The Bandbox
by Louis Joseph Vance
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Staff took up his manuscript and began to read aloud....

Three hours elapsed before he put aside the fourth act and turned expectantly to Alison.

Elbow on knee and chin in hand, eyes fixed upon his face, she sat as one entranced, unable still to shake off the spell of his invention: more lovely, he thought, in this mood of thoughtfulness even than in her brightest animation.... Then with a little sigh she roused, relaxed her pose, and sat back, faintly smiling.

"Well?" he asked diffidently. "What do you think?"

"It's splendid," she said with a soft, warm glow of enthusiasm—"simply splendid. It's coherent, it hangs together from start to finish; you've got little to learn about construction, my dear. And my part is magnificent: never have I had such a chance to show what I can do with comedy. I'm delighted beyond words. But ..." She sighed again, distrait.

"But—?" he repeated anxiously.

"There are one or two minor things," she said with shadowy regret, "that you will want to change, I think: nothing worth mentioning, nothing important enough to mar the wonderful cleverness of it all."

"But tell me—?"

"Oh, it's hardly worth talking about, dear boy. Only—there's the ingenue role; you've given her too much to do; she's on the stage in all of my biggest scenes, and has business enough in them to spoil my best effects. Of course, that can be arranged. And then the leading man's part—I don't want to seem hypercritical, but he's altogether too clever; you mustn't let him overshadow the heroine the way he does; some of his business is plainly hers—I can see myself doing it infinitely better than any leading man we could afford to engage. And those witty lines you've put into his mouth—I must have them; you won't find it hard, I'm sure, to twist the lines a bit, so that they come from the heroine rather than the hero...."

Staff held up a warning hand, and laughed.

"Just a minute, Alison," said he. "Remember this is a play, not a background for you. And with a play it's much as with matrimony: if either turns out to be a monologue it's bound to be a failure."

Alison frowned slightly, then forced a laugh, and rose. "You authors are all alike," she complained, pouting; "I mean, as authors. But I'm not going to have any trouble with you, dear boy. We'll agree on everything; I'm going to be reasonable and you've got to be. Besides, we've heaps of time to talk it over. Now I'm going to change and get up on deck. Will you wait for me in the saloon, outside? I shan't be ten minutes."

"Will I?" he laughed. "Your only trouble will be to keep me away from your door, this trip." He gathered up his manuscript and steamer-cap, then with his hand on the door-knob paused. "Oh, I forgot that blessed bandbox!"

"Never mind that now," said Alison. "I'll have Jane repack it and take it back to your steward. Besides, I'm in a hurry, stifling for fresh air. Just give me twenty minutes...."

She offered him a hand, and he bowed his lips to it; then quietly let himself out into the alleyway.



Late that night, Staff drifted into the smoking-room, which he found rather sparsely patronised. This fact surprised him no less than its explanation: it was after eleven o'clock. He had hardly realised the flight of time, so absorbed had he been all evening in argument with Alison Landis.

There remained in the smoking-room, at this late hour, but half a dozen detached men, smoking and talking over their nightcaps, and one table of bridge players—in whose number, of course, there was Mr. Iff.

Nodding abstractedly to the little man, Staff found a quiet corner and sat him down with a sigh and a shake of his head that illustrated vividly his frame of mind. He was a little blue and more than a little distressed. And this was nothing but natural, since he was still in the throes of the discovery that one man can hardly with success play the dual role of playwright and sweetheart to a successful actress.

Alison was charming, he told himself, a woman incomparable, tenderly sweet and desirable; and he loved her beyond expression. But ... his play was also more than a slight thing in his life. It meant a good deal to him; he had worked hard and put the best that was in him into its making; and hard as the work had been, it had been a labour of love. He wasn't a man to overestimate his ability; he possessed a singularly sane and clear appreciation of the true value of his work, harbouring no illusions as to his real status either as dramatist or novelist. But at the same time, he knew when he had done good work. And A Single Woman promised to be a good play, measured by modern standards: not great, but sound and clear and strong. The plot was of sufficient originality to command attention; the construction was clear, sane, inevitable; he had mixed the elements of comedy and drama with the deftness of a sure hand; and he had carefully built up the characters in true proportion to one another and to their respective significance in the action.

Should all this then, be garbled and distorted to satisfy a woman's passion for the centre of the stage? Must he be untrue to the fundamentals of dramaturgic art in order to earn her tolerance? Could he gain his own consent to present to the public as work representative of his fancy the misshapen monstrosity which would inevitably result of yielding to Alison's insistence?

Small wonder that he sighed and wagged a doleful head!

Now while all this was passing through a mind wrapped in gloomy and profound abstraction, Iff's voice disturbed him.

"Pity the poor playwright!" it said in accents of amusement.

Looking up, Staff discovered that the little man stood before him, a furtive twinkle in his pale blue eyes. The bridge game had broken up, and they two were now alone in the smoking-room—saving the presence of a steward yawning sleepily and wishing to 'Eaven they'd turn in and give 'im a charnce to snatch a wink o' sleep.

"Hello," said Staff, none too cordially. "What d' you mean by that?"

"Hello," responded Iff, dropping upon the cushioned seat beside him. He snapped his fingers at the steward. "Give it a name," said he.

Staff gave it a name. "You don't answer me," he persisted. "Why pity the poor playwright?"

"He has his troubles," quoth Mr. Iff cheerfully, if vaguely. "Need I enumerate them, to you? Anyway, if the poor playwright isn't to be pitied, what right 've you got to stick round here looking like that?"

"Oh!" Staff laughed uneasily. "I was thinking...."

"I flattered you to the extent of surmising as much." Iff elevated one of the glasses which had just been put before them. "Chin-chin," said he—"that is, if you've no particular objection to chin-chinning with a putative criminal of the d'p'st dye?"

"None whatever," returned Staff, lifting his own glass—"at least, not so long as it affords me continued opportunity to watch him cooking up his cunning little crimes."

"Ah!" cried Iff with enthusiasm—"there spoke the true spirit of Sociological Research. Long may you rave!"

He set down an empty glass.

Staff laughed, sufficiently diverted to forget his troubles for the time being.

"I wish I could make you out," he said slowly, eyeing the older man.

"You mean you hope I'm not going to take you in."

"Either way—or both: please yourself."

"Ah!" said the little man appreciatively—"I am a deep one, ain't I?"

He laid a finger alongside his nose and looked unutterably enigmatic.

At this point they were interrupted: a man burst into the smoking-room from the deck and pulled up breathing heavily, as if he had been running, while he raked the room with quick, enquiring glances. Staff recognised Mr. Manvers, the purser, betraying every evidence of a disturbed mind. At the same moment, Manvers caught sight of the pair in the corner and made for them.

"Mr. Ismay—" he began, halting before their table and glaring gloomily at Staff's companion.

"I beg your pardon," said the person addressed, icily; "my name is Iff."

Manvers made an impatient movement with one hand. "Iff or Ismay—it's all one to me—to you too, I fancy—"

"One moment!" snapped Iff, rising. "If you were an older man," he said stiffly, "and a smaller, I'd pull your impertinent nose, sir! As things stand, I'd probably get my head punched if I did."

"That's sound logic," returned Manvers with a sneer.

"Well, then, sir? What do you want with me?"

Manvers changed his attitude to one of sardonic civility. "The captain sent me to ask you if you would be kind enough to step up to his cabin," he said stiltedly. "May I hope you will be good enough to humour him?"

"Most assuredly," Iff picked up his steamer-cap and set it jauntily upon his head. "Might one enquire the cause of all this-here fluster?"

"I daresay the captain—"

"Oh, very well. If you won't talk, my dear purser, I'll hazard a shrewd guess—by your leave."

The purser stared. "What's that?"

"I was about to say," pursued Iff serenely, "that I'll lay two to one that the Cadogan collar has disappeared."

Manvers continued to stare, his eyes blank with amazement. "You've got your nerve with you, I must say," he growled.

"Or guilty knowledge? Which, Mr. Manvers?"

A reply seemed to tremble on Manvers' lips, but to be withheld at discretion. "I'm not the captain," he said after a slight pause; "go and cheek him as far as you like. And we're keeping him waiting, if I may be permitted to mention it."

Iff turned to Staff, with an engaging smile. "Rejecting the guilty knowledge hypothesis, for the sake of the argument," said he: "you'll admit I'm the only suspicious personage known to be aboard; so it's not such a wild guess—that the collar has vanished—when I'm sent for by the captain at this unearthly hour.... Lead on, Mr. Manvers," he wound up with a dramatic gesture.

The purser nodded and turned toward the door. Staff jumped up and followed the pair.

"You don't mind my coming?" he asked.

"No—wish you would; you can bear witness to the captain that I did everything in my power to make Miss Landis appreciate the danger—"

"Then," Iff interrupted suavely, "the collar has disappeared—we're to understand?"

"Yes," the purser assented shortly.

They scurried forward and mounted the ladder to the boat-deck, where the captain's quarters were situated in the deckhouse immediately abaft the bridge. From an open door—for the night was as warm as it was dark—a wide stream of light fell athwart the deck, like gold upon black velvet.

Pausing en silhouette against the glow, the purser knocked discreetly. Iff ranged up beside him, dwarfed by comparison. Staff held back at a little distance.

A voice from within barked: "Oh, come in!" Iff and Manvers obeyed. Staff paused on the threshold, bending his head to escape the lintel.

Standing thus, he appreciated the tableau: the neat, tidy little room—commodious for a steamship—glistening with white-enamelled woodwork in the radiance of half a dozen electric bulbs; Alison in a steamer-coat seated on the far side of a chart-table, her colouring unusually pallid, her brows knitted and eyes anxious; the maid, Jane, standing respectfully behind her mistress; Manvers to one side and out of the way, but plainly eager and distraught; Iff in the centre of the stage, his slight, round-shouldered figure lending him a deceptive effect of embarrassment which was only enhanced by his semi-placating, semi-wistful smile and his small, blinking eyes; the captain looming over him, authority and menace incarnate in his heavy, square-set, sturdy body and heavy-browed, square-jawed, beardless and weathered face....

Manvers said: "This is Mr. Iff, Captain Cobb."

The captain nodded brusquely. His hands were in his coat-pockets; he didn't offer to remove them. Iff blinked up at him and cocked his small head critically to one side, persistently smiling.

"I've heard so much of you, sir," he said in a husky, weary voice, very subdued. "It's a real pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Captain Cobb noticed this bit of effrontery by nothing more than a growl deep in this throat. His eyes travelled on, above Iff's head, and Staff was conscious of their penetrating and unfriendly question. He bowed uncertainly.

"Oh—and Mr. Staff," said Manvers hastily.

"Well?" said the captain without moving.

"A friend of Miss Landis and also—curiously—in the same room with Mr. Iff."

"Ah," remarked the captain. "How-d'-you-do?" He removed his right hand from its pocket and held it out with the air of a man who wishes it understood that by such action he commits himself to nothing.

Before Staff could grasp it, Iff shook it heartily. "Ah," he said blandly, "h' are ye?" Then he dropped the hand, thereby preventing the captain from wrenching it away, and averted his eyes modestly, thereby escaping the captain's outraged glare.

Staff managed to overcome an impulse to laugh idiotically, and gravely shook hands with the captain. He had already exchanged a glance with the lady of his heart's desire.

An insanely awkward pause marked Iff's exhibition of matchless impudence. Each hesitated to speak while the captain was occupied with a vain attempt to make Iff realise his position by scowling at him out of a blood-congested countenance. But of this, Iff appeared to be wholly unconscious. When the situation seemed all but unendurable for another second (Staff for one was haunted by the fear that he would throw back his head and bray like a mule) Manvers took it upon himself to ease the tension, hardily earning the undying gratitude of all the gathering.

"I asked Mr. Staff to come and tell you, sir," he said haltingly, "that I spoke to him about this matter the very night we left Queenstown—asked him to do what he could to make Miss Landis appreciate—"

"I see," the captain cut him short.

"That is so," Staff affirmed. "Unfortunately I had no opportunity until this afternoon—"

Alison interposed quietly: "I am quite ready to exonerate Mr. Manvers from all blame. In fact, he has really annoyed me with his efforts to induce me to turn the collar over to his care."

"Thank you," said Manvers bowing.

There was the faintest tinge of sarcasm in the acknowledgment. Staff could see that Alison felt and resented it; and the thought popped into his mind, and immediately out again, that she was scarcely proving herself generous.

"It's a very serious matter," announced the captain heavily—"serious for the service: for the officers, for the good name of the ship, for the reputation of the company. This is the second time a crime of this nature had been committed aboard the Autocratic within a period of eighteen months—less than that, in fact. It was June, a year ago, that Mrs. Burden Hamman's jewels were stolen—on the eastbound passage, I believe."

"We sailed from New York, June 22," affirmed the purser.

"I want, therefore," continued the captain, "to ask you all to preserve silence about this affair until it has been thoroughly sifted. I believe the knowledge of the theft is confined to those present."

"Quite so, sir," agreed the purser.

"May I ask how it happened?" Staff put in.

The captain swung on his heel and bowed to Alison. She bent forward, telling her story with brevity and animation.

"You remember"—she looked at Staff—"when we met in the saloon, about half-past five, and went on deck?... Well, right after that, Jane left my rooms to return the hat you had been showing me to your steward. She was gone not over five minutes, and she swears the door was locked all the time; she remembers locking it when she went out and unlocking it when she returned. There was no indication that anybody had been in the rooms, except one that we didn't discover until I started to go to bed, a little while ago. Then I thought of my jewels. They were all kept in this handbag"—she dropped a hand upon a rather small Lawrence bag of tan leather on the table before her—"under my bed, behind the steamer trunk. I told Jane to see if it was all right. She got it out, and then we discovered that this had happened to it."

She turned the bag so that the other side was presented for inspection, disclosing the fact that some sharp instrument had been used to cut a great flap out of the leather, running in a rough semicircle from clasp to clasp of the frame.

"It wasn't altogether empty," she declared with a trace of wonder in her voice; "but that only makes it all the more mysterious. All my ordinary jewels were untouched; nothing had been taken except the case that held the Cadogan collar."

"And the collar itself, I hope?" Iff put in quietly.

The actress turned upon him with rising colour.

"You hope—!" she exclaimed.

The little man made a deprecatory gesture. "Why, yes," he said. "It would seem a pity that a crook cute enough to turn a trick as neat as that should have got nothing for his pains but a velvet-lined leather case, worth perhaps a dollar and a half—or say two dollars at the outside, if you make a point of that."

"How do you happen to know it was a velvet-lined leather case?" Alison flashed.

Iff laughed quietly. "My dear lady," he said, "I priced the necklace at Cottier's in Paris the day before you purchased it. Unfortunately it was beyond my means."

"A bit thick," commented the purser in an acid voice.

"Now, listen"—Iff turned to face him with a flush of choler—"you keep on that way and I'll land on you if it's the last act of my gay young life. You hear me?"

"That will do, sir!" barked the captain.

"I trust so, sincerely," replied Iff.

"Be silent!" The captain's voice ascended a full octave.

"Oh, very well, very well. I hear you—perfectly." With this the little man subsided, smiling feebly at vacancy.

Staff interposed hastily, in the interests of peace: "The supposition is, then, that the thief got in during those five minutes that Jane was away from the room?"

"It couldn't have happened at any other time, of course," said Alison.

"And, equally of course, it couldn't have happened then," said Iff.

"Why not?" the woman demanded.

"The girl was gone only five minutes. That's right, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," said Jane.

"And the door was locked—you're positive about that?"

"Quite, sir."

"Then will anyone explain how any thief could effect an entrance, pull a heavy steamer trunk out from under a bed, get at the bag, cut a slit in its side, extract the leather case—and the collar, to be sure—replace the bag, replace the trunk, leave the stateroom and lock the door, all in five short minutes—and without any key?" Iff wound up triumphantly: "I tell you, it couldn't be done; it ain't human."

"But a skeleton-key—" Manvers began.

"O you!" said Iff with a withering glance. "The door to Miss Landis' suite opens directly opposite the head of the main companionway, which is in constant use—people going up and down all the time. Can you see anybody, however expert, picking a lock with a bunch of skeleton-keys in that exposed position without being caught red-handed? Not on your vivid imagination, young man."

"There may, however, be duplicate keys to the staterooms," Alison countered.

"My dear lady," said Iff, humbly, "there are; and unless this ship differs radically from others, those duplicate keys are all in the purser's care. Am I right, Mr. Manvers?"

"Yes," said Manvers sullenly.

"And here's another point," resumed Iff. "May I ask you a question or two, Miss Landis?" Alison nodded curtly. "You kept the handbag locked, I presume?"


"And when you found it had been tampered with, did you unlock it?"

"There wasn't any need," said Alison. "You can see for yourself the opening in the side is so large—"

"Then you didn't unlock it?"


"That only makes it the more mysterious. Because, you see, it's unlocked now."

There was a concerted movement of astonishment.

"How do you make that out, sir?" demanded the captain.

"You can see for yourself (to borrow Miss Landis' phrase) if you'll only use your eyes, as I have. The side clasps are in place, all right, but the slide on the lock itself is pushed a trifle to the left; which it couldn't be if the bag were locked."

There was a hint of derision in the little man's voice; and his sarcastic smile was flickering round his thin lips as he put out one hand, drew the bag to him, lifted the clasps, and pushing back the lock-slide, opened it wide.

"The thot plickens," he observed gravely. "For my part I am unable to imagine any bold and enterprising crook taking the trouble to cut open this bag when the most casual examination would have shown him that it wasn't locked."

"He might 've done it as a blind...." Manvers suggested.

"Officer!" piped Iff in a plaintive voice—"he's in again."

The purser, colouring to the temples, took a step toward the little man, his hands twitching, but at a gesture from the captain paused, controlled himself and fell back.

For a few moments there was quiet in the cabin, while those present digested Iff's conclusions and acknowledged their logic irrefragable. Staff caught Alison staring at the man as if fascinated, with a curious, intense look in her eyes the significance of which he could not fathom.

Then the pause was brought to an end by the captain. He shifted his position abruptly, so that he towered over Iff, scowling down upon him.

"That will do," he said ominously. "I'm tired of this; say what you will, you haven't hoodwinked me, and you shan't."

"My dear sir!" protested Iff in amazement. "Hoodwink you? Why, I'm merely trying to make you see—"

"You've succeeded in making me see one thing clearly: that you know more about this robbery than you've any right to know."

"Oh, you-all make me tired," complained Iff. "Now you have just heard Miss Landis declare that this collar of pearls vanished between, say, five-thirty and five-forty-five. Well, I can prove by the testimony of three other passengers, and I don't know how many more, to say nothing of your smoke-room stewards, that I was playing bridge from four until after six."

"Ah, yes," put in the purser sweetly, "but you yourself have just demonstrated conclusively that the robbery couldn't have taken place at the hour mentioned."

Iff grinned appreciatively. "You're improving," he said. "I guess that doesn't get you even with me for the rest of your life—what?"

"Moreover," Manvers went on doggedly, "Ismay always could prove a copper-riveted alibi."

"That's one of the best little things he does," admitted Iff cheerfully.

"You don't deny you're Ismay?" This from the captain, aggressive and domineering.

"I don't have to, dear sir; I just ain't—that's the answer."

"You've been recognised," insisted the captain. "You were on this ship the time of the Burden Hamman robbery. Mr. Manvers knows you by sight; I, too, recognise you."

"Sorry," murmured Iff—"so sorry, but you're wrong. Case of mistaken identity, I give you my word."

"Your word!" snapped the captain contemptuously.

"My word," retorted Iff in a crisp voice; "and more than that, I don't ask you to take it. I've proofs of my identity which I think will satisfy even you."

"Produce them."

"In my own good time." Iff put his back against the wall and lounged negligently, surveying the circle of unfriendly faces with his odd, supercilious eyes, half veiled by their hairless lids. "Since you've done me the honour to impute to me guilty knowledge of this—ah—crime, I don't mind admitting that I was a passenger on the Autocratic when Mrs. Burden Hamman lost her jewels; and it wasn't a coincidence, either. I was with you for a purpose—to look out for those jewels. I shared a room with Ismay, and when, after the robbery, you mistook me for him, he naturally didn't object, and I didn't because it left me all the freer to prosecute my investigation. In fact, it was due to my efforts that Ismay found things getting too hot for him over in London and arranged to return the jewelry to Mrs. Hamman for an insignificant ransom—not a tithe of their value. But he was hard pressed; if he'd delayed another day, I'd 've had him with the goods on.... That," said Iff pensively, "was when I was in the Pinkerton service."

"Ah, it was?" said the captain with much irony. "And what, pray, do you claim to be now?"

"Just a plain, ordinary, everyday sleuth in the employ of the United States Secret Service, detailed to work with the Customs Office to prevent smuggling—the smuggling of such articles as, say, the Cadogan collar."

In the silence that followed this astounding declaration, the little man hunched up his shoulders until they seemed more round than ever, and again subjected the faces of those surrounding him to the stare of his impertinent, pale eyes. Staff, more detached in attitude than any of the others present, for his own amusement followed the range of Iff's gaze.

Captain Cobb was scowling thoughtfully. Manvers wore a look of deepest chagrin. Jane's jaw had fallen and her eyes seemed perilously protrudant. Alison was leaning gracefully back in her chair—her pose studied but charmingly effective—while she favoured Iff with a scrutiny openly incredulous and disdainful.

"You say you have proofs of this—ah—assertion of yours?" demanded the captain at length.

"Oh, yes—surely yes." Iff's tone was almost apologetic. He thrust a hand between his shirt and waistcoat, fumbled a moment as if unbuttoning a pocket, and brought forth a worn leather wallet from which, with great and exasperating deliberation, he produced a folded paper. This he handed the captain—his manner, if possible, more than ever self-effacing and meek.

The paper (it was parchment) crackled crisply in the captain's fingers. He spread it out and held it to the light in such a position that Staff could see it over his shoulder. He was unable to read its many closely inscribed lines, but the heading "Treasury Department, Washington, D. C." was boldly conspicuous, as well as an imposing official seal and the heavily scrawled signature of the Secretary of the Treasury.

Beneath the blue cloth, the captain's shoulders moved impatiently. Staff heard him say something indistinguishable, but of an intonation calculated to express his emotion.

Iff giggled nervously: "Oh, captain! the ladies—"

Holding himself very stiff and erect, Captain Cobb refolded the document and ceremoniously handed it back to the little man.

"I beg your pardon," he said in a low voice.

"Don't mention it," begged Iff. He replaced the paper in his wallet, the wallet in his pocket. "I'm sure it's quite an excusable mistake on your part, captain dear.... As for you, Mr. Manvers, you needn't apologise to me," he added maliciously: "just make your apologies to Captain Cobb."



And then (it seemed most astonishing!) nothing happened. The net outcome of all this fuss and fluster was precisely nil. With the collapse of the flimsy structure of prejudice and suspicion in which Manvers had sought to trap Iff, the interest of all concerned seemed to simmer off into apathy. Nobody did anything helpful, offered any useful suggestion or brought to light anything illuminating. Staff couldn't understand it, for the life of him....

There was, to be sure, a deal more talk in the captain's cabin—talk in which the purser took little or no part. As a matter of fact, Manvers kept far in the background and betrayed every indication of a desire to crawl under the table and be a good dog. The captain had his say, however, and in the end (since he was rather emphatic about it) his way.

He earnestly desired that the matter should be kept quiet; it would do no good, he argued, to noise it about amongst the passengers; the news would only excite them and possibly (in some obscure and undesignated fashion) impede official investigation. He would, of course, spare no pains to fathom the mystery; drastic measures would be taken to secure the detection of the culprit and the restitution of the necklace to its rightful owner. The ship would be minutely, if quietly, searched; not a member of the crew, from captain to stoker, would be spared, nor any passenger against whom there might develop the least cause for suspicion. Detectives would meet the ship at New York and co-operate with the customs officials in a most minute investigation of the passengers' effects. Everything possible would be done—trust the captain! In the meantime, he requested all present to regard the case as confidential.

Iff concurred, somewhat gravely, somewhat diffidently. He was disposed to make no secret of the fact that his presence on board was directly due to the missing necklace. He had been set to watch Miss Landis, to see that she didn't smuggle the thing into the United States. He hoped she wouldn't take offense of this: such was his business; he had received his orders and had no choice but to obey them. (And, so far as was discernible, Miss Landis did not resent his espionage; but she seemed interested and, Staff fancied, considerably diverted.) Mr. Iff could promise Miss Landis that he would leave no stone unturned in his private inquiry; and his work, likewise, would be considerably facilitated if the affair were kept quiet. He ventured to second the captain's motion.

Miss Landis offered no objection; Staff and Manvers volunteered to maintain discretion, Jane was sworn to it. Motion seconded and carried: the meeting adjourned sine die; the several parties thereto separated and went to their respective quarters.

Staff accompanied Alison as far as her stateroom, but didn't tarry long over his second good-nights. The young woman seemed excusably tired and nervous and anxious to be alone—in no mood to discuss this overwhelming event. So Staff spared her.

In his own stateroom he found Mr. Iff half-undressed, sitting on the transom and chuckling noiselessly, apparently in such a transport of amusement that he didn't care whether he ever got to bed or not. Upon the entrance of his roommate, however, he dried his eyes and made an effort to contain himself.

"You seem to think this business funny," suggested Staff, not at all approvingly.

"I do," laughed the little man—"I do, indeed. It's a grand young joke—clutch it from me, my friend."

"In what respect, particularly, do you find it so vastly entertaining?"

"Oh ... isn't that ass Manvers enough?"

Further than this, Mr. Iff declined to be interviewed. He clambered briskly into his berth and chuckled himself to sleep. Staff considered his behaviour highly annoying.

But it was on the following day—the last of the voyage—that he found reason to consider the affair astonishing because of the lack of interest displayed by those personally involved. He made no doubt but that the captain was keeping his word to the extent of conducting a secret investigation, though no signs of any such proceeding appeared on the surface of the ship's life. But Alison he could not understand; she seemed to have cast care to the winds. She appeared at breakfast in the gayest of spirits, spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon on deck, the centre of an animated group shepherded by the indefatigable Mrs. Ilkington, dressed herself radiantly for the grand final dinner, flirted with the assiduously attentive Arkroyd until she had reduced Staff to the last stages of corroded jealousy, and in general (as Staff found a chance to tell her) seemed to be having the time of her life.

"And why not?" she countered. "Spilt milk!"

"Judged by your conduct," observed Staff, "one would be justified in thinking the Cadogan collar an article de Paris."

"One might think any number of foolish things, dear boy. If the collar's gone, it's gone, and not all the moping and glooming imaginable will bring it back to me. If I do get it back—why, that'll be simply good luck; and I've never found it profitable yet to court Fortune with a doleful mouth."

"You certainly practise your theory," he said. "I swear I believe I'm more concerned about your loss than you are."

"Certainly you are, you silly boy. For my part, I feel quite confident the necklace will be returned."

He stared. "Why?"

She opened her hands expressively. "I've always been lucky.... Besides, if I never see it again, it'll come back to me this way or that—in advertising, for one."

"Isn't that dodge pretty well worked out with the newspapers? It seems to me that it has come to that, of late; or else the prime donne have taken to guarding their valuables with greater care."

"Oh, that makes no difference. With another woman it might, but I"—she shrugged—"I'm Alison Landis, if you please. The papers won't neglect me. Besides, Max can do much as he likes with them."

"Have you—?"

"Of course—by wireless, first thing this morning."

"But you promised—"

"Don't be tiresome, Staff. I bought this necklace on Max's suggestion, as an advertisement—I meant to wear it in A Single Woman; that alone would help make our play a go. Since I can't get my advertising and have my necklace, too, why, in goodness' name, mayn't I get what I can out of it?"

"Oh, well ..."

Staff abandoned argument and resting his forearms on the rail, stared sombrely out over the darkling waters for a moment or two.

This was at night, during an intermission in a dance on deck which had been arranged by special permission of the weather—the latter holding very calm and warm. Between halves Staff had succeeded in disentangling Alison from a circle of admirers and had marched her up to the boat-deck, where there was less light—aside from that furnished by an obliging moon—and more solitude.

Under any other circumstances Staff would have been enchanted with the situation. They were quite alone, if not unobserved; and there was magic in the night, mystery and romance in the moonlight, the inky shadows, the sense of swift movement through space illimitable. Alison stood with back to the rail so near him that his elbow almost touched the artificial orchid that adorned her corsage. He was acutely sensitive of her presence, of the faint persistent odour of her individual perfume, of the beauty and grace of her strong, free-limbed body in its impeccable Paquin gown, of the sheen of her immaculate arms and shoulders and the rich warmth of her face with its alluring, shadowed eyes that seemed to mock him with light, fascinating malice, of the magnetism of her intense, ineluctable vitality diffused as naturally as sunlight. But—the thought rankled—Arkroyd had won three dances to his two; and through all that day Alison had seemed determined to avoid him, to keep herself surrounded by an obsequious crowd, impenetrable to her lover....

On the deck below the band began to play again: signalling the end of the intermission. Alison hummed lightly a bit of the melody, her silken slipper tapping the deck.

"Do I get another dance?" he asked suddenly.

She broke off her humming. "So sorry," she said; "my card is quite full and running over."

"May I see it?" She surrendered it without hesitation. He frowned, endeavouring to decipher the scrawl by the inadequate moonlight.

"You wanted to know—?" she enquired, with a laugh back of her tone.

"How many has Arkroyd, this half?" he demanded bluntly.

"Two, I think," she answered coolly. "Why?"

He stared gravely into her shadowed face. "Is that good advertising, too," he asked quietly—"to show marked preference to a man of Arkroyd's calibre and reputation?"

Alison laughed. "You're delicious when you're jealous, Staff," said she. "No; it isn't advertising—it's discipline."


"Just that. I'm punishing you for your obstinacy about the play. You'll see, my dear," she taunted him: "I'm going to have my own way or make your life perfectly miserable."

Before he could invent an adequate retort, the beautiful Mr. Bangs came tripping across the deck, elation in his manner.

"Ah, there you are, Miss Landis! My dance, you know. Been looking everywhere for you."

"So sorry: I was just coming down."

Alison caught up the demi-train of her gown, but paused an instant longer, staring Staff full in the face, her air taunting and provocative.

"Think it over, Staff," she advised in a cool, metallic voice; and dropping her hand on Bangs' arm, moved languidly away.

Staff did think it over, if with surprisingly little satisfaction to himself. It wasn't possible to ignore the patent fact that Alison had determined to make him come to heel. That apparently was the only attitude possible for one who aspired to the post of first playwright-in-waiting and husband-in-ordinary to the first actress in the land. He doubted his ability to supple his back to the requisite degree. Even for the woman he loved.... Or did he?... Through the wraith-like mists of fading illusions he caught disturbing glimpses—dark shapes of lurking doubts.

Disquieted, he found distasteful the thought of returning to the lower deck, and so strolled idly aft with a half-formed notion of looking up Iff.

From a deck-chair a woman's voice hailed him: "Oh, Mr. Staff...."

"Miss Searle?" He turned in to her side, experiencing an odd sensation of pleasure in the encounter; which, wisely or not, he didn't attempt to analyse—at least further than the thought that he had seen little of the young woman during the last two days and that she was rather likeable.

"You're not dancing?" he asked in surprise; for she, too, had dressed for this celebration of the last night of the voyage.

Smiling, she shook her head slightly. "Neither are you, apparently. Won't you sit down?"

He wasn't at all reluctant to take the chair by her side. "Why not?" he asked.

"Oh, I did dance once or twice and then I began to feel a bit tired and bored and stole away to think."

"Long, long thoughts?" he asked lightly.

"Rather," said she with becoming gravity. "You see, it seems pretty serious to one, this coming home to face new and unknown conditions after three years' absence.... And then, after six days at sea, out of touch with the world, practically, there's always the feeling of suspense about what will happen when you get solid earth under your feet. You know what I mean."

"I do. You live in New York?"

"I mean to try to," she said quietly. "I haven't any home, really—no parents and only distant family connections. In fact, all I do possess is a little income and an immense desire to work."

"You're meaning to look for an engagement, then?"

"I must."

"Perhaps," he said thoughtfully, "I might help you a bit; I know some of the managers pretty well ..."

"Thank you. I meant to ask you, but hoped you'd offer." She laughed a trifle shyly. "I presume that's a bold, forward confession to make, but I've been so long abroad I don't know my way round at home, anymore."

"That's all right," said Staff, liking her candour. "Where shall you be? Where can I find you?"

"I hardly know—for a day or two at some hotel, and as soon as possible in a small studio, if I can find one to sublet."

"Tell you what you do," he suggested: "drop me a line at the Players, letting me know when and where you settle."

"Thank you," she said, "I shall."

He was silent for a little, musing, his gaze wandering far over the placid reaches of the night-wrapped ocean. "Funny little world, this," he said, rousing: "I mean, the ship. Here we are today, some several hundreds of us, all knit together by an intricate network of interests, aims, ambitions and affections that seem as strong and inescapable as the warp and woof of Life itself; and yet tomorrow—we land, we separate on our various ways, and the network vanishes like a dew-gemmed spider's web before the sun."

"Only the dew vanishes," she reminded him; "the web remains, if almost invisible.... Still, I know what you mean.... Wasn't that Miss Landis you were with, just now?"


"Tell me"—she stirred, half turning to him—"has anything new transpired—about the collar?"

"You know about that!" he exclaimed in surprise.

"Of course; the ship has been humming with it ever since dinner."

"But how—?"

"Mrs. Ilkington told me, of course. I presume Miss Landis told her."

"Doubtless," he agreed reluctantly, little relishing the thought. Still, it seemed quite plausible, Alison's views on advertising values considered. "No," he added presently; "I've heard nothing new."

"Then the Secret Service man hasn't accomplished anything?"

"So you know about him, too?... Can't say—haven't seen him since morning. Presumably he's somewhere about, sniffing for clues."

"Miss Landis," said the girl in a hesitant manner—"doesn't seem to worry very much ...?"

"No," admitted Staff.

"Either that, or she's as wonderful an actress off the boards as on."

"They mostly are," Staff observed. He was hardly ready to criticise his beloved to a comparative stranger. The subject languished and died of inanition.

"By the way—did you ever solve the mystery of your bandbox?"

Staff started. "What made you think of that?"

"Oh—I don't know."

"No—haven't had any chance. I rather expect to find out something by the time I get home, though. It isn't likely that so beautiful a hat will be permitted to blush unseen." His interest quickened. "Won't you tell me, please?" he begged, bending forward.

But the girl laughed softly and shook her head.


"Oh, I couldn't. I've no right to spoil a good joke."

"Then you think it's a joke?" he enquired gloomily.

"What else could it be?"

"I only wish I knew!"

The exclamation was so fervent that Miss Searle laughed again.

Six bells sounded in the pause that followed and the girl sat up suddenly with a little cry of mock dismay.

"Eleven o'clock! Good Heavens, I mustn't loaf another minute! I've all my packing to do."

She was up and standing before Staff could offer to assist her. But she paused long enough to slip a hand into his.

"Good night, Mr. Staff; and thank you for volunteering to help me."

"I shan't forget," he promised. "Good night."

He remained momentarily where she left him, following with his gaze her tall and slender yet well-proportioned figure as it moved along the moonlit deck, swaying gracefully to the long, smooth, almost imperceptible motion of the ship.

He wore just then a curious expression: his eyes wondering, his brows puckered, his thin lips shaping into their queer, twisted smile.... Funny (he found it) that a fellow could feel so comfortable and content in the company of a woman he didn't care a rap about, so ill at ease and out of sorts when with the mistress of his dreams! It didn't, somehow, seem just right....

With a dubious grimace, he went aft. Iff, however, wasn't in the smoking-room. Neither was he anywhere else that Staff could discover in his somewhat aimless wanderings. And he found his stateroom unoccupied when at length he decided to turn in.

"Sleuthing," was the word with which he accounted for the little man's invisibility, as he dropped off to sleep.

If he were right, Iff was early on the job. When the bath-steward's knock brought Staff out of his berth the next morning, his companion of the voyage was already up and about; his empty berth showed that it had been slept in, but its occupant had disappeared with his clothing; and even his luggage (he travelled light, with a kit-bag and a suit-case for all impedimenta) had been packed and strapped, ready to go ashore.

"Conscientious," commented the playwright privately. "Wonder if he's really on the track of anything?"

Idle speculation, however, was suddenly drowned in delight when, his sleep-numb faculties clearing, he realised that the Autocratic was resting without way, and a glance out of the stateroom port showed him the steep green slopes of Fort Tompkins glistening in new sunlight.

Home! He choked back a yell of joy, and raced to his bath. Within twenty minutes, bathed, clothed and sane, he was on deck.

By now, having taken on the health officers, the great vessel was in motion again, standing majestically up through the Narrows. To starboard, Bay Ridge basked in golden light. Forward, over the starboard bow, beyond leagues of stained water quick with the life of two-score types of harbour and seagoing craft, New York reared its ragged battlements against a sky whose blue had been faded pale by summer heat. Soft airs and warm breathed down the Bay, bearing to his nostrils that well-kenned, unforgettable odour, like none other on earth, of the sun-scorched city.

Staff filled his lungs and was glad. It is good to be an American able to go roaming for to admire and for to see; but it is best of all to be an American coming home.

Joy in his heart, Staff dodged below, made his customs declaration, bolted his breakfast (with the greater expedition since he had for company only Mrs. Thataker, a plump, pale envelope for a soul of pink pining for sympathy) and hurried back to the deck.

Governor's Island lay abeam. Beyond it the East River was opening up—spanned by its gossamer webs of steel. Ahead, and near at hand, New York bulked magnificently, purple canyons yawning between its pastel-tinted cliffs of steel and glass and stone: the heat haze, dimming all, lent soft enchantment....

Ranks of staring passengers hid the rail, each a bundle of unsuspected hopes and fears, longings and apprehensions, keen for the hour of landing that would bring confirmation, denial, disappointment, fulfillment.

Amidships Staff descried Mrs. Ilkington's head and shoulders next to Miss Searle's profile. Arkroyd was with them and Bangs. Alison he did not see, nor Iff. As he hesitated whether or not to approach them, a steward touched his arm apologetically.

"Beg pardon—Mr. Staff?"

"Yes ...?"

"Mr. Manvers—the purser, sir—awsked me to request you to be so kind as to step down to Miss Landis' stiteroom."


The door to Alison's sitting-room was ajar. He knocked and heard her voice bid him enter. As he complied it was the purser who shut the door tight behind him.

He found himself in the presence of Alison, Jane, Manvers and three men whom he did not know. Alison alone was seated, leaning back in an armchair, her expression of bored annoyance illustrated by the quick, steady tapping of the toe of her polished boot. She met his questioning look with a ready if artificial and meaningless smile.

"Oh, you weren't far away, were you, Staff?" she said lightly. "These gentlemen want to ask you some questions about that wretched necklace. I wish to goodness I'd never bought the thing!"

Her expression had changed to petulance. Ceasing to speak, she resumed the nervous drumming of her foot upon the carpet.

Manvers took the initiative: "Mr. Staff, this is Mr. Siddons of the customs service; this is Mr. Arnold of the United States Secret Service; and this, Mr. Cramp of Pinkerton's. They came aboard at Quarantine."

Staff nodded to each man in turn, and reviewed their faces, finding them one and all more or less commonplace and uninteresting.

"How-d'-you-do?" he said civilly; and to Manvers: "Well ...?"

"We were wondering if you'd seen anything of Mr. Iff this morning?"

"No—nothing. He came to bed after I'd gone to sleep last night, and was up and out before I woke. Why?"

"He—" the purser began; but the man he had called Mr. Arnold interrupted.

"He claimed to be a Secret Service man, didn't he?"

"He did," returned Staff. "Captain Cobb saw his credentials, I believe."

"But that didn't satisfy him," Manvers put in eagerly. "I managed to make him understand that credentials could be forged, so he wirelessed for information. And," the purser added triumphantly after a distinct dramatic pause, "he got it."

"You mean Iff isn't what he claimed—?" exclaimed Staff.

Arnold nodded brusquely. "There's no such person in the service," he affirmed.

"Then he is Ismay!"

The Pinkerton man answered him: "If he is and I lay eyes on him, I can tell in two shakes."

"By George!" cried Staff in admiration—"the clever little scamp!"

"You may well say so," said Manvers bitterly. "If you'd listened to me—if the captain had—this wouldn't have happened."

"What—the theft?"

"Yes, that primarily; but now, you know—because he was given so much rope—he's vanished."


"Vanished—disappeared—gone!" said the purser, waving his hands graphically.

"But he can't have left the ship!"

"Doesn't seem so, does it?" said the Pinkerton man morosely. "All the same, we've made a pretty thorough search, and he can't be found."

"You see," resumed Manvers, "when the captain got word yesterday afternoon that Iff or Ismay wasn't what he pretended to be, he simply wirelessed back for a detective, and didn't arrest Iff, because—he said—he couldn't get away. I told him he was wrong—and he was!"



When the janitor and the taxicab operator between them had worried all his luggage upstairs, Staff paid and tipped them and thankfully saw the hall-door close on their backs. He was tired, over-heated and glad to be alone.

Shaking off his coat, he made a round of his rooms, opening windows. Those in the front of the apartment looked out from the second-story elevation upon East Thirtieth Street, between Fourth and Lexington Avenues. Those in the rear (he discovered to his consummate disgust) commanded an excellent view of a very deep hole in the ground swarming with Italian labourers and dotted with steam drills, mounds of broken rock and carters with their teams; also a section of East Twenty-ninth Street was visible through the space that had been occupied no longer ago than last spring by a dignified row of brownstone houses with well-tended backyards.

Staff cursed soulfully the noise and dirt caused by the work of excavation, shut the back windows to keep out the dust and returned to the front room—his study, library and reception-room in one. With the addition of the bath off the bedroom in the rear, and a large hall-closet opening from the study, these two rooms comprised his home. The hall was public, giving access to two upper floors which, like that beneath him, were given up to bachelor apartments. The house was in reality an old-fashioned residence, remodelled and let out by the floor to young men mainly of Staff's ilk: there was an artist on the upper story, a writer of ephemeral fiction on the third, an architect on the first. The janitor infested the basement, chiefly when bored by the monotony of holding up an imitation mahogany bar over on Third Avenue. His wife cooked abominably and served the results under the name of breakfast to the tenants, who foraged where they would for their other meals. Otherwise she was chiefly distinguished by a mad, exasperating passion for keeping the rooms immaculately clean and in order. Staff noted approvingly that, although Mrs. Shultz had not been warned of his return, there was no trace of dust in the rooms, not a single stick of furniture nor a book out of place.

There wasn't really any reason why he should stick in such un-modern and inconveniently situated lodgings—that is, aside from his ingrained inclination to make as little trouble for himself as possible. To hunt a new place to live would be quite as much of a nuisance as to move to it, when found. And he was comfortable enough where he was. He had taken the place some eight years previously, at a time when it was rather beyond his means; today when he could well afford to live where he would in New York, he found that his rooms had become a habit with him. He had no intention whatever of leaving them until the house should be dismantled to make way for some more modern structure—like that going up in the rear—or until he married.

He poked round, renewing acquaintance with old, familiar things, unearthed an ancient pipe which had lain in one of his desk-drawers like a buried bone, fondled it lovingly, filled and lighted it, and felt all the time more and more content and at ease.

Then Shultz knocked at the door and delivered to him a bundle of afternoon papers for which he had filed a requisition immediately on his arrival.

He sat down, enjoying his pipe to the utmost and wondering how under the sun he had managed to worry along without it all the time he had been away, and began to read what the reporters had to say about the arrival of the Autocratic and the case of the Cadogan collar.

In the main they afforded him little but amusement; the stories were mostly a hash of misinformation strongly flavoured with haphazard guesswork. The salient facts of the almost simultaneous disappearance of the necklace and Mr. Iff stood up out of the welter of surmise like mountain peaks above cloud-rack. There were no other facts. And both these remained inexplicable. No trace had been found of Mr. Iff; his luggage remained upon the pier, unclaimed. With him the Cadogan collar had apparently vanished as mysteriously: thus the consensus. The representative of the Secret Service bent on exposing an impostor, the Pinkerton men employed by the steamship company, and a gratuitous corps of city detectives were verbally depicted as so many determined bloodhounds nosing as many different scents—otherwise known as clues.

Jules Max, moreover, after a conference with his star, had published an offer of a reward of $10,000 for the return of the necklace or for information leading to its recovery whether or not involving the apprehension of the thief.

Several of the papers "ran" unusually long stories descriptive of the scenes on the pier. Staff chuckled over them. The necklace had, in fact, made no end of trouble for several hundred putatively innocent and guileless passengers. The customs examination had been thorough beyond parallel. Not even the steerage and second-cabin passengers had escaped; everybody's belongings had been combed fine by a corps of inspectors whose dutiful curiosity had been abnormally stimulated by the prospect of a ten-thousand-dollar reward. Not a few passengers had been obliged to submit to the indignity of personal search—Staff and Alison in their number; the latter for no reason that Staff could imagine; the former presumably because he had roomed with the elusive Mr. Iff on the way over. He had also been mulcted a neat little sum as duty on that miserable hat, which he had been obliged to declare as a present for a friend.

In memory of this he now rose, marched over to the bandbox, innocently reposing in the middle of the floor, and dispassionately lifted it the kick he had been promising it ever since the first day of their acquaintance.

It sailed up prettily, banged the wall with a hollow noise and dropped to the floor with a grievous dent in one side.

There—out of his way—Staff left it. Immeasurably mollified, he proceeded to unpack and put his house in order. By the time this was done to his satisfaction and Shultz had dragged the empty trunks into the hall, to be carried down-stairs and stored in the cellar, it was evening and time to dress. So Staff made himself clean with much water and beautiful with cold steel and resplendent with evening clothes, and tucked the manuscript of A Single Woman into the pocket of a light topcoat and sallied forth to dine with Jules Max and Alison Landis.

It was late, something after midnight, when he returned, driving up to his house in a taxicab and a decidedly disgruntled frame of mind. Alison had been especially trying with regard to the play; and Max, while privately letting the author see that he thought him in the right in refusing to make changes until rehearsals had demonstrated their advisability, and in spite of his voluble appreciation of the play's merits, had given Alison the support she demanded. The inference was plain: the star was to be humoured even at the cost of a crippled play. Between love for the woman and respect for his work, desire to please her and determination not to misrepresent himself to the public, Staff, torn this way and that, felt that he had at length learned the true meaning of "the horns of dilemma." But this reflection availed nothing to soothe his temper.

When he got out of the cab a short but sharp argument ensued with the operator; it seemed that "the clock" was out of order and not registering—had struck in conformance to the time-honoured custom of the midnight taximeter union. But the driver's habitual demand for two and one-half times the proper fare by distance proved in this instance quite fruitless. Staff calmly counted out the right amount, put it in the man's hand, listened with critical appreciation to the resultant flow of profanity until it verged upon personality, then deliberately dragged the man by the scruff of his neck, choking and cursing, from his seat to the sidewalk.

"Now, listen," said he in a level tone: "you've got either to put up or shut up. I've been sort of aching to beat the tar out of one of you highwaymen for some time, and I feel just ripe for it tonight. You either put up your fists or crawl—another yap out of you and I won't wait for you to do either."

The man bristled and then, analysing the gleam in Staff's eyes, crawled: that is to say, he climbed back into his seat and swung the machine to the far side of the street before again resorting to vituperation.

To this Staff paid no more attention. He was opening the front door. The passage had comforted him considerably, but he was presently to regret it. But for that delay he might have been spared a deal of trouble.

As he let himself into the house, a man in evening dress came running down the stairs, brushed past rudely and without apology, and slammed the door behind him. Staff wondered and frowned slightly. Presumably the fellow had been calling on one of the tenants of the upper floors. There had been something familiar in his manner—something reminiscent, but too indefinite for recognition. And certainly he'd been in the devil of a hurry!

In the meantime he had mounted the first flight of stairs and turned through the hall to his study door. To his surprise it wasn't locked. He seemed distinctly to remember locking it when he had left for dinner. Still, memory does play us odd tricks.

He pushed the door open and entered the room. At the same moment he heard the trilling of the telephone bell. The instrument stood upon his desk between the two front windows. Without pausing to switch on one of the lights in the combination gas- and electrolier in the centre of the room, he groped his way through blinding darkness to the desk and, finding the telephone instrument with the certainty of old acquaintance, lifted the receiver to his ear.

"Hello?" he called.

A thin and business-like voice detailed his number.

"Yes," he said. "What is it?"

"Just a moment," came out of the night. "Hold the wire."

There was a pause in which it occurred to him that a little light would be a grateful thing. He groped for his desk-lamp, found it and scorched his fingers slightly on its metal reflector. He had switched on the light and said "Damn!" mechanically before he reflected that the said metal reflector had no right to be hot unless the light had been burning very recently.

As this thought penetrated his consciousness, the telephone waxed eloquent.

"Hello!" called a voice. "Is that you, Staff?"

"Why!" he exclaimed in surprise—"yes, Alison!"

"Are you alone?"

"Yes," he said. "What is it?"

"I just wanted to know," returned the girl at the other end of the wire. "I'm coming to see you."


"Of course, silly."

"But why—this time of night—it doesn't seem—"

"Oh, I've got something most important to say to you—very important indeed. It won't keep. I'll be there in five minutes. Listen for the taxi—will you, like a dear boy?—and come down and open the door for me. Good-bye."

"Good-bye," he returned automatically, and hung up the receiver.

What on earth could she be wanting, that could have turned up so unexpectedly in the half-hour since he had left her and that wouldn't keep till morning?

Abruptly he became aware that the air in the room was stiflingly close. And he had left the windows open when he went out; he knew that he wasn't mistaken about that; and now they were closed, the shades drawn tight!

This considered in connection with the open door that had been locked, and the heated desk-lamp that should have been cold, he couldn't avoid the conclusion that somebody had been in his rooms, an unlawful trespasser, just a few minutes before he came in—possibly the very man who had rushed past him in such violent haste at the front door.

He jumped up and turned on all the lights in the room. A first, hasty glance about showed him nothing as it had not been when he had left six hours or so ago—aside from the front windows, of course. Mechanically, thinking hard and fast, he went to these latter and opened them wide.

The possibility that the intruder might still be in the rooms—in his bedroom, for instance—popped into his head, and he went hurriedly to investigate. But there wasn't anybody in the back-room or the bath-room.

Perplexed, he examined the rear windows. They were closed and locked, as when he had left. Opening them, he peered out and down the fire-escape; he had always had a notion that anybody foolish enough to want to burgle his rooms would find it easy to effect an entrance via the fire-escape, whose bottom rung was only eight feet or so above the level of the backyard. And now, since the Twenty-ninth Street houses had been torn down, lending access easy via the excavation, such an attempt would be doubly easy.

But he had every evidence that his rooms hadn't been broken into by any such route; although—of course!—an astute burglar might have thought to cover up his tracks by relocking the windows after he had entered. On the other hand, the really wise marauder would have almost certainly left them open to provide a way of escape in emergency.

Baffled and wondering, Staff returned to his study. An examination of the hall-closet yielded nothing illuminating. Everything was undisturbed, and there wasn't room enough therein for anybody to hide.

He shut the closet door and reviewed the study more carefully. Not a thing out of place; even that wretched bandbox lay where he had kicked it, with a helpless, abused look, the dented side turned pitifully to the light—much like a street beggar exposing a maimed limb to excite public sympathy.

He struggled to think: what did he possess worth stealing? Nothing of any great value: a modest collection of masculine jewelry—stick-pins and the like; a quantity of clothing; a few fairly good pictures; a few rare books. But the merest cursory examination showed that these were intact, one and all. What cash he had was all upon his person. His desk, where the lamp had been lighted, held nothing valuable to anybody other than himself: manuscripts, account books, some personal papers strictly non-negotiable. And these too proved undisturbed.

Swinging round from the desk, he rested his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands, and lapsed into the most profound of meditations; through which he arrived at the most amazing discovery of all.

Very gradually his eyes, at first seeing not what they saw, focussed upon an object on the floor. Quite excusably he was reluctant to believe their evidence. Eventually, however, he bent forward and picked up the thing.

It lay in his hand, eloquently absurd—in his study!—a bow of violet-coloured velvet ribbon, cunningly knotted, complete in itself. From its reverse, a few broken threads of silk hung, suggesting that it had been originally sewn upon a gown, or some other article of dress, from which it had been violently torn away.

The thing was so impossible—preposterous!—that he sat as if stunned, eyes a-stare, jaw dropping, wits bemused; until abruptly roused by the sharp barking of a taxicab horn as it swung round the corner of Fourth Avenue and the subsequent grumble of its motor in the street below.

Thrusting the velvet knot into his pocket he ran down and opened the front door just as Alison gained the top of the brownstone steps.

He noticed that her taxicab was waiting.

Still in her shimmering, silken, summery dinner-gown of the earlier evening, a light chiffon wrap draped round her shoulders, she entered the vestibule, paused and stood smiling mischievously into his grave, enquiring eyes.

"Surprised you—eh, Staff?" she laughed.

"Rather," said he, bending over her hand and wondering at her high spirit of gaiety so sharply in contrast with her determined and domineering humour of a few hours since. "Why?" he asked, shutting the outside door.

"Just wanted to see you alone for a few moments; I've something to say to you—something very important and surprising.... But not down here."

"I beg your pardon," he said contritely. He motioned toward the stairs: "There's no elevator, but it's only one flight up ..."

"No elevator! Heavens!" she cried in mock horror. "And this is how the other half lives!"

She caught up her skirts and ran up the stairs with footsteps so light that he could hear nothing but the soft, continuous murmuring of her silken gown.

"Genius," he said, ironic, as he followed her—"Genius frequently needs a lift but is more often to be found in an apartment without one. Permit me"—he flung wide the door to his study—"to introduce you to the garret."

"So this is where you starve and write!"

Alison paused near the centre of the room, shrugging her wrap from her shoulders and dropping it carelessly on the table. He saw her shoot swift glances round her with bright, prying eyes.

"I'm afraid I'm not enough of a genius to starve," he said; "but anyway, here's where I write."

"How interesting!" she drawled in a tone that conveyed to him the impression she found it anything but that. And then, a trace sharply: "Please shut the door."

He lifted his brows in surprise, said "Oh?" and turning back did as bid. At the same time Alison disposed herself negligently in a capacious wing-chair.

"Yes," she took up his monosyllable; "it's quite as important as all that. I don't wish to be overheard. Besides," she added with nonchalant irrelevance, "I do want a cigarette."

Silently Staff found his metal cigarette-safe and offered it, put a match to the paper roll held so daintily between his lady's lips, and then helped himself.

Through a thin veil of smoke she looked up into his serious face and smiled bewitchingly.

"Are you thrilled, my dear?" she asked lightly.

"Thrilled?" he questioned. "How?"

She lifted her white, gleaming shoulders with an air of half-tolerant impatience. "To have a beautiful woman alone with you in your rooms, at this hour o' night ... Don't you find it romantic, dear boy? Or aren't you in a romantic mood tonight? Or perhaps I'm not sufficiently beautiful ...?" She ended with a charming little petulant moue.

"You know perfectly well you're one of the most beautiful women in the world," he began gravely; but she caught him up.

"One of—?"

"To me, of course—you know the rest: the usual thing," he said. "But you didn't come here to discuss your charms—now did you?"

She shook her head slightly, smiling with light-hearted malice. "By no means. But, at the same time, if I've a whim to be complimented, I do think you might be gallant enough to humour me."

But he was in anything but a gallant temper. Mystery hedged his thoughts about and possessed them; he couldn't rid his imagination of the inexplicable circumstances of the man who had broken into his rooms to steal nothing, and the knot of velvet ribbon that had dropped from nowhere to his study floor. And when he forced his thoughts back to Alison, it was only to feel again the smart of some of the stinging things she had chosen to say to him that night during their discussion of his play, and to be conscious of a certain amount of irritation because of the effrontery of her present pose, assuming as it did that he would eventually bend to her will, endure all manner of insolence and indignity, because he hoped she would marry him.

Something of what was passing through his mind as he stood mute before her, she read in his look—or intuitively divined.

"Heavens!" she cried, "you're as temperamental as a leading-man. Can't you accept a word or two of criticism of your precious play without sulking like—like Max does when I make up my mind to take a week's rest in the middle of the season?"

"Criticise as much as you like," he said; "and I'll listen and take it to heart. But I don't mind telling you I'm not going to twist this play out of all dramatic semblance at your dictation—or Max's either."

For a moment their glances crossed like swords; he was conscious from the flicker in her eyes that her temper was straining at the leash; and his jaw assumed a certain look of grim solidity. But the outbreak he expected did not come; Alison was an artiste too consummate not to be able to control and mask her emotions—even as she did now with a quick curtaining of her eyes behind long lashes.

"Don't let's talk about that now," she said in a soft, placating voice. "That's a matter for hours of business. We're getting farther and farther away from my errand."

"By all means," he returned pleasantly, "let us go to that at once."

"You can't guess?" She unmasked again the battery of her laughing eyes. He shook his head. "I'll give you three guesses."

He found the courage to say: "You didn't come to confess that I'm in the right about the play?"

She pouted prettily. "Can't you let that be? No, of course not."

"Nor to bicker about it?"

She laughed a denial.

"Nor yet to conduct a guessing contest?"


"Then I've exhausted my allowance.... Well?"

"I came," she drawled, "for my hat."

"Your hat?" His eyes opened wide.

She nodded. "My pretty hat. You remember you promised to give it to me if nobody else claimed it."

"Yes, but ..."

"And nobody has claimed it?"

"No, but ..."

"Then I want my hat."

"But—hold on—give somebody a chance—"

"Stupid?" she laughed. "Isn't it enough that I claim it? Am I nobody?"

"Wait half a minute. You've got me going." He paused, frowning thoughtfully, recollecting his wits; then by degrees the light began to dawn upon him. "Do you mean you really did send me that confounded bandbox?"

Coolly she inclined her head: "I did just that, my dear."

"But when I asked you the same question on the Autocratic—"

"Quite so: I denied it."

"And you were in London that Friday, after all?"

"I was. Had to be, hadn't I, in order to buy the hat and have it sent you?"

"But—how did you know I was sailing Saturday?"

"I happened to go to the steamship office just after you had booked—saw a clerk adding your name to the passenger-list on the bulletin-board. That gave me the inspiration. I had already bought the hat, but I drove back to the shop and instructed them to send it to you."

"But, Alison! to what end?"

"Well," she said languidly, smiling with amusement at his bewilderment, "I thought it might be fun to hoodwink you."

"But—I fail to see the joke."

"And will, until I tell you All."

Her tone supplied the capital letter.

He shrugged helplessly. "Proceed ..."

"Well," she began with sublime insouciance, "you see, I'd been figuring all the while on getting the necklace home duty-free. And I finally hit upon what seemed a rather neat little plot. The hat was part of it; I bought it for the express purpose of smuggling the necklace in, concealed in its lining. Up to that point you weren't involved. Then by happy accident I saw your name on the list. Instantly it flashed upon me, how I could make you useful. It was just possible, you see, that those hateful customs men might be shrewd enough to search the hat, too. How much better, then, to make you bring in the hat, all unsuspecting! They'd never think of searching it in your hands! You see?"

His face had been hardening during this amazing speech. When she stopped he shot in a crisp question:

"The necklace wasn't in the hat when delivered to me? You didn't trust it to the shop people over night?"

"Of course not. I merely sent you the hat; then—as I knew you would—you mentioned it to me aboard ship. I got you to bring it to my room, and then sent you out—you remember? While you waited I sewed the necklace in the lining; it took only an instant. Then Jane carried the hat back to your steward."

"So," he commented stupidly, "it wasn't stolen!"

"Naturally not."

"But you threw suspicion on Iff—"

"I daresay he was guilty enough in intent, if not in deed. There's not the slightest doubt in my mind that he's that man Ismay, really, and that he shipped with us for the especial purpose of stealing the necklace if he got half a chance."

"You may be right; I don't know—and neither do you. But do you realise that you came near causing an innocent man to be jailed for the theft?"

"But I didn't. He got away."

"But not Iff alone—there's myself. Have you paused to consider what would have happened to me if the inspector had happened to find that necklace in the hat? Heavens knows how he missed it! He was persistent enough!... But if he had found it, I'd have been jailed for theft."

"Oh, no," she said sweetly; "I'd never have let it go that far."

"Not even if to confess would mean that you'd be sent to jail for smuggling?"

"They'd never do that to a woman...."

But her eyes shifted from his uneasily, and he saw her colour change a trifle.

"You know better than that. You read the papers—keep informed. You know what happened to the last woman who tried to smuggle. I forgot how long they sent her up for—five months, or something like that."

She was silent, her gaze evasive.

"You remember that, don't you?"

"Perhaps I do," she admitted unwillingly.

"And you don't pretend you'd 've faced such a prospect in order to clear me?"

Again she had no answer for him. He turned up the room to the windows and back again.

"I didn't think," he said slowly, stopping before her—"I couldn't have thought you could be so heartless, so self-centred ...!"

She rose suddenly and put a pleading hand upon his arm, standing very near him in all her loveliness.

"Say thoughtless, Staff," she said quietly; "I didn't mean it."

"That's hard to credit," he replied steadily, "when I'm haunted by the memory of the lies you told me—to save yourself a few dollars honestly due the country that has made you a rich woman—to gain for yourself a few paltry columns of cheap, sensational newspaper advertising. For that you lied to me and put me in jeopardy of Sing-Sing ... me, the man you pretend to care for—"

"Hold on, Staff!" the woman interrupted harshly.

He moved away. Her arm dropped back to her side. She eyed him a moment with eyes hard and unfriendly.

"You've said about enough," she continued.

"You're not prepared to deny that you had these possibilities in mind when you lied to me and made me your dupe and cat's-paw?"

"I'm not prepared to argue the matter with you," she flung back at him, "nor to hold myself answerable to you for any thing I may choose to say or do."

He bowed ceremoniously.

"I think that's all," he said pleasantly.

"It is," she agreed curtly; then in a lighter tone she added: "There remains for me only to take my blue dishes and go home."

As she spoke she moved over to the corner where the bandbox lay ingloriously on its undamaged side. As she bent over it, Staff abstractedly took and lighted another cigarette.

"What made you undo it?" he heard the woman ask.

He swung round in surprise. "I? I haven't touched the thing since it was brought in—beyond kicking it out of the way."

"The string's off—it's been opened!" Alison's voice was trembling with excitement. She straightened up, holding the box in both hands, and came hastily over to the table beside which he was standing. "You see?" she said breathlessly, putting it down.

"The string was on it when I saw it last," he told her blankly....

Then the memory recurred of the man who had passed him at the door—the man who, he suspected, had forced an entrance to his rooms....

Alison was plucking nervously at the cover without lifting it.

"Why don't you look?" he demanded, irritated.

"I—I'm afraid," she said in a broken voice.

Nevertheless, she removed the cover.

For a solid, silent minute both stared, stupefied. The hat they knew so well—the big black hat with its willow plume and buckle of brilliants—had vanished. In its place they saw the tumbled wreckage of what had once been another hat distinctly: wisps of straw dyed purple, fragments of feathers, bits of violet-coloured ribbon and silk which, mixed with wads and shreds of white tissue-paper, filled the box to brimming.

Staff thrust a hand in his pocket and produced the knot of violet ribbon. It matched exactly the torn ribbon in the box.

"So that," he murmured—"that's where this came from!"

Alison paid no attention. Of a sudden she began digging furiously in the debris in the box, throwing out its contents by handfuls until she had uncovered the bottom without finding any sign of what she had thought to find. Then she paused, meeting his gaze with one half-wrathful, half-hysterical.

"What does this mean?" she demanded, as if ready to hold him to account.

"I think," he said slowly—"I'm strongly inclined to believe it means that you're an uncommonly lucky woman."

"How do you make that out?" she demanded in a breath.

"I'll tell you," he said, formulating his theory as he spoke: "When I came home tonight, a man passed me at the door, fairly running out—I fancy, to escape recognition; there was something about him that seemed familiar. Then I came up here, found my door ajar, when I distinctly remembered locking it, found my windows shut and the shades drawn, when I distinctly remembered leaving them up, and finally found this knot of ribbon on the floor. I was trying to account for it when you drove up. Now it seems plain enough that this fellow knew or suspected you of hiding the necklace in the hat, knew that I had it, and came here in my absence to steal it. He found instead this hat, and knowing no better tore it to pieces trying to find what he was after."

"But where—where's my hat?"

"I'll tell you." Staff crossed the room and picked up the string and label which had been on the box. Returning, he examined the tag and read aloud: "Miss Eleanor Searle." He handed the tag to Alison. "Find Miss Searle and you'll find your hat. It happens that she had a bandbox the exact duplicate of yours. I remember telling you about it, on the steamer. As a matter of fact, she was in the shop the afternoon you ordered your hat sent to me, though she steadily refused to tell me who was responsible for that imposition. Now, on the pier today, our luggage was placed side by side, hers with mine—both in the S section, you understand. My examination was finished first and I was taken back to my stateroom to be searched, as you know. While I was gone, her examination was evidently finished, for when I came back she had left the pier with all her things. Quite plainly she must have taken your box by mistake for her own; this, of course, is her hat. As I said at first, find Miss Searle and you'll find your hat and necklace. Also, find the person to whom you confided this gay young swindling scheme of yours, and you'll find the man who was intimate enough with the affair to come to my rooms in my absence and go direct to the bandbox for the necklace."

"I—but I told nobody," she stammered.

By the look in her eyes he disbelieved her.

"Not even Max, this morning, before he offered that reward?" he asked shrewdly.

"Well—yes; I told him."

"Max may have confided it to somebody else: these things spread. Or possibly Jane may have blabbed."

"Oh, no," she protested, but without conviction in her accents; "neither of them would be so foolish...."

"I'd find out, if I were you."

"I shall. Meanwhile—this Miss Searle—where's she stopping?"

"I can't tell you—some hotel. It'll be easy enough to find her in the morning."

"Will you try?"

"Assuredly—the first thing."

"Then—there appears to be nothing else to do but go home," said the woman in a curiously subdued manner.

Without replying verbally, Staff took up her chiffon wrap and draped it over her shoulders.

"Thank you," said she, moving toward the door. "Good night."

"Oh," he protested politely, "I must see you out."

"It's not necessary—I can find my way."

"But only I know how to fix the front door."

At the foot of the stairs, while he fumbled with the latch, doubting him, she spoke with some little hesitation.

"I presume," she said stiffly—"I presume that this—ah—ends it."

Staff opened the door an inch and held it so. "If by 'it,'" he replied, "we mean the same thing—"

"We do."

"It does," he asseverated with his twisted smile.

She delayed an instant longer. "But all the same," she said hastily, at length, "I want that play."

"My play?" he enquired with significant emphasis.

"Yes, of course," she said sharply.

"Well, since I'm under contract with Max, I don't well see how I can take it away from you. And besides, you're the only woman living who can play it properly."

"So good of you." Her hand lay slim and cool in his for the fraction of an instant. "Good night," she iterated, withdrawing it.

"Good night."

As he let her out, Staff, glancing down at the waiting taxicab, was faintly surprised by the discovery that she had not come alone. A man stood in waiting by the door—a man in evening clothes: not Max but a taller man, more slender, with a better carriage. Turning to help Alison into the cab, the street lights threw his face in sharp relief against the blackness of the window; and Staff knew him.

"Arkroyd!" he said beneath his breath.

He closed the door and set the latch, suffering from a species of mild astonishment. His psychological processes seemed to him rather unique; he felt that he was hardly playing the game according to Hoyle. A man who has just broken with the woman with whom he has believed himself desperately in love naturally counts on feeling a bit down in the mouth. And seeing her drive off with one whom he has every right to consider in the light of a hated rival, he ought in common decency to suffer poignant pangs of jealousy. But Staff didn't; he couldn't honestly make himself believe that he was suffering in any way whatever. Indeed, the most violent emotion to which he was sensible was one of chagrin over his own infatuate myopia.

"Ass!" he called himself, slowly reascending the stairs. "You might 've seen this coming long ago, if you hadn't wilfully chosen to be blind as a bat!"

Re-entering his study, he pulled up with a start and a cry of sincere amazement.

"Well, I'll be damned!"

"Then why not lead a better life?" enquired Mr. Iff.

He was standing in the doorway to the bedroom, looking much like an exceptionally cruel caricature of himself. As he spoke, he slouched wearily over to the wing-chair Alison had recently occupied, and dropped into it like a dead weight.

He wore no hat. His clothing was in a shocking condition, damp, shapeless and shrunken to such an extent as to disclose exhibits of bony wrists and ankles almost immodestly generous. On his bird-like cranium the pale, smooth scalp shone pink through scanty, matted, damp blond locks. His face was drawn, pinched and pale. As if new to the light his baby-blue eyes blinked furiously. Round his thin lips hovered his habitual smile, semi-sardonic, semi-sheepish.

"Do you mind telling me how in thunder you got in here?" asked Staff courteously.

Iff waved a hand toward the bedroom.

"Fire-escape," he admitted wearily. "Happened to see your light and thought I'd call. Hope I don't intrude.... Got anything to drink? I'm about all in."



"If I'm any judge, that's no exaggeration." Thus Mr. Staff after a moment's pause which he utilised to look Mr. Iff over with a critical eye.

Mr. Iff wagged his head. "Believe me," said he simply.

Staff fetched a decanter of Scotch and a glass, placing them on the table by Iff's elbow, then turned away to get a siphon of charged water from the icebox. But by the time he was back a staggering amount of whiskey had disappeared from the decanter, a moist but empty glass stood beside it, and Mr. Iff was stroking smiling lips with his delicate, claw-like fingers. He discontinued this occupation long enough to wave the siphon away.

"Not for me," he said tersely. "I've swallowed enough water this night to last me for the rest of my life—half of the North River, more or less; rather more, if you ask me."

"What were you doing in the North River?"


This answer was evidently so adequate in Mr. Iff's understanding that he made no effort to elaborate upon it; so that presently, growing impatient, Staff felt called upon to ask:

"Well? What were you swimming for?"

"Dear life," said Iff—"life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: the incontestable birthright of every freeborn American citizen—if you must know."

He relapsed into a reverie which seemed hugely diverting from the reminiscent twinkle in the little man's eyes. From this he emerged long enough to remark: "That's prime whiskey, you know.... Thanks very much, I will." And again fell silent, stroking his lips.

"I don't want to seem to pry," said Staff at length, with elaborate irony; "but in view of the fact that you've felt warranted in calling on me via the fire-escape at one A.M., it doesn't seem unreasonable of me to expect some sort of an explanation."

"Oh, very well," returned Iff, with resignation. "What would you like to know?"

"Why did you disappear this morning—?"

"Yesterday morning," Iff corrected dispassionately.

"—yesterday morning, and how?"

"Because the time seemed ripe for me to do my marvellous vanishing stunt. You see, I had a hunch that the dear captain would turn things over in his mind and finally determine not to accept my credentials at their face value. So I kind of stuck round the wireless room with my ears intelligently pricked forward. Sure enough, presently I heard the message go out, asking what about me and how so."

"You mean you read the operator's sending by ear?"

"Sure; I've got a telegrapher's ear as long as a mule's.... Whereupon, knowing just about what sort of an answer 'd come through, I made up my mind to duck. And did."

"But how—?"

"That'd be telling, and telling would get somebody aboard the Autocratic into terrible bad trouble if it ever leaked out. I crawled in out of the weather—let it go at that. I wish," said Mr. Iff soulfully, "those damn' Pinkerton men had let it go at that. Once or twice I really thought they had me, or would have me the next minute. And they wouldn't give up. That's why I had to take to the water, after dark. My friend, who shall be nameless, lent me the loan of a rope and I shinned down and had a nice little swim before I found a place to crawl ashore. I assure you that the North River tastes like hell.... O thank you; don't mind if I do."

"Then," said Staff, watching the little man help himself on his own invitation—"Then you are Ismay!"

"Wrong again," said Iff drearily. "Honest, it's a real shame, the way you can't seem to win any bets at all."

"If you're not Ismay, what made you hide?"

"Ah!" cried Iff admiringly—"shrewd and pertinent question! Now I'll tell you, and you won't believe me. Because—now pay strict attention—because we're near-twins."

"Who are twins?" demanded Staff staring.

"Him and me—Ismay and I-double-F. First cousins we are: his mother was my aunt. Worse and more of it: our fathers were brothers. They married the same day; Ismay and I were born in the same month. We look just enough alike to be mistaken for one another when we're not together. That's been a great help to him; he's made me more trouble than I've time to tell you. The last time, I was pinched in his place and escaped a penitentiary sentence by the narrowest kind of a shave. That got my mad up, and I served notice on him to quit his foolishness or I'd get after him. He replied by cooking up a fine little scheme that almost laid me by the heels again. So I declared war and 've been camping on his trail ever since."

He paused and twiddled his thumbs, staring reflectively at the ceiling. "I'm sure I don't know why I bore myself telling you all this. What's the use?"

"Never mind," said Staff in an encouraging manner; he was genuinely diverted. "At worst it's a worthy and uplifting—ah—fiction. Go on.... Then you're not a Secret Service man after all?"

"Nothing like that; I'm doing this thing on my own."

"How about that forged paper you showed the captain?"

"Wasn't forged—genuine."

"Chapter Two," observed Staff, leaning back. "It is a dark and stormy night; we are all seated about the camp-fire. The captain says: 'Antonio, go to it.'"

"You are certainly one swell, appreciative audience," commented Iff morosely. "Let's see if I can't get a laugh with this one: One of the best little things my dear little cousin does being to pass himself off as me, he got himself hired by the Treasury Department some years ago under the name of William Howard Iff. That helped him a lot in his particular line of business. But after a while he felt that it cramped his style, so he just faded noiselessly away—retaining his credentials. Then—while I was in Paris last week—he thought it would be a grand joke to send me that document with his compliments and the suggestion that it might be some help to me in my campaign for his scalp. That's how I happened to have it."

"That's going some," Staff admitted admiringly. "Tell me another one. If you're Iff and not Ismay, what brought you over on the Autocratic?"

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