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gathered her to his breast swiftly, ere she could resist,
and kissed her again.

"I may as well enjoy what I can," was his thought.

There was a fine warm color upon Imogen's cheeks
when he saw her presently in the other room. She was
handsome, but he frowned at his thoughts all the same.

Next day he sought Lady Chatfield at once with his
news.

"Yes," said she, calmly. "Imogen told me as much
last night. She seemed very happy.

"But what is to be done?" he demanded in despair.

"I'm afraid you've bungled it," commented Lady
Chatfield, shaking her head. "You've overdone it."

238



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"She said that Pearse was off — that it was never seri-
ous," he groaned.

"I am very glad to hear it," said Lady Chatfield,
smoothing out her paper. "It relieves my mind."

"But, my dear lady," he exclaimed, "there is me."

"What will you do?" asked Lady Chatfield, placidly.

"Good heavens, I can't say," he cried. "But you
know it is impossible, as we agreed. A jest "

"I don't know," said Lady Chatfield thoughtfully;
"you will be Lord de Lys some day, and in the mean-
time you have quite enough. I have no objection in the
world to you. Does she seem very fond of you?"

"How can I tell?" he wailed. "She let me kiss her."

"She's very good-looking, you know," suggested her
mother.

"She's beautiful, I admit," said Charmian. "But "

"I think you'll like her very much," she continued.

"I do like her," cried Charmian. "But "

"You could have Langley, and there is your place at
the Towers," she pursued, dispassionately.

"Perhaps — perhaps I should beat her," said Char-
mian.

"You'd get along very well, I'm sure. Oh yes, you'd
like her very much," added Lady Chatfield.

"I'm sure I should beat her," said Lord Francis
viciously.

Lady Chatfield eyed him with some compassion. "Of
course, you could break it off," she suggested.

He made a grimace. "You know that is impossible,"
he returned, "unless she did."

Lady Chatfield took up her paper. He stood up and
strode twice up and down the room; then meeting her
eyes he went off into a fit of laughter, in which his
companion good-humoredly joined.

"Oh well," he said, as he left the room, "Imogen is
pretty, and that's something."

Vol. 18—16 239



1

COMEDY '

By the time he had reached the meadows beyond the
park he had considered himself into quite a cheerful
frame of mind. He was not of a character to take
things too solemnly, and in any case the present was
always sufficient for him. So when he encountered
Imogen quite by accident in a pied field of buttercups
and marsh-marigolds, he met her with an eager air.

"Imogen — dearest," said he quite easily, and would
have drawn her sharply to him.

She had greeted him with shy satisfaction, but now
her cheeks stained red, and she drew back, a puzzled ex-
pression in her eyes.

"I'd — I'd rather not. Lord Francis," said she awk-
wardly.

The denial piqued him. "Darling!" he said re-
proachfully; "and 'Lord Francis,' too!"

It was nicer and pleasanter than he had imagined.

She grew more embarrassed. "You see," she ex-
plained in a lame and hurried voice, "I'd rather it was
kept secret just now, and — and in that case, you see you
mustn't — mustn't "

"Mustn't I?" he asked in dismay, feeling that his only
consolation for the situation was slipping from him.
"Upon my soul, Imogen, I don't think that's fair."

"Well, you see, people might — might see," she plead-
ed, in her agitation. "And besides — there isn't — what
is there in? — it isn't very much to "

"Oh, isn't it?" remarked Charmian, seating himself
gloomily on the tree-bole, while she stood by, watch-
ing him anxiously. "It shows, my dear, how little you
know. Why, it's the one consola — that is, the chief
pleasure in meeting you. You will get accustomed to
it, believe me," he went on philosophically, almost in
her mother's manner. "You'll get to like it, I'm sure."

Imogen was hotter than ever, and turned away ab-
ruptly.

240






THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"You're surely not going!" he went on. "Oh, Imo-
gen! When shall I see you again? Will you sit next
me at luncheon?"

"Of course I couldn't do such a silly thing," she said
impatiently.

"Well, will you come into the garden with me after
dinner? or the conservatory? and mind, if you
speak to that fool Mountesk I shall be angry with
you!"

"You are unreasonable," broke out Imogen indig-
nantly.

"Well, my dear, I have a violent temper of jealousy,
and the sooner we're married the better," he pursued
agreeably. "Upon my soul, I don't see why we
shouldn't be married in June— after May, you know."

"Married!" echoed Miss Langley aghast, and in tear-
ful tones. "You never think / have anything to say
about it," she stammered. "I — I "

"Well, well, think over it. and let me know to-
morrow," said Charmian graciously.

The next day he detained her after breakfast. He
noticed that she was silent, and he fancied that he saw
a disposition to avoid him. This set him on more
ardently, and he began to take warmly to his part.

"Imogen, may I have a word with you?" he
whispered in her reluctant ears; and when they were
alone, "Now, what about our wedding day?" It seemed
to him that she started and drew a frightened breath,
also that she whitened. "Come," he went on with
cheerful alacrity, "the Towers will be quite ready in
June, and I've wired about the furniture, and asked
the housekeeper to attend to matters, and . . . Oh, I
say, I hope you won't mind, but I've let it out to
Mountesk."

"To whom?" she asked, tremblingly.

241



i



COMEDY

"Mountesk. I couldn't stand his face, and his airs,
and his — his superiority.'

"You told Lord Mountesk?" Miss Langley cried in
dismay. "What did he say?"

"Oh, I think he swore," said Charmian indifferently.
"I didn't pay much attention. In fact, I've just left him,
and I don't advise any lady to pass that way just now."

A flush of anger, derived whence he knew not. cap-
tured Imogen's face.

"Now, just one kiss, Imogen," he began briskly;
when suddenly she flamed forth an exclamation, swept
from him, and was gone. Charmian stared ruefully at
the door; then he whistled.

"If this is being engaged, I don't call it much fun."
he murmured. Then he took his hunting-crop and
went out to the stables, humming an air.

Miss Langley came to him in the evening. She was
grave, she was humble, she was downcast, and she was
troubled; and her eyes were rimmed with a mist of
tears.

"I have — a confession to make to you. Lord Francis,"
she began in a low voice. "I wonder if — if you can for-
give me."

"Try me. dear," he said flippantly.

"No, no; you will not understand. I have made a
mistake," — she hurried forward, — "a horrible mistake."

"A mistake!" repeated Lord Francis, wondering
what turn affairs might be taking.

"I overheard accidentally parts of a talk you had with
my mother; and, you see, I — oh, I am ashamed — I
abominably misinterpreted it. I thought you were —
were — doing what you did in jest. I never guessed —
believe me, I never guessed you were serious, or I
would not have tampered with — with "

"With my young affections," said Charmian, drily :
"I see."



242



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

There was a silence. It ought to have been a relief,
but somehow it was not to Charmian. On the con-
trary he felt a trifle annoyed. But he put on his usual
good humor when he spoke.

"I hope this will be a lesson to you, IMiss Langley,"
he said solemnly, "not to '

"It will be — it will be," she promised him tearfully.

"Then that was why you wouldn't let me — "

"Yes, that was why," said Miss Langley very hur-
riedly.

There was another period of silence. "Then you are
still engaged, after all, to Mr. — Mr. "

"No," she cried, "I never really was. That was true.
I only pretended to be, to frighten mother. He was
horrid."

"Well," said Charmian more cheerfully, strange to
say: "it seems to me you're quite good at pretending.
But if that is so, it may not be too late for us. I hope
I'm not horrid."

"Oh no, but you don't understand," she cried in dis-
tress, turning her favorite red. "You see, there is an-
other — some one else."

"Ah!" said Charmian, and then, with an inspiration,
"not Mountesk?" he cried.

He saw the admission in her pretty face.

"Damn !" said he. "I beg your pardon, but I think
I've been a fool, and I think Lord Mountesk will have
taken me for one."

"Oh, it is I, it is I who have made you one," she cried
penitently.

"My dear Imogen, there is no doubt of that," said
Charmian drily. "You did, but you couldn't have made
so big a fool of me if you hadn't had my assistance."

"Forgive me," she pleaded, lifting an abashed but
smiling face.



243



COMECY

"I will," he said. 'But I'm hanged if III forgive
Mountesk !"

"But he has done nothing," she exclaimed. "It is all
me."

"That is true," assented Charmian "Well. I'll for-
give you both." She had the air of restlessness — of one
awaiting her dismissal. "I hope you'll be happy," said
he in broken tones, and, pressmg her hand, abruptly
turned away. Miss Langley gazed wistfully after him.

"I don't like it," confessed Charmian to himself, as he
walked oflf. "It's abominable. But perhaps she would
have grown old like her mother. No; I shall prefer
her to talk to."



244



CHAPTER VII

THE TURQUOISE NECKLACE

There was no quarter of the town to which Lord
Francis Charmian considered himself confined. He
roamed over the points of the compass at his pleasure :
Piccadilly, Belgravia, Bayswater. or the extreme shores
of the East. There was one, Bailey, who had been at
college with him — a pushing, industrious, and capable
fellow, assured of success in his profession, which was
the Bar. Bailey sent him from time to time formal
cards of invitation to evening parties and "at homes,"
which he had rarely acknowledged and never used.
Yet Bailey had been quite an excellent fellow seven
years back, and as he turned over his cards Charmian
suddenly remembered this to his shame. His heart
pricked him. He recalled that Bailey had red hair, and
wanted to get on. Besides, he could not for the life
of him remember which of the other invitations for
that night he had accepted and which refused. That
settled the question. He called a cab and drove off to
Ashton Gardens, Kensington.

Bailey was delighted to see him, muttered something
pleasantly awkward about their old friendship, and intro-
duced him to the widow of a baronet, who sat stark
and prim and discussed church work. Charmian recog-
nized again that Bailey was striving hard to get on.
and on his earliest opportunity escaped. He knew no
one present save his host, which was all the better. It
seemed a queer assemblage to him, and they did things

245



COMEDY

he had not thought of. For one, you might turn into a
further room when you wished, and ask a fat waiter
for a champagne cup or claret. Charmian did so once ;
then he changed his order to whisky; and a little after
he began to look more briskly upon the room. The
lights glanced pleasantly about him from old polished
furniture and wonderful glasses. Bailey had a knack of
taste and knew how to furnish to a nicety. The room
was a pleasure ; so, also, he discerned next, were one or
two women. They dressed well, and they looked well,
and what was more, they seemed to talk well. If they
had a fault, they knew too much and showed it. Bailey
was abominably busy and abominally gay. Charmian
wrenched himself away from some one who would talk
of Hurlingham, and precipitated himself on an old gen-
tleman of a grave and severe expression.

"I beg your pardon," said he. "The crush is so great,
and there is a girl there in pink who has shoved me
over three times."

The old gentleman did not respond to this flippancy,
but he acknowledged the apology with a severe bow.
"Pray do not mention it," said he ; "you have only made
me swallow half a cup of coffee the wrong way."

"As you ask me, I won't," said Lord Francis, cheerily.
"By the way, you don't happen to be our host, do you?
No? I'm glad to hear that. But one never knows in
these fashionable assemblages. And by the way again,
do .you happen to know which is our host, and what
he is?"

"Mr. Bailey," said the old gentleman acidly, "is a very
rising barrister. I was well acquainted with his father.
My name is Grant, and I am of the firm of Grant &
Beach, accountants."

This was delivered in a tone of such disapproval as
invited obviously a similar confidence or a withdrawal.

246



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

But Charmian neither gave his confidence nor retired.
Instead, he broke out in a friendly, interested voice.

"Accountants ! By Jove ! I'm so glad I met you. I've
got shares in some companies, and I've always wanted
to know. I read the balance-sheets regularly. But —
look here, do tell me. Who gets all that money?"

"I fear I am in the dark as to what you are alluding
to," remarked Mr. Grant with dignity and prudence.

"My dear sir. I'm sure you know," said Charmian con-
fidentially. "I express myself badly. Those accounts,
you know — they put down what they pay out three
times or so, and then add it up and subtract it from
. . . Well, hang it, they haven't paid three times, you
know. Now, who gets that balance they make out of
the mess? Between ourselves now, isn't it the ac-
countant?"

"Sir!" cried Mr. Grant, very red and furious.

"Oh ! my dear sir . . ." began Charmian, but at
that second his eye was caught by a girl's face across
the room. "We will resume this argument later, sir,"
he said hurriedly. "My name's George, sir — George, the
socialist, you know," and he was swallowed in the crowd
in an instant.

Lord Francis had seized a chance. This same girl
was one that he had picked out earlier, but had lost
continually. He rushed through the throng, and fell
into a seat next her in the nick of time, thereby receiving
upon his knees the weight of a stout man who had been
more deliberate.

"I beg your pardon," said both together, and Charmian
turned to the girl and laughed. "Won't you have some
'cup'?" he asked anxiously.

The girl, startled out of her sympathetic smile, drew
in her breath with a gasp and faltered. "Do !" said
Charmian, rising.

He led the way into the next room, and placed a

247



COMEDY

chair for her. "The fact is," said he, filling her glass,
"you are wondering who I am, and why I address you
so abruptly. Well, perhaps I wonder myself as to the
latter, but one never knows. Still, I can relieve your
mind about the first. I am a private detective."

The young lady started once more, spilling the "cup"
over her dress.

"I am very sorry," said he, "if I have alarmed you,"
and he mopped at the dress skilfully with his handker-
chief. "Let me recommend boracic acid," he said : "most
useful. I always use it in my cases."

"Thank you," relied the lady, stammering; "but — but
— may I ask — why are you — what — are you a friend of
Mr. Bailey's?"

"Hush !" remonstrated Charmian. "Not a word. We
may be overheard, and I have no desire to give Mr.
Bailey away. No, I am not. I am here under an alias
to watch some one. Don't be alarmed : it isn't you. I'm
supposed to be a member of the aristocracy — Lord Fran-
cis something or other they call me — Bailey calls me,
that is," he added with contempt. "But please, Miss —
Miss "

"Bagot," said the lady hesitatingly.

"Miss Bagot, — please don't say anything to Bailey.
The fact is, as I hope you see, I am really of a rather
superior quality to the ordinary detective. But poverty —
poverty — you can guess. Miss Bagot."

He sighed airily, and looked about the room. He had
no motive in this impudent nonsense, which issued out
of the irrepressible whimsicality of his nature ; and to
say the truth, his interest was now wandering to some-
thing else. But it appeared that his companion was
more deeply engrossed. She sat meditating and fidget-
ing, and presently she turned to him.

"May I ask you a question, Mr. — Mr. ?"

248



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"Graves is my professional name," said Charmian
meaningly.

"Mr. Graves — I don't know why you have told me
this."

"I told you I didn't either," said Lord Francis help-
lessly.

"But," pursued Miss Bagot eagerly, "I should like to
know whether you — I mean if you are here profession-
ally, perhaps you could help — you see I — I have lost
something."

Charmian drew down his cuff. "My dear young lady,"
said he promptly, "let me have the particulars."

She shook her head. "Oh no; not here. I couldn't.
It's very serious. I — my brother's here. Could you
drive back with us? I will speak to him."

As she spoke she fluttered away towards an elderly
young man who had just entered the refreshment room,
and Charmian observed her engage in an animated
conversation.

""Well." thought he, "I've let myself in for it this
time, unless I make a bolt for it."

He did not bolt, however, for something amusing
turned up. and he forgot Miss Bagot. until, having bid-
den his host farewell, he left the house, and found
himself tapped on the arm.

"I'm glad you've come. Mr. Graves, isn't it?" said
the elderly young man. "I'm Mr. Bagot. My sister tells
me you are going to be good enough to help us."

"Why. to be sure!" cried Charmian brightly, after
a momentary stare of surprise. I think I'm your man —
Miss Bagot's man. I mean."

"She has lost a valuable piece of jewelry — not only
valuable, but precious to her. There is no question that
it was stolen, and we cannot bear to feel there is a
thief in the house. We were thinking of calling in a



249



COMEDY

detective only yesterday, but we are fortunate in having
met you."

"You are," assented Charmian affably — "very fortu-
nate ! I'll soon put this case right for you."

"It is late now " began Mr. Bagot.

"Oh, bless you, never too late," interposed Lord
Francis airily. "I often begin my cases at three in the
morning. In fact, I prefer it. You have more time for
quiet thought and observation."

"I thought I might call at your office to-morrow,"
suggested Mr. Bagot.

"Oh — er — well — I — there again I have my method too,"
said Charmian. "I should prefer to call on you pri-
vately."

"Certainly, certainly, Mr. Graves," assented Mr.
Bagot : "we will trust to you entirely."

"And what the devil am I to trust to?" asked Char-
mian comically of himself as he whirled home in his
hansom.

The first thing upon which Charmian's eyes lighted
the next morning, after his man had shaved him, was
a card on the mantelpiece, reading :

Mr. Richard Bagot,

Clayton Square, W.

"Now, who the — why, of course, yes," said he mus-
ingly. "It's that pretty detective girl with those un-
common eyes." He was silent for a time, turning the
card in his fingers and considering. "Jacob, call a cab,"
he said at last, abruptly.

In twenty minutes Lord Francis was driving west at
an hour, as he considered, not too early for business.
At Clayton Square Mr. Bagot was in ; indeed, as he
himself explained, was awaiting his visitor. "We look
to you, Mr. Graves," he said; and Charmian, nodding
his head, reassured him.

250



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

"At the same time, Mr. Graves," pursued Mr. Bagot
deliberately, with his finger-tips together, "it would be
satisfactory to both of us, I imagine, if you were to
give me a reference as to — your credentials, in fact.
Those things, you know," he added with a deprecating
smile, "are customary even with ambassadors."

"My dear sir," said Lord Francis glibly, "I rejoice
to see you so prudent a man, for it shows me my task
will be easier. If you will refer to the Duke of Revel-
stoke, you will, I have no doubt, satisfy yourself com-
pletely. I had the honor to be of use to the Duchess in
a little affair some six months ago — very awkward little
affair."

"Thank you, thank you," said Mr. Bagot courteously ;
I will write at once."

"And now that that is amicably arranged," went on
Charmian, speaking with continued glibness, and sus-
tained by the recollection that the Duke was out of
Europe, and at all events would never discern his shame-
less nephew under the alias of Mr. Graves, — "and now
let's to business" : with which he pulled out a very new
and large note-book, bound with silver clasps, and, ply-
ing a large pencil, looked austerely at his employer.

"Pardon me; there is one thing more, and that is
terms," said Mr. Bagot.

Charmian waved his pencil with graceful indifference.
"I will leave that to you, sir," said he.

"Pardon me," remonstrated Mr. Bagot firmly, amazed
at this unusual attitude, "I never go into anything with-
out a clear understanding."

Charmian considered ; he had no notion as to the
charges of this class of professional. "My customary
fee is twenty pounds," he said with dignity.

Mr. Bagot opened his eyes, and Charmian saw that he
had overshot the mark. "We will say half a sovereign,"
he said hurriedly.

251



COMEDY

Mr. Bagot coughed and frowned. "Oh, well, I sup-
pose you know your business, Mr. Graves ; we will, if
you please, now proceed to facts."

"Yes, let us get to facts," said Charmian with relief.
"May I have Miss Bagot in the room? Thank you; I
shall want to refer to her."

Mr. Bagot rang the bell, and his sister was presently
brought, seeming to be very greatly interested and
wholesomely handsome.

"Now then, please," said Charmian, in tones of invi-
tation.

"It — it was a turquoise necklace," began Miss Bagot
breathlessly, "and it was stolen from my dressing-table
a week ago."

"That's important," put in Charmian, scribbling in
his note-book. "What time?"

"Well, I couldn't tell you that," replied Miss Bagot;
"but it was there, I know, when I came down to dinner,
and next morning it was gone."

"Absolutely gone," added Mr. Bagot.

"Absolutely gone," replied Charmian, nodding as he
made his notes. "And now," said he, rising, "I had
better inspect the room."

"Oh, but I haven't finished," pleaded the young lady,
and he sat down at once.

"No; of course not," he said cheerfully. "Pray con-
tinue, my dear young lady."

Mr. Bagot eyed him with some coldness, and Char-
mian fancied that he had not been behaving properly.
He frowned and stuck the harder to his pencil, and at
last, under the impression that he must redeem him-
self, he ventured on a more abrupt manner. "This is
all very well — yes, yes," he interrupted her, "but it is
quite immaterial."

"Pardon me," said Mr. Bagot, precisely, "I fail to

252



■irr um f . m u am^ i»jW»i»'



THE SKIRTS OF CHANCE

see how the engagements of the servants can be other-
wise than most material to the problem."

The worm turned. "My dear sir," said Charmian
impatiently, laying aside his pencil, "am I conducting
this case, or you?"

Mr. Bagot agreed primly that the case was in Mr.
Graves' hands.

"Very well," said Charmian, "then I must be allowed
my way. "You see," he was good enough to explain,
"you see, the one thing we've got to bear in mind is
that the most unlikely person is sure to be the guilty
one."

"Not sure to be, Mr. Graves?" asked Miss Bagot,
doubtfully.

"Quite — quite sure — that is to say, almost sure," he
corrected, with a wish that before he had started he
had looked into the rules laid down for detectives by
a famous writer. However, he remembered that one.
"Now, where were your servants?"

"Why, I told you that!" exclaimed Miss Bagot.

"Why — 'm — yes — to be sure — so you did," he mut-
tered, examining his notes hastily.

"If I may be allowed to " began Mr. Bagot, de-
liberately.

"My dear sir," said Charmian, testily, "I wish you
would be good enough to go away. Miss Bagot and
I could manage this afifair so much better together."

"Mr. Graves!" said Mr. Bagot with formidable sol-
emnity.

"Pray forgive my abruptness," interrupted Charmian
soothingly, "but I am always irritable when I have a
theory. It is my practice. I should like to be alone
with Miss Bagot."

"You have a theory?" asked Mr. Bagot, mollified.

Charmian touched his head, and of a sudden some



253



COMEDY

particulars as to what his conduct should be recurred
to him.

"If you will be so good as to leave me here with a
glass of milk and Miss Bagot for ten minutes — and if
Miss Bagot would play a little "

"I can't play," said Miss Bagot, in a little blushing
confusion.

"Oh, that's awkward; nor can I," said Charmian,
"but never mind — I'll manage without it. Stay; I
think I'd better go and inspect Miss Bagot's room/'


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