Estimating with practised eye the precise moment when the police supervisor of traffic at the junction of Parliament and Bridge Streets, would see fit to declare a temporary blockade, he so managed that his was the last vehicle to pass ere the official wand, to ignore which involves a forfeited license, was lifted; and indeed, so close was his calculation that he escaped only with a scowl and word of warning from the bobby. A matter of no importance whatever, since his end was gained and the pursuing cab had been shut off by the blockade.
In Calendar's driver, however, he had an adversary of abilities by no means to be despised. Precisely how the man contrived it, is a question; that he made a detour by way of Derby Street is not improbable, unpleasant as it may have been for Stryker and Calendar to find themselves in such close proximity to "the Yard." At all events, he evaded the block, and hardly had the chase swung across Bridge Street, than the pursuer was nimbly clattering in its wake.
Past the Houses of Parliament, through Old Palace Yard, with the Abbey on their left, they swung away into Abingdon Street, whence suddenly they dived into the maze of backways, great and mean, which lies to the south of Victoria. Doubling and twisting, now this way, now that, the driver tooled them through the intricate heart of this labyrinth, leading the pursuers a dance that Kirkwood thought calculated to dishearten and shake off the pursuit in the first five minutes. Yet always, peering back through the little peephole, he saw Calendar's cab pelting doggedly in their rear—a hundred yards behind, no more, no less, hanging on with indomitable grit and determination.
By degrees they drew westwards, threading Pimlico, into Chelsea—once dashing briefly down the Grosvenor Road, the Thames a tawny flood beyond the river wall.
Children cheered them on, and policemen turned to stare, doubting whether they should interfere. Minutes rolled into tens, measuring out an hour; and still they hammered on, hunted and hunters, playing their game of hare-and-hounds through the highways and byways of those staid and aged quarters.
In the leading cab there were few words spoken. Kirkwood and Dorothy alike sat spellbound with the fascination of the game; if it is conceivable that the fox enjoys his part in the day's sport, then they were enjoying themselves. Now one spoke, now another—chiefly in the clipped phraseology, of excitement. As—
Or, "We'll tire them out?"
"They can't catch us, can they, Philip?"
"Never in the world."
But he spoke with a confidence that he himself did not feel, for hope as he would he could never see that the distance between the two had been materially lessened or increased. Their horses seemed most evenly matched.
The sun was very low behind the houses of the Surrey Side when Kirkwood became aware that their horse was flagging, though (as comparison determined) no more so than the one behind.
In grave concern the young man raised his hand, thrusting open the trap in the roof. Immediately the square of darkling sky was eclipsed by the cabby's face.
"You had better drive as directly as you can to the Hotel Pless," Kirkwood called up. "I'm afraid it's no use pushing your horse like this."
"I'm sure of it, sir. 'E's a good 'oss, 'e is, but 'e carn't keep goin' for hever, you know, sir."
"I know. You've done very well; you've done your best."
"Very good, sir. The Pless, you said, sir? Right."
The trap closed.
Two blocks farther, and their pace had so sensibly moderated that Kirkwood was genuinely alarmed. The pursuing cabby was lashing his animal without mercy, while, "It aren't no use my w'ippin' 'im, sir," dropped through the trap. "'E's doing orl 'e can."
Despondent recklessness tightened Kirkwood's lips and kindled an unpleasant light in his eyes. He touched his side pocket; Calendar's revolver was still there.... Dorothy should win away clear, if—if he swung for it.
He bent forward with the traveling bag in his hands.
"What are you going to do?" The girl's voice was very tremulous.
"Stand a chance, take a losing hazard. Can you run? You're not too tired?"
"I can run—perhaps not far—a little way, at least."
"And will you do as I say?"
Her eyes met his, unwavering, bespeaking her implicit faith.
"We'll have to drop off in a minute. The horse won't last.... They're in the same box. Well, I undertake to stand 'em off for a bit; you take the bag and run for it. Just as soon as I can convince them, I'll follow, but if there's any delay, you call the first cab you see and drive to the Pless. I'll join you there."
He stood up, surveying the neighborhood. Behind him the girl lifted her voice in protest.
"No, Philip, no!"
"You've promised," he said sternly, eyes ranging the street.
"I don't care; I won't leave you."
He shook his head in silent contradiction, frowning; but not frowning because of the girl's mutiny. He was a little puzzled by a vague impression, and was striving to pin it down for recognition; but was so thoroughly bemused with fatigue and despair that only with great difficulty could he force his faculties to logical reasoning, his memory to respond to his call upon it.
The hansom was traversing a street in Old Brompton—a quaint, prim by-way lined with dwellings singularly Old-Worldish, even for London. He seemed to know it subjectively, to have retained a memory of it from another existence: as the stage setting of a vivid dream, all forgotten, will sometimes recur with peculiar and exasperating intensity, in broad daylight. The houses, with their sloping, red-tiled roofs, unexpected gables, spontaneous dormer windows, glass panes set in leaded frames, red brick facades trimmed with green shutters and doorsteps of white stone, each sitting back, sedate and self-sufficient, in its trim dooryard fenced off from the public thoroughfare: all wore an aspect hauntingly familiar, and yet strange.
A corner sign, remarked in passing, had named the spot "Aspen Villas"; though he felt he knew the sound of those syllables as well as he did the name of the Pless, strive as he might he failed to make them convey anything tangible to his intelligence. When had he heard of it? At what time had his errant footsteps taken him through this curious survival of Eighteenth Century London?
Not that it mattered when. It could have no possible bearing on the emergency. He really gave it little thought; the mental processes recounted were mostly subconscious, if none the less real. His objective attention was wholly preoccupied with the knowledge that Calendar's cab was drawing perilously near. And he was debating whether or not they should alight at once and try to make a better pace afoot, when the decision was taken wholly out of his hands.
Blindly staggering on, wilted with weariness, the horse stumbled in the shafts and plunged forward on its knees. Quick as the driver was to pull it up, with a cruel jerk of the bits, Kirkwood was caught unprepared; lurching against the dashboard, he lost his footing, grasped frantically at the unstable air, and went over, bringing up in a sitting position in the gutter, with a solid shock that jarred his very teeth.
For a moment dazed he sat there blinking; by the time he got to his feet, the girl stood beside him, questioning him with keen solicitude.
"No," he gasped; "not hurt—only surprised. Wait...."
Their cab had come to a complete standstill; Calendar's was no more than twenty yards behind, and as Kirkwood caught sight of him the fat adventurer was in the act of lifting himself ponderously out of the seat.
Incontinently the young man turned to the girl and forced the traveling-bag into her hands.
"Run for it!" he begged her. "Don't stop to argue. You promised—run! I'll come...."
"Philip!" she pleaded.
"Dorothy!" he cried in torment.
Perhaps it was his unquestionable distress that weakened her. Suddenly she yielded—with whatever reason. He was only hazily aware of the swish of her skirts behind him; he had no time to look round and see that she got away safely. He had only eyes and thoughts for Calendar and Stryker.
They were both afoot, now, and running toward him, the one as awkward as the other, but neither yielding a jot of their malignant purpose. He held the picture of it oddly graphic in his memory for many a day thereafter: Calendar making directly, for him, his heavy-featured face a dull red with the exertion, his fat head dropped forward as if too heavy for his neck of a bull, his small eyes bright with anger; Stryker shying off at a discreet angle, evidently with the intention of devoting himself to the capture of the girl; the two cabs with their dejected screws, at rest in the middle of the quiet, twilit street. He seemed even to see himself, standing stockily prepared, hands in his coat pockets, his own head inclined with a suggestion of pugnacity.
To this mental photograph another succeeds, of the same scene an instant later; all as it had been before, their relative positions unchanged, save that Stryker and Calendar had come to a dead stop, and that Kirkwood's right arm was lifted and extended, pointing at the captain.
So forgetful of self was he, that it required a moment's thought to convince him that he was really responsible for the abrupt transformation. Incredulously he realized that he had drawn Calendar's revolver and pulled Stryker up short, in mid-stride, by the mute menace of it, as much as by his hoarse cry of warning:
"Stryker—not another foot—"
With this there chimed in Dorothy's voice, ringing bell-clear from a little distance:
Like a flash he wheeled, to add yet another picture to his mental gallery.
Perhaps two-score feet up the sidewalk a gate stood open; just outside it a man of tall and slender figure, rigged out in a bizarre costume consisting mainly of a flowered dressing-gown and slippers, was waiting in an attitude of singular impassivity; within it, pausing with a foot lifted to the doorstep, bag in hand, her head turned as she looked back, was Dorothy.
As he comprehended these essential details of the composition, the man in the flowered dressing-gown raised a hand, beckoning to him in a manner as imperative as his accompanying words.
"Kirkwood!" he saluted the young man in a clear and vibrant voice, "put up that revolver and stop this foolishness." And, with a jerk of his head towards the doorway, in which Dorothy now waited, hesitant: "Come, sir—quickly!"
Kirkwood choked on a laugh that was half a sob. "Brentwick!" he cried, restoring the weapon to his pocket and running toward his friend. "Of all happy accidents!"
"You may call it that," retorted the elder man with a fleeting smile as Kirkwood slipped inside the dooryard. "Come," he said; "let's get into the house."
"But you said—I thought you went to Munich," stammered Kirkwood; and so thoroughly impregnated was his mind with this understanding that it was hard for him to adjust his perceptions to the truth.
"I was detained—by business," responded Brentwick briefly. His gaze, weary and wistful behind his glasses, rested on the face of the girl on the threshold of his home; and the faint, sensitive flush of her face deepened. He stopped and honored her with a bow that, for all his fantastical attire, would have graced a beau of an earlier decade. "Will you be pleased to enter?" he suggested punctiliously. "My house, such as it is, is quite at your disposal. And," he added, with a glance over his shoulder, "I fancy that a word or two may presently be passed which you would hardly care to hear."
Dorothy's hesitation was but transitory; Kirkwood was reassuring her with a smile more like his wonted boyish grin than anything he had succeeded in conjuring up throughout the day. Her own smile answered it, and with a murmured word of gratitude and a little, half timid, half distant bow for Brentwick, she passed on into the hallway.
Kirkwood lingered with his friend upon the door-stoop. Calendar, recovered from his temporary consternation, was already at the gate, bending over it, fat fingers fumbling with the latch, his round red face, lifted to the house, darkly working with chagrin.
From his threshold, watching him with a slight contraction of the eyes, Brentwick hailed him in tones of cloying courtesy.
"Do you wish to see me, sir?"
The fat adventurer faltered just within the gateway; then, with a truculent swagger, "I want my daughter," he declared vociferously.
Brentwick peered mildly over his glasses, first at Calendar, then at Kirkwood. His glance lingered a moment on the young man's honest eyes, and swung back to Calendar.
"My good man," he said with sublime tolerance, "will you be pleased to take yourself off—to the devil if you like? Or shall I take the trouble to interest the police?"
He removed one fine and fragile hand from a pocket of the flowered dressing-gown, long enough to jerk it significantly toward the nearer street-corner.
Thunderstruck, Calendar glanced hastily in the indicated direction. A blue-coated bobby was to be seen approaching with measured stride, diffusing upon the still evening air an impression of ineffably capable self-contentment.
Calendar's fleshy lips parted and closed without a sound. They quivered. Beneath them quivered his assortment of graduated chins. His heavy and pendulous cheeks quivered, slowly empurpling with the dark tide of his apoplectic wrath. The close-clipped thatch of his iron gray mustache, even, seemed to bristle like hairs upon the neck of a maddened dog. Beneath him his fat legs trembled, and indeed his whole huge carcass shook visibly, in the stress of his restrained wrath.
Suddenly, overwhelmed, he banged the gate behind him and waddled off to join the captain; who already, with praiseworthy native prudence, had fallen back upon their cab.
From his coign of strategic advantage, the comfortable elevation of his box, Kirkwood's cabby, whose huge enjoyment of the adventurers' discomfiture had throughout been noisily demonstrative, entreated Calendar with lifted forefinger, bland affability, and expressions of heartfelt sympathy.
"Kebsir? 'Ave a kebsir, do! Try a ride be'ind a real 'orse, sir; don't you go on wastin' time on 'im." A jerk of a derisive thumb singled out the other cabman. "'E aren't pl'yin' you fair, sir; I knows 'im,—'e's a hartful g'y deceiver, 'e is. Look at 'is 'orse,—w'ich it aren't; it's a snyle, that's w'at it is. Tyke a father's hadvice, sir, and next time yer fairest darter runs awye with the dook in disguise, chyse 'em in a real kebsir, not a cheap imitashin.... Kebsir?... Garn, you 'ard-'arted—"
Here he swooped upwards in a dizzy flight of vituperation best unrecorded. Calendar, beyond an absent-minded flirt of one hand by his ear, as who should shoo away a buzzing insect, ignored him utterly.
Sullenly extracting money from his pocket, he paid off his driver, and in company with Stryker, trudged in morose silence down the street.
Brentwick touched Kirkwood's arm and drew him into the house.
As the door closed, Kirkwood swung impulsively to Brentwick, with the brief, uneven laugh of fine-drawn nerves.
"Good God, sir!" he cried. "You don't know—"
"I can surmise," interrupted the elder man shrewdly.
"You turned up in the nick of time, for all the world like—"
"Harlequin popping through a stage trap?"
"No!—an incarnation of the Providence that watches over children and fools."
Brentwick dropped a calming hand upon his shoulder. "Your simile seems singularly happy, Philip. Permit me to suggest that you join the child in my study." He laughed quietly, with a slight nod toward an open door at the end of the hallway. "For myself, I'll be with you in one moment."
A faint, indulgent smile lurking in the shadow of his white mustache, he watched the young man wheel and dart through the doorway. "Young hearts!" he commented inaudibly—and a trace sadly. "Youth!..."
Beyond the threshold of the study, Kirkwood paused, eager eyes searching its somber shadows for a sign of Dorothy.
A long room and deep, it was lighted only by the circumscribed disk of illumination thrown on the central desk by a shaded reading-lamp, and the flickering glow of a grate-fire set beneath the mantel of a side-wall. At the back, heavy velvet portieres cloaked the recesses of two long windows, closed jealously even against the twilight. Aside from the windows, doors and chimney-piece, every foot of wall space was occupied by towering bookcases or by shelves crowded to the limit of their capacity with an amazing miscellany of objects of art, the fruit of years of patient and discriminating collecting. An exotic and heady atmosphere, compounded of the faint and intangible exhalations of these insentient things, fragrance of sandalwood, myrrh and musk, reminiscent whiffs of half-forgotten incense, seemed to intensify the impression of gloomy richness and repose...
By the fireplace, a little to one side, stood Dorothy, one small foot resting on the brass fender, her figure merging into the dusky background, her delicate beauty gaining an effect of elusive and ethereal mystery in the waning and waxing ruddy glow upflung from the bedded coals.
"Oh, Philip!" She turned swiftly to Kirkwood with extended hands and a low, broken cry. "I'm so glad...."
A trace of hysteria in her manner warned him, and he checked himself upon the verge of a too dangerous tenderness. "There!" he said soothingly, letting her hands rest gently in his palms while he led her to a chair. "We can make ourselves easy now." She sat down and he released her hands with a reluctance less evident than actual. "If ever I say another word against my luck—"
"Who," inquired the girl, lowering her voice, "who is the gentleman in the flowered dressing-gown?"
"Brentwick—George Silvester Brentwick: an old friend. I've known him for years,—ever since I came abroad. Curiously enough, however, this is the first time I've ever been here. I called once, but he wasn't in,—a few days ago,—the day we met. I thought the place looked familiar. Stupid of me!"
"Philip," said the girl with a grave face but a shaking voice, "it was." She laughed provokingly.... "It was so funny, Philip. I don't know why I ran, when you told me to, but I did; and while I ran, I was conscious of the front door, here, opening, and this tall man in the flowered dressing-gown coming down to the gate as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world for him to stroll out, dressed that way, in the evening. And he opened the gate, and bowed, and said, ever so pleasantly, 'Won't you come in, Miss Calendar?'—"
"He did!" exclaimed Kirkwood. "But how—?"
"How can I say?" she expostulated. "At all events, he seemed to know me; and when he added something about calling you in, too—he said 'Mr. Kirkwood '—I didn't hesitate."
"It's strange enough, surely—and fortunate. Bless his heart!" said Kirkwood.
And, "Hum!" said Mr. Brentwick considerately, entering the study. He had discarded the dressing-gown and was now in evening dress.
The girl rose. Kirkwood turned. "Mr. Brentwick—" he began.
But Brentwick begged his patience with an eloquent gesture. "Sir," he said, somewhat austerely, "permit me to put a single question: Have you by any chance paid your cabby?"
"Why—" faltered the younger man, with a flaming face. "I—why, no—that is—"
The other quietly put his hand upon a bell-pull. A faint jingling sound was at once audible, emanating from the basement.
"How much should you say you owe him?"
"I—I haven't a penny in the world!"
The shrewd eyes flashed their amusement into Kirkwood's. "Tut, tut!" Brentwick chuckled. "Between gentlemen, my dear boy! Dear me! you are slow to learn."
"I'll never be contented to sponge on my friends," explained Kirkwood in deepest misery. "I can't tell when—"
"Tut, tut! How much did you say?"
"Ten shillings—or say twelve, would be about right," stammered the American, swayed by conflicting emotions of gratitude and profound embarrassment.
A soft-footed butler, impassive as Fate, materialized mysteriously in the doorway.
"You rang, sir?" he interrupted frigidly.
"I rang, Wotton." His master selected a sovereign from his purse and handed it to the servant. "For the cabby, Wotton."
"Yes sir." The butler swung automatically, on one heel.
"If any one should ask for me, I'm not at home."
"Very good, sir."
"And if you should see a pair of disreputable scoundrels skulking, in the neighborhood, one short and stout, the other tall and evidently a seafaring man, let me know."
"Thank you, sir." A moment later the front door was heard to close.
Brentwick turned with a little bow to the girl. "My dear Miss Calendar," he said, rubbing his thin, fine hands,—"I am old enough, I trust, to call you such without offense,—please be seated."
Complying, the girl rewarded him with a radiant smile. Whereupon, striding to the fireplace, their host turned his back to it, clasped his hands behind him, and glowered benignly upon the two. "Ah!" he observed in accents of extreme personal satisfaction. "Romance! Romance!"
"Would you mind telling us how you knew—" began Kirkwood anxiously.
"Not in the least, my dear Philip. It is simple enough: I possess an imagination. From my bedroom window, on the floor above, I happen to behold two cabs racing down the street, the one doggedly pursuing the other. The foremost stops, perforce of a fagged horse. There alights a young gentleman looking, if you'll pardon me, uncommonly seedy; he is followed by a young lady, if she will pardon me," with another little bow, "uncommonly pretty. With these two old eyes I observe that the gentleman does not pay his cabby. Ergo—I intelligently deduce—he is short of money. Eh?"
"You were right," affirmed Kirkwood, with a rueful and crooked smile. "But—"
"So! so!" pursued Brentwick, rising on his toes and dropping back again; "so this world of ours wags on to the old, old tune!... And I, who in my younger days pursued adventure without success, in dotage find myself dragged into a romance by my two ears, whether I will or no! Eh? And now you are going to tell me all about it, Philip. There is a chair.... Well, Wotton?"
The butler had again appeared noiselessly in the doorway.
"Beg pardon, sir; they're waiting, sir."
"The caitiffs, Wotton?"
"One at each end of the street, sir."
"Thank you. You may bring us sherry and biscuit, Wotton."
"Thank you, sir."
The servant vanished.
Brentwick removed his glasses, rubbed them, and blinked thoughtfully at the girl. "My dear," he said suddenly, with a peculiar tremor in his voice, "you resemble your mother remarkably. Tut—I should know! Time was when I was one of her most ardent admirers."
"You—y-you knew my mother?" cried Dorothy, profoundly moved.
"Did I not know you at sight? My dear, you are your mother reincarnate, for the good of an unworthy world. She was a very beautiful woman, my dear."
Wotton entered with a silver serving tray, offering it in turn to Dorothy, Kirkwood and his employer. While he was present the three held silent—the girl trembling slightly, but with her face aglow; Kirkwood half stupefied between his ease from care and his growing astonishment, as Brentwick continued to reveal unexpected phases of his personality; Brentwick himself outwardly imperturbable and complacent, for all that his hand shook as he lifted his wine glass.
"You may go, Wotton—or, wait. Don't you feel the need of a breath of fresh air, Wotton?"
"Yessir, thank you, sir."
"Then change your coat, Wotton, light your pipe, and stroll out for half an hour. You need not leave the street, but if either the tall thin blackguard with the seafaring habit, or the short stout rascal with the air of mystery should accost you, treat them with all courtesy, Wotton. You will be careful not to tell either of them anything in particular, although I don't mind your telling them that Mr. Brentwick lives here, if they ask. I am mostly concerned to discover if they purpose becoming fixtures on the street-corners, Wotton."
"Quite so, sir."
"Now you may go.... Wotton," continued his employer as the butler took himself off as softly as a cat, "grows daily a more valuable mechanism. He is by no means human in any respect, but I find him extremely handy to have round the house.... And now, my dear," turning to Dorothy, "with your permission I desire to drink to the memory of your beautiful mother and to the happiness of her beautiful daughter."
"But you will tell me—"
"A number of interesting things, Miss Calendar, if you'll be good enough to let me choose the time. I beg you to be patient with the idiosyncrasies of an old man, who means no harm, who has a reputation as an eccentric to sustain before his servants.... And now," said Brentwick, setting aside his glass, "now, my dear boy, for the adventure."
Kirkwood chuckled, infected by his host's genial humor. "How do you know—"
"How can it be otherwise?" countered Brentwick with a trace of asperity. "Am I to be denied my adventure? Sir, I refuse without equivocation. Your very bearing breathes of Romance. There must be an adventure forthcoming, Philip; otherwise my disappointment will be so acute that I shall be regretfully obliged seriously to consider my right, as a householder, to show you the door."
"But Mr. Brentwick—!"
"Sit down, sir!" commanded Brentwick with such a peremptory note that the young man, who had risen, obeyed out of sheer surprise. Upon which his host advanced, indicting him with a long white forefinger. "Would you, sir," he demanded, "again expose this little lady to the machinations of that corpulent scoundrel, whom I have just had the pleasure of shooing off my premises, because you choose to resent an old man's raillery?"
"I apologize," Kirkwood humored him.
"I accept the apology in the spirit in which it is offered.... I repeat, now for the adventure, Philip. If the story's long, epitomize. We can consider details more at our leisure."
Kirkwood's eyes consulted the girl's face; almost imperceptibly she nodded him permission to proceed.
"Briefly, then," he began haltingly, "the man who followed us to the door here, is Miss Calendar's father."
"Oh? His name, please?"
"George Burgoyne Calendar."
"Ah! An American; I remember, now. Continue, please."
"He is hounding us, sir, with the intention of stealing some property, which he caused to be stolen, which we—to put it bluntly—stole from him, to which he has no shadow of a title, and which, finally, we're endeavoring to return to its owners."
"My dear!" interpolated Brentwick gently, looking down at the girl's flushed face and drooping head.
"He ran us to the last ditch," Kirkwood continued; "I've spent my last farthing trying to lose him."
"But why have you not caused his arrest?" Brentwick inquired.
Kirkwood nodded meaningly toward the girl. Brentwick made a sound indicating comprehension, a click of the tongue behind closed teeth.
"We came to your door by the merest accident—it might as well have been another. I understood you were in Munich, and it never entered my head that we'd find you home."
"A communication from my solicitors detained me," explained Brentwick. "And now, what do you intend to do?"
"Trespass as far on your kindness as you'll permit. In the first place, I—I want the use of a few pounds with which to cable some friends in New York, for money; on receipt of which I can repay you."
"Philip," observed Brentwood, "you are a most irritating child. But I forgive you the faults of youth. You may proceed, bearing in mind, if you please, that I am your friend equally with any you may own in America."
"You're one of the best men in the world," said Kirkwood.
"Tut, tut! Will you get on?"
"Secondly, I want you to help us to escape Calendar to-night. It is necessary that Miss Calendar should go to Chiltern this evening, where she has friends who will receive and protect her."
"Mm-mm," grumbled their host, meditative. "My faith!" he commented, with brightening eyes. "It sounds almost too good to be true! And I've been growing afraid that the world was getting to be a most humdrum and uninteresting planet!... Miss Calendar, I am a widower of so many years standing that I had almost forgotten I had ever been anything but a bachelor. I fear my house contains little that will be of service to a young lady. Yet a room is at your disposal; the parlor-maid shall show you the way. And Philip, between you and me, I venture to remark that hot water and cold steel would add to the attractiveness of your personal appearance; my valet will attend you in my room. Dinner," concluded Brentwick with anticipative relish, "will be served in precisely thirty minutes. I shall expect you to entertain me with a full and itemized account of every phase of your astonishing adventure. Later, we will find a way to Chiltern."
Again he put a hand upon the bell-pull. Simultaneously Dorothy and Kirkwood rose.
"Mr. Brentwick," said the girl, her eyes starred with tears of gratitude, "I don't, I really don't know how—"
"My dear," said the old gentleman, "you will thank me most appropriately by continuing, to the best of your ability, to resemble your mother more remarkably every minute."
"But I," began Kirkwood——.
"You, my dear Philip, can thank me best by permitting me to enjoy myself; which I am doing thoroughly at the present moment. My pleasure in being invited to interfere in your young affairs is more keen than you can well surmise. Moreover," said Mr. Brentwick, "so long have I been an amateur adventurer that I esteem it the rarest privilege to find myself thus on the point of graduating into professional ranks." He rubbed his hands, beaming upon them. "And," he added, as a maid appeared at the door, "I have already schemed me a scheme for the discomfiture of our friends the enemy: a scheme which we will discuss with our dinner, while the heathen rage and imagine a vain thing, in the outer darkness."
Kirkwood would have lingered, but of such inflexible temper was his host that he bowed him into the hands of a man servant without permitting him another word.
"Not a syllable," he insisted. "I protest I am devoured with curiosity, my dear boy, but I have also bowels of compassion. When we are well on with our meal, when you are strengthened with food and drink, then you may begin. But now—Dickie," to the valet, "do your duty!"
Kirkwood, laughing with exasperation, retired at discretion, leaving Brentwick the master of the situation: a charming gentleman with a will of his own and a way that went with it.
He heard the young man's footsteps diminish on the stairway; and again he smiled the indulgent, melancholy smile of mellow years. "Youth!" he whispered softly. "Romance!... And now," with a brisk change of tone as he closed the study door, "now we are ready for this interesting Mr. Calendar."
Sitting down at his desk, he found and consulted a telephone directory; but its leaves, at first rustling briskly at the touch of the slender and delicate fingers, were presently permitted to lie unturned,—the book resting open on his knees the while he stared wistfully into the fire.
A suspicion of moisture glimmered in his eyes. "Dorothy!" he whispered huskily. And a little later, rising, he proceeded to the telephone....
An hour and a half later Kirkwood, his self-respect something restored by a bath, a shave, and a resumption of clothes which had been hastily but thoroughly cleansed and pressed by Brentwick's valet; his confidence and courage mounting high under the combined influence of generous wine, substantial food, the presence of his heart's mistress and the admiration—which was unconcealed—of his friend, concluded at the dinner-table, his narration.
"And that," he said, looking up from his savory, "is about all."
"Bravo!" applauded Brentwick; eyes shining with delight.
"All," interposed Dorothy in warm reproach, "but what he hasn't told—"
"Which, my dear, is to be accounted for wholly by a very creditable modesty, rarely encountered in the young men of the present day. It was, of course, altogether different with those of my younger years. Yes, Wotton?"
Brentwick sat back in his chair, inclining an attentive ear to a communication murmured by the butler.
Kirkwood's gaze met Dorothy's across the expanse of shining cloth; he deprecated her interruption with a whimsical twist of his eyebrows. "Really, you shouldn't," he assured her in an undertone. "I've done nothing to deserve..." But under the spell of her serious sweet eyes, he fell silent, and presently looked down, strangely abashed; and contemplated the vast enormity of his unworthiness.
Coffee was set before them by Wotton, the impassive, Brentwick refusing it with a little sigh. "It is one of the things, as Philip knows," he explained to the girl, "denied me by the physician who makes his life happy by making mine a waste. I am allowed but three luxuries; cigars, travel in moderation, and the privilege of imposing on my friends. The first I propose presently, to enjoy, by your indulgence; and the second I shall this evening undertake by virtue of the third, of which I have just availed myself."
Smiling at the involution, he rested his head against the back of the chair, eyes roving from the girl's face to Kirkwood's. "Inspiration to do which," he proceeded gravely, "came to me from the seafaring picaroon (Stryker did you name him?) via the excellent Wotton. While you were preparing for dinner, Wotton returned from his constitutional with the news that, leaving the corpulent person on watch at the corner, Captain Stryker had temporarily, made himself scarce. However, we need feel no anxiety concerning his whereabouts, for he reappeared in good time and a motor-car. From which it becomes evident that you have not overrated their pertinacity; the fiasco of the cab-chase is not to be reenacted."
Resolutely the girl repressed a gasp of dismay. Kirkwood stared moodily into his cup.
"These men bore me fearfully," he commented at last.
"And so," continued Brentwick, "I bethought me of a counter-stroke. It is my good fortune to have a friend whose whim it is to support a touring-car, chiefly in innocuous idleness. Accordingly I have telephoned him and commandeered the use of this machine—mechanician, too.... Though not a betting man, I am willing to risk recklessly a few pence in support of my contention, that of the two, Captain Stryker's car and ours, the latter will prove considerably the most speedy....
"In short, I suggest," he concluded, thoughtfully lacing his long white fingers, "that, avoiding the hazards of cab and railway carriage, we motor to Chiltern: the night being fine and the road, I am told, exceptionally good. Miss Dorothy, what do you think?"
Instinctively the girl looked to Kirkwood; then shifted her glance to their host. "I think you are wonderfully thoughtful and kind," she said simply.
"And you, Philip?"
"It's an inspiration," the younger man declared. "I can't think of anything better calculated to throw them off, than to distance them by motor-car. It would be always possible to trace our journey by rail."
"Then," announced Brentwick, making as if to rise, "we had best go. If neither my hearing nor Captain Stryker's car deceives me, our fiery chariot is panting at the door."
A little sobered from the confident spirit of quiet gaiety in which they had dined, they left the table. Not that, in their hearts, either greatly questioned their ultimate triumph; but they were allowing for the element of error so apt to set at naught human calculations. Calendar himself had already been proved fallible. Within the bounds of possibility, their turn to stumble might now be imminent.
When he let himself dwell upon it, their utter helplessness to give Calendar pause by commonplace methods, maddened Kirkwood. With another scoundrel it had been so simple a matter to put a period to his activities by a word to the police. But he was her father; for that reason he must continually be spared ... Even though, in desperate extremity, she should give consent to the arrest of the adventurers, retaliation would follow, swift and sure. For they might not overlook nor gloze the fact that hers had been the hands responsible for the theft of the jewels; innocent though she had been in committing that larceny, a cat's-paw guided by an intelligence unscrupulous and malign, the law would not hold her guiltless were she once brought within its cognizance. Nor, possibly, would the Hallams, mother and son.
Upon their knowledge and their fear of this, undoubtedly Calendar was reckoning: witness the barefaced effrontery with which he operated against them. His fear of the police might be genuine enough, but he was never for an instant disturbed by any doubt lest his daughter should turn against him. She would never dare that.
Before they left the house, while Dorothy was above stairs resuming her hat and coat, Kirkwood and Brentwick reconnoitered from the drawing-room windows, themselves screened from observation by the absence of light in the room behind.
Before the door a motor-car waited, engines humming impatiently, mechanician ready in his seat, an uncouth shape in goggles and leather garments that shone like oilskins under the street lights.
At one corner another and a smaller car stood in waiting, its lamps like baleful eyes glaring through the night.
In the shadows across the way, a lengthy shadow lurked: Stryker, beyond reasonable question. Otherwise the street was deserted. Not even that adventitous bobby of the early evening was now in evidence.
Dorothy presently joining them, Brentwick led the way to the door.
Wotton, apparently nerveless beneath his absolute immobility, let them out—and slammed the door behind them with such promptitude as to give cause for the suspicion that he was a fraud, a sham, beneath his icy exterior desperately afraid lest the house be stormed by the adventurers.
Kirkwood to the right, Brentwick to the left of Dorothy, the former carrying the treasure bag, they hastened down the walk and through the gate to the car.
The watcher across the way was moved to whistle shrilly; the other car lunged forward nervously.
Brentwick taking the front seat, beside the mechanician, left the tonneau to Kirkwood and Dorothy. As the American slammed the door, the car swept smoothly out into the middle of the way, while the pursuing car swerved in to the other curb, slowing down to let Stryker jump aboard.
Kirkwood put himself in the seat by the girl's side and for a few moments was occupied with the arrangement of the robes. Then, sitting back, he found her eyes fixed upon him, pools of inscrutable night in the shadow of her hat.
"You aren't afraid, Dorothy?"
She answered quietly: "I am with you, Philip."
Beneath the robe their hands met...
Exalted, excited, he turned and looked back. A hundred yards to the rear four unwinking eyes trailed them, like some modern Nemesis in monstrous guise.
I——THE UXBRIDGE ROAD
At a steady gait, now and again checked in deference to the street traffic, Brentwick's motor-car rolled, with resonant humming of the engine, down the Cromwell Road, swerved into Warwick Road and swung northward through Kensington to Shepherd's Bush. Behind it Calendar's car clung as if towed by an invisible cable, never gaining, never losing, mutely testifying to the adventurer's unrelenting, grim determination to leave them no instant's freedom from surveillance, to keep for ever at their shoulders, watching his chance, biding his time with sinister patience until the moment when, wearied, their vigilance should relax....
To some extent he reckoned without his motor-car. As long as they traveled within the metropolitan limits, constrained to observe a decorous pace in view of the prejudices of the County Council, it was a matter of no difficulty whatever to maintain his distance. But once they had won through Shepherd's Bush and, paced by huge doubledeck trolley trams, were flying through Hammersmith on the Uxbridge Road; once they had run through Acton, and knew beyond dispute that now they were without the city boundaries, then the complexion of the business was suddenly changed.
Not too soon for honest sport; Calendar was to have (Kirkwood would have said in lurid American idiom) a run for his money. The scattered lights of Southall were winking out behind them before Brentwick chose to give the word to the mechanician.
Quietly the latter threw in the clutch for the third speed—and the fourth. The car leaped forward like a startled race-horse. The motor lilted merrily into its deep-throated song of the open road, its contented, silken humming passing into a sonorous and sustained purr.
Kirkwood and the girl were first jarred violently forward, then thrown together. She caught his arm to steady herself; it seemed the most natural thing imaginable that he should take her hand and pass it beneath his arm, holding her so, his fingers closed above her own. Before they had recovered, or had time to catch their breath, a mile of Middlesex had dropped to the rear.
Not quite so far had they distanced Calendar's trailing Nemesis of the four glaring eyes; the pursuers put forth a gallant effort to hold their place. At intervals during the first few minutes a heavy roaring and crashing could be heard behind them; gradually it subsided, dying on the wings of the free rushing wind that buffeted their faces as mile after mile was reeled off and the wide, darkling English countryside opened out before them, sweet and wonderful.
Once Kirkwood looked back; in the winking of an eye he saw four faded disks of light, pallid with despair, top a distant rise and glide down into darkness. When he turned, Dorothy was interrogating him with eyes whose melting, shadowed loveliness, revealed to him in the light of the far, still stars, seemed to incite him to that madness which he had bade himself resist with all his strength.
He shook his head, as if to say: They can not catch us.
His hour was not yet; time enough to think of love and marriage (as if he were capable of consecutive thought on any other subject!)—time enough to think of them when he had gene back to his place, or rather when he should have found it, in the ranks of bread-winners, and so have proved his right to mortal happiness; time enough then to lay whatever he might have to offer at her feet. Now he could conceive of no baser treachery to his soul's-desire than to advantage himself of her gratitude.
Resolutely he turned his face forward, striving with all his will and might to forget the temptation of her lips, weary as they were and petulant with waiting; and so sat rigid in his time of trial, clinging with what strength he could to the standards of his honor, and trying to lose his dream in dreaming of the bitter struggle that seemed likely to be his future portion.
Perhaps she guessed a little of the fortunes of the battle that was being waged within him. Perhaps not. Whatever the trend of her thoughts, she did not draw away from him.... Perhaps the breath of night, fresh and clean and fragrant with the odor of the fields and hedges, sweeping into her face with velvety caress, rendered her drowsy. Presently the silken lashes drooped, fluttering upon her cheeks, the tired and happy smile hovered about her lips....
In something less than half an hour of this wild driving, Kirkwood roused out of his reverie sufficiently to become sensible that the speed was slackening. Incoherent snatches of sentences, fragments of words and phrases spoken by Brentwick and the mechanician, were flung back past his ears by the rushing wind. Shielding his eyes he could see dimly that the mechanician was tinkering (apparently) with the driving gear. Then, their pace continuing steadily to abate, he heard Brentwick fling at the man a sharp-toned and querulously impatient question: What was the trouble? His reply came in a single word, not distinguishable.
The girl sat up, opening her eyes, disengaging her arm.
Kirkwood bent forward and touched Brentwick on the shoulder; the latter turned to him a face lined with deep concern.
"Trouble," he announced superfluously. "I fear we have blundered."
"What is it?" asked Dorothy in a troubled voice.
"Petrol seems to be running low. Charles here" (he referred to the mechanician) "says the tank must be leaking. We'll go on as best we can and try to find an inn. Fortunately, most of the inns nowadays keep supplies of petrol for just such emergencies."
"Are we—? Do you think—?"
"Oh, no; not a bit of danger of that," returned Brentwick hastily. "They'll not catch up with us this night. That is a very inferior car they have,—so Charles says, at least; nothing to compare with this. If I'm not in error, there's the Crown and Mitre just ahead; we'll make it, fill our tanks, and be off again before they can make up half their loss."
Dorothy looked anxiously to Kirkwood, her lips forming an unuttered query: What did he think?
"Don't worry; we'll have no trouble," he assured her stoutly; "the chauffeur knows, undoubtedly."
None the less he was moved to stand up in the tonneau, conscious of the presence of the traveling bag, snug between his feet, as well as of the weight of Calendar's revolver in his pocket, while he stared back along the road.
There was nothing to be seen of their persecutors.
The car continued to crawl. Five minutes dragged out tediously. Gradually they, drew abreast a tavern standing back a distance from the road, embowered in a grove of trees between whose ancient boles the tap-room windows shone enticingly, aglow with comfortable light. A creaking sign-board, much worn by weather and age, swinging from a roadside post, confirmed the accuracy of Brentwick's surmise, announcing that here stood the Crown and Mitre, house of entertainment for man and beast.
Sluggishly the car rolled up before it and came to a dead and silent halt. Charles, the mechanician, jumping out, ran hastily up the path towards the inn. In the car Brentwick turned again, his eyes curiously bright in the starlight, his forehead quaintly furrowed, his voice apologetic.
"It may take a few minutes," he said undecidedly, plainly endeavoring to cover up his own dark doubts. "My dear," to the girl, "if I have brought trouble upon you in this wise, I shall never earn my own forgiveness."
Kirkwood stood up again, watchful, attentive to the sounds of night; but the voice of the pursuing motor-car was not of their company. "I hear nothing," he announced.
"You will forgive me,—won't you, my dear?—for causing you these few moments of needless anxiety?" pleaded the old gentleman, his tone tremulous.
"As if you could be blamed!" protested the girl. "You mustn't think of it that way. Fancy, what should we have done without you!"
"I'm afraid I have been very clumsy," sighed Brentwick, "clumsy and impulsive ... Kirkwood, do you hear anything?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Perhaps," suggested Brentwick a little later, "perhaps we had better alight and go up to the inn. It would be more cosy there, especially if the petrol proves hard to obtain, and we have long to wait."
"I should like that," assented the girl decidedly.
Kirkwood nodded his approval, opened the door and jumped out to assist her; then picked up the bag and followed the pair,—Brentwick leading the way with Dorothy on his arm.
At the doorway of the Crown and Mitre, Charles met them evidently seriously disturbed. "No petrol to be had here, sir," he announced reluctantly; "but the landlord will send to the next inn, a mile up the road, for some. You will have to be patient, I'm afraid, sir."
"Very well. Get some one to help you push the car in from the road," ordered Brentwick; "we will be waiting in one of the private parlors."
"Yes, sir; thank you, sir." The mechanician touched the visor of his cap and hurried off.
"Come, Kirkwood." Gently Brentwick drew the girl in with him.
Kirkwood lingered momentarily on the doorstep, to listen acutely. But the wind was blowing into that quarter whence they had come, and he could hear naught save the soughing in the trees, together with an occasional burst of rude rustic laughter from the tap-room. Lifting his shoulders in dumb dismay, and endeavoring to compose his features, he entered the tavern.
II——THE CROWN AND MITRE
A rosy-cheeked and beaming landlady met him in the corridor and, all bows and smiles, ushered him into a private parlor reserved for the party, immediately bustling off in a desperate flurry, to secure refreshments desired by Brentwick.
The girl had seated herself on one end of an extremely comfortless lounge and was making a palpable effort to seem at ease. Brentwick stood at one of the windows, shoulders rounded and head bent, hands clasped behind his back as he peered out into the night. Kirkwood dropped the traveling bag beneath a chair the farthest removed from the doorway, and took to pacing the floor.
In a corner of the room a tall grandfather's clock ticked off ten interminable minutes. For some reason unconscionably delaying, the landlady did not reappear. Brentwick, abruptly turning from the window, remarked the fact querulously, then drew a chair up to a marble-topped table in the middle of the floor.
"My dear," he requested the girl, "will you oblige me by sitting over here? And Philip, bring up a chair, if you will. We must not permit ourselves to worry, and I have something here which may, perhaps, engage your interest for a while."
To humor him and alleviate his evident distress of mind, they acceded. Kirkwood found himself seated opposite Dorothy, Brentwick between them. After some hesitation, made the more notable by an air of uneasiness which sat oddly on his shoulders, whose composure and confident mien had theretofore been so complete and so reassuring, the elder gentleman fumbled in an inner coat-pocket and brought to light a small black leather wallet. He seemed to be on the point of opening it when hurried footfalls sounded in the hallway. Brentwick placed the wallet, still with its secret intact, on the table before him, as Charles burst unceremoniously in, leaving the door wide open.
"Mr. Brentwick, sir!" he cried gustily. "That other car—"
With a smothered ejaculation Kirkwood leaped to his feet, tugging at the weapon in his pocket. In another instant he had the revolver exposed. The girl's cry of alarm, interrupting the machinist, fixed Brentwick's attention on the young man. He, too, stood up, reaching over very quickly, to clamp strong supple fingers round Kirkwood's wrist, while with the other hand he laid hold of the revolver and by a single twist wrenched it away.
Kirkwood turned upon him in fury. "So!" he cried, shaking with passion. "This is what your hospitality meant! You're going to—"
"My dear young friend," interrupted Brentwick with a flash of impatience, "remember that if I had designed to betray you, I could have asked no better opportunity than when you were my guest under my own roof."
"But—hang it all, Brentwick!" expostulated Kirkwood, ashamed and contrite, but worked upon by desperate apprehension; "I didn't mean that, but—"
"Would you have bullets flying when she is near?" demanded Brentwick scathingly. Hastily he slipped the revolver upon a little shelf beneath the table-top. "Sir!" he informed Kirkwood with some heat, "I love you as my own son, but you're a young fool!... as I have been, in my time ... and as I would to Heaven I might be again! Be advised, Philip,—be calm. Can't you see it's the only way to save your treasure?"
"Hang the jewels!" retorted Kirkwood warmly. "What—"
"Sir, who said anything about the jewels?"
As Brentwick spoke, Calendar's corpulent figure filled the doorway; Stryker's weather-worn features loomed over his shoulder, distorted in a cheerful leer.
"As to the jewels," announced the fat adventurer, "I've got a word to say, if you put it to me that way."
He paused on the threshold, partly for dramatic effect, partly for his own satisfaction, his quick eyes darting from face to face of the four people whom he had caught so unexpectedly. A shade of complacency colored his expression, and he smiled evilly beneath the coarse short thatch of his gray mustache. In his hand a revolver appeared, poised for immediate use if there were need.
There was none. Brentwick, at his primal appearance, had dropped a peremptory hand on Kirkwood's shoulder, forcing the young man back to his seat; at the same time he resumed his own. The girl had not stirred from hers since the first alarm; she sat as if transfixed with terror, leaning forward with her elbows on the table, her hands tightly clasped, her face, a little blanched, turned to the door. But her scarlet lips were set and firm with inflexible purpose, and her brown eyes met Calendar's with a look level and unflinching. Beyond this she gave no sign of recognition.
Nearest of the four to the adventurers was Charles, the mechanician, paused in affrighted astonishment at sight of the revolver. Calendar, choosing to advance suddenly, poked the muzzle of the weapon jocularly in the man's ribs. "Beat it, Four-eyes!" he snapped. "This is your cue to duck! Get out of my way."
The mechanician jumped as if shot, then hastily, retreated to the table, his sallow features working beneath the goggle-mask which had excited the fat adventurer's scorn.
"Come right in, Cap'n," Calendar threw over one shoulder; "come in, shut the door and lock it. Let's all be sociable, and have a nice quiet time."
Stryker obeyed, with a derisive grimace for Kirkwood.
Calendar, advancing jauntily to a point within a yard of the table, stopped, smiling affably down upon his prospective victims, and airily twirling his revolver.
"Good evening, all!" he saluted them blandly. "Dorothy, my child," with assumed concern, "you're looking a trifle upset; I'm afraid you've been keeping late hours. Little girls must be careful, you know, or they lose the bloom of roses in their cheeks.... Mr. Kirkwood, it's a pleasure to meet you again! Permit me to paraphrase your most sound advice, and remind you that pistol-shots are apt to attract undesirable attention. It wouldn't be wise for you to bring the police about our ears. I believe that in substance such was your sapient counsel to me in the cabin of the Alethea; was it not?... And you, sir!"—fixing Brentwick with a cold unfriendly eye. "You animated fossil, what d'you mean by telling me to go to the devil?... But let that pass; I hold no grudge. What might your name be?"
"It might be Brentwick," said that gentleman placidly.
"Brentwick, eh? Well, I like a man of spirit. But permit me to advise you—"
"Gladly," nodded Brentwick.
"Eh?... Don't come a second time between father and daughter; another man might not be as patient as I, Mister Brentwick. There's a law in the land, if you don't happen to know it."
"I congratulate you on your success in evading it," observed Brentwick, undisturbed. "And it was considerate of you not to employ it in this instance." Then, with a sharp change of tone, "Come, sir!" he demanded. "You have unwarrantably intruded in this room, which I have engaged for my private use. Get through with your business and be off with you."
"All in my good time, my antediluvian friend. When I've wound up my business here I'll go—not before. But, just to oblige you, we'll get down to it.... Kirkwood, you have a revolver of mine. Be good enough to return it."
"I have it here,—under the table," interrupted Brentwick suavely. "Shall I hand it to you?"
"By the muzzle, if you please. Be very careful; this one's loaded, too—apt to explode any minute."
To Kirkwood's intense disgust Brentwick quietly slipped one hand beneath the table and, placing the revolver on its top, delicately with his finger-tips shoved it toward the farther edge. With a grunt of approval, Calendar swept the weapon up and into his pocket.
"Any more ordnance?" he inquired briskly, eyes moving alertly from face to face. "No matter; you wouldn't dare use 'em anyway. And I'm about done. Dorothy, my dear, it's high time you returned to your father's protection. Where's that gladstone bag?"
"In my traveling bag," the girl told him in a toneless voice.
"Then you may bring it along. You may also say good night to the kind gentlemen."
Dorothy did not move; her pallor grew more intense and Kirkwood saw her knuckles tighten beneath the gloves. Otherwise her mouth seemed to grow more straight and hard.
"Dorothy!" cried the adventurer with a touch of displeasure. "You heard me?"
"I heard you," she replied a little wearily, more than a little contemptuously. "Don't mind him, please, Mr. Kirkwood!"—with an appealing gesture, as Kirkwood, unable to contain himself, moved restlessly in his chair, threatening to rise. "Don't say anything. I have no intention whatever of going with this man."
Calendar's features twitched nervously; he chewed a corner of his mustache, fixing the girl with a black stare. "I presume," he remarked after a moment, with slow deliberation, "you're aware that, as your father, I am in a position to compel you to accompany me."
"I shall not go with you," iterated Dorothy in a level tone. "You may threaten me, but—I shall not go. Mr. Brentwick and Mr. Kirkwood are taking me to—friends, who will give me a home until I can find a way to take care of myself. That is all I have to say to you."
"Bravo, my dear!" cried Brentwick encouragingly.
"Mind your business, sir!" thundered Calendar, his face darkening. Then, to Dorothy, "You understand, I trust, what this means?" he demanded. "I offer you a home—and a good one. Refuse, and you work for your living, my girl! You've forfeited your legacy—"
"I know, I know," she told him in cold disdain. "I am content. Won't you be kind enough to leave me alone?"
For a breath, Calendar glowered over her; then, "I presume," he observed, "that all these heroics are inspired by that whipper-snapper, Kirkwood. Do you know that he hasn't a brass farthing to bless himself with?"
"What has that—?" cried the girl indignantly.
"Why, it has everything to do with me, my child. As your doting parent, I can't consent to your marrying nothing-a-year.... For I surmise you intend to marry this Mr. Kirkwood, don't you?"
There followed a little interval of silence, while the warm blood flamed in the girl's face and the red lips trembled as she faced her tormentor. Then, with a quaver that escaped her control, "If Mr. Kirkwood asks me, I shall," she stated very simply.
"That," interposed Kirkwood, "is completely understood." His gaze sought her eyes, but she looked away.
"You forget that I am your father," sneered Calendar; "and that you are a minor. I can refuse my consent."
"But you won't," Kirkwood told him with assurance.
The adventurer stared. "No," he agreed, after slight hesitation; "no, I shan't interfere. Take her, my boy, if you want her—and a father's blessing into the bargain. The Lord knows I've troubles enough; a parent's lot is not what it's cracked up to be." He paused, leering, ironic. "But,"—deliberately, "there's still this other matter of the gladstone bag. I don't mind abandoning my parental authority, when my child's happiness is concerned, but as for my property—"
"It is not your property," interrupted the girl.
"It was your mother's, dear child. It's now mine."
"I dispute that assertion," Kirkwood put in.
"You may dispute it till the cows come home, my boy: the fact will remain that I intend to take my property with me when I leave this room, whether you like it or not. Now are you disposed to continue the argument, or may I count on your being sensible?"
"You may put away your revolver, if that's what you mean," said Kirkwood. "We certainly shan't oppose you with violence, but I warn you that Scotland Yard—"
"Oh, that be blowed!" the adventurer snorted in disgust. "I can sail circles round any tec. that ever blew out of Scotland Yard! Give me an hour's start, and you're free to do all the funny business you've a mind to, with—Scotland Yard!"
"Then you admit," queried Brentwick civilly, "that you've no legal title to the jewels in dispute?"
"Look here, my friend," chuckled Calendar, "when you catch me admitting anything, you write it down in your little book and tell the bobby on the corner. Just at present I've got other business than to stand round admitting anything about anything.... Cap'n, let's have that bag of my dutiful daughter's."
"'Ere you are." Stryker spoke for the first time since entering the room, taking the valise from beneath the chair and depositing it on the table.
"Well, we shan't take anything that doesn't belong to us," laughed Calendar, fumbling with the catch; "not even so small a matter as my own child's traveling bag. A small—heavy—gladstone bag," he grunted, opening the valise and plunging in one greedy hand, "will—just—about—do for mine!" With which he produced the article mentioned. "This for the discard, Cap'n," he laughed contentedly, pushing the girl's valise aside; and, rumbling with stentorian mirth, stood beaming benignantly over the assembled company.
"Why," he exclaimed, "this moment is worth all it cost me! My children, I forgive you freely. Mr. Kirkwood, I felicitate you cordially on having secured a most expensive wife. Really—d'you know?—I feel as if I ought to do a little something for you both." Gurgling with delight he smote his fat palms together. "I just tell you what," he resumed, "no one yet ever called Georgie Calendar a tight-wad. I just believe I'm going to make you kids a handsome wedding present.... The good Lord knows there's enough of this for a fellow to be a little generous and never miss it!"
The thick mottled fingers tore nervously at the catch; eventually he got the bag open. Those about the table bent forward, all quickened by the prospect of for the first time beholding the treasure over which they had fought, for which they had suffered, so long....
A heady and luscious fragrance pervaded the atmosphere, exhaling from the open mouth of the bag. A silence, indefinitely sustained, impressed itself upon the little audience,—a breathless pause ended eventually by a sharp snap of Calendar's teeth. "Mmm!" grunted the adventurer in bewilderment. He began to pant.
Abruptly his heavy hands delved into the contents of the bag, like the paws of a terrier digging in earth. To Kirkwood the air seemed temporarily thick with flying objects. Beneath his astonished eyes a towel fell upon the table—a crumpled, soiled towel, bearing on its dingy hem the inscription in indelible ink: "Hotel du Commerce, Anvers." A tooth-mug of substantial earthenware dropped to the floor with a crash. A slimy soap-dish of the same manufacture slid across the table and into Brentwick's lap. A battered alarm clock with never a tick left in its abused carcass rang vacuously as it fell by the open bag.... The remainder was—oranges: a dozen or more small, round, golden globes of ripe fruit, perhaps a shade overripe, therefore the more aromatic.
The adventurer ripped out an oath. "Mulready, by the living God!" he raged in fury. "Done up, I swear! Done by that infernal sneak—me, blind as a bat!"
He fell suddenly silent, the blood congesting in his face; as suddenly broke forth again, haranguing the company.
"That's why he went out and bought those damned oranges, is it? Think of it—me sitting in the hotel in Antwerp and him lugging in oranges by the bagful because he was fond of fruit! When did he do it? How do I know? If I knew, would I be here and him the devil knows where, this minute? When my back was turned, of course, the damned snake! That's why he was so hot about picking a fight on the boat, hey? Wanted to get thrown off and take to the woods—leaving me with this! And that's why he felt so awful done up he wouldn't take a hand at hunting you two down, hey? Well—by—the—Eternal! I'll camp on his trail for the rest of his natural-born days! I'll have his eye-teeth for this, I'll—"
He swayed, gibbering with rage, his countenance frightfully contorted, his fat hands shaking as he struggled for expression.
And then, while yet their own astonishment held Dorothy, Kirkwood, Brentwick and Stryker speechless, Charles, the mechanician, moved suddenly upon the adventurer.
There followed two metallic clicks. Calendar's ravings were abrupted as if his tongue had been paralyzed. He fell back a pace, flabby jowls pale and shaking, ponderous jaw dropping on his breast, mouth wide and eyes crazed as he shook violently before him his thick fleshy wrists—securely handcuffed.
Simultaneously the mechanician whirled about, bounded eagerly across the floor, and caught Stryker at the door, his dexterous fingers twisting in the captain's collar as he jerked him back and tripped him.
"Mr. Kirkwood!" he cried. "Here, please—one moment. Take this man's gun, from him, will you?"
Kirkwood sprang to his assistance, and without encountering much trouble, succeeded in wresting a Webley from Stryker's limp, flaccid fingers.
Roughly the mechanician shook the man, dragging him to his feet. "Now," he ordered sternly, "you march to that corner, stick your nose in it, and be good! You can't get away if you try. I've got other men outside, waiting for you to come out. Understand?"
Trembling like a whipped cur, Stryker meekly obeyed his instructions to the letter.
The mechanician, with a contemptuous laugh leaving him, strode back to Calendar, meanwhile whipping off his goggles; and clapped a hearty hand upon the adventurer's quaking shoulders.
"Well!" he cried. "And are you still sailing circles round the men from Scotland Yard, Simmons, or Bellows, or Sanderson, or Calendar, or Crumbstone, or whatever name you prefer to sail under?"
Calendar glared at him aghast; then heaved a profound sigh, shrugged his fat shoulders, and bent his head in thought. An instant later he looked up. "You can't do it," he informed the detective vehemently; "you haven't got a shred of evidence against me! What's there? A pile of oranges and a peck of trash! What of it?... Besides," he threatened, "if you pinch me, you'll have to take the girl in, too. I swear that whatever stealing was done, she did it. I'll not be trapped this way by her and let her off without a squeal. Take me—take her; d'you hear?"
"I think," put in the clear, bland accents of Brentwick, "we can consider that matter settled. I have here, my man,"—nodding to the adventurer as he took up the black leather wallet,—"I have here a little matter which may clear up any lingering doubts as to your standing, which you may be disposed at present to entertain."
He extracted a slip of cardboard and, at arm's length, laid it on the table-edge beneath the adventurer's eyes. The latter, bewildered, bent over it for a moment, breathing heavily; then straightened back, shook himself, laughed shortly with a mirthless note, and faced the detective.
"It's come with you now, I guess?" he suggested very quietly.
"The Bannister warrant is still out for you," returned the man. "That'll be enough to hold you on till extradition papers arrive from the States."
"Oh, I'll waive those; and I won't give you any trouble, either.... I reckon," mused the adventurer, jingling his manacles thoughtfully, "I'm a back-number, anyway. When a half-grown girl, a half-baked boy, a flub like Mulready—damn his eyes!—and a club-footed snipe from Scotland Yard can put it all over me this way,... why, I guess it's up to me to go home and retire to my country-place up the Hudson." He sighed wearily.
"Yep; time to cut it out. But I would like to be free long enough to get in one good lick at that mutt, Mulready. My friend, you get your hands on him, and I'll squeal on him till I'm blue in the face. That's a promise."
"You'll have the chance before long," replied the detective. "We received a telegram from the Amsterdam police late this afternoon, saying they'd picked up Mr. Mulready with a woman named Hallam, and were holding them on suspicion. It seems,"—turning to Brentwick,—"they were opening negotiations for the sale of a lot of stones, and seemed in such a precious hurry that the diamond merchant's suspicions were roused. We're sending over for them, Miss Calendar, so you can make your mind easy about your jewels; you'll have them back in a few days."
"Thank you," said the girl with an effort.
"Well," the adventurer delivered his peroration, "I certainly am blame' glad to hear it. 'Twouldn't 've been a square deal, any other way."
He paused, looking his erstwhile dupes over with a melancholy eye; then, with an uncertain nod comprehending the girl, Kirkwood and Brentwick, "So long!" he said thickly; and turned, with the detective's hand under his arm and, accompanied by the thoroughly cowed Stryker, waddled out of the room.
III——THE JOURNEY'S END
Kirkwood, following the exodus, closed the door with elaborate care and slowly, deep in thought, returned to the table.
Dorothy seemed not to have moved, save to place her elbows on the marble slab, and rest her cheeks between hands that remained clenched, as they had been in the greatest stress of her emotion. The color had returned to her face, with a slightly enhanced depth of hue to the credit of her excitement. Her cheeks were hot, her eyes starlike beneath the woven, massy sunlight of her hair. Temporarily unconscious of her surroundings she stared steadfastly before her, thoughts astray in the irridescent glamour of the dreams that were to come....
Brentwick had slipped down in his chair, resting his silvered head upon its back, and was smiling serenely up at the low yellow ceiling. Before him on the table his long white fingers were drumming an inaudible tune. Presently rousing, he caught Kirkwood's eye and smiled sheepishly, like a child caught in innocent mischief.
The younger man grinned broadly. "And you were responsible for all that!" he commented, infinitely amused.
Brentwick nodded, twinkling self-satisfaction. "I contrived it all," he said; "neat, I call it, too." His old eyes brightened with reminiscent enjoyment. "Inspiration!" he crowed softly. "Inspiration, pure and simple. I'd been worrying my wits for fully five minutes before Wotton settled the matter by telling me about the captain's hiring of the motor-car. Then, in a flash, I had it.... I talked with Charles by telephone,—his name is really Charles, by, the bye,—overcame his conscientious scruples about playing his fish when they were already all but landed, and settled the artistic details."
He chuckled delightedly. "It's the instinct," he declared emphatically, "the instinct for adventure. I knew it was in me, latent somewhere, but never till this day did it get the opportunity to assert itself. A born adventurer—that's what I am!... You see, it was essential that they should believe we were frightened and running from them; that way, they would be sure to run after us. Why, we might have baited a dozen traps and failed to lure them into my house, after that stout scoundrel knew you'd had the chance to tell me the whole yarn... Odd!"
"Weren't you taking chances, you and Charles?" asked Kirkwood curiously.
"Precious few. There was another motor from Scotland Yard trailing Captain Stryker's. If they had run past, or turned aside, they would have been overhauled in short order."
He relapsed into his whimsical reverie; the wistful look returned to his eyes, replacing the glow of triumph and pleasure. And he sighed a little regretfully.
"What I don't understand," contended Kirkwood, "is how you convinced Calendar that he couldn't get revenge by pressing his charge against Miss Calendar—Dorothy."
"Oh-h?" Mr. Brentwick elevated his fine white eyebrows and sat up briskly. "My dear boy, that was the most delectable dish on the entire menu. I have been reserving it, I don't mind owning, that I might better enjoy the full relish of it.... I may answer you best, perhaps, by asking you to scan what I offered to the fat scoundrel's respectful consideration, my dear sir."
He leveled a forefinger at the card.
At first glance it conveyed nothing to the younger man's benighted intelligence. He puzzled over it, twisting his brows out of alignment. An ordinary oblong slip of thin white cardboard, it was engraved in fine script as follows:
MR. GEORGE BURGOYNE CALENDAR
81, ASPEN VILLAS, S. W.
"Oh!" exclaimed Kirkwood at length, standing up, his face bright with understanding. "You—!"
"I," laconically assented the elder man.
Impulsively Kirkwood leaned across the table. "Dorothy," he said tenderly; and when the girl's happy eyes met his, quietly drew her attention to the card.
Then he rose hastily, and went over to stand by the window, staring mistily into the blank face of night beyond its unseen panes.
Behind him there was a confusion of little noises; the sound of a chair pushed hurriedly aside, a rustle of skirts, a happy sob or two, low voices intermingling; sighs.... Out of it finally came the father's accents.
"There, there, my dear! My dearest dear!" protested the old gentleman. "Positively I don't deserve a tithe of this. I—" The young old voice quavered and broke, in a happy laugh.... "You must understand," he continued more soberly, "that no consideration of any sort is due me. When we married, I was too old for your mother, child; we both knew it, both believed it would never matter. But it did. By her wish, I went back to America; we were to see what separation would do to heal the wounds dissension had caused. It was a very foolish experiment. Your mother died before I could return...."
There fell a silence, again broken by the father. "After that I was in no haste to return. But some years ago, I came to London to live. I communicated with the old colonel, asking permission to see you. It was refused in a manner which precluded the subject being reopened by me: I was informed that if I persisted in attempting to see you, you would be disinherited.... He was very angry with me—justly, I admit.... One must grow old before one can see how unforgivably one was wrong in youth.... So I settled down to a quiet old age, determined not to disturb you in your happiness.... Ah—Kirkwood!"
The old gentleman was standing, his arm around his daughter's shoulders, when Kirkwood turned.
"Come here, Philip; I'm explaining to Dorothy, but you should hear.... The evening I called on you, dear boy, at the Pless, returning home I received a message from my solicitors, whom I had instructed to keep an eye on Dorothy's welfare. They informed me that she had disappeared. Naturally I canceled my plans to go to Munich, and stayed, employing detectives. One of the first things they discovered was that Dorothy had run off with an elderly person calling himself George Burgoyne Calendar—the name I had discarded when I found that to acknowledge me would imperil my daughter's fortune.... The investigations went deeper; Charles—let us continue to call him—had been to see me only this afternoon, to inform me of the plot they had discovered. This Hallam woman and her son—it seems that they were legitimately in the line of inheritance, Dorothy out of the way. But the woman was—ah—a bad lot. Somehow she got into communication with this fat rogue and together they plotted it out. Charles doesn't believe that the Hallam woman expected to enjoy the Burgoyne estates for very many days. Her plan was to step in when Dorothy stepped out, gather up what she could, realize on it, and decamp. That is why there was so much excitement about the jewels: naturally the most valuable item on her list, the most easy to convert into cash.... The man Mulready we do not place; he seems to have been a shady character the fat rogue picked up somewhere. The latter's ordinary line of business was diamond smuggling, though he would condescend to almost anything in order to turn a dishonest penny....
"That seems to exhaust the subject. But one word more.... Dorothy, I am old enough and have suffered enough to know the wisdom of seizing one's happiness when one may. My dear, a little while ago, you did a very brave deed. Under fire you said a most courageous, womanly, creditable thing. And Philip's rejoinder was only second in nobility to yours.... I do hope to goodness that you two blessed youngsters won't let any addlepated scruples stand between yourselves and—the prize of Romance, your inalienable inheritance!"
Abruptly Brentwick, who was no longer Brentwick, but the actual Calendar, released the girl from his embrace and hopped nimbly toward the door. "Really, I must see about that petrol!" he cried. "While it's perfectly true that Charles lied about it's running out, we must be getting on. I'll call you when we're ready to start."
And the door crashed to behind him....
Between them was the table. Beyond it the girl stood with head erect, dim tears glimmering on the lashes of those eyes with which she met Philip's steady gaze so fearlessly.
Singing about them, the silence deepened. Fascinated, though his heart was faint with longing, Kirkwood faltered on the threshold of his kingdom.
"Dorothy!... You did mean it, dear?"
She laughed, a little, low, sobbing laugh that had its source deep in the hidden sanctuary of her heart of a child.
"I meant it, my dearest.... If you'll have a girl so bold and forward, who can't wait till she's asked but throws herself into the arms of the man she loves—Philip, I meant it, every word!..."
And as he went to her swiftly, round the table, she turned to meet him, arms uplifted, her scarlet lips a-tremble, the brown and bewitching lashes drooping over her wondrously lighted eyes....
After a time Philip Kirkwood laughed aloud.
And there was that quality in the ring of his laughter that caused the Shade of Care, which had for the past ten minutes been uneasily luffing and filling in the offing and, on the whole, steadily diminishing and becoming more pale and wan and emaciated and indistinct—there was that in the laughter of Philip Kirkwood, I say, which caused the Shade of Care to utter a hollow croak of despair as, incontinently, it vanished out of his life.