BARTON W. CURRIE & AUGUSTIN McHUGH
A. L. BURT COMPANY
Copyright, 1912, By The H. K. Fly Company
I. A Grapefruit Prelude. 9 II. Mr. Hogg Enters the Lists. 15 III. Whitney Barnes Under Fire. 21 IV. Smiles and Tears. 28 V. Whitney Barnes Telephones to the Ritz. 33 VI. Officer 666 on Patrol. 38 VII. The Little Brown Jap. 44 VIII. Art, Mystery and Love. 50 IX. The Curse of Millions. 56 X. The Heartbeats of Mr. Hogg. 61 XI. Gainsborough "Blue Boy." 65 XII. Approaching a World of Mystery. 73 VIII. Travers Gladwin Gets a Thrill. 77 XIV. Thrill Begets Thrill. 83 XV. Heroism, Love and Something Else. 90 XVI. The Torment of Officer 666. 96 XVII. Travers Gladwin Is Considerably Jarred. 100 XVIII. Sadie Becomes a Conspirator. 106 XIX. Helen Leaves an Important Message. 112 XX. Michael Phelan to the Rescue. 118 XXI. Travers Gladwin Goes in Search of Himself. 127 XXII. A Millionaire Policeman on Patrol. 133 XXIII. Old Grim Barnes Gets a Thrill. 142 XXIV. Auntie Takes the Trail. 148 XXV. Phelan Meets His Uniform Again. 159 XXVI. Gladwin Meets Himself. 168 XXVII. Misadventures of Whitney Barnes. 179 XXVIII. An Instance of Epic Nerve. 187 XXIX. In Which the Hero Is Kept on the Hop. 192 XXX. Gladwin Comes out of His Shell. 202 XXXI. A Visit to the Exiled Phelan. 207 XXXII. In Which Bluff Is Trumps. 214 XXXIII. Bateato Summons Big Much Police. 222 XXXIV. Phelan Loses His Bribe. 228 XXXV. Bateato Keeps His Promise. 236 XXXVI. Repartee and a Revolver Muzzle. 247 XXXVII. Handcuffs and Love. 254 XXXVIII. Kearney Meets His Match. 262 XXXIX. Piling on Phelan's Agony. 269 XL. Striking While the Iron Is Hot. 278 XLI. The Escape. 285 XLII. Michael Phelan's Predicament. 291 XLIII. The Circumvention of Auntie. 298 XLIV. Miss Featherington's Shattered Dream. 304
His gaze had wandered to the great chest, the lid of which was distinctly rising. Frontispiece "Now here's a cunning little line", he pursued. "That shows something too." 110 "Give me me uniform an' let me git out of here." 164 "He's almost as madly in love with her as I am." 282
The Publishers wish to acknowledge, with thanks, the permission to use some sketches of the H. C. MINER LITHOGRAPHING COMPANY in illustrating this book.
A GRAPEFRUIT PRELUDE.
Splash! The grapefruit hit her in the eye!
Splash! His psychic wave was dashed to smithereens!
"Oh! Oh!" the two girls screamed in unison.
"D——!" the young man sitting near ejaculated.
For ten minutes there in the Oak Room of the Ritz-Carlton he had been hurling across the narrow intervening space this mental command to the girl facing him:
"Look here! Look at me! Let me see your eyes! Look here!"
For half that time she had been conscious of his insistent gaze and his message. But with as much will power as he himself displayed she bent her head over her plate and sent back along his telepathic transmission this reply:
"I won't! I won't!"
But she was weakening.
"Sadie," she said to her companion, "I do awfully want to look up. I want to see who is looking at me so fiercely. I can just feel it all through me. Of course it wouldn't be proper, would it?"
"Well, that all depends on who is looking at you, dear, doesn't it? If it were some horrid old man"—
"No, it doesn't feel a bit like that, Sadie. I don't know just how to explain it—really it isn't unpleasant at all."
"Why, Helen! And you engaged and going to elo"——
"Hush, Sadie, you mustn't say that in here. Somebody might—but I positively cannot keep my eyes down another moment. I'm"——
A vicious little jab of the spoon and there followed a disastrous geyser—a grapefruit geyser.
With a smothered little cry of pain Helen's eyes shut tight and she groped for her napkin. And to make a good job of it the Fates dragged in at that moment Helen's guardian aunt, the tall and statuesque Mrs. Elvira Burton of Omaha, Neb.
The young man who had failed so signally in what was perhaps his maiden effort at hypnotism viciously seized all the change the waiter proffered on the little silver tray, flung it back with a snarl, got up and stamped out of the room.
He was a mighty good looking chap, smartly attired, and if you care for details, he wore a heliotrope scarf in which there gleamed a superb black pearl for which he had paid a superb price.
"Can you beat it!" he muttered as he climbed the stairs to the lobby and mingled with the throng that stood about in stiff groups, idly chattering and looking as if they bored one another to the verge of desperation.
"Can you beat it!" he exclaimed again, fairly biting off the words.
So vehemently occupied was he with his chagrin and annoyance that he stamped heavily upon the pet corn of a retired rear admiral, rudely bumped a Roumanian duchess, kicked the pink poodle of a famous prima donna and brought up with a thud against the heroic brawn and muscle of the house detective, who stood as solidly in the middle of the lobby as if he had taken root somewhere down in the foundations.
"Can I beat what?" asked the house detective frigidly.
My, but he was an angry young man, and he fairly snarled at the magnificent individual he had collided with:
"Beat a drum, beat an egg, beat around the bush—go as far as you like—beat your grandmother if you prefer!"
The granite faced house detective was not used to that sort of treatment; furthermore it distinctly galled him to be asked to beat his grandmother, whom he recalled as an estimable old lady who made an odd noise when she ate soup, owing to an absence of teeth.
"What's that you said about my grandmother?" he said, bridling.
"Bother your grandmother," shot back the insolent retort, whereat the lordly house detective plucked the young man by the arm.
"Staggerin' an' loony talk don't go in the Ritz," he said under his breath. "You've been havin' too much."
"Preposterous!" exclaimed the young man, vainly endeavoring to shake his arm free.
"Are you a guest of the house?" demanded the immaculately garbed minion of the Ritz.
"I am, so kindly remove the pair of pincers you are crushing my arm with."
"What's your name?"
"I don't know—that is, I've forgotten."
"Now I know you need lookin' after. Come over here to the desk."
The house detective had manifested no more outward passion than a block of ice, and so adroit was he in marching the young man to the desk that not an eye in the lobby was attracted to the little scene.
The young man was at first inclined to make a fuss about it and demand an abject apology for this untoward treatment. The absurdity of his predicament, however, stirred his sense of humor and he was meekly docile when his captor arraigned him at the desk and addressed one of the clerks:
"Do you know this young man, Mr. Horton?"
"Why, yes, Reagan—this is Mr. Smith—why"—
"That's it—Smith!" cried the young man. "How could I ever forget that name? Thomas Smith, isn't it, Mr. Horton, or is it James?"
"Thomas, of course; at least that's the way you registered, Mr. Smith—Thomas Smith and valet." The clerk's eyebrows started straight up his head.
"Thomas Smith, exactly. Now are you satisfied, Mr. House Detective, or do you want to go up and examine my luggage? Having convinced you that I am a registered guest, how would you like to have me walk a chalk line and convince you that I am sober?"
The house detective froze up tighter than ever, pivoted on his heel and walked majestically away.
"What is the trouble, Mr. Smith?" asked the clerk deferentially, for he was a better student of exteriors than John Reagan, twenty years a precinct detective and retired to take up the haughtier role of plain-clothes man in this most fastidious of metropolitan hostelries.
"No trouble at all, old chap," laughed the young man. "I lost my little capri, and then by accident I discovered a stray member of the herd belonging to yonder Ajax. Some day he's going to turn into solid marble from the dome down, when you will have a most extraordinary piece of statuary on your hands. By the way, have there been any telephone messages for me? I am expecting a very important one."
"I will see, Mr. Smith," said the clerk briskly, and began searching through the pigeonholes. "Yes, Mr. Whitney Barnes called up—left word he would call up again at 2 sharp. Will you be in your room, sir?"
"Do you think I'll be safe in my room?" asked the young man solemnly.
"Safe!" exclaimed the clerk. "Why, what do you mean, sir?"
"Oh, nothing, only Sir Ivory Ajax seems suspicious of me and might take it into his head to come up and see if I hadn't murdered my valet. That's all. I'm going to my room now to wait for Mr. Barnes's telephone call. Kindly be sure that he is connected with my room."
"There is something strange about that young fellow," murmured the clerk as he watched the object of suspicion vanish into the lift. "Though if he is a friend of Whitney Barnes," the clerk added after a pause, "he ought to be all right. I think I'll look him up in the Social Register."
Which he did—without enlightenment.
MR. HOGG ENTERS THE LISTS.
Having arrived in the grill room of the Ritz coincident with a devastating eruption of grapefruit, Mrs. Elvira Burton set out forthwith to demonstrate that her unexpected advent was likewise somewhat in the nature of a lemon. Even her smile was acid as she spread out her rich sable furs and sat down at the table with her two pretty nieces.
"I have just received a letter from Mr. Hogg, Helen," she began with a rush, regardless of the anguish that was still evident in Helen's lovely grapefruit bespattered eyes.
A twinge of something more than mere physical pain twisted the young girl's features at the mention of the name—Hogg.
"Oh, auntie," she almost sobbed, "can't you leave Mr. Hogg out of my luncheon. We had him last night for dinner and again this morning for breakfast."
"Helen!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton in accents of bitter reproach.
"I just won't have him for luncheon, and with all this grapefruit in my eye," insisted Helen, hotly.
"It must hurt terribly," sympathized Mrs. Burton's other pretty charge, then twisted her head and looked behind her.
"What are you looking at, Sadie?" demanded Mrs. Burton, suspiciously.
Sadie turned with a start and blushed furiously. She started to stammer a reply when the less timid cousin came to her rescue.
"Some ridiculous man was trying to flirt with us and we were both awfully nervous. I suppose Sadie looked to see if you had frightened him off."
The blushing Sadie was amazed at her cousin's resourcefulness, and stole a glance from under the curling fuzz of her golden bang to note the effect produced upon her august guardian and aunt. Mrs. Burton groped in her mind for some subtlety that might have been contained in her niece's remark, failed at any plausible solution and then almost vindictively returned to her original line of attack.
"Helen Burton, I must insist that you listen to me. I have broken an engagement for the matinee with my friend, Mrs. Hobbs-Smathers of Chicago, for the express purpose of communicating to you the contents of Mr. Hogg's letter. He informs me, Helen, that you are treating him scandalously; that you do not pay the slightest attention to his letters or even answer his telegrams."
"Did he say he was getting thin—that would be charming," teased the incorrigible Helen.
Mrs. Burton gasped and the color surged into her cheeks in two flaming danger signals. The glance she turned upon the mischievously laughing eyes of her niece was intended to annihilate every vestige of frivolity. Her ample bosom struggled in its purple velvet casement. Sadie Burton actually shook in her tiny boots as she pictured her aunt in one of her hysterical outbursts right there in the midst of a host of strangers who seemed to the unsophisticated miss from Omaha to represent the very cream of New York society.
Even Helen was sobered by the gathering storm warnings. The smile left her curving red lips and the dimples vanished. All that lingered of her playful humor showed in the impish lights that danced in her expressive eyes.
But she was spared the storm. A tiny page, resplendant with myriad buttons, appeared in the entrance to the Oak Room and lisped the name:
"Mith Helen Burthon."
He bore in his arms a bouquet of magnificent orchids. Every eye in the room focussed upon the tiny flower bearer, among them the wrathful pair of Mrs. Elvira Burton.
"Mith Helen Burthon."
The rage of the older woman had somewhat cooled. She managed to nod her head haughtily to the boy. He came forward briskly with his precious burden of blooms and laid them on the table, then right-about-faced with military precision and marched away.
Now it was Helen Burton's turn to blush and her agitation was as pretty to see as anything those who continued to stare in her direction had ever witnessed. Her dimples were positive hollows from which her blushes seemed to fountain. She did not reach for the bouquet, though, because her hand trembled so and there was actual fear in her eyes as she shrank back in her seat and regarded her aunt.
Mrs. Burton was not loath to seize upon any leverage that might give her sway over her rebellious niece. With a smile that was unequivocally malicious she slowly raised the bunch of orchids and turned them over. The bouquet was tied with a delicate mauve satin ribbon that perfectly matched the gown worn by her niece.
Mrs. Burton looked at the ribbon and then at Helen's dress. There was accusation in the glance. Her eyes studied the orchids. They were of a peculiar rich golden brown, matching the splendor of Miss Burton's hair. There was conviction in the second glance. She turned the bouquet over several times, looking for a card.
There was none.
Now, here was a mystery! Could Miss Helen explain? Mrs. Burton inhaled a deep breath, then said with exaggerated sweetness:
"Helen, dear, who could have sent you these beautiful flowers? They are positively superb. He must certainly be an artist."
Great as was her first panic, the young girl quickly rallied to her own defense. She had only waited to be sure there was no card, no incriminating mark of identification. She leaned forward on her elbows, sighed rapturously and exclaimed:
"Aren't they exquisite, Aunt El!"
"I asked you, Helen dear, who could have sent them?" There was something distinctly feline in the purring tones as the question was repeated.
"Why, isn't there any card, Aunt El?" fenced the girl.
"Come, come, my dear, why keep me in suspense? You can see there is no card. Can it be one of the young men we met at the Grangers last night? I hardly think so, for it is execrably bad form to send flowers to a public dining room by a page in buttons."
Helen shook her head and assumed an air of great perplexity. She stole a glance across the table at Sadie, but that shy little cousin seemed on the verge of tears. Mrs. Burton intercepted the wireless appeal and shifted her cross-questioning to Sadie. She was determined to unravel the mystery. She read Sadie's panic as a symptom of guilty knowledge.
But Sadie was loyal to the cousin and chum she adored and proved surprisingly game under fire. Indeed, she succeeded in breaking down her aunt's cross-examination and bringing the inquest to ruins by suddenly clapping her hands and blurting:
"Maybe Mr. Hogg sent them by telegraph."
The outrageous absurdity of the statement gave it cataclysmic force. Helen embraced Sadie with her eyes and then added her own broadside:
"That really was splendid of him, Auntie El? Now you can tell me all about his letter."
"I will reserve that until later," said Mrs. Burton, icily. "If you have finished your luncheon, Helen, please pay the check and we shall go."
WHITNEY BARNES UNDER FIRE.
Joshua Barnes, sometimes referred to in the daily press as Old Grim Barnes, the mustard millionaire, turned suddenly upon his son and pinioned him:
"Why don't you get married?"
"That's just it, pater—why don't I?" replied the young man, blandly.
"Well, why don't you, then?" stormed Joshua Barnes, banging his fist down upon the mahogany table. "It's time you did."
Another bang lifted the red-headed office boy in the next room clear out of Deep Blood Gulch just as Derringer Dick was rescuing the beautiful damsel from the Apaches. Even Miss Featherington dropped "The Mystery of the Purple Room" on the floor and made a wild onslaught on the keys of her typewriter.
Whitney Barnes smiled benevolently upon his parent and nonchalantly lighted a cigarette.
"As I've said before," he parried easily between the puffing of smoke rings, "I haven't found the girl."
"Dod rot the girl," started Joshua Barnes, then stopped.
"Now, you know, my dear father, that I couldn't treat my wife like that. The trouble with you, pater, is that you reason from false premises."
"Nothing of the sort," choked out Barnes senior. "You know well enough what I mean, young man. You have any number of—of—well, eligible young ladies, to choose from. You go everywhere and meet everybody. And you spend my money like water."
"Somebody has got to spend it," spoke up the sole heir to the mustard millions, cheerfully. "I'll tell you what I'll do, pater—you stop making it and I'll stop spending it. That's a bargain. It'll be a great lark for us both. It keeps me awake nights figuring out how I'm going to spend it and it keeps you awake nights puzzling over how you can make it—or, that is, make more of it."
"Stop!" thundered Joshua Barnes. "For once in my life, Whitney Barnes, I am going to have a serious talk with you. If your poor mother had only lived all this wouldn't have been necessary. She'd have had you married off and there'd be a houseful of grand-children by this time, and"——
"Just a moment, pater—did triplets or that sort of thing ever run in our family?"
"Certainly not! What are you driving at?"
"Nothing; nothing, my father. Only I was just wondering. We have a pretty big house, you know."
For a moment Joshua Barnes seemed on the verge of apoplexy, but he came around quickly, and moreover with a twinkle in his eye. Even a life devoted to mustard has its brighter side and Old Grim Barnes was not entirely devoid of a sense of humor. He was his grim old self again, however, when he resumed:
"Again I insist that you be serious. I intend that you shall be married within a year. Otherwise I will put you to work on a salary of ten dollars a week and compel you to live on it. If you persist in refusing to interest yourself in my business, the business that my grandfather founded and that my father and I built up, you can at least settle down and lead a respectable married life.
"To be candid with you, Whitney," and Joshua Barnes's big voice suddenly softened, "I want to see some little grand-children round me before I die. I have some pride of blood, my boy, and I want to see our name perpetuated. You have frivolled enough, Whitney. You are twenty-four. I can honestly thank God that you've been nothing more than a fool. You are not vicious."
"Thanks, awfully, pater. Being nothing more than a fool I suppose it is up to me to get married. Very well, then, I will. Give me your hand, dad; it's a bargain."
Whitney Barnes tossed away his cigarette and grasped his father's hand in both of his. He had become intensely serious. There was a depth of affection in that handclasp that neither father nor son permitted to show above the surface. Yet both felt it keenly within. Picking up his hat and stick, the tall, slim, graceful young man said:
"You have no further commands on the subject, dad? Do you want to pick the girl, or will you leave it to the taste and sometimes good judgment of a fool?"
"Haven't you any one in mind, son?" asked Joshua Barnes, anxiously.
"Absolutely not one, pater. You see, the trouble is that I can't ever seem to get real chummy with a girl but what her mother has to come and camp on my trail and scare me into fits. You haven't the least idea what a catch your son is, Joshua Barnes. Why, a mother-in-law looks to me like something in petticoats that comes creeping up with a catlike tread, carrying in one hand a net and in the other a bale-hook. I can't sit out two dances with a debutante before this nightmare is looking over my shoulder, grinning like a gargoyle and counting up the number of millions you are going to leave me."
"Oh, bosh!" ejaculated Joshua Barnes. "It's all in your fool imagination. Grow up and be a man, Whitney. You have given me your word and I expect you to make good. And by the way, son, there is my old friend Charley Calker's girl, just out of college. I hear she's a stunner."
"Mary Calker is a stunner, dad, and then a trifle. But I regret to say that she is too fresh from the cloistered halls of learning. You see I have been out of college three years and have managed to forget such a jolly lot that I really couldn't talk to her. She'd want me to make love in Latin and correspond in Greek. Worse than that, she understands Browning. No, poor Mary will have to marry a prescription clerk, or a florist or something else out of the classics. But, don't lose heart, pater, I may be engaged before night. By-by."
It was a vastly more solemn Whitney Barnes who strolled out of the office of the mustard magnate and dragged his feet through the anteroom where sat Marietta Featherington and Teddie O'Toole. The comely Miss Featherington could scarcely believe what she saw from under her jutting puffs.
This good looking, dandified young man, with his perpetual smile and sparkling gray eyes had long been her conception of all that was noble and cultured and aristocratic. He was her Viscount Reginald Vere de Vere, speaking to her as from between yellow paper covers. He was her prince incognito who fell in love with Lily, the Lovely Laundress. He had threaded the mazes of more than one of her palpitating dreams, and in her innermost heart of hearts she had cherished the fond belief that one day their orbs would meet and their souls would rush together in such a head-on collision as is sometimes referred to as love at first sight. But in Miss Featherington's hero worship gloom had no part. Her ideals never ceased to smile, whether they slew or caressed, and perpetually they carried themselves with a jaunty swing or a dashing stride.
The fact that there had been storm mutterings within the awful cave of Old Grim Barnes had never before had a depressing effect upon her hero. He had always sallied forth with airy tread, humming a tune or laughing with his eyes. What could have happened at this fateful meeting? Perhaps he had been disinherited. Rapture of raptures, he had confessed his love for some howling beauty of humble station, had been cut off with the inevitable shilling and was now going forth to earn his bread.
Marietta Featherington's heart came up and throbbed in her throat as Whitney Barnes suddenly wheeled and confronted her. Leaning back upon his cane, he looked at her—very, very solemnly.
"Miss Featherington," he pronounced slowly, "I wish to ask you a question. May I?"
Marietta was sure that her puffs were on fire, so fierce was the heat that blazed under her fair skin. She concentrated all her mental forces in an effort to summon an elegant reply. But all she could get out was a stifled:
"Thank you, Miss Featherington," said the young man. "My question is this: Do you believe in soul mates? That is, do you, judging from what you have observed and any experience you may have had, believe that true love is controlled by the hand of Fate or that you yourself can take hold and guide your own footsteps in affairs of the heart?"
Teddie O'Toole had crammed "Deep Blood Gulch" into his hip pocket and was grinning from ear to ear.
Miss Featherington was positive that her puffs were all ablaze. She could almost smell them burning. She looked down and she looked up and she drew a long, desperate sigh.
"I believe in Fate!" she said with emotion that would have done honor to Sarah Bernhardt.
"Thank you, Miss Featherington," said Whitney Barnes, with profound respect, then turned on his heel and went out into the corridor of the great office building.
Unconsciously he had dealt a ruthless blow and there is not a scintilla of doubt but that he was responsible for the box on the ears that made Teddie O'Toole's head ring for the remainder of the day and thereby took all the flavor from the thrills he had found in "Deep Blood Gulch."
SMILES AND TEARS.
"Now there is no use in your arguing, Sadie—I love him and I have given him my promise."
The two cousins were alone again speeding up Fifth avenue in an automobile, a long-bodied foreign car that had been put at the disposal of Mrs. Burton by the New York agent of Mr. Hogg. The Omaha suitor for the hand of the fair Helen had also thrown in a red-headed French chauffeur, which is travelling a bit in the matter of chauffeurs. But as he understood only automobile English it was a delightful arrangement for Helen and Sadie, and permitted them absolute freedom of speech while riding behind him.
"If I had only known him longer, or had been introduced to him differently," sighed Sadie.
"But haven't I known all about him for years?" protested Helen Burton. "Of course, we were only school girls when he made that wonderful rescue at Narragansett Pier. Don't you remember how we rushed down to the beach to see him, but got there just too late? He had gone out to his yacht or something. Oh, it was just splendid, Sadie. And he is so wonderfully modest about it. Why, when I reminded him of his heroism he pretended to have forgotten all about it. Just imagine Mr. Hogg forgetting a thing like that! Do you know what Jabez Hogg would do under similar circumstances, Sadie Burton? Well, I'll tell you—he'd hire the biggest hall in Omaha and reproduce the whole thing with moving pictures as an advertisement for his beef canneries."
The young girl had worked herself into a passion and was making savage little gestures with her clenched fists.
"But what I can't understand, Helen dear, is why a man like Travers Gladwin should make such a mystery of himself and try to avoid introducing you to his friends. I am sure," persisted Sadie, despite the gathering anger in her companion's eyes, "that Aunt Elvira would not object to him. You know she is just crazy to break into the swim here in New York, and the Gladwins are the very best of people. I think it wouldn't take much to urge her even to throw over Mr. Hogg for Gladwin, if you'd only let her take charge of the wedding."
"Nothing of the sort," denied Helen hotly. "Aunt Elvira is bound on her solemn word of honor to Mr. Hogg. She will fight for him to the last ditch, though she knows I hate him."
"Don't you think, Helen," said the younger girl, more soberly, "that you are simply trying to make yourself look at it that way? I know Mr. Hogg isn't a pretty man and he has an awful name, but"——
"There is no but about it, Sadie Burton. I have given my word to Travers Gladwin and I am going to elope with him to-night. I packed my trunk this morning and gave the porter $10 to take it secretly to the Grand Central Station. Travers told me just how to arrange it. Oh, there's his house now, Sadie; the big white one on the corner. It just thrills me to go by it. On our way back from Riverside Drive we must stop there. I must leave word that auntie insists on our going to the opera and that I won't be able to get to him at the time we agreed."
"Oh, I do wish something would turn up and prevent it," cried Sadie, almost in tears.
"You horrid little thing!" retorted Helen. "It is dreadful of you to talk like that when you know how much I care for him."
"It isn't that I don't think you care for him," returned Sadie with trembling lip. "It's something inside of me that warns me. All this secrecy frightens me. I can't understand why a man of Travers Gladwin's wealth and social position would want to do such a thing."
"But we both have tried to tell you," insisted Helen, "that there is an important business reason for it."
"He didn't tell what that reason was," persisted the tearfully stubborn cousin. "You admitted he didn't give you any definite reason at all."
Helen Burton stamped her foot and bit her lip. By this time the big touring car was gliding through the East Drive of Central Park with the swift, noiseless motion that denotes the highest development of the modern motor vehicle. Fully a mile of the curving roadway had slid under the wheels of the car before Helen resumed the conversation with the sudden outburst:
"You don't doubt for an instant, Sadie, that he is a gentleman!"
Sadie made no reply.
"His knowledge of painting and art is simply wonderful. At that art sale, where we met, he knew every painting at a glance. He didn't even have to look for the signatures. You know, if it hadn't been for him I would have bought that awful imitation Fragonard and just thrown away two months of my allowance. Sadie Burton, he is the cleverest man I ever met. He has travelled everywhere and knows everything, and I love him, I love him, I love him!" In proof of which the charming young woman burst into tears and took refuge in her vast muff.
This sentimental explosion was too much for tender-hearted Sadie. She gave way completely and swore not to breathe another word in opposition to the elopement. And as she felt her beloved cousin's body shaken with sobs, she forced herself to go into ecstasies over Travers Gladwin's manly beauty and god-like intellect. In her haste to soothe she went to extravagant lengths and cried:
"And he must have looked heavenly in his bathing suit when he made that wonderful rescue."
Down fell Helen's muff with as much of a crash as a muff could make and she turned upon her companion the most profoundly shocked expression of a bride-about-to-be.
"Sadie," she reproved stiffly, "you have gone far enough."
Whereupon it was Sadie's turn to seek the sanctuary of tears.
WHITNEY BARNES TELEPHONES TO THE RITZ.
Glancing up into the solemn face of an unusually good-looking young man who wore his silk hat at a jaunty angle and whose every detail of attire suggested that he was of that singularly blessed class who toil not neither do they spin, Miss Mamie McCorkle, public telephone operator in the tallest-but-one skyscraper below the Fulton street dead line, expected to be asked to look up some number in the telephone book and be generously rewarded for the trifling exertion. It wasn't any wonder, then, that she broke the connections of two captains of industry and one get-rich-quick millionaire when this was what she got:
"Suppose, my dear young lady, that you had a premonition—a hunch, I might say—that you were destined this current day of the calendar week to meet your Kismet in petticoats, wouldn't it make you feel a bit hollow inside and justify you in taking your first drink before your customary hour for absorbing the same?"
Usually a live wire at repartee, Mamie McCorkle was stumped. With a captain of industry swearing in each ear and the get-rich-quick millionaire trying to break in with his more artistic specialties in profanity, she was for a moment frozen into silence. When she did come to the surface, she set the captains of industry down where they belonged, retorted upon the get-rich-quick millionaire that he was no gentleman and she hoped he would inform the manager she said so and then raised her eyebrows at the interrogator who leaned against her desk.
"If that's an invitation to lunch, No! I'm already dated," she said. "If you're trying to kid me, ring off, the line is busy."
"All of which," said the young man, in the same slow, sober voice, "is sage counsel for the frivolous. I am not. As you look like a very sensible young woman, I put a sensible question to you. Perhaps my language was vague. What I meant to convey was: do you think I would be justified in taking a drink at this early hour of the day to brace me for the ordeal of falling in love with an unknown affinity?"
"If your language is personal," replied Miss McCorkle, with a sarcastic laugh, "my advice is to take six drinks. I'm in love with a chauffeur."
"Good," said the young man, brightly, "and may I ask if it was a sudden or a swift affair?"
"Swift," snapped Miss McCorkle. "He ran over my stepmother, then brought her home. I let him in. We were engaged next day. Here's the ring, one and one-half carats, white!—now, what number do you want?"
"A thousand thanks—get me the Ritz-Carlton, please, and don't break this ten-dollar bill. I hate change, it spoils the set of one's pockets."
As Whitney Barnes squeezed himself into the booth, Miss McCorkle squinted one eye at the crisp bill he had laid before her and smiled.
"There's more than one way," she thought, "of being asked not to listen to dove talk, and I like this method best."
The shrewd hello girl, however, had erred in the case of Whitney Barnes, for this is the way his end of the conversation in booth No. 7 ran:
—This the Ritz? Yes. Kindly connect me with Mr. Smith.
—What Smith? Newest one you got. Forget the first name. Thomas Smith, you say. Well, give me Tom.
—Hello, there, Trav—that is, Tom, or do you prefer Thomas?
—What's that? Came in by way of Boston on a Cunarder? What's all the row? Read you were in Egypt, doing the pyramids.
—Can't explain over the wire, eh. Hope it isn't a divorce case; they're beastly.
—Ought to know you better than that. Say, what's the matter with your little angora?
—Be serious; it's no joking matter. Well, if it wasn't serious how could I joke about it? You can't joke about a joke.
—I'm a fool! I wonder where I heard that before. Oh, yes—a few minutes ago. My paternal parent said the same thing.
—Can I meet you at your house? Where is it? I ought to know? I don't see why, you keep building it over all the time and then go way and leave it for two years at a stretch. Then when you do come home you go and live under the——
—Cut that out! My glory, but there is a mystery here.
—Certainly, I don't want to spoil everything.
—Have I an engagement? I should say I have. Just you call up Joshua Barnes and ask for the dope on it—a whole flock of engagements bunched into one large contract, the biggest I ever tackled.
—No, I guess it won't prevent me from meeting you. Not unless I happen to see her on the way uptown.
—Blessed if I know her any more than you. Wish I did, but whoever she is she's got to be pretty awful horrible nice.
—Have I been drinking? No; but you better have one ready for me. Seen any of the chaps at the club? What's that? You gave it a wide berth. This is beginning to sound like a detective novel or a breach of promise case.
—You don't tell me. Really, I'd never looked at myself in that light before. Sure, I'm stuck on myself. Head over heels in love with myself. I'm a classy little party, I am, and you better make the best of me while I'm here. Where am I going? Nowhere in particular. Just going to merge my individuality, bite a chunk out of an apple and get kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
—Now you're sure I'm piffled. No such luck. Trav—that is, Mr. Smith—Mr. Thomas Smith! Shall I ask for Smith when I drop up at that little marble palace of yours? No. Oh, Bateato will be there if you happen to be delayed. How is the little son of Nippon? Oh, that's good. Five sharp. Tata, Smitty, old chap. By Jove, he's rung off with a curse——
OFFICER 666 ON PATROL.
Michael Phelan had been two years on the force and considered himself a very fly young man. He had lost something of his romantic outline during the six months he pounded the Third avenue pave past two breweries and four saloons to a block, and it was at his own request, made through his mother's second cousin, District Leader McNaught, that he had been provided with a saloonless beat on Fifth avenue.
A certain blue-eyed, raven-haired nursemaid, who fed a tiny millionaire with a solid gold spoon and trundled an imported perambulator along the east walk of Central Park, may have had something to do with Patrolman Phelan's choice of beat, but he failed to mention the fact to his mother. He laid it all on the breweries and the temptations they offered.
Humble as was Michael Phelan's station on the force, he was already famous from the wooded wastes of Staten Island to the wilds of the Bronx. Even the graven-featured chief inspector permitted himself to smile when the name of Michael Phelan was mentioned.
He was a fresh, rosy-cheeked, greener-than-grass probationary cop when fame came to him all in one clap and awoke a thunderous roll of laughter throughout the city.
It was his first detail on the lower east side in the precinct commanded from the Eldridge street station. The time was July and the day was a broiler. He was sitting in the reserve room playing dominoes with the doorman and mopping his forehead with a green bandana when the captain sent for him.
"Phelan," said the captain shortly, "there's a lady dead without a doctor at 311 Essex street, three flights up, rear. They've told the Coroner's Office, but all the Coroners are busy. The corpse is a lone widow lady with no kin, so you go up and take charge and wait for the Coroner."
Officer 666 tipped his cap with military salute and set out. Turning the corner into Essex street, he met plain-clothes man Tim Feeney, who stopped him and asked him where he was bound. Michael Phelan explained and then said:
"Tim, if you don't mind, will you give me a tip? What do I do when I get up to that flat, and how long will I have to wait?"
"You'll have to wait, Mike," replied Tim Feeney, "till the Coroner gets good and ready to come. When you get to the flat don't knock; walk right in. Then sit down by the bed and wait. Be sure you keep the door shut and let no soul in till the Coroner arrives."
"It'll be powerful hot and I'm perishing o' thirst now," said Mike.
"Take off your coat," said Tim, "and send a kid for a can of beer. When you hear the Coroner comin' slip the can under the bed."
Tim Feeney went on his way with his hand over his mouth.
Patrolman Phelan had missed the twinkle in Tim Feeney's eye and a few minutes later found him sitting beside a bed with his coat off and a foaming can on the floor by his chair. On his way up the steep, narrow staircases he had met a boy and sent him for the liquid refreshment. He had instructed the lad where to deliver the beer and had gone quietly in to his unpleasant vigil.
The door he opened led directly into the bedroom. He had glanced once at the bed and then looked away with a shudder. Perspiration fairly cascaded down his flaming cheeks as he tiptoed to a chair and placed it beside the bed. He placed his chair at a slight angle away from the bed and then fixed his eyes on the opposite wall. When he heard the tread of the boy in the hall he made a pussy-footed dash for the door, took in the growler, shut the boy out and buried his face in the froth. He was in better heart, but still mighty uneasy when he wiped his mouth on the back of his fist.
Somewhere in the flat a clock ticked dismally. Through two small open windows puffed superheated gusts of air. The muffled clamor of many voices in strange tongues sifted through the windows and walls, but served only to increase the awful stillness in the room. Despite his efforts to the contrary, Phelan stole a glance at the bed, then looked away while his heart stopped beating. There was a naked foot where he had seen only a sheet before.
"Mebbe the wind blew it off," he tried to tell himself, but something inside him rejected the explanation and he felt an icy finger drawn up and down his spine. Again he plunged his head into the capacious can and succeeded in reviving his heart action.
More minutes of dreadful suspense passed. A leaden silence had filled the sweltering room. Even the voices of the tenements had died away to a funereal murmur. Battle as he did with all his will, Phelan's eyes were again drawn from their fixed gaze upon the wall, and what he saw this time induced a strangling sensation.
Three toes had distinctly wiggled.
He withdrew his eyes on the instant and his shaking hand reached down for the can. His fingers had barely touched it when an awful shriek rent the air. The shriek came from the bed, and it was followed by a second yell and then by a third.
Michael Phelan did not open the door as he passed out. It was not a very strong door and it went down like cardboard before the impact. The third shriek awoke the echoes just as Officer 666 was coasting down the stairs on the seat of his departmental trousers. His departmental coat and his departmental hat were in no way connected with his precipitate transit. A raging Polish woman brought these details of Michael's uniform to the Eldridge street station a little later. Likewise she prefered charges against Phelan that come under the heading of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman."
It was a tremendous trial, in the course of which the Deputy Police Commissioner who sat in judgment barely missed having a serious stroke. It was adduced in evidence that Officer 666 had entered the wrong flat, the Coroner's case being one flight up.
But while the whole town rocked with laughter Michael Phelan failed to see the joke, and his hatred of Precinct Detective Tim Feeney never cooled. That he got off with a light sentence of one day's fine did not in the least improve his humor. He knew he was a marked man from that day, and it was all his mother could do to urge him to stay on the force.
In the course of time, however, the sting had worn off and the young patrolman learned to smile again. His hollow cheeks had filled out amazingly during the period of the brewery beat and on that late autumn day when he stepped into the pages of this narrative he looked mighty good, not only to the raven-haired Rosalind O'Neill but to a host of other pretty nursemaids who were wheeling their aristocratic little charges up and down The Avenue.
Nor was Michael Phelan at all unconscious of this as he sauntered along the broad pavement and gracefully twirled his baton. His chest jutted out like the breast of a pouter pigeon and he wore the solemnly self-conscious expression of a peacock on parade.
When he came to the great white square mansion of Travers Gladwin, he paused and studied it shrewdly with his eye. It was one of the most important functions of his patrol to study the fronts of all unoccupied dwellings and see that every window was down and every door was closed. First he looked into the areaway of the Gladwin home and then his eye travelled up the wide balustraded stoop to the ornamental bronze doors.
"What's this!" he gasped in astonishment. "Sure, I read in the papers on'y this morning that Travers Gladwin was in Agypt. 'Tis a bold thafe who'll go in the front door in broad day, so here's where Mary Phelan's son makes the grand pinch he's been dreamin' on this six months back and gets his picture in the papers."
THE LITTLE BROWN JAP.
Patrolman Phelan wrapped his sinewy fist about the handle of his club with a vicious grip as he proceeded cautiously up the steps. The heavy bronze door had been left ajar, and he squeezed through without opening it further, then paused in the vestibule and listened. What he heard seemed no more than the tread of a spider, and the thought rushed into his head:
"'Tis one of that felt-soled kind. 'Tis tip-toes for Phelan."
He had noted that even the inside door was open, and he swiftly divined from this that the thief had left it open for his own convenience or for some other purpose connected with the mysteries of burglar alarms. Inch by inch the policeman moved across the vestibule and wriggled through the door into the richly carpeted hallway.
It was with a distinct sense of relief that he felt his heavy boots sink noiselessly into the deep ply of a precious Daghestan rug. One of Phelan's boots had a bad creak in it, and he knew that the master crook who would attempt such a robbery as this would have an acute sense of hearing.
It was dark as a pocket down the stretch of the heavily curtained foyer, save for a meagre shaft of light that came through a slightly parted pair of portieres to the left and not a dozen feet from where he stood. He strained his ear toward this shaft of light until there came an unmistakable swish of sound, whereupon he moved forward in short, gliding steps.
When he reached the break in the portieres and looked in he was astonished to see a short little man with shiny black hair deftly removing the linen covers from chairs and tables and statuary. The little man had his back to Phelan as the policeman stepped inside, but he turned in a flash and confronted the intruder with the peculiar glazed grimness of the Japanese.
"Well, what matter?" ripped out the little Jap, without moving a muscle.
"That's what I come to find out," retorted Phelan, with accusing severity of tone.
"How you get in here?" retorted the Jap in the same sharp, emotionless tones.
"I saw ye snakin' in an' ye didn't latch the door after yez," blurted Phelan, taking a step nearer the Jap and still watching him with profound suspicion.
"What you want?" asked the Jap with a slight tremor of apprehension.
"Information!" cried Phelan. "What are yez doin' in here?" Phelan's eye swept the room for some evidence of an attempt to despoil. Though he saw none he did not relinquish his attitude of suspicion. The Jap seemed about to speak and then stopped. As Phelan continued to glower at him, he snapped out:
"I no can tell."
Triumph blazed in Phelan's eyes. Now he was sure he had a thief and he determined to handle the situation with all the majesty of his official person.
"So yez can't tell what yez're doin' in this house," he said with fine sarcasm.
The Jap shook his head emphatically and returned a positive, "No tell!"
Phelan balanced his club for a moment and strode toward the Jap.
"Yez better come with me," he said through compressed lips.
The Jap started back with a frightened exclamation.
"You no take me to jail?" he uttered, while his yellow features twitched with fear.
"In a minute," replied the elated officer, "if yez don't tell me what yez're doin' here. I've been lookin' out for this place while Mr. Gladwin was in foreign parts, and"——
"You know Mr. Gladwin?" broke in the Jap, excitedly.
"No, I ain't never seen him," said Phelan, "but I know this is his house an' I been keepin' my eye on it fer him."
"Mr. Gladwin—he my boss!" and the Jap grinned from ear to ear.
This solution of the mystery never entered the policeman's head and he resented the surprise.
"Do yez mean yez're his valley?" he asked vindictively, refusing to relinquish his suspicion.
"Ees!" and again the Jap grinned.
Phelan read the grin as a distinct insult to his intelligence and he pounced upon the little brown man in an even more caustic tone:
"If yez're are Mr. Gladwin's valley, what are ye doin' here an' him thousands o' miles away across the ocean in Agypt an' Jerusalem an' the like?"
Now it was Phelan's turn to grin as he saw the Jap shrink and turn upon him a pair of wildly alarmed eyes.
"Come! Come! I'm waitin' fer an answer," The cat had his mouse backed into a corner and mentally licked his chops.
"I no can tell," stammered the Jap, desperately.
"That's enough!" ripped out Officer 666, grabbing the Jap by the shoulder and yanking him toward the doorway.
"No—no—wait!" gasped the struggling prisoner. "You no say if I tell you, plees?"
"Tell me first," grunted Phelan, releasing his grip.
The Jap ducked his head in every direction as if fearful that the walls had ears, then said in an impressive whisper:
"My boss—Mr. Gladwin—home!"
"Misther Gladwin home! Here in New York!" There was both incredulity and amazement in Phelan's voice.
"Ees!" bleated the Jap and his grin returned.
"Well, why didn't you say so before?" said Phelan angrily, at which the fidgety little brown son of Nippon hastened to explain:
"No one should know. He come all in much secret. He go boat to Boston. No use name. No one know he Mr. Gladwin. He say, 'Bateato'—me Bateato—'Bateato,' he say, 'no tell I come home—sure,' he say, and Bateato he no tell."
Officer Phelan yielded to the grip of the mystery and his attitude toward the Jap changed.
"What did he want to snake home that away fer?"
"I no know," nodded Bateato.
"Yez no know, eh? Well, is he comin' here?—do yez no know that?"
"He tell me—come here and wait—feex thees room—he come here or telephone."
The straightforward manner of the little Jap had almost completely disarmed the policeman's suspicion, but he surrendered reluctantly.
"Did he give yez a key to get in here?" Phelan fired as his last shot.
"Ees—he give me all bunch keys—look!" and Bateato produced a gold key ring with a gold tag and a number of keys attached. Phelan examined it and read aloud the name Travers Gladwin engraved on the tag. Handing them back to the Jap, he addressed him impressively, gesturing his emphasis with his baton:
"I guess yez're all right, but I'll have me eye on yez from the outside, mind that—and if yez're foolin' me or tryin' to get away with anythin'"——
Phelan snapped his lips together and with a mighty lunge plucked an imaginary prisoner out of the atmosphere and shook it ferociously. Then stepping back to the doorway he shut one eye with a fierce wink and jerked out:
"Are yez wise?"
The profound pantomime was too much for Bateato, who stared after the vanishing officer in open-mouthed amazement.
ART, MYSTERY AND LOVE.
The little Jap was still posed in an attitude of bewilderment as the two outside doors slammed and Officer 666 went down the front steps to resume the tread of his beat and the breaking of fragile hearts.
When he did emerge from his trance he returned to the task of getting the great room in order with the same snappy energy he had displayed when the uniformed minion of the law broke in upon him. He had removed the covers from the chairs and was dusting off a great carved chest that stood against the wall to the right of the doorway when the door bell rang. Bateato jumped and then waited for a second ring. Stepping warily out into the hallway, he looked to see if it was the grim official in blue and buttons.
"Ha!" he exclaimed. "No more police," and he shot to the door and opened it for that debonnair young gentleman who was one day to inherit the mustard millions of Old Grim Barnes.
"Hello there, Bateato," Whitney Barnes greeted the little Jap cordially. "Did your master show up yet?"
"He no come," grinned Bateato, shutting the door and leading the way into the room he had been preparing for his master's arrival. As Whitney Barnes stepped into the room the Jap asked:
"'Scuse me, Mr. Barnes—you see Mr. Gladwin?"
"No, nor his double, Thomas Smith of the Ritz; but he asked me to meet him here at 5 o'clock, Bateato."
"Ees sair!" lisped the Jap, with a bob of the head; then dived back to his occupation of making the long deserted room look presentable.
As Bateato followed his master's friend into the room he switched on the full glare of electric lights that depended from the ceiling or blazed through the shades of many lamps. Whitney Barnes blinked for a moment, and then started as his gaze was directed to the walls hung with masterpieces.
The work of Rubens, Rembrandt, Coret, Meissonier, Lely, Cazzin, Vegas, Fragonard, Reynolds and a score others of the world's greatest masters leaped across his vision as he turned from wall to wall, revolving on his heel.
"Whew!" he ejaculated. "I didn't know that Travers went in for this sort of thing. He certainly is the secretive little oyster when he wants to be."
Still studying the portraits and landscapes and allegorical groups, he voiced to Bateato a sudden thought.
"By the way, Bateato, do you know what it was that brought your master back in this strange fashion and the reason for all this secrecy?"
"No, sair," responded the Jap.
"Well, it's damned peculiar!" muttered the young man to himself, and proceeded on a tour about the room to examine more closely its wealth of art treasure. He had been engaged in this way about five minutes when the door bell rang and Bateato cried:
"Here Mr. Gladwin now."
"How do you know that Bateato?" quizzed the young man absently, his attention being gripped by a stunning aphrodite rising from the sea in a glory of nudity and rainbows.
The Jap paused a second on his way to the door, and replied:
"'Cause no one know he home but Mr. Barnes. Thees house close up much long time and Mr. Gladwin make papers say he in Egypt."
In the same breath in which he maximed this volley of words the little Jap projectiled himself from the room.
"His deductions are marvellous," said Whitney Barnes, solemnly addressing a bronze bust of Philip of Macedon. He turned in time to meet the brisk entrance of Travers Gladwin, alias Thomas Smith of the Ritz.
The two shook hands warmly and looked into each other's faces with quizzical smiles. They were about of an age, both unusually good looking and bearing themselves with that breezy, confident manner that is characteristic of young men who have been coddled in swan's-down all their lives.
"Well, well, well, Travers!"
"Hello, Whitney, old boy!"
The greeting sprang from their lips simultaneously, and after he had tossed his hat and cane to his valet Travers Gladwin continued:
"Didn't expect to see me so soon, did you, old scout?"
"I should say I didn't. Why, when I got that telegram of yours to call up Thomas Smith at the Ritz it certainly was some jar to my delicate nervous system."
Travers Gladwin laughed and rubbed his hands.
"Did it, though?" he cried. "Gave you a real thrill, eh?"
"Exact and specific—a real thrill."
"Well, you're lucky—a surprise and a thrill. I'd give anything for a real surprise—I've hunted this little planet's four corners for one and failed to connect."
"If you can't achieve 'em you seem to be in the business of manufacturing 'em. Come along now, what's all this thundering mystery. I'm shot to pieces with curiosity. What's happened to make you come home like this?"
"Watkins!" replied Travers Gladwin curtly.
"Watkins! What Watkins? Who's Watkins?"
"Watkins is my man—I mean, Watkins was my man before I found out that he was systematically robbing me."
"Oh, I remember now. A jolly good servant, though. So he robbed you, did he? But they all do."
"Yes, but they don't always get found out—caught with the goods, as the police say. I caught Watkins with the goods and sacked him."
"But you don't mean to tell me that you came kiting home from the pyramids and the lovely Sahara desert just because this chap Watkins was dishonest?" said Whitney Barnes, in tones of incredulity.
"No, Whitney," replied Gladwin, dropping into a chair and puckering his forehead with a frown. "Watkins was only the start of it. I got rid of him six months ago. But while I was on my way to Egypt I learned that Watkins and my lawyer had been in some sort of a secret correspondence before I gave Watkins the bounce."
"What lawyer? Not 'Old Reliable' Forbes? Why, I thought he wore a certified halo."
"So did I, but I've got news to the contrary, and you know he has charge of everything for me—keeps all my securities—has a power of attorney—signs checks and all that."
"That sounds bad," said Whitney Barnes, sympathetically. "The old saint could come pretty close to ruining you."
"Now you've hit it," assented Gladwin. "So I've come home to investigate—sleuthing expedition, you might say. Didn't want him to hear I was coming and climb out. Now you've got the answer to the gumshoe riddle. My plan is to lie low and have you look him up. Nothing else on foot, Whitney? Haven't gone into mustard or Wall street, have you?"
It was Whitney Barnes's turn to construct a frown and take on an air of intense seriousness, while his friend smiled at him, thinking it was one of his humorous moods.
"Can't say I have anything definite on foot," said Barnes slowly, "but the pater has given me a rather important commission to fulfil, though not exactly in mustard."
"Well, then," said Travers Gladwin with a trace of annoyance, "I'd better call on somebody else. I"—
"Nothing of the sort," broke in Whitney Barnes. "It may fit right in with my plans. It'll keep me circulating round a lot and that's just what I want—that and what Bateato is bringing," as the little brown man entered the room on the run, bearing a silver tray, decanter and glasses.
THE CURSE OF MILLIONS.
As Travers Gladwin's valet filled the tall, slim glasses with the fizzing amber-colored fluid which constitutes the great American highball, the two friends stretched their legs and lost themselves for a few moments in aimless reverie. Bateato looked from one to the other, puzzled by their seriousness. He clinked the glasses to rouse them and glided from the room. Whitney Barnes was the first to look up and shake himself free of the sober spell that gripped him.
"What the deuce made you skip abroad in such a hurry, Travers?" he asked, reaching for his glass.
Travers Gladwin sat up with a start, pulled a lugubrious smile and replied:
"Bored to death—nothing interested me—living the most commonplace, humdrum, unromantic existence imaginable. Teas and dances, dances and teas, clubs and theatres, theatres and clubs, motors and yachts, yachts and motors. It was horrible, and I can't help thinking it was all my dear old governor's fault. He had no consideration for me."
"He left you a tidy lot of millions," drawled Whitney Barnes.
Young Gladwin drained his glass, jumped to his feet and began to pace the room, hands deep in his trousers pockets.
"That was just it!" he flung out. "If he'd left me nothing but a shilling or two there'd be some joy in living. I'd have had to buckle down. There's variety, interest, pleasure in having to make your own way in the world."
Whitney Barnes laughed mockingly.
"Go out and tell that to the toiling masses," he chuckled, "and listen to them give you the ha-ha. You're in a bad way, old chap—better see a brain specialist."
"I know I'm in a bad way," Gladwin ran on fiercely, "but doctors can't do me any good. It was all right while I was a frolicking lamb, but after I got over the age of thinking myself a devil of a fellow things began to grow tame. I was romantic, sentimental—wanted to fall in love."
"Now you interest me," Whitney Barnes interjected, stiffening to attention.
"Yes, I wanted to fall in love, Whitney, but I couldn't get it out of my head that every girl I met had her eye on my fortune and not on me. And if it wasn't the girl it was her mother, and mothers, that is mothers-in-law-to-be or mothers-that-want-to-be-in-law or—what the deuce do I mean?"
"I get you, Steve—they're awful. Go on."
"Well, I gave it up—the hunt for the right girl."
"The dickens you say! I wish you hadn't told me that."
"And I went in for art," Gladwin raced on, carried breathlessly on the tide of his emotions and ignoring his friend's observations. "I went in for these things on the walls, statuary, ceramics, rugs, and tapestries."
"You've got a mighty fine collection," struck in Barnes.
"Yes, but I soon got tired of art—I still hungered for romance. I went abroad to find it. I said to myself, 'If there's a real thrill anywhere on this earth for a poor millionaire, I'll try and find it—make a thorough search. It wasn't any use. Every country I went to was the same. All I could find were things my money could buy and all those things have long ceased to interest me. There was only once in all the years I've been craving a romance"——
"Hold up there, Travers Gladwin, you're talking like Methusaleh. You've been of age only a few years."
"Seems centuries, but as I started to say—there was only once. Two years ago in a trolley car, right here in the midst of this heartless city. Seated opposite me was a girl—a blonde—most beautiful hair you ever saw. No use my trying to describe her eyes, clearest, bluest and keep right on piling up the superlatives—peaches and cream complexion with a transparent down on it, dimples and all that sort of thing. You know the kind—a goddess every inch of her. Her clothes were poor and I knew by that she was honest."
The young man paused and gazed rapturously into space.
"Go on; go on," urged Barnes. "Poor but honest."
"I caught her eye once and my heart thumped—could feel it beating against my cigarette case."
"That's the real soul-mate stuff; go on!" cried Barnes.
"Well, she got off at one of the big shops. I followed. She went in one of the employees' entrances. She worked there—I could see that."
"And did you wait for her to go out to lunch?"
"No, I had an engagement. Next day I caught that same car, but she was not on it. I kept on trying and the fourth day she was on the car, looking lovelier than ever. When she got off the car I got off. I stepped up and raised my hat.
"'Forgive me for approaching you in this impertinent manner,' I said, 'but I would like to introduce myself,' and I handed her my card."
The youthful head of the house of Gladwin stopped abruptly and slid listlessly into a chair.
"I demand to hear what she replied," insisted Barnes.
"It wasn't just what she said," mused Gladwin, "though that was bad enough, but it was the way she said it. These were her exact words, 'Go on, yer fresh slob, an' sneak yer biscuits!' How does that suit you for exploding a romance?"
"Blown to powder and bits," murmured Whitney Barnes, sombrely. "Sorry you told me this—never mind why—but there's one thing I've been wanting to ask you for a long time: How about that girl you rescued from drowning four years ago? I remember it made you quite famous at the time. According to all standards of romance, you should have married her."
Travers Gladwin looked up with a wry smile.
"Did you ever see the lady?" he asked sharply.
"No. Wasn't she pretty?"
"She was a brunette."
"You don't fancy brunettes?"
"She was a dark brunette."
"Yes, from Africa."
"That was tough luck!" exclaimed Barnes without cracking a smile.
THE HEARTBEATS OF MR. HOGG.
In a magnificently furnished apartment on Madison avenue, which Mrs. Elvira Burton had rented for New York's winter season, that augustly beautiful or beautifully august lady sat writing. I may say that she was writing grimly and that there was Jovian determination stamped upon her high, broad forehead and indented at the corners of her tense lips.
She had just returned from a consultation with two matrons of the same stern fibre as herself. No group of gray-bearded physicians had ever weighed the fate of a patient with more attention to pathological detail than had Mrs. Burton and her two friends weighed the fate of Helen Burton, but whereas it rarely happens that pork is prescribed in a delicate case, the result of that petticoated conclave was that Hogg was prescribed for the flower-like ward of the leader of Omaha's socially elect.
While Mrs. Burton had done most of the talking, her two friends who had broken into New York's next-to-the-top layer of society by means of the hyphens with which they coupled the names of their first and second husbands; her two friends, I say, had managed to wedge in a word or two—all in favor of Jabez Hogg.
The guardian of the two prettiest girls who had ever debutanted in the Nebraska metropolis emerged from that conference on fire with resolve. She would marry Helen to Mr. Hogg, thus link together the Hogg and Burton millions and thereby create an alliance that would take its place beside any in the country in the matter of bank account.
So confident was she of the power of her will that she did not even remove her wraps before she sat down to answer Jabez Hogg's letter. Nor did she bother to ask her maid if Helen and Sadie had returned from their ride. She did not care to discuss the matter with them. She had decided. It remained only for weaker wills to yield.
Beginning with a regal flourish of the pen, she wrote:
"MY DEAR MR. HOGG: I received this morning your courteous note, begging me to persuade Helen to give you a final answer. It pains me deeply that you should suffer so from her neglect—after all your kindness. I trust that you will forgive it on the score of her youth. She is very young and her head has been turned with too much flattery. She shall be yours—that I can promise you. When you come on for your annual slaughter-house directors' meeting you may bring the ring. I have already given the order for the engraving of the engagement announcements, and I will arrange to give a reception and dance for Helen at the Plaza. I do not know how to thank you for putting your French car at our disposal. It has saved us a great deal of annoyance and bother. Helen has spoken often of your thoughtfulness"——
Mrs. Burton stayed her flying pen and grimly read the last sentence aloud. It was not the strict truth, as she was writing it. Helen had spoken frequently of the convenience of the car, but she had added that she could never ride in it without feeling that she was going to run over a pig and hear it squeal.
Mrs. Burton did not waver for more than an instant, however. In a way of speaking she gripped her conscience by the neck, strangled it, and threw it into the discard. Then she continued with her letter:
"I have been looking at houses on the avenue and would suggest that you try and negotiate for the Gladwin mansion. The owner lives abroad, and while it is not in the market I am advised that the young man would be glad to get rid of it. He is said to be living a fast life in Paris, and while he was left a great fortune he would probably be glad to get the ready money. I know of no finer home in New York for you to settle down in after your honeymoon.
"Thanking you again for your constant thoughtfulness and hoping that you will now banish every doubt from your mind, I remain,
"Faithfully yours, "ELVIRA BURTON."
The smile with which Mrs. Burton sealed this letter and delivered it to her maid was more than a smile of triumph. It was a positively fiendish smile of victory.
GAINSBOROUGH "BLUE BOY."
Having discounted the romantic element of his thrilling rescue at Narragansett Pier, Travers Gladwin fell into a moody silence. The more volatile Barnes felt the influence and strove to fight it off. While he, too, had been set upon the trail of romance at the behest of his father, he felt it was too early to indulge in pessimistic reveries, so he groped for another subject with which to revive the interest of his friend.
"I say, Travers," he led off, rising from his chair and indicating the walls with a sweep of his hand, "as I remarked before, you've got a wonderful collection here."
"Yes," assented the young millionaire without animation, "but, as I said before, I soon got tired of it. The pastime of collecting pictures became a burden, and I was glad to get abroad and forget it."
"Well," said Barnes, "I guess the only thing for you to do is to go to work at something."
"I know it," grumbled Gladwin, "but what's the incentive? I don't want any more money—what I have now is the biggest sort of a nuisance. Just see the trouble I'm in for with my lawyer and that man Watkins, though to tell you the truth I am beginning to enjoy the novelty of that."
The young man got up and assumed a more lively expression.
"Do you know, Whitney," he ran on, "this travelling incognito isn't half bad. They are really getting suspicious of me at the Ritz."
"But surely some one there ought to know you."
"Not a soul! It was opened while I was abroad. You know I registered as Thomas Smith and I even took a chance and went down into the grill room for lunch. And there, Whitney," cried Gladwin with an explosive burst of enthusiasm, "I nearly got a thrill—another one like that on the trolley car. The last place you'd expect it, too, in the midst of stiff formality and waiters so cold and haughty they might have risen from the dead."
"I suppose this was the ravishing girl at the cigar counter?" said Barnes, ironically.
"Nothing of the sort—never smoked a cigar in her life—I mean, that is, well, something entirely different. But she was a beauty! Golden bronze hair—Titian never painted anything like it; the bluest eyes behind the most wonderful dark lashes, creamy white skin"——
"And you followed her to a cloak factory, where you found"——
"Please wait till I finish, Whitney. I followed her nowhere, though she interested me tremendously. I wish you could have seen her eat."
"Particularly the grapefruit. By Jove, Barnes, that girl certainly loves grapefruit! It was fascinating. I couldn't keep my eyes off of her."
"And did she notice you?" quizzed Barnes, raising his eyebrows.
"She was too busy," came the gloomy rejoinder. "I watched her steadily, fairly bored her with my eyes—tried to will her to look at me. They say you can do that, you know—mental telepathy, projecting thought waves or something of the sort."
"Oh, rot!" cried Barnes, impatiently. "I tried that on a dog once and I've got the scar yet."
"But I tell you, Whitney, it almost worked. After a time her eyelids began to flutter and the roses in her cheeks bloomed darker. But just as I felt sure she would look up and see me—splash! the grapefruit hit her in the eye!"
"What!" ejaculated Whitney Barnes, wheeling open-mouthed and facing his friend.
"The juice, I mean," Gladwin laughed ruefully, "and, of course, the spell was broken. She never looked again. Dash it all, there's some sort of a lemon in all my romances!"
"You certainly do play in tough luck," sympathized Barnes. "I can see that you need bucking up, and I think I've got the right kind of remedy for you. Wait, I'll call Bateato."
Whitney Barnes stepped briskly across the room and pressed a button. In a twinkling the little Jap appeared.
"Bateato," said Barnes, "has your master any hunting clothes at the hotel?"
"Ees, sair!" responded the Jap. "Plenty hotel—plenty house. We no time pack all clothes—go sail too quick."
"Plenty here—splendid!" enthused Barnes. "Pack a bag for him, Bateato, this instant—enough things to last a couple of weeks."
"What's all this?" cut in Gladwin. "What are you going to do?"
"Never you mind," retorted Barnes, importantly; "you do as I say, Bateato—I'm going to show your master some excitement. He'll never get it here in town."
"Ees, sair! I pack him queeck," and Bateato vanished noiselessly, seemingly to shoot through the doorway and up the broad staircase as if sucked up a flue.
"But see here"——objected Travers Gladwin.
"Not a word now," his friend choked him off. "If you don't like it you don't have to stay, but I'm going to take you in hand and show you a time you're not used to."
"But I don't"——
"Don't let's argue about it," said Barnes, lightly. "You called me in here to take charge of things and I'm taking charge. Just to change the subject, tell me something about your paintings. This one, for instance—who is that haughty looking old chap?"
Whitney Barnes had planted himself with legs spread wide apart in front of one of the largest portraits in the room, a life-size painting of an aristocratic looking old man who seemed on the point of strangling in his stock.
Travers Gladwin turned to the painting and said with an unmistakable note of pride:
"The original Gladwin, my great-grandfather. Painted more than a hundred years ago by Gilbert Stuart."
"I guess you beat me, Travers—the original Barnes hadn't discovered mustard a hundred years ago. But I say, here's a Gainsborough, 'The Blue Boy.' By George! that's a stunner! Worth a small fortune, I suppose."
Whitney Barnes had crossed the room and stood before the most striking looking portrait in the collection, a tall, handsome boy in a vividly blue costume of the Gainsborough period.
The owner of "The Blue Boy" turned around, cast a fleeting glimpse at the portrait and turned away with a peculiar grimace.
"You suppose wrong, Whitney," he said, shortly. "That isn't—so—horribly—valuable."
"What! A big painting like that, by a chap famous enough to have a hat named after him."
"That was just about the way it struck me at first," answered Gladwin, "so I begged two old gentlemen in London to let me have it. Persuaded them to part with it for a mere five hundred pounds, on condition—close attention, Whitney—that I keep the matter a secret. I was delighted with my bargain—until I saw the original."
"Ah ha! the original. It was quite a shock for me to come face to face with that and realize that my 'Blue Boy' had a streak of yellow in him."
"That sounds exciting," cried Barnes. "What did you do? Put the case in the hands of the police?"
"Not much," denied Gladwin emphatically. "That would have given the public a fine laugh. It deceived me, so I hung it up there to deceive others. It got you, you see. But you are the only one I've let into the secret—don't repeat it, will you?"
"Never!" promised Barnes. "It'll be too much of a lark to hear others rave over it."
"Thank you," acknowledged the bitten collector, curtly.
Barnes wandered from "The Blue Boy" and signalled out another painting.
"Who painted this?" he asked.
"That's a Veber—but do you know, Whitney, the more I think of it—there's something about that grapefruit girl, something gripping that"——
"I like these two," commented Barnes.
"There's something different about her—something"——
"Who is this by?" inquired Barnes, lost in admiration of a Meissonier.
"And very young, and I know her smile"——
"Look here, Travers, what are these two worth?"
Gladwin volplaned to earth, climbed out of his sky chariot and was back in the midst of his art treasures again.
"I beg your pardon," he said hastily. "Which two?"
Barnes pointed to two of the smaller pictures.
"Guess," suggested his host.
"Multiply it by ten—then add something."
"Yes, really! That one on the left is a Rembrandt! and the other is a Corot!"
"My word; they're corkers, eh!"
"Yes, when you know who painted them, and if you happen to have the eye of a connoisseur."
"And what in creation is this?" exclaimed Barnes, as he stumbled against the great ornamental chest which stood against the wall just beneath the Rembrandt and Corot.
"Oh, let's get the exhibition over," said Gladwin, peevishly. "That's a treasure chest. Cost me a barrel—picked it up in Egypt."
"You never picked it up in your life," retorted Barnes, grasping the great metal bound chest and striving vainly to lift it. "Anything in it?" he asked, lifting the lid and answering himself in the negative.
"What's the whole collection worth?" asked Barnes, as he returned to where his friend was standing, gazing ruefully at "The Blue Boy."
"Oh, half a million or more. I really never kept track."
"Half a million! And you go abroad and leave all these things unguarded? You certainly are fond of taking chances. It's a marvel they haven't been stolen before now."
"Nonsense," said Gladwin. "I have a burglar alarm set here, and I'll wager there aren't half a dozen persons who know the Gladwin collection is hung in this house."
"Just the same—but I say, Travers, there's the door bell. Were you expecting anybody else."
Gladwin glanced about him nervously.
"No," he said sharply. "On the contrary, I didn't wish—what the deuce does it mean?"
"It means some one is at the door."
APPROACHING A WORLD OF MYSTERY.
Gaston Brielle, the strawberry blonde French chauffeur who piloted the big, luxurious motor car Jabez Hogg of Omaha had placed at the service of Mrs. Elvira Burton and her two charming young nieces, did not have his mind entirely concentrated upon manipulating the wheel and throttle of the car as he swung around Grant's Tomb and sped southward down the Drive. While his knowledge of English was confined to a few expletives of a profane nature and the mystic jargon of the garage, he was nevertheless thrilled by the belief that the two mademoiselles behind him were plotting some mysterious enterprise.
From time to time they had unconsciously dropped their voices to the low tones commonly used by conspirators, or at least that was the way Gaston had sensed it. Along the silent roads of Central Park and Riverside Drive, where even the taxis seemed to employ their mufflers and to resort less frequently to the warning racket of their exhausts, the Frenchman had been straining his ears to listen.
He had heard on two occasions what he divined as a manifest sob, first when the emotional Sadie gave way to tears and again when Helen was aggravated to a petulant outburst of grief.
Later when he heard bright laughter and gay exclamations he could hardly believe his ears. He was profoundly troubled and completely bewildered—a dangerous state of mind for a man who has the power of seventy horses under the pressure of his thumb.
Nor was his mental turmoil in the least alleviated when, having turned south and being on the point of coasting down a precipitous hill he felt a touch on his shoulder and heard the elder of his two pretty passengers command him in worse French than his own poor English to go slow when he turned into Fifth avenue again and be prepared to stop.
Gaston knew that this was in direct violation of his orders from Mrs. Burton, but when he saw a yellow-backed bill flutter down over his shoulder his quick intelligence blazed with understanding. His first groping suspicions had been justified. There was romance in the wind. Steering easily with one hand, Gaston deftly seized the bill and caused it to vanish somewhere in his great fur coat.
Sadie Burton had been horror-stricken at this bold proffer of a bribe. Likewise she was alarmed that Helen should put so much trust in Gaston, who seemed to be in mortal terror of her aunt and to quake all through his body when he listened to her commands.
As Helen sank back beside her, after letting fall the bribe, the agitated Sadie whispered tremulously:
"Are you sure you can trust him, Helen? If he should tell Auntie El she would surely make you a prisoner. You will never get a chance to leave her side at the opera to-night."
"Gaston is a Frenchman, my dear," laughed Helen, confidently, "and most Frenchmen—even chauffeurs, I am sure—would cut their hearts out before they would oppose a barrier to the course of true love."
But Helen's gayety did not communicate itself to Sadie. That shy miss trembled apprehensively as she sought to picture herself in Helen's place—on the verge of an elopement. Not that such a prospect did not have its alluring thrill even to such a shrinking maiden as the violet-eyed Sadie, but her fear of her aunt seemed to crush and obliterate these titillating sensations. As the car shot through Seventy-second street and headed for the entrance to the West Drive of Central Park, she ventured another word of caution.
"Wouldn't it be better to send a messenger to Mr. Gladwin's house, Helen? Suppose we should run into somebody there who knew auntie?"
"You ridiculously little fraid-cat," Helen caught her up. "Of course there'll be nobody there but Travers, or perhaps his man or some of the other servants. He has good reason for keeping very quiet now and sees absolutely nobody, not even—not even—not even his grandmother, if he has one."
"And didn't he tell you whether or not he had a grandmother, Helen?" gasped Sadie.
But Helen disdained to reply, her heart suddenly filling with rapture at the prospect of an immediate meeting with her betrothed.
TRAVERS GLADWIN GETS A THRILL.
A ring at the door bell should suggest to the ordinary mind that some person or persons clamored for admission, but Whitney Barnes's announcement seemed to have difficulty in hammering its way into Travers Gladwin's gray matter and thence downward into the white matter of his brain cells.
"What is some one at the door for?" he asked vacuously.
"To see you, of course," snapped Barnes.
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the other with annoyance. "The house has been closed for ages and you are the only one who knows I am home. Why I"——
Bateato skimmed in, grinning like a full moon.
"Well, what is it?" his master asked, shortly,
"Two ladies, sair!"
"Two—that's good!" chimed in Barnes. "They must have got a wireless that I was here."
"What do they want?" Gladwin addressed Bateato.
"You, sair," replied the Jap. "They say you come to door one minute."
"Two ladies to see me? Are you sure?" Travers Gladwin was both bewildered and embarrassed.
"Ees, sair!" Bateato assured him.
"Did you tell them that I was here?"
"They no ask. They say, 'Please, Mr. Gladwin come to door!'"
"Well, you tell them Mr. Gladwin is not at home—that I'm out, away—in Egypt."
"Ees, sair," and Bateato was about to skim out into the hallway again when Barnes stopped him.
"Wait a minute, Bateato—what do they look like?"
"Look nice, sair," and Bateato's moon-like grin returned in full beam.
"You're sure?" asked Barnes, gravely.
"Oh, fine," uttered the Jap, enthusiastically.
"Young?" inquired Barnes.
"Ees, sair—much young—come in autbile. I tell them you no home?" turning to Gladwin.
"No, wait," responded Gladwin, his curiosity taking fire. "You tell them to come in."
"They say you come door."
"Very well," but Whitney Barnes stopped him.
"Better see them in here, Travers. If they really want to see you they'll come in. Ask them to come in, Bateato."
The little Jap was gone with the speed and noiselessness of a mouse.
"Who in heaven's name can it be?" whispered Travers Gladwin as Bateato could be heard lisping in the vestibule. Before Whitney Barnes managed to frame a reply a swift, muffled step was audible and Helen Burton stood framed in the narrow space between the portieres. Her timid cousin stopped behind her, staring timidly over her shoulder. She was manifestly surprised and startled as she paused and regarded the two young men.
In point of startled surprise, however, Travers Gladwin's emotion matched hers. He stared at her almost rudely in his amazement and involuntarily he turned to Whitney Barnes and said under his breath:
"The grapefruit girl!"
Whitney Barnes's lips merely framed: "No! You don't mean it!"
He was going to add something more, when the two girls came on into the room diffidently and stood by the great carved table, close together, as if prepared to cling to one another in case something extraordinary happened. Travers Gladwin was the first of the two young men to come to their rescue.
"Pardon me! Did you wish to see me?" he said with his best bow.
"No," replied Helen Burton quickly, her lips trembling; "we want to see Mr. Gladwin, please."
The young man did not recover instantly from this staggering jolt, and a clock somewhere in the great hall nearby ticked a dozen strokes before he managed to mumble:
"Isn't he here?" broke in the brown-haired beauty, breathlessly. "His man just asked us to come into this room to see him."
"What Mr. Gladwin did you want?" asked that young man incoherently.
"Why, Mr. Travers Gladwin!" exclaimed the girl indignantly, the color mantling to her forehead. "Is there more than one?"
"Well—er—that is," the young man turned desperately to his friend, "do you know Mr. Gladwin?"
"Do I know him?" cried Helen Burton, and then, with a hysterical little laugh as she turned to her cousin, "I should think I did know him. I know him very, very well."
Sadie Burton appeared both distressed and frightened and slipped limply down into one of the great chairs beside her. As Travers Gladwin's features passed through a series of vacant and bewildered expressions and as the attention of Whitney Barnes seemed to be focussed with strange intensity upon the prettiness of the shy and silent Sadie, anger flashed in Helen's expressive eyes as she again addressed the young man, who felt as if some mysterious force had just robbed him of his identity.
"You don't suppose," she said, drawing herself to the full height of her graceful figure, "that I would come here to see Travers Gladwin if I didn't know him, do you?"
"No, no, no—of course not!" sputtered the young man. "It was stupid of me to ask such a question. Please forgive me. I—er"—
Helen turned from him as if to speak to Sadie, who sat with erect primness suffering from what she sensed as a strange and overpowering stroke. She had permitted herself to look straight into the eyes of Whitney Barnes and hold the look for a long, palpitating second.
While Sadie was groping in her mind for some explanation of the strange thrill, Whitney Barnes had flung himself headlong into a new sensation and was determined to make the most of it, so when Travers Gladwin turned to him and asked:
"I rather think Gladwin's gone out, don't you?" Barnes nodded and answered positively:
"He was here only a few minutes ago."
This reply drew Helen's attention immediately to Barnes and taking a step forward she said eagerly:
"Oh, I hope he's here. You see, it's awfully important—what I want to see him about."
Whitney Barnes nodded with extraordinary animation and turning to Gladwin impaled that young man with the query:
"Why don't you find out if he's in?"
While Gladwin had come up for air he was still partially drowned. Turning to Helen Burton, he forced an agreeable smile and said hurriedly:
"Yes, if you'll excuse me a moment I'll see, but may I give him your name?"
It was Helen's turn to recoil and stepping to where Sadie had at last got upon her feet, she whispered:
"Shall I tell him? They both act so strangely."
"Oh, no, Helen, dear," fluttered Sadie. "It may be some awful trap or something."
While this whispered conclave was going on Travers Gladwin made a frantic signal to Whitney Barnes behind his back and mumbled:
"Try and find out what it's all about?"
"I will—leave that to me," said Barnes confidently.
Leaving her cousin's side, Helen again confronted the two young men and said tremulously:
"I'd rather not give my name. I know that sounds odd, but for certain reasons"——
"Oh, of course, if you'd rather not," answered Gladwin.
"If you will just say," Helen ran on breathlessly, "that I had to come early to tell him something—something about to-night—he'll understand and know who I am."
"Certainly, certainly," said the baffled young millionaire. "Say that you want to see him about something that's going to happen to-night"——
"Yes, if you'll be so kind," and Helen gave the young man a smile that furnished him the thrill he had hunted for all over the globe, with a margin to boot.
"I'll be right back," he gasped, spun on his heel and passed dizzily out into the hallway.
THRILL BEGETS THRILL.
Gladwin's exit from the room served as a signal for the agile-witted Barnes to strike while the iron was hot. His friend had hardly vanished through the portieres when he turned to Helen with an air of easy confidence, looking frankly into her eyes, and said:
"It's singular that my friend doesn't know what you referred to—the object of your call," and he nodded his head with a knowing smile.
"Why, do you?" asked Helen eagerly, coming toward him.
Whitney's knowing smile increased in its quality of knowingness and he spoke with an inflection that was quite baffling.
"Well," he said, in a confiding whisper, "I have an idea; but he"—jerking his thumb over his shoulder where Travers Gladwin was last seen departing from view—"is Travers Gladwin's most intimate friend."
The astonishing character of this information served only further to confuse the beautiful Miss Burton's already obfuscated reasoning faculties and hypnotize her into that receptive condition where she was capable of believing any solemnly expressed statement.
"Really!" she said with a little start of surprise.
"Oh, yes," ran on the glib Barnes, "they are lifelong chums—love each other like brothers; one of those Castor and Pollox affairs, you know—only more so. Never have any secrets from each other and all that sort of thing."
Helen dropped back into her chair and her brow wrinkled with perplexity.
"That's curious," she said. "I don't think Travers ever spoke to me about that kind of a friend."
The idea was just burgeoning in her mind to ask for the friend's name when Barnes hastened on:
"Well, now that is singular. Are you sure that"—
The sudden brisk return of Travers Gladwin saved Barnes from an immediate excruciating tax upon his ingenuity.
"I'm awfully sorry," said Gladwin, going to Helen and shaking his head regretfully, "but I couldn't find him."
"Oh, dear! That's very provoking!" cried Helen. "He didn't say he was going out, did he?"
"No; I could have sworn he was here a few minutes ago," spoke up Barnes, turning his head away for fear his smile would suddenly get out of control.
"Well, is his man here?" demanded the girl.
"Why, he let you in," blurted Gladwin.
"I don't mean the Japanese."
"You mean the butler, perhaps," Gladwin corrected.
"Yes," Helen answered mechanically.
Travers Gladwin felt it was time for Barnes to take a hand again, as his mental airship was bucking badly in the invisible air currents.
"Is Gladwin's butler here?" he inquired sharply, frowning at Barnes.
"No," said Barnes promptly.
"I am sorry, but he is not here," Gladwin communicated to Helen.
"Well, where is he?" cried the exasperated Helen.
"Where is he?" Gladwin asked Barnes.
Whitney Barnes went down for the count of one but bobbed up serenely.
"Where is he?" he said with a nonchalant gesture. "Oh, he's giving a lecture on butling."
The bewildered Miss Burton did not catch the text of this explanation. In her increasing agitation she wrung her hands in her muff and almost sobbed:
"I'm sure I don't know what to do. I simply must get word to him somehow. It's awfully important."
Whitney Barnes saw the trembling lip and the dampening eye and strove to avert a catastrophe that would probably double the difficulty of probing into the mystery. Turning to Gladwin, but half directing his remarks to Helen, he said:
"I've just been telling the ladies that you and Travers are bosom pals."
Travers Gladwin flashed one look of amazement and then caught on.
"Oh, yes," he cried, "we are very close to each other—I couldn't begin to tell you how close."
"And I have also hinted," pursued Barnes, "that you never have any secrets from each other, and that I felt sure that you knew all about—all about—a—a er—to-night."
"Oh, of course," assented Gladwin, beginning to warm up to his part and feel the rich thrill of the mystery involved. "Yes, yes—of course—he's told me all about to-night."
"Has he?" gasped Helen, looking into the young man's brown eyes for confirmation, feeling that she liked the eyes, but uncertain that she read the confirmation.
"Yes, everything," lied Gladwin, now glowing with enthusiasm.
All this while the shy and silent Sadie had remained demurely in her chair looking from one to the other and vainly endeavoring to catch the drift of the conversation.
Sadie was too dainty a little soul to be possessed of real reasoning faculties. The one thought that had been uppermost in her mind all day was that Helen was taking a desperate step, probably embarking upon some terrible tragedy. She had hungered for an opportunity to compare notes with some sturdier will than her own and the instant she heard Travers Gladwin admit that he "knew all about to-night" she rose from her chair and asked, breathlessly, turning up her big, appealing eyes to Travers Gladwin:
"Then won't you—oh, please, won't you—tell her what you think of it?"
There was something so naive and innocent in Sadie's attitude and expression that Whitney Barnes was charmed. It also tickled his soul to see how thoroughly his friend was stumped. So to add to Travers's confusion he chimed in:
"Oh, yes, go on and tell her what you think of it."
"I'd rather not," said Gladwin ponderously, trying to escape from the appealing eyes.
"But really you ought to, old chap," reproved Barnes. "It's your duty to."
"Oh, yes, please do!" implored Sadie.
The victim was caught three ways. Both young ladies regarded him earnestly and with looks that hung upon his words, while Barnes stood to one side with a solemn long face, elbow in one hand and chin gripped tightly in the other, manifestly for the moment withdrawn from rescue duty. There was nothing for the badgered young man to do but mentally roll up his sleeves and plunge in.
"Well, then," with exaggerated sobriety, "if you must know—I think—that is, when I was thinking of it—or I mean, what I had thought of it, when I was thinking of it—turning it over in my mind, you know—why, it didn't seem to me—I am afraid"—turning squarely on Helen—"what I am going to say will offend you."
"On the contrary," cried Helen, flushing to her tiny pink ears, "if you are Travers's best friend, I should like to know just what you think of it."
"Well, then," said Travers Gladwin desperately, "if you must know the truth, I don't like it."
"There!" breathed Sadie, overjoyed, and dropped back in her chair.
But Helen Burton was far from pleased.
"You don't like what?" she demanded.
"Why—this thing to-night," he groped.
"You wouldn't say that if you knew Mr. Hogg," the indignant girl flung out.
"There, Gladwin—that's a clincher—you don't know Hogg."
Whitney Barnes was up to his ears in clover.
"How do you know I don't know him?" asked Gladwin, a little wildly.
"Why, how could you?" said Helen, accusingly.
"How could I know Mr. Hogg?"
"Why, just go out to his pen, introduce yourself and shake his tail."
Helen failed to see the humor of this sally and again the tears struggled for an outlet.
"Now you're making fun of me," she said, turning away. "I think it's very unkind."
Travers Gladwin felt a sharp pang of remorse and hated himself for his break. In his eagerness to repair the wound, he stepped to the young girl's side and said with great seriousness:
"I wouldn't hurt you in any way for the world."
Helen looked up at him and read the soul of sincerity and sympathy in his eyes. She was both reassured and embarrassed by the intensity of his look.
"Really?" she managed to murmur, backing away and sitting down again.
The mention of Mr. Hogg had inflamed Whitney Barnes's curiosity, and he desired to know more of that unknown.