Hawksley heard the lift door close, and he knew that at last he was alone. H_lung out his arms, ecstatically. Free! He would see no more of that naggin_eggar Ryan until tomorrow. Free to put into execution the idea that had bee_ubbling all day long in his head, like a fine champagne, firing his bloo_ith reckless whimsicality.
Quietly he stole down the corridor. Through a crack in the kitchen door he sa_uroki's back, the attitude of which was satisfying. It signified that the Ja_as pegging away at his endless studies and that only the banging of the gon_ould rouse him. The way was as broad and clear as a street at dawn. Not tha_uroki mattered; only so long as he did not know, so much the better.
With careful step Hawksley manoeuvred his retreat so that it brought him t_utty's bedroom door. The door was unlocked. He entered the room. What a lark!
They would hide his own clothes; so much the worse for the old beggar'_ardrobe. Street clothes. Presently he found a dark suit, commendable not s_uch for its style as for the fact that it was the nearest fit he could find.
He had to roll up the trouser hems.
Hats. Chuckling like a boy rummaging a jam closet, he rifled the shelves an_ulled down a black derby of an unknown vintage. Large; but a runner of folde_aper reduced the size. As he pressed the relic firmly down on his head h_inced. A stab over his eyes. He waited doubtfully; but there was n_ecurrence. Fit as a fiddle. Of course he could not stoop without a flash o_ertigo; but on his feet he was top-hole. He was gaining every day.
Luck. He might have come out of it with the blank mind of a newborn babe; an_ere he was, keen to resume his adventures. Luck. They had not stopped to se_f he was actually dead. Some passer-by in the hall had probably alarmed them.
That handkerchief had carried him round the brink. Perhaps Fate intende_etting him get through—written on his pass an extension of his leave o_bsence. Or she had some new torture in reserve.
Now for a stout walking stick. He selected a blackthorn, twirled it, saluted, and posed before the mirror. Not so bally rotten. He would pass. Next, h_emembered that there were some flowers in the dining room—window boxes wit_carlet geraniums. He broke off a sprig and drew it through his buttonhole.
Outside there was a cold, pale April sky, presaging wind and rain.
Unimportant. He was going down into the streets for an hour or so. The colou_nd action of a crowded street; the lure was irresistible. Who would dar_ouch him in the crowd? These rooms had suddenly become intolerable.
He leaned against the side of the window. Roofs, thousands of them, flat, domed, pinnacled; and somewhere under one of these roofs Stefani Gregor wa_ating his heart out. It did not matter that this queer old eagle who_verybody called Cutty had promised to bring Stefani home. It might be to_ate. Stefani was old, highly strung. Who knew what infernal lies Karlov ha_old him? Stefani could stand up under physical torture; but to tear at hi_oul, to twist and rend his spirit!
The bubble in the champagne died down—as it always will if one permits it t_tand. He felt the old mood seep through the dikes of his gayety. Alone. _amiliar face—he would have dropped on his knees and thanked God for the sigh_f a familiar face. These people, kindly as they were—what were they bu_trangers? Yesterday he had not known them; to-morrow he would leave the_ehind forever. All at once the mystery of this bubbling idea was bared: h_as going to risk his life in the streets in the vague hope of seeing som_ace he had known in the days before the world had gone drunk on blood. On_amiliar face.
Of course he would never forget—at any rate, not the girl whose courage ha_ade possible this hour. Those chaps, scared off temporarily, might hav_eturned. What had become of her? He was always seeing her lovely face in th_hadows, now tender, now resolute, now mocking. Doubtless he thought of he_onstantly because his freedom of action was limited. He hadn't diversio_nough. Books and fiddling, these carried him but halfway through the boredom.
Where was she? Daily he had called her by telephone; no answer. The Jap shoo_is head; the slangy boy in the lift shook his.
She was a thoroughbred, even if she had been born of middle-class parentage.
He laughed bitterly. Middle class. A homeless, countryless derelict, and h_ad the impudence to revert to comparisons that no longer existed in thi_opsy-turvy old world. He was an upstart. The final curtain had droppe_etween him and his world, and he was still thinking in the ancient make-up.
Middle class! He was no better than a troglodyte, set down in a ne_ilderness.
He heard the curtain rings slither on the pole. Believing the intruder to b_uroki he turned belligerently. And there she stood—the girl herself! Th_oise of her reminded him of the Winged Victory in the Louvre. Where there ha_een a cup of champagne in his veins circumstance now poured a magnum.
"You!" he cried.
"What has happened? Where are you going in those clothes?" demanded Kitty.
"I am running away—for an hour or so."
"But you must not! The risks—after all the trouble we've had to help you!"
"I shall be perfectly safe, for you are going with me. Aren't you my guardia_ngel? Well, rather! The two of us—people, lights, shop windows! Perfectl_plendiferous! Honestly, now, where's the harm?" He approached her rapidly a_e spoke, and before the spell of him could be shaken off Kitty found he_ands imprisoned in his. "Please! I've been so damnably bored. The two of u_n the streets, among the crowds! No one will dare touch us. Can't you see?
And then—I say, this is ripping!—we'll have dinner together here. I will pla_or you on the old Amati. Please!"
The fire of him communicated to the combustibles in Kitty's soul. A wild, reckless irony besieged her. This adventure would be exactly what she needed; it would sweep clear the fog separating one side of her brain from the other.
For it was plain enough that part of her brain refused to cooperate with th_ther. A break in the trend of thought: she might succeed in getting hold o_he puzzle if she could drop it absolutely for a little while and then pick i_p again.
She had not gone home. She had not notified Bernini. She had checked he_uggage in the station parcel room and come directly here. For what? To le_he sense of luxury overcome the hidden repugnance of the idea of marryin_utty, divorcing him, and living on his money. To put herself in the way o_isible temptation. What fretted her so, what was wearing her down to th_oint of fatigue, was the patent imbecility of her reluctance. There woul_ave been some sense of it if Cutty had proposed a real marriage. All she ha_o do was mumble a few words, sign her name to a document, live out West for _ew months, and be in comfortable circumstances all the rest of her life. An_he doddered!
She would run the streets with Johnny Two-Hawks, return, and dine with him.
Who cared? Proper or improper, whose business was it but Kitty Conover's?
Danger? That was the peculiar attraction. She wanted to rush into danger, som_ense excitement the strain of which would lift her out of her mood. _ecurrent touch of the wild impulsiveness of her childhood. Hadn't sh_ometimes flown out into thunderstorms, after merited punishment, to punis_he mother whom thunder terrorized? And now she was going to rush into unknow_anger to punish Fate—like a silly child! Nevertheless, she would go into th_treets with Johnny Two-Hawks.
"But are you strong enough to venture on the streets?"
"Rot! Dash it all, I'm no mollycoddle! All nonsense to keep me pinned in lik_his. Will you go with me—be my guide?"
"Yes!" She shot out the word and crossed the Rubicon before reason could begi_o lecture. Besides, wasn't reason treating her shabbily in withholding th_ey to the riddle? "Johnny Two-Hawks, I will go as far as Harlem if you wan_e to."
"Johnny Two-Hawks!" He laughed joyously, then kissed her hands. But he had t_ay for this bending—a stab that filled his eyes with flying sparks. He mus_emember, once out of doors, not to stoop quickly. "I say, you're the jollies_irl I ever met! Just the two of us, what?"
"The way you speak English is wonderful!"
"Simple enough to explain. Had an English nurse from the beginning. Spok_nglish and Italian before I spoke Russian."
He seized the wooden mallet and beat the Burmese gong—a flat piece of bras_ut in the shape of a bell. The clear, whirring vibrations filled the room.
Long before these spent themselves Kuroki appeared on the threshold. H_obbed.
"Kuroki, Miss Conover is dining here with me to-night. Seven o'clock sharp.
The best you have in the larder."
"Yes, sair. You are going out, sair?"
"For a bit of fresh air."
"And I am going with him, Kuroki," said Kitty. Kuroki bobbed again. "Dinner a_even, sair." Another bob, and he returned to the kitchen, smiling. The gir_as free to come and go, of course, but the ancient enemy of Nippon would no_ass the elevator door. Let him find that out for himself.
When the elevator arrived the boy did not open the door. He noted the derby o_awksley's head.
"I can take you down, Miss Conover, but I cannot take Mr. Hawksley. When th_oss gives me an order I obey it—if I possibly can. On the day the boss tell_e you can go strolling, I'll give you the key to the city. Until then, nix!
No use arguing, Mr. Hawksley."
"I shan't argue," replied Hawksley, meekly. "I am really a prisoner, then?"
"For your own good, sir. Do you wish to go down, Miss Conover?"
The boy swung the lever, and the car dropped from sight.
"I'm sorry," said Kitty.
Hawksley smiled and laid a finger on his lips. "I wanted to know," h_hispered. "There's another way down from this Matterhorn. Come with me. Of_he living room is a storeroom. I found the key in the lock the other day an_nvestigated. I still have the key. Now, then, there's a door that gives t_he main loft. At the other end is the stairhead. There is a door at the foo_f the first flight down. We can jolly well leave this way, but we shall hav_o return by the lift. That bally young ruffian can't refuse to carry us up, y' know!"
Kitty laughed. "This is going to be fun!"
They groped their way through the dim loft—for it was growing dark outside—an_ade the stairhead. The door to the seventeenth floor opened, and they steppe_orth into the lighted hallway.
"Now what?" asked Kitty, bubbling.
"The floor below, and one of the other lifts, what?" Twenty minutes later th_wo of them, arm in arm, turned into Broadway.
"This, sir," began Kitty with a gesture, "is Broadway—America's backyard i_he daytime and Ali Baba's cave at night. The way of the gilded youth; th_unnel for papa's money; the chorus lady; the starting point of the high cos_f living. We New Yorkers despise it because we can't afford it."
"The lights!" gasped Hawksley.
"Wreckers' lights. Behold! Yonder is a highly nutritious whisky blinking it_loomin' farewell. Do you chew gum? Even if you don't, in a few minutes I'l_ive you a cud for thought. Chewing gum was invented by a man with a talkativ_ife. He missed the physiological point, however, that a body can chew an_alk at the same time. Come on!"
They went on uptown, Hawksley highly amused, exhilarated, but frequentl_uzzled. The pungent irony of her observations conveyed to him that under thi_ayety was a current of extreme bitterness. "I say, are all American girl_ike you?"
"Heavens, no! Why?"
"Because I never met one like you before. Rather stilted—on their goo_ehaviour, I fancy."
"And I interest you because I'm not on my good behaviour?" Kitty whipped back.
"Because you are as God made you—without camouflage."
"The poor innocent young man! I'm nothing but camouflage to-night. Why are yo_isking your life in the street? Why am I sharing that risk? Because we bot_eel bound and are blindly trying to break through. What do you know about me?
Nothing. What do I know about you? Nothing. But what do we care? Come on, com_n!"
Tumpitum—tump! tumpitum—tump! drummed the Elevated. Kitty laughed. The tocsin!
Always something happened when she heard it.
"Pearls!" she cried, dragging him toward a jeweller's window.
"No!" he said, holding back. "I hate—jewels! How I hate them!" He broke awa_rom her and hurried on.
She had to run after him. Had she hesitated they might have become separated.
Hated jewels? No, no! There should be no questions, verbal or mental, thi_ight. She presently forced him to slow down. "Not so fast! We must neve_ecome separated," she warned. "Our safety—such as it is—lies in bein_ogether."
"I'm an ass. Perhaps my head is ratty without my realizing it. I fancy I'_ike a dog that's been kicked; I'm trying to run away from the pain. What'_his tomb?"
"The Metropolitan Opera House."
As they were passing a thin, wailing sound came to the ears of both. Seate_ith his back to the wall was a blind fiddler with a tin cup strapped to _nee. He was out of bounds; he had no right on Broadway; but he possessed _ingular advantage over the law. He could not be forced to move on without hi_uide—if he were honestly blind. Hundreds of people were passing; but th_iddler's "Last Rose of Summer" wasn't worth a cent. His cup was empty.
"The poor thing!" said Kitty.
"Wait!" Hawksley approached the fiddler, exchanged a few words with him, an_he blind man surrendered his fiddle.
"Give me your hat!" cried Kitty, delighted.
Carefully Hawksley pried loose his derby and handed it to Kitty. No stab o_ain; something to find that out. He turned the instrument, tucked it unde_is chin and began "Traumerei." Kitty, smiling, extended the hat. Just th_ort of interlude to make the adventure memorable. She knew this thoroughfare.
Shortly there would be a crowd, and the fiddler's cup would overflow—that is, if the police did not interfere too soon.
As for the owner of the wretched fiddle, he raised his head, his mouth opened.
Up there, somewhere, a door to heaven had opened.
True to her expectations a crowd slowly gathered. The beauty of the girl an_he dark, handsome face of the musician, his picturesque bare head, wer_ufficient for these cynical passers-by. They understood. Operati_elebrities, having a little fun on their own. So quarters and dimes an_ickels began to patter into Cutty's ancient derby hat. Broadway will alway_ontribute generously toward a novelty of this order. Famous names were tosse_bout in undertones.
Entered then the enemy of the proletariat. Kitty, being a New Yorker born, ha_ad her weather eye roving. The brass-buttoned minion of the law was alway_round when a bit of innocent fun was going on. As the policeman reached th_nner rim of the audience the last notes of Handel's "Largo" were fading o_he ear.
"What's this?" demanded the policeman.
"It's all over, sir," answered Kitty, smiling.
"Can't have this on Broadway, miss. Obstruction." He could not speak gruffl_n the face of such beauty—especially with a Broadway crowd at his back.
"It's all over. Just let me put this money in the blind man's cup." Kitt_oured her coins into the receptacle. At the same time Hawksley laid th_iddle in the blind man's lap. Then he turned to Kitty and boomed a lon_ussian phrase at her. Her quick wit caught the intent. "You see, he doesn'_nderstand that this cannot be done in New York. I couldn't explain."
"All right, miss; but don't do it again." The policeman grinned.
"And please don't be harsh with the blind man. Just tell him he mustn't pla_n Broadway again. Thank you!"
She linked her arm in Hawksley's, and they went on; and the crowd dissolved; only the policeman and the blind man remained, the one contemplating his dut_nd the other his vision of heaven.
"What a lark!" exclaimed Hawksley.
"Were you asking me for your hat?"
"I was telling the bobby to go to the devil!"
They laughed like children.
"March hares!" he said.
"No. April fools! Good heavens, the time! Twenty minutes to seven. Ou_inner!"
"We'll take a taxi… . Dash it!"
"Not a bally copper in my pockets!"
"And I left my handbag on the sideboard! We'll have to walk. If we hurry w_an just about make it."
Meantime, there lay in wait for them—this pair of April fools—a taxicab. I_tood snugly against the curb opposite the entrance to Cutty's apartment. Th_oor was slightly ajar.
The driver watched the south corner; the three men inside never took thei_aze off the north corner.
"But, I say, hasn't this been a jolly lark?"
"If we had known we could have borrowed a dollar from the blind man; he'_ever have missed it."