E-text prepared by Al Haines
A Story of Love and Adventure
Author of the Novels "The Lion and the Mouse," "The Gamblers," "Bought and Paid For," "By Right of Conquest," "The End of the Game," Etc.
Illustrations by Paul Stahr
[Frontispiece: A small jewelled hand struck him full on the mouth.]
G. W. Dillingham Company Publishers ———— New York Copyright, 1913, by G. W. Dillingham Company
A small jewelled hand struck him full on the mouth. . . . Frontispiece
"Yes, you are my brother. We are twins."
"I adore you—I adore you," he murmured, as he kissed her again.
"There! What did I tell you? The news is out!"
With a muttered exclamation of annoyance, Kenneth Traynor put down his coffee cup with a crash and, leaning over the table, pointed out to his wife a despatch from London, given prominence in the morning paper, which ran as follows:
Advices from Cape Town report the finding on a farm near Fontein, a hundred miles north of here, of a diamond which in size is only second to the famous Koh-i-noor. The stone, which is in the shape of an egg with the top cut off, weighs 1,649 carats, and was discovered after blasting at the foot of some rocks on land adjacent to the tract owned by the Americo-African Mining Company of New York. It is understood that the American Company is negotiating for the property; some say the transfer has already been made. If this is true, the finding of this colossal stone means a windfall for the Yankee stockholders.
The Traynor home, No. —— Gramercy Park, was one of those dignified, old-fashioned residences that still remain in New York to remind our vulgar, ostentatious nouveaux riches of the days when culture and refinement counted for something more than mere wealth. Overlooking the railed-in square with its green lawns, pretty winding paths and well-dressed children romping at play, it had a high stoop which opened into a wide hall, decorated with obsolete weapons and trophies of the hunt. On the right were rich tapestries, masking the folding doors of a spacious drawing-room, richly decorated and furnished in Louis XIV. period. Beyond this, to the rear of the house which had been built out to the extreme end of the lot, was the splendidly appointed dining-room with its magnificent fireplace of sculptured white marble, surmounted by a striking portrait in oils by Carolus Duran of Mrs. Traynor—a painting which had been one of the most successful pictures of the previous year's salon.
In a clinging, white silk negligee gown, the gossamer folds of which only partially veiled the outlines of a slender, graceful figure, Helen sat at the breakfast table opposite her husband, toying languidly with her knife and fork. It was nearly noon, long past the usual breakfast time, and by every known gastronomical law her appetite should have been on keen edge. But this morning she left everything untasted. Even the delicious wheat cakes, which none better than Mammy, their Southern cook, knew how to do to a point, did not tempt her. They had been out to dinner the night before. Her head ached; she was nervous and feverish. Always full of good spirits and laughter, ever the soul and life of the house, it was unusual to find her in this mood, and if her husband, now voraciously devouring the tempting array of ham and eggs spread before him, had not been so absorbed in the news of the day, he would have quickly noticed it, and guessed there was something amiss.
Certainly the appearance of the dining-room was enough to upset the nerves of anyone, especially a sensitive young woman who prided herself on her housekeeping. All around was chaos and confusion. The usually sedate, orderly dining-room was littered with trunks, grips, umbrellas and canes enveloped in rugs—all the confusion incidental to a hurried departure.
She took the newspaper, read the despatch and handed it back in silence.
"Isn't that the very deuce!" he went on peevishly. "We've been trying our utmost to keep it secret. Unless we're quick, there'll be a rush of adventurers from all parts of the world before we can secure the options. Happily the despatch is vague. They don't know all the facts. If they did——" Lowering his voice and looking around cautiously to make sure that the butler had left the room and no one was listening, he continued: "Besides you know what I am to bring back. It couldn't be entrusted to anyone else. Just think—a stone worth nearly a million dollars! I hope no one will guess I have it in my possession. It must be brought safe to New York. That's why it's so important that I go at once. Even by catching the Mauretania to-morrow, I can't reach Cape Town for a month, and every moment counts now."
As Helen was still silent he glanced across the table at her for the first time. Her pallor and the drooping lines about her mouth told him something was wrong. Instantly concerned, he asked:
"What's the matter, dear?"
"I'm horribly nervous."
"This trip of yours, of course."
"You ought to be used to them by this time. This isn't the first time I've had to leave you since our marriage."
"I didn't mind the other trips so much. When you went to Mexico and Alaska, it didn't seem so far away. But this journey to South Africa is different. You are running a terrible risk carrying that diamond. I can't shake off a horrible feeling that something dreadful will happen."
Surprised less at what she said than at her serious manner, he laid down the newspaper, and, jumping up, went over to her. His wife sat motionless, her lips trembling, her large eyes filled with tears. In spite of a palpable effort at self-control, it was evident that she was laboring under great nervous tension. Bending caressingly over her, he said anxiously:
"Why Helen, old girl! What's the matter?"
She made no answer. Her head fell on his breast. For a moment she could not speak. Her emotion seemed to choke her utterance, paralyze her speech. He insisted:
"What is it, dearie?" he demanded.
"I'm so nervous about your going, I'm so afraid about your having the diamond," she sobbed. Suddenly, as if unable longer to control herself, she rose from the table and threw her arms around his neck. Passionately she cried: "Oh, Kenneth, don't go! Don't go! I feel that something will happen."
He laughed carelessly as he fondled her. More seriously he replied:
"I hope something does happen. That's what I'm going out there for. Why, Helen dear, I don't think you quite realize what this trip means to us. If the deal goes through, and we get full control of all that property, we'll all be as rich as Croesus. Just think, dear, 300,000 square miles of the most wonderful diamond producing country. In ten days they found 400 beautifully clear stones, some of them weighing over a hundred carats. If the reports are true, we shall have a group of mines as valuable as the famous De Beers group. Do you know what they have produced to date in actual money?"
The young woman shook her head. Usually she was glad enough to listen to her husband's business plans, but to-day they wearied her. Her mind was too much preoccupied with something that concerned her far more. The idea of this coming separation, the knowledge that he was running a risk, had left her singularly depressed. She had tried to remain calm and control her emotion, but the effort was beyond her. The prospect of this separation, with its vague, undefined forebodings of disaster, was simply intolerable. The tears she was unable to restrain rolled silently down her cheeks.
He looked at her in surprise. Never had he seen her in this mood. Approaching her more closely, he said kindly:
"That can't be the only reason, dear, what's the matter?"
She hesitated a moment before she answered:
"I'm very nervous to-day. I was dreadfully irritated last night at the dinner. I wish I hadn't gone——"
"Who irritated you?"
"That man Signor Keralio. I simply can't tolerate the man. How I hate him!"
"Why—what did he do?"
"He did nothing. He wouldn't dare—there. But I wouldn't care to be alone with him. His eyes were enough. He imagines he is irresistible, and that every woman is immoral. That is the kind of man he is. He annoyed me all evening. There was no getting away from him."
Kenneth laughed and went back to finish his breakfast, quite indifferent to what he had just heard. He knew his wife too well to be afraid of any number of Signor Keralios. Humming a tune, he said carelessly:
"Why didn't you call me?"
"What? Create a scandal? That would only make me ridiculous. He wouldn't care. I can't bear the sight of the man, yet I have to be polite to him."
"Yes—I have reasons for not caring to quarrel with Keralio just now."
She looked up quickly.
"Why? What is that man to you? He's your fencing master, I know, but that's no reason for making a friend of him. I never understood why you associated with him. He is so different to you."
Her husband smiled. He adored his wife and admired the sex in general, but, like most men, he had never had much respect for women's judgment. Women were made to be loved; not to discuss business with. Indulgently he said:
"My dear, you don't understand. I have important financial relations with Keralio. I don't care for him myself, but one can't choose one's business associates. He and I are interested in a silver mine in Mexico. Thanks to him, I got in on the ground floor. One of these days the investment will bring me a big return."
His wife shrugged her shoulders. Incredulously she retorted:
"Not if Keralio has anything to do with it. I don't trust him. He has deceit and evil written all over his face."
Amused at her petulance, Kenneth jumped up impulsively and took his wife in his arms.
Abandoning herself willingly to his embrace, for a moment her head fell back on his broad shoulder, and she smiled up at him. From her soft, yielding form arose that subtle, familiar perfume, the intoxicating, vague, indefinable aroma of the well groomed woman that never fails to set a man's blood on fire. Bending low until his mouth touched hers, he kissed her until her face glowed under the ardor of his amative caress. But to-day she was not in the mood to respond.
"Don't—don't!" she panted, striving to free herself.
"Admit that you're foolish or I'll do it again," he laughed.
"Perhaps I am. It's selfish of me to make it harder for you to go away."
The butler reentered the room with the finger bowls, and she quickly disengaged herself. To hide her confusion, she turned to the servant:
"Did my sister go out, Robert?"
"Yes, m'm," replied the man respectfully. "Miss Ray told me to tell you in case you asked that she had gone shopping and would be back soon."
"Where's Miss Dorothy?"
"The fraulein took her to the park, m'm."
"When fraulein comes in, tell her to bring Dorothy upstairs."
"Very well, m'm."
The butler went out and Helen turned to her husband. Anxiously she said:
"I've been a little worried about Dorothy lately. She's not looking well. I think she needs the country."
Kenneth looked up quickly. Next to his wife he loved his flaxen haired little girl better than anything in the world. There was a worried look on his face as he asked:
"What does the doctor say?"
"Oh, it's nothing to be alarmed at. Only she's growing fast, and needs all the air possible. I'm thinking of sending her to Aunt Carrie for a while. You know she has a beautiful place in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She would be out in the air all the time."
"Yes—that's a good idea. Send her there by all means. Write your aunt to-night."
Helen glanced at the clock. There wasn't any time to lose. Turning to her husband she said quickly:
"You had better come upstairs and finish your packing, dear. Your trunks aren't nearly ready and the expressman was ordered for three."
Recalled thus abruptly to the day's duties, he turned docily and followed her upstairs.
Beautiful as was the Traynor home below, it was in the library in the second floor that Helen always felt happiest and most at ease. Up the broad, thickly carpeted stairs and turning to the right as the landing was reached, they entered the library, a room of truly noble proportions extending the entire width of the house and with deep recessed windows and low seats, overlooking the park. The furnishings, though simple, were rich and luxurious. The woodwork was of black Flemish oak, the ceiling beamed with a dull red background. The upholstery was a rich red plush throughout, with deep seated armchairs, and sofas built close to the wall wherever space permitted. In the corners, numerous electric reading lamps could be turned on or off at pleasure, constituting ideal nooks for reading. The furniture, apart from the red plush armchairs, was of black Flemish oak to match the woodwork, with an immense richly carved black oak dark table in the center of the room, lighted by an electrolier of similar size and design to the one in the dining-room.
It was in this room with its atmosphere of books so conducive to peace and introspection that Helen loved to spend her spare time. The walls were literally lined with tomes, dealing with every branch of human knowledge—religion, science, philosophy, literature. Here when alone she enjoyed many an intellectual treat, browsing among the world's treasures of the mind. Even when her sister had a few intimates to tea, or when friends dropped in in the evening, they always preferred being in the library to anywhere else.
Only second to the library in the affection of its young mistress was her bed chamber with which it was connected by a small boudoir. Furnished in Louis XVI. style, it was a beautiful room, decorated in the most dainty and delicate of tones. The bed, copied after Marie Antoinette's couch in the Little Trianon was in sculptured Circassian walnut, upholstered in dull pink brocade, the broad canopy overhead being upheld by two flying cupids. The handsome dressing table with three mirrors and chairs were of the same wood and period. On the floor was a thick carpet especially woven to match the other furnishings.
To-day, littered as it was with trunks and clothes, the room lacked its usual sedateness and dignity, but Helen did not mind. She would have preferred it to look far worse if only her loved one were not going away. His clothes lay scattered all over the floor. There was still much to be done.
Kenneth himself realized it as he ruefully surveyed the scene. Hurry he must. A director's meeting to-night, the steamer sailing to-morrow and here he was not nearly ready. Helen could see no reason why Francois should not do the packing, but he insisted on doing it himself, and was soon deep in the work of filling the trunks that stood around.
While he worked, almost unconscious of her presence, she sat disconsolately on a trunk and watched him, and from time to time, as if ashamed to let him see her weakness, she turned her head aside to furtively wipe away a tear. No doubt her misgivings were foolish. Husbands left their wives on business trips every day. Sensible women were not so silly as to cry over it. It was to be only temporary, she knew that, yet her heart misgave her. She had tried to be resigned to this South African journey, to accept it without protest, but her feelings were too much for her. When she married Kenneth Traynor, the energetic, prosperous Wall Street promoter, everybody knew that it was a love match. Standing six feet two in his stockings, muscular, sinewy, without an ounce of superfluous fat, Kenneth Traynor looked as though he could give a good account of himself no matter in what tight place he found himself. His clean cut features and strong chin denoted strength of character, his deep set blue eyes, a blue of a shade so light rarely seen except in the peasants of Normandy, beamed with frankness and honesty, a kindly smile hovered about his smooth, firm mouth. What at once attracted attention was his hair which was dark and unusually thick and bushy and a peculiar characteristic was a solitary white lock in the center of his forehead. Such a phenomenon of the capillary glands was not uncommon, but as a rule, the white hair is on the side of or at the back of the head. In Kenneth's case, it was the very center of the forehead and imparted to his face an individuality quite its own.
When on leaving college, he had been forced, like other young men, to choose a career, he was unable to decide what he wanted to do. Doctor, lawyer, architect, author—none of these suited his nervous, restless temperament. He craved a more exciting life, and at one time thought seriously of entering the army with the hope of seeing active service in the Philippines. But Aguinaldo's surrender put a quietus on this project, and he entered a broker's office in Wall Street Here, in the maelstrom of frenzied finance, his pent up energies found an outlet. He went into the stock gambling game with the feverish energy of a born gambler. Months of excitement followed, luck being usually with him. He was successful. He doubled and tripled his capital, after which he had good sense enough to stop, withdrawing from the fray before the tide turned. But he could not give up the life entirely. The business of stock promotion was the next best substitute. It was about that time he met the woman he married.
It had been an ideal union in every way, but even Helen herself could not have guessed that day now three years ago when she left the church a bride, how completely, how entirely this man whose sterling qualities, good nature and charm of manner had won her heart, would take complete possession of her, body and soul. Instead of the romance flickering out after the first sudden blaze of fierce passion, as it usually does after the first few months of married life, on her side, at least, the flame had gathered in strength until now it was the one compelling, all absorbing interest in her life.
She recalled how they had first met. It was in the Winter time. She was skating in Central Park. A thaw had set in and the ice was dangerous. Suddenly there was an ominous crack, and the crowd scurried out of harm's way, all but one child, a little nine year old girl who, in her eagerness to escape, stumbled and fell. The next instant she was in the water, disappearing under the ice. Just at that moment, a tall athletic figure dashed swiftly to the hole and, stooping quickly, caught the child by the dress. Then, by a feat of almost superhuman strength which awed the crowd into silence, he drew the little victim out to safety, not much the worse for her experience.
Spellbound, hardly able to breathe from sheer excitement, Helen had watched the work of rescue. When the stranger, tall, muscular, handsome, passed her, carrying tenderly his burden, a human life saved from a watery grave, she could not help murmuring:
"Oh, how brave of you!"
"Nonsense," he retorted abruptly. "It's nothing to make a fuss about."
She did not see him again for six months, and had almost forgotten the incident when one night at the opera during a performance of "Tannhauser," a man, tall, square shouldered, entered the box where she was and was presented to her.
It was her hero.
He had remained her hero ever since.
She remembered the afternoon when he had asked her to be his wife. They were alone in the library which overlooked the Park with its beautiful vista of green foliage, its glimpse of rolling lawns, and shimmering lakes. They were standing side by side, gazing idly out of the window, conversing quietly on all kinds of topics interesting to them both. She was enjoying his vigorous, masculine point of view and feeling strangely happy in his company.
"When should a man marry?" he asked all at once.
Startled for a moment at the abruptness of the question which nothing in their previous conversation had led up to, she answered gravely:
"When he's tired of being alone and when he feels he has met the woman with whom he can be happy, the kind of woman who will be a real helpmate and aid him to achieve his ambitions."
"How can he know that the woman to whom he is attracted will have this influence in his life? How can he distinguish real gold from the imitation which merely glitters?"
"Only by his instinct. That never errs."
"And when in your opinion, should a woman marry?"
"When she meets the man to whom she feels she can give herself without forfeiting her self-respect."
He nodded approvingly, and looked at her for a few moments without speaking. Outside it was growing dark, for which she was glad, for her face burned under the earnestness of his gaze. Finally he said:
"You are right. But yours is a point of view the modern girl seldom takes. First she discusses ways and means. Love, self respect—these she considers quite negligible."
"Not all girls—only some girls. They are foolish virgins who leave their lamps untrimmed. They sow folly to-day only to reap unhappiness to-morrow."
He said nothing and for a few moments they both stood there in the increasing darkness. Suddenly, without a moment's warning, his voice broken by emotion, he turned to her and said:
"I am tired of being alone. I have met the woman with whom I could be happy, the woman who can help me to do big things. Helen, I want you to be my wife."
She made no answer. She felt herself growing pale. A strange tremor passed through her entire body.
He came closer and took her unresisting hand.
"Helen," he whispered, "I want you for my wife."
Still no reply, but her small delicate hand remained clasped in his big, strong one, and gradually he drew her toward him until she was so close in his embrace that he could feel her panting breath on his cheek.
A strange thrill passed through him as he came in contact with her soft, yielding body. She never wore corsets, preferring the clinging Grecian style of gowns that showed graceful lines and left the figure free, and her form, slender yet firm and delicately chiseled like that of some sculptured goddess, had none of that voluptuous grossness which mars the symmetry of many women, otherwise beautiful.
As she nestled there, pale and trembling in his strong arms, he did not dare move, for fear that he might unwittingly injure a being so frail and delicate. All his life Kenneth had lived a clean life. He had not led the riotous, licentious kind of existence which some men of his means and opportunities think necessary to their comfort. He had never been a libertine. He had respected women; indeed, had rather avoided them.
But if a man, busily engaged in the battle of life, his mind always engrossed in serious affairs, succeeds in keeping natural instincts under control there comes a day when nature asserts herself, when his manhood demands the satisfaction of legitimate cravings. This bachelor who had lived a secluded, hermit-like kind of existence till he was thirty was suddenly and violently awakened to the fact that he was made of flesh and blood as are other men. This slim girl with her sweet ways, her pretty face, her ready wit, had completely vanquished him, and not alone did she satisfy him mentally, she also attracted him physically.
He realized it now as he held her tight against his breast. Her head had fallen on his shoulder. Her face with its pale, delicate profile was turned toward him, the eyes half closed. The mouth, arched like Cupid's bow and partly open, disclosing the white, moistened teeth, and red and luscious like some rare exotic fruit, was tempting enough to madden a saint. Kenneth was only human. Unable to resist, he lowered his head until his mouth grazed hers and then with a wild, almost savage exclamation of joy, the exultant cry of lust awakened and gratified, his lips met hers and lingered.
To Helen it seemed as though she was in a dream of untold ecstasy. Always a shrinking, modest girl, especially in the company of the opposite sex, in any calmer moment she would have been shocked beyond expression at this momentary abandonment she permitted herself. As she lay in this man's arms and felt his warm kisses on her lips, there came over her a strange sensation she had never known before. She grew dizzy and for a moment thought she would faint. All at once he released her. Almost apologetically, he murmured:
"Forgive me—I lost control over myself—I want you Helen—I want you for my wife. Will you marry me?"
She drew away and turned away her head, so he might not see her burning cheeks.
"Will you marry me?"
She hesitated a moment before replying. Then, very simply, she answered:
That was three years ago.
In a certain set Helen Traynor was not popular. Some people thought her old fashioned, strait-laced, prudish. They resented her having no taste for their frivolous, decadent amusements. They called her proud and condescending whereas, as a matter of fact, she merely asked to be let alone. Of course, it was only people whose opinions were worthless that criticized her. All who were admitted to her intimacy knew that there was no friend more loyal, no woman more womanly and charming.
In one respect she might be called old fashioned. Her views on life had certainly little in common with those held by most present-day women. She had no taste for bridge, she refused to adopt freak fashions in dress, she discouraged the looseness of tone in speech and manner so much affected by other women of her acquaintance—in a word she was in society but not of it. Naturally, she had more acquaintances than friends, yet she was not unpopular among her intimates. While secretly they laughed at what they termed her puritanical notions, they were shrewd enough to realize that they could hardly afford to snub a woman whose husband occupied so prominent a position in the world of affairs. Besides, was it not to their interest to cultivate her? Who gave more delightful dinners, who could on occasion be a more charming hostess? An accomplished musician, a clever talker, she easily dominated in whatever salon she happened to be, and the men were always found crowding eagerly around her.
Like most women of her temperament, sure of themselves and in whose mind never enters even a thought of disloyalty to her marriage vows, she made no concealment of her preference for the masculine sex. With those men who were attracted by her unusual mentality,—she was gracious, and affable, discussing with politicians, jurists, financiers, economic and sociological questions with a brilliancy and insight that fairly astonished them. With literary men and musicians, she chatted intelligently of the latest novels and pictures and operas with the facility and expertness of a connoisseur. Other men, drawn by her exceptional beauty, fascinated by the spell of her soulful eyes, her tall graceful figure, and delicate classic face, framed in Grecian head dress, made violent love to her, their heated imaginations and jaded senses conceiving a conquest compared with which the criminal passion of Paolo for Francesca should pale. These would-be Lotharios might as well have tried to set an iceberg on fire. Quietly, but firmly and in unmistakable terms, she let them understand that they were wasting their time and their ardor thus quenched, one by one they dropped away and left her in peace. Only Signor Keralio had persisted. She had snubbed him, insulted him, time after time, yet wherever she turned she found him at her elbow. Society soon resigned itself to considering her as one apart—a beautiful, chaste Juno whose ideals all must respect. Indeed, the only thing with which she could be reproached was that she was in love with her husband—the unpardonable sin in society's eyes—but seeing who it was and despairing of ever changing her point of view, society forgave her.
It never occurred to Helen that she was different in any way from other women. She did not see how it was possible for a woman to be untrue to the man whose name she bore and still retain her self-respect. The day she ceased to love her husband she would leave him forever. To her way of thinking, it was shocking to go on living with a man merely because it suited one's convenience and comfort. She knew married women who did not care for their husbands, some actually detested the men they had married, and had always held in horror the intimate relation which marriage sanctioned. She felt sorry for such women, but secretly she despised them. They alone were to blame. Had they not married knowing well that there was no real affection in their hearts for the men to whom they gave themselves? The cynicism and effrontery of young girls regarding marriage particularly revolted her. Eager for wealth and social position, they offered themselves with brazen effrontery in the matrimonial market, immodestly displaying their charms to the lecherous, covetous eyes of blase, degenerate men. Any question of attachment, love, affection was never for a moment considered. The idea that a man could be even considered unless he were able to provide a fine establishment was laughed to scorn. The girls were all men hunters but they hunted only rich men. They called the feeling they experienced for the man they caught in their toils "love." They meant something quite different. To a girl of Helen's ideas, such manoeuvers were shocking. To her the marriage tie was something sacred, a relation not to be entered into lightly. Kenneth was rich, it was true, but she would have loved him none the less had he been one of his own fifteen dollar a week clerks. When they were married and the romance was over, he stopped playing the lover to devote himself to the more serious business of making money, but with her, time, instead of dimming the flame, only caused it to burn the brighter. This man whom she had married was her only thought. In him centered every interest of her life.
A muffled outburst of profanity from Kenneth aroused her from her reveries.
"That's always the way when one's in a hurry," he exclaimed petulantly. "Ring for Francois. Why the devil isn't he here?"
Quickly, Helen sprang up from the trunk and touched an electric button.
"What's the matter, dear?" she asked.
She approached her husband who, at the far end of the room, was red in the face from the unusual exertion of trying to coax the buckle of a strap into a hole obviously out of reach. He pulled and strained till the muscles stood out on his neck and brawny arms like whipcord, and still the obstinate buckle declined to be coerced. The more it resisted, the more determined he was to make it obey. Go in it must, if sheer strength would do it. The vice-president of the Americo-African Mining Company was no weakling. A six-foot athlete and captain of the Varsity football team in his college days, his muscles had been toughened in a thousand lively scrimmages and in later life plenty of golf, rowing and other out-of-door sports had kept him in condition. When he pulled hard something had to give way. It did in this instance. There was a tearing, rending sound and the strap broke off short. With a gesture of despair he turned to his wife as men are wont to do when in trouble.
"Wouldn't that jar you?" he cried, as he threw the broken strap away. "What the deuce am I going to do now?"
"Why don't you let Francois attend to such things?" answered his wife calmly. "He understands packing so much better than you. You're so strong, you break everything."
She looked fondly at her husband's tall, athletic figure. He turned to her with a smile.
"I guess you're right," he said. "But where the devil is Francois?"
"I don't know. I sent him downstairs to tell the cook to have some nice sandwiches ready when you come home after the director's meeting tonight, but that's an hour ago——"
His ill humor gone, Kenneth looked up and smiled at her. Putting his arm about her, fondly he said:
"Dear little wife. You're always thinking of the comfort of others. You're the most unselfish, the most adorable, the most——"
"Stop, Kenneth, don't be foolish or I shall believe you——"
His face red from his recent exertions, he sat down on the arm of a chair to rest a little. Full of the coming journey, he had already forgotten his wife's anxiety. The great business schemes he had in mind dwarfed for the time being every other consideration. He could think and talk of nothing but diamonds. Huge crystals, worth untold millions as big as a fist, flashed at him from every corner of the room. Fabulous fortunes had been made in the diamond mines of South Africa. Why should he not be as successful as others? The romance of the Cullinan might be repeated, even surpassed. Well he recalled how he had been thrilled by the sensational story of the discovery of that colossal gem, more than three times the size of the Excelsior, the wonder of the modern world. In imagination, he saw it now. An old-fashioned Boer farm, transformed into a modern mining camp. A moonlight night. A man strolling idly along the rugged, desolate veldt, chances to look down. His eye suddenly catches a gleam in the rough face of the jagged slope. He stoops and picks up what looks like a piece of ice. Quickly he returns to his office and hands it to his chief. The men look at each other in silence. To all parts of the world goes the message that a diamond has been found four times bigger than the largest gem in the world. A stone weighing over 3,000 carats and worth four million dollars. He could already imagine himself far from civilization among the barren mountains of South Africa, prospecting in wide stretches of stone and gravel, picking up the brilliant dazzling stones by the handful.
"Have you any idea," he said, "what the mines have produced?"
She shook her head indifferently.
"No, and I don't want to know. I don't want you to go—that's all."
"Their output in the last ten years is estimated at no less than $400,000,000. Just think of it. Four hundred millions! Well, dear, I and a few others want some of it, and we're going to get it."
"But aren't we rich enough already?" she demanded petulantly. "Why this fever to get richer and richer? We are happy with what we have. Why run the risks to gain what after all will only be a surplus? We can't possibly spend it."
Her husband's eyes flashed. The lines about his mouth tightened as he retorted:
"One never has enough! You women don't understand. As long as you have all the amusement you crave, all the frocks you want, all the jewelry you covet, you think that is all there is to life."
She looked up at him reproachfully and seemed about to protest when he added hurriedly:
"Oh, I don't mean you. I know you are not that kind of woman. You are more serious, more sensible. I mean the average society woman whose only concern in life is dress and show. We men have different aims, higher ambitions. I'm well to do, as the term goes. I have an income of over $100,000 a year, a splendidly appointed town house, a show place in the country. Above all I have the most adorable wife in all the world. Most men would be satisfied. I am not. I want still more. I have the money craze, an uncontrollable lust to pile up millions. My ambition is to wield the power that only the possession of vast wealth confers. The resources of this vast country are practically in the hands of half a dozen men. Merely by holding up a finger, these men could, to suit their own selfish ends, start a universal panic which might bring about a financial cataclysm, involving the whole world in disaster. I do not say they would use this power for evil, but they are in position to do so if it served their purpose. I want to have such power, only if I had it I would not use it for evil. I would use it for good. Conditions in the industrial world are very critical. We are rapidly approaching a crisis. In all countries the forces of labor and the forces of capital are lined up in silent, grim battalions. The poor are getting poorer; the rich are getting richer. The cost of living is going up beyond all reason. Why? Because the men who control the wealth of the world will it so. The system which is responsible for this must one day, sooner or later, give way to another and more humane system, still to be devised, which will enable the man who produces the wealth of the world at least to enjoy some of the fruits of his toil. Now it goes into the hands of the privileged few who use the power their money gives them to keep their less fortunate fellow men in servile subjection. I want to be rich, very rich, but I will use my wealth for good. With it I will help my fellow man rise from the mire. I will help him throw off the shackles with which conscienceless capitalism has fettered him. I want to be such a power for good. I want——"
The maid reentered the room.
"Francois is not in his room, m'm."
Kenneth gave vent to an exclamation of impatience. Turning to his wife, he asked:
"Where is he? Did you send him anywhere?"
Helen shook her head. Quickly she said:
"He's never around except when he's not wanted."
It was so seldom that his wife displayed irritation at any one that Kenneth looked up in surprise.
"He's shopping, too, I suppose. You know there's little time left and he has things to get ready the same as I have."
Helen made a gesture of disapproval. Quickly she said:
"I wish you were going with someone else, with anyone but that man. I never liked him."
Her husband laughed. Carelessly he replied:
"I know you never did and it's the only instance since we're married where I've found dear little wife to be absolutely unfair. Seriously, sweetheart, your baseless prejudice against Francois is unworthy of you. I can't go without a servant of some kind. He's an honest fellow and a faithful servant."
Helen shrugged her shoulders.
"I'm not so sure about that," she retorted quickly. "What do you know about him or his honesty? He's a perfect stranger that blew in three months ago from nowhere. He had written recommendations which may be forged. You never took the trouble to look them up."
"Yes, I did. I asked Keralio about him."
Helen looked up in surprise.
"Signor Keralio? I didn't know Francois was ever with him."
"He was with him nearly a year. Keralio warmly recommends him and says he is a very faithful fellow. He only left him because he objected to being compelled to practise sword-play with his master. One day Keralio's foil slipped. Francois got a puncture and it made him nervous."
"No wonder I don't like him. Like master, like valet—as the French say."
Her husband smiled.
"You are down on Keralio, aren't you?"
"I detest him. How could any self-respecting woman like such a man? His every glance is an insult. With his polished manners and sardonic smile he reminds one of Mephistopheles."
"I don't fancy the fellow much myself, but I have to be polite to him. As I told you, he's in with the people who own that silver mine. I've found him useful."
"Don't trust him," replied Helen warningly. "If he makes himself useful to you, depend upon it, he has some ulterior motive in view. Now I know Francois was once with him I shall dislike him more than ever."
"Come—come dear," protested Kenneth, "that is carrying things too far. Francois is quite a decent chap if you understand him—I find him faithful, discreet."
"Discreet!" echoed Helen mockingly. "I beg to differ."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you are blinded in the man. Discreet indeed! Only the other day I caught him at your desk reading a letter which you had left there."
"A letter?" exclaimed Kenneth, looking up in surprise. "What letter?"
"The letter from your agent at Cape Town, telling of the astonishing diamond find, and suggesting that an officer of the Company be sent out to bring home the big stone—the letter you read at the director's meeting and which decided them to send you out there."
Kenneth bit his lip. Quickly he said:
"I'm sorry he saw that. It was careless of me to leave it around. Are you sure he was reading it?"
"He had a pencil and paper in hand and appeared to be copying from the letter. When he saw me, he crushed the paper up in his hand and turned away."
Kenneth gave an expressive whistle.
"The deuce you say! The fellow's smarter than I took him to be. All the more reason why I should take him along with me. Then I'm sure he can't tell tales out of school. I——. Hush, here he is!"
The door opened cautiously and there entered a man about thirty years of age, of medium height and slightly, even delicately, built. That he was a Frenchman was apparent even at a glance. The dark closely cropped hair, worn in the so-called pompadour or military style, the pale, saturnine features, the manner and general bearing all loudly proclaimed his Gallic nationality. His smooth shaven face showed a firm mouth with bloodless lips so thin as to be hardly perceptible. His eyes, when they could be seen at all, were greenish in color, and small and restless as those of a ferret. He advanced into the room with the obsequious deferential manner which in all well-trained servants becomes second nature, moving across the thickly carpeted floor with the rapidity and noiselessness of a snake.
"Where have you been, Francois?" demanded Kenneth sharply.
The valet stopped short, as if struck by a blow, but he did not stand still. His nervous thin hands and lean body were in constant motion, although he did not stir from the one spot. In every involuntary movement and gesture there was something that suggested the feline. When spoken to or given an order he replied respectfully and obeyed with alacrity, but when addressed he listened always with eyes averted. This had always exasperated Helen. She could not recall him ever looking her straight in the face. For that reason alone, if, for no other, she disliked and distrusted him, thinking not unnaturally that a man, who is afraid to let his eyes meet another's, must be plotting in his mind some treachery which he fears his direct gaze may betray. His furtive glances went quickly from master to mistress. Something in their attitude, the suddenness with which they interrupted their conversation told him that they had been talking about him.
"Did you hear me?" demanded Kenneth again. "Where have you been? You knew there was this packing to be done."
The man's eyes flashed resentfully, but he replied civilly:
"Oui, monsieur, but monsieur forgets. Monsieur told me I must go to ze tailor."
Kenneth's frown disappeared. Yes, it was true. He had sent him to the tailor. Quick to make amends for an injustice, he said more amiably:
"That's right. I had forgotten. What did they say?"
"Ze suits will be delivered in half hour."
"Very well. When they come, you will know which trunk to put them in."
"And then, when my trunks are ready you had better hustle with your own packing. There's no time to be lost. The steamer sails at 11 o'clock to-morrow morning."
Quietly, stealthily, the valet retraced his cat-like steps and opening the door retired as noiselessly as he had come.
When the valet had disappeared, Kenneth turned to his wife with a chuckle.
"Who was right? You made me scold him for nothing."
Helen shook her head.
"I detest the man. There is something crawly and repulsive about him. I can read evil in his face. Don't trust him, Kenneth. Remember, if anything goes wrong, don't blame me. I warned you. My instinct seldom fails."
Her husband laughed and, advancing, put his arm tenderly around his wife.
"I guess I'm able to take care of myself, dear. Don't let's discuss Francois any longer. Tell me about yourself. How are you going to amuse yourself while I'm away?"
Her head drooped on his breast and once more her eyes filled with tears. With affected carelessness which cost her a great effort, she replied:
"Oh, the time won't hang so heavy on my hands. It never does when one has resources within oneself. I'll read and ride and sew. I suppose I'll have plenty to do."
"Mr. Parker said he would drop in and look after you."
"Yes—tell him to come and see me very often. He's rather tiresome with his prosy talk, but he's a dear old soul."
With a mischievous twinkle in his eye her husband went on:
"It's not unlikely that Keralio will call, also."
"I hope not," she said quickly. "I'll soon show him he's not wanted."
Kenneth laughed. It amused him to see how set she was against the Italian. He did not know the man any too well. He had met him in a business way and the fellow had been of service, but he had not the slightest idea of making a friend of him. He rather suspected he was an adventurer although, a stranger in New York, no one knew anything against him. Protestingly he said:
"It's hardly fair to attack a man because he admires you."
"He shows his admiration in a most offensive way. If you could see the way he looks at me sometimes you'd be the first to resent it."
"Oh, you mustn't mind that. It's a way all foreigners have. They ogle women more from force of habit than any desire to effect a conquest. Besides, you won't be alone."
"No, I shall have Ray. She is excellent company—far jollier than I——"
"No, she isn't by a long shot. Ray is all right as sisters-in-law go, but I'd never change you for her. I'm d——d if I would!"
Quickly Helen put her white hand over his mouth. With mock severity she exclaimed:
"Kenneth! How can you be so profane? I hate to hear such language from you. Ray is the sweetest thing on earth. It's a shame she never got married. Oh, don't be uneasy on that score. We'll have a good time. We'll go to the theater. We'll have teas and little dinner parties. I'll invite some interesting men to meet her. I'd love to see her married to some nice man. There's Mr. Steell, for instance. He's rich, young, has a brilliant future——"
Kenneth made a grimace. Quickly he retorted:
"It's you he admires, not Ray. He will accept your invitation—less with the idea of letting Ray hook him in the matrimonial net, than for the opportunity it affords for a renewed flirtation with you. Oh, quite innocent, of course, but still a flirtation. Have I forgotten what close friends you used to be before I appeared on the scene?"
"And carried me off, a new Lochinvar come out of the West!" she laughed. "Oh, Kenneth, how can you be so foolish? It is absolutely indecent of you. I like Mr. Steell, and I think he likes me, but our friendship is purely platonic. I never give him a thought, I assure you."
"I know you don't, but I'm not so sure about him. He's a man and men are only human——"
"He's a gentleman," corrected Helen. "He never forgets that."
Kenneth gave a grunt of incredulity. Sulkily he said:
"All right—all right. Have a good time. Marry him to Ray. Perhaps it's safer that way. When he's my brother-in-law, he'll stop making sheep's eyes at my wife."
Helen laughed outright.
"You silly goose. I never suspected you of having a jealous streak in your nature. How could I prefer anyone to my handsome Kenneth?"
As she stood before him, playfully patting his cheek, her glance alighted on the solitary lock of gray hair in the center of his forehead. Toying with it, she went on:
"Isn't it strange that your hair should be white just in that place. I rather like it. It gives an added note of distinction to your face. I wonder what caused it."
"That's my trade mark. If ever I'm brought home on a stretcher you'll know me by that white lock."
Helen raised her hand in protest.
"Don't talk that way. Never jest about accidents. Sometimes they happen."
"Well—I said nothing. I only said that if you were ever in doubt about my identity, you would know me by my white lock."
She smiled, as she patted his cheek lovingly, and said:
"That would not be necessary, Ken dear. No matter how changed you looked, what disguise you wore, I should still know you."
"And if it wasn't me," he laughed, "but only someone who looked like me?"
"I could never be mistaken. The ring in the voice, the expression in the eyes—no woman who really loves could ever be deceived."
She had drawn nearer to him, her mouth upturned and tempting, her face with that gentle, wistful expression he was never able to resist. Throwing his arms impulsively about her, he clasped her passionately to his breast.
"Sweetheart," he whispered, "you don't know how dear you are to me!"
"Nor can you," she replied, as he smothered her with kisses, "ever realize what you are to me!"
Suddenly they were interrupted by a sound at the door behind them. Some one coughed discreetly. Quickly separating, Helen turned round. In some confusion she exclaimed:
"Hello, Ray. I thought you were out. When did you come in?"
"I was out. I have been shopping. I met Mr. Steell in the park and we had a lovely walk." Slyly she added: "I am afraid I returned too soon. I see you're both busy."
"Never too busy for you, Ray," smiled Helen trying to hide her confusion, while Kenneth grinned broadly.
The young girl laughed as she flung down on the sofa her muff and fur neck-piece. Roguishly she said:
"Lovemaking so early in the day. Aren't you ashamed of yourselves?"
Kenneth liked to tease his sister-in-law, but the young girl was quite his equal when it came to a battle of wits and it was not often that she gave him the opportunity.
"What time do you do your love making?" he demanded.
Her cheeks reddened a little as she retorted:
"I'm never so foolish. I leave that to you married people. My purpose in life is far more serious."
"Oh, come now," protested her brother-in-law, "I've noticed you and Steell spooning often enough."
Stylishly and tastefully dressed, her face beaming with animation, her eyes sparkling with intelligence, Kenneth's sister-in-law was a pretty, wholesome looking girl. She had beautiful blond hair like her sister, and fine, white teeth that told of good health and perfect digestion. Helen's junior only by three years, she was still unmarried and for the present at least seemed more inclined to remain single and partake of life's pleasures than incur the risks and responsibilities of matrimony. Not that she had been without offers. A girl as attractive and clever could hardly have failed to please the sterner sex. All sorts and conditions of men had prostrated themselves at her tiny, well-shod feet, but, capricious and headstrong, she would have none of them. She was what might be called a singular girl. She liked men, not because of their sex, but because their point of view was different, their grasp of things stronger than her own. One day she must marry. She knew that. It was, she insisted laughingly, an ignoble state of slavery, a humiliating, degrading condition of subjection to the male which every woman must endure, necessary perhaps, but an ordeal to be put off, something unpleasant to be postponed as long as possible, like the taking of a dose of unsavory physic or having a tooth pulled at the dentist's. Meantime, heart whole and fancy free, she enjoyed life to the limit and kept her admirers guessing.
"Oh, I saw such lovely things in the stores," exclaimed the young girl. "I wish I had the money to buy them all."
"You will have when I get back from South Africa," he laughed.
"Don't forget," she laughed. "I'll hold you to that promise. Helen is witness."
"I swear it!" he said with mock solemnity. "You shall have carte blanche in any Fifth Avenue shop to the amount of—$1.75."
"Will you be ready in time?" she laughed, looking around with dismay at the litter of open trunks.
"I won't, if you stay here chattering like a magpie."
"What time does the steamer sail?"
"Eleven o'clock," said Helen.
"We're all coming to see you off. Mr. Steell told me that he's coming, too."
"Not exactly to see me, I'm afraid," smiled Kenneth.
"Who else?" she retorted. "If you mean me, you're mistaken. He doesn't need to make the uncomfortable trip to Hoboken to see me."
Her brother-in-law smiled, amused at her petulance.
"My dear," he said, "you don't know what hardships a man will endure for the girl he's sweet on." With mock seriousness he went on: "Say sis, Helen and I have been having an argument. Who does Steell come here for—for you or for me?"
Ray burst into merry laughter.
"How silly you are, Ken. For me, of course. At least, I flatter myself that——" With a wink at her sister she added facetiously: "Of course, one never knows when dealing with these handsome men. And Helen is quite adorable. If I were a man, I should be crazy about her."
Helen held up a protesting finger.
"Don't talk like that, dear, or he'll believe you."
"Yes, I'm as jealous as Othello and quite as dangerous. Don't I look it?"
As he spoke, the front door-bell rang downstairs. Ray hastily took up her things.
"I hope not!" exclaimed Helen. "I'm in no mood to see anybody."
"I'll see them," whispered Ray, "and say you're out. It won't be the first fib I've told."
She ran lightly out of the room and upstairs, while Helen and her husband went on with the work of packing. They were just stooping together over a trunk when there came a rap on the door, and Francois appeared.
"A lady to see monsieur."
Kenneth looked puzzled.
"A lady? What lady?"
Helen laughed merrily. Triumphantly, she exclaimed:
"It's my turn now to be jealous."
"Not exactly a lady, monsieur. An elderly person."
"What's her name?"
"Mrs. Mary O'Connor."
Kenneth smiled broadly.
"Mary O'Connor, my old nurse. Well, well, show her right in." Turning to his wife he added quickly: "Dear old soul—no doubt she's heard I'm off to Africa and wishes to say good-bye."
An instant later an old woman bent with age and with a kindly face framed with silvery white hair came in, hands outstretched. Without any air of condescension on his part, Kenneth went forward to greet her. Through all the long stretch of years, from his boy days to his manhood he had never forgotten how kind Mary had been to him when a child, taking the place of the mother he had lost in infancy. A Christmas was never allowed to pass without a fat turkey for the old nurse and many a little present of money had accompanied the bird. The old woman's lips quivered as she said tremulously:
"It's a long way you're going, Mr. Kenneth."
"Oh, I'll soon be back, Mary," he rejoined jovially.
She shook her head.
"It's a long way and I'm getting old."
The promoter laughed boisterously. Leading her gently to a chair he exclaimed:
"Old! Nonsense; You're just as young to me now as when I first remember you."
The old lady smiled. Nodding her head feebly, she replied:
"When you used to play hide-and-seek with me. When I wanted to put you to bed you were nowhere to be found."
Helen laughed while Kenneth protested:
"Oh, come now, Mary, I wasn't so bad as that."
"No. You weren't bad—just lively and natural as all healthy children. You were always a better boy than your brother."
Helen looked up quickly.
"Your brother, Kenneth? I never heard you speak of a brother."
He looked at the old lady in amazement.
"My brother? What brother?"
The old lady smiled.
"That's so—you never knew. You were too young to remember. Yes, you had a brother—a twin brother. People hardly knew you apart. There was only one way in which your mother and I could tell."
"What was that?" demanded the promoter eagerly.
"He had a scar. He caught his hand in some machinery when a baby and it left a scar in the index finger of the left hand."
Transfixed, Kenneth listened open-mouthed. At last breaking the spell, he exclaimed:
"I never heard of him. You never spoke of him before."
"How should you remember?" went on the old woman. "It's many years ago. Your father and mother are dead. You have no relatives living. No one knows. But I know."
"Did he die?" asked Kenneth, deeply interested.
The old lady nodded affirmatively.
"I shall never forgive myself. It was my fault. You were playing together in the garden. I didn't dream either of you could come to harm. I went into the house for a moment to get something. When I came back your brother was gone—no trace of him anywhere. We never saw him again. Your father, heart-broken, offered a fortune for news of him. The police hunted high and low all over the country. There was no trace. Some gypsies had passed recently through the town. I always suspected them. That is thirty years ago and more."
"So it's not even known if he's dead," interrupted Kenneth eagerly.
The beldame shook her head sorrowfully, as she answered sagely:
"Oh, he's dead all right. That's sure. There was money left to him by your grandfather. For years the lawyers advertised for news of him. But it was no good. If he'd been alive, he'd have claimed his own."
"He might still be alive, yet unaware of his identity," broke in Helen, who was a keenly interested listener. She had been so accustomed to regard her husband as the only son of parents, both of whom were dead, that the mere possibility of his having a brother awakened her curiosity.
Still under the spell of the old woman's unexpected revelation, Kenneth had relapsed into a thoughtful silence. The surprising news had affected him strangely. So—he had had a brother—a twin brother, and all these years he had been in ignorance of the fact. Yet who could be nearer or dearer than a twin brother? Together they had lain under the same mother's heart. Together they had first seen the light and laughed in the sun. Ah, if he had only lived to be his comrade, his partner! With a brother at his side, to second him in his hazardous enterprises, he felt he would indeed be invincible. He could have conquered the world!
The old nurse held out a withered hand, and her eyes were moist with tears as she said:
"Good-bye, Mr. Kenneth. A safe journey to you. Keep out of danger. I'll be praying for the Lord to watch over you."
Helen turned away so they might not see her emotion. Kenneth laughed lightly as he kissed the old woman's cheek, and then, slipping a bank note into her hand, he said carelessly:
"All right, Mary, I'll be careful. I'll come back safe and sound,—never fear, and I'll bring you something nice,—perhaps a big diamond. Out in South Africa they pick 'em up like stones."
The old woman's eyes opened incredulously.
"Really, Mr. Kenneth?"
"Yes, really. Diamonds as big as apples. They're found every day. When I come back I'll have all sorts of adventures to tell you about. Who knows? I might even run across this twin-brother of mine. Stranger things have happened."
"Diamonds as big as apples," she echoed. "Do you mean that, Mr. Kenneth?"
"Indeed I do! Some of the gems are as big as cocoanuts. Didn't you hear of that wonderful diamond we found the other day? It's worth a million dollars."
The old woman opened her eyes and gaped with astonishment.
"A million dollars, Mr. Kenneth!"
"Yes, a million dollars. What's more, I'll soon be able to show it to you, Mary. My trip out to South Africa is ostensibly for the purpose of negotiating for more land. The real purpose of my journey is to bring home this astonishing stone."
"But how will you carry it, Mr. Kenneth? A stone worth a million dollars must be big as a house."
"No—no, Mary. It can easily go in my waistcoat pocket. But for safety's sake it won't. I don't mind letting you into my confidence. I'm to have a secret bottom made in——"
Before he could complete the sentence, Helen quickly clapped her hand over his mouth, and he had not yet recovered from his astonishment when she sprang to the door and opened it. The movement was so sudden and unexpected that a man who had been leaning against it, fell all his length into the room. It was Francois, the French valet.
"Excusez," he stammered, "I stumbled."
Kenneth stared first at the servant, then at his wife. Slowly he began to comprehend. Turning to the Frenchman he demanded angrily:
"What were you doing behind that door?"
"Excusez. I came back to ask monsieur how many shirts I pack."
Thoroughly aroused, the promoter pointed to the door. Sternly he said:
"Get out of here—you fool! If you don't know your business, I'll get some one else who does."
The Frenchman beat a rapid retreat. There was a malevolent look on his face, but he murmured respectfully enough:
Kenneth turned to his wife.
"What did he come back for?" he demanded.
"He was listening—behind the door," she replied calmly.
The dirty, sullen waters of the harbor washed lazily against the black, precipitous sides of the giant liner which, under a full head of steam, vibrated with suppressed energy, straining at mighty cables as if impatient to start on her long and hazardous voyage across the tumbling seas. A raw, piercing northeaster, howling dismally above the monotonous creaking and puffing of the donkey-engine, swept through the cheerless, draughty dock, chilling the spectators to the marrow. The sun, vainly trying to break through the banks of leaden-colored clouds, cast a grayish pall over land and sky. A day it was of sinister portent, that could not fail to have a depressing effect on sailor and landlubber alike.
Yet unpropitious skies and chilly wind did not appear to keep people at home. The steamer was crowded, both with those who were sailing and those who were not. The gangways, staterooms were overrun not only by passengers, but by all sorts of visitors curious to get a glimpse of the luxurious liner. The first-class saloon, heaped high on all sides with American Beauty roses and orchids, looked as gay and full of color as a florist's shop.
"Isn't it perfectly stunning? How I adore ships!" exclaimed Ray, eager to see everything.
Keeping close together, the two young women with difficulty elbowed their way through the excited throng. They were anxious to rejoin Kenneth whom they had left in the stateroom giving instructions to Francois, and they began to be afraid they might lose him in the crush. Delighted at everything she saw, Ray could not contain herself.
"Oh, how I wish I were going! Why doesn't Ken take me?"
Helen turned to her in mock despair.
"If you went, what would I do? Who would take care of me?"
"I would," said a masculine voice close by.
The women turned quickly.
A tall, fair man still in his thirties, had stopped and raised his hat.
"Why, it's Mr. Steell!" exclaimed Ray, her pleasure at the meeting betraying itself in the tone of her voice.
"Do you doubt my ability to take care of you? Could any man wish for a more congenial task?"
"Flatterer!" laughed Helen. Cordially she added: "I'm awfully glad to see you. It was very good of you to come and see Ken off."
"Nonsense," exclaimed the newcomer. "I wanted to come—if only to make sure he wouldn't change his mind. I'm as anxious to see those diamonds as you are."
"Hush!" said Helen putting up her finger to her mouth while Ray's attention was momentarily diverted elsewhere. "No one knows—not even Ray. It's a great secret."
An anxious look passed over the young man's face. He hadn't approved of this South African trip. It was wholly unnecessary. In his opinion his old chum was taking a great risk.
"That's right," he muttered. "You can't be too careful."
In metropolitan legal circles Wilbur Steell was looked upon as the coming man. His success in the courts had given him a wide reputation before he was five and thirty, and his gifts as a public speaker, his strong, aggressive personality made more than one political leader anxious to secure his services. Already he was mentioned as district attorney. Even the Governorship might have been his for the asking. But he showed no liking for politics. His sympathies leaned more towards the literary, intellectual life. Having all the money he needed, he preferred to keep out of the social and political maelstrom, leading a quiet life, following his own tastes and inclinations. Match-making mammas saw in him a prize, but so far he had shown no disposition to marry. He cultivated few people, in fact, was considered somewhat of a misanthrope. Kenneth he had known all his life. They were boys together, and the Traynors were among the few on whom he called frequently. He made no secret of his attraction for Ray, and the young girl liked him as well as she chose to like anybody. He had qualities, not usually met with in successful men, that made a strong appeal to her—fine ideals, and a purpose in life. She liked his seriousness, finding him different in this respect from any other man she knew. She felt he admired her, but he did not make love to her and she was grateful to him for that. She liked his society and never tired of discussing with him sociology and other subjects in which both were interested.
"When does the steamer sail?" interrupted Ray anxiously, as if afraid that they might go off with her on board.
"In half an hour," said the lawyer. "They ring a warning bell. There is plenty of time. Where's Kenneth?"
"Down below in his stateroom—wrestling with baggage," replied Helen. "He said he would join us here."
"Well, suppose we sit down a bit," he suggested.
"Yes—that will be jolly," exclaimed Ray.
The lawyer pulled up three steamer chairs and sitting down, they watched the crowd which had already begun to thin out. The novelty of the scene held both women fascinated. The constant bustle and excitement, the going and coming of well-groomed men and women, the little scraps of conversation overheard, interested them both beyond measure. Helen studied each individual couple, wondering who they were, how long married, if they were happy, where they were going to. She wondered if that coarse, loudly dressed woman really cared for her husband, or if this brutal looking man with insolent stare of the libertine, illtreated his delicate little wife. She herself could not understand marriage without genuine affection on both sides. Any such intimate relation as the marriage tie involved must surely be repellent and abhorrent to any self-respecting woman unless love were there to sanction and sanctify it.
Ray glanced at her sister and laughed.
"Why so serious, Helen? He hasn't gone yet."
"But he soon will be. I wish he were here instead of downstairs."
"Please be nautically correct. Remember we are on a ship. You don't say 'downstairs'; you say 'below.'"
Mr. Steell turned round with a smile.
"I had no idea you were so well posted in sailor's parlance."
The young girl laughed.
"Oh, you don't know half my accomplishments. I'm cleverer than you give me credit for."
The young man leaned half over the chair as he whispered:
"I wouldn't dare tell you how clever I think you."
"Because—of my own peace of mind."
Helen broke in on the conversation. Addressing the lawyer, she said:
"Now Kenneth is away, we shall expect you to come to the house very often."
The lawyer bowed.
"It's always a pleasure to call."
"Be sure to come next Sunday evening. I expect some friends. We'll have some music."
"May I bring someone?"
"Certainly. Any friend of yours is welcome."
"Who is it?" asked Ray impertinently. "Male or female?"
"I believe it's a male," smiled the lawyer. "It looks like a male and talks like one." More seriously he went on: "His name is Dick Reynolds. He has just passed his bar examination and is practicing temporarily in my office. His people live out West and being alone here, he is glad enough to have somewhere to go."
"Bring him by all means," exclaimed Ray. "Has he any accomplishments—apart from being a male?"
"Yes—he plays the piano indifferently, and tennis admirably. He swims like a fish, and can run like a hare. But his best accomplishment is a gift that one seldom sees developed——"
"What is that?" exclaimed both his listeners at once.
"He is a born detective—a regular Sherlock Holmes in real life. I have tested him several times with extraordinary results. I have given him the most difficult cases to unravel. He has found the solution in every one."
Ray clapped her hands.
"Oh, I love that," she said. "Don't forget to invite him. Only the trouble is we have nothing to unravel."
"I have a skein of silk," interrupted Helen facetiously.
Suddenly the lawyer stopped speaking and quickly sitting up in his chair stared intently in the distance at a face in the crowd which had caught his eye.
"Who is it?" demanded Ray, her woman's jealousy aroused.
"I may be mistaken," he replied, "but I thought I saw your friend Signor Keralio."
Helen looked up quickly.
"My friend?" she exclaimed. "He's no friend of mine. I wonder what he's doing here. He can't be sailing."
"He's up to no good, I wager that," growled the lawyer.
"You don't like him either, do you?" smiled Ray.
"Does anyone?" he answered. "I don't see how Kenneth can have anything to do with such a cheap type of adventurer."
Helen hastened to explain.
"Ken doesn't care for him at all, only they are both interested in the same business deal—a silver mine in Mexico. Ken bought stock and Keralio is the only man he knows connected with it. That's why."
The lawyer gave vent to a grunt of disgust.
"If Keralio has anything to do with it, good-bye to Ken's money. In my opinion the fellow's a crook."
Suddenly Helen pointed to a spot away down at the other end of the deck.
"Yes—you're right—there he is—behind that third lifeboat. He's talking to some one."
The lawyer looked in the direction indicated.
"Yes—and do you see the secretive way in which they're talking—hiding behind that boat, as if so that no one might see them. They're plotting some mischief, you may be sure of that. Who's the other fellow?"
Helen strained her eyes to see.
"I can't see his face. Oh, yes I can—why—it's our Francois—Kenneth's valet. What can they be talking about? I don't trust that valet. Only the other day I caught him reading some letters. I warned Ken about him; but he insists he is faithful—I wonder what they can have in common? He used to be in Signor Keralio's employ."
The lawyer shook his head ominously. Gravely he said:
"That fellow Keralio will bear watching. I think I'll put my Sherlock Holmes on his track."
"Oh, that would be exciting—a drama in real life. Please do——"
"Good morning, ladies!" said a voice close at hand. "Good morning, Mr. Steell."
All looked up. A tall, elderly man with white hair, distinguished looking and fashionably dressed, had stopped.
"Why, it's Mr. Parker!" exclaimed Helen holding out her hand. "You came to see Kenneth off?"
"Yes—where is he?"
"In his stateroom—attending to his baggage. He'll be here directly."
"I must see him at once."
"Very important, indeed," replied the newcomer.
Helen jumped up, all flushed from excitement.
"Please tell me what it is?" she exclaimed.
The old gentleman drew a telegram from his pocket.
"I've just received this from our agent in Cape Town. Another diamond of extraordinary size has been picked up. It weighs over 2,000 carats and is calculated to be worth five hundred thousand dollars. That's the second stone of extraordinary size that we have found. Possibly there is some exaggeration in the reports, but there is no doubt whatever that we are on the verge of discoveries little short of sensational. Meantime, the treasury of the Americo-African Mining Company has been enriched by at least a million. When Kenneth returns to New York with these wonderful gems in his possession, there is likely to be a boom in the company's shares."
The old gentleman spoke glibly, even eloquently and it was obvious that he was sincere and not talking for effect. It was, indeed, largely due to his distinguished air, and fine oratorical powers that Cornelius Winthrop Parker had been elected president of the Americo-African Mining Company, with fine offices in New York and London and stockholders in every country under the sun. Trained for the ministry and enjoying a wide acquaintance but a slim income, he had found the business of stock company promotion more profitable than preaching the gospel, and when Traynor had first gone to him with the suggestion that a company be formed to take up the large tract of Transvaal land where precious stones had actually been found he was not slow to grasp at the unusual opportunity. He managed cleverly the preliminary publicity campaign. The company was promptly organized and successfully floated, the public snapping as eagerly at the shares as a fish at the bait. It was only logical to infer, therefore, that when Kenneth returned to New York with actual proof of the company's suddenly acquired wealth in his possession, the stock would soar above par. With this pleasing prospect in view, it was not surprising that Mr. Parker wore to-day his most engaging smile.
Ray looked up in surprise.
"What!" she exclaimed. "Kenneth to bring home the diamonds? This is the first I heard of it. Helen never told me."
"Hush!" said Mr. Parker, holding up his handy warningly. "Some one might hear you." Continuing, he said blandly:
"Of course not, my dear lady, of course not. Your sister is far too discreet and clever a woman to disclose her husband's plans to the world. There are some things a man must keep secret from everyone—even from his wife. It would have been the height of folly to make any such announcement from the housetops. The highways are full of rogues; even the walls have ears. Some crook might have learned of our plans and acted accordingly. Kenneth might be followed to South Africa, shadowed till he has the gems in his possession and then waylaid and murdered. Remember, he will have stones in his waistcoat pocket worth a million. Do you suppose desperate men will stop at anything to secure such a prize?"
Ray turned to her sister.
"Did you know?"
"Yes, and it has made me very unhappy. It is terrible that he is taking such risks." Turning to Mr. Parker she asked apprehensively: "Do you think he will run any danger?"
The old gentleman shook his head.
"Of course not, my dear lady. It is preposterous to even think of such a thing. We have kept the matter too secret. Don't be uneasy. He will come to no harm." Raising his hat, he added: "Excuse me, ladies. I'll go and find Kenneth and bring him to you."
The next instant he was swallowed up by the crowd.
Helen, uneasy at her husband's prolonged absence, suggested that they go below and join him.
Suddenly a stentorian voice called out:
"All ashore—all ashore!"
Quickly, Helen jumped to her feet, only to bump into Kenneth, who at that moment ran up, followed by Mr. Parker.
"All ashore, dear," he said hastily, "you had better go."
She made no reply, but averted her head so he might not see her red eyes.
All about them the bustle and excitement was bewildering. People pushed this way and that in their efforts to reach the gangway.
The siren sounded its last deep toned blasts of warning; the final greetings were exchanged.
Tall and handsome looking in his tourist knicker-bockers and close fitting steamer cap, Kenneth held both Helen's hands in his. Ray and Mr. Parker, under the pretence of visiting the anchor weighed, had discreetly withdrawn. Francois, the valet, could be seen in the distance, making signals to some one on shore. Husband and wife were standing alone behind one of the big ventilators, Helen glad that no one saw them, ashamed that anyone should detect the big tears she was unable to control. How she had dreaded this moment of actual parting, this ordeal of saying good-bye!
"You'll write every day, won't you?" she asked in choking voice.
Tenderly he drew her to him.
"Every day, sweetheart."
"And you'll come back safe to me?"
"I'll come back safe to you."
Bravely she forced back the tears that blinded her. Gently she murmured:
"I'll wait for you, Kenneth. I shall count the days, every moment, until you return. I never realized till now how much we are to each other. I'll pray for you, Kenneth; I'll pray God that He watch over and protect you."
He said nothing, but drew her toward him. Looking searchingly into her eyes, he said half in jest, half in earnest:
"You'll be true, always true!"
Gravely she answered:
"You'll look at no other man."
"How can you be so foolish, Ken dear? I see no one but you. I hear no voice but yours. You are my life, my soul. When you return you'll find me here, at this same dock, arms outstretched, waiting, just waiting."
The bell rang.
"All ashore! All ashore!"
He bent low. His mouth met hers in one deep, lingering kiss.
"God bless you, darling."
"Good-bye, Ken, good-bye."
The next thing she knew she was back on the dock among a crowd of spectators waving hats and handkerchiefs—the women weeping, the men shouting and gesticulating.
The passengers stood at the rail, waving frantic adieux in return. The siren sounded deep-toned blasts of warning to the smaller river craft to get out of the way. The huge vessel strained and trembled, vibrating more violently as she gradually began to glide into the open. Assisted by a fleet of energetic tugs she finally swung clear and pointed her nose eastward. Slowly, majestically, the leviathan moved out to sea.
It was bad enough to see him go at all, but to have him sail on such a gloomy day as this, with not a ray of sunshine to cheer him on the way, was more than Helen could bear. Blinded by tears she stood kissing her hand to the familiar figure now only faintly discernible on the fast receding steamship, and she stood there long after every one else had left the dock watching until the Mauretania was only a speck in the horizon.
Sunday evenings at Mrs. Traynor's were always enjoyable. No formal invitations were issued. Friends just dropped in as they felt inclined. There was good music, excellent tea a la Russe and always a number of interesting people.
To-night, the second Sunday since Kenneth went away, promised to be duller than usual. Mr. Steell was there, of course, and he had brought Dick Reynolds, a slightly built, shrewd looking young man with glasses, who kept everybody amused with exciting stories of the underworld. Yet, for all the animation, there was an atmosphere of gloom in the air, an indefinable sense of depression which all felt and could not explain. The lawyer, Dick, and Ray were in a corner carrying on an animated discussion. Helen, her mind preoccupied, her thoughts hundreds of miles away with the loved absent one, sat quietly at the piano, running her fingers lightly over the keys, her thoughts many leagues distant with the man who had carried her heart away with him.
Her face was pale, her expression grave. Why had Kenneth's going away affected her like this? She had not had a moment's peace of mind since his departure. She could not sleep. Horrible dreams and thoughts haunted her all night. Some danger threatened, that she felt instinctively. Something dreadful was going to happen. What it was, she did not know. But it was something that threatened her happiness, perhaps her life or Kenneth's——. At the mere thought a shiver ran through her, and a convulsive sob rose in her throat, almost choking her. Not until this moment had she fully realized how much she loved him.
A sudden burst of laughter at the other end of the room aroused her from her reverie. Looking up, she asked:
"What are you all so amused about?"
Ray smiled as she replied:
"We're arguing about dual personalities. Mr. Steell insists that there is no such thing. Mr. Reynolds agrees with him. He is wrong of course. I know of several well-authenticated cases, and the medical records are there to back me up."
"Exactly what do you mean by dual personality?" demanded the lawyer.
Ray returned to the attack, while Helen, amused, rose from the piano and went over to listen to the argument.
"I mean that a person we know well may suddenly cease being that person and assume a personality entirely different."
Mr. Steell laughed derisively.
"Does the patient change her or his skin?"
"No, the change is wholly mental. Although in fact, the new mental attitude does result in certain physical modifications. For instance, a person who in his normal condition may be most punctilious and neat in his dress is likely to become unkempt and slovenly in the new character he unconsciously assumes."
"Have you ever encountered any such dual personalities?"
"Personally, no. But I have heard of them, and physicians often encounter them in their practice."
The lawyer shrugged his shoulders as he turned to Helen.
"What do you think about it?" he asked, with an incredulous smile.
"These so-called dual personalities."
Before his hostess could answer, the drawing-room door opened and Mr. Parker entered. Helen rose and went forward to greet the president of the Americo-African Mining Company.
"Oh, Mr. Parker, how are you? I am so glad you came to see us."
The visitor advanced smiling into the room. With a salute to all present, he asked cheerily:
"Well, what news of the wanderer?"
"None as yet."
The visitor chuckled as he crossed the room to shake hands with Ray and Mr. Steell.
"Oh, well you must be patient. He'll soon be there, and then we shall hear wonderful tales."
"What's the latest news from the seat of war—I mean the mines?" asked Ray roguishly.
Mr. Parker smiled.
"Everything is going well, thank you."
"No new big finds?" demanded Mr. Steell.
The president laughed. Shaking his head, he said:
"We can't expect to make such finds every day. If we often picked up stones of that size, we'd soon own all the wealth in the world."
"More likely," retorted Ray quickly, "that diamonds would become so cheap that children would buy them for marbles."
Mr. Steell looked interested.
"What is the real market value of the two big gems you have already picked up?"
The president looked at him for a moment in silence. Then, slowly, he said:
"A very conservative estimate is $1,200,000 for both stones. They are the purest white. There are larger stones in the world, but none of finer quality."
"What do you expect to do with them?"
"First, they will be brought here and exhibited in their crude state. You can easily realize the value to our company of such a gigantic advertisement. Crowds will flock to see the wonderful crystals. The newspapers all over the country will give them the widest publicity. After everybody has seen them, we shall probably send them to Amsterdam to be cut."
"Then, what will you do with them?"
"To tell you the truth, we have not made up our minds. Such very large stones have really no commercial value. Take for instance the famous Cullinan, the wonder of the modern world. That gem was so huge that it was of no real value to the owners; so, unable to realize on it themselves, they induced the Transvaal government to buy it and present it to the King of England. We shall try to be a little more practical. Our first duty is to our stockholders. We shall probably have the stones cut up into a number of smaller stones, on which we shall be able to realize a large sum. It's a rare stroke of good fortune for us."
Helen had said nothing, but stood listening in silence. It was less of the money involved in the adventure that she was thinking than of her husband's safety.
"Suppose Kenneth loses the gems?" she faltered.
The old gentleman laughed.
"There's no fear of him losing them. He may have to fight for them, but he'll never lose them I know him too well for that."
Helen's eyes opened wide.
"He may have to fight for them," she echoed. "Do you mean that?"
"No—no, of course not," said the president hastily. "No one will even know he has them in his possession. We have kept the matter very quiet."
Mr. Steell shrugged his shoulders. Drily he said:
"Oh, I guess Ken is big enough to take care of himself. It does look as if it were tempting Providence to carry loose on one's person valuables for so large an amount, but it's hardly likely that any of the denizens of the underworld know of his departure. Still less that he is carrying a million loose in his clothes. I don't see that there's any reason to worry."
"That's precisely my opinion," said a musical voice immediately behind them.
All started and looked up. Everyone had been so intent on the conversation that they had not noticed a man who had entered the room.
He was a tall, dark-complexioned man of five and thirty with strong, stern features, which, in repose, were actually forbidding. The mouth, partly concealed by a long, bristling moustache, was firm, suggesting relentless will power, and his eyes, restless, keen and searching, had taken in every person there long before anyone was aware of his presence. He was fashionably, even elegantly dressed, and on his left hand he wore a solitaire of uncommon size and luster. His hair, carefully curled, scented and parted, was extraordinarily dark, contrasting sharply with the unusual pallor of his face. He spoke low and musically, with a slight foreign accent.
Helen started involuntarily on hearing the sound of his voice, and a cloud passed momentarily over her face. It lasted only a moment. She was too tactful, too much the woman of the world not to greet with at least apparent cordiality any visitor under her roof, no matter how unwelcome he might really be. Turning quickly, she advanced and held out her hand.
"How do you do, Signor Keralio? How you startled us! I did not hear you come in."
The newcomer's black eyes flashed, and his thin lips parted in a smile as he bent low and ceremoniously kissed his hostess' hand in continental fashion. Fond, as are most men of the Latin race, of making extravagant compliments, he murmured softly:
"Your tiny ears, Madam, were not intended to distinguish such gross sounds as ordinary mortal's footsteps. Dainty and delicately fashioned as the shells strewn along the beach, they were modeled only to listen to the gods or re-echo the music of the murmuring sea." Apologetically he added:
"But I'm afraid I intrude. Possibly you discuss family affairs——"
A look of annoyance crossed Helen's face. Quickly withdrawing her hand, she said:
"Oh, not at all. We were only talking about my husband. You know he sailed for South Africa two weeks ago. This is Mr. Steell, Signor Keralio. I think you know my sister. Mr. Parker—Signor Keralio."
The old gentleman nodded affably, and, putting on his glass, scrutinized the newcomer narrowly. The president of the Americo-African Mining Company had always made it a point not to neglect any chance introduction. He had no idea who the visitor was, but he looked prosperous. Possibly with a little careful manipulation, he might be induced to invest in some A. A. M. stock. Holding out his hand, he said affably:
"Signor Keralio—— Let me see. Where have I heard that name before?"
Ray came to the rescue.
"Signor Keralio is the well-known fencing master."
A look of disappointment came over the president's face. Only a fencing master? Ugh! He was hardly worth bothering about. He wondered whether the business were profitable and if all fencing masters dressed like millionaires and had such polished manners. Helen explained:
"Signor Keralio is a friend of my husband. Kenneth enjoys fencing, and Signor Keralio is his teacher."
"Oh, yes, to be sure," smiled Mr. Parker. "Capital idea—splendid exercise. I'd try it myself, only I'm afraid I'd do my adversary some injury."
The Italian gave a low chuckle. With veiled irony, he said:
"Monsieur is right. He no doubt has a good eye, a supple wrist. An encounter might be very unpleasant for his opponent."
Ray, unable to control her mirth, hastily beat a retreat, followed more leisurely by Mr. Steell, and taking refuge at the far end of the room sat down at the piano, and began to play softly a Chopin nocturne.
Waving the newcomer to a seat, Mr. Parker offered him a cigar, which the fencing master, with a courteous bow, asked his hostess' permission to smoke.