THE SILVER BUTTERFLY
By MRS. WILSON WOODROW
With Illustrations by HOWARD CHANDLER CHRISTY
INDIANAPOLIS THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright 1908 The Bobbs-Merrill Company October
PRESS OF BRAUNWORTH & CO. BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS BROOKLYN, N. Y.
Hayden was back in New York again after several years spent in the uttermost parts of the earth. He had been building railroads in South America, Africa, and China, and had maintained so many lodges in this or that wilderness that he really feared he might be curiously awkward in adapting himself to the conventional requirements of civilization. In his long roundabout journey home he had stopped for a few weeks in both London and Paris; but to his mental discomfort, they had but served to accentuate his loneliness and whet his longings for the dear, unforgotten life of his native city, that intimate, easy existence, wherein relatives, not too near, congenial friends and familiar haunts played so important a part.
On the journey from London he had felt like a boy going home for the most delightful holidays after a long period in school, and to calm and render more normal his elation, he told himself frequently as he drew nearer his native shores that he was letting himself in for a terrible disappointment; that all this happy anticipation, this belief, an intuition almost, that some delightful surprise awaited him, was the result of many lonely musings under the cold remote stars in virgin forests and wide deserts, a fleeting mirage born of homesickness.
But all these cautions and warnings and efforts to stifle this irrepressible and joyous expectation were quite unavailing and, as he decided after he had been home a week, equally unnecessary, for the unaccustomed, piquant sense of anticipation remained with him and gave a flavor to his days which in themselves were not lacking in flavor; for merely to look, to loiter, to play at an exquisite and to him exotic leisure was infinitely agreeable. The more delightful, indeed, because it was merely temporary. Hayden had come to New York with a definite purpose in view and his recreations were purely incidental.
His cousin, Kitty Hampton, was expressing her envy of him one winter morning as they were strolling down the Avenue together. Now it should be explained that Mrs. Warren Hampton, even if she was small to insignificance and blond to towness, thus increasing her resemblance to a naughty little boy, was nevertheless a very important person socially.
"I wish I could get up some of your nice, fresh enthusiasm, Robert," she said discontentedly. "Everything seems awfully stupid to me."
"That's because you've no imagination, Kitty. Fancy this seeming stupid!" He drew in the cold air of the sparkling morning with a long breath of satisfaction. "If your eyes had been traveling over the glare of deserts or plunging into the gloom of tangled forests for several years, you would think people and all this glitter and life and motion a very delightful change. Why, everywhere I look I see wonders. I expect anything to happen. Really, it would not surprise me in the least to turn a corner and meet a fairy princess any minute."
Kitty fell in with what she supposed was his mood. "We will turn the very next corner and see," she said. "But how will you know her even if we should meet her."
"I shall know her, never fear," he affirmed triumphantly, "whether she wear a shabby little gown, or gauzes and diamonds. I shall look into her eyes and know her at once."
He was laughing and yet there was something in his voice, a sort of ring of hope or conviction, that caused Kitty to lift her pretty sulky little face and look at him with a new interest. And Hayden was not at all bad to look at. He was well set-up, with a brown, square face, brown hair, gray eyes full of expression and good humor and an unusually delightful smile, a smile that had won friends for him, of every race and in every clime, and had more than once been effective in extricating him from some difficulty into which his impulsive and non-calculating nature had plunged him.
"The fairy princess," she repeated slowly and quite seriously. "Sure enough, there should be one." She gazed at him appraisingly: "Young—moderately young and good-looking enough. You haven't got fat, And all that tan is becoming, and—how are you off anyway, Bobby?"
He looked down at her amusedly. "The fairy princess would never ask that question."
"Oh, yes, she would. Do not dream that she wouldn't—to-day."
"Very well, then. To be perfectly truthful, I have 'opes. I believe I have found my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Yes, I do. Oh, it's nothing very definite yet, but I believe, I truly believe I've struck it."
"How?" she asked curiously.
"Ah, my dear, I'm not quite ready to tell. It's a romance, as you will agree when you hear it. What's the matter?"
For Kitty instead of showing any proper, cousinly enthusiasm was looking at him with a frown of petulant vexation.
"Then why couldn't you have come home six months, even three months earlier? Young, good-looking, and, as I now discover, rich, or about to be. Oh, it is too bad!"
He gazed at her in amazement. "My dear Kitty," in playful humility, "even if your flattering estimate of me is true, I don't see why you should be so disgruntled about it."
Her April face broke into smiles, and yet she sighed. "Oh, Bobby, because, because I'm afraid the fairy princess is bespoke. Yes," nodding at his astonishment, "I have a fairy princess in mind, one in whose welfare I am deeply interested."
"Oh," comprehendingly, "one of your protegees, whom you are trying to marry off. I assure you once and for all, Kitty, that such will not do for me. I want the real thing in fairy princesses; under an enchantment, detained in the home of a wicked ogre; all that, you know, and lovely and forlorn."
She looked at him oddly. "If you only knew how you confirm my impression."
She paid no attention to him. "I wish I knew certainly. She won't tell until she gets ready, but it looks very much as if she were engaged to Wilfred Ames. You remember him, do you not?"
Hayden thought deeply a moment. "A big fellow? Very light hair, blue eyes?"
"Yes, yes," she nodded, "'the flanneled fool at the wicket, muddied oaf at the goal' type, you know. One of those lumbering, good-looking babies of men that women like Marcia always attract. Every one thinks it's an awfully good thing, and I dare say I'd agree with them, if you hadn't happened along. But his mother! My patience, his mother! And she's behaving like a cat about the whole affair. Just as if Marcia's mother were not enough! Oh," in a burst of impatience, "why do not things ever arrange themselves properly?"
He laughed, Kitty always made him laugh; but his curiosity was aroused sufficiently to ask: "Have I ever in my remote past met this paragon of a fairy princess?"
"No-o, no, I don't believe you have. Her mother took her to Europe when she was quite young and she has lived over there most of her life."
"What is her name?" he asked idly.
"Marcia, Marcia Oldham."
"But Oldham," with more show of interest. "Oldham! I seem to remember that. Isn't her father an old curmudgeon of a millionaire?"
"He was before he went to smash and died," she returned briefly. "He left a wife and one daughter."
"And the daughter is the fairy princess," he was evidently amused at Kitty's match-making proclivities. "But, Kitten, unless I am assured that she is under an enchantment, she will not do."
Again his cousin looked at him with that untranslatable expression in her eyes, a little, half-bitter smile on her lips. "I'm only too afraid we shall be able to satisfy you in that regard," she stared before her with somber eyes. "Marcia is very lovely and very gifted. She paints wonderfully well. I have some of her water colors. You must see them." She spoke with a complete change of tone, evidently not caring to discuss her friends' distresses whatever they might be. "By the way, Bobby, don't you want to dine with me this evening? I'll be all alone. Warren is still in the West, you know. Dine with me, and we will go on to Bea Habersham's afterward."
"Thank you, Kitty dear, but I'm going to see Mary Garden in Thais, this evening, so I'll be dining early. But why won't you take tea with me somewhere this afternoon, or else give me a cup or so?"
"No. Can not." She shook her head decisively.
"Bridge?" he asked whimsically.
"For a wonder, no. Something far more interesting. I'm taking two women to a wonderful fortune-teller. Quite the most remarkable creature you ever heard of. Why, Bea Habersham lost a big sapphire ring last week and this woman told her exactly where to find it, and Bea went right home and laid her hands on it."
"What's her name? Where is she?" Hayden asked, with mock eagerness. "Perhaps she will find the fairy princess for me."
They had reached Mrs. Hampton's home by this time, and she took occasion to look at him scornfully before entering. "Doubtless she will if you pay her enough," she said. "And her name is——Oh," wrinkling her forehead in perplexity, "I've got it down somewhere, but for the moment, it's gone out of my head. Mademoiselle—Mademoiselle——Oh, an odd name. I'll remember it sooner or later. Good-by."
"Mademoiselle—Mademoiselle—" he teased her, imitating her voice. "Oh, an odd name," And he laughed. "But, Kitty, do beg her to find me the fairy princess."
When the curtain fell on the first act of Thais, that evening, Hayden drew a long sigh. He had been enjoying it with that keen, pleasant appreciation, that boyish glow of enthusiasm which still remained with him. Then he turned his attention to the house and amused himself by picking out an occasional familiar face, and admiring the carefully dressed heads and charming gowns of the women about him, and the whole brilliant flower-garden effect of the audience.
Presently, he noticed with some surprise that in spite of a crowded house the two seats next him remained unoccupied; but just before the curtain rose again he turned his head suddenly to discover that one of the seats at least, the one farthest from him, was filled. The recognition of this fact came almost with a shock, a pleasurable shock, for the new arrival was a young and beautiful woman and his first feeling of surprise was shot with approbation at the noiselessness of her entrance, an approbation that he longed to express verbally.
She had slipped past several people, and taken her seat without any of the jingling of chains, rattling of draperies and dropping of small articles which usually proclaim the disturbing appearance of the late feminine arrival, and seem, in fact, her necessary concomitant. But this young woman though she had so recently entered yet managed by some magic at her command to convey the impression of having been in her seat all evening.
Hayden hated to stare at her. He was, in fact, entirely too well bred to do anything of the sort, and yet, quite disgracefully, he longed to do nothing on earth so much, and further he was inclined to justify himself in this social lawlessness.
If women, either wilfully or unconsciously, succeeded in making pictures of themselves, they must expect to be gazed at. That was all there was to the matter. Only, and there was the rub, Hayden couldn't very well profit by the courage of his convictions, in spite of his truculent self-assurance, for the simple reason that he wasn't capable of it.
The lady was, he decided by virtue of his stolen glances, about twenty-five years old, although her poise of manner indicated a composure beyond her years. And she was tall and slender, with a straight, regular profile, and dark hair which fell back from her face in soft natural waves, and was very simply arranged. She had, in fact, a simplicity, almost an austerity of what one might call personal effect, which formed a contrast, certainly interesting and to Hayden at least as certainly fascinating, between herself as she impressed one and her very elaborate and striking costume.
Her wonderful gown—even Hayden's untutored masculine senses appreciated its wonderfulness—was of some clinging green material which embraced her in certain faultless lines and folds of consummate art. About the hem it was embroidered with silver butterflies, irregularly disposed yet all seeming to flutter upward as if in the effort to reach her knees. These also decorated her low corsage and spread their wings upon her sleeves. She wore no jewels; and her only ornament was a large butterfly in silver, upon her breast, with diamond- and ruby-studded wings and ruby eyes.
A butterfly! Was he dreaming? Had he thought so much of butterflies that he saw them everywhere? For since his return from South America, Hayden had exhibited a marked interest in butterflies, although, curiously enough, this enthusiasm was not in the least entomological.
But to return to the lady. One foot was thrust a little from her gown, and Hayden was quick to notice that it was encased in a green satin slipper with a buckle which was a replica of the butterfly on her breast, only smaller in size. The whole idea of her costume struck him as fanciful, original and charming; and then—and then—it was only a coincidence, of course; but it started a train of thought which gradually merged into giddier hopes.
His admiration of her seemed to be universal, at least within the confines of the opera-house, for it was evident that either the lady or her gown, or both, attracted a vast deal of attention to which she on her part was either entirely oblivious or else so accustomed as to be indifferent. At last, she turned toward Hayden a little with a slight change in her expression which he translated as annoyance. He was at once overcome with a swift feeling of embarrassment, of compunction. It seemed to him that he must have sat with his eyes riveted on her. Resolutely, he turned them toward the stage until the poignant sweetness of the intermezzo began to dream through his consciousness as an echo of "that melody born of melody which melts the world into a sea," and then, involuntarily, without premeditation, obeying a seemingly enforced impulse, he had turned toward her and she had lifted her eyes, violet eyes, touched with all regret; and a sudden surprised ecstasy had invaded every corner of his heart and filled it with sweetness and warmth, for the music, that enchanting, never-to-be-forgotten intermezzo, had revealed to him—the fairy princess.
In a moment that he dreamed not of, around some unexpected corner of life, she had turned her feet and he, crass fool that he was, was not sure that it was she; like all faithless generations, he had waited for a sign, until at last, in the ebb and flow of the music, she had lifted her sweet eyes and he had known her finally, irrevocably, and for ever.
He could not gratify his own insistent longing to move nearer her, or to gaze and gaze at her, so during the next act he confined his glances rigorously to the stage. Almost immediately, however, after the curtain fell, he happened to glance, by mere chance, toward one of the boxes, and his heart stood still, for there far back in the shadowy depths, she was standing talking earnestly to a dark, thin woman in rose-color with drooping cerise wings in her shining black hair.
He turned involuntarily, half believing himself the victim of some hallucination and expecting to see her still sitting in her seat, only to find that she really had gone. For a moment, a cold chill ran down his back. How could she have vanished without his knowing it? It seemed incredible. What an uncanny way she had of coming and going! He glanced up at the box again where he fancied he had seen her; but the lady in cerise was now seated, talking to two or three men.
Good heavens! He began seriously to doubt the evidence of his senses. Had she, his fairy princess, ever really been in the house at all or had he dreamed her—her and her butterflies? Was she, after all, some fantasy born of the music and his dreaming imagination? And would it ever be possible to dream her again; or, if she were real, where, where could he find her? To discover a fairy princess and to lose her, lose her, as he ruefully confessed, like a needle in a haystack, was worse than never to have found her.
The final curtain fell. He rose with the rest of the house, dejectedly enough, let it be said, when, glancing at his feet, he saw one of the small butterflies that had evidently fallen from her shoe. He almost shouted. Cinderella had left her glass slipper at the ball, or what, in this case symbolized it, and he had found it. He slipped it carefully into his pocket and wasted no time in hastening home; but once in the seclusion of his own apartment, he drew it forth and carefully examined it. It was an exquisite trinket fashioned with infinite care and perfectly conceived, with delicate threadlike antennae, wings so thin as to be almost transparent, and ruby eyes. He smiled afresh with a kind of triumphant satisfaction.
Before him stretched a vista of golden opportunities, for this valuable and unique ornament must be returned. Naturally, it was a commission that he could intrust to no one but himself. Any one would concede that; and she, of course, in accepting it, would have to show a decent appreciation of his good offices; and they would probably discover mutual friends or acquaintances, or if they did not happen to possess such a thing as a friend or even an acquaintance in common, he would find exercise for his ingenuity by very speedily rectifying that difficulty. Either to invent or to discover some kind of a mutual friend or acquaintance was a task to which he felt himself fully equal, and with this comforting reflection uppermost in his mind, Hayden finally composed himself to slumber. Only, and this was his last conscious thought, he did wish she had looked happier. She was like a flower, exactly like the violets that drooped below the silver butterfly on her breast.
"Oh, faint, delicious, springtime violet!" But again—that little pang was like a stab at his heart—he did wish that her sweet eyes had not been touched with all regret.
Hayden wasted no time, the next morning, in putting an advertisement in the "Lost and Found" columns of the various newspapers, signing his full name and address. Two lagging days passed, and then, just as hope was beginning to fade, he received a letter written in the third person, stating with what seemed to him rather cruel succinctness, that if Mr. Robert Hayden could find it convenient to be at the restaurant of the Gildersleeve Hotel that evening, the owner of the ornament described in his advertisement, namely a silver butterfly, would be there dining alone between the hours of eight and nine and would thus be able to receive her property in person.
With a vague feeling of disappointment through all his elation, Hayden turned the note over in his hand. At the head of the page was embossed a silver butterfly, but beyond this clue there was nothing to indicate the lady's identity; no name, no address. Again he read the brief words written in a clear, upright hand, which so plainly showed strength of character and unusual self-control, but gained no new light.
What an odd happening! He felt indefinably chilled. Why this appointment for a meeting at one of the large hotels? Curious. Why this mystery, anyway, he thought irritably; why this excess of mystery? And yet, after all, he was forced to confess to his inmost soul that, mystery though it was, he did not find it any the less delightful for that, rather the more so.
He had never known so slow a day. The minutes lagged unaccountably, the hours crawled forward at the most snail-like pace, and his impatience at this was tempered to a satirical amusement by the fact that the entire world of his friends seemed banded together in a conspiracy to engage his society for that particular evening.
He had, as night drew on, a breathless and excited sense of eluding and escaping them, and dressed with the emotions of the criminal who realizes that the sleuths are hard upon his trail. It is unnecessary to say that he was early at the Gildersleeve, and managed to secure a table which commanded a view of the entire room. He had an hour and a half before eight o'clock, and he put as much of it in as possible in ordering a carefully chosen dinner, taking an incredible time over it, for, as the fever of his anticipation ran high, his manner became the more cool and leisurely, a temperamental trait of his.
He ate his soup as slowly as possible, and glanced about at the tables now rapidly filling up with all the laughing groups of men and women who would be going on to the theater and the opera a little later. The music was charmingly subdued; a whiff of fragrance from the flowers on his table reached him. He liked the atmosphere of this hotel, quiet, restful, and handsome after a restrained and sober fashion; and then, all at once, the surroundings, the groups at the tables, the waiters passing to and fro, the appealing music, the noise and hum of conversation lost life and motion and color, and became the mere tapestry against which she alone moved.
It was about half-after seven when the vigilant eye which Hayden had kept so persistently on the door was rewarded; but to his disappointment, she was not alone, but was accompanied by an elderly, gray-haired man. However, his spirit was somewhat restored by the fact that they took a table immediately within the line of his vision. She wore black to-night, gauzy and diaphanous black. A small black toque with some upstanding silver trimming rested on her hair, and the silver butterfly on her breast seemed to flutter its delicate, shining wings; but depending from it almost to her waist and encircling her neck, was an exquisite chain of small, enameled butterflies. They were in all shades of yellow and orange, with touches of black, and were held together by tiny, jeweled links. Butterflies, more butterflies! Could it be? Was it a possibility? Hayden cautioned himself lest his imagination ran away with him.
He could not fail to notice that here, as at the opera, she was again an object of interest. Every one in the room seemed to be either openly or furtively gazing at her. In this, he reflected, there was nothing very peculiar, as her beauty, which was sufficiently marked to compel interest anywhere, was not more noticeable than the unique and remarkably beautiful ornaments she was wearing.
The man with her, unobtrusive and gray enough in all conscience to escape any attention whatever, yet made a peculiar impression on Hayden. As he sat, apparently ordering dinner in haste, with his watch in his hand, so to speak, Hayden was struck by the deference he displayed to the lady he accompanied, and the lack of ease in his manner. He was like a man who had been unwittingly drawn into a situation which rendered him extremely uncomfortable, and he was distinctly not of her world. On the other hand, the lady of the silver butterfly, as Hayden was forced to call her, in lieu of any other name, exhibited her usual calm, unruffled composure.
Hayden could not notice, watch her as closely as he would, that she showed even curiosity as to whether or not he was in the room. Not once did he succeed in surprising the smallest glance in his direction. Instead, for the most part, she talked earnestly to the man opposite, who had evidently ordered his dinner of dishes ready to be served, and was hastily consuming them, while she had given more time to her order, and did not really begin her dinner until her vis-a-vis had disposed of his. Then, with a final and hasty glance at his watch, the gray and elderly man arose, bowed awkwardly and formally to her and left the room.
The first course of the lady's dinner had just been placed before her, and Hayden could not fail to admire the way in which she bore herself. Although, as at the opera, she must have been conscious of the many admiring eyes cast in her direction, she gave no evidence of it, and he was almost equally piqued by the fact that she manifested no apparent interest in his presence. Not once did she turn her head toward the door, not once did she incline her eyes in his direction.
She had just finished her soup when, the clock indicating one minute of eight, Hayden took a last sip of his black coffee, the last whiff of his cigarette, and walked down the room toward her. As he reached her table and stood before her, she looked up with a charming smile, which yet held a touch of shyness, an embarrassment she struggled to conceal, and nodded toward the chair so recently vacated by her elderly companion. To his surprise, Hayden saw that she was younger than he had at first thought her, and wondered afresh at her apparent isolation.
"Won't you sit there, please? You are very prompt. It is just eight o'clock."
He seated himself opposite her. "A proof of my desire to escape the responsibility of your ornament," he replied, taking from his pocket the box enclosing the silver butterfly and holding it out toward her.
"Oh, thank you." She laid it on the table beside her without opening it. "It is extremely good of you to forgo any engagement you may have had merely to return this to me with your own hands." But although her words showed composure, her voice, the color that came and went, exhibited an agitation she could not wholly overcome.
"Good! Not at all," he returned. "There may have been several reasons which would make me wish to deliver the buckle to you in person—its beauty and value for one thing; but to be perfectly frank, let me confess that there was one overmastering reason, that my interest in this matter has been enormously increased by one of the most potent of factors; a factor that might be called the greatest stimulant in the world to even a tepid interest."
She looked up at him with surprise, even, he fancied, a slight alarm. "What can you possibly mean?" she asked coldly.
He had leaned his arms upon the table, and now he smiled up at her like a mischievous, cheeky school-boy. Even the most prejudiced person could but acknowledge that Hayden had a most delightful smile.
"Mystery," he replied.
Her eyelashes lay on her cheek, long, black eyelashes on a cheek of cream, with the faintest, the very faintest stain of carnation. She was drawing designs on the tablecloth with her fork. She started slightly, but if she felt any perturbation of spirit, she gave no sign further of it, and yet Hayden knew intuitively that he had said just the thing he should have been most careful to avoid.
"Ah, yes," she said at last slowly. "I dare say it does look like that. I did not think of it in that way. I'm afraid I was thinking only of expediency."
"And expediency to you apparently spells mystery to me," he said.
She made an impatient gesture. It struck him now that she was really annoyed. "I can not help it if you see it that way." She strove to make her voice icy.
"Wouldn't any one?" he persisted.
"Perhaps." She appeared to waver.
"You must admit," he continued, perversely pursuing the subject, "that you are rather mysterious yourself. Why, you appeared so suddenly and noiselessly beside me at the opera the other night—"
"My mother was to meet me there," she interrupted him, "but she disappointed me."
"And then as suddenly and noiselessly you disappeared, that truly, if I had not found the buckle of your shoe, I should never afterward have been successful in assuring myself that you had really been there."
She looked at him now with a sparkle of amusement in her eyes, and he experienced a quick sense of delight that violet eyes could be merry.
"Perhaps I was not really there at all," she laughed. It was evident that she had thrown aside the distrust and distress of a few moments before. "Listen"—leaning forward and speaking with more animation and assurance than she had yet shown—"I will construct a romance for you, a romance of mystery, since you seem determined to have mystery. Can you not fancy a woman, young, eager, interested in all sorts of things, and shut off from them all, living somewhere in the depths of the woods and consumed with longing for the intense and changing life of the city, whose varied phases only seem the more vivid and interesting when heightened by distance; and she dreams of this—this lonely girl—until her longing becomes so great and so vast and overmastering that her thought goes slipping away—away from the gloomy woods to enjoy stolen, brief, bright glimpses of the world? Is that beyond your imagination?"
"It is not at all beyond my imagination," he said modestly, "but if you are trying to impress upon me the fact that you are no more real than my fancy has once or twice suggested, it brings up a nice moral question. Am I justified in handing over to a chilly ghost a valuable and beautiful ornament belonging to some one else?"
She laughed outright, frankly amused. "That is a question you will have to decide for yourself," she said demurely. "You can't expect me to help you."
"Very well," he replied with equal promptitude. "I refuse any further responsibility and leave it entirely to your conscience."
"Are you—do you live in New York?" The carnation deepened slightly in her cheek at this personal question.
"I was born here," he replied. "I've lived here all my life that I haven't been away from it." They both burst out laughing at this proof of his ancestry.
"Let's talk on the two most interesting subjects in the world," he said, leaning forward as if struck by a sudden inspiration, "yourself and myself. I will begin at the beginning and tell you everything I know or have ever heard about myself and then you do the same."
"But no one ever knows when to stop when he or she begins to talk about himself or herself," she objected, and again the shyness crept into her voice. "You would occupy a thousand and one nights in the recital, and you have only"—she glanced at a tiny watch—"you have only ten minutes."
"Must Cinderella leave the ball exactly on the stroke of nine?"
"Certainly. Her pumpkin coach awaits her at that hour, and you know what happens to the pumpkin coach and the coachman and footmen if she keeps them waiting a minute overtime."
He sighed. "Well, I see that I must be dreadfully brief in what I have to say; and this is it. I have asked no reward for returning you your trinket, have I? But that does not absolve you from the courtesy of offering one; now, it seems to me that it is not at all amiss, in fact it is quite fitting, that I should dictate the terms of it. I am sure that this attitude of mine appeals, if not to your generosity, to your sense of justice," He paused politely.
"I can at least see the position I put myself in if I decline to admit it," she parried.
"Oh, I am sure of your position," he assured her. "I take that for granted. No one with a spark of kindly feeling could look at this matter except in one way. Now, you must admit that I have behaved beautifully. I have made no attempt to surprise your reticence, or even to discover your name. Truly, I haven't made the faintest effort to entrap you into any revelations, have I? Now, I am sure that we must know quantities of the same people, and all I ask is that you mention some of your engagements to me for the coming fortnight. Suppose, for instance, you were to say: 'I am going to be at the Goddards to-morrow afternoon about five. Wednesday, I am to dine at the Symmeses. Thursday, at the Hamptons.'"
Did she give a little start, or was it his fancy? At any rate she followed him with unmistakable interest, and when he had finished she leaned back in her chair with a ripple of low laughter.
"I do not believe we will begin that," she said. "It's like a game and we could go on indefinitely mentioning names on the strength of finding a mutual acquaintance. No, I am something of a fatalist. I think I will let events take their course. If we are to meet again, why, we are. If not, why, all our poor efforts can not compass it. Ah, it is nine o'clock, on the very stroke! Good night." She smiled graciously, charmingly. "And thank you again for so kindly restoring my property."
It was a very distinct dismissal. Hayden rose at once. "But," he protested before he took a step to depart, "you can not leave me this way. The only way I can think of you is as 'The Lady with the Butterflies,' and it is too cumbersome a title. It sounds like the name of a picture. It is such a catalogue-y title."
"It is really," she agreed with him. "There is no doubt about it. I am sorry," demurely, black lashes again on cheeks of cream, no, carnation. She did not mention her name and Hayden's face fell.
"I wonder if you know my cousin, Kitty Hampton," he said at a venture.
"My pumpkin coach!" she exclaimed, moving toward the door.
"But my reward!" he cried. "I refuse to let you go without bestowing it. It is not honest."
She sighed and she smiled, she flushed and wavered. "Then take this assurance," she said, as one driven to a corner. "Believe me when I tell you that when you wish to see me I shall not be hard to find. I have reason to think that you will find it very easy."
Although Hayden proved himself reluctantly regardful of the butterfly lady's very evident desire to be left alone, he did not at once leave the hotel. Instead, he strolled into the office and after loitering about there for a few moments, he was just leaving when he encountered Penfield, Horace Penfield. Ordinarily, Hayden would have avoided him as he would fire and pestilence; but to-night he rather went out of his way to secure Penfield's society.
Penfield was a thin man with slightly stooping shoulders and a neck that craned forward. He had a long pale face as narrow as a wedge, a nose as sharp as a fox's, keen, ferret-like eyes, and white lashes. No longer young, he yet managed to achieve this effect and retain the manner of youth. His claims to social distinction rested on the solid basis of fear. He was a walking bureau of information, a daily newspaper. When the harsh vituperation of those who, having nothing more to lose, had nothing more to gain, occasionally assailed him, he had been heard callously to assert that he preferred being dangerous to being ineffective, and that he would infinitely rather be a menace to society than its victim. In short, the profession of scandal-mongering he pursued with concentration, finesse, and infinite tact. If for himself he achieved eminence, became master of his craft, it was doubtless sufficient recompense.
"Hello, Hayden," he said in his thin, satirical voice. "How are you and your affairs?"
"All right, I guess," said Hayden indifferently.
For a season they talked on various subjects, falling gradually into a discussion of the merits of certain mining propositions, until Hayden said with premeditated suddenness:
"By the way, Penfield, have you ever heard of the Butterfly mine or estate?"
"The Butterfly!" repeated Penfield slowly. "The Butterfly!" He pinched his lower lip meditatively. "Let me see! One of those Mexican mines, isn't it? Or wait a moment," shrewdly. "I may have mines on the brain because we've been talking about them. Upon my word, Hayden," his face flushing with shame, his professional pride sadly wounded, "I'm awfully sorry; but to tell the truth, I can't just put my finger on it. Yet somewhere, lately, I've heard of it. Did I read of it or hear people speaking of it?" He drew his hand over his brow, looking really worried. "Come on and walk down the Avenue with me," he said. "Maybe the night air will refresh my memory, and I'll be able to think it out as we move along."
But the night air could hardly be regarded as a potent factor in restoring Penfield's recollections, for they walked some distance and he had succeeded in offering no answer to Hayden's question; and although he strove lightly to discuss the various topics which arose between them, he was manifestly so perturbed and dismayed that Hayden felt his contempt mitigated by a faint touch of pity.
Finally, when about to cross from one side of the street to the other, they paused to give an oncoming motor the right of way. As it went flying past them, a woman leaned forward and bowed and smiled. It was the lady of the butterflies, and in the white light of the electric lamp Hayden saw seated beside her the same gray, elderly, unobtrusive man with whom she had entered the Gildersleeve.
"By George! Marcia Oldham!" cried Penfield.
Marcia Oldham! What a coincidence! What luck! Hayden exulted. So Kitty's Fairy princess and his fairy princess were identical. It was surely one of the most incredible and delightful of happenings. Now Kitty Hampton should have an opportunity to prove that cousinly affection of which she was always assuring him.
"You know her, of course?" asked Penfield.
"I have recently met her," replied Hayden briefly.
"Queer thing about that family," meditated Penfield.
"Queer? How? What do you mean?" exclaimed Hayden involuntarily, although he bitterly reproached himself a moment later, for having, as he expressed it, so far forgotten himself as to ask any questions of Penfield.
Penfield chuckled, an arid, biting chuckle it was, too. His face brightened up, his crestfallen manner merged happily into jauntiness, his self-respect was restored. He was again the authoritative gossip.
"You know, of course, of old Oldham. One of the millionaires of the last decade. Well, with changing times, changing methods of finance, he lost his grip, and about five years ago he died, heavily involved, leaving a widow and one young daughter, Marcia. Mrs. Oldham had been a Southern woman of the old regime, and was a pretty, absolutely helpless creature, and Marcia was still at school.
"Of course it raised a storm of talk. They had been used to every luxury, all the ease of wealth; they relied on the machinery, you know, to look after them, and it never entered into their heads that the wheels could stop. When they did stop, as you can imagine, every one was discussing the poor Oldhams. There was the greatest raising of hands and lowering of voices and mopping of eyes whenever their names were mentioned." His arid chuckle seemed to strike Hayden like the spatter of hail.
"'What will become of them?' 'What can they do?' 'A helpless woman like Mrs. Oldham and a young daughter!'" He mimicked feminine voices. "You heard that sort of thing bleated on every side. All the women advanced positive opinions on just what they ought to do. The consensus, I believe, amounted to this, that it was the part of wisdom for the Oldhams to sell everything they had left and depart for some obscure German or French town where Marcia might perfect herself in the languages and fit herself for a nursery governess or something of that kind.
"But"—again a fit of laughing which almost choked him—"to the disapproval, even horror and disgust of all kind friends, the eccentric Oldhams did nothing of the kind. They went along as they always had, and certainly they did not then display nor ever have displayed any lack of money. They live simply, entertain very little; but Marcia who is considered a beauty goes out constantly. She is seen everywhere, dresses quite as well as her school friends, Kitty Hampton and Bea Habersham, with whom she always appears, and who, as of course you know, have both married enormous amounts of money. Her extravagance is hardly discreet, considering a watchful and censorious world; but when one has such powerful and extremely loyal friends, discretion is unnecessary."
"She paints beautifully, I understand," said Hayden indignantly.
Penfield's thin laughter stabbed his ear-drums. "If she sold in a year all the pretty little pictures she paints it would barely pay for her gowns. No, that won't do. But," and a new note crept into Penfield's voice, "did you see that old duffer who was with her? That's where she shows her discretion. He is kept very much in the background. It is only occasionally that she appears with him."
"Who is he?" asked Hayden gruffly, desperately ashamed of himself for stooping to question Penfield.
Penfield elevated his eyebrows and spread his hands. "Let us hope that he is the rich uncle from Australia," he said gently. "Ah, Hayden, Bea and Kitty have managed the affair with Wilfred Ames beautifully so far. They Have almost succeeded in pulling it off in spite of the reluctant lady and Wilfred's raving mother; but Wilfred, good, old, thick-witted Wilfred, is becoming daily more uncomfortable. Fido won't lie down and go to sleep on the hearth-rug as Kitty and Bea wish him to. On the contrary, owing to his mother's watchful vigilance, he is sniffing around quite suspiciously, and," with a series of chuckles, "I believe, although I am not sure yet, that the fair Marcia has a rival, and a rival to be reckoned with, I assure you."
Hayden felt he had stood all that he could. Penfield really was too offensive. His first impulse was to turn on his heel and leave his companion without a word; but on second thoughts, he decided to retain Penfield's company, and put into execution a little plan which was rapidly maturing in his brain, and which appealed to his hazard-loving fancy. It was a mere chance, one in a million, but he considered it worth taking. Penfield knew all the world and its affairs. He, more than any one Hayden could think of, might be of use to him in a certain Argonautic expedition he was adventuring upon. He decided to put it to the test, anyway.
"So you, too, are interested in mines," he said, with an easy change of subject. "Well," with a short laugh, "as far as they are concerned, I happen to be in the position of a man who sees a spring of water in the desert and may not stoop to drink of it."
"What on earth do you mean?" cried Horace. His head shot forward, his nose twitched. He scented a fresh piece of news as a dog scents truffles. "Have you found a fortune?" His curiosity was as fully aroused as Hayden hoped.
They had reached the latter's apartment by this time and Hayden paused a moment on the step. "Come in," he said, "and I will tell you. You have not seen my diggings, anyway."
By what he considered a sheer stroke of luck, he, Hayden, had not been two days in New York, when an old friend, who was under the necessity of taking a long journey with the expectation of being absent several months, urged him to take possession of the apartment he and his wife were temporarily vacating. After a sight of it, Hayden gladly embraced the opportunity and now, he and his Japanese servant, Tatsu, the companion of ten wandering years, were installed in beautiful and luxurious quarters which had come without the lifting of a finger to secure them.
Here was a fresh field for Penfield's inevitable investigations, and Hayden's disclosures of his private affairs, deeply as they interested him, could wait a bit. Horace was patient by nature and training. "One thing at a time," was a favorite motto, and it was not until he had exhausted the possibilities of the apartment and had peered into every nook and corner, that he consented to sit down in the comfortable library and express his commendation of the place and envy Hayden's luck.
Robert, on his part, had followed his guest about, replying mechanically to his questions and endeavoring to throw off a depression which had crept over him.
The night had been cold, and to one with any decency of feeling, Penfield was a disagreeable companion; but if noxious he also had his uses, and the more Hayden pondered the matter, the more he was strengthened in his decision to secure Penfield's assistance. The humor for it grew upon him as the reassuring comfort and cheer of his surroundings gradually permeated his consciousness.
He was, as he felt, really risking very little. As he had said to Horace, he was in the position of a man who has found a spring in the desert, but may not stoop to drink. No, all the publicity Penfield could give to the fact of his, Hayden's, discovery of the spring might be of incalculable benefit to him in his search for the owners of a certain property, and could, under no circumstances work him an injury, so long as he kept the secret of the situation inviolably locked in his breast, and no matter whose imagination might be fired by the tale, he felt a reasonable security. Experienced prospectors, experts in their line, had been seeking this symbolic well in the desert for twenty-five years and he, not by virtue of his skill or knowledge, but by a mere fluke, a glorious accident, had stumbled on it. It was hardly likely that another should have a similar experience, within the space of the next few months at any rate, and the next few months were all he asked.
The wood-fire on the hearth flickered redly over the walls, the lamps were lighted in anticipation of his arrival; easy chairs were drawn near the fire; books, papers and magazines were temptingly displayed on the table.
"What were we talking about before we came up?" said Hayden, with the effect of mental effort.
"Mines," Horace replied promptly. "You were about to tell me of a big find you've made. Go on."
"Ah, yes. But"—Hayden laughed a little ruefully—"you've put the thing entirely too definitely when you say 'a big find I've made.' The bother of it is that I have and I haven't."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Horace, cocking his head sidewise and looking at his host speculatively.
"Just what I say," replied the latter. "You see, it happened down in South America, several months ago. We were running a railroad through a great estate, oh, an enormous estate in the mountains. You could get about any variation of climate and soil you wanted. Well, there was a tradition about the place which I heard again and again, and which gradually grew to haunt my imagination; it was that somewhere on this estate was a lost mine of stupendous value; and that although no one had apparently any idea where it might be located, or had succeeded in finding a trace of it, nevertheless, according to current report, it had been worked within the last quarter of a century, that is, worked in a primitive and intermittent sort of way."
"But," interrupted Penfield, "twenty-five years! That of course is within the memory of dozens of people. What on earth—"
"Wait," said Hayden. "Your part of this game is to listen calmly, not interrupt. Don't you suppose I considered all those points? Now to go back into the history of the thing; this is the story that I gathered, here a little, there a little, and gradually pieced together.
"This vast estate was one of the holdings of a very ancient and noble Spanish family. It was, as I have said, situated in the mountains, and naturally comprised great tracts of valueless land, barren and rocky, although there were also fertile valleys and broad cultivated plateaus. A great mansion, the home of Don Raimond De Leon, the owner of the estate, was situated on one of these plateaus and commanded one of the most beautiful views one could dream of. One gazes down the mountain side on fields of corn and alfalfa, green as emerald, and orchards of blooming fruit-trees; down, down these terraces fall until at their feet lie the tropical valleys with their orange and pineapple groves, and wild, luxuriant vegetation; and then, one turns and glances upward; above him the barren mountain sides, the summits austere, remote, covered with perpetual snow.
"Well, here surrounded by every form of natural scenery, there lived, I say, this old don and his only daughter, Lolita. Of course she had a name a mile long, Maria Annunciata Mercedes Eugenie and all the rest, but they called her Lolita for convenience. The traditions of their rank were always rigidly maintained. They lived in feudal state and splendor, occasionally journeying to Spain; and the daughter, in addition to her beauty, was possessed of all the graces and accomplishments of a young woman of her class.
"But while yet in the flower of her beauty and youth, an American adventurer, a soldier of fortune, appeared upon the scene. He had either come by design or strayed there by mistake, probably the former; but that, however, is immaterial. He happened to possess those first requisites of the successful soldier of fortune—a charming personality, a pretty wit, and a most ready address. In a very short time, the hacienda and all that it contained were his. He captured not only the daughter but the old don himself, and to him the latter confided the source of the family's almost illimitable wealth, the source, but not its location; and this source was a hidden mine, called oddly enough 'The Veiled Mariposa.'"
Penfield started as if he had been shot. "What did you say that name was?" he cried, his ferret-face sharpened with eagerness.
"The Veiled Mariposa," repeated Hayden, watching him keenly, and overjoyed at the success of his plan. It was evident that Horace knew something. "Mariposa is the Spanish name for butterfly, you know."
"By Jove, what a coincidence!" muttered Penfield.
"A coincidence? How? What do you mean?" It was Robert's turn to be eager now. "Have you heard of it? Have you?"
Penfield shook his head. "Not of it exactly, but—but—"
"But—but—" repeated Hayden impatiently. He felt injured and showed it. "You evidently know something, but you won't tell me. Do you think that is playing quite fair, Horace?"
"Bosh! I'm playing fair all right. I'll tell you fast enough when there's anything to tell. What I have in mind may be the merest coincidence, probably is. I want to do a bit of thinking first before I say anything. But go on with your story. What has all this to do with you?"
"Where was I? Oh, yes." Hayden took up the thread of his narrative again. "Well, the soldier of fortune married the don's lovely daughter with the old father's entire approval. They had a great wedding, the festivities lasting for days. Don Raimond bestowed bags and bags of gold and silver on them, and they sailed away for France.
"Now, contrary to the customary fate of such unions, the marriage although childless turned out happily. For the next ten years or so, the American and his Spanish wife, his name by the way was Willoughby, lived in great magnificence in the various capitals of Europe, maintaining an almost royal state and entertaining constantly on a grand scale. Occasionally, they visited the father in South America, and once or twice he visited them, and the bags of gold were always punctually forthcoming.
"Then suddenly, a most appalling thing happened. The district in which the old don lived was swept by a plague of unusual virulence. De Leon succumbed before he had time to make any disposition of his property, even write a line to his daughter. His Yankee overseer in charge of the mine was also stricken the same day and followed his employer within a few hours, and the Indian and Spanish laborers on the estate went like sheep. There is a rumor that misfortunes did not cease here, but that the plague was followed by an earthquake of a most devastating nature, and thus the population of that especial district was almost wiped out.
"As soon as the news of these disasters reached the Willoughbys they took passage at once for South America to verify the terrible rumors. They found their worst fears confirmed, and to crown their sorrows, Willoughby, after going over De Leon's papers again and again, could find no map of the mine, nor any directions as to its location. There were records enough of the ore mined and shipped, all in the old don's handwriting, but nothing to aid his son-in-law in rediscovering the mine.
"Willoughby immediately put some experienced prospectors to work and secured the services of several geological experts, but to no avail. The mine, mentioned always in the don's documents as The Veiled Mariposa, seemed to have vanished as completely as if it had never existed, or to have been sunk by the earthquake into the very bowels of the earth.
"All his efforts to find it having proved useless—efforts extending over several years—Willoughby put a young nephew of De Leon's, who had recently arrived from Spain, in temporary charge of the estate and returned with his wife to France. Accustomed now for many years to a vast, unconditioned expenditure, he found it impossible to contemplate the comparative poverty which stared him in the face and he resolved to try to dispose of the whole estate, which a will of De Leon's made at the time of her marriage conferred intact upon his daughter Lolita.
"He hoped to sell at a magnificent figure. He trusted to his own magnetic eloquence and his indisputable proofs of the enormous revenues of the mine to inflame the cupidity of the purchaser or purchasers to such a degree that he would find no difficulty in securing a sum which would enable him to live in comfort, even luxury, for the remainder of his days. He was not successful in arranging the matter abroad and he came to this country about six years ago hoping to make a better bargain. He remained here in New York several months and then sailed for France on The Princess Verona."
"The Princess Verona," interrupted Penfield. "Why, she was lost at sea; went down with a terrible loss of life."
Hayden nodded. "And neither Willoughby nor his wife was among the saved. But just before sailing, he wrote to the Spanish nephew on the old estate, and also to his lawyers in France, announcing exultantly that he had been successful in his mission, having sold the property at a great figure, and that he would shortly write of all the details of the purchase. But from that day to this, the nephew has heard nothing further of the matter. There has been no effort to claim or to take possession of the property. That is, with this exception. Within the last six years, foreign prospectors have twice appeared on the estate, and on being questioned as to their business have said they came from the owners of the property. In both instances, however, they withheld the names of the people they were supposed to represent, and little credence was given to their story.
"But nevertheless, the French lawyers believe that the estate was sold, for just before sailing Willoughby purchased drafts in New York for a large sum of money.
"But where are the owners? Why should any one person or group of persons consider a property sufficiently desirable as to pay such a sum for it and then apparently drop the whole matter? It's unthinkable, incredible." Hayden sprang to his feet and began to walk the floor. "That's the question that has been puzzling me for months. What is their game? What does their waiting mean? But that is what I am here for—to try and trace up those owners. I'm prepared to give time and money to the task, for, Horace"—a passionate exultation rang through his voice—"I—I—have discovered the mine, the wonderful, lost Veiled Mariposa."
"The deuce you have!" exclaimed Penfield, actually showing something like excitement. "And is it really all that tradition says of it?"
"More," affirmed Robert solemnly. "I tell you, Horace, it makes the fabled treasures of the Incas look like thirty cents. Ah, it's—" He paused on the hearth-rug and looked down on the gossip in the chair. "I have told you the story because you know everybody and everything about everybody, and I hoped you might be able to help me in my investigations. Your exclamation a while ago shows that you do know something."
Penfield gazed at the fire through narrowed lids, then he shook his head. "No," he said, "truly I know nothing. What I jumped at a while ago is something that you are bound to run across yourself. I'm not telling all that I know, but I'm willing to bet that within a very short time you will hear of The Veiled Mariposa, and that, too, from a most unexpected source."
"What are you driving at now?" cried Hayden. "Come, speak up. What's the use of being mysterious?"
"It amuses me, that's all," grinned Penfield. "But truly, Hayden, if I could be of any assistance to you I would. As I can not, at present, I shall just sit tight and look on, occasionally putting my finger just far enough in the pie to stir things up and make them merry." He rose and getting into his coat and hat sauntered toward the door.
"But, Horace"—Hayden started after him—"what do you mean by predicting that I shall soon hear of The Veiled Mariposa?"
But Penfield only grinned more inscrutably than ever and closed the door behind him.
Hayden glared irritably after his departing guest and then shook his fist in the direction Penfield had taken. Having thus relieved his feelings, he threw himself into a chair and moodily lighted a cigarette. He was suffering one of the swift reactions of the optimistic and mercurial temperament, which, if it suns itself upon the slope of Olympus pays for the privilege by an occasional sojourn in Avernus. He was disgusted with Penfield, with himself, with the world.
But wait, even in Avernus the darkness is sometimes penetrated by a ray of light. His quest, so far, had been fruitless. In the various cities of Europe where the Willoughbys had lived and where he had made the most patient investigations, he had discovered practically nothing; and yet, here in New York, he had seen Penfield, the imperturbable, literally jump when he had mentioned The Veiled Mariposa; and further, he had assured him that he would hear some word regarding it within a short time. Come! Hayden cheered visibly. That was something, at any rate. Things were not so bad, after all. He was well out of Avernus and beginning to scale Olympus, and his mind reverted to the earlier and happier part of the evening.
Then he had met and talked with Marcia Oldham. Marcia! What a charming name! It was certainly a tremendous piece of luck that he had discovered it. Of course, he had been disturbed by Penfield's revelations and innuendoes. No one who took an interest in Miss Oldham could fail to be so. Nevertheless, Penfield's statements should always be thoroughly discounted. That was understood.
Robert mechanically lighted another cigarette, still deep in thought. Penfield had spoken of the Oldham family fortunes. "Nothing left," he had asserted, and yet they continued a manner of life which involved large expenditures. How could one account with some show of probability for these circumstances?
A number of hypotheses flashed through his brain. Could it not be possible that this strong, self-reliant girl might have been aware of certain resources of her father's; or might not some old friend greatly indebted to the father have come forward in the hour of need? That was not so incredible. Only, only, and this question recurred to him with an insistence diabolical and mocking. Why should a woman, young, beautiful, luxurious to the point of extravagance, preserve these mysteries? Aye, there was the rub.
And as he sat there in the fire-light, alone with his disturbing meditations, trying to find some solution of this haunting puzzle, he felt more strongly than ever the spell of her presence. He did not wish to throw it off, he would not have been able to do so if he willed. It seemed to him that he had but to lift his eyes to see her standing there in her black gown, the butterflies shining in the fire-light. Again he looked into her sweet eyes, and he knew that from his soul he believed in her. That whatever circumstances entangled her they were not of her choosing, and that whatever mysteries enmeshed her the web was not of her weaving.
Some business matters connected with his profession occupied the greater part of Hayden's time for the next day or so; but in his first moments of leisure, he hastened to look up Kitty Hampton.
About five o'clock of a raw winter afternoon, he stopped at her house, intending under a pretense of a craving for hot tea to win Kitty to speech of her friend Marcia. Well-simulated shivers, a reference to the biting air, would secure his cousin's solicitude, then, at perhaps the third cup, he would in a spontaneous burst of confidence confess to a more than passing interest. This would at once gain Kitty's warm if unstable attention, her impulsive sympathy, and——. At this moment, the severe and forbidding butler informed him that Mrs. Hampton was not at home, was out of town, and all further inquiries were met by a polite and non-committal "I don't know, sir."
Hayden turned away both disappointed and resentful. On the occasion of their walk, a few days before, Kitty had not mentioned to him any contemplated journey, and now, just as he was counting on enlisting her good offices, she had left him completely in the lurch, and all his plans for again meeting Marcia Oldham were, as he expressed it, up in the air.
To add to his general sense of disappointment and injury, he had had a brief line from Penfield saying that he had so far made no progress in some investigations he was making, but felt, nevertheless, that he was on the correct trail and hoped to turn up something within a short time.
Three or four days passed, the end of the week arrived, and still Kitty had not returned. Hayden felt like a man on a desert island who watches ships passing back and forth laden with merry pleasure-parties, too much absorbed in their own amusements or too indifferent to his sufferings to rescue him; and his sense of isolation and depression was greatly increased by the one, last, unnecessary, bitter drop in his cup—for the lady of his dreams had wantonly mocked him. Her promises had been idle as the wind. She had assured him that she would be anything but difficult to discover, had given the impression that he might chance to meet her at any moment, but the hopes she had held out were cheats, and she had succeeded either wilfully or by force of circumstances in very successfully eluding him. She had vanished as completely as if she had been that shadowy astral wraith they had jestingly discussed, and he was not only baffled and perplexed but wounded.
His pride, very sore pride at present, was touched, and he told himself that since she chose thus to withdraw he would certainly not make a definite and overt attempt to follow. Then, by way of adhering strictly to this very good resolution, he proceeded to accept every social invitation which came his way, went religiously to luncheons, dinners, dances, anything that offered. He even invaded shops and strolled up and down Fifth Avenue; but New York was empty of her. She had vanished as suddenly as she had appeared.
One evening, just as he was really beginning to despair of ever seeing her again and feeling more dejected and miserable every minute in consequence, he stopped in at one of the theaters to see an act or two of a new play in which an English actress of great reputation, not only because of her beauty but also for the artistic quality of her acting, was appearing. To his own surprise, the first act interested him sufficiently to remain, a resolution that later he could not sufficiently commend, for, when the actress appeared in the second act, the street dress she had worn previously had been changed for a superb evening gown.
As she came forward to the footlights Hayden started as if he had received an electric shock and leaned eagerly forward fumbling for his glasses, for there upon her bosom, gleaming against the lace of her gown, was a great silver butterfly glittering with diamonds, while about her beautiful shoulders fell a familiar chain of tiny, enameled butterflies, azure, deep purple, yellow and orange, and strung together with jewels.
Hayden sat through the rest of the play in a daze. To his excited fancy there were butterflies, butterflies everywhere, the air seemed full of them. They served to bring up the image of Marcia Oldham very vividly before him. He turned now and again and carefully scanned the house, half believing that she was present and he might at any moment encounter her eyes. But no such luck awaited him, and his surprise was all the more marked when just as he was leaving the theater after the play was finished he felt a light touch on his arm and looked down to see the laughing face of Kitty Hampton.
"Kitty!" Hayden clutched her with such a grip that she winced. "Where have you been? Although I have daily beaten on your doors and rung you up on the telephone, I couldn't find a trace of you."
She laughed. "Who says I haven't well-trained servants! Come, drive home with me," stepping into her waiting electric brougham. "Warren will be there. He just got back this afternoon, and he will be so glad to have you. You see, I was becoming so bored and cross, and I got to hate the sight of everything and everybody to such an extent, that I just ran away from it all, down into the country; and the best part of it was, that I actually persuaded Marcia Oldham to go with me. Think of that! But I succeeded in convincing her that it was her duty to go with me, that I was really on the verge of an illness and needed her care. Marcia is strong on duty, you know. I tried my best to persuade her to do the play with me to-night, but she wouldn't. She said she had no end of things to look after.
"Oh, I am so glad I met you! It is sheer luck. You see there were some people to dinner, and afterward, there were enough for bridge without me, so I just slipped away without a word to anybody and hid myself in a box. And I do hope you're hungry, Bobby. I am dreadfully. Nothing makes me so hungry as a play. Well, we'll all have some supper after a bit."
Hayden's heart sang. He had sought and sought and all his seeking had been vain, and here, by a mere chance, at an unlooked-for moment, the knowledge he had so ardently sought was his. He could afford to wait now; he leaned back comfortably and listened with an air of most eager interest to his cousin's chatter.
Kitty had quite recovered her spirits, and when they stopped before her door she was in the full tide of some gay reminiscences, and she continued her animated recital until they reached her drawing-room.
There were a number of people present who seemed just to have left the bridge-tables and were still discussing the game. Warren Hampton, a tall, quiet, rather elderly man, welcomed Hayden cordially. They had always been good friends, and this was the first time they had met for several years. The rest, Hayden had either met casually or had to make the acquaintance of. Among this latter group was Mrs. Habersham, mentioned by Penfield as one of Marcia Oldham's most loyal friends, and Hayden was Tremendously interested in discovering in her the dark woman with the rose-colored gown and the cerise wings in her hair with whom Marcia had talked that night at the opera.
Somewhat to his disappointment, he was not seated near her at the very jolly little supper which was served later, but was placed instead between Kitty and a sallow, angular, vivacious woman with an unbecoming blue fillet in her hair. He had been talking to Mrs. Habersham and Hampton, and had not really happened to glance at Kitty since they had entered the room, but after they were seated at the table, he turned to speak to her and was absolutely struck dumb.
He drew his hand across his brow as if to brush away the cobwebs in his brain. What was this? From what sort of an obsession was he suffering? He had been thinking so much of those butterflies that he saw them wherever he looked; but, poor victim of delusion that he was, he could swear that on Kitty's breast, gleaming against the laces of her gown, was the same silver butterfly which had earlier adorned the English actress, the same unique and beautiful chain of tiny, brilliant, enameled butterflies. He felt an imperative desire to put out his finger and touch them, to ask Kitty if she really wore them, or if he but dreamed them.
"Bobby," murmured his cousin solicitously, "what on earth is the matter with you? You look as if you had just seen a ghost. Your eyes are popping out of your head, and you're staring at my butterflies as if they positively frightened you."
He drew a long breath of relief. "They're enough to make any one's eyes pop out."
She touched the huge silver insect on her breast. "Are they not dreams?" she said complacently. "One is simply nobody this winter unless one has them; and the beauty of it is they are so difficult to secure."
"Miss Oldham wears a set," he announced boldly.
"Oh, of course." She shot him a quick, rather surprised glance. "Have you met Marcia yet?"
"Yes—just met her, not very long ago."
"How odd that she didn't speak of it!" exclaimed Kitty. "But," enthusiastically, "isn't she a dear? Do you know, Bobby, I do not believe that there is any one in the world, with the possible exception of Warren, that I am half so fond of as I am Marcia? She is everything, the most all-around person you can imagine, and so gifted. She did the loveliest little water-color for me while we were away. I will show it to you some time."
At this moment, their conversation was interrupted by the lady with the blue fillet. She had not succeeded in getting even a hearing from the man on the other side of her. He showed a marked preference for his lobster in aspic, entirely ignoring the charms of her conversation and giving her very definitely to understand that he longed to be left to a silent contemplation and appreciation of the merits of the Hampton's chef.
"Oh, Kitty!" The blue fillet leaned across Hayden. "Bea Habersham was telling us that you had been to see this new fortune-teller. Is she really as good as Bea says?"
"Indeed she is!" cried Kitty, plunging into this new subject with her usual enthusiasm. "She's the most remarkable thing you ever heard of, and the beauty of it is that you don't have to go into any dens and caves to find her—none of the black holes where you tremble for your life and begin to fear that you'll never get out again. And she has the most charming studio."
"Bea said it was the dreamiest thing you ever saw and that she herself was a vision. Do you suppose she gets herself up that way really to conceal her identity, or is it to arouse more interest and enthusiasm?"
"How does she get herself up?" asked Hayden, with, however, no particular interest in his tones.
"Tell him, Kitty. I haven't been fortunate enough to see her yet," replied the blue fillet—Mrs. Edith Symmes, by the way.
"Oh, it is too fascinating for anything." Kitty was eager to discuss her own particular find. "She is tall and graceful, oh, grace itself, and she wears a long black gown, Paris unmistakably, and"—Kitty threw great emphasis on this "and," and paused a moment for dramatic effect—"she wears a mantilla about her head, and a little black mask, with fringe falling from it so that even her mouth is concealed. It gives you the queerest creepy feeling when she comes into the room."
"How odd! How deliciously dreadful!" Mrs. Symmes shivered luxuriously. "Do write or telephone her and make an appointment for me, Kitty, dear. They say that if I do so on my own account I shall have to wait weeks and weeks, there are so many ahead of me; but you've been such an awfully efficient press-agent that she will do anything for you."
"But her prices! Her dreadful prices!" sighed a plaintive feminine voice from the other side of the table. "Have you seen her, Mr. Hayden?"
"Indeed I have not," returned Hayden, "and I haven't the faintest intention of seeing her. I can't understand why you waste your money on those people. They have absolutely nothing to tell you, and they are fakers and worse, in every instance. You know it, each one of you, and yet you continue to patronize them."
"Hear him preach!" scoffed his cousin.
"Kitty, you are the source of all our information this evening," broke in a woman on her left. "Do tell us if it is true that Marcia Oldham's engagement to Wilfred Ames is really announced."
Hayden, his eyes on Kitty's face, could positively see it stiffen. "I really know nothing about it," she answered coldly.
"But they are together so much."
"There are always a lot of men about Marcia." Kitty's tone was ominously curt.
"Oh, it is perfectly useless to try to get either Kitty or Bea Habersham to talk about Marcia," murmured Edith Symmes in Hayden's ear. "They simply will not do it, and it is sheer waste of breath to ask them any questions. Now, I happen to know that the engagement is not definitely announced." Hayden drew a long breath. It was as if some weight had been lifted from him. "Marcia is odd, you know, awfully odd; but just the same, in that slow, unyielding way of his, Wilfred is determined to marry her, and"—she lifted her eyes—"his mother is crazy, simply crazy about it. For a while she contented herself with merely clawing the air whenever Marcia's name was mentioned; but after her nice, quiet, stupid worm of a Wilfred turned and definitely announced to her his intentions, she hustled herself into her black bombazine and has literally made a house-to-house canvas, telling everywhere her tale of woe. Poor old dame, it is rather hard on her!"
"Why?" asked Hayden, ice in his voice. "I should think that she would consider her son an especially fortunate man."
His companion gave a short laugh of irrepressible amusement. "I wish she could hear you say that, and might I be there to see the fun, from a safe corner, mind you! 'The shouting and the tumult' would be worth while, I can assure you. Oh-h," with one of her affected little shivers, "I wish you could hear some of the things she says about Marcia! Of course, one can not exactly blame the poor old soul, for to say the least, Marcia, dear as she is, certainly lays herself open to conjecture."
Hayden did not reply. He was rudely and unmistakably giving the impression of not having heard a word she said; but this attempt on his part, instead of offending his thin and voluble companion, only seemed to amuse her inordinately.
"Do you know, Kitty," announced the plaintive-voiced lady across the table, "that your butterflies are really the prettiest ones I've seen, prettier than Mrs. ——," mentioning the English actress, "for I got a good look at them at a reception the other day, and yours are quite as lovely as Bea's. Dear me!" in almost weeping envy. "I wish I could afford a chain of them."
Edith Symmes had a positive explosion of her noiseless, faintly malicious laughter. "Did you hear that?" she whispered to Hayden. "Whine-y Minnie over there is as rich as cream; and yet, she can't afford those dreamy butterflies, while Marcia Oldham, who hasn't a cent in the whole world, wears a set which, as usual, surpasses every other woman's. It is a most amazing and amusing social riddle. Even you, who are evidently one of her admirers, must admit that."
"I can't really afford anything worth while this year," sighed the dolorous lady characterized as whine-y Minnie, "but I must try and get an appointment with that fortune-teller, even if it is hideously expensive. What did you say her name is, Kitty?"
"An odd name," mimicked Hayden, catching his cousin's eye and unable to resist a school-boy temptation to tease her. "An odd name." He reproduced Kitty's high lisping tones perfectly.
"Bobby, if you mock me, I'll give you something that will make you laugh on the other side of your mouth," she said rapidly under her breath, and reverting to the phraseology of childhood. "Did you ask her name, Minnie? It is an odd name. Mademoiselle Mariposa. Sometimes called 'The Veiled Mariposa.'"
Hayden's laughing face stiffened as if he had received a shock from an electric battery. Mariposa! Mariposa!—the butterfly. Horace Penfield's words recurred to him; "I am willing to bet now that you will hear of The Veiled Mariposa in a very short time, and that, too, from a most unexpected source."
Hayden had elected to spend one evening at home, a most unusual decision for him, but one which the night fully justified, for a February gale was in full progress and was forcing every citizen whether comfortably housed or uncomfortably out in it, to stand at attention and listen to its shrieking iterations of "a mad night, my masters."
But to be quite accurate, the state of the weather had nothing whatever to do with the state of Hayden's mind. Let it be said, by way of explanation, that since his return to New York, he had been going out so steadily, accepting so many invitations, meeting so many people, pursuing the social game so ardently, that the thought of a quiet evening at home, recommended itself very alluringly to his imagination, and by sheer virtue of contrast, assumed almost the proportions of an exciting diversion.
Tatsu had, as usual, deftly, silently and with incredible rapidity arranged everything for his comfort; and his leisurely dinner completed, Robert settled himself for a long solitary evening undisturbed by any men dropping in to interrupt his meditations, or by any vagrant desires to wander out. The gale precluded both possibilities. It had risen to its height now, and filled the air with the steady roar of artillery. Great dashes of rain spattered sharply against the window panes, and Hayden would lift his head to listen and then sink back more luxuriously than ever into the depths of his easy chair. It was the sort of night to throw, occasionally, another log on the fire and watch the flames dance higher—illuminate with their glowing radiance the dim corridors and the vast and stately apartments of a Chateau en Espagne. What an addition those new pictures are to the noble gallery! And the vast library with the windows opening on the Moorish court! But some of the tapestries need renovating, those priceless tapestries!
Then, surfeited with gazing on so much beauty and splendor, one turns to more homely comforts, and while the logs sink to a bed of glowing ashes, dreams over one's favorite essays, or skims the cream of the last new novel.
It was such an evening as this that Hayden had planned; but plans, as immemorial experience has taught us, but never quite convinced us, "gang aft a-gley," and Robert's were no exception to the rule. Between him and the open page before him, he saw continually the face of Marcia Oldham. The sweet, wistful, violet eyes gazed earnestly at him, the delicately cut mouth with the dimple in one corner smiled at him and his book presently dropped from his fingers and lay unheeded on the rug while he dreamed dreams and saw visions. Gradually, his thoughts wandered from the future and its hopes to the past, and for the first time since his return the old wanderlust stole over him, the wanderlust temporarily lulled and quiescent, but always there, that passion for change which was so integral a part of his nature. But he no longer wished for new scenes with no companionship but that of a man friend or so, he dreamed instead of a season of wandering with Marcia, with her to travel the uncharted, with her to "follow October around the earth." He wondered if the lovely lady of the silver butterfly cared only to breathe the air of cities, or if she, like himself, delighted in gazing upon the strange and unaccustomed, in getting,
"Out in the world's wide spaces, Where the sky and the desert meet, Where we shake from our feet all traces Of the dust of the city street?"
He believed she did. He could not be so strongly conscious of some secret and indefinable sympathy existing between them if their tastes were not similar. Ah well, whatever her tastes might be he could gratify them,—providing, of course, that she chose to look kindly upon him, and if things only came his way, a little, just a little, and surely he had reason to be gratified by the turn events had taken since he had come to New York.
He had, of course, taken a chance in telling Horace Penfield as much as he had about The Veiled Mariposa, the lost mine on which he had founded his hopes. Hayden drew his shoulders up to his ears and pulled down the corners of his mouth, the picture of a school-boy convicted of stealing jam. He had had reason on many occasions to convict himself of such indiscretions. He reflected a little dolefully, that he would probably be a very poor business man, that is, if business depended on caution and a lack of confidence in his fellow-beings. But, bent on cheering himself, even if Horace should break faith with him and prattle to the limit—and Horace's limit was a long one, the blue canopy of heaven, when it came to gossip—what possible harm could it do? In fact, it might serve Hayden immeasurably, for the talk might reach the ears of those who held some interest in the property and thus get him into immediate communication with them. In any event, let Horace gossip as he would, it could do no possible injury, for Robert held the key of the situation with his carefully drawn maps and his many photographs. Blessings on his camera!
There was a wild dash of hail against the window, a shriek of the wind, and Hayden looked up surprised at the interruption and then fell again into his reverie. What an odd thing that had been for Penfield to say, that about hearing of the Veiled Mariposa, and how remarkably it had been confirmed. From a source, too, that he would least have expected it. That prophecy had certainly been literally fulfilled. Little Kitty Hampton was the last person he should have expected to mention The Veiled Mariposa.
A Fortune-teller! The Veiled Mariposa! There was, there could be no question of coincidence here. It was design, beyond all peradventure, and design he meant very speedily to fathom. Hayden set his nice, square jaw firmly, and when Hayden set his jaw that way, you might look for things to happen. He might be over-impulsive and lacking in caution, but he had plenty of initiative, pluck and determination. Then, his face relaxed and softened. He threw his cigarette into the bed of ashes on the hearth and stretched his arms above his head. Ah-h-h! He felt like Monte Cristo. Surely, surely, the world was his. Had he not, all in the space of a few weeks, found his heart's love, and a clue to his fortune?
Again, he started, but this time not at the storm which seemed to be dying down a bit, but at a sharp ring from the telephone on a desk at the other side of the room.
"The deuce!" exclaimed Hayden getting on his feet. "Who on earth is calling me such a night as this?" He walked over and lifted the receiver with the usual curt, "Hello!"
"Is this Mr. Hayden's apartment?" asked a voice which made him start. It was low, full, deliciously musical and with an unmistakable Spanish accent.
"Yes, and this is Mr. Hayden speaking," was Robert's response, with a lightning change of tone. A quick, excited thrill of interest ran over him. He strove to place that voice, ransacked his memory in the effort to do so, but quite in vain. He was, however, in spite of such swift, momentary precautions, absolutely convinced that he was listening to those enchanting tones for the first time. "Who is this speaking?" he asked. But only a burst of low, rippling laughter with a faint hint of mockery in it reached him.
"I'm afraid I'm rude enough to insist upon maintaining my incognito to-night," was the demure answer.
"But that puts me at once at a disadvantage," protested Hayden.
"Naturally," the laughter in her voice was irresistible now. "That is where a man ought to be."
"That is where he usually is anyway," he remarked. "But you must admit that there is something awfully uncanny about a situation like this. On so wild a night one would be justified in expecting almost any kind of a ghostly visitant."
"Bar them out," she advised. "Remember Poe's Raven who still is sitting, never flitting, on the pallid bust of Pallas, just above the chamber door."
Hayden glanced up involuntarily. "There isn't any pallid bust of Pallas," he announced. "But that jolly old raven's method of paying a visit was crude and commonplace compared to yours. He came tapping and rapping in the most old-fashioned way; but you reach me with a wonderful disembodied voice through the ever mysterious avenue of the telephone. It really makes me creepy. Won't you locate it? Give it a name?"
"Scientists," she reminded him in her delicious, broken English, "can reconstruct all kinds of extinct animals and birds from one small bone, or a tooth, or a beak, or hoof."
"So might I," Hayden valorously asserted, "if I had as much to go on; but a voice is different."
"Quite beyond your powers," she taunted.
"Not at all. I hadn't finished," Hayden was something of a Gascon at heart, "I will go the scientists one better and reconstruct you from a voice." He put back his hand and drew up a chair. He was enjoying himself immensely. "Now," impressively, "you are dark, dark and lovely and young, and you are sweet as chocolate and stimulating as coffee. And you wear a rose in your hair and silken skirts like poppy-petals, and the tiniest of black slippers over white silk stockings; and you flutter an enormous fan that sends the fragrance of the jasmine on your breast all through the air, and you have a beautiful name—oh a name as enchanting as your voice, have you not, Anita, Rosita, Chiquita, Pepita, Carmencita, and all the rest of it?"