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The Bandbox
by Louis Joseph Vance
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"Business of keeping an eye on my dearly beloved cousin," said Iff promptly.

"You mean Ismay was on board, too?"

"'Member that undergrown waster with the red-and-grey Vandyke and the horn-rimmed pince nez, who was always mooning round with a book under his arm?"

"Yes...."

"That was Cousin Arbuthnot disguised in his own hair."

"If that was so, why didn't you denounce him when you were accused of stealing the Cadogan collar?"

"Because I knew he hadn't got away with it."

"How did you know?"

"At least I was pretty positive about it. You'll have to be patient—and intelligent—if you want to understand and follow me back to Paris. The three of us were there: Ismay, Miss Landis, myself. Miss Landis was dickering with Cottier's for the necklace, Ismay sticking round and not losing sight of her much of the time, I was looking after Ismay. Miss Landis buys the collar and a ticket for London; Ismay buys a ticket for London; I trail. Then Miss Landis makes another purchase—a razor, in a shop near the hotel where I happen to be loafing."

"A razor!"

"That's the way it struck me, too.... Scene Two: Cockspur Street, London. I'm not sure what boat Miss Landis means to take; I've got a notion it's the Autocratic, but I'm stalling till I know. You drift into the office, I recognise you and recall that you're pretty thick with Miss Landis. Nothing more natural than that you and she should go home by the same steamer. Similarly—Ismay.... Oh, yes, I understand it was pure coincidence; but I took a chance and filled my hand. After we'd booked and you'd strutted off, I lingered long enough to see Miss Landis drive up in a taxi with a whaling big bandbox on top of the cab. She booked right under my nose; I made a note of the bandbox....

"Then you came aboard with the identical bandbox and your funny story about how you happened to have it. I smelt a rat: Miss Landis hadn't sent you that bandbox anonymously for no purpose. Then one afternoon—long toward six o'clock—I see Miss Landis's maid come out on deck and jerk a little package overboard—package just about big enough to hold a razor. That night I'm dragged up on the carpet before the captain; I hear a pretty fairy tale about the collar disappearing while Jane was taking the bandbox back to your steward. The handbag is on the table, in plain sight; it isn't locked—a blind man can see that; and the slit in its side has been made by a razor. I add up the bandbox and the razor and multiply the sum by the fact that the average woman will smuggle as quick as the average man will take a drink; and I'm Jeremiah Wise, Esquire."

"That's the best yet," Staff applauded. "But—see here—why didn't you tell what you knew, if you knew so much, when you were accused?"

Iff grimaced sourly. "Get ready to laugh. This is one you won't fall for—not in a thousand years."

"Shoot," said Staff.

"I like you," said Iff simply. "You're foolish in the head sometimes, but in the main you mean well."

"That's nice of you—but what has it to do with my question?"

"Everything. You're sweet on the girl, and I don't wish to put a crimp in your young romance by showing her up in her true colours. Furthermore, you may be hep to her little scheme; I don't believe it, but I know that, if you are, you won't let me suffer for it. And finally, in the senility of my dotage I conned myself into believing I could bluff it out; at the worst, I could prove my innocence easily enough. But what I didn't take into consideration was that I was laying myself open to arrest for impersonating an agent of the Government. When I woke up to that fact, the only thing I could see to do was to duck in out of the blizzard."

Staff said sententiously: "Hmmm...."

"Pretty thin—what?"

"In spots," Staff agreed. "Still, I've got to admit you've managed to cover the canvas, even if your supply of paint was a bit stingy. One thing still bothers me: how did you find out I knew about the smuggling game?"

Iff nodded toward the bedroom. "I happened in—casually, as the saying runs—just as Miss Landis was telling on herself."

Staff frowned.

"How," he pursued presently, "can I feel sure you're not Ismay, and, having guessed as accurately as you did, that you didn't get at that bandbox aboard the ship and take the necklace?"

"If I were, and had, would I be here?"

"But I can't understand why you are here!"

"It's simple enough; I've any number of reasons for inviting myself to be your guest. For one, I'm wet and cold and look like a drowned rat; I can't offer myself to a hotel looking like this—can I? Then I knew your address—you'll remember telling me; and there's an adage that runs 'Any port in a storm.' You're going to be good enough to get my money changed—I've nothing but English paper—and buy me a ready-made outfit in the morning. Moreover, I'm after Ismay, and Ismay's after the necklace; wherever it is, he will be, soon or late. Naturally I presumed you still had it—and so did he until within the hour."

"You mean you think it was Ismay who broke into these rooms tonight?"

"You saw him, didn't you? Man about my size, wasn't he? Evening clothes? That's his regulation uniform after dark. Beard and glasses—what?"

"I believe you're right!" Staff rose excitedly. "I didn't notice the glasses, but otherwise you've described him!"

"What did I tell you?" Iff helped himself to a cigarette. "By now the dirty dog's probably raising heaven and hell to find out where Miss Searle has hidden herself."

Staff began to pace nervously to and fro. "I wish," he cried, "I knew where to find her!"

"Please," Iff begged earnestly, "don't let your sense of the obligations of a host interfere with your amusements; but if you'll stop that Marathon long enough to find me a blanket, I'll shed these rags and, by your good leave, curl up cunningly on yon divan."

Staff paused, stared at the little man's bland and guileless face, and shook his head helplessly, laughing.

"There's no resisting your colossal gall," he said, passing into the adjoining room to get bed-clothing for his guest.

"I admit it," said Iff placidly.

As Staff returned, the telephone bell rang. In his surprise he paused with his arms full of sheets, blankets and pillows, and stared incredulously at his desk.

"What the deuce now?" he murmured.

"The quickest way to an answer to that," suggested Iff blandly, "is there." He indicated the telephone with an ample gesture. "Help yourself."

Dropping his burden on the divan, Staff seated himself at the desk and took up the receiver.

"Hello?"

He started violently, recognising the voice that answered: "Mr. Staff?"

"Yes—"

"This is Miss Searle."

"I know," he stammered; "I—I knew your voice."

"Really?" The query was perfunctory. "Mr. Staff—I couldn't wait to tell you—I've just got in from a theatre and supper party with some friends."

"Yes," he said. "Where are you?"

Disregarding his question, the girl's voice continued quickly: "I wanted to see my hat and opened the bandbox. It wasn't my hat—it's the one you described—the one that—"

"I know," he interrupted; "I know all about that now."

"Yes," she went on hurriedly, unheeding his words. "I admired and examined it. It—there's something else."

"I know," he said again; "the Cadogan collar."

"Oh!" There was an accent of surprise in her voice. "Well, I've ordered a taxi, and I'm going to bring it to you right away. The thing's too valuable—"

"Miss Searle—"

"I'm afraid to keep it here. I wanted to find out if you were up—that's why I called."

"But, Miss Searle—"

"The taxi's waiting now. I'll be at your door in fifteen minutes."

"But—"

"Good-bye."

He heard the click as she hung up the receiver; and nothing more. With an exclamation of annoyance he swung round from the desk.

"Somebody coming?" enquired Iff brightly.

Staff eyed him with overt distrust. "Yes," he said reluctantly.

"Miss Searle bringing the evanescent collar, eh?"

Staff nodded curtly.

"Plagued nuisance," commented Iff. "And me wanting to go to sleep the worst I ever did."

"Don't let this keep you up," said Staff.

"But," Iff remonstrated, "you can't receive a lady in here with me asleep on your divan."

"I don't intend to," Staff told him bluntly. "I'm going to meet the taxi at the door, get into it with her, and take that infernal necklace directly to Miss Landis, at her hotel."

"The more I see of you," said Mr. Iff, removing his coat, "the more qualities I discover in you to excite my admiration and liking. As in this instance when with thoughtfulness for my comfort"—he tore from his neck the water-soaked rag that had been his collar—"you combine a prudent, not to say sagacious foresight, whereby you plan to place the Cadogan collar far beyond my reach in event I should turn out to be a gay deceiver."

By way of response, Staff found his hat and placed it handily on the table, went to his desk and took from one of its drawers a small revolver of efficient aspect, unloaded and reloaded it to satisfy himself it was in good working order—and of a sudden looked round suspiciously at Mr. Iff.

The latter, divested of his clothing and swathed in a dressing-gown several sizes too large for him, fulfilled his host's expectations by laughing openly at these warlike preparations.

"I infer," he said, "that you wouldn't be surprised to meet up with Cousin Arbuthnot before sunrise."

"I'm taking no chances," Staff announced with dignity.

"Well, if you should meet him, and if you mean what you act like, and if that gun's any good, and if you know how to use it," yawned Mr. Iff, "you'll do me a favour and save me a heap of trouble into the bargain. Good night."

He yawned again in a most business-like way, lay down, pulled a blanket up round his ears, turned his back to the light and was presently breathing with the sweet and steady regularity of a perfectly sound and sincere sleeper.

To make his rest the more comfortable, Staff turned off all the lights save that on his desk. Then he filled a pipe and sat down to envy the little man. The very name of sleep was music in his hearing, just then.

The minutes lagged on leaden wings. There was a great hush in the old house, and the street itself was quiet. Once or twice Staff caught himself nodding; then he would straighten up, steel his will and spur his senses to attention, waiting, listening, straining to catch the sound of an approaching taxi. He seemed to hear every imaginable night noise but that: the crash and whine of trolleys, the footsteps of a scattered handful of belated pedestrians, the infrequent windy roar of trains on the Third Avenue L, empty clapping of horses' hoofs on the asphalt ... the yowl of a sentimental tomcat ... a dull and distant grumble, vague, formless, like a long, unending roll of thunder down the horizon ... the swish and sough of waters breaking away from the flanks of the Autocratic ... and then, finally, like a tocsin, the sonorous, musical chiming of the grandfather's clock in the corner.

He found himself on his feet, rubbing his eyes, with a mouth dry as paper, a thumping heart, and a vague sense of emptiness in his middle.

Had he napped—slept? How long?... He stared, bewildered, groping blindly after his wandering wits....

The windows, that had been black oblongs in the illuminated walls, were filled with a cool and shapeless tone of grey. He reeled (rather than walked) to one of them and looked out.

The street below was vacant, desolate and uncannily silent, showing a harsh, unlovely countenance like the jaded mask of some sodden reveller, with bleary street-lamps for eyes—all mean and garish in the chilly dusk that foreruns dawn.

Hastily Staff consulted his watch.

Four o'clock!

It occurred to him that the watch needed winding, and he stood for several seconds twisting the stem-crown between thumb and forefinger while stupidly comprehending the fact that he must have been asleep between two and three hours.

Abruptly, in a fit of witless agitation, he crossed to the divan, caught the sleeper by the shoulder and shook him till he wakened—till he rolled over on his back, grunted and opened one eye.

"Look here!" said Staff in a quaver—"I've been asleep!"

"You've got nothing on me, then," retorted Iff with pardonable asperity. "All the same—congratulations. Good night."

He attempted to turn over again, but was restrained by Staff's imperative hand.

"It's four o'clock, and after!"

"I admit it. You might be good enough to leave a call for me for eleven."

"But—damn it, man!—that cab hasn't come—"

"I can't help that, can I?"

"I'm afraid something has happened to that girl."

"Well, it's too late to prevent it now—if so."

"Good God! Have you no heart, man?" Staff began to stride distractedly up and down the room. "What am I to do?" he groaned aloud.

"Take unkie's advice and go bye-bye," suggested Iff. "Otherwise I'd be obliged if you'd rehearse that turn in the other room. I'm going to sleep if I have to brain you to get quiet."

Staff stopped as if somebody had slapped him: the telephone bell was ringing again.

He flung himself across the room, dropped heavily into the chair and snatched up the receiver.

A man's voice stammered drowsily his number.

"Yes," he almost shouted. "Yes—Mr. Staff at the 'phone. Who wants me?"

"Hold the wire."

He heard a buzzing, a click; then silence; a prolonged brrrrp and another click.

"Hello?" he called. "Hello?"

His heart jumped: the voice was Miss Searle's.

"Mr. Staff?"

It seemed to him that he could detect a tremor in her accents, as if she were both weary and frightened.

"Yes, Miss Searle. What is it?"

"I wanted to reassure you—I've had a terrible experience, but I'm all right now—safe. I started—"

Her voice ceased to vibrate over the wires as suddenly as if those same wires had been cut.

"Yes?" he cried after an instant. "Yes, Miss Searle? Hello, hello!"

There was no answer. Listening with every faculty at high tension, he fancied that he detected a faint, abrupt sound, like a muffled sob. On the heels of it came a click and the connection was broken.

In his anxiety and consternation he swore violently.

"Well, what's the trouble?"

Iff stood at his side, now wide-awake and quick with interest. Hastily Staff explained what had happened.

"Yes," nodded the little man. "Yes, that'd be the way of it. She had trouble, but managed to get to the telephone; then somebody grabbed her—"

"Somebody! Who?" Staff demanded unreasonably.

"I don't really know—honest Injun! But there's a smell of garlic about it, just the same."

"Smell of garlic! Are you mad?"

"Tush!" said Mr. Iff contemptuously. "I referred poetically to the fine Italian hand of Cousin Arbuthnot Ismay. Now if I were you, I'd agitate that hook until Central answers, and then ask for the manager and see if he can trace that call back to its source. It oughtn't to be difficult at this hour, when the telephone service is at its slackest."



X

DEAD O' NIGHT

Beneath a nature so superficially shallow that it shone only with the reflected lustre of the more brilliant personalities to which it was attracted, Mrs. Ilkington had a heart—sentiment and a capacity for sympathetic affection. She had met Eleanor Searle in Paris, and knew a little more than something of the struggle the girl had been making to prepare herself for the operatic stage. She managed to discover that she had no close friends in New York, and shrewdly surmised that she wasn't any too well provided with munitions of war—in the shape of money—for her contemplated campaign against the army of professional people, marshalled by indifferent-minded managers, which stood between her and the place she coveted.

Considering all this, Mrs. Ilkington had suggested, with an accent of insistence, that Eleanor should go to the hotel which she intended to patronise—wording her suggestion so cunningly that it would be an easy matter for her, when the time came, to demonstrate that she had invited the girl to be her guest. And with this she was thoughtful enough to select an unpretentious if thoroughly well-managed house on the West Side, in the late Seventies, in order that Eleanor might feel at ease and not worry about the size of the bill which she wasn't to be permitted to pay.

Accordingly the two ladies (with Mr. Bangs tagging) went from the pier directly to the St. Simon, the elder woman to stay until her town-house could be opened and put in order, the girl while she looked round for a spinster's studio or a small apartment within her limited means.

Promptly on their arrival at the hotel, Mrs. Ilkington began to run up a telephone bill, notifying friends of her whereabouts; with the result (typical of the New York idea) that within an hour she had engaged herself for a dinner with theatre and supper to follow—and, of course, had managed to have Eleanor included in the invitation. She was one of those women who live on their nerves and apparently thrive on excitement, ignorant of the meaning of rest save in association with those rest-cure sanatoriums to which they repair for a fortnight semi-annually—or oftener.

Against her protests, then, Eleanor was dragged out in full dress when what she really wanted to do was to eat a light and simple meal and go early to bed. In not unnatural consequence she found herself, when they got home after one in the morning, in a state of nervous disquiet caused by the strain of keeping herself keyed up to the pitch of an animated party.

Insomnia stared her in the face with its blind, blank eyes. In the privacy of her own room, she expressed a free opinion of her countrymen, conceiving them all in the guise of fevered, unquiet souls cast in the mould of Mrs. Ilkington.

Divesting herself of her dinner-gown, she slipped into a negligee and looked round for a book, meaning to read herself sleepy. In the course of her search she happened to recognise her bandbox and conceive a desire to reassure herself as to the becomingness of its contents.

The hat she found therein was becoming enough, even if it wasn't hers. The mistake was easily apparent and excusable, considering the confusion that had obtained on the pier at the time of their departure.

She wondered when Staff would learn the secret of his besetting mystery, and wondered too why Alison had wished to make a mystery of it. The joke was hardly apparent—though one's sense of American humour might well have become dulled in several years of residence abroad.

Meanwhile, instinctively, Eleanor was trying on the hat before the long mirror set in the door of the closet. She admitted to herself that she looked astonishingly well in it. She was a sane and sensible young woman, who knew that she was exceedingly good looking and was glad of it in the same wholesome way that she was glad she had a good singing voice. Very probably the hat was more of a piece with the somewhat flamboyant if unimpeachable loveliness of Alison Landis; but it would seem hard to find a hat better suited to set off the handsome, tall and slightly pale girl that confronted Eleanor in the mirror.

It seemed surprisingly heavy, even for a hat of its tremendous size. She was of the opinion that it would make her head ache to wear it for many hours at a time. She was puzzled by its weight and speculated vaguely about it until, lifting it carefully off, her fingers encountered something hard, heavy and unyielding between the lining and the crown. After that it didn't take her long to discover that the lining had been ripped open and resewn with every indication of careless haste. Human curiosity did the rest. Within a very few minutes the Cadogan collar lay in her hands and she was marvelling over it—and hazily surmising the truth: Staff had been used as a blind agent to get the pearls into the country duty-free.

Quick thoughts ran riot in Eleanor's mind. Alison Landis would certainly not delay longer than a few hours before demanding her hat of Mr. Staff. The substitution would then be discovered and she, Eleanor Searle, would fall under suspicion—at least, unless she took immediate steps to restore the jewels.

She acted hastily, on impulse. One minute she was at the telephone, ordering a taxicab, the next she was hurriedly dressing herself in a tailor-made suit. The hour was late, but not too late—although (this gave her pause) it might be too late before she could reach Staff's rooms. She had much better telephone him she was coming. Of course he would have a telephone—everybody has, in New York.

Consultation of the directory confirmed this assumption, giving her both his address and his telephone number. But before she could call up, her cab was announced. Nevertheless she delayed long enough to warn him hastily of her coming. Then she snatched up the necklace, dropped it into her handbag, replaced the hat in its bandbox and ran for the elevator.

It was almost half-past one by the clock behind the desk, when she passed through the office. She had really not thought it so late. She was conscious of the surprised looks of the clerks and pages. The porter at the door, too, had a stare for her so long and frank as to approach impertinence. None the less he was quick enough to take her bandbox from the bellboy who carried it and place it in the waiting taxi, and handed her in after it with civil care. Having repeated to the operator the address she gave him, the porter shut the door and went back to his post as the vehicle darted out from the curb.

Eleanor knew little of New York geography. Her previous visits to the city had been very few and of short duration. With the shopping district she was tolerably familiar, and she knew something of the district roundabout the old Fifth Avenue Hotel and the vanished Everett House. But with these exceptions she was entirely ignorant of the lay of the land: just as she was too inexperienced to realise that it isn't considered wholly well-advised for a young woman alone to take, in the middle of the night, a taxicab whose chauffeur carries a companion on the front seat. If she had stopped to consider this circumstance at all, she would have felt comforted by the presence of the superfluous man, on the general principle that two protectors are better then one: but the plain truth is that she didn't stop to consider it, her thoughts being fully engaged with what seemed more important matters.

The cab bounced across Amsterdam Avenue, slid smoothly over to Columbus, ran for a block or so beneath the elevated structure and swung into Seventy-seventh Street, through which it pelted eastward and into Central Park. Then for some moments it turned and twisted through the devious driveways, in a fashion so erratic that the passenger lost all grasp of her whereabouts, retaining no more than a confused impression of serpentine, tree-lined ways, chequered with lamplight and the soft, dense shadows of foliage, and regularly spaced with staring electric arcs.

The night had fallen black beneath an overcast sky; the air that fanned her face was warm and heavy with humidity; what little breeze there was, aside from that created by the motion of the cab, bore on its leaden wings the scent of rain.

A vague uneasiness began to colour the girl's consciousness. She grew increasingly sensitive to the ominous quiet of the hour and place: the stark, dark stillness of the shrouded coppices and thickets, the emptiness of the paths. Once only she caught sight of a civilian, strolling in his shirt-sleeves, coat over his arm, hat in hand; and once only she detected, at a distance, the grey of a policeman's tunic, half blotted out by the shadow in which its wearer lounged at ease.

And that was far behind when, abruptly, with a grinding crash of brakes, the cab came from full headlong tilt to a dead halt within twice its length. She pitched forward from the seat with a cry of alarm, only saving herself a serious bruising through the instinct that led her to thrust out her hands and catch the frame of the forward windows.

Before she could recover, the chauffeur's companion had jumped out and run ahead, pausing in front of the hood to stoop and stare. In another moment he was back with a report couched in a technical jargon unintelligible to her understanding. She caught the words "stripped the gears" and from them inferred the irremediable.

"What is the matter?" she asked anxiously, bending forward.

The chauffeur turned his head and replied in a surly tone: "We've broken down, ma'm. You can't go no farther in this cab. I'll have to get another to tow us back to the garage."

"Oh," she cried in dismay, "how unfortunate! What am I to do?"

"Guess you'll have to get out 'n' walk back to Central Park West," was the answer. "You c'n get a car there to C'lumbus Circle. You'll find a-plenty taxis down there."

"You're quite sure—" she began to protest.

"Ah, they ain't no chanst of this car going another foot under its own power—not until it's been a week 'r two in hospital. The only thing for you to do 's to hoof it, like I said."

"That's dead right," averred the other man. He was standing beside the body of the cab and now unlatched the door and held it open for her. "You might as well get down, if you're in any great hurry, ma'm."

Eleanor rose, eyeing the man distrustfully. His accent wasn't that of the kind of man who is accustomed to saying "ma'm." His back was toward the nearest lamp post, his face in shadow. She gained no more than a dim impression of a short, slender figure masked in a grey duster buttoned to the throat, and, above it, a face rendered indefinite by a short, pointed beard and a grey motor-cap pulled well down over the eyes....

But there was nothing to do but accept the situation. An accident was an accident—unpleasant but irreparable. There was no alternative; she could do nothing but adopt the chauffeur's suggestion. She stepped out, turning back to get her bandbox.

"Beg pardon, ma'm. I'll get that for you."

The man by the door interposed an arm between Eleanor and the bandbox.

She said, "Oh no!" and attempted to push past his arm.

Immediately he caught her by the shoulder and thrust her away with staggering violence. She reeled back half a dozen feet. Simultaneously she heard the fellow say, sharply: "All right—go ahead!" and saw him jump upon the step. On the instant, the cab shot away through the shadows, the door swinging wide while Eleanor's assailant scrambled into the body.

Before she could collect herself the car had disappeared round a curve in the roadway.

Her natural impulse was to scream, to start a hue-and-cry: "Stop thief!" But the strong element of common-sense in her make-up counselled her to hold her tongue. In a trice she comprehended precisely the meaning of the passage. Somebody else—somebody aside from herself, Staff and Alison Landis—knew the secret of the bandbox and the smuggled necklace, and with astonishing intuition had planned this trap to gain possession of it. She was amazed to contemplate the penetrating powers of inference and deduction, the cunning and resource which had not only in so short a time fathomed the mystery of the vanished necklace, but had discovered the exchange of bandboxes, had traced the right one to her hotel and possession, had divined and taken advantage of her impulse to return the property to its rightful owner without an instant's loss of time. And with this thought came another, more alarming: in a brace of minutes the thieves would discover that the necklace had been abstracted from the hat and—men of such boldness wouldn't hesitate about turning back to run her down and take their booty by force.

It was this consideration that bade her refrain from crying out. Conceivably, if she did raise an alarm, help might be longer in coming than the taxicab in returning. They had the hat and bandbox, and were welcome to them, for all of her, as long as she retained the real valuables. Her only chance lay in instant and secret flight, in hiding herself away in the gloomy fastnesses of these unknown pleasure-grounds, so securely that they might not find her.

She stood alone in the middle of a broad road. There was nobody in sight, whichever way she looked. On one hand a wide asphalt path ran parallel with the drive; on the other lay a darksome hedge of trees and shrubbery. She hesitated not two seconds over her choice, and in a third was struggling and forcing a way through the undergrowth and beneath the low and spreading branches whose shadows cloaked her with a friendly curtain of blackness.

Beyond—she was not long in winning through—lay a broad meadow, glimmering faintly in the glow of light reflected from the bosoms of low, slow-moving clouds. A line of trees bordered it at a considerable distance; beneath them were visible patches of asphalt walk, shining coldly under electric arcs.

Having absolutely no notion whatever of where she was in the Park, after some little hesitation she decided against attempting to cross the lawn and turned instead, at random, to her right, stumbling away in the kindly penumbra of trees.

She thanked her stars that she had chosen to wear this dark, short-skirted suit that gave her so much freedom of action and at the same time blended so well with the shadows wherein she must skulk....

Before many minutes she received confirmation of her fears in the drone of a distant motor humming in the stillness and gaining volume with every beat of her heart. Presently it was strident and near at hand; and then, standing like a frozen thing, not daring to stir (indeed, half petrified with fear) she saw the marauding taxicab wheel slowly past, the chauffeur scrutinising one side of the way, the man in the grey duster standing up in the body and holding the door half open, while he raked with sweeping glances the coppice wherein she stood hiding.

But it did not stop. Incredible though it seemed, she was not detected. Obviously the men were at a loss, unable to surmise which one she had chosen of a dozen ways of escape. The taxicab drilled on at a snail's pace for some distance up the drive, then swung round and came back at a good speed. As it passed her for the second time she could hear one of its crew swearing angrily.

Again the song of the motor died in the distance, and again she found courage to move. But which way? How soonest to win out of this strange, bewildering maze of drives and paths, crossing and recrossing, melting together and diverging without apparent motive or design?

She advanced to the edge of the drive, paused, listening with every faculty alert. There was no sound but the muted soughing of the night wind in the trees—not a footfall, not the clap of a hoof or the echo of a motor's whine. She moved on a yard or two, and found herself suddenly in the harsh glare of an arc-lamp. This decided her; she might as well go forward as retreat, now that she had shown herself. She darted at a run across the road and gained the paved path, paused an instant, heard nothing, and ran on until forced to stop for breath.

And still no sign of pursuit! She began to feel a little reassured, and after a brief rest went on aimlessly, with the single intention of sticking to one walk as far as it might lead her, in the hope that it might lead her to the outskirts of the Park.

Vain hope! Within a short time she found herself scrambling over bare rocks, with shrubbery on either hand and a looming mass of masonry stencilled against the sky ahead. This surely could not be the way. She turned back, lost herself, half stumbled and half fell down a sharp slope, plodded across another lawn and found another path, which led her northwards (though she had no means of knowing this). In time it crossed one of the main drives, then recrossed. She followed it with patient persistence, hoping, but desperately weary.

Now and again she passed benches upon which men sprawled in crude, uneasy attitudes, as a rule snoring noisily. She dared not ask her way of these. Once one roused to the sharp tapping of her heels, stared insolently and, as she passed, spoke to her in a thick, rough voice. She did not understand what he said, but quickened her pace and held on bravely, with her head high and her heart in her mouth. Mercifully, she was not followed.

Again—and not once but a number of times—the sound of a motor drove her from the path to the safe obscurity of the trees and undergrowth. But in every such instance her apprehensions were without foundation; the machines were mostly touring-cars or limousines beating homeward from some late festivity.

And twice she thought to descry at a distance the grey-coated figure of a policeman; but each time, when she had gained the spot, the man had vanished—or else some phenomenon of light and shadow had misled her.

Minutes, in themselves seemingly endless, ran into hours while she wandered (so heavy with fatigue that she found herself wondering how it was that she didn't collapse from sheer exhaustion on any one of the interminable array of benches that she passed) dragging her leaden feet and aching limbs and struggling to hold up her hot and throbbing head.

It was long after three when finally she emerged at One-hundred-and-tenth Street and Lenox Avenue. And here fortune proved more kind: she blundered blindly almost into the arms of a policeman, stumbled through her brief story and dragged wearily on his arm over to Central Park West. Here he put her aboard a southbound Eighth Avenue surface-car, instructing the conductor where she was to get off and then presumably used the telephone on his beat to such effect that she was met on alighting by another man in uniform who escorted her to the St. Simon. She was too tired, too thoroughly worn out, to ask him how it happened that he was waiting for her, or even to do more than give him a bare word of thanks. As for complaining of her adventure to the night-clerk (who stared as she passed through to the elevator) no imaginable consideration could have induced her to stop for any such purpose.

But one thing was clear to her intelligence, to be attended to before she toppled over on her bed: Staff must be warned by telephone of the attempt to steal the necklace and the reason why she had not been able to reach his residence. And if this were to be accomplished, she must do it before she dared sit down.

In conformance with this fixed idea, she turned directly to the telephone after closing the door of her room—pausing neither to strip off her gloves and remove her hat nor even to relieve her aching wrist of the handbag which, with its precious contents, dangled on its silken thong.

She had to refresh her memory with a consultation of the directory before she could ask for Staff's number.

The switchboard operator was slow to answer; and when he did, there followed one of those exasperating delays, apparently so inexcusable....

She experienced a sensation of faintness and dizziness; her limbs were trembling; she felt as though sleep were overcoming her as she stood; but a little more and she had strained endurance to the breaking-point....



At length the connection was made. Staff's agitated voice seemed drawn thin by an immense distance. By a supreme effort she managed to spur her flagging faculties and began to falter her incredible story, but had barely swung into the second sentence when her voice died in her throat and her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth.

The telephone instrument was fixed to the wall near the clothes-closet, the door of which framed a long mirror. This door, standing slightly ajar, reflected to her vision the hall door.

She had detected a movement in the mirror. The hall door was opening—slowly, gently, noiselessly, inch by inch. Fascinated, dumb with terror, she watched. She saw the hand that held the knob—a small hand, thin and fragile; then the wrist, then part of the arm.... A head appeared in the opening, curiously suggesting the head of a bird, thinly thatched with hair of a faded yellow; out of its face, small eyes watched her, steadfastly inquisitive.

Almost mechanically she replaced the receiver on the hook and turned away from the wall, stretching forth her hands in a gesture of pitiful supplication....



XI

THE COLD GREY DAWN

"Well?" snapped Iff irritably. "What're you staring at?"

"You," Staff replied calmly. "I was thinking—"

"About me? What?"

"Merely that you are apparently as much cut up as if the necklace were yours—as if you were in danger of being robbed, instead of Miss Landis—by way of Miss Searle."

"And I am!" asserted Iff vigorously. "I am, damn it! I'm in no danger of losing any necklace; but if he gets away with the goods, that infernal scoundrel will manage some way to implicate me and rob me of my good name and my liberty as well. Hell!" he exploded—"seems to me I'm entitled to be excited!"

Staff's unspoken comment was that this explanation of the little man's agitation was something strained and inconclusive: unsatisfactory at best. It was not apparent how (even assuming the historical Mr. Ismay to be at that moment stealing the Cadogan collar from Miss Searle) the crime could be fastened on Mr. Iff, in the face of the positive alibi Staff could furnish him. On the other hand, it was indubitable that Iff believed himself endangered in some mysterious way, or had some other and still more secret cause for disquiet. For his uneasiness was so manifest, in such sharp contrast with his habitual, semi-cynical repose, that even he hadn't attempted to deny it.

With a shrug Staff turned back to the telephone and asked for the manager of the exchange, explained his predicament and was promised that, if the call could be traced back to the original station, he should have the number. He was, however, counselled to be patient. Such a search would take time, quite possibly and very probably.

He explained this to Iff, whose disgust was ill-disguised.

"And meanwhile," he expostulated, "we're sitting here with our hands in our laps—useless—and Ismay, as like 's not, is—" He broke into profanity, trotting up and down and twisting his small hands together.

"I wish," said Staff, "I knew what makes you act this way. Ismay can't saddle you with a crime committed by him when you're in my company—"

"You don't know him," interpolated Iff.

"And you surely can't be stirred so deeply by simple solicitude for Miss Searle."

"Oh, can't I? And how do you know I can't?" barked the little man. "Gwan—leave me alone! I want to think."

"Best wishes," Staff told him pleasantly. "I'm going to change my clothes."

"Symptoms of intelligence," grunted Iff. "I was wondering when you'd wake up to the incongruity of knight-erranting it after damsels in distress in an open-faced get-up like that."

"It's done, however," argued Staff good-humouredly. "It's class, if the illustrators are to be believed. Don't you ever read modern fiction? In emergencies like these the hero always takes a cold bath and changes his clothes before sallying forth to put a crimp in the villain's plans. Just the same as me. Only I'm going to shed evening dress instead of—"

"Good heavens, man!" snorted Iff. "Are you in training for a monologist's job? If so—if not—anyway—can it! Can the extemporaneous stuff!"

The telephone bell silenced whatever retort Staff may have contemplated. Both men jumped for the desk, but Staff got there first.

"Hello?" he cried, receiver at ear. "Yes? Hello?"

But instead of the masculine accents of the exchange-manager he heard, for the third time that night, the voice of Miss Searle.

"Yes," he replied almost breathlessly—"it is I, Miss Searle. Thank Heaven you called up! I've been worrying silly—"

"We were cut off," the girl's voice responded. He noted, subconsciously, that she was speaking slowly and carefully, as if with effort.... "Cut off," she repeated as by rote, "and I had trouble getting you again."

"Then you're—you're all right?"

"Quite, thank you. I had an unpleasant experience trying to get to you by taxicab. The motor broke down coming through Central Park, and I had to walk home and lost my way. But I am all right now—just tired out."

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "It's too bad; I was quite ready to call for the—you understand—and save you the trouble of the trip down here. But I'm glad you've had no more unpleasant adventure."

"The necklace is safe," the girl's voice told him with the same deadly precision of utterance.

"Oh, yes; I assumed that. And I may call for it?"

"If you please—today at noon. I am so tired I am afraid I shan't get up before noon."

"That'll be quite convenient to me, thank you," he assured her. "But where are you stopping?"

There fell a brief pause. Then she said something indistinguishable.

"Yes?" he said. "Beg pardon—I didn't get that. A little louder please, Miss Searle."

"The St. Regis."

"Where?" he repeated in surprise.

"The St. Regis. I am here with Mrs. Ilkington—her guest. Good night, Mr. Staff."

"Good morning," he laughed; and at once the connection was severed.

"And that's all right!" he announced cheerfully, swinging round to face Iff. "She was in a taxicab accident and got lost in Central Park—just got home, I infer. The necklace is safe and I'm to call and get it at twelve o'clock."

"Where's she stopping?" demanded Iff, shaking his little head as though impatient. Staff named the hotel, and Iff fairly jumped. "Why that's impossible!" he cried. "She can't afford it."

"How do you happen to know she can't?" enquired Staff, perplexed.

Momentarily Iff showed a face of confusion. "I know a lot of things," he grumbled, evasively.

Staff waited a moment, then finding that the little man didn't purpose making any more adequate or satisfactory explanation, observed: "It happens that she's Mrs. Ilkington's guest, and I fancy Mrs. Ilkington can afford it—unless you know more about her, too, than I do."

Iff shook his head, dissatisfied. "All right," he said wearily. "Now what're you going to do?"

"I'm going to try to snatch a few hours' sleep. There's no reason why I shouldn't, now, with nothing to do before noon."

"Pleasant dreams," said Iff sourly, as Staff marched off to his bedroom.

Then he sat down on the edge of the divan, hugging the dressing-gown round him, scowled vindictively at nothing and began thoughtfully to gnaw a bony knuckle.

In the other room, his host was undressing with surprising speed. In spite of his nap, he was still tremendously tired; perhaps the reaction caused by Eleanor's reassurance capping the climax of his excitement had something to do with the sense of complete mental and physical fatigue that swept over him the instant his back rested upon the bed. Within two minutes he was fast asleep.

But in the study Mr. Iff kept vigil, biting his knuckles what time he was not depleting his host's stock of cigarettes.

Daylight broadened over the city. The sun rose. Not to be outdone, so did Mr. Iff—moving quietly round the room, swearing beneath his breath as his conscience dictated, gradually accumulating more and more of the articles of clothing which he had so disdainfully discarded some hours earlier.

The telephone interrupted him somewhat after six o'clock. He answered it, assuming Staff's identity for the moment. When the conversation had closed, he sat in reverie for some minutes, then consulted the telephone book and called two numbers in quick succession. Immediately thereafter he tiptoed into the bedroom, assured himself that Staff was fast asleep and proceeded calmly to rifle that gentleman's pockets, carefully placing what he found in an orderly array upon the bureau. In the end, bringing to light a plump bill-fold, he concluded his investigations.

The pigskin envelope contained a little less than four-hundred dollars, mostly in gold Treasury certificates. Mr. Iff helped himself generously and replaced the bill-fold. Then he returned to the study, found paper and pens and wrote Staff a little note, which he propped against the mirror on the bedroom dresser. Finally, filling one of his pockets with cigarettes, he smiled blandly and let himself out of the apartment and, subsequently, of the house.

Staff slept on, sublimely unconscious, until the sun, slipping round to the south, splashed his face with moulten gold: when he woke, fretful and sweatful. He glanced at his watch and got up promptly: the hour approached eleven. Diving into a bathrobe, he turned the water on for his bath, trotted to the front room and discovered the evasion of Mr. Iff. This, however, failed to surprise him. Iff was, after all, not bound to sit tight until Staff gave him leave to stir.

He rang for Mrs. Shultz and ordered breakfast. Then he bathed and began to dress. It was during this latter ceremony that he found his pockets turned inside out and their contents displayed upon his bureau.

This was a shock, especially when he failed to find his bill-fold at the first sweep. The bottom dropped out of the market for confidence in the integrity of Mr. Iff and conceit in the perspicacity of Mr. Staff. He saw instantly how flimsy had been the tissue of falsehood wherewith the soi-disant Mr. Iff had sought to cloak his duplicity, how egregiously stupid had been his readiness to swallow that extraordinary yarn. The more he considered, the more he marvelled. It surpassed belief—his asininity did; at least he wouldn't have believed he could be so easily fooled. He felt like kicking himself—and longed unutterably for a chance to kick his erstwhile guest.

In the midst of this transport he found himself staring incredulously at the envelope on the dresser. He snatched it up, tore it open and removed three pieces of white paper. Two of them were crisp and tough and engraved on one side with jet-black ink. The third bore this communication:

"MY DEAR MR. STAFF:—Your bill-fold's in your waistcoat pocket, where you left it last night. It contained $385 when I found it. It now contains $200. I leave you by way of security Bank of England notes to the extent of L40. There'll be a bit of change, one way or the other—I'm too hurried to calculate which.

"The exchange manager has just called up. The interrupted call has been traced back to the Hotel St. Simon in 79th Street, W. I have called the St. Regis; neither Miss Searle nor Mrs. Ilkington has registered there. I have also called the St. Simon; both ladies are there. Your hearing must be defective—or else Miss S. didn't know where she was at.

"I'm off to line my inwards with food and decorate my outwards with purple and fine underlinen. After which I purpose minding my own business for a few hours or days, as the circumstances may demand. But do not grieve—I shall return eftsoons or thereabouts.

"Yours in the interests of pure crime—

"WHIFF.

"P. S.—And of course neither of us had the sense to ask: If Miss S. was bound here from the St. Regis, how did her taxi manage to break down in Central Park?"

Prompt investigation revealed the truth of Mr. Iff's assertion: the bill-fold with its remaining two-hundred dollars was safely tucked away in the waistcoat pocket. Furthermore, the two twenty-pound notes were unquestionably genuine. The tide of Staff's faith in human nature began again to flood; the flower of his self-conceit flourished amazingly. He surmised that he wasn't such a bad little judge of mankind, after all.

He breakfasted with a famous appetite, untroubled by Iff's aspersion on his sense of hearing, which was excellent; and he had certainly heard Miss Searle aright: she had named the St. Regis not once, but twice, and each time with the clearest enunciation. He could only attribute the mistake to her excitement and fatigue; people frequently make such mistakes under unusual conditions; if Miss Searle had wished to deceive him as to her whereabouts, she needed only to refrain from communicating with him at all. And anyway, he knew now where to find her and within the hour would have found her; and then everything would be cleared up.

He was mildly surprised at the sense of pleasant satisfaction with which he looked forward to meeting the girl again. He reminded himself not to forget to interview a manager or two in her interests.

Just to make assurance doubly sure, he telephoned the St. Simon while waiting for Shultz to fetch a taxicab. The switchboard operator at that establishment replied in the affirmative to his enquiry as to whether or not Mrs. Ilkington and Miss Searle were registered there.

On the top of this he was called up by Alison.

"I'm just starting out—cab waiting," he told her at once—"to go to Miss Searle and get your—property."

"Oh, you are?" she returned in what he thought a singular tone.

"Yes; she called me up last night—said she'd discovered the mistake and the—ah—property—asked me to call today at noon."

There was no necessity that he could see of detailing the whole long story over a telephone wire.

"Well," said Alison after a little pause, "I don't want to interfere with your amusements, but ... I've something very particular to say to you. I wish you'd stop here on your way uptown."

"Why, certainly," he agreed without hesitation or apprehension.

The actress had put up, in accordance with her custom, at a handsome, expensive and world-famous hotel in the immediate neighbourhood of Staff's rooms. Consequently he found himself in her presence within fifteen minutes from the end of their talk by telephone.

Dressed for the street and looking uncommonly handsome, she was waiting for him in the sitting-room of her suite. As he entered, she came forward and gave him a cool little hand and a greeting as cool. He received both with an imperturbability founded (he discovered to his great surprise) on solid indifference. It was hard to realise that he no longer cared for her, or whether she were pleased or displeased with him. But he didn't. He concluded, not without profound amazement, that his passion for her which had burned so long and brightly had been no more than sentimental incandescence. And he began to think himself a very devil of a fellow, who could toy with the love of women with such complete insouciance, who could off with the old love before he had found a new and care not a rap!...

Throughout this self-analysis he was mouthing commonplaces—assuring her that the day was fine, that he had never felt better, that she was looking her charming best. Of a sudden his vision comprehended an article which adorned the centre-table; and words forsook him and his jaw dropped.

It was the bandbox: not that which he had left, with its cargo of trash, in his rooms.

Alison followed his glance, elevated her brows, and indicated the box with a wave of her arm.

"And what d' you know about that?" she enquired bluntly.

"Where did it come from?" he counter-questioned, all agape.

"I'm asking you."

"But—I know nothing about it. Did Miss Searle send it—?"

"I can't say," replied the actress drily. "Your name on the tag has been scratched out and mine, with this address, written above it."

Staff moved over to the table and while he was intently scrutinising the tag, Alison continued:

"It came by messenger about eight this morning; Jane brought it to me when I got up a little while ago."

"The hat was in it?" he asked.

She nodded impatiently: "Oh, of course—with the lining half ripped out and the necklace missing."

"Curious!" he murmured.

"Rather," she agreed. "What do you make of it?"

"This address isn't her writing," he said, deep in thought.

"Oh, so you're familiar with the lady's hand?" There was an accent in Alison's voice that told him, before he looked, that her lip was curling and her eyes were hard.

"This is a man's writing," he said quietly, wondering if it could be possible that Alison was jealous.

"Well?" she demanded. "What of it?"

"I don't know. Miss Searle got me on the telephone a little after one last night; she said she'd found the necklace in the hat and was bringing it to me."

"How did she know it was mine?"

"Heard you order it sent to me, in London. You'll remember my telling you she knew."

"Oh, yes. Go on."

"She didn't show up, but telephoned again some time round four o'clock explaining that she had been in a taxicab accident in the Park and lost her way but finally got home—that is, to her hotel, the St. Simon. She said the necklace was safe—didn't mention the hat—and asked me to call for it at noon today. I said I would, and I'm by way of being late now. Doubtless she can explain how the hat came to you this way."

"I'll be interested to hear," said Alison, "and to know that the necklace is really safe. On the face of it—as it stands—there's something queer—wrong.... What are you going to do?"

Staff had moved toward the telephone. He paused, explaining that he was about to call up Miss Searle for reassurance. Alison negatived this instantly.

"Why waste time? If she has the thing, the quickest way to get it is to go to her now—at once. If she hasn't, the quickest way to get after it is via the same route. I'm all ready and if you are we'll go immediately."

Staff bowed, displeased with her manner to the point of silence. He had no objection to her being as temperamental as she pleased, but he objected strongly to having it implied by everything except spoken words that he was in some way responsible for the necklace and that Eleanor Searle was quite capable of conspiring to steal it.

As for Alison, her humour was dangerously impregnated with the consciousness that she had played the fool to such an extent that she stood in a fair way to lose her necklace. Inasmuch as she knew this to be altogether her fault, whatever the outcome, she was in a mood to quarrel with the whole wide world; and she schooled herself to treat with Staff on terms of toleration only by exercise of considerable self-command and because she was exacting a service of him.

So their ride uptown was marked by its atmosphere of distant and dispassionate civility. They spoke infrequently, and then on indifferent topics soon suffered to languish. In due course, however, Staff mastered his resentment and—as evidenced by his wry, secret smile—began to take a philosophic view of the situation, to extract some slight amusement from his insight into Alison's mental processes. Intuitively sensing this, she grew even more exasperated with him—as well as with everybody aside from her own impeccable self.

At the St. Simon, Staff soberly escorted the woman to the lounge, meaning to leave her there while he enquired for Eleanor at the office; but they had barely set foot in the apartment when their names were shrieked at them in an excitable, shrill, feminine voice, and Mrs. Ilkington bore down upon them in full regalia of sensation.

"My dears!" she cried, regarding them affectionately—"such a surprise! Such a delightful surprise! And so good of you to come to see me so soon! And opportune—I'm dying, positively expiring, for somebody to gossip with. Such a singular thing has happened—"

Alison interrupted bluntly: "Where's Miss Searle? Mr. Staff is anxious to see her."

"That's just it—just what I want to talk about. You'd never guess what that girl has done—and after all the trouble and thought I've taken in her behalf, too! I'm disgusted, positively and finally disgusted; never again will I interest myself in such people. I—"

"But where is Miss Searle?" demanded Alison, with a significant look to Staff.

"Gone!" announced Mrs. Ilkington impressively.

"Gone?" echoed Staff.

Mrs. Ilkington nodded vigorously, compressing her lips to a thin line of disapproval. "I'm positively at my wits' end to account for her."

"I fancy there's an explanation, however," Alison put in.

"I wish you'd tell me, then.... You see, we dined out, went to the theatre and supper together, last night. The Struyvers asked me, and I made them include her, of course. We got back about one. Of course, my dears, I was fearfully tired and didn't get up till half an hour ago. Imagine my sensation when I enquired for Miss Searle and was informed that she paid her bill and left at five o'clock this morning, and with a strange man!"

"She left you a note, of course?" Staff suggested.

"Not a line—nothing! I might be the dirt beneath her feet, the way she's treated me. I'm thoroughly disillusioned—disgusted!"

"Pardon me," said Staff; "I'll have a word with the office."

He hurried away, leaving Mrs. Ilkington still volubly dilating on that indignity that had been put upon her: Alison listening with an air of infinite detachment.

His enquiry was fruitless enough. The day-clerk, he was informed by that personage, had not come on duty until eight o'clock; he knew nothing of the affair beyond what he had been told by the night-clerk—that Miss Searle had called for her bill and paid it at five o'clock; had given instructions to have her luggage removed from her room and delivered on presentation of her written order; and had then left the hotel in company with a gentleman who registered as "I. Arbuthnot" at one o'clock in the morning, paying for his room in advance.

Staff, consumed with curiosity about this gentleman, was so persistent in his enquiry that he finally unearthed the bellboy who had shown that guest to his room and who furnished what seemed to be a tolerably accurate sketch of him.

The man described was—Iff.

Discouraged and apprehensive, Staff returned to the lounge and made his report—one received by Alison with frigid disapproval, by Mrs. Ilkington with every symptom of cordial animation; from which it became immediately apparent that Alison had told the elder woman everything she should not have told her.

"'I. Arbuthnot,'" Alison translated: "Arbuthnot Ismay."

"Gracious!" Mrs. Ilkington squealed. "Isn't that the real name of that odd creature who called himself Iff and pretended to be a Secret Service man?"

Staff nodded a glum assent.

"It's plain enough," Alison went on; "this Searle woman was in league with him—"

"I disagree with you," said Staff.

"On what grounds?"

"I don't believe that Miss Searle—"

"On what grounds?"

He shrugged, acknowledging his inability to explain.

"And what will you do?" interrupted Mrs. Ilkington.

"I shall inform the police, of course," said Alison; "and the sooner the better."

"If I may venture so far," Staff said stiffly, "I advise you to do nothing of the sort."

"And why not, if you please?"

"It's rather a delicate case," he said—"if you'll pause to consider it. You must not forget that you yourself broke the law when you contrived to smuggle the necklace into this country. The minute you make this matter public, you lay yourself open to arrest and prosecution for swindling the Government."

"Swindling!" Alison repeated with a flaming face.

Staff bowed, confirming the word. "It is a very serious charge these days," he said soberly. "I'd advise you to think twice before you make any overt move."

"But if I deny attempting to smuggle the necklace? If I insist that it was stolen from me aboard the Autocratic—stolen by this Mr. Ismay and this Searle woman—?"

"Miss Searle did not steal your necklace. If she had intended anything of the sort, she wouldn't have telephoned me about it last night."

"Nevertheless, she has gone away with it, arm-in-arm with a notorious thief, hasn't she?"

"We're not yet positive what she has done. For my part, I am confident she will communicate with us and return the necklace with the least possible delay."

"Nevertheless, I shall set the police after her!" Alison insisted obstinately.

"Again I advise you—"

"But I shall deny the smuggling, base my charge on—"

"One moment," Staff interposed firmly. "You forget me. I'm afraid I can adduce considerable evidence to prove that you not only attempted to smuggle, but as a matter of fact did."

"And you would do that—to me?" snapped the actress.

"I mean that Miss Searle shall have every chance to prove her innocence," he returned in an even and unyielding voice.

"Why? What's your interest in her?"

"Simple justice," he said—and knew his answer to be evasive and unconvincing.

"As a matter of fact," said Alison, rising in her anger, "you've fallen in love with the girl!"

Staff held her gaze in silence.

"You're in love with her," insisted the actress—"in love with this common thief and confidence-woman!"

Staff nodded gently. "Perhaps," said he, "you're right. I hadn't thought of it that way before.... But, if you doubt my motive in advising you to go slow, consult somebody else—somebody you feel you can trust: Max, for instance, or your attorney. Meanwhile, I'd ask Mrs. Ilkington to be discreet, if I were you."

Saluting them ceremoniously, he turned and left the hotel, deeply dejected, profoundly bewildered and ... wondering whether or not Alison in her rage had uncovered a secret unsuspected even by himself, to whom it should have been most intimate.



XII

WON'T YOU WALK INTO MY PARLOUR?

Slipping quickly into the room through an opening hardly wide enough to admit his spare, small body, the man as quickly shut and locked the door and pocketed the key. This much accomplished, he swung on his heel and, without further movement, fastened his attention anew upon the girl.

Standing so—hands clasped loosely before him, his head thrust forward a trifle above his rounded shoulders, pale eyes peering from their network of wrinkles with a semi-humourous suggestion, thin lips curved in an apologetic grin: his likeness to the Mr. Iff known to Staff was something more than striking. One needed to be intimately and recently acquainted with Iff's appearance to be able to detect the almost imperceptible points of difference between the two. Had Staff been there he might have questioned the colour of this man's eyes, which showed a lighter tint than Iff's, and their expression—here vigilant and predatory in contrast with Iff's languid, half-derisive look. The line of the cheek from nose to mouth, too, was deeper and more hard than with Iff; and there was a hint of elevation in the nostrils that lent the face a guise of malice and evil—like the shadow of an impersonal sneer.

The look he bent upon Eleanor was almost a sneer: a smile in part contemptuous, in part studious; as though he pondered a problem in human chemistry from the view-point of a seasoned and experienced scientist. He cocked his head a bit to one side and stared insolently beneath half-lowered lids, now and again nodding ever so slightly as if in confirmation of some unspoken conclusion.

Against the cold, inflexible purpose in his manner, the pitiful prayer expressed in the girl's attitude spent itself without effect. Her hands dropped to her sides; her head drooped wearily, hopelessly; her pose personified despondency profound and irremediable.

When he had timed his silence cunningly, to ensure the most impressive effect, the man moved, shifting from one foot to the other, and spoke.

"Well, Nelly ...?"

His voice, modulated to an amused drawl, was much like Iff's.

The girl's lips moved noiselessly for an instant before she managed to articulate.

"So," she said in a quiet tone of horror—"So it was you all the time!"

"What was me?" enquired the man inelegantly if with spirit.

"I mean," she said, "you were after the necklace, after all."

"To be sure," he said pertly. "What did you think?"

"I hoped it wasn't so," she said brokenly. "When you escaped yesterday morning, and when tonight I found the necklace—I was so glad!"

"Then you did find it?" he demanded promptly.

She gave him a look of contempt. "You know it!"

"My dear child," he expostulated insincerely, "what makes you say that?"

"You don't mean to pretend you didn't steal the bandbox from me, just now, in that taxicab, trying to get the necklace?" she demanded.

He waited an instant, then shrugged. "I presume denial would be useless."

"Quite."

"All right then: I won't deny anything."

She moved away from the telephone to a chair wherein she dropped as if exhausted, hands knitted together in her lap, her chin resting on her chest.

"You see," said the man, "I wanted to spare you the knowledge that you were being held up by your fond parent."

"I should have known you," she said, "but for that disguise—the beard and motor-coat."

"That just goes to show that filial affection will out," commented the man. "You haven't seen me for seven years—"

"Except on the steamer," she corrected.

"True, but there I kept considerately out of your way."

"Considerately!" she echoed in a bitter tone.

"Can you question it?" he asked, lightly ironic, moving noiselessly to and fro while appraising the contents of the room with swift, searching glances.

"As, for instance, your actions tonight...."

"They simply prove my contention, dear child." He paused, gazing down at her with a quizzical leer. "My very presence here affirms my entire devotion to your welfare."

She looked up, dumfounded by his effrontery. "Is it worth while to waste your time so?" she enquired. "You failed the first time tonight, but you can't fail now; I'm alone, I can't oppose you, and you know I won't raise an alarm. Why not stop talking, take what you want and go? And leave me to be accused of theft unless I choose to tell the world—what it wouldn't believe—that my own father stole the necklace from me!"

"Ah, but how unjust you are!" exclaimed the man. "How little you know me, how little you appreciate a father's affection!"

"And you tried to rob me not two hours ago!"

"Yes," he said cheerfully: "I admit it. If I had got away with it then—well and good. You need never have known who it was. Unhappily for both of us, you fooled me."

"For both of us?" she repeated blankly.

"Precisely. It puts you in a most serious position. That's why I'm here—to save you."

In spite of her fatigue, the girl rose to face him. "What do you mean?"

"Simply that between us we've gummed this business up neatly—hard and fast. You see—I hadn't any use for that hat; I stopped in at an all-night telegraph station and left it to be delivered to Miss Landis, never dreaming what the consequences would be. Immediately thereafter, but too late, I learned—I've a way of finding out what's going on, you know—that Miss Landis had already put the case in the hands of the police. It makes it very serious for you—the bandbox returned, the necklace still in your possession, your wild, incredible yarn about meaning to restore it ..."

In her overwrought and harassed condition, the sophistry illuded her; she was sensible only of the menace his words distilled. She saw herself tricked and trapped, meshed in a web of damning circumstance; everything was against her—appearances, the hands of all men, the cruel accident that had placed the necklace in her keeping, even her parentage. For she was the daughter of a notorious thief, a man whose name was an international byword. Who would believe her protestations of innocence—presuming that the police should find her before she could reach either Staff or Miss Landis?

"But," she faltered, white to her lips, "I can take it to her now—instantly—"

Instinctively she clutched her handbag. The man's eyes appreciated the movement. His face was shadowed for a thought by the flying cloud of a sardonic smile. And the girl saw and read that smile.

"Unless," she stammered, retreating from him a pace or two—"unless you—"

He silenced her with a reassuring gesture.

"You do misjudge me!" he said in a voice that fairly wept.

Hope flamed in her eyes. "You mean—you can't mean—"

Again he lifted his hand. "I mean that you misconstrue my motive. Far be it from me to deny that I am—what I am. We have ever been plain-spoken with one another. You told me what I was seven years ago, when you left me, took another name, disowned me and ..." His voice broke affectingly for an instant. "No matter," he resumed, with an obvious effort. "The past is past, and I am punished for all that I have ever done or ever may do, by the loss of my daughter's confidence and affection. It is my fault; I have no right to complain. But now ... Yes, I admit I tried to steal the necklace in the Park tonight. But I failed, and failing I did that which got you into trouble. Now I'm here to help you extricate yourself. Don't worry about the necklace—keep it, hide it where you will. I don't want and shan't touch, it on any conditions."

"You mean I'm free to return it to Miss Landis?" she gasped, incredulous.

"Just that."

"Then—where can I find her?"

He shrugged. "There's the rub. She's left town."

She steadied herself with a hand on the table. "Still I can follow her...."

"Yes—and must. That's what I've come to tell you and to help you do."

"Where has she gone?"

"To her country place in Connecticut, on the Sound shore."

"How can I get there? By railroad?" Eleanor started toward the telephone.

"Hold on!" he said sharply. "What are you going to do?"

"Order a time-table—"

"Useless," he commented curtly. "Every terminal in the city is already watched by detectives. They'd spot you in a twinkling. Your only salvation is to get to Miss Landis before they catch you."

In her excitement and confusion she could only stand and stare. A solitary thought dominated her consciousness, dwarfing and distorting all others: she was in danger of arrest, imprisonment, the shame and ignominy of public prosecution. Even though she were to be cleared of the charge, the stain of it would cling to her, an ineradicable blot.

And every avenue of escape was closed to her! Her lips trembled and her eyes brimmed, glistening. Despair lay cold in her heart.

She was so weary and distraught with the strain of nerves taut and vibrant with emotion, that she was by no means herself. She had no time for either thought or calm consideration; and even with plenty of time, she would have found herself unable to think clearly and calmly.

"What am I to do, then?" she whispered.

"Trust me," the man replied quietly. "There's just one way to reach this woman without risk of detection—and that's good only if we act now. Get your things together; pay your bill; leave word to deliver your trunks to your order; and come with me. I have a motor-car waiting round the corner. In an hour we can be out of the city. By noon I can have you at Miss Landis' home."

"Yes," she cried, almost hysterical—"yes, that's the way!"

"Then do what packing you must. Here, I'll lend a hand."

Fortunately, Eleanor had merely opened her trunks and bags, removing only such garments and toilet accessories as she had required for dinner and the theatre. These lay scattered about the room, easily to be gathered up and stuffed with careless haste into her trunks. In ten minutes the man was turning the keys in their various locks, while she stood waiting with a small handbag containing a few necessaries, a motor-coat over her arm, a thick veil draped from her hat.

"One minute," the man said, straightening up from the last piece of luggage. "You were telephoning when I came in?"

"Yes—to Mr. Staff, to explain why I failed to bring him the bandbox."

"Hmmm." He pondered this, chin in hand. "He'll be fretting. Does he know where you are?"

"No—I forgot to tell him."

"That's good. Still, you'd better call him up again and put his mind at rest. It may gain us a few hours."

"What am I to say?"

She lifted her hand to the receiver.

"Tell him you were cut off and had trouble getting his number again. Say your motor broke down in Central Park and you lost your way trying to walk home. Say you're tired and don't want to be disturbed till noon; that you have the necklace safe and will give it to him if he will call tomorrow."

Eleanor took a deep breath, gave the number to the switchboard operator and before she had time to give another instant's consideration to what she was doing, found herself in conversation with Staff, reciting the communication outlined by her evil genius in response to his eager questioning.

The man was at her elbow all the while she talked—so close that he could easily overhear the other end of the dialogue. This was with a purpose made manifest when Staff asked Eleanor where she was stopping, when instantly the little man clapped his palm over the transmitter.

"Tell him the St. Regis," he said in a sharp whisper.

Her eyes demanded the reason why.

"Don't stop to argue—do as I say: it'll give us more time. The St. Regis!"

He removed his hand. Blindly she obeyed, reiterating the name to Staff and presently saying good-bye.

"And now—not a second to spare—hurry!"

In the hallway, while they waited for the elevator, he had further instructions for her.

"Go to the desk and ask for your bill," he said, handing her the key to her room. "You've money, of course?... Say that you're called unexpectedly away and will send a written order for your trunks early in the morning. If the clerk wants an address, tell him the Auditorium, Chicago. Now ..."

They stepped from the dimly lighted hall into the brilliant cage of the elevator. It dropped, silently, swiftly, to the ground floor, somehow suggesting to the girl the workings of her implacable, irresistible destiny. So precisely, she felt, she was being whirled on to her fate, like a dry leaf in a gale, with no more volition, as impotent to direct her course....

Still under the obsession of this idea, she went to the desk, paid her bill and said what she had been told to say about her trunks. Beyond that point she did not go, chiefly because she had forgotten and was too numb with fatigue to care. The clerk's question as to her address failed to reach her understanding; she turned away without responding and went to join at the door the man who seemed able to sway her to his whim.

She found herself walking in the dusky streets, struggling to keep up with the rapid pace set by the man at her side.

After some time they paused before a building in a side street. By its low facade and huge sliding doors she dimly perceived it to be a private garage. In response to a signal of peculiar rhythm knuckled upon the wood by her companion, the doors rolled back. A heavy-eyed mechanic saluted them drowsily. On the edge of the threshold a high-powered car with a close-coupled body stood ready.

With the docility of that complete indifference which is bred of deadening weariness, she submitted to being helped to her seat, arranged her veil to protect her face and sat back with folded hands, submissive to endure whatsoever chance or mischance there might be in store for her.

The small man took the seat by her side; the mechanic cranked and jumped to his place. The motor snorted, trembling like a thoroughbred about to run a race, then subsiding with a sonorous purr swept sedately out into the deserted street, swung round a corner into Broadway, settled its tires into the grooves of the car-tracks and leaped northwards like an arrow.

The thoroughfare was all but bare of traffic. Now and again they had to swing away from the car-tracks to pass a surface-car; infrequently they passed early milk wagons, crawling reluctantly over their routes. Pedestrians were few and far between, and only once, when they dipped into the hollow at Manhattan Street, was it necessary to reduce speed in deference to the law as bodied forth in a balefully glaring, solitary policeman.

The silken song of six cylinders working in absolute harmony was as soothing as a lullaby, the sweep of the soft, fresh morning air past one's cheeks as soft and quieting as a mother's caress. Eleanor yielded to their influence as naturally as a tired child. Her eyes closed; she breathed regularly, barely conscious of the sensation of resistless flight.

Hot and level, the rays of the rising sun smote her face and roused her as the car crossed McComb's Dam Bridge; and for a little time thereafter she was drowsily sentient—aware of wheeling streets and endless, marching ranks of houses. Then again she dozed, recovering her senses only when, after a lapse of perhaps half an hour, the noise of the motor ceased and the big machine slowed down smoothly to a dead halt.

She opened her eyes, comprehending dully a complete change in the aspect of the land. They had stopped on the right of the road, in front of a low-roofed wooden building whose signboard creaking overhead in the breeze named the place an inn. To the left lay a stretch of woodland; and there were trees, too, behind the inn, but in less thick array, so that it was possible to catch through their trunks and foliage glimpses of blue water splashed with golden sunlight. A soft air fanned in off the water, sweet and clean. The sky was high and profoundly blue, unflecked by cloud.

With a feeling of gratitude, she struggled to recollect her wits and realise her position; but still her weariness was heavy upon her. The man she called her father was coming down the path from the inn doorway. He carried a tumbler brimming with a pale amber liquid. Walking round to her side of the car he offered it.

"Drink this," she heard him say in a pleasant voice; "it'll help you brace up."

Obediently she accepted the glass and drank. The soul of the stuff broke out in delicate, aromatic bubbles beneath her nostrils. There was a stinging but refreshing feeling in her mouth and throat. She said "champagne" sleepily to herself, and with a word of thanks returned an empty glass.

She heard the man laugh, and in confusion wondered why. If anything, she felt more sleepy than before.

He climbed back into his seat. A question crawled in her brain, tormenting. Finally she managed to enunciate a part of it:

"How much longer ...?"

"Oh, not a great ways now."

The response seemed to come from a far distance. She felt the car moving beneath her and ... no more. Sleep possessed her utterly, heavy and dreamless....

There followed several phases of semi-consciousness wherein she moved by instinct alone, seeing men as trees walking, the world as through a mist.

In one, she was being helped out of the motor-car. Then somebody was holding her arm and guiding her along a path of some sort. Planks rang hollowly beneath her feet, and the hand on her arm detained her. A voice said: "This way—just step right out; you're perfectly safe." Mechanically she obeyed. She felt herself lurch as if to fall, and then hands caught and supported her as she stood on something that swayed. The voice that had before spoken was advising her to sit down and take it easy. Accordingly, she sat down. Her seat was rocking like a swing, and she heard dimly the splash of waters; these merged unaccountably again into the purring of a motor....

And then somebody had an arm round her waist and she was walking, bearing heavily upon that support, partly because she sorely needed it but the more readily because she knew somehow—intuitively—that the arm was a woman's. A voice assured her from time to time: "Not much farther ..." And she was sure it was a woman's voice.... Then she was being helped to ascend a steep, long staircase....

She came to herself for a moment, probably not long after climbing the stairs. She was sitting on the edge of a bed in a small, low-ceiled room, cheaply and meagrely furnished. Staring wildly about her, she tried to realise these surroundings. There were two windows, both open, admitting floods of sea air and sunlight; beyond them she saw green boughs swaying slowly, and through the boughs patches of water, blue and gold. There was a door opposite the bed; it stood open, revealing a vista of long, bare hallway, regularly punctuated by doors.

The drumming in her temples pained and bewildered her. Her head felt dense and heavy. She tried to think and failed. But the knowledge persisted that something was very wrong with her world—something that might be remedied, set right, if only she could muster up strength to move and ... think.

Abruptly the doorway was filled by the figure of a woman, a strapping, brawny creature with the arms and shoulders of a man and a great, coarse, good-natured face. She came directly to the bed, sat down beside the girl, passed an arm behind her shoulders and offered her a glass.

"You've just woke up, ain't you?" she said soothingly. "Drink this and lay down and you'll feel better before long. You have had a turn, and no mistake; but you'll be all right now, never fear. Come now, drink it, and I'll help you loose your clothes a bit, so 's you can be comfortable...."

Somehow her tone inspired Eleanor with confidence. She drank, submitted to being partially undressed, and lay down. Sleep overcame her immediately: she suffered a sensation of dropping plummet-wise into a great pit of oblivion....



XIII

WRECK ISLAND

Suddenly, with a smothered cry of surprise, Eleanor sat up. She seemed to have recovered full consciousness and sensibility with an instantaneous effect comparable only to that of electric light abruptly flooding a room at night. A moment ago she had been an insentient atom sunk deep in impenetrable night; now she was herself—and it was broad daylight.

With an abrupt, automatic movement, she left the bed and stood up, staring incredulously at the substance of what still wore in her memory the guise of a dream.

But it had been no dream, after all. She was actually in the small room with the low ceiling and the door (now shut) and the windows that revealed the green of leaves and the blue and gold of a sun-spangled sea. And her coat and hat and veil had been removed and were hanging from nails in the wall behind the door, and her clothing had been unfastened—precisely as she dimly remembered everything that had happened with relation to the strange woman.

She wore a little wrist-watch. It told her that the hour was after four in the afternoon.

She began hurriedly to dress, or rather to repair the disorder of her garments, all the while struggling between surprise that she felt rested and well and strong, and a haunting suspicion that she had been tricked.

Of the truth of this suspicion, confirmatory evidence presently overwhelmed her.

Since that draught of champagne before the roadside inn shortly after sunrise, she had known nothing clearly. It was impossible that she could without knowing it have accomplished her purpose with relation to Alison Landis and the Cadogan collar. She saw now, she knew now beyond dispute, that she had been drugged—not necessarily heavily; a simple dose of harmless bromides would have served the purpose in her overtaxed condition—and brought to this place in a semi-stupor, neither knowing whither she went nor able to object had she known.

The discovery of her handbag was all that was required to transmute fears and doubts into irrefragable knowledge.

No longer fastened to her wrist by the loop of its silken thong, she found the bag in plain sight on the top of a cheap pine bureau. With feverish haste she examined it. The necklace was gone.

Dropping the bag, she stared bitterly at her distorted reflection in a cracked and discoloured mirror.

What a fool, to trust the man! In the clear illumination of unclouded reason which she was now able to bring to bear upon the episode, she saw with painful distinctness how readily she had lent herself to be the dupe and tool of the man she called her father. Nothing that he had urged upon her at the St. Simon had now the least weight in her understanding; all his argument was now seen to be but the sheerest sophistry, every statement he had made and every promise fairly riddled with treachery; hardly a phrase he had uttered would have gained an instant's credence under the analysis of a normal intelligence. He could have accomplished nothing had she not been without sleep for nearly twenty-four hours, with every nerve and fibre and faculty aching for rest. But, so aided—with what heartless ease had he beguiled and overreached her!

Tears, hot and stinging, smarted in her eyes while she fumbled with the fastenings of her attire—tears of chagrin and bitter resentment.

As soon as she was ready and composed, she opened the door very gently and stepped out into the hall.

It was a short hall, set like the top bar of a T-square at the end of a long, door-lined corridor. The walls were of white, plain plaster, innocent of paper and in some places darkly blotched with damp and mildew. The floor, though solid, was uncarpeted. Near at hand a flight of steps ran down to the lower floor.

After a moment of hesitation she chose to explore the long corridor rather than to descend at once by the nearer stairway; and gathering her skirts about her ankles (an instinctive precaution against making a noise engendered by the atmosphere of the place rather than the result of coherent thought) she stole quietly along between its narrow walls.

Although some few were closed, the majority of the doors she passed stood open; and these all revealed small, stuffy cubicles with grimy, unpainted floors, grimy plaster walls and ceilings and grimy windows whose panes were framed in cobwebs and crusted so thick with the accumulated dust and damp of years that they lacked little of complete opacity. No room contained any furnishing of any sort.

The farther she moved from her bedroom, the more close and stale and sluggish seemed the air, the more oppressive the quiet of this strange tenement. The sound of her footfalls, light and stealthy though they were, sounded to her ears weirdly magnified in volume; and the thought came to her that if she were indeed trespassing upon forbidden quarters of the mean and dismal stronghold of some modern Bluebeard, the noise she was making would quickly enough bring the warders down upon her. And yet it must have been that her imagination exaggerated the slight sounds that attended her cautious advance; for presently she had proof enough that they could have been audible to none but herself.

Half-way down the corridor she came unexpectedly to a second staircase; double the width of the other, it ran down to a broad landing and then in two short flights to the ground floor of the building. The well of this stairway disclosed a hall rather large and well-finished, if bare. Directly in front of the landing, where the short flights branched at right angles to the main, was a large double door, one side of which stood slightly ajar. Putting this and that together, Eleanor satisfied herself that she overlooked the entrance-hall and office of an out-of-the-way summer hotel, neither large nor in any way pretentious even in its palmiest days, and now abandoned—or, at best, consecrated to the uses of caretakers and whoever else might happen to inhabit the wing whence she had wandered.

Now as she paused for an instant, looking down while turning this thought over in her mind and considering the effect upon herself and fortunes of indefinite sequestration in such a spot, she was startled by a cough from some point invisible to her in the hall below. On the heels of this, she heard something even more inexplicable: the dull and hollow clang of a heavy metal door. Footsteps were audible immediately: the quick, nervous footfalls of somebody coming to the front of the house from a point behind the staircase.

Startled and curious, the girl drew back a careful step or two until sheltered by the corridor wall at its junction with the balustrade. Here she might lurk and peer, see but not be seen, save through unhappy mischance.

The man came promptly into view. She had foretold his identity, had known it would be ... he whom she must call father.

He moved briskly to the open door, paused and stood looking out for an instant, then with his air of furtive alertness, yet apparently sure that he was unobserved and wholly unsuspicious of the presence of the girl above him, swung back toward the staircase. For an instant, terrified by the fear that he meant to ascend, she stood poised on the verge of flight; but that he had another intention at once became apparent. Stopping at the foot of the left-hand flight of steps, he laid hold of the turned knob on top of the outer newel-post and lifted it from its socket. Then he took something from his coat pocket, dropped it into the hollow of the newel, replaced the knob and turned and marched smartly out of the house, shutting the door behind him.

Eleanor noticed that he didn't lock it.

At the same time three separate considerations moved her to fly back to her room. She had seen something not intended for her sight; the knowledge might somehow prove valuable to her; and if she were discovered in the corridor, the man might reasonably accuse her of spying. Incontinently she picked up her skirts and ran.

The distance wasn't as great as she had thought; in a brief moment she was standing before the door of the bedroom as though she had just come out—her gaze directed expectantly toward the small staircase.

If she had anticipated a visit from her kidnapper, however, she was pleasantly disappointed. Not a sound came from below, aside from a dull and distant thump and thud which went on steadily, if in syncopated measure, and the source of which perplexed her.

At length she pulled herself together and warily descended the staircase. It ended in what was largely a counterpart of the hall above: as on the upper floor broken by the mouth of a long corridor, but with a door at its rear in place of the window upstairs. From beyond the door came the thumping, thudding sound that had puzzled Eleanor; but now she could distinguish something more: a woman's voice crooning an age-old melody. Then the pounding ceased, shuffling footsteps were audible, and a soft clash of metal upon metal: shuffle again, and again the intermittent, deadened pounding.

Suddenly she understood, and understanding almost smiled, in spite of her gnawing anxiety, to think that she had been mystified so long by a noise of such humble origin: merely that of a woman comfortably engaged in the household task of ironing. It was simple enough, once one thought of it; yet ridiculously incongruous when injected into the cognisance of a girl whose brain was buzzing with the incredible romance of her position....

Without further ceremony she thrust open the door at the end of the hallway.

There was disclosed a room of good size, evidently at one time a living-room, now converted to the combined offices of kitchen and dining-room. A large deal table in the middle of the floor was covered with a turkey-red cloth, with places set for four. On a small range in the recess of what had once been an open fireplace, sad-irons were heating side by side with simmering pots and a steaming tea-kettle. There was a rich aroma of cooking in the air, somewhat tinctured by the smell of melting wax, but in spite of that madly appetising to the nostrils of a young woman made suddenly aware that she had not eaten for some sixteen hours. The furnishings of the room were simple and characteristic of country kitchens—including even the figure of the sturdy woman placidly ironing white things on a board near the open door.

She looked up quickly as Eleanor entered, stopped her humming, smote the board vigorously with the iron and set the latter on a metal rest.

"Evening," she said pleasantly, resting her hands on her hips.

Eleanor stared dumbly, remembering that this was the woman who had helped her to bed and had administered what had presumably been a second sleeping draught.

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