Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Kitty gasped, but she did not cry out. The five days' growth of blondish stubble, the discoloured eye - for all the orb itself was brilliant - and the hawky nose combined to send through her the first great thrill of danger she had ever known.
Slowly she backed away from the window. The man outside immediately extended his hands with a gesture that a child would have understood. Supplication. Kitty paused, naturally. But did the man mean it? Might it not be some trick to lure her into opening the window? And what was he doing outside there anyhow? Her mind, freed from the initial hypnosis of the encounter, began to work quickly. If she ran from the kitchen to call for help he might be gone when she returned, only to come back when she was again alone.
Once more the man executed that gesture, his palms upward. It was Latin; she was aware of that, for she was always encountering it in the halls. Another gesture. She understood this also. The tips of the fingers bunched and dabbed at the lips. She had seen Italian children make the gesture and cry: "Ho fame!" Hungry. But she could not let him into the kitchen. Still, if he were honestly hungry - She had it!
In the kitchen-table drawer was an imitation revolver - press the trigger, and a fluted fan was revealed - a dance favour she had received during the winter.
She plucked it out of the drawer and walked bravely to the window, which she threw up.
"What do you want? What are you doing out there on the fire escape?" she instantly demanded to know.
"My word, I am hungry! I was looking out of the window across the way and saw you preparing your dinner. A bit of bread and a glass of milk. Would you mind, I wonder?"
"Why didn't you come to the door then? What window?" Kitty was resolute; once she embarked upon an enterprise.
"Where is Mr. Gregory?" Kitty recalled that odd letter.
"Gregory? I should very much like to know. I have come many miles to see him. He sent me a duplicate key. There was not even a crust in the cupboard."
Gregory away? That letter! Something had happened to that poor, kindly old man. "Why did you not seek some restaurant? Or have you no money?"
"I have plenty. I was afraid that I might not be able conveniently to return. I am a stranger. My actions might be viewed with suspicion."
"Indeed! Describe Mr. Gregory."
Not of the clinging kind, evidently, he thought. A raving beauty - Diana domesticated!
"It is four years since I saw him. He was then gray, dapper, and erect. A mole on his chin, which he rubs when he talks. He is a valet in one of the fashionable hotels. He is - or was - the only true friend I have in New York."
"Was? What do you mean?"
"I'm afraid something has happened to him. I found his bedroom things tossed about."
"What could possibly happen to a harmless old man like Mr. Gregory?"
"Pardon me, but your egg is burning !"
Kitty wheeled and lifted off the pan, choking in the smother of smoke. She came right-about face swiftly enough. The man had not moved; and that decided her.
"Come in. I will give you something to eat. Sit in that chair by the window, and be careful not to stir from it. I'm a good shot," lied Kitty, truculently. "Frankly, I do not like the looks of this."
"I do look like a burglar, what?" He sat down in the chair meekly. Food and a human being to talk to! A lovely, self-reliant American girl, able to take care of herself. Magnificent eyes - slate blue, with thick, velvety black lashes. Irish.
In a moment Kitty had three eggs and half a dozen strips of bacon frying in a fresh pan. She kept one eye upon the pan and the other upon the intruder, risking strabismus. At length she transferred the contents of the pan to a plate, backed to the ice chest, and reached for a bottle of milk. She placed the food at the far end of the table and retreated a few steps, her arms crossed in such a way as to keep the revolver in view.
"Please do not be afraid of me.
"What makes you think I am?"
"Any woman would be."
Kitty saw that he was actually hungry, and her suspicions began to ebb. He hadn't lied about that. And he ate like a gentleman. Young, not more than thirty; possibly less. But that dreadful stubble and that black eye ! The clothes would have passed muster on any fashionable golf links. A fugitive? From what?
"Thank you," he said, setting down the empty milk bottle.
"Your accent is English."
"Which is to say?"
"That your gestures are Italian."
"My mother was Italian. But what makes you believe I am not English?"
"An Englishman - or an American, for that matter - with money in his pocket would have gone into the street in search of a restaurant."
"You are right. The fundamentals of the blood will always crop out. You can educate the brain but not the blood. I am not an Englishman; I merely received my education at Oxford."
"A fugitive, however, of any blood might have come to my window."
"Yes; I am a fugitive, pursued by the god of Irony. And Irony is never particular; the chase is the thing. What matters it whether the quarry be wolf or sheep?"
Kitty was impressed by the bitterness of the tone. "What is your name?"
"But that is English!"
"I should not care to call myself Two-Hawks, literally. It would be embarrassing. So I call myself Hawksley."
A pause. Kitty wondered what new impetus she might give to the conversation, which was interesting her despite her distrust.
"How did you come by that black eye?" she asked with embarrassing directness.
Hawksley smiled, revealing beautifully white teeth. "I say, it is a bit off, isn't it! I received it" - a twinkle coming into his eyes - "in a situation that had moribund perspectives."
"Moribund perspectives," repeated Kitty, casting the phrase about in her mind in search of an equivalent less academic.
"I am young and healthy, and I wanted to live," he said, gravely. "I am curious to know what is going to happen to-morrow and other to-morrows."
Somewhere near by a door was slammed violently. Kitty, every muscle in her body tense, jumped convulsively, with the result that her finger pressed automatically the trigger of her pistol. The fan popped out gayly.
Hawksley stared at the fan, quite as astonished as Kitty. Then he broke into low, rollicking laughter, which Kitty, because her basic corpuscle was Irish, perforce had to join. For all her laughter she retreated, furious and alarmed.
"Fancy! I say, now, you're jolly plucky to face a scoundrel like me with that."
"I don't just know what to make of you," said Kitty, irresolutely, flinging the fan into a corner.
"You have revivified a celestial spark - my faith in human beings. I beg of you not to be afraid of me. I am quite harmless. I am very grateful for the meal. Yours is the one act of kindness I have known in weeks. I will return to Gregor's apartment at once. But before I go please accept this. I rather suspect, you know, that you live alone, and that fan is amusing and not particularly suitable." He rose and unsmilingly laid upon the table one of those heavy blue-black bull-dogs of war, a regulation revolver. Kitty understood what this courteous act signified; he was disarming himself to reassure her.
"Sit down," she ordered. Either he was harmless or he wasn't. If he wasn't she was utterly at his mercy. She might be able to lift that terrible-looking engine of murder, battle, and sudden death with the aid of both hands, but to aim and fire it - never in this world! "As I came in to-night I found a note in the hall from Mr. Gregory. I will fetch it. But you call him Gregor?"
"His name is Stefani Gregor; and years and years ago he dandled me on his knees. I promise not to move until you return."
Subdued by she knew not what, no longer afraid, Kitty moved out of the kitchen. She had offered Gregory's letter as an excuse to reach the telephone. Once there, however, she did not take the receiver off the hook. Instead she whistled down the tube for the janitor.
"This is Miss Conover. Come up to my apartment in ten minutes.... No; it's not the water pipes.... In ten minutes"
Nothing very serious could happen inside of ten minutes; and the janitor was reliable and not the sort one reads about in the comic weeklies. Her confidence reenforced by the knowledge that a friend was near, she took the letter into the kitchen. Apparently her unwelcome guest had not stirred. The revolver was where he had laid it.
"Read this," she said.
The visitor glanced through it. "It is Gregor's hand. Poor old chap! I shall never forgive my self."
"For dragging him into this. They must have intercepted one of my telegrams." He stared dejectedly at the strip of oilcloth in front of the range. "You are an American?"
"God has been exceedingly kind to your country. I doubt if you will ever know how kind. I'll take myself off. No sense in compromising you." He laid a folded handkerchief inside his cap which he put on. "Know anything about this?" - indicating the revolver.
"Permit me to show you. It is loaded; there are five bullets in the clip. See this little latch? So, it is harmless. So, and you kill with it."
"It is horrible!" cried Kitty. "Take it with you please. I could not keep my eyes open to shoot it."
"These are troublous times. All women should know something about small arms. Again I thank you. For your own sake I trust that we may never meet again. Good-bye." He stepped out of the window and vanished.
Kitty, at a mental impasse, could only stare into the night beyond the window. This mesmeric state endured for a minute; then a gentle and continuous sound dissipated the spell. It was raining. Obliquely she saw the burnt egg in the pan. The thing had happened; she had not been dreaming.
Her brain awoke. Thought crowded thought; before one matured another displaced it; and all as futile as the sparks from the anvil. An avalanche of conjecture; and out of it all eventually emerged one concrete fact. The man Was honest. His hunger had been honest; his laughter. Who was he, what was he? For all his speech, not English; for all his gestures, not Italian. Moribund perspectives. Somewhere that day he had fought for his life. John Two-Hawks.
And there was the mysterious evanishment of old Gregory, whose name was Stefani Gregor. In a humdrum, prosaic old apartment like this!
Kitty had ideas about adventure - an inheritance, though she was not aware of that. There had to be certain ingredients, principally mystery. Anything sordid must not be permitted to edge in. She had often gone forth upon semi-perilous enterprises as a reporter, entered sinister houses where crimes had been committed, but always calculating how much copy at eight dollars a column could be squeezed out of the affair. But this promised to be something like those tales which were always clear and wonderful in her head but more or less opaque when she attempted to transfer them to paper. A secret society? Vengeance? An echo of the war?
"Johnny Two-Hawks," she murmured aloud. "And he hopes we'll never meet again!"
There was a mirror over the sink, and she threw a glance into it. Very well; if he thought like that about it.
Here the doorbell tinkled. That would be the faithful janitor. She ran to the door.
"Whadjuh wanta see me about, Miz Conover?"
"What has happened to old Mr. Gregory?"
"Him? Why, some amb'lance fellers carted him off this afternoon. Didn't know nawthin' was the matter with 'im until I runs into them in the hall."
"He'd been hurt?"
"Couldn't say, miz. He was on a stretcher when I seen 'im. Under a sheet."
"But he might have been dead!"
"Nope. I ast 'em, an' they said a shock of some sort."
"Gee, I forgot t'ast that!"
"I'll find out. Good-night."
But Kitty did not find out. She called up all the known private and public hospitals, but no Gregor or Gregory had been received that afternoon, nor anybody answering his description. The fog had swallowed up Stefani Gregor.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.