Frederic Stewart Isham.

A Man and His Money online

. (page 4 of 15)
Online LibraryFrederic Stewart IshamA Man and His Money → online text (page 4 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

enjoyed a mad romp after a squirrel before she was captured.

What, his companion laughingly suggested, would have happened if Beauty
had really escaped, and he, Mr. Heatherbloom, had been forced to return
to the house without her? What? Mr. Heatherbloom started. He might lose
his position, _n'est-cepas?_ He did not answer.

The idea was born; why _not_ lose Beauty? No, better still, Naughty; the
prime favorite, Naughty. He looked into Naughty's eyes, and they seemed
full of liquid reproach. Naughty had been his friend - supposititiously,
and to abandon him now to the world, a cold place devoid of French lamb
chops? A hard place for homeless dogs and men, alike! About to waive the
temptation, Mr. Heatherbloom paused; the idea was capable of
modification or expansion. Most ideas are.

But he shortly afterward dismissed the entire matter from his mind; it
would, at best, be but a compromise, an evasion of the pact he had made
with himself. It was not to be thought of. At this moment his companion
swayed and Mr. Heatherbloom had just time to put out his arm; then
helped her to a bench.

She partly recovered; it was nothing, she remarked bravely. One gets
sometimes a little faint when - it was the old, old story of privation
and want that now fell with seeming reluctance from her lips. Mr.
Heatherbloom had become all attention. More than that he seemed greatly
distressed. A woman actually in need, starving - no use mincing
words! - in Central Park, the playground of the most opulent metropolis
of the world. It was monstrous; he tendered her his purse, with several
weeks' pay in it. Her reply had a spirited ring; he felt abashed and
returned the money to his pocket. She sat back with eyes half-closed; he
saw now that her face looked drawn and paler than usual.

He, thought and thought; had he not himself found out how difficult it
was to get a position, to procure employment without friends and
helpers? He, a man, had walked in search of it, day after day and felt
the griping pangs of hunger; had wished for night, and, later, wished
for the morn, only to find both equally barren.

Suddenly he spoke - slowly, like a man stating a proposition he has
argued carefully in his own mind. She listened, approved, while hope
already transfigured her face. She would have thanked him profusely but
he did not remain to hear her. In fact, he seemed hardly to see her now;
his features had become once more reserved and introspective.

He reappeared at the Van Rolsen house that day without Naughty. Miss Van
Rolsen, when she heard the news, burst into tears; then became furious.
She was sure he had sold Naughty, winner of three blue ribbons, and "out
of the contest" no end of times because superior to all competition!

A broken leash! Fiddlesticks! She penned advertisements wildly and
summoned her niece. That young lady responded to protestations and
questions with a slightly indifferent expression on her proud languid
features. What did she think of it? She didn't really know; her manner
said she really didn't care.

Mr. Heatherbloom, standing with the light of the window falling
pensively upon him, she didn't seem to see at all; he had once more
become a nullity. He rather preferred that r√іle, however; perhaps he
felt it was easier to impersonate annihilation, in the inception, than
to have it, or a wish for it, thrust later too strongly upon him.

"I adhere to my opinion that he sold Naughty. I should never have
employed this man," asserted Miss Van Rolsen, fastening her fiery eyes
on Mr. Heatherbloom. "Why don't you speak, my dear, and give me your
opinion?" To her niece.

"I haven't any, Aunt."

"You are discerning; you have judgment." Miss Van Rolsen spoke almost
hysterically. "Remember he" - pointing a finger - "came without our
knowing anything about him."

Miss Dalrymple did not stir; a bunch of bizarre-looking orchids on her
gown moved to her even rhythmical breathing. "What was he? Who was he?
Maybe, nothing more than - " She paused for want of breath, not of words,
to characterize her opinion of Mr. Heatherbloom.

He readjusted his posture. It was very bright outdoors; people went by
briskly, full of life and importance; children whirled along on roller

"When I asked your opinion, my dear, as to the wisdom of having employed
this person in the first place, under the circumstances, why did you
keep silent?" Was Miss Van Rolsen still talking, or rambling on to the
impervious beautiful girl? "You should have called me foolish,
eccentric; yes, that's what I was, to have taken him in as I did."

Miss Dalrymple raised her brows and moved to a piano to adjust the
flowers in a vase; she smiled at them with soft enigmatic lips.

"If I may venture an opinion, Madam," observed Mr. Heatherbloom in a
far-away voice, "I should say Naughty will surely return, or be

"You venture an opinion!" said Miss Van Rolsen. "You!"

Miss Dalrymple breathed the fragrance of the flowers; she apparently
liked it.

"You are discharged!" said Miss Van Rolsen violently to Mr.
Heatherbloom. "I give you the two-weeks' notice agreed upon."

"I'll waive the notice," suggested the young man at the window quickly.

"You'll do nothing of the sort." Sharply. "It'll take me that time to
find another incompetent keeper for them. And, meanwhile, you may be
sure," grimly, "you will be very well watched."

"Under the circumstances, I should prefer - since you _have_ discharged
me - to leave at once."

"Your preferences are a matter of utter indifference. You were employed
with a definite understanding in this regard."

Mr. Heatherbloom gazed rather wildly out of the window; two weeks. - that
much longer! He was about to say he would not be well watched; he would
take himself off - that she couldn't keep him; but paused. A contract was
a contract, though orally made; she could hold him yet a little. But why
did she wish to? He had not calculated upon this; he tried to think but
could not. He looked from the elder to the younger woman. The latter did
not look at him.

Miss Dalrymple had seated herself at the piano; her fingers - light as
spirit touches - now swept the keys; a Debussey fantasy, almost as
pianissimo as one could play it, vibrated around them. Outside the whir!
whir! of the skates went on. A little girl tumbled. Mr. Heatherbloom
regarded her; ribbons awry; fat legs in the air. The music continued.

"You may go," said a severe voice.

He aroused himself to belated action, but at the door he looked back.
"I'm sure it will be all right," he repeated to Miss Van Rolsen. "On my
word" - more impetuously.

At the piano some one laughed, and Mr. Heatherbloom went.

"Why on earth, Aunt, did you want to keep him two weeks longer?" he
heard the girl's now passionate tones ask as he walked away.

"For a number of reasons, my dear," came the response. "One, because he
wanted to leave me in the lurch. Another - it will be easier to keep an
eye on him until Naughty is returned, or" - her voice had the vindictive
ring of a Roman matron's - "this person's culpability is proven. Naughty
is a valuable dog and - "

Mr. Heatherbloom's footsteps hastened; he had caught quite enough, but
as he disappeared to the rear, the dream chords on the piano, now
louder, continued to follow him.



That night, as if his rest were not already sufficiently disturbed, a
disconcerting possibility occurred abruptly to Mr. Heatherbloom. It was
born in the darkness of the hour; he could not dispel it. What if the
person in whom he had confided in the park were not all she seemed? He
hated the insinuating suggestion but it insisted on creeping into his
brain. He had once, not so long ago, in his search for cheap lodgings,
stumbled upon a roomful of alleged cripples and maimed disreputables who
made mendicancy a profession; their jibes and jests on the credulity of
the public yet rang in his ears. What if she - his casual acquaintance of
the day before - belonged to that yet greater class of dissemblers who
ply their arts and simulations with more individualism and intelligence?

Mr. Heatherbloom sat up in bed. Naughty might be worth five or even ten
thousand dollars. He remembered having read at some previous time about
a certain canine whose proud mistress and owner was alleged to have
refused twenty thousand for him. The perspiration broke out on Mr.
Heatherbloom's face. Was Naughty of this category? He looked very
"classy," as if there couldn't be another beast quite like him in the
world. What had been the twenty-thousand-dollar mistress' name; not
Van - impossible!

But the more he told himself "impossible", the more positive grew a
certain perverse inner asseveration that it was quite possible. And what
if the person in the park had known it? He reviewed the circumstances of
their different meetings; details that had not impressed themselves upon
him at the time - that had almost escaped his notice, now stood out
clearer - too clear, in his mind. He remembered how she had brightened
astonishingly after the brief fainting spell when he had made his
ill-advised proposal. It had been as elixir to her. He recalled how she
had met him every day. Had it been mere chance? Or - disconcerting
suspicion! - had she deliberately planned -

For Mr. Heatherbloom there was no sleep that night. At the first signs
of dawn he was up and out, directing his steps toward the park, as a
criminal returns to the haunts of his crime. No faces of any kind now
greeted him there; only trees confronted him, gaunt, ghostlike in the
early morning mists. Even the squirrels were yet abed in their miniature
Swiss chalets in the air. The sun rose at last, red and threatening. He
now met a policeman who looked at him questioningly. Mr. Heatherbloom
greeted him with a blitheness at variance with his mood. Officialdom
only growled and gazed after the young man as if to say: "We'll gather
you in, yet."

It was past nine o'clock before Mr. Heatherbloom ventured to approach
the house; as he did so, the front door closed; some one had been
admitted. He himself went in through the area way; from above came
joyous barks, a woman's voice; pandemonium. Mr. Heatherbloom listened.
Later he learned what had happened; a young woman had brought back
Naughty; a very honest young woman who refused all reward.

"Sure," said the cook, who had the story from the butler, "and she spoke
loike a quane. 'I can take nothing for returning what doesn't belong to
me, ma'am. I am but doing my jooty. But if ye plaze, would ye be lookin'
over these recommends av mine - they're from furriners - and if yez be
havin' ony friends who be wanting a maid and yez might be so good as to
recommind me, I'd be thankin' of yez, for it's wurrk I wants.' Think av
that now. Only wurrk! Who says there arn't honest servin' gurrls,
nowadays? The mistress was that pleased with her morals an' her
manners - so loidy-loike! - she gave her the job that shlip av a Jane had;
wid an advance av salary on the sphot."

"You mean Miss Van Rolsen has actually engaged her?" Mr. Heatherbloom,
face abeam, repeated.

"Phawt have I been saying just now?" Scornfully. "Sure, an' is it ears
you have on your head?"

Mr. Heatherbloom, a weight lifted from his shoulders, departed from the
kitchen. He had wronged her - this poor girl, or young woman, who, in her
dire distress, had appealed to him. How he despised now the uncharitable
dark thoughts of the night! How he could congratulate himself he had
obeyed impulse, and not stopped to reason too closely, or to question
too suspiciously, when he had decided to act the day before!

All is well that ends well. All he had to do now was to complete as
unostentatiously as possible his term of service - But perhaps he would
be released at once?

No; not at once! Those anxious to supersede him began to dribble in, it
is true; but they faded away, one by one, after interviews with Miss Van
Rolsen, and returned no more. They were a mournful lot, these would-be,
ten-dollar-a-week custodians; Mr. Heatherbloom wondered if his own
physiognomy in a general way would merge nicely in a composite
photograph of them?

His duties he performed now as quietly as he could. Two weeks more, ten
days, nine, eight! Then? Ah, then!

He did not see Miss Van Rolsen again nor Miss Dalrymple. He encountered
the fair unknown, though, his acquaintance of the park, occasionally, as
she in demure cap and white ruffled apron glided softly her allotted
way. Sometimes he nodded to her in distant fashion, sometimes she got by
before he actually realized he had passed her. She seemed to move so
quickly and with such little ado; or, it may be, he was not very
observant. He didn't feel very keen on mere minor details these days; he
experienced principally the sensation of one who was now merely "marking
time", as it were - figuratively performing a variety of goose-step, the
way the German soldiers do.

But one day she - Marie, they called her - stopped him.

"I understand from one of the servants that it cost you your position
to - do what you did. You know what I mean - "

He looked alarmed. "Don't worry about that."

"But shouldn't I?" Steady dark eyes upon him.

"On the contrary!" Vigorously.

"I don't understand - unless. - "

"The salary - it is nothing here" - Mr. Heatherbloom gestured airily. "I
should do much better - one of my ability, you understand! - elsewhere."

"Could you?" She regarded him doubtfully. "But, perhaps, they - It was
not very pleasant for you here, anyway. Miss Van Rolsen - her niece, Miss
Dalrymple - does not like you." He started. "It was easy to see that;
when I mentioned regretfully that the good fortune that brought me where
there is plenty; to eat should have been the cause of your being in
disfavor, she stopped me short." Mr. Heatherbloom studied the distance.
"'The person you speak of intended leaving anyhow,' she said, and her
voice was - _mon Dieu_! - ice."

The listener swallowed. "Quite so," he said jauntily. "Miss Dalrymple
is absolutely correct."

She regarded him an instant with sudden, very mature gaze. "I can't
quite make you out."

"No one ever can. Don't try. It isn't worth while. Which reminds me" - he
rattled on - "I did you an injury; an injustice - "

"Ah?" she said quickly.

"In my mind! You will excuse me, but do you know that night after I had
consigned him to your care in the park, I afterward felt quite
anxious - "

"For what?" She came closer.

"Wondering if you - Ha! ha!" Mr. Heatherbloom stopped; in his confusion,
his endeavor to turn the conversation from himself and Miss Dalrymple,
he seemed to be getting into deep waters.

"You wondered what?" In a low tone.

Since he now felt obliged to speak, he did, coolly enough. "If you had
some ulterior motive!" he said with a quiet smile.

She it was who now started back, and her face paled slightly.
"Why? - what ulterior motive? What do you mean?"

He told her in plain words. She breathed more evenly; then smiled
sweetly. She had a strange face sometimes. "Thank you," she said. "You
are very frank, _mon ami_. I like you none the less for it. Though you
did so injure me - in your thoughts!" Her eyes had an enigmatic light.
"Well, I must go now to Miss Dalrymple. She is beginning to be so fond
of me." She drawled the last words as if she liked to linger on them.
"You see I, too, have a little Russian blood in me." Mr. Heatherbloom
looked down. "And I think she loves to hear me tell of that wonderful
country - the white nights of St. Petersburg - the splendid steppes - the
grandeur of our Venice of the north. Of course, she is immensely
interested in Russia now." Significantly. "Its ostentation, its
splendor, its barbaric picturesqueness! But tell me, what is her prince
like? He is very handsome, naturally! Or she would not so dote on him!"

Mr. Heatherbloom's features had hardened; he did not answer directly.
"She likes to talk about Russia?" he said, half to himself.

Marie shrugged. "Is it not to be her country some day?"

"No, it isn't!" The words seemed forced from his lips; he spoke almost
fiercely. "She may live there with him, but it will never be her
country. This is her country. She is its product; an American to her
finger-tips. And all the grand dukes and princes of the Winter Palace
can't change her. She belongs to old California; she grew up among the
orange trees and the flowers, and her heart will ever yearn for them in
your frozen land of tyranny!"

"Oh! oh! oh!" said Mademoiselle Marie. "How eloquent monsieur can be!
Quite an orator! One would say he, too, has known this land of orange
trees and flowers!"

"I?" Mr. Heatherbloom bit his lip.

But she only shook a finger. "Oh! oh!" Altogether like a different
person from his casual acquaintance of the park! He gazed at her
closer; how quickly the marks of trouble, anxiety, had faded from her
face; as if they had never existed.

"What do you mean?" he asked, looking into eyes now full of a new and
peculiar understanding.

"Nothing," she said and vanished.

He gazed where she had been; he could not account for a sudden strange
emotion, as if some one had trailed a shadow over him. A premonition of
something going to happen; that could not be foreseen, or averted!
Something worse than anything that had gone before! What nonsense! He
pressed his lips tightly and went about his duties like an automaton.

Eight days - seven days - six days more! - only six -



The blow fell, a thunderbolt from the clear sky. It dazed certain people
at first; it was difficult to realize what had happened, or if anything
_had_ really happened. For might not what seemed a deep and dire mystery
turn out to be nothing so very mysterious after all? A message would
soon come; everything would then be "cleared up" and those most
concerned would laugh at their apprehensions. But the hours went by, and
the affair remained inexplicable; no word was heard concerning Miss
Dalrymple's whereabouts; she seemed to have disappeared as completely as
if she had vanished on the Persian magic carpet. What could it mean? The
circumstances briefly were:

Miss Dalrymple, four or five days before Mr. Heatherbloom's term of
service came to an end, had expressed a desire to revisit her old home
and friends in the West. One of a party made up mostly of other
Californians - now residents of New York city - the girl had failed to
appear on the private car at the appointed time, and the train had
pulled out, leaving her behind. At the first important stop a telegram
had been handed to a gentleman of the party from Miss Dalrymple; it
expressed her regret at having reached the station too late owing to
circumstances she would explain later, and announced her intention of
coming on, with her maid, in a few days. They were not to wait anywhere
for her but to go right along.

The party did; it was sorry to have lost one of its most popular members
but no one thought anything more of the matter until at Denver, after a
telegram had been forwarded to the Van Rolsen house, in New York, asking
just when Miss Dalrymple would arrive, as camping preparations for a
joyous pilgrimage in the mountains were in progress.

Miss Van Rolsen gasped when this message reached her. Miss Dalrymple
and her maid - a young woman newly engaged by Miss Van Rolsen - had left
the house for the train to which the private car was attached; neither
had been heard from since. The aunt had, of course, presumed her niece
had gone as planned; she had received no word from her, but supposing
she was of a light-hearted, heedless company thought nothing of that. It
was possible Miss Dalrymple had actually missed her train; but if so,
why had she not returned to her aunt's house?

Where had she gone? What had become of her? No trace of her could be
found. Certain forces in the central railroad office at New York could
not discover any evidence that the young girl had taken a subsequent
train. There was no record of her name at any ticket office; no
state-room had been reserved by, or for her; in fact, telegrams to
officials in Chicago and other points west failed to elicit satisfactory
information of any kind.

Miss Van Rolsen found herself with something real to worry about; she
rose to the occasion; her niece, after all, was everything to her. The
Van Rolsen millions were ultimately for her, and the old lady's every
ambition was centered in the girl. She had been proud of her beauty, her
social triumphs.

With great determination she set herself to solve the puzzling problem.
Could people thus completely disappear nowadays? It seemed impossible,
she asserted, sitting behind closed doors in her library, to the private
agent of the secret-service bureau whom she had just "called in."

He begged to differ from her and pointed to a number of cases which had
seemed just as strange and mysterious in the beginning. Ransom - the
"Black Hand" - Who could say what secret influences had been at work in
this case? It was a very important one; Miss Dalrymple had money of her
own; she was known to be her aunt's heiress. The conclusion? - But this
was not Morocco, or Turkey, Miss Van Rolsen somewhat vehemently

True; we have had, however, our "civilized" Ransuilis, answered the
agent and mentioned a number of names in support of his theory. No
doubt, after an interval, Miss Van Rolsen would have news of her
niece - through those who had perpetrated the outrage; or she might even
receive a few written words from the girl herself. After that it was a
question of negotiating, or, while professing to deal with the
perpetrators, to ferret them out if one could. The latter course was
dangerous, for those who stoop to this particular crime are usually of a
desperate type; he and Miss Van Rolsen could consider that question
later. Meanwhile she must avoid worry as much as possible. The young
girl would, no doubt, be well treated.

Had the speaker looked around at this moment, he might have observed
that the heavy curtains, drawn before the door leading into the hall and
closed by Miss Van Rolsen, moved suddenly, but neither the agent nor
Miss Van Rolsen, engrossed at the far end of the room, noticed. The
drapery wavered a moment; then settled once more into its folds.

The telegram purporting to be from Miss Dalrymple to one of the party on
the train, could - the agent went on - very easily have been sent by some
one else; no doubt, had been. The miscreants had seized upon a lucky
combination of circumstances; for two or three days, while Miss
Dalrymple was supposed to be speeding across the continent, they,
unsuspected and unmolested, would be afforded every opportunity to
convey her to some remote and, for them, safe refuge. It was a cleverly
planned coup, and could not have been conceived and consummated
without - here he spoke slowly - inside assistance.

The curtain at the doorway again stirred.

"And now, Madam, we come to your servants," said the police agent. "I
should like to know something about them."

"My servants, sir, are, for the most part, old and trusted."

"'For the most part'!" He caught at the phrase. "We will deal first with
those who do _not_ come in that category."

"There's a young man recently employed that I have not been at all
pleased with. He leaves to-morrow."

"Ah!" said the visitor. "Not the person I met going out of the area
way, with the dogs as I came in?"

She answered affirmatively.

"H - mn!" He paused. "But tell me why you have not been pleased with him,
and, in brief, all the circumstances of his coming here."

Miss Van Rolsen did so in a voice she strove to make patient although
she could not disguise its tremulousness, or the feverish anxiety that
consumed her. She related the most trivial details, seeming
irrelevances, but the visitor did not interrupt her. Instead, he studied
carefully her face, pinched and worn; the angular figure, slightly bent;
the fingers, nervously clasping and unclasping as she spoke. He watched
her through habit; and still forbore speaking, even when she referred to
the escape of her canine favorite from his caretaker and how the dog had
later been returned, though the listener's eyes had, at this point,
dilated slightly.

"After his carelessness in this matter, he seemed to want to get away
from the house at once," observed Miss Van Rolsen, "without availing
himself of the two-weeks' notice I had agreed to give him."

The visitor relapsed into his chair; an ironical light appeared in his

"Perhaps," added Miss Van Rolsen, "you attach no significance to the

"On the contrary, I attach every importance to it. Has it not occurred

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryFrederic Stewart IshamA Man and His Money → online text (page 4 of 15)