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Chapter 14 AN ORDEAL OR TWO

  • Mr. Robert vows that he will never forgive me for the ten minutes' agony whic_ gratuitously added to his measure. It came about in this wise. I was on m_ay down Seventeenth Street that afternoon, and it was in front of _ashionable apartment house that I met him. He was seated on his box, the whi_t the proper angle, and his eyes riveted on his pair's ears. It was the firs_ime I had seen him since the day of the episode at the police-station. He wa_rowing thin. He did not see me, and he did not even notice me till I stoppe_nd the sound of my heels on the walk ceased. Arms akimbo, I surveyed him.
  • "Well?" I began. I admit that the smile I offered him was a deal like tha_hich a cat offers a cornered mouse.
  • He turned his head. I shall not repeat the word he muttered. It was ver_mproper, though they often refer to it in the Sabbath-schools, always in _ushed breath, however, as though to full-voice it would only fan the flame_till higher.
  • "What have you to say for yourself?" I went on.
  • "Nothing for myself, but for you, move on and let me alone, or when I get th_pportunity, Chuck, I'll punch your head, glasses or no glasses."
  • "Brother-in-law or no brother-in-law."
  • "Chuck, will you go on?"—hoarsely. "I mean it"
  • I saw that he did. "You don't look very happy for a man who has cracked s_remendous a joke."
  • "Will you go along?"
  • "Not till I get good and ready, James. I've told too many lies on your accoun_lready not to make myself a present of this joyful reunion. Has Miss Annesle_ny idea of the imposture?"
  • He did not answer.
  • "How did you like waiting in Scott Circle the other night?"
  • Still no answer. I have half an idea that he was making ready to leap from hi_ox. He ran his fingers up and down the lines. I could see that he was ma_hrough and through; but I enjoyed the scene nevertheless. He deserved _ittle roasting on the gridiron.
  • "I am given to understand," I continued, "that you act as butler, besides, an_ass the soup around the table."
  • Silence. Then I heard a door close, and saw a look of despair grow on hi_ace. I turned and saw Miss Annesley and Mrs. Chadwick coming down the steps.
  • "Why, how do you do, Mr. Henderson? Mrs. Chadwick."
  • "I have already had the pleasure of meeting this famous young orator," purre_rs. Chadwick, giving me her hand. She was a fashionable, not to sa_rilliant, _intrigante_. I knew her to have been concerned indirectly wit_alf a dozen big lobby schemes. She was rather wealthy. But she was see_verywhere, and everywhere was admired. She was as completely at home abroa_s here in Washington. She was a widow, perhaps thirty-eight, handsome an_ascinating, a delightful _raconteur_ , and had the remarkable reputation o_ever indulging in scandal. She was the repository of more secrets than _hould care to discover.
  • I recall one night at a state function when she sat between the Frenc_mbassador and that wily Chinaman, Li Hung Chang. She discoursed on wines i_rench with the ambassador and immediately turned to the Chinaman and recite_onfucius in the original Chinese. Where she had ever found time to stud_hinese is a mystery to every one. The incident made her quite famous tha_inter. Brains are always tolerated in Washington, and if properly directed, push a person a good deal further than wealth or pedigree. Washington forgive_verything but stupidity.
  • Not until recently did I learn that at one time Karloff had been ver_ttentive to her. His great knowledge of American politics doubtless came t_im through her.
  • "Where are you bound?" asked Miss Annesley.
  • "I am on the way to the War Department."
  • "Plenty of room; jump in and we shall drop you there. James, drive to the Wa_epartment."
  • Ordinarily I should have declined, as I generally prefer to walk; but in thi_nstance it would be superfluous to say that I was delighted to accept th_nvitation. I secretly hugged myself as I thought of the driver.
  • "How is Miss Warburton?" asked Miss Annesley, as she settled back among th_ushions.
  • "Beautiful as ever," I replied, smiling happily,
  • "You must meet Miss Warburton, Grace,"—speaking to Mrs. Chadwick, who looke_t me with polite inquiry. "One of the most charming girls in the land, and a_ood as she is beautiful. Mr. Henderson is the most fortunate of young men."
  • "So I admit. She was greatly disappointed that you did not meet her younge_rother." First shot at the groom.
  • "I did expect to meet him, but I understand that he has gone on a huntin_xpedition. Whom does he resemble?"
  • "Neither Nancy nor Jack," I said. "He's a good-looking beggar, though, onl_ou can't depend upon him for five minutes at a time. Hadn't seen the famil_n more than two years. Spends one night at home, and is off again, no on_nows where. Some persons like him, but I like a man with more stability. No_ut what he has his good points; but he is a born vagabond. His brothe_xpects to get him a berth at Vienna and is working rather successfully towar_hat end." I wondered how this bit of news affected the groom.
  • "A diplomat?" said Mrs. Chadwick. "That is the life for a young man wit_rains. Is he a good linguist?"
  • "Capital! Speaks French, German, and Spanish, besides I don't know how man_ndian sign-languages." Now I was patting the groom on the back. I sat facin_he ladies, so it was impossible to see the expression on his face. I kept u_his banter till we arrived at the Department. I bade the ladies good day. _o not recollect when I enjoyed ten minutes more thoroughly.
  • An hour in the shopping district, that is to say, up and down Pennsylvani_venue, where everybody who was anybody was similarly occupied, shopping, nearly took the spine out of our jehu. Everywhere he imagined he saw Nancy.
  • And half a dozen times he saw persons whom he knew, persons he had dined wit_n New York, persons he had met abroad. But true to human nature, they wer_ooking toward higher things than a groom in livery. When there was no mor_oom for bundles, the women started for Mrs. Chadwick's apartments.
  • Said Mrs. Chadwick in French: "Where, in the name of uncommon things, did yo_ind such a handsome groom?"
  • "I _was_ rather lucky," replied Miss Annesley in the same tongue. "Don't yo_ee something familiar about him?"
  • Warburton shuddered.
  • "Familiar? What do you mean?"
  • "It is the groom who ran away with us."
  • "Heavens, no!" Mrs. Chadwick raised her lorgnette. "Whatever possessed you?"
  • "Mischief, as much as anything."
  • "But the risk!"
  • "I am not afraid. There was something about him that appeared very much like _ystery, and you know how I adore mysteries."
  • "And this is the fellow we saw in the police-court, sitting among those ligh_' loves?" Mrs. Chadwick could not fully express her surprise.
  • "I can't analyze the impulse which prompted me to pay his fine and engag_im."
  • "And after that affair at the carriage-door! Where is your pride?"
  • "To tell the truth, I believe he did make a mistake. Maybe I hired him becaus_ liked his looks." Betty glanced amusedly at the groom, whose neck and ear_ere red. She laughed.
  • "You always were an extraordinary child. I do not understand it in the least.
  • I am even worried. He may be a great criminal."
  • "No, not a great criminal," said Betty, recollecting the ride of that morning;
  • "but a first-class horseman, willing and obedient. I have been forced to mak_ames serve as butler. He has been under the hands of our cook, and I hav_een watching them. How I have laughed! Of all droll scenes!"
  • So she had laughed, eh? Warburton's jaws snapped. She had been watching, too?
  • "I rode Pirate this morning—"
  • "You rode that horse?" interrupted Mrs. Chadwick.
  • "Yes, and he ran away with me in fine style. If it hadn't been for the ne_room, I shouldn't be here, and the dinner would be a dismal failure, with m_n bed with an arm or leg broken. Heavens! I never was so frightened in all m_ife. We went so fast against the wind that I could scarce breathe. And whe_t was all over, I fainted like a ninny."
  • "Fainted! I should have thought you would. _I_ should have fallen off th_nimal and been killed. Betty, you certainly have neither forethought no_iscretion. The very idea of your attempting to ride that animal!"
  • "Well, I am wiser, and none the worse for the scare…. James, stop, stop!"
  • Betty cried suddenly.
  • When this command struck his sense of hearing, James was pretty far away i_hought. He was wondering if all this were true. If it was, he must make th_est of it; but if it was a dream, he wanted to wake up right away, because i_as becoming nightmarish.
  • "James!" The end of a parasol tickled him in the ribs and he drew up somewha_rightened. What was going to happen now? He was soon to find out. For thi_as to be the real climax of the day; or at least, the incident was pregnan_ith the possibilities of a climax.
  • "Colonel, surely you are not going to pass us by in this fashion?" cried th_irl. They were almost opposite the Army and Navy Club.
  • "Why, is that you, Miss Betty? Pass you by? Only when I grow blind!" roared _ion-like voice. "Very glad to see you, Mrs. Chadwick."
  • That voice, of all the voices he had ever heard! A chill of indescribabl_error flew up and down my jehu's spine, and his pores closed up. He looke_round cautiously. It was he, he of all men: his regimental colonel, wh_ossessed the most remarkable memory of any Army man west of the Mississippi, and who had often vowed that he knew his subalterns so well that he coul_lways successfully prescribe for their livers!
  • "I was just about to turn into the club for my mail," declared the colonel.
  • "It was very good of you to stop me. I'll wager you've been speculating in th_hops,"—touching the bundles with his cane. "You win," laughed Betty. "Bu_'ll give you a hundred guesses in which to find out what any of thes_ackages contains."
  • "Guessing is a bad business. Whatever these things are, they can add bu_ittle to the beauty of those who will wear them; for I presume Mrs. Chadwic_as some claim upon these bundles."
  • "Very adroitly worded," smiled Mrs. Chadwick, who loved a silken phrase.
  • "We shall see you at dinner to-night?"
  • "All the battalions of England could not keep me away from that festiv_oard," the colonel vowed. (Another spasm for the groom!) "And how is tha_ood father of yours?"
  • "As kind and loving as ever."
  • "I wish you could have seen him in the old days in Virginia," said th_olonel, who, like all old men, continually fell back upon the reminiscent.
  • "Handsomest man in the brigade, and a fight made him as happy as a bull-pup. _as with him the day he first met your mother,"—softly. "How she humiliate_im because he wore the blue! She was obliged to feed him—fortunes of war; bu_ could see that she hoped each mouthful would choke him."
  • "What! My mother wished that?"
  • Mrs. Chadwick laughed. The groom's chin sank into his collar.
  • "Wait a moment! She wasn't in love with him then. We were camped on tha_eautiful Virginian home of yours for nearly a month. You know how courtly h_lways was and is. Well, to every rebuff he replied with a smile and som_rifling favor. She never had to lift her finger about the house. But on_hing he was firm in: she should sit at the same table during the meals. An_hen Johnston came thundering down that memorable day, and your father wa_hot in the lungs and fell with a dozen saber cuts besides, you should hav_een the change! He was the prisoner now, she the jailer. In her own white be_he had him placed, and for two months she nursed him. Ah, that was th_rettiest love affair the world ever saw."
  • "And why have you not followed his example?" asked Mrs. Chadwick.
  • The colonel gazed thoughtfully at his old comrade's daughter, and he saw pit_nd unbounded respect in her eyes. "They say that for every heart there is _ate, but I do not believe it. Sometimes there are two hearts that seek th_ame mate. One or the other must win or lose. You will play for me to-night?"
  • "As often and as long as you please,"—graciously. She was very fond of thi_pright old soldier, whom she had known since babyhood.
  • It was now that the colonel casually turned his attention to the groom, H_bserved him. First, his gray eyebrows arched abruptly in surprise, then san_n puzzlement.
  • "What is it?" inquired Betty, noting these signs.
  • "Nothing; nothing of importance," answered the colonel, growing violently red.
  • It would not be exaggerating to say that if the colonel turned red, his one- time orderly grew purple, only this purple faded quickly into a chalky pallor.
  • "Well, perhaps I am keeping you," remarked the colonel, soberly, "I shall hol_ou to your promise about the music."
  • "We are to have plenty of music. There will foe a famous singer and a fin_ianist."
  • "You will play that what-d'-ye-call-it from Schumann I like so well. I shal_ant you to play that I want something in the way of memory to take back Wes_ith me. Good-by, then, till to-night."
  • "Good-by. All right, James; home," said the girl. James relievedly touched hi_orses.
  • The colonel remained standing at the curb till the victoria disappeared. O_hat he was thinking I don't know; but he finally muttered "James?" in a_nquiring way, and made for the club, shaking his head, as if suddenl_onfronted by a remarkably abstruse problem.
  • Further on I shall tell you how he solved it.