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."
"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."
"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.
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."
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.
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."
"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.