diplomat!" cried John, with a laugh.

"And my furlough is for several years, if not longer."

"What?" This query was general and simultaneous.

"Yes, I've disbanded. The Army will now go to rack and ruin. I am a
plain citizen of the United States. I expect to spend the winter in
Washington."

"The winter!" echoed Jack, mockingly dejected.

"John!" said his wife. John assumed a meek expression; and Mrs. John,
putting the baby in the cradle, turned to her brother-in-law. "I
thought the Army was a hobby with you."

"It was. I've saved up quite a sum, and I'm going to see a lot of fine
scenery if my leg doesn't give out."

"Or your bank account," supplemented John.

"Well, or my bank account."

"Draw on me whenever you want passage out West," went on the statesman
in chrysalis.

Whereupon they all laughed; not because John had said anything
particularly funny, but because there was a good and generous measure
of happiness in each heart.

"Bob, there's a ball at the British embassy tonight. You must go with
us."

"Impossible!" said Robert. "Remember my leg."

"That will not matter," said Mrs. John; "you need not dance."

"What, not dance? I should die of intermittent fever. And if I did
dance, my leg might give out."

"You can ride a horse all right," said John, in the way of argument.

"I can do that easily with my knees. But I can't dance with my knees.
No, I shall stay at home. I couldn't stand it to see all those famous
beauties, and with me posing as a wall-flower."

"But what will you do here all alone?"

"Play with the kid, smoke and read; make myself at home. You still
smoke that Louisiana, Jack?"

"Yes,"--dubiously.

"So. Now, don't let me interfere with your plans for tonight. I haven't
been in a home in so long that it will take more than one night for the
novelty to wear off. Besides, that nurse of yours, Kit, is good to look
at,"--a bit of the rogue in his eye.

"Bob!"--from both women.

"I promise not to look at her; I promise."

"Well, I must be off," said John. "I'm late now. I've a dozen plans for
coast defenses to go over with an inventor of a new carriage-gun. Will
you go with me, while I put you up at the Metropolitan, or will you
take a shopping trip with the women?"

"I'll take the shopping trip. It will be a sensation. Have you any
horses?"

"Six."

"Six! You _are_ a lucky pup: a handsome wife, a bouncing boy, and six
horses! Where's the stable?"

"In the rear. I keep only two stablemen; one to take care of the horses
and one to act as groom. I'm off. I've a cracking good hunter, if you'd
like a leg up. We'll all ride out to Chevy Chase Sunday. By-by, till
lunch."

Mr. Robert immediately betook himself to the stables, where he soon
became intimately acquainted with the English groom. He fussed about
the harness-room, deplored the lack of a McClelland saddle, admired the
English curbs, and complimented the men on the cleanliness of the
stables. The men exchanged sly smiles at first, but these smiles soon
turned into grins of admiration. Here was a man who knew a horse from
his oiled hoofs to his curried forelock.

"This fellow ought to jump well," he said, patting the sleek neck of
the hunter.

"He does that, sir," replied the groom. "He has never taken less than a
red ribbon. Only one horse beat him at the bars last winter in New
York. It was Mr. Warburton's fault that he did not take first prize. He
rode him in the park the day before the contest, and the animal caught
a bad cold, sir."

And then it was that this hero of mine conceived his great (not to say
young and salad) idea. It appealed to him as being so rich an idea that
the stables rang with his laughter.

"Sir?" politely inquired the groom.

"I'm not laughing at your statement, my good fellow; rather at an idea
which just occurred to me. In fact, I believe that I shall need your
assistance."

"In what way, sir?"

"Come with me."

The groom followed Warburton into the yard, A conversation began in low
tones.

"It's as much as my place is worth, sir. I couldn't do it, sir,"
declared the groom, shaking his head negatively.

"I'll guarantee that you will not suffer in the least. My brother will
not discharge you. He likes a joke as well as I do. You are not handed
twenty dollars every day for a simple thing like this."

"Very well, sir. I dare say that no harm will come of it. But I am an
inch or two shorter than you."

"We'll tide that over."

"I am at your orders, sir." But the groom returned to the stables,
shaking his head dubiously. He was not thoroughly convinced.

During the morning ride down-town the two women were vastly puzzled
over their brother's frequent and inexplicable peals of laughter.

"For mercy's sake, what do you see that is so funny?" asked Nancy.

"I'm thinking, my dears; only thinking."

"Tell us, that we may laugh, too. I'll wager that you are up to some
mischief, Master Robert. Please tell," Nancy urged.

"Later, later; at present you would fail to appreciate the joke. In
fact, you might make it miscarry; and that wouldn't do at all. Have a
little patience. It's a good joke, and you'll be in it when the time
comes."

And nothing more could they worm out of him.

I shall be pleased to recount to you the quality of this joke, this
madcap idea. You will find it lacking neither amusement nor denouement.
Already I have put forth the casual observation that from Paris to the
third-precinct police-station in Washington is several thousand miles.



V

THE PLOT THICKENS


At dinner that night I met my hero face to face for the first time in
eight years, and for all his calling me a duffer (I learned of this
only recently), he was mighty glad to see me, slapped me on the back
and threw his arm across my shoulder. And why shouldn't he have been
glad? We had been boys together, played hooky many a school-time
afternoon, gone over the same fishing grounds, plunged into the same
swimming-holes, and smoked our first cigar in the rear of my father's
barn; and it is the recollection of such things that cements all the
more strongly friendship in man and man. We recalled a thousand
episodes and escapades, the lickings we got, and the lickings others
got in our stead, the pretty school-teacher whom we swore to wed when
we grew up. Nobody else had a chance to get a word in edgewise. But
Nancy laughed aloud at times. She had been a witness to many of these
long-ago pranks.

"What! you are not going to the ball?" I asked, observing that he wore
only a dinner-coat and a pair of morocco slippers.

"No ball for me. Just as soon as you people hie forth, off comes this
b'iled shirt, and I shall probably meander around the house in my new
silk pajamas. I shall read a little from Homer--Jack, let me have the
key to that locked case; I've an idea that there must be some robust
old, merry old tales hidden there--and smoke a few pipes."

"But you are not going to leave Mrs. Warburton and your sister to come
home without escort?" I expostulated.

"Where the deuce are you two men going?" Robert asked, surprised.
Somehow, I seemed to catch a joyful rather than a sorrowful note in his
tones.

"An important conference at midnight, and heaven only knows how long it
may last," said Jack. "I wish you would go along, Bob."

"He can't go now, anyhow," said the pretty little wife. "He has got to
stay now, whether he will or no. William will see to it that we women
get home all right,"--and she busied herself with the salad dishes.

Suddenly I caught Robert's eye, and we stared hard at each other.

"Chuck, you old pirate," he said presently, "what do you mean by coming
around and making love to my sister, and getting her to promise to
marry you? You know you aren't good enough for her."

I confess to no small embarrassment. "I--I know it!"

"What do you mean by it, then?"

"Why--er--that is--Confound you, Bob, _I_ couldn't help it, and
besides, I didn't _want_ to help it! And if you want to have it out--"

"Oh, pshaw! You know just as well as I do that it is against the law to
hit a man that wears glasses. We'll call it quits if you'll promise
that in the days to come you'll let me hang around your hymeneal shack
once in a while."

"Why, if you put it that way!"--and we were laughing and shaking hands
again across the table, much to the relief of all concerned.

Dear Nan! I'm not afraid to let the whole world see how much I love
you. For where exists man's strength if not in the pride of his love?

"What time does the kid get to sleep?" asked Robert.

"He ought to be asleep now," said Mrs. W. "We shall not reach the
embassy until after ten. We have a reception first, and we must leave
cards there. Won't you be lonesome here, Bobby?"

"Not the least in the world;"--and Bobby began to laugh.

"What's the joke?" I asked.

He looked at me sharply, then shook his head. "I'll tell you all about
it to-morrow, Chuck. It's the kind of joke that has to boil a long time
before it gets tender enough to serve."

"I'd give a good deal to know what is going on behind those eyes of
yours, Bob." Nancy's eyes searched him ruthlessly, but she might just
as well have tried to pierce a stone wall. "You have been laughing all
day about something, and I'd like to know what about. It's mischief. I
haven't known you all these years for nothing. Now, don't do anything
silly, Bob."

"Nancy,"--reproachfully--"I am a man almost thirty; I have passed the
Rubicon of cutting up tricks. Go to the ball, you beauty, dance and
revel to your heart's content; your brother Robert will manage to pass
away the evening. Don't forget the key to that private case, Jack,"--as
the women left the table to put the finishing touches to their toilets.

"Here you are," said Jack. "But mind, you must put those books back
just as you found them, and lock the case. They are rare editions."

"With the accent on the _rare_, no doubt."

"I am a student, pure and simple," said Jack, lowering his eyes.

"I wouldn't swear to those adjectives," returned the scalawag. "If I
remember, you had the reputation of being a high-jinks man in your
class at Princeton."

"Sh! Don't you dare to drag forth any of those fool corpses of college,
or out you go, bag and baggage." Jack glanced nervously around the room
and toward the hall.

"My dear fellow, your wife wouldn't believe me, no matter what I said
against your character. Isn't that right, Chuck? Jack, you are a lucky
dog, if there ever was one. A handsome wife who loves you, a kid, a
fine home, and plenty of horses. I wonder if you married her for her
money?"

Jack's eyes narrowed. He seemed to muse. "Yes, I believe I can do it as
easily as I did fifteen years ago."

"Do what?" I asked.

"Wallop that kid brother of mine. Bob, I hope you'll fall desperately
in love some day, and that you will have a devil of a time winning the
girl. You need something to stir up your vitals. By George! and I hope
she won't have a cent of money."

"Lovable brother, that!" Bob knocked the ash from his cigar and essayed
at laughter which wasn't particularly felicitous. "Supposing I was in
love, new, and that the girl had heaps of money, and all that?"

"_And all that_," mimicked the elder brother. "What does 'and all that'
mean?"

"Oh, shut up!"

"Well, I hope you _are_ in love. It serves you right. You've made more
than one girl's heart ache, you good-looking ruffian!"

Then we switched over to politics, and Robert became an interested
listener. Quarter of an hour later the women returned, and certainly
they made a picture which was most satisfactory to the masculine eye.
Ah, thou eager-fingered Time, that shall, in days to come, wither the
roses in my beauty's cheeks, dim the fire in my beauty's eyes, draw my
beauty's bow-lips inward, tarnish the golden hair, and gnarl the
slender, shapely fingers, little shall I heed you in your passing if
you but leave the heart untouched!

Bob jumped to his feet and kissed them both, a thing I lacked the
courage to do. How pleased they looked! How a woman loves flattery from
those she loves!

Well, William is in front with the carriage; the women are putting on
their cloaks, and I am admiring the luxurious crimson fur-lined garment
which brother Robert had sent to Nancy from Paris. You will see by this
that he was not altogether a thoughtless lad. Good-by, Mr. Robert; I
leave you and your guiding-star to bolt the established orbit; for
after this night the world will never be the same careless,
happy-go-lucky world. The farce has its tragedy, and what tragedy is
free of the ludificatory? Youth must run its course, even as the gay,
wild brook must riot on its way to join the sober river.

I dare say that we hadn't been gone twenty minutes before Robert stole
out to the stables, only to return immediately with a bundle under his
arm and a white felt hat perched rakishly on his head. He was chuckling
audibly to himself.

"It will frighten the girls half to death. A gray horse and a bay; oh,
I won't make any mistake. Let me see; I'll start about twelve o'clock.
That'll get me on the spot just as the boys leave. This is the richest
yet. I'll wager that there will be some tall screaming." He continued
chuckling as he helped himself to his brother's perfectos and fine old
Scotch. I don't know what book he found in the private case; some old
rascal's merry tales, no doubt; for my hero's face was never in repose.

We had left Mrs. Secretary-of-the-Interior's and were entering the red
brick mansion on Connecticut Avenue. Carriages lined both sides of the
street, and mounted police patrolled up and down.

"I do hope Bob will not wake up the baby," said Mrs. W.

"Probably he won't even take the trouble to look at him," replied Jack;
"not if he gets into that private case of mine."

"I can't understand what you men see in those horrid chronicles," Nancy
declared.

"My dear girl," said Jack, "in those days there were no historians;
they were simply story-tellers, and we get our history from these
tales. The tales themselves are not very lofty, I am willing to admit;
but they give us a general idea of the times in which the characters
lived. This is called literature by the wise critics."

"Critics!" said I; "humph! Criticism is always a lazy man's job. When
no two critics think alike, of what use is criticism?"

"Ah, yes; I forgot. That book of essays you wrote got several sound
drubbings. Nevertheless," continued Jack, "what you offer is in the
main true. Time alone is the true critic. Let him put his mark of
approval on your work, and not all the critical words can bury it or
hinder its light. But Time does not pass his opinion till long after
one is dead. The first waltz, dearest, if you think you can stand it.
You mustn't get tired, little mother."

"I am wonderfully strong to-night," said the little mother. "How
beautifully it is arranged!"

"What?" we men asked, looking over the rooms.

"The figures on Mrs. Secretary-of-State's gown. The lace is beautiful.
Your brother. Nan, has very good taste for a man. That cloak of yours
is by far the handsomest thing I have seen to-night; and that bit of
scarf he sent me isn't to be matched."

"Poor boy!" sighed Nancy. "I wonder if he'll be lonely. It's a shame to
leave him home the very first night."

"Why didn't he come, then?" Mrs. W. shrugged her polished shoulders.

"Oh, my cigars and Scotch are fairly comforting," put in Jack,
complacently. "Besides, Jane Isn't at all bad looking,"--winking at me.
"What do you say, Charlie?"

But Charlie had no time to answer. The gray-haired, gray-whiskered
ambassador was bowing pleasantly to us. A dozen notable military and
naval attaches nodded; and we passed on to the ball-room, where the
orchestra was playing _A Summer Night in Munich_. In a moment Jack and
his wife were lost in the maze of gleaming shoulders and white linen.
It was a picture such as few men, once having witnessed it, can forget.
Here were the great men in the great world: this man was an old
rear-admiral, destined to become the nation's hero soon; there, a
famous general, of long and splendid service; celebrated statesmen,
diplomats, financiers; a noted English duke; a scion of the Hapsburg
family; an intimate of the German kaiser; a swart Jap; a Chinaman with
his peacock feather; tens of men whose lightest word was listened to by
the four ends of the world; representatives of all the great kingdoms
and states. The President and his handsome wife had just left as we
came, so we missed that formality, which detracts from the pleasures of
the ball-room.

"Who is that handsome young fellow over there, standing at the side of
the Russian ambassador's wife?" asked Nancy, pressing my arm.

"Where? Oh, he's Count Karloff (or something which sounds like it), a
wealthy Russian, in some way connected with the Russian government; a
diplomat and a capital fellow, they say. I have never met him. ...
Hello! there's a stunning girl right next to him that I haven't seen
before. ... Where are you going?"

Nancy had dropped my arm and was gliding kitty-corner fashion, across
the floor. Presently she and the stunning girl had saluted each other
after the impulsive fashion of American girls, and were playing
cat-in-the-cradle, to the amusement of those foreigners nearest. A nod,
and I was threading my way to Nancy's side.

"Isn't it glorious?" she began. "This is Miss Annesley, Charlie; Betty,
Mr. Henderson." Miss Annesley looked mildly curious at Nan, who
suddenly flushed. "We are to be married in the spring," she explained
shyly; and I dare say that there was a diffident expression on my own
face.

Miss Annesley gave me her hand, smiling. "You are a very fortunate man,
Mr. Henderson."

"Not the shadow of a doubt!" Miss Annesley, I frankly admitted on the
spot, was, next to Nancy, the handsomest girl I ever saw; and as I
thought of Mr. Robert in his den at home, I sincerely pitied him. I was
willing to advance the statement that had he known, a pair of crutches
would not have kept him away from No. 1300 Connecticut Avenue.

I found three chairs, and we sat down. There was, for me, very little
opportunity to talk. Women always have so much to say to each other,
even when they haven't seen each other within twenty-four hours. From
time to time Miss Annesley glanced at me, and I am positive that Nancy
was extolling my charms. It was rather embarrassing, and I was balling
my gloves up in a most dreadful fashion. As they seldom addressed a
word to me, I soon became absorbed in the passing scene. I was
presently aroused, however.

"Mr. Henderson, Count Karloff," Miss Annesley was saying. (Karloff is a
name of my own choosing. I haven't the remotest idea if it means
anything in the Russian language. I hope not.)

"Charmed!" The count's r's were very pleasantly rolled. I could see by
the way his gaze roved from Miss Annesley to Nancy that he was puzzled
to decide which came the nearer to his ideal of womanhood.

I found him a most engaging fellow, surprisingly well-informed on
American topics. I credit myself with being a fairly good reader of
faces, and, reading his as he bent it in Miss Annesley's direction, I
began to worry about Mr. Robert's course of true love. Here was a man
who possessed a title, was handsome, rich, and of assured social
position: it would take an extraordinary American girl to look coldly
upon his attentions. By and by the two left us, Miss Annesley promising
to call on Nancy.

"And where are you staying, Betty?"

"Father and I have taken Senator Blank's house in Chevy Chase for the
winter. My horses are already in the stables. Do you ride?"

"I do."

"Then we shall have some great times together."

"Be sure to call. I want you to meet my brother."

"I believe I have," replied Miss Annesley.

"I mean my younger brother, a lieutenant in the Army."

"Oh, then you have two brothers?"

"Yes," said Nancy.

"The dance is dying, Mademoiselle," said the count in French.

"Your arm, Monsieur. _Au revoir,_ Nancy."

"Poor Bobby!" Nancy folded her hands and sighed mournfully. "It appears
to me that his love affair is not going to run very smooth. But isn't
she just beautiful, Charlie? What color, what style!"

"She's a stunner, I'm forced to admit. Bob'll never stand a ghost of a
show against that Russian. He's a great social catch, and is backed by
many kopecks."

"How unfortunate we did not know that she would be here! Bobby would
have met her at his best, and his best is more to my liking than the
count's. He has a way about him that the women like. He's no laggard.
But money ought not to count with Betty. She is worth at least a
quarter of a million. Her mother left all her property to her, and her
father acts only as trustee. Senator Blank's house rents for eight
thousand the season. It's ready furnished, you know, and one of the
handsomest homes in Washington. Besides, I do not trust those
foreigners,"--taking a remarkably abrupt curve, as it were.

[Illustration: "What were you doing off your own box?" "Getting on the
wrong box"--Act I.]

"There's two Bs in your bonnet, Nancy," I laughed.

"Never mind the Bs; let us have the last of this waltz."

This is not my own true story; so I shall bow off and permit my hero to
follow the course of true love, which is about as rough-going a
thoroughfare as the many roads of life have to offer.



VI

THE MAN ON THE BOX


At eleven-thirty he locked up his book and took to his room the
mysterious bundle which he had purloined from the stables. It contained
the complete livery of a groom. The clothes fitted rather snugly,
especially across the shoulders. He stood before the pier-glass, and a
complacent (not to say roguish) smile flitted across his face. The
black half-boots, the white doeskin breeches, the brown brass-buttoned
frock, and the white hat with the brown cockade. ... Well, my word for
it, he was the handsomest jehu Washington ever turned out. With a grin
he touched his hat to the reflection in the glass, and burst out
laughing. His face was as smooth as a baby's, for he had generously
sacrificed his beard.

I can hear him saying to himself: "Lord, but this is a lark! I'll have
to take another Scotch to screw up the edge of my nerve. Won't the boys
laugh when they hear how I stirred the girls' frizzes! We'll have a
little party here when they all get home. It's a good joke."

Mr. Robert did not prove much of a prophet. Many days were to pass ere
he reentered his brother's house.

He stole quietly from the place. He hadn't proceeded more than a block
when he became aware of the fact that he hadn't a penny in his clothes.
This discovery disquieted him, and he half turned about to go back. He
couldn't go back. He had no key.

"Pshaw! I won't need any money;"--and he started off again toward
Connecticut Avenue. He dared not hail a car, and he would not have
dared had he possessed the fare. Some one might recognize him. He
walked briskly for ten minutes. The humor of the escapade appealed to
him greatly, and he had all he could do to smother the frequent bursts
of laughter which surged to his lips. He reached absently for his
cigar-case. No money, no cigars.

"That's bad. Without a cigar I'm likely to get nervous. Scraping off
that beard made me forgetful. Jove! with these fleshings I feel as
self-conscious as an untried chorus girl. These togs can't be very warm
in winter. Ha! that must be the embassy where all those lights are;
carriages. _Allons!_"

To make positive, he stopped a pedestrian.

"Pardon me, sir," he said, touching his hat, "but will you be so kind
as to inform me if yonder is the British embassy?"

"It is, my man," replied the gentleman.

"Thank you, sir."

And each passed on to his affairs.

"Now for William; we must find William, or the joke will be on Robert."

He manoeuvered his way through the congested thoroughfare, searching
the faces of the grooms and footmen. He dodged hither and thither, and
was once brought to a halt by the mounted police.

"Here, you! What d'ye mean by runnin' around like this? Lost yer
carriage, hey? I've a mind to run ye in. Y' know th' rules relatin' th'
leavin' of yer box in times like these. Been takin' a sly nip,
probably, an' they've sent yer hack down a peg. Get a gait on y', now."

Warburton laughed silently as he made for the sidewalk. The first man
he plumped into was William--a very much worried William, too. Robert
could have fallen on his neck for joy. All was plain sailing now.

"I'm very glad to see you, sir," said William. "I was afraid you could
not get them clothes on, sir. I was getting a trifle worried, too.
Here's the carriage number."

Warburton glanced hastily at it and stuffed it into a convenient pocket.

"It's sixteen carriages up, sir; a bay and a gray. You can't miss them.
The bay, being a saddle-horse, is a bit restive in the harness; but all
you have to do is to touch him with the whip. And don't try to push
ahead of your turn, or you will get into trouble with the police. They
are very strict. And don't let them confuse you, sir. The numbers won't
be in rotation. You'll hear one hundred and fifteen, and the next
moment thirty-five, like as not. It's all according as to how the
guests are leaving. Good luck to you, sir, and don't forget to explain
it all thoroughly to Mr. Warburton, sir."

"Don't you worry, William; we'll come out of this with colors flying."

"Very well, sir. I shall hang around till you are safely off,"--and
William disappeared.

Warburton could occasionally hear the faint strains of music. From time
to time the carriage-caller bawled out a number, and the carriage would
roll up under the porte-cochere. Warburton concluded that it would be a
good plan to hunt up his rig. His search did not last long. The bay and
the gray stood only a little way from the gate. The box was vacant, and
he climbed up and gathered the reins. He sat there for some time,
longing intensely for a cigar, a good cigar, such as gentlemen smoked.

"Seventeen!" came hoarsely along on the wings of the night. "Number
seventeen, and lively there!"

Warburton's pulse doubled its beat. His number!

"Skt!" The gray and the bay started forward, took the half-circle and
stopped under the porte-cochere. Warburton recollected that a
fashionable groom never turned his head unless spoken to; so he leveled
his gaze at his horses' ears and waited. But from the very corner of
his eye he caught the glimpse of two women, one of whom was enveloped
in a crimson cloak. He thrilled with exultation. What a joke it was! He
felt the carriage list as the women stepped in. The door slammed to,
and the rare good joke was on the way.

"Off with you!" cried the pompous footman, with an imperious wave of
the hand. "Number ninety-nine!"

"Ninety-nine! Ninety-nine!" bawled the carriage man.

Our jehu turned into the avenue, holding a tolerable rein. He clucked
and lightly touched the horses with the lash. _This_ was true sport;
_this_ was humor, genuine, initiative, unforced. He could imagine the
girls and their fright when he finally slowed down, opened the door,
and kissed them both. Wouldn't they let out a yell, though? His plan
was to drive furiously for half a dozen blocks, zigzag from one side of
the street to the other, taking the corners sharply, and then make for
Scott Circle.

Now, a lad of six can tell the difference between seventeen and
seventy-one. But this astonishing jehu of mine had been conspicuous as
the worst mathematician and the best soldier in his class at West
Point. No more did he remember that he was not in the wild West, and
that here in the East there were laws prohibiting reckless driving.

He drove decently enough till he struck Dupont Circle. From here he
turned into New Hampshire, thinking it to be Rhode Island. Mistake
number two. He had studied the city map, but he was conscious of not
knowing it as well as he should have known it; but, true to his nature,
he trusted to luck.

Aside from all this, he forgot that a woman might appreciate this joke
only when she heard it recounted. To live through it was altogether a
different matter. In an episode like this, a woman's imagination, given
the darkness such as usually fills a carriage at night, becomes a round
of terrors. Every moment is freighted with death or disfigurement. Her
nerves are like the taut strings of a harp in a wintry wind, ready to
snap at any moment; and then, hysteria. With man the play, and only the
play, is the thing.

Snap-crack! The surprised horses, sensitive and quick-tempered as all
highly organized beings are, nearly leaped out of the harness. Never
before had their flanks received a more unwarranted stroke of the lash.
They reared and plunged, and broke into a mad gallop, which was exactly
what the rascal on the box desired. An expert horseman, he gauged the
strength of the animals the moment they bolted, and he knew that they
were his. Once the rubber-tired vehicle slid sidewise on the wet
asphalt, and he heard a stifled scream.

He laughed, and let forth a sounding "whoop," which nowise allayed the
fright of the women inside the carriage. He wheeled into S Street,
scraping the curb as he did so. Pedestrians stopped and stared after
him. A policeman waved his club helplessly, even hopelessly. On, on: to
Warburton's mind this ride was as wild as that which the Bishop of
Vannes took from Belle-Isle to Paris in the useless effort to save
Fouquet from the wrath of Louis XIV, and to anticipate the pregnant
discoveries of one D'Artagnan. The screams were renewed. A hand beat
against the forward window and a muffled but wrathful voice called
forth a command to stop. This voice was immediately drowned by
another's prolonged scream. Our jehu began to find all this very
interesting, very exciting.

"I'll wager a dollar that Nan isn't doing that screaming. The
Warburtons never cry out when they are frightened. Hang it!"--suddenly;
"this street doesn't look familiar. I ought to have reached Scott
Circle by this time. Ah! here's a broader street,"--going lickety-clip
into Vermont.

A glass went jingling to the pavement.

"Oho! Nancy will be jumping out the next thing. This will never do." He
began to draw in.

Hark! His trained trooper's ear heard other hoofs beating on the
iron-like surface of the pavement. Worriedly he turned his head. Five
blocks away there flashed under one of the arc-lights, only to
disappear in the shadow again, two mounted policemen.

"By George! it looks as if the girls were going to have their fun,
too!" He laughed, but there was a nervous catch in his voice. He hadn't
counted on any policeman taking part in the comedy. "Where the devil
_is_ Scott Circle, anyhow?"--fretfully. He tugged at the reins. "Best
draw up at the next corner. I'll be hanged if _I_ know where I am."

He braced himself, sawed with the reins, and presently the frightened
and somewhat wearied horses slowed down into a trot. This he finally
brought to a walk. One more pull, and they came to a stand. It would be
hard to say which breathed the heaviest, the man or the horses.
Warburton leaped from the box, opened the door and waited. He
recognized the necessity of finishing the play before the mounted
police arrived on the scene.

There was a commotion inside the carriage, then a woman in a crimson
cloak stepped (no, jumped!) out. Mr. Robert threw his arms around her
and kissed her cheek.

"You ... vile ... wretch!"

Warburton sprang back, his hands applied to his stinging face.

"You drunken wretch, how dare you!"

"Nan, it's only I--" he stammered.

"Nan!" exclaimed the young woman, as her companion joined her. The
light from the corner disclosed the speaker's wrathful features,
disdainful lips, palpitating nostrils, eyes darting terrible glances.
"Nan! Do you think, ruffian, that you are driving serving-maids?"

"Good Lord!" Warburton stepped back still farther; stepped back
speechless, benumbed, terror-struck. The woman he was gazing at was
anybody in the world but his sister Nancy!



VII

A POLICE AFFAIR


"Officers, arrest this fellow!" commanded the young woman. Her gesture
was Didoesque in its wrath.

"That we will, ma'am!" cried one of the policemen, flinging himself
from his horse. "So it's you, me gay buck? Thirty days fer you, an'
mebbe more. I didn't like yer looks from th' start. You're working some
kind of a trick. What complaint, ma'am?"

"Drunkenness and abduction,"--rubbing the burning spot on her cheek.

"That'll be rather serious. Ye'll have to appear against him in th'
mornin', ma'am."

"I certainly shall do so." She promptly gave her name, address and
telephone number.

"Bill, you drive th' ladies home an' I'll see this bucko to th'
station. Here, you!"--to Warburton, who was still dumb with
astonishment at the extraordinary denouement to his innocent joke. "Git
on that horse, an' lively, too, or I'll rap ye with th' club."

"It's all a mistake, officer--"

"Close yer face an' git on that horse. Y' can tell th' judge all that
in th' mornin'. _I_ ain't got no time t' listen. Bill, report just as
soon as ye see th' ladies home. Now, off with ye. Th' ladies'll be
wantin' somethin' t' quiet their nerves. Git on that horse, me frisky
groom; hustle!" Warburton mechanically climbed into the saddle. It
never occurred to him to parley, to say that he couldn't ride a horse.
The inventive cells of his usually fertile brain lay passive. "Now,"
went on the officer, mounting his own nag, "will ye go quietly? If ye
don't I'll plug ye in th' leg with a chunk o' lead. I won't stan' no
nonsense."

"What are you going to do with me?" asked Warburton, with a desperate
effort to collect his energies.

"Lock ye up; mebbe throw a pail of water on that overheated cocoanut of
yours."

"But if you'll only let me explain to you! It's all a joke; I got the
wrong carriage--"

"Marines, marines! D' ye think I was born yestiddy? Ye wanted th'
ladies' sparklers, or I'm a doughhead." The police are the same all
over the world; the original idea sticks to them, and truth in voice or
presence is but sign of deeper cunning and villainy. "Anyhow, ye can't
run around Washington like ye do in England, me cockney. Ye can't drive
more'n a hundred miles an hour on these pavements."

"But, I tell you--" Warburton, realizing where his escapade was about
to lead him, grew desperate. The ignominy of it! He would be the
laughing-stock of all the town on the morrow. The papers would teem
with it. "You'll find that you are making a great mistake. If you will
only take me to--Scott Circle--"

"Where ye have a pal with a gun, eh? Git ahead!" And the two made off
toward the west.

Once or twice the officer found himself admiring the easy seat of his
prisoner; and if the horse had been anything but a trained animal, he
would have worried some regarding the ultimate arrival at the
third-precinct.

Half a dozen times Warburton was of a mind to make a bolt for it, but
he did not dare trust the horse or his knowledge of the streets. He had
already two counts against him, disorderly conduct and abduction, and
he had no desire to add uselessly a third, that of resisting an
officer, which seems the greatest possible crime a man can commit and
escape hanging. Oh, for a mettlesome nag! There would be no
police-station for him, then. Police-station! Heavens, what should he
do? His brother, his sister; their dismay, their shame; not counting
that he himself would be laughed at from one end of the continent to
the other. What an ass he had made of himself! He wondered how much
money it would take to clear himself, and at the same moment
recollected that he hadn't a cent in his clothes. A sweat of terror
moistened his brow.

"What were ye up to, anyway?" asked the policeman. "What kind of booze
have ye been samplin'?"

"I've nothing to say."

"Ye speak clear enough. So much th' worse, if ye ain't drunk. Was ye
crazy t' ride like that? Ye might have killed th' women an' had a bill
of manslaughter brought against ye."

"I have nothing to say; it is all a mistake. I got the wrong number and
the wrong carriage."

"Th' devil ye did! An' where was ye goin' t' drive th' other carriage
at that thunderin' rate? It won't wash. His honor'll be stone-deaf when
ye tell him that. You're drunk, or have been."

"Not to-night."

"Well, I'd give me night off t' know what ye were up to. Don't ye know
nothin' about ordinances an' laws? An' I wouldn't mind havin' ye tell
me why ye threw yer arms around th' lady an' kissed her,"--shrewdly.

Warburton started in his saddle. He had forgotten all about that part
of the episode. His blood warmed suddenly and his cheeks burned. He had
kissed her, kissed her soundly, too, the most radiantly beautiful woman
in all the world. Why, come to think of it, it was easily worth a night
in jail. Yes, by George, he _had_ kissed her, kissed that blooming
cheek, and but for this policeman, would have forgotten! Whatever
happened to him, she wouldn't forget in a hurry. He laughed. The
policeman gazed at him in pained surprise.

"Well, ye seem t' take it good an' hearty."

"If you could only see the humor in it, my friend, you'd laugh, too."

"Oh, I would, hey? All I got t' say is that yer nerve gits me. An' ye
stand a pretty good show of bein' rounded up for more'n thirty days,
too. Well, ye've had yer joke; mebbe ye have th' price t' pay th'
fiddler. Turn here."

The rest of the ride was in silence, Warburton gazing callously ahead
and the officer watching him with a wary eye to observe any suggestive
movement. He couldn't make out this chap. There was something wrong,
some deep-dyed villainy--of this he hadn't the slightest doubt. It was
them high-toned swells that was the craftiest an' most daring. Handsome
is that handsome does. A quarter of an hour later they arrived at the
third precinct, where our jehu was registered for the night under the
name of James Osborne. He was hustled into a small cell and left to
himself.

He had kissed her! Glory of glories! He had pressed her to his very
heart, besides. After all, they couldn't do anything very serious to
him. They could not prove the charge of abduction. He stretched himself
on the cot, smiled, arranged his legs comfortably, wondered what she
was thinking of at this moment, and fell asleep. It was a sign of a
good constitution and a decently white conscience. And thus they found
him in the morning. They touched his arm, and he awoke with a smile,
the truest indication of a man's amiability. At first he was puzzled as
he looked blinkingly from his jailers to his surroundings and then back
at his jailers. Then it all returned to him, and he laughed. Now the
law, as represented and upheld by its petty officers, possesses a
dignity that is instantly ruffled by the sound of laughter from a
prisoner; and Mr. Robert was roughly told to shut up, and that he'd
soon laugh on the other side of his mouth.

"All right, officers, all right; only make allowances for a man who
sees the funny side of things." Warburton stood up and shook himself,
and picked up his white hat. They eyed him intelligently. In the
morning light the young fellow didn't appear to be such a rascal. It
was plainly evident that he had _not_ been drunk the preceding night;
for his eyes were not shot with red veins nor did his lips lack their
usual healthy moisture. The officer who had taken him in charge, being
a shrewd and trained observer, noted the white hands, soft and
well-kept. He shook his head.

"Look here, me lad, you're no groom, not by several years. Now, what
th' devil was ye up to, anyway?"

"I'm not saying a word, sir," smiled Warburton. "All I want to know is,
am I to have any breakfast? I shouldn't mind some peaches and cream or
grapes to start with, and a small steak and coffee."

"Ye wouldn't mind, hey?" mimicked the officer. "What d'ye think this
place is, th' Metropolitan Club? Ye'll have yer bacon an' coffee, an'
be glad t' git it. They'll feed ye in th' mess-room. Come along."

Warburton took his time over the coffee and bacon. He wanted to think
out a reasonable defense without unmasking himself. He was thinking how
he could get word to me, too. The "duffer" might prove a friend in need.

"Now where?" asked Warburton, wiping his mouth.

"T' th' court. It'll go hard with ye if ye're handed over t' th' grand
jury on th' charge of abduction. Ye'd better make a clean breast of it.
I'll speak a word for yer behavior."

"Aren't you a little curious?"

"It's a part of me business,"--gruffly.

"I'll have my say to the judge," said Warburton.

"That's yer own affair. Come."

Once outside, Warburton lost color and a large part of his nonchalance;
for an open patrol stood at the curb.

"Have I got to ride in that?"--disgustedly.

"As true as life; an' if ye make any disturbance, so much th' worse."

Warburton climbed in, his face red with shame and anger. He tied his
handkerchief around his chin and tilted his hat far down over his eyes.

"'Fraid of meetin' some of yer swell friends, hey? Ten t' one, yer a
swell an' was runnin' away with th' wrong woman. Mind, I have an eye on
ye."

The patrol rumbled over the asphalt on the way down-town. Warburton
buried his face in his hands. Several times they passed a cigar-store,
and his mouth watered for a good cigar, the taste of a clear Havana.

He entered the police-court, not lacking in curiosity. It was his first
experience with this arm of the civil law. He wasn't sure that he liked
it. It wasn't an inviting place with its bare benches and its motley,
tawdry throng. He was plumped into a seat between some ladies of
irregular habits, and the stale odor of intoxicants, mingling with
cheap perfumery, took away the edge of his curiosity.

"Hello, pretty boy; jag?" asked one of these faded beauties, in an
undertone. She nudged him with her elbow.

"No, sweetheart," he replied, smiling in spite of himself.

"Ah gowan! Been pinching some one's wad?"

"Nope!"

"What are you here for, then?"

"Having a good time without anybody's consent. If you will listen, you
will soon hear all about it."

"Silence there, on the bench!" bawled the clerk, whacking the desk.

"Say, Marie," whispered the woman to her nearest neighbor, "here's a
boy been selling his master's harness and got pinched."

"But look at the sweet things coming in, will you! Ain't they swell,
though?" whispered Marie, nodding a skinny feather toward the door.

Warburton glanced indifferently in the direction indicated, and
received a shock. Two women--and both wore very heavy black veils. The
smaller of the two inclined her body, and he was sure that her scrutiny
was for him. He saw her say something into the ear of the companion,
and repeat it to one of the court lawyers. The lawyer approached the
desk, and in his turn whispered a few words into the judge's ear. The
magistrate nodded. Warburton was conscious of a blush of shame. This
was a nice position for any respectable woman to see him in!

"James Osborne!" called the clerk.

An officer beckoned to James, and he made his way to the prisoner's
box. His honor looked him over coldly.

"Name?"

"James Osborne."

"Born here?"

"No."

"Say 'sir'."

"No, sir."

"Where were you born?"

"In New York State."

"How old are you? And don't forget to say 'sir' when you reply to my
questions."

"I am twenty-eight, sir."

"Married?"

"No, sir."

"How long have you been engaged as a groom?"

"Not very long, sir."

"How long?"

"Less than twenty-four hours, sir."

Surprise rippled over the faces of the audience on the benches.

"Humph! You are charged with disorderly conduct, reckless driving, and
attempted abduction. The last charge has been withdrawn, fortunately
for you, sir. Have you ever been up before?"

"Up, sir?"

"A prisoner in a police-court."

"No, sir."

"Twenty-five for reckless driving and ten for disorderly conduct; or
thirty days."

"Your Honor, the horses ran away."

"Yes, urged by your whip."

"I was not disorderly, sir."

"The officer declares that you had been drinking."

"Your Honor, I got the wrong carriage. My number was seventeen and I
answered to number seventy-one." He wondered if _she_ would believe
this statement.

"I suppose that fully explains why you made a race-track of one of our
main thoroughfares?"--sarcastically. "You were on the wrong carriage to
begin with."

"All I can say, sir, is that it was a mistake."

"The mistake came in when you left your carriage to get a drink. You
broke the law right then. Well, if a man makes mistakes, he must pay
for them, here or elsewhere. This mistake will cost you thirty-five."

"I haven't a penny in my clothes, sir."

"Officer, lock him up, and keep him locked up till the fine is paid. I
can not see my way to remit it Not another word,"--as Warburton started
to protest.

"Marie Johnson, Mabel Tynner, Belle Lisle!" cried the clerk.

The two veiled ladies left the court precipitately.

James, having been ushered into a cell, hurriedly called for pen and
ink and paper. At half after ten that morning the following note
reached me:

"Dear Chuck: Am in a devil of a scrape at the police-court. Tried to
play a joke on the girls last night by dressing up in the groom's
clothes. Got the wrong outfit, and was arrested. Bring thirty-five and
a suit of clothes the quickest ever. And, for mercy's sake, say nothing
to any one, least of all the folks. I have given the name of James
Osborne. Now, hustle. Bob."

I hustled.



VIII

ANOTHER SALAD IDEA


When they found him missing, his bed untouched, his hat and coat on the
rack, his inseparable walking-stick in the umbrella-stand, they were
mightily worried. They questioned Jane, but she knew nothing. Jack went
out to the stables; no news there. William, having driven the girls
home himself, dared say nothing. Then Jack wisely telephoned for me,
and I hurried over to the house.

"Maybe he hunted up some friends last night," I suggested.

"But here's his hat!" cried Nancy.

"Oh, he's all right; don't worry. I'll take a tour around the city.
I'll find him. He may be at one of the clubs."

Fortunately for Mr. James Osborne I returned home first, and there
found his note awaiting me. I was at the court by noon, armed with
thirty-five and a suit of clothes of my own. I found the clerk.

"A young man, dressed as a groom, and locked up overnight," I said
cautiously. "I wish to pay his fine."

"James Osborne?"

"Yes, that's the name; James Osborne,"--reaching down into my pocket.

"Fine's just been paid. We were about to release him. Here, officer,
show this gentleman to James Osborne's cell, and tell him to pack up
and get out."

So his fine was paid! Found the money in his clothes, doubtless. On the
way to the cells I wondered what the deuce the rascal had been doing to
get locked up overnight. I was vastly angry, but at the sight of him
all my anger melted into a prolonged shout of laughter.

"That's right; laugh, you old pirate! I wish you had been in my boots a
few hours ago. Lord!"

I laughed again.

"Have you got that thirty-five?" he asked.

"Why, your fine has been paid," I replied, rather surprised.

"And didn't you pay it?"

"Not I! The clerk told me that it had just been paid."

Warburton's jaw sank limply. "Just been paid?--Who the deuce could have
paid it, or known?"

"First, tell me what you've been up to."

He told me snatches of the exploit as he changed his clothes, and it
was a question which of us laughed the more. But he didn't say a word
about the stolen kiss, for which I think none the less of him.

"Who were the women?" I asked.

He looked at me for a space, as if deciding. Finally he made a negative
sign.

"Don't know who they were, eh?"--incredulously.

He shrugged, laughed, and drew on his shoes.

"I always knew that I was the jackass of the family, Chuck, but I never
expected to do it so well. Let's get out of this hole. I wonder who can
have paid that fine?... No, that would not be possible!"

"What would not be?"

"Nothing, nothing,"--laughing.

But I could see that his spirits had gone up several degrees.

"The whole thing is likely to be in the evening papers," I said. He
needed a little worrying. And I knew his horror of publicity.

"The newspapers? In the newspapers? Oh, I say, Chuck, can't you use
your influence to suppress the thing? Think of the girls."

"I'll do the best I can. And there's only one thing for you to do, and
that is to cut out of town till your beard has grown. It would serve
you right, however, if the reporters got the true facts."

"I'm for getting out of town, Chuck; and on the next train but one."

Here our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a policeman.

"A note for _Mister_ Osborne,"--ironically. He tossed the letter to
Warburton and withdrew.

_Mister_ Osborne eagerly tore open an end of the envelope--a very
aristocratic envelope, as I could readily discern--and extracted the
letter. I closely watched his facial expressions. First, there was
interest, then surprise, to be succeeded by amusement and a certain
exultation. He slapped his thigh.

"By George, Chuck. I'll do it!"

"Do it? Now what?"

"Listen to this." He cleared his throat, sniffed of the faintly scented
paper and cleared his throat again. He looked up at me drolly.

"Well?" said I, impatiently. I was as eager to hear it as he had been
to read it. I believed that the mystery was about to be solved.

"'James Osborne, Sir: I have been thinking the matter over seriously,
and have come to the conclusion that there may have been a mistake.
Undoubtedly my groom was primarily to blame. I have discharged him for
neglecting his post of duty. I distinctly recall the manner in which
you handled the horses last night. It may be possible that they ran
away with you. However that may be, I find myself in need of a groom.
Your horsemanship saved us from a serious accident. If you will promise
to let whisky alone, besides bringing me a recommendation, and are
without engagement, call at the inclosed address this afternoon at
three o'clock. I should be willing to pay as much as forty dollars a
month. You would be expected to accompany me on my morning rides.'"

"She must have paid the fine," said I. "Well, it beats anything I ever
heard of. Had you arrested, and now wants to employ you! What name did
you say?" I asked carelessly.

"I didn't say any name, Chuck,"--smiling. "And I'm not going to give
any, you old duffer."

"And why not?"

"For the one and simple reason that I am going to accept the
position,"--with a coolness that staggered me.

"What?" I bawled.

"Sure as life, as the policeman said last night."

"You silly ass, you! Do you want to make the family a laughing-stock
all over town?" I was really angry.

"Neither the family nor the town will know anything about
it,"--imperturbably.

"But you will be recognized!" I remonstrated. "It's a clear case of
insanity, after what has just happened to you."

"I promise not to drink any whisky,"--soberly.

"Bob, you are fooling me."

"Not the littlest bit, Chuck. I've worn a beard for two years. No one
would recognize me. Besides, being a groom, no one would pay any
particular attention to me. Get the point?"

"But what under the sun is your object?" I demanded. "There's something
back of all this. It's not a simple lark like last night's."

"Perspicacious man!"--railingly. "Possibly you may be right. Chuck, you
know that I've just got to be doing something. I've been inactive too
long. I am ashamed to say that I should tire of the house in a week or
less. Change, change, of air, of place, of occupation; change--I must
have it. It's food and drink."

"You've met this woman before, somewhere."

"I neither acknowledge nor deny. It will be very novel. I shall be busy
from morning till night. Think of the fun of meeting persons whom you
know, but who do not know you. I wouldn't give up this chance for any
amount of money."

"Forty Dollars a month," said I, wrathfully.

"Cigar money,"--tranquilly.

"Look here, Bob; be reasonable. You can't go about as a groom in
Washington. If the newspapers ever get hold of it, you would be
disgraced. They wouldn't take you as a clerk in a third-rate consulate.
Supposing you should run into Jack or his wife or Nancy; do you think
they wouldn't know you at once?"

"I'll take the risk. I'd deny that I knew them; they'd tumble and leave
me alone. Chuck, I've got to do this. Some day you'll understand."

"But the woman's name, Bob; only her name."

"Oh, yes! And have you slide around and show me up within twenty-four
hours. No, I thank you. I am determined on this. You ought to know me
by this time. I never back down; it isn't in the blood. And when all is
said, where's the harm in this escapade? I can see none. It may not
last the day through."

"I trust not,"--savagely.

"I am determined upon answering this letter in person and finding out,
if possible, what induced her to pay my fine. Jackass or not, I'm going
to see the thing through." Then he stretched an appealing hand out
toward me, and said wheedlingly: "Chuck, give me your word to keep
perfectly quiet. I'll drop you a line once in a while, just to let you
know how I stand. I shall be at the house to-night. I'll find an
excuse. I'm to go up North on a hunting expedition; a hurry call. Do
you catch on?"

"I shall never be able to look Nancy in the face," I declared. "Come,
Bob; forget it. It sounds merry enough, but my word for it, you'll
regret it inside of twenty-four hours. You are a graduate of the
proudest military school in the world, and you are going to make a
groom of yourself!"

"I've already done that and been locked up overnight. You are wasting
your breath, Chuck."

"Well, hang you for a jackass, sure enough! I promise; but if you get
into any such scrape as this, you needn't send for me. I refuse to help
you again."

"I can't exactly see that you did. Let's get out. Got a cigar in your
pocket? I am positively dying for a smoke."

Suddenly a brilliant idea came to me.

"Did you know that Miss Annesley, the girl you saw on shipboard, is in
Washington and was at the embassy last night?"

"No! You don't say!" He was too clever for me. "When I get through with
this exploit, Nancy'll have to introduce me. Did you see her?"

"Yes, and talked to her. You see what you missed by not going last
night."

"Yes, I missed a good night's rest and a cold bath in the morning."

"Where shall I say you were last night?" I asked presently.

Mister James scratched his chin disconcertedly. "I hadn't thought of
that. Say that I met some of the boys and got mixed up in a little game
of poker."

"You left your hat on the rack and your cane in the stand. You are
supposed to have left the house without any hat."

"Hat!" He jumped up from the cot on which he had been sitting and
picked up the groom's tile. "Didn't you bring me a hat?"--dismayed.

"You said nothing about it,"--and I roared with laughter.

"How shall I get out of here? I can't wear this thing through the
streets."

"I've a mind to make you wear it. And, by Jove, you shall! You'll wear
it to the hatter's, or stay here. That's final. I never back down,
either."

"I'll wear it; only, mark me, I'll get even with you. I always did."

"_I_ am not a boy any longer,"--with an inflection on the personal
pronoun. "Well, to continue about that excuse. You left the house
without a hat, and you met the boys and played poker all night. That
hitches wonderfully. You didn't feel well enough to go to the embassy,
but you could go and play poker. That sounds as if you cared a lot for
your sister. And you wanted to stay at home the first night, because
you had almost forgotten how the inside of a private dwelling looked.
Very good; very coherent."

"Cut it, Chuck. What the deuce excuse _can_ I give?"--worriedly
lighting the cigar I had given him.

"My boy, I'm not making up your excuses; you'll have to invent those.
I'll be silent, but I refuse to lie to Nancy on your account. Poker is
the only excuse that would carry any weight with it. You will have to
let them believe you're a heartless wretch; which you are, if you
persist in this idiotic exploit."

"You don't understand, Chuck. I wish I could tell you; honestly, I do.
The girls will have to think mean things of me till the farce is over.
I couldn't escape if I wanted to."

"Is it Miss Annesley, Bob? Was it she whom you ran away with? Come,
make a clean breast of it. If it's she, why, that altogether alters the
face of things."

He walked the length of the cell and returned. "I give up. You've hit
it. You understand now. I simply can't back away; I couldn't if I
tried."

"Are you in love with the girl?"

"That's just what I want to find out, Chuck. I'm not sure. I've been
thinking of her night and day. I never had any affair; I don't know
what love is. But if it's shaking in your boots at the sound of her
name, if it's getting red in the face when you only just think of her,
if it's having a wild desire to pick her up and run away with her when
you see her, then I've got it. When she stepped out of that confounded
carriage last night, you could have knocked me over with a paper-wad.
Come, let's go out. Hang the hat! Let them all laugh if they will. It's
only a couple of blocks to the hatter's."

He bravely put the white hat on his head, and together we marched out
of the police-office into the street. We entered the nearest hatter's
together. He took what they call a drop-kick out of the hat, sending it
far to the rear of the establishment. I purchased a suitable derby for
him, gave him ten dollars for emergencies, and we parted.

He proceeded to a telegraph office and sent a despatch to a friend up
North, asking him to telegraph him to come at once, taking his chances
of getting a reply. After this he boarded a north-going car, and was
rolled out to Chevy Chase. He had no difficulty in finding the house of
which he was in search. It was a fine example of colonial architecture,
well back from the road, and fields beyond it. It was of red brick and
white stone, with a wide veranda supported by great white pillars.
There was a modern portico at one side. A fine lawn surrounded the
whole, and white-pebble walks wound in and out. All around were thickly
wooded hills, gashed here and there by the familiar yet peculiar red
clay of the country. Warburton walked up the driveway and knocked
deliberately at the servants' door, which was presently opened. (I
learned all these things afterward, which accounts for my accurate
knowledge of events.)

"Please inform Miss Annesley that Mr. Osborne has come in reply to her
letter," he said to the little black-eyed French maid.

"Ees Meestaire Osborrrrne zee new groom?"

"Yes."

"I go thees minute!" _Hein!_ what a fine-looking young man to make eyes
at on cold nights in the kitchen!

Warburton sat down and twirled his hat. Several times he repressed the
desire to laugh. He gazed curiously about him. From where he sat he
could see into the kitchen. The French chef was hanging up his polished
pans in a glistening row back of the range, and he was humming a little
_chanson_ which Warburton had often heard in the restaurants of the
provincial cities of France. He even found himself catching up the
refrain where the chef left off. Presently he heard footsteps sounding
on the hardwood floor, which announced that the maid was returning with
her mistress.

He stood up, rested first on one foot, then on the other, and awkwardly
shifted his new hat from one hand to the other, then suddenly put the
hat under his arm, recollecting that the label was not such as servants
wore inside their hats.

There was something disquieting in those magnetic sapphire eyes looking
so serenely into his.



IX

THE HEROINE HIRES A GROOM


Remarkable as it may read, his first impression was of her gown--a gown
such as women wear on those afternoons when they are free of social
obligations, a gown to walk in or to lounge in. The skirt, which barely
reached to the top of her low shoes, was of some blue stuff (stuff,
because to a man's mind the word covers feminine dress-goods generally,
liberally, and handily), overshot with gray. Above this she had put on
a white golfing-sweater, a garment which at that time was just
beginning to find vogue among women who loved the fields and the road.
Only men who own to stylish sisters appreciate these things, and
Warburton possessed rather observant eyes. She held a bunch of freshly
plucked poppies in her hand. It was the second time that their glances
had met and held. In the previous episode (on the day she had leaned
out of the cab) hers had been first to fall. Now it was his turn. He
studied the tips of his shoes. There were three causes why he lowered
his eyes: First, she was mistress here and he was an applicant for
employment; second, he loved her; third, he was committing the first
bold dishonesty in his life. Once, it was on the very tip of his tongue
to confess everything, apologize, and take himself off. But his
curiosity was of greater weight than his desire. He remained silent and
waited for her to speak.

"Celeste, you may leave us," said Miss Annesley.

Celeste courtesied, shot a killing glance at the tentative groom, and
departed the scene.

"You have driven horses for some length of time?" the girl began.

If only he might look as calmly and fearlessly at her! What a voice,
now that he heard it in its normal tone! "Yes, Madam; I have ridden and
driven something like ten years."

"Where?"

"In the West, mostly."

"You are English?"

"No, Madam." He wondered how much she had heard at the police-court
that morning. "I am American born."

"Are you addicted to the use of intoxicants?"--mentally noting the
clearness of the whites of his eyes.

The barest flicker of a smile stirred his lips.

"No, Madam. I had not been drinking last night--that is, not in the
sense the officers declared I had. It is true that I take a drink once
in a while, when I have been riding or driving all day, or when I am
cold. I have absolutely no appetite."

She brushed her cheeks with the poppies, and for a brief second the
flowers threw a most beautiful color over her face and neck.

"What was your object in climbing on the box of my carriage and running
away with it?"

Quick as a flash of light he conceived his answer. "Madam, it was a
jest between me and some maids." He had almost said serving-maids, but
the thought of Nancy checked this libel.

"Between you and some maids?"--faintly contemptuous. "Explain, for I
believe an explanation is due me."

His gaze was forced to rove again. "Well, Madam, it is truly
embarrassing. Two maids were to enter a carriage and I was to drive
them away from the embassy, and once I had them in the carriage I
thought it would be an admirable chance to play them a trick."

"Pray, since when have serving-maids beein allowed exit from the main
hall of the British embassy?"

Mr. Robert was positive that the shadow of a sarcastic smile rested for
a moment on her lips. But it was instantly hidden under the poppies.

"That is something of which I have no intimate knowledge. A groom is
not supposed to turn his head when on the box unless spoken to. You
will readily understand that, Madam. I made a mistake in the number.
Mine was seventy-one, and I answered number seventeen. I was confused."

"I dare say. Seventy-one," she mused, "It will be easy to verify this,
to find out whose carriage that was."

Mr. Robert recognized his mistake, but he saw no way to rectify it. She
stood silently gazing over his shoulder, into the fields beyond.

"Perhaps you can explain to me that remarkable episode at the carriage
door? I should be pleased to hear your explanation."

It hard come,--the very thing he had dreaded had come. He had hoped
that she would ignore it. "Madam, I can see that you have sent for me
out of curiosity only. If I offered any disrespect to you last night, I
pray you to forgive me. For, on my word of honor, it was innocently
done." He bowed, and even placed his hand on the knob of the door.

"Have a little patience. I prefer myself to forget that disagreeable
incident." The truth is, "on my word of honor," coming from a groom,
sounded strange in her ears; and she wanted to learn more about this
fellow. "Mr. Osborne, what were you before you became a groom?"

"I have not always been a groom, it is true, Madam. My past I prefer to
leave in obscurity. There is nothing in that past, however, of which I
need be ashamed;"--and unconsciously his figure became more erect.

"Is your name Osborne?"

"No, Madam, it is not. For my family's sake, I have tried to forget my
own name." (I'll wager the rascal never felt a qualm in the region of
his conscience.)

It was this truth which was not truth that won his battle.

"You were doubtless discharged last night?"

"I did not return to ascertain, Madam. I merely sent for my belongings."

"You have recommendations?"--presently.

"I have no recommendations whatever, Madam. If you employ me, it must
be done on your own responsibility and trust in human nature. I can
only say, Madam, that I am honest, that I am willing, that I possess a
thorough knowledge of horse-flesh."

"It is very unusual," she said, searching him to the very heart with
her deep blue eyes. "For all I know you may be the greatest rascal, or
you may be the honestest man, in the world." His smile was so frank and
engaging that she was forced to smile herself. But she thought of
something, and frowned. "If you have told me the truth, so much the
better; for I can easily verify all you have told me. I will give you a
week's trial. After all,"--indifferently--"what I desire is a capable
servant. You will have to put up with a good deal. There are days when
I am not at all amiable, and on those days I do not like to find a
speck of rust on the metals or a blanket that has not been thoroughly
brushed. As for the animals, they must always shine like satin. This
last is unconditional. Besides all this, our force of servants is
small. Do you know anything about serving?"

"Very little." What was coming now?

"The chef will coach you. I entertain some, and there will be times
when you will be called upon to wait on the table. Come with me and I
will show you the horses. We have only five, but my father takes great
pride in them. They are all thoroughbreds."

"Like their mistress," was Warburton's mental supplementary.

"Father hasn't ridden for years, however. The groom I discharged this
morning was capable enough on the box, but he was worse than useless to
me in my morning rides. I ride from nine till eleven, even Sundays
sometimes. Remain here till I return."

As she disappeared Warburton drew in an exceedingly long breath and
released it slowly. Heavens, what an ordeal! He drew the back of his
hand across his forehead and found it moist. Not a word about the fine:
he must broach it and thank her. Ah, to ride with her every morning, to
adjust her stirrup, to obey every command to which she might give
voice, to feel her small boot repulse his palm as she mounted! Heaven
could hold nothing greater than this. And how easily a woman may be
imposed upon! Decidedly, Mr. Robert was violently in love.

When she returned there was a sunbonnet on her head, and she had pinned
the poppies on her breast. (Why? I couldn't tell you, unless when all
is said and done, be he king or valet, a man is always a man; and if
perchance he is blessed with good looks, a little more than a man. You
will understand that in this instance I am trying to view things
through a woman's eyes.) With a nod she bade him precede her, and they
went out toward the stables. She noted the flat back, the square
shoulders, the easy, graceful swing of the legs.

"Have you been a soldier?" she asked suddenly.

He wheeled. His astonishment could not be disguised quickly enough to
escape her vigilant eyes. Once more he had recourse to the truth.

"Yes, Madam. It was as a trooper that I learned horsemanship."

"What regiment?"

"I prefer not to say,"--quietly.

"I do not like mysteries,"--briefly.

"Madam, you have only to dismiss me, to permit me to thank you for
paying my fine and to reimburse you at the earliest opportunity."

She closed her lips tightly. No one but herself knew what had been on
the verge of passing across them.

"Let us proceed to the stables," was all she said. "If you prove
yourself a capable horseman, that is all I desire."

The stable-boy slid back the door, and the two entered. Warburton
glanced quickly about; all was neatness. There was light and
ventilation, too, and the box-stalls were roomy. The girl stopped
before a handsome bay mare, which whinnied when it saw her. She laid
her cheek against the animal's nose and talked that soft jargon so
embarrassing to man and so intelligible to babies and pet animals.
Lucky horse! he thought; but his face expressed nothing.

"This is Jane, my own horse, and there are few living things I love so
well. Remember this. She is a thoroughbred, a first-class hunter; and I
have done more than five feet on her at home."

She moved on, Warburton following soberly and thoughtfully. There was a
good deal to think of just now. The more he saw of this girl, the less
he understood her purpose in hiring him. She couldn't possibly know
anything about him, who or what he was. With his beard gone he defied
her to recognize in him the man who had traveled across the Atlantic
with her. A highbred woman, such as she was, would scarcely harbor any
kind feelings toward a man who had acted as he was acting. If any man
had kissed Nancy the way he had kissed her, he would have broken every
bone in his body or hired some one to do it. And she had paid his fine
at the police-station and had hired him on probation! Truly he was in
the woods, and there wasn't a sign of a blazed trail. (It will be seen
that my hero hadn't had much experience with women. She knew nothing of
him whatever. She was simply curious, and brave enough to attempt to
have this curiosity gratified. Of course, I do not venture to say that,
had he been coarse in appearance, she would have had anything to do
with him.)

"This is Dick, my father's horse,"--nodding toward a sorrel, large and
well set-up. "He will be your mount. The animal in the next stall is
Pirate."

Pirate was the handsomest black gelding Warburton had ever laid eyes on.

"What a beauty!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, forgetting that grooms
should be utterly without enthusiasm. He reached out his hand to pat
the black nose, when a warning cry restrained him. Pirate's ears lay
flat.

"Take care! He is a bad-tempered animal. No one rides him, and we keep
him only to exhibit at the shows. Only half a dozen men have ridden him
with any success. He won't take a curb in his mouth, and he always runs
away. It takes a very strong man to hold him in. I really don't believe
that he's vicious, only terribly mischievous, like a bullying boy."

"I should like to ride him."

The girl looked at her new groom in a manner which expressed frank
astonishment. Was he in earnest, or was it mere bravado? An idea came
to her, a mischievous idea.

"If you can sit on Pirate's back for ten minutes, there will not be any
question of probation. I promise to engage you on the spot,
recommendation or no recommendation." Would he, back down?

"Where are the saddles, Madam?" he asked calmly, though his blood moved
faster.

"On the pegs behind you,"--becoming interested. "Do you really intend
to ride him?"

"With your permission."

"I warn you that the risk you are running is great."

"I am not afraid of Pirate, Madam," in a tone which implied that he was
not afraid of any horse living. The spirit of antagonism rose up in
him, that spirit of antagonism of the human against the animal, that
eternal ambition of the one to master the other. And besides, I'm not
sure that James didn't want to show off before the girl--another very
human trait in mankind. For my part, I wouldn't give yesterday's rose
for a man who wouldn't show off once in a while, when his best girl is
around and looking on.

"On your head be it, then,"--a sudden nervousness seizing her. Yet she
was as eager to witness the encounter as he was to court it. "William!"
she called. The stable-boy entered, setting aside his broom. "This is
James, the new groom. Help him to saddle Pirate."

"Saddle Pirate, Miss Annesley!" cried the boy, his mouth open and his
eyes wide.

"You see?" said the girl to Warburton.

"Take down that saddle with the hooded stirrups," said Warburton,
briefly. He would ride Pirate now, even if Pirate had been sired in
Beelzebub's stables. He carefully inspected the saddle, the
stirrup-straps and the girth. "Very good, indeed. Buckles on saddles
are always a hidden menace and a constant danger. Now, bring out
Pirate, William."

William brought out the horse, who snorted when he saw the saddle on
the floor and the curb on Warburton's arm.

"There hasn't been anybody on his back for a year, sir; not since last
winter. He's likely to give you trouble," said the boy. "You can't put
that curb on him, sir; he won't stand for it a moment. Miss Annesley,
hadn't you better step outside? He may start to kicking. That heavy
English snaffle is the best thing I know of. Try that, sir. And don't
let him get his head down, or he'll do you. Whoa!" as Pirate suddenly
took it into his head to leave the barn without any one's permission.

The girl sprang lightly into one of the empty stalls and waited. She
was greatly excited, and the color in her cheeks was not borrowed from
the poppies. She saw the new groom take Pirate by the forelock, and,
quicker than words can tell, Mr. Pirate was angrily champing the cold
bit. He reared. Warburton caught him by the nose and the neck. Pirate
came down, trembling with rage.

"Here, boy; catch him here," cried Warburton. William knew his
business, and he grasped the bridle close under Pirate's jaws. "That's
it. Now hold him."

Warburton picked up the saddle and threw it over Pirate's glossy back.
Pirate waltzed from side to side, and shook his head wickedly. But the
man that was to mount him knew all these signs. Swiftly he gathered up
the end of the belly-band strap and ran it through the iron ring. In
and out he threaded it, drawing it tighter and tighter. He leaped into
the saddle and adjusted the stirrups, then dismounted.

"I'll take him now, William," said James, smiling.

"All right, sir," said William, glad enough to be relieved of all
further responsibility.

James led Pirate into the small court and waited for Miss Annesley, who
appeared in the doorway presently.

"James, I regret that I urged you to ride him. You will be hurt," she
said. Her worry was plainly visible on her face.

James smiled his pleasantest and touched his hat.

"Very well, then; I have warned you. If he bolts, head him for a tree.
That's the only way to stop him."

James shortened the bridle-rein to the required length, took a firm
grip on Pirate's mane, and vaulted into the saddle. Pirate stood
perfectly still. He shook his head. James talked to him and patted his
sleek neck, and touched him gently with his heel. Then things livened
up a bit. Pirate waltzed, reared, plunged, and started to do the _pas
seul_ on the flower-beds. Then he immediately changed his mind. He
decided to re-enter the stables.

"Don't let him get his head down!" yelled William, nimbly jumping over
a bed of poppies and taking his position beside his mistress.

"The gates, William! The gates!" cried the girl, excitedly. "Only one
is open. He will not be able to get through."

William scampered down the driveway and swung back the iron barrier.
None too soon! Like a black shadow, Pirate flashed by, his rider's new
derby rolling in the dust.

The girl stood in the doorway, her hands pressed against her heart. She
was as white as the clouds that sailed overhead.



X

PIRATE


On the opposite side of the road there was a stone wall about five feet
in height; beyond this was a broad, rolling field, and farther on, a
barb-wire fence and a boggy stream which oozed its way down toward the
Potomac. Far away across the valley the wooded hills were drying and
withering and thinning, with splashes of yellow and red. A flock of
birds speckled the fleecy October clouds, and a mild breeze sent the
grasses shivering.

Toward the wall Pirate directed his course. Warburton threw back his
full weight. The effort had little or no effect on Pirate's mouth. His
rider remembered about the tree, but the nearest was many yards away.
Over the wall they went, and down the field. Pirate tried to get his
head down, but he received a check. Score one for the man. Warburton,
his legs stiffened in the stirrups, his hands well down, his breath
coming in gasps, wondered where they would finally land. He began to
use his knees, and Pirate felt the pressure. He didn't like it at all.
Oddly enough, Warburton's leg did not bother him as he expected it
would, and this gave him confidence. On, on; the dull pounding of
Pirate's feet, the flying sod, the wind in his face: and when he saw
the barb-wire fence, fear entered into him. An inch too low, a stumble,
and serious injuries might result. He must break Pirate's gait.

He began to saw cow-boy fashion. Pirate grew very indignant: he was
being hurt. His speed slackened none, however; he was determined to
make that fence if it was the last thing he ever did. He'd like to see
any man stop him. He took the deadly fence as with the wings of a bird.
But he found that the man was still on his back. He couldn't understand
it. He grew worried. And then he struck the red-brown muck bordering
the stream. The muck flew, but at every bound Pirate sank deeper, and
the knees of his rider were beginning to tell. Warburton, full of rage,
yet not unreasonable rage, quickly saw his chance. Once more he threw
back his weight; this time to the left. Pirate's head came stubbornly
around; his gait was broken, he was floundering in the stream. Now
Warburton used his heels savagely. He shortened the reins and whacked
Mr. Pirate soundly across the ears. Pirate plunged and reared and,
after devious evolutions, reached solid ground. This time his head was
high in the air, and, try as he would, he could not lower his neck a
solitary inch.

[Illustration: "He's a newspaper man and makes his living by telling
lies."--ACT II.]

Warburton knew that the animal could not make the barb-wire fence
again, so he waltzed him along till he found a break in the wire. Over
this Pirate bounded, snorting. But he had met a master. Whether he
reared or plunged, waltzed or ran, he could not make those ruthless
knees relent in their pressure. He began to understand what all beasts
understand, sooner or later--the inevitable mastery of man. There was
blood in his nostrils. A hand touched his neck caressingly. He shook
his head; he refused to conciliate. A voice, kindly but rather
breathless, addressed him. Again Pirate shook his head; but he did not
run, he cantered. Warburton gave a sigh of relief. Over the field they
went. A pull to the left, and Pirate wheeled; a pull to the right, and
again Pirate answered, and cantered in a circle. But he still shook his
head discontentedly, and the froth that spattered Warburton's legs was
flecked with blood. The stirrup-strap began to press sharply and
hurtfully against Warburton's injured leg. He tugged, and Pirate fell
into a trot. He was mastered.

After this Warburton did as he pleased; Pirate had learned his lesson.
His master put him through a dozen manoeuvers, and he was vastly
satisfied with the victory. In the heat of the battle Warburton had
forgotten all about where and what he was; and it was only when he
discerned far away a sunbonnet with fluttering strings peering over the
stone wall, and a boy in leggings standing on top of the wall, that he
recollected. A wave of exhilaration swept through his veins. He had
conquered the horse before the eyes of the one woman.

He guided Pirate close to the wall, and stopped him, looked down into
the girl's wonder-lit eyes and smiled cheerfully. And what is more, she
smiled faintly in acknowledgment. He had gained, in the guise of a
groom, what he might never have gained in any other condition of life,
the girl's respect and admiration. Though a thorough woman of the
world, high-bred, wellborn, she forgot for the moment to control her
features; and as I have remarked elsewhere, Warburton was a shrewd
observer.

"Bully, Mr. Osborne!" shouted William, leaping down. "It was simply
great!"

"There are some bars farther down," said the girl, quietly. "William,
run and open them."

Warburton flushed slightly. He could not tell how she had accomplished
it, whether it was the tone or the gesture, but she had calmly
reestablished the barrier between mistress and servant.

"I think I'll put him to the wall again," said the hero, seized by a
rebel spirit.

He wheeled Pirate about and sent him back at a run. Pirate balked.
Round he went again, down the field and back. This time he cleared the
wall with a good foot to spare. The victory was complete.

When it was all over, and Pirate was impatiently munching an extra
supply of oats, the girl bade Mr. James to report early the following
morning.

"I hope I shall please you, Madam."

"Address me as Miss Annesley from now on," she said; and nodding
shortly, she entered the house.

To Warburton, half the pleasure of the victory was gone; for not a word
of praise had she given him. Yet, she had answered his smile. Well, he
had made a lackey out of himself; he had no right to expect anything
but forty dollars a month and orders.

He broke his word with me. He did not return to the house that night
for dinner. In fact, he deliberately sent for his things, explaining
that he was called North and wouldn't have time to see them before he
left. It took all my persuasive oratory to smooth the troubled waters,
and then there were areas upon which my oil had no effect whatever.

"He is perfectly heartless!" cried Nancy. "He couldn't go to the
embassy, but he could steal away and play poker all night with a lot of
idling Army officers. And now he is going off to Canada without even
seeing us to say good-by. Charlie, there is something back of all this."

"I'll bet it's a woman," said Jack, throwing a scrutinizing glance at
me. But I was something of a diplomat myself, and he didn't catch me
napping. "Here's a telegram for him, too."

"I think I'll take the liberty of opening it," said I. I knew its
contents. It was the reply Warburton had depended on. I read it aloud.
It is good to have friends of this sort. No question was asked. It was
a bald order: "Come up at once and shoot caribou. Take first train."

"Bob's a jackass," was Jack's commentary. I had heard something like it
before, that day. "He'll turn up all right;"--and Jack lit a cigar and
picked up his paper.

"And Betty Annesley is going to call to-morrow night," said Nancy, her
voice overflowing with reproach. Her eyes even sparkled with tears. "I
did so want them to meet."

I called myself a villain. But I had given my promise; and I was in
love myself.

"I don't see what we can do. When Bob makes up his mind to do anything,
he generally does it." Jack, believing he had demolished the subject,
opened his _Morning Post_ and fell to studying the latest phases of the
Venezuelan muddle.

Nancy began to cry softly; she loved the scalawag as only sisters know
how to love. And I became possessed with two desires; to console her
and to punch Mr. Robert's head.

"It has always been this way with him," Nancy went on, dabbing her eyes
with her two-by-four handkerchief. "We never dreamed that he was going
into the Army till he came home one night and announced that he had
successfully passed his examinations for West Point. He goes and gets
shot, and we never know anything about it till we read the papers.
Next, he resigns and goes abroad without a word or coming to see us. I
don't know what to make of Bobby; I really don't."

I took her hand in mine and kissed it, and told her the rascal would
turn up in due time, that they hadn't heard the last of him for that
winter.

"He's only thoughtless and single-purposed," interposed Jack.

"Single-purposed!" I echoed.

"Why, yes. He gets one thing at a time in his brain, and thinks of
nothing else till that idea is worn out. I know him."

I recalled my useless persuasion of the morning. "I believe you are
right."

"Of course I'm right," replied Jack, turning a page of his paper. "Do
_you_ know where he has gone?"

"I think the telegram explains everything,"--evasively.

"Humph! Don't you worry about him, Nan. I'll wager he's up to some of
his old-time deviltry."

These and other little observations Jack let fall made it plain to me
that he was a natural student of men and their impulses, and that his
insight and judgment, unerring and anticipatory, had put him where he
is to-day, at the head of a department.

I left the house about ten o'clock, went downtown and found the
prodigal at a cheap hotel on Pennsylvania. He was looking over some
boots and leggings and ready-made riding breeches.

"Aha, Chuck, so here you are!"

"Look here, Bob, this will never do at all," I began.

"I thought we had threshed all that out thoroughly this morning."

"I left Nancy crying over your blamed callousness."

"Nancy? Hang it, I don't want Nancy to waste any tears over me; I'm not
worth it."

"Precious little you care! If it wasn't for the fact that you have told
me the true state of things, I should have exposed you to-night. Why
didn't you turn up to dinner as you promised? You might at least have
gone through the pretense of saying good-by to them."

"My dear boy, I'll admit that my conduct is nefarious. But look; Nancy
knows Miss Annesley, and they will be calling on each other. The truth
is, I dare not let the girls see me without a beard. And I'm too far
gone into the thing to back out now."

"I honestly hope that some one recognizes you and gives you away," I
declared indignantly.

"Thanks. You're in love with Nancy, aren't you? To be sure. Well,
wouldn't you do anything to keep around where she is, to serve her, to
hear her voice, to touch her hand occasionally, to ride with her; in
fact, always to be within the magic circle of her presence? Well, I
love this girl; I know it now, it is positive, doubtless. Her presence
is as necessary to me as the air I breathe. Had I met her in the
conventional way, she would have looked upon me as one of the pillars
of convention, and mildly ignored me. As I am, she does not know what I
am, or who I am; I am a mystery, I represent a secret, and she desires
to find out what this secret is. Besides all this, something impels me
to act this part, something aside from love. It is inexplicable; fate,
maybe." He paused, went to the window, and looked down into the street.
It was after-theater time and carriages were rolling to and fro.

"Bob, I apologize. You know a great deal more about feminine nature
than I had given you credit for. But how can you win her this way?"

He raised his shoulders. "Time and chance."

"Well, whate'er betide, I can't help wishing you luck."

We shook hands silently, and then I left him.

"Father," said Betty Annesley at the dinnertable that same night, "I
have engaged a new groom. He rode Pirate to-day and thoroughly mastered
him."

"Pirate? You don't say! Well, I'm glad of that. Pirate will make a
capital saddle-horse if he is ridden often enough. The groom will be a
safe companion for you on your rides. Are you too tired to do some
drawing for me to-night?"

"The fortification plans?"

"Yes." His eyes wandered from her face to the night outside. How gray
and sad the world was! "You will always love your father, dearie?"

"Love him? Always!"

"Whatever betide, for weal or woe?"

"Whatever betide."

How easy it was for her to say these words!

"And yet, some day, you must leave me, to take up your abode in some
other man's heart. My only wish is that it may beat for you as truly as
mine does."

She did not reply, but stepped to the window and pressed her brow to
the chilled pane. A yellow and purple line marked the path of the
vanished sun; the million stars sparkled above; far away she could see
the lights of the city. Of what was she thinking, dreaming? Was she
dreaming of heroes such as we poets and novelists invent and hang upon
the puppet-beam? Ah, the pity of these dreams the young girl has! She
dreams of heroes and of god-like men, and of the one that is to come.
But, ah! he never comes, he never comes; and the dream fades and dies,
and the world becomes real. A man may find his ideal, but a woman,
never. To youth, the fields of love; to man, the battle-ground; to old
age, a chair in the sunshine and the wreck of dreams!

"The government ought to pay you well if those plans are successful."
She moved away from the window.

"Yes, the government ought to pay me well. I should like to make you
rich, dearie, and happy."

"Why, daddy, am I not both? I have more money than I know what to do
with, and I am happy in having the kindest father." She came around the
table and caressed him, cheek to cheek. "Money isn't everything. It
just makes me happy to do anything for you."

His arm grew tense around her waist.

"Do you know what was running through my mind at the embassy last
night? I was thinking how deeply I love this great wide country of
mine. As I looked at the ambassador and his aides, I was saying to
myself, 'You dare not!' It may have been silly, but I couldn't help it,
We are the greatest people in the world. When I compared foreign
soldiers with our own, how my heart and pride swelled! No formalities,
no race prejudice, no false pride. I was never introduced to a foreign
officer that I did not fear him, with his weak eyes, his affected
mannerisms, his studied rudeness, not to me, but to the country I
represented. How I made some of them dance! Not for vanity's sake;
rather the inborn patriotism of my race. I had only to think of my
father, his honorable scars, his contempt for little things, his
courage, his steadfastness, his love for his country, which has so
honored him with its trust. Oh! I am a patriot; and I shall never,
never marry a man whose love for his country does not equal my own."
She caught up her father's mutilated hand and kissed it. "And even now
this father of mine is planning and planning to safeguard his country."

"But you must not say anything to a soul, my child; it must be a secret
till all is ready. I met Karloff to-day at the club. He has promised to
dine with us to-morrow night."

"Make him postpone it. I have promised to dine with Nancy Warburton."

"You had better dine with us and spend the evening with your friend. Do
you not think him a handsome fellow?"

"He is charming." She touched the bowl of poppies with her fingers and
smiled.

"He is very wealthy, too."

Betty offered no comment.

"What did they do to that infernal rascal who attempted to run away
with you and Mrs. Chadwick?"

"They arrested him and locked him up."

"I hope they will keep him there. And what reason did he give the
police for attempting to run away with you?"

"He said that he had made a wager with some serving-maids to drive them
from the embassy. He claims to have got the wrong number and the wrong
carriage."

"A very likely story!"

"Yes, a very likely story!"--and Betty, still smiling, passed on into
the music-room, where she took her violin from its case and played some
rollicking measures from Offenbach.

At the same time her father rose and went out on the lawn, where he
walked up and down, with a long, quick, nervous stride. From time to
time a wailing note from the violin floated out to him, and he would
stop and raise his haggard face toward heaven. His face was no longer
masked in smiles; it was grief-stricken, self-abhorring. At length he
softly crossed the lawn and stood before the music-room window. Ah, no
fretting care sat on yonder exquisite face, nor pain, nor trouble;
youth, only youth and some pleasant thought which the music had
aroused. How like her mother! How like her mother!

Suddenly he smote himself on the brow with a clenched hand. "Wretch!
God-forsaken wretch, how have you kept your trust? And how yonder child
has stabbed you! How innocently she has stabbed you! My country! ... My
honor! ... My courage and steadfastness! Mockery!"



XI

THE FIRST RIDE


The next morning Warburton was shown into a neat six-by-eight, just off
the carriage-room. There was a cot, running water and a wash-stand, and
a boot-blacking apparatus. For the rest, there were a few portraits of
fast horses, fighters, and toe-dancers (the adjective qualifying all
three!) which the senator's sporting groom had collected and tacked to
the walls. For appearance's sake, Mr. James had purchased a cheap
trunk. Everything inside was new, too. His silver military brushes, his
silver shaving set, and so forth and so forth, were in charge of a
safe-deposit storage company, alongside some one's family jewels. The
only incriminating things he retained were his signet-ring and his
Swiss timepiece.

"Have you had your breakfast, sir?" asked William, the stable-boy.

"Yes, my lad. Now, as Miss Annesley has forgotten it, perhaps you will
tell me of just what my duties here will consist."

"You harness, ride and drive, sir, and take care of the metals. I clean
the leathers and carriages, exercise the horses and keep their hides
shiny. If anything is purchased, sir, we shall have to depend upon your
judgment. Are you given to cussing, sir?"

"Cussing?" repeated Warburton.

"Yes, sir. Miss Annesley won't stand for it around the stables. The man
before you, sir, could cuss most beautifully; and I think that's why he
was fired. At least, it was one reason."

Warburton smoothed his twitching mouth. "Don't you worry, William; it's
against my religion to use profane language."

William winked, there was an answering wink, and the two became friends
from that moment on.

"I'll bet you didn't say a thing to Pirate yesterday, when he bolted
over the wall with you."

"Well, I believe I _did_ address a few remarks to Pirate which would
not sound well on dress-parade; but so long as it wasn't within hearing
distance, William, I suppose it doesn't matter."

"No, sir; I suppose not."

"Now, what kind of a master is the colonel?" asked Warburton, strapping
on his English leggings.

"Well, it's hard to say just now. You see, I've been with the family
ever since I was six. The colonel used to be the best fellow _I_ ever
knew. Always looking out for your comfort, never an undeserved harsh
word, and always a smile when you pleased him. But he's changed in the
last two years."

"How?"

"He doesn't take any interest in the things he used to. He goes about
as if he had something on his mind; kind of absent-minded, you know;
and forgets to-morrow what he says to-day. He always puts on a good
face, though, when Miss Betty is around."

"Ah. What night do I have off?"--of a mind that a question like this
would sound eminently professional in William's ears.

"Sunday, possibly; it all depends on Miss Annesley, sir. In Virginia
nearly every night was ours. Here it's different." William hurriedly
pulled on his rubber boots and gloves, grabbed up the carriage sponges,
and vanished.

Warburton sat on the edge of his cot and laughed silently. All this was
very amusing. Had any man, since the beginning of time, found himself
in a like position? He doubted it. And he was to be butler besides! It
would be something to remember in his old age. Yet, once or twice the
pins of his conscience pricked him. He _wasn't_ treating Nancy just
right. He didn't want her to cry over his gracelessness; he didn't want
her to think that he was heartless. But what could he do? He stood too
deeply committed.

He was puzzled about one thing, however, and, twist it as he would, he
could not solve it with any degree of satisfaction. Why, after what had
happened, had she hired him? If she could pass over that episode at the
carriage-door and forget it, _he_ couldn't. He knew that each time he
saw her the memory of that embrace and brotherly salute would rise
before his eyes and rob him of some of his assurance--an attribute
which was rather well developed in Mr. Robert, though he was loath to
admit it. If his actions were a mystery to her, hers were none the less
so to him. He made up his mind to move guardedly in whatever he did, to
practise control over his mobile features so as to avert any shock or
thoughtless sign of interest. He knew that sooner or later the day
would come when he would be found out; but this made him not the less
eager to court that day.

He shaved himself, and was wiping his face on the towel when Celeste
appeared in the doorway. She eyed him, her head inclined roguishly to
one side, the exact attitude of a bird that has suddenly met a curious
and disturbing specimen of insect life.

"M'sieu Zhames, Mees Annesley rides thees morning. You will pre_pairre_
yourself according,"--and she rattled on in her absurd native tongue
(every other native tongue _is_ absurd to us, you know!)--

    "He is charming and handsome,
    With his uniform and saber;
    And his fine black eyes
    Look love as he rides by!"

while the chef in the kitchen glared furiously at his omelette souffle,
and vowed terrible things to M'sieu Zhames if he looked at Celeste more
than twice a day.

"Good morning," said M'sieu Zhames, hanging up his towel. His face
glowed as the result of the vigorous rubbing it had received.

_"Bon jour!"_--admiringly.

"Don't give me any of your _bong joors,_ Miss,"--stolidly. "There's
only one language for me, and that's English."

"_Merci!_ You Anglaises are _so_ conceit'! How you like _me_ to teach
you French, eh, M'sieu Zhames?"

"Not for me,"--shaking his head. She was very pretty, and under
ordinary circumstances . . . He did not finish the thought, but I will
for him. Under ordinary circumstances, M'sieu Zhames would have kissed
her.

"No teach you French? _Non?_ Extra_orrd_inaire!" She tripped away,
laughing, while the chef tugged at his royal and M'sieu Zhames whistled.

"Hang the witch!" the new groom murmured. "Her mistress must be very
generous, or very positive of her own charms, to keep a sprite like
this maid about her. I wonder if I'll run into Karloff?" Karloff! The
name chilled him, somehow. What was Karloff to her? Had he known that
she was to be in Washington for the winter? What irony, if fate should
make him the groom and Karloff the bridegroom! If Karloff loved her, he
could press his suit frankly and openly. And, as matters stood, what
chance on earth had he, Warburton? "Chuck was right; I've made a
mistake, and I am beginning to regret it the very first morning." He
snapped his fingers and proceeded to the right wing, where the horses
were.

At nine o'clock he led Jane and Dick out to the porte-cochere and
waited. He had not long to loiter, for she came out at once, drawing on
her gauntlets and taking in long breaths of the morning air. She nodded
briefly, but pleasantly, and came down the steps. Her riding-habit was
of the conventional black, and her small, shapely boots were of
patent-leather. She wore no hat on her glorious head, which showed her
good sense and her scorn for freckles and sunburn. But nature had given
her one of those rare complexions upon which the sun and the wind have
but trifling effect.

"We shall ride north, James; the roads are better and freer. Jane has a
horror of cars."

"Yes, Miss Annesley,"--deferentially. "You will have to teach me the
lay of the land hereabouts, as I am rather green."

"I'll see to it that you are made perfectly familiar with the roads.
You do not know Washington very well, then?"

"No, Miss. Shall I give you a--er--boot up?" He blushed. He had almost
said "leg up".

She assented, and raised her boot, under which he placed his palm, and
sprang into the saddle. He mounted in his turn and waited.

"When we ride alone, James, I shall not object to your riding at my
side; but when I have guests, always remember to keep five yards to the
rear."

"Yes, Miss." If he could have got rid of the idea of Karloff and the
possibilities which his name suggested, all this would have appealed to
him as exceedingly funny.

"Forward, then!"--and she touched Jane's flank with her crop.

The weather was perfect for riding: no sun, a keen breeze from the
northwest, and a dust-settled road. Warburton confessed to me afterward
that this first ride with her was one of the most splendid he had ever
ridden. Both animals were perfect saddle-horses, such as are to be
found only in the South. They started up the road at a brisk trot, and
later broke into a canter which lasted fully a mile. How beautiful she
was, when at length they slowed down into a walk! Her cheeks were
flaming, her eyes dancing and full of luster, her hair was tumbled
about and tendrils fluttered down her cheeks. She was Diana: only he
hoped that she was not inclined to celibacy.

What a mistake he had made! He could never get over this gulf which he
himself had thrust between them. This was no guise in which to meet a
woman of her high breeding. Under his breath he cursed the impulse that
had urged him to decline to attend the ball at the British embassy.
There he would have met her as his own true self, a soldier, a polished
gentleman of the world, of learning and breeding. Nancy would have
brought them together, calls would have been exchanged, and he would
have defied Karloff. Then he chid himself for the feeling he had
against the Russian. Karloff had a right to love this girl, a right
which far eclipsed his own. Karloff was Karloff; a handsome fellow,
wealthy, agreeable; while James was not James, neither was he wealthy
nor at present agreeable. A man can not sigh very well on horseback,
and the long breath which left Warburton's lips made a jerking, hissing
sound.

"Have you ever ridden with women before. James?"

"Several times with my major's daughter,"--thoughtlessly.

"Your major's daughter? Who was your regimental colonel?"

James bit his lips, and under his breath disregarded William's warning
about "cussing."

"Permit me, Miss Annesley, to decline to answer."

"Did you ride as an attendant?"

"Yes; I was a trooper."

"You speak very good English for a stable-man."

"I have not always been a stable-man."

"I dare say. I should give a good deal to know what you _have_ been.
Come, James, tell me what the trouble was. I have influence; I might
help you."

"I am past help;"--which was true enough, only the real significance of
his words passed over her head. "I thank you for your kindness."

If she was piqued, she made no sign. "James, were you once a gentleman,
in the sense of being well-born?"

"Miss Annesley, you would not believe me if I told you who I am and
what I have been."

"Are you a deserter?"--looking him squarely in the eye. She saw the
color as it crept under his tan.

"I have my honorable discharge,"--briefly.

"I shall ask you to let me see it. Have you ever committed a
dishonorable act? I have a right to know."

"I have committed one dishonorable act, Miss Annesley. I shall always
regret it."

She gave him a penetrating glance. "Very well; keep your secret."

And there was no more questioning on that ride; there was not even
casual talk, such as a mistress might make to her servant. There was
only the clock-clock of hoofs and the chink of bit metal. Warburton did
not know whether he was glad or sorry.

She dismounted without her groom's assistance, which somewhat
disappointed that worthy gentleman. If she was angry, to his eye there
was no visible evidence of it. As he took the bridles in hand, she
addressed him; though in doing so, she did not look at him, but gave
her attention to her gauntlets, which she pulled slowly from her aching
fingers.

"This afternoon I shall put you in the care of Pierre, the cook. I am
giving a small dinner on Monday evening, and I shall have to call on
you to serve the courses. Later I shall seek a butler, but for the
present you will have to act in that capacity."

He wasn't sure; it might have been a flash of sunlight from behind a
cloud. If it was a smile, he would have given much to know what had
caused it.

He tramped off to the stables. A butler! Well, so be it. He could only
reasonably object when she called upon him to act in the capacity of a
chambermaid. He wondered why he had no desire to laugh.



XII

A TICKLISH BUSINESS


Pierre was fierce and fat and forty, but he could cook the most
wonderful roasts and ragouts that Warburton ever tasted; and he could
take a handful of vegetables and an insignificant bone and make a soup
that would have tickled the jaded palate of a Lucullus. Warburton
presented himself at the kitchen door.

"Ah!" said Pierre, striking a dramatic pose, a ladle in one hand and a
pan in the other. "So you are zee new groom? Good! We make a butler out
of you? Bah! Do you know zee difference between a broth and a soup? Eh?"

The new groom gravely admitted that he did.

"Hear to me!"--and Pierre struck his chest with a ladle. "I teach you
how to sairve; _I_, Pierre Flageot, will teach a hostler to be a
butler! Bah!"

"That is what I am sent here for."

"Hear to me! If zay haf oysters, zay are placed on zee table before zee
guests enter. _V'la_? Then zee soup. You sairve one deesh at a time.
You do _not_ carry all zee deeshes at once. And you take zee deesh,
_so_!"--illustrating. "Then you wait till zay push aside zee soup
deesh. Then you carry zem away. _V'la_?"

Warburton signified that he understood.

"_I_ carve zee meats," went on the amiable Pierre. "You haf nozzing to
do wiz zee meats. You rest zee deesh on zee flat uf zee hand, _so_!
Always sairve to zee _right_ uf zee guest. Vatch zat i zay do not move
vhile you sairve. You spill zee soup, and I keel you! To spill zee soup
ees a crime. Now, take hold uf thees soup deesh."

Warburton took it clumsily by the rim. Pierre snatched it away with a
volley of French oaths. William said that there was to be no "cussing,"
but Pierre seemed to be an immune and not included in this order.

"Idiot! Imbecile! _Non, non! Thees_ way. You would put zee thumb in zee
soup. Zare! You haf catch zat. Come to zee dining-hall. I show you. I
explain."

The new groom was compelled to put forth all his energies to keep his
face straight. If he laughed, he was lost. If only his old mates could
see him now! The fop of Troop A playing at butler! Certainly he would
have to write Chuck about it--(which he most certainly never did).
Still, the ordeal in the dining-room was a severe one. Nothing he
attempted was done satisfactorily; Pierre, having in mind Celeste's
frivolity and this man's good looks, made the task doubly hard. He
hissed "Idiot!" and "Imbecile!" and "Jackass!" as many times as there
are knives and forks and spoons at a course dinner. It was when they
came to the wines that Pierre became mollified. He was forced to
acknowledge that the new groom needed no instructions as to the varying
temperatures of clarets and burgundies. Warburton longed to get out
into the open and yell. It was very funny. He managed, however, on
third rehearsal, to acquit himself with some credit. They returned to
the kitchen again, where they found Celeste nibbling crackers and
cheese. She smiled.

"Ha!" The vowel was given a prolonged roll. "So, Mademoiselle, you haf
to come and look on, eh?"

"Is there any objection, Monsieur?" retorted Celeste in her native
tongue, making handsome eyes at Warburton, who was greatly amused.

"Ha! if he was hideous, would you be putting on those ribbons I gave
you to wear on Sundays?" snarled Pierre.

Warburton followed their French without any difficulty. It was the
French of the Parisian, with which he was fairly conversant. But his
face remained impassive and his brows only mildly curious.

"I shall throw them away, Monsieur Flageot, if you dare to talk to me
like that. He _is_ handsome, and you are jealous, and I am glad. You
behaved horribly to that coarse Nanon last Sunday. Because she scrubs
the steps of the French embassy you consider her above me, _me!_"

"You are crazy!" roared Pierre. "You introduced me to her so that you
might make eyes at that abominable valet of the secretary!"

Celeste flounced (whatever means of locomotion that is) abruptly from
the kitchen. Pierre turned savagely to his protege.

"Go! And eef you look at her, idiot, I haf revenge myself. Oh, I am
calm! Bah! Go to zee stables, cattle!" And he rattled his pans at a
great rate.

Warburton was glad enough to escape.

"I have brought discord into the land, it would seem."

But his trials were not over. The worst ordeal was yet to come. At
five, orders were given to harness the coach-horses to the coupe and
have them at the steps promptly at eight-thirty. Miss Annesley had
signified her intention of making a call in the city. Warburton had not
the slightest suspicion of the destination. He didn't care where it
was. It would be dark and he would pass unrecognized. He gave the order
no more thought. Promptly at eight-thirty he drove up to the steps. A
moment later she issued forth, accompanied by a gentleman in evening
dress. It was too dark for Warburton to distinguish his features.

"I am very sorry, Count, to leave you; but you understand perfectly. It
is an old school friend of mine whom I haven't seen in a long time; one
of the best girl friends I have ever known. I promised to dine with her
to-night, but I broke that promise and agreed to spend the evening."

"Do not disturb yourself on my account," replied the man in broken
English, which was rather pleasant to the ear. "Your excellent father
and I can pass the evening very well."

Karloff! Warburton's chin sank into his collar and his hands trembled.
This man Karloff had very penetrating eyes, even in the dark.

"But I shall miss the music which I promised myself. Ah, if you only
knew how adorable you are when you play the violin! I become lost, I
forget the world and its sordidness. I forget everything but that
mysterious voice which you alone know how to arouse from that little
box of wood. You are a great artist, and if you were before the public,
the world would go mad over you--as I have!"

So she played the violin, thought the unhappy man on the box of the
coupe.

"Count, you know that is taboo; you must not talk to me like
that,"--with a nervous glance at the groom.

"The groom embarrasses you?" The count laughed. "Well, it is only a
groom, an animal which does not understand these things."

"Besides, I do not play nearly so well as you would have me
believe,"--steering him to safer channels.

"Whatever you undertake, Mademoiselle, becomes at once an
art,"--gallantly. "Good night!"--and the count saluted her hand as he
helped her into the coupe.

How M'sieu Zhames would have liked to jump down and pommel Monsieur le
Comte! Several wicked thoughts surged through our jehu's brain, but to
execute any one of them in her presence was impossible.

"Good night, Count. I shall see you at dinner on Monday."

She would, eh? And her new butler would be on duty that same evening?
Without a doubt. M'sieu Zhames vowed under his breath that if he got a
good chance he would make the count look ridiculous. Not even a king
can retain his dignity while a stream of hot soup is trickling down his
spinal column. Warburton smiled. He was mentally acting like a
school-boy disappointed in love. His own keen sense of the humorous
came to his rescue.

"James, to the city, No.--Scott Circle, and hurry." The door closed.

Scott Circle? Warburton's spine wrinkled. Heaven help him, he was
driving Miss Annesley to his own brother's house! What the devil was
getting into fate, anyhow? He swore softly all the way to the
Connecticut Avenue extension. He made three mistakes before he struck
Sixteenth Street. Reaching Scott Circle finally, he had no difficulty
in recognizing the house. He drew up at the stepping-stone, alighted
and opened the door.

"I shall be gone perhaps an hour and a half, James. You may drive
around, but return sharply at ten-thirty." Betty ran up the steps and
rang the bell.

Our jehu did _not_ wait to see the door open, but drove away,
lickety-clip. I do not know what a mile lickety-clip is generally made
in, but I am rather certain that the civil law demands twenty-five
dollars for the same. The gods were with him this time, and no one
called him to a halt. When he had gone as far away from Scott Circle as
he dared go, his eye was attracted by a genial cigar sign. He hailed a
boy to hold the horses and went inside. He bought a dozen cigars and
lit one. He didn't even take the trouble to see if he could get the
cigars for nothing, there being a penny-in-the-slot machine in one
corner of the shop. I am sure that if he had noticed it, it would have
enticed him, for the spirit of chance was well-grounded in him, as it
is in all Army men. But he hurried out, threw the boy a dime, and drove
away. For an hour and twenty minutes he drove and smoked and pondered.
So she played the violin! played it wonderfully, as the count had
declared. He was passionately fond of music. In London, in Paris, in
Berlin, in Vienna, he had been an untiring, unfailing patron of the
opera. Some night he resolved to listen at the window, providing the
window was open. Yes, a hundred times Chuck was right. Any other girl,
and this jest might have passed capitally; but he wanted the respect of
this particular woman, and he had carelessly closed the doors to her
regard. She might tolerate him, that would be all. She would look upon
him as a hobbledehoy.

He approached the curb again in front of the house, and gazed wistfully
at the lighted windows. Here was another great opportunity gone. How he
longed to dash into the house, confess, and have done with it!

"I wish Chuck was in there. I wish he would come out and kick me good
and hearty."

(Chuck would have been delighted to perform the trifling service; and
he would not have gone about it with any timidity, either.)

"Hang the horses! I'm going to take a peek in at the side window,"--and
he slid cautiously from the box. He stole around the side and stopped
at one of the windows. The curtain was not wholly lowered, and he could
see into the drawing-room. There they were, all of them; and Miss
Annesley was holding the baby, which Mrs. Jack had awakened and brought
down stairs. He could see by the diffident manner in which Jack was
curling the ends of his mustache that they were comparing the baby with
him. "The conceited ass!" muttered the self-appointed outcast; "it
doesn't look any more like him than it does like me!" Here Miss
Annesley kissed the baby, and Warburton hoped that they hadn't washed
its face since he performed the same act.

Mrs. Jack disappeared with the hope of the family, and Nancy got out a
bundle of photographs. M'sieu Zhames would have given almost anything
he possessed to know what these photographs represented. Crane his neck
as he would, he could see nothing. All he could do was to watch.
Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they became grave; sometimes they
explained, and their guest grew very attentive Once she even leaned
forward eagerly. It was about this time that our jehu chanced to look
at the clock on the mantel, and immediately concluded to vacate the
premises. It was half after ten. He returned to his box forthwith. (I
was going to use the word "alacrity," but I find that it means
"cheerful readiness.") After what seemed to him an interminable wait,
the front door opened and a flood of light blinded him. He heard
Nancy's voice.

"I'm so sorry, Betty, that I can't dine with you on Monday. We are
going to Arlington. So sorry."

"I'm not!" murmured the wretch on the box. "I'm devilish glad! Imagine
passing soup to one's sister! By George, it was a narrow one! It would
have been all over then."

"Well, there will be plenty of times this winter," said Betty. "I shall
see you all at the Country Club Sunday afternoon. Good night, every
one. No, no; there's no need of any of you coming to the carriage."

But brother Jack _did_ walk to the door with her; however, he gave not
the slightest attention to the groom, for which _he_ was grateful.

"You must all come and spend the evening with me soon," said Betty,
entering the carriage.

"That we shall," said brother Jack, closing the door for her. "Good
night."

"Home, James," said the voice within the carriage.

I do not know whether or not he slept soundly that night on his stable
cot. He never would confess. But it is my private opinion that he
didn't sleep at all, but spent a good part of the night out of doors,
smoking very black, strong cigars.

Celeste, however, could have told you that her mistress, as she
retired, was in a most amiable frame of mind. Once she laughed.



XIII

A RUNAWAY


Four days passed. I might have used the word "sped," only that verb
could not be truthfully applied. Never before in the history of time
(so our jehu thought) did four days cast their shadows more slowly
across the dial of the hours. From noon till night there was a madding
nothing to do but polish bits and buckles and stirrups and ornamental
silver. He would have been totally miserable but for the morning rides.
These were worth while; for he was riding Pirate, and there was always
that expectation of the unexpected. But Pirate behaved himself
puzzlingly well. Fortunately for the jehu, these rides were always into
the north country. He was continually possessed with fear lest she
would make him drive through the shopping district. If he met Nancy, it
would be, in the parlance of the day, all off. Nancy would have
recognized him in a beard like a Cossack's; and here he was with the
boy's face--the face she never would forget.

He was desperately in love. I do not know what desperately in love is,
my own love's course running smoothly enough; but I can testify that it
was making Mr. Robert thin and appetiteless. Every morning the impulse
came to him to tell her all; but every morning his courage oozed like
Bob Acres', and his lips became dumb. I dare say that if she had
questioned him he would have told her all; but for some reason she had
ceased to inquire into his past. Possibly her young mind was occupied
with pleasanter things.

He became an accomplished butler, and served so well in rehearsals that
Pierre could only grumble. One afternoon she superintended the comedy.
She found a thousand faults with him, so many, in fact, that Pierre did
not understand what it meant, and became possessed with the vague idea
that she was hitting him over the groom's shoulder. He did not like it;
and later, when they were alone, Warburton was distinctly impressed
with Pierre's displeasure.

"You can not please _her_, and you can not please _me_. Bah! Zat ees
vat comes uf teaching a groom table manners instead uf stable manners.
And you vill smell uf horse! I do _not_ understand Mees Annesley; no!"

[Illustration: "May I go now, Miss?"--ACT II]

And there were other humiliations, petty ones. She chid him on having
the stirrup too long or too short; the curb chain was rusting; this
piece of ornamental silver did not shine like that one; Jane's fetlocks
were too long; Pirate's hoofs weren't thoroughly oiled. With dogged
patience he tried to remedy all these faults. It was only when they had
had a romping run down the road that this spirit fell away from her,
and she talked pleasantly.

Twice he ran into Karloff; but that shrewd student of human nature did
not consider my hero worth studying; a grave mistake on his part, as he
was presently to learn. He was a handsome man, and the only thing he
noticed about the groom was his handsome face. He considered it a crime
for a servant to be endowed with personal attractions. A servant in the
eyes of a Russian noble excites less interest than a breedless dog. Mr.
Robert made no complaint; he was very well satisfied to have the count
ignore him entirely. Once he met the count in the Turkish room, where,
in the capacity of butler, he served liqueur and cigars. There was a
certain grim humor in lighting his rival's cigar for him. This service
was a test of his ability to pass through a room without knocking over
taborets and chairs. Another time they met, when Betty and the two of
them took a long ride. Karloff _did_ notice how well the groom rode his
mettlesome mount, being himself a soldier and a daring horseman.
Warburton had some trouble. Pirate did not take to the idea of
breathing Jane and Dick's dust; he wanted to lead these second-raters.
Mr. James' arms ached that afternoon from the effort he had put forth
to restrain Pirate and keep him in his proper place, five yards to the
rear.

Nothing happened Sunday; the day went by uneventfully. He escaped the
ordeal of driving her to the Chevy Chase Club, William being up that
afternoon.

Then Monday came, and with it Betty's curious determination to ride
Pirate.

"You wish to ride Pirate, Miss?" exclaimed James, his horror of the
idea openly manifest.

"Saddle him for me,"--peremptorily. "I desire to ride him. I find Jane
isn't exciting enough."

"Pardon me, Miss Annesley," he said, "but I had rather you would not
make the attempt."

"You had rather I would not make the attempt?"--slowly repeating the
words, making a knife of each one of them, tipped with the poison of
her contempt. "I do not believe I quite understand you."

He bravely met the angry flash of her eyes. There were times when the
color of these eyes did not resemble sapphires; rather disks of
gun-metal, caused by a sudden dilation of the pupils.

"Yes, Miss, I had rather you would not."

"James, you forget yourself. Saddle Pirate, and take Jane back to the
stables. Besides, Jane has a bit of a cold." She slapped her boot with
her riding-crop and indolently studied the scurrying clouds overhead;
for the day was windy.

Soberly Warburton obeyed. He was hurt and angry, and he knew not what
besides. Heavens, if anything should happen to her! His hopes rose a
bit. Pirate had shown no temper so far that morning. He docilely
permitted his master to put on the side-saddle. But as he came out into
the air again, he threw forward his ears, stretched out his long black
neck, took in a great breath, and whinnied a hoarse challenge to the
elements. William had already saddled Dick, who looked askance at his
black rival's small compact heels.

"I am afraid of him," said Warburton, as he returned. "He will run away
with you. I did not wholly subjugate him the other day. He pulls till
my arms ache."

Miss Annesley shrugged and patted Pirate on the nose and offered him a
lump of sugar. The thirst for freedom and a wild run down the wind
lurked in Pirate's far-off gazing eyes, and he ignored the sign of
conciliation which his mistress made him.

"I am not afraid of him. Besides, Dick can outrun and out jump him."

This did not reassure Warburton, nor did he know what this comparison
meant, being an ordinary mortal.

"With all respect to you, Miss Annesley, I am sorry that you are
determined to ride him. He is most emphatically not a lady's horse, and
you have never ridden him. Your skirts will irritate him, and if he
sees your crop, he'll bolt."

She did not reply, but merely signified her desire to mount. No sooner
was she up, however, than she secretly regretted her caprice; but not
for a hundred worlds would she have permitted this groom to know. But
Pirate, with that rare instinct of the horse, knew that his mistress
was not sure of him. He showed the whites of his eyes and began pawing
the gravel. The girl glanced covertly at her groom and found no color
in his cheeks. Two small muscular lumps appeared at the corners of her
jaws. She would ride Pirate, and nothing should stop her; nothing,
nothing. Womanlike, knowing herself to be in the wrong, she was furious.

And Pirate surprised them both. During the first mile he behaved
himself in the most gentlemanly fashion; and if he shied once or twice,
waltzed a little, it was only because he was full of life and spirit.
They trotted, they cantered, ran and walked. Warburton, hitherto
holding himself in readiness for whatever might happen, relaxed the
tension of his muscles, and his shoulders sank relievedly. Perhaps,
after all, his alarm had been needless. The trouble with Pirate might
be the infrequency with which he had been saddled and ridden. But he
knew that the girl would not soon forget his interference. There would
be more humiliations, more bitter pills for him to swallow. It pleased
him, however, to note the ease with which Dick kept pace with Pirate.

As for the most beautiful person in all the great world, I am afraid
that she was beginning to feel self-important. Now that her confidence
was fully restored, she never once spoke to, or looked at, her groom.
Occasionally from the corner of her eye she could see the white patch
on Dick's nose.

"James," she said maliciously and suddenly, "go back five yards. I wish
to ride alone."

Warburton, his face burning, fell back. And thus she made her first
mistake. The second and final mistake came immediately after. She
touched Pirate with her heel, and he broke from a trot into a lively
gallop. Dick, without a touch of the boot, kept his distance to a foot.
Pirate, no longer seeing Dick at his side, concluded that he had left
his rival behind; and the suppressed mischief in his black head began
to find an outlet. Steadily he arched his neck; steadily but surely he
drew down on the reins. The girl felt the effort and tried to frustrate
it. In backing her pull with her right hand, the end of her crop
flashed down the side of Pirate's head--the finishing touch. There was
a wild leap, a blur of dust, and Mr. Pirate, well named after his
freebooting sires, his head down where he wanted it, his feet rolling
like a snare-drum, Mr. Pirate ran away, headed for heaven only knew
where.

For a brief moment Warburton lost his nerve; he was struck with horror.
If she could not hold her seat, she would be killed or dreadfully hurt,
and perhaps disfigured. It seemed rather strange, as he recalled it,
that Dick, instead of himself, should have taken the initiative. The
noble sorrel, formerly a cavalry horse, shot forward magnificently.
Doubtless his horse-sense took in the situation, or else he did not
like the thought of yonder proud, supercilious show-horse beating him
in a running race. So, a very fast mile was put to the rear.

The girl, appreciating her peril, did as all good horsewomen would have
done: locked her knee on the horn and held on. The rush of wind tore
the pins from her hair which, like a golden plume, stretched out behind
her. (Have you ever read anything like this before? I dare say. But to
Warburton and the girl, it never occurred that other persons had gone
through like episodes. It was real, and actual, and single, and tragic
to them.)

The distance between the two horses began slowly to lessen, and
Warburton understood, in a nebulous way, what the girl had meant when
she said that Dick could outrun Pirate. If Pirate kept to the road,
Dick would bring him down; but if Pirate took it into his head to vault
a fence! Warburton shuddered. Faster, faster, over this roll of earth,
clattering across this bridge, around this curve and that angle. Once
the sight of a team drawing a huge grain-wagon sent a shiver to
Warburton's heart. But they thundered past with a foot to spare. The
old negro on the seat stared after them, his ebony face drawn with
wonder and the whites of his eyes showing.

Foot by foot, yard by yard, the space lessened, till Dick's nose was
within three feet of Pirate's flowing tail. Warburton fairly lifted
Dick along with his knees. I only wish I could describe the race as my
jehu told it to me. The description held me by the throat. I could see
the flashing by of trees and houses and fields; the scampering of
piccaninnies across the road; the horses from the meadows dashing up to
the fences and whinnying; the fine stone and dust which Pirate's
rattling heels threw into my jehu's face and eyes; the old pain
throbbing anew in his leg. And when he finally drew alongside the black
brute and saw the white, set face of the girl he loved, I can imagine
no greater moment but one in his life. There was no fear on her face,
but there was appeal in her eyes as she half turned her head. He leaned
across the intervening space and slid his arm around her waist. The two
horses came together and twisted his leg cruelly. His jaws snapped.

"Let the stirrup go!" he cried. "Let go, quick!" She heard him. "Your
knee from the horn! I can't keep them together any longer. Now!"

Brave and plucky and cool she was. She obeyed him instantly. There was
a mighty heave, a terrible straining of the back and the knees, and
Pirate was freed of his precious burden. The hardest part of it came
now. Dick could not be made to slow down abruptly. He wanted to keep
right on after his rival. So, between holding the girl with his right
arm and pulling the horse with his left, Warburton saw that he could
keep up this terrible effort but a very short time. Her arms were
convulsively wound around his neck, and this added to the strain. Not a
word did she say; her eyes were closed, as if she expected any moment
to be dashed to the earth.

But Dick was only a mortal horse. The fierce run and the double burden
began to tell, and shortly his head came up. Warburton stopped him. The
girl slid to the ground, and in a moment he was at her side. And just
in time. The reaction was too much for her. Dazedly she brushed her
hair from her eyes, stared wildly at Warburton, and fainted. He did not
catch her with that graceful precision which on the stage is so
familiar to us. No. He was lucky to snatch one of her arms, thus
preventing her head from striking the road. He dragged her to the side
of the highway and rested her head on his shaking knees. Things grew
dark for a time. To tell the truth, he himself was very close to that
feminine weakness which the old fellows, in their rough and ready
plays, used to call "vapours". But he forced his heart to steady itself.

And what do you suppose the rascal did--with nobody but Dick to watch
him? Why, he did what any healthy young man in love would have done:
pressed his lips to the girl's hair, his eyes filling and half a sob in
his parched throat. He dolefully pictured himself a modern Antiochus,
dying of love and never confessing it. Then he kissed her hair again;
only her hair, for somehow he felt that her lips and cheeks were as yet
inviolable to his touch. I should have liked to see the picture they
made: the panting horse a dozen rods away, looking at them inquiringly;
the girl in her dust-covered habit, her hair spreading out like seaweed
on a wave, her white face, her figure showing its graceful lines; my
jehu, his hair matted to his brow, the streaks of dust and perspiration
on his face, the fear and love and longing in his dark eyes. I
recollect a picture called _Love and Honor,_ or something like that. It
never appealed to me. It lacked action. It simply represented a fellow
urging a girl to elope with him. Both of them were immaculately
dressed. But here, on this old highway leading into Maryland, was
something real. A battle had been fought and won.

Fainting is but transitory; by and by she opened her eyes, and stared
vaguely into the face above her. I do not know what she saw there;
whatever it was it caused her to struggle to her feet. There was color
enough in her cheeks now; and there was a question, too, in her eyes.
Of Warburton it asked, "What did you do when I lay there unconscious?"
I'm afraid there was color in his face, too. Her gaze immediately roved
up the road. There was no Pirate, only a haze of dust. Doubtless he was
still going it, delighted over the trouble he had managed to bring
about. Warburton knelt at the girl's side and brushed the dust from her
skirt. She eyed him curiously. I shan't say that she smiled; I don't
know, for I wasn't there.

Meanwhile she made several futile attempts to put up her hair, and as a
finality she braided it and let it hang down her back. Suddenly and
unaccountably she grew angry--angry at herself, at James, at the
rascally horse that had brought her to this pass. Warburton saw
something of this emotion in her eyes, and to avoid the storm he walked
over to Dick, picked up the reins, and led him back.

"If you will mount Dick, Miss," he said, "I will lead him home. It's
about five miles, I should say."

The futility and absurdity of her anger aroused her sense of the
ridiculous; and a smile, warm and merry, flashed over her stained face.
It surprised her groom.

"Thank you, James. You were right. I ought not to have ridden Pirate. I
am punished for my conceit. Five miles? It will be a long walk."

"I shan't mind it in the least," replied James, inordinately happy; and
he helped her to the saddle and adjusted the left stirrup.

So the journey home began. Strangely enough, neither seemed to care
particularly what had or might become of Pirate. He disappeared,
mentally and physically. One thing dampened the journey for Warburton.
His "game leg" ached cruelly, and after the second mile (which was
traversed without speech from either of them), he fell into a slight
limp. From her seat above and behind him, she saw this limp.

"You have hurt yourself?" she asked gently.

"Not to-day, Miss,"--briefly.

"When he ran away with you?"

"No. It's an old trouble."

"While you were a soldier?"

"Yes."

"How?"

He turned in surprise. All these questions were rather unusual.
Nevertheless he answered her, and truthfully.

"I was shot in the leg by a drunken Indian."

"While on duty?"

"Yes." Unconsciously he was forgetting to add "Miss", which was the
patent of his servility. And I do not think that just then she noticed
this subtraction from the respect due her.

It was eleven o'clock when they arrived at the gates. She dismounted
alone. Warburton was visibly done up.

"Any orders for this afternoon, Miss?"

"I shall want the victoria at three. I have some shopping to do and a
call to make. Send William after Pirate. I am very grateful for what
you have done."

He made no reply, for he saw her father coming down the steps.

"Betty," said the colonel, pale and worried, "have you been riding
Pirate? Where is he, and what in the world has happened?"--noting the
dust on her habit and her tangled hair.

She explained: she told the story rather coolly, Warburton thought, but
she left out no detail.

"You have James to thank for my safety, father. He was very calm and
clear-headed."

_Calm and clear-headed!_ thought Warburton.

The girl then entered the house, humming. Most women would have got out
the lavender salts and lain down the rest of the day, considering the
routine of a fashionable dinner, which was the chief duty of the
evening.

"I am grateful to you, James. My daughter is directly in your care when
she rides, and I give you full authority. Never permit her to mount any
horse but her own. She is all I have; and if anything should happen to
her--"

"Yes, sir; I understand."

The colonel followed his daughter; and Warburton led Dick to the
stables, gave his orders to William, and flung himself down on his cot.
He was dead tired. And the hour he had dreaded was come! He was to
drive her through the shopping district. Well, so be it. If any one
exposed him, very good. This groom business was decidedly like work.
And there was that confounded dinner-party, and he would have to limp
around a table and carry soup plates! And as likely as not he would run
into the very last person he expected to see.

Which he did.



XIV

AN ORDEAL OR TWO


Mr. Robert vows that he will never forgive me for the ten minutes'
agony which I gratuitously added to his measure. It came about in this
wise. I was on my way down Seventeenth Street that afternoon, and it
was in front of a fashionable apartment house that I met him. He was
seated on his box, the whip at the proper angle, and his eyes riveted
on his pair's ears. It was the first time I had seen him since the day
of the episode at the police-station. He was growing thin. He did not
see me, and he did not even notice me till I stopped and the sound of
my heels on the walk ceased. Arms akimbo, I surveyed him.

"Well?" I began. I admit that the smile I offered him was a deal like
that which a cat offers a cornered mouse.

He turned his head. I shall not repeat the word he muttered. It was
very improper, though they often refer to it in the Sabbath-schools,
always in a hushed breath, however, as though to full-voice it would
only fan the flames still higher.

"What have you to say for yourself?" I went on.

"Nothing for myself, but for you, move on and let me alone, or when I
get the opportunity, Chuck, I'll punch your head, glasses or no
glasses."

"Brother-in-law or no brother-in-law."

"Chuck, will you go on?"--hoarsely. "I mean it."

I saw that he did. "You don't look very happy for a man who has cracked
so tremendous a joke."

"Will you go along?"

"Not till I get good and ready, James. I've told too many lies on your
account already not to make myself a present of this joyful reunion.
Has Miss Annesley any idea of the imposture?"

He did not answer.

"How did you like waiting in Scott Circle the other night?"

Still no answer. I have half an idea that he was making ready to leap
from his box. He ran his fingers up and down the lines. I could see
that he was mad through and through; but I enjoyed the scene
nevertheless. He deserved a little roasting on the gridiron.

"I am given to understand," I continued, "that you act as butler,
besides, and pass the soup around the table."

Silence. Then I heard a door close, and saw a look of despair grow on
his face. I turned and saw Miss Annesley and Mrs. Chadwick coming down
the steps.

"Why, how do you do, Mr. Henderson? Mrs. Chadwick."

"I have already had the pleasure of meeting this famous young orator,"
purred Mrs. Chadwick, giving me her hand. She was a fashionable, not to
say brilliant, _intrigante_. I knew her to have been concerned
indirectly with half a dozen big lobby schemes. She was rather wealthy.
But she was seen everywhere, and everywhere was admired. She was as
completely at home abroad as here in Washington. She was a widow,
perhaps thirty-eight, handsome and fascinating, a delightful
_raconteur_, and had the remarkable reputation of never indulging in
scandal. She was the repository of more secrets than I should care to
discover.

I recall one night at a state function when she sat between the French
ambassador and that wily Chinaman, Li Hung Chang. She discoursed on
wines in French with the ambassador and immediately turned to the
Chinaman and recited Confucius in the original Chinese. Where she had
ever found time to study Chinese is a mystery to every one. The
incident made her quite famous that winter. Brains are always tolerated
in Washington, and if properly directed, push a person a good deal
further than wealth or pedigree. Washington forgives everything but
stupidity.

Not until recently did I learn that at one time Karloff had been very
attentive to her. His great knowledge of American politics doubtless
came to him through her.

"Where are you bound?" asked Miss Annesley.

"I am on the way to the War Department."

"Plenty of room; jump in and we shall drop you there. James, drive to
the War Department."

Ordinarily I should have declined, as I generally prefer to walk; but
in this instance it would be superfluous to say that I was delighted to
accept the invitation. I secretly hugged myself as I thought of the
driver.

"How is Miss Warburton?" asked Miss Annesley, as she settled back among
the cushions.

"Beautiful as ever," I replied, smiling happily,

"You must meet Miss Warburton, Grace,"--speaking to Mrs. Chadwick, who
looked at me with polite inquiry. "One of the most charming girls in
the land, and as good as she is beautiful. Mr. Henderson is the most
fortunate of young men."

"So I admit. She was greatly disappointed that you did not meet her
younger brother." First shot at the groom.

"I did expect to meet him, but I understand that he has gone on a
hunting expedition. Whom does he resemble?"

"Neither Nancy nor Jack," I said. "He's a good-looking beggar, though,
only you can't depend upon him for five minutes at a time. Hadn't seen
the family in more than two years. Spends one night at home, and is off
again, no one knows where. Some persons like him, but I like a man with
more stability. Not but what he has his good points; but he is a born
vagabond. His brother expects to get him a berth at Vienna and is
working rather successfully toward that end." I wondered how this bit
of news affected the groom.

"A diplomat?" said Mrs. Chadwick. "That is the life for a young man
with brains. Is he a good linguist?"

"Capital! Speaks French, German, and Spanish, besides I don't know how
many Indian sign-languages." Now I was patting the groom on the back. I
sat facing the ladies, so it was impossible to see the expression on
his face. I kept up this banter till we arrived at the Department. I
bade the ladies good day. I do not recollect when I enjoyed ten minutes
more thoroughly.

An hour in the shopping district, that is to say, up and down
Pennsylvania Avenue, where everybody who was anybody was similarly
occupied, shopping, nearly took the spine out of our jehu. Everywhere
he imagined he saw Nancy. And half a dozen times he saw persons whom he
knew, persons he had dined with in New York, persons he had met abroad.
But true to human nature, they were looking toward higher things than a
groom in livery. When there was no more room for bundles, the women
started for Mrs. Chadwick's apartments.

Said Mrs. Chadwick in French: "Where, in the name of uncommon things,
did you find such a handsome groom?"

"I _was_ rather lucky," replied Miss Annesley in the same tongue.
"Don't you see something familiar about him?"

Warburton shuddered.

"Familiar? What do you mean?"

"It is the groom who ran away with us."

"Heavens, no!" Mrs. Chadwick raised her lorgnette. "Whatever possessed
you?"

"Mischief, as much as anything."

"But the risk!"

"I am not afraid. There was something about him that appeared very much
like a mystery, and you know how I adore mysteries."

"And this is the fellow we saw in the police-court, sitting among those
light o' loves?" Mrs. Chadwick could not fully express her surprise.

"I can't analyze the impulse which prompted me to pay his fine and
engage him."

"And after that affair at the carriage-door! Where is your pride?"

"To tell the truth, I believe he did make a mistake. Maybe I hired him
because I liked his looks." Betty glanced amusedly at the groom, whose
neck and ears were red. She laughed.

"You always were an extraordinary child. I do not understand it in the
least. I am even worried. He may be a great criminal."

"No, not a great criminal," said Betty, recollecting the ride of that
morning; "but a first-class horseman, willing and obedient. I have been
forced to make James serve as butler. He has been under the hands of
our cook, and I have been watching them. How I have laughed! Of all
droll scenes!"

So she had laughed, eh? Warburton's jaws snapped. She had been
watching, too?

"I rode Pirate this morning--"

"You rode that horse?" interrupted Mrs. Chadwick.

"Yes, and he ran away with me in fine style. If it hadn't been for the
new groom, I shouldn't be here, and the dinner would be a dismal
failure, with me in bed with an arm or leg broken. Heavens! I never was
so frightened in all my life. We went so fast against the wind that I
could scarce breathe. And when it was all over, I fainted like a ninny."

"Fainted! I should have thought you would. _I_ should have fallen off
the animal and been killed. Betty, you certainly have neither
forethought nor discretion. The very idea of your attempting to ride
that animal!"

"Well, I am wiser, and none the worse for the scare.... James, stop,
stop!" Betty cried suddenly.

When this command struck his sense of hearing, James was pretty far
away in thought. He was wondering if all this were true. If it was, he
must make the best of it; but if it was a dream, he wanted to wake up
right away, because it was becoming nightmarish.

"James!" The end of a parasol tickled him in the ribs and he drew up
somewhat frightened. What was going to happen now? He was soon to find
out. For this was to be the real climax of the day; or at least, the
incident was pregnant with the possibilities of a climax.

"Colonel, surely you are not going to pass us by in this fashion?"
cried the girl. They were almost opposite the Army and Navy Club.

"Why, is that you, Miss Betty? Pass you by? Only when I grow blind!"
roared a lion-like voice. "Very glad to see you, Mrs. Chadwick."

That voice, of all the voices he had ever heard! A chill of
indescribable terror flew up and down my jehu's spine, and his pores
closed up. He looked around cautiously. It was he, he of all men: his
regimental colonel, who possessed the most remarkable memory of any
Army man west of the Mississippi, and who had often vowed that he knew
his subalterns so well that he could always successfully prescribe for
their livers!

"I was just about to turn into the club for my mail," declared the
colonel. "It was very good of you to stop me. I'll wager you've been
speculating in the shops,"--touching the bundles with his cane. "You
win," laughed Betty. "But I'll give you a hundred guesses in which to
find out what any of these packages contains."

"Guessing is a bad business. Whatever these things are, they can add
but little to the beauty of those who will wear them; for I presume
Mrs. Chadwick has some claim upon these bundles."

"Very adroitly worded," smiled Mrs. Chadwick, who loved a silken phrase.

"We shall see you at dinner to-night?"

"All the battalions of England could not keep me away from that festive
board," the colonel vowed. (Another spasm for the groom!) "And how is
that good father of yours?"

"As kind and loving as ever."

"I wish you could have seen him in the old days in Virginia," said the
colonel, who, like all old men, continually fell back upon the
reminiscent. "Handsomest man in the brigade, and a fight made him as
happy as a bull-pup. I was with him the day he first met your
mother,"--softly. "How she humiliated him because he wore the blue! She
was obliged to feed him--fortunes of war; but I could see that she
hoped each mouthful would choke him."

"What! My mother wished that?"

Mrs. Chadwick laughed. The groom's chin sank into his collar.

"Wait a moment! She wasn't in love with him then. We were camped on
that beautiful Virginian home of yours for nearly a month. You know how
courtly he always was and is. Well, to every rebuff he replied with a
smile and some trifling favor. She never had to lift her finger about
the house. But one thing he was firm in: she should sit at the same
table during the meals. And when Johnston came thundering down that
memorable day, and your father was shot in the lungs and fell with a
dozen saber cuts besides, you should have seen the change! He was the
prisoner now, she the jailer. In her own white bed she had him placed,
and for two months she nursed him. Ah, that was the prettiest love
affair the world ever saw."

"And why have you not followed his example?" asked Mrs. Chadwick.

The colonel gazed thoughtfully at his old comrade's daughter, and he
saw pity and unbounded respect in her eyes. "They say that for every
heart there is a mate, but I do not believe it. Sometimes there are two
hearts that seek the same mate. One or the other must win or lose. You
will play for me to-night?"

"As often and as long as you please,"--graciously. She was very fond of
this upright old soldier, whom she had known since babyhood.

It was now that the colonel casually turned his attention to the groom,
He observed him. First, his gray eyebrows arched abruptly in surprise,
then sank in puzzlement.

"What is it?" inquired Betty, noting these signs.

"Nothing; nothing of importance," answered the colonel, growing
violently red.

It would not be exaggerating to say that if the colonel turned red, his
one-time orderly grew purple, only this purple faded quickly into a
chalky pallor.

"Well, perhaps I am keeping you," remarked the colonel, soberly, "I
shall hold you to your promise about the music."

"We are to have plenty of music. There will foe a famous singer and a
fine pianist."

"You will play that what-d'-ye-call-it from Schumann I like so well. I
shall want you to play that I want something in the way of memory to
take back West with me. Good-by, then, till to-night."

"Good-by. All right, James; home," said the girl. James relievedly
touched his horses.

The colonel remained standing at the curb till the victoria
disappeared. Of what he was thinking I don't know; but he finally
muttered "James?" in an inquiring way, and made for the club, shaking
his head, as if suddenly confronted by a remarkably abstruse problem.

Further on I shall tell you how he solved it.



XV

RETROSPECTIVE


Show me those invisible, imperceptible steps by which a man's honor
first descends; show me the way back to the serene altitude of clean
conscience, and I will undertake to enlighten you upon the secret of
every great historical event, tragic or otherwise. If you will search
history carefully, you will note that the basic cause of all great
events, such as revolutions, civil strifes, political assassinations,
foreign wars, and race oppressions, lay not in men's honor so much as
in some one man's dishonor. A man, having committed a dishonorable act,
may reestablish himself in the eyes of his fellow-beings, but ever and
ever he silently mocks himself and dares not look into the mirror of
his conscience.

Honor is comparative, as every one will agree. It is only in the highly
developed mind that it reaches its superlative state. Either this man
becomes impregnable to the assaults of the angel of the pitch robes, or
he boldly plunges into the frightful blackness which surrounds her. The
great greed of power, the great greed of wealth, the great greed of
hate, the great greed of jealousy, and the great greed of love, only
these tempt him.

Now, of dishonors, which does man hold in the greatest abhorrence? This
question needs no pondering. It may be answered simply. The murderer,
the thief, and the rogue--we look upon these callously. But Judas!
Treachery to our country! This is the nadir of dishonor; nothing could
be blacker. We never stop to look into the causes, nor does history,
that most upright and impartial of judges; we brand instantly. Who can
tell the truth about Judas Iscariot, and Benedict Arnold, and the host
of others? I can almost tolerate a Judas who betrays for a great love.
There seems to be a stupendous elimination of self in the man who
betrays for those he loves, braving the consequences, the ignominy, the
dishonor, the wretchedness; otherwise I should not have undertaken to
write this bit of history.

To betray a friend, that is bad; to betray a woman, that is still
worse; but to betray one's country!-to commit an act which shall place
her at the mercy of her enemies! Ah, the ignoble deaths of the men who
were guilty of this crime! And if men have souls, as we are told they
have, how the souls of these men must writhe as they look into the
minds of living men and behold the horror and contempt in which each
traitor's name is held there!

Have you ever thought of the legion of men who have been thrust back
from the very foot of this precipice, either by circumstances or by the
revolt of conscience? These are the men who reestablish themselves in
the eyes of their fellow-beings, but who for ever silently mock
themselves and dare not look into the mirror of their consciences.

In this world motive is everything. A bad thing may be done for a good
purpose, or, the other way around. This is the story of a crime, the
motive of which was good.

Once upon a time there lived a soldier, a gentleman born, a courtier, a
man of fine senses, of high integrity, of tenderness, of courage; he
possessed a splendid physical beauty, besides estates, and a
comfortable revenue, or rather, he presided over one. Above all this,
he was the father of a girl who worshiped him, and not without reason.
What mysterious causes should set to work to ruin this man, to thrust
him from light into darkness? What step led him to attempt to betray
his country, even in times of peace, to dishonor his name, a name his
honesty had placed high on the rolls of glory? What defense can he
offer? Well, I shall undertake to defend him; let yours be the verdict.

Enforced idleness makes a criminal of a poor man; it urges the man of
means to travel. Having seen his native land, it was only natural that
my defendant should desire to see foreign countries. So, accompanied by
his child, he went abroad, visited the famous capitals, and was the
guest of honor at his country's embassies. It was a delightful period.
Both were as happy as fate ever allows a human being to be. The father
had received his honorable discharge, and till recently had held a
responsible position in the War Department. His knowledge had proved of
no small value to the government, for he was a born strategist, and his
hobby was the coast defenses. He never beheld a plan that he did not
reproduce it on the back of an envelope, on any handy scrap of paper,
and then pore over it through the night. He had committed to memory the
smallest details, the ammunition supplies of each fort, the number of
guns, the garrison, the pregnable and impregnable sides. He knew the
resource of each, too; that is to say, how quickly aid could be
secured, the nearest transportation routes, what forage might be had.
He had even submitted plans for a siege gun.

One day, in the course of their travels, the father and daughter
stopped at Monte Carlo. Who hasn't heard of that city of fever? Who
that has seen it can easily forget its gay harbor, its beautiful walks,
its crowds, its music, its hotels, its white temple of fortune? Now, my
defendant had hitherto ignored the principality of Monaco. The tales of
terror which had reached his ears did not prepossess him in its favor.
But his daughter had friends there, and she wanted to see them. There
would be dances on the private yacht, and dinners, and teas, and
fireworks. On the third night of his arrival he was joined by the owner
of the yacht, a millionaire banker whose son was doing the honors as
host. I believe that there was a musicale on board that night, and as
the banker wasn't particularly fond of this sort of entertainment, he
inveigled his soldier friend to accompany him on a sight-seeing trip.
At midnight they entered the temple of fortune. At first the soldier
demurred; but the banker told him that he hadn't seen Monte Carlo
unless he saw the wheel go around. So, laughing, they entered the halls.

The passion for gaming is born in us all, man and woman alike, and is
conceded by wise analysts to be the most furious of all passions and
the most lasting. In some, happily, the serpent sleeps for ever, the
fire is for ever banked. But it needs only the opportunity to rouse the
dull ember into flame, to stir the venom of the serpent. It seems a
simple thing to toss a coin on the roulette boards. Sometimes the act
is done contemptuously, sometimes indifferently, sometimes in the
spirit of fun and curiosity; but the result is always the same.

The banker played for a while, won and lost, lost and won. The soldier
put his hand into a pocket and drew forth a five-franc piece. He placed
it on a number. The angel in the pitch robes is always lying in wait
for man to make his first bad step; so she urged fortune to let this
man win. It is an unwritten law, high up on Olympus, that the gods must
give to the gods; only the prayers of the mortals go unanswered.

So my defendant won. He laughed like a boy who had played marbles for
"keeps" and had taken away his opponent's agates. His mind was
perfectly innocent of any wrong-doing. That night he won a thousand
francs. His real first bad step was in hiding the escapade from his
daughter. The following night he won again. Then he dallied about the
flame till one night the lust of his forebears shone forth from his
eyes. The venom of the serpent spread, the ember grew into a flame. His
daughter, legitimately enjoying herself with the young people, knew
nothing nor dreamed. Indeed, he never entered the temple till after he
had kissed her good night.

He lost. He lost twice, thrice, in succession. One morning he woke up
to the fact that he was several thousand dollars on the wrong side of
the book. If the money had been his own, he would have stopped, and
gone his way, cured. But it was money which he held in trust. He _must_
replace it. The angel in the pitch robes stood at his side; she even
laid a hand on his shoulder and urged him to win back what he had lost.
Then indeed he could laugh, go his way, and gamble no more. This was
excellent advice. That winter he lost something like fifteen thousand.
Then began the progress of decline. The following summer his losses
were even greater than before. He began to mortgage the estates, for
his authority over his daughter's property was absolute. He dabbled in
stocks; a sudden fall in gold, and he realized that his daughter was
nearly penniless. Ah, had he been alone, had the money been his, he
would have faced poverty with all the courage of a brave man. But the
girl, the girl! She must never know, she must never want for those
luxuries to which she was accustomed. For her sake he must make one
more effort He _must_ win, must, must! He raised more money on the
property. He became irritable, nervous, to which were added sudden
bursts of tenderness which the girl could not very well understand.

The summer preceding the action of this tale saw them at Dieppe. At one
time he had recovered something between sixty and seventy thousand of
his losses. Ah, had he stopped then, confessed to his daughter, all
would have gone well But, no; he must win the entire sum. He lost,
lost, lost. The crash came in August. But a corner of the vast
Virginian estates was left, and this did not amount to twenty thousand.
Five francs carelessly tossed upon a roulette table had ruined and
dishonored him. The angel of the pitch robes had fairly enveloped him
now. The thought that he had gambled uselessly his daughter's legacy,
the legacy which her mother had left confidingly in his care, filled
his soul with the bitterness of gall. And she continued the merry round
of happiness, purchasing expensive garments, jewelry, furs, the little
things which women love; gave dinners and teas and dances, considered
herself an heiress, and thought the world a very pleasant place to live
in. Every laugh from her was a thorn to him, the light of happiness in
her eyes was a reproach, for he knew that she was dancing toward the
precipice which he had digged for her.

Struggling futilely among these nettles of despair, he took the final
step. His ruin became definitive. His evil goddess saw to it that an
opportunity should present itself. (How simple all this reads! As I
read it over it does not seem credible. Think of a man who has reached
the height of his ambition, has dwelt there serenely, and then falls in
this silly, inexcusable fashion! Well, that is human nature, the human
part of it. Only here and there do we fall grandly.)

One starlit night he met a distinguished young diplomat, rich and
handsome. He played some, but to pass away the time rather than to
coquet with fortune. He was lucky. The man who plays for the mere fun
of it is generally lucky. He asks no favors from fortune; he does not
pay any attention to her, and, woman-like, she is piqued. He won
heavily this night; my soldier lost correspondingly heavily. The
diplomat pressed a loan upon his new-found friend, who, with his usual
luck, lost it.

The diplomat was presented to the daughter. They owned to mutual
acquaintance in Paris and Washington. The three attended the concert.
The girl returned to the hotel bubbling with happiness and the echoes
of enchanting melodies, for she was an accomplished musician. She
retired and left the two men to their coffee and cigars. The
conversation took several turns, and at length stopped at diplomacy.

"It has always puzzled me," said the soldier, "how Russia finds out all
she does."

"That is easily explained. Russia has the wisdom of the serpent. Here
is a man who possesses a secret which Russia must have. They study him.
If he is gallant, one day he meets a fascinating woman; if he is
greedy, he turns to find a bowl of gold at his elbow; if he seeks
power, Russia points out the shortest road."

"But her knowledge of foreign army and naval strength?"

"Money does all that. Russia possesses an accurate knowledge of every
fort, ship and gun England boasts of; France, Germany, and Japan. We
have never taken it into our heads to investigate America. Till
recently your country as a foe to Russian interests had dropped below
the horizon. And now Russia finds that she must proceed to do what she
has done to all other countries; that is, duplicate her rival's
fortification plans, her total military and naval strength; and so
forth, and so on. The United States is not an enemy, but there are
possibilities of her becoming so. Some day she must wrest Cuba from
Spain, and then she may become a recognized quantity in the Pacific."

"The Pacific?"

"Even so. Having taken Cuba, the United States, to protect her western
coast, will be forced to occupy the Philippines; and having taken that
archipelago, she becomes a menace to Russian territorial expansion in
the far East. I do not always speak so frankly. But I wish you to see
the necessity of knowing all about your coast defenses."

"It can not be done!"--spiritedly. So far the American had only gambled.

"It can and will be done," smiling. "Despite the watchfulness of your
officials, despite your secret service, despite all obstacles, Russia
will quietly gain the required information. She possesses a key to
every lock."

"And what might this key be?"--with tolerant irony.

"Gold."

"But if the United States found out what Russia was doing, there might
be war."

"Nothing of the kind. Russia would simply deny all knowledge. The man
whom she selected to do the work would be discredited, banished,
perhaps sent to Siberia to rot in the mines. No, there would be no war.
Russia would weigh all these possibilities in selecting her arm. She
would choose a man of high intellect, rich, well-known in social
circles, a linguist, a man acquainted with all histories and all phases
of life, a diplomat, perhaps young and pleasing. You will say, why does
he accept so base a task? When a Russian noble takes his oath in the
presence of his czar, he becomes simply an arm; he no longer thinks,
his master thinks for him. He only acts. So long as he offers his
services without remuneration, his honor remains untouched, unsullied.
A paid spy is the basest of all creatures."

"Count, take care that I do not warn my country of Russia's purpose.
You are telling me very strange things." The American eyed his
companion sharply.

"Warn the United States? I tell you, it will not matter. All Russia
would need would be a dissatisfied clerk. What could he not do with
half a million francs?" The diplomat blew a cloud of smoke through his
nostrils and filliped the end of his cigarette.

"A hundred thousand dollars?"

The diplomat glanced amusedly at his American friend. "I suppose that
sounds small enough to you rich Americans. But to a clerk it reads
wealth."

The American was silent. A terrible thought flashed through his brain,
a thought that he repulsed almost immediately.

"Of course, I am only speculating; nothing has been done as yet."

"Then something _is_ going to be done?" asked the American, clearing
his voice.

"One day or another. If we can not find the clerk, we shall look
higher. We should consider a million francs well invested. America is
rapidly becoming a great power. But let us drop the subject and turn to
something more agreeable to us both. Your daughter is charming. I
honestly confess to you that I have not met her equal in any country.
Pardon my presumption, but may I ask if she is engaged to be married?"

"Not to my knowledge,"--vastly surprised and at the same time pleased.

"Are you averse to foreign alliances?" The diplomat dipped the end of a
fresh-lighted cigar into his coffee.

"My dear Count, I am not averse to foreign alliances, but I rather
suspect that my daughter is. This aversion might be overcome, however."

What a vista was opened to this wretched father! If only she might
marry riches, how easily he might confess what he had done, how easily
all this despair and terror might be dispersed! And here was a man who
was known in the great world, rich, young and handsome.

The other gazed dreamily at the ceiling; from there his gaze traveled
about the coffee-room, with its gathering of coffee-drinkers, and at
length came back to his _vis-a-vis_.

"You will return to Washington?" he asked.

"I shall live there for the winter; that is, I expect to."

"Doubtless we shall see each other this winter, then,"--and the count
threw away his cigar, bade his companion good night, and went to his
room.

How adroitly he had sown the seed! At that period he had no positive
idea upon what kind of ground he had cast it. But he took that chance
which all far-sighted men take, and then waited. There was little he
had not learned about this handsome American with the beautiful
daughter. How he had learned will always remain dark to me. My own
opinion is that he had been studying him during his tenure of office in
Washington, and, with that patience which is making Russia so
formidable, waited for this opportunity.

I shall give the Russian all the justice of impartiality. When he saw
the girl, he rather shrank from the affair. But he had gone too far, he
had promised too much; to withdraw now meant his own defeat, his
government's anger, his political oblivion. And there was a zest in
this life of his. He could no more resist the call of intrigue than a
gambler can resist the croupier's, "Make your game, gentlemen!" I
believe that he loved the girl the moment he set eyes upon her. Her
beauty and bearing distinguished her from the other women he had met,
and her personality was so engaging that her conquest of him was
complete and spontaneous. How to win this girl and at the same time
ruin her father was an embarrassing problem. The plan which finally
came to him he repelled again and again, but at length he surrendered.
To get the parent in his power and then to coerce the girl in case she
refused him! To my knowledge this affair was the first dishonorable act
of a very honorable man. But love makes fools and rogues of us all.

You will question my right to call this diplomat an honest man. As I
have said elsewhere, honor is comparative. Besides, a diplomat
generally falls into the habit of lying successfully to himself.

When the American returned to the world, his cigar was out and his
coffee was stale and cold.

"A million francs!" he murmured. "Two hundred thousand!"

The seed had fallen on fruitful ground.



XVI

THE PREVIOUS AFFAIR


Mrs. Chadwick had completed her toilet and now stood smiling in a most
friendly fashion at the reflection in the long oval mirror. She
addressed this reflection in melodious tones.

"Madam, you are really handsome; and let no false modesty whisper in
your ear that you are not. Few women in Washington have such clear
skin, such firm flesh, such color. Thirty-eight? It is nothing. It is
but the half-way post; one has left youth behind, but one has not
reached old age. Time must be very tolerant, for he has given you a
careful selection. There were no years of storm and poverty, of violent
passions; and if I have truly loved, it has been you, only you. You are
too wise and worldly to love any one but yourself. And yet, once you
stood on the precipice of dark eyes, pale skin, and melancholy
wrinkles. And even now, if he were to speak... Enough! Enough of this
folly. I have something to accomplish to-night." She glided from the
boudoir into the small but luxurious drawing-room which had often been
graced by the most notable men and women in the country.

Karloff threw aside the book of poems by De Banville, rose, and went
forward to meet her.

"Madam,"--bending and brushing her hand with his lips, "Madam, you grow
handsomer every day. If I were forty, now, I should fear for your
single blessedness."

"Or, if I were two-and-twenty, instead of eight-and-thirty,"--beginning
to draw on her long white gloves. There was a challenge in her smile.

"Well, yes; if you were two-and-twenty."

"There was a time, not so long ago," she said, drawing his gaze as a
magnet draws a needle, "when the disparity in years was of no matter."

The count laughed. "That was three years ago; and, if my memory serves
me, you smiled."

"Perhaps I was first to smile; that is all."

"I observe a mental reservation,"--owlishly.

"I will put it plainly, then. I preferred to smile over your
protestations rather than see you laugh over the possibility and the
folly of my loving you."

"Then it was possible?"--with interest.

"Everything is possible ... and often absurd."

"How do you know that I was not truly in love with you?"--narrowing his
eyes.

"It is not explanatory; it can be given only one name--instinct, which
in women and animals is more fully developed than in man. Besides, at
that time you had not learned all about Colonel Annesley, whose guests
we are to be this evening. Whoever would have imagined a Karloff
accepting the hospitalities of an Annesley? Count, hath not thy rose a
canker?"

"Madam!" Karloff was frowning.

"Count, you look like a paladin when you scowl; but scowling never
induces anything but wrinkles. That is why we women frown so seldom. We
smile. But let us return to your query. Supposing I had accepted your
declarations seriously; supposing you had offered me marriage in that
burst of gratitude; supposing I _had_ committed the folly of becoming a
countess: what a position I should be in to-day!"

"I do not understand,"--perplexedly.

"No?"--shrugging. She held forth a gloved arm. "Have you forgotten how
gallantly you used to button my gloves?"

"A thousand pardons! My mind was occupied with the mystery of your long
supposition." He took the arm gracefully and proceeded to slip the
pearl buttons through their holes. (Have you ever buttoned the gloves
of a handsome woman? I have. And there is a subtile thrill about the
proceeding which I can not quite define. Perhaps it is the nearness of
physical beauty; perhaps it is the delicate scent of flowers; perhaps
it is the touch of the cool, firm flesh; perhaps it is just romance.)
The gaze which she bent upon his dark head was emotional; yet there was
not the slightest tremor of arm or fingers. It is possible that she
desired him to observe the steadiness of her nerves. "What did you
mean?" he asked.

"What did I mean?"--vaguely. Her thought had been elsewhere.

"By that supposition."

"Oh! I mean that my position, had I married you, would have been rather
anomalous to-day." She extended the other arm. "You are in love."

"In love?" He looked up quickly.

"Decidedly; and I had always doubted your capacity for that sentiment."

"And pray tell me, with whom am I in love?"

"Come, Count, you and I know each other too well to waste time in
beating about the bushes. I do not blame you for loving her; only, I
say, it must not be."

"Must not be?" The count's voice rose a key.

"Yes, must not be. You must give them up--the idea and the girl. What!
You, who contrive the father's dishonor, would aspire to the daughter's
hand? It is not equable. Love her honorably, or not at all. The course
you are following is base and wholly unworthy of you."

He dropped the arm abruptly and strode across the room, stopping by a
window. He did not wish her to see his face at that particular instant.
Some men would have demanded indignantly to know how she had learned
these things; not so the count.

"There is time to retrieve. Go to the colonel frankly, pay his debts
out of your own pockets, then tell the girl that you love her. Before
you tell her, her father will have acquainted her with his sin and your
generosity. She will marry you out of gratitude."

Karloff spun on his heels. His expression was wholly new. His eyes were
burning; he stretched and crumpled his gloves.

"Yes, you are right, you are right! I have been trying to convince
myself that I was a machine where the father was concerned and wholly a
man in regard to the girl. You have put it before me in a bold manner.
Good God, yes! I find that I am wholly a man. How smoothly all this
would have gone to the end had she not crossed my path! I _am_ base, I,
who have always considered myself an honorable man. And now it is too
late, too late!"

"Too late? What do you mean? Have you dared to ask her to be your
wife?" Had Karloff held her arm at this moment, he would have
comprehended many things.

"No, no! My word has gone forth to my government; there is a wall
behind me, and I can not go back. To stop means worse than death. My
property will be confiscated and my name obliterated, my body rot
slowly in the frozen north. Oh, I know my country; one does not gain
her gratitude by failure. I must have those plans, and nowhere could I
obtain such perfect ones."

"Then you will give her up?" There was a broken note.

The count smiled. To her it was a smile scarce less than a snarl.

"Give her up? Yes, as a mother gives up her child, as a lioness her
cub. She _has_ refused me, but nevertheless she shall be my wife. Oh, I
am well-versed in human nature. She loves her father, and I know what
sacrifices she would make to save his honor. To-night!--" But his lips
suddenly closed.

"Well, to-night? Why do you not go on?" Mrs. Chadwick was pale. Her
gloved hands were clenched. A spasm of some sort seemed to hold her in
its shaking grasp.

"Nothing, nothing! In heaven's name, why have you stirred me so?" he
cried.

"Supposing, after all, I loved you?"

He retreated. "Madam, your suppositions are becoming intolerable and
impossible."

"Nothing is impossible. Supposing I loved you as violently and
passionately as you love this girl?"

"Madam,"--hastily and with gentleness, "do not say anything which may
cause me to blush for you; say nothing you may regret to-morrow."

"I am a woman of circumspection. My suppositions are merely
argumentative. Do you realize, Count, that I could force you to marry
me?"

Karloff's astonishment could not be equaled. "Force me to marry you?"

"Is the thought so distasteful, then?"

"You are mad to-night!"

"Not so. In whatever manner you have succeeded in this country, your
debt of gratitude is owing to me. I do not recall this fact as a
reproach; I make the statement to bear me on in what I have to submit
to your discerning intelligence. I doubt if there is another woman,
here or abroad, who knows you so well as I. Your personal honor is
beyond impeachment, but Russia is making vast efforts to speckle it.
She will succeed. Yes, I could force you to marry me. With a word I
could tumble your house of cards. I am a worldly woman, and not without
wit and address. I possess every one of your letters, most of all have
I treasured the extravagant ones. To some you signed your name. If you
have kept mine, you will observe that my given name might mean any one
of a thousand women who are named 'Grace.' Shall you marry me? Shall I
tumble your house of cards? I could go to Colonel Annesley and say to
him that if he delivers these plans to you, I shall denounce him to the
secret service officers. I might cause his utter financial ruin, but
his name would descend to his daughter untarnished."

"You would not dare!" the count interrupted.

"What? And you know me so well? I have not given you my word to reveal
nothing. You confided in my rare quality of silence; you confided in me
because you had proved me. Man is not infallible, even when he is named
Karloff." She lifted from a vase her flowers, from which she shook the
water. "Laws have been passed or annulled; laws have died at the
executive desk. Who told you that this was to be, or that, long before
it came to pass? In all the successful intrigues of Russia in this
country, whom have you to thank? Me. Ordinarily a woman does not do
these things as a pastime. There must be some strong motive behind. You
asked me why I have stirred you so. Perhaps it is because I am neither
two-and-twenty nor you two-score. It is these little barbs that remain
in a woman's heart. Well, I do not love you well enough to marry you,
but I love you too well to permit you to marry Miss Annesley."

"That has the sound of war. I _did_ love you that night,"--not without
a certain nobility.

"How easily you say 'that night'! Surely there was wisdom in that smile
of mine. And I nearly tumbled into the pit! I must have looked
exceedingly well... _that night!_"--drily.

"You are very bitter to-night. Had you taken me at my word, I never
should have looked at Miss Annesley. And had I ceased to love you, not
even you would have known it."

"Is it possible?"--ironically.

"It is. I have too much pride to permit a woman to see that I have made
a mistake."

"Then you consider in the present instance that you have not made a
mistake? You are frank."

"At least I have not made a mistake which I can not rectify. Madam, let
us not be enemies. As you say, I owe you too much. What is it you
desire?"--with forced amiability.

"Deprive Colonel Annesley of his honor, that, as you say, is
inevitable; but I love that girl as I would a child of my own, and I
will not see her caught in a net of this sort, or wedded to a man whose
government robs him of his manhood and individuality."

"Do not forget that I hold my country first and foremost,"--proudly.

"Love has no country, nor laws, nor galling chains of incertitude. Love
is magnificent only in that it gives all without question. You love
this girl with reservations. You shall not have her. You shall not have
even me, who love you after a fashion, for I could never look upon you
as a husband; in my eyes you would always be an accomplice."

"It is war, then?"--curtly.

"War? Oh, no; we merely sever our diplomatic relations," she purred.

"Madam, listen to me. I shall make one more attempt to win this girl
honorably. For you are right: love to be love must be magnificent. If
she accepts me, for her sake I will become an outcast, a man without a
country. If she refuses me, I shall go on to the end. Speak to the
colonel, Madam; it is too late. Like myself, he has gone too far. Why
did you open the way for me as you did? I should have been satisfied
with a discontented clerk. You threw this girl across my path,
indirectly, it is true; but nevertheless the fault is yours."

"I recognize it. At that time I did not realize how much you were to
me."

"You are a strange woman. I do not understand you."

"Incompatibility. Come, the carriage is waiting. Let us be gone."

"You have spoilt the evening for me," said the count, as he threw her
cloak across her shoulders.

"On the contrary, I have added a peculiar zest. Now, let us go and
appear before the world, and smile, and laugh, and eat, and gossip. Let
the heart throb with a dull pain, if it will; the mask is ours to do
with as we may."

They were, in my opinion, two very unusual persons.

[Illustration: "Lay the rose on the table"--Act II.]



XVII

DINNER IS SERVED


"Ha!"

Monsieur Pierre, having uttered this ejaculation, stepped back and
rested his fat hands on his fat hips. As he surveyed the impromptu
butler, a shade of perplexity spread over his oily face. He smoothed
his imperial and frowned. This groom certainly _looked_ right, but
there was something lacking in his make-up, that indefinable something
which is always found in the true servant--servility. There was no
humility here, no hypocritical meekness, no suavity; there was nothing
smug or self-satisfied. In truth, there was something grimly earnest,
which was not to be understood readily. Monsieur Pierre, having always
busied himself with soups and curries and roasts and sauces, was not a
profound analyst; yet his instinctive shrewdness at once told him that
this fellow was no servant, nor could he ever be made into one. Though
voluble enough in his kitchen, Monsieur Pierre lacked expression when
confronted by any problem outside of it. Here was the regulation
swallow-tail coat and trousers of green, the striped red vest, and the
polished brass buttons; but the man inside was too much for him.

"_Diable_! you _luke_ right. But, no, I can not explain. Eet ees on zee
tongue, but eet rayfuse. Ha! I haf eet! You lack vot zay call zee real.
You make me t'ink uf zee sairvant on zee stage, somet'ing bettair off;
eh?" This was as near as monsieur ever got to the truth of things.

During this speculative inventory, Warburton's face was gravely set;
indeed, it pictured his exact feelings. He _was_ grave. He even wanted
Pierre's approval. He was about to pass through a very trying ordeal;
he might not even pass through it. There was no deceiving his colonel's
eyes, hang him! Whatever had induced fate to force this old Argus-eyed
soldier upon the scene? He glanced into the kitchen mirror. He
instantly saw the salient flaw in his dress. It was the cravat. Tie it
as he would, it never approached the likeness of the conventional
cravat of the waiter. It still remained a polished cravat, a worldly
cravat, the cravat seen in ball-rooms, drawing-rooms, in the theater
stalls and boxes, anywhere but in the servants' hall. Oh, for the
ready-made cravat that hitched to the collar-button! And then there was
that servant's low turned-down collar, glossy as celluloid. He felt as
diffident in his bare throat as a debutante feels in her first
decollete ball-gown, not very well covered up, as it were. And, heaven
and earth, how appallingly large his hands had grown, how clumsy his
feet! Would the colonel expose him? Would he keep silent? This remained
to be found out: wherein lay the terror of suspense.

"Remem_bair_," went on Monsieur Pierre, after a pause, feeling that he
had a duty to fulfil and a responsibility to shift to other shoulders
than his own, "remem_bair_, eef you spill zee soup, I keel you. You
carry zee tureen in, zen you deesh out zee soup, and sairve. Zee
oystaires should be on zee table t'ree minutes before zee guests haf
arrive'. Now, can you make zee American cocktail?"

"I can,"--with a ghost of a smile.

"Make heem,"--with a pompous wave of the hand toward the favorite
ingredients.

"What kind?"

"Vot kind! Eez zare more cocktails, zen?"

"Only two that are proper, the manhattan and the martini."

"Make zee martini; I know heem."

"But cocktails ought not be mixed before serving."

"I say, make zee one cocktail,"--coldly and skeptically. "I test heem."

Warburton made one. Monsieur sipped it slowly, making a wry face, for,
true Gaul that he was, only two kinds of stimulants appealed to his
palate, liqueurs and wines. He found it as good as any he had ever
tasted.

"Ver' good,"--softening. "Zare ees, zen, one t'ing zat all zee
Americans can make, zee cocktail? I am educate'; I learn. Now leaf me
till eight. Keep zee collect head;"--and Monsieur Pierre turned his
attention to his partridges.

James went out of doors to get a breath of fresh air and to collect his
thoughts, which were wool-gathering, whatever that may mean. They
needed collecting, these thoughts of his, and labeling, for they were
at all points of the compass, and he was at a loss upon which to draw
for support. Here he was, in a devil of a fix, and no possible way of
escaping except by absolutely bolting; and he vowed that he wouldn't
bolt, not if he stood the chance of being exposed fifty times over. He
had danced; he was going to pay the fiddler like a man. He had never
run away from anything, and he wasn't going to begin now.

At the worst, they could only laugh at him; but his secret would be his
no longer. Ass that he had been! How to tell this girl that he loved
her? How to appear to her as his natural self? What a chance he had
wilfully thrown away! He might have been a guest to-night; he might
have sat next to her, turned the pages of her music, and perhaps sighed
love in her ear, all of which would have been very proper and
conventional. Ah, if he only knew what was going on behind those
Mediterranean eyes of hers, those heavenly sapphires. Had she any
suspicion? No, it could not be possible; she had humiliated him too
often, to suspect the imposture. Alackaday!

Had any one else applied the disreputable terms he applied to himself
there would have been a battle royal. When he became out of breath, he
reentered the house to have a final look at the table before the ordeal
began.

Covers had been laid for twelve; immaculate linen, beautiful silver,
and sparkling cut-glass. He wondered how much the girl was worth, and
thought of his own miserable forty-five hundred the year. True, his
capital could at any time be converted into cash, some seventy-five
thousand, but it would be no longer the goose with the golden egg. A
great bowl of roses stood on a glass center-piece. As he leaned toward
them to inhale their perfume he heard a sound. He turned.

She stood framed in a doorway, a picture such as artists conjure up to
fit in sunlit corners of gloomy studios: beauty, youth, radiance,
luster, happiness. To his ardent eyes she was supremely beautiful. How
wildly his heart beat! This was the first time he had seen her in all
her glory. His emotion was so strong that he did not observe that she
was biting her nether lip.

"Is everything well, James?" she asked, meaning the possibilities of
service and not the cardiac intranquillity of the servant.

"Very well, Miss Annesley,"--with a sudden bold scrutiny.

Whatever it was she saw in his eyes it had the effect of making hers
turn aside. To bridge the awkwardness of the moment, he rearranged a
napkin; and she remarked his hands. They were tanned, but they were
elegantly shaped and scrupulously well taken care of--the hands of a
gentleman born, of an aristocrat. He could feel her gaze penetrate like
acid. He grew visibly nervous.

"You haven't the hand of a servant, James,"--quietly.

He started, and knocked a fork to the floor.

"They are too clumsy," she went on maliciously.

"I am not a butler, Miss; I am a groom. I promise to do the very best I
can." Wrath mingled with the shame on his face.

"A man who can do what you did this morning ought not to be afraid of a
dinner-table."

"There is some difference between a dinner-table and a horse, Miss." He
stooped to recover the fork while she touched her lips with her
handkerchief. The situation was becoming unendurable. He knew that, for
some reason, she was quietly laughing at him.

"Never put back on the table a fork or piece of silver that has fallen
to the floor," she advised. "Procure a clean one."

"Yes, Miss." Why, in heaven's name, didn't she go and leave him in
peace?

"And be very careful not to spill a drop of the burgundy. It is
seventy-eight, and a particular favorite of my father's."

Seventy-eight! As if he hadn't had many a bottle of that superb vintage
during the past ten months! The glands in his teeth opened at the
memory of that taste.

"James, we have been in the habit of paying off the servants on this
day of the month. Payday comes especially happy this time. It will put
good feeling into all, and make the service vastly more expeditious."

She counted out four ten-dollar notes from a roll in her hand and
signified him to approach. He took the money, coolly counted it, and
put it in his vest-pocket.

"Thank you, Miss."

I do not say that she looked disappointed, but I assert that she was
slightly disconcerted. She never knew the effort he had put forth to
subdue the desire to tear the money into shreds, throw it at her feet
and leave the house.

"When the gentlemen wish for cigars or cigarettes, you will find them
in the usual place, the tower drawer in the sideboard." With a swish
she was gone.

He took the money out and studied it. No, he wouldn't tear it up;
rather he would put it among his keepsakes.

I shall leave Mr. Robert, or M'sieu Zhames, to recover his
tranquillity, and describe to you the character and quality of the
guests. There was the affable military attache of the British embassy,
there was a celebrated American countess, a famous dramatist and his
musical wife, Warburton's late commanding colonel, Mrs. Chadwick, Count
Karloff, one of the notable grand opera prima-donnas, who would not
sing in opera till February, a cabinet officer and his wife, Colonel
Annesley and his daughter. You will note the cosmopolitan character of
these distinguished persons. Perhaps in no other city in America could
they be brought together at an informal dinner such as this one was.
There was no question of precedence or any such nonsense. Everybody
knew everybody else, with one exception. Colonel Raleigh was a
comparative stranger. But he was a likable old fellow, full of stories
of the wild, free West, an excellent listener besides, who always
stopped a goodly distance on the right side of what is known in polite
circles as the bore's dead-line. Warburton held for him a deep
affection, martinet though he was, for he was singularly just and
merciful.

They had either drunk the cocktail or had set it aside untouched, and
had emptied the oyster shells, when the ordeal of the soup began. Very
few of those seated gave any attention to my butler. The first thing he
did was to drop the silver ladle. Only the girl saw this mishap. She
laughed; and Raleigh believed that he had told his story in an
exceptionally taking manner. My butler quietly procured another ladle,
and proceeded coolly enough. I must confess, however, that his coolness
was the result of a physical effort. The soup quivered and trembled
outrageously, and more than once he felt the heat of the liquid on his
thumb. This moment his face was pale, that moment it was red. But, as I
remarked, few observed him. Why should they? Everybody had something to
say to everybody else; and a butler was only a machine anyway. Yet,
three persons occasionally looked in his direction: his late colonel,
Mrs. Chadwick, and the girl; each from a different angle of vision.
There was a scowl on the colonel's face, puzzlement on Mrs. Chadwick's,
and I don't know what the girl's represented, not having been there
with my discerning eyes.

Once the American countess raised her lorgnette and murmured: "What a
handsome butler!"

Karloff, who sat next to her, twisted his mustache and shrugged. He had
seen handsome peasants before. They did not interest him. He glanced
across the table at the girl, and was much annoyed that she, too, was
gazing at the butler, who had successfully completed the distribution
of the soup and who now stood with folded arms by the sideboard. (How I
should have liked to see him!)

When the butler took away the soup-plates, Colonel Raleigh turned to
his host.

"George, where the deuce did you pick up that butler?"

Annesley looked vaguely across the table at his old comrade. He had
been far away in thought. He had eaten nothing.

"What?" he asked.

"I asked you where the deuce you got that butler of yours."

"Oh, Betty found him somewhere. Our own butler is away on a vacation. I
had not noticed him. Why?"

"Well, if he doesn't look like a cub lieutenant of mine, I was born
without recollection of faces."

"An orderly of yours, a lieutenant, did you say?" asked Betty, with
smoldering fires in her eyes.

"Yes."

"That is strange," she mused.

"Yes; very strange. He was a daredevil, if there ever was one."

"Ah!"

"Yes; best bump of location in the regiment, and the steadiest
nerve,"--dropping his voice.

The girl leaned on her lovely arms and observed him interestedly.

"A whole company got lost in a snowstorm one winter. You know that on
the prairie a snowstorm means that only a compass can tell you where
you are; and there wasn't one in the troop,--a bad piece of
carelessness on the captain's part. Well, this cub said _he'd_ find the
way back, and the captain wisely let him take the boys in hand."

"Go on," said the girl.

"Interested, eh?"

"I am a soldier's daughter, and I love the recital of brave deeds."

"Well, he did it. Four hours later they were being thawed out in the
barracks kitchens. Another hour and not one of them would have lived to
tell the tale. The whisky they poured into my cub--"

"Did he drink?" she interrupted.

"Drink? Why, the next day he was going to lick the men who had poured
the stuff down his throat. A toddy once in a while; that was all he
ever took. And how he loved a fight! He had the tenacity of a bulldog;
once he set his mind on getting something, he never let up till he got
it."

The girl trifled thoughtfully with a rose.

"Was he ever in any Indian fights?" she asked, casually.

"Only scraps and the like. He went into the reservation alone one day
and arrested a chief who had murdered a sheep-herder. It was a
volunteer job, and nine men out of ten would never have left the
reservation alive. He was certainly a cool hand."

"I dare say,"--smiling. She wanted to ask him if he had ever been hurt,
this daredevil of a lieutenant, but she could not bring the question to
her lips. "What did you say his name was?"--innocently.

"Warburton, Robert Warburton."

Here the butler came in with the birds. The girl's eyes followed him,
hither and thither, her lips hidden behind the rose.



XVIII

CAUGHT!


Karloff came around to music. The dramatist's wife should play Tosti's
_Ave Maria_, Miss Annesley should play the obligato on the violin and
the prima-donna should sing; but just at present the dramatist should
tell them all about his new military play which was to be produced in
December.

"Count, I beg to decline," laughed the dramatist. "I should hardly dare
to tell my plot before two such military experts as we have here. I
should be told to write the play all over again, and now it is too
late."

Whenever Betty's glance fell on her father's face, the gladness in her
own was somewhat dimmed. What was making that loved face so care-worn,
the mind so listless, the attitude so weary? But she was young; the
spirits of youth never flow long in one direction. The repartee,
brilliant and at the same time with every sting withdrawn, flashed up
and down the table like so many fireflies on a wet lawn in July, and
drew her irresistibly.

As the courses came and passed, so the conversation became less and
less general; and by the time the ices were served the colonel had
engaged his host, and the others divided into twos. Then coffee,
liqueurs and cigars, when the ladies rose and trailed into the little
Turkish room, where the "distinguished-looking butler" supplied them
with the amber juice.

A dinner is a function where everybody talks and nobody eats. Some have
eaten before they come, some wish they had, and others dare not eat for
fear of losing some of the gossip. I may be wrong, but I believe that
half of these listless appetites are due to the natural confusion of
forks.

After the liqueurs my butler concluded that his labor was done, and he
offered up a short prayer of thankfulness and relief. Heavens, what
mad, fantastic impulses had seized him while he was passing the soup!
Supposing he _had_ spilled the hot liquid down Karloff's back, or
poured out a glass of burgundy for himself and drained it before them
all, or slapped his late colonel on the back and asked him the state of
his liver? It was maddening, and he marveled at his escape. There
hadn't been a real mishap. The colonel had only scowled at him; he was
safe. He passed secretly from the house and hung around the bow-window
which let out on the low balcony. The window was open, and occasionally
he could hear a voice from beyond the room, which was dark.

It was one of those nights, those mild November nights, to which the
novelists of the old regime used to devote a whole page; the silvery
pallor on the landscape, the moon-mists, the round, white, inevitable
moon, the stirring breezes, the murmur of the few remaining leaves, and
all that. But these busy days we have not the time to read nor the
inclination to describe.

Suddenly upon the stillness of the night the splendor of a human voice
broke forth; the prima-donna was trying her voice. A violin wailed a
note. A hand ran up and down the keys of the piano. Warburton held his
breath and waited. He had heard Tosti's _Ave Maria_ many times, but he
never will forget the manner in which it was sung that night. The
songstress was care-free and among persons she knew and liked, and she
put her soul into that magnificent and mysterious throat of hers, And
throbbing all through the song was the vibrant, loving voice of the
violin. And when the human tones died away and the instruments ceased
to speak, Warburton felt himself swallowing rapidly. Then came
Schumann's _Traumerei_ on the strings, Handel's _Largo_, Grieg's
_Papillon_, and a _ballade_ by Chaminade. Then again sang the
prima-donna; old folksy songs, sketches from the operas grand and
light, _Faust_, _The Barber of Seville_, _La Fille de Madame Angot_. In
all his days Warburton had never heard such music. Doubtless he
_had_--even better; only at this period he was in love. The imagination
of love's young dream is the most stretchable thing I know of.
Seriously, however, he was a very good judge of music, and I am
convinced that what he heard was out of the ordinary.

But I must guide my story into the channel proper.

During the music Karloff and Colonel Annesley drifted into the latter's
study. What passed between them I gathered from bits recently dropped
by Warburton.

"Good God, Karloff, what a net you have sprung about me!" said the
colonel, despairingly.

"My dear Colonel, you have only to step out of it. It is the eleventh
hour; it is not too late." But Karloff watched the colonel eagerly.

"How in God's name can I step out of it?"

"Simply reimburse me for that twenty thousand I advanced to you in good
faith, and nothing more need be said." The count's Slavonic eyes were
half-lidded.

"To give you back that amount will leave me a beggar, an absolute
beggar, without a roof to shelter me. I am too old for the service, and
besides, I am physically incapacitated. If you should force me, I could
not meet my note save by selling the house my child was born in. Have
you discounted it?"

"No. Why should I present it at the bank? It does not mature till next
Monday, and I am in no need of money."

"What a wretch I am!"

Karloff raised his shoulders resignedly.

"My daughter!"

"Or my ducats," whimsically quoted the count. "Come, Colonel; do not
waste time in useless retrospection. He stumbles who looks back. I have
been thinking of your daughter. I love her, deeply, eternally."

"You love her?"

"Yes. I love her because she appeals to all that is young and good in
me; because she represents the highest type of womanhood. With her as
my wife, why, I should be willing to renounce my country, and your
indebtedness would be crossed out of existence with one stroke of the
pen."

The colonel's haggard face grew light with sudden hopefulness.

"I have been," the count went on, studying the ash of his cigar, "till
this night what the world and my own conscience consider an honorable
man. I have never wronged a man or woman personally. What I have done
on the order of duty does not agitate my conscience. I am simply a
machine. The moral responsibility rests with my czar. When I saw your
daughter, I deeply regretted that you were her father."

The colonel grew rigid in his chair.

"Do not misunderstand me. Before I saw her, you were but the key to
what I desired. As her father the matter took on a personal side. I
could not very conscientiously make love to your daughter and at the
same time--" Karloff left the sentence incomplete.

"And Betty?"--in half a whisper.

"Has refused me,"--quietly. "But I have not given her up; no, I have
not given her up."

"What do you mean to do?"

Karloff got up and walked about the room. "Make her my wife,"--simply.
He stooped and studied the titles of some of the books in the cases. He
turned to find that the colonel had risen and was facing him with
flaming eyes.

"I demand to know how you intend to accomplish this end," the colonel
said. "My daughter shall not be dragged into this trap."

"To-morrow night I will explain everything; to-night,
nothing,"--imperturbably.

"Karloff, to-night I stand a ruined and dishonored man. My head, once
held so proudly before my fellow-men, is bowed with shame. The country
I have fought and bled for I have in part betrayed. But not for my
gain, not for my gain. No, no! Thank God that I can say that! Personal
greed has not tainted me. Alone, I should have gone serenely into some
poor house and eked out an existence on my half-pay. But this child of
mine, whom I love doubly, for her mother's sake and her own,--I would
gladly cut off both arms to spare her a single pain, to keep her in the
luxury which she still believes rightfully to be hers. When the fever
of gaming possessed me, I should have told her. I did not; therein lies
my mistake, the mistake which has brought me to this horrible end.
Virginius sacrificed his child to save her; I will sacrifice my honor
to save mine from poverty. Force her to wed a man she does not love?
No. To-morrow night we shall complete this disgraceful bargain. The
plans are all finished but one. Now leave me; I wish to be alone."

"Sir, it is my deep regret--"

"Go; there is nothing more to be said."

Karloff withdrew. He went soberly. There was nothing sneering nor
contemptuous in his attitude. Indeed, there was a frown of pity on his
face. He recognized that circumstances had dragged down a noble man;
that chance had tricked him of his honor. How he hated his own evil
plan! He squared his shoulders, determined once more to put it to the
touch to win or lose it all.

He found her at the bow-window, staring up at the moon. As I remarked,
this room was dark, and she did not instantly recognize him.

"I am moon-gazing," she said.

"Let me sigh for it with you. Perhaps together we may bring it down."
There was something very pleasing in the quality of his tone.

"Ah, it is you, Count? I could not see. But let us not sigh for the
moon; it would be useless. Does any one get his own wish-moon? Does it
not always hang so high, so far away?"

"The music has affected you?"

"As it always does. When I hear a voice like madam's, I grow sad, and a
pity for the great world surges over me."

"Pity is the invisible embrace which enfolds all animate things. There
is pity for the wretched, for the fool, for the innocent knave, for
those who are criminals by their own folly; pity for those who love
without reward; pity that embraces ... even me."

Silence.

"Has it ever occurred to you that there are two beings in each of us;
that between these two there is a continual conflict, and that the
victor finally prints the victory on the face? For what lines and
haggards a man's face but the victory of the evil that is in him? For
what makes the aged ruddy and smooth of face and clear of eye but the
victory of the good that is in him? It is so. I still love you; I still
have the courage to ask you to be my wife. Shall there be faces haggard
or ruddy, lined or smooth?"

She stepped inside. She did not comprehend all he said, and his face
was in the shadow--that is to say, unreadable.

"I am sorry, very, very sorry."

"How easily you say that!"

"No, not easily; if only you knew how hard it comes, for I know that it
inflicts a hurt,"--gently. "Ah, Count, why indeed do I not love
you?"--impulsively, for at that time she held him in genuine regard.
"You represent all that a woman could desire in a man."

"You could learn,"--with an eager step toward her.

"You do not believe that; you know that you do not. Love has nothing to
learn; the heart speaks, and that is all. My heart does not speak when
I see you, and I shall never marry a man to whom it does not. You ask
for something which I can not give, and each time you ask you only add
to the pain."

"This is finality?"

"It is."

"Eh, well; then I must continue on to the end."

She interpreted this as a plaint of his coming loneliness.

"Here!" she said. She held in her hands two red roses. She thrust one
toward him. "That is all I may give you."

For a moment he hesitated. There were thorns, invisible and stinging.

"Take it!"

He accepted it, kissed it gravely, and hid it.

"This is the bitterest moment in my life, and doubly bitter because I
love you."

When the portiere fell behind him, she locked her hands, grieving that
all she could give him was an ephemeral flower. How many men had turned
from her in this wise, even as she began to depend upon them for their
friendships! The dark room oppressed her and she stepped out once more
into the silver of moonshine. Have you ever beheld a lovely woman
fondle a lovely rose? She drew it, pendent on its slender stem, slowly
across her lips, her eyes shining mistily with waking dreams. She
breathed in the perfume, then cupped the flower in the palm of her hand
and pressed it again and again to her lips. A long white arm stretched
outward and upward toward the moon, and when it withdrew the hand was
empty.

Warburton, hidden behind the vines, waited until she was gone, and then
hunted in the grass for the precious flower. On his hands and knees he
groped. The dew did not matter. And when at last he found it, not all
the treasures of the fabled Ophir would have tempted him to part with
it. It would be a souvenir for his later days.

As he rose from his knees he was confronted by a broad-shouldered,
elderly man in evening clothes. The end of a cigar burned brightly
between his teeth.

"I'll take that flower, young man, if you please."

Warburton's surprise was too great for sudden recovery.

"It is mine, Colonel," he stammered.

The colonel filliped away his cigar and caught my butler roughly by the
arm.

"Warburton, what the devil does this mean--a lieutenant of mine
peddling soup around a gentleman's table?"



XIX

"OH, MISTER BUTLER!"


Warburton had never lacked that rare and peculiar gift of immediately
adapting himself to circumstances. To lie now would be folly, worse
than useless. He had addressed this man at his side by his military
title. He stood committed. He saw that he must throw himself wholly on
the colonel's mercy and his sense of the humorous. He pointed toward
the stables and drew the colonel after him; but the colonel held back.

"That rose first; I insist upon having that rose till you have given me
a satisfactory account of yourself."

Warburton reluctantly surrendered his treasure. Force of habit is a
peculiar one. The colonel had no real authority to demand the rose; but
Warburton would no more have thought of disobeying than of running away.

"You will give it back to me?"

"That remains to be seen. Go on; I am ready to follow you. And I do not
want any dragging story, either." The colonel spoke impatiently.

Warburton led him into his room and turned on the light. The colonel
seated himself on the edge of the cot and lighted a fresh cigar.

"Well, sir, out with it. I am waiting."

Warburton took several turns about the room. "I don't know how the
deuce to begin, Colonel. It began with a joke that turned out wrong."

"Indeed?"--sarcastically. "Let me hear about this joke."

M'sieu Zhames dallied no longer, but plunged boldly into his narrative.
Sometimes the colonel stared at him as if he beheld a species of
lunatic absolutely new to him, sometimes he laughed silently, sometimes
he frowned.

"That's all," said Zhames; and he stood watching the colonel with dread
in his eyes.

"Well, of all the damn fools!"

"Sir?"

"Of all the jackasses!"

Warburton bit his lip angrily.

The colonel swung the rose to and fro. "Yes, sir, a damn fool!"

"I dare say that I am, sir. But I have gone too far to back out now.
Will you give me back that rose, Colonel?"

"What do you mean by her?"--coldly.

"I love her with all my heart,"--hotly. "I want her for my comrade, my
wife, my companion, my partner in all I have or do. I love her, and I
don't care a hang who knows it."

"Not so loud, my friend; not so loud."

"Oh, I do not care who hears,"--discouragedly.

"This beats the very devil! You've got me all balled up. Is Betty
Annesley a girl of the kind we read about in the papers as eloping with
her groom? What earthly chance had you in this guise, I should like to
know?"

"I only wanted to be near her; I did not look ahead."

"Well, I should say not! How long were you hidden behind that trellis?"

"A year, so it seemed to me."

"Any lunatics among your ancestors?"

Warburton shook his head, smiling wanly.

"I can't make it out," declared the colonel. "A graduate of West Point,
the fop of Troop A, the hero of a hundred ball-rooms, disguised as a
hostler and serving soup!"

"Always keep the motive in mind, Colonel; you were young yourself once."

The colonel thought of the girl's mother. Yes, he had been young once,
but not quite so young as this cub of his.

"What chance do you suppose you have against the handsome Russian?"

"She has rejected him,"--thoughtlessly.

"Ha!"--frowning; "so you were eavesdropping?"

"Wait a moment, Colonel. You know that I am very fond of music. I was
listening to the music. It had ceased, and I was waiting for it to
begin again, when I heard voices."

"Why did you not leave then?"

"And be observed? I dared not."

The colonel chewed the end of his cigar in silence.

"And now may I have that rose, sir?"--quietly.

The colonel observed him warily. He knew that quiet tone. It said that
if he refused to give up the rose he would have to fight for it, and
probably get licked into the bargain.

"I've a notion you might attempt to take it by force in case I refused."

"I surrendered it peacefully enough, sir."

"So you did. Here." The colonel tossed the flower across the room and
Warburton caught it.

"I should like to know, sir, if you are going to expose me. It's no
more than I deserve."

The colonel studied the lithographs on the walls. "Your
selection?"--with a wave of the hand.

"No, sir. I should like to know what you are going to do. It would
relieve my mind. As a matter of fact, I confess that I am growing weary
of the mask." Warburton waited.

"You make a very respectable butler, though,"--musingly.

"Shall you expose me, sir?"--persistently.

"No, lad. I should not want it to get about that a former officer of
mine could possibly make such an ass of himself. You have slept all
night in jail, you have groomed horses, you have worn a livery which no
gentleman with any self-respect would wear, and all to no purpose
whatever. Why, in the name of the infernal regions, didn't you meet her
in a formal way? There would have been plenty of opportunities."

Warburton shrugged; so did the colonel, who stood up and shook the
wrinkles from his trousers.

"Shall you be long in Washington, sir?" asked Warburton, politely.

"In a hurry to get rid of me, eh?"--with a grim smile. "Well, perhaps
in a few days."

"Good night."

The colonel stopped at the threshold, and his face melted suddenly into
a warm, humorous smile. He stretched out a hand which Warburton grasped
most gratefully. His colonel had been playing with him.

"Come back to the Army, lad; the East is no place for a man of your
kidney. Scrape up a commission, and I'll see to it that you get back
into the regiment. Life is real out in the great West. People smile too
much here; they don't laugh often enough. Smiles have a hundred
meanings, laughter but one. Smiles are the hiding places for lies, and
sneers, and mockeries, and scandals. Come back to the West; we all want
you, the service and I. When I saw you this afternoon I knew you
instantly, only I was worried as to what devilment you were up to. Win
this girl, if you can; she's worth any kind of struggle, God bless her!
Win her and bring her out West, too."

Warburton wrung the hand in his till the old fellow signified that his
fingers were beginning to ache.

"Do you suppose she suspects anything?" ventured Warburton.

"No. She may be a trifle puzzled, though. I saw her watching your hands
at the table. She has eyes and can readily see that such hands as yours
were never made to carry soup-plates. For the life of me, I had a time
of it, swallowing my laughter. I longed for a vacant lot to yell in. It
would have been a positive relief. The fop of Troop A peddling soup!
Oh, I shall have to tell the boys. You used more pipe-clay than any
other man in the regiment. Don't scowl. Never mind; you've had your
joke; I must have mine. Don't let that Russian fellow get the inside
track. Keep her on American soil. I like him and I don't like him; and
for all your tomfoolery and mischief, there is good stuff in you--stuff
that any woman might be proud of. If you hadn't adopted this disguise,
I could have helped you out a bit by cracking up some of your exploits.
Well, they will be inquiring for me. Good night and good luck. If you
should need me, a note will find me at the Army and Navy Club." And the
genial old warrior, shaking with silent laughter, went back to the
house.

Warburton remained standing. He was lost in a dream. All at once he
pressed the rose to his lips and kissed it shamelessly, kissed it
uncountable times. Two or three leaves, not withstanding this violent
treatment, fluttered to the floor. He picked them up: any one of those
velvet leaves might have been the recipient of _her_ kisses, the rosary
of love. He was in love, such a love that comes but once to any man,
not passing, uncertain, but lasting. He knew that it was all useless.
He had digged with his own hands the abyss between himself and this
girl. But there was a secret gladness: to love was something. (For my
part, I believe that the glory lies, not in being loved, but in loving.)

I do not know how long he stood there, but it must have been at least
ten minutes. Then the door opened, and Monsieur Pierre lurched or
rolled (I can't quite explain or describe the method of his entrance)
into the room, his face red with anger, and a million thousand thunders
on the tip of his Gallic tongue.

"So! You haf leaf _me_ to clear zee table, eh? Not by a damn! _I_,
clear zee table? _I?_ I t'ink not. I _cook_, nozzing else. To zee
dining-room, or I haf you discharge'!"

"All right, Peter, old boy!" cried Warburton, the gloom lifting from
his face. This Pierre was a very funny fellow.

"Pe_taire!_ You haf zee insolence to call me Pe_taire?_ Why, I haf you
keeked out in zee morning, lackey!"

"Cook!"--mockingly.

Pierre was literally dumfounded. Such disrespect he had never before
witnessed. It was frightful. He opened his mouth to issue a volley of
French oaths, when Zhames's hand stopped him.

"Look here, Peter, you broil your partridges and flavor your soups, but
keep out of the stables, or, in your own words, I _keel_ you or _keek_
you out. You tell the scullery maid to clear off the table. I'm off
duty for the rest of the night. Now, then, _allons! Marche!"_

And M'sieu Zhames gently but firmly and steadily pushed the scandalized
Pierre out of the room and closed the door in his face. I shan't repeat
what Pierre said, much less what he thought.

Let me read a thought from the mind of each of my principals, the final
thought before retiring that night.

_Karloff_ (on leaving Mrs. Chadwick): Dishonor against dishonor; so it
must be. I can not live without that girl.

_Mrs. Chadwick:_ (when Karloff had gone); He has lost, but I have not
won.

_Annesley:_ So one step leads to another, and the labyrinth of dishonor
has no end.

_The Colonel:_ What the deuce will love put next into the young mind?

_Pierre_ (to Celeste): I haf heem discharge'!

_Celeste_ (to Pierre): He ees handsome!

_Warburton_ (sighing in the _doloroso_): How I love her!

_The Girl_ (standing before her mirror and smiling happily): Oh, Mister
Butler! Why?



XX

THE EPISODE OF THE STOVE-PIPE


In the morning Monsieur Pierre faithfully reported to his mistress the
groom's extraordinary insolence and impudence of the night before. The
girl struggled with and conquered her desire to laugh; for monsieur was
somewhat grotesque in his rage.

"Frightful, Mademoiselle, most frightful! He call me Pe_taire_ most
disrrrespectful way, and eject me from zee stables. I can not call heem
out; he ees a groom and knows nozzing uf zee _amende honorable._"

Mademoiselle summoned M'sieu Zhames. She desired to make the comedy
complete in all its phases.

"James, whenever you are called upon to act in the capacity of butler,
you must clear the table after the guests leave it. This is imperative.
I do not wish the scullery girl to handle the porcelain save in the
tubs. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Miss. There were no orders to that effect last night, however."
He was angry.

Monsieur Pierre puffed up like the lady-frog in Aesop's fables,

"And listen, Pierre," she said, collapsing the bubble of the chef's
conceit, "you must give no orders to James. I will do that. I do not
wish any tale-bearing or quarreling among my servants. I insist upon
this. Observe me carefully, Pierre, and you, James."

James _did_ observe her carefully, so carefully, indeed, that her gaze
was forced to wander to the humiliated countenance of Monsieur Pierre.

"James, you must not look at me like that. There is something in your
eyes; I can't explain what it is, but it somehow lacks the respect due
me." This command was spoken coldly and sharply.

"Respect?" He drew back a step. "I disrespectful to you, Miss Annesley?
Oh, you wrong me. There can not be any one more respectful to you than
I am." The sincerity of his tones could not be denied. In fact, he was
almost too sincere.

"Nevertheless, I wish you to regard what I have said. Now, you two
shake hands."

The groom and the chef shook hands. I am ashamed to say that James
squeezed Monsieur Pierre's flabby hand out of active service for
several hours that followed. Beads of agony sparkled on Monsieur
Pierre's expansive brow as he turned to enter the kitchen.

"Shall we ride to-day, Miss?" he asked, inwardly amused.

"No, _I_ shall not ride this morning,"--calmly.

James bowed meekly under the rebuke. What did he care? Did he not
possess a rose which had known the pressure of her lips, her warm, red
lips?

"You may go," she said.

James went. James whistled on the way, too.

Would that it had been my good fortune to have witnessed the episode of
that afternoon! My jehu, when he hears it related these days, smiles a
sickly grin. I do not believe that he ever laughed heartily over it. At
three o'clock, while Warburton was reading the morning paper,
interested especially in the Army news of the day, he heard Pierre's
voice wailing.

"What's the fat fool want now?" James grumbled to William.

"Oh, he's always yelling for help. They've coddled him so long in the
family that he acts like a ten-year-old kid. I stole a kiss from
Celeste one day, and I will be shot if he didn't start to blubber."

"You stole a kiss, eh?" said James, admiringly.

"Only just for the sport of making him crazy, that was all." But
William's red visage belied his indifferent tone. "You'd better go and
see what he wants. My hands are all harness grease."

Warburton concluded to follow William's advice. He flung down his paper
and strode out to the rear porch, where he saw Pierre gesticulating
wildly.

"What's the matter? What do you want?"--churlishly.

"Frightful! Zee stove-pipe ees vat you call _bust!_"

James laughed.

"I can not rrreach eet. I can not cook till eet ees fix'. You are tall,
eh?"--affably.

"All right; I'll help you fix it."

Grumbling, James went into the kitchen, mounted a chair, and began
banging away at the pipe, very much after the fashion of Bunner's
"Culpepper Ferguson." The pipe acted piggishly. James grew determined.
One end slipped in and then the other slipped out, half a dozen times.
James lost patience and became angry; and in his anger he overreached
himself. The chair slid back. He tried to balance himself and, in the
mad effort to maintain a perpendicular position, made a frantic clutch
at the pipe. Ruin and devastation! Down came the pipe, and with it a
peck of greasy soot.

Monsieur Pierre yelled with terror and despair. The pies on the rear
end of the stove were lost for ever. Mademoiselle Celeste screamed with
laughter, whether at the sight of the pies or M'sieu Zhames, is more
than I can say.

James rose to his feet, the cuss-words of a corporal rumbled behind his
lips. He sent an energetic kick toward Pierre, who succeeded in eluding
it.

Pierre's eyes were full of tears. What a kitchen! What a kitchen! Soot,
soot, everywhere, on the floor, on the tables, on the walls, in the air!

"Zee pipe!" he burst forth; "zee pipe! You haf zee house full of gas!"

James, blinking and sneezing, boiling with rage and chagrin, remounted
the chair and finally succeeded in joining the two lengths. Nothing
happened this time. But the door to the forward rooms opened, and Miss
Annesley looked in upon the scene.

"Merciful heavens!" she gasped, "what has happened?"

"Zee stove-pipe bust, Mees," explained Pierre.

The girl gave Warburton one look, balled her handkerchief against her
mouth, and fled. This didn't add to his amiability. He left the kitchen
in a downright savage mood. He had appeared before her positively
ridiculous, laughable. A woman never can love a man, nor entertain
tender regard for him at whom she has laughed: And the girl had
laughed, and doubtless was still laughing. (However, I do not offer his
opinion as infallible.)

He stood in the roadway, looking around for some inanimate thing upon
which he might vent his anger, when the sound of hoofs coming toward
him distracted him. He glanced over his shoulder... and his knees all
but gave way under him. Caught! The rider was none other than his
sister Nancy! It was all over now, for a certainty. He knew it; he had
about one minute to live. She was too near, so he dared not fly. Then a
brilliant inspiration came to him. He quickly passed his hand over his
face. The disguise was complete. Vidocq's wonderful eye could not have
penetrated to the flesh.

"James!" Miss Annesley was standing on the veranda. "Take charge of the
horse. Nancy, dear, I am so glad to see you!"

James was anything but glad.

"Betty, good gracious, whatever is the matter with this fellow? Has he
the black plague? Ugh!" She slid from the saddle unaided.

James stolidly took the reins.

"The kitchen stove-pipe fell down," Betty replied, "and James stood in
the immediate vicinity of it."

The two girls laughed joyously, but James did not even smile. He had
half a notion to kiss Nancy, as he had planned to do that memorable
night of the ball at the British embassy. But even as the notion came
to him, Nancy had climbed up the steps and was out of harm's way.

"James," said Miss Annesley, "go and wash your face at once."

"Yes, Miss."

At the sound of his voice Nancy turned swiftly; but the groom had
presented his back and was leading the horse to the stables.

Nancy would never tell me the substance of her conversation with Miss
Annesley that afternoon, but I am conceited enough to believe that a
certain absent gentleman was the main topic. When she left, it was
William who led out the horse. He explained that James was still
engaged with soap and water and pumice-stone. Miss Annesley's laughter
rang out heartily, and Nancy could not help joining her.

"And have you heard from that younger brother of yours?" Betty asked,
as her friend settled herself in the saddle.

"Not a line, Betty, not a line; and I had set my heart on your meeting
him. I do not know where he is, or when he will be back."

"Perhaps he is in quest of adventures."

"He is in Canada, hunting caribou."

"You don't tell me!"

"What a handsome girl you are, Betty!"--admiringly.

"What a handsome girl you are, Nancy!" mimicked the girl on the
veranda. "If your brother is only half as handsome, I do not know
whatever will become of this heart of mine when we finally meet." She
smiled and drolly placed her hands on her heart. "Don't look so
disappointed, Nan; perhaps we may yet meet. I have an idea that he will
prove interesting and entertaining;"--and she laughed again.

"Whoa, Dandy! What _are_ you laughing at?" demanded Nancy.

"I was thinking of James and his soap and water and pumice-stone. That
was all, dear. Saturday afternoon, then, we shall ride to the club and
have tea. Good-by, and remember me to the baby."

"Good-by!"--and Nancy cantered away.

What a blissful thing the lack of prescience is, sometimes!

When James had scraped the soot from his face and neck and hands, and
had sudsed it from his hair, James observed, with some concern, that
Pirate was coughing at a great rate. His fierce run against the wind
the day before had given him a cold. So James hunted about for the
handy veterinarian.

"Where do you keep your books here?" he asked William. "Pirate's got a
cold."

"In the house library. You just go in and get it. We always do that at
home. You'll find it on the lower shelf, to the right as you enter the
door."

It was half after four when James, having taken a final look at his
hands and nails, proceeded to follow William's instructions. He found
no one about. Outside the kitchen the lower part of the house was
deserted. To reach the library he had to pass through the music-room.
He saw the violin-case on the piano, and at once unconsciously pursed
his lips into a noiseless whistle. He passed on into the library. He
had never been in any of these rooms in the daytime. It was not very
light, even now.

The first thing that caught his attention was a movable drawing-board,
on which lay an uncompleted drawing. At one side stood a glass, into
which were thrust numerous pens and brushes. Near this lay a small ball
of crumpled cambric, such as women insist upon carrying in their
street-car purses, a delicate, dainty, useless thing. So she drew
pictures, too, he thought. Was there anything this beautiful creature
could not do? Everything seemed to suggest her presence. An indefinable
feminine perfume still lingered on the air, speaking eloquently of her.

Curiosity impelled him to step forward and examine her work. He
approached with all the stealth of a gentlemanly burglar. He expected
to see some trees and hills and mayhap a brook, or some cows standing
in a stream, or some children picking daisies. He had a sister, and was
reasonably familiar with the kind of subjects chosen by the
lady-amateur.

A fortification plan!

He bent close to it. Here was the sea, here was the land, here the
number of soldiers, cannon, rounds of ammunition, resources in the
matter of procuring aid, the telegraph, the railways, everything was
here on this pale, waxen cloth, everything but a name. He stared at it,
bewildered. He couldn't understand what a plan of this sort was doing
outside the War Department. Instantly he became a soldier; he forgot
that he was masquerading as a groom; he forgot everything but this mute
thing staring up into his face. Underneath, on a little shelf, he saw a
stack of worn envelopes. He looked at them. Rough drafts of plans.
Governor's Island! Fortress Monroe! What did it mean? What _could_ it
mean? He searched and found plans, plans, plans of harbors, plans of
coast defenses, plans of ships building, plans of full naval and
military strength; everything, everything! He straightened. How his
breath pained him! ... And all this was the handiwork of the woman he
loved! Good God, what was going on in this house? What right had such
things as these to be in a private home? For what purpose had they been
drawn? so accurately reproduced? For what purpose?

Oh, whatever the purpose was, _she_ was innocent; upon this conviction
he would willingly stake his soul. Innocent, innocent! ticked the clock
over the mantel. Yes, she was innocent. Else, how could she laugh in
that light-hearted fashion? How could the song tremble on her lips? How
could her eyes shine so bright and merry?... Karloff, Annesley! Karloff
the Russian, Annesley the American; the one a secret agent of his
country, the other a former trusted official! No, no! He could not
entertain so base a thought against the father of the girl he loved.
Had he not admired his clean record, his personal bravery, his fearless
honesty? And yet, that absent-mindedness, this care-worn countenance,
these must mean something. The purpose, to find out the purpose of
these plans!

[Illustration: "A Saint Bernard dog might have done as much."--ACT III]

He took the handkerchief and hid it in his breast, and quietly stole
away.... A handkerchief, a rose, and a kiss; yes, that was all that
would ever be his.

Pirate nearly coughed his head off that night; but, it being William's
night off, nobody paid any particular attention to that justly
indignant animal.



XXI

THE ROSE


On a Wednesday morning, clear and cold: not a cloud floated across the
sky, nor did there rise above the horizon one of those clouds
(portentous forerunners of evil!) to which novelists refer as being "no
larger than a man's hand". Heaven knew right well that the blight of
evil was approaching fast enough, but there was no visible indication
on her face that glorious November morning. Doubtless you are familiar
with history and have read all about what great personages did just
before calamity swooped down on them. The Trojans laughed at the wooden
horse; I don't know how many Roman banqueters never reached the desert
because the enemy had not paid any singular regard to courtesies in
making the attack; men and women danced on the eve of Waterloo--"On
with the dance, let joy be unconfined"; _my_ heroine simply went
shopping. It doesn't sound at all romantic; very prosaic, in fact.

She declared her intention of making a tour of the shops and of
dropping into Mrs. Chadwick's on the way home. She ordered James to
bring around the pair and the coupe. James was an example of docile
obedience. As she came down the steps, she was a thing of beauty and a
joy for ever. She wore one of those jackets to which several
gray-squirrel families had contributed their hides, a hat whose
existence was due to the negligence of a certain rare bird, and many
silk-worms had spun the fabric of her gown. Had any one called her
attention to all this, there isn't any doubt that she would have been
shocked. Only here and there are women who see what a true Moloch
fashion is; this tender-souled girl saw only a handsome habit which
pleased the eye. Health bloomed in her cheeks, health shone from her
eyes, her step had all the elasticity of youth.

"Good morning, James," she said pleasantly.

James touched his hat. What was it, he wondered. Somehow her eyes
looked unfamiliar to him. Had I been there I could have read the secret
easily enough. Sometimes the pure pools of the forests are stirred and
become impenetrable; but by and by the commotion subsides, and the
water clears. So it is with the human soul. There had been doubt
hitherto in this girl's eyes; now, the doubt was gone.

To him, soberly watchful, her smile meant much; it was the patent of
her innocence of any wrong thought. All night he had tossed on his cot,
thinking, thinking! What should he do? What_ever_ should he do? That
some wrong was on the way he hadn't the least doubt. Should he confront
the colonel and demand an explanation, a demand he knew he had a
perfect right to make? If this should be evil, and the shame of it fall
on this lovely being?... No, no! He must stand aside, he must turn a
deaf ear to duty, the voice of love spoke too loud. His own assurance
of her innocence made him desire to fall at her feet and worship. After
all, it _was_ none of his affair. Had he not played at this comedy,
this thing would have gone on, and he would have been in ignorance of
its very existence. So, why should he meddle? Yet that monotonous query
kept beating on his brain: What _was_ this thing?

He saw that he must wait. Yesterday he had feared nothing save his own
exposure. Comedy had frolicked in her grinning mask. And here was
Tragedy stalking in upon the scene.

The girl named a dozen shops which she desired to honor with her custom
and presence, and stepped into the coupe. William closed the door, and
James touched up the pair and drove off toward the city. He was
perfectly indifferent to any possible exposure. In truth, he forgot
everything, absolutely and positively everything, but the girl and the
fortification plans she had been drawing.

Scarce a half a dozen bundles were the result of the tour among the
shops.

"Mrs. Chadwick's, James."

The call lasted half an hour.

As a story-teller I am supposed to be everywhere, to follow the
footsteps of each and all of my characters, and with a fidelity and a
perspicacity nothing short of the marvelous. So I take the liberty of
imagining the pith of the conversation between the woman and the girl.

_The Woman:_ How long, dear, have we known each other?

_The Girl:_ Since I left school, I believe. Where _did_ you get that
stunning morning gown?

_The Woman_ (smiling in spite of the serious purpose she has in view):
Never mind the gown, my child; I have something of greater importance
to talk about.

_The Girl: Is_ there anything more important to talk about among women?

_The Woman:_ Yes. There is age.

_The Girl:_ But, mercy, we do not talk about that!

_The Woman:_ I am going to establish a precedent, then. I am forty, or
at least, I am on the verge of it.

_The Girl_ (warningly): Take care! If we should ever become enemies! If
I should ever become treacherous!

_The Woman:_ The world very well knows that I am older than I look.
That is why it takes such interest in my age.

_The Girl:_ The question is, how _do_ you preserve it?

_The Woman:_ Well, then, I am forty, while you stand on the threshold
of the adorable golden twenties. (Walks over to picture taken eighteen
years before and contemplates it.) Ah, to be twenty again; to start
anew, possessing my present learning and wisdom, and knowledge of the
world; to avoid the pits into which I so carelessly stumbled! But no!

_The Girl_: Mercy! what have you to wish for? Are not princes and
ambassadors your friends; have you not health and wealth and beauty?
You wish for something, you who are so handsome and brilliant!

_The Woman_: Blinds, my dear Betty, only blinds; for that is all beauty
and wealth and wit are. Who sees behind sees scars of many wounds. You
are without a mother, I am without a child. (Sits down beside the girl
and takes her hand in hers.) Will you let me be a mother to you for
just this morning? How can any man help loving you! (impulsively.)

_The Girl_: How foolish you are, Grace!

_The Woman_: Ah, to blush like that!

_The Girl_: You are very embarrassing this morning. I believe you are
even sentimental. Well, my handsome mother for just this morning, what
is it you have to say to me? (jestingly.)

_The Woman_: I do not know just how to begin. Listen. If ever trouble
should befall you, if ever misfortune should entangle you, will you
promise to come to me?

_The Girl:_ Misfortune? What is on your mind, Grace?

_The Woman:_ Promise!

_The Girl:_ I promise. (Laughs.)

_The Woman:_ I am rich. Promise that if poverty should ever come to
you, you will come to me.

_The Girl_ (puzzled): I do not understand you at all!

_The Woman:_ Promise!

_The Girl:_ I promise; but--

_The Woman:_ Thank you, Betty.

_The Girl_ (growing serious): What is all this about, Grace? You look
so earnest.

_The Woman:_ Some day you will understand. Will you answer me one
question, as a daughter would answer her mother?

_The Girl_ (gravely): Yes.

_The Woman:_ Would you marry a title for the title's sake?

_The Girl_ (indignantly): I?

_The Woman:_ Yes; would you?

_The Girl:_ I shall marry the man I love, and if not him, nobody. I
mean, of course, _when_ I love.

_The Woman:_ Blushing again? My dear, is Karloff anything to you?

_The Girl:_ Karloff? Mercy, no. He is handsome and fascinating and
rich, but I could not love him. It would be easier to love--to love my
groom outside.

(They both smile.)

_The Woman_ (grave once more): That is all I wished to know, dear.
Karloff is not worthy of you.

_The Girl_ (sitting very erect): I do not understand. Is he not
honorable?

_The Woman_ (hesitating): I have known him for seven years; I have
always found him honorable.

_The Girl:_ Why, then, should he not be worthy of me?

_The Woman_ (lightly): Is any man?

_The Girl:_ You are parrying my question. If I am to be your daughter,
there must be no fencing.

_The Woman_ (rising and going over to the portrait again): There are
some things that a mother may not tell even to her daughter.

_The Girl_ (determinedly): Grace, you have said too much or too little.
I do not love Karloff, I never could love him; but I like him, and
liking him, I feel called upon to defend him.

_The Woman_ (surprised into showing her dismay): You defend him? You!

_The Girl:_ And why not? That is what I wish to know: why not?

_The Woman:_ My dear, you do not love him. That is all I wished to
know. Karloff is a brilliant, handsome man, a gentleman; his sense of
honor, such as it is, would do credit to many another man; but behind
all this there is a power which makes him helpless, makes him a puppet,
and robs him of certain worthy impulses. I have read somewhere that
corporations have no souls; neither have governments. Ask me nothing
more, Betty, for I shall answer no more questions.

_The Girl:_ I do not think you are treating me fairly.

_The Woman:_ At this moment I would willingly share with you half of
all I possess in the world.

_The Girl:_ But all this mystery!

_The Woman:_ As I have said, some day you will understand. Treat
Karloff as you have always treated him, politely and pleasantly. And I
beg of you never to repeat our conversation.

The Girl (to whom illumination suddenly comes; rises quickly and goes
over to the woman; takes her by the shoulders, and the two stare into
each other's eyes, the one searchingly, the other fearfully): Grace!

The Woman: I am a poor foolish woman, Betty, for all my worldliness and
wisdom; but I love you (softly), and that is why I appear weak before
you. The blind envy those who see, the deaf those who hear; what one
does not want another can not have. Karloff loves you, but you do not
love him.

(The girl kisses the woman gravely on the cheek, and without a word,
makes her departure.)

The Woman (as she hears the carriage roll away): Poor girl! Poor,
happy, unconscious, motherless child! If only I had the power to stay
the blow! ... Who can it be, then, that she loves?

The Girl (in her carriage): Poor thing! She adores Karloff, and I never
suspected it! I shall begin to hate him.

How well women read each other!

James had never parted with his rose and his handkerchief. They were
always with him, no matter what livery he wore. After luncheon, William
said that Miss Annesley desired to see him in the study. So James
spruced up and duly presented himself at the study door.

"You sent for me, Miss?"--his hat in his hand, his attitude deferential
and attentive.

She was engaged upon some fancy work, the name of which no man knows,
and if he were told, could not possibly remember for longer than ten
minutes. She laid this on the reading-table, stood up and brushed the
threads from the little two-by-four cambric apron.

"James, on Monday night I dropped a rose on the lawn. (Finds thread on
her sleeve.) In the morning when I looked for it (brushes the apron
again), it was gone. Did you find it?" She made a little ball of the
straggling threads and dropped it into the waste-basket. A woman who
has the support of beauty can always force a man to lower his gaze.
James looked at his boots. His heart gave one great bound toward his
throat, then sank what seemed to be fathoms deep in his breast. This
was a thunderbolt out of heaven itself. Had she seen him, then? For a
space he was tempted to utter a falsehood; but there was that in her
eyes which warned him of the uselessness of such an expedient. Yet, to
give up that rose would be like giving up some part of his being. She
repeated the question: "I ask you if you found it."

"Yes, Miss Annesley."

"Do you still possess it?"

"Yes, Miss."

"And why did you pick it up?"

"It was fresh and beautiful; and I believed that some lady at the
dinner had worn it."

"And so you picked it up? Where did you find it?"

"Outside the bow-window, Miss."

"When?"

He thought for a moment. "In the morning, Miss."

"Take care, James; it was not yet eleven o'clock, at night."

"I admit what I said was not true, Miss. As you say, it was not yet
eleven." James was pale. So she had thrown it away, confident that this
moment would arrive. This humiliation was premeditated. Patience, he
said inwardly; this would be the last opportunity she should have to
humiliate him.

"Have you the flower on your person?"

"Yes, Miss."

"Did you know that it was mine?"

He was silent.

"Did you know that it was mine?"--mercilessly.

"Yes; but I believed that you had deliberately thrown it away. I saw no
harm in taking it."

"But there _was harm."_

"I bow to your superior judgment, Miss,"--ironically.

She deemed it wisest to pass over this experimental irony. "Give the
flower back to me. It is not proper that a servant should have in his
keeping a rose which was once mine, even if I had thrown it away or
discarded it."

Carefully he drew forth the crumpled flower. He looked at her, then at
the rose, hoping against hope that she might relent. He hesitated till
he saw an impatient movement of the extended hand. He surrendered.

"Thank you. That is all. You may go."

She tossed the withered flower into the waste-basket.

"Pardon me, but before I go I have to announce that I shall resign my
position next Monday. The money which has been advanced to me,
deducting that which is due me, together with the amount of my fine at
the police-court, I shall be pleased to return to you on the morning of
my departure."

Miss Annesley's lips fell apart, and her brows arched. She was very
much surprised.

"You wish to leave my service?"--as if it were quite impossible that
such a thing should occur to him.

"Yes, Miss."

"You are dissatisfied with your position?"--icily.

"It is not that, Miss. As a groom I am perfectly satisfied. The trouble
lies in the fact that I have too many other things to do. It is very
distasteful for me to act in the capacity of butler. My temper is not
equable enough for that position." He bowed.

"Very well. I trust that you will not regret your decision." She sat
down and coolly resumed her work.

"It is not possible that I shall regret it."

"You may go."

He bowed again, one corner of his mouth twisted. Then he took himself
off to the stables. He was certainly in what they call a towering rage.

If I were not a seer of the first degree, a narrator of the penetrative
order, I should be vastly puzzled over this singular action on her part.



XXII

THE DRAMA UNROLLS


When a dramatist submits his _scenario_, he always accompanies it with
drawings, crude or otherwise, of the various set-scenes and curtains
known as drops. To the uninitiated these scrawls would look impossible;
but to the stage-manager's keen, imaginative eye a whole picture is
represented in these few pothooks. Each object on the stage is labeled
alphabetically; thus A may represent a sofa, B a window, C a table, and
so forth and so on. I am not a dramatist; I am not writing an acting
drama; so I find that a diagram of the library in Senator Blank's house
is neither imperative nor advisable. It is half after eight; the
curtain rises; the music of a violin is heard coming from the
music-room; Colonel Annesley is discovered sitting in front of the wood
fire, his chin sunk on his breast, his hands hanging listlessly on each
side of the chair, his face deeply lined. From time to time he looks at
the clock. I can imagine no sorrier picture than that of this loving,
tender-hearted, wretched old man as he sits there, waiting for Karloff
and the ignominious end. Fortune gone with the winds, poverty leering
into his face, shame drawing her red finder across his brow, honor in
sackcloth and ashes!

And but two short years ago there had not been in all the wide land a
more contented man than himself, a man with a conscience freer. God!
Even yet he could hear the rolling, whirring ivory ball as it spun the
circle that fatal night at Monte Carlo. Man does not recall the
intermediate steps of his fall, only the first step and the last. In
his waking hours the colonel always heard the sound of it, and it
rattled through his troubled dreams. He could not understand how
everything had gone as it had. It seemed impossible that in two years
he had dissipated a fortune, sullied his honor, beggared his child. It
was all so like a horrible dream. If only he might wake; if only God
would be so merciful as to permit him to wake! He hid his face. There
is no hell save conscience makes it.

The music laughed and sighed and laughed. It was the music of love and
youth; joyous, rollicking, pulsing music.

The colonel sprang to his feet suddenly, his hands at his throat. He
was suffocating. The veins gnarled on his neck and brow. There was in
his heart a pain as of many knives. His arms fell: of what use was it
to struggle? He was caught, trapped in a net of his own contriving.

Softly he crossed the room and stood by the portiere beyond which was
the music-room. She was happy, happy in her youth and ignorance; she
could play all those sprightly measures, her spirit as light and
conscience-free; she could sing, she could laugh, she could dance. And
all the while his heart was breaking, breaking!

"How shall I face her mother?" he groaned.

The longing which always seizes the guilty to confess and relieve the
mind came over him. If only he dared rush in there, throw himself at
her feet, and stammer forth his wretched tale! She was of his flesh, of
his blood; when she knew she would not wholly condemn him . . . No, no!
He could not. She honored and trusted him now; she had placed him on so
high a pedestal that it was utterly impossible for him to disillusion
her young mind, to see for ever and ever the mute reproach in her
honest eyes, to feel that though his arm encircled her she was beyond
his reach.... God knew that he could not tell this child of the black
gulf he had digged for himself and her.

Sometimes there came to him the thought to put an end to this maddening
grief, by violence to period this miserable existence. But always he
cast from him the horrible thought. He was not a coward, and the
cowardice of suicide was abhorrent to him. Poverty he might leave her,
but not the legacy of a suicide. If only it might be God's kindly will
to let him die, once this abominable bargain was consummated! Death is
the seal of silence; it locks alike the lips of the living and the
dead. And she might live in ignorance, till the end of her days,
without knowing that her wealth was the price of her father's dishonor.

A mist blurred his sight; he could not see. He steadied himself, and
with an effort regained his chair noiselessly. And how often he had
smiled at the drama on the stage, with its absurdities, its tawdriness,
its impossibilities! Alas, what did they on the stage that was half so
weak as he had done: ruined himself without motive or reason!

The bell sang its buzzing note; there was the sound of crunching wheels
on the driveway; the music ceased abruptly. Silence. A door opened and
closed. A moment or so later Karloff, preceded by the girl, came into
the study. She was grave because she remembered Mrs. Chadwick. He was
grave also; he had various reasons for being so.

"Father, the count tells me that he has an engagement with you," she
said. She wondered if this appointment in any way concerned her.

"It is true, my child. Leave us, and give orders that we are not to be
disturbed."

She scrutinized him sharply. How strangely hollow his voice sounded!
Was he ill?

"Father, you are not well. Count, you must promise me not to keep him
long, however important this interview may be. He is ill and needs
rest,"--and her loving eyes caressed each line of care in her parent's
furrowed cheeks.

Annesley smiled reassuringly. It took all the strength of his will, all
that remained of a high order of courage, to create this smile. He
wanted to cry out to her that it was a lie, a mockery. Behind that
smile his teeth grated.

"I shall not keep him long, Mademoiselle," said the count. He spoke
gently, but he studiously avoided her eyes.

She hesitated for a moment on the threshold; she knew not why. Her lips
even formed words, but she did not speak. What was it? Something
oppressed her. Her gaze wandered indecisively from her father to the
count, from the count to her father.

"When you are through," she finally said, "bring your cigars into the
music-room."

"With the greatest pleasure, Mademoiselle," replied the count. "And
play, if you so desire; our business is such that your music will be as
a pleasure added.'"

Her father nodded; but he could not force another smile to his lips.
The brass rings of the portiere rattled, and she was gone. But she left
behind a peculiar tableau, a tableau such as is formed by those who
stand upon ice which is about to sink and engulf them.

The two men stood perfectly still. I doubt not that each experienced
the same sensation, that the same thought occurred to each mind, though
it came from different avenues: love and shame. The heart of the little
clock on the mantel beat tick-tock, tick-tock; a log crackled and fell
between the irons, sending up a shower of evanescent sparks; one of the
long windows giving out upon the veranda creaked mysteriously.

Karloff was first to break the spell. He made a gesture which was
eloquent of his distaste of the situation.

"Let us terminate this as quickly as possible," he said.

"Yes, let us have done with it before I lose my courage," replied the
colonel, his voice thin and quavering. He wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief. His hand shone white and his nails darkly blue.

The count stepped over to the table, reached into the inner pocket of
his coat, and extracted a packet. In this packet was the enormous sum
of one hundred and eighty thousand dollars in notes of one thousand
denomination; that is to say, one hundred and eighty slips of paper
redeemable in gold by the government which had issued them. On top of
this packet lay the colonel's note for twenty thousand dollars.

(It is true that Karloff never accepted money from his government in
payment for his services; but it is equally true that for every penny
he laid out he was reimbursed by Russia.)

Karloff placed the packet on the table, first taking off the note,
which he carelessly tossed beside the bank-notes.

"You will observe that I have not bothered with having your note
discounted. I have fulfilled my part of the bargain; fulfil yours." The
count thrust his trembling hands into his trousers pockets. He desired
to hide this embarrassing sign from his accomplice.

Annesley went to a small safe which stood at the left of the fireplace
and returned with a packet somewhat bulkier than the count's. He
dropped it beside the money, shudderingly, as though he had touched a
poisonous viper.

"My honor," he said simply. "I had never expected to sell it so cheap."

There was a pause, during which neither man's gaze swerved from the
other's. There was not the slightest, not even the remotest, fear of
treachery; each man knew with whom he was dealing; yet there they
stood, as if fascinated. One would have thought that the colonel would
have counted his money, or Karloff his plans; they did neither. Perhaps
the colonel wanted Karloff to touch the plans first, before he touched
the money; perhaps Karloff had the same desire, only the other way
around.

[Illustration: "I am simply Miss Annesly's servant."--ACT III.]

The colonel spoke.

"I believe that is all" he said quietly. The knowledge that the deed
was done and that there was no retreat gave back to him a particle of
his former coolness and strength of mind. It had been the thought of
committing the crime that had unnerved him. Now that his bridges were
burned, a strange, unnatural calm settled on him.

The count evidently was not done. He moistened his lips. There was a
dryness in his throat.

"It is not too late" he said; "I have not yet touched them."

"We shall not indulge in moralizing, if you please," interrupted the
colonel, with savage irony. "The moment for that has gone by."

"Very well." Karloff's shoulders settled; his jaws became aggressively
angular; some spirit of his predatory forebears touched his face here
and there, hardening it. "I wish to speak in regard to your daughter."

"Enough! Take my honor and be gone!" The colonel's voice was loud and
rasping.

Karloff rested his hands on the table and inclined his body toward the
colonel.

"Listen to me," he began. "There is in every man the making and the
capacity of a great rascal. Time and opportunity alone are needed--and
a motive. The other night I told you that I could not give up your
daughter. Well, I have not given her up. She must be my wife."

"Must?" The colonel clenched his hands.

"Must. To-night I am going to prove myself a great rascal--with a great
motive. What is Russia to me? Nothing. What is your dishonor or my own?
Less than nothing. There is only one thing, and that is my love for
your daughter." He struck the table and the flame of the student-lamp
rose violently. "She must be mine, mine! I have tried to win her as an
honorable man tries to win the woman he loves; now she must be won by
an act of rascality. Heaven nor hell shall force me to give her up.
Yes, I love her; and I lower myself to your level to gain her."

"To my level! Take care; I am still a man, with a man's strength,"
cried the colonel.

Karloff swept his hand across his forehead. "I have lied to myself long
enough, and to you. I can see now that I have been working solely
toward one end. My country is not to be considered, neither is yours.
Do you realize that you stand wholly and completely in my power?" He
ran his tongue across his lips, which burned with fever.

"What do you mean?"--hoarsely.

"I mean, your daughter must become my wife, or I shall notify your
government that you have attempted to betray it."

"You dishonorable wretch!" The colonel balled his fists and protruded
his nether lip. Only the table stood between them.

"That term or another, it does not matter. The fact remains that you
have sold to me the fortification plans of your country; and though it
be in times of peace, you are none the less guilty and culpable. Your
daughter shall be my wife."

"I had rather strangle her with these hands!"--passionately.

"Well, why should I not have her for my wife? Who loves her more than
I? I am rich; from hour to hour, from day to day, what shall I not plan
to make her happy? I love her with all the fire and violence of my race
and blood. I can not help it. I will not, can not, live without her!
Good God, yes! I recognize the villainy of my actions. But I am mad
to-night."

"So I perceive." The colonel gazed wildly about the walls for a weapon.
There was not even the usual ornamental dagger.

A window again stirred mysteriously. A few drops of rain plashed on the
glass and zigzagged down to the sash.

"Sooner or later your daughter must know. Request her presence. It
rests with her, not with you, as to what course I must follow." Karloff
was extraordinarily pale, and his dark eyes, reflecting the dancing
flames, sparkled like rubies.

He saw the birth of horror in the elder's eyes, saw it grow and grow.
He saw the colonel's lips move spasmodically, but utter no sound. What
was it he saw over his (the count's) shoulders and beyond?
Instinctively he turned, and what he saw chilled the heat of his blood.

There stood the girl, her white dress marble-white against the dark
wine of the portiere, an edge of which one hand clutched convulsively.
Was it Medusa's beauty or her magic that turned men into stone? My
recollection is at fault. At any rate, so long as she remained
motionless, neither man had the power to stir. She held herself
perfectly erect; every fiber in her young body was tense. Her beauty
became weirdly powerful, masked as it was with horror, doubt, shame,
and reproach. She had heard; little or much was of no consequence. In
the heat of their variant passions, the men's voices had risen to a
pitch that penetrated beyond the room.

Karloff was first to recover, and he took an involuntary step toward
her; but she waved him back disdainfully.

"Do not come near me. I loathe you!" The voice was low, but every note
was strained and unmusical.

He winced. His face could not have stung or burned more hotly had she
struck him with her hand.

"Mademoiselle!"

She ignored him. "Father, what does this mean?"

"Agony!" The colonel fell back into his chair, pressing his hands over
his eyes.

"I will tell you what it means!" cried Karloff, a rage possessing him.
He had made a mistake. He had misjudged both the father and the child.
He could force her into his arms, but he would always carry a burden of
hate. "It means that this night you stand in the presence of a
dishonored parent, a man who has squandered your inheritance over
gambling tables, and who, to recover these misused sums, has sold to me
the principal fortification plans of his country. That is what is
means, Mademoiselle."

She grasped the portiere for support.

"Father, is this thing true?" Her voice fell to a terror-stricken
whisper.

"Oh, it is true enough," said Karloff. "God knows that it is true
enough. But it rests with you to save him. Become my wife, and yonder
fire shall swallow his dishonor--and mine. Refuse, and I shall expose
him. After all, love is a primitive state, and with it we go back to
the beginning; before it honor or dishonor is nothing. To-night there
is nothing, nothing in the world save my love for you, and the chance
that has given me the power to force you to be mine. What a fury and a
tempest love produces! It makes an honorable man of the knave, a rascal
of the man of honor; it has toppled thrones, destroyed nations,
obliterated races. ... Well, I have become a rascal. Mademoiselle, you
must become my wife." He lifted his handsome head resolutely.

Without giving him so much as a glance, she swept past him and sank on
her knees at her father's side, taking his hands by the wrists and
pressing them down from his face.

"Father, tell him he lies! Tell him he lies!" Ah, the entreaty, the
love, the anxiety, the terror that blended her tones!

He strove to look away.

"Father, you are all I have," she cried brokenly. "Look at me! Look at
me and tell him that he lies!... You will not look at me? God have
mercy on me, it is true, then!" She rose and spread her arms toward
heaven to entreat God to witness her despair. "I did not think or know
that such base things were done... That these loving hands should have
helped to encompass my father's dishonor, his degradation! ... For
money! What is money? You knew, father, that what was mine was likewise
yours. Why did you not tell me? I should have laughed; we should have
begun all over again; I could have earned a living with my music; we
should have been honest and happy. And now!... And I drew those plans
with a heart full of love and happiness! Oh, it is not that you
gambled, that you have foolishly wasted a fortune; it is not these that
hurt here,"--pressing her heart. "It is the knowledge that you, my
father, should let _me_ draw those horrible things. It hurts! Ah, how
it hurts!" A sob choked her. She knelt again at her parent's side and
flung her arms around the unhappy, wretched man. "Father, you have
committed a crime to shield a foolish act. I know, I know! What you
have done you did for my sake, to give me back what you thought was my
own. Oh, how well I know that you had no thought of yourself; it was
all for me, and I thank God for that. But something has died here,
something here in my heart. I have been so happy! ... too happy! My
poor father!" She laid her head against his breast.

"My heart is broken! Would to God that I might die!" Annesley threw one
arm across the back of the chair and turned his face to his sleeve.

Karloff, a thousand arrows of regret and shame and pity quivering in
his heart, viewed the scene moodily, doggedly. No, he could not go
back; there was indeed a wall behind him: pride.

"Well, Mademoiselle?"

She turned, still on her knees.

"You say that if I do not marry you, you will ruin my father, expose
him?"

"Yes,"--thinly.

"Listen. I am a proud woman, yet will I beg you not to do this horrible
thing--force me into your arms. Take everything, take all that is left;
you can not be so utterly base as to threaten such a wrong.
See!"--extending her lovely arms, "I am on my knees to you!"

"My daughter!" cried the father.

"Do not interrupt me, father; he will relent; he is not wholly without
pity."

"No, no! No, no!" Karloff exclaimed, turning his head aside and
repelling with his hands, as if he would stamp out the fires of pity
which, at the sound of her voice, had burst anew in his heart. "I
_will_ not give you up!"

She drew her sleeve across her eyes and stood up. All at once she
wheeled upon him like a lioness protecting its young. In her wrath she
was as magnificent as the wife of--Aeneas at the funeral pyre of that
great captain.

"She knew! That was why she asked me all those questions; that is why
she exacted those promises! Mrs. Chadwick knew and dared not tell me!
And I trusted you as a friend, as a gentleman, as a man of honor!" Her
laughter rang out wildly. "And for these favors you bring dishonor!
Shame! Shame! Your wife? Have you thought well of what you are about to
do?"

"So well," he declared, "that I shall proceed to the end, to the very
end." How beautiful she was! And a mad desire urged him to spring to
her, crush her in his arms, and force upon her lips a thousand mad
kisses!

"Have you weighed well the consequences?"

"Upon love's most delicate scales."

"Have you calculated what manner of woman I am?"--with subdued
fierceness.

"To me you are the woman of all women."

"Do you think that I am a faint-hearted girl? You are making a mistake.
I am a woman with a woman's mind, and a thousand years would not alter
my utter contempt of you. Force me to marry you, and as there is a God
above us to witness, every moment of suffering you now inflict upon me
and mine, I shall give back a day, a long, bitter, galling day. Do you
think that it will be wise to call me countess?" Her scorn was superb.

"I am waiting for your answer. Will you be my wife, or shall I be
forced to make my villainy definitive?"

"Permit me to take upon these shoulders the burden of answering that
question," said a voice from the window.

Warburton, dressed in his stable clothes and leggings, hatless and
drenched with rain, stepped into the room from the veranda and quickly
crossed the intervening space. Before any one of the tragic group could
recover from the surprise caused by his unexpected appearance, he had
picked up the packet of plans and had dropped it into the fire. Then he
leaned with his back against the mantel and faced them, or rather
Karloff, of whom he was not quite sure.



XXIII

SOMETHING ABOUT HEROES


Tick-lock, tick-tock went the voice of the little friend of eternity on
the mantel-piece; the waxen sheets (to which so much care and labor had
been given) writhed and unfolded, curled and crackled, and blackened on
the logs; the cold wind and rain blew in through the opened window; the
lamp flared and flickered inside its green shade; a legion of heroes
peered out from the book-cases, no doubt much astonished at the sight
of this ordinary hero of mine and his mean, ordinary clothes. I have in
my mind's eye the picture of good D'Artagnan's frank contempt, Athos'
magnificent disdain, the righteous (I had almost said honest!) horror
of the ultra-fashionable Aramis, and the supercilious indignation of
the bourgeois Porthos. What! this a hero? Where, then, was his rapier,
his glittering baldric, his laces, his dancing plumes, his fine air?

Several times in the course of this narrative I have expressed my
regret in not being an active witness of this or that scene, a regret
which, as I am drawing most of these pictures from hearsay, is
perfectly natural. What must have been the varying expressions on each
face! Warburton, who, though there was tumult in his breast, coolly
waited for Karloff to make the next move; Annesley, who saw his
terrible secret in the possession of a man whom he supposed to be a
stable-man; Karloff, who saw his house of cards vanish in the dartling
tongues of flame, and recognized the futility of his villainy; the
girl... Ah, who shall describe the dozen shadowy emotions which crossed
and recrossed her face?

From Warburton's dramatic entrance upon the scene to Karloff's first
movement, scarce a minute had passed, though to the girl and her father
an eternity seemed to come and go. Karloff was a brave man. Upon the
instant of his recovery, he sprang toward Warburton, silently and with
predetermination: he must regain some fragment of those plans. He would
not, could not, suffer total defeat before this girl's eyes; his blood
rebelled against the thought. He expected the groom to strike him, but
James simply caught him by the arms and thrust him back.

"No, Count; no, no; they shall burn to the veriest crisp!"

"Stand aside, lackey!" cried Karloff, a sob of rage strangling him.
Again he rushed upon Warburton, his clenched hand uplifted. Warburton
did not even raise his hands this time. So they stood, their faces
within a hand's span of each other, the one smiling coldly, the other
in the attitude of striking a blow. Karloff's hand fell unexpectedly,
but not on the man in front of him. "Good God, no! a gentleman does not
strike a lackey! Stand aside, stand aside!"

"They shall burn, Count,"--quietly; "they shall burn, because I am
physically the stronger." Warburton turned quickly and with the toe of
his boot shifted the glowing packet and renewed the flames. "I never
realized till to-night that I loved my country half so well. Lackey?
Yes, for the present."

He had not yet looked at the girl.

"Ah!" Karloff cried, intelligence lighting his face. "You are no
lackey!"--subduing his voice.

James smiled. "You are quite remarkable."

"Who are you? I demand to know!"

"First and foremost, I am a citizen of the United States; I have been a
soldier besides. It was my common right to destroy these plans, which
indirectly menaced my country's safety. These,"--pointing to the
bank-notes, "are yours, I believe. Nothing further requires your
presence here."

"Yes, yes; I remember now! Fool that I have been!" Karloff struck his
forehead in helpless rage. "I never observed you closely till now. I
recall. The secret service: Europe, New York, Washington; you have
known it all along. Spy!"

"That is an epithet which easily rebounds. Spy? Why, yes; I do for my
country what you do for yours."

"The name, the name! I can not recollect the name! The beard is gone,
but that does not matter,"--excitedly.

Warburton breathed easier. While he did not want the girl to know who
he was just then, he was glad that Karloffs memory had taken his
thought away from the grate and its valuable but rapidly disappearing
fuel.

"Father! Father, what is it?" cried the girl, her voice keyed to agony.
"Father!"

The two men turned about. Annesley had fainted in his chair. Both
Warburton and Karloff mechanically started forward to offer aid, but
she repelled their approach.

"Do not come near me; you have done enough. Father, dear!" She slapped
the colonel's wrists and unloosed his collar.

The antagonists, forgetting their own battle, stood silently watching
hers. Warburton's mind was first to clear, and without a moment's
hesitation he darted from the room and immediately returned with a
glass of water. He held it out to the girl. Their glances clashed; a
thousand mute, angry questions in her eyes, a thousand mute, humble
answers in his. She accepted the glass, and her hand trembled as she
dipped her fingers into the cool depths and flecked the drops into the
unconscious man's face.

Meanwhile Karloff stood with folded arms, staring melancholically into
the grate, where his dreams had disappeared in smoke. By and by the
colonel sighed and opened his eyes. For a time he did not know where he
was, and his gaze wandered mistily from face to face. Then recollection
came back to him, recollection bristling with thorns. He struggled to
his feet and faced Warburton. The girl put her arms around him to
steady him, but he gently disengaged himself.

"Are you from the secret service, sir? If so, I am ready to accompany
you wherever you say. I, who have left my blood on many a battleground,
was about to commit a treasonable act. Allow me first to straighten up
my affairs, then you may do with me as you please. I am guilty of a
crime; I have the courage to pay the penalty." His calm was
extraordinary, and even Karloff looked at him with a sparkle of
admiration.

As a plummet plunges into the sea, so the girl's look plunged into
Warburton's soul; and had he been an officer of the law, he knew that
he would have utterly disregarded his duty.

"I am not a secret service man, sir," he replied unevenly. "If I
were,"--pointing to the grate, "your plans would not have fed the fire."

"Who are you, then, and what do you in my house in this
guise?"--proudly.

"I am your head stable-man--for the present. It was all by chance. I
came into this room yesterday to get a book on veterinary surgery. I
accidentally saw a plan. I have been a soldier. I knew that such a
thing had no rightful place in this house.... I was coming across the
lawn, when I looked into the window. ... It is not for me to judge you,
sir. My duty lay in destroying those plans before they harmed any one."

"No, it is not for you to judge me," said the colonel. "I have gambled
away my daughter's fortune. To keep her in ignorance of the fact and to
return to her the amount I had wrongfully used, I consented to sell to
Russia the coast fortification plans of my country, such as I could
draw from memory. No, it is not for you to judge me; only God has the
right to do that."

"I am only a groom," said Warburton, simply. "What I have heard I shall
forget."

Ah, had he but looked at the girl's face then!

A change came over Karloff's countenance; his shoulders drooped; the
melancholy fire died out of his face and eyes. With an air of
resignation and a clear sense of the proportion of things, he reached
out and took up the note upon which Annesley had scrawled his signature.

Warburton, always alert, seized the count's wrist. He saw the name of a
bank and the sum of five figures.

"What is this?" he demanded.

"It is mine," replied the count, haughtily.

Warburton released him.

"He speaks truly," said the colonel. "It is his."

"The hour of madness is past," the Russian began, slowly and musically.
The tone was musing. He seemed oblivious of his surroundings and that
three pairs of curious eyes were leveled in his direction. He studied
the note, creased it, drew it through his fingers, smoothed it and
caressed it. "And I should have done exactly as I threatened. There is,
then, a Providence which watches jealously over the innocent? And I was
a skeptic!... Two hundred thousand dollars,"--picking up the packet of
banknotes and balancing it on his hand. "Well, it is a sum large enough
to tempt any man. How the plans and schemes of men crumble to the
touch! Ambition is but the pursuit of mirages.... Mademoiselle, you
will never know what the ignominy of this moment has cost me--nor how
well I love you. I come of a race of men who pursue their heart's
desire through fire and water. Obstacles are nothing; the end is
everything. In Europe I should have won, in honor or in dishonor. But
this American people, I do not quite understand them; and that is why I
have played the villain to no purpose."

He paused, and a sad, bitter smile played over his face.

"Mademoiselle," he continued, "henceforth, wherever I may go, your face
and the sound of your voice shall abide with me. I do not ask you to
forget, but I ask you to forgive." Again he paused.

She uttered no sound.

"Well, one does not forget nor forgive these things in so short a time.
And, after all, it was your own father's folly. Fate threw him across
my path at a critical moment--but I had reckoned without you. Your
father is a brave man, for he had the courage to offer himself to the
law; I have the courage to give you up. I, too, am a soldier; I
recognize the value of retreat." To Warburton he said: "A groom, a
hostler, to upset such plans as these! I do not know who you are, sir,
nor how to account for your timely and peculiar appearance. But I fully
recognize the falseness of your presence here. Eh, well, this is what
comes of race prejudice, the senseless battle which has always been and
always will be waged between the noble and the peasant. Had I observed
you at the proper time, our positions might relatively have been
changed. Useless retrospection!" To Annesley: "Sir, we are equally
culpable. Here is this note of yours. I might, as a small contribution
toward righting the comparative wrong which I have done you, I might
cast it into the fire. But between gentlemen, situated as we are, the
act would be as useless as it would be impossible. I might destroy the
note, but you would refuse to accept such generosity at my
hands,--which is well."

"What you say is perfectly true." The colonel drew his daughter closer
to him.

"So," went on the count, putting the note in his pocket, "to-morrow I
shall have my ducats."

"My bank will discount the note," said the colonel, with a proud look;
"my indebtedness shall be paid in full."

"As I have not the slightest doubt. Mademoiselle, fortune ignores you
but temporarily; misfortune has brushed only the hem of your garment,
as it were. Do not let the fear of poverty alarm you,"--lightly. "I
prophesy a great public future for you. And when you play that _Largo_
of Handel's, to a breathless audience, who knows that I may not be
hidden behind the curtain of some stall, drinking in the heavenly sound
made by that loving bow?.... Romance enters every human being's life;
like love and hate, it is primitive. But to every book fate writes
_finis_."

He thrust the bank-notes carelessly into his coat pocket, and walked
slowly toward the hallway. At the threshold he stopped and looked back.
The girl could not resist the magnetism of his dark eyes. She was
momentarily fascinated, and her heart beat painfully.

"If only I might go with the memory of your forgiveness," he said.

"I forgive you."

"Thank you." Then Karloff resolutely proceeded; the portiere fell
behind him. Shortly after she heard the sound of closing doors, the
rattle of a carriage, and then all became still. Thus the handsome
barbarian passed from the scene.

The colonel resumed his chair, his arm propped on a knee and his head
bowed in his hand. Quickly the girl fell to her knees, hid her face on
his breast, and regardless of the groom's presence, silently wept.

"My poor child!" faltered the colonel. "God could not have intended to
give you so wretched a father. Poverty and dishonor, poverty and
dishonor; I who love you so well have brought you these!"

Warburton, biting his trembling lips, tiptoed cautiously to the window,
opened it and stepped outside. He raised his fevered face gratefully to
the icy rain. A great and noble plan had come to him.

As Mrs. Chadwick said, love is magnificent only when it gives all
without question.



XXIV

A FINE LOVER


Karloff remained in seclusion till the following Tuesday; after that
day he was seen no more in Washington. From time to time some news of
him filters through the diplomatic circles of half a dozen capitals to
Washington. The latest I heard of him, he was at Port Arthur. It was
evident that Russia valued his personal address too highly to exile him
because of his failure in Washington. Had he threatened or gone about
noisily, we should all have forgotten him completely. As it is, the
memory of him to-day is as vivid as his actual presence. Thus, I give
him what dramatists call an agreeable exit.

I was in the Baltimore and Potomac station the morning after that
unforgetable night at Senator Blank's house. I had gone there to see
about the departure of night trains, preparatory to making a flying
trip to New York, and was leaving the station when a gloved hand
touched me on the arm. The hand belonged to Mrs. Chadwick. She was
dressed in the conventional traveling gray, and but for the dark lines
under her eyes she would have made a picture for any man to admire. She
looked tired, very tired, as women look who have not slept well.

"Good morning, Mr. Orator," she said, saluting me with a smile.

"You are going away?" I asked, shaking her hand cordially.

"'Way, 'way, away! I am leaving for Nice, where I expect to spend the
winter. I had intended to remain in Washington till the holidays; but I
plead guilty to a roving disposition, and I frequently change my mind."

"Woman's most charming prerogative," said I, gallantly.

What a mask the human countenance is! How little I dreamed that I was
jesting with a woman whose heart was breaking, and numbed with a
terrible pain!

Her maid came up to announce that everything was ready for her
reception in the state-room, and that the train was about to draw out
of the station. Mrs. Chadwick and I bade each other good-by. Two years
passed before I saw her again.

At eleven o'clock I returned to my rooms to pack a case and have the
thing off my mind. Tramping restlessly up and down before my bachelor
apartment house I discerned M'sieu Zhames. His face was pale and
troubled, but the angle of his jaw told me that he had determined upon
something or other.

"Ha!" I said railingly. He wore a decently respectable suit of
ready-made clothes. "Lost your job and want me to give you a
recommendation?"

"I want a few words with you, Chuck, and no fooling. Don't say that you
can't spare the time. You've simply _got_ to."

"With whom am I to talk, James, the groom, or Warburton, the gentleman?"

"You are to talk with the man whose sister you are to marry."

I became curious, naturally. "No police affair?"

"No, it's not the police. I can very well go to a lawyer, but I desire
absolute secrecy. Let us go up to your rooms at once."

I led the way. I was beginning to desire to know what all this meant.

"Has anybody recognized you?" I asked, unlocking the door to my
apartment.

"No; and I shouldn't care a hang if they had."

"Oho!"

Warburton flung himself into a chair and lighted a cigar. He puffed it
rapidly, while I got together my shaving and toilet sets.

"Start her up," said I.

"Chuck, when my father died he left nearly a quarter of a million in
five per cents; that is to say, Jack, Nancy and I were given a yearly
income of about forty-five hundred. Nancy's portion and mine are still
in bonds which do not mature till 1900. Jack has made several bad
investments, and about half of his is gone; but his wife has plenty, so
his losses do not trouble him. Now, I have been rather frugal during
the past seven years. I have lived entirely upon my Army pay. I must
have something like twenty-five thousand lying in the bank in New York.
On Monday, between three and four o'clock, Colonel Annesley will become
practically a beggar, a pauper."

"What?" My shaving-mug slipped from my hand and crashed to the floor,
where it lay in a hundred pieces.

"Yes. He and his daughter will not have a roof of their own: all gone,
every stick and stone. Don't ask me any questions; only do as I ask of
you." He took out his check-book and filled out two blanks. These he
handed to me. "The large one I want you to place in the Union bank, to
the credit of Colonel Annesley."

I looked at the check. "Twenty thousand dollars?" I gasped.

"The Union bank has this day discounted the colonel's note. It falls
due on Monday. In order to meet it, he will have to sell what is left
of the Virginian estate and his fine horses. The interest will be
inconsiderable."

"What--" I began, but he interrupted me.

"I shall not answer a single question. The check for three thousand is
for the purchase of the horses, which will be put on sale Saturday
morning. They are easily worth this amount. Through whatever agency you
please, buy these horses for me, but not in my name. As for the note,
cash my check first and present the currency for the note. No one will
know anything about it then. You can not trace money."

"Good Lord, Bob, you are crazy! You are giving away a fortune," I
remonstrated.

"It is my own, and my capital remains untouched."

"Have you told her that you love her? Does she know who you are?" I was
very much excited.

"No,"--sadly, "I haven't told her that I love her. She does not know
who I am. What is more, I never want her to know. I have thrown my arms
roughly around her, thinking her to be Nancy, and have kissed her. Some
reparation is due her. On Monday I shall pack up quietly and return to
the West"

"Annesley beggared? What in heaven's name does this all mean?" I was
confounded.

"Some day, Chuck, when you have entered the family properly as my
sister's husband, perhaps I may confide in you. At present the secret
isn't mine. Let it suffice that through peculiar circumstances, the
father of the girl I love is ruined. I am not doing this for any
theatrical play, gratitude and all that rot,"--with half a smile, "I
admire and respect Colonel Annesley; I love his daughter, hopelessly
enough. I have never been of much use to any one. Other persons'
troubles never worried me to any extent; I was happy-go-lucky, careless
and thoughtless. True, I never passed a beggar without dropping a coin
into his cup. But often this act was the result of a good dinner and a
special vintage. The twenty thousand will keep the colonel's home, the
house his child was born in and her mother before her. I am doing this
crazy thing, as you call it, because it is going to make me rather
happy. I shall disappear Monday. They may or they may not suspect who
has come to their aid. They may even trace the thing to you; but you
will be honor-bound to reveal nothing. When you have taken up the note,
mail it to Annesley. You will find Count Karloff's name on it."

"Karloff?" I was in utter darkness.

"Yes. Annesley borrowed twenty thousand of him on a three months' note.
Both men are well known at the Union bank, Karloff having a temporary
large deposit there, and Annesley always having done his banking at the
same place. Karloff, for reasons which I can not tell you, did not turn
in the note till this morning. You will take it up this afternoon."

"Annesley, whom I believed to be a millionaire, penniless; Karloff one
of his creditors? Bob, I do not think that you are treating me fairly.
I can't go into this thing blind."

"If you will not do it under these conditions, I shall have to find
some one who will,"--resolutely.

I looked at the checks and then at him.... Twenty-three thousand
dollars! It was more than I ever before held in my hand at one time.
And he was giving it away as carelessly as I should have given away a
dime. Then the bigness of the act, the absolute disinterestedness of
it, came to me suddenly.

"Bob, you are the finest lover in all the world! And if Miss Annesley
ever knows who you are, she isn't a woman if she does not fall
immediately in love with you." I slapped him on the shoulder. I was
something of a lover myself, and I could understand.

"She will never know. I don't want her to know. That is why I am going
away. I want to do a good deed, and be left in the dark to enjoy it.
That is all. After doing this, I could never look her in the eyes as
Robert Warburton. I shall dine with the folks on Sunday. I shall
confess all only to Nancy, who has always been the only confidante I
have ever had among the women."

There was a pause. I could bring no words to my lips. Finally I
stammered out: "Nancy knows. I told her everything last night. I broke
my word with you, Bob, but I could not help it She was crying again
over what she thinks to be your heartlessness. I _had_ to tell her."

"What did she say?"--rising abruptly.

"She laughed, and I do not know when I have seen her look so happy.
There'll be a double wedding yet, my boy." I was full of enthusiasm.

"I wish I could believe you, Chuck; I wish I could. I'm rather glad you
told Nan. I love her, and I don't want her to worry about me." He
gripped my hand. "You will do just as I ask?"

"To the very letter. Will you have a little Scotch to perk you up a
bit? You look rather seedy."

"No,"--smiling dryly. "If she smelt liquor on my breath I should lose
my position. Good-by, then, till Sunday."

I did not go to New York that night. I forgot all about going. Instead,
I went to Nancy, to whom I still go whenever I am in trouble or in
doubt.



XXV

A FINE HEROINE, TOO


Friday morning.

Miss Annesley possessed more than the ordinary amount of force and
power of will. Though the knowledge of it was not patent to her, she
was a philosopher. She always submitted gracefully to the inevitable.
She was religious, too, feeling assured that God would provide. She did
not go about the house, moaning and weeping; she simply studied all
sides of the calamity, and looked around to see what could be saved.
There were moments when she was even cheerful. There were no new lines
in her face; her eyes were bright and eager. All persons of genuine
talent look the world confidently in the face; they know exactly what
they can accomplish. As Karloff had advised her, she did not trouble
herself about the future. Her violin would support her and her father,
perhaps in comfortable circumstances. The knowledge of this gave her a
silent happiness, that kind which leaves upon the face a serene and
beautiful calm.

At this moment she stood on the veranda, her hand shading her eyes. She
was studying the sky. The afternoon would be clear; the last ride
should be a memorable one. The last ride! Tears blurred her eyes and
there was a smothering sensation in her throat. The last ride! After
to-day Jane would have a new, strange mistress. If only she might go to
this possible mistress and tell her how much she loved the animal, to
obtain from her the promise that she would be kind to it always. How
mysteriously the human heart spreads its tendrils around the objects of
its love! What is there in the loving of a dog or a horse that, losing
one or the other, an emptiness is created? Perhaps it is because the
heart goes out wholly without distrust to the faithful, to the
undeceiving, to the dumb but loving beast, which, for all its strength,
is so helpless.

She dropped her hand and spoke to James, who was waiting near by for
her orders.

"James, you will have Pierre fill a saddle-hamper; two plates, two
knives and forks, and so forth. We shall ride in the north country this
afternoon. It will be your last ride. To-morrow the horses will be
sold." How bravely she said it!

"Yes, Miss Annesley." Whom were they going to meet in the north
country? "At what hour shall I bring the horses around?"

"At three."

She entered the house and directed her steps to the study. She found
her father arranging the morning's mail. She drew up a chair beside
him, and ran through her own letters. An invitation to lunch with Mrs.
Secretary-of-State; she tossed it into the waste-basket. A dinner-dance
at the Country Club, a ball at the Brazilian legation, a tea at the
German embassy, a box party at some coming play, an informal dinner at
the executive mansion; one by one they fluttered into the basket. A
bill for winter furs, a bill from the dressmaker, one from the
milliner, one from the glover, and one from the florist; these she laid
aside, reckoning their sum-total, and frowning. How could she have been
so extravagant? She chanced to look at her father. He was staring
rather stupidly at a slip of paper which he held in his trembling
fingers.

"What is it?" she asked, vaguely troubled.

"I do not understand," he said, extending the paper for her inspection.

Neither did she at first.

"Karloff has not done this," went on her father, "for it shows that he
has had it discounted at the bank. It is canceled; it is paid. I did
not have twenty thousand in the bank; I did not have even a quarter of
that amount to my credit. There has been some mistake. Our real estate
agent expects to realize on the home not earlier than Monday morning.
In case it was not sold then, he was to take up the note personally.
This is not his work, or I should have been notified." Then, with a
burst of grief: "Betty, my poor Betty! How can you forgive me? How can
I forgive myself?"

"Father, I am brave. Let us forget. It will be better so."

She kissed his hand and drew it lovingly across her cheek. Then she
rose and moved toward the light. She studied the note carefully. There
was nothing on it save Karloff's writing and her father's and the red
imprint of the bank's cancelation. Out of the window and beyond she saw
James leading the horses to the watering trough. Her face suddenly grew
crimson with shame, and as suddenly as it came the color faded. She
folded the note and absently tucked it into the bosom of her dress.
Then, as if struck by some strange thought, her figure grew tense and
rigid against the blue background of the sky. The glow which stole over
her features this time had no shame in it, and her eyes shone like the
waters of sunlit seas. It must never be; no it must never be.

"We shall make inquiries at the bank," she said. "And do not be
downcast, father, the worst is over. What mistakes you have made are
forgotten The future looks bright to me."

"Through innocent young eyes the future is ever bright; but as we age
we find most of the sunshine on either side, and we stand in the shadow
between. Brave heart, I glory in your courage. God will provide for
you; He will not let my shadow fall on you. Yours shall be the joy of
living, mine shall be the pain. God bless you! I wonder how I shall
ever meet your mother's accusing eyes?"

"Father, you _must_ not dwell upon this any longer; for my sake you
must not. When everything is paid there will be a little left, enough
till I and my violin find something to do. After all, the world's
applause must be a fine thing. I can even now see the criticisms in the
great newspapers. 'A former young society woman, well-known in the
fashionable circles of Washington, made her _debut_ as a concert player
last night. She is a stunning young person.' 'A young queen of the
diplomatic circles, here and abroad, appeared in public as a violinist
last night. She is a member of the most exclusive sets, and society was
out to do her homage.' 'One of Washington's brilliant young
horsewomen,' and so forth. Away down at the bottom of the column,
somewhere, they will add that I play the violin rather well for an
amateur." In all her trial, this was the one bitter expression, and she
was sorry for it the moment it escaped her. Happily her father was not
listening. He was wholly absorbed in the mystery of the canceled note.

She had mounted Jane and was gathering up the reins, while James
strapped on the saddle-hamper. This done, he climbed into the saddle
and signified by touching his cap that all was ready. So they rode
forth in the sweet freshness of that November afternoon. A steady wind
was blowing, the compact white clouds sailed swiftly across the
brilliant heavens, the leaves whispered and fluttered, hither and
thither, wherever the wind listed; it was the day of days. It was the
last ride, and fate owed them the compensation of a beautiful afternoon.

The last ride! Warburton's mouth drooped. Never again to ride with her!
How the thought tightened his heart! What a tug it was going to be to
give her up! But so it must be. He could never face her gratitude. He
must disappear, like the good fairies in the story-books. If he left
now, and she found out what he had done, she would always think kindly
of him, even tenderly. At twilight, when she took out her violin and
played soft measures, perhaps a thought or two would be given to him.
After what had happened--this contemptible masquerading and the crisis
through which her father had just passed--it would be impossible for
her to love him. She would always regard him with suspicion, as a
witness of her innocent shame.

He recalled the two wooden plates in the hamper. Whom was she going to
meet? Ah, well, what mattered it? After to-day the abyss of eternity
would yawn between them. How he loved her! How he adored the exquisite
profile, the warm-tinted skin, the shining hair!... And he had lost
her! Ah, that last ride!

The girl was holding her head high because her heart was full. No more
to ride on a bright morning, with the wind rushing past her, bringing
the odor of the grasses, of the flowers, of the earth to tingle her
nostrils; no more to follow the hounds on a winter's day, with the pack
baying beyond the hedges, the gay, red-coated riders sweeping down the
field; no more to wander through the halls of her mother's birthplace
and her own! Like a breath on a mirror, all was gone. Why? What had
_she_ done to be flung down ruthlessly? She, who had been brought up in
idleness and luxury, must turn her hands to a living! Without being
worldly, she knew the world. Once she appeared upon the stage, she
would lose caste among her kind. True, they would tolerate her, but no
longer would her voice be heard or her word have weight.

Soon she would be tossed about on the whirlpool and swallowed up. Then
would come the haggling with managers, long and tiresome journeys,
gloomy hotels and indifferent fare, curious people who desired to see
the one-time fashionable belle; her portraits would be lithographed and
hung in shop-windows, in questionable resorts, and the privacy so loved
by gentlewomen gone; and perhaps there would be insults. And she was
only on the threshold of the twenties, the radiant, blooming twenties!

[Illustration: "Go home, Colonel--and stay home!"--ACT III.]

During the long ride (for they covered something like seven miles) not
a word was spoken. The girl was biding her time; the man had nothing to
voice. They were going through the woods, when they came upon a
clearing through which a narrow brook loitered or sallied down the
incline. She reined in and raised her crop. He was puzzled. So far as
he could see, he and the girl were alone. The third person, for whom,
he reasoned, he had brought the second plate, was nowhere in sight.

A flat boulder lay at the side of the stream, and she nodded toward it.
Warburton emptied the hamper and spread the cloth on the stone. Then he
laid out the salad, the sandwiches, the olives, the almonds, and two
silver telescope-cups. All this time not a single word from either;
Warburton, busied with his task, did not lift his eyes to her.

The girl had laid her face against Jane's nose, and two lonely tears
trailed slowly down her velvety cheeks. Presently he was compelled to
look at her and speak.

"Everything is ready, Miss." He spoke huskily. The sight of her tears
gave him an indescribable agony.

She dropped the bridle-reins, brushed her eyes, and the sunshine of a
smile broke through the troubled clouds.

"Mr. Warburton," she said gently, "let us not play any more. I am too
sad. Let us hang up the masks, for the comedy is done."



XXVI

THE CASTLE OF ROMANCE


How silent the forest was! The brook no longer murmured, the rustle of
the leaves was without sound. A spar of sunshine, filtering through the
ragged limbs of the trees, fell aslant her, and she stood in an
aureola. As for my hero, a species of paralysis had stricken him
motionless and dumb. It was all so unexpected, all so sudden, that he
had the sensation of being whirled away from reality and bundled
unceremoniously into the unreal.... She knew, and had known! A leaf
brushed his face, but he was senseless to the touch of it. All he had
the power to do was to stare at her. . . . She knew, and had known!

Dick stepped into the brook and began to paw the water, and the
intermission of speech and action came to an end.

"You-and you knew?" What a strange sound his voice had in his own ears!

"Yes. From the very beginning--I knew you to be a gentleman in
masquerade; that is to say, when I saw you in the police-court. The
absence of the beard confused me at first, but presently I recognized
the gentleman whom I had noticed on board the ship."

So she had noticed him!

"That night you believed me to be your sister Nancy. But I did not know
this till lately. And the night I visited her she exhibited some
photographs. Among these was a portrait of you without a beard."

Warburton started. And the thought that this might be the case had
never trickled through his thick skull! How she must have laughed at
him secretly!

She continued: "Even then I was not sure. But when Colonel Raleigh
declared that you resembled a former lieutenant of his, then I knew."
She ceased. She turned to her horse as if to gather the courage to go
on; but Jane had her nose hidden in the stream, and was oblivious of
her mistress' need.

He waited dully for her to resume, for he supposed that she had not yet
done.

"I have humiliated you in a hundred ways, and for this I want you to
forgive me. I sent the butler away for the very purpose of making you
serve in his stead. But you were so good about it all, with never a
murmur of rebellion, that I grew ashamed of my part in the comedy. But
now--" Her eyes closed and her body swayed; but she clenched her hands,
and the faintness passed away. "But for you, my poor father would have
been dishonored, and I should have been forced into the arms of a man
whom I despise. Whenever I have humiliated you, you have returned the
gift of a kind deed. You will forgive me?"

"Forgive you? There is nothing for me to forgive on my side, much on
yours. It is you who should forgive me. What you have done I have
deserved." His tongue was thick and dry. How much did she know?

"No, not wholly deserved it." She fumbled with the buttons of her
waist; her eyes were so full that she could not see. She produced an
oblong slip of paper.

When he saw it, a breath as of ice enveloped him. The thing she held
out toward him was the canceled note. For a while he did me the honor
to believe that I had betrayed him.

"I understand the kind and generous impulse which prompted this deed.
Oh, I admire it, and I say to you, God bless you! But don't you see how
impossible it is? It can not be; no, no! My father and I are proud.
What we owe we shall pay. Poverty, to be accepted without plaint, must
be without debts of gratitude. But it was noble and great of you; and I
knew that you intended to run away without ever letting any one know."

"Who told you?"

"No one. I guessed it."

And he might have denied all knowledge of it!

"Won't you--won't you let it be as it is? I have never done anything
worth while before, and this has made me happy. Won't you let me do
this? Only you need know. I am going away on Monday, and it will be
years before I see Washington again. No one need ever know."

"It is impossible!"

"Why?"

She looked away. In her mind's eye she could see this man leading a
troop through a snow-storm. How the wind roared! How the snow whirled
and eddied about them, or suddenly blotted them from sight! But, on and
on, resolutely, courageously, hopefully, he led them on to safety....
He was speaking, and the picture dissolved.

"Won't you let it remain just as it is?" he pleaded.

Her head moved negatively, and once more she extended the note. He took
it and slowly tore it into shreds. With it he was tearing up the dream
and tossing it down the winds.

"The money will be placed to your credit at the bank on Monday. We can
not accept such a gift from any one. You would not, I know. But always
shall I treasure the impulse. It will give me courage in the
future--when I am fighting alone."

"What are you going to do?"

"I? I am going to appear before the public,"--with assumed lightness;
"I and my violin."

He struck his hands together. "The stage?"--horrified.

"I must live,"--calmly.

"But a servant to public caprice? It ought not to be! I realize that I
can not force you to accept my gift, but this I shall do: I shall buy
in the horses and give them back to you."

"You mustn't. I shall have no place to put them. Oh!"--with a gesture
full of despair and unshed tears, "why have you done all this? Why this
mean masquerade, this submitting to the humiliations I have contrived
for you, this act of generosity? Why?"

Perhaps she knew the answers to her own questions, but, womanlike,
wanted to be told.

And at that moment, though I am not sure, I believe Warburton's
guarding angel gave him some secret advice.

"You ask me why I have played the fool in the motley?"--finding the
strength of his voice. "Why I have submitted in silence to your just
humiliations? Why I have acted what you term generously? Do you mean to
tell me that you have not guessed the riddle?"

She turned her delicate head aside and switched the grasses with her
riding-crop.

"Well,"--flinging aside his cap, which he had been holding in his hand,
"I will tell you. I wanted to be near you. I wanted to be, what you
made me, your servant. It is the one great happiness that I have known.
I have done all these things because--because, God help me, I love you!
Yes, I love you, with every beat of my heart!"--lifting his head
proudly. Upon his face love had put the hallowed seal. "Do not turn
your head away, for my love is honest. I ask nothing, nothing; I expect
nothing. I know that it is hopeless. What woman could love a man who
has made himself ridiculous in her eyes, as I have made myself in
yours?"--bitterly.

"No, not ridiculous; never that!" she interrupted, her face still
averted.

He strode toward her hastily, and for a moment her heart almost ceased
to beat. But all he did was to kneel at her feet and kiss the hem of
her riding-skirt. He rose hurriedly.

"God bless you, and good-by!" He knew that if he remained he would lose
all control, crush her madly in his arms, and hurt her lips with his
despairing kisses. He had not gone a dozen paces, when he heard her
call pathetically. He stopped.

"Mr. Warburton, surely you are not going to leave me here alone with
the horses?"

"Pardon me, I did not think! I am confused!" he blundered.

"You are modest, too." Why is it that, at the moment a man succumbs to
his embarrassment, a woman rises above hers? "Come nearer,"--a command
which he obeyed with some hesitation. "You have been a groom, a butler,
all for the purpose of telling me that you love me. Listen. Love is
like a pillar based upon a dream: one by one we lay the stones of
beauty, of courage, of faith, of honor, of steadfastness. We wake, and
how the beautiful pillar tumbles about our ears! What right have you to
build up your pillar upon a dream of me? What do you know of the real
woman--for I have all the faults and vanities of the sex; what do you
know of me? How do you know that I am not selfish? that I am constant?
that I am worthy a man's loving?"

"Love is not like Justice, with a pair of scales to weigh this or that.
I do not ask _why_ I love you; the knowledge is all I need. And you are
_not_ selfish, inconstant, and God knows that you are worth loving. As
I said, I ask for nothing."

"On the other hand," she continued, as if she had not heard his
interpolation, "I know you thoroughly. I have had evidence of your
courage, your steadfastness, your unselfishness. Do not misunderstand
me. I am proud that you love me. This love of yours, which asks for no
reward, only the right to confess, ought to make any good woman happy,
whether she loved or not. And you would have gone away without telling
me, even!"

"Yes." He dug into the earth with his riding-boot. If only she knew how
she was crucifying him!

"Why were you going away without telling me?"

He was dumb.

Her arms and eyes, uplifted, appealed to heaven. "What shall I say? How
shall I make him understand?" she murmured. "You love me, and you ask
for nothing? Is it because in spirit my father has committed a
crime?"--growing tall and darting a proud glance at him.

"Good heaven, do not believe that!" he cried,

"What _am_ I to believe?"--tapping the ground with her boot so that the
spur jingled.

A pause.

"Mr. Warburton, do you know what a woman loves in a man? I will tell
you the secret. She loves courage, constancy, and honor, purpose that
surmounts obstacles; she loves pursuit; she loves the hour of
surrender. Every woman builds a castle of romance and waits for Prince
Charming to enter, and once he does, there must be a game of hide and
seek. Perhaps I have built my castle of romance, too. I wait for Prince
Charming, and--a man comes, dressed as a groom. There has been a game
of hide and seek, but somehow he has tripped. Will you not ask me if I
love you?"

"No, no! I understand. I do not want your gratitude. You are meeting
generosity with generosity. I do not want your gratitude."--brokenly.
"I want your love, every thought of your mind, every beat of your
heart. Can you give me these, honestly?"

She drew off a glove. Her hand became lost in her bosom. When she drew
it forth she extended it, palm upward. Upon it lay a faded, withered
rose. Once more she turned her face away.

He was at her side, and the hand and rose were crushed between his two
hands.

"Can you give what I ask? Your love, your thoughts, your heart-beats?"

It was her turn to remain dumb.

"Can you?" He drew her toward him perhaps roughly, being unconscious of
his strength and the nervous energy which the sight of the rose had
called into being.

"Can we give those things which are--already--given?"

Only Warburton and the angels, or rather the angels and Warburton, to
get at the chronological order of things, heard her, so low had grown
her voice.

You may tell any kind of secret to a horse; the animal will never
betray you. Warburton would never tell me what followed; and I am too
sensible to hang around the horses in hopes of catching them in the act
of talking over the affair among themselves. But I can easily imagine
this bit of equine dialogue:

_Jane_: Did you ever see such foolishness?

_Dick_: Never! And with all this good grass about!

Whatever _did_ follow caused the girl to murmur: "This is the lover I
love; this is the lover I have been waiting for in my castle of
romance. I am glad that I have lost all worldly things; I am glad,
glad! When did you first learn that you loved me?"

(Old, very old; thousands of years old, and will grow to be many
thousand years older. But from woman's lips it is the sweetest question
man ever heard.)

"At the _Gare du Nord_, in Paris; the first time I saw you."

"And you followed me across the ocean?"--wonderingly.

"And when did you first learn that you loved me?" he asked.

(Oh, the trite phrases of lovers' litany.)

"When I saw you in the police-court. Mercy! what a scandal! I am to
marry my butler!"

_Jane:_ They are laughing!

_Dick:_ That is better than weeping. Besides, they will probably walk
us home. (Wise animal!)

He was not only wise but prophetic. The lovers _did_ walk the horses
home. Hand in hand they came back along the road, through the flame and
flush of the ripening year. The god of light burned in the far west,
blending the brown earth with his crimson radiance, while the purple
shadows of the approaching dusk grew larger and larger. The man turned.

"What a beautiful world it is!" he said.

"I begin to find it so," replied the girl, looking not at the world,
but at him.

THE END



Postscript:

I believe they sent William back for the saddle-hamper and my jehu's
cap.





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