Part 2 out of 6
her face. "The mews! But you, in your evening gown, and I--"
"There's no other way. We must chance it. Are you afraid?"
Afraid? ... He stepped aside. She slipped by him and on. He closed the
door, carefully removing the key and locking it on the outside; then joined
the girl at the entrance to the mews, where they paused perforce, she as
much disconcerted as he, his primary objection momentarily waxing in force
as they surveyed the conditions circumscribing their escape.
Quadrant Mews was busily engaged in enjoying itself. Night had fallen
sultry and humid, and the walls and doorsteps were well fringed and
clustered with representatives of that class of London's population which
infests mews through habit, taste, or force of circumstance.
On the stoops men sprawled at easy length, discussing short, foul cutties
loaded with that rank and odoriferous compound which, under the name and
in the fame of tobacco, is widely retailed at tuppence the ounce. Their
women-folk more commonly squatted on the thresholds, cheerfully squabbling;
from opposing second-story windows, two leaned perilously forth, slanging
one another across the square briskly in the purest billingsgate; and were
impartially applauded from below by an audience whose appreciation seemed
faintly tinged with envy. Squawking and yelling children swarmed over the
flags and rude cobblestones that paved the ways. Like incense, heavy and
pungent, the rich effluvia of stable-yards swirled in air made visible by
its faint burden of mist.
Over against the entrance wherein Kirkwood and the girl lurked, confounded
by the problem of escaping undetected through this vivacious scene, a
stable-door stood wide, exposing a dimly illumined interior. Before it
waited a four-wheeler, horse already hitched in between the shafts, while
its driver, a man of leisurely turn of mind, made lingering inspection of
straps and buckles, and, while Kirkwood watched him, turned attention to
the carriage lamps.
The match which he raked spiritedly down his thigh, flared ruddily; the
succeeding paler glow of the lamp threw into relief a heavy beefy mask,
with shining bosses for cheeks and nose and chin; through narrow slits
two cunning eyes glittered like dull gems. Kirkwood appraised him with
attention, as one in whose gross carcass was embodied their only hope of
unannoyed return to the streets and normal surroundings of their world. The
difficulty lay in attracting the man's attention and engaging him without
arousing his suspicions or bringing the population about their ears. Though
he hesitated long, no favorable opportunity presented itself; and in time
the Jehu approached the box with the ostensible purpose of mounting and
driving off. In this critical situation the American, forced to recognize
that boldness must mark his course, took the girl's fate and his own in his
hands, and with a quick word to his companion, stepped out of hiding.
The cabby had a foot upon the step when Kirkwood tapped his shoulder.
"Lor, lumme!" cried the fellow in amaze, pivoting on his heel. Cupidity and
quick understanding enlivened the eyes which in two glances looked
Kirkwood up and down, comprehending at once both his badly rumpled hat
and patent-leather shoes. "S'help me,"--thickly,--"where'd you drop from,
"That's my affair," said Kirkwood briskly. "Are you engaged?"
"If you mykes yerself my fare," returned the cabby shrewdly, "I _ham_."
"Ten shillings, then, if you get us out of here in one minute and
to--say--Hyde Park Corner in fifteen."
"Us?" demanded the fellow aggressively.
Kirkwood motioned toward the passageway. "There's a lady with me--there.
Still the man did not move. "Ten bob," he bargained; "an' you runnin' awye
with th' stuffy ol' gent's fair darter? Come now, guvner, is it gen'rous?
Myke it a quid an'--"
"A pound then. _Will_ you hurry?"
By way of answer the fellow scrambled hastily up to the box and snatched at
the reins. "_Ck_! Gee-e hup!" he cried sonorously.
By now the mews had wakened to the fact of the presence of a "toff" in its
midst. His light topcoat and silk hat-rendered him as conspicuous as a red
Indian in war-paint would have been on Rotten Row. A cry of surprise was
raised, and drowned in a volley of ribald inquiry and chaff.
Fortunately, the cabby was instant to rein in skilfully before the
passageway, and Kirkwood had the door open before the four-wheeler stopped.
The girl, hugging her cloak about her, broke cover (whereat the hue and cry
redoubled), and sprang into the body of the vehicle. Kirkwood followed,
shutting the door. As the cab lurched forward he leaned over and drew down
the window-shade, shielding the girl from half a hundred prying eyes. At
the same time they gathered momentum, banging swiftly, if loudly out of the
An urchin, leaping on the step to spy in Kirkwood's window, fell off,
yelping, as the driver's whiplash curled about his shanks.
The gloom of the tunnel inclosed them briefly ere the lights of the
Hog-in-the-Pound flashed by and the wheels began to roll more easily.
Kirkwood drew back with a sigh of relief.
"Thank God!" he said softly.
The girl had no words.
Worried by her silence, solicitous lest, the strain ended, she might be on
the point of fainting, he let up the shade and lowered the window at her
She seemed to have collapsed in her corner. Against the dark upholstery her
hair shone like pale gold in the half-light; her eyes were closed and she
held a handkerchief to her lips; the other hand lay limp.
She started, and something bulky fell from the seat and thumped heavily on
the floor. Kirkwood bent to pick it up, and so for the first time was
made aware that she had brought with her a small black gladstone bag of
considerable weight. As he placed it on the forward seat their eyes met.
"I didn't know--" he began.
"It was to get that," she hastened to explain, "that my father sent me ..."
"Yes," he assented in a tone indicating his complete comprehension. "I
trust ..." he added vaguely, and neglected to complete the observation,
losing himself in a maze of conjecture not wholly agreeable. This was a new
phase of the adventure. He eyed the bag uneasily. What did it contain? How
did he know ...?
Hastily he abandoned that line of thought. He had no right to
infer anything whatever, who had thrust himself uninvited into her
concerns--uninvited, that was to say, in the second instance, having
been once definitely given his congé. Inevitably, however, a thousand
unanswerable questions pestered him; just as, at each fresh facet of
mystery disclosed by the sequence of the adventure, his bewilderment
The girl stirred restlessly. "I have been thinking," she volunteered in a
troubled tone, "that there is absolutely no way I know of, to thank you
"It is enough if I've been useful," he rose in gallantry to the emergency.
"That," she commented, "was very prettily said. But then I have never known
any one more kind and courteous and--and considerate, than you." There was
no savor of flattery in the simple and direct statement; indeed, she was
looking away from him, out of the window, and her face was serious with
thought; she seemed to be speaking of, rather than to, Kirkwood. "And I
have been wondering," she continued with unaffected candor, "what you must
be thinking of me."
"I? ... What should I think of you, Miss Calendar?"
With the air of a weary child she laid her head against the cushions again,
face to him, and watched him through lowered lashes, unsmiling.
"You might be thinking that an explanation is due you. Even the way we
were brought together was extraordinary, Mr. Kirkwood. You must be very
generous, as generous as you have shown yourself brave, not to require some
sort of an explanation of me."
"I don't see it that way."
"I do ... You have made me like you very much, Mr. Kirkwood."
He shot her a covert glance--causelessly, for her _naiveté_ was flawless.
With a feeling of some slight awe he understood this--a sensation of
sincere reverence for the unspoiled, candid, child's heart and mind that
were hers. "I'm glad," he said simply; "very glad, if that's the case, and
presupposing I deserve it. Personally," he laughed, "I seem to myself to
have been rather forward."
"No; only kind and a gentleman."
"But--please!" he protested.
"Oh, but I mean it, every word! Why shouldn't I? In a little while, ten
minutes, half an hour, we shall have seen the last of each other. Why
should I not tell you how I appreciate all that you have unselfishly done
"If you put it that way,--I'm sure I don't know; beyond that it embarrasses
me horribly to have you overestimate me so. If any courage has been shown
this night, it is yours ... But I'm forgetting again." He thought to divert
her. "Where shall I tell the cabby to go this time, Miss Calendar?"
"Craven Street, please," said the girl, and added a house number. "I am to
meet my father there, with this,"--indicating the gladstone bag.
Kirkwood thrust head and shoulders out the window and instructed the cabby
accordingly; but his ruse had been ineffectual, as he found when he sat
back again. Quite composedly the girl took up the thread of conversation
where it had been broken off.
"It's rather hard to keep silence, when you've been so good. I don't want
you to think me less generous than yourself, but, truly, I can tell you
nothing." She sighed a trace resentfully; or so he thought. "There is
little enough in this--this wretched affair, that I understand myself; and
that little, I may not tell ... I want you to know that."
"I understand, Miss Calendar."
"There's one thing I may say, however. I have done nothing wrong to-night,
I believe," she added quickly.
"I've never for an instant questioned that," he returned with a qualm of
shame; for what he said was not true.
"Thank you ..."
The four-wheeler swung out of Oxford Street into Charing Cross Road.
Kirkwood noted the fact with a feeling of some relief that their ride
was to be so short; like many of his fellow-sufferers from "the artistic
temperament," he was acutely disconcerted by spoken words of praise and
gratitude; Miss Calendar, unintentionally enough, had succeeded only in
rendering him self-conscious and ill at ease.
Nor had she fully relieved her mind, nor voiced all that perturbed her.
"There's one thing more," she said presently: "my father. I--I hope you
will think charitably of him."
"Indeed, I've no reason or right to think otherwise."
"I was afraid--afraid his actions might have seemed peculiar, to-night ..."
"There are lots of things I don't understand, Miss Calendar. Some day,
perhaps, it will all clear up,--this trouble of yours. At least, one
supposes it is trouble, of some sort. And then you will tell me the whole
story.... Won't you?" Kirkwood insisted.
"I'm afraid not," she said, with a smile of shadowed sadness. "We are to
say good night in a moment or two, and--it will be good-by as well. It's
unlikely that we shall ever meet again."
"I refuse positively to take such a gloomy view of the case!"
She shook her head, laughing with him, but with shy regret. "It's so, none
the less. We are leaving London this very night, my father and I--leaving
England, for that matter."
"Leaving England?" he echoed. "You're not by any chance bound for America,
"I ... can't tell you."
"But you can tell me this: are you booked on the _Minneapolis_?"
"No--o; it is a--quite another boat."
"Of course!" he commented savagely. "It wouldn't be me to have _any_ sort
She made no reply beyond a low laugh. He stared gloomily out of his window,
noting indifferently that they were passing the National Gallery. On their
left Trafalgar Square stretched, broad and bare, a wilderness of sooty
stone with an air of mutely tolerating its incongruous fountains. Through
Charing Cross roared a tide-rip of motor-busses and hackney carriages.
Glumly the young man foresaw the passing of his abbreviated romance; their
destination was near at hand. Brentwick had been right, to some extent, at
least; it was quite true that the curtain had been rung up that very night,
upon Kirkwood's Romance; unhappily, as Brentwick had not foreseen, it was
immediately to be rung down.
The cab rolled soberly into the Strand.
"Since we are to say good-by so very soon," suggested Kirkwood, "may I ask
a parting favor, Miss Calendar?"
She regarded him with friendly eyes. "You have every right," she affirmed
"Then please to tell me frankly: are you going into any further danger?"
"And is that the only boon you crave at my hands, Mr. Kirkwood?"
"Without impertinence ..."
For a little time, waiting for him to conclude his vague phrase, she
watched him in an expectant silence. But the man was diffident to a
degree--At length, somewhat unconsciously, "I think not," she answered.
"No; there will be no danger awaiting me at Mrs. Hallam's. You need not
fear for me any more--Thank you."
He lifted his brows at the unfamiliar name. "Mrs. Hallam--?"
"I am going to her house in Craven Street."
"Your father is to meet you there?"--persistently.
"He promised to."
"But if he shouldn't?"
"Why--" Her eyes clouded; she pursed her lips over the conjectural
annoyance. "Why, in that event, I suppose--It would be very embarrassing.
You see, I don't know Mrs. Hallam; I don't know that she expects me, unless
my father is already there. They are old friends--I could drive round for a
while and come back, I suppose."
But she made it plain that the prospect did not please her.
"Won't you let me ask if Mr. Calender is there, before you get out, then? I
don't like to be dismissed," he laughed; "and, you know, you shouldn't go
wandering round all alone."
The cab drew up. Kirkwood put a hand on the door and awaited her will.
"It--it would be very kind ... I hate to impose upon you."
He turned the knob and got out. "If you'll wait one moment," he said
superfluously, as he closed the door.
Pausing only to verify the number, he sprang up the steps and found the
It was a modest little residence, in nothing more remarkable than its
neighbors, unless it was for a certain air of extra grooming: the area
railing was sleek with fresh black paint; the doorstep looked the better
for vigorous stoning; the door itself was immaculate, its brasses shining
lustrous against red-lacquered woodwork. A soft glow filled the fanlight.
Overhead the drawing-room windows shone with a cozy, warm radiance.
The door opened, framing the figure of a maid sketched broadly in masses of
somber black and dead white.
"Can you tell me, is Mr. Calendar here?"
The servant's eyes left his face, looked past him at the waiting cab, and
"I'm not sure, sir. If you will please step in."
Kirkwood hesitated briefly, then acceded. The maid closed the door.
"What name shall I say, sir?"
"If you will please to wait one moment, sir--"
He was left in the entry hall, the servant hurrying to the staircase and
up. Three minutes elapsed; he was on the point of returning to the girl,
when the maid reappeared.
"Mrs. Hallam says, will you kindly step up-stairs, sir."
Disgruntled, he followed her; at the head of the stairs she bowed him into
the drawing-room and again left him to his own resources.
Nervous, annoyed, he paced the floor from wall to wall, his footfalls
silenced by heavy rugs. As the delay was prolonged he began to fume with
impatience, wondering, half regretting that he had left the girl outside,
definitely sorry that he had failed to name his errand more explicitly to
the maid. At another time, in another mood, he might have accorded more
appreciation to the charm of the apartment, which, betraying the feminine
touch in every detail of arrangement and furnishing, was very handsome in
an unconventional way. But he was quite heedless of externals.
Wearied, he deposited himself sulkily in an armchair by the hearth.
From a boudoir on the same floor there came murmurs of two voices, a man's
and a woman's. The latter laughed prettily.
"Oh, any time!" snorted the American. "Any time you're through with your
confounded flirtation, Mr. George B. Calendar!"
The voices rose, approaching. "Good night," said the woman gaily; "farewell
and--good luck go with you!"
"Thank you. Good night," replied the man more conservatively.
Kirkwood rose, expectant.
There was a swish of draperies, and a moment later he was acknowledging the
totally unlooked-for entrance of the mistress of the house. He had thought
to see Calendar, presuming him to be the man closeted with Mrs. Hallam;
but, whoever that had been, he did not accompany the woman. Indeed, as she
advanced from the doorway, Kirkwood could hear the man's footsteps on the
"This is Mr. Kirkwood?" The note of inquiry in the well-trained voice--a
very alluring voice and one pleasant to listen to, he thought--made it seem
as though she had asked, point-blank, "Who is Mr. Kirkwood?"
He bowed, discovering himself in the presence of an extraordinarily
handsome and interesting woman; a woman of years which as yet had not told
upon her, of experience that had not availed to harden her, at least in so
far as her exterior charm of personality was involved; a woman, in brief,
who bore close inspection well, despite an elusive effect of maturity, not
without its attraction for men. Kirkwood was impressed that it would be
very easy to learn to like Mrs. Hallam more than well--with her approval.
Although he had not anticipated it, he was not at all surprised to
recognize in her the woman who, if he were not mistaken, had slipped to
Calendar that warning in the dining-room of the Pless. Kirkwood's state of
mind had come to be such, through his experiences of the past few
hours, that he would have accepted anything, however preposterous, as a
commonplace happening. But for that matter there was nothing particularly
astonishing in this _rencontre_.
"I am Mrs. Hallam. You were asking for Mr. Calendar?"
"He was to have been here at this hour, I believe," said Kirkwood.
"Yes?" There was just the right inflection of surprise in her carefully
He became aware of an undercurrent of feeling; that the woman was
estimating him shrewdly with her fine direct eyes. He returned her regard
with admiring interest; they were gray-green eyes, deep-set but large, a
little shallow, a little changeable, calling to mind the sea on a windy,
Below stairs a door slammed.
"I am not a detective, Mrs. Hallam," announced the young man suddenly.
"Mr. Calendar required a service of me this evening; I am here in natural
consequence. If it was Mr. Calendar who left this house just now, I am
"It was not Mr. Calendar." The fine-lined brows arched in surprise, real
or pretended, at his first blurted words, and relaxed; amused, the woman
laughed deliciously. "But I am expecting him any moment; he was to have
been here half an hour since.... Won't you wait?"
She indicated, with a gracious gesture, a chair, and took for herself one
end of a davenport. "I'm sure he won't be long, now."
"Thank you, I will return, if I may." Kirkwood moved toward the door.
"But there's no necessity--" She seemed insistent on detaining him,
possibly because she questioned his motive, possibly for her own
Kirkwood deprecated his refusal with a smile. "The truth is, Miss Calendar
is waiting in a cab, outside. I--"
"Dorothy Calendar!" Mrs. Hallam rose alertly. "But why should she wait
there? To be sure, we've never met; but I have known her father for many
years." Her eyes held steadfast to his face; shallow, flawed by her every
thought, like the sea by a cat's-paw he found them altogether inscrutable;
yet received an impression that their owner was now unable to account for
She swung about quickly, preceding him to the door and down the stairs. "I
am sure Dorothy will come in to wait, if I ask her," she told Kirkwood in a
high sweet voice. "I'm so anxious to know her. It's quite absurd, really,
of her--to stand on ceremony with me, when her father made an appointment
here. I'll run out and ask--"
Mrs. Hallam's slim white fingers turned latch and knob, opening the street
door, and her voice died away as she stepped out into the night. For a
moment, to Kirkwood, tagging after her with an uncomfortable sense of
having somehow done the wrong thing, her figure--full fair shoulders and
arms rising out of the glittering dinner gown--cut a gorgeous silhouette
against the darkness. Then, with a sudden, imperative gesture, she half
turned towards him.
"But," she exclaimed, perplexed, gazing to right and left, "but the cab,
He was on the stoop a second later. Standing beside her, he stared blankly.
To the left the Strand roared, the stream of its night-life in high spate;
on the right lay the Embankment, comparatively silent and deserted, if
brilliant with its high-swung lights. Between the two, quiet Craven Street
ran, short and narrow, and wholly innocent of any form of equipage.
In silence Mrs. Hallam turned to Kirkwood, her pose in itself a question
and a peremptory one. Her eyes had narrowed; between their lashes the green
showed, a thin edge like jade, cold and calculating. The firm lines of her
mouth and chin had hardened.
Temporarily dumb with consternation, he returned her stare as silently.
"Mrs. Hallam," he stammered, "I--"
She lifted her shoulders impatiently and with a quick movement stepped back
across the threshold, where she paused, a rounded arm barring the entrance,
one hand grasping the door-knob, as if to shut him out at any moment.
"I'm awaiting your explanation," she said coldly.
[Illustration: "I'm waiting your explanation," she said coldly.]
He grinned with nervousness, striving to penetrate the mental processes of
this handsome Mrs. Hallam. She seemed to regard him with a suspicion which
he thought inexcusable. Did she suppose he had spirited Dorothy Calendar
away and then called to apprise her of the fact? Or that he was some sort
of an adventurer, who had manufactured a plausible yarn to gain him access
to her home? Or--harking back to her original theory--that he was an
emissary from Scotland Yard? ... Probably she distrusted him on the latter
hypothesis. The reflection left him more at ease.
"I am quite as mystified as you, Mrs. Hallam," he began. "Miss Calendar was
here, at this door, in a four-wheeler, not ten minutes ago, and--"
"Then where is she now?"
"Tell me where Calendar is," he retorted, inspired, "and I'll try to answer
But her eyes were blank. "You mean--?"
"That Calendar was in this house when I came; that he left, found his
daughter in the cab, and drove off with her. It's clear enough."
"You are quite mistaken," she said thoughtfully. "George Calendar has not
been here this night."
He wondered that she did not seem to resent his imputation. "I think not--"
"Listen!" she cried, raising a warning hand; and relaxing her vigilant
attitude, moved forward once more, to peer down toward the Embankment.
A cab had cut in from that direction and was bearing down upon them with
a brisk rumble of hoofs. As it approached, Kirkwood's heart, that
had lightened, was weighed upon again by disappointment. It was no
four-wheeler, but a hansom, and the open wings of the apron, disclosing a
white triangle of linen surmounted by a glowing spot of fire, betrayed the
sex of the fare too plainly to allow of further hope that it might be the
At the door, the cab pulled up sharply and a man tumbled hastily out upon
"Here!" he cried throatily, tossing the cabby his fare, and turned toward
the pair upon the doorstep, evidently surmising that something was amiss.
For he was Calendar in proper person, and a sight to upset in a twinkling
Kirkwood's ingeniously builded castle of suspicion.
"Mrs. Hallam!" he cried, out of breath. "'S my daughter here?" And then,
catching sight of Kirkwood's countenance: "Why, hello, Kirkwood!" he
saluted him with a dubious air.
The woman interrupted hastily. "Please come in, Mr. Calendar. This
gentleman has been inquiring for you, with an astonishing tale about your
"Dorothy!" Calendar's moon-like visage was momentarily divested of any
trace of color. "What of her?"
"You had better come in," advised Mrs. Hallam brusquely.
The fat adventurer hopped hurriedly across the threshold, Kirkwood
following. The woman shut the door, and turned with back to it, nodding
significantly at Kirkwood as her eyes met Calendar's.
"Well, well?" snapped the latter impatiently, turning to the young man.
But Kirkwood was thinking quickly. For the present he contented himself
with a deliberate statement of fact: "Miss Calendar has disappeared." It
gave him an instant's time ... "There's something damned fishy!" he told
himself. "These two are playing at cross-purposes. Calendar's no fool; he's
evidently a crook, to boot. As for the woman, she's had her eyes open for
a number of years. The main thing's Dorothy. She didn't vanish of her own
initiative. And Mrs. Hallam knows, or suspects, more than she's going to
tell. I don't think she wants Dorothy found. Calendar does. So do I. Ergo:
I'm for Calendar."
"Disappeared?" Calendar was barking at him. "How? When? Where?"
"Within ten minutes," said Kirkwood. "Here, let's get it straight.... With
her permission I brought her here in a four-wheeler." He was carefully
suppressing all mention of Frognall Street, and in Calendar's glance read
approval of the elision. "She didn't want to get out, unless you were here.
I asked for you. The maid showed me up-stairs. I left your daughter in the
cab--and by the way, I hadn't paid the driver. That's funny, too! Perhaps
six or seven minutes after I came in Mrs. Hallam found out that Miss
Calendar was with me and wanted to ask her in. When we got to the door--no
cab. There you have it all."
"Thanks--it's plenty," said Calendar dryly. He bent his head in thought for
an instant, then looked up and fixed Mrs. Hallam with an unprejudiced
eye, "I say!" he demanded explosively. "There wasn't any one here that
Her fine eyes wavered and fell before his; and Kirkwood remarked that her
under lip was curiously drawn in.
"I heard a man leave as Mrs. Hallam joined me," he volunteered helpfully,
and with a suspicion of malice. "And after that--I paid no attention at the
time--it seems to me I did hear a cab in the street--"
"Ow?" interjected Calendar, eying the woman steadfastly and employing an
exclamation of combined illumination and inquiry more typically British
than anything Kirkwood had yet heard from the man.
For her part, the look she gave Kirkwood was sharp with fury. It was more;
it was a mistake, a flaw in her diplomacy; for Calendar intercepted it.
Unceremoniously he grasped her bare arm with his fat hand.
"Tell me who it was," he demanded in an ugly tone.
She freed herself with a twist, and stepped back, a higher color in her
cheeks, a flash of anger in her eyes.
"Mr. Mulready," she retorted defiantly. "What of that?"
"I wish I was sure," declared the fat adventurer, exasperated. "As it is,
I bet a dollar you've put your foot in it, my lady. I warned you of that
blackguard.... There! The mischief's done; we won't row over it. One
moment." He begged it with a wave of his hand; stood pondering briefly,
fumbled for his watch, found and consulted it. "It's the barest chance," he
muttered. "Perhaps we can make it."
"What are you going to do?" asked the woman.
"Give _Mister_ Mulready a run for his money. Come along, Kirkwood; we
haven't a minute. Mrs. Hallam, permit us...." She stepped aside and he
brushed past her to the door. "Come, Kirkwood!"
He seemed to take Kirkwood's company for granted; and the young man was not
inclined to argue the point. Meekly enough he fell in with Calendar on the
sidewalk. Mrs. Hallam followed them out. "You won't forget?" she called
"I'll 'phone you if we find out anything." Calendar jerked the words
unceremoniously over his shoulder as, linking arms with Kirkwood, he drew
him swiftly along. They heard her shut the door; instantly Calendar
stopped. "Look here, did Dorothy have a--a small parcel with her?"
"She had a gladstone bag."
"Oh, the devil, the devil!" Calendar started on again, muttering
distractedly. As they reached the corner he disengaged his arm. "We've a
minute and a half to reach Charing Cross Pier; and I think it's the last
boat. You set the pace, will you? But remember I'm an oldish man and--and
They began to run, the one easily, the other lumbering after like an
old-fashioned square-rigged ship paced by a liner.
Beneath the railway bridge, in front of the Underground station, the
cab-rank cried them on with sardonic view-halloos; and a bobby remarked
them with suspicion, turning to watch as they plunged round the corner and
across the wide Embankment.
The Thames appeared before them, a river of ink on whose burnished surface
lights swam in long winding streaks and oily blobs. By the floating pier a
County Council steamboat strained its hawsers, snoring huskily. Bells were
jingling in her engine-room as the two gained the head of the sloping
Kirkwood slapped a shilling down on the ticket-window ledge. "Where to?" he
cried back to Calendar.
"Cherry Gardens Pier," rasped the winded man. He stumbled after Kirkwood,
groaning with exhaustion. Only the tolerance of the pier employees gained
them their end; the steamer was held some seconds for them; as Calendar
staggered to its deck, the gangway was jerked in, the last hawser cast off.
The boat sheered wide out on the river, then shot in, arrow-like, to the
pier beneath Waterloo Bridge.
The deck was crowded and additional passengers embarked at every stop. In
the circumstances conversation, save on the most impersonal topics, was
impossible; and even had it been necessary or advisable to discuss the
affair which occupied their minds, where so many ears could hear, Calendar
had breath enough neither to answer nor to catechize Kirkwood. They found
seats on the forward deck and rested there in grim silence, both fretting
under the enforced restraint, while the boat darted, like some illuminated
and exceptionally active water insect, from pier to pier.
As it snorted beneath London Bridge, Calendar's impatience drove him from
his seat back to the gangway. "Next stop," he told Kirkwood curtly; and
rested his heavy bulk against the paddle-box, brooding morosely, until,
after an uninterrupted run of more than a mile, the steamer swept in,
side-wheels backing water furiously against the ebbing tide, to Cherry
Sweet name for a locality unsavory beyond credence! ... As they emerged on
the street level and turned west on Bermondsey Wall, Kirkwood was fain to
tug his top-coat over his chest and button it tight, to hide his linen. In
a guarded tone he counseled his companion to do likewise; and Calendar,
after a moment's blank, uncomprehending stare, acknowledged the wisdom of
the advice with a grunt.
The very air they breathed was rank with fetid odors bred of the gaunt dark
warehouses that lined their way; the lights were few; beneath the looming
buildings the shadows were many and dense. Here and there dreary and
cheerless public houses appeared, with lighted windows conspicuous in a
lightless waste. From time to time, as they hurried on, they encountered,
and made wide detours to escape contact with knots of wayfarers--men
debased and begrimed, with dreary and slatternly women, arm in arm,
zigzaging widely across the sidewalks, chorusing with sodden voices the
burden of some popularized ballad. The cheapened, sentimental refrains
echoed sadly between benighted walls....
Kirkwood shuddered, sticking close to Calendar's side. Life's naked
brutalities had theretofore been largely out of his ken. He had heard of
slums, had even ventured to mouth politely moral platitudes on the subject
of overcrowding in great centers of population, but in the darkest flights
of imagination had never pictured to himself anything so unspeakably
foul and hopeless as this.... And they were come hither seeking--Dorothy
Calendar! He was unable to conceive what manner of villainy could be
directed against her, that she must be looked for in such surroundings.
After some ten minutes' steady walking, Calendar turned aside with a
muttered word, and dived down a covered, dark and evil-smelling passageway
that seemed to lead toward the river.
Mastering his involuntary qualms, Kirkwood followed.
Some ten or twelve paces from its entrance the passageway swerved at a
right angle, continuing three yards or so to end in a blank wall, wherefrom
a flickering, inadequate gas-lamp jutted. At this point a stone platform,
perhaps four feet square, was discovered, from the edge of which a flight
of worn and slimy stone steps led down to a permanent boat-landing, where
another gas-light flared gustily despite the protection of its frame of
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the young man. "What, in Heaven's name, Calendar--?"
"Bermondsey Old Stairs. Come on."
They descended to the landing-stage. Beneath them the Pool slept, a sheet
of polished ebony, whispering to itself, lapping with small stealthy
gurgles angles of masonry and ancient piles. On the farther bank tall
warehouses reared square old-time heads, their uncompromising, rugged
profile relieved here and there by tapering mastheads. A few, scattering,
feeble lights were visible. Nothing moved save the river and the wind.
The landing itself they found quite deserted; something which the
adventurer comprehended with a nod which, like its accompanying,
inarticulate ejaculation, might have been taken to indicate either
satisfaction or disgust. He ignored Kirkwood altogether, for the time
being, and presently produced a small, bright object, which, applied to his
lips, proved to be a boatswain's whistle. He sounded two blasts, one long,
There fell a lull, Kirkwood watching the other and wondering what next
would happen. Calendar paced restlessly to and fro upon the narrow landing,
now stopping to incline an ear to catch some anticipated sound, now
searching with sweeping glances the black reaches of the Pool.
Finally, consulting his watch, "Almost ten," he announced.
"We're in time?"
"Can't say.... Damn! ... If that infernal boat would only show up--"
He was lifting the whistle to sound a second summons when a rowboat rounded
a projecting angle formed by the next warehouse down stream, and with
clanking oar-locks swung in toward the landing. On her thwarts two figures,
dipping and rising, labored with the sweeps. As they drew in, the man
forward shipped his blades, and rising, scrambled to the bows in order to
grasp an iron mooring-ring set in the wall. The other awkwardly took in his
oars and, as the current swung the stern downstream, placed a hand palm
downward upon the bottom step to hold the boat steady.
Calendar waddled to the brink of the stage, grunting with relief.
"The other man?" he asked brusquely. "Has he gone aboard? Or is this the
first trip to-night?"
One of the watermen nodded assent to the latter question, adding gruffly:
"Seen nawthin' of 'im, sir."
"Very good," said Calendar, as if he doubted whether it were very good or
bad. "We'll wait a bit."
"Right-o!" agreed the waterman civilly.
Calendar turned back, his small eyes glimmering with satisfaction. Fumbling
in one coat pocket he brought to light a cigar-case. "Have a smoke?" he
suggested with a show of friendliness. "By Heaven, I was beginnin' to get
"As to what?" inquired Kirkwood pointedly, selecting a cigar.
He got no immediate reply, but felt Calendar's sharp eyes upon him while he
manoeuvered with matches for a light.
"That's so," it came at length. "You don't know. I kind of forgot for a
minute; somehow you seemed on the inside."
Kirkwood laughed lightly. "I've experienced something of the same sensation
in the past few hours."
"Don't doubt it." Calendar was watching him narrowly. "I suppose," he put
it to him abruptly, "you haven't changed your mind?"
"Changed my mind?"
"About coming in with me."
"My dear sir, I can have no mind to change until a plain proposition is
laid before me."
"Hmm!" Calendar puffed vigorously until it occurred to him to change the
subject. "You won't mind telling me what happened to you and Dorothy?"
Calendar drew nearer and Kirkwood, lowering his voice, narrated briefly the
events since he had left the Pless in Dorothy's company.
Her father followed him intently, interrupting now and again with
exclamation or pertinent question; as, Had Kirkwood been able to see the
face of the man in No. 9, Frognall Street? The negative answer seemed to
"Youngster, you say? Blam' if I can lay my mind to _him_! Now if that
"It would have been impossible for Mulready--whoever he is--to recover and
get to Craven Street before we did," Kirkwood pointed out.
"Well--go on." But when the tale was told, "It's that scoundrel, Mulready!"
the man affirmed with heat. "It's his hand--I know him. I might have had
sense enough to see he'd take the first chance to hand me the double-cross.
Well, this does for _him_, all right!" Calendar lowered viciously at the
river. "You've been blame' useful," he told Kirkwood assertively. "If
it hadn't been for you, I don't know where _I'd_ be now,--nor Dorothy,
either,"--an obvious afterthought. "There's no particular way I can show my
appreciation, I suppose? Money--?"
"I've got enough to last me till I reach New York, thank you."
"Well, if the time ever comes, just shout for George B. I won't be
wanting.... I only wish you were with us; but that's out of the question."
"No two ways about it. I bet anything you've got a conscience concealed
about your person. What? You're an honest man, eh?"
"I don't want to sound immodest," returned Kirkwood, amused.
"You don't need to worry about that.... But an honest man's got no business
in _my_ line." He glanced again at his watch. "Damn that Mulready! I wonder
if he was 'cute enough to take another way? Or did he think ... The fool!"
He cut off abruptly, seeming depressed by the thought that he might have
been outwitted; and, clasping hands behind his back, chewed savagely on his
cigar, watching the river. Kirkwood found himself somewhat wearied; the
uselessness of his presence there struck him with added force. He bethought
him of his boat-train, scheduled to leave a station miles distant, in an
hour and a half. If he missed it, he would be stranded in a foreign land,
penniless and practically without friends--Brentwick being away and all the
rest of his circle of acquaintances on the other side of the Channel. Yet
he lingered, in poor company, daring fate that he might see the end of the
There was only one honest answer to that question. He stayed on because of
his interest in a girl whom he had known for a matter of three hours, at
most. It was insensate folly on his part, ridiculous from any point of
view. But he made no move to go.
The slow minutes lengthened monotonously.
There came a sound from the street level. Calendar held up a hand of
warning. "Here they come! Steady!" he said tensely. Kirkwood, listening
intently, interpreted the noise as a clash of hoofs upon cobbles.
Calendar turned to the boat.
"Sheer off," he ordered. "Drop out of sight. I'll whistle when I want you."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The boat slipped noiselessly away with the current and in an instant was
lost to sight. Calendar plucked at Kirkwood's sleeve, drawing him into the
shadow of the steps. "E-easy," he whispered; "and, I say, lend me a hand,
will you, if Mulready turns ugly?"
"Oh, yes," assented Kirkwood, with a nonchalance not entirely unassumed.
The racket drew nearer and ceased; the hush that fell thereafter seemed
only accentuated by the purling of the river. It was ended by footsteps
echoing in the covered passageway. Calendar craned his thick neck round the
shoulder of stone, reconnoitering the landing and stairway.
"Thank God!" he said under his breath. "I was right, after all!"
A man's deep tones broke out above. "This way. Mind the steps; they're a
bit slippery, Miss Dorothy."
"But my father--?" came the girl's voice, attuned to doubt.
"Oh, he'll be along--if he isn't waiting now, in the boat."
They descended, the man leading. At the foot, without a glance to right or
left, he advanced to the edge of the stage, leaning out over the rail as if
endeavoring to locate the rowboat. At once the girl appeared, moving to his
"But, Mr. Mulready--"
The girl's words were drowned by a prolonged blast on the boatswain's
whistle at her companion's lips; the shorter one followed in due course.
Calendar edged forward from Kirkwood's side.
"But what shall we do if my father isn't here? Wait?"
"No; best not to; best to get on the _Alethea_ as soon as possible, Miss
Calendar. We can send the boat back."
"'Once aboard the lugger the girl is mine'--eh, Mulready?--to say nothing
of the loot!"
If Calendar's words were jocular, his tone conveyed a different impression
entirely. Both man and girl wheeled right about to face him, the one with a
strangled oath, the other with a low cry.
"The devil!" exclaimed this Mr. Mulready.
"Oh! My father!" the girl voiced her recognition of him.
"Not precisely one and the same person," commented Calendar suavely.
"But--er--thanks, just as much.... You see, Mulready, when I make an
appointment, I keep it."
"We'd begun to get a bit anxious about you--" Mulready began defensively.
"So I surmised, from what Mrs. Hallam and Mr. Kirkwood told me.... Well?"
The man found no ready answer. He fell back a pace to the railing, his
features working with his deep chagrin. The murky flare of the gas-lamp
overhead fell across a face handsome beyond the ordinary but marred by a
sullen humor and seamed with indulgence: a face that seemed hauntingly
familiar until Kirkwood in a flash of visual memory reconstructed the
portrait of a man who lingered over a dining-table, with two empty chairs
for company. This, then, was he whom Mrs. Hallam had left at the Pless; a
tall, strong man, very heavy about the chest and shoulders....
"Why, my dear friend," Calendar was taunting him, "you don't seem overjoyed
to see me, for all your wild anxiety! 'Pon my word, you act as if you
hadn't expected me--and our engagement so clearly understood, at that! ...
Why, you fool!"--here the mask of irony was cast. "Did you think for a
moment I'd let myself be nabbed by that yap from Scotland Yard? Were you
banking on that? I give you my faith I ambled out under his very nose! ...
Dorothy, my dear," turning impatiently from Mulready, "where's that bag?"
The girl withdrew a puzzled gaze from Mulready's face, (it was apparent to
Kirkwood that this phase of the affair was no more enigmatic to him than to
her), and drew aside a corner of her cloak, disclosing the gladstone bag,
securely grasped in one gloved hand.
"I have it, thanks to Mr. Kirkwood," she said quietly.
Kirkwood chose that moment to advance from the shadow. Mulready started and
fixed him with a troubled and unfriendly stare. The girl greeted him with a
note of sincere pleasure in her surprise.
"Why, Mr. Kirkwood! ... But I left you at Mrs. Hallam's!"
Kirkwood bowed, smiling openly at Mulready's discomfiture.
"By your father's grace, I came with him," he said. "You ran away without
saying good night, you know, and I'm a jealous creditor."
She laughed excitedly, turning to Calendar. "But _you_ were to meet me at
"Mulready was good enough to try to save me the trouble, my dear. He's an
unselfish soul, Mulready. Fortunately it happened that I came along not
five minutes after he'd carried you off. How was that, Dorothy?"
Her glance wavered uneasily between the two, Mulready and her father. The
former, shrugging to declare his indifference, turned his back squarely
upon them. She frowned.
"He came out of Mrs. Hallam's and got into the four-wheeler, saying you had
sent him to take your place, and would join us on the _Alethea_."
"So-o! How about it, Mulready?"
The man swung back slowly. "What you choose to think," he said after a
"Well, never mind! We'll go over the matter at our leisure on the
There was in the adventurer's tone a menace, bitter and not to be ignored;
which Mulready saw fit to challenge.
"I think not," he declared; "I think not. I'm weary of your addle-pated
suspicions. It'd be plain to any one but a fool that I acted for the best
interests of all concerned in this matter. If you're not content to see it
in that light, I'm done."
"Oh, if you want to put it that way, I'm _not_ content, Mr. Mulready,"
retorted Calendar dangerously.
"Please yourself. I bid you good evening and--good-by." The man took a step
toward the stairs.
Calendar dropped his right hand into his top-coat pocket. "Just a minute,"
he said sweetly, and Mulready stopped. Abruptly the fat adventurer's
smoldering resentment leaped in flame. "That'll be about all, Mr. Mulready!
'Bout face, you hound, and get into that boat! D'you think I'll temporize
with you till Doomsday? Then forget it. You're wrong, dead wrong. Your
bluff's called, and"--with an evil chuckle--"I hold a full house,
Mulready,--every chamber taken." He lifted meaningly the hand in the coat
pocket. "Now, in with you."
With a grin and a swagger of pure bravado Mulready turned and obeyed.
Unnoticed of any, save perhaps Calendar himself, the boat had drawn in at
the stage a moment earlier. Mulready dropped into it and threw himself
sullenly upon the midships thwart.
"Now, Dorothy, in you go, my dear," continued Calendar, with a
self-satisfied wag of his head.
Half dazed, to all seeming, she moved toward the boat. With clumsy and
assertive gallantry her father stepped before her, offering his hand,--his
hand which she did not touch; for, in the act of descending, she remembered
and swung impulsively back to Kirkwood.
"Good night, Mr. Kirkwood; good night,--I shan't forget."
He took her hand and bowed above it; but when his head was lifted, he still
retained her fingers in a lingering clasp.
"Good night," he said reluctantly.
The crass incongruity of her in that setting smote him with renewed force.
Young, beautiful, dainty, brilliant and graceful in her pretty evening
gown, she figured strangely against the gloomy background of the river, in
those dull and mean surroundings of dank stone and rusted iron. She was
like (he thought extravagantly) a whiff of flower-fragrance lost in the
miasmatic vapors of a slough.
The innocent appeal and allure of her face, upturned to his beneath the
gas-light, wrought compassionately upon his sensitive and generous heart.
He was aware of a little surge of blind rage against the conditions that
had brought her to that spot, and against those whom he held responsible
for those conditions.
In a sudden flush of daring he turned and nodded coolly to Calendar. "With
your permission," he said negligently; and drew the girl aside to the angle
of the stairway.
"Miss Calendar--" he began; but was interrupted.
Calendar had started toward him angrily.
Kirkwood calmly waved him back. "I want a word in private with your
daughter, Mr. Calendar," he announced with quiet dignity. "I don't think
you'll deny me? I've saved you some slight trouble to-night."
Disgruntled, the adventurer paused. "Oh--_all_ right," he grumbled. "I
don't see what ..." He returned to the boat.
"Forgive me, Miss Calendar," continued Kirkwood nervously. "I know I've no
right to interfere, but--"
"Yes, Mr. Kirkwood?"
"--but hasn't this gone far enough?" he floundered unhappily. "I can't like
the look of things. Are you sure--sure that it's all right--with you, I
She did not answer at once; but her eyes were kind and sympathetic. He
plucked heart of their tolerance.
"It isn't too late, yet," he argued. "Let me take you to your friends,--you
must have friends in the city. But this--this midnight flight down the
Thames, this atmosphere of stealth and suspicion, this--"
"But my place is with my father, Mr. Kirkwood," she interposed. "I daren't
doubt him--dare I?"
"I ... suppose not."
"So I must go with him.... I'm glad--thank you for caring, dear Mr.
Kirkwood. And again, good night."
"Good luck attend you," he muttered, following her to the boat.
Calendar helped her in and turned back to Kirkwood with a look of arch
triumph; Kirkwood wondered if he had overheard. Whether or no, he could
afford to be magnanimous. Seizing Kirkwood's hand, he pumped it vigorously.
"My dear boy, you've been an angel in disguise! And I guess you think me
the devil in masquerade." He chuckled, in high conceit with himself over
the turn of affairs. "Good night and--and fare thee well!" He dropped into
the boat, seating himself to face the recalcitrant Mulready. "Cast off,
The boat dropped away, the oars lifting and falling. With a weariful sense
of loneliness and disappointment, Kirkwood hung over the rail to watch them
out of sight.
A dozen feet of water lay between the stage and the boat. The girl's dress
remained a spot of cheerful color; her face was a blur. As the watermen
swung the bows down-stream, she looked back, lifting an arm spectral in its
white sheath. Kirkwood raised his hat.
The boat gathered impetus, momentarily diminishing in the night's illusory
perspective; presently it was little more than a fugitive blot, gliding
swiftly in midstream. And then, it was gone entirely, engulfed by the
[Illustration: The boat gathered impetus.]
Somewhat wearily the young man released the railing and ascended the
stairs. "And that is the end!" he told himself, struggling with an acute
sense of personal injury. He had been hardly used. For a few hours his
life had been lightened by the ineffable glamor of Romance; mystery and
adventure had engaged him, exorcising for the time the Shade of Care; he
had served a fair woman and been associated with men whose ways, however
questionable, were the ways of courage, hedged thickly about with perils.
All that was at an end. Prosaic and workaday to-morrows confronted him in
endless and dreary perspective; and he felt again upon his shoulder the
bony hand of his familiar, Care....
He sighed: "Ah, well!"
Disconsolate and aggrieved, he gained the street. He was miles from St.
Pancras, foot-weary, to all intents and purposes lost.
In this extremity, Chance smiled upon him. The cabby who, at his initial
instance, had traveled this weary way from Quadrant Mews, after the manner
of his kind, ere turning back, had sought surcease of fatigue at the
nearest public; from afar Kirkwood saw the four-wheeler at the curb, and
made all haste toward it.
Entering the gin-mill he found the cabby, soothed him with bitter, and,
instructing him for St. Pancras with all speed, dropped, limp and listless
with fatigue, into the conveyance.
As it moved, he closed his eyes; the face of Dorothy Calendar shone out
from the blank wall of his consciousness, like an illuminated picture cast
upon a screen. She smiled upon him, her head high, her eyes tender and
trustful. And he thought that her scarlet lips were sweet with promise and
her glance a-brim with such a light as he had never dreamed to know.
And now that he knew it and desired it, it was too late; an hour gone he
might, by a nod of his head, have cast his fortunes with hers for weal or
woe. But now ...
Alas and alackaday, that Romance was no more!
DIVERSIONS OF A RUINED GENTLEMAN--RESUMED
From the commanding elevation of the box, "Three 'n' six," enunciated the
cabby, his tone that of a man prepared for trouble, acquainted with
trouble, inclined to give trouble a welcome. His bloodshot eyes blinked
truculently at his alighted fare. "Three 'n' six," he iterated
An adjacent but theretofore abstracted policeman pricked up his ears and
assumed an intelligent expression.
"Bermondsey Ol' Stairs to Sain' Pancras," argued the cabby assertively;
"seven mile by th' radius; three 'n' six!"
Kirkwood stood on the outer station platform, near the entrance to
third-class waiting-rooms. Continuing to fumble through his pockets for an
elusive sovereign purse, he looked up mildly at the man.
"All right, cabby," he said, with pacific purpose; "you'll get your fare in
half a shake."
"Three 'n' six!" croaked the cabby, like a blowsy and vindictive parrot.
The bobby strolled nearer.
"Yes?" said Kirkwood, mildly diverted. "Why not sing it, cabby?"
"Lor' lumme!" The cabby exploded with indignation, continuing to give a
lifelike imitation of a rumpled parrot. "I 'ad trouble enough wif you at
Bermondsey Ol' Stairs, hover that quid you promised, didn't I? Sing it! My
"Quid, cabby?" And then, remembering that he had promised the fellow a
sovereign for fast driving from Quadrant Mews, Kirkwood grinned broadly,
eyes twinkling; for Mulready must have fallen heir to that covenant. "But
you got the sovereign? You got it, didn't you, cabby?"
The driver affirmed the fact with unnecessary heat and profanity and an
amendment to the effect that he would have spoiled his fare's sanguinary
conk had the outcome been less satisfactory.
The information proved so amusing that Kirkwood, chuckling, forbore to
resent the manner of its delivery, and, abandoning until a more favorable
time the chase of the coy sovereign purse, extracted from one trouser
pocket half a handful of large English small change.
"Three shillings, six-pence," he counted the coins into the cabby's grimy
and bloated paw; and added quietly: "The exact distance is rather less
than, four miles, my man; your fare, precisely two shillings. You may keep
the extra eighteen pence, for being such a conscientious blackguard,--or
talk it over with the officer here. Please yourself."
He nodded to the bobby, who, favorably impressed by the silk hat which
Kirkwood, by diligent application of his sleeve during the cross-town ride,
had managed to restore to a state somewhat approximating its erstwhile
luster, smiled at the cabby a cold, hard smile. Whereupon the latter,
smirking in unabashed triumph, spat on the pavement at Kirkwood's feet,
gathered up the reins, and wheeled out.
"A 'ard lot, sir," commented the policeman, jerking his helmeted head
towards the vanishing four-wheeler.
"Right you are," agreed Kirkwood amiably, still tickled by the knowledge
that Mulready had been obliged to pay three times over for the ride that
ended in his utter discomfiture. Somehow, Kirkwood had conceived no liking
whatever for the man; Calendar he could, at a pinch, tolerate for his sense
of humor, but Mulready--! "A surly dog," he thought him.
Acknowledging the policeman's salute and restoring two shillings and a
few fat copper pennies to his pocket, he entered the vast and echoing
train-shed. In the act, his attention was attracted and immediately riveted
by the spectacle of a burly luggage navvy in a blue jumper in the act of
making off with a large, folding sign-board, of which the surface was
lettered expansively with the advice, in red against a white background:
BOAT-TRAIN LEAVES ON TRACK 3
Incredulous yet aghast the young man gave instant chase to the navvy,
overhauling him with no great difficulty. For your horny-handed British
working-man is apparently born with two golden aphorisms in his mouth:
"Look before you leap," and "Haste makes waste." He looks continually,
seldom, if ever, leaps, and never is prodigal of his leisure.
Excitedly Kirkwood touched the man's arm with a detaining hand.
"Boat-train?" he gasped, pointing at the board.
"Left ten minutes ago, thank you, sir."
"Wel-l, but...! Of course I can get another train at Tilbury?"
"For yer boat? No, sir, thank you, sir. Won't be another tryne till
Aimlessly Kirkwood drifted away, his mind a blank.
Sometime later he found himself on the steps outside the station, trying to
stare out of countenance a glaring electric mineral-water advertisement on
the farther side of the Euston Road.
He was stranded....
Beyond the spiked iron fence that enhedges the incurving drive, the roar of
traffic, human, wheel and hoof, rose high for all the lateness of the hour:
sidewalks groaning with the restless contact of hundreds of ill-shod
feet; the roadway thundering--hansoms, four-wheelers, motor-cars, dwarfed
coster-mongers' donkey-carts and ponderous, rumbling, C.-P. motor-vans,
struggling for place and progress. For St. Pancras never sleeps.
The misty air swam luminous with the light of electric signs as with the
radiance of some lurid and sinister moon. The voice of London sounded in
Kirkwood's ears, like the ominous purring of a somnolent brute beast,
resting, gorged and satiated, ere rising again to devour. To devour--
Distracted, he searched pocket after pocket, locating his watch, cigar- and
cigarette-cases, match-box, penknife--all the minutiae of pocket-hardware
affected by civilized man; with old letters, a card-case, a square envelope
containing his steamer ticket; but no sovereign purse. His small-change
pocket held less than three shillings--two and eight, to be exact--and a
brass key, which he failed to recognize as one of his belongings.
And that was all. At sometime during the night he had lost (or been
cunningly bereft of?) that little purse of chamois-skin containing the
three golden sovereigns which he had been husbanding to pay his steamer
expenses, and which, if only he had them now, would stand between him and
starvation and a night in the streets.
And, searching his heart, he found it brimming with gratitude to Mulready,
for having relieved him of the necessity of settling with the cabby.
"Vagabond?" said Kirkwood musingly. "Vagabond?" He repeated the word softly
a number of times, to get the exact flavor of it, and found it little to
his taste. And yet...
He thrust both hands deep in his trouser pockets and stared purposelessly
into space, twisting his eyebrows out of alignment and crookedly protruding
his lower lip.
If Brentwick were only in town--But he wasn't, and wouldn't be, within the
"No good waiting here," he concluded. Composing his face, he reëntered the
station. There were his trunks, of course. He couldn't leave them standing
on the station platform for ever.
He found the luggage-room and interviewed a mechanically courteous
attendant, who, as the result of profound deliberation, advised him to try
his luck at the lost-luggage room, across the station. He accepted the
advice; it was a foregone conclusion that his effects had not been conveyed
to the Tilbury dock; they could not have been loaded into the luggage van
without his personal supervision. Still, anything was liable to happen when
his unlucky star was in the ascendant.
He found them in the lost-luggage room.
A clerk helped him identify the articles and ultimately clucked with a
perfunctory note: "Sixpence each, please."
"Sixpence each, the fixed charge, sir. For every twenty-four hours or
fraction thereof, sixpence per parcel."
"Oh, thank you so much," said Kirkwood sweetly. "I will call to-morrow."
"Very good, sir. Thank you, sir."
"Five times sixpence is two-and-six," Kirkwood computed, making his way
hastily out of the station, lest a worse thing befall him. "No, bless your
heart!--not while two and eight represents the sum total of my fortune."
He wandered out into the night; he could not linger round the station till
dawn; and what profit to him if he did? Even were he to ransom his trunks,
one can scarcely change one's clothing in a public waiting-room.
Somewhere in the distance a great clock chimed a single stroke, freighted
sore with melancholy. It knelled the passing of the half-hour after
midnight; a witching hour, when every public shuts up tight, and gentlemen
in top-hats and evening dress are doomed to pace the pave till day (barring
they have homes or visible means of support)--till day, when pawnshops open
and such personal effects as watches and hammered silver cigar-cases may be
Sable garments fluttering, Care fell into step with Philip Kirkwood; Care
the inexorable slipped a skeleton arm through his and would not be denied;
Care the jade clung affectionately to his side, refusing to be jilted.
"Ah, you thought you would forget me?" chuckled the fleshless lips by his
ear. "But no, my boy; I'm with you now, for ever and a day. 'Misery loves
company,' and it wouldn't be pretty of me to desert you in this extremity,
would it? Come, let us beguile the hours till dawn with conversation.
Here's a sprightly subject: What are you going to do, Mr. Kirkwood? _What
are you going to do?_"
But Kirkwood merely shook a stubborn head and gazed straight before him,
walking fast through ways he did not recognize, and pretending not to hear.
None the less the sense of Care's solicitous query struck like a pain into
his consciousness. What was he to do?
An hour passed.
Denied the opportunity to satisfy its beast hunger and thirst, humanity
goes off to its beds. In that hour London quieted wonderfully; the streets
achieved an effect of deeper darkness, the skies, lowering, looked down
with a blush less livid for the shamelessness of man; cab ranks lengthened;
solitary footsteps added unto themselves loud, alarming, offensive echoes;
policemen, strolling with lamps blazing on their breasts, became as
lightships in a trackless sea; each new-found street unfolded its
perspective like a canyon of mystery, and yet teeming with a hundred masked
hazards; the air acquired a smell more clear and clean, an effect more
volatile; and the night-mist thickened until it studded one's attire with
myriads of tiny buttons, bright as diamond dust.
Through this long hour Kirkwood walked without a pause.
Another clock, somewhere, clanged resonantly twice.
The world was very still....
And so, wandering foot-loose in a wilderness of ways, turning aimlessly,
now right, now left, he found himself in a street he knew, yet seemed not
to know: a silent, black street one brief block in length, walled with
dead and lightless dwellings, haunted by his errant memory; a street whose
atmosphere was heavy with impalpable essence of desuetude; in two words,
Kirkwood identified it with a start and a guilty tremor. He stopped
stock-still, in an unreasoning state of semi-panic, arrested by a silly
impulse to turn and fly; as if the bobby, whom he descried approaching him
with measured stride, pausing new and again to try a door or flash
his bull's-eye down an area, were to be expected to identify the man
responsible for that damnable racket raised ere midnight in vacant Number
Oddly enough, the shock of recognition brought him to his
senses,--temporarily. He was even able to indulge himself in a quiet,
sobering grin at his own folly. He passed the policeman with a nod and a
cool word in response to the man's good-natured, "Good-night, sir." Number
9 was on the other side of the street; and he favored its blank and dreary
elevation with a prolonged and frank stare--that profited him nothing, by
the way. For a crazy notion popped incontinently into his head, and would
not be cast forth.
At the corner he swerved and crossed, still possessed of his devil of
inspiration. It would be unfair to him to say that he did not struggle to
resist it, for he did, because it was fairly and egregiously asinine; yet
struggling, his feet trod the path to which it tempted him.
"Why," he expostulated feebly, "I might's well turn back and beat that
bobby over the head with my cane!..."
But at the moment his hand was in his change pocket, feeling over that same
brass door-key which earlier he had been unable to account for, and he was
informing himself how very easy it would have been for the sovereign purse
to have dropped from his waistcoat pocket while he was sliding on his ear
down the dark staircase. To recover it meant, at the least, shelter for
the night, followed by a decent, comfortable and sustaining morning meal.
Fortified by both he could redeem his luggage, change to clothing more
suitable for daylight traveling, pawn his valuables, and enter into
negotiations with the steamship company for permission to exchange his
passage, with a sum to boot, for transportation on another liner. A most
feasible project! A temptation all but irresistible!
But then--the risk.... Supposing (for the sake of argument) the customary
night-watchman to have taken up a transient residence in Number 9;
supposing the police to have entered with him and found the stunned man on
the second floor: would the watchman not be vigilant for another nocturnal
marauder? would not the police now, more than ever, be keeping a wary eye
on that house of suspicious happenings?
Decidedly, to reënter it would be to incur a deadly risk. And yet,
undoubtedly, beyond question! his sovereign purse was waiting for him
somewhere on the second flight of stairs; while as his means of clandestine
entry lay warm in his fingers--the key to the dark entry, which he had by
force of habit pocketed after locking the door.
He came to the Hog-in-the-Pound. Its windows were dim with low-turned
gas-lights. Down the covered alleyway, Quadrant Mews slept in a dusk but
fitfully relieved by a lamp or two round which the friendly mist clung
close and thick.
There would be none to see....
Skulking, throat swollen with fear, heart beating like a snare-drum,
Kirkwood took his chance. Buttoning his overcoat collar up to his chin
and cursing the fact that his hat must stand out like a chimney-pot on a
detached house, he sped on tiptoe down the cobbled way and close beneath
the house-walls of Quadrant Mews. But, half-way in, he stopped, confounded
by an unforeseen difficulty. How was he to identify the narrow entry of
Number 9, whose counterparts doubtless communicated with the mews from
every residence on four sides of the city block?
The low inner tenements were yet high enough to hide the rear elevations of
Frognall Street houses, and the mist was heavy besides; otherwise he had
made shift to locate Number 9 by ticking off the dwellings from the corner.
If he went on, hit or miss, the odds were anything-you-please to one that
he would blunder into the servant's quarters of some inhabited house,
and--be promptly and righteously sat upon by the service-staff, while the
bobby was summoned.
Be that as it might--he almost lost his head when he realized this--escape
was already cut off by the way he had come. Some one, or, rather, some two
men were entering the alley. He could hear the tramping and shuffle of
clumsy feet, and voices that muttered indistinctly. One seemed to trip over
something, and cursed. The other laughed; the voices grew more loud. They
were coming his way. He dared no longer vacillate.
But--which passage should he choose?
He moved on with more haste than discretion. One heel slipped on a cobble
time-worn to glassy smoothness; he lurched, caught himself up in time to
save a fall, lost his hat, recovered it, and was discovered. A voice,
maudlin with drink, hailed and called upon him to stand and give an account
of himself, "like a goo' feller." Another tempted him with offers of drink
and sociable confabulation. He yielded not; adamantine to the seductive
lure, he picked up his heels and ran. Those behind him, remarking with
resentment the amazing fact that an intimate of the mews should run away
from liquor, cursed and made after him, veering, staggering, howling like
For all their burden of intoxication, they knew the ground by instinct and
from long association. They gained on him. Across the way a window-sash
went up with a bang, and a woman screamed. Through the only other entrance
to the mews a belated cab was homing; its driver, getting wind of the
unusual, pulled up, blocking the way, and added his advice to the uproar.
Caught thus between two fires, and with his persecutors hard upon him,
Kirkwood dived into the nearest black hole of a passageway and in sheer
desperation flung himself, key in hand, against the door at the end. Mark
how his luck served him who had forsworn her! He found a keyhole and
inserted the key. It turned. So did the knob. The door gave inward. He fell
in with it, slammed it, shot the bolts, and, panting, leaned against its
panels, in a pit of everlasting night but--saved!--for the time being, at
Outside somebody brushed against one wall, cannoned to the other, brought
up with a crash against the door, and, perforce at a standstill, swore from
"Gorblimy!" he declared feelingly. "I'd 'a' took my oath I sore'm run in
'ere!" And then, in answer to an inaudible question: "No, 'e ain't. Gorn
an' let the fool go to 'ell. 'Oo wants 'im to share goo' liker? Not I!..."
Joining his companion he departed, leaving behind him a trail of
sulphur-tainted air. The mews quieted gradually.
Indoors Kirkwood faced unhappily the enigma of fortuity, wondering: Was
this by any possibility Number 9?
The key had fitted; the bolts had been drawn on the inside; and while
the key had been one of ordinary pattern and would no doubt have proven
effectual with any one of a hundred common locks, the finger of probability
seemed to indicate that his luck had brought him back to Number 9.
In spite of all this, he was sensible of little confidence; though this
were truly Number 9, his freedom still lay on the knees of the gods, his
very life, belike, was poised, tottering, on a pinnacle of chance.
In the end, taking heart of desperation, he stooped and removed his shoes;
a precaution which later appealed to his sense of the ridiculous, in view
of the racket he had raised in entering, but which at the moment seemed
most natural and in accordance with common sense. Then rising, he held his
breath, staring and listening. About him the pitch darkness was punctuated
with fading points of fire, and in his ears was a noise of strange
whisperings, very creepy--until, gritting his teeth, he controlled his
nerves and gradually realized that he was alone, the silence undisturbed.
He went forward gingerly, feeling his way like a blind man on strange
ground. Ere long he stumbled over a door-sill and found that the walls
of the passage had fallen away; he had entered a room, a black cavern of
indeterminate dimensions. Across this he struck at random, walked himself
flat against a wall, felt his way along to an open door, and passed through
to another apartment as dark as the first.
Here, endeavoring to make a circuit of the walls, he succeeded in throwing
himself bodily across a bed, which creaked horribly; and for a full minute
lay as he had fallen, scarce daring to think. But nothing followed, and he
got up and found a shut door which let him into yet a third room, wherein
he barked both shins on a chair; and escaped to a fourth whose atmosphere
was highly flavored with reluctant odors of bygone cookery, stale water and
damp plumbing--probably the kitchen. Thence progressing over complaining
floors through what may have been the servants' hall, a large room with
a table in the middle and a number of promiscuous chairs (witness his
tortured shins!), he finally blundered into the basement hallway.
By now a little calmer, he felt assured that this was really Number 9,
Frognall Street, and a little happier about it all, though not even
momentarily forgetful of the potential police and night-watchman.
However, he mounted the steps to the ground floor without adventure and
found himself at last in the same dim and ghostly hall which he had entered
some six hours before; the mockery of dusk admitted by the fan-light was
just strong enough to enable him to identify the general lay of the land
and arrangement of furniture.
More confidently with each uncontested step, he continued his quest.
Elation was stirring his spirit when he gained the first floor and moved
toward the foot of the second flight, approaching the spot whereat he was
to begin the search for the missing purse. The knowledge that he lacked
means of obtaining illumination deterred him nothing; he had some hope
of finding matches in one of the adjacent rooms, but, failing that, was
prepared to ascend the stairs on all fours, feeling every inch of their
surface, if it took hours. Ever an optimistic soul, instinctively inclined
to father faith with a hope, he felt supremely confident that his search
would not prove fruitless, that he would win early release from his
And thus it fell out that, at the instant he was thinking it time to begin
to crawl and hunt, his stockinged feet came into contact with something
heavy, yielding, warm--something that moved, moaned, and caused his hair to
bristle and his flesh to creep.
We will make allowances for him; all along he had gone on the assumption
that his antagonist of the dark stairway would have recovered and made off
with all expedition, in the course of ten or twenty minutes, at most, from
the time of his accident. To find him still there was something entirely
outside of Kirkwood's reckoning: he would as soon have thought to encounter
say, Calendar,--would have preferred the latter, indeed. But this fellow
whose disability was due to his own interference, who was reasonably to be
counted upon to raise the very deuce and all of a row!
The initial shock, however shattering to his equanimity, soon, lost effect.
The man evidently remained unconscious, in fact had barely moved; while the
moan that Kirkwood heard, had been distressingly faint.
"Poor devil!" murmured the young man. "He must be in a pretty bad way, for
sure!" He knelt, compassion gentling his heart, and put one hand to the
insentient face. A warm sweat moistened his fingers; his palm was fanned by
Immeasurably perplexed, the American rose, slipped on his shoes and
buttoned them, thinking hard the while. What ought he to do? Obviously
flight suggested itself,--incontinent flight, anticipating the man's
recovery. On the other hand, indubitably the latter had sustained such
injury that consciousness, when it came to him, would hardly be reinforced
by much aggressive power. Moreover, it was to be remembered that the one
was in that house with quite as much warrant as the other, unless Kirkwood
had drawn a rash inference from the incident of the ragged sentry. The two
of them were mutual, if antagonistic, trespassers; neither would dare
bring about the arrest of the other. And then--and this was not the least
consideration to influence Kirkwood--perhaps the fellow would die if he got
Kirkwood shut his teeth grimly. "I'm no assassin," he informed himself, "to
strike and run. If I've maimed this poor devil and there are consequences,
I'll stand 'em. The Lord knows it doesn't matter a damn to anybody, not
even to me, what happens to me; while _he_ may be valuable."
Light upon the subject, actual as well as figurative, seemed to be the
first essential; his mind composed, Kirkwood set himself in search of it.
The floor he was on, however, afforded him no assistance; the mantels were
guiltless of candles and he discovered no matches, either in the wide and
silent drawing-room, with its ghastly furniture, like mummies in their
linen swathings, or in the small boudoir at the back. He was to look either
above or below, it seemed.
After some momentary hesitation, he went up-stairs, his ascent marked by a
single and grateful accident; half-way to the top he trod on an object that
clinked underfoot, and, stooping, retrieved the lost purse. Thus was he
justified of his temerity; the day was saved--that is, to-morrow was.
The rooms of the second-floor were bedchambers, broad, deep, stately,
inhabited by seven devils of loneliness. In one, on a dresser, Kirkwood
found a stump of candle in a china candlestick; the two charred ends of
matches at its base were only an irritating discovery, however--evidence
that real matches had been the mode in Number 9, at some remote date.
Disgusted and oppressed by cumulative inquisitiveness, he took the
candle-end back to the hall; he would have given much for the time and
means to make a more detailed investigation into the secret of the house.
Perhaps it was mostly his hope of chancing on some clue to the mystery of
Dorothy Calender--bewitching riddle that she was!--that fascinated his
imagination so completely. Aside from her altogether, the great house that
stood untenanted, yet in such complete order, so self-contained in its
darkened quiet, intrigued him equally with the train of inexplicable events
that had brought him within its walls. Now--since his latest entrance--his
vision had adjusted itself to cope with the obscurity to some extent; and
the street lights, meagerly reflected through the windows from the bosom of
a sullen pall of cloud, low-swung above the city, had helped him to piece
together many a detail of decoration and furnishing, alike somber and
richly dignified. Kirkwood told himself that the owner, whoever he might
be, was a man of wealth and taste inherited from another age; he had found
little of meretricious to-day in the dwelling, much that was solid and
sedate and homely, and--Victorian.... He could have wished for more; a box
of early Victorian vestas had been highly acceptable.
Making his way down-stairs to the stricken man--who was quite as he had
been--Kirkwood bent over and thrust rifling fingers into his pockets,
regardless of the wretched sense of guilt and sneakishness imparted by the
action, stubbornly heedless of the possibility of the man's awakening to
find himself being searched and robbed.
In the last place he sought, which should (he realized) have been the
first, to wit, the fob pocket of the white waistcoat, he found a small gold
matchbox, packed tight with wax vestas; and, berating himself for crass
stupidity--he had saved a deal of time and trouble by thinking of this
before--lighted the candle.
As its golden flame shot up with scarce a tremor, preyed upon by a
perfectly excusable concern, he bent to examine the man's countenance....
The arm which had partly hidden it had fallen back into a natural position.
It was a young face that gleamed pallid in the candlelight--a face unlined,
a little vapid and insignificant, with features regular and neat, betraying
few characteristics other than the purely negative attributes of a
character as yet unformed, possibly unformable; much the sort of a face
that he might have expected to see, remembering those thin and pouting lips
that before had impressed him. Its owner was probably little more than
twenty. In his attire there was a suspicion of a fop's preciseness, aside
from its accidental disarray; the cut of his waistcoat was the extreme of
the then fashion, the white tie (twisted beneath one ear) an exaggerated
"butterfly," his collar nearly an inch too tall; and he was shod with pumps
suitable only for the dancing-floor,--a whim of the young-bloods of London
of that year.
"I can't make him out at all!" declared Kirkwood. "The son of a gentleman
too weak to believe that cubs need licking into shape? Reared to man's
estate, so sheltered from the wicked world that he never grew a bark?...
The sort that never had a quarrel in his life, 'cept with his tailor?...
Now what the devil is _this_ thing doing in this midnight mischief?...
It was most exasperating, the incongruity of the boy's appearance assorted
with his double rôle of persecutor of distressed damsels and nocturnal
Kirkwood bent closer above the motionless head, with puzzled eyes striving
to pin down some elusive resemblance that he thought to trace in those
vacuous features--a resemblance to some one he had seen, or known, at some
past time, somewhere, somehow.
"I give it up. Guess I'm mistaken. Anyhow, five young Englishmen out of
every ten of his class are just as blond and foolish. Now let's see how bad
With hands strong and gentle, he turned the round, light head. Then, "Ah!"
he commented in the accent of comprehension. For there was an angry looking
bump at the base of the skull; and, the skin having been broken, possibly
in collision with the sharp-edged newel-post, a little blood had stained
and matted the straw-colored hair.
Kirkwood let the head down and took thought. Recalling a bath-room on the
floor above, thither he went, unselfishly forgetful of his predicament if
discovered, and, turning on the water, sopped his handkerchief until it
dripped. Then, returning, he took the boy's head on his knees, washed the
wound, purloined another handkerchief (of silk, with a giddy border)
from the other's pocket, and of this manufactured a rude but serviceable
Toward the conclusion of his attentions, the sufferer began to show signs
of returning animation. He stirred restlessly, whimpered a little, and
sighed. And Kirkwood, in consternation, got up.
"So!" he commented ruefully. "I guess I am an ass, all right--taking all
that trouble for you, my friend. If I've got a grain of sense left, this is
my cue to leave you alone in your glory."
He was lingering only to restore to the boy's pockets such articles as he
had removed in the search for matches,--the match-box, a few silver coins,
a bulky sovereign purse, a handsome, plain gold watch, and so forth. But
ere he concluded he was aware that the boy was conscious, that his eyes,
open and blinking in the candlelight, were upon him.
They were blue eyes, blue and shallow as a doll's, and edged with long,
fine lashes. Intelligence, of a certain degree, was rapidly informing them.
Kirkwood returned their questioning glance, transfixed in indecision, his
primal impulse to cut-and-run for it was gone; he had nothing to fear from
this child who could not prevent his going whenever he chose to go; while
by remaining he might perchance worm from him something about the girl.
"You're feeling better?" He was almost surprised to hear his own voice put
"I--I think so. Ow, my head!... I say, you chap, whoever you are, what's
happened?... I want to get up." The boy added peevishly: "Help a fellow,
"You've had a nasty fall," Kirkwood observed evenly, passing an arm
beneath the boy's shoulder and helping him to a sitting position. "Do you
The other snuffled childishly and scrubbed across the floor to rest his
back against the wall.
"Why-y ... I remember fallin'; and then ... I woke up and it was all dark
and my head achin' fit to split. I presume I went to sleep again ... I say,
what're you, doing here?"
Instead of replying, Kirkwood lifted a warning finger.
"Hush!" he said tensely, alarmed by noises in the street. "You don't
He had been conscious of a carriage rolling up from the corner, as well as
that it had drawn up (presumably) before a near-by dwelling. Now the rattle
of a key in the hall-door was startlingly audible. Before he could move,
the door itself opened with a slam.
Kirkwood moved toward the stair-head, and drew back with a cry of disgust.
"Too late!" he told himself bitterly; his escape was cut off. He could run
up-stairs and hide, of course, but the boy would inform against him and....
He buttoned up his coat, settled his hat on his head, and moved near the
candle, where it rested on the floor. One glimpse would suffice to show him
the force of the intruders, and one move of his foot put out the light;
then--_perhaps_--he might be able to rush them.
Below, a brief pause had followed the noise of the door, as if those
entering were standing, irresolute, undecided which way to turn; but
abruptly enough the glimmer of candlelight must have been noticed. Kirkwood
heard a hushed exclamation, a quick clatter of high heels on the parquetry,
pattering feet on the stairs, all but drowned by swish and ripple of silken
skirts; and a woman stood at the head of the flight--to the American an
apparition profoundly amazing as she paused, the light from the floor
casting odd, theatric shadows beneath her eyes and over her brows, edging
her eyes themselves with brilliant light beneath their dark lashes, showing
her lips straight and drawn, and shimmering upon the spangles of an evening
gown, visible beneath the dark cloak which had fallen back from her white,
"Mrs. Hallam!" cried Kirkwood, beneath his breath.
The woman ignored his existence. Moving swiftly forward, she dropped on
both knees by the side of the boy, and caught up one of his hands, clasping
it passionately in her own.
"Fred!" she cried, a curious break in her tone. "My little Freddie! Oh,
what has happened, dearie?"
"Oh, hello, Mamma," grunted that young man, submitting listlessly to her
caresses and betraying no overwhelming surprise at her appearance there.
Indeed he seemed more concerned as to what Kirkwood, an older man, would
be thinking, to see him so endeared and fondled, than moved by any other
emotion. Kirkwood could see his shamefaced, sidelong glances; and despised
him properly for them.
But without attending to his response, Mrs. Hallam rattled on in the uneven
accents of excitement. "I waited until I couldn't wait any longer, Freddie
dear. I had to know--had to come. Eccles came home about nine and said that
you had told him to wait outside, that some one had followed you in here,
and that a bobby had told him to move on. I didn't know what--"
"What's o'clock now?" her son interrupted.
"It's about three, I think ... Have you hurt yourself, dear? Oh, why
_didn't_ you come home? You must've known I was dying of anxiety!"
"Oh, I say! Can't you see I'm hurt? 'Had a nasty fall and must've been
asleep ever since."
"My precious one! How--?"
"Can't say, hardly ... I say, don't paw a chap so, Mamma ... I brought
Eccles along and told him to wait because--well, because I didn't feel so
much like shuttin' myself up in this beastly old tomb. So I left the door
ajar, and told him not to let anybody come in. Then I came up-stairs. There
must've been somebody already in the house; I know I _thought_ there was.
It made me feel creepy, rather. At any rate, I heard voices down below, and
the door banged, and somebody began hammerin' like fun on the knocker."
The boy paused, rolling an embarrassed eye up at the stranger.
"Yes, yes, dear!" Mrs. Hallam urged him on.
"Why, I--I made up my mind to cut my stick--let whoever it was pass me on
the stairs, you know. But he followed me and struck me, and then I jumped
at him, and we both fell down the whole flight. And that's all. Besides, my
head's achin' like everything."
"But this man--?"
Mrs. Hallam looked up at Kirkwood, who bowed silently, struggling to hide
both his amusement and perplexity. More than ever, now, the case presented
a front inscrutable to his wits; try as he might, he failed to fit an
explanation to any incident in which he had figured, while this last
development--that his antagonist of the dark stairway had been Mrs.
Hallam's son!--seemed the most astounding of all, baffling elucidation
He had abandoned all thought of flight and escape. It was too late; in the
brisk idiom of his mother-tongue, he was "caught with the goods on." "May
as well face the music," he counseled himself, in resignation. From what he
had seen and surmised of Mrs. Hallam, he shrewdly suspected that the tune
would prove an exceedingly lively one; she seemed a woman of imagination,
originality, and an able-bodied temper.
"_You_, Mr. Kirkwood!"
Again he bowed, grinning awry.
She rose suddenly. "You will be good enough to explain your presence here,"
she informed him with dangerous serenity.
"To be frank with you--"
"I advise that course, Mr. Kirkwood."
"Thanks, awf'ly.... I came here, half an hour ago, looking for a lost purse
full--well, not _quite_ full of sovereigns. It was my purse, by the way."
Suspicion glinted like foxfire in the cold green eyes beneath her puckered
brows. "I do not understand," she said slowly and in level tones.
"I didn't expect you to," returned Kirkwood; "no more do I.... But, anyway,
it must be clear to you that I've done my best for this gentleman here." He
paused with an interrogative lift of his eyebrows.
"'This gentleman' is my son, Frederick Hallam.... But you will explain--"
"Pardon me, Mrs. Hallam; I shall explain nothing, at present. Permit me
to point out that your position here--like mine--is, to say the least,
anomalous." The random stroke told, as he could tell by the instant
contraction of her eyes of a cat. "It would be best to defer explanations
till a more convenient time--don't you think? Then, if you like, we can
chant confidences in an antiphonal chorus. Just now your--er--son is not
enjoying himself apparently, and ... the attention of the police had best
not be called to this house too often in one night."
His levity seemed to displease and perturb the woman; she turned from him
with an impatient movement of her shoulders.
"Freddie, dear, do you feel able to walk?"
"Eh? Oh, I dare say--I don't know. Wonder would your friend--ah--Mr.
Kirkwood, lend me an arm?"
"Charmed," Kirkwood declared suavely. "If you'll take the candle, Mrs.
He helped the boy to his feet and, while the latter hung upon him and
complained querulously, stood waiting for the woman to lead the way with
the light; something which, however, she seemed in no haste to do. The
pause at length puzzled Kirkwood, and he turned, to find Mrs. Hallam
holding the candlestick and regarding him steadily, with much the same
expression of furtive mistrust as that with which she had favored him on
her own door-stoop.
[Illustration: He helped the boy to his feet, and stood waiting.]
"One moment," she interposed in confusion; "I won't keep you waiting...;"
and, passing with an averted face, ran quickly up-stairs to the second
floor, taking the light with her. Its glow faded from the walls above and
Kirkwood surmised that she had entered the front bedchamber. For some
moments he could hear her moving about; once, something scraped and bumped
on the floor, as if a heavy bit of furniture had been moved; again there
was a resounding thud that defied speculation; and this was presently
followed by a dull clang of metal.
His fugitive speculations afforded him little enlightenment; and, meantime,
young Hallam, leaning partly against the wall and quite heavily on
Kirkwood's arm, filled his ears with puerile oaths and lamentations; so
that, but for the excuse of his really severe shaking-up, Kirkwood had
been strongly tempted to take the youngster by the shoulders and kick him
heartily, for the health of his soul.
But eventually--it was not really long--there came the quick rush of Mrs.
Hallam's feet along the upper hall, and the woman reappeared, one hand
holding her skirts clear of her pretty feet as she descended in a rush that
caused the candle's flame to flicker perilously.
Half-way down, "Mr. Kirkwood!" she called tempestuously.
"Didn't you find it?" he countered blandly.
She stopped jerkily at the bottom, and, after a moment of confusion. "Find
what, sir?" she asked.
"What you sought, Mrs. Hallam."
Smiling, he bore unflinching the prolonged inspection of her eyes, at once
somber with doubt of him and flashing with indignation because of his
"You knew I wouldn't find it, then!... Didn't you?"
"I may have suspected you wouldn't."
Now he was sure that she had been searching for the gladstone bag. That,
evidently, was the bone of contention. Calendar had sent his daughter for
it, Mrs. Hallam her son; Dorothy had been successful ... But, on the other
hand, Calendar and Mrs. Hallam were unquestionably allies. Why, then--?
"Where is it, Mr. Kirkwood?"
"Madam, have you the right to know?"
Through another lengthening pause, while they faced each other, he marked
again the curious contraction of her under lip.
"I have the right," she declared steadily. "Where is it?"
"How can I be sure?"
"Then you don't know--!"
"Indeed," he interrupted, "I would be glad to feel that I ought to tell you
what I know."
"_What_ you know!"
The exclamation, low-spoken, more an echo of her thoughts than intended
for Kirkwood, was accompanied by a little shake of the woman's head, mute
evidence to the fact that she was bewildered by his finesse. And this
delighted the young man beyond measure, making him feel himself master of
a difficult situation. Mysteries had been woven before his eyes so
persistently, of late, that it was a real pleasure to be able to do a
little mystifying on his own account. By adopting this reticent and
non-committal attitude, he was forcing the hand of a woman old enough to be
his mother and most evidently a past-mistress in the art of misleading. All
of which seemed very fascinating to the amateur in adventure.
The woman would have led again, but young Hallam cut in, none too
"I say, Mamma, it's no good standing here, palaverin' like a lot of flats.
Besides, I'm awf'ly knocked up. Let's get home and have it out there."
Instantly his mother softened. "My poor boy!... Of course we'll go."
Without further demur she swept past and down the stairway before
them--slowly, for their progress was of necessity slow, and the light most
needed. Once they were in the main hall, however, she extinguished the
candle, placed it on a side table, and passed out through the door.
It had been left open, as before; and Kirkwood was not at all surprised to
see a man waiting on the threshold,--the versatile Eccles, if he erred not.
He had little chance to identify him, as it happened, for at a word from
Mrs. Hallam the man bowed and, following her across the sidewalk, opened
the door of a four-wheeler which, with lamps alight and liveried driver on
the box, had been waiting at the carriage-block.
As they passed out, Kirkwood shut the door; and at the same moment the
little party was brought up standing by a gruff and authoritative summons.