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nightly, and Mr. Rushcroft was already booking return engagements for
the early fall. He was looking forward to a tour of Europe at the close
of the war.

"My boy," he said to Barnes on the platform of the railway station, "I
trust you will forgive me for not finding a place in our remarkably
well-balanced cast for your friend. I have been thinking a great deal
about her in the past few days, and it has occurred to me that she
might find it greatly to her advantage to accept a brief New York
engagement before tackling the real proposition. It won't take her long
to find out whether she really likes it, and whether she thinks it
worth while to go on with it. Let me give you one bit of advice, my
dear Miss Jones. This is very important. The name of Jones will not get
you anywhere. It is a nice old family, fireside name, but it lacks
romance. Chuck it. Start your new life with another name, my dear. God
bless you! Good luck and - good-bye till we meet on the Rialto."

"I wonder how he could possibly have known," she mused aloud, the pink
still in her cheeks as the train pulled out.

"You darling," cried Barnes, "he doesn't know. But taking it by and
large, it was excellent advice. The brief New York engagement meets
with my approval, and so does the change of name. I am in a position to
supply you with both."

"Do you regard Barnes as an especially attractive name?" she inquired,
dimpling.

"It has the virtue of beginning with B, entitling it to a place well
toward the top of alphabetical lists. A very handy name for patronesses
at charity bazaars, and so forth. People never look below B unless to
make sure that their own names haven't been omitted. You ought to take
that into consideration. If you can't be an A, take the next best thing
offered. Be a B."

"You almost persuade me," she smiled.

His sister met them at the Grand Central Terminal.

"It's now a quarter to five," said Barnes, after the greeting and
presentation. "Drop me at the Fifth Avenue Bank, Edith. I want to leave
something in my safety box downstairs. Sha'n't be more than five
minutes."

He got down from the automobile at 44th Street and shot across the
sidewalk into the bank, casting quick, apprehensive glances through the
five o'clock crowd on the avenue as he sprinted. In his hand he lugged
the heavy, weatherbeaten pack. His sister and the Countess stared after
him in amazement.

Presently he emerged from the bank, still carrying the bag. He was
beaming. A certain worried, haggard expression had vanished from his
face and for the first time in eight hours he treated his travelling
wardrobe with scorn and indifference. He tossed it carelessly into the
seat beside the chauffeur, and, springing nimbly into the car, sank
back with a prodigious sigh of relief.

"Thank God, they're off my mind at last," he cried. "That is the first
good, long breath I've had in a week. No, not now. It's a long story
and I can't tell it in Fifth Avenue. It would be extremely annoying to
have both of you die of heart failure with all these people looking on."

He felt her hand on his arm, and knew that she was looking at him with
wide, incredulous eyes, but he faced straight ahead. After a moment or
two, she snuggled back in the seat and cried out tremulously:

"Oh, how wonderful - how wonderful!"

Mrs. Courtney, in utter ignorance, inquired politely:

"Isn't it? Have you never been in New York before, Miss Cameron?
Strangers always find it quite wonderful at the - "

"How are all the kiddies, Edith, and old Bill?" broke in her brother
hastily.

He was terribly afraid that the girl beside him was preparing to shed
tears of joy and relief. He could feel her searching in her jacket
pocket for a handkerchief.

Mrs. Courtney was not only curious but apprehensive. She hadn't the
faintest idea who Miss Cameron was, nor where her brother had picked
her up. But she saw at a glance that she was lovely, and her soul was
filled with strange misgivings. She was like all sisters who have pet
bachelor brothers. She hoped that poor Tom hadn't gone and made a fool
of himself. The few minutes' conversation she had had with the stranger
only served to increase her alarm. Miss Cameron's voice and smile - and
her eyes! - were positively alluring.

She had had a night letter from Tom that morning in which he said that
he was bringing a young lady friend down from the north, - and would she
meet them at the station and put her up for a couple of days? That was
all she knew of the dazzling stranger up to the moment she saw her.
Immediately after that, she knew, by intuition, a great deal more about
her than Tom could have told in volumes of correspondence. She knew,
also, that Tom was lost forever!

"Now, tell me," said the Countess, the instant they entered the
Courtney apartment. She gripped both of his arms with her firm little
hands, and looked straight into his eyes, eagerly, hopefully. She had
forgotten Mrs. Courtney's presence, she had not taken the time to
remove her hat or jacket.

"Let's all sit down," said he. "My knees are unaccountably weak. Come
along, Ede. Listen to the romance of my life."

And when the story was finished, the Countess took his hand in hers and
held it to her cool cheek. The tears were still drowning her eyes.

"Oh, you poor dear! Was that why you grew so haggard, and pale, and
hollow-eyed?"

"Partly," said he, with great significance.

"And you had them in your pack all the time? You - !"

"I had Sprouse's most solemn word not to touch them for a week. He is
the only man I feared. He is the only one who could have - "

"May I use your telephone, Mrs. Courtney?" cried she, suddenly. She
sprang to her feet, quivering with excitement. "Pray forgive me for
being so ill-mannered, but I - I must call up one or two people at once.
They are my friends. I have written them, but - but I know they are
waiting to see me in the flesh or to hear my voice. You will
understand, I am sure."

Barnes was pacing the floor nervously when his sister returned after
conducting her new guest to the room prepared for her. The Countess was
at the telephone before the door closed behind her hostess.

"I wish you had been a little more explicit in your telegram, Tom," she
said peevishly. "If I had known who she is I wouldn't have put her in
that room. Now, I shall have to move Aunt Kate back into it to-morrow,
and give Miss Cameron the big one at the end of the hall." Which goes
to prove that Tom's sister was a bit of a snob in her way. "Stop
walking like that, and come here." She faced him accusingly. "Have you
told me ALL there is to tell, sir?"

"Can't you see for yourself, Ede, that I'm in love with her?
Desperately, horribly, madly in love with her. Don't giggle like that!
I couldn't have told you while she was present, could I?"

"That isn't what I want to know. Is she in love with YOU? That's what
I'm after."

"Yes," said he, but frowned anxiously.

"She is perfectly adorable," said she, and was at once aware of a
guilty, nagging impression that she would not have said it to him half
an hour earlier for anything in the world.

The Countess was strangely white and subdued when she rejoined them
later on. She had removed her hat. The other woman saw nothing but the
wealth of sun-kissed hair that rippled. Barnes went forward to meet
her, filled with a sudden apprehension.

"What is it? You are pale and - what have you heard?"

She stopped and looked searchingly into his eyes. A warm flush rose to
her cheeks; her own eyes grew soft and tender and wistful.

"They all believe that the war will last two or three years longer,"
she said huskily. "I cannot go back to my own country till it is all
over. They implore me to remain here with them until - until my fortunes
are mended." She turned to Mrs. Courtney and went on without the
slightest trace of indecision or embarrassment in her manner. "You see,
Mrs. Courtney, I am very, very poor. They have taken everything. I - I
fear I shall have to accept the kind, the generous proffer of a - " her
voice shook slightly - "of a home with my friends until the Huns are
driven out."

Barnes's silence was more eloquent than words. Her eyes fell. Mrs.
Courtney's words of sympathy passed unheard; her bitter excoriation of
the Teutons and Turks was but dimly registered on the inattentive mind
of the victim of their ruthless greed; not until she expressed the hope
that Miss Cameron would condescend to accept the hospitality of her
home until plans for the future were definitely fixed was there a sign
that the object of her concern had given a thought to what she was
saying.

"You are so very kind," stammered the Countess. "But I cannot think of
imposing upon - "

"Leave it to me, Ede," said Barnes gently, and, laying his hand upon
his sister's arm, he led her from the room. Then he came swiftly back
to the outstretched arms of the exile.

"A very brief New York engagement," he whispered in her ear, he knew
not how long afterward. Her head was pressed against his shoulder, her
eyes were closed, her lips parted in the ecstasy of passion.

"Yes," she breathed, so faintly that he barely heard the strongest word
ever put into the language of man.

Half-an-hour later he was speeding down the avenue in a taxi. His blood
was singing, his heart was bursting with joy, - his head was light, for
the feel of her was still in his arms, the voice of her in his
enraptured ears.

He was hurrying homeward to the "diggings" he was soon to desert
forever. Poor, wretched, little old "diggings"! As he passed the Plaza,
the St. Regis and the Gotham, he favoured the great hostelries with
contemplative, calculating eyes; he even looked with speculative envy
upon the mansions of the Astors, the Vanderbilts and the Huntingtons.
She was born and reared in a house of vast dimensions. Even the
Vanderbilt places were puny in comparison. His reflections carried him
back to the Plaza. There, at least, was something comparable in size.
At any rate, it would do until he could look around for something
larger! He laughed at his conceit, - and pinched himself again.

He was to spend the night at his sister's apartment. When he issued
forth from his "diggings" at half-past seven, he was attired in evening
clothes, and there was not a woman in all New York, young or old, who
would have denied him a second glance.

Later on in the evening three of the Countess's friends arrived at the
Courtney home to pay their respects to their fair compatriot, and to
discuss the crown jewels. They came and brought with them the consoling
information that arrangements were practically completed for the
delivery of the jewels into the custody of the French Embassy at
Washington, through whose intervention they were to be allowed to leave
the United States without the formalities usually observed in cases of
suspected smuggling. Upon the arrival in America of trusted messengers
from Paris, headed by no less a personage than the ambassador himself,
the imperial treasure was to pass into hands that would carry it safely
to France. Prince Sebastian, still in Halifax, had been apprised by
telegraph of the recovery of the jewels, and was expected to sail for
England by the earliest steamer.

And while the visitors at the Courtney house were lifting their glasses
to toast the prince they loved, and, in turn, the beautiful cousin who
had braved so much and fared so luckily, and the tall wayfarer who had
come into her life, a small man was stooping over a rifled knapsack in
a room far down-town, glumly regarding the result of an unusually
hazardous undertaking, even for one who could perform, such miracles as
he. Scratching his chin, he grinned, - for he was the kind who bears
disappointment with a grin, - and sat himself down at the big library
table in the centre of the room. Carefully selecting a pen-point, he
wrote:

"It will be quite obvious to you that I called unexpectedly to-night.
The week was up, you see. I take the liberty of leaving under the
paperweight at my elbow a two dollar bill. It ought to be ample payment
for the damage done to your faithful traveling companion. Have the
necessary stitches taken in the gash, and you will find the kit as good
as new. I was more or less certain not to find what I was after, but as
I have done no irreparable injury, I am sure you will forgive my love
of adventure and excitement. It was really quite difficult to get from
the fire escape to your window, but it was a delightful experience. Try
crawling along that ten inch ledge yourself some day, and see if it
isn't productive of a pleasant thrill. I shall not forget your promise
to return good for evil some day. God knows I hope I may never be in a
position to test your sincerity. We may meet again, and I hope under
agreeable circumstances. Kindly pay my deepest respects to the Countess
Ted, and believe me to be,

"Yours VERY respectfully,
"Sprouse.

"P.S. - I saw O'Dowd to-day. He left a message for you and the Countess.
Tell them, said he, that I ask God's blessing for them forever. He is
off to-morrow for Brazil. He was very much relieved when he heard that
I did not get the jewels the first time I went after them, and
immensely entertained by my jolly description of how I went after them
the second. By the way, you will be interested to learn that he has cut
loose from the crowd he was trailing with. Mostly nuts, he says.
Dynamiting munition plants in Canada was a grand project, says he, and
it would have come to something if the damned women had only left the
damned men alone. The expletives are O'Dowd's."

Ten hours before Barnes found this illuminating message on his library
table, he stood at the window of a lofty Park Avenue apartment
building, his arm about the slender, yielding figure of the only other
occupant of the room. Pointing out over the black house-tops, he
directed her attention to the myriad lights in the upper floors of a
great hostelry to the south and west, and said,

"THAT is where you are going to live, darling."

THE END












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Online LibraryGeorge Barr McCutcheonGreen Fancy → online text (page 20 of 20)