Naturally I landed in Dutch House. And there - the first thing I
noticed when I went in was old Shaynon, sitting at the same table you
took, later - waiting. Imagine my surprise - I'd left him at the Bizarre
not thirty minutes before!"
"I'm imagining it, Peter. Get ahead."
"I hailed him, but he wouldn't recognise me - simply glared. Presently
Red November came in and they went upstairs together. So I stuck
around, hoping to get hold of Red and make him drunk enough to talk.
Curiously enough when Shaynon left, Red came directly to my table and
sat down. But by that time I'd had some champagne on top of whiskey
and was beginning to know that if I pumped in anything more, it'd be
November's party instead of mine. And when he tried to insist on my
drinking more, I got scared - feeling what I'd had as much as I did."
"You're not the fool you try to seem," P. Sybarite conceded. "I heard
November promise Shaynon, at the door, that you wouldn't remember much
when you came to. The old scoundrel didn't want to be seen - hadn't
expected to be recognised and, when he found you'd followed, planned
to fix things so that you'd never tell on him."
"That's what I'm trying to figure out. There's some sort of shenanigan
brewing, or my first name's Peter, the same as yours - which I wish it
was so.... Be quiet a bit and let me think."
For a little while P. Sybarite sat pondering with vacant eyes; and the
wounded boy stared upward with a frown, as though endeavouring to
puzzle the answer to this riddle out of the blankness of the ceiling.
"What time does this Hadley-Owen party break up?"
"Not till daylight. It's the last big fixture of the social season,
and ordinarily they keep it up till sunrise."
"It'll be still going, then?"
"Strong. They'll be in full swing, now, of after-supper dancing."
"That settles it: I'm going."
The boy lifted on his elbow in amaze, then subsided with a grunt of
"You say you've got a costume of some sort here? I'll borrow it. We're
much of a size."
"Heaven knows you're welcome, but - "
"You have no invitation."
Rising, P. Sybarite smiled loftily. "Don't worry about that. If I
can't bribe my way past a cordon of mercenary foreign waiters - and
talk down any other opposition - I'm neither as flush as I think nor as
"But what under the sun do you want there?"
"To see what's doing - find out for myself what devilment Brian
Shaynon's hatching. Maybe I'll do no good - and maybe I'll be able to
put a spoke in his wheel. To do that - once - _right_ - I'd be willing to
die as poor as I've lived till this blessed night!"
He paused an instant on the threshold of his cousin's bedroom; turned
back a sombre visage.
"I've little love for Brian Shaynon, myself, or none. You know what he
did to me - and mine."
Late enough in all conscience was the last guest to arrive for the
Already town-cars, carriages, and private 'busses were being called
for and departing with their share of the more seasoned and
sober-sided revellers, to whom bed and appetite for breakfast had come
to mean more than a chance to romp through a cotillion by the light of
the rising sun - to say discreetly little or nothing of those other
conveyances which had borne away _their_ due proportion of far less
sage and by no means sober-sided ones, who yet retained sufficient
sense of the fitness of things to realise that bed followed by
matutinal bromides would be better for them than further dalliance
with the effervescent and evanescent spirits of festivity.
More and more frequently the elevators, empty but for their
attendants, were flying up to the famous ball-room floor of the
Bizarre, to descend heavy-laden with languid laughing parties of
gaily-costumed ladies and gentlemen no less brilliantly
attired - prince and pauper, empress and shepherdess, monk, milkmaid,
and mountebank: all weary yet reluctant in their going.
And at this hour a smallish gentleman, in an old-style Inverness
opera-coat that cloaked him to his ankles, with an opera hat set
jauntily a wee bit askew on his head, a mask of crimson silk covering
his face from brows to lips, slipped silently like some sly, sinister
shadow through the Fifth Avenue portals of the Bizarre, and shaped a
course by his wits across the lobby to the elevators, so discreetly
and unobtrusively that none of the flunkeys in attendance noticed his
In effect, he didn't arrive at all, but suddenly was there.
A car, discharging its passengers before the smallish gentleman could
catch the eye of its operator, flew suddenly upward in the echo of a
gate slammed shut in his face; and all the other cars were still at
the top, according to the bronze arrows of their tell-tale dials. The
late arrival held up patiently; but after an instant's deliberation,
doffed his hat, crushed it flat, slipped out of his voluminous cloak,
and beckoned a liveried attendant.
In the costume thus disclosed, he cut an impish figure: "Satan on the
half-shell," Peter Kenny had christened him.
A dress coat of black satin fitted P. Sybarite more neatly than him
for whom it had been made. The frilled bosom of his shirt was set with
winking rubies, and the lace cuffs at his wrists were caught together
with rubies - whether real or false, like coals of fire: and ruby was
the hue both of his satin mask and his satin small-clothes. Buckles of
red paste brilliants burned on the insteps of his slender polished
shoes with scarlet heels; and his snug black silk stockings set off
ankles and calves so well-turned that the Prince of Sin himself might
have taken pride in them. For boutonnière he wore a smouldering
ember - so true an imitation that at first he himself had hesitated to
touch it. Literally to crown all, his ruddy hair was twisted upward
from each temple in a cornuted fashion that was most vividly
"Here," he said, surrendering hat and coat to the servitor before the
latter could remonstrate - "take and check these for me, please. I
shan't be going for some time yet."
"Sorry, sir, but the cloak-room down 'ere 's closed, sir. You'll have
to check them on the ball-room floor above."
"No matter," said the little man: and groping in a pocket, he produced
a dollar bill and tendered it to ready fingers; "you keep 'em for me,
down here. It'll save time when I'm ready to go."
"Very good, sir. Thank you."
"You won't forget me?"
The flunkey grinned. "You're the only gentleman I've seen to-night,
sir, in a costume anything like your own."
"There's but one of me in the Union," said the gentleman, sententious:
"my spear knows no brother."
"Thank you, sir," said the servant civilly, making off.
With an air of some dubiety, the little man watched him go.
"I say!" he cried suddenly - "come back!"
He was obeyed.
A second dollar bill appeared as it were by magic between his fingers.
The flunkey stared.
"Beg pardon, sir?"
"Take it" - impatiently.
"Thank you." The well-trained fingers executed their most familiar
manoeuvre. "But - m'y I ask, sir - wot's it for?"
"You called me a gentleman just now."
"You were right."
"Quite so, sir."
"The devil _is_ a gentleman," the masquerader insisted firmly.
"So I've always 'eard, sir."
"Then you may go; you've earned the other dollar."
Obsequiousness stared: "M'y I ask, 'ow so?"
"By standing for that antediluvian bromidiom. I had to get it off my
chest to somebody, or else blow up. Far better to hire an audience
when you can't be original. Remember that; you've been paid: you
"Thankyousir," said the lackey blankly.
"And now - avaunt - before I brand thee for mine own!"
The little gentleman flung out an imperative, melodramatic arm; and
veritable sparks sprayed from his crackling finger-tips. The servant
retired in haste and dismay.
"'E's balmy - or screwed - or the Devil 'imself!" he muttered....
Beneath his mask the little man grinned privately at the man's
"Piker!" said he severely - "sharpening your wits on helpless servants.
A waiter has no friends, anyway!"
An elevator, descending, discharged into the lobby half a dozen
mirthful maskers. Of these, a Scheherazade of bewitching prettiness
(in a cloak of ermine!) singled out the silent, cynical little
gentleman in scarlet mask and smalls, and menaced him merrily with a
"What - you, Lucifer! Traitor! Where have you been all evening?"
"Madame!" - he bowed mockingly - "in spirit, always at your ear."
She flushed and bit her lip in charming confusion; while an abbess,
with face serene in the frame of her snowy coif, caught up the ball of
"Ah, in spirit! But in the flesh?"
"Why, poppet!" he retorted in suave surprise - "it isn't possible that
_you_ missed me?"
And she, too, coloured; while a third, a girl dressed all in buckskin
from beaded hunting-shirt to fringed leggings and dainty moccasins,
bent to peer into his face.
"Who are you?" she demanded curiously. "I don't seem to know you - "
"That, child, you have already proved."
"I?... Proved?... How do you mean?"
"You alone have not yet blushed."
And wheeling mischievously to the others, he covered them with
widespread hands in burlesque benediction.
"The unction of my deep damnation abide with ye, my children, now and
forevermore!" he chanted, showering sparks from crepitant finger-tips;
and bounded lightly into the elevator.
"But your mask!" protested Scheherazade in a pet. "You've no
right - when we all unmasked at supper."
Through the iron fretwork of the gate, the little gentleman shot a
Parthian spark or two.
"I wear no mask!" he informed them solemnly as the car shot from
The conceit tickled him; he had it still in mind when he alighted at
the ball-room floor.
Pausing in the anteroom, he struck an artificial pose on his high red
heels and stroked thin, satiric lips with slender fingers, reviewing
the crush with eyes that glinted light-hearted malice through the
scarlet visor; seeking a certain one and finding her not among those
many about him - their gay exotic trappings half hidden beneath wraps
of modern convention assumed against impending departure.
A hedge of backs hid from him the ball-room, choking the wide, high
arch of its entrance.
Turning to one side, he began to pick a slow way through the press,
and so presently found himself shoulder to shoulder with elderly and
pompous Respectability in a furred great-coat; who, all ready for the
street, with shining topper poised at breast-level, had delayed his
going for an instant's guarded confabulation with a youngish man
conspicuous in this, that he, alone of all that company, was in simple
Their backs were toward P. Sybarite, but by the fat pink folds above
the back of Respectability's collar and the fat white side-whiskers
adorning his plump pink chops, Beelzebub knew that he encountered for
the second time that evening Respectability of the gold-capped cane.
Without the least shame, he paused and cocked sharp ears to catch what
he could of the conversation between these two.
Little enough he profited by his open eavesdropping; what he heard was
scarcely illuminating when applied to the puzzle that haunted him.
"She won't - that's flat," Respectability's companion announced in a
By the tone of this last Beelzebub knew that it issued from an ugly
"But," Respectability insisted heavily - "You're sure you've done your
best to persuade her?"
"She won't listen to reason."
"Well ... everything's arranged. You have me to thank for that."
"Oh," sneered the younger man, "you've done a lot, you have!"
And then, moving to give way to another making toward the elevators,
Brian Shaynon discovered at his elbow that small attentive body in
sinister scarlet and black.
For a breath, utterance failed the old man. He glared pop-eyed
indignation from a congested countenance, his fat lips quivering and
his jowls as well; and then as Beelzebub tapped him familiarly if
lightly upon the chest, his face turned wholly purple, from swollen
temples to pendulous chin.
"Well met, _âme damnée_!" P. Sybarite saluted him gaily. "Are you
indeed off so early upon my business?"
"Damnation!" exclaimed Brian Shaynon, all but choking.
"It shall surely be your portion," gravely assented the little man.
"To all who in my service prosper in a worldly way - damnation, upon my
honourable Satanic word!"
"Who the devil - ?"
"_Whisht!_" P. Sybarite reproved. "A trifle more respect, if you
please - lest you wake in the morning to find all my benefactions
turned to ashes in your strong-boxes!"
But here Respectability found his full voice.
"Who are you?" he demanded so stormily that heads turned curiously his
way. "I demand to know! Remove that mask! Impertinent - !"
"Mask?" purred Beelzebub in a tone of wonder. "I wear no mask!"
"No mask!" stammered the older man, in confusion.
"Nay, _I_ am frankly what I am - old Evil's self," P. Sybarite
explained blandly; "but you, Brian Shaynon - now you go always masked:
waking or sleeping, hypocrisy's your lifelong mask. You see the
distinction, old servant?"
In another moment he might have suffered a sound drubbing with the
ebony cane but for Peter Kenny's parlour-magic trick. For as Brian
Shaynon started forward to seize Beelzebub by the collar, a stream of
incandescent sparks shot point-blank into his face; and when he fell
back in puffing dismay, Beelzebub laughed provokingly, ducked behind
the backs of a brace of highly diverted bystanders, and quickly and
deftly wormed his way through the press to the dancing-floor itself.
As for the younger man - he of the unhandsome mouth - P. Sybarite was
content to hold him in reserve, to be dealt with later, at his
leisure. For the present, his business pressed with the waning night.
In high feather, bubbling with mischief, he sidled along the wall a
little way, then halted to familiarise himself with scene and
atmosphere against his next move.
But after the first minute or two, spent in silent review of the
brilliant scene, his thin lips lost something of their cynic
modelling, the eyes behind the scarlet visor something of their
mischievous twinkle - softening with shadows envious and regretful.
The room was as one vast pool of limpid golden light, walls and
ceilings so luminous with the refulgence of a thousand electric bulbs
that they seemed translucent, glowing with a radiance from beyond.
On the famous floor, twelve-score couples swung and swayed to the
intoxicating rhythms of an unseen orchestra; kaleidoscopic in their
amazingly variegated costuming of colour, drifting past the lonely,
diabolical little figure, an endless chain of paired anachronisms.
Searching narrowly each fair face that flashed past in another's arms,
he waited with seeming patience. But the music buzzed in his brain and
his toes tingled for it; breathing the warm, voluptuous air, he
inhaled hints of a thousand agreeable and exciting scenes; watching,
he perceived in perturbation the witchery of a hundred exquisite
women. And a rancorous discontent gnawed at his famished heart.
This was all his by right of birth - should be his now, but for the
blind malice of his sorry destiny. _Kismet_ had favoured him greatly,
but too late....
But of a sudden he forgot self-pity and vain repining, in the
discovery of the one particular woman swinging dizzily past in the
arms of an Incroyable, whose giddy plumage served only to render the
more striking her exquisite fairness and the fine simplicity of her
For she was all in the black-and-white uniform of a Blessington
shopgirl; black skirt and blouse, stockings and pumps, relieved by
showy linen at throat and wrists, with at waist the white patch of a
tiny lace-and-linen apron.
Perhaps it was his start of recognition; it may have been the very
fixed intensity of his regard; whatever drew it, her gaze veered to
his silent and aloof figure, and for an instant his eyes held hers. At
once, to his consternation, the hot blood stained her lovely face from
throat to brow; her glance wavered, fell in confusion, then as though
by a strong effort of will alone, steadied once more to his. Nodding
with an air of friendly diffidence, she flashed him a strange,
perplexing smile; and was swept on and away.
For a thought he checked his breath in stupefaction. Had she, then,
recognised him? Was it possible that her intuition had been keen
enough to pierce his disguise, vizard and all?
But the next moment he could have sworn in chagrined appreciation of
his colossal stupidity. Of course! - his costume was that worn by Peter
Kenny earlier in the evening; and as between Peter and himself, of the
same stock, the two were much of a muchness in physique; both,
moreover, were red-headed; their points of unlikeness were negligible,
given a mask.
So after all, her emotion had been due solely to embarrassment and
regret for the pain she had caused poor Peter by refusing his offer of
Well!... P. Sybarite drew a long, sane breath, laughed wholesomely at
himself, and thereafter had eyes only to keep the girl in sight,
however far and involved her wanderings through the labyrinth of the
In good time the music ended; the fluent movement of the dancers
subsided with a curious effect of eddying - like confetti settling to
rest; and P. Sybarite left his station by the wall, slipping like
quicksilver through the heart of the throng to the far side of the
room, where, near a great high window wide to the night, the
breathless shopgirl had dropped into a chair.
At Beelzebub's approach the Incroyable, perhaps mindful of obligations
in another quarter, bowed and moved off, leaving the field temporarily
She greeted him with a faint recurrence of her former blush.
"Why, Peter!" she cried - and so sealed with confirmation his surmise
as to her mistake - "I was wondering what had become of you. I thought
you must have gone home."
"Peter did go home," P. Sybarite affirmed gravely, bending over her
His voice perplexed her tremendously. She opened eyes wide.
"Peter!" she exclaimed reproachfully - "you promised it wouldn't make
any difference. We were to go on just as always - good friends. And
"Yes?" P. Sybarite prompted as she faltered.
"I don't like to say it, Peter, but - your voice is so different.
You've not been - doing anything foolish, have you?"
"Peter hasn't," the little man lied cheerfully; "Peter went home to
sulk like the unwhipped cub he is; and sulking, was yet decent enough
to lend me these rags."
"You - you're not Peter Kenny?"
"No more than you are Molly Lessing."
"Molly Lessing! What do you know - ? Who can you be? Why are you
"Simply," he explained pleasantly, "that my incognito may remain such
to all save you."
"But - but who _are_ you?"
"It is permitted?" he asked, with a gesture offering to take the tiny
printed card of dance engagements that dangled from her fingers by its
In dumb mystification the girl surrendered it.
Seating himself beside her, P. Sybarite ran his eye down the list.
"The last was number - which?" he enquired with unruffled impudence.
Half angry, half amused, wholly confused, she told him: "Fifteen."
"Then one number only remains."
His lips hardened as he read the initials pencilled opposite that
numeral; they were "B.S."
"Bayard Shaynon?" he queried.
She assented with a nod, her brows gathering.
Coolly, with the miniature pencil attached to the card, he changed the
small, faint _B_ to a large black _P_, strengthened the _S_ to
correspond, and added to that _ybarite_; then with a bow returned the
The girl received the evidence of her senses with a silent gasp.
He bowed again: "Yours to command."
"You - Mr. Sybarite!"
"I, Miss Blessington."
"But - incredible!" she cried. "I can't believe you ..."
Facing her, he lifted his scarlet visor, meeting her stare with his
wistful and diffident smile.
[Illustration: Facing her, he lifted his scarlet visor.]
"You see," he said, readjusting the mask.
"But - what does this mean?"
"Do you remember our talk on the way home after _Kismet_ - four hours
or several years ago: which is it?"
"I remember we talked ..."
"And I - clumsily enough, Heaven knows! - told you that I'd go far for
one who'd been kind and tolerant to me, if she were in trouble and
could use my poor services?"
"I remember - yes."
"You suspected - surely - it was yourself I had in mind?"
"Why, yes; but - "
"And you'll certainly allow that what happened later, at the door,
when I stood in the way of the importunate Mr. 'B.S.' - if I'm not
sadly in error - was enough to convince any one that you needed a
friend's good offices?"
"So," she said softly, with glimmering eyes - "so for that you followed
me here, Mr. Sybarite!"
"I wish I might claim it. But it wouldn't be true. No - I didn't follow
"Please," she begged, "don't mystify me - "
"I don't mean to. But to tell the truth, my own head is still awhirl
with all the chapter of accidents that brought me here. Since you
flew off with B.S., following afoot, I've traversed a vast deal of
adventure - to wind up here. If," he added, grinning, "this is the
wind-up. I've a creepy, crawly feeling that it isn't...."
"Miss Blessington," he pursued seriously, "if you have patience to
listen to what I've been through since we parted in Thirty-eighth
Street - ?" Encouraged by her silence he went on: "I've broken the bank
at a gambling house; been held up for my winnings at the pistol's
point - but managed to keep them. I've been in a raid and escaped only
after committing felonious assault on two detectives. I then
burglarised a private residence, and saved the mistress of the house
from being murdered by her rascally husband - blundered thence to
the deadliest dive in New York - met and slanged mine ancient enemy,
the despoiler of my house - took part in a drunken brawl - saved my
infatuated young idiot of a cousin, Peter Kenny, from assassination - took
him home, borrowed his clothing, and impudently invited myself to this
party on the mere suspicion that 'Molly Lessing' and Marian Blessington
might be one and the same, after all!... And all, it appears, that I
might come at last to beg a favour of you."
"I can't think what it can be," breathed the girl, dumfounded.
"To forgive my unpardonable impertinence - "
"I've not been conscious of it."
"You'll recognise it immediately. I am about to transgress your
privacy with a question - two, in fact. Will you tell me, please, in
confidence, why you refused my cousin, Peter Kenny, when he asked you
to marry him?"
Colouring, she met his eyes honestly.
"Because - why, it was so utterly absurd! He's only a boy. Besides, I
don't care for him - that way."
"You care for some one else - 'that way'?"
"Yes," said the girl softly, averting her face.
"Is it - Mr. Bayard Shaynon?"
"No," she replied after a perceptible pause.
"But you have promised to marry him?"
"I once made him that promise - yes."
"You mean to keep it?"
"It was my father's wish."
"And yet - you don't like him!"
Looking steadily before her, the girl said tensely: "I loathe him."
"Then," cried P. Sybarite in a joyful voice, "I may tell you
something: you needn't marry him."
She turned startled eyes to his, incredulous.
"I should have said _can_ not - "
Through the loud hum of voices that, filling the room, had furnished a
cover for their conversation, sounded the opening bars of music for
the final dance.
The girl rose suddenly, eyes like stars aflame in a face of snow.
"He will be coming for me now," she said hurriedly. "But - if you mean
what you say - I must know - instantly - why you say it. How can we
manage to avoid him?"
"This way," said P. Sybarite, indicating the wide window nearby.
Through its draped opening a shallow balcony showed, half-screened by
palms whose softly stirring fronds, touched with artificial light,
shone a garish green against the sombre sky of night.
Immediately Marian Blessington slipped through the hangings and,
turning, beckoned P. Sybarite to follow.
"There's no one here," she announced in accents tremulous with
excitement, when he joined her. "Now - _now_ tell me what you mean!"
"One moment," he warned her gently, turning back to the window just as
it was darkened by another figure.