Love may laugh at locksmiths— but what about a barrier of seven million dollars?
MYSTERIOUS," said Ace Patterson. “Very mysterious.”
He was romantic, and the two young men with whom he shared a crowded apartment on Bloor Street exchanged indulgent glances.
Ace spread out the heavy note paper.
“Listen, you oafs. She says—it’s a she, of course: ‘Dear Mr. Alexander Patterson: Although I have not had the pleasure of meeting you, your father was a close friend of my father, the late Aaron Tibett. I have spent most of my life in the Far East’—lucky girl!—‘and have very few acquaintances in Toronto. Before my father died he expressed a wish that I establish amicable relations with the children of several of his erstwhile companions. You
will, therefore, I hope, forgive me for dispensing with the formality of an introduction.’ Don’t mention it. lady! T should be very pleased if you would dine at my house on the evening of January fifteenth at eight o’clock.’ Signed, ‘Elizabeth’—something illegible—‘Tibett.’ Now where,” Ace demanded, “can you match that?”
“Here,” said his brother Harvey, tapping an open envelope.
“And also here,” added Hobart Leacock, 2nd. “Three out of three got ’em.”
It would have been difficult to imagine brothers less alike than Harvey and Ace. Harvey’s indolent manner concealed a mind that was both aggressive and alert. Ace was tall and fair and casual, with candid grey eyes that always
seemed to be looking around or behind or beyond people with a wistful engaging smile, and the sensitive hands of an artist. Hoby Leacock, as if to point the contrast, was short and rotund.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” Ace quoted softly. “Now' where and what have I heard of a Tibett?”
Harvey passed a hand over his sleek dark head. “I believe it roomed with the pater at Oxford.”
“And died last year,” Hoby announced, “leaving huge sums to its only child, aforementioned Elizabeth.”
Ace dragged himself back from an illusory stroll in the garden of an imaginary temple, and said:
“Wasn’t he in the British diplomatic service? Embassy at Pekin or something? Sure— and then something happened
and he went off to Manchuria or something; he collected things and only came back here to Canada, about every ten years or something ...” “Terse, but lacking in literary flavor,” was Hoby’s verdict. “It seems, you see, that this guy was in love with his wife, who expired about the time that little Elizabeth Illegible first drew breath. According to dad it was after that—about twenty years come Michaelmas—that Tibett got goofy. Developed an awful mad on the Aryan race, took six trusty Chinks and the brat, and set out for points unknown. Came home once in a decade or so to see that his lawyer, the estimable Terhune, didn’t embezzle the Tibett estate, and spent the rest of the time exploring around. Eventually he got some sort of complicated fever —the kind of thing they do so beautifully in China—and decided it would be a horrid trick to pop off out there, leaving the offspring all alone and uninured to the ways of the uncouth West. So he up and brang her to the old manse on Jarvis Street—nasty barrack filled with whatnots and furnished in early reign of terror—where he contracted a harmless Western malady known for short as double pneumonia. And out he went, quick like a waterbug. So that, my children, is the story of Agatha Twitchett, of which the moral is go one, go all, or handsome is as handsome cabs.”
“I vote for go all,” Ace said. “Supposing she’s a beautiful blonde and—”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Harvey interrupted. “She’ll have a yellow face and oily hair and feet like scows. But what’s that to you, after all? She’s a gal you ought to marry, Ace. Why, she could put you through the Beaux Arts as easily—”
"As easily,” Hoby said quickly, watching the blood mount in Ace Patterson’s face, “as I could put my head through that window if it happened to be open.”
Ace grinned, but the vague hurt look remained in his eyes.
after a moment, absently lighting the wrong end of a corktipped cigarette, he got up, said casually, “Got to beat it to the office,” and went out. As soon as the door was shut Harvey lowered his morning paper.
“Why encourage him?” he asked irritably. “Confound his sensitive nature. He’s the laziest and most incompetent son of a gun—”
‘Most proverbs,” Hoby rejoined pleasantly, “work both ways. To wit, you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. Or a banker out of Ace Patterson. He’s an artist.”
“Then why the devil didn’t he take his golden opportunity?”
Hoby, who hated arguments, merely shrugged. “Generosity, an obscure disease of the soul,” he said.
They referred to that time, now three years past, when Ace had given way to one of those quixotic impulses so gratifying in fiction and so devastating in fact; had, indeed, been so convinced of the importance of contributing to the family exchequer that he had resigned a scholarship that would have entitled him to two years study in Paris. Since then he had, in Hoby’s phrase, been like a man playing football in a field without goal posts. His absentmindedness was proverbial, and almost equalled by.his inadequacy. He worked in a bank, dreamed of building skyscrapers, and added two and two to obtain five. Job after job was sacrificed to his tendency to daydream. He escaped from a reality that harassed him into an unreality that perpetually hampered his material progress. He lived in a thick fog of fantasy.
Alighting from a street car at King Street, he was almost bowled over by two young men whom he would have passed with a blank stare had they not caught his arms and shouted his name. Donald Terhune, monocled and spatted, at once asked feverishly whether Ace had ever seen or heard of a female called Elizabeth Something Illegible Tibett. Upon hearing Ace’s account of the morning mail, both Terhune and his companion, DeLage Hitchcock, groaned audibly.
“Pop was old Tibett’s lawyer and is an executor of his will,” Don Terhune grumbled. “He knows the girl and says she’s ‘very nice’—which probably means she has a harelip.”
“My guv’nor,” DeLage Hitchcock drawled, “was Tibett’s medico. He’s met Liz and says she’s ‘plain.’ I want to tell you, Ace, when my guv’nor says a girl’s plain she must be a fright. Still, I’ll go if you kids will. Wonder what women she’s asked?”
“Not Evie.” Terhune referred to his debutante sister. “Evie’s sore as a pup. I say, I’ll bet Jack Newton is another victim—Judge Newton used to be a crony of Tibett's. Let’s phone and see.”
By evening, when Ace and Hoby Leacock compared notes, they had discovered eleven acquaintances who had been invited to dine with the mysterious Elizabeth.
“And whoever the girls are,” Hoby predicted, “if we lads don't give ourselves some clean fun my name is Johnny Jones.”
Ace did not even hear him. Already he was gilding the pinnacles of a new castle in the air, a castle in which Miss Tibett, with hair like the setting sun and eyes of dewdrenched violet, shared fabulous riches and incredible happiness with one Alexander Patterson. After all, stranger things had happened, Ace thought, as a voice in his mind
echoed Harvey’s mocking words: “She could put you through the Beaux Arts ...”
So Ace made believe, and the days passed one by one, until presently it was January fifteenth, and three young men waited on the threshold of a gloomy house on Jarvis Street.
“Lovely tomb,” Hoby contributed in a husky bass, to which Harvey added a sibilant, “for rats.” Hoby then whispered, “if I had all that dough, I’d squander two cents an hour and have a light in the vestibule.” Ace growled, “Shut up, you apes,” just as the door was thrown open by a tall man in livery of dusty, rusty
The trio stepped into a hall panelled in strips of dark wood, out of the centre of which, as if out of a cistern, a circular staircase with a carved banister ascended dimly. An exceptionally ugly beast, as large as a great Dane and cast in bronze, guarded the steps and was reflected in the polished surface of a mirror that covered one wall.
“I don’t like this unnatural gloom; I smell ghosts,” Hoby hissed into Ace’s ear, and Ace replying, “You needn’t whisper, you aren’t in chapel,” was so surprised by the sound of his own voice that he started and flushed. Now a second footman, in livery even dustier and rustier than the first, and with a face upon which all the crimes and all the sorrows of mankind seemed to have left visible imprints, relieved themof their sticks and top hats and coats; and yet a third footman, dustiest and rustiest of all, said wearily, patronizingly, “This way, gentlemen,” and proceeded upstairs.
'“THE trio exchanged uncomfortable glances, but before any of them could voice their unanimous impulse to escape from that place with unseemly haste, the doors were opened, and the rustiest, dustiest footman was announcing, in a voice of withering contempt, their three names. They were on the threshold of a very large room, lighted at one end by brackets holding tall candles. The uncertain glow flashed on the hilts of sheathed swords and the blades of scimitars and the triangular points of spears and lances. In a far corner a gigantic suit of armor—helmet in place and masklike visor drawn—leered hideously.
A semicircle of chairs had been drawn close to the fire, and with a sigh of relief the three friends recognized familiar faces and figures: Don Terhune with his monocle in place; Jack Newton; DeLage Hitchcock, large and sleepy-looking as usual; Toddy Grenough, with his shaky hands stuffed in his pockets and his brilliant eyes narrowed; Corky Ryan, standing truculently on the hearth and giving the general appearance of a Roman Emperor forced into twentieth century evening clothes; Arthur Lloyd, examining a fine dagger with an air of rapt interest, his beautifully arched black brows drawn together. There were only two of the eleven known guests missing when the trio entered, looking anxiously for their unknown hostess; but there was not a woman in the room.
Harvey was the first to recover his poise and ask in a casual voice, “Where’re the ladies?”
Corky Ryan turned fiercely and announced that he didn’t know; it was a funny party, a funny place altogether, and if somebody didn’t give him a blankety-blank drink blank-dash soon he would blankety-blank well walk out. At which precise moment two more dusty, rusty retainers entered bearing trays of cocktails and tiny pastry puffs stuffed with caviar. A round of drinks lightened the atmosphere, especially as a second round immediately made its appearance. Arthur Lloyd, always with his air of laying down the law to inferior creatures, pronounced a dictum to the effect that the antiques in the room were real. Jack Newton, who had been telling himself exactly how he would describe the gathering to a certain show girl when he saw her just after midnight, commented that the liquor was old, too. Ferdie Vance-Talcott and Sanderson Dryer arrived. And still there was no sign of the ladies.
Bets were becoming extravagant and Harvey was repeating his conviction that “she” had yellow skin and feet like scows for the fourth time when the butler announced that dinner was served, and opened a pair of austere doors between the candelabra at the end of the drawing-room.
Ace had a quick vision of light, flowers, crystal, silver. Then his eyes fixed themselves on a figure that stood alone
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at the head of the table. There was no room for doubt; places were set for twelve. Eleven men trooped into the room, and the girl who stood with one hand on the white cloth and one hand against her breast, must be their hostess, the mysterious Elizabeth Something Illegible Tibett.
SHE was the smallest grown-up person that Ace had ever seen, and the most dignified.
“Good evening,” she said, and—as Hoby afterward put it—the idiot chorus echoed her words.
She was a slender, delicately built creature, with hair as black as patent leather. Her clothes were dowdy, almost shabby. She had on something shapeless, drab black, palpably home-made. Over it, incongruous as a diamond necklace over a beggar’s rags, she wore a Chinese coat of metal cloth so mellow, so tenderly woven, that it seemed a stream of molten gold in which jewels— rubies and Cashmere sapphires and scraps of jade—were dimly reflected. She stood alone. And astonishment seemed to put a spell over those young men, a spell that held them wordless and motionless, until Miss Tibett said with the ghost of a smile: "Pray be seated.”
Ace was glad to be at the other end of the table. For the time being he was eager simply to look and look. Peace and contentment flowed through him like gentle currents. Not until the first three courses had been removed did he r-ealize how sharply his reaction contrasted to that of the others; all at once he became aware of the horrible vacant silences in which he could literally feel the efforts of people thinking of something to say. The dinner was a failure. The imperturbable little hostess, with her face of an eighteen-year-old-girl, her manner of a dowager empress, and her quaint formal English, was a bit too thick for these youngsters accustomed to sunburned juveniles with slangy vocabularies. But to Ace she did not seem strange, except as the myths of childhood do. It was a familiar and expected strangeness, like the materialization of a cherished image. Once, during the meal, his eyes encountered hers. They exchanged a long, cool glance that was more articulate than speech, and Ace told himself exultantly that the thing called love-at-firstsignt was not a miracle invented for the convenience of novelists but a development as natural as the dawn of day.
For the others that evening dragged itself out in boredom and self-consciousness; for Ace it was pure enchantment. There were brief poignant moments when he looked at Elizabeth and Elizabeth looked at him; long intervals of hazy contentment that was almost slumber. The others talked, anxiously, feverishly, in self-defense; Ace was secure in silence.
Many beautiful and curious things garnished the walls and littered the tables of the drawing-room. In a comer, Ace came upon a small chest made of carved teak, with hinges and lock and an elaborate inlay of silver. The intricacy of the carving interested him, and he was following the pattern with his forefinger when he became aware of the girl beside him. She spoke, quite as though she had read his thoughts:
“It’s very old —the wood, that is. I think the hinges and lock were put on later, perhaps fifty or sixty years ago. My mother —whom I never knew—was fond of it, and that made dad value it highly. I used it when I was quite a little girl for ornaments, bracelets and chains and things I wore in my hair. Father used to dress me like a— well, an Oriental princess.”
“The wonderful thing,” Ace heard himself say, “is the balance. It looks so delicate, and still it’s a very strong box, really.”
“It is, indeed. But the Chinese know that secret. I think perhaps that Canadians are finding it, too, from another angle. In skyscrapers and bridges—-the gossamer network of steel you see against the clouds sometimes
—it’s very thrilling. You are perhaps an artist—an architect?”
“No. I lost my chance. A kind of vocational suicide.” And to his utter surprise, quite coldly and fairly, Ace found himself telling her about it.
Her understanding was like a basin that received the flood of his recollections and warmed them.
“Some day,” she said, “you are sure to have another chance. Meanwhile you must try to meet life more courageously—on its own terms.”
Before he could ask for an explanation she had turned to Lloyd, who was asking about the origin of a motif drawn on the hilt of a long sword. At the same moment Corky Ryan said, in a voice intended to be audible only to his immediate neighbor, that he blankety-blank well couldn’t stand another dot-dash minute of it. Soon afterward there was a general movement in the direction of the door, and Ace found himself carried along with the crowd.
Under the traffic light on the corner of the street. Corky — still swearing — suggested that they make a night of it; they needed a good old-fashioned binge after what they’d been through.
Ace Patterson went home alone. In pyjamas and an old dressing-gown, he sat in the dark, remembering a tiny figure in shabby black over which a glittering mantle was thrown—like, Ace thought, the mantle of romance that beautified the brutal shabbiness of life. He was still sitting there when the first rays of sunlight crossed the dusty window-sill and Harvey and Hoby came staggering home singing, “She was poor but she was honest.”
The next day passed in a daze. Ace was so immersed in his new happiness that he made ! several bad blunders at the bank and was I called to the manager’s office for a severe reprimand, which he scarcely heard. He came home tired, late that afternoon, to find that a largish bundle had been delivered by hand. It proved to be the box he had admired the night before, and Miss Tibett’s card, on which was written—in an odd, square, foreign script—the announcement that she was at home every day from five until seven. When Harvey asked him whether he was coming out to dinner Ace smiled seraphically and replied, “Isn’t it?" So they left him with the box on his knees, and he was irrationally thrilled to discover, in the padded interior, a jade bead and a tiny flower made of chips of amethyst.
The next afternoon promptly at five o’clock he presented himself at the Tibett mansion.
FOR a month thereafter life was one long halcyon day. Ace had fallen in love; suddenly, unreasoningly, in his own absentminded way. It was characteristic, too, that no material considerations interfered with his happiness. He had found the fairy princess who had figured in the myths of childhood, and it was only natural to assume that, by some mysterious agency, it would all end in the usual “lived-happily-forever-
Oddly enough, Ace and Elizabeth never spoke of love, per se. It was as if, tacitly understood, it was yet a frail ethereal structure that would not bear the weight of conversation. They talked of almost everything else. Of art and literature, of which Elizabeth knew a great deal more than Ace, of the younger generation in Canada, of which Ace knew a great deal more than Elizabeth, of themselves, their experiences, their ambitions. Elizabeth told him of her childhood, of the places she had visited, places that were scarcely more than visions with strange-sounding names; she told him about her father, with his wisdom that was so unlike the wisdom of his compatriots; and she spoke, in a small hurt voice, of her father’s last days in the gloomy house. At the very last, she said, he had been given the grace of a few beautiful, lucid hours, but
unfortunately she had been closeted with old Terhune, the lawyer, and it had been for the lawyer that Aaron Tibett had asked at the last, so that when Elizabeth came to him at length, the mist that was deatli was already drifting across the clear good eyes.
They did none of the things that the young people Ace had always known habitually did. They eschewed road houses and cocktail parties. They visited, instead, the museum and the art galleries—rather halfheartedly—and a concert or two. They took long walks through the poorer sections and along the water front. They sat in the gloomy house for hours and hours, staring into the fire without uttering a single word. Everything they did was enchanted, and they were happy as one believes only the enchanted characters of fairy stories ever can be.
One day when March was demonstrating its ability to come in like a lion and Ace was mooning about crocuses beneath the snow, a call came from the manager’s office. Fifteen minutes later Ace was a recruit to the army of the unemployed.
Then, for the first time, he said to himself, "Where will this end?” For the first time, he told himself that he was a dolt, a ninny, an incompetent who dreamed mighty dreams and lost his little job at the bank. He remembered, with red face and blazing eyes, how he had thought of the advantages of an alliance with five million dollars like the meanest of fortune hunters. For the first time, he saw himself, not as a romantic figure but as a lazy, useless ape, unworthy of his own good fortune.
He was still cursing himself and collecting his belongings and wondering what to do when a telephone call from Don Terhune, informed him that Terhune, senior, desired to see him pn business. With some idea of a job—although little or no idea of what sort —Ace wended his way to the building where the firm of J. J. & D. Terhune had offices.
OLD TERHUNE was not a prepossessing man at best, and Ace had never liked him so little as he did that afternoon when he looked at Terhune’s high white stock and upstanding grey hair across a glittering mahogany desk studded with pamphlets, memoranda, and little bells in neat rows of black and red. Old Terhune adjusted his glasses, which hung on a broad black ribbon, and said, in a cold voice that matched his cold blue eyes and cold long nose :
"You may be surprised to hear that I wish to speak to you about the will of the late Aaron Tibett.” Ace was surprised, and admitted it. “Nevertheless, you will be good enough to listen?” Ace nodded. “It is not within my realm, either as a lawyer or an executor of Mr. Tibett’s will,” said Mr. Terhune, “to question the sanity of my client at the time this document was indited. His daughter does not care to contest the will; therefore it remains valid. I believe you know that Miss Tibett is heiress to a fortune in excess of seven million dollars?” Ace mumbled that he knew she had “a lot of money.”
"Did Miss Tibett also tell you that she only retained her fortune upon certain—er— conditions?” Ace shook his head, and the lawyer cleared his throat several times. “My late client,” he said, “was at the last very much distressed by what he felt was a mistake in the—er—rearing of his child. He felt that his daughter was too—shall I say—innocent of modem Canadian manners to cope with the sort of life into which she was—er—projected. He was very much
afraid that she might contract an alliance that was unwise—or—unworthy. He naturally wished to assure himself that this contingency would not arise. You follow me?” “I can't see what business this is of mine, Mr. Terhune.”
“A little patience might be in order, young man. If you will give me your undivided attention—” He glared at Ace’s cigarette, still unlighted, and Ace dropped it hastily. “With a specific object in view,” continued Mr. Terhune, “my late client left a rather extraordinary will. His daughter Elizabeth inherits the bulk of his fortune on one condition. The condition, young man, is
this: that on or before the twenty-first of June of this year she shall be married, lawfully and legally, to one of the young men hereinafter mentioned; all sons of friends of my late client, and unattached, Mr. Patterson, un at—tached.” There followed a list of the names of the eleven men who had been present at the dinner on January fifteenth.
Ace, who was now very red both beneath and above the collar, again managed to utter a sentence indicating that it seemed an affair outside of his realm, but old Terhune cut him short with an angry grunt.
“The fact is, Mr. Patterson, that Miss Tibett has made a choice. It is not in my province to criticize my client’s taste. It is not in my province to say whether or not I think her choice is a wise one. I have a son of my own, Mr. Patterson, an intelligent young man, who will one day be a member of an old and honorable firm. It is not in my province, Mr. Patterson, to tell my client that she might have done better to choose a young man with such position and prospects—prospects, sir !—rather than a young man who has—you will excuse my candor, Mr. Patterson—a young man who as, I say and will repeat, neither. Miss Tibett, Mr. Patterson, wishes to marry you! The wedding, of course, will have to take place before June twenty-first. I need scarcely offer my—er—congratulations. You are a very fortunate young man. Whether you deserve it or not I am in no position to say. But you are—a—very—fortunate— young man.” He stopped speaking, and began to pick up papers with an air of finality.
Ace wanted to scream ; he wanted to fling open the window and breathe the cold March wind in great gulps. But he sat stunned, motionless. Seven million dollars —and only that morning he had been fired from a small salaried job ! It was, in sober truth, such an opportunity as comes but once in a thousand lifetimes and yet—the title of a film he had seen a month ago flashed before his eyes—“Kept Man.” The room went swimming about him; he felt dizzy and ill.
But in the midst of his dizziness he heard his voice, steady and low, speaking—saying something. Then, all at once, the lawyer was standing up, hammering on his desk; the lawyer's face looked like a flushed harvest moon with glasses on it, and a voice was roaring out of the face:
“Do you know what you’re saying, sir? Do you realize that you are turning down seven—million—dollars? ’ ’
It seemed aeons later that Ace came out into the cold street, and, with burning eyes and a weight like lead pressing against his chest, lost himself in the crowd that was emerging from the offices.
The halcyon days were over.
EVENTUALLY, of course, he had to explain his unreasonable depression to Hoby and Harvey. He tried to make a story —just a quaint story—of it. But they knew. Hoby especially knew. He said, “I wish I’d been the lucky bird,” and laughed, but his hand rested kindly on Ace’s shoulder. Harvey shouted, “You fool—you tripledanged fool—I wish I’d strangled you in your cradle!” And he went out of the apartment, slamming the door.
“Mark my words,” said Ace, with a wretched attempt at a flippant grin, “she’ll marry young Terhune.”
After that the weeks passed desolately— desert weeks, without even the mirage of hope. Ace got a job selling securities, and now he worked hard, feverishly, since every
minute of concentration was one minute less of acute torture. His absent mindedness disappeared. It was as though he no longer dared to brood, to dream, even to think. Whatever he did he did with an almost savage singleness of purpose. His new employers raised their eyebrows at the note in which his old employers described Ace as, “able but lazy and indifferent.” His new employers thought him an up-and-coming young fellow of the best Canadian type. At the end of March he received a substantial raise. In the middle of April he went to the head of the firm with an idea for the reorganization of certain branches, which was accepted after two weeks’ consideration.
Hoby thumped him on the back and tried to draw him by saying, “You aren’t the first fella’ who’s built a fortune on the comer stone of a broken heart.” Harvey merely smiled sleekly; he was busy getting himself engaged to the daughter of his boss.
Meanwhile Ace watched the papers, waiting in indescribable tension for the inevitable announcement. Once in a while, when he was alone, he would go to the Chinese chest, which he kept on his bureau, and touch it gently, following the intricate pattem with his forefinger. So May passed, and the first three weeks of June. On the twenty-first Ace came home from the office, haggard and visibly depressed. He had scarcely opened the door when Hoby was upon him, waving a newspaper and gesticulating.
“Well—its happened,” Harvey announced. “Now I hope you 11 be satisfied, you and your Elizabeth.”
Ace leaned against the wall and looked at the backs of his hands.
“Who’s the lucky man? Don Terhune?” “What an unmitigated ass you are,” groaned Harvey. “And selfish. Selfish isn't the half of it ! You’ve cost your lady love a round seven million, that’s’all. Hoby, give him the filthy paper ...” Hoby did.
Some bright reporter, it appeared, had got the story of the will. And there—with a flashlight photo and glaring outlines—the outcome was inscribed. News. That afternoon Miss Elizabeth Tibett had announced to the press that she was remaining single, thereby forfeiting all rights to the fortune of Aaron Tibett.
“And it’s all your fault, you vain, halfwitted pig.” Harvey concluded. “First a scholarship and then a fortune—why— where the devil has he gone?”
"Out,” said Hoby, laconic for once.
IN THE gloomy drawing-room of the gloomy house Ace found Elizabeth again. For a few minutes neither of them talked; then they both talked at once.
“But how was I to know you liked me?” Elizabeth enquired, “I’m such an insignificant, dowdy thing. When you refused, I thought—I thought you had just been nice because you were sorry for me. I never guessed you’d mind the money ...”
“How could you, when I was so lazy and futile and feather-brained? Oh, honey, honey-love, I’ve robbed you of everything.” “Don't be absurd, Alexander. As though I cared for my own sake. Only your dreams. Oh, darling, the wonderful dreams I wanted to fulfil for you ...”
“Never mind the dreams, child,” said Ace, as he stroked her beautiful black hair. “I know now what you meant by meeting life courageously, on its own terms. Perhaps some day ...”
So they were married, and what remains of the story is by way of being a postscript.
They were married in July, when the seas are blue and the sands hot, when the country
smells of roses and the city smells of gasoline fumes. The ceremony took place at a small church, with Harvey and Hoby for witnesses; and afterward, because they all agreed that the gloomy house was really a gloomy house, they had a wedding supper at Ace’s apartment, where they were so crowded that they almost smothered. The ten men who had been at the famous dinner were all invited. Young Terhune stayed away, and Toddy Grenough was in Europe, but all the others came, and Corky brought his latest show girl, and Harvey invited his pretty blonde fiancée, and Hoby produced two chubby sisters—twins, of course. Everybody agreed that no two people since Adam and Eve had ever been quite so immersed in one another as Ace and Elizabeth.
At length the ceremony was over. Corky drove to the door in the smart little coupé which he was lending the Pattersons for their honeymoon. They were about to leave when Hoby, unsteady as to balance but amiable as ever, appeared on the stairs holding the Chinese chest. “Property of the gride and broom,” Hoby averred, and, raising the chest reverently to his lips, he made a deep bow. The bow was just a fraction of an inch too deep. Hoby, having miscalculated a trifling mathematical problem, overbalanced and came hurtling down the steps in a series of somersaults from which he recovered like an acrobat, or rather like a rubber ball, rebounding to his feet with a dazed expression and empty hands.
Meanwhile the box had received the full measure of Hoby’s weight. The box, indeed, had landed on the pavement with a resounding whack that split the wooden lid from end to end. Simultaneously a spring must have been touched, for a lid had opened within the lid, revealing a folded white paper beneath.
IN A snug small room looking out toward the lake, Elizabeth and Ace, side by side, unfolded that paper.
“My dear daughter,” Ace read aloud. “Realizing that my end is very near and being at this moment in full possession of all my faculties, I am writing you this letter. For some time past I have been feverish and in my fever unreasonably distressed as to the result of your contact with a social circle to which you are quite strange. In this mood, and, I feel, in an abnormal state, I made a will which I now know to have been both unjust and unreasonable. I am too well acquainted with your good sense to have any need to impose conditions in the disposition of my fortune. I am therefore appending my last will and testament, witnessed by my two nurses, Julia Harbinger and Ruth Klein, in which the property is equally divided between you and such charities as you see fit to endow. I have already written a letter to Mr. Terhune advising him of this second will and telling him that I am placing it for safe keeping in the secret compartment of this box.”
The letter was signed by Aaron Tibett, and the will enclosed.
“I always supposed there was a later will,” Elizabeth observed calmly. “Both nurses told me so. But since Mr. Terhune denied any knowledge whatever—”
“The blackguard!” stormed Ace. “I’ll wring his scrawny neck !”
Elizabeth laughed. “I wouldn’t, Ace. He doesn’t look very much like the blind bowboy, but after all, as far as we’re concerned—” She paused. “Ace?”
“You know my middle name?”
“Why, no,” Ace confessed. “I’m afraid I never managed to read it.”
“It’s Kuan Yin. My father named me after the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. So don’t you think we might start our married
“Oh, yes,” Ace murmured dreamily, “I do.”
And here the postscript ends.