Chapter 19




TWO LETTERS


Elsa sang. She flew to her mirror. The face was hers and yet not hers. Always her mirror had told her that she was beautiful; but up to this moment her emotion had recorded nothing stronger than placid content. Now a supreme gladness filled and tingled her because her beauty was indisputable. When Martha came to help her dress for dinner, she still sang. It was a wordless song, a melody that every human heart contains and which finds expression but once. Elsa loved.

Doubt, that arch-enemy of love and faith and hope, doubt had spread its dark pinions and flown away into yesterdays. She felt the zest and exhilaration of a bird just given its freedom. Once she slipped from Martha's cunning hands and ran out upon the gallery.

"Elsa, your waist!"

Elsa laughed and held out her bare arms to the faded sky where, but a little while since, the sun had burned a pathway down the world. All in an hour, one small trifling space of time, this wonderful, magical thing had happened. He loved her. There had been hunger for her in his voice, in his blue eyes. Presently she was going to make him feel very sorry that he had not taken her in his arms, then and there.

"Oh, beautiful world!"

"Elsa, what in mercy's name possesses you?"

"I am mad, Martha, mad as a March hare, whatever that is!" She loved.

"People will think so, if they happen to come along and see that waist. Please come instantly and let me finish hooking it. You act like you did when you were ten. You never would stand still."

"Yes, and I remember how you used to yank my pig-tails. I haven't really forgiven you yet."

"I believe it's going home that's the matter with you. Well, I for one shall be glad to leave this horrid country. Chinamen everywhere, in your room, at your table, under your feet. And in the streets, Chinamen and Malays and Hindus, and I don't know what other outlandish races and tribes. . . . Why, what's this?" cried Martha, bending to the floor.

Elsa ran back to the room. She gave a little gasp when she saw what it was that Martha was holding out for her inspection. It was Warrington's letter of credit. She had totally forgotten its existence. Across the face of the thick Manila envelope (more or less covered with numerals that had been scribbled there by Warrington in an attempt to compute the interest at six per cent.) which contained the letters of credit and identification was written in a clerical hand the owner's name. Martha could not help seeing it. Elsa explained frankly what it was and how it had come into her possession. Martha was horrified.

"Elsa, they might have entered your room; and your jewels lying about everywhere! How could you be so careless?"

"But they didn't. I'll return this to Mr. Warrington in the morning; perhaps to-night, if I see him at dinner."

"He was in the next room, and we never knew it!" The final hook snapped into place. "Well, Wednesday our boat leaves;" as if this put a period to all further discussion anent Mr. Parrot & Co. Nothing very serious could happen between that time and now.

"Wednesday night." Elsa began to sing again, but not so joyously. The petty things of every-day life were lifting their heads once more, and of necessity she must recognize them.

She sat at the consul-general's table, informally. There was gay inconsequential chatter, an exchange of recollections and comparisons of cities and countries they had visited at separate times; but neither she nor he mentioned the chief subject of their thoughts. She refrained because of a strange yet natural shyness of a woman who has found herself; and he, because from his angle of vision it was best that Warrington should pass out of her life as suddenly and mysteriously as he had entered it. Had he spoken frankly he would have saved Elsa many a bitter heartache, many a weary day.

Warrington was absent, and so were his enemies. If there was any truth in reincarnation, Elsa was confident that in the splendid days of Rome she had beaten her pink palms in applause of the gladiators. Pagan; she was all of that; for she knew that she could have looked upon Mallow's face with more than ordinary interest. Never more would her cheeks burn at the recollection of the man's look.

She was twenty-five; she had waited longer than most women; the mistake of haste would never be hers. Nor did she close her eyes to the future. She knew exactly what the world was, and how it would act. She was not making any sacrifices. She was not one of those women, lightly balanced, who must have excitement in order to exist; she depended upon herself for her amusements. With the man she loved she would have shared a hut in the wilderness and been happy. One of the things that had drawn her to Arthur had been his quiet love of the open, his interest in flowers and forests and streams. Society, that division of classes, she had accepted, but to it she had never bowed down. How very well she could do without it! She would go with him and help him build his bridges, help him to fight torrents and hurricanes, and to forget. That he had bidden her farewell was nothing. She would seek him. In her pursuit of happiness she was not going to permit false modesty to intervene. In her room, later, she wrote two letters. The one to Arthur covered several pages; the other consisted of a single line. She went down to the office, mailed Arthur's letter and left the note in Warrington's key-box. It was not an intentionally cruel letter she had written to the man in America; but if she had striven toward that effect she could not have achieved it more successfully. She cried out against the way he had treated his brother, the false pride that had hidden all knowledge of him from her. Where were the charity and mercy of which he had so often preached? Pages of burning reproaches which seared the soul of the man who read them. She did not confide the state of her heart. It was not necessary. The arraignment of the one and the defense of the other were sufficiently illuminating.

Soundly the happy sleep. She did not hear the removal of Warrington's luggage at midnight, for it was stealthily done. Neither did she hear the fretful mutter of the bird as his master disturbed his slumbers. Nothing warned her that he intended to spend the night on board; that, having paid his bill early in the evening, her note might have lain in the key-box until the crack of doom, so far as he was likely to know of its existence. No angel of pity whispered to her, Awake! No dream-magic people tell about drew for her the picture of the man she loved, pacing up and down the cramped deck of the packet-boat, fighting a battle compared to which that of the afternoon was play. Elsa slept on, dreamless.

When she awoke in the morning she ran to the mirror: all this fresh beauty she was going to give to him, without condition, without reservation, absolutely: as Aspasia might have rendered her charms to Pericles. She dressed quickly, singing lowly. Fate makes us the happiest when she is about to crush us.

Usually she had her breakfast served in the room, but this morning she was determined to go downstairs. She was excited; she brimmed with exuberance; she wanted Romance to begin at once.

"Good-morning," she greeted the consul-general, who was breakfasting alone.

"Well, you're an early bird!" he replied. "Elsa, you are certainly beautiful."

"Honestly?" with real eagerness.

"Honestly. And how you have gone all these years without marrying a grand duke, is something I can't figure out."

"Perhaps I have been waiting for the man. There was no real hurry."

"Lucky chap, when you find him. By the way, our romantic Parrot & Co. have gone."

"Gone?" Elsa stared at him.

"Yes. Sailed for Saigon at dawn."

"Saigon," she repeated.

"And I am rather glad to see him go. I was afraid he might interest you too much. You'll deny it, but you'll never outgrow the fairy-story age."

"Saigon."

"Good heavens, Elsa, what is the matter?"

"No, no! Don't touch me. I'm not the fainting kind. Did you know last night that he was going?"

"Yes."

"I shall never forgive you."

"Why, Elsa . . ."

"Never, never! You knew and did not tell me. Do you know who Paul Ellison is? He is the brother of the man at home. You knew he was stealing away and did not tell me."

She could not have made the truth any plainer to him. He sat back in his chair, stunned, voiceless.

"I am going to my room," she said. "Do not follow. Please act as if nothing had happened."

He saw her walk bravely the length of the dining-room, out into the office. What a misfortune! Argument was out of the question. Elsa was not a child, to be reasoned with. She was a woman, and she had come to a woman's understanding of her heart. To place before her the true angles of the case, the heartless banishment from the world she knew, the regret which would be hers later, no matter how much she loved the man . . . He pushed back his chair, leaving his coffee untasted.

He possessed the deep understanding of the kindly heart, and his one thought was Elsa's future happiness. As men go, Warrington was an honorable man; honorable enough to run away rather than risk the danger of staying where Elsa was. He was no longer an outlaw; he could go and come as he would. But there was that misstep, not printed in shifting sand but upon the granite of recollection. Single, he could go back to his world and pick up the threads again, but not with a wife at his side. Oh, yes; they would be happy at first. Then Elsa would begin to miss the things she had so gloriously thrown away. The rift in the lute; the canker in the rose. They were equally well-born, well-bred; politeness would usurp affection's hold. Could he save her from the day when she would learn Romance had come from within? No. All he could do was to help her find the man.

He sent five cablegrams to Saigon, to the consulate, to the principal hotels: the most difficult composition he had ever attacked. But because he had forgotten to send the sixth to meet the packet-boat, against the possibility of Warrington changing his mind and not landing, his labor was thrown to the winds.

Meantime Elsa stopped at the office-desk. "I left a note for Mr. Warrington who has gone to Saigon. I see it in his key-box. Will you please return it to me?"

The clerk did not hesitate an instant. He gravely returned the note to her, marveling at her paleness. Elsa crushed the note in her hand and moved toward the stairs, wondering if she could reach her room before she broke down utterly. He had gone. He had gone without knowing that all he wanted in life was his for the taking. In her room she opened the note and through blurred vision read what she had so happily inscribed the night before. "Paul--I love you. Come to me. Elsa." She had written it, unashamed.

She flung herself upon the bed, and there Martha found her.

"Elsa, child, what is it?" Martha cried, kneeling beside the bed. "Child, what has happened?"

Elsa sat up, seized Martha by the shoulders and stared into the faithful eyes.

"Do you want to know?"

"Elsa!"

"Well, I love this man Warrington and he loves me. But he has gone. Can't you see? Don't you understand? Have you been as blind as I? He is Paul Ellison, Arthur's brother, his twin brother. And they obliterated him. It is Arthur who is the ghost, Martha, the phantom. Ah, I have caused you a good deal of worry, and I am going to cause you yet more. I am going to Saigon; up and down the world, east and west, until I find him. Shall I go alone, or will you go with me?"

Then Martha did what ever after endeared her to the heart of the stricken girl: she mothered her. "Elsa, my baby! Of course I shall go with you, always. For you could not love any man if he was not worthy."

Then followed the strangest quest doubtless ever made by a woman. From Singapore to Saigon, up to Bangkok, down to Singapore again; to Batavia, over to Hongkong, Shanghai, Pekin, Manila, Hongkong again, then Yokohama. Patient and hopeful, Elsa followed the bewildering trail. She left behind her many puzzled hotel managers and booking agents: for it was not usual for a beautiful young woman to go about the world, inquiring for a blond man with a parrot. Sometimes she was only a day late. Many cablegrams she sent, but upon her arrival in each port she found that these had not been called for. Over these heart-breaking disappointments she uttered no complaint. The world was big and wide; be it never so big and wide, Elsa knew that some day she would find him.

In the daytime there was the quest; but, ah! the nights, the interminable hours of inaction, the spaces of time in which she could only lie back and think. Up and down the coasts, across islands, over seas, the journey took her, until one day in July she found herself upon the pillared veranda of the house in which her mother had been born.




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