Chapter XIX




Kitty came home at nine that night, dreadfully tired. She had that day been rocked by so many emotions. She had viewed the parade from the windows of a theatrical agency, and she had cheered and cried like everybody else. Her eyes still smarted, and her throat betrayed her every time she recalled what she had seen. Those boys!

Loneliness. She had dined downtown, and on the way home the shadow had stalked beside her. Loneliness. Never before had these rooms seemed so empty, empty. If God had only given her a brother and he had marched in that glorious parade, what fun they two would be having at this moment! Empty rooms; not even a pet.

Loneliness. She had been a silly little fool to stand so aloof, just because she was poor and lived in a faded locality. She mocked herself. Poor but proud, like the shopgirl in the movies. Denied herself companionship because she was ashamed of her genteel poverty. And now she was paying for it. Silly little fool! It wasn't as if she did not know how to make and keep friends. She knew she had attractions. Just a senseless false pride. The best friends in the world, after a series of rebuffs, would drop away. Her mother's friends never called any more, because of her aloofness. She had only a few girl friends, and even these no doubt were beginning to think her uppish.

She did not take off her hat and coat. She wandered through the empty rooms, undecided. If she went to a movie the rooms would be just as lonely when she returned. Companionship. The urge of it was so strong that there was a temptation to call up someone, even someone she had rebuffed. She was in the mood to confess everything and to make an honest attempt to start all over again - to accept friendship and let pride go hang. Impulsively she started for the telephone, when the doorbell rang.

Immediately the sense of loneliness fell away. Another chapter in the great game of hide and seek that had kept her from brooding until to-night? The doorbell carried a new message these days. Nine o'clock. Who could be calling at that hour? She had forgotten to advise Cutty of the fact that someone had gone through the apartment. She could not positively assert the fact. Those articles in her bureau she herself might have disturbed. She might have taken a handkerchief in a hurry, hunted for something under the lingerie impatiently. Still she could not rid herself of the feeling that alien hands had been rifling her belongings. Not Bernini, decidedly.

Remembering Cutty's advice about opening the door with her foot against it, she peered out. No emissary of Bolshevisim here. A weary little messenger boy with a long box in his arms called her name.

"Miz Conover?"

"Yes."

The boy thrust the box into her hands and clumped to the stairhead. Kitty slammed the door and ran into the living room, tearing open the box as she ran. Roses from Cutty; she knew it. The old darling! Just when she was on the verge of breaking down and crying! She let the box fall to the floor and cuddled the flowers to her heart, her eyes filling. Cutty.

One of those ideas which sometime or another spring into the minds of all pretty women who are poor sprang into hers - an idea such as an honest woman might muse over, only to reject. Sinister and cynical. Kitty was at this moment in rather a desperate frame of mind. Those two inherent characteristics, which she had fought valiantly - love of good times and of pretty clothes - made ingress easy for this sinister and cynical idea. Having gained a foothold it pressed forward boldly. Cutty, who had everything - strength, comeliness, wisdom, and money. To live among all those beautiful things, never to be lonely again, to be waited on, fussed over, made much of, taken into the high world. Never more to add up accounts, to stretch five-dollar bills across the chasm of seven days. An old man's darling!

"No, no, no!" she burst out, passionately. She drew a hand across her eyes. As if that gesture could rub out an evil thought! It is all very well to say "Avaunt!" But if the idea will not? "I couldn't, I couldn't! I'd be a liar and a cheat. But he is so nice! If he did want me! ... No, no! Just for comforts! I couldn't! What a miserable wretch I am!"

She caught up the copper jug and still holding the roses to her heart, the tears streaming down her cheeks, rushed out to the kitchen for water. She dropped the green stems into the jug, buried her face in the buds to cool the hot shame on her cheeks, and remembered - what a ridiculous thing the mind was! - that she had three shirt waists to iron. She set the jug on the kitchen table, where it remained for many hours, and walked over to the range, to the flatiron shelf. As she reached for a flatiron her hand stopped in midair.

A fat black wallet! Instantly she knew who had placed it there. That poor Johnny Two-Hawks!

Kitty lifted out the wallet from behind the flatirons. No doubt of it, Johnny Two-Hawks had placed it there when she had gone to the speaking tube to summon the janitor. Not knowing if he would ever call for it! Preferring that she rather than his enemies should have it. And without a word! What a simple yet amazing hiding place; and but for the need of a flatiron the wallet would have stayed there until she moved. Left it there, with the premonition that he was heading into trouble. But what if they had killed him? How would she have explained the wallet's presence in her apartment? Good gracious, what an escape!

Without direct consciousness she raised the flap. She saw the edges of money and documents; but she did not touch anything. There was no need. She knew it belonged to Johnny Two-Hawks. Of course there was an appalling attraction. The wallet was, figuratively, begging to be investigated. But resolutely she closed the flap. Why? Because it was as though Two-Hawks had placed the wallet in her hands, charging her to guard it against the day he reclaimed it. There was no outward proof that the wallet was his. She just knew, that was all.

Still, she examined the outside carefully. In one corner had been originally a monogram or a crest; effectually obliterated by the application of fire.

Who he was and what he was, by a simple turn of the wrist. It was Cutty's affair now, not hers. He had a legal right to examine the contents. He was an agent of the Federal Government. The drums of jeopardy and Stefani Gregor and Johnny Two-Hawks, all interwoven. She had waited in vain for Cutty to mention the emeralds. What signified his silence? She had indirectly apprised him of the fact that she knew the author of that advertisement offering to purchase the drums, no questions asked. Who but Cutty in New York would know about them? The mark of the thong. Johnny Two-Hawks had been carrying the drums, and Karlov's men had torn them from their victim's neck during the battle. Was there any reason why Cutty should not have taken her completely into his confidence? Palaces looted. If Stefani Gregor had lived in a palace, why not his protege? Still, it was possible Cutty was holding back until he could tell her everything.

But what to do with it? If she called him up and made known her discovery, Cutty would rush up as fast as a taxicab could bring him. He had peremptorily ordered her not to come to his apartment for the present. But to sit here and wait, to be alone again after he had gone! It was not to be borne. Orders or no orders, she would carry the wallet to him. He could lecture her as much as he pleased. To-night, at least, she would lay aside her part as parlour maid in the drama. It would give her something to do, keep her mind off herself. Nothing but excitement would pull her out of this semi-hysterical doldrum.

She hid the wallet in the pocket of her underskirt. Already her blood was beginning to dance. She ran into her bedroom for two veils, a gray automobile puggree and one of those heavy black affairs with butterflies scattered over it, quite as effectual as a mask. She wound the puggree about her hat. When the right moment came she would discard the puggree and drop the black veil. Her coat was of dark blue, lined with steel-gray taffeta. Turned inside out it would fool any man. She wore spats. These she would leave behind when she made the change.

Someone might follow her as far as the Knickerbocker, but beyond there, never. She was sorry, but she dared not warn Bernini. He might object, notify Cutty, and spoil everything.

By the time she reached the street exhilaration suffused her. The melancholia was gone. The sinister and cynical idea had vanished apparently. Apparently. Merely it had found a hiding place and was content to abide there for the present. Such ideas are not without avenues of retreat; they know the hours of attack. Kitty was alive to but one fact: The game of hide and seek was on again. She was going to have some excitement. She was going into the night on an adventure, as children play at bears in the dark. The youth in her still rejected the fact that the woof and warp of this adventure were murder and loot and pain.

En route to the Subway she never looked back. At Forty-second Street she detrained, walked into the Knickerbocker, entered the ladies dressing room, turned her coat, redraped her hat, checked her gaiters, and sought a taxi. Within two blocks of Cutty's she dismissed the cab and finished the journey on foot.

At the left of the lobby was an all-night apothecary's, with a door going into the lobby. Kitty proceeded to the elevator through this avenue. Number Four was down, and she stepped inside, raising her veil.

"You, miss?"

"Very important. Take me up."

"The boss is out."

"No matter. Take me up.

"You're the doctor!" What a pretty girl she was. No come-on in her eyes, though. "The boss may not get back until morning. He just went out in his engineer's togs. He sure wasn't expecting you.

"Do you know where he went?"

"Never know. But I'll be in this bird cage until he comes back."

"I shall have to wait for him."

"Up she goes!"

As Kitty stepped out into the corridor a wave of confusion assailed her. She hadn't planned against Cutty's absence. There was nothing she could say to the nurse; and if Johnny Two-Hawks was asleep - why, all she could do would be to curl up on a divan and await Cutty's return.

The nurse appeared. "You, Miss Conover?"

"Yes." Kitty realized at once that she must take the nurse into her confidence. "I have made a really important discovery. Did Cutty say when he would return?"

"No. I am not in his confidence to that extent. But I do know that you assumed unnecessary risks in coming here."

Kitty shrugged and produced the wallet. "Is Mr. Hawksley awake?"

"He is."

"It appears that he left this wallet in my kitchen that night. It might buck him up if I gave it to him."

The nurse, eyeing the lovely animated face, conceded that it might. "Come, I've been trying futilely to read him asleep, but he is restless. No excitement, please."

"I'll try not to. Perhaps, after all, you had better give him the wallet."

"On the contrary, that would start a series of questions I could not answer. Come along."

When Kitty saw Hawksley she gave a little gasp of astonishment. Why, he was positively handsome! His dark head, standing out boldly against the bolstering pillows, the fine lines of his face definite, the pallor - he was like a Roman cameo. Who and what could he be, this picturesque foundling?

His glance flashed into hers delightedly. For hours and hours the constant wonder where she was, why no one mentioned her, why they evaded his apparently casual questions. To burst upon his vision in the nadir of his boredom and loneliness like this! She was glorious, this American girl. She made him think of a golden scabbard housing a fine Toledo blade. Hadn't she saved his life? More, hadn't she assumed a responsibility in so doing? Instantly he purposed that she should not be permitted to resign the office of good Samaritan. He motioned toward the nurse's chair; and Kitty sat down, her errand in total eclipse.

"Just when I never felt so lonely! Ripping!"

His quick smile was so engaging that Kitty answered it - kindred spirits, subconsciously recognizing each other. Fire; but neither of them knew that; or that two lonely human beings of opposite sex, in touch, constitute a first-rate combustible.

Quietly the nurse withdrew. There would be a tonic in this meeting for the patient. Her own presence might neutralize the effect. She had not spent all those dreadful months in base hospitals without acquiring a keen insight into the needs of sick men. No harm in letting him have this pretty, self-reliant girl alone to himself for a quarter of an hour. She would then return with some broth.

"How - how are you?" asked Kitty, inanely.

"Top-hole, considering. Quite ready to be killed all over again."

"You mustn't talk like that!" she protested.

"Only to show you I was bucking up. Thank you for doing what you did."

"I had to do it."

"Most women would have run away and left me to my fate."

"Not my kind."

"Rather not! Your kind would risk its neck to help a stray cat. I say, what's that you have in your hand?"

"Good gracious!" Kitty extended the wallet. "It is yours, isn't it?"

"Yes. I wanted you to bring it to me the way you have. If I hadn't come back - out of that - it was to be yours."

"Mine?" - dumfounded. "But - - "

"Why not? Gregor gone, there wasn't a soul in the world. I was hungry, and you gave me food. I wanted that to pay you. I'll wager you've never looked into it."

"I had no right to."

"See!" He opened the wallet and spread the contents on the counterpane. "I wasn't so stony as you thought. What? Cash and unregistered bonds. They would have been yours absolutely."

"But I don't - I can't quite," Kitty stammered - "but I couldn't have kept them!"

"Positively yes. You would have shown them to that ripping guardian of yours, and he would have made you see."

"Indeed, yes! He would have been scared to death. You poor man, can't you see? Circumstantial evidence that I had killed you!"

"Good Lord! And you're right, too! So it goes. You can't do anything you want to do. The good Samaritan is never requited; and I wanted to break the rule. Lord, what a bally mix-up I'd have tumbled you in! I forgot that you were you, that you would have gone straight to the authorities. Of course I knew if I pulled through and you found the wallet you would bring it to me."

Kitty no longer had a foot on earth. She floated. Her brain floated, too, because she could not make it think coherently for her. A fortune - for a dish of bacon and eggs! The magnificence, the utter prodigality of such generosity! For a dish of bacon and eggs and a bottle of milk! Had she left home? Hadn't she fallen asleep, the victim of another nightmare? A corner of the atmosphere cleared a little. A desire took form; she wanted the nurse to come back and stabilize things. In a wavering blur she saw the odd young man restore the money and bonds and other documents to the wallet.

"I want you to give this to your guardian when he comes in. I want him to understand. I say, you know, I'm going to love that old thoroughbred! He's fine. Fancy his carrying me on his shoulders and eventually bringing me up here among the clouds! Americans.... Are you all like that? And you!"

Kitty's brain began to make preparations to alight, as it were. Cutty. That gave her a touch of earth. She heard herself say faintly: "And what about me?"

"You were brave and kind. To help an unknown, friendless beggar like that, when you should have turned him over to the police! Makes me feel a bit stuffy. They left me for dead. I wonder - "

"What?"

"If - it wouldn't have been just as well!"

"You mustn't talk like that! You just mustn't! You're with friends, real friends, who want to help you all they can." And then with a little flash of forced humour, because of the recurrent tightening in her throat - "Who could be friendless, with all that money?" Instantly she felt like biting her tongue. He would know nothing of the sad American habit of trying to be funny to keep a wobbly situation on its legs. He would interpret it as heartlessness. "I didn't mean that!" With the Irish impulsiveness which generally weighs acts in retrospection, she reached over and gripped his hand.

"I say, you two!" Hawksley closed his eyes for a second. "Wanting to buck up a chap because you re that sort! All right. I'll stick it out! You two! And I might be the worst scoundrel unhung!"

He drew her hand toward his lips, and Kitty had not the power to resist him. She felt strangely theatrical, a character in a play; for American men, except in playful burlesque, never kissed their women's hands. The moment he released the hand the old wave of hysteria rolled over her. She must fly. The desire to weep, little fool that she was! was breaking through her defences. Loneliness. The two of them all alone but for Cutty. She rose, crushing the wallet in her hand.

Ah, never had she needed that darling mother of hers so much as now. Tears did not seem to afford relief when one shed them into handkerchiefs and pillows. But on that gentle bosom, to let loose this brimming flood, to hear the tender voice consoling!

"Oh, I say, now! Please!" she heard Johnny Two-Hawks cry out.

But she rushed on blindly, knocking against the door jamb and almost upsetting the nurse, who was returning. Somehow she managed to reach the living room, glad it was dark. Alter sundry reaching about she found the divan and flung herself upon it. What would he think? What would the nurse think? That Kitty Conover had suddenly gone stark, raving crazy! And now that she was in the dark, alone, the desire to weep passed over and she lay quietly with her face buried in the pillow. But not for long.

She sat up. Music - violin music! A gay waltz that made her think of flashing water, the laughter of children. Tschaikowsky. Thrilled, she waited for the finale. Silence. Scharwenka's "Polish Dance," with a swing and a fire beyond anything she had ever heard before. Another stretch of silence - a silence full of interrogation points. Then a tender little sketch, quite unfamiliar. But all at once she understood. He was imploring her to return. She smiled in the dark; but she knew she was going to remain right where she was.

"Miss Conover?" It was the voice of the nurse.

"Yes. I'm over here on the divan."

"Anything wrong?"

"Good gracious, no! I'm overtired. A little hysterical, maybe. The parade to-day, with all those wounded boys in automobiles, the music and colour and excitement - have rather done me up. And the way I rushed up here. And not finding Cutty "

"Anything I can get for you?"

"No, thanks. I'll try to snatch a little sleep before Cutty returns."

"But he may be gone all night!"

"Will it be so very scandalous if I stay here?"

"You poor child! Go ahead and sleep. Don't hesitate to call me if you want anything. I have a mild sedative if you would like it."

"No, thanks. I did not know that Mr. Hawksley played."

"Wonderfully! But does it bother you?"

"It kind of makes me choky."

"I'll tell him."

Kitty, now strangely at peace, snuggled down among the pillows. Some great Polish violinist, who had roused the bitter enmity of the anarchist? But no; he was Russian. Cutty had admitted that. It struck her that Cutty knew a great deal more than Kitty Conover; and so far as she could see there was no apparent reason for this secrecy. She rather believed she had Cutty. Either he should tell her everything or she would run loose, Bolshevik or no Bolshevik.

Sheep. She boosted one over the bars, another and another. Round somewhere in the thirties the bars dissolved. The next thing she knew she was blinking in the light, Cutty, his arms folded, staring down at her sombrely. There was blood on his face and blood on his hands.



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