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TALK OF TREASURE SHIPS
In the twilight of the long spring evening, Ruth sat waiting in the bare room which had been Arnold's habitation during these days of his struggle against poverty. She was sitting on the couch, drawn up as usual to the window, her elbows upon her knees, her hands supporting her delicate, thoughtful face. Already the color which the sunshine had brought seemed to have been drained from her cheeks. Her eyes were unnaturally bright, her expression seemed to have borrowed something of that wistful earnestness of one of the earlier Madonnas, seeking with pathetic strenuousness to discover the germs of a truth which was as yet unborn. The clouds, which hung low over the other side of the river, were tinged with an unusual coloring, smoke-stained as they hovered over the chimneys. They grew clearer and more full of amber color as they floated slowly southwards. Through the open window came the ceaseless roar of the city, the undernote of grinding, commonplace life, seeking always to stifle and enchain the thoughts which would escape. Before her was spread out a telegram. She had read it many times, until every word was familiar to her. It was from Arnold, and she had received it several hours ago.
Please be prepared to go out with me directly I return this evening. All well. Love. Arnold.
It was past eight o'clock before her vigil was at an end. She listened to his step upon the stairs, and, as he entered, looked at him with all the eagerness of a wistful child, tremulously anxious to read his expression. A little wave of tenderness swept in upon him. He forgot in a moment the anxieties and worries of the day, and greeted her gayly.
"You got my telegram?"
"You extravagant person!" she answered. "Yes, I have been ready for quite a long time."
"To tell you the truth, I didn't even pay for the telegram. As I had to stay late, I took the liberty of sending it through the firm's accounts. You see, I have become quite an important person in Tooley Street all of a sudden. I'll tell you about it presently. Now hold on tightly to your stick. I'm much too impatient to go down the steps one by one. I'm going to carry you all the way."
"But where to?" she asked.
"Leave it to me," he laughed. "There are all sorts of surprises for you. The lady with the wand has been busy."
He carried her downstairs, where, to her surprise, she found a taxicab waiting.
"But, Arnold," she exclaimed, "how could you think of such extravagance! You know I can walk quite easily a little distance, if I take your arm."
"I'll tell you all about it at dinner-time," he replied.
"Dinner-time?" she cried. "Dinner at this hour?"
"Why not? It's quite the fashionable hour, I can assure you, and, to tell you the truth, I am half starved."
She resigned herself with a sigh of content. After all, it was so delightful to drift like this with some one infinitely stronger to take the responsibility for everything. They drove to a large and popular restaurant close at hand, where Arnold ordered the dinner, with frequent corrections from Ruth, who sat with a menu-card in her hand. A band was playing the music of the moment. It was all very commonplace, but to Ruth it was like a living chapter out of her book of dreams. Even there, though, the shadow pursued. She could bear the silence no longer. She dropped her voice a little. The place was crowded and there were people at the next table.
"Before I touch anything, Arnold, tell me this. Is there any news of Isaac?"
"None at all," he replied. "It all seemed very alarming to us, but it seems to be fizzling out. There is only quite a small paragraph in the evening paper. You can read it, if you like."
He drew the Evening News from his pocket and passed it to her. The paragraph to which he pointed was headed--
ESCAPE OF AN ANARCHIST FROM ADAM STREET.
Up to the time of going to press, the man Isaac Lalonde, whom the police failed to arrest last night on a charge not at present precisely stated, has not been apprehended. The police are reticent about the matter, but it is believed that the missing man was connected with a dangerous band of anarchists who have lately come to this country.
"Poor Isaac!" she murmured, with a little shiver. "Do you know, I remember him years ago, when he was the kindest-hearted man breathing. He went to Russia to visit some of his mother's relatives, and when he came back everything was changed. He saw injustice everywhere, and it seemed almost to unbalance his mind. The very sight of the west-end, the crowds coming out of the theatres, the shops in Bond Street, seemed to send him half mad. And it all started, Arnold, with real pity for the poor. It isn't a personal matter with him at any time."
Arnold nodded thoughtfully.
"Poor chap!" he remarked. "Just at first I really used to like talking to him. He was so earnest, and so many of his arguments were absolutely sound."
"It is only lately," Ruth said, "that he has changed so much."
"I think it is quite time that you and he were separated," Arnold declared. "It is evident, nowadays, that he isn't responsible for his actions."
"Separated!" she repeated bitterly. "You talk as though I had a choice of homes."
"You have," he assured her. "However, we won't say anything about that just now. I want to talk about myself."
"And I want to listen, dear!" she exclaimed. "You must tell me what has happened, Arnie. Has Mr. Weatherley taken you into partnership, or has some one of your disagreeable relatives found you out and been pouring money into your pockets?"
"Neither," he replied. "As a matter of fact, there is no Mr. Weatherley just at present."
"No Mr. Weatherley?" she repeated, wonderingly. "I don't understand."
The slightly worn look came back to Arnold's face. Young and strong though he was, he was beginning to feel the strain of the last few days.
"A most extraordinary thing has happened, Ruth," he declared. "Mr. Weatherley has disappeared."
She looked at him blankly.
"Disappeared? I don't understand."
"He simply didn't turn up at business this morning," Arnold continued. "He left Bourne End about seven, and no one has set eyes on him since."
She was bewildered.
"But how is it that that makes such a difference to you?" she asked. "What can have happened to him?"
"No one knows," he explained; "but in a little safe, of which he had given me the keys, he left behind some letters with instructions that during his absence from business Mr. Jarvis and I should jointly take charge. I can't really imagine why I should have been put in such a position, but there it is. The solicitors have been down this afternoon, and I am drawing six pounds a week and a bonus."
She took his hand in hers and patted it gently.
"I am so very glad, Arnold," she said, "so very glad that the days of your loneliness are over. Now you will be able to go and take some comfortable rooms somewhere and make the sort of friends you ought to have. Didn't I always foretell it?" she went on. "I used to try and fancy sometimes that the ships we saw were bringing treasure for me, too, but I never really believed that. It wasn't quite likely."
He turned and looked at her. The first flush of excitement had left her cheeks. She was very pale, and her soft gray eyes shone like stars. Her mouth was tremulous. It was the passing of a single impulse of self-pity.
"Foolish little girl!" he exclaimed, under his breath. "You don't really suppose that the treasure which came for me wasn't yours, too? But there, we'll talk about our plans later on. At present, what you have to do is to eat and to drink that glass of Burgundy and to listen to me. I want to talk about myself."
It was the subtlest way to distract her thoughts. She listened to him with keen interest while he talked of his day's work. It was not until she mentioned Fenella's name that his face clouded over.
"Curiously enough, Mrs. Weatherley is displeased with me. I should have thought it entirely through her influence and suggestions that Mr. Weatherley had been so kind to me, but to-day I asked her some questions which I felt that I had a right to ask, and have been told to mind my own business. She left me at the office without even saying 'Good afternoon.'"
"What sort of questions?"
"I don't know that I can tell you exactly what the questions were," Arnold continued, "because they concerned some matters in which Mrs. Weatherley and her brother were chiefly concerned. To tell you the truth, ever since that night when I went to Hampstead to dine, the oddest things seem to have happened to me. I have to pinch myself sometimes to realize that this is London and that I am a clerk in the office of a wholesale provision merchant. When I let myself go, I seem to have been living in an unreal world, full of strange excitements--a veritable Arabian Nights."
"There was that terrible murder," she murmured. "You saw that, didn't you?"
"Not only saw it," he agreed, "but I seem, somehow, to have been mixed up with people who know a great deal about it. However, I have been told to mind my own business and I am going to. I have plenty to occupy my thoughts in Tooley Street. I am going to close in my little world and live there. The rest I am going to forget."
"You are coming back!" she whispered, with a joy in her tone which amazed him.
"I suppose I am," he admitted. "I like and admire Mrs. Weatherley's brother, Count Sabatini, and I have a genuine affection for Mrs. Weatherley, but I don't understand them. I don't understand these mysterious matters in which they seem mixed up."
"I do not believe," she declared, "that Count Sabatini would be mixed up in anything dishonorable. Women so seldom make a mistake, you know," she continued, "and I never met any one in my life who seemed so kind and gentle."
"I wish I could tell you everything," he said, "then I think you would really be as bewildered as I am. Mr. Weatherley's disappearance coming on the top of it all simply makes my brain reel. I can't do anything to help straighten things out. Therefore, I am going to do what I am told--I am going to mind my own business."
"To think only of Tooley Street," she murmured.
"I shall find it quite enough," he answered. "I want to understand all the details of the business, and it isn't easy at first. Mr. Jarvis is very sound and good, but he's a very small man moving in a very small way. Even Mr. Weatherley used to laugh at his methods."
She was silent for several moments. He studied her expression curiously.
"You don't believe that I shall be able to immerse myself in business?" he asked.
"It isn't exactly that," she replied. "I believe that you mean to try, and I believe that to some extent you will succeed, but I think, Arnold, that before very long you will hear the voices calling again from the world where these strange things happened. You are not made of the clay, dear, which resists for ever."
He moved uneasily in his seat. Her words sounded ominous. He was suddenly conscious that his present state of determination was the result of a battle, and that the war was not yet ended.
"She is so beautiful, that Mrs. Weatherley," Ruth continued, clasping her hands together and looking for a moment away from her surroundings. "No one could be blamed for climbing a little way out of the dull world if she held out her hands. I have seen so little of either of them, Arnold, but I do know that they both of them have that curious gift--would you call it charm?--the gift of creating affection. No one has ever spoken to me more kindly and more graciously than Count Sabatini did when he sat by my side on the lawn. What is that gift, Arnold? Do you know that with every word he spoke I felt that he was not in the least a stranger? There was something familiar about his voice, his manner--everything."
"I think that they are both quite wonderful people," Arnold admitted.
"Mrs. Weatherley, too, was kind," Ruth went on; "but I felt that she did not like me very much. She has an interest in you, and like all women she was a little jealous--not in the ordinary way, I don't mean," she corrected herself hastily, "but no woman likes any one in whom she takes an interest to be very kind to any one else."
They had reached the stage of their coffee. The band was playing the latest waltz. It was all very commonplace, but they were both young and uncritical. The waltz was one which Fenella had played after dinner at Bourne End, while they had sat out in the garden, lingering over their dessert. A flood of memories stirred him. The soft sensuousness of that warm spring night, with its perfumed silence, its subtly luxurious setting, stole through his senses like a narcotic. Ruth was right. It was not to be so easy! He called for his bill and paid it. Ruth laid her fingers upon his arm.
"Arnold," she began timidly, "there is something more. I scarcely know how to say it to you and yet it ought not to be difficult. You talk all the time as though you were my brother, or as though it were your duty to help me. It isn't so, dear, really, is it? If you could manage to lend me your room for one week, I think that I might be able to help myself a little. There is a place the clergyman told us of who came to see me once--"
Arnold interrupted her almost roughly. A keen pang of remorse assailed him. He knew very well that if she had not been intuitively conscious of some change in him, the thought which prompted her words would never have entered her brain.
"Don't let me hear you mention it!" he exclaimed. "I have made all the arrangements. It wouldn't do for me to live in an attic now that I am holding a responsible position in the city. Come along. Lean on my arm and mind the corner."
They had purposely chosen a table close to the door, so that they had only a few steps to take. Arnold called a taxi and handed Ruth in before he told the man the address.
"Now close your eyes," he insisted, when they were together in the cab.
Ruth did as she was told.
"I feel that it is all wrong," she murmured, leaning back, "but it is like little bits out of a fairy book, and to-night I feel so weak and you are so strong. It isn't any use my saying anything, Arnold, is it?"
"Not a bit," he answered. "All that you have to do is to hold my hand and wait."
In less than ten minutes the cab stopped. He hurried her into the entrance hall of a tall, somewhat somber building. A man in uniform rang a bell and the lift came down. They went up, it seemed to her, seven or eight flights. When they stepped out, her knees were trembling. He caught her up and carried her down a corridor. Then he fitted a Yale key from his pocket into a lock and threw open the door. There was a little hall inside, with three doors. He pushed open the first; it was a small bedroom, plainly but not unattractively furnished. He carried her a little way further down the corridor and threw open another door--a tiny sitting-room with a fire burning.
"Our new quarters!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "The room at the other end of the passage is mine. A pound a week and a woman to come in and light the fires! Mr. Jarvis let me have some money and I paid three months' rent in advance. What do you think of them?"
"I can't think," she whispered. "I can't!"
He carried her to the window.
"This is my real surprise, dear," he announced, in a tone of triumph. "Look!"
The blind flew up at his touch. On the other side of the street was a row of houses over which they looked. Beyond, the river, whose dark waters were gleaming in the moonlight. On their left were the Houses of Parliament, all illuminated. On their right, the long, double line of lights shining upon the water at which they had gazed so often.
"The lighted way, dear," he murmured, holding her a little more closely to him. "While I am down in the city you can sit here and watch, and you can see the ships a long way further off than you could ever see them from Adam Street. You can see the bend, too. It's always easier, isn't it, to fancy that something is coming into sight around the corner?"
She was not looking. Her head was buried upon his shoulder. Arnold was puzzled.
"Look up, Ruth dear," he begged. "I want you to look now--look along the lighted way and hold my hand very tightly. Don't you think that, after all, one of your ships has come home?"
She lifted her face, wet with tears, and looked in the direction where he pointed. Arnold, who felt nothing himself but a thrill of pleasure at his new quarters, was puzzled at a certain trouble which he seemed to see in her features, a faint hopelessness of expression. She looked where he pointed but there was none of the eager expectancy of a few weeks ago.
"It is beautiful, Arnold," she murmured, "but I can't talk just now."
"I am going to leave you to get over it," he declared. "I'm off now to fetch the luggage. You won't be afraid to be left here?"
She shook her head. A certain look of relief flashed across her face.
"No, I shall not be afraid," she answered.
He wheeled the easy-chair up to the window which he had flung wide open. He placed a cushion at the back of her head and left her with a cheerful word. She heard his steps go down the corridor, the rattle of the lift as it descended. Then her lips began to tremble and the sobs to shake her shoulders. She held out her hands toward that line of lights at which he had pointed, and her fingers were clenched.
"It is because--I am like this!" she cried, half hysterically. "I don't count!"
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