AT the desk of the De la Pax Mr. Minot learned that for fifteen dollars a da_e might board and lodge amid the splendors of that hotel. Gratefully h_igned his name. One of the negro boys—who had matched coins for him with th_ther boy while he registered—led the way to his room.
It proved a long and devious journey. The Hotel de la Pax was a series o_fterthoughts on the part of its builders. Up hill and down dale the boy led, through dark passageways, over narrow bridges, until at length they arrived a_he door of 389.
"My boy," muttered Minot feelingly, "I congratulate you. Henry M. Stanley i_he flower of his youth couldn't have done any better."
"Yes, suh." The boy threw open the door of a narrow cell, at the farther en_f which a solitary window admitted the well-known Florida sunshine. Mino_tepped over and glanced out. Where the gay courtyard with its green palm_aving, its fountain tinkling? Not visible from 389. Instead Minot saw _arrow street, its ancient cobblestones partly obscured by flourishing grass, and bordered by quaint, top-heavy Spanish houses, their plaster walls _undred colors from the indignities of the years.
"We seem to have strayed over into Spain," he remarked.
The bell-boy giggled.
"Yes, suh. We one block and a half from de hotel office."
"I didn't notice any taxis in the corridors," smiled Minot. "Here—wait _inute." He tossed the boy a coin. "Your fare back home. If you get strande_n the way, telegraph."
The boy departed, and Minot continued to gaze out. Directly across from hi_indow, looking strangely out of place in that dead and buried street, stood _reat stone house tr at bore on its front the sign "Manhattan Club and Grill."
On the veranda, flush with the sidewalk and barely fifteen feet away, a hug_ed-faced man sat deep in slumber.
Many and strange pursuits had claimed the talents of old Tom Stacy, manager o_he Manhattan Club, ere his advent in San Marco. A too active distric_ttorney had forced the New York police to take a keen interest in his lif_nd works, hence Mr. Stacy's presence on that Florida porch. But such trouble_ere forgot for the moment. He slumbered peacefully, secure in the knowledg_hat the real business of the club would not require his attention unti_arkness fell. His great head fell gradually farther in the direction of hi_enerous waist, and while there is no authentic evidence to offer, it is saf_o assume that he dreamed of Broadway.
Suddenly Mr. Stacy's head took another tilt downward, and his Panama ha_lipped off to the veranda floor. To the gaze of Mr. Minot, above, there wa_evealed a bald pate extensive and gleaming. The habitual smile fled fro_inot's face. A feeling of impotent anger^ filled his soul. For a bald hea_ould recall but one thing —Jephson.
He strode from the window, savagely kicking an innocent suit-case that got i_is way. What mean trick was this fate had played him as he entered San Marco?
To show to him the one girl in all her glory and sweetness, to thrill hi_hrough and through with his discovery—and then to send the girl scurrying of_o announce her engagement to another man! Scurvy, he called it. But scurvie_till, that it should be the very engagement he had hastened to San Marco t_ring to its proper close—"I do," and Mendelssohn.
He sat gloomily down on the bed. What could he do? What save keep his word, given on the seventeenth floor of an office building in New York? No man ha_et had reason to question the good faith of a Minot. His dead father, at th_eginning of his career, had sacrificed his fortune to keep his word, and gon_ack with a smile to begin all over again. What could he do?
Nothing, save grit his teeth and see the thing chrough. He made up his mind t_his as he bathed and shaved, and prepared himself for his debut in San Marco.
So that, when he finally left the hotel and stepped out into San Sebastia_venue, he was cheerful with a dogged, boystood-on-the-burning-dec_heerfulness.
A dozen negroes, their smiles reminiscent of tooth powder advertisements, vainly sought to cajole him into their shaky vehicles. With difficulty h_voided their pleas, and strolled down San Marco's main thoroughfare. On ever_ide clever shopkeepers spread the net for the eagle on the dollar. Jewelers'
shops flashed, modistes hinted, milliners begged to present their lates_reations.
He came presently to a narrow cross street, where humbler merchants catered t_he Coney instinct that lurks in even the most affluent of tourists. Ther_audy souvenir stores abounded. The ugly and inevitable alligator, fallen fro_is proud estate to fireside slipper, wallet, cigar case, umbrella stand, photograph album and Lord-knows-what, was head-lined in this street. Pictur_ost-cards hung in flocks, tin-type galleries besought, news-stands, soda- water fountains and cheap boarding-houses stood side by side. And, every fe_eet, Mr. Minot came upon "The Oldest House in San Marco."
On his way back to the hotel, in front of one of the more dazzling modiste'_hops, he saw a limousine drawn up to the curb, and in it Jack Paddock, frien_f his college days. Paddock leaped blithely from the machine and grasped Dic_inot by the hand.
"You here?" he cried.
"Foolish question," commented Mr. Minot.
"Yes, I know," said Mr. Paddock. "Been here so long my brain's a littl_labby. But I'm glad to see you, old man."
"Same here." Mr. Minot stared at the car. "I say, Jack, did you earn tha_riting fiction?"
"I'm not writing much fiction now," he replied. "The car belongs to Mrs. Hele_ruce, the wittiest hostess in San Marco." He came closer. "My boy," h_onfided, "I have struck something essentially soft. Some time soon, in a roo_ith all the doors and windows closed and the weatherstrips in place, I'l_hisper it to you. I've been dying to tell somebody." "And the car—"
"Part of the graft, Dick. Here comes Mrs. Bruce now. Did I mention she was th_ittiest —of course I did. Want to meet her? Well, later then. You're at th_ax, I suppose. See you there."
Mr. Minot moved on from the imminence of Mrs. Bruce. A moment later th_imousine sped by him. One seat was generously filled by the wittiest hostes_n San Marco. Seated opposite her, Mr. Paddock waved an airy hand. Life ha_lways been the gayest of jokes to Mr. Paddock.
Life was at the moment quite the opposite to Dick Minot. He devoted the nex_our to sad introspection in the lobby. It was not until he was on his way i_o dinner that he again saw Cynthia Meyrick. Then, just outside the dining- room door, he encountered her, still all in white, lovelier than ever, in he_heek a flush of excitement no doubt put there by the most important luncheo_f her life. He waited for her to recognize him—and he did not wait in vain.
"Of course. In the hurry of this noon I quite overlooked an introduction. _m—"
"Miss Cynthia Meyrick. I happen to know because I met his lordship in Ne_ork. May I ask—was the luncheon—"
"Quite without a flaw. So you know Lord Harrowby?"
"Er—slightly. May I offer my very best wishes?"
"So good of you."
Formal, formal, formal. Was that how it must be between them hereafter? Well, it was better so. Miss Meyrick presented her father and her aunt, and that di_ot tend to lighten the formality. Icicles, both of them, though stock_uffing icicles. Aunt inquired if Mr. Minot was related to the Minots o_etroit, and when he failed to qualify, at once lost all interest in him. Ol_pencer Meyrick did not accord him even that much attention.
Yet—all was not formal, as it happened. For as Cynthia Meyrick moved away, sh_hispered: "I must see you after dinner—on important business." And her smil_s she said it made Minot's own lonely dinner quite cheery.
At seven in the evening the hotel orchestra gathered in the lobby for it_ightly concert, and after the way of orchestras, it was almost ready to begi_hen Minot left the dining-room at eight. Sitting primly in straight backe_hairs, an audience gathered for the most part from the more inexpensiv_ostelries waited patiently. Presumably these people were there for an hou_ith music, lovely maid. But it was the gowns of more material maids tha_nterested the greater number of them, and many drab little women sat makin_urtive mental notes that should while away the hours conversationally whe_hey got back to Akron or Terre Haute.
Minot sat down in a veranda chair and looked out at the courtyard. In th_plendor of its evening colors, it was indeed the setting for romance. In th_idst of the green palms and blooming things splashed a fountain which migh_ell have been the one old Ponce de Leon sought. On three sides the lighte_owers and turrets of that huge hotel climbed toward the bright, warm souther_ky. A dazzling moon shamed Mr. Edison's lamps, the breeze came tepid from th_ea, the very latest in waltzes drifted out from the gorgeous lobby. Her_omance, Minot thought, must have been born.
"Mr. Minot—I've been looking everywhere—"
She was beside him now, a slim white figure in the dusk—the one thing lackin_n that glittering picture. He leaped to meet her.
"Sitting here dreaming, I reckon," she whispered, "of somebody far away."
"No." He shook his head. "I leave that to the newly engaged."
She made no answer. He gave her his chair, and drew up another for himself.
"Mr. Minot," she said, "I was terribly thoughtless this noon. But you mus_orgive me—I was so excited. Mr. Minot—I owe you—"
She hesitated. Minot bit his lip savagely. Must he hear all that again? Ho_uch she owed him for his service—for getting her to that luncheon i_ime—that wonderful luncheon—
"I owe you," finished the girl softly, "the charges on that taxi."
It was something of a shock to Minot. Was she making game of him?
"Don't," he answered. "Here in the moonlight, with that waltz playing, and th_ld palms whispering—is this a time to talk of taxi bills?"
"But—we must talk of something—oh, I mean —I insist. Won't you please tell m_he figure?"
"All the time we were together this morning, I talked figures—the figures o_he face of a watch. Let us find some pleasanter topic. I believe Lor_arrowby said you were to be married soon?"
"Next Tuesday. A week from to-morrow."
"In Sa1l Marco?"
"Yes. Tt breaks auntie's heart that it can't be in Detroit. Lord Harrowby i_er triumph, you see. But father can't go north in the winter— ind Alla_ishes to be married at once."
Minot was thinking hard. So Harrowby was auntie's triumph? And was he no_ynthia Meyrick's as well? He would have given much to be able to inquire.
Suddenly, with the engaging frankness of a child, the girl asked:
"Has your engagement ever been announced, Mr. Minot?"
"Why—er—not to my knowledge," Minot laughed. "Why?"
"I was just wondering—if it made everybody feel queer. The way it makes m_eel. Ever since one o'clock—I ought never to say it—I've felt as thoug_verything was over. I've seemed old! Old!" She clenched her fists, and spok_lmost in terror. "I don't want to grow old. I'd hate it."
"It was here," said Minot softly, "Ponce de Leon sought the fountain of youth.
When you came up I was pretending the one splashing out there was that ver_ountain itself—"
"If it only were," the girl cried. "Oh—you could never drag me away from it.
But it isn't. It's supplied by the San Marco Water Works, and there's a mete_icking somewhere, I'm sure. And now—Mr. Minot—"
"I know. You mean the thirty-five dollars I paid our driver. I wish you woul_rite me a check. I've a reason."
"Thank you. I wanted to—so much. I'll bring it to you soon."
She was gone, and Minot sat staring into the palms, his lips firm, his hand_ripping the arms of his chair. Suddenly, with a determined leap, he was o_is feet.
A moment later he stood at the telegraph counter in the lobby, writing in bol_lowing characters a message for Mr. John Thacker, on a certain seventeent_loor, New York.
"I resign. Will stay on the job until a substitute arrives, but start him whe_ou get this.
The telegram sent, he returned to his veranda chair to think. Thacker would b_pset, of course. But after all, Thacker's claim on him was not such that h_ust wreck his life's happiness to serve him. Even Thacker must see that. An_he girl—was she madly in love with the lean and aristocratic Harrowby? Not b_ny means, to judge from her manner. Next Tuesday—a week. What couldn't happe_n a— Minot stopped. No, that wouldn't do, either. Even if a substitut_rrived, he could hardly with honor turn about and himself wreck the hopes o_hacker and Jephson. He lost, either way. It was a horrible mix-up. He curse_eneath his breath.
The red glow of a cigar near by drew closer as the smoker dragged his chai_cross the veranda floor. Minot saw behind the glow the keen face of a ma_ager for talk.
"Some scene, isn't it?" said the stranger. "Sort of makes the musical comedie_ook cheap. All it needs is seven stately chorus ladies walking out fro_ehind that palm down to the left, and it would have Broadway lashed to th_ast."
"Yes," replied Minot absently. "This is the real thing."
"I've been sitting here thinking," the other went on. "It doesn't seem to m_his place has been advertised right. Why, there are hundreds of people u_orth whose windows look out on sunset over the brewery—people with money, too —who'd take the first train for here if they realized the picture we'r_ooking at now. Get some good hustler to tell 'em about it—" He paused. "_ate to talk about myself, but say— ever hear of Cotrell's Ink Eraser? Nothin_ver written Cotrell can't erase. Will not soil or scratch the paper. If th_ords Cotrell has erased were put side by side—"
"Selling it?" Minot inquired wearily.
"No. But I made that eraser. Put it on every desk between New York and th_olling Oregon. After that I landed Helot's Bottled Sauces. And the_atterson's Lime Juice. Puckered every mouth in America. Advertising is m_pecialty."
"So I gather."
"Sure as you sit here. Have a cigar. Trimmer is my name—never mind the jokes.
Henry Trimmer. Advertising specialist. Is your business flabby? Does it need _onic? Try Trimmer. Quoting from my letter-head." He leaned closer. "Excuse _ersonal question, but didn't I see you talking with Miss Cynthia Meyrick _hile back?" "Possibly."
Mr. Trimmer came even closer.
"Engaged to Lord Harrowby, I understand."
"I believe so—"
"Young fellow," Mr. Trimmer's tone was exultant, "I can't keep in any longer.
I got a proposition in tow so big it's bursting my brain cells—and it take_ome strain to do that. No, I can't tell you the exact nature of it—but I wil_ay this—to-morrow night this time I'll throw a bomb in this hotel so lou_t'll be heard round the world."
"Not on your life. Advertiser. And I've got something to advertise this ho_ebruary, take it from me. Maybe you're a friend of Miss Meyrick. Well, I'_orry. For when I spring my little surprise I reckon this Harrowby wedding i_oing to shrivel up and fade away."
"You mean to say you—you're going to stop the wedding?"
"I mean to say nothing. Watch me. Watch Henry Trimmer. Just a tip, youn_ellow. Well, I guess I'll turn in. Get some of my best ideas in bed. See yo_ater."
And Mr. Trimmer strode into the circle of light, a fine upstanding figure of _an, to pass triumphantly out of sight among the palms. Dazed, Dick Mino_tared after him.
A voice spoke his name. He turned. The slim white presence again, holdin_oward him a slip of paper.
"The check, Mr. Minot. Thirty-five dollars. Is that correct?"
"Correct. It's splendid. Because I'm never going to cash it—I'm going to kee_t—"
"Really, Mr. Minot, I must say good—"
He came closer. Thacker and Jephson faded. New York was far away. He wa_oung, and the moon was shining—
"—going to keep it—always. The first letter you ever wrote me—"
"And the last, Mr. Minot. Really—I must go. Good night."
He stood alone, with the absurd check in his trembling fingers. Slowly th_emory of Trimmer came back. A bomb? What sort of a bomb?
Well, he had given his word. There was no way out—he must protect ol_ephson's interests. But might he not wish the enemy—success? He stared off i_he direction the advertising wizard had gone.
"Trimmer, old boy," he muttered, "here's to your pitching arm!"