MR. PILKINGTON seemed nervous but determined. His face was half hidden by the silk scarf that muffled his throat, for he was careful of his health and had a fancied tendency to bronchial trouble. Above the scarf a pair of mild eyes gazed down at Jill through their tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles. It was hopeless for Jill to try to tell herself that the tender gleam behind the glass was not the love-light in Otis Pilkington’s eyes. The truth was too obvious.
“Good evening. Miss Mariner,” said Mr. Pilkington, his voice sounding muffled and far away through the scarf. “Are you going uptown?”
“No, downtown,” said Jill quickly.
"So am I,” said Mr. Pilkington.
Jill felt annoyed, but helpless. It is difficult to bid a tactful farewell to a man who has stated his intention of going in the same direction as yourself.
There was nothing for it but to accept the unspoken offer of Otis Pilkington’s escort. They began to walk down Broadway together.
“I suppose you are tired after the rehearsal?” inquired Mr. Pilkington in his precise voice. He always spoke as if he were weighing each word and clipping it off a reel.
“A little. Mr. Miller is very enthusiastic.”
“Has he said anything about the piece?”
“Well, no. You see, he doesn’t confide in us a great deal, except to tell us his opinion of the way we do the steps. I don’t think we impress him very much, to judge from what he says. But the girls say he always tells every chorus he rehearses that it is the worst he ever had anything to do with.”
“And the chor—the—er—ladies of the ensemble? What do they think of the piece?”
“Well, I don’t suppose they are very good judges, are they?” said Jill diplomatically.
“You mean they do not like it?” '
“Some of them don’t seem quite to understand it.”
MR. PILKINGTON was silent for a moment. “l am beginning to wonder myself whether it may not be a little over the heads of the public,” he said ruefully. “When it was first performed—”
“Oh, has it been done before?”
“By amateurs, yes, at the house of my aunt, Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim, at Newport, last summer. In aid of the Armenian orphans. It was extraordinarily well received on that occasion. We nearly made our expenses. It was such a success that, against my aunt’s advice, I decided to give it a Broadway production. Between ourselves, I am shouldering practically all the expenses. Mr. Goble has nothing to do with the financial arrangements of ‘The Rose of America.’ Those are entirely in my hands. Mr. Goble, in return for a share in the profits, is giving us the benefit of his experience as regards the management and booking of the piece. I have always had the greatest faith in it. Trevis and I wrote it when we were in college together, and all our friends thought it exceptionally brilliant. My aunt, as I say, was opposed to the venture. She holds the view that I am not a good man of business. In a sense, perhaps, she is right. Temperamentally, no doubt, I am more the artist. But I was determined to show the public something superior to the so-called Broadway successes, which are so terribly trashy. Unfortunately, I am beginning to wonder whether it is possible, with the crude type of actor at one’s disposal in this country, to give a really adequate performance of such a play as ‘The Rose of America.’ These people seem to miss the spirit of the piece, its subtle topsy-turvy humor, its delicate whimsicality. This afternoon”—Mr. Pilkington choked—“this afternoon I happened to overhear two of the principals, who were not aware that I was within earshot, discussing the play. One of them—these people express themselves curiously—one of them said that he thought it a quince, and the other described it as a piece of Gorgonzola cheese! That is not the spirit that wins success!”
Jill was feeling immensely relieved. After all, it seemed, this poor young man merely wanted sympathy, not romance. She had been mistaken, she felt, about that gleam in his eyes. It was not the love-light: it was the light of panic. He was the author of the play. He had sunk a large sum of money in its production, he had heard people criticizing it harshly, and he was suffering from what her colleagues in the chorus would have called cold feet. It was such a human emotion, and he seemed so like an overgrown child pleading to be comforted that her heart warmed to him. Relief melted her defenses. And when, on their arrival at Thirty-fourth Street, Mr. Pilkington suggested that she partake of a cup of tea at his apartment, which was only a couple of blocks off Madison Avenue, she accepted the invitation without hesitating.
ON HIS way to his apartment Mr. Pilkington continued in the minor key.
“It isn’t that I’m dependent on Aunt Olive, or anything like that,” he vouchsafed as he stirred the tea in his Japanese-print-hung studio. “But you know how it is. Aunt Olive is in a position to make it very unpleasant for me if I do anything foolish. At present I have reason to know that she intends to leave me practically all that she possesses. Millions!” said Mr. Pilkington, handing Jill a cup. “I assure you, millions! But there is a hard commercial strain in her. It would have the most prejudicial effect upon her if, especially after she had expressly warned me against it, I were to lose a great deal of money over this production. She is always complaining that I am not a business man like my late uncle. Mr. Waddesleigh Peagrim made a fortune in smoked hams."
Jill was now completely disarmed. She would almost have, patted this unfortunate young man’s head if she could have reached it.
"I shouldn't worry about the piece," she said. "I've read somewhere or heard somewhere that it's the surest sign of a success when actors don't like a play."
Mr. Pilkington drew his chair an imperceptible inch nearer. “How sympathetic you are!”
Jill perceived with chagrin that she had been mistaken after all. It was the love-light. The tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles sprayed it all over her like a couple of searchlights. Otis Pilkington was looking exactly like a sheep, and she knew from past experience that that was the infallible sign. When young men looked like that, it was time to go. “I’m afraid I must be off,” she said. “Thank you so much for giving me tea. I shouldn’t be a bit afraid about the play. I’m sure it’s going to be splendid. Good-by.”
“You aren’t going already?”
“I must. I’m very late as it is. I promised—” Whatever fiction Jill might have invented to the detriment of her soul was interrupted by a ring at the bell. The steps of Mr. Pilkington’s Japanese servant crossing the hall came faintly to the sitting room.
“Mr. Pilkington in?”
Otis Pilkington motioned pleadingly to Jill. “Don’t go!” he urged. “It’s only a man I know. He has probably come to remind me that I am dining with him to-night. He won’t stay a minute. Please don’t go.”
Jill sat down. She had no intention of going now. The cheery voice at the front door had been the cheery voice of her long-lost uncle, Major Christopher Selby.
UNCLE CHRIS walked breezily into the room flicking a jaunty glove. He stopped short on seeing that Mr. Pilkington was not alone.
“Oh, I beg your pardon! I understood—” He peered at Jill uncertainly. Mr. Pilkington affected a dim, artistic lighting system in his studio, and people who entered from the great out-doors generally had to take time to accustom their eyes to it. “If you’re engaged—”
“Er—allow me—Miss Mariner—Major Selby.”
“Hullo, Uncle Chris!” said Jill.
"God bless my soul!" ejaculated that startled gentleman adventurer, and collapsed on to a settee as if his legs had been mown from under him.
"I've been looking for you all over New York," said Jill.
Mr. Pilkington found himself unequal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation. "Uncle Chris?" he said with a note of feeble inquiry in his voice.
"Major Selby is my uncle."
"Are you sure?" said Mr. Pilkington. "I mean—"
Not being able to ascertain, after a moment's self-examination, what he did mean, he relapsed into silence.
"Whatever are you doing here?" asked Uncle Chris.
"I've been having tea with Mr. Pilkington."
"But—but why Mr. Pilkington?"
"Well, he invited me."
"But how do you know him?"
“We met at the theatre.”
Otis Pilkington recovered his power of speech. “Miss Mariner is rehearsing with a little play in which I am interested,” he explained.
Uncle Chris half rose from the settee. He blinked twice in rapid succession. Jill had never seen him so shaken from his customary poise. “Don’t tell me you have gone on the stage, Jill!”
“I have. I’m in the chorus....”
“Ensemble,” corrected Mr. Pilkington softly.
“I’m in the ensemble of a piece called ‘The Rose of America.’ We’ve been rehearsing for ever so long."
Uncle Chris digested this information in silence for a moment. He pulled at his short mustache.
“Why, of course!” he said at length. Jill, who knew him so well, could tell by the restored ring of cheeriness in his tone that he was himself again. He had dealt with this situation in his mind and was prepared to cope with it. The surmise was confirmed the next instant when he rose and stationed himself in front of the fire. Mr. Pilkington detested steam heat and had scoured the city till he had found a studio apartment with an open fireplace. Uncle Chris spread his legs and expanded his chest. “Of course,” he said. “I remember now that you told me in your letter that you were thinking of going on the stage. My niece,” explained Uncle Chris to the attentive Mr. Pilkington, “came over from England on a later boat. I was not expecting her for some months. Hence my surprise at meeting her here. Of course. You told me that you intended to go on the stage, and I strongly recommended you to begin at the bottom of the ladder and learn the ground work thoroughly before you attempted higher flights.”
“Oh, that was it?” said Mr. Pilkington. He had been wondering.
“There is no finer training,” resumed Uncle Chris, completely at his ease once more, “than the chorus. How many of the best-known actresses in America began in that way! Dozens. Dozens. If I were giving advice to any young girl with theatrical aspirations, I should say: ‘Begin in the chorus!’ On the other hand,” he proceeded, turning to Mr. Pilkington, “I think it would be just as well if you would not mention the fact of my niece being in that position to Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim. She might not understand.”
“Exactly,” assented Mr. Pilkington.
“The term 'chorus'.... ”
“I dislike it intensely myself.”
“It suggests.... ”
Uncle Chris inflated his chest again, well satisfied. “Capital!” he said. “Well, I only dropped in to remind you, my boy, that you and your aunt are dining with me to-night. I was afraid a busy man like you might forget.”
“I was looking forward to it,” said Mr. Pilkington, charmed at the description of himself.
“You remember the address? Nine, East Forty-first Street. I have moved, you remember.”
“So that was why I couldn’t find you at the other place. The man at the door said he had never heard of you.”
“Stupid idiot!” said Uncle Chris testily. “These New York hall porters are recruited entirely from homes for the feeble-minded. I suppose he was a new man. Well, Pilkington, my boy, I shall expect you at seven o’clock. Good-by till then. Come, Jill.”
“Good-by, Mr. Pilkington,” said Jill.
“Good-by for the present, Miss Mariner,” said Mr. Pilkington, bending down to take her hand. The tortoiseshell spectacles shot a last soft beam at her.
AS THE front door closed behind them Uncle Chris heaved a sigh of relief. “Whew! I think I handled that little contretemps with diplomacy! A certain amount of diplomacy, I think!”
“If you mean,” said Jill severely, “that you told some disgraceful fibs.... ”
“Fibs, my dear—or, shall we say artistic moldings of the unshapely clay of truth—are the.... How shall I put it?.... Well, anyway, they come in dashed handy. It would never have done for Mrs. Peagrim to have found out that you were in the chorus. If she discovered that my niece was in the chorus, she would infallibly suspect me of being an adventurer. And while,” said Uncle Chris meditatively, “of course I am, it is nice to have one’s little secrets. The good lady has had a rooted distaste for girls in that perfectly honorable but maligned profession ever since our long young friend back there was sued for breach of promise by a member of a touring company in his sophomore year at college. We all have our prejudices. That is hers. However, I think we may rely on our friend to say nothing about the matter. But why did you do it? My dear child, whatever induced you to take such a step?”
Jill laughed. “That’s practically what Mr. Miller said to me when we were rehearsing one of the dances this afternoon, only he put it differently.” She linked her arm in his. “What else could I do? I was alone in New York with the remains of that twenty dollars you sent me, and no more in sight.”
“But why didn’t you stay down at Brookport with your Uncle Elmer?”
“Have you ever seen my uncle Elmer?”
“No. Curiously enough, I never have.”
“If you had, you wouldn’t ask. Brookport! Ugh! I left when they tried to get me to understudy the hired man, who had resigned.”
“Yes, they got tired of supporting me in the state to which I was accustomed—I don’t blame them!—so they began to find ways of making me useful about the home. I didn’t mind reading to Aunt Julia, and I could just stand taking Tibby for walks. But when it came to shovelling snow I softly and silently vanished away.”
“But I can’t understand all this. I suggested to your uncle—diplomatically—that you had large private means.”
“I know you did. And he spent all his time showing me over houses and telling me I could have them for a hundred thousand dollars cash down.” Jill bubbled. “You should have seen his face when I told him that twenty dollars was all I had in the world!”
“You didn’t tell him that!”
UNCLE CHRIS shook his head like an indulgent father disappointed in a favorite child. “You’re a dear girl, Jill, but really you do seem totally lacking in—how shall I put it?—finesse. Your mother was just the same. A sweet woman, but with no diplomacy, no notion of handling a situation. I remember her as a child giving me away hopelessly on one occasion after we had been at the jam cupboard. She did not mean any harm, but she was constitutionally incapable of a tactful negative at the right time.” Uncle Chris brooded for a moment on the past. “Oh, well, it’s a very fine trait, no doubt, though inconvenient. I don’t blame you for leaving Brookport if you weren’t happy there. But I wish you had consulted me before going on the stage.”
“Shall I strike this man?” asked Jill of the world at large. “How could I consult you? My darling, precious uncle, don’t you realize that you had vanished into thin air, leaving me penniless? I had to do something. And now that we are on the subject, perhaps you will explain your movements. Why did you write to me from that place on Fifty-seventh Street if you weren’t there?”
Uncle Chris cleared his throat. “In a sense—when I wrote—I was there.”
“I suppose that means something, but it’s beyond me. I’m not nearly as intelligent as you think, Uncle Chris, so you’ll have to explain.”
“Well, it was this way, my dear. I was in a peculiar position, you must remember. I had made a number of wealthy friends on the boat, and it is possible that unwittingly—I gave them the impression that I was as comfortably off as themselves. At any rate, that is the impression they gathered, and it hardly seemed expedient to correct it. For it is a deplorable trait in the character of the majority of rich people that they only—er—expand—they only show the best and most companionable side of themselves to those whom they imagine to be as wealthy as they are. Well, of course, while one was on the boat, the fact that I was sailing under what a purist might have termed false colors did not matter. The problem was how to keep up the—er—innocent deception after we had reached New York. A woman like Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim—a ghastly creature, my dear, all front teeth and exuberance, but richer than the Sub-Treasury—looks askance at a man, however agreeable, if he endeavors to cement a friendship begun on board ship from a cheap boarding house on Amsterdam Avenue. It was imperative that I should find something in the nature of what I might call a suitable base of operations. Fortune played into my hands. One of the first men I met in New York was an old soldier servant of mine, to whom I had been able to do some kindnesses in the old days. In fact it shows how bread cast upon the waters returns to us after many days—it was with the assistance of a small loan from me that he was enabled to emigrate to America. Well, I met this man, and, after a short conversation, he revealed the fact that he was the hall porter at that apartment house which you visited, the one on Fifty-seventh Street. At this time of the year, I knew, many wealthy people go south, to Florida and the Carolinas, and it occurred to me that there might be a vacant apartment in his building. There was. I took it.”
“But how on earth could you afford to pay for an apartment in a place like that?”
UNCLE CHRIS coughed. “I didn’t say I paid for it. I said I took it. That is, as one might say, the point of my story. My old friend, grateful for favors received and wishing to do me a good turn, consented to become my accomplice in another—er—innocent deception. I gave my friends the address and telephone number of the apartment house, living the while myself in surroundings of a somewhat humbler and less expensive character. I called every morning for letters. If anybody rang me up on the telephone, the admirable man answered in the capacity of my servant, took a message, and relayed it on to me at my boardinghouse. If anybody called, he merely said that I was out. There wasn’t a flaw in the whole scheme, my dear, and its chief merit was its beautiful simplicity.”
“Then what made you give it up? Conscience?”
“Conscience never made me give up anything,” said Uncle Chris firmly. “No, there were a hundred chances to one against anything going wrong, and it was the hundredth that happened. Everything was going swimmingly when my man suddenly conceived the idea that destiny had intended him for a chauffeur-gardener, and he threw up his position!"
“Leaving you homeless!”
“As you say, homeless—temporarily. But, fortunately, I have been amazingly lucky all through; it really does seem as if you cannot keep a good man down-—fortunately my friend had a friend who was janitor at a place on East Forty-first Street, and by a miracle of luck the only apartment in the building was empty. It is an office building, but, like some of these places, it had one small bachelor’s apartment on the top floor.”
"And you are the small bachelor?"
"Precisely. My friend explained matters to his friend—a few financial details were satisfactorily arranged—and here I am, perfectly happy with the coziest little place in the world, rent free. I am even better off than I was before, as a matter of fact, for my new ally's wife is an excellent cook, and I have been enabled to give one or two very pleasant dinners at my new home. It lends verisimilitude to the thing if you can entertain a little. If you are never in when people call, they begin to wonder, I am giving dinner to your friend Pilkington and Mrs. Peagrim there to-night. Homey, delightful, and infinitely cheaper than a restaurant."
"And what will you do when the real owner of the place walks in, in the middle of dinner?"
"Out of the question. The janitor informs me that he left for England some weeks ago, intending to make a stay of several months."
"Well, you certainly think of everything."
"Whatever success I may have achieved," replied Uncle Chris with the dignity of a captain of industry confiding in an interviewer, "I attribute to always thinking of every thing."
JILL gurgled with laughter. There was that about her uncle which acted on her moral sense like an opiate, lulling it to sleep and preventing it from rising up and becoming critical. If he had stolen a watch and chain, he would somehow have succeeded in convincing her that he had acted for the best under the dictates of a benevolent altruism.
“What success have you achieved?” she asked, interested. “When you left me you were on your way to find a fortune. Did you find it?”
“I have not actually placed my hands upon it yet,” admitted Uncle Chris. “But it is hovering in the air all round me. I can hear the beating of the wings of the dollar bills as they flutter to and fro, almost within reach. Sooner or later I shall grab them. I never forget, my dear, that have a task before me—to restore to you the money of which I deprived you. Some day—be sure—I shall do it. Some day you will receive a letter from me containing large sum—five thousand, ten thousand, twenty thousand, whatever it may be—with the simple words ‘First instalment’.” He repeated the phrase, as if it pleased him: “First Instalment!”
Jill hugged his arm. She was in the mood in which she used to listen to him ages ago telling her fairy stories.
“Go on!” she cried. “Go on! It’s wonderful! Once upon a time Uncle Chris was walking along Fifth Avenue when he happened to meet a poor old woman gathering sticks for firewood. She looked so old and tired that he was sorry for her, so he gave her ten cents, which he had borrowed from the janitor, and suddenly she turned into a beautiful girl and said: 'I am a fairy! In return for your kindness I grant you three wishes!’ And Uncle Chris thought for a moment, and said: 'I want twenty thousand dollars to send to Jill!’ And the fairy said: ‘It shall be attended to. Anything else, please?’ ”
“It is all very well to joke,” protested Uncle Chris, pained by this flippancy, “but let me tell you that I shall not require magic assistance to become a rich man. Do you realize that at houses like Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim’s I am meeting men all the time who have only to say one little word to make me a millionaire? They are fat, gray men with fishy eyes and large waistcoats, and they sit smoking cigars and brooding on what they are going to do to the market next day. If I were a mind reader, I could have made a dozen fortunes by now. I sat opposite that old pirate Bruce Bishop for over an hour the very day before he and his gang sent Consolidated Peanuts down twenty points. If I had known what was in the wind, I doubt if I could have restrained myself from choking his intentions out of the fellow. Well, what I am trying to point out is that one of these days one of these old oysters will have a fleeting moment of human pity and disgorge some tip on which I can act. It is that reflection that keeps me so constantly at Mrs. Peagrim’s house.” Uncle Chris shivered slightly. “A fearsome woman, my dear! Weighs a hundred and eighty pounds and as skittish as a young lamb in springtime! She makes me dance with her!” Uncle Chris’s lips quivered in a spasm of pain, and he was silent for a moment. “Thank Heaven, I was once a footballer!” he said reverently.
“But what do you live on?” asked Jill. “I know you are going to be a millionaire next Tuesday week, but how are you getting along in the meantime?”
UNCLE CHRIS coughed. “Well, as regards actual living expenses, I have managed by a shrewd business stroke to acquire a small but sufficient income. I live in a boarding-house, true, but I contrive to keep the wolf away from its door, which, by the bye, badly needs a lick of paint. Have you ever heard of Nervino?”
“I don’t think so. It sounds like a patent medicine.”
"It is a patent medicine." Fncle Chris stopped and looked anxiously at her. "Jill. you're looking pale, my dear."
“Am I? We had rather a tiring rehearsal.”
“Are you sure,” said Uncle Chris seriously, “that it is only that? Are you sure that your vitality has not become generally lowered by the fierce rush of metropolitan life? Are you aware of the things that can happen to you if you allow the red corpuscles of your blood to become devitalized? I had a friend.... ”
“Stop! You’re scaring me to death.”
UNCLE CHRIS gave his mustache a satisfied twirl. “Just what I meant to do, my dear. And when I had scared you sufficiently you wouldn’t wait for the story of my consumptive friend! Pity! It’s one of my best! I should have mentioned that I had been having much the same trouble myself lately, but the other day I happened to try Nervino, the great specific.... I was giving you an illustration of myself in action, my dear. I went to these Nervino people—happened to see one of their posters and got the idea in a flash—I went to them and said: ‘Here am I, a presentable man of persuasive manners and a large acquaintance among the leaders of New York society. What would it be worth to you to have me hint from time to time at dinner parties and so forth that Nervino is the rich man’s panacea?’ I put the thing lucidly to them. I said: ‘No doubt you have a thousand agents in the city, but have you one who does not look like an agent and won't talk like an agent? Have you one who is inside the houses of the wealthy, at their very dinner tables, instead of being on the front step, trying to hold the door open with his foot? That is the point you have to consider.' They saw the idea at once. We arranged terms—not as generous as I could wish, perhaps, but quite ample. I receive a tolerably satisfactory salary each week, and in return I spread the good word about Nervino in the gilded palaces of the rich. Those are the people to go for, Jill. You catch one of them after dinner, just as he is wondering if he was really wise in taking two helpings of the lobster Newburg, and he is clay in your hands. I draw my chair up to his and become sympathetic and say that I had precisely the same trouble myself until recently, and mention a dear old friend of mine who died of indigestion, and gradually lead the conversation round to Nervino. I don't force it on them. I don't even ask them to try it. I merely point to myself, rosy with health, and say that I owe everything to it, and the thing is done. They thank me profusely and scribble the name down on their shirt cuffs. And there you are! I don't suppose," said Uncle Chris philosophically, "that the stuff can do them any actual harm."
They had come to the corner of Forty-first Street. Uncle Chris felt in his pocket and produced a key.
“If you want to go in and take a look at my little nest, you can let yourself in. It’s on the twenty-second floor. Don’t fail to go out on the roof and look at the view. It’s worth seeing. It will give you some idea of the size of the city. A wonderful, amazing city, my dear, full of people who need Nervino. I shall go on and drop in at the club for half an hour. They have given me a fortnight’s card at the Avenue. Capital place. Here’s the key.”
JILL turned down Forty-first Street and came to a mammoth structure of steel and stone which dwarfed the modest brown houses beside it into nothingness. It was curious to think of a private apartment nestling on the summit of this mountain. She went in, and the elevator shot her giddily upward to the twenty-second floor. She found herself facing a short flight of stone steps, ending in a door. She mounted the steps, tried the key, and, turning it, entered a hallway. Proceeding down the passage, she reached a sitting-room.
It was a small room, but furnished with a solid comfort which soothed her. For the first time since she had arrived in New York she had the sense of being miles away from the noise and bustle of the city. There was a complete and restful silence. She was alone in a nest of books and deep chairs, on which a large grandfather’s clock looked down with that wide-faced benevolence peculiar to its kind. So peaceful was this eyrie, perched high above the clamor and rattle of civilization, that every nerve in her body seemed to relax in a delicious content.
The mantelpiece was Jill’s first objective. She always made for other people’s mantelpieces, for there, more than anywhere else, is the character of a proprietor revealed. This mantelpiece was sprinkled with photographs, large, small, framed, and unframed. In the centre of it, standing all alone and looking curiously out of place among its large neighbors, was a little snapshot.
It was dark by the mantelpiece. Jill took the photograph to the window, where the fading light could fall on it. Why, she could not have said, but the thing interested her. There was mystery about it. It seemed in itself so insignificant to have the place of honor.
The snapshot had evidently been taken by an amateur, but it was one of those lucky successes which happen at rare intervals to amateur photographers to encourage them to proceed with their hobby. It showed a small girl in a white dress cut short above slim, black legs, standing on the porch of an old house, one hand swinging a sunbonnet, the other patting an Irish terrier which had planted its front paws against her waist and was looking up into her face with that grave melancholy characteristic of Irish terriers. The sunlight was evidently strong, for the child’s face was puckered in a twisted though engaging grin. Jill’s first thought was: “What a jolly kid!” And then with a leaping of the heart that seemed to send something big and choking into her throat, she saw that it was a photograph of herself.
With a swooping bound memory raced back over the years. She could feel the hot sun on her face, hear the anxious voice of Freddie Rooke—then fourteen and for the first time the owner of a camera—imploring her to stand just like that because he wouldn’t be half a minute only some rotten thing had stuck, or something. Then the sharp click, the doubtful assurance of Freddie that he thought it was all right if he hadn’t forgotten to shift the film (in which case she might expect to appear in combination with a cow which he had snapped on his way to the house), and the relieved disappearance of Pat, the terrier, who didn’t understand photography. How many years ago had that been? She could not remember. But Freddie had grown to long-legged manhood, she to an age of discretion and full-length frocks, Pat had died, the old house was inhabited by strangers—and here was the silent record of that sunlit afternoon, three thousand miles away from the English garden in which it had come into existence.
THE shadows deepened. The top of the great building swayed gently, causing the pendulum of the grandfather’s clock to knock against the sides of its wooden case. Jill started. The noise, coming after the dead silence, frightened her till she realized what it was. She had a nervous feeling of not being alone. It was as if the shadows held goblins that peered out at the intruder. She darted to the mantelpiece and replaced the photograph. She felt like some heroine of a fairy story meddling with the contents of the giant’s castle. Soon there would come the sound of a great footstep, thud-thud.... Thud.
Jill’s heart gave another leap. She was perfectly sure she had heard a sound. It had been just like the banging of a door. She braced herself, listening, every muscle tense. And then, cleaving the stillness, came a voice from down the passage:
Just see them Pullman porters,
Dolled up with scented waters
Bought with their dimes and quarters!
See, here they come! Here they come!
For an instant Jill could not have said whether she was relieved or more frightened than ever. True, that numbing sense of the uncanny had ceased to grip her, for reason told her that spectres do not sing ragtime songs. On the other hand, owners of apartments do, and she would almost as readily have faced a spectre as the owner of this apartment. Dizzily she wondered how in the world she was to explain her presence. Suppose he turned out to be some awful, choleric person who would listen to no explanations.
Oh, see those starched-up collars!
Hark how their captain hollers “Keep time! Keep time!”
It’s worth a thousand dollars
To see those tip collectors...
Very near now. Almost at the door:
Those upper-berth inspectors,
Those Pullman porters on parade!
A dim, shapeless figure in the black of the doorway. The scrabbling of fingers on the wall.
“Where are you, dammit?” said the voice apparently addressing the electric-light switch.
Jill shrank back, desperate fingers pressing deep into the back of an armchair. Light flashed from the wall at her side. And there, in the doorway, stood Wally Mason in his shirt sleeves.
IN these days of rapid movement, when existence has become little more than a series of shocks of varying intensity, astonishment is the shortest-lived of all the emotions. The human brain has trained itself to elasticity and recovers its balance in the presence of the unforeseen with a speed almost miraculous. The man who says “I am surprised!” really means “I was surprised a moment ago, but now I have adjusted myself to the situation.” There was an instant in which Jill looked at Wally and Wally at Jill with the eye of total amazement, and then almost simultaneously, each began—the process was subconscious—to regard this meeting, not as an isolated and inexplicable event, but as something resulting from a perfectly logical chain of circumstances. Jill perceived that the presence in the apartment of that snapshot of herself should have prepared her for the discovery that the place belonged to someone who had known her as a child, and that there was no reason for her to be stunned by the fact that this someone was Wally Mason. Wally, on his side, knew that Jill was in New York—and had already decided, erroneously, that she had found his address in the telephone directory and was paying an ordinary call. It was, perhaps, a little unusual that she should have got into the place without ringing the front door bell and that she should be in his sitting-room in the dark; but these were minor aspects of the matter. To the main fact, that here she was, he had adjusted his mind, and while there was surprise in his voice when he finally spoke, it was not the surprise of one who suspects himself of seeing visions.
“Hullo!” he said.
“Hullo!” said Jill.
It was not a very exalted note on which to pitch the conversation, but it had the merit of giving each of them a little more time to collect themselves.
“This is—I wasn’t expecting you!” said Wally.
“I wasn’t expecting you!” said Jill.
There was another pause, in which Wally, apparently examining her last words and turning them over in his mind, found that they did not square with his preconceived theories.
“You weren’t expecting me?”
“I certainly was not!”
“But—but you knew I lived here?”
Jill shook her head. Wally reflected for an instant, and then put his finger, with a happy inspiration, on the very heart of the mystery.
“Then how on earth did you get here?”
HE was glad he had asked that. The sense of unreality which had come to him in the first startling moment of seeing her and vanished under the influence of logic had returned as strong as ever. If she did not know he lived in this place, how in the name of everything uncanny had she found her way here? A momentary wonder as to whether all this was not mixed up with telepathy and mental suggestion, and all that sort of thing, came to him. Certainly he had been thinking of her all the time since their parting at the Savoy Hotel that night three weeks and more back... No, that was absurd. There must be some sounder reason for her presence. He waited for her to give it.
Jill for the moment felt physically incapable of giving it. She shrank from the interminable explanation which confronted her as a weary traveller shrinks from a dusty far-stretching desert. She simply could not go into all that now. So she answered with a question: “When did you land in New York?”
“This afternoon. We were supposed to dock this morning, but the boat was late.” Wally perceived that he was being pushed away from the main point, and jostled his way back to it. “But what are you doing here?”'
“It’s such a long story.”
Her voice was plaintive. Remorse smote Wally. It occurred to him that he had not been sufficiently sympathetic. Not a word had he said on the subject of her change of fortunes. He had just stood and gaped and asked questions. After all, what the devil did it matter how she came to be here? He had anticipated a long and tedious search for her through the labyrinth of New York, and here fate had brought her to his very door, and all he could do was to ask why instead of being thankful. He perceived that he was not much of a fellow.
“Never mind,” he said. “You can tell me when you feel like it.” He looked at her eagerly. Time seemed to have wiped away that little misunderstanding under the burden of which they had parted. “It’s too wonderful finding you like this!” He hesitated. “I heard about—everything,” he said awkwardly.
“My—” Jill hesitated too. “My smash?”
“Yes. Freddie Rooke told me. I was terribly sorry.”
“Thank you,” said Jill.
THERE was a pause. They were both thinking of that other disaster which had happened. The presence of Derek Underhill seemed to stand like an unseen phantom between them. Finally Wally spoke at random, choosing the first words that came into his head in his desire to break the silence.
“Jolly place, this, isn’t it?”
Jill perceived that an opening for those tedious explanations had been granted her.
“Uncle Chris thinks so,” she said demurely.
Wally looked puzzled.
“Uncle Chris? Oh, your uncle?”
“But—he has never been here.”
“Oh, yes. He’s giving a dinner party here to-night.”
“He’s—what did you say?”
“It’s all right. I only began at the end of the story instead of the beginning. I’ll tell you the whole thing. And then—then I suppose you will be terribly angry and make a fuss.”
“I’m not much of a lad, as Freddie Rooke would say, for making fusses. And I can’t imagine being terribly angry with you.”
“Well, I’ll risk it. Though, if I wasn’t a brave girl, I should leave Uncle Chris to explain for himself and simply run away.”
“Anything is better than that. It’s a miracle meeting you like this, and I don’t want to be deprived of the fruits of it. Tell me anything, but don’t go.”
“You’ll be furious.”
“Not with you.”
“I should hope not with me. I’ve done nothing. I am the innocent heroine. But I’m afraid you will be very angry with Uncle Chris.”
“If he’s your uncle, that passes him. Besides, he once licked the stuffing out of me with a wangee. That forms a bond. Tell me all.”
Jill considered. She had promised to begin at the beginning, but it was difficult to know what was the beginning.
“Have you heard of Captain Kidd?” she asked at length.
“You’re wandering from the point, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not. Have you heard of Captain Kidd?”
“The pirate? Of course.”
“Well, Uncle Chris is his direct lineal descendant. That really explains the whole thing.”
Wally looked at her inquiringly.
“Could you make it a little easier?” he said.
“I can tell you everything in half a dozen words, if you like. But it will sound awfully abrupt.”
“Uncle Chris has stolen your apartment."
Wally nodded slowly. “I see. Stolen my apartment.”
“Of course you can’t possibly understand. I shall have to tell you the whole thing, after all.”
WALLY listened with flattering attention as she began the epic of Major Christopher Selby’s doings in New York. Whatever his emotions, he certainly was not bored.
“So that’s how it all happened,” concluded Jill.
For a moment Wally said nothing. He seemed to be digesting what he had heard.
“I see,” he said at last. “It’s a variant of those advertisements they print in the magazines. ‘Why pay rent? Own somebody else’s home’!”
“That does rather sum it up,” said Jill. Wally burst into a roar of laughter. ‘He’s a corker!”
Jill was immensely relieved. For all her courageous bearing she had not relished the task of breaking the news to Wally. She knew that he had a sense of humor, but a man may have a sense of humor and yet not see anything amusing in having his home stolen in his absence.
“I’m so glad you’re not angry.”
“Of course not.”
“Most men would be.”
“Most men are chumps.”
“It’s so wonderful that it happened to be you. Suppose it had been an utter stranger! What could I have done?”
“It would have been the same thing. You would have won him over in two minutes. Nobody could resist you.”
“That’s very sweet of you.”
“I can’t help telling the truth. George Washington was just the same.”
“Then you don’t mind Uncle Chris giving his dinner party here to-night?”
“He has my blessing.”
“You really are an angel,” said Jill gratefully. “From what he said, I think he looks on it as rather an important function. He has invited a very rich woman, who has been showing him a lot of hospitality—a Mrs. Peagrim.... ”
‘‘Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim?”
“Yes. Why, do you know her?”
“Quite well. She goes in a good deal for being Bohemian and knowing people who write and paint and act and so on. That reminds me. I gave Freddie Rooke a letter of introduction to her.”
“Yes. He suddenly made up his mind to come over. He came to me for advice about the journey. He sailed a couple of days before I did. I suppose he’s somewhere in New York now, unless he was going on to Florida. He didn’t tell me what his plans were.”
JILL was conscious of a sudden depression. Much as she liked Freddie, he belonged to a chapter in her life which was closed and which she was trying her hardest to forget. It was impossible to think of Freddie without thinking of Derek, and to think of Derek was like touching an exposed nerve. The news that Freddie was in New York shocked her. New York had already shown itself a city of chance encounters. Could she avoid meeting Freddie?
She knew Freddie so well. There was not a dearer or a better-hearted youth in the world, but he had not that fine sensibility which pilots a man through the awkwardnesses of life. He was a blunderer. Instinct told her that, if she met Freddie, he would talk of Derek, and, if thinking of Derek was touching an exposed nerve, talking of him would be like pressing on that nerve with a heavy hand. She shivered.
Wally was observant. “There’s no need to meet him, if you don’t want to,” he said.
“No,” said Jill doubtfully.
“New York’s a large place. By the way,” he went on, “to return once more to the interesting subject of my lodger, does your uncle sleep here at nights, do you know?”
Jill looked at him gratefully. He was no blunderer. Her desire to avoid Freddie Rooke was, he gave her tacitly to understand, her business, and he did not propose to intrude on it. She liked him for dismissing the subject so easily.
“No, I think he told me he doesn’t.”
“Well, that’s something, isn’t it! I call that darned nice of him! I wonder if I could drop back here somewhere about eleven o’clock. Are the festivities likely to be over by then? If I know Mrs. Peagrim, she will insist on going off to one of the hotels to dance directly after dinner. She’s a confirmed trotter.”
“I don’t know how to apologize,” began Jill remorsefully.
“Please don’t. It’s absolutely all right.” His eye wandered to the mantelpiece, as it had done once or twice during the conversation. In her hurry Jill had replaced the snapshot with its back to the room, and Wally had the fidgety air of a man whose most cherished possession is maltreated. He got up now and, walking across, turned the photograph round. He stood for a moment, looking at it.
Jill had forgotten the snapshot. Curiosity returned to her.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
Wally turned. “Oh, did you see this?”
“I was looking at it just before you nearly frightened me to death by appearing so unexpectedly.”
“Freddie Rooke sold it to me fourteen years ago.”
“Fourteen years ago!”
“Next July,” added Wally. “I gave him five shillings for it.”
“Five shillings! The little brute!” cried Jill indignantly. “It must have been all the money you had in the world!”
“A trifle more, as a matter of fact. All the money I had in the world was three-and six. But by a merciful dispensation of Providence the curate had called that morning and left a money box for subscriptions to the village organ fund.... It’s wonderful what you can do with a turn for crime and the small blade of a pocket knife! I don’t think I have ever made money quicker!” He looked at the photograph again. “Not that it seemed quick at the moment. I died at least a dozen agonizing deaths in the few minutes I was operating. Have you ever noticed how slowly time goes when you are coaxing a shilling and a sixpence out of somebody else’s money box? Centuries! But I was forgetting. Of course you’ve had no experience.”
“You poor thing!”
“It was worth it.”
“And you’ve had it ever since!”
“I wouldn’t part with it for all Mrs. Waddesleigh Peagrim’s millions," said Wally with sudden and startling vehemence, “if she offered me them.” he paused, “She hasn’t, as a matter of fact.”
THERE was a silence. Jill looked at Wally furtively as he returned to his seat. She was seeing him with new eyes. It was as if this trifling incident had removed some sort of a veil. He had suddenly become more alive. For an instant she had seen right into him, to the hidden deeps of his soul. She felt shy and embarrassed.
“Pat died," she said at length. She felt the necessity of saying something.
“I liked Pat.”
“He picked up some poison, poor darling.... How long ago those days seem, don’t they!”
“They are always pretty vivid to me. I wonder who has that old house of yours now.”
“I heard the other day,” said Jill more easily. The odd sensation of embarrassment was passing. “Some people called.... what was the name?.... Debenham, I think.”
Silence fell again. It was broken by the front-door bell, like an alarm clock that shatters a dream.
Wally got up. “Your uncle,” he said.
“You aren’t going to open the door?”
“That was the scheme.”
“But he’ll get such a shock when he sees you."
“He must look on it in the light of rent. I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a little passing amusement from this business.”
He left the room. Jill heard the front door open. She waited breathlessly. Pity for Uncle Chris struggled with the sterner feeling that it served him right.
“Hullo!” she heard Wally say.
“Hullo-ullo-ullo!” replied the exuberant voice. “Wondered if I’d find you in, and all that sort of thing. I say, what a deuce of a way up it is here. Sort of gets a chappie into training for going to heaven, what? I mean, what?”
Jill looked about her like a trapped animal. It was absurd, she felt, but every nerve in her body cried out against the prospect of meeting Freddie. His very voice had opened old wounds and set them throbbing.
She listened in the doorway. Out of sight, down the passage, Freddie seemed by the sounds to be removing his overcoat. She stole out and darted like a shadow down the corridor that led to Wally’s bedroom. The window of the bedroom opened on to the wide roof which Uncle Chris had eulogized. She slipped noiselessly out, closing the window behind her.
“I SAY, Mason, old top,” said Freddie, entering the sitting-room, “I hope you don’t mind my barging in like this, but the fact is things are a bit thick. I’m dashed worried, and I didn’t know another soul I could talk it over with. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure you were in New York at all, but I remembered hearing you say in London that you were popping back almost at once, so I looked you up in the telephone book and took a chance. I’m dashed glad you are back. When did you arrive?”
“I’ve been here two or three days. Well, it’s a bit of luck catching you. You see, what I want to ask your advice about.... ”
Wally looked at his watch. He was not surprised to find that Jill had taken to flight. He understood her feelings perfectly, and was anxious to get rid of the inopportune Freddie as soon as possible.
“You’ll have to talk quick, I’m afraid,” he said. “I’ve lent this place to a man for the evening, and he’s having some people to dinner. What’s the trouble?”
“It’s about Jill.”
“Jill Mariner, you know. You remember Jill? You haven’t forgotten my telling you all that? About her losing her money and coming over to America?”
“No. I remember you telling me that.”
Freddie seemed to miss something in his companion’s manner, some note of excitement and perturbation.
“Of course,” he said, as if endeavoring to explain this to himself, “you hardly know her, I suppose. Only met once since you were kids, and all that sort of thing. But I’m a pal of hers, and I’m dashed upset by the whole business, I can tell you. It worries me, I mean to say. Poor girl, you know, landed on her uppers in a strange country. Well, I mean, it worries me. So the first thing I did when I got here was to try to find her. That’s why I came over, really, to try to find her. Apart from anything else, you see, poor old Derek is dashed worried about her.”
"Need we bring Underhill in?”
“Oh, I know you don’t like him and think he behaved rather rummily and so forth, but that’s all right now.”
“It is, is it?” said Wally dryly.
“Oh, absolutely. It’s all on again.”
“What’s all on again?”
“Why, I mean he wants to marry Jill. I came over to find her and tell her so.”
Wally’s eyes glowed. “If you have come over as an ambassador.... ”
“That’s right. Jolly old ambassador. Very word I used myself.”
“I say, if you have come over as an ambassador with the idea of reopening negotiations with Jill on behalf of that swine.... ”
“Old man!” protested Freddie, pained. “Pal of mine, you know.”
“If he is, after what’s happened, your mental processes are beyond me.”
“My what, old son?”
“Your mental processes.”
“Oh, ah!” said Freddie, learning for the first time that he had any.
WALLY looked at him intently. There was a curious expression on his rough-hewn face.
“I can’t understand you, Freddie. If ever there was a fellow who might have been expected to take the only possible view of Underhill’s behavior in this business, I should have said it was you. You’re a public-school man. You’ve mixed all the time with decent people. You wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t straight yourself to save your life. Yet it seems to have made absolutely no difference in your opinion of this man Underhill that he behaved like an utter cad to a girl who was one of your best friends. You seem to worship him just as much as ever. And you have travelled three thousand miles to bring a message from him to Jill—Good God! Jill—to the effect, as far as I can understand it, that he has thought it over and come to the conclusion that, after all, she may possibly be good enough for him!”
Freddie recovered the eyeglass which the raising of his eyebrows had caused to fall, and polished it in a crushed sort of way. Rummy, he reflected, how chappies stayed the same all their lives as they were when they were kids. Nasty, tough sort of chap Wally Mason had been as a boy, and here he was, apparently not altered a bit. At least, the only improvement he could detect was that, whereas in the old days Wally, when in an ugly mood like this, would undoubtedly have kicked him, he now seemed content with mere words. All the same, he was being dashed unpleasant. And he was all wrong about poor old Derek. This last fact he endeavored to make clear.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “You don’t realize. You’ve never met Lady Underhill, have you?”
“What has she got to do with it?”
“Everything, old bean, everything. If it hadn’t been for her, there wouldn’t have been any trouble of any description, sort, or order. But she barged in and savaged poor old Derek till she absolutely made him break off the engagement.”
“If you call him ‘poor old Derek’ again, Freddie,” said Wally viciously, “I’ll drop you out of the window and throw your hat after you! If he’s such a gelatin-backboned worm that his mother can—”
“You don’t know her, old thing! She’s the original hellhound!”
“I don’t care what—”
“Must be seen to be believed,” mumbled Freddie.
“I don’t care what she’s like! Any man who could—”
“Once seen, never forgotten!”
“Damn you! Don’t interrupt every time I try to get a word in!”
“Sorry, old man! Sha’n’t occur again!”
Wally moved to the window and stood looking out. He had much more to say on the subject of Derek Underhill, but Freddie’s interruptions had put it out of his head, and he felt irritated and baffled.
“Well, all I can say is,” he remarked savagely, “that if you have come over here as an ambassador to try and effect a reconciliation between Jill and Underhill, I hope to God you’ll never find Her.”
FREDDIE emitted a weak cough, like a very far-off asthmatic old sheep. He was finding Wally more overpowering every moment. He had rather forgotten the dear old days of his childhood, but this conversation was beginning to refresh his memory; and he was realizing more vividly with every moment that passed how very Wallyish Wally was—how extraordinarily like the Wally who had dominated his growing intellect when they were both in Eton suits. Freddie in those days had been all for peace, and he was all for peace now. He made his next observation diffidently.
“I have found her!”
Wally spun round. “What!”
“When I say that I don’t absolutely mean I’ve seen her. I mean I know where she is. That’s what I came round to see you about. Felt I must talk it over, you know. The situation seems to me dashed rotten and not a little thick. The fact is, old man, she’s gone on the stage. In the chorus, you know. And, I mean to say—well, if you follow what I’m driving at, what, what?”
“In the chorus?”
“In the chorus!”
“How do you know?”
Freddie groped for his eyeglass, which had fallen again. He regarded it a trifle sternly. He was fond of the little chap, but it was always doing that sort of thing. The whole trouble was that, if you wanted to keep it in its place, you simply couldn’t register any sort of emotion with the good old features; and, when you were chatting with a fellow like Wally Mason, you had to be registering something all the time.
“Well, that was a bit of luck, as a matter of fact. When I first got here, you know, it seemed to me the only thing to do was to round up a merry old detective and put the matter in his hands, like they do in stories. You know! Ring at the bell. ‘And this, if I mistake not, Watson, is my client now.’ And then in breezes client and spills the plot. I found a sleuth in the classified telephone directory, and toddled round. Rummy chaps, detectives! Ever met any? I always thought they were lean, hatchet-faced Johnnies with inscrutable smiles. This one looked just like my old Uncle Ted, the one who died of apoplexy. Jovial, puffy-faced bird, who kept bobbing up behind a fat cigar. Have you ever noticed what whacking big cigars these fellows over here smoke? Rummy country, America. You ought to have seen the way this blighter could shift his cigar right across his face without moving his jaw muscles. Like a flash! Most remarkable thing you ever saw, I give you my honest word! He—”
“Couldn’t you keep your Impressions of America for the book you’re going to write, and come to the point?” said Wally rudely.
“Sorry old chap,” said Freddie meekly. “Glad you reminded me. Well—Oh, yes. We had got as far as the jovial old human bloodhound, hadn’t we? Well, I put the matter before this chappie. Told him I wanted to find a girl, showed him a photograph, and so forth. I say,” said Freddie, wandering off once more into speculation, “why is it that coves like that always talk of a girl as ‘the little lady’? This chap kept saying: ‘We’ll find the little lady for you!’ Oh, well, that’s rather off the rails, isn’t it? It just floated across my mind, and I thought I’d mention it. Well, this blighter presumably nosed about and made inquiries for a couple of days, but didn’t effect anything that you might call substantial. I’m not blaming him, mind you. I shouldn’t care to have a job like that myself. I mean to say, when you come to think of what a frightful number of girls there are in this place, to have to—Well, as I say, he did his best, but didn’t click; and then this evening, just before I came here, I met a girl I had known in England—she was in a show over there—a girl called Nelly Bryant—”
"Nelly Bryant? I know her.”
"Yes? Fancy that! She was in a thing called ‘Follow the Girl’ in London. Did you see it by any chance? Topping show! There was one scene where the—”
"Get on! Get on! I wrote it.”
"You wrote it?” Freddie beamed simple-hearted admiration. “My dear old chap, I congratulate you! One of the ripest and most all-wool musical comedies I’ve ever seen. I went twenty-four times. Rummy I don’t remember spotting that you wrote it. I suppose one never looks at the names on the program. Yes, I went twenty-four times. The first time I went was with a couple of chappies from—”
“Listen, Freddie!” said Wally feverishly. “On some other occasion I should love to hear the story of your life, but just now—”
“Absolutely, old man. You’re perfectly right. Well, to cut a long story short, Nelly Bryant told me that she and Jill were rehearsing with a piece called ‘The Rose of America’.”
“ ‘The Rose of America’!”
“I think that was the name of it.”
“That’s Ike Goble’s show. He called me up on the phone about it half an hour ago. I promised to go and see a rehearsal of it to-morrow or the day after. And Jill’s in that?”
“Yes. How about it? I mean, I don’t know much about this sort of thing, but do you think it’s the sort of thing Jill ought to be doing?”
Wally was moving restlessly about the room. Freddie’s news had disquieted him. Mr. Goble had a reputation.
“I know a lot about it,” he replied, “and it certainly isn’t.” He scowled at the carpet. “Oh, damn everybody!”
FREDDIE paused to allow him to proceed, if such should be his wish, but Wally had apparently said his say. Freddie went on to point out an aspect of the matter which was troubling him greatly. “I’m sure poor old Derek wouldn’t like her being in the chorus!”
Wally started so violently that for a moment Freddie was uneasy.
“I mean Underhill,” he corrected himself hastily.
“Freddie,” said Wally, “you’re an awfully good chap, but I wish you would exit rapidly now! Thanks for coming and telling me. Very good of you. This way out!”
“But, old man—!”
“I thought we were going to discuss this binge and decide what to do and all that sort of thing.”
“Some other time. I want to think about it.”
“Oh, you will think about it?”
“Yes, I’ll think about it.”
“Topping. You see, you’re a brainy sort of feller, and you’ll probably hit something.”
“I probably shall if you don’t go."
“Eh? Oh, ah, yes!” Freddie struggled into his coat. More than ever did the adult Wally remind him of the dangerous stripling of years gone by. “Well, cheerio!”
“Same to you!”
“You’ll let me know if you scare up some devilish fruity wheeze, won’t you? I’m at the Biltmore.”
“Very good place to be. Go there now.”
“Right-ho! Well, toodle-oo!”
“The elevator is at the foot of the stairs,” said Wally. “You press the bell and up it comes. You hop in and down you go! It’s a great invention! Good night!”
“Oh, I say. One moment—”
“Good night'.” said Wally.
He closed the door and ran down the passage.
“Jill!” he called. He opened the bedroom window and stepped out. “Jill!”
There was no reply.
“Jill!” called Wally once again, but again there was no answer.
WALLY walked to the parapet and looked over. Below him the vastness of the city stretched itself in a great triangle, its apex the harbor, its sides the dull silver of the East and Hudson Rivers. Directly before him, crowned with its white lantern, the Metropolitan tower reared its graceful height to the stars. And all around, in the windows of the tall buildings that looked from this bastion on which he stood almost squat, a million lights stared up at him, the unsleeping eyes of New York. It was a scene of which Wally, always sensitive to beauty, never tired, but to-night it had lost its appeal. A pleasant breeze from the Jersey shore greeted him with a quickening whisper of springtime and romance, but it did not lift the heaviness of his heart. He felt depressed and apprehensive.
To be Continued