GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
Author of Beverly of Graustark, Brewster's Millions, etc.
Illustrations by Harrison Fisher
I The Inspiration II The Beginning of Flight III The First Obstacle IV Ready for the Sea V Mr. and Miss Ridge Sail for Manila VI Henry Veath VII Glum Days for Mr. Ridge VIII The Beautiful Stranger IX Mr. Ridegway's Amazement X A Sharp Encounter XI Discovered XII The Harlequin's Errand XIII The Confession of Veath XIV One Love against Another XV The Wreck of the Tempest Queen XVI The Night and the Morning XVII Was the Sea Kind? XVIII The Wonderful Land XIX The First Day in the Wilds XX The Sign of Distress XXI Gods from the Sea XXII Flesh Succeeds Stone XXIII The Transformation Begins XXIV Nedra XXV The Coming of the Enemy XXVI On the Eve of Battle XXVII The Lady Tennys Reserve XXVIII To the Victor Belongs—? XXIX The Other Surrender XXX Where There is No Minister XXXI The Wedding Ring XXXII The Cruiser Winnetka XXXIII Apparitions XXXIV The Course of True Love XXXV History Repeats Itself
Lady Tennys (Frontispiece)
"'Lady Tennys ... You do not know how I thank God you are alive'"
"'Hey, there!' he yelled. 'How are you?'"
"'They have killed you! Let them kill me!'"
A tall young man sped swiftly up the wide stone steps leading to the doorway of a mansion in one of Chicago's most fashionable avenues. After pushing the button sharply he jerked out his watch and guessed at the time by the dull red light from the panel in the door. Then he hastily brushed from the sleeve of his coat the telltale billiard chalk, whose presence reminded him that a general survey might be a wise precaution. He was rubbing a white streak from his trousers' leg when the door flew open and the butler admitted him to the hallway. This personage relieved him of his hat, coat and stick and announced:
"Miss Vernon is w'itin' for you, sir."
"How the devil did I happen to let eight o'clock strike nine before I knew it?" muttered the visitor. He was at the drawing-room door as he concluded this self-addressed reproach, extending both hands toward the young woman who came from the fireplace to meet him.
"How late you are, Hugh," she cried, half resentfully. He bent forward and kissed her.
"Late? It isn't late, dear. I said I couldn't come before eight, didn't I? Well, it's eight, isn't it?"
"It's nearly seventy minutes past eight, sir. I've been waiting and watching the hands on the clock for just sixty minutes."
"I never saw such a perfect crank about keeping time as that grandfatherly clock of yours. It hasn't skipped a second in two centuries, I'll swear. You see, I was playing off the odd game with Tom Ditton."
He dropped lazily into a big arm-chair, drove his hands into his pockets and stretched out his long legs toward the grate.
"You might have come at eight, Hugh, on this night if no other. You knew what important things we have to consider." Miss Vernon, tall and graceful, stood before him with her back to the fire. She was exceedingly pretty, this girl whom Hugh had kissed.
"I'm awfully sorry, Grace; but you know how it is when a fellow's in a close, hard game—especially with a blow-hard like Tom Ditton."
"If I forgive you again, I'm afraid you'll prove a begging husband."
"Never! Deliver me from a begging husband. I shall assert all kinds of authority in my house, Miss Vernon, and you'll be in a constant state of beggary yourself. You'll have to beg me to get up in the morning, beg me to come home early every night, beg me to swear off divers things, beg me to go to church, beg me to buy new hats for you, beg me to eat things you cook, beg me to—"
"I suppose I shall even have to beg you to kiss me," she cried.
"Not at all. That is one thing I'll beg of you. Lean over here, do, and kiss me, please," he said invitingly.
She placed a hand on each arm of the chair and leaned forward obediently. Their lips met in a smile.
"You lazy thing!" she exclaimed, her face slightly flushed. Then she seated herself on one of the big arms, resting her elbow on the back of the chair beside his head. For a few minutes both were silent, gazing at the bright coals before them, the smile remaining upon their lips. Hugh had been squinting between the toes of his shoes at a lonely black chunk in the grate for some time before he finally spoke reflectively.
"I can't afford to be lazy much longer, can I? Married men never have a minute's rest, you know."
"We're not married."
"No; but we're going to be, let me remind you. We are to—to announce it to-morrow night, are we not? It has come to that, you see." He did not look very cheerful, nor did she.
"Yes, I suppose it's imperative. That is why aunt is giving her reception,—just to tell everybody we're engaged."
"And then everybody will shake hands with us and say, 'Congratulations,' 'How lovely,' 'So surprised,' 'Howdy do,' and so forth, and we say 'Thanks,' 'How good of you,' and more so forth. It will be great!" Another silence and inspection of the fire, he taking an altered aim at the black chunk. "Say!" he exclaimed, "wouldn't it do just as well if I didn't put in an appearance to-morrow night? Your aunt can announce the thing, as agreed, and you can tell 'em that I have a sick uncle in Indianapolis, or have had my leg broken, or something like that. Now, there's a good girl."
"No," she said. "We fell in love because we couldn't help it, and this is the penalty—an announcement party."
"I'll never quite understand why you fell," said he dubiously.
"I think we were both too young to know," she responded. "It seems to me that we've been in love ever since we were babies."
"And it never hurts a baby to fall, you know," said he, with fine logic. "Of course it may cripple 'em permanently, but they don't know how it happened."
For some moments she caressed his brown hair in silence, the smile lingering on her lips after it had left her eyes. His eyes closed dreamily under the gentle touch of her fingers. "But, dear," she said, "this is no joking matter. We have been engaged for nearly three months and not a soul knows of it. We'll have to tell them how we managed to keep it a secret for so long, and why,—and all that. And then everybody will want to know who the bridesmaids are to be."
"I believe I'd like to know that myself, as long as I'm to walk out of the church ahead of them—provided I don't get lost."
"Helen Grossman is to be the maid of honor. I believe I'll ask Jean Robertson, Eloise Grant, Harriet Noble, Mayme McMurtrie, Ellen Boyland—"
"Are we to have no guests?"
"—and Effa Samuels. Won't it be a pretty set of girls?"
"Couldn't be prettier."
"And now, who is to be your best man?"
"Well, I thought I'd have Tom Ditton," a trifle confusedly.
"Tom Ditton! I thought you did not approve of him," she cried. "You certainly did not when he came to see me so frequently."
"Oh, he isn't such a bad sort, after all. I'd just as soon have him as any one. Besides, he's an expert at it. If it was left to me, I'd much rather sit behind the pulpit until it is all over. People won't miss me while they've got you to look at."
"We could be married so quietly and prettily if it were not for Aunt Elizabeth," pouted Miss Vernon. "She insists on the church wedding, the teas and receptions and—"
"All that sort of rot," he interjected, as if fearing she might not express herself adequately. "I like your Aunt Elizabeth, Grace, but she's—she's an awful—"
"Don't say it, Hugh. I know what you mean, but she can't help it. She lives for society. She's perfectly crazy on the subject. Aunt Elizabeth made up her mind we should be married in church. I have talked myself black in the face—for your sake, dear—but it was like trying to convert a stone wall. She is determined. You know what that means."
"No wonder she's a widow," growled Hugh Ridgeway sourly. "Your father served you a mighty mean trick, dear, when he gave you over to her training. She might have spoiled you beyond redemption."
"Poor father! He loathed display, too. I've no doubt that is why he left me in her care until I reached the age of discretion. She was not always like this. Father's money has wrought the change. Aunty was as poor as a church mouse until father's death put her at the head of my household—it was mine, Hugh, even if I was only six years old. You know we could live pretty well on forty thousand a year."
"You'll have a million or so when you're twenty-three, dear, and I'll venture to say your aunt has saved something in all these years."
"Oh, she had at least two hundred thousand dollars by the will. It has cost her nothing to live all these years as my guardian and trustee. We just had to do something with my income, you know."
"I don't see why you should let this fortune stand in the way, Grace," growled he. "Haven't I enough of my own to take its place?" Hugh Ridgeway had a million in his own right and he could well afford to be unreasonable. "The will says you are not to have your father's money until you are twenty-three years old. He evidently thought that was a discreet age. You are not to marry before you have reached that age. I've been waiting for two years, Grace, and there still remains two months—"
"One month and twenty-eight days, Hugh," she corrected.
"And in the meantime we have to stay here and face all this ante-nuptial wretchedness. It's sickening, Grace. We hate it, both of us. Don't we? I knew you'd nod your head. That's why I can't help loving you. You've got so much real good hard sense about things. If your confounded Aunt Lizzie—Elizabeth, I should say—would let us get married as we want—Hang it all, Grace, it's our affair anyhow, isn't it? Why should we permit her to dictate? It's not her wedding. She's been married twice; why can't she let well enough alone?"
"She loves me, Hugh, after all," gently.
"Well, so do I. I'm willing—not perfectly willing, of course—but reasonably so, that we should wait until the twenty-third of May, but I don't see why we should have the whole town waiting with us. Why don't you assert yourself, dear, before it is too late? Once she pulls off this announcement party, it's all off with peace of mind and contentment so far as we are concerned. Of course, she'll be enjoying it, but what of us? Are you afraid of her?"
"Don't bully me, Hugh," she pleaded. He was contrite at once and properly so. "She has lived for this time in her life. She never has been crossed. I can't—honestly I can't go to her now and—quarrel. That's what it would mean—a quarrel. She would never give in."
"Well, then, all hope is lost," he lamented. For some minutes Miss Vernon gave no response, sitting upon the arm of the chair, a perplexed pucker on her brow and a thoughtful swing to her slippered foot.
These young people had known each other since earliest childhood. They had played together with the same neighborly toys and they had grown up together with the same neighborly ideals. Both had whirled in the social swing until the sensation palled. The most exclusive set in town regarded them as among its most popular members. It was quite natural that their wedding should be the most brilliant and fashionable of the year. Their position in society demanded the sacrifice, and her aunt saw the urgent need for making it, notwithstanding the opposition of the young people themselves.
Ridgeway was a couple of years older than his affianced bride, and she was just short of twenty-three. She, an orphan since early childhood, lived with her widowed aunt—the social gourmand, to quote Hugh Ridgeway—and he made his home next door with his sister and her husband. The two brown stone houses were almost within arm's reach of each other. She had painted dainty water colors for his rooms and he had thrown thousands of roses from his windows into her boudoir. It had been a merry courtship—the courtship of modern cavalier and lady fair. Ridgeway's parents died when he was in college, and he was left to enlarge or despise a fortune that rated him as a millionaire and the best catch in town—at that time.
He was a member of the Board of Trade, but he was scarcely an operator in the strictest sense of the word. If he won he whistled, if he lost he whistled. It mattered little. Good looking, well dressed, generous to a fault, tainted but moderately with scandal, he was a man whom everybody admired, but who admired few in return—a perfectly natural and proper condition if one but stops to consider.
Miss Vernon was beautiful—of that there was no question. Tall, fair, brown-eyed and full of the life that loves, she ruled the hearts of many and—kept her hand for one. Her short, gay life had been one of luxury and ease. She had known few of its cares; its vicissitudes belonged to the charities she supported with loyal persistency. Her aunt, society mad, was her only mentor, her only guide. A path had been made for her, and she saw no other alternative than to travel it as designed. A careless, buoyant heart, full of love and tenderness and warmth, allowed itself to be tossed by all of the emotions, but always sank back safely into the path of duty and rectitude. It was not of sufficient moment to combat her aunt's stubborn authority; it was so much easier to do her own sweet will without conflict and then smile down on the consequences.
Possibly it is true that she did not love her aunt. If that were the case, she kept it well to herself. She could not have been blamed, however, for disliking the dictator. Hugh Ridgeway was more or less right when he said that no one in town admired the old lady. She was hard, devoid of humor, wrapped up in her own selfishness; shrewd, capable and resourceful. Her brother, on his deathbed, signed the instrument which made this arrogant relative the arbiter of the girl's future for many years to come. She was appointed guardian and trustee until legal age was attained, and as such she was absolute in her power. The large fortune was to be held in trust by this aunt, Mrs. Torrence, and the Hon. Stanley Goodland, until Grace was twenty-three years of age. The income from the investments in bonds, real estate and high-class securities was to be handled by Mrs. Torrence as she saw fit in the effort to better the young woman's mental and social estate. To do her justice, she performed the duties well and honorably, even though her measure of human nature was not full to overflowing. Grace, with a mind and heart of her own, undertook to cultivate human nature from her own point of view after years of tolerance, and she succeeded so well that her aunt was none the wiser.
On one point, however, the paragon was so firm and unassailable that Grace was obliged to confess failure to her lover, after weeks and weeks of splendid argument. Her aunt forced an issue. The marriage of her niece was to be brilliant to the verge of confusion and the ante-nuptial season was to be one which the city should not forget while its promoter lived to enjoy the emoluments. She knew she was making her niece unhappy, but she argued that her niece was too deeply in love to appreciate the value of opportunity. Besides, on her wedding day, Grace Vernon would be twenty-three years of age, mistress of herself, her fortune, and her husband's home. That day would end the reign of Elizabeth Torrence. The arbiter was determined that the reign should end in a blaze of glory.
As for Grace and Hugh, they were to be married. That had been decided upon by destiny years and years ago and ratified after Hugh had reached an age of discretion. He said that twenty-five was the year of discretion, if not of reason.
After the first transports, each began to consider the importance of the union, not only to themselves, but to the world at large. In their reflective moments they realized that the marriage would be the most wonderful event in the whole history of the homes of Vernon and Ridgeway. Never before had a Vernon married a Ridgeway, and—vice versa. Therefore, the whole world would visit upon such a union its undivided attention. That is the view all engaged people take of marriage.
Miss Vernon had employed six weeks of argument in convincing Mr. Ridgeway that a church wedding was imperative, although she admittedly preferred the simpler form, where the minister conducts the ceremony in the presence of two witnesses and a ring. Society demanded the exhibition. Mr. Ridgeway warned her that he could not survive the ordeal and would leave her a widow at the altar.
Their difficulties had at last resolved themselves into that condition which confronts every engaged pair; and they, like others, were preparing to inform the world of their intentions.
"There's no way out of it, Hugh," she finally sighed, "unless we decide to give up the hope of getting married. That would break my heart," she said, with her rarest smile.
"This would be the most delightful period of my life if it were not for that distressing announcement, the two months of purgatory between now and the day of the wedding, and then the—calamity. I know it will be a calamity. I can't get through it alive."
"You poor boy! I wish we could have a quiet little Wedding. It would be so sweet, wouldn't it, dear?" she said plaintively, wistfully.
"But instead we are to have a hippodrome. Bah!" he concluded spitefully. "I wouldn't talk this way, dear, if I didn't know that you feel just as I do about it. But," and here he arose wearily, "this sort of talk isn't helping matters. It's a case of church against choice. To-morrow night we'll tell 'em, and then we'll quit sleeping for two months."
"There's only one way out of it that I can see. We might elope," she said laughingly, standing before him and rubbing the wrinkles from between his eyes.
Gradually his gray eyes fell until they looked into hers of brown. A mutual thought sprang into the eyes of each like a flash of light plainly comprehensive. He seized her hands, still staring into her eyes, and an exultant hope leaped to his lips, bursting forth in these words:
"Oh, we couldn't," she whispered, divining his thought.
"We can! By all that's good and holy, we'll elope!" Hugh's voice was quivering with enthusiasm, his face a picture of relief.
"Honestly, do you—do you think we could?" The girl's eyes were wide with excitement, her cheeks burning.
"Can we? What's to prevent? Will you do it, Grace—will you?" cried he.
"What will everybody say?"
"Let 'em say. What do we care? Won't it be the greatest lark that ever happened? You're the smartest woman in the world for thinking of it."
"But I wasn't in earnest," she protested.
"But you are now—we both are. Listen: We can slip away and get married and nobody will be the wiser and then, when we come back, we can laugh at everybody."
"And get our pictures in the papers."
"Then, by Hokey! we won't come back for five years! How's that? That'll fool 'em, won't it? Say, this is great! Life is worth living after all. You'll go, won't you, Grace?"
"I'd go to the end of the world with you, Hugh, but—"
"Oh, say you'll go! Now, listen to this," he urged, leaping to his feet. "We're going to be married anyway. We love one another. You can't be married until the twenty-third of May. Lots of people elope—even in the best of families. Why shouldn't we? If we stay here, we'll have to face all the sort of thing we don't like—"
"Yes, but it won't take us two months to elope," she protested. "Sh! Don't speak above a whisper. Aunt Elizabeth has wonderful ears."
"By Jove, darling, I believe you're two-thirds willing to try it on," he whispered.
"We must be sensible, Hugh. You see, I can't be married until the twenty-third of May. Well, aunt is determined to announce the engagement to-morrow night. Don't you see we couldn't elope until the twenty-second at best, so we're doomed for two months of it in spite of ourselves. If we get through the two months why should we elope at all? The worst will be over?"
"We can't escape the announcement party, I'll admit, but we can get away from all the rest. My scheme is to elope to a place that will require seven or eight weeks' time to reach. That's a fine way to kill time, don't you see?"
"Why not? We can do as we like, can't we? And what a bully lark! I'd be a downright cad to ask you to do this, Grace, if I didn't love you as I do. We can use assumed names and all that!"
"Oh, dear, dear, doesn't it sound lovely?" she cried, her cheeks red with excitement.
"The twenty-third of May isn't so far off after all, and it won't be half so far if we're doing something like this. Will you go?"
"If I only could! Do you really think we—we could?"
"Whoop!" he shouted, as he seized her in his arms and rained kisses upon her face. Then he held her off and looked into her eyes for a moment. Then he gave another whoop, kissed her, released her and did a wild dance about the room. She stood beside the big chair, equally as excited, laughing unrestrainedly at his hilarity. At last he brought up at the other side of the chair.
"But where could—I mean, shall we elope to?" she finally asked.
"Anywhere. Bombay—Australia? Let's make it a stunner, dear—let's do it up right."
"And be married away over there? Oh, Hugh!"
"Certainly. They can marry us over there as well as anywhere. Here, I'll write the names of ten places and we'll draw one from my hat." He sat down before a table and feverishly wrote upon the backs of a number of his calling cards the names of as many cities, his companion looking over his shoulder eagerly. Without ado he tossed the cards into a jardiniere in lieu of a hat. "Draw!" he said tragically.
"Wait a minute, Hugh. What have we to elope from? There isn't the faintest objection in the world to our marriage."
"There you go—backing out!"
"No; I'm just as willing as you, but doesn't it seem rather absurd?" Her hand hung over the jardiniere irresolutely.
"It will be the greatest wedding tour that mortals ever took. Draw!"
"Well, then, there's the card. Mercy!" she cried, dropping a card on the table. "That's a long distance, Hugh."
He picked up the card and his face paled a little as he read:
They sat down in the chair, she on the arm as before. After a moment he glanced at her perplexed face, and asked:
"Are you afraid to go, Grace?"
"It isn't that, Hugh. I was just wondering if we could reach Manila by the twenty-third of May. It is unlucky to change the wedding day after it has been once selected," she said softly.
"Grace Vernon, you are an angel. I was afraid you would show the white feather. It's a go, then—Manila! We can start next week and get there in good time."
"Next week? Impossible!" she cried in alarm.
"Nonsense! You can get ready for a trip to New York, making your preparations for a sea voyage secretly. I'll attend to all the details. It will be easy. No one will ever dream of what we are doing until we cable the news home to your aunt."
"Oh, I must tell Aunt Elizabeth!"
"Not much! That's no way to elope. We must do it correctly or not at all. Nobody is to know until we are really married. Can you get ready in a week?"
"If I really must."
"Can't take any more time than that if we want to reach Manila in time for the wedding."
"Oh, Hugh! We can't go to Manila!" she cried, suddenly starting to her feet in distress. "My Uncle Harry lives there. He is my mother's only brother and he's been there since the close of the war. He's in the hemp business. Oh, dear! How provoking!" she concluded almost piteously.
"It's fine!" he exclaimed jubilantly. "We can be married at his home. I'm sure he'll be happy to have us. You can write and tell him we're coming, dear. Lord!" with great relief in his voice, "that simplifies matters immensely. Now we have an excuse for going to Manila. But above all things don't cable to him. Write a nice long letter and mail it just before we start."
She was silent a long while, staring soberly at the blaze in the grate.
"There'll be no bridesmaids and ushers over there, Hugh."
"We don't want 'em."
Silence for a few minutes.
"In a week, did you say?"
"Well, I'll be ready," she said solemnly.
He kissed her tenderly, lovingly, pressed her cold hand and said encouragingly:
"We'll meet in New York next Monday afternoon. Leave everything to me, dear. It will be much pleasanter to go by way of London and it will help to kill a good deal of time."
"Hugh," she said, smiling faintly, "I think we're proving that father was right. I can't possibly arrive at the age of discretion until I am twenty-three and past."
THE BEGINNING OF FLIGHT
Mr. Ridgeway paced back and forth outside the iron gates in the Grand Central Station on the afternoon of April 1st, 190—, a smile of anticipation and a frown of impatience alternating in his fresh, young face. Certain lines of care seemed to have disappeared since we saw him last, nearly a week ago, and in their stead beamed the light of a new-found interest in life. Now and then he took from his pocket a telegram; spectators stared amusedly at him as he read and reread:
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, March 81, 190—.
To H.B. Ridge:
Got away safely. Meet me Forty-second Street, New York, to-morrow at three. Feel awfully queer and look a fright. Sympathetic lady, next compartment, just offered condolences for loss of my husband. What are the probabilities of storm? Be sure and find out before we start.
"Isn't that just like a girl!" he muttered to himself. "Where else would Forty-second Street be but New York! London?"
They had decided to travel as brother and sister and to adopt Ridge as the surname. Hugh had taken passage for Liverpool on the liner Saint Cloud, to sail on the second, having first examined the list of passengers to ascertain if there were any among them who might know him or his companion in the adventure. The list was now complete, and he, assured that there was no danger of recognition, felt the greatest weight of all lifted from his mind.
He had also considerately inquired into the state of the weather and learned that it promised well for the voyage. The whole affair was such a glorious lark, such an original enterprise, that he could scarcely restrain himself in his exhilaration from confiding in his chance hotel acquaintances.
Purposely, the night before, he had gone to an hotel where he was unknown, keeping under cover during the day as much as possible. According to the prearranged plan, they were to go aboard ship that evening, as the sailing hour was early in the morning.
He was waiting for her train. Every now and then his glance would shoot through the throng of people, somewhat apprehensively, as if he feared, instead of hoped, that some one might be there. This searching glance was to determine whether there might be any danger of Chicago or New York acquaintances witnessing the arrival of the person for whom he waited. Once he recognized a friend and dodged quickly behind a knot of people, escaping notice. That is why he audibly muttered:
Every nerve was tingling with excitement; an indescribable desire to fly, to shout, to race down the track to meet the train, swept through him. His heart almost stopped beating, and he felt that his face was bloodless. For the twentieth time in the last two hours Ridgeway looked at his watch and frowningly exclaimed:
"Only five after two! Nearly an hour to wait!"
He sat down for a moment, only to arise the next and walk to the board announcing the arrival of trains. Almost immediately one pulled into the station. Perceiving a bystander—one of the sort that always give the impression of being well-informed—he inquired casually where it was from.
"Chicago," was the ready answer.
"Great Scott! Lucky I came early! Grace's idea of time—oh, well, only the small matter of an hour out of the way."
Quickly he sprang forward, taking up a good position to watch. First came a man hurriedly and alone. A bunch of people followed him. Hugh peered unsuccessfully here and there among them. Another bunch; she was not in it, and he began to feel a trifle nervous. Now came the stragglers and he grew bewildered. Finally, the last one—a woman hove in sight. With renewed hope he scanned her approach. It was not Grace! His brain was in a whirl. What could have happened? Where was she? Again he jerked out the telegram.
"Meet me Forty-second Street, New York, at three," he read half-aloud. "Nothing could be plainer," he mused in perplexity. "No train at three; another at—she must be on a later one."
"What time is the next Chicago train due?" he inquired anxiously at the Information Bureau.
"Five-thirty, sir," politely answered the official.
"Five-thirty!" he repeated disgustedly.
Again the telegram was brought out and this time shown.
"On what road did you expect the lady?" was the question put with well-simulated interest that every few minutes was practised on different individuals.
"Road?" Hugh stared blankly at his questioner. "What road?" Then, like a flash, the solution of the problem pierced his brain.
"What an ass I am!" he burst out, and added sheepishly: "West Shore!"
Purposely avoiding the other's face for confirmation of his self-depreciatory exclamation, together with its unmistakable expression of professional tolerance for the imbecilities of mankind, Hugh looked at the time. It was two-thirty. Tearing out of the station, he hailed a cab.
Inside, and moving fast, he winced a little as he thought of his late strictures on girls and their ways. What a shame to have abused Grace, when he himself had told her to take the Wabash as essential to their plan. What a blooming idiot he was! New York in the telegram meant, of course, the New York side of the river. He recovered his equanimity; the world was serene again.
With a sharp pull the cabman brought up at the ferry and Hugh took his stand among those waiting for the boat to disgorge its load of passengers.
At that moment a thought struck him, and acting on it, he called out:
"Where can I get some note paper?"
"All right, sir!" and in an instant a pad of paper was forthcoming.
Hugh took out his pencil and wrote a brief note. Then, in a low voice, he said:
"Here, porter! I want you to do something for me."
"I'll make it worth your while, but I won't hare you attending to any one else—understand?"
The porter demonstrated with a nod his perfect comprehension of what was required, and there followed from his employer a minute description of the lady.
"Young, slight, tall, fair, black hat and veil, and—"
"In mourning, sir, undoubtedly?"
"Mourning! No, of course not. Cannot a lady wear black without being in mourning?" Hugh expostulated sharply.
"Certainly, sir; but generally—"
Whatever costume the worldly-wise porter would have approved as en regle for a lady, under conditions to his thinking so obviously indiscreet, the description was forestalled by the ingenuous young man, who, dissimilarly apprehensive and oblivious to the innuendo, was heard to grumble:
"What on earth is the matter with people? Everybody seems to delight in painting this most delectable of undertakings in the most funereal colors!" and went on anxiously: "You're sure you won't miss, her?"
With an indulgent smile for the youth and inexperience of his patron, and glancing surreptitiously at the size of the bill in his hand, the attendant calmly announced that there was not the faintest possibility of an error. He took his position a little to the right of and behind Hugh, like an adjutant at dress parade. Through the ferry rushed the weary, impatient travellers. Owing to the place Hugh had taken at one side of the run, Grace, at first, did not perceive him. Anxiety, almost fright, showed in her face; there passed through her a thrill of consternation at the thought that perhaps he had not received her telegram. The tense figure clasped the travelling-bag convulsively, and her brown eyes flashed a look of alarm over the waiting throng. Another moment and their gaze met; a voice ringing with happiness assailed her; her heart throbbed again, and the blood rushed back to her troubled face.
Hugh started forward.
"Hello, old man!" came suddenly from out of the crowd, and two heavy bags plunked down on the floor; two strong hands grabbed Hugh by the shoulders and their owner cried out boisterously: "What in the name of all the gods are you doing here in New York?"
Hugh's heart was in his mouth. His blood froze within him. For, shaking him with the embrace of a playful bear, was his old friend McLane Woods—his chum at Princeton.
Dazed, and not daring to look up, the entangled man made a wild, imploring gesture to the porter The latter caught it, stepped forward and placed the note in the girl's hands.
"In case I am held up, go to the Astor. Will follow," were the words she read quickly. With ready wit and only one stealthy glance at the two men, Grace speedily followed in the wake of the too obsequious porter, who placed her in a cab.
"To the Astor!" was the transferred instruction. The cabman, quick to note the ambiguity in the direction given, prepared, with the subtlety of his kind, for a long drive downtown.
However, the little comedy had not quite escaped attention. There was a note of banter in the strident voice that again addressed Hugh, the speaker accompanying it with a resounding slap on the back.
"Congratulations in order, old man? Come—you're caught—own up! Who is she?" This with a crony-like dig in the ribs. "Runaway match, eh?"
At the other's greeting, Ridgeway promptly assured himself that all was lost, and was about to return the welcome as best he could, when the danger in the final words checked him, compelled a subterfuge.
Assuming a stony glare, an unnatural twist of the mouth, the "old man" turned his bewildered glance upon the speaker, allowing it to resolve itself into a sickening show of reproachfulness, and said in a voice that almost made its owner laugh, it was so villainously artificial:
"You have the best of me, sir!"
An amazed expression came over the face of Mr. Woods. His glowing smile dwindled into an incredulous stare.
"Don't you know me, Hugh?" he finally demanded, half indignantly.
"I do not, sir. My name is not Hugh, by the way. It is evident that you mistake me for some one else," answered Mr. Ridgeway solemnly and gutturally.
"Do you mean to say—oh, come now, old man, don't stand up there and try to make a monkey of me. When did you get in?" cried Woods.
"Pardon me," sharply responded the other, "but I must insist that you are mistaken. I am Dr. James Morton of Baltimore. The resemblance must be remarkable."
Woods glared at Hugh, perfectly dumb with amazement. He passed his hand over his eyes, cleared his throat a time or two, but seemed completely at a loss for words to express himself.
"Are you in earnest?" he stammered. "Are you not Hugh Ridgeway of Princeton, ninety—" but Hugh interrupted him politely.
"Assuredly not. Never was at Princeton in my life. Yale. Will you give me your name and the address of your friend, please? By Jove, I'd like to hunt him up some time!" Hugh was searching in his pockets as if for a pencil and memorandum-book and waiting for his old chum to give him his name.
"Well, of all the—" muttered Woods, looking into the other's face penetratingly. "I never heard of anything like it. My name is McLane Woods, and the man who looks like you is Hugh Ridgeway of Chicago. I—I'll be hanged if it isn't too strange to be true."
"Very strange, indeed," smiled Hugh, striving to maintain the expression he had assumed at the beginning—a very difficult task.
"But this isn't all. At Newburg, I boarded the train, and happening to go through, I saw some one that I could have sworn was a Miss Vernon, whom I met when visiting Ridgeway in Chicago. I started to speak to her; but she gave me such a frigid stare that I sailed by, convinced that I was mistaken. Two such likenesses in one day beats my time. Doesn't seem possible, by George! it doesn't," exclaimed the puzzled New Yorker, his eyes glued to the countenance of the man before him, who, by the way, had almost betrayed himself at the mention of Miss Vernon's name. A thrill of admiration ran through him when Woods announced his reception by the clever girl who was running away with him.
"I'll do my best to meet this Mr. Ridgeway. I am frequently in Chicago," said he. "Glad to have met you, Mr. Woods, anyhow. If you are ever in Baltimore, hunt me up. I am in the E—- Building."
"With pleasure, doctor; how long will you be in New York?"
"I am going away to-morrow."
"Won't you come with me to my club?" began Woods, but Hugh interrupted by beckoning to the omnipresent porter.
"Thanks! Much obliged! Like to, you know, but have an appointment!" And, shaking his hand, "Good-by!"
"Good-by!" gasped Woods reluctantly, as if desiring one word more. But Hugh, with a grin on his face that awakened renewed expectations on the part of the porter, was making, stiff and straight, for the baggage-room. Once, looking back over his shoulder, he saw that Woods was standing stock still; and again, with another smile, he watched his mystified friend slowly depart.
"Now, then, my man, tell me quickly—you gave her the note? What did she do? Where did she go? Out with it—why don't you speak?"
"All right, sir. Everything's all right. The lady has gone to the hotel," replied the man as soon as Hugh gave him a chance to answer.
"Good. Find me another cab, quick. And here," handing him a dollar.
Meanwhile, Grace Vernon, quite sanguine of soon being with Hugh, was approaching the lower part of the city, reasoning, quite logically, that a downtown hotel was selected on account of the probable absence of the ultra-fashionable set. There, their secret would be safe,—and also they would be nearer the steamer.
Arriving at her destination, Grace dismissed the disappointed cabman, and entered the ladies' waiting-room, where she rang for the clerk.
"Is there a Mr. Ridge staying here?" she asked of him with an assurance that, she flattered herself, was admirably assumed.
"No such person with us, madam. Were you expecting him?"
"Why, yes," she replied, a little confused. "He should be here any minute."
And to his inquiry as to whether she would require anything in the meantime, there came a reply in the negative and he departed.
With a sigh of relief at being alone, she crossed over to a desk and busied herself in writing a long letter. This accomplished, she arose, moved over to the window and looked out. The waiting-room faced the main artery of the city, and below her was the endless stream of humanity. Endeavoring to check a slight feeling of uneasiness that was fast coming over her at Hugh's unexpected non-appearance, she tried to concentrate her thoughts on the panorama of the streets. A half hour passed. Then, in spite of herself, nervousness assailed her. What could be keeping him? Had he met with an accident? Or, could she have made a mistake in the name under which he was to register—could he be waiting for her all the time? Back and forth, to and fro the girl paced. Thoroughly alarmed and in spite of a sense of mortification at such an undertaking, she again interviewed the clerk.
"Will it be convenient for me to see the register?" she inquired, forced to conceal her embarrassment.
The clerk obligingly brought the book and eagerly she scanned the list. Unfortunately, for her, there was no mistake. Nothing like Ridgeway, Ridge or Hugh's handwriting greeted her anxious eyes.
A silence that seemed an inconceivably long one to the almost overwrought girl was broken by the clerk asking would she register?
Grace could hardly restrain her agitation. The critical moment had come. Something must be done. But what? Should she register and under what name? Or, should she wait longer; and if not, where should she go? Finally, with a desperate effort, she looked imploringly at him, and with heightened color, gasped:
"No, thank you; I'll wait a little longer for my—my—brother."
It was out. The prevarication had been uttered, and Grace felt as if she had committed a crime and punishment was at hand. Tears of distress came to her eyes; the situation was becoming intolerable.
It was just then that there came a shrill cry:
Grace remained immovable. The name she had inquired for a few minutes ago was called without bringing a sign or change of expression to the beautiful face, on which the wondering eyes of the clerk were fixed. He started to speak, but was withheld by her impassibility.
Again the same cry, and this time, the last word was accentuated. A boy entered.
As the clerk, slightly raising his eyebrows, turned toward her, Grace gave a little start; an enlightened glance shot from her eyes; the significance of the call gradually dawned upon her.
"I am Miss Ridge!" came excitedly from her trembling lips, the hot blood crimsoning her cheeks.
"For me?" she asked uneasily.
"From Mr. Ridge; wants you to wait," finished the boy.
"Thank you! Oh, thank you!" The girl beamed her relief on the staring bell-boy. And, the message having been delayed, the grateful words were hardly spoken before Hugh, almost distracted, rushed into the room. Regardless of appearances or consequences, the tall young fellow seized her and kissed her in a fashion that would have brought terrible rebuke, under any other circumstance, and which certainly caused the clerk to consider this Mr. Ridge the most demonstrative brother that in a long experience in hotel life he had ever encountered. When Hugh held her at arm's length to give his admiring gaze full scope, he saw tears of joy swimming in her eyes. Her voice quivered as she sighed:
"I should have died in another moment!"
"You are the dearest girl in all the world!" Then he explained to her the cause of the delay. After getting rid of Woods, he had rushed to the Hotel Astor, where he expected to find her waiting for him. All inquiries as to whether any lady answering to her description had been seen there had resulted in failure. He would have been there yet, growing angrier all the while, had not a gentleman who had overheard his troubles suggested that he telephone the Astor House, in the hope that the lady might be waiting there.
At the end of this recital of his vexatious experience Hugh seized her travelling-bag, and together they made their way out of the hotel.
"Oh, Hugh!" cried Grace, hanging back a little. "What did Mr. Woods say to you? What did you say? Do you know he tried to speak with me on the train?"
"Honestly, I don't remember, dear—sister. He's the most muddled man, though, in New York, I'll bet a dollar. And now that I think of it, it wasn't absolutely necessary; but when he guyed me about a runaway match, it paralyzed me, and I had to do something, so I swore that I had never heard of such a person as Ridgeway."
Grace was too astounded to speak.
"Then he told me of meeting you," he continued, "and that settled it. Poor old Woods! What a trump you were, Grace!"
"You wouldn't have thought so if you could have seen me when I first boarded the train. My! I was blue! Fortunately, I did not see him until we were nearly here. Hugh Ridgeway—Ridge, I mean—do you know what I did? It will make you very angry!" she said as they waited for a cab.
"Nothing could make me angry." This was said ten seconds later, when they were inside the cab and a nervous, smiling young woman at his side was squeezing his arm expressively. "Driver!" he called out, "go uptown—anywhere—through the park until I tell you to stop!" and turning to her, added: "We'll have a bit of dinner somewhere and then go aboard. Now, what did you do?"
"Well," she went on, "I actually tossed up a quarter in the compartment to see whether I should go on or turn back."
"You did? Really? Who won?"
"I did," she answered naively.
"No; I did. I am beginning to feel too lucky to be awake. And would you have turned back if you had lost? Would you have left me here with all this anticipation to dispose of?" he cried.
"If it came tails, I was to turn back. It came tails."
"What! And you came anyhow?"
"Well, you see, after the first flip I concluded to make it two out of three trials. So I flipped again, Hugh, and it came tails. Then I made it three out of five. That was only fair, wasn't it?"
"Certainly. Seven out of thirteen or eleven out of twenty, just so you won."
"I tossed that coin seventeen times, and the final count was nine for New York and eight for Chicago. The train had started, so I didn't flip again. Wasn't it a narrow majority, dear?"
"If it were not for appearing ridiculous, I would kiss you seventeen times right here. Oh, how about your baggage—luggage, I mean?" he cried.
"The transfer man will take them to the dock. I have ten big ones—new steamer trunks. You'll never know how much trouble I had in getting them packed and out of the house."
"Ten! Great Scott! I have but two!"
"Don't worry, dear. You can pack some of your things in mine—coming home, of course," she said laughingly.
"Great, isn't it?" he chuckled. "Nobody on earth ever did anything like it. But before I forget it, how did you leave your aunt?"
"Poor Aunt Elizabeth! She will be so disappointed. I promised to do a lot of shopping for her. But she's well and can endure the delay, I fancy. To prepare her for the shock, I told her that I might stay East for a couple of weeks, perhaps longer. She does not suspect a thing, but she was awfully cut up about my leaving at this time."
"I'm glad you quieted Aunt Elizabeth, for it would be just like her to send detectives after us." Both laughed as he whispered this to her. As the cab whirled away she said:
"What happy fools we are!"
"Sit back, quick! Cover your face," he suddenly cried.
"What—who is it?" she giggled.
"We just passed a policeman, and he looked rather hard at the windows," he cried, with a broad grin.
"Oh, you ninny!"
"Well, we must elope with fear and trembling or it won't count," he cried. "Is there anything you have to buy before we sail? If there is, we must attend to it now, because we leave at a most outlandish hour in the morning."
Miss Vernon looked alarmed for a moment, the real enormity of the escapade striking her with full force. But she smiled in the next and said that she could make a few necessary purchases in a few minutes if he would direct the cabman. "It's a long way to Manila, you know," she said. "Hugh, I noticed in the paper the other day that this is the season for typhoons, or whatever you call them, in the Indian Ocean. I looked them up in the dictionary. There's a picture of one in action, and they must be dreadful things. One of them could tear our ship to pieces in a minute, I should judge. Wouldn't it be awful—if—if—"
"Pshaw! Typhoons are nothing! It's a simoon that you're thinking about, and they happen only on the desert. In what dictionary did you see that?"
"Webster's, of course."
Mr. Ridgeway did not continue along that line, but mentally resolved to look into Webster's on the sly, and, furthermore, to ask the captain of the Saint Cloud to tell him all he knew about typhoons.
"Have him drive to Arnold's, Hugh."
She left him in the carriage in front of the store, promising to be gone not more than five minutes. Ten minutes passed and Hugh resignedly lighted a cigarette, stepping to the sidewalk to smoke. After he had smoked four cigarettes a perceptible frown approached his brow. He looked at the big doorway, then at his watch, then at the imperturbable cabman. Her five minutes had grown to half an hour. His good nature was going to the bad and he was about to follow in her footsteps when suddenly he saw her emerging from the store.
"I had to mail a letter," she explained as they drove off. "Oh, Hugh, I'm so nervous, I know that I will do something silly before we sail."
"Yes; I mailed one letter to Uncle Harry before I left Chicago, you know, but I forgot something important, so I had to write again to-day."
"What did you forget?"
"I forgot to tell him you were coming out on the same ship and would look after me as if I were your own sister, Hugh."
Strange to say, neither of them smiled as their hands met in a warm, confident clasp.
THE FIRST OBSTACLE
A drizzling rain began to fall and an overcast sky, cold and bleak, dropped lower and lower until it covered the dripping park like a sombre mantle. The glass in the hood of the hansom kept out the biting rain, but the drear approach of a wet evening was not to be denied. For nearly three hours Hugh and Grace had been driven through the park and up the Riverside, killing time with a nervous energy that was beginning to tell. The electric lights were coming on; pavements glistened with the glare from the globes; tiny volcanoes leaped up by thousands as the patting, swishing raindrops flounced to the sidewalks.
"Isn't it dismal?" murmured Grace, huddling closer to his side. "I thought the weather man said it was to be nice? It's horrid!"
"I think it's lovely!" said he beamingly. "Just the sort of weather for a mystery like this. It begins like a novel."
"I hope it ends as most of them do, commonplace as they are. Anyhow, it will be fun to dine at Sherry's. If any one that we know should see us, we can say—"
"No, dear; we'll not attempt to explain. In the face of what is to follow, I don't believe an accounting is necessary. This is to be our last dinner in good old America for many a day, dear. We'll have a good one, just for history's sake. What kind of a bird will you have?"
"A lark, I think," she said with a bright smile.
"Oh, one doesn't eat the lark for dinner. He's a breakfast bird, you know. One rises with him. Bedsides, we should try to keep our lark in fine feather instead of subjecting it to the discomforts of a gridiron in some—"
His observations came to an abrupt close as both he and his companion pitched forward violently, barely saving themselves from projection through the glass. The hansom had come to a sudden stop, and outside there was a confused sound of shouting with the crunching of wood and the scraping of wheels. The horse plunged, the cab rocked sharply and then came to a standstill.
"What is it?" gasped Grace, trying to straighten her hat and find her bag at the same time. Hugh managed to raise the glass and peer dazedly forth into the gathering night. A sweep of fine rain blew into their faces. He saw a jumble of high vehicles, a small knot of men on the sidewalk, gesticulating hands on every side, and then came the oaths and sharp commands.
"We've smashed into something!" he said to her.
"Some one is hurt! Confound these reckless drivers! Why can't they watch where—"
"Come down off that!" shouted a voice at the wheel, and he saw a huge policeman brandishing his club at the driver above. "Come down, I say!"
"Aw, the d—— fool backed into me," retorted the driver of Hugh's hansom. His fare noticed that they were at the Sherry corner, and the usual crowd of seven-o'clock cabs was in full evidence.
"That'll do—that'll do," roared the officer. "I saw the whole thing. Ye've cracked his head, you dirty cur."
Two men were holding the horse's head and other policemen were making their way to the side of their fellow-officer. Evidently something serious had happened.
"What's the trouble?" Hugh called out to the officer.
"You'll find out soon enough," answered the policeman. "Don't butt in—don't butt in!"
"Here, here, now!" exclaimed Mr. Ridgeway. "You've no right to talk like that to—"
"Oh, I ain't, eh? Well, we'll see if somebody else has a right. You dudes can't kill people and then get off with talk like that. Not much, my Johnny. You go along, too, an' explain yer hurry to the captain."
"But I've got a lady here—"
"Tush! tush! Don't chew the rag. Stay in there!"
Other officers had dragged the driver from the cab, jostling him roughly to the outer circle of wheels. The man was protesting loudly. Rain had no power to keep a curious crowd from collecting. Hugh, indignant beyond expression, would have leaped to the ground had not a second and superior officer stepped up and raised his hand.
"Don't get down, sir," he said with gentle firmness. "I'm afraid you'll have to go to the station for a few minutes."
"But, confound it, officer—I have nothing to do with this row."
"That may be true, sir. You can explain all that at the desk. We have to get at the bottom of this. This is no place to argue."
A moment later the hansom, with a bent axle, was hobbling its way down the street engineered by bluecoats. Hugh, seeing that it was useless to remonstrate, sank back in the seat and swore audibly.
"Don't worry about it, Hugh," said a soft voice in his ear. "We can explain, can't we?"
"You can't explain anything to asses, Grace," he lamented, "especially if they wear buttons." They lapsed into a mournful, regretful silence. For five full minutes the hansom wobbled painfully along and then pulled up in front of a building which Hugh lugubriously recognized as a police station. "We've got to make the best of it, dear. Did you ever hear of such beastly luck? I'll see if they won't let me go in alone and square things. You won't be afraid to sit out here alone for a few minutes, will you? There's really nothing to be alarmed about. This driver of ours is in trouble, that's all. We're not to blame. A word or two will fix everything. I'll be out in a jiffy."
But the bluecoats would not see it that way. Miss Vernon was compelled to climb down from the seat and march indignantly into the desk sergeant's presence. Hugh at once began to explain and to expostulate against what he called an outrage.
"What had we to do with it? The truth is, I don't know what has happened," he was saying.
"Neither do I," said the bewhiskered sergeant shortly. "Who are you, sir?"
"These people saw the whole thing, sir. They were in the hansom when Bernhardt smashed him, an' this felly had ordered him to get to Sherry's in five minutes if he had to kill some one," explained the officer who had first addressed Hugh in the crowd.
"That's a lie," cried Hugh. "I said if he had to kill the old plug. Who is Bernhardt? What the deuce is it all about?"
"I don't believe the gentleman saw the row," said the polite roundsman. "It happened in the crush there."
"Somebody shall pay for this outrage," exclaimed Ridgeway. "It's beastly to drag a lady and gentleman into a police station like common criminals when they—"
"That will do, sir," commanded the sergeant sharply. "You'll talk when you are asked to, sir."
Turning to the patrolman, he asked, "Has that fellow been taken to the hospital?"
"The ambulance came up just as we left, sir."
"Bernhardt says he didn't hit him. He says the guy fell off his own cab."
"Don't cry, dear," Hugh managed to whisper to Grace as they took the seats designated by a brusque man in blue.
"Never!" she whispered bravely. "It's a lark!"
"Bravo! We'll have that bird yet—at Sherry's." Then he approached the desk with determination in his eye. "Look here, officer, I demand respectful attention. Whatever it was that happened between those cabmen, I had nothing to do with it, and I am absolutely ignorant of the trouble. We have a dinner engagement, and I want you to take our statements, or whatever it is you want, and let us go our way."
"What is your name?" shortly.
"Why—er—that isn't necessary, is it?" floundered Hugh.
"Of course it is. Name, please."
"Will it get into the papers?"
"That's nothin' to me. Will you answer now, or do you want to stay here till mornin'?"
"My name is Smith."
"Place of residence?"
"Who's the lady?"
"Step up here, lady, if you please!"
Hugh felt the floor giving away beneath him. That Grace could not have heard a word of the foregoing examination, he was perfectly aware. Vainly, and with a movement of his lips, he essayed to convey the name she should answer.
"Don't butt in, you!" was the instant warning given by the observant officer, and then—
"Lady, what is your name?"
For a moment the question bewildered the girl. With considerable misgiving she discerned that another occasion for prevarication was unavoidable, and something like a sigh escaped her lips; but as suddenly fear gave way to a feeling of elation. How clever Hugh would consider her remembrance of his instructions! What felicity to extricate him from this predicament! Alone, she would save the situation!
Unblushingly, and with a glance at him for instant approval, she stepped forward and pronounced jubilantly the alias agreed upon:
"Ridge—Miss Ridge is my name."
A smothered exclamation of dismay burst from Hugh's lips.
"Eh, what? Miss Ridge, and your brother's name—Smith?" ejaculated the man of authority.
For a brief moment there was a pause of embarrassment; and then with a dazzling, bewitching smile directed at her questioner, she electrified them both:
"Most assuredly. Mr. Smith is my half-brother."
Hugh could have shouted for joy, as he watched the somewhat amused discomfiture of the officer.
"Where do you live?"
"St. Louis," gasped she, with blind confidence in luck.
"Oh, humph! Well, wait a minute," he said, and both were gratified to see a good-natured grin on his face. "Buckley, see if there is a family named Smith in Brooklyn with connection in St. Louis. Sit down, Miss Ridge, please, and don't be worried. This is what we have to do. Your driver slugged another of his kind and he's likely to die of the fall he got. We'll have to use you as witnesses, that's all, an' we must have you where we can put our hands on you in the mornin'. The captain will be here in an hour or two and you can probably manage to give some kind of bond for your appearance. People like you don't like to appear in court, you see, so we've got to make sure of you."
"But we must go to our—our dinner," she wailed so prettily that he coughed to cover his official severity.
"Can't be helped, ma'am. Duty, you know. The captain will soon be here. Would you like to telephone, sir?"
Hugh stared and looked embarrassed. Who was there for him to talk to over the 'phone? And that brought another ghastly thought to mind. Who could he ask to give security for his or her appearance in the morning? He found words to say he would telephone to his friends, a bright idea suddenly coming to the rescue. Grace looked her amazement and alarm as he marched into the telephone booth. Bravely he called up Sherry's and, with the sergeant listening, he sent word to the head waiter to inform Mr. —— (mentioning the name of a very prominent society leader) that Mr. Smith and Miss Ridge were unavoidably detained and could not join the party until quite late, if at all. He came from the booth very much pleased with himself, and sat down beside Grace to await developments.
"What are we to do?" she whispered.
"Give me time to think, dear. I fooled him that time. Perhaps I can do it again. Great bluff, wasn't it? What do you suppose Mr. —— will think?"
"But if they should insist upon holding us till morning," she cried, on the verge of tears, trouble looming up like a mountain.
"They won't dare do that. They'll probably send us to a hotel with a plain-clothes man unless we give bond, but that's all. I'll try another bluff and see how it works. There's no use kicking about it. We're not in a position to stir up much of a row, you see, dear."
He tried it when the captain came in unexpectedly a few minutes later, and with the most gratifying results. He obtained consent to go with a plain-clothes man to a nearby restaurant for a "bite to eat." In the meantime he was to send a messenger boy with a note to an influential friend in Brooklyn, requesting him to hurry over and give security for their appearance. If this failed, they were to go to a hotel under guard.
"The only thing that sounds fishy about your story, Mr. Smith, is that you say you are brother and sister," said the captain. "Driving all afternoon in the park with your own sister? Queer."
"She's from Missouri, you know," said Hugh with a fine inspiration. The captain laughed, even though he was not convinced.
"Now, Grace, dear," said Hugh as they waited for the cab to be called, "our adventure is on in dead earnest. We have to give this plain-clothes man the slip and get aboard the Saint Cloud before they have time to think. They won't look for us there and we're safe."
"Hugh, I'm frightened half to death," she whispered. "Can we do it? Would it not be wiser to give up the whole plan, Hugh, and—"
"Oh, Grace!" he cried, deep regret in his voice. "What a cad I am to be dragging you into all this sort of thing! Yes, dear. We'll give it up. We'll go back to Chicago. It's too much to ask of you. I'll—"
"No, no, Hugh! Forgive me. I'll be strong and firm. I wouldn't give it up for all the world. I—I was just a bit weak for a second, you know. It does look pretty big and wild, dear,—all that is ahead of us. But, after all, it's like any sea voyage, isn't it? Only we're going to be married when it's over. We Wouldn't think anything of taking a trip to Manila under ordinary circumstances, would we? It's all right, isn't it?" He squeezed her hand cautiously but fervently.
To their disgust the plain-clothes man took the seat opposite them in the brougham, remarking as he did so that he had sense enough to get in out of the rain. They had no opportunity to concoct a plan for escape, and it was necessary for them to go on to the restaurant in Longacre Square. It occurred to Hugh that it would be timely to explain why they were not dressed for dinner. They were on their way to the hotel to dress when the fracas took place. The plain-clothes man was not interested. Evidently the authorities did not apprehend much trouble from the two young people; their guardian performed his duties perfunctorily and considerately. He even disappeared from view after they entered the restaurant.
"We'll have that bird," said Hugh, "before we do anything else. I'm hungry. Haven't eaten since last night, dear. I've been too excited to think of eating—or sleeping."
In a quiet corner of the big cafe they had their bird and just enough champagne to give them the courage that counts. With their heads close together they planned and plotted until they forgot the rain that pattered against the window panes, and dreariness turned to rosy assurance.
"Just a little nerve, dear," said he as they arose. "Do as I have told you and trust to luck. It can't fail."
The plain-clothes man was just outside the door. Scores of people were hurrying past, umbrellas raised in the face of the drizzle. Down Broadway the glare of lights was broken and left hazy in the fog like rain. The sidewalks in the distance looked like a bobbing field of black mushrooms, shiny and sleek. The air was chill with the wet shadows of a night that hated to surrender to the light of man.
"Where's the cab?" demanded Hugh. "Get it up here quick. I don't want to keep my friend waiting at the station. Come in and have a drink, officer. It's no fun standing around this kind of weather. No job for a decent human being, I'd say. Especially when one's set to watch respectable people and not criminals. This is a rattling good joke on me—and my sister. I need about three good, stiff drinks? We'll go in next door here. Get into the cab, Marian, We won't be inside two minutes."
If the plain-clothes man was willing to take the drink, all well and good, but if he refused—but he did not refuse. He looked carefully about, shivered appropriately, and said he "didn't care if he did." Grace urged them to hurry as she entered the cab and Hugh gave his promise. Scarcely had the two men passed beyond the light screen doors when Grace Vernon coolly stepped from the cab and hurriedly made her way off through the crowd of umbrellas, first telling the driver to wait for her in front of the drug store.
A moment later she boarded a Broadway car, and excited, but intent only on reaching a place where she could safely engage a cab to take her to the dock. And all the time she was hoping and praying, not for herself, but for the important young gentleman who was clicking his righteous glass in a den of iniquity.
READY FOR THE SEA
Ridgeway, his nerves tense and his eyes gleaming, marched his thoroughly chilled companion up to the bar. He manoeuvred so that the plain-clothes man stood with his back toward the door, and he seemed to be in no especial haste to attract the attention of the bartender. As they gave their order for drinks, Hugh saw Grace, in his mind's eye, slipping from the carriage and off into the crowd—and every fibre of his heart was praying for success to attend her flight. He found himself talking glibly, even volubly to the watcher, surprised that he could be doing it with his mind so full of other thoughts.
"Awful night to be out. I'd hate to have a job like yours," he was rattling on, heaving intermittent breaths of relief as he saw the size of the drink the other was pouring out for himself.
"I've been at it for twelve years. I don't mind anything just so it helps to make a comfortable home for the old lady and the kids."
"Ah, the kids," said Hugh, grasping at the subject as if it were the proverbial straw. "How I love kids! How many have you?"
"Four. The oldest is ten."
"They're worth working for, I'll bet. Nothing like children. How many have you?"
"Four," said the officer, looking at him in surprise.
"I'm a little deaf," explained Hugh, recovering himself quickly. "I thought you said ten."
"No; the oldest is ten. Yes; they're worth slaving for. I've hung onto this job all these years just because it might go hard with 'em if I gave it up and tried something else."
Hugh looked into the sober, serious face and a lump flew to his throat. It struck him as probable that this man was to lose his position the next morning. A sort of pity assailed Ridgeway for an instant, but he put it away resolutely.
After all, he had Grace to think of and not the children of the plain-clothes man.
They had a second drink and it fired his brain with a gleeful desire for action. The plain-clothes man shivered as he swallowed the fiery stuff. He looked thin and haggard and ill, a condition which Hugh, in his hatred, had failed to observe until this moment.
"You certainly have a home and some money saved up by this time," he said, trying to suppress the eager gleam in his eyes.
"We've had lots of sickness and it's taken nearly everything. Besides, I've been too d—— honest. It's my own fault that I haven't a big wad put away."
"What is your name?" demanded Hugh suddenly.
"I understand all that. But what is your name?"
"That's it—George Friend—Street Station."
"Oh, I see." Hugh also saw the picture of this poor fellow as he stood before his superior later on with his luckless tale, facing a thirty-days' lay-off at the lowest. "By the way, I want to write a short note." He secured envelope, paper and stamp from the bar and hastily wrote a brief letter. The inscription on the outside of the envelope was "George Friend,—Police Station, New York," and there were three one-hundred-dollar bills inclosed with the note of explanation. "I'll mail it later," he said. "Come on."
They went forth into the rain, Hugh's blood leaping with excitement, the plain-clothes man shivering as if he were congealing. Mr. Ridgeway dashed across the pavement and peered into the cab. Grace was not there, just as he had hoped and expected.
"The lady's in the drug-store below, sir," announced the cabman.
"Wait here" called Hugh to the plain-clothes man. "I'm afraid she's ill. She's gone to the drug-store." He hurried toward the drug-store as the officer began to question the driver. A second later Mr. Ridgeway turned the corner and was off like the wind toward Sixth Avenue. Turning into an alley, he fled southward, chuckling to himself as he splashed through the puddles and mudholes. He heard shouts in the distance and he did not decrease his speed until he neared the street opening below. There he ran into some one and fell. Besmeared and bespattered, he quickly picked himself up; and when, a moment later, he gained the sidewalk, no one would hardly have recognized in the dilapidated-looking creature the dapper Hugh Ridgeway. Police whistles were calling behind him, nearer and nearer, but he walked boldly out into the street and up to Sixth Avenue. His nerves were tingling and his breathing was hard to control after the mad dash through the alley, but he slouched along in the lee of the buildings to escape the downpour, stopping near the corner.
Suddenly he rushed out and hailed a passing cab, climbed inside and gave orders to drive as quickly as possible to the Twenty-third Street Ferry. Then he sat up boldly and stared forth with all the courage that his escape inspired.
"By Jove," he was shouting inwardly, "that poor devil was on my heels. He looked hard as he hustled past, but I stared back just as hard. It took nerve to face him. Hang it all, I'm sorry for him. He wasn't to blame. But this letter will cheer him up. It's for the kids if anything happens to him."
Apparently changing his mind at Herald Square, he instructed the driver to go down Thirty-fifth Street to Eighth Avenue and drop him at the corner. After leaving the cab he ventured into an all-night shop and bought a cheap raincoat, slouch hat and umbrella. Then, like a thief, he stole forth and warily made his way toward the dock. It was bad going and he hailed a second cab. Before climbing into it, he crossed and dropped an envelope into the mailbox.
"There," he muttered, "that helps my conscience. By Jove, this has been a corking start for the adventure. Talk about dime novels!"
He instructed the driver to take him to a point not far from the dock, a precaution which suddenly invested itself. It would be wise to approach the liner by stealth, taking no chances. They were sailing by one of the obscure lines, not for economy's sake, but to avoid possible contact with friends of their own class.
As he rattled off through the night, huddled back in the blackness of the cab, Hugh began to have the first pangs of uneasiness. The distressing fear that all had not gone well with Grace flooded his brain with misgivings and feverish doubts. A clock in a shop window told him it was nearly ten o'clock. He was cursing himself for permitting her to rush off alone in a night like this, into a quarter that reeked with uncertainty and disorder. Vague horrors presented themselves to his distressed mind; calamity stared at him from the mouth of every dark alley; outrage, crime, misfortune, danced in every shadow. As for himself, he was a sorry sight and enough to frighten Grace into convulsions at one glance. Rain-soaked, muddy, bedraggled, it was not the debonnaire Chicagoan of old who skulked away from the cab at a certain black corner and made his way stealthily, even fearfully, toward the distant dock.
Every sound startled and alarmed him; every pedestrian looked like a pursuer in plain clothes or blue. A couple of policemen eyed him sharply and he trembled in his boots. The sudden, overpowering recollection that he had the passage tickets in his pockets with the reservations and the luggage checks almost sent him flying through the air, so swift was his pace. He lost his way twice, but was set straight by unsuspecting bluecoats.
At last he zigzagged his way through devious channels and into the presence of a company's official, who informed him that Miss Ridge had not gone aboard nor had she presented herself at the dock during the evening. Hugh's jaw dropped and a sick, damp perspiration started on his forehead. Hardly knowing what he did, he went aboard and plied his questions right and left, hoping that she might have come through unobserved. But she was not there, and it was half past ten o'clock.
Out into the drizzle he sallied once more, racked by a hundred doubts and misgivings. Reproaching himself fiercely for a fool, a dolt, he posted himself at the approach to the dock and strained his eyes and ears for the first sight of Grace Vernon. Other people went aboard, but an hour passed before he gave up all hope and distractedly made up his mind to institute a search for the missing girl. He conjectured all manner of mishaps, even to the most dreadful of catastrophes. Runaway accident, robbery, abduction, even murder harassed his imagination until it became unbearable. The only cheerful alternative that he could hope for was that she might not have escaped the authorities after all and was still in custody, crushed and despairing. Reviling himself with a bitterness that was explicit but impotent, he started off resolutely to seek the aid of the police—the last extremity.
A quick little shriek came to his ears, and then the door of a cab that had been standing at the opposite corner flew open.
"Hugh! Hugh!" called a shrill voice. His heart gave a wild leap and then his long legs did the same—repeatedly. As he brought up beside the cab, Grace Vernon tumbled out, sobbing and laughing almost hysterically.
"Good Heavens!" shouted he, regardless of the driver, who grinned scornfully from his private box above, the only witness to this most unconventional comedy of circumstances.
"I've been—been here an hour—in this cab!" she cried plaintively. "Oh, oh, oh! You'll never know how I felt all that time. It seemed a year. Where did you get those awful-looking clothes, and—"
"What—aw—oh, the coat? Great Jehoshaphat! You don't mean to say that—"
"I thought you were a detective!" she sobbed. "Oh, how wretched I've been. Pay the man, dear, and take me—take me any place where there is light. I'm dying from the sight and sound of this awful night."
Mr. Ridgeway lost no time in paying the driver and getting her on board the Saint Cloud. She tried to explain as they hurried along, but he told her there was time enough for that.
"We may be watched, after all," he said, looking anxiously in all directions, a habit that had grown upon him to such an extent that he feared it would cling to him through life. "Go to your stateroom, dearest, and I'll send you something hot to drink. Good Heavens, what an eternity it has been! Oh, if you could only know what I've been calling myself!"
"I'm ashamed to admit it, dear, but I've been calling you things, too. And I've been so worried about you. How did you get away from that man?"
"Not now, dear. I'll meet you out here in the library in half an hour. I'll see about the luggage."
"You must change your clothes, Hugh. You're frightfully wet. Send my small trunk and bag right up, dear."
Like a thief and murderer, Hugh slunk out and attended to the trunks and bags, watching all the time for the dreaded plain-clothes man and his cohorts, trembling with a nervous fear so unbecoming in a strong man that the baggage master smiled in derision and imagined he was looking upon a "greenie" who was making his first voyage and was afraid of the sea. Offering up a prayer of thankfulness, he bolted into his own stateroom soon afterward and came forth later on in dry clothes and a new frame of mind. He was exuberant, happy once more.
They did not look like brother and sister as they sat on one of the wide sofas and drank the toddy that came from below in charge of a well-feed steward.
"Be careful, dear!" he warned, with returning reason. "They'll think we're bride and groom."
"Oh, dear me," she lamented. "It is almost out of the question to act like brother and sister after all we've been through to-night."
"Now, tell me all about it. How did it all work out for you," he asked eagerly.
"Well, it was all very simple—although I was frightened half to death—until I drove up to the spot where you saw me a little while ago. I thought it would be wise to take a look around before I tried to go aboard. Just as I left the cab a man rushed past me and I flew back into my seat like a bullet. He was a tall, slouchy fellow, with a sly look. All at once it came to me that he was a detective. You know, they're always mysterious looking. So I stayed in the cab trying to think what to do next. I was quite sure you had not yet arrived, for I had come down as quickly as possible. And I wasn't real sure, either, that you had escaped. I didn't know how many drinks it might take, dear."
"Don't let me forget to tell you how sorry I was for Mr. Plain Clothes and what I did afterward for the kids," interposed Hugh.
"Oh, I see. Well, pretty soon that awful man came out and stood at the corner. He was waiting for some one. He was nervous and sleuth-like. He acted so queerly that I was sure of it. He was after you and me. Of course, I nearly fainted. All the time I was afraid you would run right into his arms, so I was watching from both windows to warn you if possible. My plan was to get you into the cab and drive away like mad. Hours passed, it seemed to me, and—"
"I know the rest!" he cried, laughing so loud that the steward looked up reprovingly.
"Is everything ready, Hugh?" she asked anxiously. "The trunks, the tickets,—everything?"
"Yes, dear," he said tenderly, soberly. "We are ready for the sea."
"God be with us," she said wistfully.
MR. AND MISS RIDGE SAIL FOR MANILA
London. A thick fog, and the elopers on board the Tempest Queen, one of the fastest and most palatial of the liners which ply between England and the Far East, and for ten years under the command of Captain Shadburn, formerly of the British Navy. For the elopement was now an established fact, and Hugh, looking back on their Atlantic voyage, hoped that in this new ship fortune would be more propitious.
Excitement, an exaggerated dread of being followed by detectives, together with seasickness, had been too much for Grace, and all those weary days she had scarcely left her stateroom. Alone in her bunk, ticketed to the other side of the world, running away from nothing but a foolish aversion, the girl had felt her heart grow cold with a nameless dread, a clammy fear that she had undertaken something that she could not accomplish. Almost hourly each day of that unending voyage, Hugh would knock at her door and beg to be allowed to do something to alleviate her sufferings; then a thrill of new tenderness would dart into her soul as she thought of her champion for all time.
And Hugh. Never had time seemed such an eternity. Do what he would, he could not escape the Nemesis-like conviction that he had led the girl he loved into the most unheard-of folly; had carried her to the point where ruin stood on equal footing with success, and joy itself was a menace. Yet during all these days of torment concerning her enfeebled condition and his recklessness, he remembered with sardonic satisfaction that he had left in the safety vault, in Chicago, a full statement of their plans and intentions, with instructions to have the seal broken on March 30th, one year after date of deposit. If anything happened to them, this was to be the means of shedding light on the mystery. And when in New York he had deposited a second statement, with instructions to send it to Chicago on April 1st, one year later. In this he had made known their itinerary as fully as he could give it at the time. And although he cursed himself often for being a fool, there were moments, and especially as they neared the foreign shores, when he rejoiced over this maddest, jolliest of frolics.
The fact that the short rest in London had done wonders for Grace, together with the hurry and bustle incident to sailing, sent Hugh's spirits higher and higher. As the two watched the ship drawn away from the pier and dragged slowly into clearer waters, the knowledge that they were irrevocably consigned to the consummation of their project acted on him like a stimulant. Just before going on board he had asked, half-fearful that she was losing heart, if she still desired to complete the journey. He told her that it was not too late to turn back and that he would agree to any modification of the original plan that she might suggest.
There was not a waver in the clear brown eyes, nor a quiver in her voice as she replied. Instead, there was a flicker indicating injured pride, followed by the sweetest, tenderest smile that he ever had seen on her face.
"Dear old Hugh! Did I not tell you that I would go to the end of the world with you?"
"But we may go to the bottom of the sea," he interposed, seizing her hands, his face lighting up gladly.
"Then I shall go to the bottom of the sea with you. I never have felt the faintest desire to turn back. It has been my greatest happiness to think that some day we shall reach Manila, where our dear adventure may have its second and most delightful epoch. Would I turn back? Would you?" She looked divinely happy as she answered her first triumphant question with the second.
And so they sailed again.
As on their first voyage, their staterooms adjoined. Passage and accommodation had been booked for H.B. Ridge and Miss Ridge, Chicago, U.S.A.
The following morning, Grace was awakened by a rattling at her stateroom door.
"How are you feeling?" called a well-known voice rather anxiously.
"Quite well, thank you. Is it time to get up?"
"I should say so, Sis."
"All right; in ten minutes." As she set her feet upon the floor she observed a tendency on their part to touch twice before settling finally. A momentary dizziness came over her. She closed her eyes quickly and waited a moment before reopening them. Suddenly Hugh's photograph, which was leaning against her hat on the steamer trunk, ducked slowly toward her as if bowing a polite good-morning, and then fell face downward. Miss Vernon rubbed her eyes and stared at the overturned picture for a full minute before resuming her toilet. Then she laughed nervously and made all haste to get on deck. She was one of the few women who dress quickly and yet look well. Attired in a becoming gown, a jaunty cap, checked raincoat and rough brown gloves, she ventured forth expecting to find Hugh waiting for her. At the same time she was thanking her lucky stars that no longer need she fear the authorities.
Slightly dismayed and a little bewildered, she looked to the right and left, trying to remember which stateroom Hugh occupied. The left, she concluded, and forthwith applied her pretty knuckles to the panel; vigorously. The door flew open, almost taking her breath, and a tall, dark man stood before her, but he was not Hugh Ridgeway. He looked askance in a very polite way.
"I beg your pardon," she stammered in confusion. "I have made a mistake. This isn't Mr.—my brother's room, is it? Oh, dear, how absurd of me." She was turning away as she concluded.
"Can I be of service to you?" asked the stranger, stepping forth. He had a very pleasant voice, but she did not remark it at the time.
"No, I thank you," she hastily replied. "His room is on my right, I remember. Sorry if I disturbed you," and she was pounding on the other door. She glanced back at the stranger's door involuntarily and then away instantly. He was staring at her in a most uncalled-for manner.
And Hugh did not answer! She rapped again and—no response. The calm voice of the stranger came to her reddening ears.
"The gentleman who occupies that room just passed me, going on deck. Straight ahead. That's right." He called the last injunction after her swiftly departing form.
"Thank you," came back to him with a breath between the words. Hugh met her at the bottom of the steps. She rushed recklessly toward him and cried,
"Oh, you don't know how glad I am to see you. Where have you been, Hugh Ridgeway—"
"Sh! Ridge without the 'way.' For Heaven's sake, don't forget that. It's every bit as important on this ship as on the other. I've been on deck for a look. Say, are you all right? Are you still glad you're alive?" He was holding her hands and looking into her eyes.
"Of course I am. What a ridiculous question! None but the good die young, and I'm not very good or I wouldn't be running away with you. But come,—take me on deck. Is it raining? Why, your coat is wet. Hurry, Hugh; I want to take a good look," she cried, dragging him up the steps hilariously. A peculiar smile came to his face as he followed her to the deck.
Neither spoke for a full minute, she gazing dumbly at the bleak waste before her, he lovingly at her pretty, bewildered face.
"Where are we, Hugh?" she finally asked, terrified for the moment. "Where is London?"
"You are not afraid, are you, dearest?" he whispered, his strong arm stealing about her. "We are on the bounding main, ticketed for a port thousands of miles away. London is back there," pointing astern.
She placed her hand in his and looked out over the waters. Nothing but rain, leaden sky and rolling waves. What her thoughts were during the silence that followed he learned when she turned to him again, looking imploringly into his eyes.
"Hugh, you will always be good to me?"
"So long as I live, sweetheart," he said, pressing her hand firmly. For some time they stood alone and silent beneath the awning which covered the promenade, the sleety rain pattering dismally over their heads. But few of the passengers were above deck. Several officers were chatting at the end of the deck-house.
"We have not breakfasted yet, Grace, and I'm as hungry as a bear. Isn't it a relief, dear, not to feel the necessity any longer of keeping a sharp lookout for detectives? Those days on the Atlantic, every other man I met I thought was a sleuth-hound bent on capturing the million-dollar reward that has been offered for our capture by Chicago society."
They went below and found the dining saloon almost deserted. Two or three late risers were drinking a last cup of coffee. Then she told him of the mistake she had made, and together they scanned their fellow-passengers in search of the man who occupied the stateroom adjoining hers on the left. He did not appear for luncheon or dinner, and Hugh cheerfully accused her of murdering him.
The next morning, however, he was seated at the table, directly across from Hugh, a trifle pale and far from hungry. He was making a brave effort to conquer the sickness which had seized him. She nudged Hugh and nodded toward the quiet, subdued eater. He looked across and then gave her a questioning glance. She winked affirmatively.
"Poor devil," muttered Hugh. "I suppose he was just beginning to feel sick when you yanked him out, as if you were telling him the boat was on fire."
"Yanked him out? I did nothing but rap on his door. If he were sick, why did he open it and stare at me in such a remarkably healthy fashion?"
"Because you rapped, I suspect. It's no wonder that he stared at a beautiful young lady who had the temerity to visit him before breakfast. Nice-looking fellow, though, I'll say that much for your sake, sister. And what's more, I believe he's an American," said Hugh, surveying the stranger critically.
"I haven't observed his face," she responded curtly.
"How did you happen to recognize him? By his shoes? You naturally looked down when you saw your mistake, of course, but I don't see how you can get a glance of his shoes now, under the table."
"I mean I have not noticed whether his face is handsome, Hugh."
"Better take a look then. He's particularly good-looking with that piece of beefsteak in his check."
Grace glanced slyly at the man across the table, noting his pale cheeks and the dark rings beneath his eyes. Hugh had misrepresented the facts; he was not eating at all. Instead, he was merely toying with his fork, making uncertain circles in the layer of brown, gravy which covered the plate, his cheek resting on the other hand, a faraway look of distress in his eyes. They were directed at the plate, but saw it not.
"Poor fellow," she murmured compassionately; "he's been awfully sick, hasn't he?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Hugh heartlessly. "They don't go to eating in a day's time if they have been very sick."
A bright look flashed into her eyes and they danced with merriment as she whispered something in his ear.
"By George, maybe you're right. He's a detective and chasing us to earth."
The stranger looked at them in a half interested manner when they laughed aloud over the harrowing supposition. They noticed that his eyes were blue and bloodshot, wan and fatigued. He gave Grace a second glance, sharper than the first, and politely resumed his manufacture of circles in the brown gravy and brown study. Miss Vernon flushed slightly.
As they left the table she said to Hugh:
"He remembers me, but he certainly understands it was a mistake, doesn't he?" Hugh looked at her distressed face and laughed.
The weather later that morning was a delightful surprise for all. The sky had resumed its blue and the air was fresh and clear. Notwithstanding the pleasant weather, there was a heavy sea running, the ship rolling uncomfortably for those who were poor sailors. Deck chairs on all sides were occupied by persons who had heroically determined to make the most of the brightness about them.
The elopers found their chairs and joined the long line of spectators. Hugh glanced admiringly at Grace now and then. Her cheeks were warm and glowing, her eyes were bright and flashing with excitement, her whole being seemed charged with animation.
The wan-faced stranger followed them on deck a few minutes later. His eyes were riveted on a chair nearby and his long body moved swiftly toward it. Then came a deep roll, the deck seemed to throw itself in the air, and, with a startled look, he plunged headlong toward Miss Vernon's chair.
His knee struck the chair, but he managed to throw his body to one side. He went driving against the deck-house, sinking in a heap. Miss Vernon gave a little shriek of alarm and pity, and Ridgeway sprang to the side of the fallen man, assisting him to his feet. The stranger's face was drawn with momentary pain and his eyes were dazed.
"Pardon me," he murmured. "I am so very awkward. Have I hurt you?"
"Not in the least," cried she. "But I am afraid you are hurt. See! There is blood on your forehead." She instantly extended her handkerchief, and he accepted it in a bewildered sort of a way, placing it to his forehead, where a tiny stream of blood was showing itself.
"A piece of court plaster will stop the flow," said Hugh critically, and at once produced the article from his capacious pocket-book. Grace immediately appropriated it and asked for his knife.
"You are very good," said the stranger, again pressing the handkerchief to his head. The act revealed to him the fact that he was using her handkerchief for the purpose, soiling it, perhaps. His face flushed deeply and an embarrassed gleam came to his eyes. "Why, I am using your handkerchief. I assure you I did not know what I was doing when I took it from you. Have I ruined it?"
Miss Vernon laughed at his concern and her face brightened considerably. As she looked into his clear blue eyes and his square, firm face she observed for the first time that he was quite a handsome fellow.
"It won't soil it at all," she said.
"But it was thoughtless, even rude of me, to take yours when I had my own. I am so sorry."
"Do you think this will be large enough, Hugh?" she asked, holding up a piece of black court plaster. The stranger laughed.
"If the cut is as big as that I'd better consult a surgeon," he said. "About one-tenth of that, I should say."
"All right," she said cheerfully. "It is your wound."
"But you are the doctor," he protested.
"I dare say it is too big to look well. People might think you were dynamited. Does it pain you?" she asked solicitously. For an instant their eyes looked steadily, unwaveringly, into each other,—one of those odd, involuntary searches which no one can explain and which never happen but once to the same people.
"Not at all," he replied, glancing out over the tumbling waves with a look which proved they were strange to him. Hugh dashed away and soon returned with a glass of brandy, which the stranger swallowed meekly and not very gracefully. Then he sat very still while Grace applied the court-plaster to the little gash at the apex of a rapidly rising lump.
"Thank you," he said. "You are awfully good to a clumsy wretch who might have crushed you. I shall endeavor to repay you both for your kindness." He started to arise from Hugh's chair, but that gentleman pushed him back.
"Keep the chair until you get straightened out a bit. I'll show you how to walk deck in a rough sea. But pardon me, you are an American like ourselves, are you not? I am Hugh Ridge, and this is my sister—Miss Ridge."
"My name is Veath—Henry Veath," the other said as he bowed. "I am so glad to meet my own countrymen among all these foreigners. Again, let me thank you."
"Hardly a good sailor?" observed Hugh.
"As you may readily guess."
"It's pretty rough to-day. Are you going to Gibraltar and Spain?"
"Only as a bird of passage. I am going out for our government. It's a long and roundabout way they've sent me, but poor men must go where opportunity points the way. I assure you this voyage was not designed for my pleasure. However, I enjoyed a couple of days in London."