FREDERIC S. ISHAM
Author of “Nothing But the Truth,” etc.
CHAPTER XVII CROSS PURPOSES
THE Honorable Bertie was announced. There may have been—or did the lady imagine it?— a shade of embarrassment in his manner.
“This is jolly,” he said.
He was a big man—big and blonde. Alexander was big and dark! Both were husky, too, and strong. Her ladyship wondered which was stronger? Alexander, no doubt! She felt a wild desire to ask Bertie to let her feel his arm. “This is jolly,” said the Honorable Bertie once more.
The lady shivered. “I wish you wouldn’t repeat yourself, Bertie!”
“You see, I particularly detest that word ‘jolly,’ and I’m going to ask you a frank question, Bertie. When we last parted, did you consider we were—what shall I cal] it?—partially engaged?”
rr'HE Honorable Bertie looked embarrassed. He had taken the lady’s hand doubtfully. Even when he had said: “Awfully jolly!” there had been a furtive
expression in his usually open gaze.
“I—” he now stammered. “Well, to tell you the truth, there might have been a—a partial—”
“Would you go as far as to say we were halfengaged?” interrupted the lady anxiously. “Or, would you even reduce the fraction further? Say, an eighth-engaged?” ,
Bertie looked at the lady quickly. Sometimes his slow brain was overtaken by fugitive glimmerings.
“An eighth-engaged?” he muttered, eyes still on the lady. “That is rather a small fraction.”
“But”—nervously—“wasn’t it, after all, only a very partial understanding? A very small fraction of an understanding?”
Bertie studied her. “I don’t know as I’d go as far as that—quite!”
She straightened. “The point is, how far does a very small fraction of an understanding—possibly no understanding at all!—bind one?”
“Ha!” said Bertie. Just like Alexander! How like men were, in some things!
“The question is: Is the fraction of a thing the
thing itself? Being so much less than the thing!” “Ha!” said Bertie once more.
“Or if,” with logic irrefutable, “being only oneeighth bound, and seven-eighths not bound, or seven times not bound, to one time bound, you are not, by mere preponderance, bound at all?”
Bertie stared. “What is this? A lesson in fractions? I always was weak in mathematics.”
“To descend to plain English, then, Bertie, I believe i—I flirted with you, just a little bit, and you, in equally plain English, responded—very slightly!”
Bertie looked uncomfortable.
“Any one would flirt with you!”
“Confound it, you know it!”
“Thank you, again!”
“I—I never flattered myself I was the one and only man you’d flirted with, Estelle.”
“Is that a reproach?” Studying him. ■
"How—how far you may have gone with someone else! I know—know how many of the chaps were— were mad over you!”
“Or would-be tyranny! You have no right—” "What about that fraction?” said Bertie shrewdly. “Did I altogether concede its existence?”
She looked at him. “If one flirts a little—”
“I should say it depends on how far—”
Was he trying to trap her? “I don’t concede it went far at all, with you!” A little breathlessly.
Bertie bowed like a gentleman. “That’s for you to say!”
nPHE lady blushed. Then she drew herself up proudly. “Let’s look facts in the face! It was moonlight; you did look big and handsome.” Bertie looked foolish; and again that expression of vague uneasiness overspread his face. “There’s something about Dig men that has always appealed to me!” dreamily. “No, no! I don’t mean that. How perfectly hrazen and shocking!”
“Never mind!” Bertie looked uncomfortable. “I too, forgot myself,” he muttered .awkwardly. “But by jove, there was some excuse; you did look—ripping!”
The lady went on: “No words were spoken. No
promises exchanged.” Did her accents betoken thankfulness? Bertie’s look became more searching.
“Are words necessary,” he said suddenly, “when heart speaks to heart?”
“Oh!” gasped the lady.
He took a step toward her.
“Oh!” she repeated.
“To what does this tend?” he said sternly.
“When you speak to me like that,” she said, recovering, “I deny the existence of any understanding.” “Oh, you do!”
“I do! And I beg to remind you I have heard about a few of your own little affairs!”
DERTIE shifted abruptly. His expostulations rang, in the least, hollowly. “Here am I, hurrying up to see you, at the first opportunity, and this is the way I am received! Is it what I expected? Is it, I ask?” The lady looked unimpressed. “Shall I tell you what my feelings were, as I hurried here? The impatience?”—He suddenly checked himself. Was anything wrong with Bertie?
“Are you sure you didn’t forget me?” Clear-eyed, she regarded him.
“Forget?” He threw out a hand. “Could I?” Half-bitterly. “That kiss!” His tones were hoarse. “Could any man forget—•”
“Perhaps not,” said the lady calmly, “if it had been a real one! If my heart had gone with it! But as it was—a mere peck! And—it seemed one way to stop your foolish conduct. Indeed I quite absolve myself of the incident!”
“I do! A peck, cold as moonlight!”
“She calls it a ‘peck,’” muttered Bertie. “What a word !” -
“And you come here on the strength of that, hoping to force me to marry you!”
Bertie looked startled. “Of—of course!”
“You considered I had given my soul to you with a peck!” she demanded.
“Don’t call it that! I hate that word!”
“You—you care for me, so much, then?”
Bertie looked down. “Can you ask?” In a low depressed tone.
“Or was it you felt in honor bound to come up here and ask me to marry you?”
Bertie lifted a startled glance. “I—of coursewell, you know—”
“Quite intelligible! And intelligent!”
Each studied the other now.
“What has she been up to?” thought Bertie.
“What has he been up to?” thought the lady. “Something awful!” thought Bertie.
“Somef,'‘ ..awful!” thought the lady.
“Won’t yuU sit down?” said the latter politely. Bertie did. “Wager she’s engaged herself to some man!” he thought.
“He’s got over his head with Polly or Dolly, or some circus creature!” thought the lady.
“Light a cigarette,” she said aloud.
HP HE lady looked down. Was this the time to tell her awful secret? By any possibility, did Bertie care for her? His face was as long as a yardstick. And they had been chums for years! And their estates were contiguous! And had it been only and absolutely a mere “peck”? Had she cared, a very little bit? Not in the way that leads to the altar! Of that she was certain.
But Bertie? Had she injured him in her thoughts? A man might fall under the spell of a Dolly or a Polly, and still cherish a deeper, more abiding passion. And Bertie was handsome! Almost as handsome as Alexander! And Bertie was a gentleman, while Alexander was merely good to look at, with the mental equipment of a clown. It was all very confusing.
“I wonder if I have acted right?” now thought the lady.
“Maybe she is free, and only sounding me,” thought Bertie. “What if she has an idea I really should marry her!” Bertie wiped his brow.
“Feel better?” said the lady.
“Yes—no,” said Bertie.
The lady decided not to tell all of her secret, just then. Of course she would have to account for Alexander’s and Miss Handsaw’s presence in the house. And if she didn’t tell all the truth, how much should she tell? She was relieved that Miss Handsaw had withdrawn to the balcony at Bertie’s entrance.
“How did you hear of my home-coming?” she nowasked.
“Your uncle, the lord high chancellor, told me.” “Yes, I wrote him. And you were overjoyed?”
“I must tell him,” thought the lady.
“Don’t say you are engaged to some other fellow!" said Bertie, as reading that impulse.
“I may truthfully say, 1 am not engaged!”
Bertie slid deeper into his chair.
“Would you—have been very jealous?” said the lady.
“Would I?” Loudly. “Would I?”
“And if brought face to face writh this hypothetical individual?”
“But you are not engaged?”
“No; but if I were?”
“What’s the object of supposing?”
“Might be then,” suggested the lady.
“I don’t think,” said Bertie slowly,
“I’d like to trust myself in his presence!
That is, at first!”
'"pHE lady laughed nervously. Then -*• she bent over him with a sprightly look. “Bertie, would you mind—would you take it as a liberty, if I asked you to let me feel your muscle?”
“Charmed!” said Bertie, and bent his forearm.
The lady’s fingers pursued their investigaron.
“Not so bad!” said Bertie with assumed indifference. He knew, indeed, his biceps were something to be prr d of. “All there, eh?”
But the lady only smiled enigmatically. “Poor Bertie!” she said.
“Nothing! A mere expression of sympathy! That is all.”
T ¿rtie stared. “See here, Estelle, what’s all this mai?” *
%vish I knew?”
“Got a notion to hang around and find out!”
“Did you bring your luggage?”
“Then how could you hang around?”
“When my own place was let, last time, I came clown here; I remember leaving a lot of things for Pelton to look after!”
“Yes; I remember that as one of your failings. Easier to leave old duds at week-ends than to bother taking them away!”
“Oh, there’s a method in it,” said Bertie. “I have lots of clothes scattered around different places where I’m expected about every so often! Under the circumstances, feeling kind of uneasy about you, I could manage to stay and get Pelton to resurrect some of my old duds.”
“Oh, no, you couldn’t!” Wild laughter rang from her ladyship’s lips.
The lady looked out of the window. In the distance stalked Alexander imposingly arrayed in tweeds.
“Ha, ha!” said her ladyship.
“Why not?” said Bertie more sulkily.
“Because, at present, your wardrobe is otherwise engaged.”
Bertie frowned. “Engaged?”
“Rented out, as it were!”
“But I say, Pelton has a nerve!”
“It wasn’t Pelton. It was I!”
“You! But confound it—”
“Don’t say ‘confound it,’ Bertie. Say what you think !”
“What do you mean?”
AN OMINOUS MEETING
“ \ ND now, shall we walk in the garden?”
**“But you haven’t told me why?”
•‘Hasn’t there been enough explaining, for the present? Let us stroll and forget ourselves. I am sorry I can’t provide a little moonlight—”
“You won’t take it from me as inhospitable that I don’t?”
“Not at all! Ha, ha!” But Bertie’s laughter sounded artificial. “You’re sure you’re not engaged, or half-engaged, to some other fellow?”
“I am not even half-engaged, Bertie. I give my sacred word of honor. I swear it on the honor of a daughter of a belted earl!”
“Confound it, Estelle, I can’t make you out!” he growled.
“Why try?” Merrily. “Why not take me as I am!” Bertie looked positively startled; then recovered himself. “You’ve been away quite a time,” he said, “and I’ve half a mind you’ve had some experiences or adventures—”
“Experiences!” she laughed. “I could a tale unfold—”
“Unfold it, then!”
THE STORY SO FAR
Lady Estelle Langlenshire is held in Germany at the start, of the war. She escapes by going through a marriage ceremony with a Greek porter and crossing the border as his wife. They are wrecked and, by a coincidence, land on the shore near the lady's ancestral home. Alexander, the husband, refuses to leave and is lodged in the royal suite. He begins, mysteriously, to shed his uncouth ways, but complications arise with the arrival of Her Ladyship's former suitor.
“Here? How unromantic! Let us go into the garden! That identical spot !”
For the moment Bertie looked scared.
“Come,” she said, with gay abandon.
And Bertie went. As they approached a marble bench the lady spied Alexander there. At. sight of them he got up. The lady stopped.
"It is already occupied,” she said wistfully.
Bertie stared at Alexander. “My tweeds!”
“You recognize them? They are rather pronounced! Bertie did not make an amiable response. He eyed Alexander with disfavor. Alexander smiled.
“M> clothes!” repeated Bertie.
“Aren’t they a perfect fit?” said the ladv enthusiastically.
“Confounded liberty,” I call it.
“You should see him in your evening suit,” said the
‘T should, should I?” said Bertie, glaring at Alexander.
"Only they are a bit tight across the shoulders!” “He should have them let out,” said Bertie in a funny tone.
“So he could. They would be a bit more comfortable.”
“I hope so.”
“He has such nice broad shoulders, it’s a shame to pinch them in!”
“Beastly!” said Bertie.
“It’s too bad your shoulders weren’t a little broader,” murmured the lady. And Bertie, who was rather proud of his tolerably broad shoulders, said something under his breath.
“I wouldn’t,” said the lady. “He’s frightfully strong.”
jDERTIE again glared at Alexander. The latter smiled sweetly. He didn’t offer to approach them. “No; you mustn’t go any nearer,” said the lady quickly to Bertie. “Don’t let his sweet expression deceive you. He is i-eally dangerous when aroused. The ’uman-tiger, Pelton calls him!”
Bertie’s disgust was unutterable. “Under the circumstances I might be justified in punching—”
“No, no,” said the lady quickly, placing a detaining hand on his arm. “Why court destruction?”
“For me, or for him?” Ominously.
“You, of course!”
Bertie made a sound. “In that case,” he said witheringly, “I had better fly.”
Bertie turned on his heel. “Discretion is the better part of valor!” he murmured.
“Indeed it is,” said the lady, and they walked away. “I hope he isn't coming after me,” observed Bertie, in those same withering accents.
“No, he isn’t!”
“I’m so frightened I daren't look around,” said the Honorable Bertie, with a slight sneer. “And now, may I ask, how much rent are you getting for my clothes?” “I?”
“Or, is it Pelton?”
The lady giggled. “How deliciously impertinent! You are improving. Who has been improving you? Has some one been improving you?”
Bertie walked a little faster.
“If I did not have every faith in you, I should say someone had been sharpening your wits!”
“Why can’t you be serious? I come down here and find someone wearing my clothes. What am I to think? What would any man think?”
“Shall I tell you the truth?”
“If you”—Bertie paused—“will be so good!” he added. “Why have you rented out my clothes?”
“Oh, that was just a figure of speech. They aren’t really rented.”
“I believe he considers them his.”
DERTIE glanced over his shoulder and stopped.
“Don’t obey that impulse!”
“Hang it, he’s smoking my pipe, I believe!” burst from Bertie.
“If you will leave things around! I always told you it was a bad habit!” “Anything-1 else of mine he’s pre-empted?”
“I believe you left some shirts.”
“Is he wearing my shirts?” More explosively. “I say, this—”
“They’re n little tight at the neck.
“I wish they’d choke him!”
“You aren’t jealous, arc you, Bertie?” “Jealous?” Bertie’s anger seemed to fade magically.
“You see, he’s only a castaway. We took him in. He was cast up by the sea. His garments were torn almost to tatters. He was a sight! So we fed, clothed and revivified him. Would you have had me do less? Tell him to go on—to expire in the byways, perhaps?” “You say he was shipwrecked? The fellow’s only a poor sailor, or something of the kind, then?”
“Something of the kind! A porter, I believe!” “He looks jolly well at home, for a—”
“The tendencies of the time! * Poor fellow! why begrudge him?” * J
Bertie didn’t. A shipwrecked sailor!—His pres-
ence there seemed natural enough, and there was no reason why he shouldn’t sit on a bench during the period of his convalescence. Bertie did not think, then, to inquire why Pelton had dubbed the visitor a ’umantiger, or to endeavor to reconcile the incongruity of bedecking the shipwrecked one in his (Bertie’s) evening clothes. In his confused mental state Bertie overlooked a few questions he ordinarily would have asked. “Where are we walking?” said Bertie.
She lifted her eyes, and then Bertie blushed. The pathway before them had long been known as “Lovers’ Lane.” Bertie bit his lips. The lady walked on dreamily; Bertie eyed her uneasily. She was very beautiful—too beautiful !
“Of course, I was only jesting about its being a partial understanding,” she said. “You did think I was jesting, didn’t you?”
“You don’t think I would let someone say— do what—you know, and then—You don’t think that poorly of me!”
“I—I—” Bertie didn’t know what he thought.
“You didn’t?” In an excess of emotion.
Was that a sigh of relief? “I had to hear you say it. And now I do feel sure of you!”
“And of myself! Need I say more?”
“I think not,” said Bertie hoarsely. Had he not been told by Some One, only recently, no woman could resist him?
“Uncle will be so pleased!”
“The lord high chancellor?”
“Yes. He has frequently pointed out that the two estates are contiguous.”
Bertie was silent.
“I am so glad you came down!”
“Are you?” In a whisper.
“Very!” Feverishly. “I was so afraid you wouldn’t!” “Were you?”
“You were as anxious to see me as I was you?” “Yes, yes! Of course!”
“And you do forgive me, teasing you? About being only half-engaged?”
“I /¿«(/-thought you were in earnest,” said Bertie hoarsely.
“You did? Oh, Bertie! After all these years we’ve known each other!”
“Seemed too—too good to be true!” mumbled Bertie. “Silly boy!” Tone positively caressing!
They walked on.
“Haven’t you forgotten something?” Shyly. “Oh, shameless! An upward look from the blue eyes flared like a spark into Bertie’s remorseful and smoldering gaze. “You didn’t used to be so—” The red lips curled. Brazen red lips!
MECHANICALLY, Bertie slipped an arm about that perfect waist. The lady’s head inclined; so a fair flower might bend to the wooing breath of a warm summer breeze ! Bertie looked down.
“Home again!” sighed the lady.
“Must seem fine!” muttered Bertie.
“Can you ask?”
Bertie stooped for a “peck.” He felt obliged to. The exigencies of the situation demanded such ei terprising action on his part. But to his relief she drew back.
“Not now! Let us wait!” Hastily. “The moonlight! Same place!”
“All right!” As if a little postponement mattered much! Nothing mattered much.
“Shall we keep it a secret for a little while?” suggested the lady. “Our engagement?”
“Ye—es! I think we’d better.”
“Only for a little while!”
“Make it long’s you like!”
“What do I care, long’s we know?” Recklessly.
The lady laughed joyously. She was certain now. If Bertie wasn’t engaged to Polly or Dolly, or Flossie or Fluffy, why that guilty manner? Of course any one of those artful stage-hussies could get Bertie, simply by flattering him and telling him how handsome he was! Bertie had come with the intention of trapping—studying her (Estelle) ; he wasn’t exactly sure what might be expected of h'm.
Her ladyship determined to make Bertie pay; she would give him a bad half-hour or so. She gazed up at Bertie, more languishingly. Having reached the end of Lover’s Lane, they turned and came back again.
And emerging, in lover-like fashion, whom should they encounter but Alexander!
CHAPTER XIX A Chance to Retaliate
T TER ladyship gave a gasp, knowing Alexander’s truculent disposition. Too late she realized her own awkward situation. She, a néwly-wedded bride, and caught like that! A hysterical desire to laugh mingled with a vague apprehension. Would Alexander start in to annihilate Bertie, or to slay her? Hastily she disengaged herself from Bertie’s arm and Bertie did not seek to detain her. Her ladyship drew herself up, expectantly.
To her surprise, Alexander did not go into a mad rage and tear everything to pieces; on the contrary, the lady saw a look on his face she had never seen there before! His eyes rested on her steadily. Heavens! what a deep look! It positively seemed to pierce her. Then Alexander drew a long breath, puffed at his pipe, and—did the last thing on earth she expected of him ! He walked by.
The lady stared after him. Oh, man of wonderful surprises! It was certainly interesting, having him around. Thrills emanated from his presence, or permeated his immediate proximity. Even now, gazing after his powerful receding figure, she was aware her breath came and went quickly. It was a new and novel experience, to expect to be crushed to the earth or to be ground beneath a crunching heel, and then to have absolutely nothing happen. Where Alexander was there w-as no monotony.
T>ERTIE did not share her emotion, but gazed after ^ Alexander with almost approval on his face. Truth to tell, Bertie was just as well pleased Alexander had happened to go casually by at that moment. Bertie had begun to feel the way he had that night— the night before her ladyship had gone a-journeying. As he had been wanting in steadfastness after her going, so now, with her ladyship so near, Bertie had begun to experience, anew, certain definite and pronounced heart palpitations. And might have yielded to the same, and so turned the tables on her ladyship! Her ladyship did not know what a narrow escape she had had!
Bertie, interrupted in this dangerous but fascinating pastime by Alexander, now pulled himself together. No more Lover’s Lane for him! Honor forbid! And how was he going to tell her ladyship, now, what honor bade him impart? He couldn’t; he would go away and write about it.
“Good-looking chap, your castaway!” Bertie vouchsafed graciously.
“Do you think so?” In a startled voice.
“Carries himself as if he had been born to strut around private estates!” laughed Bertie.
“It’s the clothes,” said the lady absent-mindedly. “You dress a hod-carrier in good clothes and he immediately straightens up.”
“I’d like to talk to the fellow.” Patronizingly.
“No, no!” Quickly.
“I don’t think it would be best. You—you see he’s very eccentric!”
“And is that the reason you give him free run of the place? Frankly, I don’t understand it, Estelle.” “Don’t try to! Don’t assume that managerial tone yet! One would think the ceremony had already been performed.”
Bertie turned scarlet and swallowed. The lady noticed and rejoiced.
“Why shouldn’t I give him free run of the place?” “Why not?” Absently.
“And if you begrudge him such a little thing—my giving away your clothes, now!—how will it be after?” said the lady. “Will you be preaching economy?” “Glad he’s got the clothes,” said Bertie hastily. “And if he’s short on shirts I’ll send down some more—nice silk ones!”
“Now you are charming! You see I have a special reason for being nice to him!”
“Yes; you see, he—he saved my life!”
“Would you have me consign the savior of my life to the servants’ quarters? Would you have me to tell him to eat with the scullery-maids? Would you have me deny him your clothes, your shoes, your shirts?”
“No, no!” said Bertie. “Here, give him that!” Handing her his watch. “He has everything else!”
“Is this levity?” said the lady severely.
“Beg your pardon, but do you mean to say he eats with—not with—”
“Exigencies of circumstance! You might have been born a porter!”
BERTIE disdained this. “How long has he been here?”
“Ah, you consider you have the right to—to question me, now!”
“Oh, never mind!” Hastily.
“But I do mind! And you have the right! He has been here since yesterday.”
“But it’s quite all right! He occupied the royal suite, and I—I had Cook for a chaperon, and a very good chaperon she is, too.”
Bertie gazed at her. “The royal suite! Whew!” he whistled.
“Isn’t it romantic?”
“Rather!” Looking at her hard.
“For him, I mean! As for me—”
“My book of romance has been closed!”
“By jove, Estelle!” he exclaimed. “Of one thing I’m sure ! The man who gets you won’t have a dull moment.”
“Perhaps you flatter yourself!”
Bertie blinked. “Here he comes back,” he said.
The lady thrilled. “You two must meet!”
VILAS Alexander retuiming to assassinate or to play * ' with his victims? The lady waited expectantly. Strange conduct ! He did not look at them as he drew near. Indeed, he seemed oblivious of their presence. Was this but duplicity? When their backs were turned would he spring upon them? Did he seek to lull them with a sense of false security, and then abruptly, without warning, consummate the dire deed? He got by once more. The lady looked around. Nothing happened. He was reserving his treachery. She came to a sudden resolution.
“Come here!” Would he obey? Wonder of wonders, he did.
“This is the man,” she said to Bertie.
“Awh!” said Bertie patronizingly. “Her ladyship tells me you saved her ladyship’s life.” Alexander did not answer. “A fine fellow! Awh!”
“Yes, Alexander’s quite uncommon—quite out of the ordinary!” Now would he spring upon them?
Alexander’s face was like a block of wood—expressionless !
“I haven’t yet learned the circumstances, my good man,” went on the Honorable Bertie, “but you have been greatly privileged, to have saved the life of one of her ladyship’s prominence and position!” It was a long speech for the Honorable Bertie and, somehow, he felt it wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say, but Bertie was inwardly perturbed and confused.
HER ladyship suddenly laughed. She couldn’t help it. She was thinking what Bertie would say if only he knew «((.' The whole dreadful truth! Perhaps Alexander would blurt out the terrible secret? Yet he was now oddly silent; strangely still! An impassive, ominous Alexander! Of what was he thinking? Though her life depended on her tact, her ladyship could not restrain her gaiety.
“How pompously you said that, Bertie!” she observed. “It was, really, quite unworthy of one usually so clever!”
“I get him,” said Alexander gravely.
“He means he understands your stupid platitudes!” The look Alexander bestowed upon her again seemed to read her very soul. “What an eye that man has!” thought the lady, but she wasn’t going to let herself be intimidated.
She looked him in the eye, and for a moment it was a question of what might happen. Alexander’s breast, she conceived as a fiery furnace. He had intimated, only too plainly, that he regarded her as his—his goods and chattels! Now his gigantic egotism must be boiling! With what delight she could continue to pile on the fuel! Regardless of the outcome! Let a volcano engulf her! She cared not!
“Besides,” said her ladyship gaily to the Honorable Bertie, “you mustn’t enhance, too greatly, the value of his services, or he’ll be raising the price!”
“The price?” said the Honorable Bertie with a slight frown. “I say, my good fellow—” ,L
“There! there!” said her ladyship. “I won’t have him scolded.”
“Oh, I no mind him,” said Alexander.
HE was standing very straight and steady—meditating what? What crime? Hewas an incluir so taller than Bertie and even better, put-up, ’gh
Bertie was an excellent specimen of fine physical manhood. Her ladyship couldn’t help making comparisons to Alexander’s advantage. Was it right to approve of one’s prospective slayer? Ac least it showed largemindedness, her ladyship reflected.
Bertie found himself shaking his head. “Still, you know, my good fellow, you must really leave it to her ladyship, or"
—remembering how impractical hexladyship was about money matters —“to her ladyship’s friends!”
“Maybe I not got anything,” said Alexander shrewdly, “if I leave it to them ! Maybe they try to cut it down!”
“Maybe they’ll do no such thing!” said her ladyship.
“Maybe they’ll not interfere!”
Bertie eyed Alexander.
Dolt! Did he not know he was playing with thunder and lightning? Her ladyship moved between them. She had seen a spark in Alexander’s eye and she divined fci’ces, elemental, about to burst their bonds!
“Is my life of so little consequence that we stand here and quibble about the price I am to pay to this gallant”— nothing like flattery to smooth things out!—“gentleman?”
“Gentleman?” queried Bertie.
The lady threw back her head. “Well, he knew what knives and forks to use,” she •said. “He never made a mistake, once. If you don’t believe me, ask Pelton!”
Bertie pondered. “How many courses were there?
She regarded the speaker with scorn. “It was a dinner of even larger proportions than usual! Is it likely I would bestow upon the savior of my life an abbreviated repast?”
“Is it likely a common porter would eat a large dinner without making a mistake?”
“He isn’t a common porter.
He’s an uncommon! Didn’t he win a pound from me at billiai'ds, afterward?”
“Making hay while the sun shines, eh?”
A LEXANDER held himself
aloof but the lady noticed i
his deep, penetrating eyes were bent very fixedly and inquiringly upon Bertie, as though seeking to read him up and down and across both
ways. There was a burning concentration in Alexander’s gaze now.
“Got a pound out of you, did he?” said Bertie. “I suppose, under the circumstances, it’s up to me to get it back!” As he spoke Bertie grinned. Regular billiard shark, was Bertie!
“Good!” said her ladyship, retaliation in her tones. Alexander had played her a trick; it was only right he should be made to suffer. “But perhaps he won’t play?”
“I play, all right,” said Alexander.
She led the way to the house gaily. Upon the balcony they encountered the most recent of her ladyship’s staff of employees.
“This is Miss Handsaw,” said her ladyship to Bertie.
The Honorable Bertie bestowed upon Miss IDxndsaw a sour look.
“My chaperon!” said her ladyship. “Concession to ’igh respectability antfcEnglish morality! A very resnectable ¿pectable person nerson ! !” “Locks it!” m but not loud enough for Miss H thev all entered the house of Alexander!” thought her rself blithely in an easy Bertie chalked his cue and
looked along it with the eye of an expert. Alexander didn’t bother taking any such pi-ecautions.
Then Bertie began and it was charming to watch him; ease, grace and certainty characterized his every play. He made a nice run which her ladyship applauded, while mentally she saw Alexander reluctantly handing over the pound. Cupidity should be punished.
Alexander played very poorly at first, and the lady beamed with satisfaction. Then he picked up a bit; then a bit more! Now it was neck and neck. Then, by a seeming fluke, Alexander won. He put out his hand; Bertie paid.
“A ballj' accident!” he said between his teeth. “Make it two this time. Double or quits!”
* Alexander eyed the coins wistfully. Cupidity struggled w'ith caution in his gaze.
“Afraid?” said the lady derisively.
Alexander looked at her. “I’ll play.”
Again it was very close, and again Alexander just managed to pull off the game in his favor, but he had to struggle mightily; he took so much time over the shots that Bertie waxed sarcastic, and even her ladyship could not refrain from a cutting word or two. Bertie gritted his teeth.
"Double or quits!” he said.
ALEXANDER looked at the four
gold pieces. Caution seemed to get the better of cupidity.
“Four birds in the hand,” he murmured, “are better—”
“Coward !” breathed her ladyship. “And to think my life was saved by such a hero!”
That settled Alexandei\ “All right! But this is the last!”
This time he played more carefully than ever, and again her ladyship “rooted” for Bertie, seeming to forget that Alexander was her savior. His methods were most exasperating; he would start to do something, and then he would do something else, after a period of protracted consideration.
“Lightning artist!” grunted Bertie. “Ought to have a time limit !”
Alexander won. “Put me to sleep!” muttered Bertie savagely. “That’s what he did!” Then he helped himself to the Scotch-and??öda Pelton had brought. “Double or quits!” he said. “If you win, I’m done! All the coin I’ve got with me! But we have to have a time limit.”
“No dawdling this time!” From her ladyship.
“Eight birds in the hand!” said Alexander, looking at the gold. “Eight gold birds! Why I take chances?”
“But suppose there were sixteen?”
That was too much for Alexander. “All right!”
1‘And no dawdling!” repeated her ladyship. “If you dawdle the wager’s off, and I shall be the judge.”
“I’ll not dawdle,” said Alexander. And he didn’t. He hardly looked at the balls; he leaped on them. And the way they flew around and performed made Bertie’s eyes bulge. Now Alexander fairly sprinted; he was like a panther on the trail, and brought the game to a close in record time. Bertie stood drooping. “Stung!” he murmured. “Did I dawdle?” said Alexander to the lady.
“He’s got my clothes, and now he’s got my purse,” said Bertie.
Alexander looked at tlie money. “Sixteen golden birds in the hand!”
“A whole aviary!” snapped Bertie. “Is there anything else I’ve got you want?”
“Maybe,” said Alexander, and as he spoke his dark impelling eyes swept to the lady.
“Re thankful you are alive, Bertie!” murmured the latter.
Alexander’s eyes suddenly snapped. The lady saw. “Yes; I suppose I ought to be glad he hasn’t taken my life!” grumbled Bertie.
“There is yet time for that,” said the lady gaily.
Did Alexander smile? She was not sure.
“Haven’t even got car-fare to get back to London with!” muttered Bertie.
“Perhaps you won’t need car-fare,” said the lady.
''PHIS time she was sure she saw Alexander smile.
"I'll borrow a quid or two from Pelton,” said Bertie.
“Instead of giving him the customary?”
“Oh, you’ll nil be borrowing if your hero hangs around here much longer,” said Bertie in a nasty tone.
Alexander continued to look at the coins. “I play you. for your note!”
“No, you don’t!” Bertie thrust his hands into his empty pockets.
“I put in my dress-suit, the shirts, and the sixteen gold birds, against your note for twenty-five!”
"Your dress-suit!” cried Bertie.
Continued on page 79
Covfivued from page 27
“I add my shiny shoes!”
“Your—” but woi'ds failed Bertie.
“You won’t? ’ said Alexander with a sweet smile.
‘ You call me coward?” said Alexander to the lady. “Me!” He tapped his chest. “I add silk socks—my pipe—”
Bertie tock another drink. His hand shook, so gi'eat was his agitation.
“Perhaps I’d better be crawling away,” he said weakly.
“Would you leave xxxe?” she said reproachfully. And her eyes added: ‘Alena with him!”
“But if he should get hold of Pelton first, I shouldn’t be able to borrow the tar-fare.” said Bertie.
“Would you not walk back for my sake if you had to, Bertie?” she asked tcr.dex'ly.
Alexander suddenly became very attentive.
“I—Ï—oh, of course,” said Bertie huskily.
UpO the lady’s fascinated gaze, Alexander’s shoulders and arms seemed 1 o become more bulgy and muscular. And what did that sudden tightening of his lips pox'tend? “Maybe you won’t be .•'ble to walk!” This was playing with fire. She was glad of a chance to change the conversation.
“Oh. look who’s coming!” she said suddenly, gazing cut of the window.
“The bishop, and the curate, and their wives, and a few other ladies!” said Bertie blankly.
“They’ve heard I’ve come back and have called to congratulate me!”
“What are you going to do with him?” observed Bertie, jerking his finger toward Alexander. ‘Introduce him as your guest?”
“Why net?” Vivaciously. “Isn’t he? Fortunately, he has a foreign name and - no overlooks a good deal in a foreigner. Little crudities of conversation, for example !”
“Oh, I can just hear his light and merry persiflage!” said Bertie with a guffaw. “And I bet he’ll hit the bishop for a fiver the first thing. Or pre-empt his gaiters!”
Alexander listened patiently. His was the aspect cf a man who was biding his time. Her ladyship skated on thin ice; she knew it, but what matter?
“Come,” she said in her ordinary society tone, and they went.
NOTHING especially out of the ordinary happened. Alexander kept an eve on Bertie and did about what he did. The lady had been surprised when Alexander had acquired proficiency in tableware prestidigitation. Now she was doubly surprised when she saw how he picked up drawing-room manners by watching Bertie. He didn’t fall over the ladies’ feet nor step on their toes. He
didn’t spill tea down any one’s neck or di'op his bread-and-butter on the floor, butter-side down, and pick it up again and eat it.
In a wox*d, he committed no faux pas. Instead, he seemed quite popular. The gushers, old and young alike, were attracted by his stunning masculine beauty. He talked, too. Or at least he seemed to be moving his lips when her ladyship looked his way. Her ladyship did not have time to obsexwe very particularly; she, herself, was kept rather busy dealing in vague genex-alities concerning her recent experiences. Incidentally, she imparted very little real information. But what about Alexander in this respect? How much was he telling? Of course, the world would have to know, sometime, what now she was keeping secret, but she wanted to talk things over with her uncle, the lord high chancellor, first!
She wanted to be advised what to do about Alexander, or with him, and who could advise better than a lord high chancellor? With his stupendous accumulated wisdom and knowledge! She wondered what would Alexander do, coping with a lord high chancellor? How his assurance would fall from him!
Her ladyship had laid all her plans. She had found time to send a little telegram that would bring results soon. Of course, after the lord high chancellor had blasted Alexander with all the power of his judicial might and reduced him to mere nothingness, her ladyship would plead for him. And—well, then she
would be rather nice to him!
ALL this passed through her mind Yx whAe chatting gaily, and telling a1! (nothing!) about her recent exneriexices. Put her ladyship could tell nothing with greater charm than most people can tell a gx-eat deal. She possessed the art of making her nothings pass for a great deal, while most people’s great deal passes for nothing. It wasn’t necessary to remember what her ladyship said; in fact, it was rather impossible. As well try to put sunbeams or rainbows in cold storage! You can’t can the diaphanous, or preserve such airy effervescence in mental fruit jars for future reference.
Guests come; guests go!
“What a singulaxdy intelligent man Mr.” — mentioning Alexander—“is,” said the bishop’s lady before departing.
“Do you find him so?” said her ladyship. in a funny tone.
“So well-versed in theology!” Enthusiastically.
Now the good woman liked to talk theology.
“We agree perfectly,” said the bishop’s wife.
“I suppose,” thought her ladyship, “Alexander nodded his head, not knowing what else to do !” But what she said
“Oh, yes; he’s a wonderful authority!
“I wish he’d come over some time and talk to the bishop !”
“I am sure he w'ould be delighted,” said the lady, with another funny lo,ok. Fancy Alexander taking a dish of tea with the bishop and talking theology!
“What a delightful man, Mr.”— mentioning Alexandei’—“is,” said a lady who had been called upon to sing a ballad. “He just knows everything about music !”
“Everything?” said her ladyship, with another funny look.
“Well, almost everything! For example, we agree perfectly on tonal effects.”
“I’m sure you would do very well singing duets,” said her ladyship.
“Oh, will you lend him to me?” Enthusiastically.
“Reluctantly! For the sake of art!” Think of Alexander singing half a duet!
“Art!” murmured a third. “My dear Lady Langlenshire, I congratulate you on your charming guest. One seldom meets a man so well posted. Post-impressionism and all that! We were quite one, in thinking—”
THEY all went, at last. Her ladyship looked at Alexander.
“You were quite eclipsed, Bertie!” Bertie looked sulky.
“Bally lot of gushers!” he said.
“Oh, no! Just ordinary people! But don’t feel badly. He almost eclipsed me.”
Bertie eyed Alexander with supreme disfavor.
“I wonder,” said the lady, “if he will eclipse the lord high chancellor?”
“Bally nerve, I call it!” said Bertio ill-humoredly.
“Oh, no,” said her ladyship. “It only proves an old proverb.”
“Silence is golden.”
CHAPTER XX The Lady on Her Mettle
“DUT pride sometimes has a fall,” -L) said the lady, thinking of the lord high chancellor.
“I don’t fall down,” said Alexander confidently.
“No?” purred the lady sweetly.
“No,” said Alexander, drawing himself up like a conqueror and eying Berde. “When I want something”— looking at her ladyship— “I sweep it” —looking at Bertie—“aside!”
“Isn’t he delicious?” purred the lady. “ ‘Something!’ ‘It!’ Neuter gender!”
“I don’t know what the bally deuce he’s talking about.” said Bertie.
“We are slightly at cross-purposes, that is all. He was thinking of ‘something’ and ‘it,’ and I was thinking of something else ! But what right have we to think? Three people have vouched for his super-cleverness. Connoisseur, juage, arbiter-elegantarium !”
“Dick Turpin, or Jesse James, I should call him.” said Bertie.
“A master of music, art, theology!” mused the lady. “No one ever told me you knew" everything, Bertie!”
"Did they say that about him?” “Three people! All authorities in their respective lines!”
Alexander drew himself up. “I show them,” he said proudly.
“I suppose,” said the lady, “you think you know more than they do?”
“Sure,” said Alexander. “Only I no tell them that.” Shrewdly.
“What frightful artfulness!” said the lady. “I know of but one person in the world wise enough to cope with him.”
‘ The lord high chancellor has come, your ladyship,” said Pelton, at that moment entering the room.
“How apropos!” cried her ladyship. “You will entertain him, Bertie?” indicating Alexander. “I have matters to discuss with my uncle.”
“Well, he’s got my shirt, my pipe, my boots, my clothes and my money,” said Bertie, eying Alexander. “Yes; I think I can entertain him now with tolerable safety.”
“I’m sure of it!” gurgled the lady, and floated out of the room.
FOR a moment the two men eyed each other.
“Have a cigarette,” said Bertie ironically, tendering his case.
“Thanks!” said Alexander, and took one. Then he looked at the case Bertie had, inadvertently, handed to him. “Nice case !”
“Eh?” Bertie started.
Alexander made as if to hand it back, but his gaze was wistful.
“Keep it,” said Bertie. “You’ve got everything else! Forgot I had this! I apologize !”
“That’s all right!” Complacently. “Maybe I get a better one some time! This all right for now!”
“You t°ke such a load from my mind,” said Bertie. “So glad you may find it of service temporarily!”
“Have a match!” said Alexander. And handed Bertie one.
“Thanks!” said Bertie. “Thanks so much !”
“Eh? It go out? Have another!”
Bertie took it. “Don’t overwhelm me,” he said.
“You think you marry her?” said Alexander nonchalantly, nodding toward the door through which her ladyship had passed.
Bertie turned red. “None of your d—” He checked himself. “What business is it of yours?”
“H’um !” Alexander didn’t commit himself but studied Bertie. “You no want to talk about her?” Shrewdly.
“I certainly don’t!” snapped Bertie. He was about to add, with a sneer : “With a porter, evendf he is privileged !” But he didn’t! Bertie had reasons for not wanting to quarrel about her ladysnip or to pose as her champion.
“Very tine woman!” said Alexander, his glance like an eagle’s, bent on Bertie.
“That’s neither here nor there,” said Bertie curtly. Did the fellow wish to force him into that champion-role?
“You think so?” pursued Alexander with burning gaze.
“I don’t think !”
“I see! I have eyes,” continued Alexander. “Out there!” He meant in Lovers’ Lane.
BERTIE, enraged, felt himself getting deeper in the toils. But how could he give way to that overwhelming anger? He had been indiscreet.
“What she tell you, eh?”, said Alexander.
Bertie wanted to strangle him but refrained. “Can’t we find some more interesting topic of conversation?” he observed desperately. “No, no; I don’t mean that! Her ladyship is always interesting, of course! More—more profitable topic, was probably what I meant to say!”
“Profitable?” said Alexander. “You mean you play billiards?”
“Anything!” With a groan.
“My dress-suit, the shiny shoes, the sixteen gold birds, against your note for twenty-five?”
“Anything,” repeated Bertie, and followed Alexander.
HER ladyship greeted her uncle affectionately.
“When did you arrive, my dear? Yesterday! And didn’t let me know until to-daÿ?”
“Well, you see, I wanted time to recover myself.”
“Yes? You have, no doubt, experienced many vicissitudes. We have worried about you. But where did you land? Folkestone?”
“No; on the beach, below!”
“Bless my soul ! How?”
Her ladyship unfolded the entire story. The lord high chancellor listened without comment.
“And now, what do you think of it?” said the lady, when at last she had concluded.
“Bless my soul!” said the lord high chancellor.
“Is that all?”
“All,” he answered.
The lady waved her hands despairingly. ‘And I looked to you!” she said reproachfully.
“I am afraid you overestimate my poor talents, my dear child,” said the chancellor humbly. “Only a brain that involved you in such a quagmire could extract vou therefrom!”
“You mean you desert me?”
“On the contrary! In nautical phraseology, I feel it my duty to stand by.”
“That’s all right, then,” said her ladyship in livelier accents. “When people talk about high respectability, or duty,
I feel safer. Now, I am positive it will come out all right!”
“And I, my dear child”—in the same humble tones—“would sooner trust your intuition than my wisdom.”
“Is that what you call ‘standing by’? It sounds to me more like evasion,” said the lady.
“Watchful waiting, my dear,” corrected the lord high chancellor. “Wisdom waiting on intuition!”
“Wisdom shouldn’t wait. I want to be guided by your wisdom.”
“This matter is not one to be settled in a second. It may take years.”
“Years!” said her ladyship blankly. | “I don’t understand. Of course, there is ; only one thing to do.”
“You mean to hale him into the courts j and toss him out of the window, neck and | breeches? Good! Now we are getting | practical, at last.”
“But,” said the lady, “I don’t want I him tossed out!”
“Could you not accomplish the same result more—decorously?”
“Fudge! A common porter!”
“AN uncommon one!” said the lady. ■**“He has certain unusual traits.” “So I gathered when you were telling me the story!”
“Let us be just! It was I who asked him to marry me!”
“And he did—for a consideration? Ahem !”
“But didn’t he nearly lose his life on my account? And didn’t he save mine? And bring me ashore like—like Neptune bearing Aphrodite?”
“So you have informed me before!” Dryly.
“I could only think of some fabulous water-god !”
“A common porter; a water-god!”
“But he isn’t a common—”
“He keeps getting less and less common all the time! He bas a marvelous gift of mimicry. He learned what knives and forks to use almost at once by watching me, and what to do in a drawing-room by watching Bertie. He has become a marvel of grace; he even overshadows me.”
“In the conversational art, though, he only says: ‘Yes’ and ‘No’!”
“Ha!” said the lord high chancellor. “He is terribly artful. He deceives people. He makes them think he is gifted with wonderful knowledge by just sitting still and looking wise.”
“A good many of us do that,” said her uncle. “I have myself, on occasions, resorted to the subterfuge.”
“Well, at any rate, people go away singing his praises. And that isn’t the worst ! He has a frightful cupidity. He has all Bertie’s clothes, and his pipe, and his money, and, I am not sure, he is not planning to take his life.”
“Bless my soul!” said the lord high chancellor.
“In fact, he may, already, have taken it!”
“And all this happening in a highly respectable community!”
“A good deal might happen in any community, my dear, where you are!” said the lord high chancellor. “But you spoke of Bertie Brindleton? Is that honorable young gentleman here?”
“Then you’ve heard about his marriage—”
“His what?—Oh, yes!” In light fluty tones. “Bertie was telling me all about it! Whom did he marry?”
Again the chancellor stared. “Tossie Tiddles! Gayety girl! She got him in her toils shortly after you left!”
“Of course! Though that isn’t exactly the way Bhrtie put it to me,” remarked her ladyship.
“Naturally not! I suppose Bertie thinks he got her in his toils?”
HER ladyship began to laugh. “Poor Bertie!” And then: “Do me a
“A million!” Gallantly.
“Do not let Bertie know I—I am married !”
“Why not? You do not seem dreadfully worried about it?” Ironically.
“I? Oh, no! It’s Bertie who’s worried, and I want him to be!”
“I understand perfectly,” said the chancellor, not understandingat all.
“You see, I want Bertie to leave thinking I am heart-and-fancy free!”
“But suppose he e'ects to remain?” “He can’t. He hasn’t any clothes. His garments are already occupied. He hasn’t even a clean collar.”
“Bless my— But who?”
“And when am I to have the privilege (f gazing on this interesting gentleman?”
“Now! And, uncle, you may go as far as you please!”
Her ladyship caught her breath. Then the spirit of the Langlenshires looked out of her eyes. “Why—why, what alternative could there be?”
CHAPTER XXI Words of Wisdom
“YV^HAT! In the billiard-room
again?” said her ladyship.
Bertie put down his cue hastily. “So glad you’ve come!”
“Is it as bad as that?”
“He’s won a fifty-pound note, and was just proposing to make it a hundred.”, “Why, Alexander!” said the lady, shaking reprovingly her fair head.
“Before that, he got my cigarette case !”
“Bless my soul!” said the lord high chancellor, buttoning his frock coat and folding his arms over his pocketbook.
“Isn’t he wonderful, uncle?” said the lady, indicating Alexander.
“I quite agree with you, my child. But won’t you present me to this gentleman of so many and diversified accomplishments?”
The lady did, introducing the lord high chancellor by all his titles. The chancellor greeted Alexander with all the grace of the old school, but Alexander did not appear abashed. He was imitating the lord high chancellor’s manner now.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” said the lady again. Here was Alexander, a gentleman of the old school !
DUT the chancellor did not answer. H ' was regarding Alexander with considerable earnestness and attention.
“You will excuse me, please,” here Bertie put in hastily. “Got just time to catch my train!”
“Must you go?” said the lady, with a trace of emotion. “And when shall I see you again? To-morrow perhaps?” Bertie mentioned something about telegraphing.
“Very well.” said the lady. “And that little matter—please do not speak of it!”
“I won’t,” mumbled Bertie.
She went with him as far as the door. “In about a week!” she murmured. “What?” said Bertie miserably.
“You may tell every one.”
“Great!” In a hollow voice.
“I wish now I had let you !” she whispered, just outside the door. “Down in Lovers’ Lane, you know!”
“Got to go!” said Bertie hoarsely. “To-morrow, then, or next day?” She held out her hand.
“I’ll telegraph,” he repeated nervously-
“Are you happy?”
“In—in the seventh heaven!” lied Bertie, like a gentleman.
She thrilled wth a happy laugh. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Wonderful!” lied Bertie again. The worst was, she looked so beautiful and tantalizing and altogether alluring, his heart was going thump-thump!
“If only you didn’t have to go so soon!” said the lady. “What am Í saying?”
“Good-by!” whispered Bertie wildly, Heavens! how she loved him! he fled.
'THE lady went back into the billiardroom where Alexander was toying with the balls, «nd the lord high chancellor was watching him.
“Did he offer to pl^y you a match?” said the lady to her uncle.
“He did, my dear.”
“And you declined?”
“Oh, Alexander,” breathed the lady, “is there no limit to your propensities to acquire other people’s possessions?” “I play fair,” said Alexander with a sweet smile.
“Granted ! But is it a clean-cut sporting proposition?”
“I no cheat,” said Alexander.
“Oh, uncle, you put it to him!” she implored. “If we don’t curb Alexander’s sporting proclivities, what will become of our guests? Would we not soon find ourselves shunned—isolated by society?” “There is an alternative!”
“You no want me to play billiards, eh?” said Alexander. “All right! I won’t. I play bridge, instead!”
“No, you won’t.” said the lady quickly. “You’d soon have all the money in the kingdom !”
“Can you play bridge?” said the chancellor, studying him.
“I learn soon. I learn games mighty easy! I hear it bully good game for country-houses. I do very well!”
“I’m sure of it,” said the lady.
“Is not money good?” said Alexander simply.
“What are you going to do with a man like that?” said the lady despairingly to her uncle.
“He should do very well in London. His talents are lost down here.”
“In the city!” said the lady enthusiastically. “He would soon own the Bank of England.”
“How would you like to migrate to town, Alexander?” said the lord high chancellor. “To pack your things now and go back with me?”
Her ladyship started.
“Pack my things!” repeated Alexandei*.
“Or Bertie Brindleton’s ! Ha! ha! Think what a good joke it would be on Bertie !”
BUT somehow Alexander did not seem to see the joke.
“You want to take me away from here?”
“You mean forever? Of course!” Her ladvship turned her head. It was too absurd ! Whence this sudden little thrill of emotion? Engendered by the novelty of the situation, no doubt! “From her?” went on Alexander.
“I don’t see her any more?” “Naturally not!”
Alexander pondered. “I go away; I never come back; I never see her?” he repeated, as if to make sure that he got it all clearly defined in his brain.
“That is a summary of what I have already informed you,” said the chancellor.
“You mean she never come to me?” “Naturally, if you never see her more!” said the chancellor patiently. “She forget me?”
“I trust so! Proper thing to do!” “You want me to go?” said Alexander to the lady.
“You—you don’t think it could be otherwise, do you?” she answered, but her voice had an artificial inflection.
“I never see you?”
“Naturally,” she said.
“And you never see me?” “Naturally!”
ALEXANDER looked at her. “You 1 no speak in your voice. You speak in his.”
“Not at all!” said the chancellor hastily. “I am but ‘standing by.’ The lady is capable of speaking her own mind.”
“If those your words,” said Alexander to the lady, “you come out in garden, alone with me, to say them!”
A red spot appeared on the lady’s cheek. Heavens! Alexander appeared handsome at that moment. As he thus challenged her he looked like an aggrieved Greek god.
“No, no,” she said. “I—I wouldn’t trust myself alone with him. Not for worlds !”
The lord high chancellor looked from one to the other. “You fear he may do you an injury, my dear?”
“Can you ask? Look at him!” Alexander did not look as fierce as
might have been expected. In fact, his eyes were almost tender; deeply introspective !
“He doesn’t look exactly ferocious to me,” observed the chancellor.
“It’s—it’s his artfulness! He wouldn’t let you see!”
“I won’t touch her with a little finger,” observed Alexander. “I promise only to use words!”
“No, no; it wouldn’t do at all!” said the lady quickly. “I—I am afraid of him!”
Alexander folded his arms. “I—I ever give you cause to be afraid of me?” “Well, you’re very big!”
“A fault of nature, my dear!” interposed the chancellor justly.
“And very strong!”
ALEXANDER smiled. There was sadness in his smile. “Did I ever beat you?”
“I will confess,” said the lady, “you have spared me—so far!”
Alexander looked at her. The domineering eyes were soulful ; they sent little thrills into her.
“I promise to strike you—never!” he said. “Nothing like that! Something —different !”
The lady shrank back in her chair. “Say something!” she gasped to the chancellor.
The chancellor said something quickly —in some language she did not understand. Alexander, wheeling, responded in the same language.
“I thought so,” said the lord high chancellor.
A whimsical smile swept Alexander’s lips. He stood, leaning forward a little, his head slightly down-bent.
“What was that you said?” asked the lady. “Let Alexander tell you,” said the lord high chancellor, and left the room.
\ ND now,” said the lady, facin : Alexander.
Alexander, for one so handsome, look ed sheepish. “I’m sorry,” he said. “About what?”
“He spoke when he did!”
“And why should you be sorry?” she demanded.
“Because I thought I was beginning to ‘get on’!”
“Get on? What do you mean?”
“With YOU!” Humbly.
“You thought, that? You dared think that?” This porter—
“I dared,” he said in a low tone. She didn’t quite recognize that tone. It was different—something new !
“Yes, I’m sorry,” he repeated, “and yet, I’m glad.”
“That you didn’t actually kick me out! Though yo’1 would have been justified!”
Whence came these finely modulated tones?
“You still seem very presuming!”
“I wouldn't be,” said Alexander. “It is my heart’s desire to lay my life’s service at your feet.”
.“Say that again!” cried the lady, standing in a daze.
“And every service I shall count as a sweetest boon!”
YI/'HAT music was this? Alexander’s »V voice had lost all harshness and stridency. His tones were deep and mellifluous. So the surf might murmur on the shore.
“I hear,” said the lady, as one trying to catch a new song, “but I do not seem to understand.”
“Do you not see, it is my heart that I am laying at your feet?”
“Your heart?” The lady felt her own move. “What heart? How do I know you have a heart? I seem to have stepped from somewhere, into somewhere else.”
“Step into my life,” said Alexander in booming tones, “forever! And I will build there a shrine for you!”
“Very pretty! Only more inexplicable !”
“No more so than sunlight, birds’ songs, the joy of life, the ecstasy of another’s presence!”
“A poet?” Staring at him.
“Not I! Love speaks.”
“Love, a cooing dove!” murmured the big Alexander insidiously. “Love, as gentle as the summer breeze that hardly dares to kiss the rose!”
“Eh?” said the lady.
“Love as humble as the brook that washes at the feet of lilies, on the woodland bank !”
BUT Alexander was not done. Like Orlando, he seemed to be able to go on forever.
“And yet love”—swelling his chest— “as aspiring as the cloud that dares to float before the refulgent and beneficent orb of day!”
“Charming!” murmured the lady. “And all the while I was apprehensive you were going to woo me with a club!” “Do you fear to step out into the garden with me now?”
“I am quite sure my uncle would not have left me here with you, alone, had he not felt I would be perfectly safe in your company.”
“Safe?” His eyes glowed. “With me? Why, I would hold you against the world.”
“Would you? That sounds reassuring.”
Alexander put out a big hand and just touched the golden hair. His fingers, for all his air of big assurance, were uncertain as if he were caressing the air. “Come!” he said.
“Well?”—After all, it was the lord high chancellor’s fault. They stepped outdoors.
Miss Handsaw saw them and started to follow—at a discreet distance. Alexander stopped. Her ladyship looked at him, almost timidly. Alexander seemed to have usurped all authority.
“Ycu are discharged,” he said, frowning at Miss Handsaw.
“I takes my orders from her,” said Miss Handsaw.
“It’s quite all right,” said her ladyship hastily.
“Indeed!” said Miss Handsaw. “Was I ’ired by ’im?”
“No; only fired by him!” said Alexander. “Ha, ha!”
“Just his playful ways!” said her ladyship hastily. “You are to go. But you will be sent a month’s wages.”
“I’ll go,” said Miss Handsaw ominously. “And it’s not for me to say what people will be saying!”
“Tell them,” said Alexander, “there are hearts that say: ‘Boo!’ and likewise: ‘Pooh !’ to ’igh respectability! Tell them we are free as eagles that soar above mountain-tops !”
“Is it wise?” said her ladyship musingly.
“What?” said Alexander.
“Thus to cast all conventions to the winds !”
“If you’re arsking me?” began Miss Handsaw.
“She isn’t,” said Alexander promptly. Miss Handsaw looked like a hatchet —all edge.
“Ha, ha!” laughed her ladyship nervously. “Just his playful—”
“Plyeful?” The edges of Miss Handsaw’s lips curled.
“Tell them we snap our fingers at high respectability,” repeated Alexander.
“Just like MacDuffy!” murmured her ladyship. “Who says bishops is humbugs!”
“That we live our own lives!” went on Alexander.
“You might add, how'ever,” said her ladyship, “this gentleman is my husband.”
“Oh!” said Miss Handsaw, disappointed.
“To ‘Boo!’ and ‘Pooh!’ I will now add: ‘Shoo’!” said Alexander.
AND with such a sudden gesture that Miss Handsaw flew!
“Oh, oh!” said her ladyship, laughing. “Where am I? Or where are we? And, somehow, I seem to have‘thrown my cap over the windmill. I don’t seem to know any of the whys and wherefores, or to care much !”
“That’s as it should be,” said Alexander, as Miss Handsaw7 vanished from sight like a startled exclamation point. “Do the leaves question the night-wind that causes them to rustle? Do the leaping waves make inquiry of the moon,beams? Does the nightingale say to the rose: ‘Wh? do I sing?’ ”
“Go on,” said the lady. “You are a
kind of a magical porter, I suppose— ¡ like the one in the Arabian Nights, j And you talk like a volume of poetry ' to preserve the unities—poetic justice, or something like that! I am a little mixed up on these ethical questions.” “What do they matter?” said Alexander vigorously. “I am yours; you are mine! What else is there to say? What else possibly could be said?”
“Nothing, I suppose,” said the lady humbly, falling in with this grand and ! exalted idea. “Unless one did, or might, i confess to a little curiosity?”
“Huh!” said Alexander. She tried to bear up beneath his lofty glance, j “You mean, what did your uncle say?” i “Yes. I could see that he knew you, | the way he looked at you from the first!
It caused me to wonder. Why should he j have known you?”
Alexander looked around. Was he ! seeking to evade her? “It was here I saw you and another—”
She waved her hand airily. “Absolutely nothing!” she said. “Only to punish him !”
“Punish?” One could see Alexander thought that an odd way to punish— “Yes, I wished to make him suffer!” “For an impertinence?” A little of the old rumbling Alexander!
“For conceit !”
“You led him to do that?” Was this fire in his eye?
“Because it was the last thing he wanted to do!” her ladyship found herself saying hastily.
“Is that a command?”
“A humble petition!”
“Ha, ha!” said Alexander.
“A rude and boisterous laugh for a poet!” she observed.
“Oh, I’m laughing like a man!”
“I had quite a bit of you as a man,” said the lady. “Be a poet once more!”
ALEXANDER touched her lips with his. So a leaf might have swept by. “Shameless!” said the lady, apostrophizing herself. “And I do not even know who you are!”
“Yet you come to me?”
“I?” His arm encircled but hardly touched.
“Madness!” she said. “Also hardly respectable !”
He gathered her to him.
“Shocking!” said the lady.
But her breath came fast, and so the poet really kissed the lady.
“ AND now,” said the lady breathlessly, “who are you?”
“You called me a—a water-imp once!” “Imp?” she said scornfully. But never mind !”
“Maybe it was Neptune?”
“That’s all very well, as far as it goes,” said the lady. “But it doesn’t go very far. And don’t you think I’ve been rather patient to permit you to proceed thus far without—”
“Must we disturb the dream?” murmured Alexander.
“Would you ^orce me to go to my uncle and say: ‘Who is this man who j
has—has grabbed my heart, and is ! squeezing the same in his big fist?’ ”
“Do you think that adequately exj presses—” he began with large indignaj tion.
“How would you put it?”
“Who is this man—” began Alexander. “This man”—looking at her—“who has cast his—his whole heart at the earth at my feet?”
“Can it be?” she asked. “You—-you who laughed—and jested and smiled—an seemed so—well, so utterly oblivious to the torturing flames of love?”
Was she laughing? Alexander’s eyes flamed. “There are flames within the earth, even beneath the snows,” he said. “Cold flint has sparks, yet you must strike it right to find them.”
“ W’hat’s that to do with who you are?” she countered.
“What matters.the worldly tabulation?” he rumbled. !
“it helps,” said the lady. “For ex-
ample, if you got lost, it would help to» find you.”
“That’s so,” he said. There was a reason why people should be tabulated with names and labeled with addresseslike merchandise. A good reason! Soif they got lost— He had never thought of that before. Clever! He devoured her with his eyes.
LIKEWISE he touched her hand tenderly to his lips. The lady halfclosed her eyes; for the moment she forgot curiosity. Idly drifting! What could be pleasanter? A dream for a day! Or a few minutes! A leaf fell to her lap as she sat on the marble bench ; she took it in her fingers and touched her lips with it. Even nature seemed sympathetic. Alexander took the leaf and pressed his lips where hers had touched it. Then he put it in his pocket—left side.
“A solicitous little leaf!” said the lady.
“It got its reward!” said Alexander. He put her head against his broad shoulder and she let it stay there. A little animal peeked at them; found nothing interesting in the spectacle and went back to its tree. Alexander breathed deeply; likewise, he gazed at the heavens. His broad chest rocked—a cradle for the golden head !
Light laughter awoke him. He started. He was conscious he was holding said head on its resting-place.
“Am I—making myself ridiculous?” he inquired.
“Not at all!” said the lady. “It is all eminently satisfying, only, unfortunately, I have a sense of humor.”
“Pray forgive! And don’t think me unfeeling. I couldn’t help laughing.” “At such a moment,” said Alexander, “ a moment divine, you experience only —merriment?”
“Oh, no! And that is why I laughed, I suspect. I felt myself being wafted away—to realms ineffable ! I don’t know where. Perhaps you can enlighten
“You jest?” The reproach in Alexanander’s tones was prodigious. “You —cold as ice!”
“No, no! It was just that! I was floating—floating—and I just caught myself in time!” The red lips smiled.
“And what did it say to you?”
“It said: ‘Whose shoulder is this?’ ’
“You see the joke?”
He took her head in his hands.
“Ha, ha! That is funny!” He looked deep into her eyes—laughing eyes! “Love laughs!” he said. “Why shouldn’t it? Isn’t love happy? ‘Whose shoulder?’ ”
\LEXANDER gazed at her tenderly. “How beautiful you are!”
“Is that an evasion?”
“Never mind,” she said. “What does t matter? Don’t tell me! I’m sure it nust be quite all right and ’ighly respecable and all that, or my uncle would iot have turned me over to your tender riercies. But he did take you off your ;uard, didn’t he, when he spoke to you n that language so foreign to my ears. “He did,” said Alexander.
“What did he say?”
“He said: ‘I am glad to meet you
gain, Prince Milanof!’” said Alexaner sheepishly. , , ...
“Oh, that’s it,” said the lady quietly. “I’m sorry,” said Alexander humbly. “Will that help?” she said more quiety. “Will that bring back my porter? “I’m sorry,” he repeated more con-
rl“But that doesn’t do any good. It—it oesn’t restore anything.”
“I know,” he said. Alexander looked
mhappy. , . „ . ,
“You might as well explain, said the
Alexander sighed. “The porterthe tan—-wanted to win you,” he said. I ad so much of this prince business. I /anted to forget it.”
“I was a follower of Tolstoi and I uspect I made myself what you English
would call a bally nuisance to my Government. But I detested autocratic power. At any rate, I was given my choice between fleeing, and a long, enforced vacation, eastward! I had met your uncle on one or two occasions at the court of Petrograd. He remembered me. As porter, I have since been enabled to serve my Government. You can imagine how? I passed as a Greek. Indeed, I am free to return to my own country now at any time. A portion of my estates have, I believe, been restored, I can go back. But I only want to—as one of the people! The old order is going—so fast—crumbling! Why could
they not see?—The new—the people, for the people.” He paused. For the moment his vision was bent afar. She, too, was still. Something held her silent. Then near them a bird began to sing and Alexander stirred. His eyes returned to hers. Somehow, the lady felt a different nearness—a larger nearness?—She couldn’t define the feeling.
“Fussing in a bush !” laughed the lady. “Well, I have lost my porter. And in his place a poet has foisted himself upon me. I suppose I have no choice but to accept the responsibility!”
“Sadly?” be said.
Her answer was ’ighly unrespectable.
“Gladly!” her lips said on his.
THE lord high chancellor watched them return.
“All right?” he said.
“Quite,” said the lady.
“Fine,” said Alexander.
“I thought I could trust him to you— I mean, you to him, my dear,” observed the lord high chancellor. “The prince is an idealist; you are eminently practical. It should prove an ideal match.”
“I trust I shall prove worthy of her,” said Alexander humbly.
“I feel my own limitations fearfully, said the lady.
“Do you?” said the chancellor m an odd tone. “How about that, Alexan-
“Does one ask the sweetest perfume to be sweeter? Does one say to the sunlight, ‘Why aren’t you brighter?’ ” Alexander frowned. “As well criticize the music of the spheres!”
“Should I keep him or not, uncle?
“Since you ask my advice, after haying already concluded what to do, I will state, in my humble opinion, you could not do better.”
“Poor Bertie!” said the lady. “I must send him a telegram.”
“A telegram?” said the chancellor.
“I don’t want him to feel bad any longer. I don’t want any one to feel bad.”
Alexander said nothing.
“Dinner,” said Pelton, looking in at that moment. .
“And Alexander not yet dressed in the Honorable Bertie’s beautiful evening togs!” said the lady. “Never mind! And then, as they went in: “Dont pre-
“What?” asked Alexander.
“That you don’t know without watching me what knives and forks to eat with! Which reminds me: What will
the servants say?” ,
“TRe servants?” said the lord high
chancellor. . ^
“Yes! You see, they appointed themselves my guardians, and the guardians of high English respectability. Very nice of them !” . , ,
“Most commendable!” said the chancellor. ,, .
“But now, uncle, to relieve their apprehensions, you must explain.”
“Gladly! Explaining is one of the greatest privileges of any high office.
“Since Alexander ‘shooed’ poor Miss Handsaw away, they’ll be worrying worse than ever.” .
“That won’t do. Call them in after dinner, Pelton. The explanation, my dear, will be masterly.”
\ ND it was! One or two of the maids A almost wept as his lordship chopped off the Finger of Scorn and replaced it with the uplifted Hands of Approval. He smashed the withering blight of doubt and planted a flower in its place. He set said flower in a beautiful garden. Morality was like a modest English garden; no tiger-lilies wanted there!
“Nor ’uman-tigers!” From Pelton, sotto voce.
He eulogized the Committee promulgated for the Uplift of Master and Mistress, and recommended a national organization along these lines, in the event of the creation of which her ladyship would be glad to be a patroness, and he, to serve as a patron.
“I, too,” said Alexander modestly. “You hear the prince?” said the chancellor.
“ ’Er ladyship’s ’nsband’!” From Jane proudly.
“As I’ve made you extra work,” said her ladyship, “you should have extra pay. I’m sure I should pay for having my morals properly guarded!”
“But, your ladyship,” stammered Jane, “there wasn’t no real need!”
“But there might have been! The fact there was not a real need, and never may be, makes the need of the committee the more imperative. Am I not right?” To the chancellor.
“Absolutely!” Rubbing his nose.
“It is to guard against contingencies!” “Ten pounds apiece for you from me!” said Alexander.
“And ’im a-wearin’ of the Honorable Bertie’s clothes!” whispered Pelton to Jane. And then aloud: “Begging your
pardon, your ’ighness, but ’ow about MacDuffy? Does that include ’im?”
“As you have to drop an ‘H’ from ‘highness,’ Pelton. I would suggest that henceforth you address me as ‘Sir.’ ” “But—” Dismayed.
“You see, I dropped the ‘prince,’ myself, some time ago.”
“For why?” said the horrified Pelton.
“ Bally nuisance !”
“Then her ladyship ayn’t a princess?” murmured the disappointed Jane.
“Don’t look so downhearted,” spoke up her ladyship. “You see, there are to be no more grand dukes or princes in Russia. So the prince dropped the title—”
“Before it dropped him,” said Alexander. ‘And most of my estates! Gone, quite properly, too — for cabbagepatches. For one feudal lord, we are to have a thousand Mrs. Wiggses.”
“A very common person,” said Jane, with a toss of the head. “From h’America !”
“And Russia!” said Alexander. “The Russia of the future! We shall not only have our Mrs. Wiggses, but Mr. Wiggses, too!”
“Thank ‘Eaven, this is h’England!” said Pelton. “Where we still ’ave our clawsses and our h’acres—”
“How can I break it to him?” murmured her ladyship. “The truth is. Pelton, I am going to dispose of my superfluous acres—the idle ones, you know—” “Your ladyship means to sell—”
“No. Give—renounce—restore—I am not sure of the proper word—” Turning to the lord high chancellor.
“Don’t ask me,” said that individual weakly.
Pelton forgot himself. “Great ’Eavens! h’England will be populated by little Wiggses.”
“Zee Voltarian idea!” chirped Jacques. “Zee every man with zee every cabbage-patch! Mon Dieu! Zee Mr. Wiggs—he be zee Englishman of zee future—and zee Mrs. Wiggs—she represent zee lovely Mrs. John Bull.”
Pelton breathed hard. “Shall you be a-wanting of us, at all? H’after?—” It wasn’t a chaperon her ladyship needed; it was a keeper. Only Alexander’s eyes shone with a vast approval.
“Oh, yes. I expect to maintain an establishment. One mustn’t become a public-charge, you know\”
Pelton groaned. “It h’all comes of your ladyship cornin’ ’ome, like that!” “Unconventionally?”
“With one shoe h’on and the other shoe h’olf, limpin’ from h’anywhere—” “A-followed by ’im!” said the confused Jane.
“A prince w’ot ayn't a prince!” halfbitterly from Pelton.
“That will do, Pelton. And you may all go. Thank you so much.”
“Wishing your ladyship every ’appiness!” murmured Pelton.
“Hear! Hear!” said Tommy.
The others murmured in like vein— then vanished.
“And now,” said the lord high chan-
cellor, simulating an endeavor to conceal a yawn, “have I, likewise, your permission to retire, my dear?”
“But, my dear uncle, we’ve hardly had time yet to get acquainted, all over again.”
“Indeed?” Dryly. “For me, the day has seemed a rather full occasion. Besides, don’t you think I deserve a little l’est after my oratorical efforts?”
“Go, then !” she said. And he went.
THE lady and Alexander seated themselves in a corner of the great, dimly-lighted hall.
“Who is this MacDuffy, Pelton spoke of?” asked Alexander.
Her ladyship explained—how MacDuffy wouldn’t have anything to do with guarding her morals.
“Ha! I must reward him!” said Alexander. “Handsomely!”
“Do you wish my advice?”
“I implore it.”
Think of talking together about domestic affairs like that! Alexander settled back with a wondrous sense of domestic felicity.
“I think.” said the lady, “you have a misconception of the situation.”
“You should know,” said Alexander. Words which fell from such softly-curving lips should be respected—nay, reverenced !
“MacDuffy did not refrain from joining the committee because of confidence in any supernatural discretion on my part. He was indifferent. He didn’t care. I might have gone to the D. bowwows, for all of him.”
“D. bow-wows,” said Alexander, puzzled.
“Same as throwing your cap over the windmill,” explained the lady.
“If he didn’t care,” said Alexander, with a frown, “why should I reward him?”
“Why? Besides, think of the demoralizing effect it would have on the others !” “Others?”
“Demoralizing?—oh, of course! It rvould be apt to demoralize them, wouldn’t it?” said Alexander, with a funny look.
“Frightfully! One has to be careful. They might all up and leave us.”
“Us ƒ” Alexander gazed at her. Blissful plural !
“Shall I light your cigarette?” said the lady.
“No. Nothing extraneous !” “Extraneous?” Lifting her brow. “Only you!”
The lady’s eyes were very bright. “Are you glad you didn’t turn me from the door?” he laughed.
“Don’t ask me what I’m glad about.” “Ah!” Triumphantly. “What did I tell you? Love doesn’t reason.”
“It certainly does not,” said the lady. “When one feels like ceasing to think, or to have logical sequences of thought — What does it portend? Brainstorm?”
“Heart-storm!” said Alexander.
But it was a very gentle tempest that burst upon her.