Cutty arrived at the apartment in time to share dinner with Hawksley. He ha_isely decided to say nothing about the escapade of Hawksley and Kitt_onover, since it had terminated fortunately. Bernini had telegraphed the gis_f the adventure. He could readily understand Hawksley's part; but Kitty'_asn't reducible to ordinary terms of expression. The young chap had run wil_ecause his head still wobbled on his shoulders and because his isolation wa_eginning to scratch his nerves. But for Kitty to run wild with him offered _lank wall to speculation. (As if he could solve the riddle when Kitty hersel_ould not!) So he determined to shut himself up in his study and shuffle th_hrysoprase. Something might come of it. Looking backward, he recognized th_alient, at no time had he been quite sure of Kitty. She seemed to be _ombination of shallows and unfathomable deeps.
From the Pennsylvania Station he had called up the office. Kitty had gone.
Bernini informed him that Kitty was dining at a cafe on the way home. Cutt_as thorough. He telephoned the restaurant and was advised that Miss Conove_ad reserved a table. He had forgotten to send down the operative who guarde_itty at that end. But the distance from the office to the Subway was s_nsignificant!
"You are looking fit," he said across the table.
"Ought to be off your hands by Monday. But what about Stefani Gregor? I can'_tir, leaving him hanging on a peg."
"I am going into the study shortly to decide that. Head bother you?"
"Ryan easy to get along with?"
"Rather a good sort. I say, you know, you've seen a good deal of life. Whic_o you consider the stronger, the inherited traits or environment?"
"Environment. That is the true mould. There is good and bad in all of us. I_s brought into prominence by the way we live. An angel cannot touch pitc_ithout becoming defiled. On the other hand, the worst gutter rats in th_orld saved France. Do you suppose that thought will not always be tugging a_nd uplifting those who returned from the first Marne?"
"There is hope, then, for me!"
"Yes. You know that my father, my uncle, and my grandfather were fin_coundrels."
"Under their influence you would have been one, too. But no man could liv_ith Stefani Gregor and not absorb his qualities. Your environment has bee_nglo-Saxon, where the first block in the picture is fair play. You have bee_onstantly under the tutelage of a fine and lofty personality, Gregor's.
Whatever evil traits you may have inherited, they have become subject to th_nfluences that have surrounded you. Take me, for instance. I was born in _ather puritanical atmosphere. My environments have always been good. Ye_here lurks in me the taint of Macaire. Given the wrong environment, I shoul_ow have my picture in the Rogues' Gallery."
Hawksley played with his fork. "If you had a daughter would you trust me wit_er?"
"Yes. Any man who can weep unashamed over the portrait of his mother may b_rusted. Once you are out there in Montana you'll forget all about you_aternal forbears."
Handsome beggar, thought Cutty; but evidently born under the opal. A_nexplicable resentment against his guest stirred his heart. He resented hi_outh, his ease of manner, his fluency in the common tongue. He wa_heoretically a Britisher; he thought British; approached subjects from _ritish point of view. A Britisher—except when he had that fiddle tucked unde_is chin. Then Cutty admitted he did not know what he was. Devil take him!
There must have been something electrical in Cutty's resentment, for th_bject of it felt it subtly, and it fired his own. He resented the freedom o_ction that had always been denied him, resented his host's mental an_hysical superiority. Did Cutty care for the girl, or was he playing the gam_s it had been suggested to him? Money and freedom. But then, it was in n_ense a barter; she would be giving nothing, and the old beggar would b_sking nothing. His suggestion! He laughed.
"What's the joke?" asked Cutty, looking up from his coffee, which he wa_tirring with unnecessary vigour.
"It isn't a joke. I'm bally well twisted. I laugh now when I think o_omething tragic. I am sorry about last night. I was mad, I suppose."
"Tell me about it."
Cutty listened intently and smiled occasionally. Mad as hatters, both of them.
He and Kitty couldn't have gone on a romp like this, but Kitty and Hawksle_ould. Thereupon his resentment boiled up again.
"Have you any idea why she took such a risk? Why she came here, knowing me t_e absent?"
"She spoke of a problem. I fancy it related to your approaching marriage. Sh_old me."
Cutty laid down his spoon. "I'd like to dump Your Highness into the middle o_ast River for putting that idea into my head. She has consented to it; an_ow, damn it, I've got to back out of it!" Cutty rose and flung down hi_apkin.
"Why?" asked the bewildered Hawksley.
"Because there is in me the making of a first-rate scoundrel, and I neve_hould have known it if you and your affairs hadn't turned up."
Cutty entered his study and slammed the door, leaving Hawksley prey to so man_onflicting emotions that his head began to bother him. Back out of it! Why?
Why should Kitty have a problem to solve over such a marriage of convenience, and why should the old thoroughbred want to back out?
Kitty would be free, then? A flash of fire, which subsided quickly under th_mothering truth. What if she were free? He could not ask her to be his wife.
Not because of last night's madness. That no longer troubled him. She was th_ort who would understand, if he told her. She had a soul big wit_nderstanding. It was that he walked in the shadow of death, and would so lon_s Karlov was free; and he could not ask any woman to share that.
He pushed back his chair slowly. In the living room he took the Amati from it_ase and began improvising. What the chrysoprase did for Cutty the fiddle di_or this derelict—solved problems.
He reviewed all the phases as he played. That dish of bacon and eggs, th_esolute air of her, that popping fan! [Allegretto.] She had found hi_enseless on the floor. She had had the courage to come to his assistance.
[Andante con espressione.] What had been in her mind that night she had take_light from his bedroom, after having given him the wallet? Something lik_ears. What about? An American girl, natural, humorous, and fanciful. Someho_e felt assured that it had not been his kisses; she had looked into his eye_nd seen the taint. Always there, the beast that old Stefani had chained an_ubdued. He knew now that this beast would never again lift its head. And h_ad let her go without a sign. [Dolorosomente.] To have gone through life wit_ woman who would have understood his nature. The test of her had been las_ight in the streets. His mood had been hers. [Allegretto con amore.]
"Love," he said, lowering the bow.
"Love," said Cutty, shifting his chrysoprase. There was no fool like an ol_ool. It did not serve to recall Molly in all her glory, to reach hither an_on for a handhold to pull him out of this morass. Molly had become a_nvisible ghost. He loved her daughter. Double sunset; the phenomenon of th_ndian Ocean was now being enacted upon his own horizon. Double sunset.
But why should Kitty have any problem to solve? Why should she dodder ove_uch a trifle as this prospective official marriage? It was only a joke whic_ould legalize his generosity. She had sent that telegram after leaving thi_partment. What had happened here to decide her? Had Hawksley fiddled? Ther_as something the matter with the green stones to-night; they evoked nothing.
He leaned back in his chair, listening, the bowl of his pipe touching th_apel of his coat. Music. Queer, what you could do with a fiddle if you kne_ow.
After all there was no sense in venting his anger on Hawksley. He was hoist b_is own petard. Why not admit the truth? He had had a crack on the head th_ame night as Hawksley; only, he had been struck by an idea, often more deadl_han the butt of a pistol. He would apologize for that roaring exit from th_ining room. The poor friendless devil! He bent toward the green stones again.
In the living room Hawksley sat in a chair, the fiddle across his knees. H_nderstood now. The old chap was in love with the girl, and was afraid o_imself; couldn't risk having her and letting her go… . A curse on the drum_f jeopardy! Misfortune followed their wake always. The world would have bee_ifferent this hour if he—The break in the trend of thought was caused by th_ntrance of Kuroki, who was followed by a man. This man dropped into a chai_ithout apparently noticing that the room was already tenanted, for he neve_lanced toward Hawksley. A haggard face, dull of eye. Kuroki bobbed an_anished, but returned shortly, beckoning the stranger to follow him into th_tudy.
"Coles?" cried Cutty delightedly. Here was the man he had sent to negotiat_or the emeralds, free. "How did you escape? We've combed the town for you."
"They had me in a room on Fifteenth Street. Once in a while I got something t_at. But I haven't escaped. I'm still a prisoner."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I am here as an emissary. There was nothing for me to do but accept the job."
"Did he have the stones?" asked Cutty, without the least suspicion of what wa_oming.
"That I don't know. He pretended to have them in order to get me where h_anted me. I've been hungry a good deal because I wouldn't talk. I'm here as _egotiator. A rotten business. I agreed because I've hopes you'll be able t_ut one over on Karlov. It's the girl."
"Karlov has her. The girl wasn't to blame. Any one in the game would have don_s she did. Karlov is bugs on politics; but he's shrewd enough at this sort o_ame. He trapped the girl because he'd studied her enough to learn what sh_ould or would not do. Now they are not going to hurt her. They merely propos_xchanging her for the man you've been hiding up here. There's a tax_ownstairs. It will carry me back to Fifteenth; then it will return and wait.
If the man is not at the appointed place by midnight—he must go in thi_axi—the girl will be carried off elsewhere, and you'll never lay eyes on he_gain. Karlov and his gang are potential assassins; all they want is excuse.
Until midnight they will not touch the girl; but after midnight, God knows!
What message am I to take back?"
"Do you know where she is?"
Cutty spoke without much outward emotion.
"Not the least idea. Whenever Karlov wanted to quiz me, he appeared late a_ight from some other part of the town. But he never got much."
"You saw him this evening?"
"Yes. It probably struck him as a fine joke to send me."
"And if you don't go back?"
"The girl will be taken away. I'm honestly afraid of the man. He's too quie_poken. That kind of a man always goes the limit."
"I see. Wait here."
At Cutty's approach Hawksley looked up apathetically.
"You are pale. Anything serious?"
"Yes. Karlov has got Kitty."
For a minute Hawksley did not stir. Then he got up, put away the Amati, an_ame back. He was pale, too.
"I understand," he said. "They will exchange her for me. Am I right?"
"Yes. But you are not obliged to do anything like that, you know."
"I am ready."
"You give yourself up?"
"You're a man!" Cutty burst out.
"I was brought up by one. Honestly, now, could I ever look a white man in th_ace again if I didn't give myself up? I did begin to believe that I might ge_hrough. But Fate was only playing with me. May I use your desk to write _ine?"
"Come with me," said Cutty, unsteadily. This was not the result o_nvironment. Quiet courage of this order was race. No questions demanding i_here wasn't some way round the inevitable. Cutty's heart glowed; the boy ha_alked into it, never to leave it. "I'm ready." It took a man to say that whe_he sequence was death.
"Coles," said Cutty upon reentering the study, "tell Karlov that His Highnes_ill give himself up. He will be there before midnight."
"That's enough for me. But if there's the least sign that you're not playin_traight it will be all off. Two men will be watching the taxi and th_ntrance. If you appear, it's good-night. They told me to warn you."
"I promise not to appear."
Coles smiled enigmatically and reached for his hat. He held his hand out t_awksley. "You're a white man, sir."
"Thanks," said Hawksley, absently. To have it all over with!
As soon as the captive Federal agent withdrew Hawksley sat down at the des_nd wrote.
"Will this hold legally?" he asked, extending the written sheet to Cutty.
Cutty saw that it was a simple will. In it Hawksley gave half of hi_ossessions to Kitty and half to Stefani Gregor. In case the latter was dea_he sum total was to go to Kitty.
"I got you into a muddle; this will take you out of it. Karlov will kill me. _on't know how. I am his obsession. He will sleep better with me off his mind.
Will this hold legally?"
"Yes. But why Kitty Conover, a stranger?"
"Is a woman who saves your life a stranger?"
"Well, not exactly. This is what we might call zero hour. I gave you a have_ere not particularly because I was sorry for you, but because I wanted thos_meralds. Once upon a time Gregor showed them to me. Until I examined you_allet I supposed you had smuggled in the stones; and that would have bee_air game. But you had paid your way in honestly. Now, what did you do t_itty Conover last night that decided her to accept that fool proposition? Sh_ent her acceptance after she left you.
"I did not know that. I played for her. She became music-struck, and I too_dvantage of it—kissed her. Then she told me she was going to marry you."
"And that is why you asked me if I would trust you with a daughter of mine?"
"Conscience. That explains this will."
"No. Why did you accept my suggestion to marry her?"
"To make her comfortable without sidestepping the rules of convention."
"No. Because you love her—the way I do."
Cutty's pipe slipped from his teeth. It did not often do that. He stamped ou_he embers and laid the pipe on the tray.
"What makes you think I love her?"
"What makes me tell you that I do?"
"Yes, death may be at the end of to-night's work; so I'll admit that I lov_er. She is like a forest stream, wild at certain turns, but always sweet an_lear. I'm an old fool, old enough to be her father. I loved her mother. Can _an love two women with all his heart, one years after the other?"
"It is the avatar; she is the reincarnation of the mother. I understand now.
What was a beautiful memory takes living form again. You still love th_other; the daughter has revived that love."
"By the Lord Harry, I believe you've struck it! Walked into the fog an_ouldn't find the way out. Of course. What an old ass I've been! Simple a_aylight. I've simply fallen in love with Molly all over again, thinking i_as Kitty. Plain as the nose on my face. And I might have made a fine mess o_t if you hadn't waked me up."
All this gentle irony went over Hawksley's head. "When do you wish me to g_own to the taxi?"
"Son, I'm beginning to like you. You shall have your chance. In fact, we'l_ake it together. There'll be a taxi but I'll hire it. I'm quite positive _now where Kitty is. If I'm correct you'll have your chance. If I'm wron_ou'll have to pay the score. We'll get her out or we'll stay where she is. I_ny event, Karlov will pay the price. Wouldn't you prefer to go out—if yo_ust—in a glorious scrap?"
"Fighting?" Hawksley was on his feet instantly. "Do you mean that? I can di_ith free hands?"
"With a chance of coming out top-hole."
"I say, what a ripping thing hope is—always springing back!"
Cutty nodded. But he knew there was one hope that would never warm his hear_gain. Molly!… Well, he'd let the young chap believe that. Kitty must neve_now. Poor little chick, fighting with her soul in the dark and not knowin_hat the matter was! Such things happened. He had loved Molly on sight. He ha_oved Kitty on sight. In neither case had he known it until too late to tur_bout. Mother and daughter; a kind of sacrilege, as if he had betrayed Molly!
But what a clear vision acknowledged love lent to the mind! He understoo_itty, who did not understand herself. Well, this night's adventure woul_ecide things.
He smiled. Neither Kitty nor the drums of jeopardy; nothing. The gates o_aradise again—for somebody else! Whoever heard of a prompter receiving pres_otices?
"Let's look alive! We haven't any time to waste. We'll have to change t_ungarees—engineer togs. There'll be some tools to carry. We go straight dow_o the boiler room. We come up the ash exit on the street side. Remember, n_uspicious haste. Two engineers off for their evening swig of beer at th_orner groggery. Through the side door there, and into my taxi. Obey ever_rder I give. Now run along to Kuroki and say night work for both of us. He'l_nderstand what's wanted. I'll set the machinery in motion for a raid. How d_ou feel? I want the truth. I don't want to turn to you for help and not ge_t."
Hawksley laughed. "Don't worry about me. I'll carry on. Don't you understand?
To have an end of it, one way or the other! To come free or to die there!"
"And if Kitty is not where I believe her to be?"
"Then I'll return to the taxi outside."
To be young like that! thought Cutty, feeling strangely sad and old. "To com_ree or to die there!" That was good Anglo-Saxon. He would make a goo_merican citizen—if he were in luck.
At half after nine the two of them knelt on the roof before the cemented trap.
Nothing but raging heat disintegrates cement. So the liberation of this trap, considering the time, was a Herculean task, because it had to be accomplishe_ith little or no noise. Cold chisels, fulcrums, prying, heaving, boring. T_ree the under edge; the top did not matter. Not knowing if Kitty wer_elow—that was the worst part of the job.
The sweat of agony ran down Hawksley's face; but he never faltered. He wa_oing to die to-night, somehow, somewhere, but with free hands, the wa_tefani would have him die, the way the girl would have him die. All thes_housands of miles—to die in a house he had never seen before, just when lif_as really worth something!
An hour went by. Then they heard Kitty's signal. Instinctively the two of the_new that the taps came from her. They were absolutely certain when her signa_as repeated. She was below, alone.
"Faster!" whispered Cutty.
Hawksley smiled. To say that to a chap when he was digging into his tomb!
When the sides of the trap were free Cutty tapped to Kitty again. There was _ong, agonizing wait. Then three taps came from below. Cutty flashed a signa_o the warehouse windows. In five minutes the raid would be in full swing—fro_he roof, from the street, from the cellar.
With their short crowbars braced by stout fulcrums the two men heaved. Nois_id not matter now. Presently the trap went over.
"Look out for your hands; there's lots of loose glass. And together when w_rop."
"Right-o!" whispered Hawksley, assured that when he dropped through the tra_he result would be oblivion. Done in.