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Chapter 2 AN EVENING IN THE RIVER

  • THOUGH San Marco is a particularly gaudy tassel on the fringe of the tourist'_outh, it was to the north that Mr. Richard Minot first turned. One hour late_e made his appearance amid the gold braid and dignity of the Plaza lobby.
  • The young man behind the desk—an exquisite creature done in Charles Dan_ibson's best manner—knew when to be affable. He also knew when not to b_ffable. Upon Mr. Minot he turned the cold fishy stare he kept for such a_ere not guests under his charge.
  • "What is your business with Lord Harrowby?" he inquired suspiciously.
  • "Since when," asked Mr. Minot brightly, "have  _you_  been in his lordship'_onfidence?"
  • This was the young man's cue to wince. But hotel clerks are notoriously poo_incers.
  • "It is customary—" he began with perfect poise.
  • "I know," said Mr. Minot. "But then, I'm a sort of a friend of his lordship."
  • "A sort of a friend?" How well he lifted his eyebrows!
  • "Something like that. I believe I'm to be best man at his wedding."
  • Ah, yes; that splendid young man knew when to be affable. Affability swampe_im now.
  • "Boy!" he cried. "Take this gentleman's card to Lord Harrowby."
  • A bell-boy in a Zenda uniform accepted the card, laid it upon a silver tray, glued it down with a large New York thumb, and strayed off down gilde_orridors shouting, "Lord Harrowby."
  • Whereat all the pretty little debutantes who happened to be decorating th_cene at the moment felt their pampered hearts go pit-a-pat and, closing thei_yes, saw visions and dreamed dreams.
  • Lord Harrowby was at luncheon, and sent word for Mr. Minot to join him.
  • Entering the gay dining-room, Minot saw at the far end the blond and nobl_ead he sought. He threaded his way between the tables. Although he was a_nusually attractive young man, he had never experienced anything like th_rray of stares turned upon him ere he had gone ten feet. "What the devil'_he matter?" he asked himself. "I seem to be the cynosure of neighboring eyes, and then some." He did not dream that it was because he was passing through _ining-room of democrats to grasp the hand of a lord.
  • "My dear fellow, I'm delighted, I assure you—" Really, Lord Harrowby's fac_hould have paid closer attention to his words. Just now it faile_gnominiously in the matter of backing them up.
  • "Thank you," Mr. Minot replied. "Your lordship is no doubt surprised at seein_e so soon—"
  • "Well—er—not at all. Shall I order luncheon?"
  • "No, thanks. I had a bite on the way up." And Mr. Minot dropped into the chai_hich an eager waiter held ready. "Lord Harrowby, I trust you are not going t_e annoyed by what I have to tell you."
  • His lordship's face clouded, and worry entered the mild blue eyes.
  • "I hope there's nothing wrong about the policy."
  • "Nothing whatever. Lord Harrowby, Mr. Jephson trusts you—implicitly."
  • "So I perceived this morning. I was deeply touched."
  • "It washer—touching." Minot smiled a bit cynically. "Understanding as you d_ow Mr. Jephson feels toward you, you will realize that it is in no sense _eflection on you that our office, viewing this matter in a purely busines_ight, has decided that some one must go to San Marco with you. Some one wh_ill protect Mr. Jephson's interests."
  • "Your office," said his lordship, reflecting. "You mean Mr. Thacker, don'_ou?"
  • Could it be that the fellow was not so slow as he seemed?
  • "Mr. Thacker is the head of our office," smiled Mr. Minot. "It has bee_hought best that some one go with you, Lord Harrowby. Some one who will wor_ight and day to see to it that Miss Meyrick does not change her mind. I—I a_he some one. I hope you are not annoyed."
  • "My dear chap! Not in the least. When I said this morning that I was quite se_n this marriage, I was frightfully sincere." And now his lordship's face, frank and boyish, in nowise belied his words. "I shall be deeply grateful fo_ny aid Lloyds can give me. And I am already grateful that Lloyds has selecte_ou to be my ally."
  • Really, very decent of him. Dick Minot bowed.
  • "You go south to-night?" he ventured.
  • "Yes. On the yacht  _Lileth,_  belonging to my friend, Mr. Martin Wall. Yo_ave heard of him?"
  • "No. I can't say that I have."
  • "Indeed! I understood he was very well-known here. A big, bluff, hearty chap.
  • We met on the steamer coming over and became very good friends."
  • A pause.
  • "You will enjoy meeting Mr. Wall," said his lordship meaningly, "when _ntroduce you to him—in San Marco."
  • "Lord Harrowby," said Minot slowly, "my instructions are to go south wit_ou—on the yacht."
  • For a moment the two men stared into each other's eyes. Then Lord Harrowb_ursed his thin lips and gazed out at Fifth Avenue, gay and colorful in th_ebruary sun.
  • "How extremely unfortunate," he drawled. "It is not my boat, Mr. Minot. If i_ere, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to extend an invitation t_ou."
  • "I understand," said Minot. "But I am to go—invited or uninvited."
  • "In my interests?" asked Harrowby sarcastically.
  • "As the personal conductor of the bridegroom."
  • "Mr. Minot—really—"
  • "I have no wish to be rude, Lord Harrowby. But it is our turn to be a littl_antastic now. Could anything be more fantastic than boarding a yach_ninvited?"
  • "But Miss Meyrick—on whom, after all, Mr. Jephson's fate depends—is already i_lorida."
  • "With her lamp trimmed and burning. How sad, your lordship, if some untowar_vent should interfere with the coming of the bridegroom."
  • "I perceive," smiled Lord Harrowby, "that you do not share Mr. Jephson'_onfidence in my motives."
  • "This is New York, and a business proposition. Every man in New York i_onsidered guilty until he proves himself innocent—and then we move for a ne_rial."
  • "Nevertheless"—Lord Harrowby's mouth hardened—"I must refuse to ask you t_oin me on the  _Lileth."_
  • "Would you mind telling me where the boat is anchored?"
  • "Somewhere in the North River, I believe. I don't know, really."
  • "You don't know? Won't it be a bit difficult— boarding a yacht when you don'_now where to find it?"
  • "My dear chap—" began Harrowby angrily.
  • "No matter." Mr. Minot stood up. "I'll say au revoir, Lord Harrowby—until to- night."
  • "Or until we meet in San Marco." Lord Harrowby regained his good nature. "I'_xtremely sorry to be so impolite. But I believe we're going to be very goo_riends, none the less."
  • "We're going to be very close to each other, at any rate," Minot smiled. "Onc_ore—au revoir, your lordship."
  • "Pardon me—good-by," answered Lord Harrowby with decision.
  • And Richard Minot was again threading his way between awed tables.
  • Walking slowly down Fifth Avenue, Mr. Minot was forced to admit that he ha_ot made a very auspicious beginning in his new role. Why had Lord Harrowb_efused so determinedly to invite him aboard the yacht that was to bear th_ager bridegroom south? And what was he to do now? Might he not discover wher_he yacht lay, board it at dusk, and conceal himself in a vacant cabin unti_he party was well under way? It sounded fairly simple.
  • But it proved otherwise. He was balked from the outset. For two hours, in th_ibrary of his club, in telephone booths and elsewhere, he sought for som_angible evidence of the existence of a wealthy American named Martin Wall an_ yacht called the  _Lileth._  City directories and yacht club year book_like were silent. Myth, myth, myth, ran through Dick Minot's mind.
  • Was Lord Harrowby—as they say at the Gaiety—spoofing him? He mounted to th_op of a bus, and was churned up Riverside Drive. Along the banks of the rive_ay dozens of yachts, dismantled, swathed in winter coverings. Among the fe_hat appeared ready to sail his keen eye discerned no  _Lileth._
  • Somewhat discouraged, he returned to his club and startled a waiter b_emanding dinner at four-thirty in the afternoon. Going then to his rooms, h_xchanged his overcoat for a sweater, his hat for a golf cap. At five-thirty, a spy for the first time in his eventful young life, he stood opposite th_ain entrance of the Plaza. Near by ticked a taxi, engaged for the evening.
  • An hour passed. Lights, laughter, limousines, the cold moon adding it_rilliance to that already brilliant square, the winter wind sighing throug_he bare trees of the park—New York seemed a city of dreams. Suddenly th_hauffeur of Minot's taxi stood uneasily before him.
  • "Say, you ain't going to shoot anybody, are you?" he asked.
  • "Oh, no—you needn't be afraid of that."
  • "I ain't afraid. I just thought I'd take off my license number if you was."
  • Ah, yes — New York! City of beautiful dreams!
  • Another hour slipped by. And only the little taxi meter was busy, winkin_echanically at the unresponsive moon.
  • At eight-fifteen a tall blond man, in a very expensive fur coat whic_mpressed even the cab starter, came down the steps of the hotel. He ordered _imousine and was whirled away to the west. At eight-fifteen and a half Mr.
  • Minot followed.
  • Lord Harrowby's car proceeded to the drive and, turning, sped north betwee_he moonlit river and the manlit apartment-houses. In the neighborhood of On_undred and Tenth Street it came to a stop, and as Minot's car passed slowl_y, he saw his lordship standing in the moonlight paying his chauffeur.
  • Hastily dismissing his own car, he ran back in time to see Lord Harrowb_isappear down one of the stone stairways into the gloom of the park tha_kirts the Hudson. He followed.
  • On and on down the steps and bare wind-swept paths he hurried, until finall_he river, cold, silvery, serene, lay before him. Some thirty yards from shor_e beheld the lights of a yacht flashing against the gloomy background o_ersey. The  _Lileth!_
  • He watched Lord Harrowby cross the railroad tracks to a small landing, an_eap from that into a boat in charge of a solitary rower. Then he heard th_oft swish of oars, and watched the boat draw away from shore. He stood ther_n the shadow until he had seen his lordship run up the accommodation ladde_o the  _Lileth's_  deck.
  • He, too, must reach the  _Lileth,_  and at once. But how? He glanced quickl_p and down the bank. A small boat was tethered near by—he ran to it, but _hain and padlock held it firmly. He must hurry. Aboard the yacht, dancin_mpatiently on the bosom of Hendrick Hudson's important discovery, h_ecognized the preparations for an early departure.
  • Minot stood for a moment looking at the wide wet river. It was February, yes, but February of the mildest winter New York had experienced in years. At th_eashore he had always dashed boldly in while others stood on the sands an_hivered. He dashed in now.
  • The water was cold, shockingly cold. He struck out swiftly for the yacht.
  • Fortunately the accommodation ladder had not yet been taken up; in anothe_oment he was clinging, a limp and dripping spectacle, to the rail of th_Lileth._
  • Happily that side of the deck was just then deserted. A row of outside cabi_oors in the bow met Minot's eye. Stealthily he swished toward them.
  • And, in the last analysis, the only thing between him and them proved to be _arge commanding gentleman, whose silhouette was particularly militant an_hose whole bearing was unfavorable.
  • "Mr. Wall, I presume," said Minot through noisy teeth.
  • "Correct," said the gentleman. His voice was sharp, unfriendly. But th_oonlight, falling on his face, revealed it as soft, genial, pudgy—th_nviting sort of countenance to which, under the melting influence of Scotc_nd soda, one feels like relating the sad story of one's wasted life.
  • Though soaked and quaking, Mr. Minot aimed at nonchalance.
  • "Well," he said, "you might be good enough to tell Lord Harrowby that I'v_rrived."
  • "Who are you? What do you want?"
  • "I'm a friend of his lordship. He'll be delighted, I'm sure. Just tell him, i_ou'll be so kind."
  • "Did he invite you aboard?"
  • "Not exactly. But he'll be glad to see me. Especially if you mention just on_ord to him."
  • "What word?"
  • Mr. Minot leaned airily against the rail.
  • "Lloyds," he said.
  • An expression of mingled rage and dismay came into the pudgy face. It purple_n the moonlight. Its huge owner came threateningly toward the dripping Minot.
  • "Back into the river for yours," he said savagely.
  • Almost lovingly—so it might have seemed to the casual observer—he wound hi_hick arms about the dripping Minot. Up and down the deck they turkey-trotted.
  • "Over the rail and into the river," breathed Mr. Wall on Minot's damp neck.
  • Two large and capable sailormen came at sound of the struggle.
  • "Here, boys," Wall shouted. "Help me toss this guy over."
  • Willing hands seized Minot at opposite poles.
  • "One—two—" counted the sailormen.
  • "Well, good night, Mr. Wall," remarked Minot.
  • "Three!"
  • A splash, and he was ingloriously in the cold river again. He turned to th_ccommodation ladder, but quick hands drew it up. Evidently there was nothin_o do but return once more to little old New York.
  • He rested for a moment, treading water, seeing dimly the tall homes of th_ave dwellers, and over them the yellow glare of Broadway. Then he struck out.
  • When he reached the shore, and turned, the  _Lileth_  was already under way, moving slowly down the silver path of the moon. An old man was launching th_adlocked rowboat.
  • "Great night for a swim," he remarked sarcastically.
  • "L-lovely," chattered Minot. "Say, do you know anything about the yacht that'_ust steamed out?"
  • "Not as much as I'd like ter. Used ter belong to a man in Chicago. Yesterda_he caretaker told me she'd been rented fer the winter. Seen him to-night in _in mill with money to throw to the birds. Looks funny to me."
  • "Thanks."
  • "Man came this afternoon and painted out her old name. Changed it t'
  • _Lileth._  Mighty suspicious."
  • "What was the old name?"
  • "The  _Lady Evelyn._  If I was you, I'd get outside a drink, and quick. Goo_ight."
  • As Minot dashed up the bank, he heard the swish of the old man's oars behind.
  • He ran all the way to his rooms, and after a hot bath and the liqui_efreshment suggested by the waterman, called Mr. Thacker on the telephone.
  • "Well, Richard?" that gentleman inquired.
  • "Sad news. Little Cupid's had a set-back. Tossed into the Hudson when he trie_o board the yacht that is taking Lord Harrowby south."
  • "No? Is that so?" Mr. Thacker's tone was contemplative. "Well, Richard, th_alm Beach Special leaves at midnight. Better be on it. Better go down an_elp the bride with her trousseau."
  • "Yes, sir. I'll do that. And I'll see to it that she has her lamp trimmed an_urning. Considering that her father's in the oil business, that ought not t_e—"
  • "I can't hear you, Richard. What are you saying?"
  • "Nothing—er—Mr. Thacker. Look up a yacht called the  _Lady Evelyn._  Chicag_an, I think— find out if he's rented it, and to whom. It's the boat Harrowb_ent south on."
  • "All right, Richard. Good-by, my boy. Write me whenever you need money."
  • "Perhaps I can't write as often as that. But I'll send you bulletins from tim_o time."
  • "I depend on you, Richard. Jephson must not lose."
  • "Leave it to me. The Palm Beach Special at midnight. And after that—Mis_ynthia Meyrick.