Treasure and Trouble Therewith
Part 4 out of 7
"But if you don't like a person you ought to have a reason."
"You don't always. It's just a feeling, an instinct like dogs have. I've
an instinct against Mr. Mayer--he's not the real thing."
Chrystie sat forward in the chair.
"That's exactly what I'd say he was, and everybody else says so, too."
"On the outside--yes, I didn't mean that. I meant deep down. I don't
think he's real straight through--it's all varnish and glitter. Of course
I don't mind his coming here the way he does; we don't see him often and
he's amusing and pleasant. But I wouldn't like him to be on a friendly
footing. In fact he never could be--I wouldn't let him."
It was the voice of authority. Chrystie felt its finality, and guided by
her own inner distress and the hopelessness of revolt, said sharply:
"And yet you wouldn't mind Mark Burrage being on a friendly footing."
"Mark Burrage!" There was something ludicrous in Lorry's face, full
of surprise under the overpowering hat. "What has Mark Burrage to
do with it?"
Chrystie climbed somewhat lumberingly out of the chair. Her movements
were dignified, her tone sarcastic.
"Oh, nothing, nothing. Only if Mr. Mayer is so far below your standard
I'm wondering where Mr. Burrage comes in." She stretched a long arm and
snatched the hat. "Excuse me," she said with brusque politeness, setting
it on her own head and turning to the glass, "but I really must be going.
Only a salamander could live comfortably in this house."
Lorry was startled. Her sister's face, deeply flushed, showed an intense
"I don't understand you. You can't make a comparison between those two
men. They're as different as black and white."
"They certainly are," said Chrystie, driving a long pin through the hat.
"Or chalk and cheese, or brass and gold, or whatever else stands for the
real thing and the imitation."
"What's the matter with you, Chrystie? Are you angry?"
"Me?" She gave a glance from under her lifted arm. "Why should I
"I don't know but--" An alarming thought seized Lorry, and she
moved nearer. It was preposterous, but after all girls took strange
fancies, and Chrystie was no longer a child. "You don't _care_ for
Boyé Mayer, do you?"
It was the propitious moment, but Chrystie was now as far from telling as
if she had taken an oath of silence. What Lorry had already said was
enough, and the tone in which she asked the question was the finishing
touch. If she thought her sister had fallen in love with Fong, she
couldn't have appeared more shocked and incredulous.
"Care for him?" said Chrystie, pulling out the bureau drawer and clawing
about in it for her gloves. "Well, I care for him in some ways, and then
I don't care for him in other ways."
"I don't mean that, I mean _really_ care."
"Do you mean, am I _in love_ with him?"
Her eye on Lorry was steady and questioning, also slightly scornful.
Lorry was abashed by it; she felt that she ought not to have asked, and
in confusion stammered, "Yes."
Chrystie moved to the bed and threw on her furs. Her ill-humor was gone,
though she was still a little scornful and rather grandly forbearing. Her
manner suggested that she could condone this in Lorry owing to her
relationship and the honesty of her intention.
"Dearest Lorry, you talk like an old maid in a musical comedy. In love
with him? How I wish I could be! At my age every self-respecting girl
ought to be in love--they always are in books. But try as I will, I
can't seem to manage it. I guess I've got a heart of stone or perhaps
it's been left out of me entirely. Good-by, the heartless wonder's going
for her walk."
She ended on a laugh, a little strident, and crossed the room, perfume
shaken from her brilliant clothes. Outside the door she broke into a song
that rose above her scudding flight down the stairs.
Lorry's momentary uneasiness died. Chrystie, as a woman of ruses and
deceptions, was a thing she could not at this stage accept.
They met in the plaza and saw the Greek Church and then sat on a bench
under a tree and talked. They were so secure in the little park's
isolation that they gave their surroundings no attention. That was why a
woman crossing it was able to draw near, stand for a watching moment,
skirt the back of their bench, and pass on unnoticed. She was the same
woman who had seen them at that earlier meeting in Union Square.
During that month the new operetta at the Albion had been put on and had
fallen flat. There was a good deal of speculation as to the cause of the
failure, and it was rumored that the management set it down to Miss
Lopez. She had slighted her work of late, been careless and indifferent.
Nobody knew what was the matter with her. She scorned the idea of ill
health, but she looked worn out and several times had given vent to
savage and unreasonable bursts of temper. She was too valuable a woman to
quarrel with, and when the head of the enterprise suggested a rest--a
week or two in the country--she rejected the idea with an angry
repudiation of illness or fatigue.
Crowder was there on the first night and went away disturbed. He had
never seen her give so poor a performance; all her fire was gone, she was
mechanical, almost listless. Her public was loyal though puzzled, and the
papers stood by her, but "What's happened to Pancha Lopez? How she _has_
gone off!" was a current phrase where men and women gathered. Behind the
scenes her mates whispered, some jealously observant, others more kindly,
concerned and wondering. Gossip of a love affair was bandied about, but
died for lack of confirmation. She had been seen with no one, the
methodical routine of her days remained unchanged.
For her the month had been the most wretched of her life. Never in the
hard past had she passed through anything as devastating. Those trials
she had known how to meet; this was all new, finding her without defense,
naked to unexpected attack. Belief and dread had alternated in her,
ravaged and laid her waste. After the manner of impassioned women she
would not see, clung to hope, had days, after a letter or a message from
Mayer, when she had almost ascended to the top of the golden moment
again. Then there was silence, a note of hers unanswered, and she fell,
sinking into darkling depths. Once or twice, waking in the night or
waiting for his knock, she had sudden flashes of clear sight. These left
her in a frozen stillness, staring with wide eyes, frightened of herself.
The process of enlightenment had been gradual. Mayer wanted no scenes, no
annoying explanations; there was to be no violent moment of severance. To
accomplish his withdrawal gracefully, he put himself to some trouble.
After that first letter he waylaid her at the stage door one night, and
walked part of the way home with her. He had been kind, friendly,
brotherly--a completely changed Mayer. She felt it and refused to
understand, walking at his side, trying to be the old, merry Pancha.
It was at this time that she received her father's letter from Farleys.
Weeks had passed since she had heard from him, and when she saw his
writing on the envelope she realized that she had almost forgotten him.
The thought left her cold, but when she read the homely phrases she was
moved. In a moment of extended vision she saw the parents' tragedy--the
love that lives for the child's happiness and is powerless to create
it. He would have died for her and she would have thrust him aside,
pushed him pleading from her path, to follow a man a few months before
After that she endured a week without a word from Mayer, and then,
unable to sleep or work, telephoned to his hotel. In answer to her
question the switchboard girl said Mr. Mayer had not been out of town at
all for the last two weeks. She asked to speak with him and heard his
voice, sharp and cold. He couldn't talk freely over the wire; he would
rather she didn't call him up; his out-of-town business had been
postponed, that was all.
"Why are you mad with me?" she breathed, trying to make her voice steady.
"I am not," came the answer. "Please don't be fanciful. And _don't_ call
me up here, I don't like it. I'll be around as soon as I can, but I've a
lot to do, as I've already told you several times. Good-by."
She had sent the call from a telephone booth, and carefully, with a slow
precision, she hung up the receiver. A feeling of despair, a stifling
anguish, seized her and she began to cry. Shut into the hot, small place,
she broke into rending sobs, her head bent, her hands gripped, rocking
back and forth. Small, choked sounds, whines and cries came from her, and
fearful of being heard, she pressed her hands against her mouth, looking
up, looking down, an animal distracted in its unfamiliar pain.
The following day he wrote to her, excused himself, said he had been
worried on business matters and sent her flowers. She buoyed herself up
and once more tried to believe, but her will had been weakened. From
lower layers of consciousness the truth was forcing its way to
recognition, yet she still ignored it. Realization of her state if she
admitted it made her afraid and her fight had the fierceness of a
struggle for life. It was only in the night--awake in the dumb dark--that
she could not escape it. Then, staring at the pale square of the window,
she heard her voice whispering:
"What will I do? What will become of me?"
In all her miserable imaginings and self-queries the thought that she had
been supplanted had no place. Mayer had often spoken to her of his social
diversions and no woman had ever figured in them. The paragraphs which
still appeared about him touched on no feminine influences. It was her
fault; she had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Had she not
always wondered that he should have cared for her? On close acquaintance
he had found her to be what she was--common, uneducated, impossible. At
first she had tried to hide it and then it had come out and he had been
repelled. It was not till the afternoon, aimlessly walking to ease her
pain, when she saw him again with the blonde-haired girl, that the
thought of another woman entered her mind.
That night Crowder, after watching the last act from the back of the
house, resolved to see her and find out what was wrong. He had been
talking to the manager in the foyer and the man's sulky discontent
alarmed him. If Pancha didn't buck up she'd lose her job.
She was at the dressing table in her red kimono when he came in. The
grease was nearly all off and with her front hair drawn back from
her forehead, her face had a curiously bare, haggard look. As he
entered she glanced up, not smiling, and saw the knowledge of her
failure in his eyes.
For a moment she looked at him, grave and sad, confessing it. The
expression caught at his heart, and he had nothing to say, turning away
from her to look for a chair.
She picked up the rag and went on wiping her face.
"Well," she said in a brisk voice, "I wasn't on the job tonight, was I?"
Reassured by her tone, he sat down and faced her.
"No, you weren't. It wasn't a good performance, Panchita. I've always
told you the truth and I've got to go on doing it."
"Go ahead, you're not telling me anything I don't know. I've got my
finger on the pulse of this house. I know every rise and fall of its
temperature. But I can't always be up in G, can I?"
"No, but you can't stay down at zero too long."
"It was as bad as that, was it?"
"Yes, it was bad."
She dropped her hand to the edge of the dressing table and looked at it.
Her face, with the hair strained back, the rouge gone, looked withered
and yellow. Crowder eyed it anxiously.
"Say, Panchita, you're sick."
"Sick? Forget it! I never was better in my life."
"Then why are you off your work--why do you act as if you didn't care?"
"Can't I have a part I hate? Can't I get weary of this old joint with its
smoke and its beer? God!" She began to pull the pins out of her hair and
fling them on the dresser. "I'm human--I've got my ups and downs--and you
keep forgetting it."
"That's just what I'm not forgetting."
"Stop talking about me--I'm sick of it," she cried, and snatching up the
comb began tearing it through her hair.
"It's nerves," said Crowder. "Everything shows it. The way you're combing
your hair does."
"If you don't let me alone I'll put you out--all of you nagging and
picking at me; a saint couldn't stand it!" Crowder rose, but she whirled
round on him, the comb held out in an arresting hand. "No, don't go yet.
I'll give you another chance. I want to ask you something. I saw a woman
the other day and I want to know who she is--at least I don't really want
to know, but she'll do as well as anything else to change the subject.
Tall with yellow sort of dolly hair and a dolly face. Dark purple dress
with black velvet edges, lynx furs and a curly brimmed hat with a green
paradise plume falling over one side."
Crowder's face wrinkled with a grin.
"Well, that's funny! You might have asked me forty others and I'd not
have known. But thanks to your vivid description I _can_ tell you--I
saw her yesterday afternoon in those very togs. It's the youngest
"One of the two daughters of George Alston. They're orphans, live in a
big house on Pine Street. The one you saw was Chrystie. What do you want
to know about her?"
Pancha, gathering her hair in one hand, began to whisk it round into a
knot. Her head was down bent.
"I don't know--just curiosity. She's sort of stunning looking. Did you
ever meet her?"
"I know them well--have for over a year. Awfully nice girls--the
Pancha lifted her head, her face sharp with interest.
"What's she like?"
He considered, the smile softened to an amused indulgence.
"Oh, just a great big baby, good-natured and jolly. Everybody likes
her--you couldn't help it if you tried. She's so simple and sweet,
accepts the whole world as if it was her friend. Her money hasn't spoiled
her a bit."
"Money--she has money?"
"To burn, my dear. She's rich."
Pancha took up a hand glass and turning her back to him studied her
profile in the mirror. It did not occur to Crowder that he never before
had seen her do such a thing.
"Rich, is she?" she murmured. "How rich?"
"Something like four hundred thousand dollars; her father was one of the
Virginia City crowd. Chrystie's just come into her part of the roll.
Eighteen years old and an heiress--that's a good beginning."
"Um--must be a queer feeling. I guess the men are around the honey thick
Crowder screwed up his eyes considering.
"No, they're not--not yet anyhow. Until this winter the girls lived so
retired--didn't know many people, kept to themselves. Now they've broken
out and I suppose it's only a matter of time before the flies gather, and
if you asked me I'd say they'd gather thickest round Chrystie. She hasn't
as much character or brains as Lorry, but she's prettier and jollier, and
after all that's what most men like."
"It certainly is, especially with four hundred thousand thrown in for
The hand holding the glass dropped to her lap. She sat still for a
moment, then without turning told him to go; she was tired and wanted to
get home. It did not even strike him as odd that she never looked at him,
just flapped a hand over her shoulder and dismissed him with a short
When he had gone she sat as he had left her, the mirror still in her lap.
The gas jet flamed in its wire cage, and so silent was the room that a
mouse crept out from behind the baseboard, spied about, then made a
scurrying dart across the floor. Her eye caught it, slid after it, and
she moved, putting the glass carefully on the dresser. The palms of her
hands were wet with perspiration and she rubbed them on the skirt of her
kimono and rose stiffly, resting for a moment against the back of her
chair. She had a sick feeling, a sensation as if her heart were
dissolving, as if the room looked unfamiliar and much larger than usual.
When she put on her clothes she did it slowly, her fingers fumbling
stupidly at buttons and hooks, her mouth a little open as if breathing
MARK PAYS A CALL
Mark Burrage saw the winter pass and only went once to the Alstons and
then they were not at home. He had refused three invitations to the house
and after the ignominous event at the Albion received no more. When he
allowed himself to think of that humiliating evening he did not wonder.
But, outside of his work, he allowed himself very little thinking. All
winter he had concentrated on his job with ferocious energy. The older
men in the office had a noticing eye on him. "That fellow Burrage has got
the right stuff in him, he'll make good," they said among themselves. The
younger ones, sons of rich fathers who had squeezed them into places in
the big firm, regarded his efforts with indulgent surprise. They liked
him, called him "Old Mark," and were a little patronizing in their
friendliness: "He was just the sort who'd be a grind. Those ranch chaps
who had to get up at four in the morning and feed the 'horgs' were the
devil to work when they came down to the city. Even law was a cinch after
Sometimes at night--his endeavor relaxed for a pondering moment--he
studied the future. The outlook might have daunted a less resolute
spirit. A great gap yawned between the present and the time when he could
go to Lorry Alston and say, "Let me take care of you; I can do it now."
But he figured it out, bridged the gap, knew what one man had done
another man could do. He reckoned on leaving the office next year and
setting up for himself, and grim-visaged, mouth set to a straight line,
he calculated on the chances of the fight. Its difficulties braced him to
new zeal and in the strain and stress of the struggle his youthful
awkwardness wore away, giving place to a youthful sternness.
No one guessed his hopes and high aspiration, not even his friend
Crowder. When Crowder rallied him about this treatment of the Alstons he
had been short and offhand--didn't care for society, hadn't time to waste
going round being polite. He left upon Crowder the impression that the
Alston girls did not interest him any more than any other girls. "Old
Mark isn't a lady's man," was the way Crowder excused him to Chrystie. Of
course Chrystie laughed and said she had no illusions about that, but
whatever kind of a man he was he ought to take some notice of them, no
matter how dull and deadly they were. Crowder, realizing his own
responsibility--it was he who had taken Mark to the Alston house--was
kind but firm.
"It's up to you to go and see those girls. It's not the decent thing to
drop out without a reason. They've gone out of their way to be civil to
you, and you know, old chap, they're _ladies_"
Mark grunted, and frowning as at a disagreeable duty said he'd go.
It took him some weeks to get there. Twice he started, circled the house,
and tramped off over the hills. The third time he got as far as the front
gate, weakened and turned away. After long abstinence the thought of
meeting Lorry's eyes, touching her hand, created a condition of turmoil
that made him a coward; that, while he longed to enter, drew him back
like a sinner from the scene of his temptation. Then an evening came
when, his jaw set, his heart thumping like a steam piston, he put on his
best blue serge suit, his new gray overcoat, even a pair of mocha gloves,
and went forth with a face as hard as a stone.
Fong opened the door, saw who it was and broke into a joyful grin.
"Mist Bullage! Come in, Mist Bullage. No see you for heap long time,
"I've been busy," said the visitor. "Hadn't much time to come around."
Fong helped him off with the gray overcoat.
"You work awful hard, Mist Bullage. Too hard, not good. You come here and
have good time. Lots of fun here now. You come."
He moved to hang the coat on the hatrack, and, as he adjusted it, turned
and shot a sharp look over his shoulder at the young man.
"All men who come now not like you, Mist Bullage."
There was something of mystery, an odd suggestion of withheld meaning, in
the old servant's manner that made Mark smile.
"How are they different--better or worse?"
Fong passed him, going to the drawing-room door. His hand on the knob, he
turned, his voice low, his slit eyes craftily knowing.
"Ally samey not so good. I take care Miss Lolly and Miss Clist--_I_ look
out. _You_ all 'ight, _you_ come." He threw open the door with a flourish
and called in loud, glad tones, "Miss Lolly, Miss Clist, one velly good
fliend come--Mist Bullage."
At the end of the long room Mark was aware of a small group whence issued
a murmur of talk. At his name the sound ceased, there was a rising of
graceful feminine forms which floated toward him, leaving a masculine
figure in silhouette against the lighted background of the dining room.
He was confused as he made his greetings, touched and dropped Lorry's
hand, tried to find an answer for Chrystie's challenging welcome. Then he
switched off to Aunt Ellen in her rocker, groping at knitting that was
sliding off her lap, and finally was introduced to the man who stood
waiting, his hands on the back of his chair.
At the first glance, while Lorry's voice murmured their names, Mark
disliked him. He would have done so even if he had not been a guest at
the Alstons, complacently at home there, even if he had not been in
evening dress, correct in every detail, even if the hands resting on the
chair back had not shown manicured nails that made his own look coarse
and stubby. The face and each feature, the high-bridged, haughty nose,
the eyes cold and indolent under their long lids, the thin, close line of
the mouth--separately and in combination--struck him as objectionable
and repellent. He bowed stiffly, not extending his hand, substituting for
the Westerner's "Pleased to meet you," a gruff "How d'ye do, Mr. Mayer."
Before the introduction, Mayer, watching Mark greeting the girls, knew he
had seen him before but could not remember where. The young man in his
neat, well fitting clothes, his country tan given place to the pallor of
study and late hours, was a very different person from the boy in shirt
sleeves and overalls of the ranch yard. But his voice increased Mayer's
vague sense of former encounter and with it came a faint feeling of
disquiet. Memory connected this fellow with something unpleasant. As Mark
turned to him it grew into uneasiness. Where before had he met those
eyes, dark blue, looking with an inquiring directness straight into his?
They sank into chairs, everyone except Aunt Ellen, seized by an inner
discomfort which showed itself in a chilled constraint. Mayer, combing
over his recollections, the teasing disquiet increasing with every
moment, was too disturbed for speech. The sight of Lorry had paralyzed
what little capacity for small talk Mark had. She looked changed, more
unapproachable than ever in a new exquisiteness. It was only a more
fashionable way of doing her hair and a becoming dress, but the young man
saw it as a growing splendor, removing her to still remoter distances.
She herself was so nervous that she kept looking helplessly at Chrystie,
hoping that that irrepressible being would burst into her old-time
sprightliness. But Chrystie had her own reasons for being oppressed. The
presence of Mayer, paying no more attention to her than he did to Aunt
Ellen, and the memory of him making love to her on park benches, gave her
a feeling of dishonesty that weighed like lead.
It looked as if it was going to be a repetition of one of those evenings
in the past before they had "known how to do things," when Fong caused a
diversion by appearing from the dining room bearing a tray.
To regale evening visitors with refreshments had been the fashion in
Fong's youth, so in his old age the habit still persisted. He entered
with his friendly grin and set the tray on a table beside Lorry. On it
stood decanters of red and white wine, glasses, a pyramid of fruit and a
cake covered with varicolored frosting.
Nobody wanted anything to eat, but they turned to the tray with the
eagerness of shipwrecked mariners to an oyster bed. Even Aunt Ellen
became animated, and looking at Mark over her glasses said:
"Have you been away, Mr. Burrage?"
No, Mr. Burrage had been in town, very busy, and, the hungriest of all
the mariners, he turned to the tray and helped Lorry pour out the wine.
The ladies would take none, so the filled glass was held out to Mayer.
"Claret!" he said, leaning forward to offer the glass.
As he did so he was aware of a slight, curious expression in the face
he had disliked. The eyelids twitched, the upper lip drew down tight
over the teeth, the nostrils widened. It was a sudden contraction and
then flexing of the muscles, an involuntary grimace, gone almost as
soon as it had come. With murmured thanks, Mayer stretched his hand and
took the wine.
It had all come back with the offered glass. A glance shot round the
little group showed him that no one had noticed; they were cutting and
handing about the cake. He refused a piece and found his stiffened lips
could smile, but he was afraid of his voice, and sipped slowly, forcing
the wine down the contracted passage of his throat. Then he stole a look
at Mark, clumsily steering a way between the chairs to Aunt Ellen who
wanted some grapes. The fellow hadn't guessed--hadn't the faintest
suspicion--it was incredible that he should have. It was all right
but--he raised his hand to his cravat, felt of it, then slipped a finger
inside his collar and drew it away from his neck.
Through a blurred whirl of thought he could hear Aunt Ellen's voice.
"I've wanted to see you for a long time, Mr. Burrage. You come from that
part of the country and I thought you'd know."
Then Mark's voice:
"Know what, Mrs. Tisdale?"
"About that Knapp man's story. Didn't you tell us your ranch was up near
the tules where those bandits buried the gold?"
"Aunt Ellen's been so excited about that story, she couldn't talk of
"And why not?" said Aunt Ellen. "It's a very unusual performance. Two
sets of thieves, one stealing the money and burying it and another coming
along and finding it."
Chrystie, diverted from her private worries by this exciting subject,
bounced round toward Mark with something of her old explosiveness.
"Why, you were up there at the time--the first time I mean. Don't you
remember you told us that evening when you were here. And you said people
thought the bandits had a cache in the chaparral. Why didn't any of you
think of the tules?"
"Stupid, I guess," said Mark. "Not a soul thought of them. And it was an
A1 hiding-place. Besides the duck shooters, nobody ever goes there."
"But somebody _did_ go there," came from Aunt Ellen with a knowing nod.
They laughed at that, even Mr. Mayer, who appeared only languidly
interested, his eyes on the film of wine in the bottom of his glass.
"Who do you suppose it could have been?" asked Chrystie.
"A duck shooter, probably." This was Mr. Mayer's first contribution to
Mark was exceedingly pleased to be able to correct this silent and
"No, it couldn't have been. The duck season doesn't open till September
fifteen, and Knapp said when they went back in six days the cache was
empty." He turned to Chrystie. "I've often wondered if it could have been
a man I saw that afternoon."
As on that earlier visit his knowledge of the holdup had made him an
attractive center, so once again he saw the girls turn expectant eyes on
him, Aunt Ellen forget her grapes, and even the strange man's glance
shift from the wineglass and rest, attentive, on his face.
"It was a tramp. He stopped late that afternoon at my father's ranch
which gives on the road and asked for a drink of water. I gave it to
him and watched him go off in the direction of the trail that leads to
the tules. Of course it would have been an unusual thing for him to
have tried to get across them, but he might have done it and stumbled
on the cache."
"Could he have--isn't it all water?" Lorry asked.
"There's a good deal of solid land and here and there planks laid across
the deeper streams. There _is_ a sort of trail if you happen to know it
and a tramp might. It's part of his business to be familiar with the
short cuts and easiest ways round."
"What was he like?" said Chrystie.
"A miserable looking fellow--most of them are--all brown and dusty with a
straggly beard. There was one thing about him that I noticed, his voice.
It was like an educated man's--a sort of echo of better days."
Aunt Ellen found this very absorbing and she and Chrystie had questions
to ask. Fong's entrance for the tray prevented Lorry from joining in. As
the Chinaman leaned down to take it, she whispered to him to open a
window, the room was hot. Her eye, touching Mr. Mayer, had noticed that
he had drawn out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead which shone with
a thin beading of perspiration. No one heard the order, and Fong, after
opening the window, carried the tray into the dining room and left it on
the table. When Lorry turned to the others, Mark had proved to Aunt Ellen
that the gentleman tramp was a recognized variety of the species, and
Chrystie had taken up the thread.
"Did your people up there know anything about him? Did they think he
was the man?"
"None of them saw him. After Knapp's story came out I wrote up and asked
them but no one round there remembered him."
"Would you know him again if you saw him?"
"If I saw him in the same clothes I would, but"--he smiled into
Chrystie's eager face--"I'm not likely to do that. If it's he, he's got
twelve thousand dollars and I guess he's spent some of it on a shave and
a new suit."
Here Mr. Mayer, moving softly, turned to where the tray had stood. It was
gone, and, gracefully apologetic, he rose--he wanted to put down his
glass and get a drink of water. His exit from the group put a temporary
stop to the conversation, chairs were in the way, and Aunt Ellen let her
grapes fall on the floor. Mark, scrabbling for them, saw Lorry rise and
press an electric bell on the wall; she had remembered there was no water
on the tray. Mayer, moving to the dining room, did not see her, and
called back over his shoulder:
"Your American rooms are a little too warm for a person used to the cold
storage atmosphere of houses abroad."
He said it well, better than he thought he could, for he was stifled by a
sudden loud pounding of his heart. To hide his face and steady himself
with a draught of wine was what he wanted. A moment alone, a moment to
get a grip on his nerves, would be enough. With his back toward them he
leaned against the table and lifted a decanter in his shaking hand. As he
did so, Fong entered through a door just opposite.
"Water for Mr. Mayer, Fong," came Lorry's voice from the room beyond.
The voice and Fong's appearance, coming simultaneously, abrupt and
unexpected, made Mayer give a violent start. His hand jerked upward,
sending the wine in a scattering spray over the cloth. Fong made no
move for the water, but stood looking from the crimson stain to the
"You sick, Mist Mayer?" he said.
The strained tension snapped. With an eye if steel-cold fury on the
servant the man broke into a low, almost whispered, cursing. The words
ran out of his mouth, fluent, rapid, in an unpremeditated rush. They were
as picturesque and malignantly savage as those with which he had cursed
the tules; and suddenly they stopped, checked by the Chinaman's
expression. It was neither angry or alarmed, but intently observant, the
eyes unblinking--an imperturbable, sphinx-like face against which the
flood of rage broke, leaving no mark.
Mayer took up the half-filled glass and drained it, the servant watching
him with the same quiet scrutiny. He longed to plant his fist in the
middle of that unrevealing mask, but instead tried to laugh, muttered an
explanation about feeling ill, and slid a five-dollar gold piece across
To his intense relief Fong picked it up, dropped it into the pocket of
his blouse, and without a word turned and left the room.
No one had noticed the little scene. When Mayer came back the group was
on its feet, Mark having made a move to go.
There were handshakes and good-nights, and Burrage and Lorry moved
forward up the long room. Aunt Ellen took the opportunity of slipping
through a side door that led to the hall, and Chrystie and her lover
faced each other among the empty chairs.
With his eye on the receding backs of the other couple, Mayer said,
hardly moving his lips:
"When can I see you again? Tomorrow at the Greek Church at four?"
She demurred as she constantly did. At each station in the clandestine
courtship he had the same struggle with the same faltering uncertainty.
But, after tonight, the time for humoring her moods was past. What he had
endured during the last hour showed in a haggard intensity of expression,
a subdued, fierce urgence of manner. Chrystie looked at him and looked
away, almost afraid of him. He was staring at her with an avid waiting as
if ready to drag the answer out of her lips. She fluttered like a bird
under the snake's hypnotic eye.
"I can't," she whispered; "I'm going out with Lorry."
"Oh, Boyé, I don't know--I have so many things to do."
He had difficulty in pinning her down to a date, but finally succeeded
five days off. In his low-toned insistence he used a lover's language,
terms of endearment, tender phrases, but her timorous reluctance roused a
passion of rage in him. He would have liked to shake her; he would have
liked to swear at her as he had at Fong.
A WOMAN SCORNED
After the conversation with Crowder, Pancha was very quiet for several
days. She spoke only the necessary word, came and went with feline
softness, performed her duties with the precision of a mechanism. Her
stillness had a curious quality of detachment; she seemed held in a
spell, her eye, suddenly encountered, blank and vacant; even her voice
was toneless. She reacted to nothing that went on around her.
All her vitality had withdrawn to feed the inner flame. Under that dead
exterior fires blazed so high and hot that the shell containing them was
empty of all else. They had burned away pride and reason and conscience;
they were burning to explosive outbreak. The girl had no consciousness of
it; she only felt their torment and with the last remnant of her will
tried to hide her anguish. Then came a day when the shell cracked and the
fires burst through.
Unable to bear her own thoughts, weakened by two sleepless nights, she
telephoned to the Argonaut Hotel and said she wanted to speak to Mr.
Mayer. The switchboard girl answered that he was in and asked for her
name. On Pancha's refusal to give it, the girl had crisply replied that
Mr. Mayer had left orders no one was to speak with him unless he knew
the name. Pancha gave it and waited. Presently the answer came--"Very
sorry, Mr. Mayer doesn't seem to be there--thought he was in, but I
guess I was wrong."
This falsehood, contemptuously transparent, act of final dismissal, was
the blow that broke the shell and let the fire loose. Such shreds of
pride and self-respect as remained to the wretched girl were shriveled.
She put on her hat and coat, and tying a thick veil over her face, went
across town to the Argonaut Hotel.
It was the day after Mayer had met Mark at the Alstons'. He too had not
slept, had had a horrible, harassing night. All day he had sat in his
rooms going over the scene, recalling the young man's face, assuring
himself of its unconsciousness. But he was upset, jarred, his security
gone. Luxury had corroded his already wasted and overdrawn forces; the
habits of idleness weakened his power to resist. One fact stood out in
his mind--he must carry the courtship with Chrystie to its conclusion,
and arrange for their elopement. Sprawled in the armchair or pacing off
the space from the bedroom door to the window he planned it. One or two
more interviews with her would bring her to the point of consent, then
they would slip away to Nevada; he would marry her there and they would
go on to New York. It ought not to take more than a week, at the longest
ten days. If he had had any other woman to deal with--not this spiritless
fool of a girl--he could manage it in a much shorter time. All he had to
do was to make a last trip to Sacramento and get what was left of the
money and that could be done in a day.
A knock at the door made him start. Any sound would have made him start
in the state he was in, and a knock called up nightmare visions of
Burrage, police officers, Lorry Alston--there was no end to his alarms.
Then he reassured himself--a package or the room boy with towels--and
called out "Come in."
At the first glance he did not know who it was. Like a woman in a novel
a female, closely veiled, entered without greeting and closed the door.
When she raised the veil and he saw it was Pancha Lopez he was at once
relieved and exasperated. Her manner did not tend to remove his
irritation. Leaning against the table, her face very white, she looked
at him without speaking. Had not the sight of her just then been
extremely unwelcome, the melodrama of the whole thing--the veil, the
pallid face, the dramatic silence--would have amused him. As it was he
looked anything but amused, rising from the armchair, his brows drawn
together in an ugly frown.
"What on earth brings you here?" was his greeting.
"You," she answered.
Her voice, husky and breathless, matched the rest of the crazy
performance. He saw an impending scene, and under his anger had a
feeling of grievance. This was more than he deserved. He gave her an
"That's very flattering, I'm sure, and I'm highly honored. But, my dear
Pancha, pardon me if I say I don't like it. It's not my custom to see
ladies up here."
"Don't talk like that to me, Boyé," she said, the huskiness of her tone
deepening. "Don't put on style and act like you didn't know me. We're
"Answer for yourself, Pancha. Believe me, I'm not at all past conforming
to the usages of civilized people." He had moved back to the fireplace,
and leaning against the mantel waited for her to reply. As she did not do
so, he said, "Let me repeat, I don't like your coming here."
Her eyes, level and fixed, were disconcerting. To avoid them he turned to
the mantel and took up a cigarette and matches lying there.
"Then why don't you come to see me?" she said.
"Teh--Teh!" He put the cigarette between his teeth and struck the match
on the shelf. "Haven't I told you I'm busy?"
"Yes, you've _told_ me that."
"You've told me lies."
"Thank you." He was occupied lighting the cigarette.
"Why, when I telephoned an hour ago and gave my name, did you say you
He affected an air of forbearance.
"Because I happened to be out."
"Boyé, that's another lie."
He threw the match into the fireplace and turned his eyes on her full of
a steely dislike.
"Look here, Pancha. You've bothered me a lot lately, calling me up,
nagging at me about things I couldn't help. I'm not the kind of man that
likes that; I'm not the kind that stands it. I've been a friend of yours
and hope to stay so, but--"
She cut him off, her voice trembling with passion.
"_Friend_--you a friend! _You_ who do nothing but put me off with
lies--who are trying to shake me, throw me away like an old shoe!"
Her restraint was gone. With her shoulders raised and her chin thrust
forward, the thing she had been, and still was--child of the lower
depths, bred in its ways--was revealed to him. It made him afraid of her,
seeing possibilities he had not grasped before. What he had thought to be
harmless and powerless might become one more menacing element in the
dangers that surrounded him. His natural caution put a check upon his
anger. He tried to speak with a soothing good humor.
"Now, my dear girl, don't talk like that. It's not true in the first
place, it's stupid in the second, and in the third it only tends to make
bad feeling between us that there's no cause for."
"Oh, yes, there's cause, lots of cause."
He found her steady eyes more discomfiting than ever, and looking at his
"Panchita, you're not yourself. You're overworked and overwrought,
imagining things that don't exist. Instead of standing there slanging me
you ought to go home and take a rest."
She paid no attention to this suggestion, but suddenly, moving
"What did you do it for, Boyé?"
"Make love to me--make me think you loved me. Why did you come? Why did
you say what you did? Why did you kiss me? Why, when you saw the way I
felt, did you keep on? What good was it to you?"
To gain a moment's time, and to hide his face from her haggard gaze, he
turned and put the cigarette carefully on the stand of the matchsafe. He
found it difficult to keep the soothing note in his voice.
"Why--why--why? I don't see any need for these questions? What _did_ I
do? A kiss! What's that? And you talk as if I'd ceased to care for you.
Of course I haven't. I always will. I don't know anyone I think more of
than I do of you. That's why I want you to go. You don't look well, and
as I told you before, it's not the right thing for you to be here."
She was beside him and he laid his hand on her arm, gentle and
persuasive. She snatched the arm away, and with a small, feeble fist
struck him in the chest and gasped out an epithet of the people.
For a still moment they stood looking at one another. Both faces showed
that bitterest of antagonisms--the hate of one-time lovers. She saw it
in his and it increased her desperation, he in her's, and in the uprush
of his anger he forgot his fear. She spoke first, her voice low, her
breathing loud on the room's stillness.
"You could fool me once, but it's too late now. There's no coming over me
any more with soft talk."
"Then I'll not try it. Take it from me straight. I've come to the end of
my patience. I've had enough of you and your exactions."
"Oh, you needn't tell me _that_," she cried. "I know it, and I know why.
I know the secret of _your_ change of heart, Mr. Boyé Mayer."
She saw the alarm in his face, the sudden arrested attention.
"What are you talking about?" he said, too startled to feign
"Oh, you thought no one was on," she cried, backing away from him, "but
_I_ was. I've been for the past month. Four hundred thousand dollars!
Think of it, Boyé! You're getting on in the world. Some difference
between that and an actress at the Albion."
If Pancha had still cherished a hope that she might have been mistaken,
the sight of Mayer's rage would have extinguished it. He made a step
toward her, hard-eyed, pale as she was.
"You're mad. That's what's the matter with you. I might have known it
when you came. Now go--I don't want any lunatics here."
She stood her ground and tried to laugh, a horrible sound.
"You don't even like me to know that. Won't even share a secret with
me--me, the friend that you care for so much."
"Go!" he thundered and pointed to the door.
"Not till I hear more, I'm curious. Is it just the money, or would you
like the lady even if she hadn't any?"
Exasperated beyond reason he made a pounce at her and caught her by the
arm. This time his grasp was too strong for her to shake off. His fingers
closed on the slender stem and closing shook it.
"Since you won't go, I'll have to help you," he breathed in his fury.
She squirmed in his grip, trying to pull his fingers away with her free
hand, and in this humiliating fashion felt herself drawn toward the door.
It was the last consummate insult, his superior strength triumphing. If
he had loosed her she would have gone, but anything he did she was bound
to resist, most of all his hand upon her. That, once the completest
comfort, was now the crowning ignominy.
As he pushed her, short sentences of savage hostility flashed between
them, sparks struck from a mutual hate. Hers betrayed the rude beginnings
she had tried to hide, his the falseness of his surface finish. It was as
if for the first time they had established a real understanding. At
grips, filled with fury, they attained a sudden intimacy, the hidden self
of each at last plain to the other.
The scene was interrupted in an unexpected and ridiculous manner--the
telephone rang. As the bell whirred he stopped irresolute, his fingers
tight on her arm. Then, as it rang again, he looked at her with a sort of
enraged helplessness, and made a movement to draw her to the phone. An
outsider would have laughed, but the two protagonists were beyond comedy,
and glared at one another in dumb defiance. Finally, the bell filling the
room with its clamor, there was nothing for it but to answer. With grim
lips and a murderous eye on his opponent, Mayer dropped her arm, and
going to the phone, took down the receiver. From the other end,
plaintive and apologetic, came Chrystie's voice.
Pancha retreated to the door, opened it and came to a halt on the sill.
Out of the corner of his eye he was aware of her watching him, a baleful
figure. He feared to employ the tenderness of tone necessary in his
conversations with Chrystie, and as he listened and made out that she
wanted to break her next engagement, he turned and fastened a gorgon's
glance on the woman in the doorway, jerking his head in a gesture of
She answered it with ominous quiet, "When I've finished. I've just one
more thing to say."
In desperation he turned to the mouthpiece and said as softly as he
"Wait a minute. The window's open and I can't hear. I must shut it," then
put the receiver against his chest and muttered:
"Do you want me to kill you?"
"Not yet--after I get square you can. I won't care then what you do. But
I've got to get square and I'm going to. There's Indian in me and that's
the blood that doesn't forget. And there's something else you don't
know--yes, there _was_ something I never told you. I've someone to fight
my fights and hit my enemies, and if I can't get you, they can. Watch
out and see."
She retreated, closing the door. Mayer had to resume his conversation
with the blood drumming in his ears, uplift Chrystie's flagging spirit,
and shift their engagement to another day. When it was over he fell on
the sofa, limp and exhausted. He lay there till dinner time, thinking
over what Pancha had said, and what she could do, assuring himself it was
only bluff, the impotent threatenings of a discarded woman. He felt
certain that the champion she had alluded to was her one-time admirer,
the bandit. This being the case, there was nothing to be feared from
him, in hiding in the wilderness. It would be many a day before he'd
venture forth. But the girl herself, full of venom, burning with the
sense of her wrongs, was a new factor in the perils of his position.
Stronger now than ever was this conviction that he must hurry his schemes
to their climax.
THEREBY HANGS A TALE
That same evening the audience at the Albion had a disappointment. At
half past eight the manager appeared before the curtain and said that
Miss Lopez was ill and could not appear. As they all knew, she had been
an unremitting worker, had given them of her best, and in her love of her
art and her public had worn herself out and suffered a nervous breakdown.
A week or two of rest would restore her, and meantime her place would be
taken by Miss Lottie Vere.
The audience, not knowing what was expected of them, applauded and then
looked at one another in aggrieved surprise. They felt rather peevish,
for they had come to regard Pancha Lopez as a permanent institution
devised for their amusement. They no more expected her to fail them than
the clock in the Ferry Tower to be wrong. Charlie Crowder heard it at the
_Despatch_ office next morning--Mrs. Wesson, who picked up local news
like a wireless, met him on the stairs and told him.
"I'm glad she's given in at last," said the good-natured society
reporter. "She's been running down hill for the past month, and if she'd
kept on much longer she'd have run to the place where you jump off."
That afternoon Crowder went round to see her. There was no use phoning,
the Vallejo was still in that archaic stage where the only telephone was
in the lower hall and guests were called to it by the clerk. Besides, you
never could tell about a girl like Pancha; she was half a savage, liable
to lie curled up in a corner and never think of a doctor.
He found her on the sofa in her sitting-room, a box of crackers and a
bottle of milk on the table, a ragged Navajo blanket over her feet. When
she saw who it was she sat up with a cry of welcome, her wrapper falling
loose from her brown neck. She looked very ill, her eyes dark-circled and
sunken in her wasted face.
He sat beside her on the sofa's edge--she was so thin there was plenty
of room--and taking her hand held it while he tried to hide the concern
that seized him. After the first sentence of greeting she fell back on
the crumpled pillow, and lay still, the little flicker of animation
"Well, well, Panchita," he said, patting her hand, a kindly awkward
figure hunched up in his big overcoat; "this is something new for you."
She made an agreeing movement with her head, her glance resting where it
fell, too languid to move.
"I seem to be all in," she murmured.
"Just played out?"
"Looks that way."
"I didn't know till this morning--Mrs. Wesson told me. How did it
"I don't know, I got all weak. It was last night."
"At the theater?"
"No, here, in my room. I kept feeling worse and worse, but I thought I
could pull through. And then I knew I couldn't and I got down to the
phone some way and told them. And then I came back here and--I don't
know--I sort of broke to pieces."
As she completed the sentence tears suddenly welled into her eyes and
began to run, unchecked, in shining drops down her cheeks. She drew her
hand from Crowder's and turning on her side placed it and its fellow
over her face and wept, a river of tears that came softly without sobs.
Crowder was overwhelmed. He had never thought his friend could be so
broken, never had imagined her weak as other women, bereft of her
"Oh, Pancha," he said, unutterably distressed, "you poor girl! I'm so
sorry, I'm so awfully sorry." He crooned over her in his rough man's
tenderness, stroking her hair. "You've worked yourself to the bone. You
ought to have given in sooner, you've kept it up too long."
Her voice came smothered through the shielding hands:
"It's not that, Charlie, it's not that."
This surprised him exceedingly. That any other cause than overwork could
so reduce her had never occurred to him. Had she some ailment--some
hidden suffering--preying on her? He thought of the Indian's stoicism and
was filled with apprehension.
"Well, then, what is it?" he asked. "Are you ill?"
She moved her head in silent negation.
"But if it isn't work, it must be something. A girl as strong as you
doesn't collapse without a reason."
She dropped her hands and sat up. Her face was brought on a level
with his, the swollen eyes blinking through tears, the mouth twisted
"It's pain, it's pain, Charlie," she quavered.
"Then you _are_ sick," he said, now thoroughly alarmed.
"No--it's not my body, it's my heart. It's here." She clasped her hands
over her heart, and suddenly closing her eyes rocked back and forth. "A
little while ago I was so happy. I never was like that before--every
minute of the day lovely. And then it was all changed, it all ended. I
couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it. I kept saying 'it'll come all
right, nothing so awful could happen to anyone.' But it could--it did.
And it's that that's made me this way--to be so full of joy and then to
have it snatched away. It's too much, Charlie. Even I couldn't stand
it--I who once thought nothing could beat me."
Crowder had had a wide experience in exhibitions of human suffering, but
he had never seen anything quite like this. Tenderness was not what was
needed, and, his eyes stern on her working face, he said with quiet
"Pancha, I don't get what this means. Now, like a good girl, tell me.
I've got to know."
Then and there, without more urging, she told him.
She told her story truthfully as far as she went, but she did not go to
the end. All the preceding night, the interview with Mayer, had repeated
itself in her memory, bitten itself in in every brutal detail. Hate
trailed after it a longing to repay in kind and she saw herself impotent.
The threat of her father's championship, snatched at in blind rage, she
knew meant nothing, the boast of "getting square" was empty. Subtlety was
her only weapon and now in her confession to Crowder she employed it.
What she told of Mayer's conduct was true, but she did not tell what to
her was a mitigating circumstance--the counter-attraction of Chrystie.
The lure of money was to this child of poverty an excuse for her lover's
desertion. Even Crowder, her friend, might condone a transfer of
affection from Pancha Lopez to the daughter of George Alston. So the
young man, hearing the story ended, saw Mayer as Pancha intended him
to--a blackguard, breaking a girl's heart for pastime.
"The dog!" he muttered. "The cur! Why didn't you tell me? I'd have sized
him up for you."
"I believed him, I thought it was true. And I was afraid you'd
interfere--tell me it was all wrong."
The young man shifted his eyes from her face and stifled a comment. It
was no time now to reproach her. There was a moment's silence and then
she broke out into the query, put so often to herself, put to Mayer,
tormenting and inexplicable.
"Why did he do it--why did he begin it? It was he who came, sought me
out, gave me flowers. He'd come whenever I'd let him--and he was so
interested, couldn't hear enough about me. There wasn't any little thing
in my life he didn't want to know. Every man who'd ever come near me he'd
want me to tell him about, he'd just _hound_ me to tell him. What made
him do it? Was it all a fake from the beginning, and if it was did he do
it just for sport?"
Crowder had no answer for these plaints. He was deeply moved, shocked and
indignant, more than he let her see. "An ugly business, a d----d ugly
business," he growled, his honest face overcast with sympathy, his hand,
big and not over clean, lying on hers.
"Never mind, old girl," he said; "we'll pull you out, we'll get you on
your feet again. We've got to do that before we turn our attention to
him. I guess he's got a weak spot and I'll find it before I'm done. Who
is he, anyway--where does he come from--what's he doing here? He's too
d----d reserved to come out well in the wash. You keep still and leave
the rest to me. I'm not your old pal for nothing."
But his encouragement met with no response. Her heart unburdened, she
lapsed into apathy and dropped back on the pillow, her spurt of
He lighted the light and tried to make her eat, but she pushed away the
glass of milk he offered and begged him to let her be. So there was
nothing for it but to make her as comfortable as he could, draw the table
to her side, straighten the Navajo blanket and get another pillow from
the bedroom. Tomorrow morning he would send in a doctor and on his way
out stop at the office and leave a message for the chambermaid to look in
on her during the evening. She answered his good-by with a nod and a
slight, twisted smile, the first he had seen on her face.
"Lord!" he thought as he closed the door, "she looks half dead. How I'd
like to get my hooks into that man!"
Downstairs he gave the clerk instructions and left a tip for the
chambermaid--a doctor would come in the morning and he would look in
himself in the course of the day. She was to want for nothing; if there
was any expense he'd be responsible. On the way up the street he bought
fruit, magazines and the evening papers and ordered them sent to her.
The next morning he found time to drop into the Argonaut Hotel for a chat
with Ned Murphy. The chat, touching lightly on the business of the place,
drifted without effort to Mr. Mayer, always to Ned Murphy, an engaging
topic. Crowder went away not much the wiser. Mayer, if a little offish,
was as satisfactory a guest as any hotel could ask for--paid his bill
weekly, always in gold, gave no trouble, and lived pretty quiet and
retired, only now and then going to the country on business. What the
business was Ned Murphy didn't know--he'd been off five times now,
leaving in the morning and coming back the next day. But he wasn't the
kind to talk--you couldn't get next him. It was evident that Ned Murphy
took a sort of proprietary pride in the stately unapproachableness of the
In the shank of the afternoon, Crowder, at work in the city room, was
called to the phone. The person speaking was Mark Burrage and his
communication was mysterious and urgent. The night before, in a curious
and unexpected manner, he had received some information of a deeply
interesting nature upon which he wanted to consult Crowder. Would Crowder
meet him at Philip's Rotisserie that evening at seven and arrange to come
to his room afterward for an hour? The matter was important, and Crowder
must hustle and fix it if it could be done. Crowder said it could, and,
shut off from further parley by an abrupt "So long," was left wondering.
THE CHINESE CHAIN
What Mark had heard was, as he had said, interesting. It had been
imparted in an interview as startling as it was unexpected, which had
taken place in his room the evening before.
He was sitting by the table reading, the radiance of a green droplight
falling over the litter of papers and across his shoulder to the page of
his book. The room, at the back of the house, had been chosen as much for
its quiet as its low rent. A few of his own possessions relieved the
ugliness of its mean furnishings, and it had acquired from his occupancy
a lived-in, comfortable look. Two windows at the back framing the night
sky were open, and the soft April air flowed in upon an atmosphere,
smoke-thickened and heated with the lamplight.
Interruptions were unusual--a call to the telephone in the lower hall, a
rare visitor, Crowder or a college friend. This was why, when a knock
fell on the door, he looked up, surprised. It was an unusual knock, soft
and low, not like the landlady's irritated summons, or Crowder's brusque
rat-tat. In answer to his "Come in," the door swung slowly back and in
the aperture appeared Fong.
He wore the Chinaman's outdoor costume, the dark, loose upper garment
fastening tight round the base of the throat, the short, wide trousers,
and on his head a black felt hat. Under the brim of this his face wore an
expression of hesitating inquiry as if he were not sure of his reception.
"Why, hello!" said Mark, dropping his book in surprise; "it's Fong!"
The old man, his hand on the doorknob, spoke with apologetic gentleness.
"I want see you, Mist Bullage--you no mind if I come in? I want see you
and talk storlies with you."
"First-rate, come ahead in and take a seat."
Closing the door noiselessly Fong moved soft-footed to a chair beside the
table. Here, taking off his hat and putting it in his lap, he fixed a
look on Burrage that might have been the deep gaze of a sage or the
vacant one of a child. The green-shaded lamp sent a bright, downward gush
of light over his legs, its mellowed upper glow shining on his forehead,
high and bare to his crown. He had the curious, sexless appearance of
elderly Chinamen; might have been, with his tapering hands, flowing coat,
and hairless face, an old, monkey-like woman.
"Well," said Mark, stretching a hand for his pipe, thinking his visitor
had come to pay a friendly call, "I'm glad to see you, Fong, and I'm
ready to talk all the storlies you want. So fire away."
Fong considered, studying his hat, then said slowly:
"You velly good man, Mist Bullage, and you lawyer. You know what to
do--I dunno no one same likey you. Miss Lolly and Miss Clist two young
ladies--not their business. And Missy Ellen"--he paused for a second and
gave a faint sigh--"Missy Ellen velly fine old lady, but no sense. My
old boss's fliends most all dead, new lawyers take care of his money.
They say to me, 'Get out, old Chinaman!' But you don't say that. So I
come to you."
Mark's hand, extended to the tobacco jar at his elbow, fell to the chair
arm; the easy good humor of his expression changed to attention.
"Oh, you've come for advice. I'll be glad to help you any way I can.
Let's hear the trouble."
Again the Chinaman considered, fingering delicately at his hatbrim.
"My old boss awful good to me. He die and no more men in the house. I
take care my boss's children--I care all ways I can. Old Chinaman can't
do much but I watch out. And one man come that I no likey. I know you
good boy, I know all the lest good boys, but Mist Mayer bad man."
"Mayer!" exclaimed Mark. "The man I met there the other night?"
"Ally samey him."
"What do you mean by 'bad'?"
"I come tell you tonight."
"You know something definite against him?"
"Yes. I find out. I try long time--one, two months--and bimeby I get
him. Then he not come for a while and I say maybe he not come any more
and I keep my mouth shut. But when you there last time he come again and
I go tell what I know."
"You've found out something that makes you think he isn't a fit person to
have in the house ?"
"Yes--I go velly careful, no one know but Chinamen. Two Chinamen help
me--one Chinaman get another Chinaman and we catch on. I no tell Miss
Lolly, she too young; I come tell you."
Mark leaned forward, his elbows on his knees.
"Say, Fong, I'm a little mixed up about this. Suppose you go to the
beginning and give me the whole thing. If you and this chain of China
boys have got something on Mayer I want to hear it. I'm not surprised
that you think him a 'bad man,' but I want to know why you do."
What Fong told cannot be given in his own words, recited in his pidgin
English, broken by cautions of secrecy and digressions as to the
impracticability of enlightening his young ladies. It was a story only to
be comprehended by one familiar with his peculiar phraseology, and
understanding the complex mental processes and intricate methods of his
race. Condensed and translated, it amounted to this:
From the first he had doubted and distrusted Mayer. In his dog-like
loyalty to his "old boss," his love for the children that he regarded as
his charge, he had personally studied and, through the subterranean lines
of information in Chinatown, inquired into the character and standing of
every man that entered the house. Sometimes when Mayer was there, he had
stood behind the dining-room door and listened to the conversation in the
parlor. The more he saw of the man the more his distrust grew. Asked why,
he could give no reason; he either had no power to put his intuition into
words, or--what is more probable--did not care to do so.
Two months before the present date a friend of his, member of the same
tong, was made cook in the Argonaut Hotel. This gave him the opportunity
to set in action one of those secret systems of espionage at which the
Oriental is proficient. The cook, confined to his kitchen, became a
communicating link between Fong and Jim, the room boy who attended to
Mayer's apartment. Jim, evidently paid for his services and described as
"an awful smart boy," was instructed to watch Mayer and note anything
which might throw light on his character and manner of life.
To an unsuspecting eye the result of Jim's investigations would have
seemed insignificant. That Mayer gambled and had lost heavily the three
men already knew from the gossip of Chinatown. The room boy's
information was confined to small points of personal habit and behavior.
Among Mayer's effects, concealed in the back of his closet, was a worn
and decrepit suitcase which he always carried when he went on his
business trips. These trips occurred at intervals of about six weeks, and
in his casual allusions to them to Ned Murphy and Jim himself he had
never mentioned their objective point.
It was his habit to breakfast in his room, the meal being brought up on a
tray by Jim and being paid for in cash each morning. For two and
sometimes three days before the trips, Mayer always signed a receipt for
the breakfast, but on his return he again paid in cash. Through a
bellboy, who had admitted Jim to a patronizing intimacy, the astute
Oriental had extended his field of observation. One of this boy's duties
was to carry the mail to the rooms of the guests. For some weeks after
his arrival Mayer had received almost no mail. After that letters had
come for him, but all had borne the local postmark. The boy never
remembered to have seen a letter for Mayer from New York, the city
entered on the register as his home. Through this boy Jim had also
gleaned the information that Mayer invariably paid his room rent in coin.
He had heard Ned Murphy comment on the fact.
From this scanty data Fong and his associates drew certain conclusions.
Mayer had no bank account, but he had plenty of money. Besides his way of
living, his losses at gambling proved it. His funds ran low before his
journeys out of town, suggesting that these journeys were visits to some
source of supply. Arrived thus far they decided to extend their spying.
The next time Mayer left the city Jim was paid to follow him. The room
boy waited for the familiar signs, and when one morning Mayer told him
to bring a check slip for his breakfast, went to the housekeeper and
asked for a leave of absence to visit a sick "cousin." The following day
Jim sat in the common coach, Mayer in the Pullman, of the Overland train.
Alighting at Sacramento the Chinaman followed his quarry into the
depot and saw him enter the washroom, presently to emerge dressed in
clothes he had never seen, though his study of Mayer's wardrobe had
been meticulously thorough. He noted every detail--unshined, brown,
low shoes, an overcoat faded across the shoulders, a Stetson hat with
a sweat-stained band, no collar and a flashy tie. He did not think
that anyone, unless on the watch as he was, would have recognized
Mayer thus garbed.
From there he had trailed the man to the Whatcheer House. Dodging about
outside the window he watched him register at the desk, then disappear in
the back of the office. A few minutes later Jim went in and asked the
clerk for a job. This functionary, sweeping him with a careless cast of
his eye, said they had no work for a Chinaman and went back to his
papers. During the moment of colloquy Jim had looked at the last entry in
the register open before him. Later he had written it down and Fong
handed the slip of paper to Mark. On it, in the clear round hand of the
Chinaman who goes to night school, was written "Harry Romaine,
This brought Fong to the end of his discoveries. Having come upon a
matter so much more momentous than he had expected, he was baffled and
had brought his perplexities to a higher court. His Oriental subtlety had
done its part and he was now prepared to let the Occidental go on from
where he had left off. Mark inwardly thanked heaven that the old man had
come to him. It insured secrecy, meant a carrying of the investigation
to a climax and put him in a position where he could feel himself of use
to Lorry. If to the Chinaman George Alston's house was a place set apart
and sacred, it was to her undeclared lover a shrine to be kept free at
any cost from such an intruder as Mayer. It did not occur to him as
strange that Fong should have chosen him to carry on the good work. In
the astonished indignation that the story had aroused he saw nothing but
the fact that a soiled and sinister presence had entered the home of a
girl, young, ignorant and peculiarly unprotected. Neither he nor Fong
felt the almost comic unusualness of the situation--an infrequent guest
called upon by an old retainer to help run to earth another guest. As
they sat side by side at the table each saw only the fundamental
thing--from separate angles the interests of both converged to the same
At this stage Mark was unwilling to offer advice. They must know more
first, and to that end he told Fong to bring Jim to his room the
following night at eight. Meantime he would think it over and work out
some plan. The next day he sent the phone message to Crowder and that
night told him the story over dinner at Philip's Rôtisserie.
It threw Crowder into tense excitement; he became the journalist on the
scent of a sensation. He was so carried away by its possibilities that he
forgot Pancha's part in the unfolding drama. It was not till they were
walking to Mark's lodging that he remembered and stopped short,
"By Ginger, I'd forgotten! Another county heard from; it's coming in from
So Pancha's experience was added to the case against Mayer, and
breasting the hills, the young men talked it over, Crowder leaping
to quick conclusions, impulsive, imagination running riot, Mark more
judicial, confining himself to what facts they had, warning against
hasty judgments. The talk finally veered to the Alston's and Mark
had a question to ask that he had not liked to put to Fong. He moved
to it warily--did Mayer go to the Alston house often, was he a
"Well, I don't know how constant, but I do know he goes. I've met him
there a few times."
"He hasn't been after either of them--his name hasn't been connected
"Oh, no--nothing like that. He's just one of the bunch that drops in. I
was jollying Chrystie about him the other night and she seemed to dismiss
him in an offhand sort of fashion."
"He oughtn't to go at all. He oughtn't to be allowed inside their doors."
"Right, old son. But there's no good scaring them till we know more. He
can't do them any harm."
"Harm, no. But a blackguard like that calling on those girls--it's
"Right again, and if we get anything on him it's up to us to keep them
out of the limelight. It won't be hard. He only went to their house now
and again as he went to lots of others. If this Chinese story pans out as
promising as it looks, then we can put Lorry wise and tell her to hang
out the 'not at home' sign when Mr. Mayer comes around. But we don't want
to do that till we've good and ample reason. Lorry's the kind that always
wants a reason--especially when it comes to turning down someone she
knows. No good upsetting the girl till we've got something positive to
Mark agreed grudgingly and then they left the Alston sisters, to work out
the best method of discovering what took Boyé Mayer to Sacramento and
what he did there.
Jim proved to be a young, and as Fong had said, "awful smart boy."
Smuggled into the country in his childhood, he spoke excellent English,
interspersed with slang. He repeated his story with a Chinaman's
unimaginative exactness, not a detail changed, omitted or overemphasized.
The young men were impressed by him, intelligent, imperturbable and
self-reliant, a man admirably fitted to put in execution the move they
had decided on. This turned on his ability to insinuate himself into the
Whatcheer House and by direct observation find out the nature of the
business that required an alias and a disguise.
Jim said it could easily be done. By the payment of a small sum--five
dollars--he could induce the present room boy in the Whatcheer House to
feign illness, and be installed as a substitute. The custom among Chinese
servants when sick to fill the vacancy they leave with a friend or
"cousin" is familiar to all Californians. The housewife, finding a
strange boy in her kitchen and asking where he comes from, receives the
calm reply that the old boy is sick, and the present incumbent has been
called upon to take his place. Mayer's last visit to Sacramento had been
made three weeks previously. Arguing from past data this would place the
next one at two or three weeks from the present time. But, during the
last few days, Jim had noticed a change in the man. He had kept to his
room, been irritable and preoccupied, had asked for a railway guide and
been seen by Jim in close study of it. To wait till he made his next trip
meant running the risk of missing him. It would be wiser to go to
Sacramento and be on the spot, even if the time so spent ran to weeks.
The room boy could easily be fixed--another five dollars would do that.
So it was settled. The young men, pooling their resources, would pay
Jim's expenses, ten dollars for the room boy, and a bonus of fifty. If he
brought back important information this would be raised to a hundred.
When he came back he was to communicate with Fong, who in turn would
communicate with Mark, and a date for meeting be set. It was now Monday;
arrangements for his temporary absence from the Argonaut Hotel could be
made the next morning, and he would leave for Sacramento in the
LOVERS AND LADIES
Mayer was putting his affairs in order, preparatory to flight. A final
interview with Chrystie would place him where he wanted to be, and that
would be followed by a visit to Sacramento and a withdrawal of what
remained of his money. He had a little over two thousand dollars left,
enough to get them to New York and keep them there for a month or so in a
good hotel. Before this would be expended he would have gained so
complete an ascendancy over her that the control of her fortune would be
in his hands. Payment of a gambling debt of three hundred and fifty
dollars--owed him now for some weeks--had been promised on the following
Monday. He would go to Sacramento on Saturday or Sunday, get this money
on his return and then all would be ready for his exit.
He went over it point by point, scanning it closely, viewing it in its
full extent, weighing, studying, determined that no detail should be
overlooked. Outwardly his serenity was unruffled; his veiled eye showed
its customary cool indifference, his manner its ironical suavity.
Inwardly he was taut as a racer, his toe to the line, waiting for the
starting signal. There were moments, pacing up and down his room, when he
felt chilled by freezing air currents, as if icebergs might have suddenly
floated down Montgomery Street and come to anchor opposite the hotel.
There were so many unexpected menaces--the man Burrage that he might run
against anywhere, Pancha, a jealous virago--nobody knew what a woman in
that state mightn't do--and Chrystie herself. In the high tension of his
nerves she was indescribably irritating, full of moods, preyed upon by
gnawings of conscience. He had already given her an outline of his plan,
tentatively suggested it--you had to suggest things tentatively to
Chrystie--drawn lightly a romantic picture of their flight on the
Overland to Reno.
They were to leave on Tuesday night, reaching Reno the next morning and
there alighting for the marriage. He had chosen the night train as the
least conspicuous. Chrystie could be shut up in a stateroom and he on
guard outside where he could keep his eye on the door--it was more like a
kidnaping than an elopement. At other times he might have laughed, but he
was far from laughing now. It wasn't someone else's distressing
predicament, it was his own.
When he had explained it he had met with one of those maddening
stupidities of hers that strained his forbearance to the breaking point.
How could she get away without Lorry knowing--Lorry always knew where she
went? She was miserable over it, sitting close against his shoulder on a
bench opposite the Greek Church.
"How about going for a few days to your friends, the Barlows, at San
Mateo?" he had said, his hand folded tight on hers.
"The Barlows!" she exclaimed. "The Barlows haven't asked me."
That was the sort of thing she was always saying and he had to answer
with patient softness.
"I know that, dear one, but why can't you tell Lorry that they have.
They're going to have a dance and a house party and they want you to
come on Tuesday and stay over till, say Thursday or Friday."
She cogitated, looking very troubled. He was becoming used to the
expression, it invariably followed his promptings to falsehood.
"I suppose I could," she murmured.
He pressed the hand tenderly.
"I don't want to urge you to do anything you don't like, but I don't see
what else there is for it. It's not really our fault that we have to run
away--it's Lorry's. You've said yourself that she'd make objections, not
to our way of doing things, but to me."
"She would. I'd have a fight to marry you anyway."
No one was in sight and he raised the gloved hand and pressed it to his
lips. Dropping it he purred:
"We don't want any fights. We don't want our joy marred by bickerings and
Chrystie agreed to that and then muttered in gloomy repudiation of
"I don't see why she feels that way about you. Nobody else does."
"We won't bother about that. She doesn't have to love me. Perhaps later
I'll be able to prove to her that her brother-in-law isn't such a bad
chap after all." He shifted a little closer, flicking up with a
possessive finger a strand of golden hair that had fallen across her
cheek, and murmuring his instructions into the shell pink ear his hand
brushed. "You tell her you've had an invitation from the Barlows to come
down on Tuesday and stay till Friday. Say they're going to have a party.
That being the case you'll take a good-sized trunk. Give the order
yourself to the expressman and tell him to send it to the ferry and when
you get there check it to Reno. Then you leave the house in time to
catch the late afternoon train to San Mateo and as soon as you get out of
sight order your driver to take you to the ferry. You'd better cross at
once and do what waiting you'll have on the Oakland side."
"You'll be there?" she said, stirring uneasily.
"Yes, but I won't speak to you."
"Oh, dear"--it was almost a wail--"how I wish we could be married at home
"My darling, my darling, don't make it any harder for me. You never
wanted anything in your life as much as I want to take your hand and call
you mine before the eyes of the whole world. But it's impossible--you
yourself were the first to say so. We don't want a family row, a scandal,
all in the papers. Love mustn't be dragged through that sort of
She thought so, too; she always agreed with him when he talked of love.
But he had to come down to earth and the Barlows, finding it necessary to
instruct her even in such small matters as how she was to get the letter
from them. She was simply to tell Lorry such a letter had come and she
had answered it, accepting the invitation. It was perfectly
simple--didn't she see?
She saw, her head drooped, telling Lorry about that letter which was
never to arrive and that answer which was never to be written, bringing
back the old, sick qualms. There had to be more inspiring talk of love
before she was brought up to the point where he dared to leave her, felt
his influence strong enough to last till the next meeting. He wondered
irascibly if all home-bred, nice young girls were such fools and realized
why he'd never liked them.
That same afternoon Lorry had a visitor. While Chrystie was walking home,
poised on the edge of the great exploit, at one moment seeing the tumult
left by her flight, at the next that flight, wing and wing, through the
golden future with her eagle mate, Lorry was sitting in the drawing-room
talking to Mark Burrage.
He had not told Crowder that he was going, had not decided to go till
the morning after he had seen Crowder and the two Chinamen. When they
had gone he had sat pondering, and that question which he had not liked
to ask Fong and which he had only tentatively put to his friend, rose,
insistent, demanding a more informed answer. Was this man--more than
objectionable, probably criminal--paying court to Lorry? It was a
horrible idea, that haunted him throughout the night. He recalled
Mayer's manner to her the evening of his visit, and hers to him. Not
that he thought she could have been attracted to the man; she was too
fine, her instincts too true. But on the other hand she was young, so
unlearned in the world's ways, so liable to be duped through her own
innocence. His thoughts swung like a pendulum from point of torment to
point of torment and in the morning he rose, determined on the visit. It
was to satisfy himself and if possible drop a hint of warning. He never
thought of Chrystie. She was a child and on that evening Mayer had
treated her as such, paying her only the scanty meed of attention that
When he started for the house he had entered on a new phase in his
relation to her. He was no longer the humble visitor, overawed by her
riches, but someone whose business it was to watch over and take care of
her. It bridged the gulf between them, swept away artificial
distinctions. He forgot himself, his awkwardness, how he impressed her.
These once important considerations ceased to exist and a man, concerned
about a woman, feeling his obligations to look after her, emerged from
the hobbledehoy that had once been Marquis de Lafayette Barrage.
She saw the change at the first glance. It was in his face, in his
manner, no longer diffident, assured, almost commanding. Their positions
were transformed, she less a fine lady, queening it amid the evidences of
her wealth, than a girl, lonely and uncared for, he the dominating,
masculine presence that her life had lacked. The woman in her, slowly
unfolding in secret potency, felt his ascendancy and bloomed into fuller
being. They were conscious of the constraint and shyness that had been
between them giving place to a gracious ease, of having suddenly
experienced a harmonious adjustment that had come about without effort or
Over the smooth, sweet sense of it they talked on indifferent matter,
items of local importance, small social doings, the Metropolitan Opera
Company which was to open its season on the following Monday night. It
was wonderful how interesting everything was, how they passed from
subject to subject. They had so much to say that the shadows were rising
in the distant end of the room before Mark came to the real matter of
moment. It was proof of the change in him that he did not grope and
blunder to it but brought it forward with one abrupt question.
"Who is Mr. Mayer that I met here the other night?"
"Well--he's just Mr. Mayer--a man from the East who's in California for
his health. That's all I know about him, except that he lived a long time
in Europe when he was a boy and a young man."
"How did you come to meet him?"
"Through Mrs. Kirkham, an old friend of Mother's. She brought him here
and then we asked him to dinner." She paused, but the young man, his eyes
on the ground, making no comment, she concluded with, "Did you think he
He raised his glance to hers and said:
"No--I didn't like him."
Lorry leaned from her chair, her eyebrows lifted, her expression
"Then we have one taste in common--neither do I."
She was surprised to see Mark flush, and his gaze widen to a piercing
fixity. She thought her plain speaking had offended him and hastened to
"I know that isn't a nice thing to say about a guest in your house, and I
don't say it to everybody--only to you. Are you shocked?"
"No, I'm relieved. But I couldn't think you would like him."
"Why? All the other girls do."
"You're not like the other girls. You're--" He stopped abruptly, again
dropped his eyes and said, "He's no good--he's a fake."
"There!" She was quite eager in her agreement. "That's just the
impression he gives me. I felt it the first time I saw him."
"Then why do you have him here?"
The note of reprimand was unconscious, but to the young girl it was plain
and her heart thrilled in response to its authority.
"We needed an extra man for our dinner--the dinner that you refused
to come to."
She laughed at him in roguish triumph, and it was indescribably charming.
He joined in, shame-faced, mumbling something about his work.
"So you see, Mr. Burrage," she said, "in a sort of way it was your
"It's not my fault that he keeps on coming."
"No, I guess that's mine. I ask him and he has to pay a call. He's
_very_ polite about that."
She laughed again, delighted at this second chance, but now he did not
join in. Instead he became gravely urgent, much more so than so slight a
"But look here, Miss Alston, what's the sense of doing that? What's the
sense of having a person round you don't like?"
She gave a deprecating shrug.
"Oh, well, it's not as bad as all that. I have really nothing against
him; he's always entertaining and pleasant and makes things go off well.
It's just my own feeling; I have no reason. I can't discriminate against
him because of that."
Mark was silent. It was hateful to him to hear her blaming herself,
offering excuses for the truth of her instinct. But he had agreed with
Crowder not to tell her, and anyway he had satisfied himself as to her
sentiments--she was proof against Mayer's poisonous charm. At this stage
he could enlighten her no further; all that now remained for him to do
was to give her a hint of that guardianship to which he was pledged.
"It's a big responsibility for you, running a place like this, letting
the right people in and keeping the wrong ones out."
"It is, and I don't suppose I do it very well. It was all so new and I
was so green."
"Well, it's not a girl's job. You ought to have a watch dog. How would
"What would you do--bay on the front steps every time Mr. Mayer came?"
"That's right--show my teeth so he couldn't get at the bell. But, joking
apart, I'd like you to look upon me that way--I mean if you ever wanted
anyone to consult with. You're just two girls--you might need a man's
help--things come up."
The smile died from her lips. She was surprised, gratefully, sweetly
"Oh, Mr. Burrage, that's very kind of you."
"No, it's not. The kindness would be on your side, the way it has been
right along. I'd think a lot of it if you'd let me feel that if you
wanted help or advice, or anything of that kind, you'd ask it of me."
Had she looked at him the impassioned earnestness of his face would have
increased her surprise. But she was looking at the tassel on the chair
arm, drawing its strands slowly through her fingers.
"Perhaps I will some day," she murmured.
"Honest--not hesitate to send for me if you ever think I could be of any
service to you? Will you promise?"
A woman more experienced, more quick in a perception of surface
indications, might have guessed a weightier matter than the young man's
words implied. Lorry took them as they were, feeling only the heart
"Yes, I'll promise," she said.
"Then it's a pact between us. I'll know if you ever want me you'll call
on me. And I'll come; I'll come, no matter where I am."
The room was growing dim, dusk stealing out from its corners into the
space near the long windows where they sat. Their figures, solid and
dark in the larger solidity of the two armchairs, were motionless, and
in the pause following his words, neither stirred or spoke. It was a
silence without embarrassment or constraint, a moment of arrested
external cognizances. Each felt the other as close, suddenly glimpsed
intimate and real, a flash of finer vision that for an instant held them
in subtle communion. Then it passed and they were saying good-by,
moving together into the hall. Fong had not yet lighted the gas and it
was very dim there; Mark had to grope for his hat on the stand. He
touched her hand in farewell, hardly conscious of the physical contact,
heard his own mechanical words and her reply. Then the door opened, shut
and he was gone.
Lorry went upstairs to her own room. Her being was permeated with an
inner content, radiating like light from a center of peace. She closed
her eyes to better feel the comfort of it, to rest upon its infinite
assurance. She had no desire to know whence it rose, did not even ask
herself if he loved her. From a state of dull distress she had suddenly
come into a consciousness of perfect well-being, leaving behind her a
past where she had been troubled and lonely. Their paths, wandering and
uncertain, had met, converging on some higher level, where they stood
together in a deep, enfolding security.
She was still motionless in the gathering dusk when Chrystie entered the
room beyond, filling it with silken rustlings and the tapping of high
heels. Lorry did not know she was there till she came to the open door
and looked in.
"Oh, Lorry, is that you? What are you doing sitting like Patience in a
"I don't know--thinking, dreaming."
Chrystie withdrew with mutterings; could be heard moving about. Suddenly
she exclaimed, "It's a glorious afternoon," and then shut a drawer with a
bang. Presently two short, sharp rings sounded from the hall below and
following them her voice rose high and animated:
"That's the mail. I'll go and see if there's anything exciting."
Lorry heard her turbulent descent of the stairs and came back to a
realization of her environment. In a few minutes Chrystie was in her room
again, a little breathless from her race up the long flight.
"There're only two letters," she called. "One for you and one for me."
Lorry was not interested in letters and made no response, and after a
pause heard her sister's voice, raised in the same vivacious note:
"Mine's from Lilly Barlow. She wants me to come down on Tuesday and stay
over till Friday. They're having a dance."
"A dance--oh, that'll be lovely. When is it to be?"
"Tuesday night. I'm to go down on the evening train and they'll meet me
with the motor."
"I'm so glad--you always have a good time there."
Lorry appeared in the doorway. The room was nearly dark, the last blue
light slanting in through the uncurtained window. By its faint
illumination she saw Chrystie's face in the mirror, glum and unsmiling.
It was not the expression with which the youngest Miss Alston generally
greeted calls to festivals.
"What's the matter, Chrystie?" she said. "Don't you want to go?"
The girl wheeled round sharply.
"Of course I do. Why shouldn't I? Did you ever know me not want to go
to a dance?"
"Then you'd better write and accept at once. They're probably putting up
other people and they'll want to know if you're coming."
"I'll do it tonight. There's no such desperate hurry; I can phone down.
There's your letter on the bureau."
She threw herself on the bed, a long, formless shape in the shadowy
corner. She lay there without speaking as Lorry took her letter to the
window and read it. It was from Mrs. Kirkham; a friend had sent her a
box for the opera on Tuesday night and she invited both girls. It would
be a great occasion, everybody was going, Caruso was to sing. Lorry
looked up from it, quite dismayed; it was too bad that Chrystie would
miss it. But Chrystie from the darkness of the bed said she didn't care;
she'd rather dance than hear Caruso, or any other singing man--music
bored her anyhow. Lorry left her and went into her own room to write an
acceptance for herself and regrets for her sister.
At nine that night Mark was sitting by his table, his book on his knee,
his eyes on the smoke wreaths that lay across the air in light layers,
when his dreams were broken by a knock on his door. It was his landlady
with a telegram:
"Mother very sick. Pneumonia. Come at once. SADIE."
There was a train for Stockton in half an hour, and he could make the
distance between the town and the ranch by horse or stage. He made a race
for it and at the station, finding himself a few minutes ahead, took a
call for Crowder at the _Despatch_ office and caught him. In a few words
he told him what had happened, that he didn't know how long he might be
away and that if news came from Jim before his return to let him know.
WHAT JIM SAW
The next morning Crowder sent a letter to Fong advising him of Mark's
departure. Should Jim get back from Sacramento within the next few days
he was to communicate with Crowder at the _Despatch_ office. The young
man had no expectation of early news, but he was going to run no risks
with what promised to be a sensation. His journalist's instincts were
aroused, and he was resolved to keep for his own paper and his own
_kudos_ the most picturesque story that had ever come his way. He went
about his work, restless and impatient, seeing the story on the
_Despatch's_ front page and himself made the star reporter of the staff.
He had not long to wait. On Monday morning he was called from the city
room to the telephone. Through the transmitter came the soft and even
voice of Jim; he had returned from Sacramento the night before, and if it
was convenient for Mr. Crowder could see him that afternoon at two in
Portsmouth Square. Mr. Crowder would make it convenient, and Jim's
good-by hummed gently along the wire.
The small plaza--a bit of the multicolored East embedded in the new, drab
West--was a place where Orient and Occident touched hands. There Chinese
mothers sat on the benches watching their children playing at their feet,
and Chinese fathers carried babies, little bunched-up, fat things with
round faces and glistening onyx eyes. Sons of the Orient, bent on
business, passed along the paths, exchanging greetings in a sing-song of
nasal voices, cues braided with rose-colored silk swinging to their
knees. Above the vivid green of the grass and the dark flat branches of
cypress trees, the back of Chinatown rose, alien and exotic: railings
touched with gold and red, lanterns, round and crimson or oblong with
pale, skin-like coverings, on the window ledges blue and white bowls
upholding sheaves of lilies, the rich emblazonry of signs, the thick
gilded arabesques of a restaurant's screened balconies.
Crowder found his man standing by the pedestal on which the good ship
_Bonaventure_ spreads its shining sails before the winds of romance. A
quiet hail and they were strolling side by side to a bench sheltered by a
growth of laurel.
Mayer had appeared at the Whatcheer House the day before at noon. Jim,
crossing the back of the office, had seen him enter, and loitering heard
him tell the clerk that he would give up his room that afternoon as his
base had shifted to Oregon. Then he had gone upstairs, and Jim had
followed him and seen him go into No. 19, the last door at the end of the
hall on the left-hand side.
The hall was empty and very quiet. It was the lunch hour, a time at which
the place was deserted. Arming himself with a duster Jim had stolen down
the passage to No. 19. Standing by the door he could hear Mayer walking
about inside, and then a sound as if he was moving the furniture. With
the duster held ready for use Jim had looked through the keyhole and seen
Mayer with a chisel in his hand, the bed behind him drawn out from the
wall to the middle of the room.
Emboldened by the hall's silence, Jim had continued to watch. He saw
Mayer go to the corner where the bed had stood, lift the carpet and the
boards below it and take from beneath them two canvas sacks. From these
he shook a stream of gold coins--more than a thousand dollars, maybe two.
He let them lie there while he put back the sacks, replaced the boards
and carpet and pushed the bed into its corner. Then he gathered up the
money, rolling some of it in a piece of linen, which he packed in his
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