Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Man and His Money by Frederic Stewart Isham

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

fiercely--"I may change my mind."

They went; Sonia Turgeinov turned and looked out over the open space.
The approaching figures were now much nearer.

CHAPTER XXIII

STARLIGHT

Dusk had begun to fall, but still two figures went on through the
forest--slowly, with obvious effort. One turned often to the other, held
back a branch, or proffered such service as he might over rough places,
for Betty Dalrymple's movements were no longer those of a lithe
wood-nymph; she had never felt so weary before. The first shades of
twilight made it harder to distinguish their way amid intervening
objects, and once an elastic bit of underbrush struck her sharply in the
face. The blow smarted like the touch of a whip but she only smiled
faintly. The momentary sting spurred her on faster, until her foot
caught and she stumbled and would have fallen except that Mr.
Heatherbloom had turned at that moment and put out an arm.

"Forgive me." His voice was full of contrition. "It has been brutal to
make you go on like this, but I had to."

"It doesn't matter." The slender form slid from him over-quickly. "You,
too, must be very tired," she said with breath coming fast.

He glanced swiftly back; listened. "We'll rest here," he commanded.
"We've got to. I should have stopped before, but"--the words came in a
harsher staccato--"I dared not."

"I'll be all right in a few moments," she answered, resting on a fallen
log, "and then--"

"No, no," he said in a tone of finality. "After all, there is small
likelihood they'll find us now. Besides, it will soon be too dark to go
on. Fortunately, the night is warm, and I've got this cloak for you."

"And for yourself?" Her voice was very low and quiet, or perhaps it
seemed so because here, in the little recess in the great wood, the hush
was most pronounced.

"Me?" he laughed. "You seem to forget I'm one of the happy brotherhood
that just drop down anywhere. Shouldn't know what to do with a silk
eiderdown if I had one."

His gaiety sounded rather forced. She was silent and the quietude
seemed oppressive. The girl leaned back to a great tree trunk and looked
up. The sky wore an ocher hue against which the branches quivered in
zigzags of blackness. Mr. Heatherbloom moved apart to watch, but still
he neither saw nor heard sign of any one drawing near. The sad ocher
merged into a somber blue; the stars came out, one by one, then in
shoals. She could hardly see him now, so fast had the tropical night
descended, but she heard his step, returning.

"Quite certain there's no danger," he reassured her. "Went back a way."

"Thank you," she said. And added: "For all."

"Betty." The stars twinkled madly. Pulsating waves seemed to vibrate in
the air. A moment he continued to stare into the darkness, then again
turned. He had not seen how the girl's hand had suddenly closed, and her
slender form had swayed. As restlessly he resumed his sentinel's duty,
Sonia Turgeinov's last words once more recurred to him. How often had
he thought of them that long afternoon, and wondered who was the one the
young girl would now shortly be free to turn to? There had been many in
the past who had sought her favor. Perhaps the unknown was one of these;
or, more likely, one of the newer many that had arisen, no doubt, since,
in the gayer larger world of New York, or the continent. Betty
Dalrymple's manner at the Russian woman's words indicated that the
latter had--how Mr. Heatherbloom could not imagine--hit upon a great
kernel of truth. Again, in fancy, he saw on her cheek that swift flush
of warm blood. Lucky, thrice lucky, the man who had caused it! Softly
Mr. Heatherbloom moved nearer.

Was she sleeping? He, himself, felt too fagged to sleep. Like Psyche, in
the glade, she was covered all with starlight. He ventured closer, bent
over; the widely opened eyes looked suddenly into his.

"The woman told me you had nothing to do with it--that plot of hers and
the prince," she said slowly. "I know now why you were on the boat,
and--all the rest--what it meant for me, your being there."

"You know, then"--embarrassed--"the awful mess I made of it all--"

"You dared a great deal," she said softly.

"And came an awful cropper!"

She did not answer directly. "At first Francois was most reluctant to
risk going with me," she went on. "I thought it odd, at the time, he
should change so suddenly, become so brave. Now I understand, at least,
a little--in a general way. I have been over-quick to think evil of you,
ever since we met again. Perhaps, in the past, too"--slowly--"I have
been--"

"Betty!" he cried uneasily, and seemed about once more to move away,
when--

"Don't go," she said. "I'll not talk if you command me not to. You've
been the master to-day, you know," with subtle accent.

"Have I?" His voice showed evidence of distress. "I didn't really
mean--it was necessary," he ended firmly.

"Of course it was," said the girl. Her accent conveyed no note of
displeasure. Profile-wise he saw her face now--the young moon beyond.
"Don't think I'm blaming you. I'm not quite so hard, perhaps, as I once
was." Mr. Heatherbloom stood back a little farther in the shadow.
"Maybe, my poor little standard of judgment--" she stopped. "I have been
heedless, heartless, perhaps--"

"You!" he exclaimed. "You!" There was only unfaltering adoration in his
tone--faith, unchanged and unchangeable.

She spoke with a little catch in her voice: "Oh, I haven't cared. I
_did_ flirt with the prince; he accused me of that. He was right. What
did it matter to me, if I made others suffer? I haven't always had so
good a time as I seemed to--" There was a ring of passion in her tone
now. "What happened?" she said, turning on him swiftly. "What has
happened? I want to know all--"

"You mean about the prince?"

"I know all I want to know about him," scornfully. "I mean"--her slender
figure bent toward Mr. Heatherbloom--"you! What has taken place, and
why has it? What does it all mean? Don't you understand?"

He drew in his breath slowly.

"Tell me," she said, still tensely poised, her eyes insistent in the
shadow of her hair.

"Miss Dalrymple--Betty--" he half stammered.

"I want to know," she repeated. There was an inexorable demand in her
gaze. Mr. Heatherbloom straightened. The ordeal?--it must be met--though
that box of Pandora were best left unopened. He could not refuse her
anything; this she asked of him was not easy to grant, however.

"Where shall I begin?" he said uncertainly. "You know a great deal.
There doesn't seem much worth talking about."

"Begin where we left off--"

"Our boy-and-girl engagement? You broke it. Quite right of you!" She
stirred slightly. "It was, at best, but a perfunctory business, half
arranged by our parents to keep the millions together--"

"You never blamed me a little, then?" she asked.

"I--blame you?" wonderingly. "You were as far from me as a star. What
you thought of me, you told me; it was all right--true stuff. Though it
sank in like a blade. I was nothing--worse than nothing. A rich man's
son!--a commonplace type. A good fellow some called me at Monte Carlo,
Paris, elsewhere." He paused. A moment he seemed another
personality--that other one. She saw it anew, caught a glimpse of it
like a flash on a mirror; then he seemed to relapse farther back into
the shadow. "I really don't want to bore you," he said perfunctorily,
raising an uncertain hand to the stray; lock on his forehead.

"You aren't--doing that. Go on." Her eyes were full of questions. "After
I saw you that last time"--he nodded--"you disappeared. No one ever
heard anything of you; again, or knew what had become of you."

"As no one cared," he said with a short laugh, "what did it matter?"

"You were lost to the world--had vanished completely," she went on.
"Sometimes I thought--feared you were dead." Her voice changed.

"Feared?" he repeated. "Ah, yes! You did not want me to go out like
that."

"No," she said slowly. "Not like that."

He looked at her comprehendingly; in spite of the bitter passionate
repudiation of him, she had been a little in earnest--had cared, in the
least, how he went down.

"Why," he said, with a forced smile, "I didn't think you'd bother to
give the matter a thought."

"You had some purpose?" she persisted, studying him. "I see--seem to
feel it now. It all--you--were incomprehensible. I mean, when I saw you
again that first time, in New York, after so long--"

"It was funny, wasn't it?" he said with rather strained lightness. "The
Chariot of Concord--_What's the Matter with Mother_?--the gaping or
jibing crowd--then you, going by--"

Her eyelids drooped; he stood now erect and motionless; in spite of the
determination to maintain that matter-of-fact pose, visions appeared
momentarily in his eyes. The glamour of the instant he had referred to
caught him. All he had felt then at the unexpected sight of
her--beautiful, far-away--returned to him. She was near now, but still
immeasurably distant. He pulled himself together; he hadn't explained
very much yet. He was forced to go on; her eyes once more seemed to draw
the story from him.

"Yes; I had some purpose in going away like that. The idea came to me at
the sanatorium, when I was about 'all in'. They'd managed to keep the
drugs and the drink from me, and one day I seemed to wake up and realize
I hadn't ever really lived. Just been a tail-ender who had 'gone the
pace'. Hadn't even had a beginning. Was it too late to start over again?
Probably." His voice came in crisp accents. "But it was a last chance--a
feeble one--a straw to the drowning," he laughed. "That sounds absurd
to you but I don't know how to explain it better."

"No; it doesn't sound absurd," she said.

"The idea of mine?--how to carry it out? Ways and means were not hard to
find. I went to"--he mentioned a name--"an old friend of my father's. He
thought I was a fool," bruskly, "but in the end he approved, or seemed
to. Anyhow, I persuaded him to take all my bonds, securities and the
rest of (for me) cursed stuff. At the end of a certain time, if I wanted
back the few millions I hadn't yet run through, he was to give them to
me, minus commissions, wage, etc."

"You mean," said the girl, "that was the way you took to go back to the
beginning, as you call it?" Her eyes were like stars. "You practically
gave away all your money so as to start by yourself."

"How could I start with it?" he asked, with a faint smile. "Don't you
see, Betty"--in a momentary eagerness he forgot himself--"there couldn't
be any compromising? Besides, it came to me--you will laugh"--she did
not laugh--"that some day, somewhere else, if not here, I'd have to make
that beginning, to be something myself. Remember that old Hindu fellow
with a red turban who sat on your front lawn, beneath the palms, and had
the women gathered around him in a kind of hypnotic state? He said
something like that--I thought him an old fakir at the time. He used a
lot of flowery language, but I guess, boiled down, it meant start at the
bottom of the ladder. Build yourself up, the way my father did," with a
certain wistful pride. "You remember him?"

Her head moved. "Fine looking, wasn't he?" ruminatively. "He got there
with his hands and brains, and honestly. While I hadn't ever used
either. I hope," he broke off, "all this doesn't sound like preaching."

"No," she said.

An instant his gaze lingered on her. "You're sleepy now," he spoke
suddenly.

"No, I am not. You found it a little hard, at first?"

"A little. When a man is relaxed and the reaction is on him--" He
stopped.

"Tell me--tell me all," she breathed. "Every bit of it, Harry."

His lips twitched. To hear his almost forgotten name spoken again by
her! A moment he seemed to waver. Temptation of violet eyes; wonder of
the rapt face! Oh, that he might catch her in his arms, claim her anew;
this time for all time! But again he mastered himself and went on
succinctly, as quickly as possible. Between the lines, however, the girl
might read the record of struggles which was very real to her. He had
reverted "to the beginning" with poor tools and most scanty experience.
And there was that other fight that made it a double fight, the fiercer
conflict with self. Hunger, privation, want, which she might divine,
though he did not speak of them, became as lesser details. She listened
enrapt.

"I guess that's about all," he said at last.

She continued to look at him, his features, clear-cut in the white
light. "And you didn't ever really go back--to undo it all?"

"Once I did go back to 'Frisco"--he told her of the relapse with cold
candor--"out at heels, and ready to give up. I wanted the millions. They
were gone."

"You mean, lost?"

"Yes; he had speculated; was dead. Poor fellow!"

"You say that? And you have never tried to get any of the money back?"

"Fortunately, he died bankrupt," said Mr. Heatherbloom calmly.

"And you failed to show the world he was a--thief?" Something in the
word seared her.

"What was the use? He left a wife and children. Besides, he really
served me by what the world would call robbing me. I _had_ to continue
at the beginning. It was the foot of the ladder, all right," he added.

Her face showed no answering gaiety. "You are going to amount to a great
deal some day," she said. "I think very few of us in this world find
ourselves," she added slowly.

"Perhaps some don't have to hunt so hard as others," observed Mr.
Heatherbloom.

"Don't they?" Her lips wore an odd little smile.

He threw back his shoulders. "Good night, now. You are very tired, I
know."

She put out her hand. He took it--how soft and small and cold! The
seconds were throbbing hours; he couldn't release it, at once. The
little fingers grew warmer--warmer in his palm--their very pulsations
seemed throbbing with his. Suddenly he dropped her hand.

"Good night," he said quickly.

He remembered he was nothing to her--that they would soon part for ever.

"Good night," she answered softly.

Then, silence.

CHAPTER XXIV

AN EXPLANATION

Morn came. They had heard or seen nothing of the prince and his men. Mr.
Heatherbloom walked back for a cold plunge in a stream that had
whispered not far from their camping spot throughout the night. He and
Betty Dalrymple breakfasted together on an old log; it wasn't much of a
meal--a few crackers and crumbs that were left--but neither appeared to
mind the meagerness of the fare. With much gaiety (the dawn seemed to
have brought with it a special allegrezza of its own) she insisted upon
a fair and equitable division of their scanty store, even to the
apportioning of the crumbs into two equal piles. Then, prodigal-handed
for a castaway who knew not where her next meal might come from, she
tossed a bit or two to the birds, and was rewarded by a song.

All this seemed very wonderful to Mr. Heatherbloom; there had never
before been such a breakfast; compared to it, the _dejeuner a la
fourchette_ of a Durand or a Foyot was as starvation fare. It was
surprising how beautiful the dark places of the night before looked now;
daylight metamorphosed the spot into a sylvan fairyland. Mr.
Heatherbloom could have lingered there indefinitely. The soft moss wooed
him, somewhat aweary with world contact; she filled his eyes. The faint
shadowy lines beneath hers which he had noted at the dawn had now
vanished; the same sun-god that ordered the forest flowers to lift their
gay heads commanded the rosebuds to unfold their bright petals on her
cheeks. Her lips were as red berries; the cobwebs, behind, alight with
sunshine, gleamed no more than the tossed golden hair. She had striven
as best she might with the last, not entirely to her own satisfaction
but completely to Mr. Heatherbloom's. His untutored masculine sense
rather gloried in the unconventionally of a superfluous tangle or two;
he found her most charming with a few rents in her gown from branch or
brier. They seemed to establish a new bond of camaraderie, to make
blithe appeal to his nomadic soul. It was as if fate had directed her
footsteps until they had touched and lingered on the outer circle of his
vagabondage. Both seemed to have forgotten all about his excellency.

"Rested?" queried Mr. Heatherbloom.

"Quite," she answered. There was no trace of weariness in her voice.
"And you?"

"Ditto," he laughed. Then, more gravely, "You see, I fell asleep while
watching," he confessed.

"I'm glad."

"You'd make a lenient commanding officer. Shall we go on?"

"Where?"

"I don't exactly know," he confessed.

"That's lovely." Then, tentatively, "It's nice here."

"Fine," he assented. There was no hardness in the violet eyes as they
rested on him. He did not pause to analyze the miracle; he only
accepted it. A moment he yielded to the temptation of the lotus-eater
and continued to luxuriate in the lap of Arcadia. Then he bestirred
himself uneasily; it was not sufficient just to breathe in the golden
gladness of the moment. "Yes; it's fine," he repeated, "only you see--"

"Of course!" she said with a little sigh, and rose. "_I_ see you are
going to be very domineering, the way you were yesterday."

"I? Domineering?"

"Weren't you?" she demanded, looking at him from beneath long lashes.

"I'm sure I didn't intend--" He stopped for she was laughing at him.
They went on and her mood continued to puzzle him. Never had he seen her
so blithe, so gay. She waved her hand back at the woodland spot.
"Good-by," she said.

Then they came upon the little town suddenly--so suddenly that both
appeared bewildered. Only a hillock had separated them from the sight of
it the night before. They looked and looked. It lay beneath an upward
sweep of land, in a cosy indenture of a great circle that swept far
around and away, fringed with cocoanut trees. Small wisps or corkscrews
of smoke defiled the blue of the sky; a wharf, with a steamer at the
end, obtruded abruptly upon the curve of the shore. Mr. Heatherbloom
regarded the boat--a link from Arcadia to the mundane world. He should
have been glad but he didn't seem overwhelmed at the sight; he stood
very still. He hardly felt her hand on his sleeve; the girl's eyes were
full of sparkles.

"What luck!" he said at length, his voice low and somewhat more formal.

"Isn't it?" she answered. And drawing in her breath--"I can scarcely,
believe it."

"It's there all right." He spoke slowly. "Come." And they went down. A
colored worker in the fields stared at them, but Betty nodded gaily, and
asked what town it was and the name of the island. He told them, growing
wonderment in his gaze. How could they be here and not know that; where
had they come from? To him they were as mysterious as two visitants
from Mars. Regardless of the effect they produced on the dusky toiler
they walked on. The island proved to be larger than they had thought and
commercially important. They had, the day before, but crossed a neck of
it.

Soon now they reached the verge of the town and stood on its main artery
of traffic; the cobblestone pavement resounded with the rattling of
carts and rough native vehicles. At a curb stood a dilapidated public
conveyance to which was attached a horse of harmoniously antique aspect.
Miss Dalrymple got in and Mr. Heatherbloom took his place at her side.

"The cable office," said the girl briefly, whereupon a lad of mixed
ancestry began to whack energetically the protuberant ribs of the drowsy
steed. It woke him and they clattered down the narrow way. Mr.
Heatherbloom leaned back, his gaze straight ahead, but Betty Dalrymple
looked around with interest at the people of divers shades and hues,
and, for the most part, in costumes of varying degrees of picturesque
originality. After having narrowly escaped running over a small
proportion of the juvenile colored population overflowing from odd
little shops and houses, they reached the transportable zinc shed that
served as a cable office. Here Miss Dalrymple indited rapidly a most
voluminous message, paid the clerk in a businesslike manner, and,
unmindful of his amazed expression as he read what she had written,
tranquilly re-entered the carriage.

"Miss Van Rolsen will be relieved when she gets that," observed Mr.
Heatherbloom mechanically. "It'll be a happy moment for her,"
meditatively.

"And won't she be gladder still when she sees us?" answered the girl
gaily.

The use of the plural slightly disconcerted Mr. Heatherbloom for the
moment, but he dismissed it as an inadvertence. "Where now?" he asked.

"Where do you think?" with dancing eyes. "Shopping, of course.
Fortunately I drew plenty of money before starting for California."

An hour or so later Mr. Heatherbloom sat with parcels in his arms and
bundles galore around him. He accepted the situation gracefully; indeed,
displayed an almost tender solicitude for those especial packages she
herself handed him.

"What next?" She had at length exhausted the somewhat limited resources
of the thoroughfare.

"Drive to the best hotel," was her command. She laughed at the picture
he made, or at something in her own thoughts. She had unconsciously
assumed toward him a manner in the least proprietary, but if he noticed
he did not resent it. They went faster; her voice was a low thread of
music running through an accompaniment of crashing dissonances. She wore
a hat now--the best she could find. He considered it most "fetching",
but her thrilling derision overwhelmed his expression of opinion. Though
the way was so rough that they were occasionally thrown rather violently
one against another, they arrived in high spirits at their destination,
Mr. Heatherbloom having performed the commendable feat of preserving
intact the parcels and bundles en route. In the "best hotel" they were
given two rooms overlooking a courtyard redolent with orchids. The girl
nodded a brief farewell to him from the threshold of her room.

"In about an hour, please, come back."

He did, brushed up and with shoes shined, as presentable as possible.
She wore the same gown, but the sundry rents were mended and there had
occurred other changes he could divine rather than define. He brought
her information--not agreeable, he said. He was very sorry, but the next
boat for the United States would not call at the island for a fortnight.
He expected her to show dismay, but she received the news with
commendable fortitude, if not resignation.

"I can cable aunt every day--so there can be no cause for worry--and she
will only be the more pleased when we actually do arrive."

Again the plural! And once more that prophetic picture which included
Mr. Heatherbloom within the pale of the venerable and austere Miss Van
Rolsen's jubilation. He looked embarrassed but said nothing. During the
hour of his exclusion from Miss Dalrymple's company he had sallied forth
on a small but necessary financial errand of his own. Francois had
placed in the basket of biscuits a revolver, and this latter Mr.
Heatherbloom, rightfully construing it as his own personal property in
lieu of the weapon his excellency had deprived him of, had exchanged for
a bit of cardboard and a greenback. The last named, reinforced by the
small amount Mr. Heatherbloom had left upon reaching the _Nevski_ and of
which the prince had not deprived him, would relieve his necessities for
the moment. After that? Well, he would take up the problem presently; he
had no time for it now. This day, at least, should be consecrated to
Betty Dalrymple.

He had an inkling that on the morrow he would see less of her; the
girl's story would get around. The American consul would call and tender
his services. The governor, too, Sir Charles Somebody, whose palatial
residence looked down on the town from the side of the hill, might be
expected to become officially and paternally interested. The little
cable office, despite rules and regulations, could not long retain its
prodigious secret; moreover Mr. Heatherbloom, in an absent-minded
moment, had inscribed Miss Dalrymple's name on the register, or
visitors' book. He recalled how the eyes of the old mammy, the
proprietress, had fairly rolled with curiosity. No; he would not be
permitted long to have her to himself, he ruminated; better make the
most of his opportunity now. Besides, his present monetary position
forbade his presence for more than a day or two at the "best hotel"; its
rates were for him distinctly prohibitive. The exigencies of financial
differences would soon separate them; she could draw on Miss Van Rolsen
for thousands; he had but five dollars and twelve cents--or was it
thirteen?--to his name.

He kept these reflections, however, to himself and continued to bask in
the sunshine of a fool's paradise. They rode, walked and explored. They
went to the fruit and the flower market. He bought her a great bunch of
flowers, and she not only took it but wore it. For a time he stepped on
air; his flowers constituted a fine splash of color on the girl's gown.
Her heart beat beneath them; the thought was as wine.

"Shall we?" They had partaken of tea (or nectar) in a small shop, and
now she paused before that most modern manifestation of a restless
civilization, a begilded, over-ornamented nickelodeon. "Think of finding
one of them way off here! Just as at home!"

"More extraordinary your wanting to go in!" he laughed.

"Why not? It will be an experience."

They entered; the place was half filled and they took seats toward the
back. There were films, and songs of the usual character; it was very
gay. Gurgles of merriment from Creoles and darkies were heard on all
sides. They, too, yielded freely, gladly to its infection. Happy
Creoles! happy darkies! happy Betty Dalrymple and Horatio
Heatherbloom--heiress and outcast! There is a democracy in laughter; yon
darky smiled at Miss Dalrymple, while Mr. Heatherbloom laughed with
her, with them, and the world. For was she not near, right there by his
side? To Mr. Heatherbloom the tinsel palace had become a temple of
felicity and wonder. Suddenly he started and his face changed.

"The Great Diamond Robbery," one of the films, was in progress, and
there, depicted on the canvas, amid many figures, he saw himself, the
most pronounced in that realistic group. And Betty Dalrymple saw the
semblance of him, also, for she gave a slight gasp and sat more erect.
In the moving picture he was running away from a crowd.

"Shall--shall we go?" The face of the flesh-and-blood Mr. Heatherbloom
was very red; he looked toward the door.

She did not answer; her eyes continued bent straight before her, and she
saw the whole quick scene of the drama unfolded. Then the street became
cleared, the fleeing figure had turned a corner as an automobile, not
engaged for the performance, came around it and went by. A big car--her
own--she was in it. She caught, like a flash on the canvas, a glimpse of
herself looking around; then the scene came to an end. Betty Dalrymple
laughed--a little hysterically.

"Oh," she said. "Oh, oh!"

He became, if possible, redder.

"Oh," she repeated. Then, "Why"--with eyes full of mingled tragedy and
comedy--"did you not explain it all that day, when--"

Of course she knew even as she spoke why he could not, or would not.

"You had cause to think so many things," he murmured.

"But that! How--how strange! I saw you, and--"

He laughed. "And the manager told me I was a 'rotten bad' actor! Those
were his words; not very elegant. But I believed him, until now--"

"Say something harsh and hard to me," she whispered, almost fiercely. "I
deserve it."

The violet eyes were passionate. "Betty!" he exclaimed wonderingly.

"Do you call that harsh?" she demanded mockingly. "You--you should be
cross with me--scold me--punish me--"

"Well," he said calmly, "you haven't believed _that_, lately, anyhow."

"No; I just set it aside as something incomprehensible, not to be
thought of, or to be considered any more. I believed in you, with all my
soul, since last night--a good deal before that, yes, yes!--in my
innermost heart! You believe me, don't you?"

He answered, he hardly knew what. Some one was singing _Put on Your Old
Gray Bonnet_. Her shoulder touched his arm and lingered there. "Oh, my
dear!" she was saying to herself. The pianist banged; the vocalist
bawled, while Mr. Heatherbloom sat in ecstasy.

CHAPTER XXV

GAIETIES

They took her away the next day. The governor--Sir Charles Somebody--had
heard of her and came and claimed her. His lady--portly,
majestic--arrived with him. Their carriage was the finest on the island
and their horses were the best. The coachman and footman were covered
with the most approved paraphernalia and always constituted an unending
source of wonder and admiration for the natives. The latter gathered in
front of the best hotel on this occasion; they did not quite know what
was taking place, but the sight of the big carriage there drew them
about like flies.

Mr. Heatherbloom did not linger to speculate or to survey. He had seen
but not spoken to Miss Dalrymple that morning; she had smiled at him
across space, behind orchids. A moment or two he had sat dreaming how
fine it would be to live for ever in such a courtyard, with Betty
Dalrymple's face on the other side, then the hubbub below disturbed and
dispelled his reflections. He went down to investigate and to retreat.
Sir Charles and his lady were in the hall; they seemed to charge the
entire hostelry with their presence. Mr. Heatherbloom walked
contemplatively out and down the street.

His mind, with a little encouragement, would have flitted back to
courtyards and orchids, but he forced it along less fanciful lines.
Mundane considerations were imperative and courtyards were a luxury of
the rich. He calculated that, after paying his bill at the best hotel,
he wouldn't have much more than half a dollar, or two English shillings,
left. The situation demanded calm practical reflection; he strove to
bestow upon it the necessary measure of orderly thinking. Yesterday,
with its nickelodeon, or temple of wonder, was yesterday; to-day, with
its problems, was to-day. He had lingered in the happy valley, or
kingdom of Micomicon, but the carriage was before the door--the golden
chariot had come to bear away the beautiful princess.

Mr. Heatherbloom asked for employment at the wharf and got it. The
supercargo of the boat, loading there, had been indulging, not wisely
but too well, in "green swizzles", an insidious drink of the country,
and, when last seen was oblivious to the world. A red-haired mate, with
superfluous utterance, informed the applicant he could come that
afternoon and temporarily essay the delinquent one's duties, checking up
the bags of merchandise and bananas the natives were bringing aboard,
and otherwise making himself useful. Mr. Heatherbloom tendered his
thanks and departed.

He wandered aimlessly for a while, but the charm of the town had
vanished; he gazed with no interest upon quaint bits most attractive
yesterday, and stolidly regarded now those happy faces he had liked so
much but a short time before. He shook himself; this would not do; but
the work would soon cure him of vain imaginings.

He returned to the hotel and settled with the landlady. Betty Dalrymple
was gone. Of course, there could be no denying Sir Charles and his lady;
one of the young girl's place and position in the world could not, with
reason or good grace, refuse the governor's hospitality. Mr.
Heatherbloom was hardly a suitable chaperon. But she had left a hasty
and altogether charming note for him which he read the last few moments
he spent in the courtyard room. "Come soon;" that was the substance of
it. What more could mortal have asked? Mr. Heatherbloom gazed at an
empty window where he had last seen her (had they been there only
twenty-four hours?), then he took a bit of painting on ivory from his
pocket and wrapped the message around it. Before noon he had engaged
cheap but neat lodgings at the home of an old negro woman.

Several days passed. After waiting in vain for him to call at the
governor's mansion, Betty Dalrymple drove herself to the hotel; here she
learned that he had gone without leaving an address; a message from Sir
Charles for Mr. Heatherbloom, formally offering to put the latter up at
government house, had not been delivered. Mr. Heatherbloom had failed to
call for his mail.

"Really, my dear, such solicitude!" murmured the governor's wife, when
Miss Dalrymple came out of the hotel. "An ordinary secret-service man,
too."

"Oh, no; not an ordinary one," said the girl a little confusedly. She
had not taken the liberty of speaking of Mr. Heatherbloom's private
affairs to her august hosts. His true name, or his story, were his to
reveal when or where he saw fit. In taking her into his confidence he
had sealed her lips until such time as she had his permission to speak.

"Well, don't worry about the man," observed the elder lady rather
loftily. "There has been a big reward offered, of course, and he'll
appear in due time to claim it."

"He'll not," began Betty Dalrymple indignantly, and stopped.

She had been obliged to explain in some way Mr. Heatherbloom's presence,
and the subterfuge he had himself employed toward her on the _Nevski_
had been the only one that occurred to her. A brave secret-service
officer who had aided her--that's what Mr. Heatherbloom was to the
governor and his better half. Hence the distinct formality of Sir
Charles' note to Mr. Heatherbloom, indited at Miss Dalrymple's special
request and somewhat against the good baronet's own secret judgment. A
police agent may be valiant as a lion, but he is not a gentleman.

Something of this axiomatic truth the excellent hosts strove to instill
by means, more or less subtle, in the mind of their young guest; but she
clung with odd tenacity to her own ingenuous point of view. Whereupon
Sir Charles figuratively shrugged. Reprehensible democracy of the new
world! She, with the perversity of American womankind, actually spoke
of, and, no doubt, desired to treat the fellow as an equal.

She found him one morning, a day or two later. She came down to the
wharf, alone, and on foot. He held a note-book and pencil, but that he
had not been above lending physical assistance, on occasion, to the
natives bearing bags and other merchandise, was evident from his hands
which were grimy as a stevedore's. His shirt was open at the throat, and
his face, too, bore marks of toil. Betty Dalrymple stepped impetuously
toward him; she looked as fresh as a flower, and held out a hand gloved
in immaculate white.

"Dare I?" he laughed.

"If you don't!" Her eyes dared him not to take it.

He looked at the hand, such a delicate thing, and seemed still in the
least uncertain; then his fingers closed on it.

"You see I managed to find you," she said. "Who is that man who stares
so?"

"That," answered Mr. Heatherbloom smiling, "is my boss."

"Well," she observed, "I don't like his face."

"Some of the darkies he's knocked down share, I believe, your opinion,"
he laughed. "Excuse me a moment." And Mr. Heatherbloom stepped to the
dumfounded person in question, handed him the note-book and pencil,
with a request to keep tab for a moment, and then returned to the girl.
"Now, I'm at your command," he said with a smile.

"Suppose we take a walk?" she suggested. "We can talk better if we do."

A moment Mr. Heatherbloom wavered. "Sorry," he then said, "but I've
promised to stick by the job. You see the old tub sails to-morrow for
South America and it'll be a task to get her loaded before night. Some
of the hands, as well as the supercargo, have been bowled over by
fire-water."

"I see." There was a strained look about her lips. Before them heavily
laden negroes and a few sailors passed and repassed. The burly
red-headed mate often looked at her; amazement and curiosity were
depicted on his features; he almost forgot the duties Mr. Heatherbloom
had, for a brief interval, thrust upon him. Betty Dalrymple, however,
had ceased to observe him; he, the others, no longer existed for her.
She saw only Mr. Heatherbloom now; what he said, she knew he meant; she
realized with an odd thrill of mingled admiration and pain that even she
could not cause him to change his mind. He would "stick to his job",
because he had said he would.

"I'm interrupting, I fear," she said, a feeling of strange humility
sweeping over her. "When is your day's work done?"

"About six, I expect."

"The governor gives a ball for me to-night," she said.

"Excellent. All the elite of the port will be there, and," with slow
meditative accent, "I can imagine how you'll look!"

"Can you?" she asked, bending somewhat nearer.

"Yes." His gaze was straight ahead.

The white glove stole toward the black hand. "Why don't you come?"

"I?" He stared.

"Yes; the governor has sent you an invitation. He thinks you a
secret-service officer."

Mr. Heatherbloom continued to look at her; then he glanced toward the
boat. Suddenly his hand closed; he hardly realized the white glove was
in it. "I'll do it, Betty," he exclaimed. "That is, if I can. And--there
may be a way. Yes; there will be."

"You mean, you may be able to rent them?" With a sparkle in her glance.

"Exactly," he answered gaily, recklessly.

Both laughed. Then her expression changed; she suppressed an
exclamation, but gently withdrew her hand.

"How many dances will you give me, Betty?" He had not even noticed that
he had hurt her; his voice was low and eager.

"Ask and see," she said merrily, and went. But outside the shed, she
stretched her crushed fingers; he was very strong; he had spoiled a new
pair of gloves; she did not, however, seem greatly to mind. As for Mr.
Heatherbloom, for the balance of the day he plunged into his task with
the energy of an Antaeus.

* * * * *

Sir Charles regarded rather curiously that night one of his guests who
arrived late. Mr. Heatherbloom's evening garments were not a Poole fit,
and his white gloves, though white enough, had obviously been used and
cleaned often. But the host observed, also, that Mr. Heatherbloom held
himself well, said just the right thing to the hostess, and moved
through the assemblage with quite the proper poise. He didn't look
bored, neither did he appear overimpressed by the almost palatial
elegance of the ball-room. He even managed to suppress any outward signs
of elation at the sight of Miss Dalrymple with whom he had but the
opportunity for a word or two, at first. Naturally the center of
attraction, the young girl found herself forced to dance often. He, too,
whirled around with others, just whom, he did not know; he dipped into
Terpsichorean gaiety to escape the dowager's inquisition regarding that
haphazard flight from the _Nevski_ and other details he did not wish to
converse about. But his turn came with Betty at last, and sooner than he
had reason to expect.

"Ours is the next?" she said, passing him.

Was it? He had ventured to write his name thrice on her card, but
neither of the dances he had claimed was the next.

"I put your name down for this one myself," she confessed to him a few
moments later. "Do you mind?"

Did he? The evening wore away but too soon; he held her to him a little
while, only over-quickly to be obliged to yield her to another. And now,
after a third period of waiting, the time came for their last dance. He
went for it as soon as the number preceding was over; he wanted, not
only to miss none of it, but he hungered to snatch all the prelude he
could. The conventional-looking young personage she had been dancing
with regarded the approaching Mr. Heatherbloom rather resentfully, but
he moved straight as an arrow for her. At once she stepped toward him,
and he soon found himself walking with her across the smooth shining
floor, on into the great conservatory. Here were soft shadows and
wondrous perfumes. Mr. Heatherbloom breathed deeply.

"But a few days more, and we're en route for home." It was the girl who
spoke first--lightly, gaily--though there was a thrill in her tones.

He started and did not answer at once. "That will be great, won't it?"
His voice, too, was light, but it did not seem so spontaneously glad as
her own.

"You _are_ pleased, aren't you?" she said suddenly.

"Pleased? Of course!"

A brief period of inexplicable constraint! He looked at one of her hands
resting on the edge of a great vase--at a flower she held in her
fingers.

"May I?" he said, and just touched it.

"Of course!" she laughed. "A modest request, after all you've done for
me!"

Her fingers placed it in the rented coat.

"There!" she murmured in a matter-of-fact tone, stepping back.

His face, turned to the light, appeared paler; his eyes looked
studiously beyond her.

"It will be jolly on the steamer, won't it?" she went on.

"Jolly? Oh, yes," he assented, with false enthusiasm, when a black and
white apparition appeared before them, no less a person than Sir
Charles.

The governor, as the bearer of particular news, had been looking for
her. Mr. Heatherbloom hardly appreciated the preamble or the importance
of what followed. Sir Charles imparted a bit of confidential information
they were not to breathe to any one until he had verified the
particulars. Word had just been brought to him that the _Nevski_ had
gone on a reef near a neighboring island and was a total wreck. A
passing steamer had stood by, taken off the prince and his crew and
landed them. Still Mr. Heatherbloom but vaguely heard; he felt little
interest at the moment in his excellency or his boat. Betty Dalrymple's
face, however, showed less indifference to this startling intelligence.

"The _Nevski_ a wreck?" she murmured.

"It must all seem like an evil dream to you now," Mr. Heatherbloom spoke
absently. "Your having ever been on her!"

"Not all an evil one," she answered. They stood again on the ball-room
floor. "Much good has come from it. I no longer hate the prince. I only
blame myself a great deal for many things--"

He seemed to hear only her first words. "'Good come from it?' I don't
understand."

"But for the _Nevski_, and what happened to me, I should have gone on
thinking, as I did, about you."

"And--would that have made such a difference?" quickly.

She raised her eyes. "What do you think?"

"Betty!"

The music had begun. He who had heretofore danced perfectly, now guided
wildly.

"Take care!" she whispered.

But discretion seemed to have left him; he spoke he knew not what--wild
mad words that would not be suppressed. They came in contact with
another couple and were brought to an abrupt stop. Flaming poppies shone
on her cheeks; her eyes were brightly beaming. But she laughed and they
went on. He swept her out of the crowded ball-room now, on to the broad
veranda where a few other couples also moved in the starlight. On her
curved lips a smile rested; it seemed to draw his head lower.

"Betty, do you mean it?" Again the words were wrested from him, would
come. "What your eyes said just now?"

She lifted them again, gladly, freely--not only that--

"Yes; I mean it--mean it," said her lips. "Of course! Foolish boy! I
have long meant it--"

"Long?" he cried.

"You heard what the Russian woman said--"

"About there being some one? Then it was--"

"Guess." The sweet laughing lips were close; his swept them
passionately. He found the answer; the world seemed to go round.

But later, that night, there was no joy on Mr. Heatherbloom's face. In
his room in the old negro woman's house, he indited a letter. It was
brought to Betty Dalrymple the next morning as the early sunshine
entered her chamber overlooking the governor's park.

"Darling: Forgive me. I am sailing at dawn on the old tub, for South
America--"

Here the note fell from the girl's hand. Long she looked out of the
window. Then she went back to the bit of paper, took it and held it
against her breast before she again read. She seemed to know now what
would be in it; the strange depression that had come over her after he
had left last night was accounted for. Of course, he would not go back
to New York with her; he would, or could, accept nothing, in the way she
wished, from her or her aunt. It was necessary for him still to be Mr.
Heatherbloom; he had not yet "found himself" fully; the beginning he had
spoken of was only begun. The influential friends of his father in the
financial world had become impossible aids; he had to continue as he had
planned, to go his own way, and his, alone. It would have been easy for
him, as his father's son and the prospective nephew of the influential
Miss Van Rolsen, to have obtained one of those large salaried positions,
or "sinecures", with little to do. But that would be only beginning at
the end once more.

Again she essayed to read. The letter would have been a little
incomprehensible to any one except herself, but she understood. There
were three "darlings"; inexcusable tautology! She kissed them all, but
she kissed oftenest the end: "You will forgive me for forgetting
myself--God knows I didn't intend to--and you will wait; have faith? It
is much to ask--too much; but if you will, I think my father's son and
he whom you have honored by caring for, may yet prove a little worthy--"

The words brought a sob to her throat; she threw herself back on the
bed. "A little?" she cried, still holding the note tight in her hand.
But after a spell of weeping, once more she got up and looked out of the
window. The sunshine was very bright, the birds sang to her. Did she
take heart a little? A great wave of sadness bowed her down, but
courage, too, began to revive in her.

"Have faith?" She looked up at the sky; she would do as he asked--unto
the grave, if need be. Then, very quietly, she dressed and went
down-stairs.

EPILOGUE

It is very gay at the Hermitage, in Moscow, just after Easter, and so it
was natural that Sonia Turgeinov should have been there on a certain
bright afternoon some three years later. The theater, at which she once
more appeared, was closed for the afternoon, and at this season
following Holy Week and fasting, fashionables and others were wont to
congregate in the spacious cafe and grounds, where a superb orchestra
discourses classical or dashing selections. The musicians played now an
American air.

"Some one at a table out there on the balcony sent a request by the head
waiter for it," said a member of Sonia Turgeinov's party--a Parisian
artist, not long in Moscow.

"An American, no doubt," she answered absently, sipping her wine. The
three years had treated her kindly; the few outward changes could be
superficially enumerated: A little more embonpoint; a tendency toward a
slight drooping at the corners of the mobile lips, and moments when the
shadows seemed to stay rather longer in the deep eyes.

"That style of music should appeal to you, Madam," observed the
Frenchman. "You who have been among those favored artists to visit the
land of the free. Did you have to play in a tent, and were you literally
showered with gold?"

"Both," she laughed. "It is a land of many surprises."

"I have heard _es ist alles_ 'the almighty dollar'," said a musician
from Berlin, one of the gay company.

"Exaggeration, _mein Herr_!" she retorted, with a wave of the hand. "It
is also a _komischer romantischer_ land." For a moment she seemed
thinking.

"Isn't that his excellency, Prince Boris Strogareff?" inquired abruptly
a young man with a beyond-the-Volga physiognomy.

She started. "The prince?" An odd look came into her eyes. "Do you
believe in telepathic waves, Monsieur?" she said gaily to the Frenchman.

"Not to any great extent, Madam. _Mais pourquoi?"_

"Nothing. But I don't see this prince you speak of."

"He has disappeared now," replied her countryman, a fellow-player
recently come from Odessa. "It is his first dip again into the gaieties
of the world. For several years," with the proud accents of one able to
impart information concerning an important personage, "he has been
living in seclusion on his vast estates near the Caspian Sea--ruling a
kingdom greater than many a European principality. But have you never
met the prince?" To Sonia Turgeinov. "He used to be a patron of the
arts, according to report, before the sad accident that befell him."

"I think," observed Sonia Turgeinov, with brows bent as if striving to
recollect, "I did meet him once. But a poor actress is forced to meet
so many princes and nobles, nowadays," she laughed, "that--"

"True! Only one would not easily forget the prince, the handsomest man
in Asia."

She yawned slightly.

"What was this 'sad accident' you were speaking of, _mein Herr_?
observed the German, with a mind trained to conversational continuity.

"The prince was cruising somewhere and his yacht was wrecked," said the
young Roscius from Odessa. "A number of the crew were drowned; his
excellency, when picked up, was unconscious. A blow on the head from a
falling timber, or from being dashed on the rocks, I'm not sure which.
At any rate, for a long time his life was despaired of, but he recovered
and is as strong and sound as ever. Only, there is a strange sequel; or
not so strange," reflectively, "since cases of its kind are common. The
injury was on his head, as I remarked, and his mind became--"

"Affected, Monsieur?" said the Frenchman. "You mean this great noble of
the steppe is no longer right, mentally?"

"He is one of the keenest satraps in Asia, Monsieur. His brain is as
alert as ever, only he has suffered a complete loss of memory."

Sonia Turgeinov's interest was of a distinctly artificial nature; she
tapped on the floor with her foot; then abruptly arose. "Shan't we go
into the garden for our coffee?" she said. "It is close here."

They got up and walked out. As they did so they passed a couple at one
of the tables on the balcony and a slight exclamation fell from Sonia
Turgeinov's lips. For an instant she exhibited real interest, then
hastening down the steps, she selected a place some distance aside. A
great bunch of flowers was in the center of the table and she moved her
chair behind them.

"You see some one you know, _gnaedige_ Madam?" asked the observant
Teuton.

"A great many people," she answered.

"There's that American over there who asked for the Yankee piece of
music," said the Frenchman, with eyes on the two people Sonia Turgeinov
had started at sight of, a moment before. "_Mon Dieu!_ What charm! What
beauty!"

"_Der Herr Amerikaner?_" blurted the surprised Berliner.

"No--_diable!_ His _belle_ companion!"

"Where?" said Sonia Turgeinov, well knowing. A face that her table
companion regarded, she, too, saw beyond the flowers. The afternoon
sunshine touched the golden hair of her she looked at; the violet eyes
shone with delight upon bizarre details: of the scene--the waiters in
blouses resembling street "white wings" in American cities, the coachmen
outside, big as balloons in their quilted cloaks.

"_Der Herr Amerikaner_ has the passionate eyes of an admirer, a devout
lover," murmured the sentimental musician from Berlin.

"Or an American husband!" said Roscius from Odessa.

"Sometimes!" added the Frenchman cynically.

"I haf met him," observed the _Herr Musikaner_, "at the hotel.
We haf talked together, once or twice. He has been in South
America--Argentine, _ich glaube_--and has made a fortune there. And
madam, his wife, and he are making a grand tour of the world. Their
wedding trip, I believe. _Sie kommt von einer der ersten Familien_--the
Dalrymples. _Der Herr Direktor_ of the Russicher-Chinese bank told me.
He cashes the drafts--_Her Gott_--_nicht kleine!_"

These prosaic details the Frenchman, pictorially occupied, hardly,
heard. "_Mon Dieu_! What a _chapeau_!" he sighed. "No wonder he looks
enchanted at that wonderful creation of the Rue de la Paix."

"He seems quite an exception to some husbands in that respect!" remarked
the Berliner in deep gutturals.

Sonia Turgeinov lighted a cigarette and blew the smoke at the flowers.
There was a resentful cynicism in the act; she leaned back with greater
abandon in her chair. "After all, the unities have been observed," she
said with an odd laugh.

"What unities?" asked Roscius, becoming keen as a young hound on the
scent, at the sound of the trite phrase.

"Oh, I was thinking of a play." Stretching more comfortably. Suddenly
her cigarette waved; behind the flowers, her eyes dilated. Prince Boris
Strogareff was coming down the steps; he passed the American couple they
had been talking about and looked at them. A light of involuntary
admiration shone from his gaze, but there was no recognition in it--only
the instinctive tribute that a man of the world and a gallant Russian is
ever prone to pay at the sight of an unusually charming member of the
other sex. Then, once more impassive--a striking handsome figure--he
moved leisurely down and out of the gardens. The couple, engrossed at
the time in a conversation of some intimate nature or in each other, had
not even seen or noticed the august nobleman.

Sonia Turgeinov drew harder on the cigarette; a laugh welled from her
throat. "Oh, I wouldn't have missed it for worlds!" she said.

Young Roscius with the Tartar eyes stared at her. She threw away the
smoking cylinder.

"I'm off!"

"Why--"

"Has not the curtain descended?" enigmatically.

"I don't see any curtain," said the Frenchman.

"No? But it's there." At the gate, however, once more she paused--to
listen, to laugh.

"_Was jetzt_?" asked the mystified Berliner.

She only shrugged.

The orchestra, having played a few conventional selections after
_Dixie_, had now plunged into _Marching through Georgia_.

As Sonia Turgeinov disappeared through the gate, the golden head
surmounted by the "wonderful _chapeau_", bent toward the clean-cut,
strong-looking face of the young man on the other side of the small
table.

"It's awfully extravagant of you, Harry,--twenty roubles, a tip for
those musicians. But it makes it seem like home, doesn't it?"

"Yes, darling," he answered.

THE END

Book of the day: