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The Coast of Chance
by Esther Chamberlain
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In spite of the consciousness of a friendly presence in the house her fears increased as the afternoon waned, and her thoughts went back to what she had left behind her, and forward to what might be coming—the one person whom she so longed for, and so dreaded to see. He might be on his way now. He might at this moment be hurrying down the hedged lane from the station; and when he should come, and when they two were face to face, there would be no other "next time" for them. Everything was crystalizing, getting hard. Everything was getting too near the end to be malleable any more. It was her last chance to make him relinquish his unworthy purpose; perhaps his last chance to save himself from captivity. She found she hadn't a thing left unsaid, an argument left unused. What could she do that she had not done before, except to show him by just being here, accessible and ready to serve him at any risk, how much she cared? Could his generosity resist that?

Beyond the fact of getting him away safe she didn't think. Beyond that nothing looked large to her, nothing looked definite. The returning of the sapphire itself seemed simple beside it, and the fact that her position in the matter might never be explained of no importance.

Now while every moment drew her nearer her greatest moment she grew more absent, more strained, more restless, more intently listening, more easily starting at the lightest sound; until, at last, when the late day touched the rooms with fiery sunset colors, her friend, watchful of her changing mood, ready at every point to palliate circumstance, drew her out into the garden.

The wind, which had fallen with approaching evening, was only a whisper among the trees. The greenish-white bodies of statues in the shrubbery glowed ruddy. Gathering their skirts from the grass that glittered with the drops of the last shower, arm in arm the two women walked down the broad central gravel drive between ribbon beds of flowers. From here numerous paths paved with white stone went wandering under snowball trees and wild apple, losing themselves in shrubbery. But one made a clear turn across the lawn for the rose-garden, where in the midst a round pool of water lay like a flaming bit of the sunset sky. Among the bushes red and rose and white, the elder woman in her black, the younger in her gown more glowing, with a veil over her hair, walked, and, loitering, looked down into the water, seeing their faces reflected, and, behind, the tangled brambles and the crimson sky. They did not speak, but at last their companionship was peaceful, was perfect. The only sounds were the sleepy notes of birds and that faint, high whisper of the tree tops on an evening that is not still.

Loud and shrill and shriller and more piercing, from the west wing of the house, overhanging the garden, the sound reached them—an alarum that set Flora's heart to leaping. Startled apart, they listened.

"Would that be—is that for you?"

"I think it's for me."

The words came from them simultaneously, and almost at the same instant Flora had started across the lawn. The sight of an aproned maid coming out on the veranda and peering down the garden set her running fleetly.

"It's a telephone for Miss Gilsey," the girl said.

"Oh, thank you," Flora panted.

She knew so well the voice she had expected at the other end of the wire that the husky, boyish note which reached her, attenuated by distance, struck her with dismay and disappointment.

"Ella, oh, yes; yes; Ella." What was she saying? Ella was using the telephone as if it were a cabinet for secrets.

"Clara told me you were down there," she was explaining. "I saw her this morning, yes. Well,"—and she could hear Ella draw in her breath—"I'm so relieved! I thought you'd be, too, to know. I was perfectly right. She was after him."

Flora faltered, "After whom?" There flashed through her mind more than one person that, by this time, Clara might possibly be after.

"Why, after papa, of course!" Ella's injured surprise brought her back to the romance of Judge Buller. Her voice rose in sheer bewilderment. "Well?"

Ella's voice rose triumphantly. "I got it out of her myself. I just came right out to her at last. She seemed awfully surprised that I knew; but she owned up to it, and what do you think? I bought her off!"

"Bought her off?" Flora cried. Each fact that Ella brought forth seemed to her more preposterous than the last.

"Why, yes, it's too ridiculous; what do you think she wanted?"

At that question Flora's heart seemed fairly to stand still. That was the very question she had been asking herself for days, and asking in vain.

Ella's voice was coming to her faint as a voice from another world. "She wanted that little, little picture—that picture of the man called Farrell Wand. Don't you remember, papa mentioned it at supper that evening at the club? Isn't it funny she remembered it all this time? Well, she wanted it dreadfully, but Harry wanted it, too, and papa said he had promised it to Harry; but I got it first and gave it to her." Ella's voice ended on a high note of triumph.

Flora's, if anything, rose higher in despair. "Oh, Ella!"

"Doesn't it seem ridiculous," Ella argued, "that if she really wanted him she'd give him up for that?"

"Oh, no—I mean yes," Flora stammered. "Yes, of course! thank you, Ella, very much—very much." The last words were hardly audible. The receiver fell jangling into its bracket, and Flora leaned against the wall by the telephone and closed her eyes.

For a moment all she could see was Clara with that little, little picture. How well she could remember how Clara had looked that night of the club supper!

From the moment Judge Buller had spoken of the picture, how all three of them had changed, Clara and Kerr and Harry. Everything that had seemed so phantasmal then, everything she had put down as a figment of her own imagination, had meant just this plain fact. All three of them had wanted the picture. For his own reason Kerr had turned aside from the chase, but Harry had stood with it to the last, and now, when finally the prize had been assured to him, Clara had it!

At this moment she had it in her hand. At this moment she knew what was the aspect of the figure in the picture, whether it showed a face, and, if a face, whose. Flora's hands opened and closed. "Oh," she whispered to the great silence of the great house awaiting him; "where is he? Why isn't he here?"

All those terrible things which might be happening beyond her reach processioned before her. Had Clara already snapped the trap of the law upon Kerr? And if she hadn't yet, what could be done to hold her off? Flora turned again to the telephone. Slowly she took down the receiver and gave into the bright mouthpiece of the instrument the number of her own house.

Presently the voice of Shima spoke to her. Mrs. Britton had gone out to dinner.

"Tell her, Shima," Flora commanded, "tell her to come down on the earliest train." She hesitated, then finished in a firm voice. "Tell her not to do anything until she has seen me."

Shima would tell her—but Mrs. Britton had been out all day. He did not know when she would be back.

The words sounded ominous in Flora's ears. She turned away. Was everything to be finished just as she had light enough to move, but before she had a chance?

The sound of spinning wheels on the drive startled her to fresh hope, and sent her hurrying down the stair. It was the phaeton returning from the last train. Through the open door she saw the figure of Mrs. Herrick expectant on the veranda. Then the carriage came into the porte-cochere and passed. With a rush she reached the veranda, and stood there looking after it. She wouldn't believe her eyes—she couldn't—that it had returned again empty.

Mrs. Herrick's voice was asking her, "What shall we do? Shall we serve dinner now, or wait a little longer?"

"Oh, it's no use," Flora murmured, "he won't come to-night. He'll never come." She drooped against the tall porch pillar.

"My poor child!" Mrs. Herrick took her passive hand. If she read in the profound discouragement of Flora's face that something more had transpired than a mere non-appearance, she did not show it, but waited, alert and quiet, while they gazed together out over the darkening garden.

It was the time of twilight when the sky is so much brighter than the earth. Across the lawns between the bushes from hedge to hedge the veil of the obscuring light was coming in; and through it the avenue of willows marched darkly. Their leaves moved a little. Flora watched the ripple of their tops, clear on the bright sky, and deeper down among mysterious branches there was a sense of movement where the eyes could not see. There was a curious flick, flick, flicker—a progression, a passing from the far dark end of the willow avenue toward where it met the vista of the drive. Flora's eyes, absently, involuntarily, followed the movement. She felt Mrs. Herrick's hand suddenly close on hers.

"Is some one coming?"

They clung to each other, peering timorously down the drive. A little gust of wind took the garden, and before the trees had ceased to tremble and whiten a man had emerged from their shadow and was advancing upon them up the middle of the drive.

Flora's heart leaped at sight of him. All her impulse was to fly to meet him, but she felt Mrs. Herrick's hand tighten upon her wrist as if it divined her madness.

His light stick aswing in his hand, his step free and incautious as ever, gray and slender and seeming to look more at the ground than at them, the two women watched him drawing near. His was the seeming of a quiet guest at the quietest of house parties. To meet him Flora saw she must meet him on the high ground of his reserve. As he came under the light of the porte-cochere his look, his greeting, his hand, were first for Mrs. Herrick.

"We were afraid we had missed you altogether," said she.

"It was I who somehow missed your carriage, was hardly expecting to be expected at such an hour."

Flora watched them meeting each other so gallantly with a trembling compunction. Mrs. Herrick, who trusted her, was giving her hand in sublime ignorance. It was vain that Flora told herself she had given warning. She knew she had thrown the softening veil of her spiritual crisis over the ugly material fact. Had she said, "I want you to uphold me while I meet a thief whom I love and wish to protect. He's magnificent in all other ways except for this one obsession," she knew Mrs. Herrick simply would have cried, "Impossible, outrageous!" Yet there they stood together, and as Flora looked at them she could not have told which was of the finer temper. Kerr's bearing was so unruffled that it seemed as if he had flown too high to feel the storm Flora was passing through. But when he turned toward her, in spite of himself, there was eagerness in his manner. He looked questioningly at her, as if no time had intervened, as if a moment before he had said to her through the carriage window, "I will give you twenty-four hours," and now her time had come to speak.

Only the thought that time was crowding him into a bag's end gave her courage to vow she would speak that night. Yet not now, while they stood just met in the deepening dusk, in the sweet breath of the early flowers; nor later when they passed in friendly fashion, the three of them, through fairy labyrinths of arch and mirror, into the long, high, glistening room, whose round table, spread, seemed dwarfed to mushroom height; nor yet, while this semblance of companionship was between them, and the great proportions of the place lifting oppression, left them as unconscious of walls and roof as though they were met in the open. The clock twice marked the passing hour. She had never heard Mrs. Herrick speak so flowingly nor Kerr listen so well, placing his questions nicely to draw out the thread of her theme. Yet Flora guessed his thought must be fixed on their approaching moment, as hers was—on the moment when they should be ready to quit the table and Mrs. Herrick would leave them to themselves.

It was the appearance of the aproned maid that broke their unity. The last course was on the table, the last taste of its pungent fruit essence on their tongues—and what was the girl's errand now? The eye of her mistress was inquiring.

"Some one has come, Mrs. Herrick." The woman's proper formula seemed to fail her. She looked as if she had been frightened.

"Some one?" Mrs. Herrick showed asperity. "What name?"

"He is coming in." As she spoke the girl shrank a little to one side.

With his long coat open, hanging from the armpits, with ruffled hair, and lips apart, and from breathlessness a little smiling, Harry appeared in the doorway. Kerr leaned forward. Mrs. Herrick did not move. She was facing the last arrival and she was smiling more flexibly, more naturally, than Harry; but it was Flora who found the first word.

"You! I—I thought it was Clara." She was struggling for nonchalance, for poise, at this worst blow, so unexpected.

"Clara won't be down," Harry said, advancing. "How d'ye do, Mrs. Herrick? How d'ye do, Kerr?"

"How d'ye do?" said the Englishman, without rising.

Flora gripped the arms of her chair to keep from springing up in sheer nervous terror. A possible purpose in Harry's coming, that even Mrs. Herrick's presence would not defer, shot through her mind. Was he alone? Or were there others—men here for a fearful purpose—waiting beyond in the hall? But Harry had turned his back upon the door behind him with a finality that declared whatever danger had come into the house was complete in his presence.

"I've dined, thanks," he said, but, stripping off his greatcoat, accepted a chair and the glass of cordial Mrs. Herrick offered him. The ruddy, hard quality of his face, were it divested of its present smile, Flora thought, might well have frightened the maid; but, for all that, it was not so implacable as Kerr's face confronting it. The look with which he met the intrusion had a quality more bitter than the challenge of an antagonist, more jealous than a mere lover's; and that bitterness, that jealousy which was between them came out stingingly through their small pleasantness. It could not be, Flora thought in terror, that Mrs. Herrick intended to leave these two enemies to each other! Mrs. Herrick had risen; and Flora, following, saw both men, also uprisen, hang hesitatingly, as if unready to be deserted; yet with well-filled glasses, and newly smoking tobacco, both were caught.

Then Kerr, with a quick dash of his hand, picked up his glass. "Let us be Continental," he begged, and followed close at Flora's side. Without moving his lips Kerr was speaking. "What does this mean?"

She sensed the anger in his smothered voice, but she dared not look at him.

"I have no idea; but I will see you."

"When?"

Her answer leaped to her mind and her lips at the same moment.

"In the rotunda when the house is quiet."

Harry had followed leisurely in their wake. The flush of haste had subsided in his face, and when the four regrouped themselves in the high, darkly-paneled room, among the low lights, Flora remarked his extraordinary composure. Bitter he might be; but all the nervousness, suspicion, uneasiness, that he had shown of late had vanished. There was a tremendous confidence about him, the confidence of the player who holds cards that must win the game, and sits back waiting for his moment.

But she was ready to laugh at him in his security. He had underestimated his opponent. In spite of him she was to have her meeting with Kerr! Harry had waited too long to prevent that, whatever he might do afterward. In this inspired moment she felt herself touching conquering heights which before she had only touched in imagination. She felt enough power in herself to move even such a mountain of obstinacy as Kerr. She stole a look at him—a look of glad intelligence. He understood as if she had spoken. They were to meet, while all the house slept fast, to meet for his great renunciation. Then, in the morning, when Harry was ready with whatever move he was holding back, Kerr would be gone. There would be no Kerr—but she must not think of that! She glanced at him again in the thick of the talk, and caught his eye upon her, puzzled, and, she thought, with a glimmer of doubt.

She smiled; and smiled again at the ease with which she reassured him, merely by looking at him. He should see, in the end, how true she could be!

He was talking tremendously, flinging off fireworks of words, but she was curiously aware that Mrs. Herrick and Harry were looking more at her than at Kerr. She felt herself the dominant spirit. She saw them acknowledge it, swept along by the high tide of her mood that was rising to meet her great decisive moment. Yet on the surface the strong pulse of it appeared as ripples—words, smiles, gay gestures, laughter—rising like the last bubble on a wave's crest. She was not consciously acting; she was inspired by the power of what she concealed and must conceal. And when she left them it was like a triumphant exit; almost it seemed to her as if she might hear their applause following her.

In the room where, some eight hours before, she and Mrs. Herrick had talked, Flora waited, fully dressed. It had been early when they had separated. The strain of the four together had been terrific; and she was still feeling it, though an hour had passed. She was feeling that, now her situation was upon her, she was alone. Mrs. Herrick could only be near her, not with her, and Kerr was still an unknown quantity—except that he was fire.

And there was Harry, with his terrible certainty, and no apparent thing to account for it. It could not be there were men in the house without the servants remarking it; but in the garden? She peered out upon it. Only tree shadows moved upon the lawn. Nothing glimmered in the walks or drives. The solitude held her like an enchantment. She listened for the small sounds in the house to cease, for the lights in the lower story to go out, proclaiming all the servants were in bed. Even after the stillness she waited—waited to be sure it was the long stillness.

Finally she crept to the door and opened it boldly wide.

She stood where she was upon the threshold trembling in a cruel fright. A gas-jet burning far up at the end of the hall, threw a dim light down the pale, pinkish, naked vista, void of furniture, window or curtain; and, leaning against the blank wall almost opposite her door, and directly facing her, was Harry.

Without speaking they looked at each other. He was fully dressed, but lacking his shoes, as she noted in the acuteness of her startled senses. The furtive suggestion of those shoeless feet struck her with horror—formless, unreasoning. It was like an evil dream to find him there, stolen to her door in the night, waiting outside it without a sound, looking her steadily, hardily in the eye without a word.

She tried to speak, but, with terror sobbing in her throat, the words failed. She made a step forward with a crazy impulse to rush past him.

He straightened, with a quick movement toward her. She recoiled before him, precipitately retreated, closed the door, shot the bolt, and leaned, for faintness, against the wall. She expected each moment to hear him tap. She neither heard a knock nor the sound of soft, departing feet. He was still there! He was on guard! He had had good reason for his terrible certainty! He had foreseen what her plan might be, and she knew he would no more let her get past him down the hall than the turnkey will let the wretched prisoner escape.

The last flicker of her courage died at that thought. All her fine exultation was beaten out by the fact of the brute force outside her door. She could not get to Kerr now. Cowering behind her door she could only fancy him waiting for her in the rotunda while the moments lengthened into hours, each moment distrusting her more.



XXII

CLARA'S MARKET

All night she sat awake huddled under her greatcoat in the chilly darkness. She could not lie down, she could not close her eyes. At long intervals she heard the tread of unshod feet along the hall, and then she held her breath lest at her slightest stir they approach her door. Why, since he wanted the sapphire, hadn't he tried to get it from her when he had had her unawares, upon her threshold with the house asleep? It began to seem to her as if he were waiting, as if he were forced to wait, for some appointed moment. She knew if it were his moment it would be hers, too, as long as she had the sapphire upon her. She recalled fearfully the moment when she had crouched against the window with her hand protecting the jewel, and Harry's hand grasping her wrist. He would know well enough where to find it now. Oh, the restless unconcealable thing! Where could she hide it?

She took the pear-shaped pouch that swung always before her on her long gold chain. She had repudiated that hiding-place before, but now the more obvious the better—now that both men supposed she carried the jewel far hidden out of sight. Without moving from the bed where she was crouched, cramped and cold, she made the exchange, leaving the chain still around her neck, dropping the jewel into the pouch, where it would swing free, so carelessly dangling as to be beyond suspicion, but never beyond the reach of her hand.

It was a pale, splendid dawning full of clouds when she feel asleep.

Broad sunlight filled her room when she was awakened by a knocking at her door. She sprang from the bed and went to it. She was not to be come in upon by any unwelcome visitor. But it was Mrs. Herrick; and Flora, with a murmur of relief, since this was the one person she did want to see, drew her inside.

"Why, my child, you haven't slept, at least not properly." Mrs. Herrick herself looked anxious and weary. "I've come to tell you that Mrs. Britton is here. She came an hour ago."

"Where is she?"

"In the breakfast-room with Mr. Cressy."

"Oh," Flora cried, "you know I didn't expect them. I didn't want them. It wasn't for them I asked you to come."

"But can't you tell me what it is you're afraid of?" the other urged. "Between us can't we prevent it? Is there nothing I can do to help you?"

"Ah, if you knew how much you have already helped me by just being here."

Her companion laughed a little. "Can't I do something more active than that?"

Flora pondered. "Where is Mr. Kerr?"

"In the garden, in the willow walk."

"Do you think you can manage that the others don't get at him?"

"I can; if he doesn't want to get at them," Mrs. Herrick replied. "Against a man like that, my dear," she aimed it gravely at Flora, "one can do nothing."

But Flora had no answer for the warning. "I must see Clara immediately," she said.

"But not without breakfast," Mrs. Herrick protested. "I will send you up something. Remember that she never abuses herself, so she's always fresh—and so she's always equal to the occasion."

Mrs. Herrick went. Flora looked into the mirror. Almost for the first time in ten days she thought of her appearance. If it was, as Mrs. Herrick said, a factor of success, something must be done for it, for it was dreadful. The best she could do revived a pale replica of the vivid creature who had been wont to regard her from her glass. Yet her black gown, thin and trailing far behind her, and her hair wound high, by very force of their contrasted color gave her a real brilliance as they gave her a seeming height. But she descended to the breakfast-room with trepidation, and stood a full minute before the door gathering courage to go in.

When she did open it, it was so suddenly that both occupants faced her with a start. They were standing close together, and between them, on the glare of the white table-cloth, lay a little heap of gold. As they peered at her she saw that both were highly excited, but in Clara it showed like a cold sparkle; in Harry it gloomed like a menace. His hand hovered, clenched, above the money in a panic of irresolution; then, as if with an involuntary relax of nerves, opened and let fall one last piece of gold. Like a flash the whole disappeared in a sweep of Clara's hand. It passed before Flora's eyes like a prestidigitator's trick, so rapid as to seem unreal, and left her staring. Harry gave Clara a look, half suspicious, half entreating; and then, to Flora's astonishment, turned away without a word to either of them.

Clara stood still, even after the door had closed upon Harry, and oddly, and rather horridly, she wore the same aspect she had worn the day when she had looked intently and absorbedly upon the rifled contents of Flora's room.

"Good morning," she said, and, pushing up her little misty veil, sat down with her back to the deserted breakfast table, and waited meekly, like one who has been summoned.

"I am very glad you've come," Flora said. Her wits were still all a-flutter from the appearance of that little heap of gold. She came forward and stood in Harry's place. She was face to face with the person and the question, but before the great import of it, and before the marble front of Clara's patience, she felt helpless. There was silence in the room, perfect silence in the garden; but moving along the hedged walk all at once she saw the flutter of Mrs. Herrick's gown, and then in profile Kerr beside her. The sight of him gave her her proper inspiration. She turned upon Clara.

"What are you going to do with the picture of Farrell Wand?"

For the first time she saw Clara startled. Her lips parted, and the breath that came and went between them was audible. But she was herself again before she spoke. "Do with it? Why I don't know." Her fingers drummed the table.

"Whatever you do," Flora began, "please, oh, please don't do anything immediately."

Clara's eyebrows rose like graceful swallows. "You seem to anticipate pretty clearly what I am going to do."

"I suppose you're going to do what any one would who had a clue, and could bring a person to justice," Flora candidly responded. "But if ever I have made anything easy for you, Clara, won't you this time make it easy for me? I'm not asking you to give up the picture, I'm only asking you to wait."

Clara nodded toward the window, through which Kerr could still be seen with Mrs. Herrick. "On account of him?"

"On account of him."

For the first time Clara smiled. It crept out upon her face, as it were involuntarily, but she sat there smiling in contemplation for quite ten seconds. At last, "You want me to suppress my information? My dear Flora, don't you think you want me to do more than is honest?"

"Honest!" Flora cried. The words sounded hideous to her on Clara's tongue; and yet what right had she, she thought with shame, to judge of Clara's honesty when she herself was leagued with a thief? "Clara," she said humbly, before this upholder of the right, "I can't pretend I'm not suppressing things. I've only asked you to see me before you do anything more. Now, you've come. Will you tell me one thing—did you bring the picture with you?"

Clara weighed it. "Well, if I did—"

This was the considering Clara, and Flora realized whatever she could expect from her she couldn't expect mercy. It was another thing she must appeal to.

"Clara," she urged, "wait three days, and you shall have the whole of it. You have only the picture now. You shall have the jewel, too. Then you can get the reward and still be—honest."

She let the word fall into the silence fearfully, as if she were afraid Clara might detect its sneer. But this time Clara neither smiled nor frowned.

"It isn't the reward I'm thinking about. That's really very little, considering."

"Twenty thousand dollars!"

"Would that be much to you?"

"No," Flora admitted; "at least I mean I could pay it."

"Well, then," Clara triumphed, "why, the picture alone, if it's worth anything, is worth more than that." With a bird-like lifting of the head she gave a sidelong interrogative glance.

Flora, for a moment, steadily returned the look. It was coming over her what Clara meant; a meaning so simple it was absurd she had not thought of it before—so hateful that it was all she could do to face it. She felt a tightness in her throat that was not tears. Shame and anger contended in her. Oh, for the power to have refused that shameful bargain—to have scorned it! She turned away. She closed her eyes. In her mind she saw the figure of Kerr moving quietly about the winding walks with Mrs. Herrick. She faced sharply about. "What is it worth to you?"

Clara put her off with the last sweet meekness of her cleverness. "Whatever it's worth to you—and him."

Flora was in command of herself now. "There are some things I can not set a price on. If this is what you have come down for, we are simply waiting for you to name it." She looked over Clara's head. She had stood abashed when Clara had put on the majesty of right, but now it was Clara herself who was abashed, not at the thing itself, but at the fact of having to utter it. She sat grasping one of her gloves in her doubled fist; and, leaning forward, with her eyes like jewels in her little pale face and the white aura of her veil, waited as if she thought that by some silent agency of understanding Flora would presently take up a pen and write the desired figure in her check-book.

But Flora stood inexorable, straight and black, crowned with her helmet of gleaming hair; and, with her hands behind her, looked over Clara's head through the window into the garden. She would not help Clara gloss over this ugly fact.

A curious grimace distorted Clara's features, as if with an effort she gulped something bitter, and then into the silence her voice fell—a gasp, a breath—"Fifty thousand."

All sums had become the same to Flora, even her year's income. As if she were verily afraid Clara might take it back, she turned precipitately to a writing-table. But Clara had risen, and though still pale, in a measure she seemed to have recovered herself.

"Wait. I can't give it to you now. I will meet you here in two hours and bring the picture. You can let me have it then."

"Oh, two hours!" Flora objected.

But Clara was firm. "No, I can't bring it sooner. It will make no difference in your affair." She was panting in her excitement. "In two hours you shall have the picture here. I promise you."

Flora wondered. Depth below depth! She could never seem to get to the bottom of this business. There was only one thing she could count on, and that was Clara's impeccable honor in living up to a bargain. Flora sealed that bargain now. She held out her fluttering slip of paper, still wet with ink.

"Very well, in two hours—but take this now. I would rather you did."

Clara reached the tips of her fingers, touched the paper—and then it was no longer in Flora's hand, and Clara was walking from her across the room.



XXIII

TOUCHE

Left alone, Flora glanced rapidly around her. Now for a sally, now for a dash straight for Kerr. The shortest way was what she wanted. Opening doors lately had led to too many surprises. She pushed aside the long curtains and stepped out through the French window upon the veranda. Rapidly her eyes swept the garden. Far down between the gray, slim branches of willows at last she made out the flutter of a skirt. She sighed relief to think Mrs. Herrick still at her post, and began to hurry down the broad unshaded drive. Her steps sounded loud on the gravel, and presently to her excited ears they sounded double. Then she realized the truth. Some one else was walking behind her. She thought by not looking over her shoulder she could avoid stopping; but in a moment Harry's voice hailed her. It was still far enough behind for her to hope she could ignore it. She swept on as if she had not heard. Once around the turn of the drive, she would be in sight of succor. She could trust to Mrs. Herrick to manage Harry. She made a little rush around the loop and looked down the long vista of the willows.

A hundred yards distant she saw the two standing. Kerr presented his back, and with his head a little canted forward seemed to listen, absorbed in his companion. But that companion was a smaller figure than Mrs. Herrick, and her veil made an aura of filmy white around her face. The sight of her was enough to stop Flora short, and in that instant Harry, making a cut across the flower-beds, caught up with her. He stopped as abruptly as she, and gazed with a dismay that surpassed her own. For an instant she thought he was about to make a dash down the walk for them. Then he caught Flora's hand and pulled her back. There was no help for it, she thought. Her other hand crept downward stealthily and gathered up her swinging pouch of gold. Trembling, she let him drag her back, but when they faced each other behind the plumes and swords of a great pampas clump she was shocked at the emotion in his face; and as if what he had just seen had given the last touch, his voice had risen a key, and between every half-dozen words it broke for breath.

"Look here, Flora," he began; "I know you've been trying to give me the slip ever since night before last. I frightened you then. I didn't mean to, but you had no business to keep the ring after what I told you. No, I'm not going to touch you," as she shrank back against the pampas swords, "but I want you to give it to me, yourself, right here and now."

She looked up into his face, burning fiery in the sun beating down on his bare head. "No, no, Harry; I shan't give it to you. Last time I said I would give it to you for a good reason, but now I wouldn't give it to you for anything."

"You don't know what you're doing," he cried.

"I do; I know as well as you that this is a part of the Crew Idol. I've known it all along, and when the time comes I'm going to give it myself to Mr. Purdie, but not until that time."

Harry passed his hand over his face with an inarticulate sound. Then, "You will ruin us!" he choked.

"I shall tell the truth, whatever comes," she exulted. To tell the truth and keep on telling it—that, in her passion of relief at speaking out at last, was all she wanted! But Harry fell back. He changed countenance. He recovered himself.

"Look here, Flora; if you do I'm going to leave you. I'm going to leave you to what you've chosen."

She met it steadily. "I'm glad you say so. I've been thinking for days that it would be better so."

"Have you?" he said in a low voice, looking at her earnestly. "Of course, I know the reason of that. I meant it to be different, but now there's no help. I—"

With a motion too quick for her to escape he stooped and kissed her lightly. To that moment she had pitied him, but his touch she loathed. She thrust him away with both hands. He turned. Without speaking, without looking at her again he walked away. She watched him with a desperate feeling of being abandoned, of losing something powerful and valuable. The faint, thin screech of a locomotive from a station far down the line made him pause, and turn, and gaze under his hand in the strong sun. So for a moment she saw him, a lowering, peering figure moving away from her over the lawn between broad flower-beds. Then he disappeared among the shrubbery.

This encounter, that had stopped her in full open field, had not been the fatal thing she had feared. It had been a peril met that nerved her to a higher courage. Now she could walk gallantly to the most uncertain moment of her life. Between the glimmering willows down the long still avenue she passed, her flowing draperies borne backwards as by triumphant airs. The wind of her approach seemed to reach the two still far in front of her.

They turned and watched her drawing nearer, and before she had quite reached them Kerr stretched out his hand as if to help her over a last rough place, and drew her toward him and held her beside him with his fingers lightly clasped around her wrist. She saw that he looked pale, worn, as he had not been last night, and, what struck her most strangely, angry. The hand that held hers shook with the violent pulse that was beating in it. He turned to Clara.

"Will you pardon us, Mrs. Britton?" Then after another patient moment, "Miss Gilsey has something to say to me." Still he made no motion to move away, and at last Clara seemed to understand what was expected of her. She flushed, and in the middle of that color her eyes flashed double steel. For the first time in Flora's memory she was at a loss. She passed them without a word.

Kerr looked after the little brilliant figure, moving daintily away through sun and shadow, with deep disgust in his face. But when he turned to Flora disgust lifted to high severity. It was she who appeared the guilty one, and he the accuser.

"Why didn't you come, last night?"

"I couldn't. He was there, Harry, outside my door."

"In God's name! What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. We did not speak—but I couldn't get past him!" The suspicion in his face was more than she could bear. "You must believe me—for, if you don't, we're both lost!"

He had her by both wrists, now, and gently made her face him. "I have believed in you to the extent of coming alone to a place I know nothing of, because you wanted me. Now that I am here, what is it you have to say to me?"

"Oh, nothing more than I have said before," she pleaded; "only that, ten times more earnestly."

"You extraordinary child!" At first, he was pure amazement. "You've brought me so far, you've come so far yourself—you've got us both here in such danger, to tell me only this? How could you be so mad—so cruel?"

She had locked her hands in front of her until the nails showed white with the pressure. "It was more dangerous there than here. You don't know what has happened since I saw you. And I thought if you and I could only be alone together, without the fear of them always between us, I could show you, I could persuade you—" Before his look she broke down. "Well—you see, they followed us—they're here."

"Grant it, they are." He seemed to laugh at them. "You have still your chance. Give everything to me and I can save you still."

"'Save me?' Oh, nothing could happen to me so terrible as having you break my heart like this! If I should give the sapphire to you I should lose you—even the thought of you—for ever. Nothing could ever be right with us again! Won't you—" she pleaded, "won't you go?" and lifting her hands, taking his face between them, "Won't you, because I love you?"

He stood steady to this assault, and smiled down upon her. "Without you and without it I will not budge. Come now, this is the end. I never meant to do another thing."

She covered her face with her hands.

"Come, come." His voice was urging her, now very gentle. "It's more for your sake than for the jewel now." And his arm around her shoulders was gently forcing her to walk beside him not toward the drive, but away into the tree-grown sheltered wing of the garden. By interlacing paths, from the tremulous gray willows under the somber, clashing eucalyptus spears, under dark wings of cypress they were moving. She was bracing in every nerve against the unnerving of his presence.

It had been always so. Even across the distance of a room the mere sight of him had had for her the power to summon those wild spirits of the soul and body that turn reason to a vapor. And now so close, with his arm around her, that same power she had felt when she saw him first, the power that had made her come out and be herself then, the power that had overwhelmed her in the little restaurant, was leagued against her again to make her do this one more thing, which she wouldn't do. Never, never! Despairing, she wondered that such an evil motive could have such strength.

"Where have you got it now?" she heard him asking, and she pointed downward toward where the pouch at her knee was swinging to and fro. "Take it up, then," and like a hypnotized creature she gathered it into her hand. But, once she had it, she held it clenched against him.

"You're going to give it to me," he prompted, "aren't you?—aren't you?" and looking steadily in her face his hand shut softly on her wrist, and held out her clenched hand in front of her. And still they walked, slowly. Like a pendulum the long gold chain swung from her clenched fingers. To the tree-top birds they seemed as quiet as two lovers speaking of their wedding-day. She felt her tension give way in this quiet—her hand relax.

"Dearest." The word brought up her eyes to his with a start of tenderness. "Open it," he said, and her hand, involuntarily, sprung the pouch wide. They stared together into it. The little hollow golden shell was empty.

For a moment it held her incredulous. Then, faint and sick, all the foundations of her faith reeling, she slowly raised her eyes to him in accusation. She was not ready for the terrible sternness in his.

"Have you lied to me?" he asked in a low voice. "Have you given it to Cressy?"

"No, no, no!" she cried in horror. "It was there! I put it there myself this morning!" They looked at each other now equally sincere and aghast.

"But you have seen him; you've been near him?" he demanded.

She gasped out the whole truth. "This morning! He left me. He kissed me."

"Then, my God, where is he?" He gave a wide glance around him. Then raising his voice, "Stay where you are!" he commanded, and began to run from her through the trees.

She stood with her hand to her breast, with the empty pouch spinning in front of her, hearing him crashing in the shrubbery. Then, in sudden panic at finding herself alone, she fled back down the willow avenue, and burst out on the broad drive in full view of the house.

Kerr was not in sight, but there was a tremor of disturbance where all had been still. Clara's face appeared at one of the upper windows and looked down into the garden. Then Mrs. Herrick came down the stairs, and, showing an anxious profile as she passed the door, hurried away along the lower hall. There was a flutter in the servants' quarter, and from a side door the coachman appeared hatless, in his shirt sleeves, and ran toward the stable. All the people of the house seemed to be running to and fro, but she didn't see Harry. This struck her with unreasoning terror. She fled up the drive, and Clara's small face at the window watched her.

As she came into the hall she heard Kerr's voice. He was at the telephone speaking names she had never heard in sentences whose meaning was too much for her stunned senses to take in; but none the less while she listened the feeling crept over her that there was some strange revolution taking place in him. It might be transformation; it might be only a swift increase of his original power. Whatever it was, he seemed to her superhuman. The house was full of him—full of his rapid movement, his ringing orders. If he knew that the sapphire was gone, what was the meaning of this bold command? Was he, knowing all lost, plunging gallantly into the clutches of his enemies? Or was this only a blind, a splendid piece of effrontery to cover his too long delayed retreat? She sat like a jointless thing on the fauteuil in the large hall, and all at once saw him in front of her.

She looked at his hat, his overcoat, his slim, glittering stick—all symbols of departure.

"Wait here," he said, and turned away.

She watched his shadow dance across the flagging, and as it slipped over the threshold she thought dully that now the sapphire was gone every one was going from her.



XXIV

THE COMIC MASK

She listened to the sound of wheels, first rattling loud on the gravel, slowly growing fainter. Then stillness was with her again, and inanition. She looked around and up, and had no start at seeing Clara's small face watching her over the gallery of the rotunda. It seemed to her that appearance was natural to her existence now, like her shadow. She looked away. When she raised her eyes again Clara was coming down the stairs, and even at that distance Flora saw she carried something in her hand—something flat and small and wrapped in a filmy bit of paper.

Out of the chaos of her feeling rose the solitary thought—the picture which she had bought that morning, the picture of Farrell Wand. She watched it drawing near her with wonder. She sat up trembling. She had a great longing and a horror to tear away the filmy paper and see Kerr at last brutally revealed. She could not have told afterward whether Clara spoke to her. She was conscious of her pausing; conscious of the faint rustle of her skirt passing; conscious, finally, that the small swathed square was in her hand.

She tore the tissue paper through. She held a photograph, a mounted kodak print. She made out the background to be sky and water and the rail of a ship with silhouettes of heads and shoulders, a jungle of black; and in the middle distance caught in full motion the single figure of a man, back turned and head in profile. He was moving from her out of the picture, and with the first look she knew it was not Kerr.

Her first thought was that there had been a trick played on her! But no—across the bottom of the picture, in Judge Buller's full round hand, was written, "Farrell Wand boarding the Loch Ettive." She held it high to the light. Clara had been faithful to her bargain. It was the picture that had deceived her. She studied it with passionate earnestness. She did not know the bearded profile; but in the burly shoulders, in the set and swing of the body in motion, more than all in the lowering, peering aspect of the whole figure, she began to see a familiar something. She held it away from her by both thin edges, and that aspect swelled and swelled in her startled eyes, until suddenly the figure in the picture seemed to be moving from her, not up a gang-plank, but through a glare of sun over grass between broad beds of flowers.

She was faint. She was going to fall. She caught at the chair to save herself, and still she was dropping down, down, into a gulf of spinning darkness. "Oh, Harry!" she whispered, and let her head roll back against the arm of the fauteuil.

With a dim sense of rising through immeasurable distances back to light she opened her eyes. She saw Mrs. Herrick's face, and as this was connected in her mind with protection she smiled.

"Do you feel better?" Mrs. Herrick asked her. Then she opened her eyes wide and saw the walls and the high-arched ceiling of the hall directly above her, knew herself lying on the floor, saw above her the figure of Clara standing with a bottle of salts, and then remembered; and, with a moan, buried her face in Mrs. Herrick's lap. "Oh, no, no, no; don't bring me back; I don't want to come back!"

Their voices sounding high above her were speaking. Mrs. Herrick said: "What is that?" Then Clara murmured. Then there was the light rustling of paper. Flora moved her hand.

"Give it to me; I want it." She felt the stiff little square of cardboard between her fingers, and closed them around it fast.

After a little she went up-stairs holding tight to the baluster with one hand and to Mrs. Herrick with the other. After a little of sitting on the edge of her bed she lay down, still holding to Mrs. Herrick. She felt as though some cord within her had been drawn tight, too tight to endure, and every moment she hoped it would snap and set her free.

"You don't think I'm mad, do you?" she asked. Her friend earnestly disclaimed it. "Then things are," Flora said, "everything. Oh, oh!" The memory overwhelmed her. "He took me there as if by chance! He gave the sapphire to me for my engagement ring. Oh, dreadful! Oh, poor Harry!"

All that afternoon and all night she slept fitfully, starting up at intervals, trembling at nameless horrors—the glittering goldsmith's shop, the Chinaman, the great eye of the sapphire, and, worst of all, Harry's face, always the same calm, ruddy, good-natured, innocent-looking face that had led her to the goldsmith's shop, that had smiled at her, falling under the spell of the sapphire, that had covered, all those days, God knew what ravages of stress and strain, until the man had finally broken. That face appeared and reappeared through the flashing terrors of her dreams like the presiding genius of them all. Finally, drifting into complete repose, she slept far into the morning.

She wakened languid and weak. She lay looking about the room, and, like a person recovering after a heavy blow, wondering what had happened. Then her hand, as with her first waking thought it had done for the last week, went to the locket chain around her neck. Oh, yes, yes; she had forgotten. The sapphire was gone. Gone by fraud, gone at a kiss for ever with Harry—no, with Farrell Wand.

For Harry was not Harry; and Kerr was not Farrell Wand. He was indeed an unknown quantity. Since she had found Harry she had lost both Kerr's name and his place in her fairy-tale. She had seen his very demeanor change before her eyes. Indeed, her hour had come without her knowing it. The spell had been snapped which had made him wear the semblance of evil. His sinister form was dissolving; but what was to be his identity when finally he stood before her restored and perfect? If he were not the thief whom she had struggled so to shield, why, then he was that very strength of law and right which, for his sake, she had betrayed.

She sat up quickened with humiliation. The thing was not a tragedy, it was a grotesque. Blushing more and more crimson, struggling with strange mingled crying and laughter, she slipped out of the bed, and, still in her nightgown, ran down the hall, and knocked on Mrs. Herrick's door, until the dismayed lady opened it.

"I thought it was he," Flora gasped. "I thought it was he who had taken the ring! Why didn't he tell me? Why did he keep it secret? I would have done anything to have saved it for him, and I let Harry get it! Oh, isn't it cruel? Isn't it pitiful? Isn't it ridiculous?"

Mrs. Herrick, who, for the last thirty-six hours, had so departed from her curriculum of safety, and courageously met many strange appearances, now was to hear stranger facts. For Flora had let go completely, and Mrs. Herrick, without hinting at hysterics, let her laugh, let her cry, let her tell piece by piece, as she could, the story of the two men, from the night when Kerr had spoken so strangely at the club on the virtues of thieves to the moment when, in the willow walk, they discovered that the jewel was gone. Clara's part in the affair, and the price she had exacted, even in this unnerved moment, Flora's instinct withheld, to save Mrs. Herrick the last cruelest touch. But for the rest—she let Mrs. Herrick have it all—and under the shadow of the grim facts the two women clung together, as if to make sure of their own identities.

"I don't even know who he is," Flora said faintly.

Mrs. Herrick gave her a quick glance. She had not a moment's hesitation as to whom the "he" meant. "You will have to ask him when he comes."

"Do you think he will come back?"

Mrs. Herrick had the heart to smile.

"But think of what I have done. I have lost him the sapphire, and he loves it—loves it as much as he does me."

Again the glance. "Did he tell you that?"

Flora nodded. The other seemed intently to consider. "He will come back," she declared.

Upheld by her friend's assurance, Flora found the endurance necessary to spend the day, an empty, stagnant day, in moving about a house and garden where a few hours ago had passed such a storm of events. She reviewed them, lived them over again, but without taking account of them. Her mind, that had worked so sharply, was now in abeyance. She lived in emotion, but with a tantalizing sense of something unexplained which her understanding had not the power to reach out to and grasp. For a day more she existed under the same roof with Clara, for Clara stayed on.

At first it seemed to Flora extraordinary that she dared, but presently it began to appear how much more extraordinary it would have been if Clara had promptly fled. By waiting a discreet length of time, as if nothing had happened, she put herself indubitably on the right side of things. Indeed, when one thought, had she ever been legally off it?

That was the very horror. Clara had simply turned the situation over and seen its market value, and how enormously she had made it pay! Flora herself had paid; and she had seen the evidence that Harry had paid, paid for his poor little hour of escape which a mere murderer might have granted him in pity. Yet Clara could walk beside them, meet them at dinner with the same smooth face, chat upon the terrace with the unsuspecting Mrs. Herrick, and even face Flora in a security which had the appearance of serenity, since she knew that nothing ever would be told. At every turn in the day's business Flora kept meeting that placid presence; and it was not until the end of the day that she met it primed for departure. Flora was with Mrs. Herrick, and Clara, coming to seek them out, had an air of casual farewell. The small, sweet smile she presented behind her misty veil, the delicate white-gloved hand she offered were symbols of enduring friendship, as if she were leaving them only for a few hours; as if, when Flora returned to town, she would find Clara waiting for them in the house. But Flora knew it was only Clara's wonderful way. This uprising and departure were her last.

Now all her waiting was for Kerr's returning. She did not know how she should face him, but she wanted him. A telegram came an hour before him, came to Mrs. Herrick announcing him; and then himself, driven up on the high seat of the cart, just as daylight was closing. She and Mrs. Herrick had walked half-way out toward the rose garden; and, seeing them there, he stopped the cart in the drive, leaped down and ran across the grass. Both hurried to meet him. The three encountered like friends, like intimates, with hand-clasps and hurried glances searching each other's faces.

"Did you save it?" Flora asked.

He looked at Mrs. Herrick, hesitating.

"You can tell, she knows," Flora assured him.

"No, I haven't saved it—not so far," he said. He had taken off his hat and the strong light showed on his face lines of fatigue and anxiety. "He gave me the slip—no trace of him. No one saw him come into the city; nothing turned up in the goldsmith's shop. His friend, the blue-eyed Chinaman, has dropped out of sight. I haven't made it public," he glanced at Flora—"but our men think he's gone out by the water route—Lord knows in what or where! He must have had this planned for days." He didn't look at Flora now. He turned his communication carefully on Mrs. Herrick. "There were seven vessels sailed, that day, and all were searched; but there are ways of smuggling opium, and why not men?"

They were walking toward the house. Kerr looked up at the window where, a short time before, Clara's face had looked down upon the confusion in the garden.

"Is that paid woman still here?"

"Oh, no; she's gone." Flora looked at him warningly. But Mrs. Herrick had caught his tone. "Why shouldn't she be?" she demanded with delicate asperity.

Kerr had dropped his monocle. "Because, in common decency, she couldn't. She sold Cressy to me for a good round sum."

Flora and Mrs. Herrick exchanged a look of horror.

"I'd suspected him," said Kerr. "I knew where I'd seen him, but I couldn't be sure of his identity till she showed me the picture."

"What picture?" cried Flora.

"The picture Buller mentioned at the club that night: Farrell Wand, boarding the Loch Ettive. Don't you remember?" He spoke gently, as if afraid that a hasty phrase in such connection might do her harm. Now, when he saw how white she looked, he steadied her with his arm. "We won't talk of this business any more," he said.

"But I must talk of it," Flora insisted tremblingly. "I don't even know what you are."

For the first time he showed apologetic. He looked from one to the other with a sort of helpless simplicity.

"Why, I'm Chatworth—I'm Crew; I'm the chap that owns the confounded thing!"

To see him stand there, announced in that name, gave the tragic farce its last touch. Flora had an instant of panic when flight seemed the solution. It took all her courage to keep her there, facing him, watching, as if from afar off, Mrs. Herrick's acknowledgment of the informal introduction.

"I came here, quietly," he was saying, "so as to get at it without making a row. Only Purdie, good man! knew—and he's been wondering all along why I've held so heavy a hand on him. We'll have to lunch with them again, eh?" He turned and looked at Flora. "And make all those explanations necessitated by this lady's wonderful sense of honor!"

It was here, somewhere in the neighborhood of this sentence of doubtful meaning, that Mrs. Herrick left them. In looking back, Flora could never recall the exact moment of the departure. But when she raised her eyes from the grass where they had been fixed for what seemed to her eternity she found only Kerr—no, Chatworth—standing there, looking at her with a grave face.

"Eh?" he said, "and what about that honor of yours? What shall we say about it, now that the sapphire's gone and no longer in our way?"

She was breathing quick to keep from crying. "I told you that day at the restaurant."

"Yes, yes; you told me why you kept the sapphire from me, but"—he hung fire, then fetched it out with an effort—"why did you take it in the first place?"

She looked at him in clear astonishment. "I didn't know what it was."

"You didn't!"

It seemed to Flora the whole situation was turning exactly inside out. The light that was breaking upon her was more than she could bear. "Oh," she wailed, "you couldn't have thought I meant to take it!"

"Then if you didn't," he burst out, "why, when I told you what it was, didn't you give it to me?"

The cruel comic muse, who makes our serious suffering ridiculous, had drawn aside the last curtain. Flora felt the laughter rising in her throat, the tears in her eyes.

"You guessed who I was," he insisted, advancing, "at least what I represented."

She hid her face in her hands, and her voice dropped, tiny, into the stillness.

"I guessed you were Farrell Wand."



XXV

THE LAST ENCHANTMENT

The tallest eucalyptus top was all of the garden that was touched with sun when Flora came out of the house in the morning. She stood a space looking at that little cone of brightness far above all the other trees, swaying on the delicate sky. It was not higher lifted nor brighter burnished than her spirit then. Shorn of her locket chain, her golden pouch, free of her fears, she poised looking over the garden. Then with a leap she went from the veranda to the grass and, regardless of dew, skimmed the lawn for the fountain and the rose garden.

There she saw him—the one man—already awaiting her. He stood back to back with a mossy nymph languishing on her pedestal, and Flora hoped by running softly to steal up behind him, and make of the helpless marble lady a buffer between their greetings. But either she underestimated the nymph's bulk, or forgot how invariably direct was the man's attack; for turning and seeing her, without any circumvention, with one sweep of his long arm, he included the statue in his grasp of her. With a laugh of triumph he drew her out of her concealment.

To her the splendor of skies and trees and morning light melted into that wonderful moment. For the first time in weary days she had all to give, nothing to fear or withhold. She was at peace. She was ready to stop, to stand here in her life for always—here in the glowing garden with him, and their youth. But he was impatient. He did not want to loiter in the morning. He was hot to hurry on out of the present which was so mysterious, so untried to her, as if these ecstasies had no mystery to him but their complete fulfilment. He filled her with a trembling premonition of the undreamed-of things that were waiting for her in the long aisle of life.

"Come, speak," he urged, as they paced around the fountain. "When am I to take you away?"

She hung back in fear of her very eagerness to go, to plunge head over ears into life in a strange country with a stranger. "Next month," she ventured.

"Next month! why not next week? why not to-morrow?" he declared with confidence. "Who is to say no? I am the head of my house and you have no one but me. To be sure, there is Mrs. Herrick—excellent woman. But she has her own daughters to look out for, and," he added slyly, "much as she thinks of you, I doubt if she thinks you a good example for them. As for that other, as for the paid woman—"

"Oh, hush, hush!" Flora cried, hurt with a certain hardness in his voice; "I don't want to see her. I shall never go near her! And Harry—"

"I wasn't going to speak of him," said Chatworth quickly.

"I know," she answered, "but do you mind my speaking of him?" They had sat down on the broad lip of the fountain basin. He was looking at her intently. "It is strange," she said, "but in spite of his doing this terrible thing I can't feel that he himself is terrible—like Clara."

"And yet," he answered in a grave voice, "I would rather you did."

She turned a troubled face. "Ah, have you forgotten what you said the first night I met you? You said it doesn't matter what a man is, even if he's a thief, as long as he's a good one."

At this he laughed a little grudgingly. "Oh, I don't go back on that, but I was looking through the great impartial eye of the universe. Whereas a man may be good of his kind, he's only good in his kind. Tip out a cat among canaries and see what happens. My dear girl, we were the veriest birds in his paws! And notice that it isn't moral law—it's instinct. We recognize by scent before we see the shape. You never knew him. You never could. And you never trusted him."

"But," she interrupted eagerly, "I would have done anything for you when I thought you were a thief."

"Anything?" he caught her up with laughter. "Oh, yes, anything to haul me over the dead line on to your side. That was the very point you made. That was where you would have dropped me—if I had stuck by my kind, as you thought it, and not come over to yours."

She saw herself fairly caught. She heard her mental process stated to perfection.

"But if you hadn't felt all along I was your kind, if you hadn't had an idea that I was a stray from the original fold, you would never have wanted to go in for me," he explained it.

Flora had her doubts about the truth of this. For a time she had been certain of his belonging to the lawless other fold, and at times she would have gone with him in spite of it, but this last knowledge she withheld. She withheld it because she could make out now, that, for all his seeming wildness, he had no lawless instincts in himself. Generations of great doing and great mixing among men had created him, a creature perfectly natural and therefore eccentric; but the same generations had handed down from father to son the law-abiding instinct of the rulers of the people. He could be careless of the law. He was strong in it. In his own mind he and the law were one. His perception of the relations of life was so complete that he had no further use for the written law; and Farrell Wand's was so limited that he had never found the use for it. Lawless both; but—the two extremes. They might seem to meet—but between those two extremes, between a Chatworth and a Farrell Wand—why, there was all the world's experience between!

She raised her eyes and smiled at him in thinking of it, but the smile faltered and she drew away. They were about to be disturbed. Beyond the rose branches far down the drive she saw a figure moving toward them at a slow, uncertain pace, looking to and fro. "See, there's some one coming."

"Oh, the gardener!" he said as one would say "Oh, fiddlesticks!"

The gardener had been her first thought. But now she rose uneasily, since she saw it was not he, asking herself, "Who else, at such an hour?"

By this time Chatworth, still seated, had caught sight of it. "Hello," he said, "what sort of a thing is that?"

It was a short, shabby, nondescript little figure, shuffling rapidly along the winding walk between the rose bushes. Now they saw the top of his round black felt hat. Now only a twinkling pair of legs. Now, around the last clump of bushes he appeared full length, and, suddenly dropping his businesslike shuffle, approached them at a languid walk.

Flora grasped Chatworth's arm in nervous terror. "Tell him to go," she whispered; "make him go away."

The blue-eyed Chinaman was planted before them stolidly, with the curious blind look of his guarded eyes blinking in his withered face. He wore for the first time the blouse of his people, and his hands were folded in his sleeves.

"Who's this?" said Chatworth, appealing to Flora.

At this the Chinaman spoke. "Mr. Crew," he croaked.

The Englishman, looking from the Oriental to Flora, still demanded explanations with expostulating gesture.

"It is the man who sold us the sapphire," she whispered; and "Oh, what does he want of you?"

"Eh?" said Chatworth, interrogating the goldsmith with his monocle. "What do you want?"

The little man finished his long, and, what had seemed his blind, stare; then dived into his sleeve. He drew forth a crumpled thing which seemed to be a pellet and this he proceeded to unfold. Flora crept cautiously forward, loath to come near, but curious, and saw him spread out and hold up a roughly torn triangle of newspaper. She gave a cry at sight of it. Across the top in thick black type ran the figures $20,000.

Chatworth pointed a stern forefinger. "What is it?" he said, though by his tone he knew.

The Chinaman also pointed at it, but cautious and apologetic. "Twenty thousand dollar. You likee twenty thousand dollar?" He waited a moment. Then, with a glimmer as of returning sight, presented the alternative. "You likee god?—little joss?—come so?" And with his finger he traced in the air a curve of such delicate accuracy that the Englishman with an exclamation made a step toward him. But the Chinaman did not move. "Twenty thousand dollar," he stated. It sounded an impersonal statement, but nevertheless it was quite evident this time to whom it applied.

The Englishman measured off his words slowly as if to an incomplete understanding, which Flora was aware was all too miraculously quick. "This little god, this ring—do you know where it is? Can you take me to it?"

The goldsmith nodded emphatically at each word, but when all was said he only reiterated, "Twenty thousand dollar."

Chatworth gave Flora an almost shamefaced glance, and she saw with a curious twinge of jealousy that he was intensely excited. "Might as well have a pot-shot at it," he said; and sitting down on the edge of the fountain and taking out his check-book, rested it on his knee and wrote. Then he rose; he held up the filled-in slip before the Chinaman's eyes.

"Here," he said, "twenty thousand dollars." He held the paper well out of the little man's reach. "Now," he challenged, "tell me where it is?"

Into the goldsmith's eyes came a lightning flash of intelligence, such as Flora remembered to have seen there when Farrell Wand, leaning on the dusty counter, had bidden him go and bring something pretty. He seemed to quiver a moment in indecision. Then he whipped his hand out of his sleeve and held it forth palm upward. This time it was Chatworth who cried out. The thing that lay on the goldsmith's palm Flora had never seen, though once it had been described to her—"a bit of an old gold heathen god, curled around himself, with his head of two yellow sapphires and a big blue stone on top."

There it blazed at her, the jewel she had carried in her bosom, that she had hidden in her pouch of gold, and that had vanished from it at the touch of a magic hand, now cunningly restored to its right place in the forehead of the Crew Idol, crowning him with living light.

Speechless they looked together at the magic thing. They had thought it far at sea; and as if at a wave of a genii's wand it was here before them flashing in the quiet garden.

With an effort Chatworth seemed to keep himself from seizing on ring and man together. He looked searchingly at the goldsmith and seemed on the point of asking a question, but, instead, he slowly held out his hand. He held it out cup-fashion. It shook so that Flora saw the Chinaman steady it to drop in the ring. Then, folding his check miraculously small, enveloping it in the ragged piece of newspaper, the little man turned and shuffled from them down the gravel walk.

Chatworth stood staring after him with his Idol in his palm. Then, turning slow eyes to Flora, "How did he come by this?" he asked, as sternly as if he demanded it of the mystery itself.

"He had it, from the very first." The pieces of the puzzle were flashing together in Flora's mind. "That first time Harry left the exhibit he took it there."

"But the blue sapphire?" Chatworth insisted.

"Harry," Flora whispered, "Harry gave it up to him."

"Gave it up to him!" Chatworth echoed in scorn.

But she had had an inspiration of understanding. "He had to—for money to get off with. He gave Clara all he had so that she would let him get away. Poor thing!" she added in a lower breath, but Chatworth did not hear her. He had taken the Idol in his thumb and finger, and, holding it up in the broadening light, looked fixedly at it with the passionate incredulity with which one might hold and look at a friend thought dead. She watched him with her jealous pang increasing to a greater feeling—a feeling of being separated from him by this jewel which he loved, and which had grown to seem hateful to her, which had shown itself a breeder of all the greedy passions. She came softly up to him, and, lifting her hand, covered the Idol.

He turned toward her in wonder.

"Ah, you love it too much," she whispered.

"That's unworthy of you," he reproached her. "I have loved you more; and that in spite of what I believed of you, and what this means to me. To me, this ring is not a pretty thing seen yesterday. It is the symbol of my family. It is the power and pride of us, which our women have worn on their hands as they have worn our honor in their hearts. It is part of the life of my people and now it has made itself part of our life, of yours and mine. Shall I ever forget how starkly you held it for the sake of my honor, even against myself? Should I ever have known you without it?" He put the ring into her hand, and, smiling with his old dare, held it over the fountain. "Now, if you want to, drop it in." He released her hand and turned to leave her to her will.

For a moment she stood with power in her hands and her eyes on his averted head. Then with a little rush she crossed the space between them. "Here, take it! You love it! I want you to keep it! but I can't forget the dreadful things it has made people do. It makes me afraid."

In spite of his smiling he seemed to her very grave. "You dear, silly child! The whole storm and trouble of life comes from things being in the wrong place. This has been in the wrong place and made mischief."

"Like me," she murmured.

"Like you," he agreed. "Now we shall be as we should be. Give me your hand."

He drew off all the rings with which she had once tried to dim the sparkle of the sapphire, and, dropping them into his pocket like so much dross, slipped on the Idol that covered her third finger in a splendid bar from knuckle to joint. Holding her by just the tip of that finger, leaning back a little, he looked into her eyes, and she, looking back, knew that it wedded them once for all.

THE END



ADVERTISEMENTS

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GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers,——New York

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