E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE STOLEN SINGER
With Illustrations by Arthur William Brown
[Frontispiece: Miss Redmond detected a passage of glances between them.]
Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers Copyright 1911 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
I TWILIGHT IN THE PARK II HAMBLETON OF LYNN III MIDSUMMER MADNESS IV MR. VAN CAMP MAKES A CALL V MELANIE'S DREAMS VI ON BOARD THE JEANNE D'ARC VII THE ROPE LADDER VIII ON THE BREAST OF THE SEA IX THE CAMP ON THE BEACH X THE HEART OF YOUTH XI THE HOME PORT XII SEEING THE RAINBOW XIII ALECK SEES A GHOST XIV SUSAN STODDARD'S PRAYER XV ECHOES FROM THE CITY XVI A FIGHTING CHANCE XVII THE TURN OF THE TIDE XVIII THE SPIRIT OF THE ANCIENT WOOD XIX MR. CHAMBERLAIN, SLEUTH XX MONSIEUR CHATELARD TAKES THE WHEEL XXI JIMMY REDIVIVUS XXII A MAN OF NO PRINCIPLE XXIII JIMMY MUFFS THE BALL XXIV AFTER YOU, MONSIEUR! EPILOGUE
Miss Redmond detected a passage of glances between them . . . . . . (Frontispiece)
"That depends upon whether you are going to marry me."
"It does make one feel queer, you know."
She stood over him looking down tenderly.
"You shall not turn me down like this."
THE STOLEN SINGER
TWILIGHT IN THE PARK
"You may wait, Renaud."
The voice was firm, but the lady herself hesitated as she stepped from the tonneau. There was no answer. Holding the flapping ends of her veil away from her face, she turned and looked fairly at the driver of the machine.
He seemed a businesslike, capable man, though certain minor details of his chauffeur's rig were a bit unusual, and now that he had been obliged, by some discomfort, to remove his goggles, his face appeared pleasant and quite untanned. His passenger noted these things, remarking: "Oh, it isn't Renaud!"
"No, Mademoiselle; Renaud hadn't showed up at the office when you telephoned, so they put me on in his place."
"Ah, I see." Accent seemed to imply, however, that she was not quite pleased. "The manager sent you. And your name is—?"
"My name—rather odd name—Hand."
The face half hidden behind the veil remained impassive. A moment's hesitation, and then the lady turned away with a short, "You will wait?"
"As mademoiselle wishes. Or shall I perhaps follow slowly along the drive?"
"No, wait here. I shall return—soon."
The young woman walked away, erect, well-poised, lifting skirts skilfully as she paused a moment at the top of the stone steps leading down into the tiny park. The driver of the machine, free from observation, allowed a perplexed look to occupy his countenance. "What the devil is to pay if she doesn't return—soon!"
The avenue lifts a camel's hump toward the sky in the space of fifteen blocks, and on the top, secure as the howdah of a chieftain, stands the noble portico of the old college. To the westward, as every one knows, lie the river and the more pretentious park; on the east an abrupt descent offers space for a small grassy playground for children, who may be seen, during the sunny hours of the day, romping over the slope.
As the gaze of the woman swept over the charming little pleasance, and beyond, over the miles of sign-boards, roofs, chimneys, and intersecting streets, the serious look disappeared from her face. Summer haze and distance shed a gentle beauty over what she knew to be a clamoring city—New York. Angles were softened, noises subdued, sensational scenes lost in the dimmed perspective. To a chance observer, the prospect would have been deeply suggestive; in the woman it stirred many memories. She put back her veil; her face glowed; a long sigh escaped her lips. Slowly she walked down the steps, along the sloping path to a turn, where she sank down on a bench. A rosy, tired child, rather the worse for mud-pies, and hanging reluctantly at the hand of its nonchalant nurse, brought a bit of the woman's emotion to the surface. She smiled radiantly at the lagging infant.
The face revealed by the uplifted veil was of a type to accompany the youthful but womanly figure and the spirited tread. Beautiful she would be counted, without doubt, by many an observer; those who loved her would call her beautiful without stint. But more appealing than her beauty was the fine spirit—a strong, free spirit, loving honesty and courage—which glowed like a flame behind her beauty. Best of all, perhaps, was a touch of quaintness, a slightly comic twist to her lips, an imperceptible alertness of manner, which revealed to the initiated that she had a sense of humor in excellent running order.
It was evident that the little excursion was of the nature of a pilgrimage. The idle hour, the bit of holiday, became a memorial, as recollection brought back to her the days of childhood spent down yonder, a few squares away, in this very city. They seemed bright in retrospect, like the pleasant paths of a quiet garden, but they had ended abruptly, and had been followed by years of activity and colorful experience in another country. Through it all what anticipations had been lodged in her return to Home! Something there would complete the story—the story with its secret ecstasies and aspirations—the story of the ardent springs of youth.
Withdrawing her gaze from the scene below, though with apparent reluctance, she took from the pocket of her coat an opened envelope which she regarded a moment with thoughtfulness, before drawing forth the enclosures. There were two letters, one of which was brief and written in bad script on a single sheet of paper bearing a legal head. It was dated at Charlesport, Maine, and stated that the writer, in conformity with the last wish of his friend and client, Hercules Thayer, was ready to transfer certain deeds and papers to the late Mr. Thayer's designated heir, Agatha Redmond; also that the writer requested an interview at Miss Redmond's earliest convenience.
Holding the half-opened sheets in her hand, the lady closed her eyes and sat motionless, as if in the grasp of an absorbing thought. With the disappearing child, the signs of life on the hillside had diminished. The traffic of the street passed far below, the sharp click-click of a pedestrian now and then sounded above, but no one passed her way. The hum of the city made a blurred wash of sound, like the varying yet steady wash of the sea. As she opened her eyes again, she saw that the twilight had perceptibly deepened. Far away, lights began to flash out in the city, as if a million fireflies, by twos and threes and dozens, were waking to their nocturnal revelry.
On the hill the light was still good, and the lady turned again to her reading. The other letter was written on single sheets of thin paper in an old-fashioned, beautiful hand. Wherever a double-s occurred, the first was written long, in the style of sixty years ago; and the whole letter was as easily legible as print. Across the top was written: "To Agatha Redmond, daughter of my ward and dear friend, Agatha Shaw Redmond"; and below that, in the lawyer's choppy handwriting, was a date of nearly a year previous. As Agatha Redmond read the second letter, a smile, half of sadness, half of pleasure, overspread her countenance. It ran as follows:
"MY DEAR AGATHA:
"I take my pen in hand to address you, the daughter of the dearest friend of my life, for the first time in the twenty-odd years of your existence. Once as a child you saw me, and you have doubtless heard my name from your mother's people from time to time; but I can scarcely hope that any knowledge of my private life has come to you. It will be easy, then, for you to pardon an old man for giving you, in this fashion, the confidence he has never been able to bestow in the flesh.
"When you read this epistle, my dear Agatha, I shall have stepped into that next mystery, which is Death. Indeed, the duty which I am now discharging serves as partial preparation for that very event. This duty is to make you heir to my house and estate and to certain accessory funds which will enable you to keep up the place.
"You may regard this act, possibly, as the idiosyncrasy of an unbalanced mind; it is certain that some of my kinsfolk will do so. But while I have been able to bear up under their greater or less displeasure for many years, I find myself shrinking before the possibility of dying absolutely unknown and forgotten by you. Your mother, Agatha Shaw, of blessed memory now for many years, was my ward and pupil after the death of your grandfather. I think I may say without undue self-congratulation that few women of their time have enjoyed as sound a scheme of education as your mother. She had a knowledge of mathematics, could construe both in Latin and Greek, and had acquired a fair mastery of the historic civilization of the Greeks, Egyptians and ancient Babylonians. While these attainments would naturally be insufficient for a man's work in life, yet for a woman they were of an exceptional order.
"Sufficient to say that in your mother's character these noteworthy abilities were supplemented by gracious, womanly arts; and when she arrived at maturity, I offered her the honor of marriage.
"It is painful for me to recall the scene and the consequences of your mother's refusal of my hand, even after these years of philosophical reflection. It were idle for a man of parts to allow a mere preference in regard to his domestic situation to influence his course of action in any essential matter, and I have never permitted my career to be shaped by such details. But from that time, however, the course of my life was changed. From the impassioned orator and preacher I was transformed into the man of books and the study, and since then I have lived far from the larger concourses of men. My weekly sermon, for twenty years, has been the essence of my weekly toil in establishing the authenticity, first, of the entire second gospel, and second, of the ten doubtful verses in the fifteenth chapter. My work is now accomplished—for all time, I believe.
"From the inception of what I considered my life mission, I made the resolve to bequeath to Agatha Shaw whatever manuscripts or other material of value my work should lead me to accumulate, together with this house, in which I have spent all the later years of my life. You are Agatha Shaw's only child, therefore to me a foster-child.
"Another reason, four years ago, led me to confirm my former testament. From time to time I have informed myself concerning your movements and fortunes. The work you have chosen, my dear Agatha, I can but believe to be fraught with unusual dangers to a young woman. Therefore I hope that this home, modest as it is, may tempt you to an early retirement from the stage, and lead you to a more private and womanly career. This I make only as a request, not as a condition. I bid you farewell, and give you my blessing.
Agatha Redmond folded the thin sheets carefully. There was a mist in her gaze as she looked off toward the distant city lights.
"Dear old gentleman! His whole love-story, and my mother's, too, perhaps!" Her quickened memory recalled childish impressions of a visit to a large country house and of a solemn old man—he seemed incredibly ancient to her—and of feeling that in some way she and her mother were in a special relationship to the house. It was called "the old red house," and was full of fascinating things. The ancient man had bidden her go about and play as if it were her home, and then had called her to him and laid open a book, leading her mind to regard its mysteries. Greek! It seemed to her as if she had begun it there and then. Later the mother became the teacher. She was nursed, as it were, within sight of the windy plains of Troy and to the sound of the Homeric hymns—and all by reason of this ancient scholar.
There was a vivid picture in her mind, gathered at some later visit, of a soft hillside, a small white church standing under its balm-of-gilead tree, and herself sitting by a stone in the old churchyard, listening to the strains of a hymn which floated out from the high, narrow windows. She remembered how, from without, she had joined in the hymn, singing with all her small might; and suddenly the association brought back to her a more recent event and a more beautiful strain of music. Half in reverie, half in conscious pleasure in the exercise of a facile organ, she began to sing:
"Free of my pain, free of my burden of sorrow, At last I shall see thee—"
The song floated in a zone of silence that lay above the deep-murmuring city. The voice was no more than the half-voice of a flute, sweet, gentle, beguiling. It told, as so many songs tell, of little earthly Love in the grasp of mighty Fate. Still she sang on, softly, as if loving the entrancing melody.
Suddenly the song ceased, and the reminiscent smile gave place to an expression of surprise, as the singer became conscious of a deeper shadow falling directly in front of her. She glanced up quickly, and found herself looking into the face of a man whose gimlet-like gaze was directed upon herself.
Quickly as she rose, she could not turn into the path before the gentleman, hat in hand, with a deep bow and clearly enunciated words, arrested her impulse to flight.
"Pardon, Mademoiselle, I am a stranger in the city. I was directed this way to Van Cortlandt Hall, but I find I am in error, intrigued—in confusion. Would mademoiselle be so good as to direct me?"
The tones had a foreign accent. There was something, also, in their bland impertinence which put Miss Redmond on her guard. He was a good-sized, blond person, carefully dressed, and at least appeared like a gentleman.
Miss Redmond looked into the smooth, neat countenance, upon which no record either of experience or of thought was engraved, and decided fleetingly that he was lying. She judged him capable of picking up acquaintances on the street, but thought that more originality might be expected of him.
Suddenly she wished that she had returned sooner to her car, for though she was of an adventurous nature, her bravery was not of the physical order; and she disliked to have the appearance of unconventionality. After the first minute she was not so much afraid as annoyed. Her voice became frigid, though her dignity was somewhat damaged by the fact that she bungled in giving the desired information.
"I think monsieur will find Van Cortlandt Hall in the College grounds two blocks south—no, north—of the gateway yonder, at the upper end of this walk."
"Ah, mademoiselle is but too kind!" He bowed deeply again, hat still in hand. "I thank you profoundly. And may I say, also, that this wonderful picture—" here he spread eloquent hands toward the half-quiescent city whose thousand eyes glimmered over the lower distance—"this panorama of occidental life, makes a peculiar appeal to the imagination?"
The springs of emotion, touched potently as they had been by the surging recollections of the last half-hour, were faintly stirred again in Miss Redmond's heart by the stranger's grandiloquent words. Unconsciously her features relaxed, though she did not reply.
"Again I pray mademoiselle to pardon me, but only a moment past I heard the song—the song that might be the sigh of all the daughters of Italy. Ah, Mademoiselle, it is wonderful! But here in this so fresh country, this youthful, boisterous, too prosperous country, that song is like—like—like Arabian spices in a kitchen. Is it not so?"
Miss Redmond was moving up the steps toward the entrance, hesitating between the desire to snub her interlocutor and to avoid the appearance of fright. The man, meanwhile, moved easily beside her, courteously distant, discourteously insistent in his prattle. But the motor-car was now not far away.
The stranger looked appealingly at her, seemingly sure of a humorous answering look to his pleasantry. It was not wholly denied. She yielded to a touch of amusement with a cool smile, and hastened her steps. The man kept pace without effort. Luckily, the car stood only a few feet away, with Renaud, or rather Hand, at the curb, holding open the door. A vague bow and a lifting of the hat, and apparently the stranger went the other way. She felt a foolish relief, and at the same instant noted with surprise that the cover of her car had been raised.
"Why did you raise the top?"
"It appeared to me, Mademoiselle, that it was likely to rain."
"Put it down again. It will not rain," Miss Redmond was saying, when, from sidelong eyes, she saw that the stranger had not turned in the other direction, after all, but was almost in her tracks, as though he were stalking game. With foot on the step she said sharply, but in a low voice, "To the Plaza quickly," then immediately added, with a characteristic practical turn: "But don't get yourself arrested for speeding."
"No, Mademoiselle, with this car I can make—" Even as the chauffeur replied, Miss Redmond's sharpened senses detected a passage of glances between him and the stranger, now close behind her.
She sprang into the tonneau and seized the door, but not before the man had caught at it with a stronger hold, and stepped in close after her. The chauffeur was in his seat, the car was moving slowly, now faster and faster. Suddenly the bland countenance slid very near her own, while firm hands against her shoulders crowded her into the farther corner of the tonneau.
"O Renaud—Hand!" she cried, but the driver made no sign. "Help, help!" she shrieked, but the cry was instantly choked into a feeble protest. A mass of something, pressed to her mouth and nostrils, incited her to superhuman efforts. She struggled frantically, fumbled at the door, tore at the curtain, and succeeded in getting her head for an instant at the opening, while she clutched her assailant and held him helpless. But only for a moment. The firm large hands quickly overpowered even the strength induced by frenzy, and in another minute she was lying unresisting on the soft cushions of the tonneau.
The car careened through the streets, the figure of the unresponsive Hand mocked her cries for help, the neat hard face of the stranger continued to bend over her. Then everything swam in a maelstrom of duller and duller sense, the world grew darker and fainter, till finally it was lost in silence.
HAMBLETON OF LYNN
The Hambletons of Lynn had not distinguished themselves, in late generations at least, by remarkable deeds, though their deportment was such as to imply that they could if they would. They frankly regarded themselves as the elect of earth, if not of Heaven, always, however, with a becoming modesty. Since 1636 the family had pieced out its existence in the New World, tenaciously clinging to many of its old-country habits. It had kept the b in the family name, for instance; it had kept the name itself out of trade, and it had indulged its love of country life at the expense of more than one Hambleton fortune.
A daughter-in-law was once reported as saying that it would have been a good thing if some Hambleton had embarked in trade, since in that case they might have been saved from devoting themselves exclusively to an illustration of polite poverty. She was never forgiven, and died without being reconciled to the family. As to the spelling of the name, the family claimed ancestral authority as far back as King Fergus the First. Mrs. Van Camp, a relative by marriage—a woman considered by the best Hambletons as far too frank and worldly-minded—informed the family that King Fergus was as much a myth as Dido, and innocently brought forth printed facts to corroborate her statement. One of the ladies Hambleton crushed Mrs. Van Camp by stating, in a tone of deep personal conviction, with her cap awry, "So much the worse for Dido!"
A salient strength persisted in the Hambletons—a strength which retained its character in spite of cross-currents. The Hambleton tone and the Hambleton ideas retained their family color, and became, whether worthily or not, a part of the Hambleton pride. More than one son had lost his health or entire fortune, which was apt not to be large, in attempts to carry on a country place. "A Hambleton trait!" they chuckled, with as much satisfaction as they considered it good form to exhibit. In Lynn, where family pride did not bring in large returns, this phrase became almost synonymous with genteel foolishness.
The Van Camp fortune, which came near but never actually into the family, was generally understood to have been made in shoes, though in reality it was drugs.
"People say 'shoes' the minute they hear the word Lynn, and I'm tired of explaining," Mrs. Van Camp put it. She was third in line from the successful druggist, and could afford, if anybody could, to be supercilious toward trade. But she wasn't, even after twenty years of somewhat restless submission to the Hambleton yoke. And it was she who, during her last visit to the family stronghold, held up before the young James the advantages of a commercial career.
"You're a nice boy, Jimsy, and I can't see you turned into a poor lawyer. You're not hard-headed enough to be a good one. As for being a minister, well—no. Go into business, dear boy, something substantial, and you'll live to thank your stars."
Jimsy received this advice at the time with small enthusiasm, and a reservation of criticism that was a credit to his manners, at least. But the time came when he leaned on it.
Her own child, however, Mrs. Van Camp encouraged to a profession from the first. "Aleck isn't smart enough for business, but he may do something as a student," was Mrs. Van Camp's somewhat trying explanation; and Aleck did do something as a student. Extremely impatient with any exhibition of laziness, the mother demanded a good accounting of her son's time. Aleck and Jim, who were born in the same year, ran more or less side by side until the end of college. They struggled together in sports and in arguments, "rushed" the same girl in turn or simultaneously, and spent their long vacations cruising up and down the Maine coast in a thirty-foot sail-boat. Once they made a more ambitious journey all the way to Yarmouth and the Bay of Fundy in a good-sized fishing-smack.
But when college was done, their ways separated. Mrs. Van Camp, in the prime of her unusual faculties, died, having decorated the Hambleton 'scutcheon like a gay cockade stuck airily up into the breeze. She had no part nor lot in the family pride, but understood it, perhaps, better than the Hambletons themselves. Her crime was that she played with it. Aleck, a full-fledged biologist, went to the Little Hebrides to work out his fresh and salad theory concerning the nerve system of the clam.
James, third son of John and Edith Hambleton of Lynn, had his eyes thoroughly opened in the three months after Commencement by a consideration of the family situation. It seemed to him that from babyhood he had been burningly conscious of the pinching and skimping necessary to maintain the family pride. The two older brothers were exempt from the scorching process, the eldest being the family darling and the second a genius. Neither one could rationally be expected, "just at present," to take up the family accounts and make the income square up with even a decently generous outgo. And there were the girls yet to be educated. Jim had no special talent to bless himself with, either in art or science. He was inordinately fond of the sea, but that did not help him in choosing a career. He had good taste in books and some little skill in music. He was, indeed, thrall to the human voice, especially to the low voice in woman, and he was that best of all critics, a good listener. His greatest riches, as well as his greatest charm, lay in a spirit of invincible youth; but he was no genius, no one perceived that more clearly than himself.
So he remembered Clara Van Camp's advice, wrote the whole story to Aleck, and cast about for the one successful business chance in the four thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine bad ones—as the statistics have it.
He actually found it in shoes. Foot-ball muscle and grit went into the job of putting a superior shoe on an inferior foot, if necessary—at least on some foot. He got a chance to try his powers in the home branch of a manufacturing house, and made good. When he came to fill a position where there was opportunity to try new ideas, he tried them. He inspected tanneries and stockyards, he got composite measurements of all the feet in all the women's colleges in the year ninety-seven, he drilled salesmen and opened a night school for the buttonhole-makers, he made a scientific study of heels, and he invented an aristocratic arch and put it on the market.
The family joked about his doings as the harmless experiments of a lively boy, but presently they began to enjoy his income. Through it all they were affectionate and kind, with the matter-of-course fondness which a family gives to the member that takes the part of useful drudge. John, the pet of the parents, married, and had his own eyes opened, it is to be supposed. Donald, the genius, had just arrived, after a dozen years or so, at the stage where he was mentioned now and then in the literary journals. But Jim stuck to shoes and kept the family on a fair tide of modest prosperity.
Once, in the years of Jim's apprenticeship to life, there came over him a fit of soul-sickness that nearly proved his ruin.
"I can't stand this," he wrote Aleck Van Camp; "It's too hard and dry and sordid for any man that's got a soul. It isn't the grind I mind, though that is bad enough; it is the 'Commercial Idea' that eats into a man's innards. He forgets there are things that money can't buy, and in his heart he grows contemptuous of anything to be had 'without money and without price.' He can't help it. If he is thinking of trade nine-tenths of the time, his mind gets set that way. I'm ready any minute to jump the fence, like father's old colt up on the farm. I'm not a snob, but I recognize now that there was some reason for all our old Hambleton ancestors being so finicky about trade.
"Do you remember how we used to talk, when we were kiddies, about keeping our ideals? Well, I believe I'm bankrupt, Aleck, in my account with ideals. I don't want to howl, and these remarks don't go with anybody else, but I can say, to you, I want them back again."
Aleck did as a kiddie should do, writing much advice on long sheets of paper, and illustrating his points richly, like a good Scotchman, with scientific instances. A month or two later he contrived to have work to do in Boston, so that he could go out to Lynn and look up Jimmy's case. He even devised a cure by creating, in his mind, an office in the biological world which was to be offered to James on the ground that science needed just his abilities and training. But when Aleck arrived in Lynn he found that Jim, in some fashion or other, had found a cure for himself. He was deeper than ever in the business, and yet, in some spiritual sense, he had found himself. He had captured his ideal again and yoked it to duty—which is a great feat.
After twelve years of ferocious labor, with no vacations to speak of, James's mind took a turn for the worse. Physically he was as sound as a bell, though of a lath-like thinness; but an effervescing in his blood lured his mind away from the study of lasts and accounts and Parisian models and sent it careering, like Satan, up and down the earth. Romance, which had been drugged during the transition from youth to manhood, awoke and coaxed for its rights, and whispered temptingly in an ear not yet dulled to its voice. Freedom, open spaces, laughter, the fresh sweep of the wind, the high bucaneering piracy of life and joy—these things beglamoured his senses.
So one day he locked his desk with a final click. The business was in good shape. It is but justice to say that if it had not been, Romance had dangled her luring wisp o' light in vain. Several of his new schemes had worked out well, his subordinates were of one mind with him, trade was flourishing. He felt he could afford a little spin.
Jimsy's radiating fancies focussed themselves, at last, on the vision of a trig little sail-boat, "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread" in the cabin, with possibly the book of verses underneath the bow, or more suitably, in the shadow of the sail; and Aleck Van Camp and himself astir in the rigging or plunging together from the gunwale for an early swim. "And before I get off, I'll hear a singer that can sing," he declared.
He telegraphed Aleck, who was by this time running down the eyelid of the squid, to meet him at his club in New York. Then he made short work with the family. Experience had taught him that an attack from ambush was most successful.
"Look here, Edith,"—this was at the breakfast-table the very morning of his departure. Edith was sixteen, the tallest girl in the academy, almost ready for college and reckoned quite a queen in her world—"You be good and do my chores for me while I'm away, and I'll bring you home a duke. Take care of mother's bronchitis, and keep the house straight. I'm going on a cruise."
"All right, Jim"—Edith could always be counted on to catch the ball—"go ahead and have a bully time and don't drown yourself. I'll drive the team straight to water, mother and dad and the whole outfit, trust me!"
Considering the occasion and the correctness of the sentiments, Jim forbore, for once, from making the daily suggestion that she chasten her language. By the time the family appeared, Jim had laid out a rigid course of action for Miss Edith, who rose to the occasion like a soldier.
"Mother'll miss you, of course, but Jack and Harold"—two of Edith's admirers—"Jack and Harold can come around every day—stout arm to lean upon, that sort of thing. You know mother can't be a bit jolly without plenty of men about, and since Sue became engaged she really doesn't count. The boys will think they are running things, of course, but they'll see my iron hand in the velvet glove—you can throw a blue chip on that, Jimsy. And don't kiss me, Jim, for Dorothy Snell and I vowed, when we wished each other's rings on—Oh, well, brothers don't count."
And so, amid the farewells of a tender, protesting family, he got off, leaving Edith in the midst of one of her monologues.
There was a telegram in New York saying that Aleck Van Camp would join him in three days, at the latest. Hambleton disliked the club and left it, although his first intention had been to put up there. He picked out a modest, up-town hotel, new to him, for no other reason than that it had a pretty name, The Larue. Then he began to consider details.
The day after his arrival was occupied in making arrangements for his boat. He put into this matter the same painstaking buoyancy that he had put into a dull business for twelve years. He changed his plans half a dozen times, and exceeded them wholly in the size and equipment of the little vessel, and in the consequent expense; but he justified himself, as men will, by a dozen good reasons. The trig little sail-boat turned out to be a respectable yacht, steam, at that. She was called the Sea Gull. Neat in the beam, stanch in the bows, rigged for coasting and provided with a decent living outfit, she was "good enough for any gentleman," in the opinion of the agent who rented her. Jim was half ashamed at giving up the more robust scheme of sailing his own boat, with Aleck; but some vague and expansive spirit moved him "to see," as he said, "what it would be like to go as far and as fast as we please." While they were about it, they would call on some cousins at Bar Harbor and get good fun out of it.
The idea of his holiday grew as he played with it. As his spin took on a more complicated character, his zest rose. He went forth on Sunday feeling as if some vital change was impending. His little cruise loomed up large, important, epochal. He laughed at himself and thought, with his customary optimism, that a vacation was worth waiting twelve years for, if waiting endowed it with such a flavor. Jim knew that Aleck would relish the spin, too. Aleck's nature was that of a grind tempered with sportiness. Jim sat down Sunday morning and wrote out the whole program for Aleck's endorsement, sent the letter by special delivery and went out to reconnoiter.
The era of Sunday orchestral concerts had begun, but that day, to Jim's regret, the singer was not a contralto. "Dramatic Soprano" was on the program; a new name, quite unknown to Jim. His interest in the soloist waned, but the orchestra was enough. He thanked Heaven that he was past the primitive stage of thinking any single voice more interesting than the assemblage of instruments known as orchestra.
Hambleton found a place in the dim vastness of the hall, and sank into his seat in a mood of vivid anticipation. The instruments twanged, the audience gathered, and at last the music began. Its first effect was to rouse Hambleton to a sharp attention to details—the director, the people in the orchestra, the people in the boxes; and then he settled down, thinking his thoughts. The past, the future, life and its meaning, love and its power, the long, long thoughts of youth and ambition and desire came flocking to his brain. The noble confluence of sound that is music worked upon him its immemorial miracle; his heart softened, his imagination glowed, his spirit stirred. Time was lost to him—and earth.
The orchestra ceased, but Hambleton did not heed the commotion about him. The pause and the fresh beginning of the strings scarcely disturbed his ecstatic reverie. A deep hush lay upon the vast assemblage, broken only by the voices of the violins. And then, in the zone of silence that lay over the listening people—silence that vibrated to the memory of the strings—there rose a little song. To Hambleton, sitting absorbed, it was as if the circuit which galvanized him into life had suddenly been completed. He sat up. The singer's lips were slightly parted, and her voice at first was no more than the half-voice of a flute, sweet, gentle, beguiling. It was borne upward on the crest of the melody, fuller and fuller, as on a flooding tide.
"Free of my pain, free of my burden of sorrow, At last I shall see thee—"
There was freedom in the voice, and the sense of space, of wind on the waters, of life and the love of life.
Jimsy was a soft-hearted fellow. He never knew what happened to him; but after uncounted minutes he seemed to be choking, while the orchestra and the people in boxes and the singer herself swam in a hazy distance. He shook himself, called somebody he knew very well an idiot, and laughed aloud in his joy; but his laugh did not matter, for it was drowned in the roar of applause that reached the roof.
Jim did not applaud. He went outdoors to think about it; and after a time he found, to his surprise, that he could recall not only the song, but the singer, quite distinctly. It was a tall, womanly figure, and a fair, bright face framed abundantly with dark hair, and the least little humorous twitch to her lips. And her name was Agatha Redmond.
"Of course, she can sing; but it isn't like having the real thing—'tisn't an alto," said Jimsy ungratefully and just from habit.
The day's experience filled his thoughts and quieted his restlessness. He awaited Aleck with entire patience. Monday morning he spent in small necessary business affairs, securing, among other things, several hundred dollars, which he put in his money-belt. About the middle of the afternoon he left his hotel, engaged a taxicab and started for Riverside. The late summer day was fine, with the afternoon haze settling over river and town. He watched the procession of carriages, the horse-back riders, the people afoot, the children playing on the grass, with a feeling of comradeship. Was he not also tasting freedom—a lord of the earth? His gaze traveled out to the river, with the glimmer here and there of a tug-boat, a little steamer, or the white sail of a pleasure craft. The blood of some seagoing ancestor stirred in his veins, and he thrilled at the thought of the days to come when his prow should be headed offshore.
The taxicab had its limitations, and Hambleton suddenly became impatient of its monotonous slithering along the firm road. Telling the driver to follow him, he descended and crossed to where Cathedral Parkway switches off. He walked briskly, feeling the tonic of the sea air, and circled the cathedral, where workmen were lounging away after their day's toil. The unfinished edifice loomed up like a giant skeleton of some prehistoric era, and through its mighty open arches and buttresses Jim saw fleecy clouds scudding across the western sky, A stone saint, muffled in burlap, had just been swung up into his windy niche, but had not yet discarded his robes of the world. Hambleton was regarding the shapeless figure with mild interest, wondering which saint of the calendar could look so grotesque, when a sound drew his attention sharply to earth. It was a small sound, but there was something strange about it. It was startling as a flash in a summer sky.
Besides the workmen, there was no living thing in sight on the hillside except his own taxicab, swinging slowly into the avenue at that moment, and a covered motor-car getting up speed a square away. Even as the car approached, Hambleton decided that the strange sound had proceeded from its ambushed tonneau; and it was, surely, a human voice of distress. He stepped forward to the curb. The car was upon him, then lumbered heavily and swiftly past. But on the instant of its passing there appeared, beneath the lifted curtain and quite near his own face, the face of the singer of yesterday; and from pale, agonized lips, as if with, dying breath, she cried, "Help, help!"
Hambleton knew her instantly, although the dark abundance of her hair was almost lost beneath hat and flowing veil, and the bright, humorous expression was blotted out by fear. He stood for a moment rooted to the curb, watching the dark mass of the car as it swayed down the hill. Then he beckoned sharply to his driver, met the taxicab half way, and pointed to the disappearing machine.
"Quick! Can you overtake it?"
"I'd like nothing better than to run down one o' them Dook machines!" said the driver.
The driver of the taxicab proved to be a sound sport.
Five minutes of luck, aided by nerve, brought the two machines somewhat nearer together. The motor-car gained in the open spaces, the taxicab caught up when it came to weaving its way in and out and dodging the trolleys. At the frequent moments when he appeared to be losing the car, Hambleton reflected that he had its number, which might lead to something. At the Waldorf the car slowed up, and the cab came within a few yards. Hambleton made up his mind at that instant that he had been mistaken in his supposition of trouble threatening the lady, and looked momently to see her step from the car into the custody of those starched and lacquered menials who guard the portals of fashionable hotels.
But it was not so. A signal was interchanged between the occupants of the car and some watcher in the doorway, and the car sped on. Hambleton, watching steadily, wondered!
"If she is being kidnapped, why doesn't she make somebody hear? Plenty of chance. They couldn't have killed her—that isn't done."
And yet his heart smote him as he remembered the terror and distress written on that countenance and the cry for help.
"Something was the matter," memory insisted. "There they go west; west Tenth, Alexander Street, Tenth Avenue—"
The car lumbered on, the cab half a block, often more, in the rear, through endless regions of small shops and offices huddled together above narrow sidewalks, through narrow and winding streets paved with cobblestones and jammed with cars and trucks, squeezing past curbs where dirty children sat playing within a few inches of death-dealing wheels. Hambleton wondered what kept them from being killed by hundreds daily, but the wonder was immediately forgotten in a new subject for thought. The cab had stopped, although several yards of clear road lay ahead of it. The driver was climbing down. The motor-car was nosing its way along nearly a block ahead. Hambleton leaped out.
"Of course, we've broken down?" he mildly inquired. Deep in his heart he was superstitiously thinking that he would let fate determine his next move; if there were obstacles in the way of his further quest, well and good; he would follow the Face no longer.
"If you'll wait just a minute—" the driver was saying, "until I get my kit out—"
But Hambleton, looking ahead, saw that the car had disappeared, and his mind suddenly veered.
"Not this time," he announced. "Here, the meter says four-twenty—you take this, I'm off." He put a five-dollar bill into the hand of the driver and started on an easy run toward the west.
He had caught sight of smoke-stacks and masts in the near distance, telling him that the motor-car had almost, if not quite, reached the river. Such a vehicle could not disappear and leave no trace; it ought to be easy to find. Ahead of him flaring lights alternated with the steady, piercing brilliance of the incandescents, and both struggled against the lingering daylight.
A heavy policeman at the corner had seen the car. He pointed west into the cavernous darkness of the wharves.
"If she ain't down at the Imperial docks she's gone plump into the river, for that's the way she went," he insisted. The policeman had the bearing of a major-general and the accent of the city of Cork. Hambleton went on past the curving street-car tracks, dodged a loaded dray emerging from the dock, and threaded his way under the shed. He passed piles of trunks, and a couple of truckmen dumping assorted freight from an ocean liner. No motor-car or veiled lady, nor sound of anything like a woman's voice. Hambleton came out into the street again, looked about for another probable avenue of escape for the car and was at the point of bafflement, when the major-general pounded slowly along his way.
"In there, my son, and no nice place either!" pointing to a smaller entrance alongside the Imperial docks, almost concealed by swinging signs. It was plainly a forbidden way, and at first sight appeared too narrow for the passage of any vehicle whatsoever. But examination showed that it was not too narrow; moreover, it opened on a level with the street.
"If you really want her, she's in there, though what'll be to pay if you go in there without a permit, I don't know. I'd hate to have to arrest you."
"It might be the best thing for me if you did, but I'm going in. You might wait here a minute. Captain, if you will."
"I will that; more especially as that car was a stunner for speed and I already had my eye on her. I'd like to see you fish her out of that hole."
But Hambleton was out of earshot and out of sight. An empty passage smelling of bilge-water and pent-up gases opened suddenly on to the larger dock. Damp flooring with wide cracks stretched off to the left; on the right the solid planking terminated suddenly in huge piles, against which the water, capped with scum and weeds, splashed fitfully. The river bank, lined with docks, seemed lulled into temporary quietness. Ferry-boats steamed at their labors farther up and down the river, but the currents of travel left here and there a peaceful quarter such as this.
Hambleton's gaze searched the dock and the river in a rapid survey. The dock itself was dim and vast, with a few workmen looking like ants in the distance. It offered nothing of encouragement; but on the river, fifty yards away, and getting farther away every minute, was a yacht's tender. The figures of the two rowers were quite distinct, their oars making rhythmical flashes over the water, but it was impossible to say exactly what freight, human or otherwise, it carried. It was evident that there were people aboard, possibly several. Even as Hambleton strained his eyes to see, the outlines of the rowboat merged into the dimness. It was pointed like a gun toward a large yacht lying at anchor farther out in the stream. The vessel swayed prettily to the current, and slowly swung its dim light from the masthead.
"They've got her—out in that boat," said Hambleton to himself, feeling, while the words were on his lips, that he was drawing conclusions unwarranted by the evidence. Thus he stood, one foot on the slippery log siding of the dock, watching while the little drama played itself out, so far as his present knowledge could go. His judgment still hung in suspense, but his senses quickened themselves to detect, if possible, what the outcome might be. He saw the tender approach the boat, lie alongside; saw one sailor after another descend the rope ladder, saw a limp, inert mass lifted from the rowboat and carried up, as if it had been merchandise, to the deck of the yacht; saw two men follow the limp bundle over the gunwale; and finally saw the boat herself drawn up and placed in her davits. Hambleton's mind at last slid to its conclusion, like a bolt into its socket.
"They're kidnapping her, without a doubt," he said slowly. For a moment he was like one struck stupid. Slowly he turned to the dock, looking up and down its orderly but unprepossessing clutter. Dim lights shone here and there, and a few hands were at work at the farther end. The dull silence, the unresponsive preoccupation of whatever life was in sight, made it all seem as remote from him and from this tragedy as from the stars.
In fact, it was impersonal and remote to such a degree that Hambleton's practical mind, halted yet an instant, in doubt whether there were not some plausible explanation. The thought came back to him suddenly that the motor-car must be somewhere in the neighborhood if his conclusion were correct.
On the instant his brain became active again. It did not take long, as a matter of fact, to find the car; though when he stumbled on it, turned about and neatly stowed away close beside the partitioning wall, he gave a start. It was such a tangible evidence of what had threatened to grow vague and unreal on his hands. He squeezed himself into the narrow space between it and the wall, finally thrusting his head under the curtains of the tonneau.
It was high and dry, empty as last year's cockleshell. Not a sign of life, not a loose object of any kind except a filmy thing which Hambleton found himself observing thoughtfully. At last he picked it up—a long, mist-like veil. He spread it out, held it gingerly between a thumb and finger of each hand, and continued to look at it abstractedly. Part of it was clean and whole, dainty as only a bit of woman's finery can be; but one end of it was torn and twisted and stretched out of all semblance to itself. Moreover, it was dirty, as if it had been ground under a muddy heel. It was, in its way, a shrieking evidence of violence, of unrighteous struggle. Hambleton folded the scarf carefully, with its edges together, and put it in his pocket. Jimmy's actions from this time on had an incentive and a spirit that had before been lacking. He noted again the number of the car, and returned to the edge of the dock to observe the yacht. She had steamed up river a little way for some reason known only to herself, and was now turning very slowly. She was but faintly lighted, and would pass for some pleasure craft just coming home. But Jim knew better. He could, at last, put two and two together. He would follow the Face—indeed, he could not help following it. In him had begun that divine experience of youth—of youth essentially, whether it come in early years or late—of being carried off his feet by a spirit not himself. He ran like a young athlete down the dock to the nearest workman, evolving schemes as he went.
The dock-hand apathetically trundled a small keg from one pile of freight to another, wiped his hands on his trousers, took a dry pipe out of his pocket, and looked vacantly up the river before he replied to Hambleton's question.
"Queer name—Jene Dark they call her."
It was like pulling teeth to get information out of him, but Jim applied the forceps.
The yacht had been lying out in the river for two weeks or more, possibly less; belonged to foreign parts; no one thereabouts knew who its owner was; nor its captain; nor its purpose in the harbor of New York. At last, quite gratuitously, the man volunteered a personal opinion. "Slippery boat in a gale—wouldn't trust her."
Hambleton walked smartly back, taking a look both at the yacht and the motor-car as he went. The yacht's nose pointed toward the Jersey shore; the car was creeping out of the dock. As he overtook the machine, he saw that it was in the hands of a mechanic in overalls and jumper. In answer to Hambleton's question as, to the owner of the car, the mechanic told him pleasantly to go to the devil, and for once the sight of a coin failed to produce any perceptible effect. But the major-general, waiting half a block away, was still in the humor of giving fatherly advice. He welcomed Jim heartily. "That's a hole I ain't got no use for. 'Ow'd you make out?"
"Well enough, for all present purposes. Can you undertake to do a job for me?"
"If it ain't nothing I'd have to arrest you for, I might consider it," he chuckled.
"I want you to go to the Laramie Club and tell Aleck Van Camp—got the name?—that Hambleton has gone off on the Jeanne D'Arc and may not be back for some time; and he is to look after the Sea Gull."
"Hold on, young man; you're not going to do anything out of reason, as one might say?"
"Oh, no, not at all; most reasonable thing in the world. You take this money and be sure to get the message to Mr. Van Camp, will you? All right. Now tell me where I can find a tug-boat or a steam launch, quick."
"O'Leary, down at pier X—2—O has launches and everything else. All right, my son, Aleck Van Camp, at the Laramie. But you be good and don't drown yourself."
This last injunction, word for word in the manner of the pert Edith, touched Jimmy's humor. He laughed ringingly. His spirit was like a chime of bells on a week-day.
The hour which followed was one that James Hambleton found it difficult to recall afterward, with any degree of coherence; but at the time his movements were mathematically accurate, swift, effective. He got aboard a little steam tug and followed the yacht down the river and into the harbor. As she stood out into the roads and began to increase her speed, he directed the captain of the tug to steam forward and make as if to cross her bows. This would make the pilot of the yacht angry, but he would be forced to slow down a trifle. Jim watched long enough to see the success of his manoeuver, then went down into the cuddy which served as a cabin, took off most of his clothes, and looked to the fastenings of his money belt. Then he watched his chance, and when the tug was pretty nearly in the path of the yacht, he crept to the stern and dropped overboard.
MR. VAN CAMP MAKES A CALL
Aleck Van Camp turned from the clerk's desk, rather relieved to find that Hambleton had not yet made his appearance. Aleck had an errand on his mind, and he reflected that Jim was apt to be impetuous and reluctant to await another man's convenience; at least, Jim wouldn't perceive that another man's convenience needed to be waited for; and Aleck had no mind to announce this errand from the housetops. It was not a business that pertained, directly, either to the Sea Gull or to the coming cruise.
He made an uncommonly careful toilet, discarding two neckties before the operation was finished. When all was done the cravat presented a stuffed and warped appearance which was not at all satisfying, even to Aleck's uncritical eye; but the tie was the last of his supply and was, perhaps, slightly better than none at all.
Dinner at the club was usually a dull affair, and to Mr. Van Camp, on this Monday night, it seemed more stupid than ever. The club had been organized in the spirit of English clubs, with the unwritten by-law of absolute and inviolable privacy for the individual. No wild or woolly manners ever entered those decorous precincts. No slapping on the shoulder, no hail-fellow greetings, no chance dinner companionship ever dispelled the awful penumbra of privacy that surrounded even the humblest member. A man's eating and drinking, his coming or going, his living or dying, were matters only for club statistics, not for personal inquiry or notice.
The result of this habitual attitude on the part of the members of the club and its servants was an atmosphere in which a cataleptic fit would scarcely warrant unofficial interference; much less would merely mawkish or absent-minded behavior attract attention. That was the function of the club—to provide sanctuary for personal whims and idiosyncrasies; of course, always within the boundaries of the code.
On the evening in question Mr. Van Camp did not actually become silly, but his manner lacked the poise and seriousness which sophisticated men are wont to bring to the important event of the day. He was as near being nervous as a Scotch-American Van Camp could be; and at the same time he felt an unwonted flow of life and warmth in his cool veins. He went so far as to make a remark to the waiter which he meant for an affable joke, and then wanted to kick the fellow for taking it so solemnly.
"You mind yourself, George, or they'll make you abbot of this monastery yet!" said Aleck, as George helped him on with his evening coat.
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir," said George.
He left word at the office that in case any one called he was to be informed that Mr. Van Camp would return to the club for the night; then, in his silk hat and generally shining togs, he set forth to make a call. He was no stranger to New York, and usually he took his cities as they came, with a matter-of-fact nonchalance. He would be as much at home on his second day in London as he had ever been in Lynn; or he would go from a friend's week-end house-party, where the habits of a Sybarite were forced on him, to a camp in the woods and pilot-bread fare, with an equal smoothness of temper and enjoyment. Since luxury made no impression on him, and hardship never blunted his own ideals of politeness or pleasure, no one ever knew which life he preferred.
Choosing to walk the fifteen or twenty squares to the Archangel apartment house, his destination, Van Camp looked about him, on this night of his arrival, with slightly quickened perceptions. He cast a mildly appreciative eye toward the picture disclosed here and there by the glancing lights, the chiaroscuro of the intersecting streets, the constantly changing vistas. For an unimpressionable man, he was rather wrought upon. Nevertheless, he entered the charming apartment whither he was bound with the detached and composed manner which society regards as becoming. A maid with a foreign accent greeted him. Yes, Mademoiselle Reynier was at home; Mr. Van Camp would find her in the drawing-room.
The stiff and unrelaxed manner with which Mr. Van Camp bowed to Miss Reynier a moment later was not at all indicative of the fairly respectable fever within his Scotch breast. Miss Reynier herself was pretty enough to cause quickened pulses. She was of noble height, evidently a woman of the world. She gave Mr. Van Camp her hand in a greeting mingled of European daintiness and American frankness. Her vitality and abounding interest in life were manifest.
"Ah, but you are very late. This is how you become smart all at once in your New York atmosphere! But pray be seated; and here are cigarettes, if you will. No? Very well; but tell me; has that amorphous gill-slit—oh, no, the branchial lamella—has it behaved itself and proved to be the avenue which shall lead you to fame?"
Mr. Van Camp stood silent through this flippant badinage, and calmly waited until Miss Reynier had settled herself. Then he thoughtfully turned the chair offered him so as to command a slightly better view of the corner where she sat, leaning against the old-rose cushions. Finally, taking his own time, he touched off her greeting with his precise drawl.
"I'm not smart, as you call it, even in New York, though I try to be." His eyes twinkled and his teeth gleamed in his wide smile. "If I were smart, I'd pass by your error in scientific nomenclature, but really I ought not to do it. If one can not be exact—"
"That's just what I say. If one can not be exact, why talk at all?" Miss Reynier caught it up with high glee. She had a foreign accent, and an occasional twist of words which proved her to be neither American nor Englishwoman. "That's my principle," she insisted. "Leave other people in undisturbed possession of their hobbies, especially in conversation, and don't say anything if you can't say what you mean. But then, you won't talk about your hobby; and if I have no one to inform me, how can I be exact? But I'm the meekest person alive; I'm so ready to learn."
Mr. Van Camp surveyed first the bantering, alluring eyes, then turned his gaze upon the soft luxuries about them.
"Are you ready to turn this bijou dream into a laboratory smelling of alcohol and fish? Are you ready to spend hours wading in mudbanks after specimens, or scratching in the sand under the broiling sun? Science does not consult comfort."
Miss Reynier's expression of quizzical teasing changed to one of rather thoughtful inquiry, as if she were estimating the man behind the scientist. Van Camp was of the lean, angular type, like Jim Hambleton. He was also very manly and wholesome, but even in his conventional evening clothes there was something about him that was unconventional—a protesting, untamed element of character that resisted all rules except those prescribed by itself. He puzzled her now, as he had often puzzled her before; but if she made fun of his hobbies, she had no mind to make fun of the man himself. A cheerful, intelligent smile finally ended her contemplating moment.
"Oh, no; no digging in the sand for me. I'll take what science I get in another way—put up in predigested packages or bottled—any way but the fishy way. But please don't give me up. You shed a good deal of light on my mental darkness last winter in Egypt, and maybe I can improve still more." She suddenly turned with friendly, confidential manner toward Aleck, not waiting for replies to her remarks. "It's good to see you again! And I like it here better than in Egypt, don't you? Don't you think this apartment jolly?"
The shaded lamps made a pretty light over Miss Reynier's cream-colored silk flounces, over the delicate lace on her waist, over her glossy dark hair and spirited face. As Aleck contemplated that face, with its eager yet modest and womanly gaze, and the noble outline of her figure, he thought, with an unwonted flowering of imagination, that she was not unlike the Diana of classic days. "A domestic Diana," he added in his mind. "She may love the woods and freedom, but she will always return to the hearth."
Aloud he said: "If you will permit me, Miss Reynier, I would like to inform you at once of the immediate object of my visit here. You must be well aware—" At this point Mr. Van Camp, who, true to his nature, was looking squarely in the face of his companion, of necessity allowed himself to be interrupted by Miss Reynier's lifted hand. She was looking beyond her visitor through the drawing-room door.
"Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Lloyd-Jones," announced the servant.
As Miss Reynier swept forward with outstretched hand to greet the new-comers, Van Camp fixed his eyes on his hostess with a mingled expression of masculine rage and submission. Whether he thought her too cordial toward the other men or too cool toward himself, was not apparent. Presently he, too, was shaking hands with the visitors, who were evidently old friends of the house. Madame Reynier, the aunt of mademoiselle, was summoned, and Van Camp was marooned on a sofa with Lloyd-Jones, who was just in from the West. Aleck found himself listening to an interminable talk about copper veins and silver veins, a new kind of assaying instrument, and the good luck attendant upon the opening of Lloyd-Jones' new mine, the Liza Lu.
Aleck was the essence of courtesy to everything except sham, and was able to indicate a mild interest in Mr. Lloyd-Jones' mining affairs. It was sufficient. Lloyd-Jones turned sidewise on his end of the sofa, spread out plump, gesticulating hands, and poured upon him an eloquent torrent of fact, speculation and high-spirited enthusiasm concerning Idaho in general and the future of the Liza Lu in particular. More than that, by and by his cheerful, half-impudent manner threatened to turn poetic.
"It's great, living in the open out there," he went on, by this time including the whole company in his exordium. "You ride, or tramp, or dig rock all day; and at night you lie down under the clear stars, thankful for your blanket and your rock-bed and your camp-fire; and more than thankful if there's a bit of running water near by. It's a great life!"
Miss Reynier listened to him with eyes that were alternately puzzled and appreciative. It was a discourse that would have seemed to her much more natural coming from Aleck Van Camp; but then, Mr. Van Camp really did the thing—that sort of thing—and he rarely talked about it. It had probably been Mr. Lloyd-Jones' first essay in the world out of reach of his valet and a club cocktail; and he was consequently impressed with his achievement. It was evident that Miss Reynier and the amateur miner were on friendly terms, though Aleck had not seen or heard of him before. He had hob-nobbed with Mr. Chamberlain in London and on more than one scientific jaunt. The slightest flicker of jealous resentment gleamed in Aleck's eyes, but his speech was as slow and precise as ever.
"I was just trying to convince Miss Reynier that outdoor life has its peculiar joys," he said. "I was even now suggesting that she should dig, though not for silver. Does Mr. Lloyd-Jones' lucre seem more alluring than my little wriggly beasts, Miss Reynier?"
If Aleck meant this speech for a trap to force the young woman to indicate a preference, the trick failed, as it deserved to fail. Miss Reynier was able to play a waiting game.
"I couldn't endure either your mines or your mud-puddles. You are both absurd, and I don't understand how you ever get recruits for your hobbies. But come over and see this new engraving, Mr. Jones; it's an old-fashioned picture of your beloved Rhine."
Aleck, thus liberated from Mr. Lloyd-Jones and his mines, made his way across the room to Madame Reynier. The cunning of old Adam, was in his eye, but otherwise he was the picture of deferential innocence.
Madame Reynier liked Aleck, with his inoffensive Americanisms and unfailing kindliness; and with her friends she was frankness itself. With two men on Miss Reynier's hands for entertainment, it seemed to Aleck unlikely that either one could make any alarming progress. Besides, he was glad of a tete-a-tete with the chaperone.
Madame Reynier was a tall, straight woman, elderly, dressed entirely in black, with gaunt, aristocratic features and great directness of speech. She had the fine kind of hauteur which forbids persons of this type ever to speak of money, of disease, of scandal, or of too intimate personalities; in Madame Reynier's case it also restrained her from every sort of exaggerated speech. She spoke English with some difficulty and preferred French.
Van Camp seated himself on a spindle-legged, gilt chair by Madame Reynier's side, and begged to know how they were enduring the New York climate, which had formerly proved intolerable to Madame Reynier. As he seated himself she stretched out saving hands.
"I can endure the climate, thank you; but I can't endure to see your life endangered on that silly chair, my dear Mr. Van Camp. There—thank you." And when he was seated in a solid mahogany, he was rewarded with Madame Reynier's confidential chat. They had returned to their New York apartment in the midst of the summer season, she said, "for professional advice." She and her niece liked the city and never minded the heat. Melanie, her aunt explained, had been enabled to see several old friends, and, for her own part, she liked home at any time of the year better than the most comfortable of hotels.
"This is quite like home," she added, "even though we are really exiles." Aleck ventured to hope that the "professional advice" had not meant serious trouble of any sort.
"A slight indisposition only."
"And are you much better now?" Aleck inquired solicitously.
"Oh, it wasn't I; it was Melanie," Madame smiled. "I became my own physician many years ago, and now I never see a doctor except when we ask one to dine. But youth has no such advantage." Madame fairly beamed with benevolence while explaining one of her pet idiosyncrasies. Before Aleck could make any headway in gleaning information concerning her own and Melanie's movements, as he was shamelessly trying to do, Lloyd-Jones had persuaded Miss Reynier to sing.
"Some of those quaint old things, please," he was saying; and Aleck wondered if he never would hang himself with his own rope. But Lloyd-Jones' cheerful voice went on:
"Some of those Hungarian things are jolly and funny, even though you can't understand the words. Makes you want to dance or sing yourself." Aleck groaned, but Melanie began to sing, with Jones hovering around the piano. By the time Melanie had sung everybody's favorites, excluding Aleck's, Mr. Chamberlain rose to depart. He was an Englishman, a serious, heavy gentleman, very loyal to old friends and very slow in making new ones. He made an engagement to dine with Aleck on the following evening, and, as he went out, threw back to the remaining gentlemen an offer of seats in his machine.
"I ought to go," said Jones; "but if Van Camp will stay, I will. That is," he added with belated punctiliousness, "if the ladies will permit?"
"Thank you, Chamberlain, I'm walking," drawled Aleck; then turning to the company with his cheerful grin he stated quite impersonally: "I was thinking of staying long enough to put one question—er, a matter of some little importance—to Miss Reynier. When she gives me the desired information, I shall go."
"Me, too," chirped Mr. Lloyd-Jones. "I came expressly to talk over that plan of building up friendly adjoining estates out in Idaho; sort of private shooting and hunting park, you know. And I haven't had a minute to say a word." Jones suddenly began to feel himself aggrieved. As the door closed after Chamberlain, Melanie motioned them back to their seats.
"It's not so very late," she said easily. "Come back and make yourselves comfortable, and I'll listen to both of you," she said with a demure little devil in her eye. "I haven't seen you for ages, and I don't know when the good moment will come again." She included the two men in a friendly smile, waved a hand toward the waiting chairs, and adjusted a light shawl over the shoulders of Madame Reynier.
But Aleck by this time had the bit in his teeth and would not be coaxed. His ordinarily cool eye rested wrathfully on the broad shoulders of Mr. Lloyd-Jones, who was lighting a cigarette, and he turned abruptly to Miss Reynier. His voice was as serious as if Parliament, at least, had been hanging on his words.
"May I call to-morrow, Miss Reynier, at about twelve?"
"Oh, I say," put in Jones, "all of you come to luncheon with me at the Little Gray Fox—will you? Capital place and all sorts of nice people. Do come. About one."
Van Camp could have slain him.
"I think my proposition a prior one," he remarked with dogged precision; "but, of course, Miss Reynier must decide." He recovered his temper enough to add, quite pleasantly, considering the circumstances, "Unless Madame Reynier will take my part?" turning to the older woman.
"Oh, no, not fair," shouted Jones. "Madame Reynier's always on my side. Aren't you, Madame?"
Madame Reynier smiled inscrutably. "I'm always on the side of virtue in distress," she said.
"That's me, then, isn't it? The way you're abusing me, Mademoiselle, listening here to Van Camp all the evening!"
But Melanie, tired, perhaps, of being patiently tactful, settled the matter. "I can't go to luncheon with anybody, to-morrow," she protested. "I've had a touch of that arch-enemy, indigestion, you see; and I can't do anything but my prescribed exercises, nor drink anything but distilled water—"
"Nor eat anything but food! We know," cried the irrepressible Jones. "But the Little Gray Fox has a special diet for just such cases as yours. Do come!"
"Heavens! Then I don't want to go there!" groaned Aleck.
Melanie gave Jones her hand, half in thanks and half in farewell. "No, thank you, not to-morrow, but sometime soon; perhaps Thursday. Will that do?" she smiled. Then, as Jones was discontentedly lounging about the door, she did a pretty thing. Turning from the door, she stood with face averted from everybody except Van Camp, and for an instant her eyes met his in a friendly, half-humorous but wholly non-committal glance. His eyes held hers in a look that was like an embrace.
"I will see you soon," she said quietly.
Van Camp said good night to Jones at the corner, after they had walked together in silence for half a block.
"Good night, Van Camp," said Jones; then he added cordially: "By the way, I'm going back next week in my private car to watch the opening of the Liza Lu, and I'd be mighty glad if you'd go along. Anything else to do?"
"Thanks—extremely; but I'm going on a cruise."
As Aleck entered the piously exclusive hall of the club his good nature came to his aid. He wondered whether he hadn't scored something, after all.
Midnight and the relaxation of slumber could subtract nothing from the high-browed dignity of the club officials, and the message that was waiting for Mr. Van Camp was delivered in the most correct manner. "Mr. Hambleton sends word to Mr. Van Camp that he has gone away on the Jeanne D'Arc. Mr. Hambleton may not be back for some time, and requests Mr. Van Camp to look after the Sea Gull."
"Very well, thank you," replied Aleck, rather absent-mindedly. He was unable to see, immediately, just what change in his own plans this sudden turn of Jim's would cause; and he was for the moment too deeply preoccupied with his own personal affairs to speculate much about it. His thoughts went back to the events of the evening, recalled the picture of his Diana and her teasing ways, and dwelt especially upon the honest, friendly, wholly bewitching look that had flown to him at the end of the evening. Absurd as his own attempt at a declaration had been, he somehow felt that he himself was not absurd in Melanie's eyes, though he was far from certain whether she was inclined to marry him.
Aleck, on his part, had not come to his decision suddenly or impulsively; nor, having arrived there, was he to be turned from it easily. True as it was that he sincerely and affectionately desired Melanie Reynier for a wife, yet on the whole he was a very cool Romeo. He was manly, but he was calculating; he was honorably disposed toward matrimony, but he was not reborn with love. And so, in the sober bedroom of the club, he quickly fell into the good sleep induced by fatigue and healthy nerves.
Morning brought counsel and a disposition to renew operations. A note was despatched to his Diana by a private messenger, and the boy was bidden to wait for an answer. It came presently:
"Come at twelve, if you wish.
Aleck smiled with satisfaction. Here was a wise venture going through happily, he hoped. He was pleased that she had named the very hour he had asked for the night before. That was like her good, frank way of meeting a situation, and it augured well for the unknown emergencies of their future life. He had little patience with timidity and traditional coyness in women, and great admiration for an open and fearless spirit. Melanie's note almost set his heart thumping.
But not quite; and no one understood the cool nature of that organ better than Melanie herself. The ladies in the apartment at the Archangel had lingered at their breakfast, the austerity of which had been mitigated by a center decoration of orchids and fern, fresh-touched with dew; or so Madame Reynier had described them to Melanie, as she brought them to her with the card of Mr. Lloyd-Jones. Miss Reynier smiled faintly, admired the blossoms and turned away.
The ladies usually spoke French with each other, though occasionally Madame Reynier dropped into the harsher speech of her native country. On this morning she did this, telling Melanie, for the tenth time in as many days, that in her opinion they ought to be going home. Madame considered this her duty, and felt no real responsibility after the statement was made. Nevertheless, she was glad to find Melanie disposed to discuss the matter a little further.
"Do you wish to go home, Auntie, or is it that you think I ought to go?"
"I don't wish to go without you, child, you know that; and I am very comfortable here. But his Highness, your cousin, is very impatient; I see that in every letter from Krolvetz. You offended him deeply by putting off your marriage to Count Lorenzo, and every day now deepens his indignation against you. I don't like to discuss these things, Melanie, but I suspect that your action deprives him of a very necessary revenue; and I understand, better than you do, to what lengths your cousin is capable of going when he is displeased. You are, by the law of your country, his ward until you marry. Would it not be better to submit to him in friendship, rather than to incur his enmity? After all, he is your next of kin, the head of your family, and a very powerful man. If we are going home at all, we ought to go now."
"But suppose we should decide not to go home at all?"
"You will have to go some time, dear child. You are all alone, except for me, and in the nature of things you can't have me always. Now that you are young, you think it an easy thing to break away from the ties of blood and birth; but believe me, it isn't easy. You, with your nature, could never do it. The call of the land is strong, and the time will come when you will long to go home, long to go back to the land where your father led his soldiers, and where your mother was admired and loved."
Madame Reynier paused and watched her niece, who, with eyes cast down, was toying with her spoon. Suddenly a crimson flush rose and spread over Melanie's cheeks and forehead and neck, and when she looked up into Madame Reynier's face, she was gazing through unshed tears. She rose quickly, came round to the older woman's chair and kissed her cheek affectionately.
"Dear Auntie, you are very good to me, and patient, too. It's all true, I suppose; but the prospect of home and Count Lorenzo together—ah, well!" she smiled reassuringly and again caressed Madame Reynier's gaunt old face. "I'll think it all over, Auntie dear."
Madame Reynier followed Melanie into her sitting-room, bringing the precious orchids in her two hands, fearful lest the fragile vase should fall. Melanie regarded them a moment, and then said she thought they would do better in the drawing-room.
"I sometimes think the little garden pink quite as pretty as an orchid."
"They aren't so much in Mr. Lloyd-Jones' style as these," replied Madame Reynier. She had a faculty of commenting pleasantly without the least hint of criticism. This remark delighted Melanie.
"No; I should never picture Mr. Lloyd-Jones as a garden pink. But then, Auntie, you remember how eloquent he was about the hills and the stars. That speech did not at all indicate a hothouse nature."
"Nevertheless, I think his sentiments have been cultivated, like his orchids."
"Not a bad achievement," said Melanie.
There was an interval of silence, while the younger woman stood looking out of the window and Madame Reynier cut the leaves of a French journal. She did not read, however, and presently she broke the silence. "I don't remember that Mr. Van Camp ever sent orchids to you."
"Mr. Van Camp never gave me any kind of flower. He thinks flowers are the most intimate of all gifts, and should only be exchanged between sweethearts. At least, I heard him expound some such theory years ago, when we first knew him."
Madame smiled—a significant smile, if any one had been looking. Nothing further was said until Melanie unexpectedly shot straight to the mark with:
"How do you think he would do, Auntie, in place of Count Lorenzo?"
Madame Reynier showed no surprise. "He is a sterling man; but your cousin would never consent to it."
"And if I should not consult my cousin?"
"My dear Melanie, that would entail many embarrassing consequences; and embarrassments are worse than crimes."
Melanie could laugh at that, and did. "I've already answered a note from Mr. Van Camp this morning; Auntie. No, don't worry," she playfully answered a sudden anxious look that came upon her aunt's countenance, "I've not said 'yes' to him. But he's coming to see me at twelve. If I don't give him a chance to say what he has to say, he'll take one anywhere. He's capable of proposing on the street-cars. Besides, I have something also to say to him."
"Well, my dear, you know best; certainly I think you know best," was Madame Reynier's last word.
Mr. Van Camp arrived on the stroke of twelve, an expression of happiness on his lean, quizzical face.
"I'm supposed to be starting on a cruise," he told Melanie, "but luck is with me. My cousin hasn't turned up—or rather he turned up only to disappear instantly. Otherwise he would have dragged me off to catch the first ebb-tide, with me hanging back like an anchor-chain."
"Is your cousin, then, such a tyrant?"
"Oh, yes; he's a masterful man, is Jimmy."
"And how did he 'disappear instantly?' It sounds mysterious."
"It is mysterious, but Jim can take care of himself; at least, I hope he can. The message said he had sailed on the Jeanne D'Arc, whatever that is, and that I was to look after our hired yacht, the Sea Gull."
Melanie looked up, startled. "The Jeanne D'Arc, was it?" she cried. "Are you sure? But, of course—there must be many boats by that name, are there not? But did he say nothing more—where he was going, and why he changed his plans?"
"No, not a word more than that. Why? Do you know of a boat named the Jeanne D'Arc?"
"Yes, very well; but it can not matter. It must be another vessel, surely. Meanwhile, what are you going to do without your companion?"
Aleck rose from the slender gilt chair where, as usual, he had perched himself, walked to the window and thrust his hands into his pockets for a contemplative moment, then he turned and came to a stand squarely before Melanie, looking down on her with his quizzical, honest eyes.
"That depends, Melanie," he said slowly, "upon whether you are going to marry me or not."
For a second or two Melanie's eyes refused to lift; but Aleck's firm-planted figure, his steady gaze, above all, his dominating will, forced her to look up. There he was, smiling, strong, big, kindly. Melanie started to smile, but for the second time that morning her eyes unexpectedly filled with tears.
"I can't talk to you towering over me like that," she said at last softly, her smile winning against the tears.
Aleck did not move. "I don't want you to 'talk to' me about it; all I want is for you to say 'yes.'"
"But I'm not going to say 'yes;' at least, I don't think I am. Do sit down."
Aleck started straight for the gilt chair.
"Oh, no; not that! You are four times too big for that chair. Besides, it's quite valuable; it's a Louis Quinze."
Aleck indulged in a vicious kick at the ridiculous thing, picked up an enormous leather-bottomed chair made apparently of lead, and placed it jauntily almost beside Miss Reynier's chair, but facing the other way.
"This is much better, thank you," he said. "Now tell me why you think you are not going to say 'yes' to me."
Melanie's mood of softness had not left her; but sitting there, face to face with this man, face to face with his seriousness, his masculine will and strength, she felt that she had something yet to struggle for, some deep personal right to be acknowledged. It was with a dignity, an aloofness, that was quite real, yet very sweet, that she met this American lover. He had her hand in his firm grasp, but he was waiting for her to speak. He was giving her the hearing that was, in his opinion, her right.
"In the first place," Melanie began, "you ought to know more about me—who I am, and all that sort of thing. I am, in one sense, not at all what I seem to be; and that, in the case of marriage, is a dangerous thing."
"It is an important thing, at least. But I do know who you are; I knew long ago. Since you never referred to the matter, of course I never did. You are the Princess Auguste Stephanie of Krolvetz, cousin of the present Duke Stephen, called King of Krolvetz. You are even in line for the throne, though there are two or three lives between. You have incurred the displeasure of Duke Stephen and are practically an exile from your country."
"A voluntary exile," Melanie corrected.
"Voluntary only in the sense that you prefer exile to absolute submission to the duke. There is no alternative, if you return."
Melanie was silent. Aleck lifted the hand which he held, touched it gently with his lips and laid it back beside its fellow on Melanie's lap. Then he rose and lifted both hands before her, half in fun and half in earnestness, as if he were a courtier doing reverence to his queen.
"See, your Highness, how ready I am to do you homage! Only smile on the most devoted of your servants."
Melanie could not resist his gentle gaiety. It was as if they were two children playing at a story. Aleck, in such a mood as this, was as much fun as a dancing bear, and in five minutes more he had won peals of laughter from Melanie. It was what he wanted—to brighten her spirits. So presently he came back to the big chair, though he did not again take her hand.
"I knew you were titled and important, Melanie, and at first I thought that sealed my case entirely. But you seemed to forget your state, seemed not to care so very much about it; and perhaps that made me think it was possible for us both to forget it, or at least to ignore it. I haven't a gold throne to give you; but you're the only woman I've ever wanted to marry, and I wasn't going to give up the chance until you said so."
"Do you know also that if I marry out of my rank and without the consent of Duke Stephen, I shall forfeit all my fortune?"
"'Cut off without a cent!'" Aleck laughed, but presently paused, embarrassed for the first time since he had begun his plea. "I, you know, haven't millions, but there's a decent income, even for two. And then I can always go to work and earn something," he smiled at her, "giving information to a thirsty world about the gill-slit, as you call it. It would be fun, earning money for you; I'd like to do it."
Melanie smiled back at him, but left her chair and wandered uneasily about the room, as if turning a difficult matter over in her mind. Aleck stood by, watching. Presently she returned to her chair, pushed him gently back into his seat and dropped down beside him. Before she spoke, she touched her fingers lightly, almost lovingly, along the blue veins of his big hand lying on the arm of the chair. The hand turned, like a magnet spring, and imprisoned hers.