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?"
"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.