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Chapter 8 ANOTHER SALAD IDEA

  • When they found him missing, his bed untouched, his hat and coat on the rack, his inseparable walking-stick in the umbrella-stand, they were mightil_orried. They questioned Jane, but she knew nothing. Jack went out to th_tables; no news there. William, having driven the girls home himself, dare_ay nothing. Then Jack wisely telephoned for me, and I hurried over to th_ouse.
  • "Maybe he hunted up some friends last night," I suggested.
  • "But here's his hat!" cried Nancy.
  • "Oh, he's all right; don't worry. I'll take a tour around the city. I'll fin_im. He may be at one of the clubs."
  • Fortunately for Mr. James Osborne I returned home first, and there found hi_ote awaiting me. I was at the court by noon, armed with thirty-five and _uit of clothes of my own. I found the clerk.
  • "A young man, dressed as a groom, and locked up overnight," I said cautiously.
  • "I wish to pay his fine."
  • "James Osborne?"
  • "Yes, that's the name; James Osborne,"—reaching down into my pocket.
  • "Fine's just been paid. We were about to release him. Here, officer, show thi_entleman to James Osborne's cell, and tell him to pack up and get out."
  • So his fine was paid! Found the money in his clothes, doubtless. On the way t_he cells I wondered what the deuce the rascal had been doing to get locked u_vernight. I was vastly angry, but at the sight of him all my anger melte_nto a prolonged shout of laughter.
  • "That's right; laugh, you old pirate! I wish you had been in my boots a fe_ours ago. Lord!"
  • I laughed again.
  • "Have you got that thirty-five?" he asked.
  • "Why, your fine has been paid," I replied, rather surprised.
  • "And didn't you pay it?"
  • "Not I! The clerk told me that it had just been paid."
  • Warburton's jaw sank limply. "Just been paid?—Who the deuce could have pai_t, or known?"
  • "First, tell me what you've been up to."
  • He told me snatches of the exploit as he changed his clothes, and it was _uestion which of us laughed the more. But he didn't say a word about th_tolen kiss, for which I think none the less of him.
  • "Who were the women?" I asked.
  • He looked at me for a space, as if deciding. Finally he made a negative sign.
  • "Don't know who they were, eh?"—incredulously.
  • He shrugged, laughed, and drew on his shoes.
  • "I always knew that I was the jackass of the family, Chuck, but I neve_xpected to do it so well. Let's get out of this hole. I wonder who can hav_aid that fine?… No, that would not be possible!"
  • "What would not be?"
  • "Nothing, nothing,"—laughing.
  • But I could see that his spirits had gone up several degrees.
  • "The whole thing is likely to be in the evening papers," I said. He needed _ittle worrying. And I knew his horror of publicity.
  • "The newspapers? In the newspapers? Oh, I say, Chuck, can't you use you_nfluence to suppress the thing? Think of the girls."
  • "I'll do the best I can. And there's only one thing for you to do, and that i_o cut out of town till your beard has grown. It would serve you right, however, if the reporters got the true facts."
  • "I'm for getting out of town, Chuck; and on the next train but one."
  • Here our conversation was interrupted by the entrance of a policeman.
  • "A note for _Mister_ Osborne,"—ironically. He tossed the letter to Warburto_nd withdrew.
  • _Mister_ Osborne eagerly tore open an end of the envelope—a very aristocrati_nvelope, as I could readily discern—and extracted the letter. I closel_atched his facial expressions. First, there was interest, then surprise, t_e succeeded by amusement and a certain exultation. He slapped his thigh.
  • "By George, Chuck. I'll do it!"
  • "Do it? Now what?"
  • "Listen to this." He cleared his throat, sniffed of the faintly scented pape_nd cleared his throat again. He looked up at me drolly.
  • "Well?" said I, impatiently. I was as eager to hear it as he had been to rea_t. I believed that the mystery was about to be solved.
  • "'James Osborne, Sir: I have been thinking the matter over seriously, and hav_ome to the conclusion that there may have been a mistake. Undoubtedly m_room was primarily to blame. I have discharged him for neglecting his post o_uty. I distinctly recall the manner in which you handled the horses las_ight. It may be possible that they ran away with you. However that may be, _ind myself in need of a groom. Your horsemanship saved us from a seriou_ccident. If you will promise to let whisky alone, besides bringing me _ecommendation, and are without engagement, call at the inclosed address thi_fternoon at three o'clock. I should be willing to pay as much as fort_ollars a month. You would be expected to accompany me on my morning rides.'"
  • "She must have paid the fine," said I. "Well, it beats anything I ever hear_f. Had you arrested, and now wants to employ you! What name did you say?" _sked carelessly.
  • "I didn't say any name, Chuck,"—smiling. "And I'm not going to give any, yo_ld duffer."
  • "And why not?"
  • "For the one and simple reason that I am going to accept the position,"—with _oolness that staggered me.
  • "What?" I bawled.
  • "Sure as life, as the policeman said last night."
  • "You silly ass, you! Do you want to make the family a laughing-stock all ove_own?" I was really angry.
  • "Neither the family nor the town will know anything about it,"— imperturbably.
  • "But you will be recognized!" I remonstrated. "It's a clear case of insanity, after what has just happened to you."
  • "I promise not to drink any whisky,"—soberly.
  • "Bob, you are fooling me."
  • "Not the littlest bit, Chuck. I've worn a beard for two years. No one woul_ecognize me. Besides, being a groom, no one would pay any particula_ttention to me. Get the point?"
  • "But what under the sun is your object?" I demanded. "There's something bac_f all this. It's not a simple lark like last night's."
  • "Perspicacious man!"—railingly. "Possibly you may be right. Chuck, you kno_hat I've just got to be doing something. I've been inactive too long. I a_shamed to say that I should tire of the house in a week or less. Change, change, of air, of place, of occupation; change—I must have it. It's food an_rink."
  • "You've met this woman before, somewhere."
  • "I neither acknowledge nor deny. It will be very novel. I shall be busy fro_orning till night. Think of the fun of meeting persons whom you know, but wh_o not know you. I wouldn't give up this chance for any amount of money."
  • "Forty Dollars a month," said I, wrathfully.
  • "Cigar money,"—tranquilly.
  • "Look here, Bob; be reasonable. You can't go about as a groom in Washington.
  • If the newspapers ever get hold of it, you would be disgraced. They wouldn'_ake you as a clerk in a third-rate consulate. Supposing you should run int_ack or his wife or Nancy; do you think they wouldn't know you at once?"
  • "I'll take the risk. I'd deny that I knew them; they'd tumble and leave m_lone. Chuck, I've got to do this. Some day you'll understand."
  • "But the woman's name, Bob; only her name."
  • "Oh, yes! And have you slide around and show me up within twenty-four hours.
  • No, I thank you. I am determined on this. You ought to know me by this time. _ever back down; it isn't in the blood. And when all is said, where's the har_n this escapade? I can see none. It may not last the day through."
  • "I trust not,"—savagely.
  • "I am determined upon answering this letter in person and finding out, i_ossible, what induced her to pay my fine. Jackass or not, I'm going to se_he thing through." Then he stretched an appealing hand out toward me, an_aid wheedlingly: "Chuck, give me your word to keep perfectly quiet. I'll dro_ou a line once in a while, just to let you know how I stand. I shall be a_he house to-night. I'll find an excuse. I'm to go up North on a huntin_xpedition; a hurry call. Do you catch on?"
  • "I shall never be able to look Nancy in the face," I declared. "Come, Bob; forget it. It sounds merry enough, but my word for it, you'll regret it insid_f twenty-four hours. You are a graduate of the proudest military school i_he world, and you are going to make a groom of yourself!"
  • "I've already done that and been locked up overnight. You are wasting you_reath, Chuck."
  • "Well, hang you for a jackass, sure enough! I promise; but if you get into an_uch scrape as this, you needn't send for me. I refuse to help you again."
  • "I can't exactly see that you did. Let's get out. Got a cigar in your pocket?
  • I am positively dying for a smoke."
  • Suddenly a brilliant idea came to me.
  • "Did you know that Miss Annesley, the girl you saw on shipboard, is i_ashington and was at the embassy last night?"
  • "No! You don't say!" He was too clever for me. "When I get through with thi_xploit, Nancy'll have to introduce me. Did you see her?"
  • "Yes, and talked to her. You see what you missed by not going last night."
  • "Yes, I missed a good night's rest and a cold bath in the morning."
  • "Where shall I say you were last night?" I asked presently.
  • Mister James scratched his chin disconcertedly. "I hadn't thought of that. Sa_hat I met some of the boys and got mixed up in a little game of poker."
  • "You left your hat on the rack and your cane in the stand. You are supposed t_ave left the house without any hat."
  • "Hat!" He jumped up from the cot on which he had been sitting and picked u_he groom's tile. "Didn't you bring me a hat?"—dismayed.
  • "You said nothing about it,"—and I roared with laughter.
  • "How shall I get out of here? I can't wear this thing through the streets."
  • "I've a mind to make you wear it. And, by Jove, you shall! You'll wear it t_he hatter's, or stay here. That's final. I never back down, either."
  • "I'll wear it; only, mark me, I'll get even with you. I always did."
  • " _I_ am not a boy any longer,"—with an inflection on the personal pronoun.
  • "Well, to continue about that excuse. You left the house without a hat, an_ou met the boys and played poker all night. That hitches wonderfully. Yo_idn't feel well enough to go to the embassy, but you could go and play poker.
  • That sounds as if you cared a lot for your sister. And you wanted to stay a_ome the first night, because you had almost forgotten how the inside of _rivate dwelling looked. Very good; very coherent."
  • "Cut it, Chuck. What the deuce excuse _can_ I give?"—worriedly lighting th_igar I had given him.
  • "My boy, I'm not making up your excuses; you'll have to invent those. I'll b_ilent, but I refuse to lie to Nancy on your account. Poker is the only excus_hat would carry any weight with it. You will have to let them believe you'r_ heartless wretch; which you are, if you persist in this idiotic exploit."
  • "You don't understand, Chuck. I wish I could tell you; honestly, I do. Th_irls will have to think mean things of me till the farce is over. I couldn'_scape if I wanted to."
  • "Is it Miss Annesley, Bob? Was it she whom you ran away with? Come, make _lean breast of it. If it's she, why, that altogether alters the face o_hings."
  • He walked the length of the cell and returned. "I give up. You've hit it. Yo_nderstand now. I simply can't back away; I couldn't if I tried."
  • "Are you in love with the girl?"
  • "That's just what I want to find out, Chuck. I'm not sure. I've been thinkin_f her night and day. I never had any affair; I don't know what love is. Bu_f it's shaking in your boots at the sound of her name, if it's getting red i_he face when you only just think of her, if it's having a wild desire to pic_er up and run away with her when you see her, then I've got it. When sh_tepped out of that confounded carriage last night, you could have knocked m_ver with a paper-wad. Come, let's go out. Hang the hat! Let them all laugh i_hey will. It's only a couple of blocks to the hatter's."
  • He bravely put the white hat on his head, and together we marched out of th_olice-office into the street. We entered the nearest hatter's together. H_ook what they call a drop-kick out of the hat, sending it far to the rear o_he establishment. I purchased a suitable derby for him, gave him ten dollar_or emergencies, and we parted.
  • He proceeded to a telegraph office and sent a despatch to a friend up North, asking him to telegraph him to come at once, taking his chances of getting _eply. After this he boarded a north-going car, and was rolled out to Chev_hase. He had no difficulty in finding the house of which he was in search. I_as a fine example of colonial architecture, well back from the road, an_ields beyond it. It was of red brick and white stone, with a wide verand_upported by great white pillars. There was a modern portico at one side. _ine lawn surrounded the whole, and white-pebble walks wound in and out. Al_round were thickly wooded hills, gashed here and there by the familiar ye_eculiar red clay of the country. Warburton walked up the driveway and knocke_eliberately at the servants' door, which was presently opened. (I learned al_hese things afterward, which accounts for my accurate knowledge of events.)
  • "Please inform Miss Annesley that Mr. Osborne has come in reply to he_etter," he said to the little black-eyed French maid.
  • "Ees Meestaire Osborrrrne zee new groom?"
  • "Yes."
  • "I go thees minute!" _Hein!_ what a fine-looking young man to make eyes at o_old nights in the kitchen!
  • Warburton sat down and twirled his hat. Several times he repressed the desir_o laugh. He gazed curiously about him. From where he sat he could see int_he kitchen. The French chef was hanging up his polished pans in a glistenin_ow back of the range, and he was humming a little _chanson_ which Warburto_ad often heard in the restaurants of the provincial cities of France. He eve_ound himself catching up the refrain where the chef left off. Presently h_eard footsteps sounding on the hardwood floor, which announced that the mai_as returning with her mistress.
  • He stood up, rested first on one foot, then on the other, and awkwardl_hifted his new hat from one hand to the other, then suddenly put the ha_nder his arm, recollecting that the label was not such as servants wor_nside their hats.
  • There was something disquieting in those magnetic sapphire eyes looking s_erenely into his.