Ethel Watts Mumford Grant.

Whitewash online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Mr. Courncey fairly danced in his desire to
break this torrent of speech and get in his own
crowding words. " Fiddlesticks ! Bosh ! " he
roared, finally. " Miserable little minx, glad
enough she was to blacken a girl like Victoria
Claudel ! I have learned and it hasn t been
from Mrs. Durham, either " He turned as
he spoke, indicating with a quick gesture the chair
near the door. It was empty.

The two men looked startled for a moment,
then relieved. With rare tact the lady had re
moved her restraining presence.

Courncey bubbled with appreciation. " And
now, thank God ! I can swear all I please. As I
said, I have heard from many sources that the



Ford girl has been doing her level best to ruin
Victoria s reputation! Now answer me: didn t
she shake even your confidence? "

Morton flushed to the roots of his hair, and his
uncle, requiring no further answer, chuckled

" Of course she did, confound her ! And let
me tell you I saw her saw her myself, going
into Gagano s. I was sitting in the restaurant
facing the door that opens into the hall leading
to the private rooms up-stairs. They came in
about half-past seven. I can describe every rag
she wore: a black velvet dress and a sable cape,
and a black hat with feathers on it. She glanced
into the room. I could see the annoyance on her
face when she discovered that the door was open,
but somehow she didn t recognize me. With her
was that man Valdeck, and I ll bet my last share
in the Consolidated he s a bad egg, in spite of
the fuss these women make over him. Who in
thunder is he? And where did he come from?
Confound him ! "

" I must believe you mistaken," Morton ob-



jected, but the old resolution was gone from his

" Mistaken, mistaken ! Damme, sir, I m not
mistaken ! Unless she takes back every word she
has said about the daughter of my old friend
a girl who hasn t a father of her own to help her
if she doesn t, I say, I ll make what I saw
public ! Fanshaw was with me, and saw her, too,
and can corroborate it! I guess the three of us
can prove what we say, and I ll bet Miss Philippa
won t be able to produce an alibi ! "

Three?" was all Morton could say, for his
tongue thickened and his eyes were dim.

The waiter, you blockhead, the waiter!"
roared Courncey. " After Mrs. Durham exploded
her bomb, she went down and interviewed him.
Very clever woman, that, very clever ! Ought to
have been a man, a business man. Clear head,
clear eye, no fluster, no brag. Anyway, she
argued that one or the other of them would see
the danger and shut the waiter up. So she went
first. Good move, very! But, unfortunately, the
fellow wouldn t say much."

The young man drew himself up to his full



height, scorn and agony at work on his handsome

" Pretty game, isn t it, trying to bribe ser
vants? And, pray, what should a waiter of Ga-
gano s know of Miss Ford? I should count his
identification mere perjury!"

" Not a bit of it, not a bit of it ! As it happens,
this one has worked at Sherry s and Delmonico s.
Man s been sick just out of hospital. Took
Gagano s job pro tern. But it seems it s pro
fessional etiquette with them to keep mum doc
tors, priests, and waiters, same lodge."

Morton sat down miserably. His world was
spinning about him. If only Philippa had not
looked him in the face with those angelic eyes,
and denied. If only she had not held to her accu
sation of Victoria, and made herself out such
a supremely superior being. If only she had left
one loophole for her own shortcomings. The
escapade he would have forgiven what girl
does not need forgiveness for some daredevil, fool
ish action sometime in her life? Who was he
to blame her?

His eyes burned and his mouth twitched as his


perfect trust of Philippa crumbled and fell from

He was roused by the sound of Mrs. Durham s
voice, and looking up, noticed her slim, flat shoul
ders and the graceful sweep of her skirts. She
had entered and was talking to Courncey with her
back toward him. He was glad of that ; he could
not bear that she should see his face.

Rising quickly, he walked to the window and
stood looking down on the crowded streets below,
over which, antlike, men and women swarmed
and crawled. He almost wished himself one of
those silent, undisturbed sleepers down in Trinity
churchyard, where the headstones protruded,
black with damp, from the dark brown mold
spotted over with rotten, porous snow. He
pulled himself together, and turned again to the
room. Mrs. Durham s face was toward him now,
and he heard her voice, modulated to not ungentle
tones. He did not catch her words. He was
conscious only of one decision. For sake of
what had been, he would shield Philippa ! for the
sake of his own illusion the illusion, not the
reality !



" You need give no further proof, if you have
any," he said. " I know Uncle Morris and Fan-
jhaw too well."

" You called me to account," Mrs. Durham
went on. " I have made good my statements.
Now let me appeal to you. You have lost Philippa,
do you want to lose Victoria, too? Help us to
clear up this horrid slander! I think if we all
use our personal influence, we can turn the cogs
of this slow, legal machinery with much greater
speed. We can have a closer watch put upon
Valdeck, and employ our own detective, if neces
sary. Now, we ve worked it out this way your
uncle and I. We think that Valdeck has some
thing vital on foot now, and so could not change
his plans. He tried to countermine Victoria when
he saw that she recognized him, solely to gain
time. It was playing a dangerous game, so the
time needed must have been only comparatively
short, and the stake large. Now it s three weeks
since information was laid against him. Things
must be coming to a head, and he must not give
us the slip. You understand? "

" Well put, very well put ! " Mr. Courncey ex-


claimed, quickly. " Good statement of the case.
Now, Morton, I can see that since Miss Ford s
name has been connected with yours, you want
to protect her, though she don t deserve it
wretched little yellow cat ! "

" Yes," Morton nodded, gravely. " I would
like to save her, if it s possible."

"If she takes it all back about Victoria "

" Publicly," cut in Mrs. Durham.

"Of course, of course!" bellowed Courncey.
" Whoever thought of anything else? "

" I fancy she will do that, but we mustn t
make it too difficult she s proud "

" Vain ! " sniffed Mrs. Durham.

Morton took no notice. " Let us keep all this
quite to ourselves ; don t let a word of it get out
to the newspapers, or in common talk. Miss
Ford shall own herself mistaken, and I have no
doubt she will give Valdeck as the authority for
her former assertions. Then we can push him to
the wall all the easier, and we need have no
mercy ! "

There was a grimness in the click of his jaw
as he shut his teeth that boded ill for the suave



foreigner if ever he should come within reach
of Morton s long, powerful arm.

"We may count on you, then?" said Mrs.
Durham. " I think, since of course you must see
Miss Ford, that you might explain matters better
than I can."

" I would rather you saw her yourself," he
said, dully, " or, better still, have a talk with her

" Very well," she assented. " Morris, I think
we will leave you. Sorry to have made this little
scene in your office, but I know you are anxious
for your old friend Claudel s sake, and his daugh
ter s, too."

" Oh, it ll turn out all right, all right ! " jerked
Courncey. " You ve been a trump, a trump,
madam ! And, damme, if I ever get into trouble,
I ll come to you." The little man wrung her hand
once more, then lifted his snapping, black eyes,
from which all the hardness had vanished, to the
troubled face of his nephew.

" You re hit hard," he said, gravely, " and I m
sorry; but, my boy, better find these things out
before marriage than afterward. That girl s a


bad lot, for all her yellow hair and baby eyes.
She s rotten to the core it s inherited, it s nat
ural, and it s cultivated. I know her ! Have the
courage to break your engagement don t be a
fool, and let her make you believe you re tied.
You ve got to do the square thing not the soft
thing, mind you, but the square thing by your
self, first, and before all. Good-bye, good-bye! "

Once more Morton found himself in the ele
vator, being dropped down-stairs at a sickening
pace, and presently he was out in the street again.

" If you don t mind, Mrs. Durham," he heard
himself saying, " I ll put you into a cab. I need
exercise and I want to think, so I d better walk

" Of course," she said, cheerily. " Don t mind
me in the least. Just put me aboard a hansom."
She looked up at him with such a light of sweet
ness in her face that in spite of his former antag
onism his heart warmed toward her.

She held out her hand. " You ll believe me,
won t you ? It s only out of my love for Victoria
that I m pushing this thing so far. I don t usually
make it my business to hound any woman down.



I ve got a theory that, after all, a woman pays
such a fearful price for everything in life that
we must consider she s always on the short side
of the balance-sheet, and so be extra generous
and attend to our own business. And I m really
not such a frightfully meddlesome old body."

He almost smiled at her earnestness, as he
gave her his hand and she lightly settled herself
in a cab.

" Good-bye," she called.

He raised his hat as the hansom turned and
began its zigzag journey northward. Then,
plunging into the crowd, he walked on mechan

Now it chanced that Victoria, hot and angry
from the police-station episode, and Morton, sore
and miserable from his interview, both started
to walk off their troubles. Together they had
contracted the habit. From childhood up they
were wont to wear out their griefs and rages in
company, walking at a furious gait, sometimes
for hours in unbroken silence, till the burdened
one would be moved to confidences, and then, the



trouble past, they would saunter comfortably

In this case Victoria had the start and was
further up-town, but Morton s huge stride car
ried him forward at greater speed than Victoria s
steady swing.

Now, if A starts from C, walking at the rate
of a hundred and twenty miles an hour, and B
starts from D, walking at the rate of a hundred
and eighty miles an hour, how long will it take
B to overtake A?

The result occurred in the neighborhood of
Thirty-Second Street and Eighth Avenue. By a
common impulse they had made for that region.
There they had formerly indulged their mutual
peripatetic propensities. And the neighborhood
being unfrequented, a higher steam-pressure and
a more regular course could be assured.

It suddenly dawned on Morton that the back
of the girl walking a block or so directly in front
of him was strangely familiar : that strong stride,
that broad-shouldered, erect carriage, and
completing and convincing detail the heavy
hair that was struggling to let itself down. That



hair bristled with helpless pins, and the constant
gesture by which she absent-mindedly strove to
push them in brought up a thousand affectionate

Involuntarily he quickened his pace, closing the
distance between them till only a foot or so inter

"Tory," he called, "hold on; wait for me."

The girl turned abruptly, her face all stretched
to speak, but she looked in his face for an instant,
and moved on in silence, joining her step with

The years slrpped by as if by a miracle; they
were boy and girl again, walking off a rage in
the old way.

The ugly brick avenue, with its withered shops
and shabby boarding-houses, took on a beautiful,
friendly familiarity; every iron grating had its
little history, every show-window its episode.
Even the changes consequent upon the lapse of
time served to recall the houses that had van

Gradually the old spirit took hold of them ;
their recent troubles and estrangement fell away.



Philippa was a name no more : Valdeck a night
mare! And as for the worthless love that had
occupied his heart, Morton awoke with a start
to find it utterly gone the rainbow bubble of his
senses had been dispelled. He saw clearly now,
saw through the glamour to the utter sham of it,
saw the narrow, calculating mind, the small, mean
soul, and the overwhelming vanity that swathed
Philippa from top to toe in a garment of hypoc
risy saw, and did not care! His grief had dis
appeared with the renewal of his mental vision.
Why should he regret where there was nothing
worthy of regret? He could only curse himself
for a fool, and wonder that he had ever owned
a doubt, or that his loyal friendship should have
failed the girl beside him his " little twin " of
the old days, and always.

Victoria was busy with her own thoughts, but
happy in the regained companionship of her chum.
She felt instinctively the chrysalis breaking in
his mind, and the beautiful butterfly of their
mutual understanding evolving itself more splen
did than the rudimentary, though beloved, little
grub of their childish affection.



Within view of the Park entrance, they came
to a little restaurant often frequented in former

" Let s go in and eat caviare," she suggested,
breaking the silence.

" Let s," he answered. " Let s go in and eat
caviare and drink Wurzburger, and talk it all
over, just as we used to ! "



the French quarter, west of Sixth Avenue
and well down Twenty-sixth Street, stands a little
hotel and restaurant unknown to fame as La belle
Nivernaise. It is dingy, gray with age and smoke,
and the aroma of many savory dinners floats per
ceptibly on the air. One huge window fronts
the street, adorned by a flowery balcony without,
and clean white curtains within, through which
may be divined, rather than seen, dozens of small
tables, each bearing its white cloth, its half-yard
of bread, its tapering celery-glass of graccinni
(in deference to the Italian habitues), and won
derfully folded napkins foliating from portly and
unbreakable goblets. The narrow steps are steep
and few that lead to the door on the left of
the window, and above the hospitable entrance
swings a weather-beaten sign, a rain-washed
damsel, pointing with a grimacing smile to a much



dimmed tricolor. The hallway within is not
spacious, and the stair leading to the floor above
is inclined at the angle of Jacob s-ladder, and
covered by a frayed ingrain carpet of uncertain
color. On the second story, a hallway, dark as
Erebus, gives access to the rooms of the locataires.
There are four such rooms on the side and one
at the end, offering the same general aspect -
dark papers of the fashion of thirty years ago,
walnut furniture, iron bedsteads, each boasting
two fat eider-down pillows, covered with turkey
red and further decorated with squares of
Nottingham lace. The black-framed mirrors that
hang above each wash-stand present a varied
assortment of discolorations. To contemplate
one s self therein is by no means a tribute to
vanity ; on the contrary, it is conducive to serious
thoughts upon the precariousness of human ex
istence, so green, distorted, and scarred is the
reflection that meets the eye. The gas-brackets,
protruding aggressively, are so many dark and
shapely hands of bronze, emerging from frilled
bronze cuffs, and uplifting tiny torches of the same
metal, upon which bulge engraved globes of a


" hunted deer pattern." The accommodations
of La belle Nivernaise are not palatial.

In the second room to the right, at the top
of the landing, a new locataire had just moved
in. As Gustave, the waiter, told Hortense, " la
dame au douze " was of a reticence of a silence-
ness not to be believed ! But she had insisted upon
knowing who her neighbors were the " mon
sieur du quatorze " and " les petites sceurs du

" She had pulled at the communicating doors,
acted very strangely, and given him a piece of
fifty cents for carrying up her hand-bags and
they of a lightness ! "

" Was the monsieur du quatorze in his room ? "
Hortense inquired.

But Gustave did not know he thought not.
A bang at the hall door brought them both to
the curtain at the end of the passage. Ah, to
be sure, the gentleman himself a nice gentle
man, but with habits extraordinary. For the
little he used his room he might as well have
no room at all. For days at a time he never
showed up. A " commis traveller," of course.



But he was not gay and happy as are the voy-
ageurs, and then, besides, he had no sample-

Gustave chucked Hortense under her dimpled
chin with a superior air. " And dost thou not
know, grosse bete, that he is agent for automo
biles ? in a sample-trunk ! Viola ! that was

" Tiens ! " cried Hortense, " there is the pa-
tronesse who rings ! " and she flew to the sum
mons of Madame Guisard, formerly la belle
Nivernmse, now grown fat beyond belief, red-
faced and choleric.

The " monsieur du quatorze " tramped on up
stairs, unlocked his door, entered, and slipped the
bolt. Then he threw his soft hat upon the bed,
slipped angrily out of his overcoat, flung him
self upon the frowzy satin rocker, and leaned
forward, his elbows on his knees, his chin in
his hands. His face was white and pinched, and
his eyes discolored and miserable, for the " gentle
man of travel with the habits extraordinary "
had received bad news. In his hand he clutched



a crumpled paper, which he presently spread out
upon his knee, and read :

" Both of them nabbed jig s up. Have
skipped. Lay low ! "

This communication had been pressed into his
hand by a sharp-faced, ragged street arab, who
had met him, quite by accident, as he came out
of " Brodie s." Valdeck smoothed the paper ab
sently, and continued in deep meditation. The
bubble had burst. It was his first real setback,
and he took it hard. But he was not the man
to lie down under misfortune. His ready brain
had comprehended the full extent of the catas
trophe. At once he recognized the impossibility
of snatching his chestnuts from the fire, and
turned to his plans for the future. Thank good
ness, only half the New Orleans swag was in
the despatch-box ; the rest was already safely con
veyed to London, where he could look it up on
his arrival, and the Amsterdam firm stood ready
to relieve him of his precious stones at a fairly
decent figure. The question was now how, when,
and where to strike for the other side. He turned
over the possibilities. If his schemes had not so


disastrously failed at the last moment, he would
have quietly embarked for the English capital and
lost himself at once. He knew himself to be
watched, thanks to the unforeseen raking up of
the Breton episode; but he had outwitted keener
hunters before, and had little or no fear of the
police. Captain Brady was his friend, and if the
w r orst came to the worst, he could depend on
timely warning. Obviously, this time, though,
the straightaway run would be useless. The
Auray affair would be pressed half-heartedly, but
to complicate matters, they were on to the Orleans
trouble, and rewards were out for that rewards
sufficient to make the chase remunerative. There
remained, then, as next choice, old Bordenten and
the Bonnie Dundee bound for Glasgow. Borden
ten, who believed him a whiskey smuggler, and
heartily approved of the trade a hint dropped
to the effect that the authorities " wanted " him,
would be taken by the captain as a suggestion that
a stowaway would be no trouble. Valdeck saw
himself quietly secreted, with a bottle of " white-
horse " and a stock of back-number magazines,
while the old sea-dog defied the law and indig-


nantly defended the honor of his native land.
Like a prudent general, he had saved this par
ticular avenue of escape for the day of need,
and until now had bestowed favors on the grisly
old salt without ever asking for a return.

The only trouble was the ten days that must
be passed before the Bonnie Dundee was sched
uled. If Bordenten would only take him on board
now he reflected, but recalled at once that the
gay Lothario was in Massachusetts visiting his
American family.

Valdeck got up, rammed his hands deep in
his pockets, and went to the window. He looked
out upon the brick ugliness of an extension to
the house next door, and a tumbled vista of
back yards, separated by high white fences, upon
which prowled and cuddled numberless cats of
all colors and sizes. A network of clothes-lines
cobwebbed the grassless gardens, and from them
depended every sort and condition of underwear,
from the rainbow-hued, belaced, China silk crea
tions of the lady opposite, to the red flannels
and numberless pinafores of No. 347 s second-
floor back. The hunted man took in the com-



mon-place surroundings at a glance, shrugged his
shoulders, and, turning his back, began a slow
pacing up and down his dingy cell.

Better stay where he was, at least for the
present. He had his landlady by the scruff, so
to speak. There were some spots in the career
of the erstwhile belle Nivemaise, but, no
matter, she was devoted. Until recently no
suspicion had been attached to him, and since
the horizon had so visibly darkened, he had taken
good care to stick by his charming little rooms
in East Fortieth Street, and not to jeopardize
his present retreat. Decidedly this abode was
as good as any, at least for a day or two, when
he could quietly lose himself in the labyrinth of
the Polish Jew quarter. Thank goodness, there
was always this disguise open to him. For his
mother had been a Pole, and a beauty in her
day. The memory of Judith Grosifa was still
green in the police and polite annals of Vienna.

Having decided upon his mode of procedure,

he flung himself upon the bed and turned his

mind to other details of his trouble. What of

Eugenia, the faithful? He twisted uneasily.



Eugenia must have brought this down on her
own head, he surmised. But how on earth had
they connected her a sudden light dawned on
him, and he almost sat up. Of course she
was wanted for the Auray affair. Damn the
business! The police had stumbled on the New
Orleans stuff in their hunt for the accessory to
the burglary in the hotel.

A wave of hate inundated him. That Claudel
girl ! why should she have appeared now, at
the most crucial point of his career, to turn his
triumph to defeat to break the wonderful
thread of luck that had led him from fortune
to fortune, till he had wealth, power, and honesty
within his grasp? The superstitious element in
his nature awoke and nudged him. There was
something uncanny in all this there was a se
quence Fate ! Was it vengeance of the saints,
for whom the countess s jewels had been intended?
What else could have made him so foolish, so

A clear vision of Victoria rose before his eyes
strong, vigorous, fearless. Into his brain her
level, piercing look seemed to penetrate. He felt



the atmosphere of vitality, power, and satirical
humor, that made up her personality and charm
felt it, and realized with "a sudden shock, that
there, of all the world, was the woman he might
have loved loved mightily and forever !

This sudden turn of his emotions startled his
whole being ; undreamt of, in his fight for survival,
her splendid truth and physical energy had dom
inated his imagination. In spite of the trick he
had played her, in spite of the mud he had thrown
upon her, in spite of the fact that she it was who
had set the machinery in motion that now threat
ened to crush him he loved her ! yes, loved
her! and a savage, evil joy possessed him that
her name had been coupled with his her fair
name brought close in contact with the soil and
stain of his own ! Victoria ! the proud, the self-
willed, the defiant ! at least the thread of their
lives had met and crossed, and woven an episode.


He spoke the name aloud, rejoicing in its sound,
that suggested trumpets and pageant.

Then his mood relaxed and he lay back, the
vision of the girl s strong face still before him.


Her proud look was scornful and aloof. She
seemed to thrust him back, back away from her.
She was Vengeance Victrix! Justice outraged!
A thrill as of impending danger electrified him.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryEthel Watts Mumford GrantWhitewash → online text (page 11 of 13)