The Woman Inexplicable
H. GRAHAM STARR
THE man paused at the gangway. "Two," he said shortly, presenting his pass. The purser nodded and the man sauntered across the gangplank. The girl turned and faced him.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded curtly.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “Impulse,” he responded quietly. “The woman in trouble and the man on the spot is it not ?”
She frowned. “But how did you know ?”
“When a man sees a woman feel in her jacket pocket, take her hand out empty and look wildly around—well, the cause is obvious.”
“How did you know I was genuine?”
lie suppressed a smile. “I didn’t,” he responded laconically.
She pursed her lips and the brows drew together in a decided frown. “And now ?” There came a slight quaver in the voice.
tie had taken a cigar from his case and snipped off the end with a watch charm. He regarded it fondly, looked thoughtfully at the girl and then returned it to the case.
She smiled. “Is that an answer?” she inquired.
He laughed this time, very low and mellow as a man who seldom laughs. “You are an interesting problem,” he replied musingly. “I'll suspend judgment.”
A slow flush crept into her cheeks. Her lips fluttered to speak and then compressed firmly. The flush died away and left the childish features pale and wan:
The telegraph signaled “Stand By.” The whistle gave a hoarse roar.
“They are casting off,” said the man briefly. “Come up on deck. Oh, by the way . have you any—ah—impedimenta?” He regarded her trim figure and observed she had not so much as a pair of gloves in her hand.
“It is checked,” she replied briefly. They climbed on deck and found chairs.
“You may smoke that cigar now,” she granted, smiling archly. He bowed slightly and accepted her kindness. “I haven't thanked you yet." she went on : “I have been too amazed to do anything. You can easily understand I was in an awkward position.”
He nodded shortly and shifted his chair a little to leeward. He could observe her profile when she looked ashore. He crossed his legs and hugged one knee.
“Now, that you open the subject,” he commenced, “I would just like to interpolate a remark or two. Because you feel under a bit of obligation to me—only a moral obligation believe me—I do not wish that you feel compelled to let me tarry here. Franklv. if you do not object. I’d like to cío so. However, just meet my eyes and I’ll take it a signal to leave."
She laughed very softly and looked across the bay.
“You are quite—interesting" she said tentatively." He made a grimace.
“A more serious question is with regard to your loss,” he continued gravely. "Was it just your ticket or—?”
“It was every negotiable thing I possessed,” she responded calmly.
“H’m, h’m!” He smoked for an interval in silence. “It doesn’t appear to worry you.”
She pursed her lips. “For what good ?”
“Quite true. Rather unusual feminine logic though. Would you not have been wiser to have waited over a boat? Make some inquiries?”
She shook her head. “No, I must make Buffalo to-night.”
“Is your loss serious?” he went on gravely. “I mean can you obtain funds to carry you along?”
“Oh yes, I’ll be all right when I reach Buffalo.” There was just a trace of anxiety in her eyes. He saw it.
“And how were you calculating to get from Lewiston to Buffalo?” He made the inquiry a little cynically as though accustomed to the vagaries of women. At last she was startled.
“Why—why—doesn’t this steamer— ?” She commenced anxiously.
“No,” he responded simply “this boat does not go to Buffalo, You see she cannot climb the Falls, big as she is.”
The girl looked angrv. “That is very flippant and unkind.” She frowned. It made her look older ; a little more self-reliant. “But my ticket was to Buffalo.”
_ He threw away the half smoked cigar and took out an old pipe.
“May I?” he pleaded. She nodded absently. He lit the pipe and then spoke :
“Listen, my dear young lady and please do not be offended. This steamer can only get eight miles up the Niagara River. From there you have to go by rail. Your ticket would provide for the whole trip. Unfortunately, my pass will only take you to Lewiston. You are a stranger in a strange land. If you will trust me we’ll soon have you safe on your native soil and speeding homeward.” He awaited a reply. She turned impulsively and placed both hands in his.
"I’m under so much obligation now. A little twinkle came into her eyre. “Are you really—can you trust me further?” He dropped her hands and recovered his fallen pipe.
"I give in,” he laughed. “The problem is too deep. You may be a school girl winning a bet ; an untravelled girl on a trip ; or an unscrupulous woman beating your way.”
Her face paled perceptibly. He wondered idly how angry she was.
“You think I—might be a common adventuress?” she inquired in a low voice. He shook his head vigorously. “Certainly not—common.”
She looked him calmly in the face. “If I meet your eyes now will you still go away?” she asked naively. “You have been very rude.”
He slapped his hand on his thigh. “No, by gad! I’ll solve the problem.” “You said you had given in.”
“That is evidence for the Crown.” he laughed. “It is too sharp for a school girl.”
“The Crown?” puzzled.
“You forget I am a Canadian.” “Oh,” she laughed, “that accounts for you being so rude.”
“Are Canadians rude?” he inquired in surprise.
“Well, Englishmen are, and that is the same thing, is it not?”
“God forbid !” he prayed devoutly. “Englishmen need to stay at home to be appreciated. But,you are wrong.
I meant the other problem.”
She looked surprized. “Other?” “How you will get over the Falls.” The big steamer had left the illsmelling bay far behind and was plowing at magnificent speed almost into the sun. At his last words the girl gazed pensively at a passing vessel. She rested her chin on her hand.
“Isn’t it ideal ?” she murmured softly.
“Little fraud !” He chewed savagely on his pipe-stem; she caught his eye and he laughed. “Well, we’ll not cross the bridge till we reach it.”
She did not reply but gazed thoughtfully across the undulating water. A ship’s officer in blue and gold strolled by. He looked rapidly from the woman to the man, paused and then sauntered by. Neither spoke for some time. Finally the girl spoke musingly : “Isn’t it a strange state of society that a woman should feel nervous in the presence of a man not vouched for by some responsible person ?”
He smiled whimsically. “Or a man should be suspicious of a strange woman.”
She gave a gesture of repugnance. “Let us drop all this word play,” she cried plaintively. “It seems as though all my life—•” She stopped. He regarded her thoughtfully.
“I wonder if that is the real woman —the one who was interrupted !”
She shook her head impatiently. “I don’t know. How can men hope to understand women—when we cannot understand ourselves?” There was just the trace of complaint in the voice. He gave his characteristic shrug but remained silent.
“Won’t you tell me your name?” she inquired. “You must be a pretty big man to hold a general pass on these steamers.”
He smiled grimly. “You won't laugh ?”
“At what?” amazed.
“At my name.”
She laughed musically. “It must be pretty terrible !”
“It is,” he growled. “My name is Machillipeckinac.”
“What !” Her eyes were big in wonder.
“It looks worse on paper. I do not carry cards. “ T would need a sign board. I never married on account of it. It really is not hard to pronounce when you get used to it.
“Neither are clams hard to eat— when one gets used to them.”
Lie smiled. “I’m sorry you don’t like clams.”
“But I do,” she replied quickly, “onlv I had to become accustomed to them. You must be a big man with that name and a pass.”
He shook his head. “No, my dear lady, I am not big.” She had not volunteered her name. “I am to that city back there what your Jerome is to New York—with certain reservations.” His tone was regretful. She shivered a little. “Are you cold? Would you like a cup of tea?” Suddenly a blank look swept across his face. “Good Lord, child, have you had any luncheon ?” He banged the rail with his fist in self contempt. She looked up a little timidly and shook her head.
“I was going to lunch on board—” She checked herself painfully. Five minutes later they were in the magnificent saloon of the palace steamer.
The big boat was in the river when they reached the deck again. He lit another cigar and she carried a new bloom in her cheeks.
“Come up on the hurricane deck,” he suggested. “We can see both shores from there. It’s a beautiful trip.” So they scrambled up the narrow staircase to the upper deck. Brock’s Monument reared itself in the distance ; and beyond, seeming to cling about the huge column, hovered the filmy mists of the Falls. One could throw a biscuit ashore in places so close did the big pleasure steamer pass as the deviations of the river demanded. On the right an occasional home displayed the Union Tack; on the left, the picturesque folds of Old Glory. The girl regarded it all rather apathetically. She turned desperately to her companion.
“I owe you for my passage, my luncheon and now there is nothing for it but to call on you for my ticket to Buffalo. I would not dare do all this if I hadn’t that awful name of yours on my card and know I can wipe it all off again.”
Tie mused a moment to himself.
“It always looks so beastly to have money exchange hands between men and women,” he replied thoughtfully. “Of course, I intended to see you thro. I'll go up with you and secure your ticket.”
A weary smile came to the girl’s face. She faltered a little. “You don’t trust me? Well, I guess I cannot blame you much.”
He raised a hand in protest. “Please! You know different. I would hand you over the necessary funds, only there are about fifty eyes on me speculating as to your identity.” She glanced about nervously. “My life belongs to the public, you see, and,” grimly, “they watch me carefully. There are plenty after the job. Besides, tho I say it last, I do not wish you to be insulted as soon as I leave you.”
Her head drooped. “I—I was unkind. Forgive me! You think of everything.” She swept him a lightning glance. He failed to interpret it then ; later, he knew it was pity.
The porter commenced shouting an unintelligible jargon. She looked to him for explanation.
“Your baggage is checked thro?” he inquired.
“Then you need not bother till you get home.”
A strangely melancholy look came to her eyes. She gave her head an impatient shake.
A man in a quiet uniform ambled towards them, casually scrutinizing the passengers. His eyes were sharp and active, his expression lazy and careless. His glance fell on the couple talking by themselves near the pilot house. He crossed the deck and paused. The girl was looking ashore. Her companion looked up and smiled at the officer. The later bowed and passed on. He indicated the retreating man to the girl.
“His duty is to keep out undesirable citizens,” he remarked. She shrugged her shoulders. They were tying up at Lewiston.
Machillipeckinac and his companion laboriously climbed the steps to the station and traversed the incline.
“It is like a hen walk, isn’t it?” said he disgustedly, as they paused at the top to recover breath.
“It’s pretty bad,” she admitted, breathing heavily. “You seem to be very well known here,” she added as a fourth man saluted them.
“Only officially,” he answered shortly. “Our malefactors usually drift this direction.” He glanced at his watch. “Five o’clock! You will hardly make Buffalo by dark on the International, tho it’s a pity to miss the trip. What do you say?”
“Oh, I want to get—home—as soon as possible—please.” She faltered and her voice was husky.
Five minutes later she was seated in her carriage. He handed her the ticket wrapt in a bank bill. She looked up at him gratefully, but puzzled.
“You may need it for emergencies.” He hesitated a moment. “You’ll not entrust me with your name?” he con-# tinned, regretfully.
Her eyes met his beseechingly. “Oh,
I know how selfish it seems, but—but -—you will understand some dav.”
He bowed with a touch of dignity. “At least you will let me know of your safe arrival?”
She started perceptibly. “Oh, yes —of course! Why, I have all this money to return !”
He sighed softly. A bell rang and the train commenced to move. She extended her hand hurriedly; he pressed is slightly, gently, almost reverently. She looked around ; he was gone.
She smiled to herself—a trifle sadly.
Thro the blue haze of tobacco smoke Machillipeckinac eyed the morning mail with cynical disfavor. He knocked the ashes from his pipe with unnecessary violence and slouched down in his desk chair. During a whole week he had scrupulously inspected all mail matter that had entered his office in a constantly waning hope that his confidence in the Unknown had not been misplaced.
“I hate to be buncoed,” he had growled to himself a dozen times a day ; but he knew he was hiding his head in the sand.
He deposited the official documents on the floor with a sweep of his arm and reached for the push button. His eye caught the pale blue envelope lying face down on the carpet, and his arm deflected its course to the floor. He disengaged the dainty envelope from under the flap of the larger one, drew a deeper breath and tore it open.
There were several enclosures that he shoved to one side and then unfolded the letter. After the preamble of conventional thanks the leter continued : .
“I refrained from telling you my name because I could not lie to you and my correct name I dared not reveal,” He broke offi to look eagerly at the signature. The sheet fluttered from his fingers. The pupils of his eyes dilated slightly and he looked vacantly into space for an interval. Then he picked up the letter and continued reading:
“Do not judge me too harshly, my friend. Manlike, you will be angry at my deception, but, after all, I am trying to be honest with you. You have the unique distinction of being the only man who has caused me to feel the degradation of my work. I do not wish you to feel I have any compunction in depriving the Government of a portion of the revenue ; but I despise myself when I stoop to use the qualities given me to deceive such men as you in the execution of my duty to the firms Tor whom I work.
“I recognized you from a newspaper photogravure the instant you came to my assistance. At least, be just in the knowledge that it was quite unpremeditated. I had lost my ticket, but I had heaps of money, only it was—well perhaps you understand the sex to the extent of appreciating the inference. Anyway, I accomplished my desire and you became my escort. There were several narrow squeaks that would have nailed me but for your presence. My home is the World, my friend. I live at the public expense; probably I shall die so. I do not like to look too far into the future.
“7 had nearly twenty thousand of sparklers in my stockings. Of course, that Niagara dodge is rather new. \ ou see, it is a cinch to get them into Canada. The game became exciting when I had to cross the Border. I am taking the liberty of sending you a share on my commission, as well as my personal debt to you. Please accept it. You helped me— and it is not your Government that sufifers.
“With sincere regrets that our paths are constantly diverging—mid please believe that to be true.
“Most gratefully yours,
He dropped the sheet slowlv to the desk. “The cleverest little smuggler in the game,” he muttered, “and I the scapegoat.” Lie picked up the two orders. “Enough evidence to hang me,” he murmured thoughtfully, as he slowly tore them up. ‘T don’t know, but I suppose that will eventually get back to Lmcle Sam’s cofifers.” ^ He gave a short laugh. “Well, I'll charge it up to experience.”
He sighed heavily as he tore the letter up and rang for his stenographer. The wheels of the law must grind on. even if the cogs do sometimes snarl.