Charles Goddard.

The Perils of Pauline online

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astonishment. She hurried down the stairs and rushed through the door
without waiting for Margaret to open it.

Pauline, back in her own room, vented her first rage in tears. With
her hot face pressed against the pillow, she sobbed out the agony of
what she thought her betrayal - her double betrayal, by courtier and
comrade at once. But the tears passed. Too vital was the spirit in
her, too red flowing in her veins was the blood of fighting ancestors,
too strong the fortress of self-command within the blossoming gardens
of her youth and beauty for the word surrender ever to come to her
mind.

True, she had found an adventure that stirred her more deeply than the
peril of land or sea or sky could have done. Here was a thrill that
had never been listed among her intended tremors. She sent for Owen.

Masked as ever in his suave exterior and his manner of mingled
obsequiousness and fatherliness, he came instantly.

"Mr. Owen, have you known - have you known that this was going on?"

"I feel that it is my duty to know what concerns you - even what
concerns your happiness, Miss Marvin," he answered.

"You mean?"

"I mean that I have long had my suspicions."

But again the very perfection of his deceit brought Pauline that
feeling that she had had since childhood that sense of an insidious
influence always surrounding her, always menacing and yet never
revealed. This influence, which Owen seemed to embody, was the
antagonist of that other mysterious power, so real and yet so
inexplicable, that warded and protected her - the spirit of the girl
that had stepped from the mummy.

But Pauline had seen with her own eyes; she did not need any word of
Owen's to convince her of the falsity of her lover.

She was quite calm now. She dressed with the utmost care. Margaret,
who had seen her in such anger only a short time before, was surprised
at her sprightliness and graciousness. A slightly heightened color
that only added to the luster of her loveliness, was the single sign of
her inward thoughts. She summoned her own car and left the house
alone.

The drawing room of the Clarence Courtelyou mansion was ablaze with
light. There was a little too much light. The Clarence Courtelyou
always had a little too much of everything.

There was a little too much money; there was a little too much gold
leaf decoration in the drawing room, a little too much diamond
decoration of Mrs. Courtelyou, and, if you were so fastidiously
impolite as to say so, a little too much of Mrs. Courtelyou herself.

But Mrs. Courtelyou was struggling toward gentility in such an amiable
way that better people liked her. The motherliness and sweet sincerity
of her - the fact that she loved her frankly illiterate husband and
worshipped, almost from afar, her cultured daughters was the thing that
brought her down from the base height of the "climbers" and lifted her
kindly, harmless personality to the high simplicities of the elite.

She made the natural mistake that other wealthy mendicants at the outer
portals of society have made the mistake of pounding at the gates.
Instead of letting the splendor of her charitable gifts, the
gracefulness of her simplicity, carry her through, she went in for the
gorgeous and the costly.

As a sort of crowning glory she began to "take up" artists and actors
and musicians. She gained the good graces of the best of them, and in
her kindly innocence she won the worship of the worst.

It was thus that she came to the point of holding a reception for
Baskinelli.

Not that any one had heard anything black, or even shadowy, against
Baskinelli. He had arrived recently from abroad, his foreign fame
preceding him, his prospective conquests of America fulsomely foretold,
his low brow decorated in advance with laurel.

Mrs. Courtelyou added him to her collection with the swiftness and
directness of the entomologist discovering a new bug. She herself
loved music - without understanding it very deeply - and Baskinelli,
whatever might be his other gifts, could summon all the cadences of
love from the machines that people call a piano - engine of torture or
instrument of joy.

For half an hour Harry paced at the foot of the stairs.

"I wonder if she's ever coming," he fumed to himself. "It takes 'em so
long to do it that they drive you crazy, and when it's done they're so
wonderful that they drive you crazy."

"Did you - did you wish anything, sir?" asked the butler, entering.

"No - just waiting for Miss Pauline, Jenkins - just waiting," sighed
Harry.

"Why - if I may presume to tell you, sir - Miss, Marvin has gone to
the reception," said Jenkins.

"Gone!" Harry cried abruptly, hotly, then remembered that he was
speaking to a servant and swung into the reception room.

He put on his hat and coat and rang for Jenkins again.

"How long ago was it that Miss Pauline went out?"

"Almost an hour ago, sir."

Harry slammed his way out of the door. It was not until he was in the
car on his way to the Courtelyous that he began to think - began to
think with utterly wrong deductions, as lovers always do.

"I must have said too much," he told himself. "She's crazy about these
wild pranks and she thinks I'm a stupid goody-goody. What a fool I was
to try to prevent her!"

"You aren't very nice, Mr. Marvin, to snub my pet musician - my very
newest pet musician," Mrs. Courtelyou rebuked him, as he entered.

"I didn't mean it. I was waiting for - why, my car went to pieces,"
he explained. "Is Pauline here?"

"Here? She is the only person present. Baskinelli hasn't spoken a
word to any one else. He won't play anything unless she suggests the
subject. I am glad Mr. Owen is here to protect her."

From the scintillant, filmy mist of women around the piano Lucille
emerged. She came swiftly to Harry's side.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"What is? Tell me." he replied. "What did you say to her?"

"I didn't see her, Harry. She sent word that she was not at home."

"You don't mean - not after you started upstairs."

"Yes - and she hasn't spoken to me all evening."

"And she left me waiting at home for half an hour. It's outrageous."

Harry strode across the floor just as the music ceased, and Baskinelli
arose, bowing to the applause of his feminine admirers.

"May I ask the honor to show to you Madame Courtelyou's portrait of
myself? It is called 'The Glorification of Imbecility,'" he said as he
proffered his arm to Pauline.

He was a small man, with sharp features shadowed by a mass of flowing,
curling hair - the kind of hair that has come to be called "musical"
by the irreverent. The sweep of an abnormal brow gave emphasis to the
sudden jut of deep eye sockets, and a dull, sallow skin gave emphasis
to the subtle sinister light, of the eyes themselves.

Pauline accepted the proffered arm of the artist, but daintily,
laughingly, she turned him back to the piano.

"You haven't yet escaped, Signor Baskinelli," she said. "We have not
yet heard 'Tivoli,' you know."

"Tivoli," he cried, with hands upraised in mock disdain. "Why, I wrote
the thing myself. Am I to violate even my own masterpieces?"

There was a twitter of mocking protest from the women. Baskinelli
began to play again.

"Pauline, may I speak to you - just a moment?" Harry's vexed voice
reached her ear as she stood beside the piano. She turned slowly and
looked into his bewildered, angry eyes.

"A little later - possibly," she answered, and instantly turned back
to Baskinelli.

From her no mask of music, no glamour of others' admiration could hide
the predatory obsequiousness of Baskinelli. She was not in the least
interested in Baskinelli. She had loathed him from the moment when she
had looked down on his little oily curls. But if Baskinelli had been
Beelzebub he would have enjoyed the favor of Pauline that evening - at
least, after Harry had arrived.

The glowing piquant beauty of Pauline enthralled Baskinelli. He had
never before seen a woman like her - innocent but astute, daring but
demure, brilliant but opalescent. When at last they strolled away
together into the conservatory his drawing room obeisances became
direct declarations of love.

Pauline began to be frightened.

She fluttered to the door of the conservatory. But there she paused.
Voices sounded from the end of a little rose-rimmed alley. They were
the voices of Harry and Lucille.

Baskinelli was at her side again.

"If I have said anything - done anything to offend," he said, with
affected contrition, "you will let me make my lowliest apologies, won't
you?"

Pauline hardly heard him. She was intently listening to the low
pitched voices.

"I - I think I will run back to the others," she cried suddenly.
Baskinelli was left alone.

"I congratulate you, Signor, on the success of the evening," said a
voice at his shoulder. "There are few among the famous who can conquer
drawing rooms as well as auditoriums."

The musician turned to face the ingratiating smile of Raymond Owen.

"I thank you - I thank you, sir. But I do not believe you. My
'conquest' has turned to catastrophe. I have lost everything."

"You mean that you are dissatisfied with the applause?" asked Owen.

"No! No! Applause is nothing from the many. There is always one in
his audience to whom he plays from his soul."

"And that one - tonight?"

"The lovely Miss - what, now, is her name - Marvin. She bewitches me
- and she scorns me."

"Signor Baskinelli, there are other places than drawing rooms, or even
conservatories, in which to capture those who captivate."

"I - do I quite grasp your meaning, Mistaire Owen?" He tried to
disguise the suspicion under an accentuated accent.

"I think so, Monsieur Picquot."

At the name Baskinelli turned livid. He made a movement as if he would
lunge at the throat of Owen, but his fury withered under the glassy
smile.

"So - we met in Paris?"

"Once upon a time - a little incident in the Rue St. Jeanne. A young
woman was concerned in that incident - and was not heard of
afterward."

"And you are trying to blackmail me for the death of Marie Disart!
Ha! That is a jest," cried Baskinelli.

"I am trying to do nothing of the kind. I simply reminded you of the
little affair. I know as well as you that it was all beautifully
cleared up, and a man is still in prison for it. I know you are as
safe here as that man is in jail, Signor Baskinelli."

"What are you talking about, then?"

"The little woman that so charmed you here. I remarked merely that
those who are captivated can capture."

"Not in this country - not among the Puritans. One must be good -
and unhappy."

"You haven't forgotten your little friends, Mario, and Di Palma and
Vitrio? They are all respected residents of New York. We know, where
they might be found."

"At Cagliacci's?"

"Precisely. Dining upon the best of spaghetti and the richest of
wines, and paying for it at the point of a stiletto."

"But - ha! You are talking nonsense. We could not find them; they
could not find us."

"We might telephone and try," suggested Owen. "Cagliacci, you know, is
now up-to-date. He has a telephone. He considers it a sign of
respectability."

"And then what do you propose?"

"Picquot - I mean Signor Baskinelli, I propose nothing. Unless
possibly there might be - after the reception - a little motor trip
to Chinatown. It might amuse the ladies."

"You are right. I will invite them all," said Baskinelli.

"And how about calling up Marie at Cagliacci's just as an old friend?"

"It might be best."

They moved together down the corridor and Owen directed their way to a
little study secluded from all other apartments of the great house.

"You seem to be familiar with the home of our gracious hostess,"
remarked Baskinelli.

"I make it a rule to be familiar with all homes in which Miss Marvin is
entertained."

"Miss Marvin? You are, then a relative?"

"I am her guardian."

"Ah-h! You have control - perhaps - of certain small sums bequeathed
to her?"

"Yes."

"And you would like to have as few persons as possible in the Chinatown
party?"

"As few as possible."

In a place known only as Cagliacci's, in the dreg depths of Elizabeth
street, the ringing of the telephone bell was much more startling, much
more unusual than the crash of a pistol shot or the blast of a bomb.

The habitu's moved quietly to the door that leads to the roofs, while
Pietro Cagliacci himself wiped the dust-covered receiver on his apron
and put it to his ear.

He spoke softly, tersely. The conversation was very brief. Within a
minute after he had hung up the receiver three grimy-clad, grim-visaged
men left the place silently.

Harry and Lucille came out of the conservatory.

"I tell you there wasn't anything said between us that could have
caused it," he was saying. "I was fighting the whole thing hard, but I
was fighting it like a beggar. I am always a beggar with Pauline."

"But you told her it wasn't right that she was risking other people's
lives?"

"No, I told you to tell her that."

In spite of her distress over Pauline's coldness, Lucille burst into
laughter.

They were just emerging into the music room. Pauline, like the others,
turned at the unexpected sound. She gave one glance at the two and
turned haughtily away.

Baskinelli was bustling about, making up an impromptu excursion party.

"Ha! You people of New York - you do not know what is in New York.
All Europe is here - and you never cross Fourteenth street - I mean
to say Fifth avenue."

"It is more dangerous to cross Fifth avenue than to cross the ocean -
that's probably the reason," said Harry. "The traffic cops along the
Gulf Stream are so careful."

Pauline stopped Baskinelli's intended reply. She wanted Harry to be
ignored utterly. Her anger had made him flippant. His flippancy had
put the seal of completeness upon her anger.





CHAPTER IX

BASKINELLI'S QUARRY

A flutter of polite alarm attended Signor Baskinalli's invitation.

From the sheltered glitter of a Fifth avenue drawing room to Chinatown
was a plunge a little too deep.

But Baskinelli was insistent and Pauline was his ardent and efficient
recruiting officer. Quite a troop train of limousines carried the
invaders to the uncelestial haunts of the Celestials.

Baskinelli rode in the car with Pauline and Owen. He had cast off the
dignity of the master musician and assumed an air of whimsical
recklessness. Harry and Lucille were in the following car.

"Oh, please stop fidgeting," exclaimed Lucille.

"I'm as nervous as you are."

"I know," said Harry, "but I hate to have her alone with that little
black snake for five minutes."

"Owen is with them."

"Owen is worse."

The machines drew up in Chatham Square, and the little procession that
moved across to Doyers street - dainty slippers on blackened
cobblestones, light laughter tinkling under the thunder of the "L,"
human brightness brushing past the human shadows from the midnight dens
- made contrasts picturesque as a pageant in a catacomb.

Pauline, on the arm of the chattering Baskinelli, led the way.

"Isn't this splendid?" she exclaimed. "I am sure you won't disappoint
me, Signor Baskinelli. I hope you aren't going to show us a happy
Chinese family at supper. Only the most dreadful sights amuse me."

"Ali, but we, must not take risks," replied Baskinelli. "There are
some beings in the world, Miss Marvin, so exquisitely precious that a
man would commit sin if he placed them in peril."

"But only the worst and wickedest places," she admonished Baskinelli.

He leaned suddenly very near to her.

"Do you really mean that, Miss Marvin?" he asked.

"Indeed I do," she answered.

"Very well. But first we shall go to the new restaurant. It is yet
too early for the worst and wickedest to be abroad or rather to seek
their lairs."

They climbed a brightly lighted staircase into one of the ordinary
Chinese restaurants of the better sort which are conducted almost
entirely for Americans, and where Boston baked beans are as likely as
not to nudge almond cakes on the bill of fare and champagne flow as
commonly as tea.

They gathered around one of the larger of the cheaply inlaid tables,
and Baskinelli took command of the feast.

Harry sat in grim silence, watching Pauline like a protecting dragon.
Lucille was sick at heart and repentant of coming. The others chatted
merrily among themselves. But by common consent Pauline seemed to have
been surrendered to the attentions of the evening pest, who had become
a midnight host.

He leaned toward her with an ardor that he did not even attempt to
disguise. "You are the most wonderful woman in - "

"Please make it the universe," pleaded Pauline. "There are so many
most wonderful women in the world."

"No, let us say chaos," he whispered. "The chaos of a man's heart can
be ruled only by the charming uncertainty of woman."

The intensity of his words brought to Pauline again the twinge of
alarm. Unconsciously she looked around for Harry. It was the last
thing in the world she had meant to do. She was angry at herself in an
instant, for his fixed, guarding gaze was upon her. She met his eyes
and turned quickly to Baskinelli.

"Chaos? I've always loved that word," she flashed. "There must be so
many lovely adventures where there are no laws."

"I said the chaos in a man's heart could be ruled by a woman," said
Baskinelli.

The impudence of this sudden love making moved her unexpectedly to
defiance.

"Please let it be ruled, Signor Baskinelli," she said, turning away
from him.

Baskinelli had sense enough to see that he had gone too far. He turned
to the others as the soft-footed Orientals began to spread the mixed
and mysterious viands on the table.

He glanced at Owen. By the slightest movement imaginable, by the least
uplift of his black brows, Owen answered. For the first time
Baskinelli knew that the lovely quarry he pursued had a protector -
and no mean, no weak protector.

But the arrival of the repast quickly covered the general
embarrassment. Everybody could see that Pauline and Harry had had a
quarrel and that Pauline, was flirting outrageously with Baskenelli
simply for revenge - that is, every one except Harry could see it.

"Pardon me, but is that what you call a graft investigation that you
are making, Miss Hamlin?" inquired Baskinelli.

"No, but the food is so funny. There are so many queer things present,
but unidentified," laughed Lucille.

"Like a reception to a foreign artist," interrupted Harry with a
vindictive glare.

"Or shall we say like the conversation of an unhappy guest," said
Baskinelli, smilingly turning to note the entrance of a little party of
newcomers at the further end of the restaurant.

A dashing, well-dressed, fiery-eyed foreigner, the tips of whose waxed
mustachios turned up like black stalagmites from the comers of his
cavernous mouth, was accompanied by two nondescript figures, who seemed
to be embarrassed more by the fact that they had been recently cleansed
and shaved than by their rough red shirts and mismatched coats and
trousers.

The man of the tilted mustachios gave brief, imperative orders to the
waiters, whose languid steps seemed to be quickened by his words as by
an electric battery. The other two sat silent, like docile dogs in
leash.

Only for an instant Baskinelli's eyes rested upon the group.

"And having tasted the food of the gods, how would you like to visit
the gods themselves?" he asked.

Pauline agreed enthusiastically. "You mean a joss house - a Chinese
church, don't you."

"Yes."

The joss house that most visitors see in Chinatown is the little one up
under the roof at the meeting of Doyers and Pell streets - at the toe
of the twisted horseshoe made by these tiny thoroughfares of black
fame, where, in spite of all the modern magic of "reform," men still
die silently in the hush of secluded corridors and women vanish into
the darkness that is worse than death.

The little joss house is interesting in the same way that an Indian
village at a State fair is interesting. Behind its gaudy staginess and
commercial appeal it still holds something of reality from which the
imagination can draw a picture of an ancient worship that has held a
race of millions in thrall for thousands of years.

But it was not to the little joss house that Signor Baskinelli guided
the party. In the little joss house the bells are pounded without
respite, the visitors come and go at all hours of the day and night -
save the few set hours when the joss sacrifices profit to true prayer.

Baskinelli took his guests to the joss house of the Golden Screens.

Save for its greater size and more splendid accoutrement, it was little
different from the other. But it was walled, in its back alley
seclusion, deep behind the outer fronts of Mott street, by a secrecy
almost sincerely sacred.

The motor cars remained far behind across the square as Baskinelli led
the party through the dismal streets and stopped before a dark
doorway.

A dim light flared behind the door and a Chinaman in American dress
admitted them.

"I am beginning to be really bored," said Pauline.

"Wait; give the wicked a chance," said Baskinelli.

They climbed three flights of dingy, narrow stairs, lighted with
flaring gas jets.

"Wonderful," jeered Pauline. "Not even a secret passage or a
subterranean den!"

The others followed her laughing lead up the stairs.

A Chinaman came out of the door on the second landing, stopped, started
in innocent curiosity at the dazzling visitors and went down the
stairs. Everything was as still and commonplace as if they had been in
the hallway of a Harlem flat building.

The silence was not broken or the seeming safety disturbed in the
slightest by the soft opening of the first landing door, after they had
passed - that is, after all but Owen had passed. No one but Owen saw
the piercing black eyes and the tilted mustachios of the face that
appeared for an instant at the door.

There was a corridor, not so well lighted, at the top of the third
flight of stairs. In the dim turns the women drew their skirts about
them, a bit wary of the black, short walls.

The passage narrowed. They could move now only in single file, and
even then their shoulders brushed the walls.

Only a far, dull glow from a red lamp over a door at the end of a
passage lighted their way.

Baskinelli tapped lightly on the door.

It was opened by a venerable Chinaman in the flowing robes of a
priest. He looked at them doubtfully. Baskinelli spoke three words
that his companions did not hear. The priest vanished. Quickly the
door was reopened and they stepped into the dim, smoky, stifling
presence of the joss.

The choking scent of the punk always at the folded feet of the idol was
almost suffocating. The place had other odors less noxious and less
sweet. Chinamen were lounging in the room as if it had been a place of
rest. Three priests were on their knees before the joss swaying
forward till their foreheads almost touched the floor, their
outstretched arms moving in mystic symmetry with their rocking bodies.

A great brass bell hung low beside the idol. But no priest touched the
bell.

The joss itself was almost the least impressive thing in the room. It
stood, or squatted, six feet high, on a block pedestal at the side of
the room. The simple hideousness of the painted features served no
impressive purpose, but as contrast to the exquisite decorations of the
room.

Screens of carved wood, so delicately wrought that it seemed a touch
would break the graven fibers, were flecked with inlay of pearl and
covering of gold.

One of the peculiar features of the room was a suit of ancient Chinese
armor - a relic that had been rusted and pit-marked by time, but now
stood brightly polished beside the statue of the god. A huge two-edged
sword was held upright in the steel glove.

By the dim light behind the idol the shadow of the sword was cast
across the blank face of Baskinelli as he moved forward. He stepped
back quickly. The shadow fell between him and Pauline.

Again the ancient priest answered a summons at the door. Again he
parleyed for a moment - then opened it to the three swarthy foreigners
who had been in the restaurant.

Baskinelli turned for just in instant to glance at the tall man with
the tilted mustache, then resumed immediately his conversation with
Pauline.

"Why do all the Chinamen run away like that?" she asked.

"It is the end of the service; you see the priests are going, too."


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Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 7 of 18)