Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Leonard Johnson
and PG Distributed Proofreading.
THE BLACK BAG
By LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY THOMAS FOGARTY
TO MY MOTHER
I. DIVERSIONS OF A RUINED GENTLEMAN
II. "AND SOME THERE BE WHO HAVE ADVENTURES THRUST UPON THEM"
III. CALENDAR'S DAUGHTER
IV. 9 FROGNALL STREET, W. C.
V. THE MYSTERY OF A FOUR-WHEELER
VI. "BELOW BRIDGE"
VII. DIVERSIONS OF A RUINED GENTLEMAN--RESUMED
VIII. MADAME L'INTRIGANTE
IX. AGAIN "BELOW BRIDGE"; AND BEYOND
X. DESPERATE MEASURES
XI. OFF THE NORE
XII. PICARESQUE PASSAGES
XIII. A PRIMER OF PROGRESSIVE CRIME
XIV. STRATAGEMS AND SPOILS
XVI. TRAVELS WITH A CHAPERON
XVII. ROGUES AND VAGABONDS
XVIII. ADVENTURERS' LUCK
XIX. i--THE UXBRIDGE ROAD
ii--THE CROWN AND MITRE
iii--THE JOURNEY'S END
THE BLACK BAG
DIVERSIONS OF A RUINED GENTLEMAN
Upon a certain dreary April afternoon in the year of grace, 1906, the
apprehensions of Philip Kirkwood, Esquire, _Artist-peintre_, were enlivened
by the discovery that he was occupying that singularly distressing social
position, which may be summed up succinctly in a phrase through long usage
grown proverbial: "Alone in London." These three words have come to connote
in our understanding so much of human misery, that to Mr. Kirkwood they
seemed to epitomize absolutely, if not happily, the various circumstances
attendant upon the predicament wherein he found himself. Inevitably an
extremist, because of his youth, (he had just turned twenty-five), he
took no count of mitigating matters, and would hotly have resented the
suggestion that his case was anything but altogether deplorable and
That he was not actually at the end of his resources went for nothing; he
held the distinction a quibble, mockingly immaterial,--like the store of
guineas in his pocket, too insignificant for mention when contrasted with
his needs. And his base of supplies, the American city of his nativity,
whence--and not without a glow of pride in his secret heart--he was wont to
register at foreign hostelries, had been arbitrarily cut off from him by
one of those accidents sardonically classified by insurance and express
corporations as Acts of God.
Now to one who has lived all his days serenely in accord with the dictates
of his own sweet will, taking no thought for the morrow, such a situation
naturally seems both appalling and intolerable, at the first blush. It must
be confessed that, to begin with, Kirkwood drew a long and disconsolate
face over his fix. And in that black hour, primitive of its kind in his
brief span, he became conscious of a sinister apparition taking shape at
his elbow--a shade of darkness which, clouting him on the back with a
skeleton hand, croaked hollow salutations in his ear.
"Come, Mr. Kirkwood, come!" its mirthless accents rallied him. "Have you
no welcome for me?--you, who have been permitted to live the quarter of a
century without making my acquaintance? Surely, now, it's high time we were
learning something of one another, you and I!" "But I don't understand,"
returned Kirkwood blankly. "I don't know you--"
"True! But you shall: I am the Shade of Care--"
"Dull Care!" murmured Kirkwood, bewildered and dismayed; for the visitation
had come upon him with little presage and no invitation whatever.
"Dull Care," the Shade assured him. "Dull Care am I--and Care that's
anything but dull, into the bargain: Care that's like a keen pain in your
body, Care that lives a horror in your mind, Care that darkens your days
and flavors with bitter poison all your nights, Care that--"
But Kirkwood would not listen further. Courageously submissive to his
destiny, knowing in his heart that the Shade had come to stay, he yet found
spirit to shake himself with a dogged air, to lift his chin, set the strong
muscles of his jaw, and smile that homely wholesome smile which was his
"Very well," he accepted the irremediable with grim humor; "what must be,
must. I don't pretend to be glad to see you, but--you're free to stay as
long as you find the climate agreeable. I warn you I shan't whine. Lots of
men, hundreds and hundreds of 'em, have slept tight o' nights with you for
bedfellow; if they could grin and bear you, I believe I can."
Now Care mocked him with a sardonic laugh, and sought to tighten upon his
shoulders its bony grasp; but Kirkwood resolutely shrugged it off and went
in search of man's most faithful dumb friend, to wit, his pipe; the which,
when found and filled, he lighted with a spill twisted from the envelope of
a cable message which had been vicariously responsible for his introduction
to the Shade of Care.
"It's about time," he announced, watching the paper blacken and burn in the
grate fire, "that I was doing something to prove my title to a living." And
this was all his valedictory to a vanished competence. "Anyway," he added
hastily, as if fearful lest Care, overhearing, might have read into his
tone a trace of vain repining, "anyway, I'm a sight better off than those
poor devils over there! I really have a great deal to be thankful for, now
that my attention's drawn to it."
For the ensuing few minutes he thought it all over, soberly but with a
stout heart; standing at a window of his bedroom in the Hotel Pless, hands
deep in trouser pockets, pipe fuming voluminously, his gaze wandering out
over a blurred infinitude of wet shining roofs and sooty chimney-pots: all
of London that a lowering drizzle would let him see, and withal by no means
a cheering prospect, nor yet one calculated to offset the disheartening
influence of the indomitable Shade of Care. But the truth is that
Kirkwood's brain comprehended little that his eyes perceived; his thoughts
were with his heart, and that was half a world away and sick with pity
for another and a fairer city, stricken in the flower of her loveliness,
writhing in Promethean agony upon her storied hills.
There came a rapping at the door.
Kirkwood removed the pipe from between his teeth long enough to say "Come
The knob was turned, the door opened. Kirkwood, swinging on one heel,
beheld hesitant upon the threshold a diminutive figure in the livery of the
"Gentleman to see you, sir."
Kirkwood nodded again, smiling. "Show him up, please," he said. But before
the words were fairly out of his mouth a footfall sounded in the corridor,
a hand was placed upon the shoulder of the page, gently but with decision
swinging him out of the way, and a man stepped into the room.
"Mr. Brentwick!" Kirkwood almost shouted, jumping forward to seize his
"My dear boy!" replied the latter. "I'm delighted to see you. 'Got your
note not an hour ago, and came at once--you see!"
"It was mighty good of you. Sit down, please. Here are cigars.... Why, a
moment ago I was the most miserable and lonely mortal on the footstool!"
"I can fancy." The elder man looked up, smiling at Kirkwood from the depths
of his arm-chair, as the latter stood above him, resting an elbow on
the mantel. "The management knows me," he offered explanation of his
unceremonious appearance; "so I took the liberty of following on the heels
of the bellhop, dear boy. And how are you? Why are you in London, enjoying
our abominable spring weather? And why the anxious undertone I detected in
He continued to stare curiously into Kirkwood's face. At a glance, this
Mr. Brentwick was a man of tallish figure and rather slender; with a
countenance thin and flushed a sensitive pink, out of which his eyes shone,
keen, alert, humorous, and a trace wistful behind his glasses. His years
were indeterminate; with the aspect of fifty, the spirit and the verve of
thirty assorted oddly. But his hands were old, delicate, fine and fragile;
and the lips beneath the drooping white mustache at times trembled, almost
imperceptibly, with the generous sentiments that come with mellow age. He
held his back straight and his head with an air--an air that was not a
swagger but the sign-token of seasoned experience in the world. The most
carping could have found no flaw in the quiet taste of his attire. To sum
up, Kirkwood's very good friend--and his only one then in London--Mr.
Brentwick looked and was an English gentleman.
"Why?" he persisted, as the younger man hesitated. "I am here to find out.
To-night I leave for the Continent. In the meantime ..."
"And at midnight I sail for the States," added Kirkwood. "That is mainly
why I wished to see you--to say good-by, for the time."
"You're going home--" A shadow clouded Brentwick's clear eyes.
"To fight it out, shoulder to shoulder with my brethren in adversity."
The cloud lifted. "That is the spirit!" declared the elder man. "For the
moment I did you the injustice to believe that you were running away. But
now I understand. Forgive me.... Pardon, too, the stupidity which I must
lay at the door of my advancing years; to me the thought of you as a
Parisian fixture has become such a commonplace, Philip, that the news of
the disaster hardly stirred me. Now I remember that you are a Californian!"
"I was born in San Francisco," affirmed Kirkwood a bit sadly. "My father
and mother were buried there ..."
"And your fortune--?"
"I inherited my father's interest in the firm of Kirkwood & Vanderlip; when
I came over to study painting, I left everything in Vanderlip's hands. The
business afforded me a handsome living."
"You have heard from Mr. Vanderlip?"
"Fifteen minutes ago." Kirkwood took a cable-form, still damp, from his
pocket, and handed it to his guest. Unfolding it, the latter read:
"_Kirkwood, Pless, London. Stay where you are no good coming back
everything gone no insurance letter follows vanderlip_."
"When I got the news in Paris," Kirkwood volunteered, "I tried the banks;
they refused to honor my drafts. I had a little money in hand,--enough
to see me home,--so closed the studio and came across. I'm booked on the
_Minneapolis_, sailing from Tilbury at daybreak; the boat-train leaves at
eleven-thirty. I had hoped you might be able to dine with me and see me
In silence Brentwick returned the cable message. Then, with a thoughtful
look, "You are sure this is wise?" he queried.
"It's the only thing I can see."
"But your partner says--"
"Naturally he thinks that by this time I should have learned to paint well
enough to support myself for a few months, until he can get things running
again. Perhaps I might." Brentwick supported the presumption with a decided
gesture. "But have I a right to leave Vanderlip to fight it out alone? For
Vanderlip has a wife and kiddies to support; I--"
"My ability, such as it is--and that only. It can wait.... No; this means
simply that I must come down from the clouds, plant my feet on solid earth,
and get to work."
"The sentiment is sound," admitted Brentwick, "the practice of it, folly.
Have you stopped to think what part a rising young portrait-painter can
contribute toward the rebuilding of a devastated city?"
"The painting can wait," reiterated Kirkwood. "I can work like other men."
"You can do yourself and your genius grave injustice. And I fear me you
will, dear boy. It's in keeping with your heritage of American obstinacy.
Now if it were a question of money--"
"Mr. Brentwick!" Kirkwood protested vehemently. "I've ample for my present
needs," he added.
"Of course," conceded Brentwick with a sigh. "I didn't really hope you
would avail yourself of our friendship. Now there's my home in Aspen
Villas.... You have seen it?"
"In your absence this afternoon your estimable butler, with commendable
discretion, kept me without the doors," laughed the young man.
"It's a comfortable home. You would not consent to share it with me
"You are more than good; but honestly, I must sail to-night. I wanted only
this chance to see you before I left. You'll dine with me, won't you?"
"If you would stay in London, Philip, we would dine together not once but
many times; as it is, I myself am booked for Munich, to be gone a week,
on business. I have many affairs needing attention between now and the
nine-ten train from Victoria. If you will be my guest at Aspen Villas--"
"Please!" begged Kirkwood, with a little laugh of pleasure because of the
other's insistence. "I only wish I could. Another day--"
"Oh, you will make your million in a year, and return scandalously
independent. It's in your American blood." Frail white fingers tapped an
arm of the chair as their owner stared gravely into the fire. "I confess I
envy you," he observed.
"The opportunity to make a million in a year?" chuckled Kirkwood.
"No. I envy you your Romance."
"The Romance of a Poor Young Man went out of fashion years ago.... No, my
dear friend; my Romance died a natural death half an hour since."
"There spoke Youth--blind, enviable Youth!... On the contrary, you are but
turning the leaves of the first chapter of your Romance, Philip."
"Romance is dead," contended the young man stubbornly.
"Long live the King!" Brentwick laughed quietly, still attentive to the
fire. "Myself when young," he said softly, "did seek Romance, but never
knew it till its day was done. I'm quite sure that is a poor paraphrase of
something I have read. In age, one's sight is sharpened--to see Romance in
another's life, at least. I say I envy you. You have Youth, unconquerable
Youth, and the world before you.... I must go."
He rose stiffly, as though suddenly made conscious of his age. The old eyes
peered more than a trifle wistfully, now, into Kirkwood's. "You will not
fail to call on me by cable, dear boy, if you need--anything? I ask it as
a favor.... I'm glad you wished to see me before going out of my life. One
learns to value the friendship of Youth, Philip. Good-by, and good luck
Alone once more, Kirkwood returned to his window. The disappointment he
felt at being robbed of his anticipated pleasure in Brentwick's company at
dinner, colored his mood unpleasantly. His musings merged into vacuity,
into a dull gray mist of hopelessness comparable only to the dismal skies
then lowering over London-town.
Brentwick was good, but Brentwick was mistaken. There was really nothing
for Kirkwood to do but to go ahead. But one steamer-trunk remained to be
packed; the boat-train would leave before midnight, the steamer with the
morning tide; by the morrow's noon he would be upon the high seas, within
ten days in New York and among friends; and then ...
The problem of that afterwards perplexed Kirkwood more than he cared to
own. Brentwick had opened his eyes to the fact that he would be practically
useless in San Francisco; he could not harbor the thought of going
back, only to become a charge upon Vanderlip. No; he was resolved that
thenceforward he must rely upon himself, carve out his own destiny.
But--would the art that he had cultivated with such assiduity, yield him a
livelihood if sincerely practised with that end in view? Would the mental
and physical equipment of a painter, heretofore dilettante, enable him to
Knotting his brows in concentration of effort to divine the future, he
doubted himself, darkly questioning alike his abilities and his temper
under trial; neither ere now had ever been put to the test. His eyes became
somberly wistful, his heart sore with regret of Yesterday--his Yesterday of
care-free youth and courage, gilded with the ineffable, evanescent glamour
of Romance--of such Romance, thrice refined of dross, as only he knows who
has wooed his Art with passion passing the love of woman.
Far away, above the acres of huddled roofs and chimney-pots, the
storm-mists thinned, lifting transiently; through them, gray, fairy-like,
the towers of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament bulked monstrous
and unreal, fading when again the fugitive dun vapors closed down upon the
Nearer at hand the Shade of Care nudged Kirkwood's elbow, whispering
subtly. Romance was indeed dead; the world was cold and cruel.
The gloom deepened.
In the cant of modern metaphysics, the moment was psychological.
There came a rapping at the door.
Kirkwood removed the pipe from between his teeth long enough to say "Come
The knob was turned, the door opened. Kirkwood, turning on one heel, beheld
hesitant upon the threshold a diminutive figure in the livery of the Pless
"Gentleman to see you, sir."
Kirkwood nodded again, smiling if somewhat perplexed. Encouraged, the child
advanced, proffering a silver card-tray at the end of an unnaturally rigid
forearm. Kirkwood took the card dubiously between thumb and forefinger and
inspected it without prejudice.
"'George B. Calendar,'" he read. "'George B. Calendar!' But I know no such
person. Sure there's no mistake, young man?"
The close-cropped, bullet-shaped, British head was agitated in vigorous
negation, and "Card for Mister Kirkwood!" was mumbled in dispassionate
accents appropriate to a recitation by rote.
"Very well. But before you show him up, ask this Mr. Calendar if he is
quite sure he wants to see Philip Kirkwood."
The child marched out, punctiliously closing the door. Kirkwood tamped
down the tobacco in his pipe and puffed energetically, dismissing the
interruption to his reverie as a matter of no consequence--an obvious
mistake to be rectified by two words with this Mr. Calendar whom he did not
know. At the knock he had almost hoped it might be Brentwick, returning
with a changed mind about the bid to dinner.
He regretted Brentwick sincerely. Theirs was a curious sort of
friendship--extraordinarily close in view of the meagerness of either's
information about the other, to say nothing of the disparity between their
ages. Concerning the elder man Kirkwood knew little more than that they had
met on shipboard, "coming over"; that Brentwick had spent some years in
America; that he was an Englishman by birth, a cosmopolitan by habit, by
profession a gentleman (employing that term in its most uncompromisingly
British significance), and by inclination a collector of "articles of
virtue and bigotry," in pursuit of which he made frequent excursions to the
Continent from his residence in a quaint quiet street of Old Brompton. It
had been during his not infrequent, but ordinarily abbreviated, sojourns in
Paris that their steamer acquaintance had ripened into an affection almost
filial on the one hand, almost paternal on the other....
There came a rapping at the door.
Kirkwood removed the pipe from between his teeth long enough to say "Come
The knob was turned, the door opened. Kirkwood, swinging on one heel,
beheld hesitant upon the threshold a rather rotund figure of medium height,
clad in an expressionless gray lounge suit, with a brown "bowler" hat held
tentatively in one hand, an umbrella weeping in the other. A voice, which
was unctuous and insinuative, emanated from the figure.
Kirkwood nodded, with some effort recalling the name, so detached had been
his thoughts since the disappearance of the page.
"Yes, Mr. Calendar--?"
"Are you--ah--busy, Mr. Kirkwood?"
"Are you, Mr. Calendar?" Kirkwood's smile robbed the retort of any flavor
Encouraged, the man entered, premising that he would detain his host but a
moment, and readily surrendering hat and umbrella. Kirkwood, putting the
latter aside, invited his caller to the easy chair which Brentwick had
occupied by the fireplace.
"It takes the edge off the dampness," Kirkwood explained in deference to
the other's look of pleased surprise at the cheerful bed of coals. "I'm
afraid I could never get acclimated to life in a cold, damp room--or a damp
cold room--such as you Britishers prefer."
"It is grateful," Mr. Calendar agreed, spreading plump and well cared-for
hands to the warmth. "But you are mistaken; I am as much an American as
"Yes?" Kirkwood looked the man over with more interest, less
He proved not unprepossessing, this unclassifiable Mr. Calendar; he was
dressed with some care, his complexion was good, and the fullness of his
girth, emphasized as it was by a notable lack of inches, bespoke a nature
genial, easy-going and sybaritic. His dark eyes, heavy-lidded, were
active--curiously, at times, with a subdued glitter--in a face large,
round, pink, of which the other most remarkable features were a mustache,
close-trimmed and showing streaks of gray, a chubby nose, and duplicate
chins. Mr. Calendar was furthermore possessed of a polished bald spot,
girdled with a tonsure of silvered hair--circumstances which lent some
factitious distinction to a personality otherwise commonplace.
His manner might be best described as uneasy with assurance; as though he
frequently found it necessary to make up for his unimpressive stature by
assuming an unnatural habit of authority. And there you have him; beyond
these points, Kirkwood was conscious of no impressions; the man was
apparently neutral-tinted of mind as well as of body.
"So you knew I was an American, Mr. Calendar?" suggested Kirkwood.
"'Saw your name on the register; we both hail from the same neck of the
woods, you know."
"I didn't know it, and--"
"Yes; I'm from Frisco, too."
"And I'm sorry."
Mr. Calendar passed five fat fingers nervously over his mustache, glanced
alertly up at Kirkwood, as if momentarily inclined to question his tone,
then again stared glumly into the fire; for Kirkwood had maintained an
attitude purposefully colorless. Not to put too fine a point upon it, be
believed that his caller was lying; the man's appearance, his mannerisms,
his voice and enunciation, while they might have been American, seemed all
un-Californian. To one born and bred in that state, as Kirkwood had been,
her sons are unmistakably hall-marked.
Now no man lies without motive. This one chose to reaffirm, with a show of
deep feeling: "Yes; I'm from Frisco, too. We're companions in misfortune."
"I hope not altogether," said Kirkwood politely.
Mr. Calendar drew his own inferences from the response and mustered up a
show of cheerfulness. "Then you're not completely wiped out?"
"To the contrary, I was hoping you were less unhappy."
"Oh! Then you are--?"
Kirkwood lifted the cable message from the mantel. "I have just heard from
my partner at home," he said with a faint smile; and quoted: "'Everything
gone; no insurance.'"
Mr. Calendar pursed his plump lips, whistling inaudibly. "Too bad, too
bad!" he murmured sympathetically. "We're all hard hit, more or less."
He lapsed into dejected apathy, from which Kirkwood, growing at length
impatient, found it necessary to rouse him.
"You wished to see me about something else, I'm sure?"
Mr. Calendar started from his reverie. "Eh? ... I was dreaming. I beg
pardon. It seems hard to realize, Mr. Kirkwood, that this awful catastrophe
has overtaken our beloved metropolis--"
The canting phrases wearied Kirkwood; abruptly he cut in. "Would a
sovereign help you out, Mr. Calendar? I don't mind telling you that's about
the limit of my present resources."
"Pardon _me_." Mr. Calendar's moon-like countenance darkened; he assumed a
transparent dignity. "You misconstrue my motive, sir."
"Then I'm sorry."
"I am not here to borrow. On the other hand, quite by accident I discovered
your name upon the register, down-stairs; a good old Frisco name, if you
will permit me to say so. I thought to myself that here was a chance
to help a fellow-countryman." Calendar paused, interrogative; Kirkwood
remained interested but silent. "If a passage across would help you, I--I
think it might be arranged," stammered Calendar, ill at ease.
"It might," admitted Kirkwood, speculative.
"I could fix it so that you could go over--first-class, of course--and pay
your way, so to speak, by, rendering us, me and my partner, a trifling
"In fact," continued Calendar, warming up to his theme, "there might be
something more in it for you than the passage, if--if you're the right man,
the man I'm looking for."
"That, of course, is the question."
"Eh?" Calendar pulled up suddenly in a full-winged flight of enthusiasm.
Kirkwood eyed him steadily. "I said that it is a question, Mr. Calendar,
whether or not I am the man you're looking for. Between you and me and the
fire-dogs, I don't believe I am. Now if you wish to name your _quid
pro quo_, this trifling service I'm to render in recognition of your
benevolence, you may."
"Ye-es," slowly. But the speaker delayed his reply until he had surveyed
his host from head to foot, with a glance both critical and appreciative.
He saw a man in height rather less than the stock size six-feet so much
in demand by the manufacturers of modern heroes of fiction; a man a bit
round-shouldered, too, but otherwise sturdily built, self-contained,
Kirkwood wears a boy's honest face; no one has ever called him handsome. A
few prejudiced persons have decided that he has an interesting countenance;
the propounders of this verdict have been, for the most part, feminine.
Kirkwood himself has been heard to declare that his features do not fit;
in its essence the statement is true, but there is a very real, if
undefinable, engaging quality in their very irregularity. His eyes are
brown, pleasant, set wide apart, straightforward of expression.
Now it appeared that, whatever his motive, Mr. Calendar had acted upon
impulse in sending his card up to Kirkwood. Possibly he had anticipated a
very different sort of reception from a very different sort of man. Even in
the light of subsequent events it remains difficult to fathom the mystery
of his choice. Perhaps Fate directed it; stranger things have happened at
the dictates of a man's Destiny.
At all events, this Calendar proved not lacking in penetration; men of his
stamp are commonly endowed with that quality to an eminent degree. Not slow
to reckon the caliber of the man before him, the leaven of intuition began
to work in his adipose intelligence. He owned himself baffled.
"Thanks," he concluded pensively; "I reckon you're right. You won't do,
after all. I've wasted your time. Mine, too."
"Don't mention it."
Calendar got heavily out of his chair, reaching for his hat and umbrella.
"Permit me to apologize for an unwarrantable intrusion, Mr. Kirkwood." He
faltered; a worried and calculating look shadowed his small eyes. "I _was_
looking for some one to serve me in a certain capacity--"
"Certain or questionable?" propounded Kirkwood blandly, opening the door.
Pointedly Mr. Calendar ignored the imputation. "Sorry I disturbed you.
G'dafternoon, Mr. Kirkwood."
"Good-by, Mr. Calendar." A smile twitched the corners of Kirkwood's
Calendar stepped hastily out into the hall. As he strode--or rather,
rolled--away, Kirkwood maliciously feathered a Parthian arrow.
"By the way, Mr. Calendar--?"
The sound of retreating footsteps was stilled and "Yes?" came from the
gloom of the corridor.
"Were you ever in San Francisco? Really and truly? Honest Injun, Mr.
For a space the quiet was disturbed by harsh breathing; then, in a
strained voice, "Good day, Mr. Kirkwood"; and again the sound of departing
Kirkwood closed the door and the incident simultaneously, with a smart bang
of finality. Laughing quietly he went back to the window with its dreary
outlook, now the drearier for lengthening evening shadows.
"I wonder what his game is, anyway. An adventurer, of course; the woods are
full of 'em. A queer fish, even of his kind! And with a trick up his sleeve
as queer and fishy as himself, no doubt!"
"AND SOME THERE BE WHO HAVE ADVENTURES THRUST UPON THEM"
The assumption seems not unwarrantable, that Mr. Calendar figuratively
washed his hands of Mr. Kirkwood. Unquestionably Mr. Kirkwood considered
himself well rid of Mr. Calendar. When the latter had gone his way,
Kirkwood, mindful of the fact that his boat-train would leave St. Paneras
at half-after eleven, set about his packing and dismissed from his thoughts
the incident created by the fat _chevalier d'industrie_; and at six
o'clock, or thereabouts, let himself out of his room, dressed for the
evening, a light rain-coat over one arm, in the other hand a cane,--the
drizzle having ceased.
A stolid British lift lifted him down to the ground floor of the
establishment in something short of five minutes. Pausing in the office
long enough to settle his bill and leave instructions to have his luggage
conveyed to the boat-train, he received with entire equanimity the affable
benediction of the clerk, in whose eyes he still figured as that radiant
creature, an American millionaire; and passed on to the lobby, where he
surrendered hat, coat and stick to the cloak-room attendant, ere entering
The hour was a trifle early for a London dinner, the handsome room but
moderately filled with patrons. Kirkwood absorbed the fact unconsciously
and without displeasure; the earlier, the better: he was determined to
consume his last civilized meal (as he chose to consider it) at his serene
leisure, to live fully his ebbing moments in the world to which he was
born, to drink to its cloying dregs one ultimate draught of luxury.
A benignant waiter bowed him into a chair by a corner table in
juxtaposition with an open window, through which, swaying imperceptibly the
closed hangings, were wafted gentle gusts of the London evening's sweet,
Kirkwood settled himself with an inaudible sigh of pleasure. He was dining,
for the last time in Heaven knew how long, in a first-class restaurant.
With a deferential flourish the waiter brought him the menu-card. He had
served in his time many an "American, millionaire"; he had also served this
Mr. Kirkwood, and respected him as one exalted above the run of his kind,
in that he comprehended the art of dining.
Fifteen minutes later the waiter departed rejoicing, his order complete.
To distract a conscience whispering of extravagance, Kirkwood lighted a
The room was gradually filling with later arrivals; it was the most favored
restaurant in London, and, despite the radiant costumes of the women, its
atmosphere remained sedate and restful.
A cab clattered down the side street on which the window opened.
At a near-by table a woman laughed, quietly happy. Incuriously Kirkwood
glanced her way. She was bending forward, smiling, flattering her escort
with the adoration of her eyes. They were lovers alone in the wilderness of
the crowded restaurant. They seemed very happy.
Kirkwood was conscious of a strange pang of emotion. It took him some time
to comprehend that it was envy.
He was alone and lonely. For the first time he realized that no woman had
ever looked upon him as the woman at the adjoining table looked upon her
lover. He had found time to worship but one mistress--his art.
And he was renouncing her.
He was painfully conscious of what he had missed, had lost--or had not yet
found: the love of woman.
The sensation was curious--new, unique in his experience.
His cigarette burned down to his fingers as he sat pondering. Abstractedly,
he ground its fire out in an ash-tray.
The waiter set before him a silver tureen, covered.
He sat up and began to consume his soup, scarce doing it justice. His dream
troubled him--his dream of the love of woman.
From a little distance his waiter regarded him, with an air of
disappointment. In the course of an hour and a half he awoke, to discover
the attendant in the act of pouring very hot and black coffee from a bright
silver pot into a demi-tasse of fragile porcelain. Kirkwood slipped a
single lump of sugar into the cup, gave over his cigar-case to be filled,
then leaned back, deliberately lighting a long and slender panetela as a
preliminary to a last lingering appreciation of the scene of which he was a
He reviewed it through narrowed eyelids, lazily; yet with some slight
surprise, seeming to see it with new vision, with eyes from which scales of
ignorance had dropped.
This long and brilliant dining-hall, with its quiet perfection of
proportion and appointment, had always gratified his love of the beautiful;
to-night it pleased him to an unusual degree. Yet it was the same as ever;
its walls tinted a deep rose, with their hangings of dull cloth-of-gold,
its lights discriminatingly clustered and discreetly shaded, redoubled in
half a hundred mirrors, its subdued shimmer of plate and glass, its soberly
festive assemblage of circumspect men and women splendidly gowned, its
decorously muted murmur of voices penetrated and interwoven by the strains
of a hidden string orchestra--caressed his senses as always, yet with
a difference. To-night he saw it a room populous with lovers, lovers
insensibly paired, man unto woman attentive, woman of man regardful.
He had never understood this before. This much he had missed in life.
It seemed hard to realize that one must forego it all for ever.
Presently he found himself acutely self-conscious. The sensation puzzled
him; and without appearing to do so, he traced it from effect to cause; and
found the cause in a woman--a girl, rather, seated at a table the third
removed from him, near the farther wall of the room.
Too considerate, and too embarrassed, to return her scrutiny openly, look
for look, he yet felt sure that, however temporarily, he was become the
object of her intent interest.
Idly employed with his cigar, he sipped his coffee. In time aware that she
had turned her attention elsewhere, he looked up.
At first he was conscious of an effect of disappointment. She was nobody
that he knew, even by reputation. She was simply a young girl, barely out
of her teens--if as old as that phrase would signify. He wondered what she
had found in him to make her think him worth so long a study; and looked
again, more keenly curious.
With this second glance, appreciation stirred the artistic side of his
nature, that was already grown impatient of his fretted mood. The slender
and girlish figure, posed with such absolute lack of intrusion against a
screen of rose and gilt, moved him to critical admiration. The tinted glow
of shaded candles caught glistening on the spun gold of her fair hair,
and enhanced the fine pallor of her young shoulders. He saw promise, and
something more than promise, in her face, its oval something dimmed by warm
shadows that unavailingly sought to blend youth and beauty alike into the
dull, rich background.
In the sheer youth of her (he realized) more than in aught else, lay her
chiefest charm. She could be little more than a child, indeed, if he were
to judge her by the purity of her shadowed eyes and the absence of emotion
in the calm and direct look which presently she turned upon him who sat
wondering at the level, penciled darkness of her brows.
At length aware that she had surprised his interest, Kirkwood glanced
aside--coolly deliberate, lest she should detect in his attitude anything
more than impersonal approval.
A slow color burned his cheeks. In his temples there rose a curious
After a while she drew his gaze again, imperiously--herself all unaware of
the havoc she was wreaking on his temperament.
He could have fancied her distraught, cloaking an unhappy heart with placid
brow and gracious demeanor; but such a conception matched strangely her
glowing youth and spirit. What had she to do with Care? What concern had
Black Care, whose gaunt shape in sable shrouds had lurked at his shoulder
all the evening, despite his rigid preoccupation, with a being as
charmingly flushed with budding womanhood as this girl?
"Eighteen?" he hazarded. "Eighteen, or possibly nineteen, dining at the
Pless in a ravishing dinner-gown, and--unhappy? Oh, hardly--not she!"
Yet the impression haunted him, and ere long he was fain to seek
confirmation or denial of it in the manner of her escort.
The latter sat with back to Kirkwood, cutting a figure as negative as his
snug evening clothes. One could surmise little from a fleshy thick neck,
a round, glazed bald spot, a fringe of grizzled hair, and two bright red
Somehow the fellow did suggest Kirkwood's caller of the afternoon. The
young man could not have said precisely how, for he was unfamiliar with the
aspect of that gentleman's back. None the less the suggestion persisted.
By now, a few of the guests, theater-bound, for the most part, were
leaving. Here and there a table stood vacant, that had been filled, cloth
tarnished, chairs disarranged: in another moment to be transformed into its
pristine brilliance under the deft attentions of the servitors.
Down an aisle, past the table at which the girl was sitting, came two,
making toward the lobby; the man, a slight and meager young personality, in
the lead. Their party had attracted Kirkwood's notice as they entered; why,
he did not remember; but it was in his mind that then they had been three.
Instinctively he looked at the table they had left--one placed at some
distance from the girl, and hidden from her by an angle in the wall. It
appeared that the third member had chosen to dally a few moments over his
tobacco and a liqueur-brandy. Kirkwood could see him plainly, lounging in
his chair and fumbling the stem of a glass: a heavy man, of somber habit,
his black and sullen brows lowering and thoughtful above a face boldly
The woman of the trio was worthy of closer attention. Some paces in the
wake of her lack-luster esquire, she was making a leisurely progress,
trailing the skirts of a gown magnificent beyond dispute, half concealed
though it was by the opera cloak whose soft folds draped her shoulders.
Slowly, carrying her head high, she approached, insolent eyes reviewing
the room from beneath their heavy lids; a metallic and mature type of dark
beauty, supremely selfconfident and self-possessed.
Men turned involuntarily to look after her, not altogether in undiluted
In the act of passing behind the putative Calendar, she paused momentarily,
bending as if to gather up her train. Presumably the action disturbed her
balance; she swayed a little, and in the effort to recover, rested the tips
of her gloved fingers upon the edge of the table. Simultaneously (Kirkwood
could have sworn) a single word left her lips, a word evidently pitched
for the ear of the hypothetical Calendar alone. Then she swept on,
To the perplexed observer it was indubitably evident that some
communication had passed from the woman to the man. Kirkwood saw the fat
shoulders of the girl's companion stiffen suddenly as the woman's hand
rested at his elbow; as she moved away, a little rippling shiver was
plainly visible in the muscles of his back, beneath his coat--mute token
of relaxing tension. An instant later one plump and mottled hand was
carelessly placed where the woman's had been; and was at once removed with
To the girl, watching her face covertly, Kirkwood turned for clue to the
incident. He made no doubt that she had observed the passage; proof of that
one found in her sudden startling pallor (of indignation?) and in her eyes,
briefly alight with some inscrutable emotion, though quickly veiled by
lowered lashes. Slowly enough she regained color and composure, while her
_vis-à-vis_ sat motionless, head inclined as if in thought.
Abruptly the man turned in his chair to summon a waiter, and exposed his
profile. Kirkwood was in no wise amazed to recognize Calendar--a badly
frightened Calendar now, however, and hardly to be identified with the
sleek, glib fellow who had interviewed Kirkwood in the afternoon. His
flabby cheeks were ashen and trembling, and upon the back of his chair
the fat white fingers were drumming incessantly an inaudible tattoo of
"Scared silly!" commented Kirkwood. "Why?" Having spoken to his waiter,
Calendar for some seconds raked the room with quick glances, as if seeking
an acquaintance. Presumably disappointed, he swung back to face the
girl, bending forward to reach her ears with accents low-pitched and
confidential. She, on her part, fell at once attentive, grave and
responsive. Perhaps a dozen sentences passed between them. At the outset
her brows contracted and she shook her head in gentle dissent; whereupon
Calendar's manner became more imperative. Gradually, unwillingly, she
seemed to yield consent. Once she caught her breath sharply, and, infected
by her companion's agitation, sat back, color fading again in the round
Kirkwood's waiter put in an inopportune appearance with the bill. The young
man paid it. When he looked up again Calendar had swung squarely about
in his chair. His eye encountered Kirkwood's. He nodded pleasantly.
Temporarily confused, Kirkwood returned the nod.
In a twinkling he had repented; Calendar had left his chair and was wending
his way through the tables toward Kirkwood's. Reaching it, he paused,
offering the hand of genial fellowship. Kirkwood accepted it half-heartedly
(what else was he to do?) remarking at the same time that Calendar had
recovered much of his composure. There was now a normal coloring in the
heavily jowled countenance, with less glint of fear in the quick, dark
eyes; and Calendar's hand, even if moist and cold, no longer trembled.
Furthermore it was immediately demonstrated that his impudence had not
"Why, Kirkwood, my dear fellow!" he crowed--not so loudly as to attract
attention, but in a tone assumed to divert suspicion, should he be
overheard. "This is great luck, you know--to find you here."
"Is it?" returned Kirkwood coolly. He disengaged his fingers.
The pink plump face was contorted in a furtive grimace of deprecation.
Without waiting for permission Calendar dropped into the vacant chair.
"My dear sir," he proceeded, unabashed, "I throw myself upon your mercy."
"The devil you do!"
"I must. I'm in the deuce of a hole, and there's no one I know here besides
Kirkwood saw fit to lead him on; partly because, out of the corner of his
eye, he was aware of the girl's unconcealed suspense. "Go on, please, Mr.
Calendar. You throw yourself on a total stranger's mercy because you're in
the deuce of a hole; and--?"
"It's this way; I'm called away on urgent business imperative business.
I must go at once. My daughter is with me. My daughter! Think of my
embarrassment; I can not leave her here, alone, nor can I permit her to go
Calendar paused in anxiety.
"That's easily remedied, then," suggested Kirkwood.
"Put her in a cab at the door."
"I ... No. The devil! I couldn't think of it. You won't understand. I--"
"I do not understand,--" amended the younger man politely.
Calendar compressed his lips nervously. It was plain that the man was
quivering with impatience and half-mad with excitement. He held quiet only
long enough to regain his self-control and take counsel with his prudence.
"It is impossible, Mr. Kirkwood. I must ask you to be generous and believe
"Very well; for the sake of the argument, I do believe you, Mr. Calendar."
"Hell!" exploded the elder man in an undertone. Then swiftly, stammering
in his haste: "I can't let Dorothy accompany me to the door," he declared.
"She--I--I throw myself upon your mercy!"
"The truth--the truth is, if you will have it, that I am in danger of
arrest the moment I leave here. If my daughter is with me, she will have to
endure the shame and humiliation--"
"Then why place her in such a position?" Kirkwood demanded sharply.
Calendar's eyes burned, incandescent with resentment. Offended, he offered
to rise and go, but changed his mind and sat tight in hope.
"I beg of you, sir--"
"One moment, Mr. Calendar."
Abruptly Kirkwood's weathercock humor shifted--amusement yielding to
intrigued interest. After all, why not oblige the fellow? What did anything
matter, now? What harm could visit him if he yielded to this corpulent
adventurer's insistence? Both from experience and observation he knew this
for a world plentifully peopled by soldiers of fortune, contrivers of
snares and pitfalls for the feet of the unwary. On the other hand, it is
axiomatic that a penniless man is perfectly safe anywhere. Besides, there
was the girl to be considered.
Kirkwood considered her, forthwith. In the process thereof, his eyes sought
her, perturbed. Their glances clashed. She looked away hastily, crimson to
Instantly the conflict between curiosity and caution, inclination and
distrust, was at an end. With sudden compliance, the young man rose.
"I shall be most happy to be of service to your daughter, Mr. Calendar,"
he said, placing the emphasis with becoming gravity. And then, the fat
adventurer leading the way, Kirkwood strode across the room--wondering
somewhat at himself, if the whole truth is to be disclosed.
All but purring with satisfaction and relief, Calendar halted.
"Dorothy, my dear, permit me to introduce an old friend--Mr. Kirkwood.
Kirkwood, this is my daughter."
"Miss Calendar," acknowledged Kirkwood.
The girl bowed, her eyes steady upon his own. "Mr. Kirkwood is very kind,"
she said gravely.
"That's right!" Calendar exclaimed blandly. "He's promised to see you home.
Now both of you will pardon my running away, I know."
"Yes," assented Kirkwood agreeably.
The elder man turned and hurried toward the main entrance.
Kirkwood took the chair he had vacated. To his disgust he found himself
temporarily dumb. No flicker of thought illuminated the darkness of his
confusion. How was he to open a diverting conversation with a young woman
whom he had met under auspices so extraordinary? Any attempt to gloze the
situation, he felt, would be futile. And, somehow, he did not care to
render himself ridiculous in her eyes, little as he knew her.
Inanely dumb, he sat watching her, smiling fatuously until it was borne
in on him that he was staring like a boor and grinning like an idiot.
Convinced, he blushed for himself; something which served to make him more
tongue-tied than ever.
As for his involuntary protégée, she exhibited such sweet composure that he
caught himself wondering if she really appreciated the seriousness of her
parent's predicament; if, for that matter, its true nature were known to
her at all. Calendar, he believed, was capable of prevarication, polite and
impolite. Had he lied to his daughter? or to Kirkwood? To both, possibly;
to the former alone, not improbably. That the adventurer had told him the
desperate truth, Kirkwood was quite convinced; but he now began to believe
that the girl had been put off with some fictitious explanation. Her
tranquillity and self-control were remarkable, otherwise; she seemed very
young to possess those qualities in such eminent degree.
She was looking wearily past him, her gaze probing some unguessed abyss of
thought. Kirkwood felt himself privileged to stare in wonder. Her naïve
aloofness of poise gripped his imagination powerfully,--the more
so, perhaps, since it seemed eloquent of her intention to remain
enigmatic,--but by no means more powerfully than the unaided appeal of her
Presently the girl herself relieved the tension of the situation, fairly
startling the young man by going straight to the heart of things. Without
preface or warning, lifting her gaze to his, "My name is really Dorothy
Calendar," she observed. And then, noting his astonishment, "You would be
privileged to doubt, under the circumstances," she added. "Please let us be
"Well," he stammered, "if I didn't doubt, let's say I was unprejudiced."
His awkward, well-meant pleasantry, perhaps not conceived in the best of
taste, sounded in his own ears wretchedly flat and vapid. He regretted it
spontaneously; the girl ignored it.
"You are very kind," she iterated the first words he had heard from her
lips. "I wish you to understand that I, for one, appreciate it."
"Not kind; I have done nothing. I am glad.... One is apt to become
interested when Romance is injected into a prosaic existence." Kirkwood
allowed himself a keen but cheerful glance.
She nodded, with a shadowy smile. He continued, purposefully, to distract
her, holding her with his honest, friendly eyes.
"Since it is to be confidences" (this she questioned with an all but
imperceptible lifting of the eyebrows), "I don't mind telling you my own
name is really Philip Kirkwood."
"And you are an old friend of my father's?"
He opened his lips, but only to close them without speaking. The girl moved
her shoulders with a shiver of disdain.
"I knew it wasn't so."
"You know it would be hard for a young man like myself to be a very old
friend," he countered lamely.
"How long, then, have you known each other?"
"Must I answer?"
"Between three and four hours."
"I thought as much." She stared past him, troubled. Abruptly she said:
"Shall I? If you wish it, of course...."
She repeated: "Please."
"We were to wait ten minutes or so," she continued.
He produced his cigarette-case.
"If you care to smoke it will seem an excuse." He lighted his cigarette.
"And then, you may talk to me," she concluded calmly.
"I would, gladly, if I could guess what would interest you."
"Yourself. Tell me about yourself," she commanded.
"It would bore you," he responded tritely, confused.
"No; you interest me very much." She made the statement quietly,
contemptuous of coquetry.
"Very well, then; I am Philip Kirkwood, an American."
"Little worth retailing."
"Why?" he demanded, piqued.
"Because you have merely indicated that you are a wealthy American."
"If not, you would have some aim in life--a calling or profession."
"And you think I have none?"
"Unless you consider it your vocation to be a wealthy American."
"I don't. Besides, I'm not wealthy. In point of fact, I ..." He pulled up
short, on the verge of declaring himself a pauper. "I am a painter."
Her eyes lightened with interest. "An artist?"
"I hope so. I don't paint signs--or houses," he remarked.
Amused, she laughed softly. "I suspected it," she declared.
"It was your way of looking at--things, that made me guess it: the
painter's way. I have often noticed it."
"As if mentally blending colors all the time?"
"Yes; that and--seeing flaws."
"I have discovered none," he told her brazenly.
But again her secret cares were claiming her thoughts, and the gay,
inconsequential banter died upon her scarlet lips as a second time her
glance ranged away, sounding mysterious depths of anxiety.
Provoked, he would have continued the chatter. "I have confessed," he
persisted. "You know everything of material interest about me. And
"I am merely Dorothy Calendar," she answered.
"Nothing more?" He laughed.
"That is all, if you please, for the present."
"I am to content myself with the promise of the future?"
"The future," she told him seriously, "is to-morrow; and to-morrow ..." She
moved restlessly in her chair, eyes and lips pathetic in their distress.
"Please, we will go now, if you are ready."
"I am quite ready, Miss Calendar."
He rose. A waiter brought the girl's cloak and put it in Kirkwood's hands.
He held it until, smoothing the wrists of her long white gloves, she stood
up, then placed the garment upon her white young shoulders, troubled by the
indefinable sense of intimacy imparted by the privilege. She permitted
him this personal service! He felt that she trusted him, that out of her
gratitude had grown a simple and almost childish faith in his generosity
As she turned to go her eyes thanked him with an unfathomable glance. He
was again conscious of that esoteric disturbance in his temples. Puzzled,
hazily analyzing the sensation, he followed her to the lobby.
A page brought him his top-coat, hat and stick; tipping the child from
sheer force of habit, he desired a gigantic porter, impressively ornate in
hotel livery, to call a hansom. Together they passed out into the night, he
and the girl.
Beneath a permanent awning of steel and glass she waited patiently,
slender, erect, heedless of the attention she attracted from wayfarers.
The night was young, the air mild. Upon the sidewalk, muddied by a million
feet, two streams of wayfarers flowed incessantly, bound west from Green
Park or east toward Piccadilly Circus; a well-dressed throng for the most
part, with here and there a man in evening dress. Between the carriages at
the curb and the hotel doors moved others, escorting fluttering butterfly
women in elaborate toilets, heads bare, skirts daintily gathered above
their perishable slippers. Here and there meaner shapes slipped silently
through the crowd, sinister shadows of the city's proletariat, blotting
ominously the brilliance of the scene.
A cab drew in at the block. The porter clapped an arc of wickerwork over
its wheel to protect the girl's skirts. She ascended to the seat.
Kirkwood, dropping sixpence in the porter's palm, prepared to follow; but a
hand fell upon his arm, peremptory, inexorable. He faced about, frowning,
to confront a slight, hatchet-faced man, somewhat under medium height,
dressed in a sack suit and wearing a derby well forward over eyes that were
hard and bright.
"Mr. Calendar?" said the man tensely. "I presume I needn't name my
business. I'm from the Yard--"
"My name is not Calendar."
The detective smiled wearily. "Don't be a fool, Calendar," he began. But
the porter's hand fell upon his shoulder and the giant bent low to bring
his mouth close to the other's ear. Kirkwood heard indistinctly his own
name followed by Calendar's, and the words: "Never fear. I'll point him
"But the woman?" argued the detective, unconvinced, staring into the cab.
"Am I not at liberty to have a lady dine with me in a public restaurant?"
interposed Kirkwood, without raising his voice.
The hard eyes looked him up and down without favor. Then: "Beg pardon, sir.
I see my mistake," said the detective brusquely.
"I am glad you do," returned Kirkwood grimly. "I fancy it will bear
He mounted the step. "Imperial Theater," he told the driver, giving the
first address that occurred to him; it could be changed. For the moment
the main issue was to get the girl out of the range of the detective's
He slipped into his place as the hansom wheeled into the turgid tide of
So Calendar had escaped, after all! Moreover, he had told the truth to
By his side the girl moved uneasily. "Who was that man?" she inquired.
Kirkwood sought her eyes, and found them wholly ingenuous. It seemed
that Calendar had not taken her into his confidence, after all. She was,
therefore, in no way implicated in her father's affairs. Inexplicably the
young man's heart felt lighter. "A mistake; the fellow took me for some one
he knew," he told her carelessly.
The assurance satisfied her. She rested quietly, wrapped up in personal
concerns. Her companion pensively contemplated an infinity of arid and
hansom-less to-morrows. About them the city throbbed in a web of misty
twilight, the humid farewell of a dismal day. In the air a faint haze swam,
rendering the distances opalescent. Athwart the western sky the after-glow
of a drenched sunset lay like a wash of rose-madder. Piccadilly's asphalt
shone like watered silk, black and lustrous, reflecting a myriad lights in
vibrant ribbons of party-colored radiance. On every hand cab-lamps danced
like fire-flies; the rumble of wheels blended with the hollow pounding
of uncounted hoofs, merging insensibly into the deep and solemn roar of
Suddenly Kirkwood was recalled to a sense of duty by a glimpse of Hyde Park
Corner. He turned to the girl. "I didn't know where you wished to go--?"
She seemed to realize his meaning with surprise, as one, whose thoughts
have strayed afar, recalled to an imperative world.
"Oh, did I forget? Tell him please to drive to Number Nine, Frognall
Kirkwood poked his cane through the trap, repeating the address. The
cab wheeled smartly across Piccadilly, swung into Half Moon Street, and
thereafter made better time, darting briskly down abrupt vistas of shining
pavement, walled in by blank-visaged houses, or round two sides of one of
London's innumerable private parks, wherein spring foliage glowed a tender
green in artificial light; now and again it crossed brilliant main arteries
of travel, and eventually emerged from a maze of backways into Oxford
Street, to hammer eastwards to Tottenham Court Road.
Constraint hung like a curtain between the two; a silence which the young
man forbore to moderate, finding more delight that he had cared (or dared)
confess to, in contemplation of the pure girlish profile so close to him.
She seemed quite unaware of him, lost in thought, large eyes sober, lips
serious that were fashioned for laughter, round little chin firm with some
occult resolution. It was not hard to fancy her nerves keyed to a high
pitch of courage and determination, nor easy to guess for what reason.
Watching always, keenly sensitive to the beauty of each salient line
betrayed by the flying lights, Kirkwood's own consciousness lost itself in
a profitless, even a perilous labyrinth of conjecture.
The cab stopped. Both occupants came to their senses with a little start.
The girl leaned out over; the apron, recognized the house she sought in one
swift glance, testified to the recognition with a hushed exclamation,
and began to arrange her skirts. Kirkwood, unheeding her faint-hearted
protests, jumped out, interposing his cane between her skirts and the
wheel. Simultaneously he received a vivid mental photograph of the
Frognall Street proved to be one of those by-ways, a short block in
length, which, hemmed in on all sides by a meaner purlieu, has (even in
Bloomsbury!) escaped the sordid commercial eye of the keeper of furnished
lodgings, retaining jealously something of the old-time dignity and reserve
that were its pride in the days before Society swarmed upon Mayfair and
Its houses loomed tall, with many windows, mostly lightless--materially
aggravating that air of isolate, cold dignity which distinguishes the
Englishman's castle. Here and there stood one less bedraggled than
its neighbors, though all, without exception, spoke assertively of
respectability down-at-the-heel but fighting tenaciously for existence.
Some, vanguards of that imminent day when the boarding-house should reign
supreme, wore with shamefaced air placards of estate-agents, advertising
their susceptibility to sale or lease. In the company of the latter was
The American noted the circumstance subconsciously, at a moment when Miss
Calendar's hand, small as a child's, warm and compact in its white glove,
lay in his own. And then she was on the sidewalk, her face, upturned to
his, vivacious with excitement.
"You have been so kind," she told him warmly, "that one hardly knows how to
thank you, Mr. Kirkwood."
"I have done nothing--nothing at all," he mumbled, disturbed by a sudden,
unreasoning alarm for her.
She passed quickly to the shelter of the pillared portico. He followed
clumsily. On the door-step she turned, offering her hand. He took and
"Good night," she said.
"I'm to understand that I'm dismissed, then?" he stammered ruefully.
She evaded his eyes. "I--thank you--I have no further need--"
"You are quite sure? Won't you believe me at your service?"
She laughed uneasily. "I'm all right now."
"I can do nothing more? Sure?"
"Nothing. But you--you make me almost sorry I can't impose still further
upon your good nature."
"Please don't hesitate ..."
"Aren't you very persistent, Mr. Kirkwood?" Her fingers moved in his;
burning with the reproof, he released them, and turned to her so woebegone
a countenance that she repented of her severity. "Don't worry about me,
please. I am truly safe now. Some day I hope to be able to thank you
adequately. Good night!"
Her pass-key grated in the lock. Opening, the door disclosed a dark and
uninviting entry-hall, through which there breathed an air heavy with the
dank and dusty odor of untenanted rooms. Hesitating on the threshold, over
her shoulder the girl smiled kindly upon her commandeered esquire; and
He lifted his hat automatically. The door closed with an echoing slam. He
turned to the waiting cab, fumbling for change.
"I'll walk," he told the cabby, paying him off.
The hansom swept away to a tune of hammering hoofs; and quiet rested upon
the street as Kirkwood turned the nearest corner, in an unpleasant temper,
puzzled and discontented. It seemed hardly fair that he should have been
dragged into so promising an adventure, by his ears (so to put it), only to
be thus summarily called upon to write "Finis" beneath the incident.
He rounded the corner and walked half-way to the next street, coming to an
abrupt and rebellious pause by the entrance to a covered alleyway, of two
minds as to his proper course of action.
In the background of his thoughts Number 9, Frognall Street, reared its
five-story façade, sinister and forbidding. He reminded himself of its
unlighted windows; of its sign, "To be let"; of the effluvia of desolation
that had saluted him when the door swung wide. A deserted house; and the
girl alone in it!--was it right for him to leave her so?
9 FROGNALL STREET, W. C.
The covered alleyway gave upon Quadrant Mews; or so declared a notice
painted on the dead wall of the passage.
Overhead, complaining as it swayed in the wind, hung the smirched and
weather-worn sign-board of the Hog-in-the-Pound public house; wherefrom
escaped sounds of such revelry by night as is indulged in by the British
working-man in hours of ease. At the curb in front of the house of
entertainment, dejected animals drooping between their shafts, two hansoms
stood in waiting, until such time as the lords of their destinies should
see fit to sally forth and inflict themselves upon a cab-hungry populace.
As Kirkwood turned, a third vehicle rumbled up out of the mews.
Kirkwood can close his eyes, even at this late day, and both see and hear
it all again--even as he can see the unbroken row of dingy dwellings that
lined his way back from Quadrant Mews to Frognall Street corner: all
drab and unkempt, all sporting in their fan-lights the legend and lure,
For, between his curiosity about and his concern for the girl, he was being
led back to Number 9, by the nose, as it were,--hardly willingly, at best.
Profoundly stupefied by the contemplation of his own temerity, he yet
returned unfaltering. He who had for so long plumed himself upon his strict
supervision of his personal affairs and equally steadfast unconsciousness
of his neighbor's businesses, now found himself in the very act of pushing
in where he was not wanted: as he had been advised in well-nigh as many
words. He experienced an effect of standing to one side, a witness of
his own folly, with rising wonder, unable to credit the strength of
the infatuation which was placing him so conspicuously in the way of a
If perchance he were to meet the girl again as she was leaving Number
9,--what then? The contingency dismayed him incredibly, in view of the fact
that it did not avail to make him pause. To the contrary he disregarded it
resolutely; mad, impertinent, justified of his unnamed apprehensions, or
simply addled,--he held on his way.
He turned up Frognall Street with the manner of one out for a leisurely
evening stroll. Simultaneously, from the farther corner, another pedestrian
debouched, into the thoroughfare--a mere moving shadow at that distance,
brother to blacker shadows that skulked in the fenced areas and unlively
entries of that poorly lighted block. The hush was something beyond belief,
when one remembered the nearness of blatant Tottenham Court Road.
Kirkwood conceived a wholly senseless curiosity about the other wayfarer.
The man was walking rapidly, heels ringing with uncouth loudness, cane
tapping the flagging at brief intervals. Both sounds ceased abruptly as
their cause turned in beneath one of the porticos. In the emphatic and
unnatural quiet that followed, Kirkwood, stepping more lightly, fancied
that another shadow followed the first, noiselessly and with furtive
Could it be Number 9 into which they had passed? The American's heart beat
a livelier tempo at the suggestion. If it had not been Number 9--he was
still too far away to tell--it was certainly one of the dwellings adjacent
thereunto. The improbable possibility (But why improbable?) that the girl
was being joined by her father, or by friends, annoyed him with illogical
intensity. He mended his own pace, designing to pass whichever house it
might be before the door should be closed; thought better of this, and
slowed up again, anathematizing himself with much excuse for being the
inquisitive dolt that he was.
Approaching Number 9 with laggard feet, he manufactured a desire to light
a cigarette, as a cover for his design, were he spied upon by unsuspected
eyes. Cane under arm, hands cupped to shield a vesta's flame, he stopped
directly before the portico, turning his eyes askance to the shadowed
doorway; and made a discovery sufficiently startling to hold him spellbound
and, incidentally, to scorch his gloves before he thought to drop the
The door of Number 9 stood ajar, a black interval an inch or so in width
showing between its edge and the jamb.
Suspicion and alarm set his wits a-tingle. More distinctly he recalled the
jarring bang, accompanied by the metallic click of the latch, when the girl
had shut herself in--and him out. Now, some person or persons had followed
her, neglecting the most obvious precaution of a householder. And why? Why
but because the intruders did not wish the sound of closing to be audible
to her--or those--within?
He reminded himself that it was all none of his affair, decided to pass on
and go his ways in peace, and impulsively, swinging about, marched straight
away for the unclosed door.
Kirkwood halted on the cry, faltering in indecision. Should he take the
plunge, or withdraw? Synchronously he was conscious that a man's figure
had detached itself from the shadows beneath the nearest portico and was
drawing nearer, with every indication of haste, to intercept him.
"'Ere now, guvner, yer mykin' a mistyke. You don't live 'ere."
"How do you know?" demanded Kirkwood crisply, tightening his grip on his
Was this the second shadow he had seemed to see--the confederate of him who
had entered Number 9; a sentry to forestall interruption? If so, the fellow
lacked discretion, though his determination that the American should not
interfere was undeniable. It was with an ugly and truculent manner, if more
warily, that the man closed in.
"I knows. You clear hout, or--"
He flung out a hand with the plausible design of grasping Kirkwood by the
collar. The latter lifted his stick, deflecting the arm, and incontinently
landed his other fist forcibly on the fellow's chest. The man reeled back,
cursing. Before he could recover Kirkwood calmly crossed the threshold,
closed the door and put his shoulder to it. In another instant, fumbling in
the darkness, he found the bolts and drove them home.
And it was done, the transformation accomplished; his inability to refrain
from interfering had encompassed his downfall, had changed a peaceable and
law-abiding alien within British shores into a busybody, a trespasser, a
misdemeanant, a--yes, for all he knew to the contrary, in the estimation of
the Law, a burglar, prime candidate for a convict's stripes!
Breathing hard with excitement he turned and laid his back against the
panels, trembling in every muscle, terrified by the result of his impulsive
audacity, thunder-struck by a lightning-like foreglimpse of its possible
consequences. Of what colossal imprudence had he not been guilty?
"The devil!" he whispered. "What an ass, what an utter ass I am!"
Behind him the knob was rattled urgently, to an accompaniment of feet
shuffling on the stone; and immediately--if he were to make a logical
deduction from the rasping and scraping sound within the door-casing--the
bell-pull was violently agitated, without, however, educing any response
from the bell itself, wherever that might be situate. After which, as if in
despair, the outsider again rattled and jerked the knob.
Be his status what it might, whether servant of the household, its
caretaker, or a night watchman, the man was palpably determined both to get
himself in and Kirkwood out, and yet (curious to consider) determined to
gain his end without attracting undue attention. Kirkwood had expected to
hear the knocker's thunder, as soon as the bell failed to give tongue; but
it did not sound although there _was_ a knocker,--Kirkwood himself had
remarked that antiquated and rusty bit of ironmongery affixed to the middle
panel of the door. And it made him feel sure that something surreptitious
and lawless was in process within those walls, that the confederate
without, having failed to prevent a stranger from entering, left unemployed
a means so certain-sure to rouse the occupants.
But his inferential analysis of this phase of the proceedings was summarily
abrupted by that identical alarm. In a trice the house was filled with
flying echoes, wakened to sonorous riot by the crash and clamor of the
knocker; and Kirkwood stood fully two yards away, his heart hammering
wildly, his nerves a-jingle, much as if the resounding blows had landed
upon his own person rather than on stout oaken planking.
Ere he had time to wonder, the racket ceased, and from the street filtered
voices in altercation. Listening, Kirkwood's pulses quickened, and he
laughed uncertainly for pure relief, retreating to the door and putting an
ear to a crack.
The accents of one speaker were new in his hearing, stern, crisp, quick
with the spirit of authority which animates that most austere and dignified
limb of the law to be encountered the world over, a London bobby.
"Now then, my man, what do you want there? Come now, speak up, and step out
into the light, where I can see you."
The response came in the sniffling snarl of the London ne'er-do-well, the
unemployable rogue whose chiefest occupation seems to be to march in the
ranks of The Unemployed on the occasion of its annual demonstrations.
"Le' me alone, carntcher? Ah'm doin' no 'arm, officer,--"
"Didn't you hear me? Step out here. Ah, that's better.... No harm, eh?
Perhaps you'll explain how there's no harm breakin' into unoccupied
"Gorblimy, 'ow was I to know? 'Ere's a toff 'ands me sixpence fer hopenin'
'is cab door to-dye, an', sezee, 'My man,' 'e sez, 'yer've got a 'onest
fyce. W'y don'cher work?' sezee. ''Ow can I?' sez I. ''Ere'm I hout of
a job these six months, lookin' fer work every dye an' carn't find it.'
Sezee, 'Come an' see me this hevenin' at me home, Noine, Frognall Stryte,'
'e sez, an'--"
"That'll do for now. You borrow a pencil and paper and write it down and
I'll read it when I've got more time; I never heard the like of it. This
'ouse hasn't been lived in these two years. Move on, and don't let me find
you round 'ere again. March, I say!"
There was more of it--more whining explanations artfully tinctured with
abuse, more terse commands to depart, the whole concluding with scraping
footsteps, diminuendo, and another perfunctory, rattle of the knob as the
bobby, having shoo'd the putative evil-doer off, assured himself that
no damage had actually been done. Then he, too, departed, satisfied and
self-righteous, leaving a badly frightened but very grateful amateur
criminal to pursue his self-appointed career of crime.
He had no choice other than to continue; in point of fact, it had been
insanity just then to back out, and run the risk of apprehension at the
hands of that ubiquitous bobby, who (for all he knew) might be lurking not
a dozen yards distant, watchful for just such a sequel. Still, Kirkwood
hesitated with the best of excuses. Reassuring as he had found the
sentinel's extemporized yarn,--proof positive that the fellow had had no
more right to prohibit a trespass than Kirkwood to commit one,--at the
same time he found himself pardonably a prey to emotions of the utmost
consternation and alarm. If he feared to leave the house he had no warrant
whatever to assume that he would be permitted to remain many minutes
unharmed within its walls of mystery.
The silence of it discomfited him beyond measure; it was, in a word,
Before him, as he lingered at the door, vaguely disclosed by a wan
illumination penetrating a dusty and begrimed fan-light, a broad hall
stretched indefinitely towards the rear of the building, losing itself in
blackness beyond the foot of a flight of stairs. Save for a few articles of
furniture,--a hall table, an umbrella-stand, a tall dumb clock flanked by
high-backed chairs,--it was empty. Other than Kirkwood's own restrained
respiration not a sound throughout the house advertised its inhabitation;
not a board creaked beneath the pressure of a foot, not a mouse rustled in
the wainscoting or beneath the floors, not a breath of air stirred sighing
in the stillness.
And yet, a tremendous racket had been raised at the front door, within the
sixty seconds past! And yet, within twenty minutes two persons, at
least, had preceded Kirkwood into the building! Had they not heard? The
speculation seemed ridiculous. Or had they heard and, alarmed, been too
effectually hobbled by the coils of their nefarious designs to dare reveal
themselves, to investigate the cause of that thunderous summons? Or were
they, perhaps, aware of Kirkwood's entrance, and lying _perdui_, in some
dark corner, to ambush him as he passed?
True, that were hardly like the girl. True, on the other hand, it
were possible that she had stolen away while Kirkwood was hanging in
irresolution by the passage to Quadrant Mews. Again, the space of time
between Kirkwood's dismissal and his return had been exceedingly brief;
whatever her errand, she could hardly have fulfilled it and escaped. At
that moment she might be in the power and at the mercy of him who had
followed her; providing he were not friendly. And in that case, what
torment and what peril might not be hers?
Spurred by solicitude, the young man put personal apprehensions in his
pocket and forgot them, cautiously picking his way through the gloom to the
foot of the stairs. There, by the newel-post, he paused. Darkness walled
him about. Overhead the steps vanished in a well of blackness; he could
not even see the ceiling; his eyes ached with futile effort to fathom the
unknown; his ears rang with unrewarded strain of listening. The silence
hung inviolate, profound.
Slowly he began to ascend, a hand following the balusters, the other with
his cane exploring the obscurity before him. On the steps, a carpet, thick
and heavy, muffled his footfalls. He moved noiselessly. Towards the top
the staircase curved, and presently a foot that groped for a higher level
failed to find it. Again he halted, acutely distrustful.
He went on, guided by the balustrade, passing three doors, all open,
through which the undefined proportions of a drawing-room and boudoir were
barely suggested in a ghostly dusk. By each he paused, listening, hearing
His foot struck with a deadened thud against the bottom step of the
second flight, and his pulses fluttered wildly for a moment. Two
minutes--three--he waited in suspense. From above came no sound. He went
on, as before, save that twice a step yielded, complaining, to his weight.
Toward the top the close air, like the darkness, seemed to weigh more
heavily upon his consciousness; little drops of perspiration started out on
his forehead, his scalp tingled, his mouth was hot and dry, he felt as if
Again the raised foot found no level higher than its fellows. He stopped
and held his breath, oppressed by a conviction that some one was near him.
Confirmation of this came startlingly--an eerie whisper in the night, so
close to him that he fancied he could feel the disturbed air fanning his
"_Is it you, Eccles_?"
He had no answer ready. The voice was masculine, if he analyzed it
correctly. Dumb and stupid he stood poised upon the point of panic.
"_Eccles, is it you_?"
The whisper was both shrill and shaky. As it ceased Kirkwood was
half blinded by a flash of light, striking him squarely in the eyes.
Involuntarily he shrank back a pace, to the first step from the top.
Instantaneously the light was eclipsed.
"_Halt or--or I fire_!"
By now he realized that he had been scrutinized by the aid of an electric
hand-lamp. The tremulous whisper told him something else--that the speaker
suffered from nerves as high-strung as his own. The knowledge gave him
inspiration. He cried at a venture, in a guarded voice, "_Hands up_!"--and
struck out smartly with his stick. Its ferrule impinged upon something soft
but heavy. Simultaneously he heard a low, frightened cry, the cane was
swept aside, a blow landed glancingly on his shoulder, and he was carried
fairly off his feet by the weight of a man hurled bodily upon him with
staggering force and passion. Reeling, he was borne back and down a step
or two, and then,--choking on an oath,--dropped his cane and with one hand
caught the balusters, while the other tore ineffectually at wrists of
hands that clutched his throat. So, for a space, the two hung, panting and
Then endeavoring to swing his shoulders over against the wall, Kirkwood
released his grip on the hand-rail and stumbled on the stairs, throwing his
antagonist out of balance. The latter plunged downward, dragging Kirkwood
with him. Clawing, kicking, grappling, they went to the bottom, jolted
violently by each step; but long before the last was reached, Kirkwood's
throat was free.
Throwing himself off, he got to his feet and grasped the railing for
support; then waited, panting, trying to get his bearings. Himself
painfully shaken and bruised, he shrewdly surmised that his assailant had
fared as ill, if not worse. And, in point of fact, the man lay with neither
move nor moan, still as death at the American's feet.
And once more silence had folded its wings over Number 9, Frognall Street.
More conscious of that terrifying, motionless presence beneath him, than
able to distinguish it by power of vision, he endured interminable minutes
of trembling horror, in a witless daze, before he thought of his match-box.
Immediately he found it and struck a light. As the wood caught and the
bright small flame leaped in the pent air, he leaned forward, over the
body, breathlessly dreading what he must discover.
The man lay quiet, head upon the floor, legs and hips on the stairs. One
arm had fallen over his face, hiding the upper half. The hand gleamed white
and delicate as a woman's. His chin was smooth and round, his lips thin and
petulant. Beneath his top-coat, evening dress clothed a short and slender
figure. Nothing whatever of his appearance suggested the burly ruffian, the
midnight marauder; he seemed little more than a boy old enough to dress
for dinner. In his attitude there was something pitifully suggestive of a
beaten child, thrown into a corner.
Conscience-smitten and amazed Kirkwood stared on until, without warning,
the match flickered and went out. Then, straightening up with an
exclamation at once of annoyance and concern, he rattled the box; it made
no sound,--was empty. In disgust he swore it was the devil's own luck, that
he should run out of vestas at a time so critical. He could not even say
whether the fellow was dead, unconscious, or simply shamming. He had little
idea of his looks; and to be able to identify him might save a deal of
trouble at some future time,--since he, Kirkwood, seemed so little able
to disengage himself from the clutches of this insane adventure! And the
girl--. what had become of her? How could he continue to search for her,
without lights or guide, through all those silent rooms, whose walls might
inclose a hundred hidden dangers in that house of mystery?
But he debated only briefly. His blood was young, and it was hot; it was
quite plain to him that he could not withdraw and retain his self-respect.
If the girl was there to be found, most assuredly, he must find her. The
hand-lamp that had dazzled him at the head of the stairs should be his aid,
now that he thought of it,--and providing he was able to find it.
In the scramble on the stairs he had lost his hat, but he remembered that
the vesta's short-lived light had discovered this on the floor beyond
the man's body. Carefully stepping across the latter he recovered his
head-gear, and then, kneeling, listened with an ear close to the fellow's
face. A softly regular beat of breathing reassured him. Half rising, he
caught the body beneath the armpits, lifting and dragging it off the
staircase; and knelt again, to feel of each pocket in the man's clothing,
partly as an obvious precaution, to relieve him of his advertised revolver
against an untimely wakening, partly to see if he had the lamp about him.
The search proved fruitless. Kirkwood suspected that the weapon, like his
own, had existed only in his victim's ready imagination. As for the lamp,
in the act of rising he struck it with his foot, and picked it up.
It felt like a metal tube a couple of inches in diameter, a foot or so
in length, passably heavy. He fumbled with it impatiently. "However the
dickens," he wondered audibly, "does the infernal machine work?" As it
happened, the thing worked with disconcerting abruptness as his untrained
fingers fell hapchance on the spring. A sudden glare again smote him in the
face, and at the same instant, from a point not a yard away, apparently, an
inarticulate cry rang out upon the stillness.
Heart in his mouth, he stepped back, lowering the lamp (which impishly went
out) and lifting a protecting forearm.
"Who's that?" he demanded harshly.
A strangled sob of terror answered him, blurred by a swift rush of skirts,
and in a breath his shattered nerves quieted and a glimmer of common sense
penetrated the murk anger and fear had bred in his brain. He understood,
and stepped forward, catching blindly at the darkness with eager hands.
"Miss Calendar!" he cried guardedly. "Miss Calendar, it is I--Philip
There was a second sob, of another caliber than the first; timid fingers
brushed his, and a hand, warm and fragile, closed upon his own in a passion
of relief and gratitude.
"Oh, I am so g-glad!" It was Dorothy Calendar's voice, beyond mistake.
"I--I didn't know what t-to t-think.... When the light struck your face
I was sure it was you, but when I called, you answered in a voice so
strange,--not like yours at all! ... Tell me," she pleaded, with palpable
effort to steady herself; "what has happened?"
"I think, perhaps," said Kirkwood uneasily, again troubled by his racing
pulses, "perhaps you can do that better than I."
"Oh!" said the voice guiltily; her fingers trembled on his, and were gently
withdrawn. "I was so frightened," she confessed after a little pause, "so
frightened that I hardly understand ... But you? How did you--?"
"I worried about you," he replied, in a tone absurdly apologetic. "Somehow
it didn't seem right. It was none of my business, of course, but ... I
couldn't help coming back. This fellow, whoever he is--don't worry;
he's unconscious--slipped into the house in a manner that seemed to me
suspicious. I hardly know why I followed, except that he left the door an
open invitation to interference ..."
"I can't be thankful enough," she told him warmly, "that you did interfere.
You have indeed saved me from ..."
"I don't know what. If I knew the man--"
"You don't _know_ him?"
"I can't even guess. The light--?"
She paused inquiringly. Kirkwood fumbled with the lamp, but, whether its
rude handling had impaired some vital part of the mechanism, or whether the
batteries through much use were worn out, he was able to elicit only one
feeble glow, which was instantly smothered by the darkness.
"It's no use," he confessed. "The thing's gone wrong."
"Have you a match?"
"I used my last before I got hold of this."
"Oh," she commented, discouraged. "Have you any notion what he looks like?"
Kirkwood thought briefly. "Raffles," he replied with a chuckle. "He looks
like an amateurish and very callow Raffles. He's in dress clothes, you
"I wonder!" There was a nuance of profound bewilderment in her exclamation.
Then: "He knocked against something in the hall--a chair, I presume; at all
events, I heard that and put out the light. I was ... in the room above the
drawing-room, you see. I stole down to this floor--was there, in the corner
by the stairs when he passed within six inches, and never guessed it. Then,
when he got on the next floor, I started on; but you came in. I slipped
into the drawing-room and crouched behind a chair. You went on, but I dared
not move until ... And then I heard some one cry out, and you fell down the
stairs together. I hope you were not hurt--?"
"Nothing worth mention; but _he_ must have got a pretty stiff knock, to lay
him out so completely." Kirkwood stirred the body with his toe, but the man
made no sign. "Dead to the world ... And now, Miss Calendar?"
If she answered, he did not hear; for on the heels of his query banged the
knocker down below; and thereafter crash followed crash, brewing a deep and
sullen thundering to rouse the echoes and send them rolling, like voices of
enraged ghosts, through the lonely rooms.
THE MYSTERY OF A FOUR-WHEELER
"What's that?" At the first alarm the girl had caught convulsively at
Kirkwood's arm. Now, when a pause came in the growling of the knocker, she
made him hear her voice; and it was broken and vibrant with a threat of
hysteria. "Oh, what can it mean?"
"I don't know." He laid a hand reassuringly over that which trembled on his
forearm. "The police, possibly."
"Police!" she iterated, aghast. "What makes you think--?"
"A man tried to stop me at the door," he answered quickly. "I got in before
he could. When he tried the knocker, a bobby came along and stopped him.
The latter may have been watching the house since then,--it'd be only his
duty to keep an eye on it; and Heaven knows we raised a racket, coming
head-first down those stairs! Now we are up against it," he added brightly.
But the girl was tugging at his hand. "Come!" she begged breathlessly.
"Come! There is a way! Before they break in--"
"But this man--?" Kirkwood hung back, troubled.
"They--the police are sure to find and care for him."
"So they will." He chuckled, "And serve him right! He'd have choked me to
death, with all the good will in the world!"
"Oh, do hurry!"
Turning, she sped light-footed down the staircase to the lower hall, he
at her elbow. Here the uproar was loudest--deep enough to drown whatever
sounds might have been made by two pairs of flying feet. For all that
they fled on tiptoe, stealthily, guilty shadows in the night; and at the
newel-post swung back into the unbroken blackness which shrouded the
fastnesses backward of the dwelling. A sudden access of fury on the part of
the alarmist at the knocker, spurred them on with quaking hearts. In half a
dozen strides, Kirkwood, guided only by instinct and the _frou-frou_ of the
girl's skirts as she ran invisible before him, stumbled on the uppermost
steps of a steep staircase; only a hand-rail saved him, and that at the
last moment. He stopped short, shocked into caution. From below came a
contrite whisper: "I'm so sorry! I should have warned you."
He pulled himself together, glaring wildly at nothing. "It's all right--"
"You're not hurt, truly? Oh, do come quickly."
She waited for him at the bottom of the flight;--happily for him, for he
was all at sea.
"Here--your hand--let me guide you. This darkness is dreadful ..."
He found her hand, somehow, and tucked his into it, confidingly, and not
without an uncertain thrill of satisfaction.
"Come!" she panted. "Come! If they break in--"
Stifled by apprehension, her voice failed her.
They went forward, now less impetuously, for it was very black; and the
knocker had fallen still.
"No fear of that," he remarked after a time. "They wouldn't dare break in."
A fluttering whisper answered him: "I don't know. We dare risk nothing."
They seemed to explore, to penetrate acres of labyrinthine chambers and
passages, delving deep into the bowels of the earth, like rabbits burrowing
in a warren, hounded by beagles.
Above stairs the hush continued unbroken; as if the dumb Genius of the
Place had cast a spell of silence on the knocker, or else, outraged, had
smitten the noisy disturber with a palsy.
The girl seemed to know her way; whether guided by familiarity or by
intuition, she led on without hesitation, Kirkwood blundering in her wake,
between confusion of impression, and dawning dismay conscious of but one
tangible thing, to which he clung as to his hope of salvation: those firm,
friendly fingers that clasped his own.
It was as if they wandered on for an hour; probably from start to finish
their flight took up three minutes, no more. Eventually the girl stopped,
releasing his hand. He could hear her syncopated breathing before him, and
gathered that something was wrong. He took a step forward.
"What is it?"
Her full voice broke out of the obscurity startlingly close, in his very
"The door--the bolts--I can't budge them."
"Let me ..."
He pressed forward, brushing her shoulder. She did not draw away, but
willingly yielded place to his hands at the fastenings; and what had proved
impossible to her, to his strong fingers was a matter of comparative ease.
Yet, not entirely consciously, he was not quick. As he tugged at the bolts
he was poignantly sensitive to the subtle warmth of her at his side; he
could hear her soft dry sobs of excitement and suspense, punctuating the
quiet; and was frightened, absolutely, by an impulse, too strong for
ridicule, to take her in his arms and comfort her with the assurance that,
whatever her trouble, he would stand by her and protect her.... It were
futile to try to laugh it off; he gave over the endeavor. Even at this
critical moment he found himself repeating over and over to his heart the
question: "Can this be love? Can this be love? ..."
Could it be love at an hour's acquaintance? Absurd! But he could not
laugh--nor render himself insensible to the suggestion.
He found that he had drawn the bolts. The girl tugged and rattled at the
knob. Reluctantly the door opened inwards. Beyond its threshold stretched
ten feet or more of covered passageway, whose entrance framed an oblong
glimmering with light. A draught of fresh air smote their faces. Behind
them a door banged.
"Where does this open?"
"On the mews," she informed him.
"The mews!" He stared in consternation at the pallid oval that stood for