The Singular Eruption of Mr. Pitt
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
HENRY PITT was
one of those punctual people we often read of but seldom meet.
If his gold-filled hunting-case watch varied by a matter of more than twenty five seconds. Henry was worried: partly because it offended his sense of the fitness of things, partly because he held towards it the feeling of one who has detected a supposedly faithful friend in a falsehood that, however small, shakes one’s faith in that person’s reliability.
People said, sneeringly or otherwise, as their disposition and relationship to Mr.
Pitt might be, that he was childish about the thing— this matter of punctuality, that is. Traditions flourished anent it. He was alleged, once when the tramway service broke down enroute to work, to have chartered a taxi, when everyone knew that his earnings, as chief clerk in the famous House of Dillingworth, were meagre enough to support his wife in the comforts to which she was accustomed—since marriage. But then, one must have some pride in Ufe, and this was Henry Pitt’s: at nine-twenty-five, six mornings out of the seven, barring holidays, he set foot in the elevator of the Dillingworth Building: at n i n e-twenty-seven he opened the door of the Dillingworth main office; at nine-twenty-nine he took his seat at the roll-top desk that his old-fashioned ideas would not permit to be exchanged for a modern flattop; precisely at nine-thirty he would snap-to the case of his watch, which he had been holding in his hand the last twenty seconds, and triumphantly ring a buzzer for the boy to bring him the morning mail and the books of which he had charge.
And then, each day, a singular metamorphosis took place. Triumph died; pride ceased to exist. One could almost imagine that the shoulders of Dillingworth’s chief clerk lost some of their attempted straightness, and assumed a rounded posture. If anyone had thought to analyze this transition they might have found the answer in the fact that, to Henry Pitt, the House of Dillingworth and all that therein was, and all that appertained thereto, was sacred, and he but a poor worm, fortunate enough to be allowed to live and move and have his vocational being within thi3 sanctified circle of big business. And so, doubtless, the very privilege of opening the Dillingworth mail—not the departmental letters, addressed specifically to the Securities Department, or the Real Estate Department, or anything of that kind—but the letters that, through Henry, would probably reach the desk of the elder Dillingworth himself, in whose presence Henry Pitt could never quite overcome a sense of trembling awe, and reverence—this privilege brought him to a fitting sense of
It is necessary that these things should be understood in order to appreciate why Henry himself afterwards marvelled not
a little that the six thousand, one hundred and seventythird day of his active service with the House of Dillingworth—the figures are attested by Mr. Pitt’s own records. carried forward each day in his diary—should have
been ushered in like any of its fellows, without any seismographic disturbance reported, or other portentous omen.
Henry Pitt rose as blithely as usual. He hopped out of bed in a sprightly fashion the instant the alarm clock gave its summons; threw up the blinds, and whistled a lilting greeting to the new day. Mrs. Pitt turned over, blinked at the light that was entering generously at H e n r y’s invitation, and moaned:
“Henry! How can you— when you know the light hurts my eyes!”
It was a timeworn complaint, and evoked an equally traditional answer, that nevertheless bubbled out in a stream from Mr. Pitt: “Lovey, it’s a wonderful day—beautiful sunshine— good to be alive!”
With which exuberant expression, Henry proceeded briskly to the bathroom, a huge, rough towel thrown, toga-like, about the shoulders of his lavender bathrobe with its ornamental peacocks. Mrs. Pitt moaned again, turned over for forty winks.
perfectly frank, Henry Pitt was an incurable optimist every morning. Each dawn saw him rise as full of hope as the sun on a cloudless day; each night saw him sink beyond the dim horizon of sleep a mediocre, small salaried drudge of a chief clerk, who carried heavy responsibilities without due recompense, and properly beyond the scope of his position: who gave unstinting loyalty and unremitting service without appreciation.
Mr. Pitt would not so have analyzed the case. That was left to the sharper insight of his wife; perhaps one should say to an insight that was not restrained by a fanatical reverence for the House of Dillingworth. Mrs. Pitt mentioned the matter this morning, again; but then, there was nothing of the unusual in that. It merely led to the other matter, which, Mr. Pitt himself avowed, was the beginning of it all.
It was at the breakfast table, and a specially good cup of coffee promoted speech.
“To-day,” said Mrs. Pitt, eyeing her husband squarely, “is the twenty-fifth!”
Henry Pitt looked up from his paper in a rather vacuous way. He had it opened at the financial page, and he was scanning a new offering of the House of Dillingworth with a proprietary interest. At this time of the day Henry held his head as high as the President. He repeated, mechanically, to give his wits time to fathom her remark: "The twentyfifth?”
“The twenty-fifth,” reiterated his wife decisively. "Do you not know what that day is? I don't wish to nag. Henry, but I'm getting tired of this business, and if Miss Carstairs. . . .Why, Henry Pitt!"
THE little man stared in dismay at his immaculate trousers, over which he had poured a golden-brown flood of hot coffee: and shook his leg, the flesh of which seemed to be seared with the hot liquid.
“You’ll have to change, Henry!”
“I'll be late!” cried Henry, in dismay.
“Not if you hurry. You can’t go like that!” Mr. Pitt consulted his watch. It said a quarter past eight. There would be time
after all. He hurried upstairs, forgetful for the moment of the conversation that had precipitated the incident. A tremor of fear returned with remembrance. Why should Harriet mention Bella Carstairs, when to-morrow... ? A voice interrupted: “I was going to say, Henry, that if Miss Carstairs can get a substantial raise, you’ve got to tell old Dillingworth he’s to do better for you. It’s ridiculous, that’s what it is! He works you like a horse and then—”
“My dear!” expostulated Henry Pitt mildly. In the sudden relief that came to him, though, he said largely: “I shall speak to Mr. Dillingworth without fail, my dear!” At the street door, he turned to say, almost without a faltering note: “By-the bye, to-morrow I shall be away all day, my dear. The twenty-sixth of April, you know, is my annual visit to Aunt Susan. She would be terribly hurt if I didn’t go.”
“Don’t forget Dillingworth, Henry!”
He waved a reassuring hand, and hurried off, immersed in his thoughts. Once safely on the car, he glanced again at his watch, though without fear, knowing he had plenty of time. He had gone upstairs at a quarter past eight, which allowed ample margin. His horrified gaze, seeking his timepiece again—just to make sure—found no reassurance. His own face was not less white than that at which he looked. The watch still brazenly proclaimed it to be a quarter past eight o’clock! The wretched thing had stopped! Henry Pitt found strength enough to shake it, and was rewarded by a gentle ticking that maddened him with its message of infidelity.
With-a curious sinking sensation about the pit of the stomach, he inquired the time of a big man next to him.
“Nine!” said the stranger.
“Thanks!” said Henry Pitt weakly.
It required almost a solid hour to get to the Dillingworth Building, one of the penalties paid for living within hailing distance of fresh air, and of being merely an underpaid clerk.
WILD thoughts of a taxi entered his mind. He could borrow the money from Miss Carstairs to pay for it; he would trust his dignity in the matter to no less understanding a soul. He alighted at the first taxi stand. A single car was there.
“Just leavin’, boss, on a hurry-up call,” said the driver. “Sorry!”
Henry watched his last hope departing. But, stay!—there was another stand a few blocks off. Henry started to walk the distance; the spring air was very genial. He passed a florist’s shop where a tempting display of flowers invited. A queer exhilaration possessed him. He stopped for just a second to look within the window. A moment later he was inside the store, and out almost as soon again with a buttonhole bouquet.
Perhaps because of it the taxi-driver at the next corner but one, was very obsequious, and tickled Henry’s vanity still more. Halfway down town, the main thoroughfare was blocked for some urgent repairs.
“I’ll have to go round, sir,” said the driver. “This is a new one on me. Look at the mess of traffic there! Rotten system! I hope you ain’t in a hurry?”
Mr. Pitt, sitting up very stiffly in the car, and sniffing his buttonhole, reassured the man
“No hurry at all, my good fellow!” he said.
A delicious sense of liberty possessed him. He felt a kinship with the watch, which, having been purchased cheaply and never given rest or cleaning, had been so faithful, but now had struck. On such trifles do great issues often depend.
IT IS one of the anomalies of life— ordained perhaps by a kindly providence that guards against too great monotony in mortal existence —that if one fails in a precaution or the discharge of an obligation just once, it is that particular time that the precaution is, most needed or the failure looms the largest.
Not once in thirty mornings did
President Dillingworth—who was also General Manager, having never recovered from a liking for being in the very heart of affairs—arrive earlier than nine-forty-five, with a tendency towards ten of-the-clock. To-day, the clock had just recovered from striking nine, and was pursuing its peaceful way towards the nine-thirty hour when Dillingworth arrived.
Now no one had ever told the President that his chief clerk was the perfection of punctuality, or, if they did, he had forgotten. One does not notice cogs in a machine unless they fail to function, thus throwing the machinery out of gear, and showing their importance as they never could in their efficient moments.
“Send Mr. Pitt to me!” he growled at the junior, whose duties necessitated a nine o’clock arrival. The boy stared at such ignorance, but managed to say:
“Mr. Pitt, sir? Why, he’ll be here at twenty-seven minutes past, sir!”
Dillingworth frowned over his glasses, but the face of the boy convinced him that there was no undue jocularity intended.
“Send him to me the instant he comes!” he snapped.
At nine-thirty-two, he dispatched another summons. Mr. Pitt had not arrived. The boy’s face held the look of one who has seen the heavens fall; Dillingworth flattered himself it was fear of his presidential person.
Nine-forty-five came in on time, but with it no Henry.
At that hour Mr. Dillingworth went into conference with some departmental executives; with the vice-president; with a fat stranger and a lean stranger; and the door of the President’s office was shut.
ALMOST coincident with the opening of this grave - conference, Henry Pitt’s body was ascending the elevator shaft, and his spirits were descending in inverse ratio. Nevertheless, fortified by his gay buttonhole, and still clinging to a fading aftermath of his taste of luxurious freedom, he contrived to enter the outer office of the House of Dillingworth, whistling.
For just a moment the office staff paid tribute of silence to a new thing under the sun of their existence; then typewriters clacked and the drone of interrupted work went on. Henry Pitt felt a sense of distaste for work rising up within him. The morning mail, awaiting his attention, was already on his desk. He ran through it mechanically. His mind was elsewhere—it was, indeed, seriously occupied, for the first time in these surroundings, with the possibility of realizing Harriet’s ambitious desires for an increase worth while. The door of the chief’s office being shut upon a grave conference—as he was abruptly informed by Dillingworth’s pert stenographer—there was time for a period of reflection.
He had promised Harriet that he would speak, and, by jingo, declared Mr. Pitt, nodding his head decisively, he would speak! Too long he had been a slave, perhaps a willing one, but one nevertheless. Harriet had seen that.
His promise to Harriet reminded him of the incident that had first thrown his day out of schedule, when the mention of Bella Carstairs’ name had wrought confusion. Mr. Pitt, with a sense upon him of having taken liberties and “gotten away with it,” sniffed at his buttonhole bouquet again, and sought the Securities Department. He even chuckled a little at the thought of Aunt Susan, and the annual event of the morrow. There were arrangements to be made. He contemplated the matter with more than usual zest, and only a suspicion of a delicious and fearful surreptition upon him.
“Miss Carstairs ain’t here to-day!” a red-haired junior informed him.
“Sick?” queried Henry in some alarm.
“Naw. I reckon she ain’t sick! Miss Dabbin says maybe she ain’t cornin’ back!”
HENRY returned below, a trifle dashed, but still with a sense of power upon him, that carried him presently, into the sanctum of President Dillingworth.
“Close the door!” snapped the head of the House of Dillingworth.
Henry sprang to obey, his feet giving traditional obedience to the great man. The eyes of the President were upon him rather grimly. Henry felt his self-control going; his elation ebbing; the old fascination upon him. He forgot everything in a quick attempt to snatch at the remaining strand of courage. Words seemed to be trembling upon the President’s lips, but they remained unspoken. Henry took the floor.
“Mr. Dillingworth,” said Henry Pitt, consciously avoiding the chief’s eye, and trying to overlook the menacing tilt of his chin, “I have been with the firm now for—for”—he snatched his notebook from his pocket—“for six thousand, one hundred and seventy-three days! During that time I have striven to please, have worked, I think, as faithfully and well as anyone could; have risen from one position to another; accepted new responsibilities—and in all the time my—my salary, Mr. Dillingworth, has hardly kept pace. I dislike speaking of it, but I feel—”
The head of the House of Dillingworth interrupted at this point.
“Mr. Pitt!” he thundered. “Not another word of this. If your efficiency, sir, is anything like your judgment it is a poor asset! Perhaps you are not aware, sir, that since nine this morning I have been here Continued on page 53
The Singular Eruption of Mr. Pitt
Continued from page 17
awaiting you on most important business. Perhaps you will dare to tell me, Mr. Pitt, that this is an exception—that the morning that I arrive down early like this is the sole one you chose to be late on? Don’t trouble to make excuses! This firm, sir, is going to the devil, like the rest of the world, for lack of the faithful service you boast of, for lack of efficiency, for lack of everything but a disposition to shirk, and to do up the employer as the chief business of life! Don’t answer me, sir! I want no words from you! Maybe you think because you have been here so long you are indispensable. Let me tell you I can buy efficiency such as yours quite as cheaply, and perhaps get longer hours for my money. Here we pay a heavy overhead for the handling of petty details such as those which come through your hands, sir, and what do we get for it? Security? Faithfulness? Integrity? Bah—I’m sick—you may leave me, Mr. Pitt! When I want you I will send for you!”
THERE were, in the face of this, three courses open to Henry Pitt. One was to withdraw with dignity, blaming this childish spleen upon some calamity that had overtaken the chief—but then Henry was not aware of the existence of such; one was to stand up for his rights and assert himself in the face of such an outrageous and unwarranted attack; a third was to beat an ignominious retreat. Henry took the third course. He was like a man suddenly sobered by a shock.
“Y-yes, sir!” he stammered, and left. And singularly enough the old traditions so held him enslaved, that he began to see excuses for the President, and to upbraid himself for dereliction of duty. The coils of the serpent of tradition are not so easily unwound!
A final flash of anger lost itself by expression in action. Back at his desk he ■discovered that even his floral buttonhole, that had been the gay companion of his morning adventure into freedom, was hanging its head droopingly. Henry snatched it out, and flung it from him. He took his seat again.
A CIGARETTE butt thrown away and crushed under the heel of a careless smoker may seem to be extinguished, but many a merry blaze has found its origin therein. Mr. Pitt, crushed as he was, even in his own thought, must have had some inward smouldering, that led up to the Bella Carstairs incident that day, and so to its inevitable sequence.
Now, in spite of Henry’s confusion of the morning, there was nothing extremely terrible about his relations with the woman who presided over the immediate destinies of the Securities Department. It was reprehensible doubtless, but we all have our weaknesses, and this
was Henry’s—combined with a peculiar relish for traditional observance. Mr. Pitt could never—even after five years of married life, since he had sought refuge from old bachelorhood in the arms of Mrs. Pitt, nee Harriet Pringle—look at the petite, wild-olive beauty of Bella Carstairs without feeling a deliciously poignant melancholy filling his being. Romance and Henry had travelled mostly by separate ways, and to the few moments of convergence Henry clung with pathetic tenacity. For ten years out of his twenty or more of active service in the House of Dillingworth, Bella Carstairs had been a candle about which this dun little moth fluttered. But the first five having proven the futility of hoping for more than singed wings, Mr. Pitt had allowed any inward aspirations to lose themselves in a brooding melancholy that was not at all displeasing. Bella Carstairs’ heart was in the keeping of another, who, it seemed, had flitted with it she knew not whither. Mr. Pitt alternately prayed that the renegade lover might return with consistent excuses for his conduct; and cursed him for ever entering the field. Mr. Pitt could recall, though—and often did, hugging the memory to him—the manner in which Bella had taken the news of his betrothal to the present Mrs. Pitt. Tears had filled the soft depths of her eyes; her hand had fluttered a little tremulously as it entered upon its prolonged mission of congratulation.
“There never could have been anything but friendship between us, Henry,” she had told him, a trifle shakily, “and yet—and yet—”
HENRY had suffered pangs in that moment—pangs born partly of a struggle with a disloyal wonder whether he should not have persevered and sought quality rather than quantity! Thethought came just about as abruptly as that, and it hurt him, because he was a loyal little fellow, and he liked Harriet very, very much!
Perhaps for that reason he sedulously avoided Miss Carstairs for the first ten months of married life. Then it was that the annual visit of Aunt Susan drew nigh. Aunt Susan was a peculiar old lady, who ran a boarding house in a distant part of suburbia, and the only connection she had with Henry Pitt was a friendly one because she was Bella Carstairs’ aunt. Thither, in his bachelor days, Henry had often taken the object of his affections; there, under the mild chaperonage of Aunt Susan, they had made many joyous excursions on holidays, and Sundays, for the location conduced'to walks in pleasant surroundings. There it was, on the twenty-sixth day of April, that Henry’s confession had been blurted out, and he had learned the hopelessness of it, and found certain solace in becoming in turn a comforter to the bereaved Bella,
and in the promise of a mutual friendship that involved many a clasp of hand in hand. Always after that the twentysixth of April was a day sacred to this friendship, and involved a mutual visit to the shrine where the altar of words had been raised to it. It drew nigh, let it be repeated, ten months after Henry led his second choice to the more binding altar of matrimony. Bella Carstairs happened to enter the elevator with him at ninetwenty-five on the morning of the twentyfifth. He had been avoiding her, and now scarcely met her eye. In the corridor upstairs she detained him with a gentle pressure of her ungloved hand.
“Henry,” she said softly, her eyes wistfully upon him, “I—I shall miss you to-morrow! It may seem foolish, but I want you to—to think of me just a tweeny-weeny bit! It will help if I know you haven’t quito forgotten—our anniversary!”
Henry had avoided her eyes. He said, uncomfortably: “Will you be going out to Aunt Susan’s?”
She was reproachful.
“Oh, Henry,” she cried. “How could you think of such a thing? And you not there!”
HIS reputation for punctuality saved further immediate embarrassment, but he was uncomfortable all day. The thing was with him during the morning, and still more in the afternoon, and the least observant sinner will tell you that to dally with temptation is equivalent to pressing the elevator button marked “Down.” That night Harriet first heard of Aunt Susan, and the generous way in which she conceded him the right to go on an annual visit, and even smiled at his vivid description of Aunt Susan’s peculiarities which precluded her accompanying him, set Mr. Pitt’s active little conscience on the warpath over night.
And to-morrow was the twenty-sixth of April.
And Mr. Pitt knew, in his heart of hearts, that as sure as the sun shone tomorrow, whether its face be radiant with approval, or blushed ruddily behind a veil of spring fog, or hid its direct gaze behind the murky veil of earth-enfolding clouds, so surely would he hold tryst, for all that he had almost overlooked the date, and had made no mention of it recently to Bella Carstairs.
IT WAS while this comforting glow of anticipation and delightfully distressing thrill of fear enveloped him, and assuaged the hurt that still lingered as the aftermath of his morning’s disgrace in the eyes of Dillingworth.that the Fates subtly chose to summon him, by ’phone, and in the person of Bella Carstairs herself. His face, flushing at first at the sound of her familiar voice, lost its conscious glow as he listened; turned, indeed, quite white as the portent of her news penetrated his shocked understanding. When he hung up the receiver at last, he sat with his bony hands gripping the arms of his swivel chair so tightly that the knuckles seemed seeking egress from fleshly bonds.
They had dismissed Bella Carstairs. Fired her, unceremoniously! Alleged incompetence when there was, as every sane person must know, a wonderfully ordered efficiency; brought a charge of unfaithfulness after years of conscientious effort.
Mr. Pitt suffered pitiful amazement. His mind ran back over her record: touched on the daily discharge of duty that had put her quickly in the place of responsibility; and still more on the way she had fitted into her present position smoothly, efficiently, when scandal reared its head within the sacred precincts of the House of Dillingworth, and the former manager of the Securities Department, Richard Gadleigh. had been found guilty of defalcations that ran into many, many thousands, and extended over years—a discovery made too late to lay the guilty manager by the heels.
HAD they forgotten what Bella Carstairs did for them that time? Or her premonitions that had even led her to warn them that some untoward agency was operating in the department? Gratitude?—Bah!
The fire, you see, was smouldering within—ready almost to leap up and burn traditions to a crisp!
Bella’s words of entreaty still rang in his ears.
“I'm out at Aunt Susan's, Henry. Won't you get off and come right now. instead of to-morrow? And bring me the
little envelope of personal papers—that one I got you to put in the vault for me the day before yesterday—there’s a dear. They’re some—some faded remnants of romance, Henry, so I value them, though they might seem foolish to some others. You will bring them, won’t you? Right now, if you can! But don’t mention me at all, will you? I wouldn’t even let them know I’d used their old ’phone!”
And Henry had promised, with anger subordinating fear.
DANGER still remained—rather grew within him—as he rose from his desk, visited the vault, and finally brought himself to the point of entering the inner sanctum of Dillingworth again. He would, in asking off for a few hours, throw down the gauntlet; into the very face of Dillingworth he would hurl defiance if need be! Where, for his own ends, courage would have been denied him, Henry’s romantic little being throbbed with the chivalric appeal of beauty in distress! The door was slightly ajar. Henry knocked and entered. A lean stranger was in earnest conversation with the President. He had eyes that, lifted momentarily to meet Mr. Pitt’s, bored right through the victim. They were cold eyes; windows of a prosaic, an unromantic soul. Henry told himself that no mention of Bella Carstairs could be made in so unsympathetic an atmosphere, even had Bella not asked him expressly to keep her out of it all.
“Well?” said Dillingworth briefly. “What is it, Pitt?”
“I was just wondering,” said Mr. Pitt, with banked fires, and a meekness that he did not feel, “if you could spare me for— well, until after lunch. I—”
Dillingworth started. One does not suspect the dumb brute that has followed always with doglike devotion, to suddenly show signs of having a personality.
“No!” said Mr. Dillingworth, with decision. “Decidedly not! There is too much slackness about here now. Too many comings and goings with no check on ’em! You heard what I said this morning? Do I need to repeat it?”
“It’s a personal matter of importance,” ventured Mr. Pitt, timidly.
“No!” thundered Dillingworth. “Nothing doing! Get out and stay out, and be on hand if I want you! That’s your immediate job!”
HENRY blinked a little behind his spectacles. Then Mr. Dillingworth saw him draw himself up to the full measure of his trifling stature, and seemingly to sniff at a buttonhole that wasn’t there; and his ears shocked him with a declaration of independence that was not less startling because there was a sad mildness mingling with its finality:
“I shall go out,” said Mr. Pitt, to his own surprise as much as anyone’s, “and return when I wish! On my return, Mr. Dillingworth, I will at once proceed to clear up matters for my successor. I’m through!”
Henry turned on his heel and walked out, but mildness could not quite dominate the situation, for behind his stiffened back the sacred door of the Dillingworth holy of holies slammed with a vicious bang.
President Dillingworth, who was not without experimental knowledge of the rougher forms of verbiage, found himself impotent to do more than utter, helplessly: “Well, I’m blessed!”
But the tall, lean stranger just stared solemnly at the closed door, and pulled thoughtfully at a sparse and drooping moustache.
MR. PITT left the simple message—in case his wife should call—that he had been summoned to Aunt Susan’s, and headed for the Elysian fields of suburban romance. In the lobby of the Dillingworth Building was a florist’s concession, at which fragrant booth Henry stopped, and replaced the buttonhole bouquet of the earlier morning. Had Henry not been completely overcome by a fearful intoxication from a mingled brew of freedom, self-appreciation, and chivalric impulse, he might have noted that a man who patronized the tobacconist’s just as his own purchase was made at the florist’s became a fellow-passenger right to the end of the final transfer line that had its limits within a stone’s throw of Aunt Susan’s boarding house.
1 Bella Carstairs gave him a half-tearful, half-radiant welcome. Aunt Susan smiled benignly upon him, in her com-
plaisant, half-smirking way, and left them to attend to her work. Business was poor, she said; not a boarder in the place at present “except one who had just left.” Aunt Susan catered to “rest-cases”; frayed out men and women, in the mental sense, who lived in retirement when they came to her, apart from all the world, sheltered in the house and secluded garden from the restlessness and turmoil of the world. A sort of sanitarium—Aunt Susan’s. ,
They had lunch together presently. Mr. Pitt and Bella Carstairs, in a tete-atete fashion, which enabled Henry’s insight to read a courageous spirit into her attempts at merriment. She would not let him mention Dillingworth’s until afterwards, except to thank him when, in answer to her eager question, he handed her the envelope she had given to his keeping.... the “faded remnants of romance” with which she had entrusted him lest any less understanding spirit might find them and mock. . . She was called away once during the meal; when she returned with apologies and the excuse of an important ’phone call, he fancied for a time she struggled with some distressing problem.
It was after the coffee had been disposed of that Miss Carstairs made her confession.
“Henry,” she said gently, leaning forward so that her face, with its perennial bloom of youth was fascinatingly near his, “Henry, I didn’ttell you just—the—whole —story this morning. You see I wasn’t really dismissed; I.—I just resigned!” “Oh!” said Mr. Pitt, weakly.
“Maybe I was wrong to tell you that, but you see, Henry, I knew how strict you are with yourself in business hours, and how ridiculously attached to the House of Dillingworth, and I thought I’d better make it as strong as possible or you wouldn’t come. You see, don’t you?” “Y-y-yes,” stammered Henry, still more weakly.
“You’re not terribly'displeased? I—I was in such trouble, and I had only you to help. Why—is—anything the matter?” Henry said, with placid acceptance of the situation: “Nothing much, Bella, except that I was—extremely annoyed at their treatment of you—and I—I threw up my job!”
“I—I resigned, Bella!”
Miss Carstairs rose, and went over to stare out of a half-shuttered window. She said at last: “My poor Henry! Now you must know everything!” She paused a moment. “Come here, Henry, a second.” He obeyed, with something of limpness in his limbs. “Look, Henry—did you—were you by any chance followed here? There’s a man watching the house!” She clutched his arm, tremblingly.
He told her, adjusting his rimmed glasses: “Why, I remember that man
coming out of the building just as I did!” “I knew it, Henry, I knew it!” Miss Carstairs sobbed openly.
Mr. Pitt forgot his own distress; drew her with gentle pressure on her arm to a sofa, and there, at a semi-discreet distance, bade her confide in him.
“TT’S all so like a fairytale, and a nightA mare mingled,” she told him, “I can scarcely believe it’s happened to little me. Four days ago, Henry—that was Friday —John came back to me. After all these years, Henry. Oh, not in body, he just wrote from Detroit that he was there, and had at last located me! I can’t go into the whole story, Henry, except that he had repented just after leaving me, and yet too late to find trace of me. I moved, you will remember my telling you, shortly after he—he went away. Now he wants me to forget the past and go to him. He’s been working all these years and saving up, and seeking me, with something telling him, just as it told me, that someday we’d find each other again!”
“Oh?” ejaculated Mr. Pitt, wide-eyed. “Why, Henry, I do believe you’re jealous!” she chided him, softly.
“Dear me, no!” cried poor Henry, crimsoning with mortification, and confusion, and a sense of disloyalty to Harriet, and yet knowing a certain kinship with the famous canine in the manger.
“Anyway,” she went on, “I was too excited for words. I didn’t even come to tell you, Henry, but I wired back at once agreeing to leave on Monday. I was afraid, you see, lest, after so many years, we should lose each other again. I went to Mr. Dillingworth direct, and told him
and resigned. He said I could not leave without due notice, and we had a quarrel. Then, on Saturday”—Bella Carstairs sat up straight, staring ahead of her like a figure of tragedy—“on Saturday, Henry, he sent for me as I was clearing up my stuff. There were two strangers with him -—a fat one and a thin one. They looked like moving picture detectives. Oh, Henry, my dear, they practically accused me of being mixed up in the loss of a lot of bearer bonds that were being delivered to our department a few days before, and which had disappeared. Maybe you read in the paper of the messenger from Bristowe, Bristowe and Binks, who disappeared with a hundred thousand dollars’ worth? They were coming to us, Henry, and now—just—just because I resigned hastily like that, they insinuated I had something to do with it, and I never even had heard of the hateful things being sent.”
SOME women in tears are repelling; Miss Carstairs was adorable.
“I thought I had managed to prove my case,” went on Bella Carstairs, “but I guess they didn’t believe me quite. I’ve felt since that I was followed. I fancied they might search my papers; that was why, on Saturday, Henry, I gave you this envelope to put away for me. I could not bear to have their hands intrude upon my—my little romance. I would have told you all then, Henry, only you will remember we were interrupted. I was right, too. Oh, Henry, I could have died with mor-mortification. It wasn’t enough they should search my desk, but even insisted that that little cat, Priscilla Dabbin, search my person before I left the building. Heaven only knows what for! And—and now they’re even watching the house, and I am to be married in Detroit the day after tomorrow. I simply must get away to-night, Henry. You will help me, dear old friend of mind, won’t you?”
Mr. Pitt rose and paced the room. He sniffed once or twice at his buttonhole, fragrant with the breath of spring. His backbone seemed, almost imperceptibly, to stiffen; his fears retreated before a challenging spirit.
“You may trust me, Bella!” Mr. Pitt declared largely.
When he went over, presently, and peeped through the shutters at the watcher who had withdrawn to a discreet distance down the avenue, Henry stuck his thumbs in his vest, and regarded the man with the air of one inspecting a very, very inferior creature. Romance and Henry Pitt had indeed crossed paths this time! As if the gaze of Henry had penetrated to him, the man presently disappeared from sight down the avenue.
Mr. Pitt was not to be so easily deceived.
WE’LL not be taken in by the fact that he’s out of sight,” he told Bella Carstairs. “We’ll wait until dark, and then I’ll smuggle you out of here as sure as my name’s Henry Pitt!” His brow wrinkled suddenly. “I wonder what Harriet will think?” he said, adding with a gallant shrug of his shoulders: “Well, that’ll have to wait. Harriet would—er— approve, I am sure, if she knew.” He blew his nose with a vigorous trumpeting that spoke defiance rather than conciliation, and dismissed the unhappy thought of Mrs. Pitt waiting for him at home until after darkness set in.
“No,” demurred Bella, “at the first coming of dusk, or as soon as the coast really seems clear, you go ahead. I want you to take my suitcase with you, like a dear, good fellow, and meet me with it at the Northpoint Station at nine-thirty tonight. Then, you see, I’ll not be hampered with it, or call attention to my leaving. You won’t fail me, Henry?”
Henry gave brave assurance.
If there was a tremulous undercurrent, it was less the thought of evading the watcher below than the thought of facing Harriet...
Still it was something that Bella had chosen Northpoint as the station from which to leave. Northpoint was his own suburb; the railway depot was not twenty minutes from his home.
MR. PITT slipped out furtively into the gathering darkness at something after seven. He went by the back way, but was not a little perturbed at Bella’s carelessness in letting the door slam behind him. Supposing he was stopped and questioned—what should he say? He was so poor at deceit! Supposing even he was
arrested—what would Harriet say? That was a more terrible thought still. He moved off hastily down the back street; reached at last the tramline. The shelter was comparatively deserted. One or two taxicabs stood awaiting the next car out; their business lay in short hauls supplementing the carline. Henry, very conscious of his bag, cast longing glances at them. But it was a long and expensive trip to Northpoint.
The evening was chilly; a cold drizzle began to fall. Henry’s spirits drooped more every moment. He fell into a melancholy reverie, that was broken by a friendly voice saying:
“Pleasant evening, sir.”
“Qu-qu-quite,” stammered Henry.
“Live out this way?”
“No,” said Henry shortly. “Northpoint!”
“Pleasant suburb this, though!”
“Qu-qu-ite,” said Henry again.
“But quiet,” went on the talkative gentleman, whom closer scrutiny disclosed as a rather sad-faced man of average size and mediocre appearance. “Just the same you can’t never tell about these quiet places. Why, they tell me there’s a house out here that’s suspected of bein’ connected with these here bond thefts. Police are onto it, but can’t just get enough proof yet. Queer, isn’t it?”
“Qu-qu-quite!” agreed Henry, edging off a little.
“Oh, give these chaps enough rope and they’ll hang themselves, you mark my word, sir!”
There seemed to be a rising inflection that demanded remark in this, so Mr. Pitt ventured a timid: “Y-yes! Quite so! Undoubtedly!”
The talkative gentleman continued, moodily: “Queer, too, to think a chap don’t never know but what his next door neighbor may be leadin’ a double life that way. Now wouldn’t it be funny if you was mixed up in this thing yourself: excuse my sayin’ it, but it just struck me funny, seeing your bag there and all. How do I know you ain’t got that hundred thousand of bonds they’re after tucked away tight and right in that there bag?” He smiled at Mr. Pitt sadly.
NOW had Mr. Pitt really been a criminal he would have scarcely taken the course he did, without at least further provocation. As it was, his heart was fluttering beyond his control, and his whole body seemed chained to the platform with a load of lead. “A house watched by the police” .... “bond thefts”
. . . .“the hundred thousand in bonds” of which Bella Carstairs had spoken.... A terrible, all-engulfing fear overcame Mr. Pitt. Could it be ... . could it be that Bella Carstairs.... ?
Supposing that in the bag were packed away the bonds themselves! And that he was but the poor tool!
“I think,” said Mr. Pitt, in a scarcely audible voice, and managing a wan smile, “I think I’ll just take a taxi! The cars are so slow and. ...” As he spoke, he hurried across the road. The driver saw him coming; opened the door for him. Mr. Pitt tossed the bag in, and would have followed but a hand was on his arm.
“Not so fast, my friend!” said the sadfaced man. “I—”
But Mr. Pitt did not wait. His thin little body managed to project itself into the car. It was the scuttling to safety of a scared rabbit; but it worked.
“As fast as you can go,” he shouted through the tube, “and I’ll double your fare!”
The cab shot out into the darkness. In the dim light of an electric behind Mr. Pitt beheld the sad-faced man chartering the remaining taxi.
“Case of mistaken identity, and I have an appointment I cannot miss,” shouted Mr. Pitt through the tube. “Northpoint Station, I want! Can you beat that other driver?”
“Can a duck swim!” grumbled the driver, in brilliant repartee, and settled to his work. The exhilaration of the motion after the trying wait acted upon Mr. Pitt’s spirits. As the distance between the cars increased, he even chortled a little. And his temporary doubt of Bella Carstairs caused a sharp pang that could not down a laugh at the very idea of the mistake that was being made.
A SOBERING thought came then. In his flurry he had forgotten that single fare let alone double, was not upon his person. Besides, it would be inadvisable to go direct to Northpoint Station and
risk waiting there. He determined to return boldly to the temporary security of his own home, and thought with satisfaction of the twenty-five dollars he had locked up in his desk for emergencies.
In the midst of natural emotions evoked by his great moments, Mr. Pitt had lost consciousness of time. Now, with a sense of his efficiency coming like a flood upon him, he glanced at his watch. It said eight-fifteen as the car whirled him past St. Michael’s church, and he would have suspected a recurrent infidelity had the chime in the church tower not borne corroboration. By this time, with Northpoint streets invitingly before him, the car had apparently shaken off all pursuit. Henry determined to slip into the house; pay off the driver; hide the suitcase in the darkest corner of the clothes-cupboard adjacent to the entrance, with an eye always to his nine-thirty mission.
The Pitt house, like ninety-nine out of a hundred of its fellows, stood in a bit of a garden, where already evidences of Henry’s spring activities were to be seen. Henry saw now, with a sudden dread, that the house was fully lighted—a habit Harriet had only when something unusual was afoot. Yes—and there—there at the front door, her nose pressed against the panel, was Harriet! He left the suitcase temporarily in the taxi.
She greeted him tremulously.
“Henry—that man is here!—where have you been?”
“Man?” gasped Henry. “Not that fellow—”
“Yes—Dillingworth!” she said.
“Oh!” said Henry, not knowing whether to feel relieved or startled. “Why —wha—what does he want?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. Where have you been all this time? Your Aunt Susan had no business keeping you so late! Anyway, you might have let me know.”
Mr. Pitt was harassed into acidity. “Don’t talk, for the love of Pete!” he said sharply. “Let me think!”
Dillingworth rose, as he entered fearfully. The great man nodded a not unamiable “Good evening, Pitt.”
“Good-evening,” offered Henry in a difficult voice, extremely conscious of the presence of Harriet and a guilty conscience.
THE head of the House of Dillingworth paced the room in a way familiar to Henry, shoulders thrust slightly forward, hands in pockets, jaw rather set. Henry waited for the storm to break.
“There are times, Pitt,” commenced Dillingworth at last, “When one hardly knows what to say. This is one of them. You see, Pitt, this bond affair is a very serious business. While we are partly insured against loss, there is a considerable blow in it financially, and still more to our faith in our employees!” Mr. Dillingworth scowled at Mr. Pitt; Henry, leaning against the wall, felt like sinking through it. “It is very deplorable, and after so many years, too! Like yourself. Miss Carstairs is one of those on whom we had come to count for faithfulness. On Saturday, Mr. Pitt, following the disappearance of the bonds a few days before— which disappearance we kept a secret— Miss Carstairs resigned hastily, using some story which might have got past me, had not detectives already been ferreting into things. She was just too late. They had come to me with a clue that seemed to lead right to her. I need not elaborate, but there was good evidence to believe that she had, early that morning, taken the bonds in a suitcase, and checked them at the Central Station, from which point she was followed. It was impossible for the detectives to locate the right bag, but they knew she must have the check for it. It was an unhappy circumstance, but we were compelled to search her desk, and her person. We found nothing, however, and had no evidence to warrant us arresting her, even on suspicion. Besides, she was our best chance of finding the missing securities. This morning we had a further conference, with no new developments except that Miss Carstairs had eluded us, but that the detectives were hopeful of finding her. That is the whole sorry case. Mr. Pitt. I have had no further report since. It is very deplorable!”
HENRY nodded a gloomy agreement.
Outside the door a taxicab meter was mounting merrily in its bill of costs; inside that cab was the tell-tale bag, of whose contents Mr. Pitt was less assured than ever. And the clock was nearing
I nine. Despair took possession of the soul of the little man. But the President was speaking again.
‘‘1 mention all this, Mr. Pitt,” he said, ‘‘because I wish you to know it, and more j particularly to explain my treatment of I you this morning. While the reputation commonly given to me may not sustain it,
1 am at heart, greatly interested in my employees, and 1 should feel very badly, Mr. Pitt—very badly indeed to think that 1 had been guilty of injustice without attempting to right it! I am not unconscious of your worth, sir; your long and faithful service. I have come over specially this evening, Pitt, to right a wrong. Your resignation this morning was a matter of pique; my treatment of you was born of worry. I would suggest we forget both!”
Mr. Pitt wondered greatly if his physical sense of heat was expressed in his face. Mrs. Pitt beamed graciously upon her St. George and upon the Dragon alike. She was gathering her own interpretation of the story. Mr. Pitt’s mind was running to penitence and prisons. A deep-seated conviction held him that outside in the taxi were securities sufficient to pay the meter charges many, many times. And here was opportunity knocking at his door; the great Dillingworth himself discovering his—Henry’s —worth at last, and actually humbling himself by coming to offer apologies and restitution. That he should thus come did not so greatly amaze Henry, though; Dillingworth was noted for seemingly capricious impulses in advancing employees who came specially under his notice—as for instance Bella Carstairs. But he did not notice cogs, however faithful to the office machinery. Henry blinked, for passing vividly before him were mental pictures horrible to look upon. At any moment now the blow might fall. He could almost see the charge of robbery framing itself on the President’s lips; the surprising amiability of his manner suffering the greater transformation thereby. “Caught with the goods”—that would be the subtitle in to-morrow’s Clarion. Maybe they’d put his picture in—that smug one that Harriet liked. He licked his dry lips.
DILLINGWORTH’S voice broke in upon his reflections. '
“I was hoping, Pitt, that you’d be disposed to be reasonable about it. I’ve done all I could to make amends.” He smiled ingratiatingly. “You should know my hasty temper by now, Pitt, and make allowances! Come, we’ll fix up that salary matter you spoke of! How about an extra twenty-five a month?”
Henry was silent. His pain was too great for words. At last recognition had come—but too late! The door of opportunity had opened, but beside it yawned another doorway, over whose portals Henry glimpsed the fateful sentence; “All hope abandon ye who enter here!” “Fifty a month extra, then!” said Dillingworth impatiently. “Come, come, man, that’s a big concession! I’ll admit frankly we want you back. Those dunderheads down there seem lost even for a little while without you! How about it? Shall we say—er—fifty?”
The shock did Henry good. He caught, too, Harriet’s admiring glance, and with a growing sense of his own importance, his backbone began once more to stiffen. He mentally dubbed himself a fool. Why not slip out and pay the driver, and trust him to check the suitcase for him? It was locked, and he could take the fellow’s j number. He could decide later some plan of restitution for the bonds. He might even get credit for his exploit.
It was at this moment the telephone rang.
“Mr. Dillingworth wanted,” said Mrs. Pitt, graciously.
“Thanks, Mrs. Pitt. I left word to call me here if there was anything important.”
! Henry listened with his heart in his mouth j again, unable to move. The conversation seemed to consist, on Mr. Dillingworth’s part, of a lot of “what’s” and ejaculations that bordered on impatience. “Nonsense!” said the President, at last. “You’ve got mixed with someone else. Mr. Pitt is here at home. Yeh! Sure, I’ll ask him if you insist!”
He came back, laughing.
“That’s a good one on you, Pitt! My men are trying to drag you into the case. Bentridge just ’phones that he’s had a message from one of his fellows that you’ve lit out with a suitcase containing the bonds. Ha, ha!”
“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Mr. Pitt and
June 15, 1923
the echoes seemed to mock him from every wall.
“Well, Pitt, what is it to be? Fifty?”
MR. PITT, with a sense of life’s bitter irony upon him, grew sarcastic with fate. He had read once of a favorite fictional hero who joked under the very shadow of the gallows; Henry said now, with what he conceived to be the proper manner of making a bitter jest: “Make it one hundred, Mr. Dillingworth, and I’ll talk to you!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped Dillingworth, roused at last.
“Nothing less!” retorted Henry, determined on enjoying his last moments of liberty.
“One hundred,” demanded Henry casually. “I am rather expecting to get work elsewhere in a day or two.” He added, grimly, remembering again the stone pile and his favorite hero: “Rather a longterm contract, too!”
Dillingworth laughed then.
“I like your nerve, Pitt. I didn’t think so much of you, to be frank, till you lit into me to-day. If you have the nerve to ask it, I guess you’re worth keeping. You win!”
Comedy, though bitter, turned to more hopeless tragedy then. Mr. Pitt found it impossible to look unmoved upon Mrs. Pitt. She was radiant, and knowing her, he could see her mental process at work calculating out a new scale of living. It hurt him to think of the denouement. He liked Harriet very, very much. Dillingworth, too; fear of his denunciation now took on a more personal aspect. Even if he tried to explain, what a fool he would look—and somehow he knew he would not be believed! Who would credit his story? Perhaps, though, he could manage the thing yet. He rose, excusing himself a moment.
As luck, or the fates, would have it, at that moment the doorbell jangled. Henry’s feet turned to lead; Harriet responded. Mr. Pitt heard words that he knew must penetrate the whole house.
“Say, missus!” growled the taxi-driver. “Tell the boss he’d better pay me off and charter another bus. I’ve got an appointment soon. Here’s his bag!”
HENRY sank into a chair, limply.
He was conscious of Dillingworth’s gaze upon him. A moment later, Harriet —who, Henry admitted even in that moment, was never quick of wit— entered the room with a puzzled frown on her rather massive face, and in her hand a suitcase which Henry knew must contain incriminating evidence in the eyes of either his wife or his employer.
“Henry!” cried Mrs. Pitt.
“Mr. Pitt!” said Dillingworth uncomfortably.
Mr. Pitt was caught between the devil and the deep sea; he saw in one face the shocked look of shattered faith; in the other suspicion suddenly leaping into being. And—to be careless of metaphor —he knew not with which to lock horns. Should he give the incident a domestic interpretation, chancing Harriet’s backing; or should he put it on a business basis, and seek the exclusion of his wife from the painful exposure before his employer?
The horns of this dilemma carried him upstairs under the logical excuse of securing payment for the man. The action of his legs seemed to stimulate thought. Besides, his position back at twelve hundred increase was involved. He was no longer an underpaid drudge of a clerk; he was a man whose worth wTas recognized, whose decisions were of value!
Decision! Henry’s backbone straightened again. He went below, actually smiling. Audacity might yet carry him through.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Dillingworth,” said Henry boldly, “but it’s very upsetting that I should have forgotten my mission because of your coming. As perhaps my wife has told you, I was called hastily, to Aunt Susan’s to-day, and as a result was given a message to do. I had almost forgotten it, and I promised to make delivery of this suitcase by nine-thirty. I have just time, if you will excuse me!” “Where to, Mr. Pitt?” The President’s voice chilled Henry for all its mildness.
“N-Northpoint Station,” stammered Henry. Would the ruse work? Would his very boldness induce trust?
“Well,” said Dillingworth, “I must be running along, too. My car is outside. Good-evening, Mrs. Pitt!”
Henry exulted inwardly.
The President said, casually: “Dis-
miss your man, Pitt. I’ll run you over myself! No, I insist!”
HENRY shivered again, but obeyed dumbly. He had wild notions of flight, quickly dismissed. He decided rather to throw himself upon the mercy of the President, and be called a fool at the least, a knave at the worst. His longsought opportunity was already flapping its wings preparatory to fight. Confession trembled on his lips. But Dillingworth took the lead.
“Sorry, Pitt,” he said, amiably, “but it’s only fair to everybody concerned that I should squint inside that bag. Pure coincidence of course, but probably your Aunt Susan will forgive my ferreting in her things, just to satisfy the—conventions of the case! Got a key?”
“No, sir!” said Henry, trying to urge his voice further, and failing.
“Wait, perhaps one of mine will do it,” said Dillingworth, cheerfully. “There— hullo!”
Henry could not look. Dillingworth had switched on the lights in his limousine, and the revelation was too terrible for Mr. Pitt to face. Out of the tail of his eye, he could see that Bella Carstairs had fooled him. Mrs. Pitt might have with safety looked upon these habiliments of the male. But beyond that even Henry himself dare not go. The President’s exclamation had followed a hasty investigation.
“Mr. Pitt,” said Dillingworth gravely, “I’m pained—very deeply pained at this. So—Aunt Susan is just a—myth—to cover your tracks?”
Mr. Pitt shrunk into himself still more. “Bonds!” said the President, in a queer voice. “And well-matured at that!” Henry was startled at a sudden laugh. “You old rascal, Pitt—can you give me the address of your—er—Aunt Susan’s physician?”
Mr. Pitt raised his eyes at last. On the President’s lap, withdrawn from wrappings of masculine underwear, were two ancient bottles of a liquid that has fallen upon difficult days....
HENRY PITT slept little that night.
Constantly revolving through his tortured mind were vivid memories of his lame attempts to explain away those wretched bottles; still more the ready laughter of Dillingworth at his discomfiture. Henry was a lifelong member of the Sons of Temperance, and the thing rankled, almost, but not quite as much, as the fear of the aftermath. Suppose he was recognized by one of the detectives! —would he not yet be involved in the criminal maze?
It was Mrs. Pitt who this time greeted the new day with gladness. . .
“Timetoget up, Henry,” shesummoned him, being fully dressed by then herself. “Will you be away all day again, dear, or—?”
“Àway?” repeated Henry.
“At Aunt Susan’s anniversary.”
“Oh!” said Henry. He experienced a sudden relief at the remembrance that he had quite a while since arranged for his usual day off. That would save an immediate facing of the office, and Dillingworth. . . He decided, in the end, like a prospective client of the dentist, to get it over, to face, if need be, the laughter and. . . the danger. He shivered as he thought of the lean stranger, and the fat stranger, and the man who had dogged his steps to Aunt Susan’s, and the other one who had nearly intercepted his escape. Yet he could not keep away.
He had to face the laughter first. “How’s the bootlegging business this morning, Pitt?” chortled Mr. Dillingworth.
HENRY fidgeted with a bit of pasteboard that alone remained to remind him of the bag he had checked at Northpoint Station at nine-thirty-five last evening, and which was likely to remain there to molder.
“Don’tblushso!” laughed Dillingworth. “I’ll keep mum! By the way. I’ve good news for you. They caught the fellow with the suitcase last night, at the Central Station, with all the bonds intact. He was just getting it from the check-room. And who should it be but our old friend Richard Gadleigh back on the job, with a moustache and beard!”
“Then,” cried Mr. Pitt, happily, “then Bella Carstairs—”
“Has been hand in glove with ’em all the time! After the time Gadleigh did us up, she had to play a lone hand, but her position with us gave her inside news that has been invaluable to the bond thieves who have been operating. This was her final coup. Unfortunately she’s slipped away. There’s a house out in Eastview that the authorities have only just got wise to; camouflaged as a boarding-house, it was really a rendezvous for crooks. Sort of a rest-cure place, I believe!—only the patients were those who needed temporary seclusion. The police raided it last night, but the place was empty. However, we should worry —we’ve got back our bonds, and nailed the chief crook!”
“Then,” said Henry w'th timid eagerness, “there’ll be no need for further investigation?”
“Not as far as we are concerned!”
Mr. Pitt felt a great rebound of spirits. He even ventured a joke.
“You see,” he told the President with a cracked kind of laugh, “that’s rather a relief to a — a bootlegger! These detectives might—a— sniff out those bottles, and really I had nothing to do with them. You see—my carrying them was a—a medicinal mission! It was Aunt Susan who was in a bad way!”
TWO days later, on his arrival home in the evening, Mr. Pitt found a note awaiting him. It bore no address, and the postmark was that of the General Post Office. It was from Bella Carstairs: “Dear Henry”—she wrote—“By the time you get this I will be far away. I owe you so many things that the least I can give is an explanation of my conduct to you.
“By this time, too, you will know me for what I am—just a plain crook, Henry. And yet I really did like you, Henry, and your friendship filled a gap in my life—so it hurt me all the more to have to use you in my final plans.
“You will probably have guessed that in that envelope you put away for me over the week-end, and brought to me on Monday with such ready devotion to my interests, was the check-room ticket for the suitcase containing the bonds. The man who followed you will give you no further trouble. He was my confederate, and he did not like to let you out of sight while you had that precious check. We did not then know that ‘Aunt Susan’ was watched or suspected, but when my confederate followed you up he found that the house was under observation. So he kept away, and ’phoned me. There seemed to be just one man keeping an eye on the place. Ple made his headquarters in the cottage the other side of the vacant lot, where he could watch both our exits—back and front. We determined to draw him off with you, Henry. It was our one chance. If we could get you to slip out surreptitiously with a bag, answering the general description of the missing one, the chance was a good one.
It worked finely, and none too soon, for, as soon as dusk came fully, reserves he had sent for raided the place. The suitcase you took was one filled with men’s attire, ‘Aunt Susan’ said, that had ! been left behind by one of her ‘boarders.’ j “At the Central Station, though, our | plans went astray. I had given the | check for the suitcase to my confederate; | ‘Aunt Susan’ and I remained away at a distance. My confederate, as you of : course will have heard, was caught; we escaped. The game is not worth the candle after all, Henry.
“I am telling you all this, too, Henry, because I feel I owe it to you to make you put me forever out of your mind. Besides, there was a real ‘John’ in my case— only the romance was way, way back.
If he had not left me I might have gone straight.
“Good-bye, Henry. For all the deceit and fraud which mingled with my real liking for you, I cannot ask you to forgive, “Your former friend,
Henry Pitt stood in the living room, by the mantelpiece, for some time in silence. His reverie was interrupted by Mrs. Pitt’s entrance.
“What is it, Henry?” said Harriet. “You look as if you had seen a ghost!” Mr. Pitt’s back was to the fire that flickered feebly in the grate.
“What is it?” repeated Mrs. Pitt.
“It’s only”—stammered Henry Pitt— “it’s only that I just had word that Aunt Susan has—passed away!”