equally with old _Hajj_. I'm sure that, like him, the sunset of my Day
would see me proscribed, a price upon my head."
"But - why?"
"I'm afraid I'd try to use my power to right old wrongs."
After a pause, she asked diffidently: "Your own?"
"Perhaps.... Yes, my own, certainly.... And perhaps another's, not so
old but possibly quite as grievous."
"Somebody you care for a great deal?"
Thus tardily made to realise into what perils his fancy was leading
him, he checked and weighed her question with his answer, gravely
"Perhaps I'd better not say that," he announced, a grin tempering his
temerity; "but I'd go far for a friend, somebody who had been kind to
me, and - ah - tolerant - if she were in trouble and could use my
He fancied her glance was quick and sharp and searching; but her voice
when she spoke was even and lightly attuned to his whimsical mood.
"Then you're not even sure she - your friend - is in trouble?"
"I've an intuition: she wouldn't be where she is if she wasn't."
Her laughter at this absurdity was delightful; whether with him or at
him, it was infectious; he echoed it without misgivings.
"But - seriously - you're not sure, are you, Mr. Sybarite?"
"Only, Miss Lessing," he said soberly, "of my futile, my painfully
futile good will."
She seemed to start to speak, to think better of it, to fall silent in
sudden, shy constraint. He stole a side-long glance, troubled,
wondering if perhaps he had ventured too impudently, pursuing his whim
to the point of trespass upon the inviolable confines of her reserve.
She wore a sweet, grave face, _en profile_; her eyes veiled with long
lashes, the haunts of tender shadows; her mouth of gracious lips
unsmiling, a little triste. Compunctions smote him; with his crude and
clumsy banter he had contrived to tune her thoughts to sadness. He
would have given worlds to undo that blunder; to show her that he had
meant neither a rudeness nor a wish to desecrate her reticence, but
only an indirect assurance of gratitude to her for suffering him and
willingness to serve her within the compass of his poverty-stricken
powers. For in retrospect his invitation assumed the proportions of an
importunity, an egregious piece of presumption: so that he could have
groaned to contemplate it.
He didn't groan, save inwardly; but respected her silence, and held
his own in humility and mortification of spirit until they were near
the dooryard of their boarding-house. And even then it was the girl
who loosed his tongue.
"Why - where are they?" she asked in surprise.
Startled out of the deeps of self-contempt, P. Sybarite discovered
that she meant Violet and George, who were nowhere visible.
"Violet said something about a little supper in her room," explained
"I know," he replied: "crackers and cheese, beer and badinage: our
humble pleasures. You'll be bored to extinction - but you'll come,
"Why, of course! I counted on it. But - "
"They must have hurried on to make things ready - Violet to set her
room to rights, George to tote the wash-pitcher to the corner for the
beer. And very likely, pending our arrival, they're lingering at the
head of the stairs for a kiss or two."
The girl paused at the gate. "Then we needn't hurry," she suggested,
"We needn't delay," he countered amiably. "If somebody doesn't
interrupt 'em before long, George will be too late to get the pitcher
filled. This town shuts up tight at midnight, Saturdays - if you want
to believe everything you hear. So there's no need of being too
indulgent with our infatuated fellow-inmates."
"But - just a minute, Mr. Sybarite," she insisted.
"As many as you wish," he laughed. "As a matter of fact, I loathe
"Do be serious," she begged. "I want to thank you."
He was aware of a proffered hand, slender and fine in a shabby glove;
and took it in his own, uneasily conscious of a curious disturbance in
his bosom, of a strange and not unpleasant sense of commingled
expectancy, pleasure, and diffidence (as far as he was able to analyse
it - or cared to - at that instant).
"It was kind of you to come," he said jerkily, in his embarrassment.
"I enjoyed every moment," she said warmly. "But that wasn't all I
meant when I thanked you."
His eyebrows climbed with surprise.
"What else, Miss Lessing?"
"Your delicacy in letting me know you understood - "
Disengaging her hand, she broke off with a startled movement, and a
low cry of surprise.
A taxicab, swinging into the street from Eighth Avenue, had boiled up
to the curb before the gate, and pausing, discharged a young man in a
hurry; witness the facts that he had the door open when halfway
between the corner and the house, and was on the running-board before
the vehicle was fairly at a halt.
In a stride this one crossed the sidewalk and pulled up, silently,
trying to master the temper which was visibly shaking him. Tall,
well-proportioned, impressively turned out in evening clothes, he
thrust forward a handsome face marred by an evil, twisted mouth, and
peered searchingly at the girl.
Instinctively she shrank back inside the fence, eyeing him with a look
of fascinated dismay.
As instinctively P. Sybarite bristled between the two.
"Well?" he snapped at the intruder.
An impatient gesture of a hand immaculately gloved in white abolished
him completely - as far, at least, as the other was concerned.
"Ah - Miss Lessing, I believe?"
The voice was strong and musical but poisoned with a malicious triumph
that grated upon the nerves of P. Sybarite; he declined to be
"Say the word," he suggested serenely to the girl, "and I'll bundle
this animal back into that taxi and direct the driver to the nearest
accident ward. I'd rather like to, really."
"Get rid of this microbe," interrupted the other savagely - "unless you
want him buried between glass slides under a microscope."
The girl turned to P. Sybarite with pleading eyes and imploring hands.
"If you please, dear Mr. Sybarite," she begged in a tremulous voice:
"I'm afraid I must speak alone with this" - there was a barely
perceptible pause - gentleman. If you won't mind waiting a moment - at
the door - ?"
"If it pleases you, Miss Lessing - most certainly." He drew back a step
or two. "But speaking of microbes," he added incisively, "a word of
advice: don't tease 'em. My bite is deadly: neither Pasteur nor your
family veterinary could save you."
Ignored by the man, but satisfied in his employment of the last word,
he strutted back to the brownstone stoop, there to establish himself,
out of earshot but within, easy hail.
Hearing nothing, he made little more of the guarded conference that
began on his withdrawal. The man, entering the dooryard, had cornered
the girl in an angle of the fence. He seemed at once insistent,
determined, and thoroughly angry; while she exhibited perfect
composure with some evident contempt and implacable obstinacy.
Nevertheless, in a brace of minutes the fellow seemingly brought forth
some telling argument. She wavered and her accents rose in doubt:
"Is that true?"
His reply, if inaudible, was as forcible as it was patently an
"I don't believe you!"
"You don't dare doubt me."
This time he was clearly articulate, and betrayed a conviction that he
had won the day: an impression borne out by the evident irresolution
of the girl, prefacing her abrupt surrender.
"Very well," she said in a tone of resignation.
He moved aside, to give her way through the gate. But she hung back,
with a glance for P. Sybarite.
"One moment, please," she said: "I must leave a message."
"Nonsense - !"
She showed displeasure in the lift of her chin. "I think I'm my own
mistress - as yet."
He growled indistinguishably.
"You have my promise," she cut him short coldly. "Wait for me." And
she turned back to the house.
Wondering, P. Sybarite went to meet her. Impulsively she gave him her
hand a second time; with as little reflection, he took it in both his
"Is there nothing I can do?"
Her voice was broken: "I don't know. I must go - it's imperative....
Could you - ?... I wonder!"
"Anything you ask," he asserted confidently.
Hesitating briefly, in a tone little above a whisper: "I must go," she
repeated. "I can't refuse. But - alone. Do you understand - ?"
"You mean - without him?" P. Sybarite nodded toward the man fuming in
"Yes. If you could suggest something to detain him long enough for me
to get into the cab and say one word to the chauffeur - "
The chest of P. Sybarite swelled.
"Leave it to me," he said with fine simplicity.
"Molly!" cried the man at the gate.
"Don't answer," P. Sybarite advised: "if you don't, he'll lose
patience and come to fetch you. And then - "
"But I'm afraid he may - "
"Don't you fear for me: God's good to the Irish."
"Do be quiet," suggested P. Sybarite, not altogether civilly.
The other started as if slapped.
"What's that?" he barked in a rage.
"I said, hold your tongue."
"The devil you did!" With a snort the man strode in to the stoop. "Do
you know who you're talking to?" he demanded wrathfully, towering over
P. Sybarite, momentarily forgetful of the girl.
Stepping aside, as if in alarm, she moved behind the fellow, and
darted through the gate.
"I don't," P. Sybarite admitted amiably; "but your nose annoys me."
He fixed that feature with an irritating glare.
"You impudent puppy!" stormed the other. "Who are you?"
"Who - me?" echoed P. Sybarite in surprise. (The girl was now
instructing the chauffeur.) "Why," he drawled, "I'm the guy that put
the point in disappointment. Sure you've heard of _me_?"
At the curb, the door of the taxicab closed with a slam.
Simultaneously the drone of the motor thickened to a rumble. The man
with the twisted mouth turned just in time to see it drawing away.
"_Hi!_" he cried in surprise and dismay.
But the taxi didn't pause; to the contrary, it stretched out toward
Ninth Avenue at a quickening pace.
With profanity appreciating the fact that he had been tricked, he
picked up his heels in pursuit. But P. Sybarite had not finished with
him. Deftly plucking the man back by the tail of his full-skirted
opera coat, he succeeded in arresting his flight before it was fairly
"Here!" he protested. "What's your hurry?"
With a vicious snarl, the man turned and snatched at his cloak. But P.
Sybarite adhered tenaciously to the coat.
"We were discussing your nose - "
At discretion, he interrupted himself to duck beneath the swing of a
powerful fist. And this last, failing to find a mark, threw its owner
off his balance. Tripping awkwardly over the low curbing of the
dooryard walk, he reeled and went a-sprawl on his knees, while his hat
fell off and (such is the impish habit of toppers) rolled and bounded
several feet away.
Releasing the cloak, P. Sybarite withdrew to a respectful remove and
held himself coolly alert against reprisals that never came. The other
picked himself up quickly, cast about for the taxicab, discovered it
swiftly making off - already twenty yards distant - and with a howl of
rage bounded through the gate and gave chase at the top of his speed.
Gravely, P. Sybarite retrieved the hat and followed to the curbing.
"Hey!" he shouted after the fast retreating figure - "here's your
But he wasted breath. The taxicab was nearing Ninth Avenue, its
pursuer sprinting bravely a hundred feet to the rear, and as he
watched, both turned the northern corner and vanished like shapes of
Sighing, P. Sybarite went back to the stoop and sat down to consider
the state of his soul (which was vain-glorious) and the condition of
the hat (which was soiled, rumpled, and disreputable).
WHEELS OF CHANCE
Turning the affair over in his mind, and considering it from every
imaginable angle, P. Sybarite decided (fairly enough) that it was, on
the whole, mysterious; lending at least some colour of likelihood to
George's gratuitous guess-work.
Certainly it would seem that one had now every right to assume Miss
Molly Lessing to be other than as she chose to seem; nowadays the
villain in shining evening dress doesn't pursue the shrinking
shop-girl save through the action of the obsolescent mellerdrammer or
of the ubiquitous moving-picture reel. So much must at least be said
for these great educators: they have broken the villain of his
open-face attire; to-day he knows better, and when prowling to devour,
disguises himself in the guileless if nobby "sack suit" of the widely
advertised Kollege Kut brand....
In short, Molly Lessing might very well be Marian Blessington, after
In which case the man with the twisted mouth was, more probably than
not, none other than that same Bayard Shaynon whom the young lady was
reported to have jilted so arbitrarily.
Turning the topper over in his hands, it occurred to P. Sybarite to
wonder if he did not, in it, hold a valuable clue to this riddle of
identity. Promptly he took the hat indoors to find out, investigating
it most thoroughly by the flickering, bluish glare of the lonely
gas-jet that burned in the hallway.
It was a handsome and heavy hat of English manufacture, as witness the
name of a Bond Street hatter in its crown; by the slight
discolouration of its leather, had seen service without, however,
depreciating in utility, needing only brushing and ironing to restore
its pristine brilliance; carried neither name nor initials on its
lining; and lacked every least hint as to its ownership - or so it
seemed until the prying fingers of P. Sybarite turned down the leather
and permitted a visiting card concealed therein to flutter to the
The hall rack was convenient; hanging up the hat, P. Sybarite picked
up the card. It displayed in conventional script the name, _Bailey
Penfield_, with the address, _97 West 45th Street_; one corner,
moreover, bore a pencilled hieroglyphic which seemed to read:
"_O.K. - B.P._"
"Whatever," P. Sybarite mused, "_that_ may mean."
He turned the card over and examined its unmarked and taciturn
Stealthy footsteps on the stairs distracted his studious attention
from the card. He looked up, blinking and frowning thoughtfully, to
see George descending with the wash-pitcher wrapped in, but by no
means disguised by, brown paper. Once at the bottom of the stairs,
this one expressed amazement in a whisper, to avoid rousing their
landlady, who held, unreasonably, that it detracted from the tone of
her establishment for gentlemen boarders to rush the growler....
"Hel-lo! We thought you must've got lost in the shuffle."
"Did you?" said P. Sybarite absently.
"Miss Lessing?" P. Sybarite looked surprised. "Isn't she
upstairs - with Violet?"
"Why, when'd she leave you?"
"Oh, ten minutes ago, or so."
"She must have stopped in her room for somethin'."
"But why didn't you come on up?"
"Well, you see, I met a man outside I wanted to talk to for a moment.
So I left her at the door."
"Well, Vi's waitin'. Run on up. I won't be five minutes. And knock on
Molly's door and see what's the matter."
"All right," returned P. Sybarite serenely.
His constructive mendacity light upon his conscience, he permitted
George time enough to leave the house and gain Clancey's, then quietly
followed as far as the gate, from which point he cut across the
southern sidewalk, turned west to Ninth Avenue, and there north to
Forty-second Street, where he boarded a cross-town car.
This was quite the most insane freak in which he had indulged himself
these many years; and frankly admitting this much, he was rather
pleased than otherwise. He was bound to call on Mr. Bailey Penfield
and inform that gentleman where he might find his hat. Incidentally he
hoped to surprise something or other informing with regard to the
fortunes of Miss Lessing subsequent to her impulsive flight by
All of which, he calmly admitted, constituted an inexcusable
impertinence: he deserved a thoroughgoing snubbing, and rather
anticipated one, especially if destined to find Mr. Penfield at home
or, by some vagary of chance, to encounter Miss Lessing again.
But he smiled cheerfully in contemplation of this prospect, buoyed up
with a belief that his unconsciously idiotic behaviour was
intrinsically more or less Quixotic, and further excited by the hope
that he might possibly be permitted to serve his lady of mystery.
At all events, he meant to know more about Mr. Bailey Penfield before
Alighting at Sixth Avenue, he walked to Forty-fifth Street, turned off
to the right, and in another moment was at a standstill, in the
extremest perplexity, before Number 97.
By every normal indication, the house was closed and tenantless. From
roof to basement its every window was blind with shades close-drawn.
The front doors were closed, the basement grating likewise. An
atmospheric accumulation of street debris littered the area
flagstones, together with one or two empty and battered ash-cans, in
whose shadows an emaciated cat skulked apprehensively. The one thing
lacking to signify that the Penfield mÃ©nage had moved bodily to the
country, was the shield of a burglar protective association in one of
the parlour windows. P. Sybarite looked for that in vain.
Disappointed in the conviction that he had drawn a false lead, the
little man strolled on eastward a little distance, then on sheer
impulse, gave up his project and, swinging about, started to go home.
But now, as he approached Number 97 the second time, a taxicab turned
in from Sixth Avenue, slid to the curb before that dwelling, and set
down a smallish young man dressed in the extreme of fashion - a person
of physical characteristics by no means to be confused with those of
the man with the twisted mouth - who, negligently handing a bill to the
chauffeur, ran nimbly up the steps, rang the door-bell, and promptly
letting himself into the vestibule, closed the door behind him.
The taxicab swung round and made off. Not so P. Sybarite. Profoundly
intrigued, he waited hopefully for this second midnight caller to
reappear, as baffled as himself. But though he dawdled away a patient
five minutes, nothing of the sort occurred. The front doors remained
closed and undisturbed, as little communicative as the darkened
Here was mystery within mystery, indeed! The circumstances annoyed P.
Sybarite intensely. And why (he asked himself, with impatience) need
he remain outside when another entered without let or hindrance?
Upon this thought he turned boldly up the steps, pressed the
bell-button; laid hold of the door-knob, and entered into a vestibule
as dark as his bewilderment and as empty as the palm of his hand;
proving that the young gentleman of fashion had experienced no
difficulty in penetrating farther into fastnesses of this singular
establishment. And reflecting that where one had gone, another might
follow, P. Sybarite pulled the door to behind him.
Instantly the bare and narrow vestibule was flooded with the merciless
glare of half a dozen electric bulbs; and at the same time he found
himself sustaining the intent scrutiny of a pair of inhospitable dark
eyes set in an impassive dark face - this last abruptly disclosed in
the frame of a small grille in one of the inner doors.
Though far too dumfounded for speech, he contrived to return the stare
with aggressive interest, and to such effect that he presently wore
through the patience of the other.
"Well?" he was gruffly asked.
"The Saints be praised!" returned P. Sybarite. "I find myself so. And
yourself?" he added civilly: not to be outdone, as the saying is.
"What do you want?"
Irritating discourtesy inhered in the speaker's tone. P. Sybarite
stiffened his neck.
"To see Mr. Penfield," he returned firmly - "of course!"
"What Mr. Penfield?" asked the other, after a pause so transient that
it was little more than distinguishable, but which to P. Sybarite
indicated beyond question that at least one Mr. Penfield was known to
his cautious interlocutor.
"Mr. Bailey Penfield," he replied. "Who else?"
During a pause slightly longer than the first, the hostile and
suspicious eyes summed him up a second time.
"No such party here," was the verdict. The man drew back and made as
if to shut the grille.
"Nonsense!" P. Sybarite insisted sharply. "I have his card with this
number - got it from him only to-night."
"Card?" The face returned to the grille.
P. Sybarite made no bones about displaying his alleged credential.
"I believe you'll find that authentic," he observed with asperity.
By way of answer, the grille closed with a snap; but his inclination
to kick the door was nullified when, without further delay, it opened
to admit him. Nose in air, he strutted in, and the door clanged behind
"Gimme another slant at that card," the guardian insisted.
Surrendering it with elaborate indifference, P. Sybarite treated
himself to a comprehensive survey of the place.
He stood in the main hall of an old-fashioned residence. To his right,
a double doorway revealed a drawing-room luxuriously furnished but, as
far as he could determine, quite untenanted. On the left, a long
staircase hugged the wall, with a glow of warm light at its head. To
the rear, the hall ended in a single doorway through which he could
see a handsome mahogany buffet elaborately arranged with shimmering
damask, silver, and crystal.
"It's all right," announced the warden of the grille, his suspicions
to all seeming completely allayed. "Mr. Penfield ain't in just at
present, but" - here he grinned shrewdly - "I reckon you ain't so dead
set on seein' him as you made out."
"On the contrary," P. Sybarite retorted stiffly, "my business is
immediate and personal with Mr. Penfield. I will wait."
"Sure." Into the accents of the other there crept magically a trace of
geniality. "Will you go right on up, or would you like a bite of
somethin' to eat first?"
At the mere hint of food, a frightful pang of hunger transfixed P.
Sybarite. He winked furtively, afraid to trust Iris tongue to speech.
"What d'ya say?" insinuated the doorkeeper. "Just a bit of a snack,
eh? Say a caviare sandwich and a thimbleful of the grape?"
Abandoning false pride, P. Sybarite yielded:
"I don't mind if I do, thank you."
"Straight on back; Pete'll take care of you, all right."
A thumb indicated the door in the rear of the hall. Thither P.
Sybarite betook himself on the instant, spurred by the demands of an
appetite insatiable once it had won recognition.
He found the back room one of good proportions: whatever the
architect's original intention, now serving as a combined lounge and
grill, richly and comfortably furnished in sober, masculine fashion,
boasting in all three buffets set forth with a lavish display of food
and drink. In one of many deeply upholstered club chairs a gentleman
of mature years and heavy body, with a scarlet face and a crumpled,
wine-stained shirt-bosom, was slumbering serenely, two-thirds of an
extravagant cigar cold between his fingers. In others two young men
were confabulating quietly but with a most dissipated air, heads
together over a brace of glasses. At a corner service table a negro in
a white jacket was busy with a silver chafing-dish which exhaled a
tantalising aroma. This last, at the entrance of P. Sybarite, glanced
quickly over his shoulder, and seeing a strange face, clapped the
cover on the steaming chafing-dish and discovered a round black
countenance bisected by a complete mouthful of the most brilliant
"Yas-suh - comin'!" he gabbled cheerfully. "It's sho' a pleasure to see
"At least," suggested P. Sybarite, dropping into a chair, "it will be,
"Tha's right, suh - that's the troof!" The negro placed a small table
adjacent to his elbow. "Tha's what Ah allus says to strange gemmun,
fust time they comes hyeh, suh; makes 'em feel more at home like. Jus'
lemme know what Ah kin do for yo' to-night. That 'ere lobstuh
Newburg's jus' about prime fo' eatin' this very minute, ef yo' feel a
"I do," P. Sybarite admitted. "Just a spoonful - "
"An' uh lil drink, suh? Jus' one lil innercent cocktail to fix yo'
"If you insist, Pete - if you insist."
"Yas-suh; and wif the lobstuh, suh, Ah venture to sug-gest a nice cold
lil ha'f-pint of Cliquot, Yallah Label? How that strike yo' fancy,