WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY HERMANN C. WALL
INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY 1906
"Who that remembers the first kind glance of her whom he loves can fail to believe in magic?" —NOVALIS
CHAPTER I DINNER TIME II A SCRAP OF PAPER III ST. GEORGE AND THE LADY IV THE PRINCE OF FAR-AWAY V OLIVIA PROPOSES VI TWO LITTLE MEN VII DUSK, AND SO ON VIII THE PORCH OF THE MORNING IX THE LADY OF KINGDOMS X TYRIAN PURPLE XI THE END OF THE EVENING XII BETWEEN-WORLDS XIII THE LINES LEAD UP XIV THE ISLE OF HEARTS XV A VIGIL XVI GLAMOURIE XVII BENEATH THE SURFACE XVIII A MORNING VISIT XIX IN THE HALL OF KINGS XX OUT OF THE HALL OF KINGS XXI OPEN SECRETS
As The Aloha rode gently to her buoy among the crafts in the harbour, St. George longed to proclaim in the megaphone's monstrous parody upon capital letters:
"Cat-boats and house-boats and yawls, look here. You're bound to observe that this is my steam yacht. I own her—do you see? She belongs to me, St. George, who never before owned so much as a piece of rope."
Instead—mindful, perhaps, that "a man should not communicate his own glorie"—he stepped sedately down to the trim green skiff and was rowed ashore by a boy who, for aught that either knew, might three months before have jostled him at some ill-favoured lunch counter. For in America, dreams of gold—not, alas, golden dreams—do prevalently come true; and of all the butterfly happenings in this pleasant land of larvae, few are so spectacular as the process by which, without warning, a man is converted from a toiler and bearer of loads to a taker of his bien. However, to none, one must believe, is the changeling such gazing-stock as to himself.
Although countless times, waking and sleeping, St. George had humoured himself in the outworn pastime of dreaming what he would do if he were to inherit a million dollars, his imagination had never marveled its way to the situation's less poignant advantages. Chief among his satisfactions had been that with which he had lately seen his mother—an exquisite woman, looking like the old lace and Roman mosaic pins which she had saved from the wreck of her fortune—set off for Europe in the exceptional company of her brother, Bishop Arthur Touchett, gentlest of dignitaries. The bishop, only to look upon whose portrait was a benediction, had at sacrifice of certain of his charities seen St. George through college; and it made the million worth while to his nephew merely to send him to Tuebingen to set his soul at rest concerning the date of one of the canonical gospels. Next to the rich delight of planning that voyage, St. George placed the buying of his yacht.
In the dusty, inky office of the New York Evening Sentinel he had been wont three months before to sit at a long green table fitting words about the yachts of others to the dreary music of his typewriter, the while vaguely conscious of a blur of eight telephone bells, and the sound of voices used merely to communicate thought and not to please the ear. In the last three months he had sometimes remembered that black day when from his high window he had looked toward the harbour and glimpsed a trim craft of white and brass slipping to the river's mouth; whereupon he had been seized by such a passion to work hard and earn a white-and-brass craft of his own that the story which he was hurrying for the first edition was quite ruined.
"Good heavens, St. George," Chillingworth, the city editor, had gnarled, "we don't carry wooden type. And nothing else would set up this wooden stuff of yours. Where's some snap? Your first paragraph reads like a recipe. Now put your soul into it, and you've got less than fifteen minutes to do it in."
St. George recalled that his friend Amory, as "one hackneyed in the ways of life," had gravely lifted an eyebrow at him, and the new men had turned different colours at the thought of being addressed like that before the staff; and St. George had recast the story and had received for his diligence a New Jersey assignment which had kept him until midnight. Haunting the homes of the club-women and the common council of that little Jersey town, the trim white-and-brass craft slipping down to the river's mouth had not ceased to lure him. He had found himself estimating the value—in money—of the bric-a-brac of every house, and the self-importance of every alderman, and reflecting that these people, if they liked, might own yachts of white and brass; yet they preferred to crouch among the bric-a-brac and to discourse to him of one another's violations and interferences. By the time that he had reached home that dripping night and had put captions upon the backs of the unexpectant-looking photographs which were his trophies, he was in that state of comparative anarchy to be effected only by imaginative youth and a disagreeable task.
Next day, suddenly as its sun, had come the news which had transformed him from a discontented grappler with social problems to the owner of stocks and bonds and shares in a busy mine and other things soothing to enumerate. The first thing which he had added unto these, after the departure of his mother and the bishop, had been The Aloha, which only that day had slipped to the river's mouth in the view from his old window at the Sentinel office. St. George had the grace to be ashamed to remember how smoothly the social ills had adjusted themselves.
Now they were past, those days of feverish work and unexpected triumph and unaccountable failure; and in the dreariest of them St. George, dreaming wildly, had not dreamed all the unobvious joys which his fortune had brought to him. For although he had accurately painted, for example, the delight of a cruise in a sea-going yacht of his own, yet to step into his dory in the sunset, to watch The Aloha's sides shine in the late light as he was rowed ashore past the lesser crafts in the harbour; to see the man touch his cap and put back to make the yacht trim for the night, and then to turn his own face to his apartment where virtually the entire day-staff of the Evening Sentinel was that night to dine—these were among the pastimes of the lesser angels which his fancy had never compassed.
A glow of firelight greeted St. George as he entered his apartment, and the rooms wore a pleasant air of festivity. A table, with covers for twelve, was spread in the living-room, a fire of cones was tossing on the hearth, the curtains were drawn, and the sideboard was a thing of intimation. Rollo, his man—St. George had easily fallen in all the habits which he had longed to assume—was just closing the little ice-box sunk behind a panel of the wall, and he came forward with dignified deference.
"Everything is ready, Rollo?" St. George asked. "No one has telephoned to beg off?"
"Yes, sir," answered Rollo, "and no, sir."
St. George had sometimes told himself that the man looked like an oval grey stone with a face cut upon it.
"Is the claret warmed?" St. George demanded, handing his hat. "Did the big glasses come for the liqueur—and the little ones will set inside without tipping? Then take the cigars to the den—you'll have to get some cigarettes for Mr. Provin. Keep up the fire. Light the candles in ten minutes. I say, how jolly the table looks."
"Yes, sir," returned Rollo, "an' the candles 'll make a great difference, sir. Candles do give out an air, sir."
One month of service had accustomed St. George to his valet's gift of the Articulate Simplicity. Rollo's thoughts were doubtless contrived in the cuticle and knew no deeper operance; but he always uttered his impressions with, under his mask, an air of keen and seasoned personal observation. In his first interview with St. George, Rollo had said: "I always enjoy being kep' busy, sir. To me, the busy man is a grand sight," and St. George had at once appreciated his possibilities. Rollo was like the fine print in an almanac.
When the candles were burning and the lights had been turned on in the little ochre den where the billiard-table stood, St. George emerged—a well-made figure, his buoyant, clear-cut face accurately bespeaking both health and cleverness. Of a family represented by the gentle old bishop and his own exquisite mother, himself university-bred and fresh from two years' hard, hand-to-hand fighting to earn an honourable livelihood, St. George, of sound body and fine intelligence, had that temper of stability within vast range which goes pleasantly into the mind that meets it. A symbol of this was his prodigious popularity with those who had been his fellow-workers—a test beside which old-world traditions of the urban touchstones are of secondary advantage. It was deeply significant that in spite of the gulf which Chance had digged the day-staff of the Sentinel, all save two or three of which were not of his estate, had with flattering alacrity obeyed his summons to dine. But, as he heard in the hall the voice of Chillingworth, the difficulty of his task for the first time swept over him. It was Chillingworth who had advocated to him the need of wooden type to suit his literary style and who had long ordered and bullied him about; and how was he to play the host to Chillingworth, not to speak of the others, with the news between them of that million?
When the bell rang, St. George somewhat gruffly superseded Rollo.
"I'll go," he said briefly, "and keep out of sight for a few minutes. Get in the bath-room or somewhere, will you?" he added nervously, and opened the door.
At one stroke Chillingworth settled his own position by dominating the situation as he dominated the city room. He chose the best chair and told a good story and found fault with the way the fire burned, all with immediate ease and abandon. Chillingworth's men loved to remember that he had once carried copy. They also understood all the legitimate devices by which he persuaded from them their best effort, yet these devices never failed, and the city room agreed that Chillingworth's fashion of giving an assignment to a new man would force him to write a readable account of his own entertainment in the dark meadows. Largely by personal magnetism he had fought his way upward, and this quality was not less a social gift.
Mr. Toby Amory, who had been on the Eleven with St. George at Harvard, looked along his pipe at his host and smiled, with flattering content, his slow smile. Amory's father had lately had a conspicuous quarter of an hour in Wall Street, as a result of which Amory, instead of taking St. George to the cemetery at Clusium as he had talked, himself drifted to Park Row; and although he now knew considerably less than he had hoped about certain inscriptions, he was supporting himself and two sisters by really brilliant work, so that the balance of his power was creditably maintained. Surely the inscriptions did not suffer, and what then was Amory that he should object? Presently Holt, the middle-aged marine man, and Harding who, since he had lost a lightweight sparring championship, was sporting editor, solemnly entered together and sat down with the social caution of their class. So did Provin, the "elder giant," who gathered news as he breathed and could not intelligibly put six words together. Horace, who would listen to four lines over the telephone and therefrom make a half-column of American newspaper humour or American newspaper tears, came in roaring pacifically and marshaling little Bud, that day in the seventh heaven of his first "beat." Then followed Crass, the feature man, whose interviews were known to the new men as literature, although he was not above publicly admitting that he was not a reporter, but a special writer. Mr. Crass read nothing in the paper that he had not written, and St. George had once prophesied that in old age he would use his scrap-book for a manual of devotions, as Klopstock used his Messiah. With him arrived Carbury, the telegraph editor, and later Benfy, who had a carpet in his office and wrote editorials and who came in evening clothes, thus moving Harding and Holt to instant private conversation. The last to appear was Little Cawthorne who wrote the fiction page and made enchanting limericks about every one on the staff and went about singing one song and behaving, the dramatic man flattered him, like a motif. Little Cawthorne entered backward, wrestling with some wiry matter which, when he had executed a manoeuvre and banged the door, was thrust through the passage in the form of Bennie Todd, the head office boy, affectionately known as Bennietod. Bennietod was in every one's secret, clipped every one's space and knew every one's salary, and he had lately covered a baseball game when the man whose copy he was to carry had, outside the fence, become implicated in allurements. He was greeted with noise, and St. George told him heartily that he was glad he had come.
"He made me," defensively claimed Bennietod; frowning deferentially at Little Cawthorne.
"Hello, St. George," said the latter, "come on back to the office. Crass sits in your place and he wears cravats the colour of goblin's blood. Come back."
"Not he," said Chillingworth, smoking; "the Dead-and-Done-with editor is too keen for that; I won't give him a job. He's ruined. Egg sandwiches will never stimulate him now."
St. George joined in the relieved laugh that followed. They were remembering his young Sing Sing convict who had completed his sentence in time to step in a cab and follow his mother to the grave, where his stepfather refused to have her coffin opened. And St. George, fresh from his Alma Mater, had weighted the winged words of his story with allusions to the tears celestial of Thetis, shed for Achilles, and Creon's grief for Haemon, and the Unnatural Combat of Massinger's father and son; so that Chillingworth had said things in languages that are not dead (albeit a bit Elizabethan) and the composing room had shaken mailed fists.
"Hi, you!" said Little Cawthorne, who was born in the South, "this is a mellow minute. I could wish they came often. This shall be a weekly occurrence—not so, St. George?"
"Cawthorne," Chillingworth warned, "mind your manners, or they'll make you city editor."
A momentary shadow was cast by the appearance of Rollo, who was manifestly a symbol of the world Philistine about which these guests knew more and in which they played a smaller part than any other class of men. But the tray which Rollo bore was his passport. Thereafter, they all trooped to the table, and Chillingworth sat at the head, and from the foot St. George watched the city editor break bread with the familiar nervous gesture with which he was wont to strip off yards of copy-paper and eat it. There was a tacit assumption that he be the conversational sun of the hour, and in fostering this understanding the host took grateful refuge.
"This is shameful," Chillingworth began contentedly. "Every one of you ought to be out on the Boris story."
"What is the Boris story?" asked St. George with interest. But in all talk St. George had a restful, host-like way of playing the role of opposite to every one who preferred being heard.
"I'll wager the boy hasn't been reading the papers these three months," Amory opined in his pleasant drawl.
"No," St. George confessed; "no, I haven't. They make me homesick."
"Don't maunder," said Chillingworth in polite criticism. "This is Amory's story, and only about a quarter of the facts yet," he added in a resentful growl. "It's up at the Boris, in West Fifty-ninth Street—you know the apartment house? A Miss Holland, an heiress, living there with her aunt, was attacked and nearly murdered by a mulatto woman. The woman followed her to the elevator and came uncomfortably near stabbing her from the back. The elevator boy was too quick for her. And at the station they couldn't get the woman to say a word; she pretends not to understand or to speak anything they've tried. She's got Amory hypnotized too—he thinks she can't. And when they searched her," went on Chillingworth with enjoyment, "they found her dressed in silk and cloth of gold, and loaded down with all sorts of barbarous ornaments, with almost priceless jewels. Miss Holland claims that she never saw or heard of the woman before. Now, what do you make of it?" he demanded, unconcernedly draining his glass.
"Splendid," cried St. George in unfeigned interest. "I say, splendid. Did you see the woman?" he asked Amory.
"Yes," he said, "Andy fixed that for me. But she never said a word. I parlez-voused her, and verstehen-Sied her, and she sighed and turned her head."
"Did you see the heiress?" St. George asked.
"Not I," mourned Amory, "not to talk with, that is. I happened to be hanging up in the hall there the afternoon it occurred;" he modestly explained.
"What luck," St. George commented with genuine envy. "It's a stunning story. Who is Miss Holland?"
"She's lived there for a year or more with her aunt," said Chillingworth. "She is a New Yorker and an heiress and a great beauty—oh, all the properties are there, but they're all we've got. What do you make of it?" he repeated.
St. George did not answer, and every one else did.
"Mistaken identity," said Little Cawthorne. "Do you remember Provin's story of the woman whose maid shot a masseuse whom she took to be her mistress; and the woman forgave the shooting and seemed to have her arrested chiefly because she had mistaken her for a masseuse?"
"Too easy, Cawthorne," said Chillingworth.
"The woman is probably an Italian," said the telegraph editor, "doing one of her Mafia stunts. It's time they left the politicians alone and threw bombs at the bonds that back them."
"Hey, Carbury. Stop writing heads," said Chillingworth.
"Has Miss Holland lived abroad?" asked Crass, the feature man. "Maybe this woman was her nurse or ayah or something who got fond of her charge, and when they took it away years ago, she devoted her life to trying to find it in America. And when she got here she wasn't able to make herself known to her, and rather than let any one else—"
"No more space-grabbing, Crass," warned Chillingworth.
"Maybe," ventured Horace, "the young lady did settlement work and read to the woman's kid, and the kid died, and the woman thought she'd said a charm over it."
Chillingworth grinned affectionately.
"Hold up," he commanded, "or you'll recall the very words of the charm."
Bennietod gasped and stared.
"Now, Bennietod?" Amory encouraged him.
"I t'ink," said the lad, "if she's a heiress, dis yere dagger-plunger is her mudder dat's been shut up in a mad-house to a fare-you-well."
Chillingworth nodded approvingly.
"Your imagination is toning down wonderfully," he flattered him. "A month ago you would have guessed that the mulatto lady was an Egyptian princess' messenger sent over here to get the heart from an American heiress as an ingredient for a complexion lotion. You're coming on famously, Todd."
"The German poet Wieland," began Benfy, clearing his throat, "has, in his epic of the Oberon made admirable use of much the same idea, Mr. Chillingworth—"
Yells interrupted him. Mr. Benfy was too "well-read" to be wholly popular with the staff.
"Oh, well, the woman was crazy. That's about all," suggested Harding, and blushed to the line of his hair.
"Yes, I guess so," assented Holt, who lifted and lowered one shoulder as he talked, "or doped."
Chillingworth sighed and looked at them both with pursed lips.
"You two," he commented, "would get out a paper that everybody would know to be full of reliable facts, and that nobody would buy. To be born with a riotous imagination and then hardly ever to let it riot is to be a born newspaper man. Provin?"
The elder giant leaned back, his eyes partly closed.
"Is she engaged to be married?" he asked. "Is Miss Holland engaged?"
Chillingworth shook his head.
"No," he said, "not engaged. We knew that by tea-time the same day, Provin. Well, St. George?"
St. George drew a long breath.
"By Jove, I don't know," he said, "it's a stunning story. It's the best story I ever remember, excepting those two or three that have hung fire for so long. Next to knowing just why old Ennis disinherited his son at his marriage, I would like to ferret out this."
"Now, tut, St. George," Amory put in tolerantly, "next to doing exactly what you will be doing all this week you'd rather ferret out this."
"On my honour, no," St. George protested eagerly, "I mean quite what I say. I might go on fearfully about it. Lord knows I'm going to see the day when I'll do it, too, and cut my troubles for the luck of chasing down a bully thing like this."
If there was anything to forgive, every one forgave him.
"But give up ten minutes on The Aloha," Amory skeptically put it, adjusting his pince-nez, "for anything less than ten minutes on The Aloha?"
"I'll do it now—now!" cried St. George. "If Mr. Chillingworth will put me on this story in your place and will give you a week off on The Aloha, you may have her and welcome."
Little Cawthorne pounded on the table.
"Where do I come in?" he wailed. "But no, all I get is another wad o' woe."
"What do you say, Mr. Chillingworth?" St. George asked eagerly.
"I don't know," said Chillingworth, meditatively turning his glass. "St. George is rested and fresh, and he feels the story. And Amory—here, touch glasses with me."
Amory obeyed. His chief's hand was steady, but the two glasses jingled together until, with a smile, Amory dropped his arm.
"I am about all in, I fancy," he admitted apologetically.
"A week's rest on the water," said Chillingworth, "would set you on your feet for the convention. All right, St. George," he nodded.
St. George leaped to his feet.
"Hooray!" he shouted like a boy. "Jove, won't it be good to get back?"
He smiled as he set down his glass, remembering the day at his desk when he had seen the white-and-brass craft slip to the river's mouth.
Rollo, discreet and without wonder, footed softly about the table, keeping the glasses filled and betraying no other sign of life. For more than four hours he was in attendance, until, last of the guests, Little Cawthorne and Bennietod departed together, trying to remember the dates of the English kings. Finally Chillingworth and Amory, having turned outdoors the dramatic critic who had arrived at midnight and was disposed to stay, stood for a moment by the fire and talked it over.
"Remember, St. George," Chillingworth said, "I'll have no monkey-work. You'll report to me at the old hour, you won't be late; and you'll take orders—"
"As usual, sir," St. George rejoined quietly.
"I beg your pardon," Chillingworth said quickly, "but you see this is such a deuced unnatural arrangement."
"I understand," St. George assented, "and I'll do my best not to get thrown down. Amory has told me all he knows about it—by the way, where is the mulatto woman now?"
"Why," said Chillingworth, "some physician got interested in the case, and he's managed to hurry her up to the Bitley Reformatory in Westchester for the present. She's there; and that means, we need not disguise, that nobody can see her. Those Bitley people are like a rabble of wild eagles."
"Right," said St. George. "I'll report at eight o'clock. Amory can board The Aloha when he gets ready and take down whom he likes."
"On my life, old chap, it's a private view of Kedar's tents to me," said Amory, his eyes shining behind his pince-nez. "I'll probably win wide disrespect by my inability to tell a mainsail from a cockpit, but I'm a grateful dog, in spite of that."
When they were gone St. George sat by the fire. He read Amory's story of the Boris affair in the paper, which somewhere in the apartment Rollo had unearthed, and the man took off his master's shoes and brought his slippers and made ready his bath. St. George glanced over his shoulder at the attractively-dismantled table, with its dying candles and slanted shades.
"Gad!" he said in sheer enjoyment as he clipped the story and saw Rollo pass with the towels.
It was so absurdly like a city room's dream of Arcady.
A SCRAP OF PAPER
To be awakened by Rollo, to be served in bed with an appetizing breakfast and to catch a hansom to the nearest elevated station were novel preparations for work in the Sentinel office. The impossibility of it all delighted St. George rather more than the reality, for there is no pastime, as all the world knows, quite like that of practising the impossible. The days when, "like a man unfree," he had fared forth from his unlovely lodgings clandestinely to partake of an evil omelette, seemed enchantingly far away. It was, St. George reflected, the experience of having been released from prison, minus the disgrace.
Yet when he opened the door of the city room the odour of the printers' ink somehow fused his elation in his liberty with the elation of the return. This was like wearing fetters for bracelets. When he had been obliged to breathe this air he had scoffed at its fascination, but now he understood. "A newspaper office," so a revered American of letters who had begun his life there had once imparted to St. George, "is a place where a man with the temperament of a savant and a recluse may bring his American vice of commercialism and worship of the uncommon, and let them have it out. Newspapers have no other use—except the one I began on." When St. George entered the city room, Crass, of the goblin's blood cravats, had vacated his old place, and Provin was just uncovering his typewriter and banging the tin cover upon everything within reach, and Bennietod was writhing over a rewrite, and Chillingworth was discharging an office boy in a fashion that warmed St. George's heart.
But Chillingworth, the city editor, was an italicized form of Chillingworth, the guest. He waved both arms at the foreman who ventured to tell him of a head that had one letter too many, and he frowned a greeting at St. George.
"Get right out on the Boris story," he said. "I depend on you. The chief is interested in this too—telephoned to know whom I had on it."
St. George knew perfectly that "the chief" was playing golf at Lenox and no doubt had read no more than the head-lines of the Holland story, for he was a close friend of the bishop's, and St. George knew his ways; but Chillingworth's methods always told, and St. George turned away with all the old glow of his first assignment.
St. George, calling up the Bitley Reformatory, knew that the Chances and the Fates were all allied against his seeing the mulatto woman; but he had learned that it is the one unexpected Fate and the one apostate Chance who open great good luck of any sort. So, though the journey to Westchester County was almost certain to result in refusal, he meant to be confronted by that certainty before he assumed it. To the warden on the wire St. George put his inquiry.
"What are your visitors' days up there, Mr. Jeffrey?"
"Thursdays," came the reply, and the warden's voice suggested handcuffs by way of hospitality.
"This is St. George of the Sentinel. I want very much to see one of your people—a mulatto woman. Can you fix it for me?"
"Certainly not," returned the warden promptly. "The Sentinel knows perfectly that newspaper men can not be admitted here."
"Ah, well now, of course," St. George conceded, "but if you have a mysterious boarder who talks Patagonian or something, and we think that perhaps we can talk with her, why then—"
"It doesn't matter whether you can talk every language in South America," said the warden bruskly. "I'm very busy now, and—"
"See here, Mr. Jeffrey," said St. George, "is no one allowed there but relatives of the guests?"
"I beg your pardon, that is literal?"
"Relatives, with a permit," divulged the warden, who, if he had had a sceptre would have used it at table, he was so fond of his little power, "and the Readers' Guild."
"Ah—the Readers' Guild," said St. George. "What days, Mr. Jeffrey?"
"To-day and Saturdays, ten o'clock. I'm sorry, Mr. St. George, but I'm a very busy man and now—"
"Good-by," St. George cried triumphantly.
In half an hour he was at the Grand Central station, boarding a train for the Reformatory town. It was a little after ten o'clock when he rang the bell at the house presided over by Chillingworth's "rabble of wild eagles."
The Reformatory, a boastful, brick building set in grounds that seemed freshly starched and ironed, had a discoloured door that would have frowned and threatened of its own accord, even without the printed warnings pasted to its panels stating that no application for admission, with or without permits, would be honoured upon any day save Thursday. This was Tuesday.
Presently, the chains having fallen within after a feudal rattling, an old man who looked born to the business of snapping up a drawbridge in lieu of a taste for any other exclusiveness peered at St. George through absurd smoked glasses, cracked quite across so that his eyes resembled buckles.
"Good morning," said St. George; "has the Readers' Guild arrived yet?"
The old man grated out an assent and swung open the door, which creaked in the pitch of his voice. The bare hall was cut by a wall of steel bars whose gate was padlocked, and outside this wall the door to the warden's office stood open. St. George saw that a meeting was in progress there, and the sight disturbed him. Then the click of a key caught his attention, and he turned to find the old man quietly and surprisingly swinging open the door of steel bars.
"This way, sir," he said hoarsely, fixing St. George with his buckle eyes, and shambled through the door after him locking it behind them.
If St. George had found awaiting him a gold throne encircled by kneeling elephants he could have been no more amazed. Not a word had been said about the purpose of his visit, and not a word to the warden; there was simply this miraculous opening of the barred door. St. George breathlessly footed across the rotunda and down the dim opposite hall. There was a mistake, that was evident; but for the moment St. George was going to propose no reform. Their steps echoed in the empty corridor that extended the entire length of the great building in an odour of unspeakable soap and superior disinfectants; and it was not until they reached a stair at the far end that the old man halted.
"Top o' the steps," he hoarsely volunteered, blinking his little buckle eyes, "first door to the left. My back's bad. I won't go up."
St. George, inhumanely blessing the circumstance, slipped something in the old man's hand and sprang up the stairs.
The first door at the left stood ajar. St. George looked in and saw a circle of bonnets and white curls clouded around the edge of the room, like witnesses. The Readers' Guild was about leaving; almost in the same instant, with that soft lift and touch which makes a woman's gown seem sewed with vowels and sibilants, they all arose and came tapping across the bare floor. At their head marched a woman with such a bright bonnet, and such a tinkle of ornaments on her gown that at first sight she quite looked like a lamp. It was she whom St. George approached.
"I beg your pardon, madame," he said, "is this the Readers' Guild?"
There was nothing in St. George's grave face and deferential stooping of shoulders to betray how his heart was beating or what a bound it gave at her amazing reply.
"Ah," she said, "how do you do?"—and her manner had that violent absent-mindedness which almost always proves that its possessor has trained a large family of children—"I am so glad that you can be with us to-day. I am Mrs. Manners—forgive me," she besought with perfectly self-possessed distractedness, "I'm afraid that I've forgotten your name."
"My name is St. George," he answered as well as he could for virtual speechlessness.
The other members of the Guild were issuing from the room, and Mrs. Manners turned. She had a fashion of smiling enchantingly, as if to compensate her total lack of attention.
"Ladies," she said, "this is Mr. St. George, at last."
Then she went through their names to him, and St. George bowed and caught at the flying end of the name of the woman nearest him, and muttered to them all. The one nearest was a Miss Bella Bliss Utter, a little brown nut of a woman with bead eyes.
"Ah, Mr. St. George," said Miss Utter rapidly, "it has been a wonderful meeting. I wish you might have been with us. Fortunately for us you are just in time for our third floor council."
It had been said of St. George that when he was writing on space and was in need, buildings fell down before him to give him two columns on the first page; but any architectural manoeuvre could not have amazed him as did this. And too, though there had been occasions when silence or an evasion would have meant bread to him, the temptation to both was never so strong as at that moment. It cost St. George an effort, which he was afterward glad to remember having made, to turn to Mrs. Manners, who had that air of appointing committees and announcing the programme by which we always recognize a leader, and try to explain.
"I am afraid," St. George said as they reached the stairs, "that you have mistaken me, Mrs. Manners. I am not—"
"Pray, pray do not mention it," cried Mrs. Manners, shaking her little lamp-shade of a hat at him, "we make every allowance, and I am sure that none will be necessary."
"But I am with the Evening Sentinel," St. George persisted, "I am afraid that—"
"As if one's profession made any difference!" cried Mrs. Manners warmly. "No, indeed, I perfectly understand. We all understand," she assured him, going over some papers in one hand and preparing to mount the stairs. "Indeed, we appreciate it," she murmured, "do we not, Miss Utter?"
The little brown nut seemed to crack in a capacious smile.
"Indeed, indeed!" she said fervently, accenting her emphasis by briefly-closed eyes.
"Hymn books. Now, have we hymn books enough?" plaintively broke in Mrs. Manners. "I declare, those new hymn books don't seem to have the spirit of the old ones, no matter what any one says," she informed St. George earnestly as they reached an open door. In the next moment he stood aside and the Readers' Guild filed past him. He followed them. This was pleasantly like magic.
They entered a large chamber carpeted and walled in the garish flowers which many boards of directors suppose will joy the cheerless breast. There were present a dozen women inmates,—sullen, weary-looking beings who seemed to have made abject resignation their latest vice. They turned their lustreless eyes upon the visitors, and a portly woman in a red waist with a little American flag in a buttonhole issued to them a nasal command to rise. They got to their feet with a starched noise, like dead leaves blowing, and St. George eagerly scanned their faces. There were women of several nationalities, though they all looked raceless in the ugly uniforms which those same boards of directors consider de rigueur for the soul that is to be won back to the normal. A little negress, with a spirit that soared free of boards of directors, had tried to tie her closely-clipped wool with bits of coloured string; an Italian woman had a geranium over her ear; and at the end of the last row of chairs, towering above the others, was a creature of a kind of challenging, unforgetable beauty whom, with a thrill of certainty, St. George realized to be her whom he had come to see. So strong was his conviction that, as he afterward recalled, he even asked no question concerning her. She looked as manifestly not one of the canaille of incorrigibles as, in her place, Lucrezia Borgia would have looked.
The woman was powerfully built with astonishing breadth of shoulder and length of limb, but perfectly proportioned. She was young, hardly more than twenty, St. George fancied, and of the peculiar litheness which needs no motion to be manifest. Her clear skin was of wonderful brown; and her eyes, large and dark, with something of the oriental watchfulness, were like opaque gems and not more penetrable. Her look was immovably fixed upon St. George as if she divined that in some way his coming affected her.
"We will have our hymn first." Mrs. Manners' words were buzzing and pecking in the air. "What can I have done with that list of numbers? We have to select our pieces most carefully," she confided to St. George, "so to be sure that Soul's Prison or Hands Red as Crimson, or, Do You See the Hebrew Captive Kneeling? or anything personal like that doesn't occur. Now what can I have done with that list?"
Her words reached St. George but vaguely. He was in a fever of anticipation and enthusiasm. He turned quickly to Mrs. Manners.
"During the hymn," he said simply, "I would like to speak with one of the women. Have I your permission?"
Mrs. Manners looked momentarily perplexed; but her eyes at that instant chancing upon her lost list of hymns, she let fall an abstracted assent and hurried to the waiting organist. Immediately St. George stepped quietly down among the women already fluttering the leaves of their hymn books, and sat beside the mulatto woman.
Her eyes met his in eager questioning, but she had that temper of unsurprise of many of the eastern peoples and of some animals. Yet she was under some strong excitement, for her hands, large but faultlessly modeled, were pressed tensely together. And St. George saw that she was by no means a mulatto, or of any race that he was able to name. Her features were classic and of exceeding fineness, and her face was sensitive and highly-bred and filled with repose, like the surprising repose of breathing arrested in marble. There was that about her, however, which would have made one, constituted to perceive only the arbitrary balance of things, feel almost afraid; while one of high organization would inevitably have been smitten by some sense of the incalculably higher organization of her nature, a nature which breathed forth an influence, laid a spell—did something indefinable. Sometimes one stands too closely to a statue and is frightened by the nearness, as by the nearness of one of an alien region. St. George felt this directly he spoke to her. He shook off the impression and set himself practically to the matter in hand. He had never had greater need of his faculty for directness. His low tone was quite matter-of-fact, his manner deferentially reassuring.
"I think," he said softly and without preface, "that I can help you. Will you let me help you? Will you tell me quickly your name?"
The woman's beautiful eyes were filled with distress, but she shook her head.
"Your name—name—name?" St. George repeated earnestly, but she had only the same answer. "Can you not tell me where you live?" St. George persisted, and she made no other sign.
"New York?" went on St. George patiently. "New York? Do you live in New York?"
There was a sudden gleam in the woman's eyes. She extended her hands quickly in unmistakable appeal. Then swiftly she caught up a hymn book, tore at its fly-leaf, and made the movement of writing. In an instant St. George had thrust a pencil in her hand and she was tracing something.
He waited feverishly. The organ had droned through the hymn and the women broke into song, with loose lips and without restraint, as street boys sing. He saw them casting curious, sullen glances, and the Readers' Guild whispering among themselves. Miss Bella Bliss Utter, looking as distressed as a nut can look, nodded, and Mrs. Manners shook her head and they meant the same thing. Then St. George saw the attendant in the red waist descend from the platform and make her way toward him, the little American flag rising and falling on her breast. He unhesitatingly stepped in the aisle to meet her, determined to prevent, if possible, her suspicion of the message. "Is it the barbarism of a gentleman," Amory had once propounded, "or is it the gentleman-like manners of a barbarian which makes both enjoy over-stepping a prohibition?"
"I compliment you," St. George said gravely, with his deferential stooping of the shoulders. "The women are perfectly trained. This, of course, is due to you."
The hard face of the woman softened, but St. George thought that one might call her very facial expression nasal; she smiled with evident pleasure, though her purpose remained unshaken.
"They do pretty good," she admitted, "but visitors ain't best for 'em. I'll have to request you"—St. George vaguely wished that she would say "ask"—"not to talk to any of 'em."
St. George bowed.
"It is a great privilege," he said warmly if a bit incoherently, and held her in talk about an institution of the sort in Canada where the women inmates wore white, the managers claiming that the effect upon their conduct was perceptible, that they were far more self-respecting, and so on in a labyrinth of defensive detail. "What do you think of the idea?" he concluded anxiously, manfully holding his ground in the aisle.
"I think it's mostly nonsense," returned the woman tartly, "a big expense and a sight of work for nothing. And now permit me to say—"
St. George vaguely wished that she would say "let."
"I agree with you," he said earnestly, "nothing could be simpler and neater than these calico gowns."
The attendant looked curiously at him.
"They are gingham," she rejoined, "and you'll excuse me, I hope, but visitors ain't supposed to converse with the inmates."
St. George was vanquished by "converse."
"I beg your pardon," he said, "pray forgive me. I will say good-by to my friend."
He turned swiftly and extended his hand to the strange woman behind him. With the cunning upon which he had counted she gave her own hand, slipping in his the folded paper. Her eyes, with their haunting watchfulness, held his for a moment as she mutely bent forward when he left her.
The hymn was done and the women were seating themselves, as St. George with beating heart took his way up the aisle. What the paper contained he could not even conjecture; but there was a paper and it did contain something which he had a pleasant premonition would be invaluable to him. Yet he was still utterly at loss to account for his own presence there, and this he coolly meant to do.
He was spared the necessity. On the platform Mrs. Manners had risen to make an announcement; and St. George fancied that she must preside at her tea-urn and try on her bonnets with just that same formal little "announcement" air.
"My friends," she said, "I have now an unexpected pleasure for you and for us all. We have with us to-day Mr. St. George, of New York. Mr. St. George is going to sing for us."
St. George stood still for a moment, looking into the expectant faces of Mrs. Manners and the other women of the Readers' Guild, a spark of understanding kindling the mirth in his eyes. This then accounted both for his admittance to the home and for his welcome by the women upon their errand of mercy. He had simply been very naturally mistaken for a stranger from New York who had not arrived. But since he had accomplished something, though he did not know what, inasmuch as the slip of paper lay crushed in his hand unread, he must, he decided, pay for it. Without ado he stepped to the platform.
"I have explained to Mrs. Manners and to these ladies," he said gravely, "that I am not the gentleman who was to sing for you. However, since he is detained, I will do what I can."
This, mistaken for a merely perfunctory speech of self-depreciation, was received in polite, contradicting silence by the Guild. St. George, who had a rich, true barytone, quickly ran over his little list of possible songs, none of which he had ever sung to an audience that a canoe would not hold, or to other accompaniment than that of a mandolin. Partly in memory of those old canoe-evenings St. George broke into a low, crooning plantation melody. The song, like much of the Southern music, had in it a semi-barbaric chord that the college men had loved, something—or so one might have said who took the canoe-music seriously—of the wildness and fierceness of old tribal loves and plaints and unremembered wooings with a desert background: a gallop of hoof-beats, a quiver of noon light above saffron sand—these had been, more or less, in the music when St. George had been wont to lie in a boat and pick at the strings while Amory paddled; and these he must have reechoed before the crowd of curious and sullen and commonplace, lighted by that one wild, strange face. When he had finished the dark woman sat with bowed head, and St. George himself was more moved by his own effort than was strictly professional.
"Dear Mr. St. George," said Mrs. Manners, going distractedly through her hand-bag for something unknown, "our secretary will thank you formally. It was she who sent you our request, was it not? She will so regret being absent to-day."
"She did not send me a request, Mrs. Manners," persisted St. George pleasantly, "but I've been uncommonly glad to do what I could. I am here simply on a mission for the Evening Sentinel."
Mrs. Manners drew something indefinite from her bag and put it back again, and looked vaguely at St. George.
"Your voice reminds me so much of my brother, younger," she observed, her eyes already straying to the literature for distribution.
With soft exclamatory twitters the Readers' Guild thanked St. George, and Miss Bella Bliss Utter, who was of womankind who clasp their hands when they praise, stood thus beside him until he took his leave. The woman in the red waist summoned an attendant to show him back down the long corridor.
At the grated door within the entrance St. George found the warden in stormy conference with a pale blond youth in spectacles.
"Impossible," the warden was saying bluntly, "I know you. I know your voice. You called me up this morning from the New York Sentinel office, and I told you then—"
"But, my dear sir," expostulated the pale blond youth, waving a music roll, "I do assure you—"
"What he says is quite true, Warden," St. George interposed courteously, "I will vouch for him. I have just been singing for the Readers' Guild myself."
The warden dropped back with a grudging apology and brows of tardy suspicion, and the old man blinked his buckle eyes.
"Gentlemen," said St. George, "good morning."
Outside the door, with its panels decorated in positive prohibitions, he eagerly unfolded the precious paper. It bore a single name and address: Tabnit, 19 McDougle Street, New York.
ST. GEORGE AND THE LADY
St. George lunched leisurely at his hotel. Upon his return from Westchester he had gone directly to McDougle Street to be assured that there was a house numbered 19. Without difficulty he had found the place; it was in the row of old iron-balconied apartment houses a few blocks south of Washington Square, and No. 19 differed in no way from its neighbours even to the noisy children, without toys, tumbling about the sunken steps and dark basement door. St. George contented himself with walking past the house, for the mere assurance that the place existed dictated his next step.
This was to write a note to Mrs. Medora Hastings, Miss Holland's aunt. The note set forth that for reasons which he would, if he might, explain later, he was interested in the woman who had recently made an attempt upon her niece's life; that he had seen the woman and had obtained an address which he was confident would lead to further information about her. This address, he added, he preferred not to disclose to the police, but to Mrs. Hastings or Miss Holland herself, and he begged leave to call upon them if possible that day. He despatched the note by Rollo, whom he instructed to deliver it, not at the desk, but at the door of Mrs. Hastings' apartment, and to wait for an answer. He watched with pleasure Rollo's soft departure, recalling the days when he had sent a messenger boy to some inaccessible threshold, himself stamping up and down in the cold a block or so away to await the boy's return.
Rollo was back almost immediately. Mrs. Hastings and Miss Holland were not at home. St. George eyed his servant severely.
"Rollo," he said, "did you go to the door of their apartment?"
"No, sir," said Rollo stiffly, "the elevator boy told me they was out, sir."
"Showing," thought St. George, "that a valet and a gentleman is a very poor newspaper man."
"Now go back," he said pleasantly, "go up in the elevator to their door. If they are not in, wait in the lower hallway until they return. Do you get that? Until they return."
"You'll want me back by tea-time, sir?" ventured Rollo.
"Wait," St. George repeated, "until they return. At three. Or six. Or nine o'clock. Or midnight."
"Very good, sir," said Rollo impassively, "it ain't always wise, sir, for a man to trust to his own judgment, sir, asking your pardon. His judgment," he added, "may be a bit of the ape left in him, sir."
St. George smiled at this evolutionary pearl and settled himself comfortably by the open fire to await Rollo's return. It was after three o'clock when he reappeared. He brought a note and St. George feverishly tore it open.
"Whom did you see? Were they civil to you?" he demanded.
"I saw a old lady, sir," said Rollo irreverently. "She didn't say a word to me, sir, but what she didn't say was civiler than many people's language. There's a great deal in manner, sir," declaimed Rollo, brushing his hat with his sleeve, and his sleeve with his handkerchief, and shaking the handkerchief meditatively over the coals.
St. George read the note at a glance and with unspeakable relief. They would see him. A refusal would have delayed and annoyed him just then, in the flood-tide of his hope.
"My Dear Mr. St. George," the note ran. "My niece is not at home, and I can not tell how your suggestion will be received by her, though it is most kind. I may, however, answer for myself that I shall be glad to see you at four o'clock this afternoon. "Very truly yours, "MEDORA HASTINGS."
Grateful for her evident intention to waste no time, St. George dressed and drove to the Boris, punctually sending up his card at four o'clock. At once he was ushered to Mrs. Hastings' apartment.
St. George entered her drawing-room incuriously. Three years of entering drawing-rooms which he never thereafter was to see had robbed him of that sensation of indefinable charm which for many a strange room never ceases to yield. He had found far too many tables upholding nothing which one could remember, far too many pictures that returned his look, and rugs that seemed to have been selected arbitrarily and because there was none in stock that the owner really liked. He was therefore pleasantly surprised and puzzled by the room which welcomed him. The floor was tiled in curious blocks, strangely hieroglyphed, as if they had been taken from old tombs. Over the fireplace was set a panel of the same stone, which, by the thickness of the tiles, formed a low shelf. On this shelf and on tables and in a high window was the strangest array of objects that St. George had ever seen. There were small busts of soft rose stone, like blocks of coral. There was a statue or two of some indefinable white material, glistening like marble and yet so soft that it had been indented in several places by accidental pressure. There were fans of strangely-woven silk, with sticks of carven rock-crystal, and hand mirrors of polished copper set in frames of gems that he did not recognize. Upon the wall were mended bits of purple tapestry, embroidered or painted or woven in singular patterns of flora and birds that St. George could not name. There were rolls of parchment, and vases of rock-crystal, and a little apparatus, most delicately poised, for weighing unknown, delicate things; and jars and cups without handles, all baked of a soft pottery having a nap like the down of a peach. Over the windows hung curtains of lace, woven by hands which St. George could not guess, in patterns of such freedom and beauty as western looms never may know. On the floor and on the divans were spread strange skins, some marked like peacocks, some patterned like feathers and like seaweed, all in a soft fur that was like silk.
Mingled with these curios were the ordinary articles of a cultivated household. There were many books, good pictures, furniture with simple lines, a tea-table that almost ministered of itself, a work-basket filled with "violet-weaving" needle-work, and a gossipy clock with well-bred chimes. St. George was enormously attracted by the room which could harbour so many pagan delights without itself falling their victim. The air was fresh and cool and smelled of the window primroses.
In a few moments Mrs. Hastings entered, and if St. George had been bewildered by the room he was still more amazed by the appearance of his hostess. She was utterly unlike the atmosphere of her drawing-room. She was a bustling, commonplace little creature, with an expressionless face, indented rather than molded in features. Her plump hands were covered with jewels, but for all the richness of her gown she gave the impression of being very badly dressed; things of jet and metal bobbed and ticked upon her, and her side-combs were continually falling about. She sat on the sofa and looked at the seat which St. George was to have and began to talk—all without taking the slightest heed of him or permitting him to mention the Evening Sentinel or his errand. If St. George had been painted purple he felt sure that she would have acted quite the same. Personality meant nothing to her.
"Now this distressing matter, Mr. St. George," began Mrs. Hastings, "of this frightful mulatto woman. I didn't see her myself—no, I had stopped in on the first floor to visit my lawyer's wife who was ill with neuralgia, and I didn't see the creature. If I had been with my niece I dare say it wouldn't have occurred. That's what I always say to my niece. I always say, 'Olivia, nothing need occur to vex one. It always happens because of pure heedlessness.' Not that I accuse my own niece of heedlessness in this particular. It was the elevator boy who was heedless. That is the trouble with life in a great city. Every breath you draw is always dependent on somebody else's doing his duty, and when you consider how many people habitually neglect their duty it is a wonder—I always say that to Olivia—it is a wonder that anybody is alive to do a duty when it presents itself. 'Olivia,' I always say, 'nobody needs to die.' And I really believe that they nearly all do die out of pure heedlessness. Well, and so this frightful mulatto creature: you know her, I understand?"
Mrs. Hastings leaned back and consulted St. George through her tortoise-shell glasses, tilting her head high to keep them on her nose and perpetually putting their gold chain over her ear, which perpetually pulled out her side-combs.
"I saw her this morning," St. George said. "I went up to the Reformatory in Westchester, and I spoke with her."
"Mercy!" ejaculated Mrs. Hastings, "I wonder she didn't tear your eyes out. Did they have her in a cage or in a cell? What was the creature about?"
"She was in a missionary meeting at the moment," St. George explained, smiling.
"Mercy!" said Mrs. Hastings in exactly the same tone. "Some trick, I expect. That's what I warn Olivia: 'So few things nowadays are done through necessity or design.' Nearly everything is a trick. Every invention is a trick—a cultured trick, one might say. Murder is a trick, I suppose, to a murderer. That's why civilization is bad for morals, don't you think? Well, and so she talked with you?"
"No, Mrs. Hastings," said St. George, "she did not say one word. But she wrote something, and that is what I have come to bring you."
"What was it—some charm?" cried Mrs. Hastings. "Oh, nobody knows what that kind of people may do. I'll meet any one face to face, but these juggling, incantation individuals appal me. I have a brother who travels in the Orient, and he tells me about hideous things they do—raising wheat and things," she vaguely concluded.
"Ah!" said St. George quickly, "you have a brother—in the Orient?"
"Oh, yes. My brother Otho has traveled abroad I don't know how many years. We have a great many stamps. I can't begin to pronounce all the names," the lady assured him.
"And this brother—is he your niece, Miss Holland's father?" St. George asked eagerly.
"Certainly," said Mrs. Hastings severely; "I have only one brother, and it has been three years since I have seen him."
"Pardon me, Mrs. Hastings," said St. George, "this may be most important. Will you tell me when you last heard from him and where he was?"
"I should have to look up the place," she answered, "I couldn't begin to pronounce the name, I dare say. It was somewhere in the South Atlantic, ten months or more ago."
"Ah," St. George quietly commented.
"Well, and now this frightful creature," resumed Mrs. Hastings, "do, pray, tell me what it was she wrote."
St. George produced the paper.
"That is it," he said. "I fancy you will not know the street. It is 19 McDougle Street, and the name is simply Tabnit."
"Yes. And is it a letter?" his hostess demanded, "and whatever does it say?"
"It is not a letter," St. George explained patiently, "and this is all that it says. The name is, I suppose, the name of a person. I have made sure that there is such a number in the street. I have seen the house. But I have waited to consult you before going there."
"Why, what is it you think?" Mrs. Hastings besought him. "Do you think this person, whoever it is, can do something? And whatever can he do? Oh dear," she ended, "I do want to act the way poor dear Mr. Hastings would have acted. Only I know that he would have gone straight to Bitley, or wherever she is, and held a revolver at that mulatto creature's head, and commanded her to talk English. Mr. Hastings was a very determined character. If you could have seen the poor dear man's chin! But of course I can't do that, can I? And that's what I say to Olivia. 'Olivia, one doesn't need a man's judgment if one will only use judgment oneself.' What is it you think, Mr. St. George?"
Before St. George could reply there entered the room, behind a low announcement of his name, a man of sixty-odd years, nervous, slightly stooped, his smooth pale face unlighted by little deep-set eyes.
"Ah, Mr. Frothingham!" said Mrs. Hastings in evident relief, "you are just in time. Mr. St. John was just telling me horrible things about this frightful mulatto creature. This is Mr. St. John. Mr. Frothingham is my lawyer and my brother Otho's lawyer. And so I telephoned him to come in and hear all about this. And now do go on, Mr. St. John, about this hideous woman. What is it you think?"
"How do you do, Mr. St. John?" said the lawyer portentously. His greeting was almost a warning, and reminded St. George of the way in which certain brakemen call out stations. St. George responded as blithely to this name as to his own and did not correct it. "And what," went on the lawyer, sitting down with long unclosed hands laid trimly along his knees, "have you to contribute to this most remarkable occurrence, Mr. St. John?"
St. George briefly narrated the events of the morning and placed the slip of paper in the lawyer's hands.
"Ah! We have here a communication in the nature of a confession," the lawyer observed, adjusting his gold pince-nez, head thrown back, eyebrows lifted.
"Only the address, sir," said St. George, "and I was just saying to Mrs. Hastings that some one ought to go to this address at once and find out whatever is to be got there. Whoever goes I will very gladly accompany."
Mr. Frothingham had a fashion of making ready to speak and soliciting attention by the act, and then collapsing suddenly with no explosion, like a bad Roman candle. He did this now, and whatever he meant to say was lost to the race; but he looked very wise the while. It was rather as if he discarded you as a fit listener, than that he discarded his own comment.
"I don't know but I ought to go myself," rambled Mrs. Hastings, "perhaps Mr. Hastings would think I ought. Suppose, Mr. Frothingham, that we both go. Dear, dear! Olivia always sees to my shopping and flowers and everything executive, but I can't let her go into these frightful places, can I?"
There was a rustling at the far end of the room, and some one entered. St. George did not turn, but as her soft skirts touched and lifted along the floor he was tinglingly aware of her presence. Even before Mrs. Hastings heard her light footfall, even before the clear voice spoke, St. George knew that he was at last in the presence of the arbiter of his enterprise, and of how much else he did not know. He was silent, breathlessly waiting for her to speak.
"May I come in, Aunt Dora?" she said. "I want to know to what place it is impossible for me to go?"
She came from the long room's boundary shadow. There was about her a sense of white and gray with a knot of pale colour in her hat and an orchid on her white coat. Mrs. Hastings, taking no more account of her presence than she had of St. George's, tilted back her head and looked at the primroses in the window as closely as at anything, and absently presented him.
"Olivia," she said, "this is Mr. St. John, who knows about that frightful mulatto creature. Mr. St. George," she went on, correcting the name entirely unintentionally, "my niece, Miss Holland. And I'm sure I wish I knew what the necessary thing to be done is. That is what I always tell you, you know, Olivia. 'Find out the necessary thing and do it, and let the rest go.'"
"It reminds me very much," said the lawyer, clearing his throat, "of a case that I had on the April calendar—"
Miss Holland had turned swiftly to St. George:
"You know the mulatto woman?" she asked, and the lawyer passed by the April calendar and listened.
"I went to the Bitley Reformatory this morning to see her," St. George replied. "She gave me this name and address. We have been saying that some one ought to go there to learn what is to be learned."
Mr. Frothingham in a silence of pursed lips offered the paper. Miss Holland glanced at it and returned it.
"Will you tell us what your interest is in this woman?" she asked evenly. "Why you went to see her?"
"Yes, Miss Holland," St. George replied, "you know of course that the police have done their best to run this matter down. You know it because you have courteously given them every assistance in your power. But the police have also been very ably assisted by every newspaper in town. I am fortunate to be acting in the interests of one of these—the Sentinel. This clue was put in my hands. I came to you confident of your cooeperation."
Mrs. Hastings threw up her hands with a gesture that caught away the chain of her eye-glass and sent it dangling in her lap, and her side-combs tinkling to the tiled floor.
"Mercy!" she said, "a reporter!"
St. George bowed.
"But I never receive reporters!" she cried, "Olivia—don't you know? A newspaper reporter like that fearful man at Palm Beach, who put me in the Courtney's ball list in a blue silk when I never wear colours."
"Now really, really, this intrusion—" began Mr. Frothingham, his long, unclosed hands working forward on his knees in undulations, as a worm travels.
Miss Holland turned to St. George, the colour dyeing her face and throat, her manner a bewildering mingling of graciousness and hauteur.
"My aunt is right," she said tranquilly, "we never have received any newspaper representative. Therefore, we are unfortunate never to have met one. You were saying that we should send some one to McDougle Street?"
St. George was aware of his heart-beats. It was all so unexpected and so dangerous, and she was so perfectly equal to the circumstance.
"I was asking to be allowed to go myself, Miss Holland," he said simply, "with whoever makes the investigation."
Mrs. Hastings was looking mutely from one to another, her forehead in horizons of wrinkles.
"I'm sure, Olivia, I think you ought to be careful what you say," she plaintively began. "Mr. Hastings never allowed his name to go in any printed lists even, he was so particular. Our telephone had a private number, and all the papers had instructions never to mention him, even if he was murdered, unless he took down the notice himself. Then if anything important did happen, he often did take it down, nicely typewritten, and sometimes even then they didn't use it, because they knew how very particular he was. And of course we don't know how—"
St. George's eyes blazed, but he did not lift them. The affront was unstudied and, indeed, unconscious. But Miss Holland understood how grave it was, for there are women whose intuition would tell them the etiquette due upon meeting the First Syndic of Andorra or a noble from Gambodia.
"We want the truth about this as much as Mr. St. George does," she said quickly, smiling for the first time. St. George liked her smile. It was as if she were amused, not absent-minded nor yet a prey to the feminine immorality of ingratiation. "Besides," she continued, "I wish to know a great many things. How did the mulatto woman impress you, Mr. St. George?"
Miss Holland loosened her coat, revealing a little flowery waist, and leaned forward with parted lips. She was very beautiful, with the beauty of perfect, blooming, colourful youth, without line or shadow. She was in the very noon of youth, but her eyes did not wander after the habit of youth; they were direct and steady and a bit critical, and she spoke slowly and with graceful sanity in a voice that was without nationality. She might have been the cultivated English-speaking daughter of almost any land of high civilization, or she might have been its princess. Her face showed her imaginative; her serene manner reassured one that she had not, in consequence, to pay the usury of lack of judgment; she seemed reflective, tender, and of a fine independence, tempered, however, by tradition and unerring taste. Above all, she seemed alive, receptive, like a woman with ten senses. And—above all again—she had charm. Finally, St. George could talk with her; he did not analyze why; he only knew that this woman understood what he said in precisely the way that he said it, which is, perhaps, the fifth essence in nature.
"May I tell you?" asked St. George eagerly. "She seemed to me a very wonderful woman, Miss Holland; almost a woman of another world. She is not mulatto—her features are quite classic; and she is not a fanatic or a mad-woman. She is, of her race, a strangely superior creature, and I fancy, of high cultivation; and I am convinced that at the foundation of her attempt to take your life there is some tremendous secret. I think we must find out what that is, first, for your own sake; next, because this is the sort of thing that is worth while."
"Ah," cried Miss Holland, "delightful. I begin to be glad that it happened. The police said that she was a great brutal negress, and I thought she must be insane. The cloth-of-gold and the jewels did make me wonder, but I hardly believed that."
"The newspapers," Mr. Frothingham said acidly, "became very much involved in their statements concerning this matter."
"This 'Tabnit,'" said Miss Holland, and flashed a smile of pretty deference at the lawyer to console him for her total neglect of his comment, "in McDougle Street. Who can he be?—he is a man, I suppose. And where is McDougle Street?"
St. George explained the location, and Mrs. Hastings fretfully commented.
"I'm sure, Olivia," she said, "I think it is frightfully unwomanly in you—"
"To take so much interest in my own murder?" Miss Holland asked in amusement. "Aunt Dora, I'm going to do more: I suggest that you and Mr. Frothingham and I go with Mr. St. George to this address in McDougle Street—"
"My dear Olivia!" shrilled Mrs. Hastings, "it's in the very heart of the Bowery—isn't it, Mr. St. John? And only think—"
It was as if Mrs. Hastings' frustrate words emerged in the fantastic guise of her facial changes.
"No, it isn't quite the Bowery, Mrs. Hastings," St. George explained, "though it won't look unlike."
"I wish I knew what Mr. Hastings would have done," his widow mourned, "he always said to me: 'Medora, do only the necessary thing.' Do you think this is the necessary thing—with all the frightful smells?"
"It is perfectly safe," ventured St. George, "is it not, Mr. Frothingham?"
Mr. Frothingham bowed and tried to make non-partisanship seem a tasteful resignation of his own will.
"I am at Mrs. Hastings' command," he said, waving both hands, once, from the wrist.
"You know the place is really only a few blocks from Washington Square," St. George submitted.
Mrs. Hastings brightened.
"Well, I have some friends in Washington Square," she said, "people whom I think a great deal of, and always have. If you really feel, Olivia—"
"I do," said Miss Holland simply, "and let us go now, Aunt Dora. The brougham has been at the door since I came in. We may as well drive there as anywhere, if Mr. St. George is willing."
"I shall be happy," said St. George sedately, longing to cry: "Willing! Willing! Oh, Mrs. Hastings and Miss Holland—willing!"
Miss Holland and St. George and the lawyer were alone for a few minutes while Mrs. Hastings rustled away for her bonnet. Miss Holland sat where the afternoon light, falling through the corner window, smote her hair to a glory of pale colour, and St. George's eyes wandered to the glass through which the sun fell. It was a thin pane of irregular pieces set in a design of quaint, meaningless characters, in the centre of which was the figure of a sphinx, crucified upon an upright cross and surrounded by a border of coiled asps with winged heads. The window glittered like a sheet of gems.
"What wonderful glass," involuntarily said St. George.
"Is it not?" Miss Holland said enthusiastically. "My father sent it. He sent nearly all these things from abroad."
"I wonder where such glass is made," observed St. George; "it is like lace and precious stones—hardly more painted than carved."
She bent upon him such a sudden, searching look that St. George felt his eyes held by her own.
"Do you know anything of my father?" she demanded suddenly.
"Only that Mrs. Hastings has just told me that he is abroad—in the South Atlantic," St. George wonderingly replied.
"Why, I am very foolish," said Miss Holland quickly, "we have not heard from him in ten months now, and I am frightfully worried. Ah yes, the glass is beautiful. It was made in one of the South Atlantic islands, I believe—so were all these things," she added; "the same figure of the crucified sphinx is on many of them."
"Do you know what it means?" he asked.
"It is the symbol used by the people in one of the islands, my father said," she answered.
"These symbols usually, I believe," volunteered Mr. Frothingham, frowning at the glass, "have little significance, standing merely for the loose barbaric ideas of a loose barbaric nation."
St. George thought of the ladies of Doctor Johnson's Amicable Society who walked from the town hall to the Cathedral in Lichfield, "in linen gowns, and each has a stick with an acorn; but for the acorn they could give no reason."
He looked long at the glass.
"She," he said finally, "our false mulatto, ought to stand before just such glass."
Miss Holland laughed. She nodded her head a little, once, every time she laughed, and St. George was learning to watch for that.
"The glass would suit any style of beauty better than steel bars," she said lightly as Mrs. Hastings came fluttering back. Mrs. Hastings fluttered ponderously, as humblebees fly. Indeed, when one considered, there was really a "blunt-faced bee" look about the woman.
The brougham had on the box two men in smart livery; the footman, closing the door, received St. George's reply to Mrs. Hastings' appeal to "tell the man the number of this frightful place."
"I dare say I haven't been careful," Mrs. Hastings kept anxiously observing, "I have been heedless, I dare say. And I always think that what one must avoid is heedlessness, don't you think? Didn't Napoleon say that if only Caesar had been first in killing the men who wanted to kill him—something about Pompey's statue being kept clean. What was it—why should they blame Caesar for the condition of the public statues?"
"My dear Mrs. Hastings," Mr. Frothingham reminded her, his long gloved hands laid trimly along his knees as before, "you are in my care."
The statue problem faded from the lady's eyes.
"Poor, dear Mr. Hastings always said you were so admirable at cross-questioning," she recalled, partly reassured.
"Ah," cried Miss Holland protestingly, "Aunt Dora, this is an adventure. We are going to see 'Tabnit.'"
St. George was silent, ecstatically reviewing the events of the last six hours and thinking unenviously of Amory, rocking somewhere with The Aloha on a mere stretch of green water:
"If Chillingworth could see me now," he thought victoriously, as the carriage turned smartly into McDougle Street.
THE PRINCE OF FAR-AWAY
No. 19 McDougle Street had been chosen as a likely market by a "hokey-pokey" man, who had wheeled his cart to the curb before the entrance. There, despite Mrs. Hastings' coach-man's peremptory appeal, he continued to dispense stained ice-cream to the little denizens of No. 19 and the other houses in the row. The brougham, however, at once proved a counter-attraction and immediately an opposition group formed about the carriage step and exchanged penetrating comments upon the livery.
"Mrs. Hastings, you and Miss Holland would better sit here, perhaps," suggested St. George, alighting hurriedly, "until I see if this man is to be found."
"Please," said Miss Holland, "I've always been longing to go into one of these houses, and now I'm going. Aren't we, Aunt Dora?"
"If you think—" ventured Mr. Frothingham in perplexity; but Mr. Frothingham's perplexity always impressed one as duty-born rather than judicious, and Miss Holland had already risen.
"Olivia!" protested Mrs. Hastings faintly, accepting St. George's hand, "do look at those children's aprons. I'm afraid we'll all contract fever after fever, just coming this far."
Unkempt women were occupying the doorstep of No. 19. St. George accosted them and asked the way to the rooms of a Mr. Tabnit. They smiled, displaying their wonderful teeth, consulted together, and finally with many labials and uncouth pointings of shapely hands they indicated the door of the "first floor front," whose wooden shutters were closely barred. St. George led the way and entered the bare, unclean passage where discordant voices and the odours of cooking wrought together to poison the air. He tapped smartly at the door.
Immediately it was opened by a graceful boy, dressed in a long, belted coat of dun-colour. He had straight black hair, and eyes which one saw before one saw his face, and he gravely bowed to each of the party in turn before answering St. George's question.
"Assuredly," said the youth in perfect English, "enter."
They found themselves in an ample room extending the full depth of the house; and partly because the light was dim and partly in sheer amazement they involuntarily paused as the door clicked behind them. The room's contrast to the squalid neighbourhood was complete. The apartment was carpeted in soft rugs laid one upon another so that footfalls were silenced. The walls and ceiling were smoothly covered with a neutral-tinted silk, patterned in dim figures; and from a fluted pillar of exceeding lightness an enormous candelabrum shed clear radiance upon the objects in the room. The couches and divans were woven of some light reed, made with high fantastic backs, in perfect purity of line however, and laid with white mattresses. A little reed table showed slender pipes above its surface and these, at a touch from the boy, sent to a great height tiny columns of water that tinkled back to the square of metal upon which the table was set. A huge fan of blanched grasses automatically swayed from above. On a side-table were decanters and cups and platters of a material frail and transparent. Before the shuttered window stood an observable plant with coloured leaves. On a great table in the room's centre were scattered objects which confused the eye. A light curtain stirring in the fan's faint breeze hung at the far end of the room.
In a career which had held many surprises, some of which St. George would never be at liberty to reveal to the paper in whose service he had come upon them, this was one of the most alluring. The mere existence of this strange and luxurious habitation in the heart of such a neighbourhood would, past expression, delight Mr. Crass, the feature man, and no doubt move even Chillingworth to approval. Chillingworth and Crass! Already they seemed strangers. St. George glanced at Miss Holland; she was looking from side to side, like a bird alighted among strange flowers; she met his eyes and dimpled in frank delight. Mrs. Hastings sat erectly beside her, her tortoise-rimmed glasses expressing bland approval. The improbability of her surroundings had quite escaped her in her satisfied discovery that the place was habitable. The lawyer, his thin lips parted, his head thrown back so that his hair rested upon his coat collar, remained standing, one long hand upon a coat lapel.
"Ah," said Miss Holland softly, "it is an adventure, Aunt Dora."
St. George liked that. It irritated him, he had once admitted, to see a woman live as if living were a matter of life and death. He wished her to be alive to everything, but without suspiciously scrutinizing details, like a census-taker. To appreciate did not seem to him properly to mean to assess. Miss Holland, he would have said, seemed to live by the beats of her heart and not by the waves of her hair—but another proof, perhaps, of "if thou likest her opinions thou wilt praise her virtues."
It was but a moment before the curtain was lifted, and there approached a youth, apparently in the twenties, slender and delicately formed as a woman, his dark face surmounted by a great deal of snow-white hair. He was wearing garments of grey, cut in unusual and graceful lines, and his throat was closely wound in folds of soft white, fastened by a rectangular green jewel of notable size and brilliance. His eyes, large and of exceeding beauty and gentleness, were fixed upon St. George.
"Sir," said St. George, "we have been given this address as one where we may be assisted in some inquiries of the utmost importance. The name which we have is simply 'Tabnit.' Have I the honour—"
Their host bowed.
"I am Prince Tabnit," he said quietly.
St. George, filled with fresh amazement, gravely named himself and, making presentation of the others, purposely omitted the name of Miss Holland. However, hardly had he finished before their host bowed before Miss Holland herself.
"And you," he said, "you to whom I owe an expiation which I can never make,—do you know it is my servant who would have taken your life?"
In the brief interval following this naive assertion, his guests were not unnaturally speechless. Miss Holland, bending slightly forward, looked at the prince breathlessly.
"I have suffered," he went on, "I have suffered indescribably since that terrible morning when I missed her and understood her mission. I followed quickly—I was without when you entered, but I came too late. Since then I have waited, unwilling to go to you, certain that the gods would permit the possible. And now—what shall I say?"
He hesitated, his eyes meeting Miss Holland's. And in that moment Mrs. Hastings found her voice. She curved the chain of her eye-glasses over her ear, threw back her head until the tortoise-rims included her host, and spoke her mind.
"Well, Prince Tabnit," she said sharply—quite as if, St. George thought, she had been nursery governess to princes all her life—"I must say that I think your regret comes somewhat late in the day. It's all very well to suffer as you say over what your servant has tried to do. But what kind of man must you be to have such a servant, in the first place? Didn't you know that she was dangerous and blood-thirsty, and very likely a maniac-born?"
Her voice, never modulated in her excitements, was so full that no one heard at that instant a quick, indrawn breath from St. George, having something of triumph and something of terror. Even as he listened he had been running swiftly over the objects in the room to fasten every one in his memory, and his eyes had rested upon the table at his side. A disc of bronze, supported upon a carven tripod, caught the light and challenged attention to its delicate traceries; and within its border of asps and goat's horns he saw cut in the dull metal a sphinx crucified upon an upright cross—an exact facsimile of the device upon that strange opalized glass from some far-away island which he had lately noted in the window in Mrs. Hastings' drawing-room. Instantly his mind was besieged by a volley of suppositions and imaginings, but even in his intense excitement as to what this simple discovery might bode, he heard the prince's soft reply to Mrs. Hastings:
"Madame," said the prince, "she is a loyal creature. Whatever she does, she believes herself to be doing in my service. I trusted her. I believed that such error was impossible to her."
"Error!" shrilled Mrs. Hastings, looking about her for support and finding little in the aspect of Mr. Augustus Frothingham, who appeared to be regarding the whole proceeding as one from which he was to extract data to be thought out at some future infinitely removed.
As for St. George, he had never had great traffic with a future infinitely removed; he had a youthful and somewhat imaginative fashion of striking before the iron was well in the fire.
"Your servant believed, then, your Highness," he said clearly, "that in taking Miss Holland's life she was serving you?"
"I must regretfully conclude so."
St. George rose, holding the little brazen disc which he had taken from the table, and confronted his host, compelling his eyes.
"Perhaps you will tell us, Prince Tabnit," he said coolly, "what it is that the people who use this device find against Miss Holland's father?"
St. George heard Olivia's little broken cry.
"It is the same!" she exclaimed. "Aunt Dora—Mr. Frothingham—it is the crucified sphinx that was on so many of the things that father sent. Oh," she cried to the prince, "can it be possible that you know him—that you know anything of my father?"
To St. George's amazement the face of the prince softened and glowed as if with peculiar delight, and he looked at St. George with admiration.
"Is it possible," he murmured, half to himself, "that your race has already developed intuition? Are you indeed so near to the Unknown?"
He took quick steps away and back, and turned again to St. George, a strange joy dawning in his face.
"If there be some who are ready to know!" he said. "Ah," he recalled himself penitently to Miss Holland, "your father—Otho Holland, I have seen him many times."
"Seen Otho!" shrilled Mrs. Hastings, as pink and trembling and expressionless as a disturbed mold of jelly. "Oh, poor, dear Otho! Did he live where there are people like your frightful servant? Olivia, think! Maybe he is lying at the bottom of a gorge, all wounded and bloody, with a dagger in his back! Oh, my poor, dear Otho, who used to wheel me about!"
Mrs. Hastings collapsed softly on the divan, her glasses fallen in her lap, her side-combs slipping silently to the rug. Olivia had risen and was standing before Prince Tabnit.
"Tell me," she said trembling, "when have you seen him? Is he well?"
Prince Tabnit swept the faces of the others and his eyes returned to Miss Holland and dropped to the floor.
"The last time that I saw him, Miss Holland," he answered, "was three months ago. He was then alive and well."
Something in his tone chilled St. George and sent a sudden thrill of fear to his heart.
"He was then alive and well?" St. George repeated slowly. "Will you tell us more, your Highness? Will you tell us why the death of his daughter should be considered a service to the prince of a country which he had visited?"
"You are very wonderful," observed the prince, smiling meditatively at St. George, "and your penetration gives me good news—news that I had not hoped for, yet. I can not tell you all that you ask, but I can tell you much. Will you sit down?"
He turned and glanced at the curtain at the far end of the room. Instantly the boy servant appeared, bearing a tray on which were placed, in dishes of delicate-coloured filigree, strange dainties not to be classified even by a cosmopolitan, with his Flemish and Finnish and all but Icelandic cafes in every block.
"Pray do me the honour," the prince besought, taking the dishes from the hands of the boy. "It gives me pleasure, Miss Holland, to tell you that your father has no doubt had these very plates set before him."
Upon a little table he deftly arranged the dishes with all the smiling ease of one to whom afternoon tea is the only business toward, and to whom an attempted murder is wholly alien. He impressed St. George vaguely as one who seemed to have risen from the dead of the crudities of mere events and to be living in a rarer atmosphere. The lawyer's face was a study. Mr. Augustus Frothingham never went to the theatre because he did not believe that a man of affairs should unduly stimulate the imagination.
There was set before them honey made by bees fed only upon a tropical flower of rare fragrance; cakes flavoured with wine that had been long buried; a paste of cream, thick with rich nuts and with the preserved buds of certain flowers; and little white berries, such as the Japanese call "pinedews"; there was a tea distilled from the roots of rare exotics, and other things savoury and fantastic. So potent was the spell of the prince's hospitality, and so gracious the insistence with which he set before them the strange and odourous dishes, that even Olivia, eager almost to tears for news of her father, and Mrs. Hastings, as critical and suspicious as some beetle with long antennae, might not refuse them. As for Mr. Augustus Frothingham, although this might be Cagliostro's spagiric food, or "extract of Saturn," for aught that his previous experience equipped him to deny, yet he nibbled, and gazed, and was constrained to nibble again.
When they had been served, Prince Tabnit abruptly began speaking, the while turning the fine stem of his glass in his delicate fingers.
"You do not know," he said simply, "where the island of Yaque lies?"
Mrs. Hastings sat erect.
"Yaque!" she exclaimed. "That was the name of the place where your father was, Olivia. I know I remembered it because it wasn't like the man What's-his-name in As You Like It, and because it didn't begin with a J."
"The island is my home," Prince Tabnit continued, "and now, for the first time, I find myself absent from it. I have come a long journey. It is many miles to that little land in the eastern seas, that exquisite bit of the world, as yet unknown to any save the island-men. We have guarded its existence, but I have no fear to tell you, for no mariner, unaided by an islander, could steer a course to its coasts. And I can tell you little about the island for reasons which, if you will forgive me, you would hardly understand. I must tell you something of it, however, that you may know the remarkable conditions which led to the introduction of Mr. Holland to Yaque.
"The island of Yaque," continued the prince, "or Arqua, as the name was written by the ancient Phoenicians, has been ruled by hereditary monarchs since 1050 B.C., when it was settled."
"What date did I understand you to say, sir?" demanded Mr. Augustus Frothingham.
The prince smiled faintly.
"I am well aware," he said, "that to the western mind—indeed, to any modern mind save our own—I shall seem to be speaking in mockery. None the less, what I am saying is exact. It is believed that the enterprises of the Phoenicians in the early ages took them but a short distance, if at all, beyond the confines of the Mediterranean. It is merely known that, in the period of which I speak, a more adventurous spirit began to be manifested, and the Straits of Gibraltar were passed and settlements were made in Iberia. But how far these adventurers actually penetrated has been recorded only in those documents that are in the hands of my people—descendants of the boldest of these mariners who pushed their galleys out into the Atlantic. At this time the king of Tyre was Abibaal, soon to be succeeded by his son Hiram, the friend, you will remember, of King David,—"
Mr. Frothingham, who did not go to the theatre for fear of exciting his imagination, uttered the soft non-explosion which should have been speech.
"King Abibaal," continued the prince, "who maintained his court in great pomp, had a younger and favourite son who bore his own name. He was a wild youth of great daring, and upon the accession of Hiram to the throne he left Tyre and took command of a galley of adventuresome spirits, who were among the first to pass the straits and gain the open sea. The story of their wild voyage I need not detail; it is enough to say that their trireme was wrecked upon the coast of Yaque; and Abibaal and those who joined him—among them many members of the court circle and even of the royal family—settled and developed the island. And there the race has remained without taint of admixture, down to the present day. Of what was wrought on the island I can tell you little, though the time will come when the eyes of the whole world will be turned upon Yaque as the forerunner of mighty things. Ruled over by the descendants of Abibaal, the islanders have dwelt in peace and plenty for nearly three thousand years—until, in fact, less than a year ago. Then the line thus traceable to King Hiram himself abruptly terminated with the death of King Chelbes, without issue."
Again Mr. Frothingham attempted to speak, and again he collapsed softly, without expression, according to his custom. As for St. George, he was remembering how, when he first went to the paper, he had invariably been sent to the anteroom to listen to the daily tales of invention, oppression and projects for which a continual procession of the more or less mentally deficient wished the Sentinel to stand sponsor. St. George remembered in particular one young student who soberly claimed to have invented wireless telegraphy and who molested the staff for months. Was this olive prince, he wondered, going to prove himself worth only a half-column on a back page, after all?
"I understand you to say," said St. George, with the weary self-restraint of one who deals with lunatics, "that the line of King Hiram, the friend of King David of Israel, became extinct less than a year ago?"
The prince smiled.
"Do not conceal your incredulity," he said liberally, "for I forgive it. You see, then," he went on serenely, "how in Yaque the question of the succession became engrossing. The matter was not merely one of ascendancy, for the Yaquians are singularly free from ambition. But their pride in their island is boundless. They see in her the advance guard of civilization, the peculiar people to whom have come to be intrusted many of the secrets of being. For I should tell you that my people live a life that is utterly beyond the ken of all, save a few rare minds in each generation. My people live what others dream about, what scientists struggle to fathom, what the keenest philosophers and economists among you can not formulate. We are," said Prince Tabnit serenely, "what the world will be a thousand years from now."
"Well, I'm sure," Mrs. Hastings broke in plaintively, "that I hope your servant, for instance, is not a sample of what the world is coming to!"
The prince smiled indulgently, as if a child had laid a little, detaining hand upon his sleeve.
"Be that as it may," he said evenly, "the throne of Yaque was still empty. Many stood near to the crown, but there seemed no reason for choosing one more than another. One party wished to name the head of the House of the Litany, in Med, the King's city, who was the chief administrator of justice. Another, more democratic than these, wished to elevate to the throne a man from whose family we had won knowledge of both perpetual motion and the Fourth Dimension—"
St. George smiled angelically, as one who resignedly sees the last fragments of a shining hope float away. This quite settled it. The olive prince was crazy. Did not St. George remember the old man in the frayed neckerchief and bagging pockets who had brought to the office of the Sentinel chart after chart about perpetual motion, until St. George and Amory had one day told him gravely that they had a machine inside the office then that could make more things go for ever than he had ever dreamed of, though they had not said that the machine was named Chillingworth.
"You have knowledge of both these things?" asked St. George indulgently.
"Yaque understood both those laws," said the prince quietly, "when William the Conqueror came to England."
He hesitated for a moment and then, regardless of another soft explosion from Mr. Frothingham's lips, he added:
"Do you not see? Will you not understand? It is our knowledge of the Fourth Dimension which has enabled us to keep our island a secret."
St. George suddenly thrilled from head to foot. What if he were speaking the truth? What if this man were speaking the truth?
"Moreover," resumed the prince, "there were those among us who had long believed that new strength would come to my people by the introduction of an inhabitant of one of the continents. His coming would, however, necessitate his sovereignty among us, in fulfilment of an ancient Phoenician law, providing that the state, and every satrapy therein, shall receive no service, either of blood or of bond, nor enter into the marriage contract with an alien; from which law only the royal house is exempt. Thus were the two needs of our land to be served by the means to which we had recourse. For there being no way to settle the difficulty, we vowed to leave the matter to Chance, that great patient arbiter of destinies of which your civilization takes no account, save to reduce it to slavery. Accordingly each inhabitant of the island took a solemn oath to await, with an open mind free from choice or prejudice, the settlement of the event, certain that the gods would permit the possible. Five days after this decision our watchers upon the hills sighted a South African transport bound for the Azores to coal. A hundred miles from our coast she was wrecked, and it was thought that all on board had been lost. A submarine was ordered to the spot—"
"Do you mean," interrupted St. George, "that you were able to see the wreck at that distance?"
"Certainly," said the prince. "Pray forgive me," he added winningly, "if I seem to boast. It is difficult for me to believe that your appliances are so immature. We were using steamship navigation and limiting our vision at the time of Pericles, but the futility of these was among our first discoveries."
Involuntarily St. George turned to Miss Holland. What would she think, he found himself wondering. Her eyes were luminous and her breath was coming quickly; he was relieved to find that she had not the infectious vulgarity to doubt the possibility of what seemed impossible. This was one of the qualities of Mr. Augustus Frothingham, who had assumed an air of polite interest and an accurately cynical smile, and the manner of generously lending his professional attention to any of the vagaries of the client. Mrs. Hastings stirred uneasily.
"I'm sure," she said fretfully, "that I must be very stupid, but I simply can not follow you. Why, you talk about things that don't exist! My husband, who was a very practical and advanced man, would have shown you at once that what you say is impossible."
Here was the attitude of the Commonplace the world over, thought St. George: to believe in wireless telegraphy simply because it has been found out, and to disbelieve in the Fourth Dimension because it has not been.
"I can not explain these things," admitted the prince gravely, "and I dare say that you could prove that they do not exist, just as a man from another planet could show us to his own satisfaction that there are no such things as music or colour."