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too high, and he was evidently wretched in it. Also he had the look in his
eyes of a man whose boots are so tight that he wishes to die. His fancy
waistcoat and maroon necktie must have been forced upon him by a ruthless
salesman who would stop at no crime in the way of trade, and the
consciousness of these atrocities and the largeness of his scarf-pin had
reduced the poor fellow to the depths of gloom. In one hand he held a pair
of yellowish kid gloves which hung limp and feeble, like the dead bodies
of small animals, and on the floor near his feet, as if drawing attention
to the brilliance of his patent-leather shoes, was the latest extravagance
in silk hats.

"My spoilt statue!" Angela thought. "I believe he is as sorry for himself
as I am for him. Who knows, though? Perhaps I'm mistaken, and he's as
proud as Punch. In that case, I give him up!"

But she would not have believed any one who had told her that she, and she
alone, was the cause of the tragic change. He had wished to appear well in
her eyes, and had gone about it in the way that seemed best.




V

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE NIGHT


Walking down Fifth Avenue, after buying tickets via Washington and New
Orleans to Los Angeles, "Mrs. May" happened to see a poster advertising a
recital by a violinist she had always contrived to miss. At once she
decided to go; and as it was for that night, there was just time to hurry
back to the hotel, dine, and dress. She was lucky enough to get a box, in
which she sat hidden behind curtains, and the evening would have been a
success if the carriage ordered to take her home had not been delayed by a
slight accident. She had to wait for it, and was much later than she had
expected to be in getting back to the hotel. Theatres were over; suppers
were being eaten in the Louis Seize restaurant, into which Angela could
see as she got into the lift; and upstairs shoes had already been put
outside bedroom doors. In front of the one next her own, she saw two pairs
which made her smile a little, for, though she could not be certain, she
fancied that she recognized them. One pair was stout, unfashionable, made
for country wear; the other looked several sizes smaller, glittered with
the uncompromising newness of patent leather, and was ultra "smart" in
shape.

"Poor statue!" she said to herself. "If they're his, how dreadfully the
new ones must have hurt him!"

Then she went into her own room, where Kate presently came to undress her
with affectionate if inexperienced hands.

Angela was still excited by all the events of the day, her first in her
own country since childhood, and fancied that she would not be able to
sleep. But soon she forgot everything and lay dead to the world, very
still, very white in the light that stole through the window, very
beautiful, drowned in the waves of her hair. Then, at last, she began to
dream of Italy; that she was there; that she had never come away; and that
there was no escape. She moaned faintly in her sleep, and roused herself
enough to know that she was dreaming; tried to wake and succeeded,
breathing hard after her fight to conquer the dream.

"It's not true!" she told herself, pressing her face caressingly against
the pillow because it was an American pillow, not an Italian one in the
Palazzo di Sereno, and because it made her feel safe.

So she lay for a minute or two, comforting herself with the thought that
all bad and frightening things were left behind in the past, with a door,
double-locked by a golden key, shut forever between it and her. Nothing
disagreeable could happen now. And she was falling asleep once more, when
a slight noise made her heart jump. Then she and her heart both kept very
still, for it seemed that the noise was in the room, not far from her bed.

It came again, and Angela realized that it was at one of the two windows,
both of which were open.

At her request, Kate had pulled the dark blinds halfway up, and Angela
would have laughed at the suggestion that a thief could creep into a room
on the twelfth story. Nevertheless, the night glow of the great city
silhouetted the figure of a man black against the shining of the
half-raised window-panes. It was kneeling on the wide stone sill outside,
and slowly, with infinite caution, was pushing the heavy window-sash up
higher, so that it might be possible to crawl underneath and slip into the
room.

As she stared, incredulous at first, then driven to believe, Angela
guessed how the seeming miracle had been performed. The man had crept
along the cornice which belted the wall, on a level a few feet lower than
the line of the window-sills. She remembered noticing this as one suddenly
recalls some forgotten detail in a photograph. A clever thief might make
the perilous passage, helping himself along by one window-sill after
another until he reached the one he wanted.

Angela turned sick, her first thought being of the immense drop from her
window to the ground. "If he should fall!" were the words that sprang to
her lips. Then she remembered that it would be better for her if he should
fall. He meant to rob and perhaps to murder her. She ought to wish that he
might slip. But she seemed to hear a crash, to see a sight of horror, and
could not make the wish.

She lay motionless, her thoughts confused by the knocking of her heart. If
she jumped out of bed and ran across the room to the telephone, the man
could see her. Then, knowing that she was awake, and caution on his part
unnecessary, he would fling up the window, jump in, and choke her into
silence.

"What can I do?" she asked herself. In two or three minutes more the slow,
stealthy lifting of the window-sash would be finished, and the thief
would be in the room.

Her rings, and her gold bag with a good deal of money in it, lay on the
dressing-table. If only he would be satisfied with these, she might lie
still and let him act; but her watch was under the pillow, and her pearls
were round her throat. The pearls were worth far more than the bag, and
the black shadow out there must know that she had many things worth
taking, or it would not be at her window now.

"What can I do?"

Suddenly she thought of a thing she could do; and without stopping to ask
whether there were something else better, she leaned out of bed and
knocked on the door between her room and the next. The door was fastened,
but, rapping with one hand, with the other she slipped back the bolt.
"Quick - quick - help!" she called. "A thief is getting in at my window."

There was a faint click, the switching on of electric light, the swift
pushing back of a bolt, and the door flew open. The shoes she had seen in
the hall had told her the truth. It was the man she expected who stood for
the fifth part of a second in the doorway of her darkened room, then,
lithe and noiseless as an Indian, made for the window. The thief was taken
completely by surprise. When Angela suddenly cried out, he had been in the
act of letting himself down to the floor, by slipping under the
window-sash, raised just high enough for him to squeeze through. He had
half turned on the wide ledge, so as to get his legs through first and
land on his knees; therefore, he was seized at a disadvantage. The most
agile gymnast could not have pulled himself back from under the
window-frame, balanced his body steadily again on the stone ledge outside,
and have begun to crawl away toward safety, all in those few seconds
before the cry and its answer. He did his snaky, practised best, but it
was not quite good enough. The man from the next room was too quick for
him, and he was caught like a rat in a trap.

Angela sat up in bed, watching. The thing did not seem real at all. It was
but a scene in a play; the black figure, dragged along the floor like a
parcel, then jerked to its feet to have both arms pinioned behind its
back; and in a brief moment, with scarce a sound. The light from the next
room let her see the two men clearly: the tall one in pajamas, as he must
have sprung out of bed at her call: the little one in black, with a mask
of crape or some thin material over the upper part of his face. Now, in
the silent struggle, the mask had become disarranged, to show a small,
light, pointed moustache. She recognized it, and knew in an instant why
she had been thought worth robbing. This was the creature who had tried to
pick up her gold bag; he had seen her rings, and perhaps had spied the
pearls.

"Take care!" she gasped a warning. "He may have a revolver!" As she spoke,
she sank back on the pillows, feeling suddenly limp and powerless, as she
lay drowned in the long waves of hair that flowed round her like
moonlight.

"The little sneak won't get to draw it if he has," said the tall man, in a
tone so quiet that Angela was struck with surprise. It seemed wonderful
that one who had just fought as he had could have kept control of breath
and head. His voice did not even sound excited, though here was
trembling. "Don't be scared," he went on. "The mean galoot! A prairie-dog
could tear him to pieces."

"I'm not frightened - now," she answered. "Oh, thank you for coming. You've
saved my life. Can't I help? I might go to the telephone and call - - "

"No. Do nothing of the sort," her neighbour commanded. "There must be no
ructions in your room. I'm going to take this thing to my quarters. The
story'll be, he was getting into my window when I waked up and nabbed
him."

"Oh!" exclaimed Angela, roused to understanding and appreciation. "For me,
that would be good - but for you - - "

"For me, it's all right, too. And you don't come on in this act, lady."

"He'll tell," she said.

"I guess not. Not unless he's in a hurry to see what it's like down where
he goes next. If he so much as peeps while I'm in reach, I'll shake him
till his spine sticks out of his head like a telegraph-pole. Or if he
waits till he thinks I can't get at him, I'll scatter him over the
landscape with my gun, if I fire across a court-room. He sees I'm the kind
of man to keep my word." These threats were uttered in the same quiet
voice, and the speaker went on in a different tone, "I'll tell you what
you _can_ do, lady, if you don't mind. I hate to trouble you; but maybe
'twould be best for me not to try it with one hand, and him in the other.
If you'd slip into my room and push up the window nearest this way a few
inches higher, it would bear me out better when I say he came through
there."

Angela sat up again, and reached out for her white silk dressing-gown,
which lay across the foot of the bed. Wrapping it hastily round her, she
ran into her neighbour's room. As she flashed by him, where he stood
holding his captive, he thought more and more of his angel vision with the
moonlight hair, and it seemed a strange, almost miraculous coincidence
that he should behold it in real life, after describing his dreams to
Carmen Gaylor.

"The nearest window," Angela repeated, respecting the man's shrewdness and
presence of mind. The nearest window was the one to open, because the
thief had come crawling along in that direction on the cornice, and soon
it would be found out which room he had occupied, since he must be staying
in the hotel.

She pushed up the heavy sash, already raised some inches, and turning, saw
that the silent, sulky prisoner had been dragged in by her champion.

"Thank you, lady," said the latter, briskly. "Now, you just go back to
sleep and forget this - cut it out. The rest's my business."

"But - how can I let you have all this trouble on your shoulders?"
stammered Angela. "You'll have to bear witness against him. There'll be a
trial or something. You may be delayed, kept from doing things you want to
do - - "

"You can sure bet there's nothing on God's earth I want to do so much as
keep a lady out of this business," her neighbour assured her. "Now go back
to your room, please, and lock your door."

Their eyes met, and Angela felt herself thrill with admiration of this new
type which had set her wondering. The forest creature turned into a man,
was a man indeed!

"Good night, then," she said. "I can't thank you enough - for everything."

She flitted away, her small bare feet showing white and pink under the
lace of night-dress and dressing-gown. She locked her door obediently, as
she had been told, but she did not go back to bed, or try to forget. There
was a big easy chair not far from the door she had just closed, and she
subsided into it, limply, realizing that she had gone through a strenuous
experience. Huddled there, a minute later she heard her neighbour's voice
speaking through the telephone, and was consumed with curiosity as to how
he was keeping the wriggling prisoner quiet.

"He must have contrived to tie the wretch somehow," she told herself. "Or
perhaps he's strong enough to hold him with one hand. He's the sort of man
who would always think of an expedient and know how to carry it out."

It seemed dreamlike, that such a scene as her imagination, pictured was
really passing in the next room, where all was so quiet save for the calm
voice talking at the telephone, and Angela could not help listening
anxiously, hoping to catch a few words.

After the first murmur at the telephone, through the thick mahogany door,
there fell a silence more exciting to the listener than the indistinct
sounds had been. Then suddenly there was a stirring, and the mumble of
several heavy, hushed voices. After that, dead silence again, which
remained unbroken. Evidently the police had been sent for; had come; had
listened to the story of the attempted theft as told by the thief's
captor. Angela was sure his version had not been contradicted, or she
would certainly have heard a shot. The forest creature would have kept his
word! But he had not been tempted; and the thief had been carried away.
Angela wondered whether her neighbour had gone too - or whether he remained
in the next room, taking his own advice to her, and "trying to forget."
She would not be surprised if he were able to sleep quite calmly.




VI

WHEN THE TABLES WERE TURNED


Next morning Angela said nothing to Kate of what had happened in the
night. Her thoughts were full of the affair, but since the true version
was to be suppressed, it would be better to have no confidant. She asked,
however, to see a morning paper, and when it came was disappointed to find
no paragraph concerning the thief at the Hotel Valmont. She did not know
anything about the making of newspapers, but took it for granted that the
story had been too late for press, and became very eager to meet her
neighbour, that she might hear all at first hand from him.

She passed him hurriedly the day before, her head bent, because she was
afraid he meant to speak, and she would have to snub him. But now the
tables were turned. She dressed and went down early, making an excuse to
glance over a quantity of magazines and papers in the big hall, hoping
that he might appear. But he did not. It was almost, she told herself, as
if he were punishing her for avoiding him yesterday, by paying her back in
her own coin. Not that she believed he was really doing so. Yet it was
extremely aggravating that he should keep out of the way. He ought to have
understood that she would want to know what happened after the first
chapter of the story was brought to a close by the shutting of the door.

Because she was waiting for him (whether she acknowledged this or not) and
because he did not come, Angela thought of the man every moment, without
being able to put him out of her mind. He had shown such astonishing tact
as well as pluck last night, and was so good-looking, that his very lack
of cultivation made him more interesting as a study. She would have liked
to ask the hotel people about him; whence he came and what was his name;
but, of course, she did nothing of the sort. All she did was to make
various pretexts for lingering in the hall till nearly luncheon time; and
then the arrival of evening papers partly explained to her mind the
mystery of the man's absence. Also they made her a present of his name,
and a few other personal items.

"Nick Hilliard of California Makes Hotel Thief Feel Small," was the
heading of a conspicuous half-column which caught her eye.

The said thief, it seemed, was known to friends and enemies as "Officer
Dutchy." He had "worked" with success in Chicago and the Middle West, but
was a comparative stranger in New York. He "claimed" to have been an
officer in the German army, but probably lied, though he had evidently
been a soldier at one time. He had numerous aliases, and spoke with a
German accent. His name appeared on the register of the Valmont as Count
von Osthaven, and he admitted an attempt to enter the room occupied by Mr.
Hilliard, having reached it by a daring passage along a stone cornice,
from his own window, four rooms to the left, on the twelfth storey.

The case against "Officer Dutchy" would be an interesting one, as his
previous career was - according to the reporter - full of "good stories."
Mr. Hilliard was hoping, however, that it might be hurried on and off,
taking up as little time as possible, as he had use for every moment other
than hanging about a court-room giving evidence. Born in New York, he had
gone West while a boy, and had never since been in the East till a day or
two ago, when he had arrived from the neighbourhood of Bakersfield,
California, with the avowed intention of enjoying himself. Naturally he
did not want to have his enjoyment curtailed by business.

Angela felt guilty. It was her fault that the poor young man's holiday was
spoiled. She ought not to have let him take her burdens on his shoulders;
but it was too late to repent now. She could not come forward and tell the
real story, for that would do him harm, since it would differ from his
version. She could atone only by showing her gratitude in some way.
Because he came from California, she longed to show how friendly and kind
she could be to a man of her father's country - a man worthy of that
country and its traditions she began to think.

She lunched in a quiet corner of the restaurant; but Mr. Nickson Hilliard
of California did not show himself, and at last Angela went up to her own
rooms disappointed. Hardly had she closed the door, however, when a knock
sent her flying to open it again. A bellboy had brought a note, and she
sprang to the conclusion that it must be from Mr. Hilliard. He had found
out her name, and had written to tell what had happened behind the closed
door - the loose end of the story which the newspapers had not got, never
would get, from any one concerned. But the bright pink of excitement and
interest which had sprung to her face died away, as she opened the
envelope and glanced down the first page of the letter, which was headed,
"Doctor Beal's Nursing Home." She read:

Madam:

I am requested by Mr. Henry Morehouse of San Francisco to express
his regret at not being able to meet your ship and offer his
services as he hoped to do, at the request of his elder brother,
Mr. James Morehouse, of the Fidelity Trust Bank, San Francisco. Mr.
H. Morehouse was coming East on law business, when his brother
suggested that he make himself useful to you, and he was looking
forward to doing so, having known the late Mr. Franklin Merriam. On
starting, however, Mr. Morehouse was far from well, and found
himself so much worse on reaching New York, that he was obliged to
consult a doctor. The result was an immediate operation of
appendicitis. This was performed successfully yesterday and Mr.
Morehouse feels strong enough to express (through me) his regret,
wishing to explain why he failed, in case his brother may have let
you know that he intended to meet you.

Yours faithfully,

N. Millar

(Nurse in Doctor Beal's Private Hospital).

Mr. James Morehouse (in whose bank there were funds for "Mrs. May") had
not informed her of his brother's intentions, and though she was sorry to
hear of the poor man's sufferings, she could not regret his failure to
meet her at the ship. She did not wish to be helped, nor told how to see
things, nor be personally conducted to California. She enjoyed being free,
and vague, able to stop as long or as short a time as she liked on the
way. She wanted to see only places which she _wanted_ to see, not places
which she ought to want to see; for there was sure to be a difference.

* * * * *

Nevertheless, she wrote a gracious answer to the letter, and ordered
flowers sent to Doctor Beal's Nursing Home, for Mr. Henry Morehouse. Then
she proceeded to forget him, unconscious of the direct influence his
illness was to have upon her future. She thought far more about Mr.
Nickson Hilliard, whom she had avoided yesterday, and who seemed to avoid
her to-day. The fact that the letter which had brought colour to her face
was from a strange, unwanted Mr. Morehouse, vexed the Princess
unreasonably with Nickson Hilliard, who ought to have written, if he could
not call, to tell his story; and when she heard nothing from him, saw
nothing of him, it was in resentment that she left New York next morning.
Though it was entirely subconscious, the real thought in her mind was:

"Since he didn't choose to take the chance when he had it, now he shan't
have it at all!"

For a woman of twenty-three is very young. It is annoying to be cut off in
the midst of an adventure, by the hero of the adventure, when you have
flattered yourself that the poor fellow was yearning to know you. If
Angela was unjust to Hilliard she was not an isolated instance; for all
women are unjust to all men, especially to those in whom they are
beginning to take an interest. Angela did not know that she was interested
in Nickson Hilliard, and would have laughed if any one had suggested the
idea, from a personal point of view; but in her social reign as the
Princess di Sereno, she had been a good deal spoiled - by every one except
the Prince. Vaguely, and like a petted child, she had taken it for granted
that all men were glad to be "nice" to her, and she thought the "forest
creature" was showing himself a backwoods creature - rude and
unenlightened.

Angela loved the sea, and chose to travel on it whenever she could. The
trip from New York to New Orleans was even more interesting than she had
expected from tales of her father's, for the ship steamed along the coast,
in blue and golden weather, turning into the Gulf of Mexico after rounding
the long point of Florida. Cutting the silk woof of azure, day by day, a
great longing to be happy knocked at Angela's heart, like something
unjustly imprisoned, demanding to be let out. She had never felt it so
strongly before. It must be, she thought, the tonic of the air, which made
her conscious of youth and life, eager to have things happen, and be in
the midst of them. But Kate was a comfort, almost a friend. And Timmy the
cat was a priceless treasure.

No town in America, perhaps, could have contrasted more sharply with New
York than New Orleans. Angela felt this, even as the ship moved slowly
along the great canal and slipped into the dark, turbid gold of the
Mississippi River. The drowsy landscape on either side was Southern
landscape, and among live-oaks draped with mourning flags of moss, and
magnolia-trees gemmed with buds, there were planters' houses which seemed
all roof and balcony. Buzzards flew up suddenly, out of rice-fields, as
the ship rounded a curve - creatures big and long-legged as the storks of
Holland and Algeria. The wharf, when the ship docked at last, was filled
with bales of cotton, and it was as if all the negroes in America must
have come down to meet the boat. She might have been walking into an old
story of Cable's, in the days "befoh the wah."

Her idea had been to travel on to the West next day, but New Orleans held
her. She had left the Old World eagerly for the New; but this bit of the
Old, in the midst of the New, made her feel as if she had stumbled into an
ancient Spanish court, in the middle of a modern skyscraper. The contrast
was sharp as the impress of an old seal in new wax, and Angela loved it.
She liked her hotel, too, and said but half-heartedly each morning,
"To-morrow I'll go on." With Kate for duenna, she wandered through streets
which, though they had historic French names, reminded her more of Spain
than of France, with their rows of balconies and glimpses of flowery
patios paved with mossy stones, or cracked but still beautiful tiles. She
made friends with an elderly French shopkeeper of the Vieux Carré, who



Online LibraryAlice Muriel WilliamsonThe Port of Adventure → online text (page 4 of 25)