Half the Nine of Hearts

R. F. FOSTER October 1 1909

Half the Nine of Hearts

R. F. FOSTER October 1 1909

Half the Nine of Hearts

R. F. FOSTER.

From the Popular Magazine.

ARTHUR MUYBRIDGE, just out of college, was winding up his trip abroad. Happening to run across Frank Robinson, a New York friend, who was rushing for a train, he had only time to promise to dine with him at the Savoy on the next day, and to make up a rubber at bridge.

Returning to his hotel, not knowing exactly what to do with himself, he appealed to the clerk at the desk, who advised him to go to the coronation ball at Covent Garden.

The men did not wear masks in London, the clerk told him, and all he needed was evening dress, lie need not be afraid to speak to any one he saw, the clerk added, with a smile; there would be no offense.

Arriving shortly after midnight, Arthur Muybridge stood idly on the raised steps round the dancing tloor, looking at the throng of beautiful costumes that were to compete for the grand prize. Some women wore masks, and some did not ; among them Muybridge recognized one or two favorites of the footlights.

\\ hile still lolling against a post, Muybridge became suddenly conscious of a girl standing beside him and also watching the dancers. She was evidently not a competitor for the grand prize, being in ordinarv evening dress; but, by way of a mask, she wore a pair of light grav automobile goggles, which gave her a verv curious appearance and provoked a smile from almost every one who saw her.

Arthur Muvhridge could not help

observing the graceful figure, the finely rounded arms, the tapering shoulders, the clean-cut nose and chin, the pretty mouth, and the provoking goggles that hid the upper part of the rosy cheeks and the lower half of the fair forehead.

Somehow or other, he felt that the girl at his side was out of her element among those surroundings. No one spoke to her. She recognized no one who passed them on the door below, although almost every man looked up at her with a smile. The hotel clerk’s parting words, “You can speak to any one there without giving offense," kept ringing in his ears, until at last, hardly realizing what he was doing, he made some remark to her about the costumes on the tloor.

She blushed slightly, and answered in monosyllables; but she did not move away. She did not look at him. her eyes seeming to follow a figure on the tloor—that of a man. with his arms round a very decollete young woman in red. He looked like a foreigner, with very black curly hair and military moustache, handsome but blase.

Becoming bolder. Muybridge asked the girl if he might not have the next dance.

"Oh. thanks, no!" she said quickly. “1 am here only to look on. In fact,

I came just for a lark."

1 le laughed lightly, and explained that such was his own case. “1 judge from your accent that you are an American." he added.

"1 guess you are, too," she an-

swercd, showing a perfect sei of teeth, and turning the goggles full upon him.

‘‘Yes. 1 am Arthur Muybridge, of New York."

"Indeed!" she said simply. ‘T did not know that persons gave their names to strangers in places like this."

There are no strangers here this evening," he said, smiling. “Come, I really must have just one waltz with you, Miss— What shall I call you?” “Call me Miss Brown, if you don’t mind.” She took his arm, and stepped down on the dancing floor for the waltz.

He could dance ; so could she. They put to shame all the English waltzers on the floor. If the grand prize had been for the dancing, and not for the dresses, they would have won it “feet down," he assured her.

After the dance they sat down for a few minutes, and he noticed that she followed the foreigner with her eyes as he escorted the girl in red to an upper box and ordered wine. A smile of contempt curled her lip for a moment ; then she turned to her companion and mechanically stood up for the next dance, without waiting to be asked, even.

Neither of them had a dance card, and she said that she would give him “just one more" and then she must be going; but she did not go. She seemed to be quite at ease with her newfound acquaintance, and he was getting more deeply infatuated with her at every moment. Several other men asked her for a dance, only to be met by a pleasant smile and a firm refusal. Arthur Muybridge could not help expressing his appreciation of the subtle flattery of her devotion to him, which seemed to be interrupted only be her occasional glances at the foreigner.

A couple whirled past them in the dance, and the man smiled, as though in pleased recognition. She turned her head away, with a blush.

“I believe that gentleman thinks he knows me," she whispered.

“No. It is I whom he recognizes,”

Muybridge assured her. “’That’s Frank Robinson, another American. 1 am to dine with him to-morrow night; or, rather, to-night, as it is now. By the way," he added suddenly, ‘T suppose you did not come here alone?”

“Of course not! But 1 must ask you not to follow me when I leave. 1 changed my dress and put on my goggles in the box, and even those I came with do not recognize me. Isn't that a joke? But," she added hastily, “this must positively be the last dance with you. It must be nearly two o'clock. You have been very nice,” He felt a faint pressure of the hand as she spoke.

As he escorted her from the floor, she glanced up at one of the boxes and, seeing that it was empty, told him that he might go up with • her and help her with her wrap as soon as the next music began. Alone with her for a moment, he begged her to take off her goggles just for a second ; but she laughingly refused. Then he pleaded for some promise of further acquaintance ; but she only laughed again, shaking her head very positively. Would she not give him a glove, or a ribbon, even?

She couldn’t think of such a thing, and began to hunt for her veil among some overcoats that were laid on the chairs. One of these coats fell to the floor, and out of the pocket dribbled several playing cards. As she picked them up to replace them, an idea seemed to strike her, and tearing one of them in half, she handed him part of it, telling him to keep it until he met a girl who held the other half, which she tucked into her bosom.

As she pushed the cards back into the pocket of the overcoat, she stopped suddenly and pulled out what she thought was a cardcase ; but it was a little pasteboard box, with a locket in it. Opening it with feminine curiosity, she glanced at the miniature inside; and Arthur Muybridge noted that it was the face of an Italian girl, in native costume. Instead of replacing it in the coat, she kept it in her

hand as she pushed him out of the di )or.

‘‘You must be going!" she exclaimed quickly. “The)’ will be coming up from the dance. Good-bye, and— thank you so much.”

By the light of the lamp in the hansom, Muybridge discovered that he was in possession of half the nine of hearts. “The wish card," he whispered, pressing it to his lips. “My wish is that we may meet again, perhaps never to part. Who knows?” Then he tucked it carefully away in his cardcasc.

Muybridge was the first to arrive for the dinner, and Frank Robinson chaffed him unmercifully about his fair partner, absolutely refusing to believe that he did not know who she was.

Imagine Arthur’s surprise, when the guests assembled, to recognize one of them as the foreigner at the Covent Garden ball. The recognition was not mutual ; for the foreigner had been too much occupied with the girl in red. lie was presented as Count Fabritti, an Italian of distinguished family. The three other men were Americans, only one of whom Muybridge had met before.

The dinner over, they adjourned to a private room for bridge ; but, as one of them remarked that two sitting out for a whole rubber was slow work, it was proposed to change the game to poker; and poker it was, the waiter providing them with small silver enough to take the place of chips.

The game had not proceeded very far before Muybridge’s keen eyes told him that there was something peculiar about the count’s methods. The foreigner certainly had extraordinary luck.

Arthur Muybridge liad conceived a violent dislike to the count from the first, although he could not tell just whv. lie felt sure that his friends were being “rooked,” and that Frank Robinson was getting the worst of it, probably because he was the richest man in the party. So persistently did luck run against Robinson that, on

two occasions when he had four of a kind beaten by the count, lie tore up the cards and threw them on the lloor, insisting on calling for a new pack.

I he second time this happened the waiter informed them that it was too late to procure any more cards that night, and it looked as though the game would be broken up; but Frank Robinson was so eager for a chance to retrieve his losses that he proposed to play even with a euchre pack.

Even a euchre pack could not be made up'without the torn cards; but suddenly the count recollected that he had brought a pack of cards from the club the evening before, to plav solitaire with ; and he still had them in his overcoat pocket. After some admonitions to Frank Robinson not to lose his temper and tear up the cards again, the game was resumed.

The more closely Arthur watched the count, the more certain he became the count was a card sharper. And yet he knew that it would be folly to say anything, as it would be his word against the count's, and a fight on his hands.

They had not played more than a few rounds with the new cards when Robinson dealt and Muybridge opened a jack pot with four kings pat. To his astonishment. Frank raised him four times before the draw. No one else stayed ; but the count looked wistfully at the pile of coins in the pool

Muybridge stood pat and bet the limit—twenty-five pounds—against Robinson's one-card draw. Robinson glanced at the money for a moment, and then suddenly turned up the edge of the card he had drawn. The moment he saw what it was. he threw it face upward on the table, with an oath.

“Look at that infernal nine of clubs! If that had been the nine of hearts, 1 had a straight flush and would have raised your head off. Arthur; but a straight is no good against vorn* pat hand. 1 know." lie spread upon the table the seven, eight, ten and jack of hearts, while Muybridge took the pot. “Where is that infernal card, anvwav?" continued Robinson. "Could

I have drawn it, or did one of you have it ?”

Muybridge showed his four kings. The others denied having held the nine of hearts.

Robinson ran through the pack hurriedly, but the nine of hearts was not there. Then he went over the discards. Not there, either! Then he counted the cards. The pack was one short !

With a sudden feeling of dizziness, Muybridge took up one of the cards and looked at the pattern on the hack.

The pattern on the back was the same as that of the cards on the table.

The count recognized it instantly.

“May I ask how you came to have that card in your pocket, sir?” he demanded, in a threatening tone. “Those are Sussex Club cards, with their monogram on the back. How came you by that card? How do you come to have part of this pack in your pocket ?”

Before Muybridge had time to answer, or even to collect bis thoughts, the count started up, with an oath.

“Ha-ha—I have it! You are the scoundrel who picked my pocket last night at the ball. I see it all, now. You know, we had our coats lying on the chairs in the box,” he continued excitedly, turning to Robinson. “Some blackguard stole a locket from my coat, and he must have taken a card with him. Your esteemed friend, Mr. Robber’s son, is the thief.”

The other men started up in amazement, and tried to calm the count, not noticing that Muybridge was taking off his coat, white with passion. A moment later it took four of them to hold him back from his declared intention of tearing the count to pieces.

They tried to calm the count, who was foaming with rage ; they assured him that there must be some mistake. They knew Arthur Muybridge to be above suspicion. He would certainly explain.

Explain! Not be! Fie would tear the count's heart out the moment he got at him. Send for the police and

search him, and then leave him alone in the room with the dirty Italian for five minutes! That was all he asked.

The count reached to bis hip pocket ; then seemed to think better of it, and pointed at the cards on the table.

“That is my card that he had in his pocket. He took it from my coat, and lie took the locket at the same time. Yes ! Send for the police and search him! It is proof! He is the thief!”

Frank Robinson returned in a few minutes with a policeman, accompanied by the hotel detective and another man in plain clothes.

The gentlemen gave their names and explained the situation. The hotel detective compared the cards carefully, and then proceeded to search Muvbridge in a perfunctionary sort of way. The man in plain clothes, in the meantime, never took his eyes off the count. Finally he stepped close to him, and touched him lightly on the shoulder.

'“Pardon me. Count Fabritti,” he said quietly, “but, if you are not the Enrico Dorani who was sent up some years ago for swindling, I owe you an apology.”

An instant later the nippers were on the count’s wrists.

Muvbridge placed his half of the nine of hearts in his cardcase agam, as Robinson apologized to his friends.

“I must go home at once," he said, aside, to Muvbridge. “This is terrible. Edith will d'e of mortification.”

“And who is.Edith?” asked Muybridge curiously. “I did not know you had a sister.”

“She is not my sister. We are stopping with the Dangerfields at Richmond. Edith is their daughter. I always thought this foreign adventurer was after her money, and nothing else. You must meet her some day when we all get back to America—when she gets over this shock. We are all going back on the Aladdin on T uesday.”

“Will you do me a great favor?” Arthur demanded earnestly, “lust tell Miss Dangerfield that the other half of the nine of hearts will be on the Aladdin,”