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Chapter 20 THE EPISODE OF THE STOVE-PIPE

  • In the morning Monsieur Pierre faithfully reported to his mistress the groom'_xtraordinary insolence and impudence of the night before. The girl struggle_ith and conquered her desire to laugh; for monsieur was somewhat grotesque i_is rage.
  • "Frightful, Mademoiselle, most frightful! He call me Pe_taire_ mos_isrrrespectful way, and eject me from zee stables. I can not call heem out; he ees a groom and knows nozzing uf zee _amende honorable._ "
  • Mademoiselle summoned M'sieu Zhames. She desired to make the comedy complet_n all its phases.
  • "James, whenever you are called upon to act in the capacity of butler, yo_ust clear the table after the guests leave it. This is imperative. I do no_ish the scullery girl to handle the porcelain save in the tubs. Do yo_nderstand?"
  • "Yes, Miss. There were no orders to that effect last night, however." He wa_ngry.
  • Monsieur Pierre puffed up like the lady-frog in Aesop's fables,
  • "And listen, Pierre," she said, collapsing the bubble of the chef's conceit,
  • "you must give no orders to James. I will do that. I do not wish any tale- bearing or quarreling among my servants. I insist upon this. Observe m_arefully, Pierre, and you, James."
  • James _did_ observe her carefully, so carefully, indeed, that her gaze wa_orced to wander to the humiliated countenance of Monsieur Pierre.
  • "James, you must not look at me like that. There is something in your eyes; _an't explain what it is, but it somehow lacks the respect due me." Thi_ommand was spoken coldly and sharply.
  • "Respect?" He drew back a step. "I disrespectful to you, Miss Annesley? Oh, you wrong me. There can not be any one more respectful to you than I am." Th_incerity of his tones could not be denied. In fact, he was almost to_incere.
  • "Nevertheless, I wish you to regard what I have said. Now, you two shak_ands."
  • The groom and the chef shook hands. I am ashamed to say that James squeeze_onsieur Pierre's flabby hand out of active service for several hours tha_ollowed. Beads of agony sparkled on Monsieur Pierre's expansive brow as h_urned to enter the kitchen.
  • "Shall we ride to-day, Miss?" he asked, inwardly amused.
  • "No, _I_ shall not ride this morning,"—calmly.
  • James bowed meekly under the rebuke. What did he care? Did he not possess _ose which had known the pressure of her lips, her warm, red lips?
  • "You may go," she said.
  • James went. James whistled on the way, too.
  • Would that it had been my good fortune to have witnessed the episode of tha_fternoon! My jehu, when he hears it related these days, smiles a sickly grin.
  • I do not believe that he ever laughed heartily over it. At three o'clock, while Warburton was reading the morning paper, interested especially in th_rmy news of the day, he heard Pierre's voice wailing.
  • "What's the fat fool want now?" James grumbled to William.
  • "Oh, he's always yelling for help. They've coddled him so long in the famil_hat he acts like a ten-year-old kid. I stole a kiss from Celeste one day, an_ will be shot if he didn't start to blubber."
  • "You stole a kiss, eh?" said James, admiringly.
  • "Only just for the sport of making him crazy, that was all." But William's re_isage belied his indifferent tone. "You'd better go and see what he wants. M_ands are all harness grease."
  • Warburton concluded to follow William's advice. He flung down his paper an_trode out to the rear porch, where he saw Pierre gesticulating wildly.
  • "What's the matter? What do you want?"—churlishly.
  • "Frightful! Zee stove-pipe ees vat you call _bust!_ "
  • James laughed.
  • "I can not rrreach eet. I can not cook till eet ees fix'. You are tall, eh?"—affably.
  • "All right; I'll help you fix it."
  • Grumbling, James went into the kitchen, mounted a chair, and began bangin_way at the pipe, very much after the fashion of Bunner's "Culpeppe_erguson." The pipe acted piggishly. James grew determined. One end slipped i_nd then the other slipped out, half a dozen times. James lost patience an_ecame angry; and in his anger he overreached himself. The chair slid back. H_ried to balance himself and, in the mad effort to maintain a perpendicula_osition, made a frantic clutch at the pipe. Ruin and devastation! Down cam_he pipe, and with it a peck of greasy soot.
  • Monsieur Pierre yelled with terror and despair. The pies on the rear end o_he stove were lost for ever. Mademoiselle Celeste screamed with laughter, whether at the sight of the pies or M'sieu Zhames, is more than I can say.
  • James rose to his feet, the cuss-words of a corporal rumbled behind his lips.
  • He sent an energetic kick toward Pierre, who succeeded in eluding it.
  • Pierre's eyes were full of tears. What a kitchen! What a kitchen! Soot, soot, everywhere, on the floor, on the tables, on the walls, in the air!
  • "Zee pipe!" he burst forth; "zee pipe! You haf zee house full of gas!"
  • James, blinking and sneezing, boiling with rage and chagrin, remounted th_hair and finally succeeded in joining the two lengths. Nothing happened thi_ime. But the door to the forward rooms opened, and Miss Annesley looked i_pon the scene.
  • "Merciful heavens!" she gasped, "what has happened?"
  • "Zee stove-pipe bust, Mees," explained Pierre.
  • The girl gave Warburton one look, balled her handkerchief against her mouth, and fled. This didn't add to his amiability. He left the kitchen in _ownright savage mood. He had appeared before her positively ridiculous, laughable. A woman never can love a man, nor entertain tender regard for hi_t whom she has laughed: And the girl had laughed, and doubtless was stil_aughing. (However, I do not offer his opinion as infallible.)
  • He stood in the roadway, looking around for some inanimate thing upon which h_ight vent his anger, when the sound of hoofs coming toward him distracte_im. He glanced over his shoulder… and his knees all but gave way under him.
  • Caught! The rider was none other than his sister Nancy! It was all over now, for a certainty. He knew it; he had about one minute to live. She was to_ear, so he dared not fly. Then a brilliant inspiration came to him. H_uickly passed his hand over his face. The disguise was complete. Vidocq'_onderful eye could not have penetrated to the flesh.
  • "James!" Miss Annesley was standing on the veranda. "Take charge of the horse.
  • Nancy, dear, I am so glad to see you!"
  • James was anything but glad.
  • "Betty, good gracious, whatever is the matter with this fellow? Has he th_lack plague? Ugh!" She slid from the saddle unaided.
  • James stolidly took the reins.
  • "The kitchen stove-pipe fell down," Betty replied, "and James stood in th_mmediate vicinity of it."
  • The two girls laughed joyously, but James did not even smile. He had half _otion to kiss Nancy, as he had planned to do that memorable night of the bal_t the British embassy. But even as the notion came to him, Nancy had climbe_p the steps and was out of harm's way.
  • "James," said Miss Annesley, "go and wash your face at once."
  • "Yes, Miss."
  • At the sound of his voice Nancy turned swiftly; but the groom had presente_is back and was leading the horse to the stables.
  • Nancy would never tell me the substance of her conversation with Miss Annesle_hat afternoon, but I am conceited enough to believe that a certain absen_entleman was the main topic. When she left, it was William who led out th_orse. He explained that James was still engaged with soap and water an_umice-stone. Miss Annesley's laughter rang out heartily, and Nancy could no_elp joining her.
  • "And have you heard from that younger brother of yours?" Betty asked, as he_riend settled herself in the saddle.
  • "Not a line, Betty, not a line; and I had set my heart on your meeting him. _o not know where he is, or when he will be back."
  • "Perhaps he is in quest of adventures."
  • "He is in Canada, hunting caribou."
  • "You don't tell me!"
  • "What a handsome girl you are, Betty!"—admiringly.
  • "What a handsome girl you are, Nancy!" mimicked the girl on the veranda. "I_our brother is only half as handsome, I do not know whatever will become o_his heart of mine when we finally meet." She smiled and drolly placed he_ands on her heart. "Don't look so disappointed, Nan; perhaps we may yet meet.
  • I have an idea that he will prove interesting and entertaining;"—and sh_aughed again.
  • "Whoa, Dandy! What _are_ you laughing at?" demanded Nancy.
  • "I was thinking of James and his soap and water and pumice-stone. That wa_ll, dear. Saturday afternoon, then, we shall ride to the club and have tea.
  • Good-by, and remember me to the baby."
  • "Good-by!"—and Nancy cantered away.
  • What a blissful thing the lack of prescience is, sometimes!
  • When James had scraped the soot from his face and neck and hands, and ha_udsed it from his hair, James observed, with some concern, that Pirate wa_oughing at a great rate. His fierce run against the wind the day before ha_iven him a cold. So James hunted about for the handy veterinarian.
  • "Where do you keep your books here?" he asked William. "Pirate's got a cold."
  • "In the house library. You just go in and get it. We always do that at home.
  • You'll find it on the lower shelf, to the right as you enter the door."
  • It was half after four when James, having taken a final look at his hands an_ails, proceeded to follow William's instructions. He found no one about.
  • Outside the kitchen the lower part of the house was deserted. To reach th_ibrary he had to pass through the music-room. He saw the violin-case on th_iano, and at once unconsciously pursed his lips into a noiseless whistle. H_assed on into the library. He had never been in any of these rooms in th_aytime. It was not very light, even now.
  • The first thing that caught his attention was a movable drawing- board, o_hich lay an uncompleted drawing. At one side stood a glass, into which wer_hrust numerous pens and brushes. Near this lay a small ball of crumple_ambric, such as women insist upon carrying in their street-car purses, _elicate, dainty, useless thing. So she drew pictures, too, he thought. Wa_here anything this beautiful creature could not do? Everything seemed t_uggest her presence. An indefinable feminine perfume still lingered on th_ir, speaking eloquently of her.
  • Curiosity impelled him to step forward and examine her work. He approache_ith all the stealth of a gentlemanly burglar. He expected to see some tree_nd hills and mayhap a brook, or some cows standing in a stream, or som_hildren picking daisies. He had a sister, and was reasonably familiar wit_he kind of subjects chosen by the lady- amateur.
  • A fortification plan!
  • He bent close to it. Here was the sea, here was the land, here the number o_oldiers, cannon, rounds of ammunition, resources in the matter of procurin_id, the telegraph, the railways, everything was here on this pale, waxe_loth, everything but a name. He stared at it, bewildered. He couldn'_nderstand what a plan of this sort was doing outside the War Department.
  • Instantly he became a soldier; he forgot that he was masquerading as a groom; he forgot everything but this mute thing staring up into his face. Underneath, on a little shelf, he saw a stack of worn envelopes. He looked at them. Roug_rafts of plans. Governor's Island! Fortress Monroe! What did it mean? Wha_could_ it mean? He searched and found plans, plans, plans of harbors, plan_f coast defenses, plans of ships building, plans of full naval and militar_trength; everything, everything! He straightened. How his breath pained him!
  • … And all this was the handiwork of the woman he loved! Good God, what wa_oing on in this house? What right had such things as these to be in a privat_ome? For what purpose had they been drawn? so accurately reproduced? For wha_urpose?
  • Oh, whatever the purpose was, _she_ was innocent; upon this conviction h_ould willingly stake his soul. Innocent, innocent! ticked the clock over th_antel. Yes, she was innocent. Else, how could she laugh in that light-hearte_ashion? How could the song tremble on her lips? How could her eyes shine s_right and merry?… Karloff, Annesley! Karloff the Russian, Annesley th_merican; the one a secret agent of his country, the other a former truste_fficial! No, no! He could not entertain so base a thought against the fathe_f the girl he loved. Had he not admired his clean record, his persona_ravery, his fearless honesty? And yet, that absent- mindedness, this care- worn countenance, these must mean something. The purpose, to find out th_urpose of these plans!
  • He took the handkerchief and hid it in his breast, and quietly stole away…. _andkerchief, a rose, and a kiss; yes, that was all that would ever be his.
  • Pirate nearly coughed his head off that night; but, it being William's nigh_ff, nobody paid any particular attention to that justly indignant animal.