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Suddenly he sat up in bed in his room at the Magnifique, gazing upon a disconsolate Cooley in gray tweeds who sat heaped in a chair at the foot of the bed with his head in his hands.
Mellin's first sensation was of utter mystification; his second was more corporeal: the consciousness of physical misery, of consuming fever, of aches that ran over his whole body, converging to a dreadful climax in his head, of a throat so immoderately partched it seemed to crackle, and a thirst so avid it was a passion. His eye fell upon a carafe of water on a chair at his bedside; he seized upon it with a shaking hand and drank half its contents before he set it down. The action attracted his companion's attention and he looked up, showing a pale and haggard countenance.
"How do you feel?" inquired Cooley with a wan smile.
Mellin's head dropped back upon the pillow and he made one or two painful efforts to speak before he succeeded in finding a ghastly semblance of his voice.
"I thought I was at Madame de Vaurigard's."
"You were," said the other, adding grimly: "We both were."
"But that was only a minute ago."
"It was six hours ago. It's goin' on ten o'clock in the morning."
"I don't understand how that can be. How did I get here?"
"I brought you. I was pretty bad, but you--I never saw anything like you! From the time you kissed Lady Mount-Rhyswicke--"
Mellin sat bolt upright in bed, staring wildly. He began to tremble violently.
"Don't you remember that?" asked Cooley.
Suddenly he did. The memory of it came with inexorable clarity, he crossed forearms over his horror-stricken face and fell back upon his pillow.
"Oh," he gasped. "Un-speakable! Un-speakable!"
"Lord! Don't worry about that! I don't think she minded."
"It's the thought of Madame de Vaurigard--it kills me! The horror of it--that I should do such a thing in her house! She'll never speak to me again, she oughtn't to; she ought to send her groom to beat me! You can't think what I've lost--"
"Can't I!" Mr. Cooley rose from his chair and began to pace up and down the chamber. "I can guess to within a thousand francs of what I've lost! I had to get the hotel to cash a check on New York for me this morning. I've a habit of carrying all my money in bills, and a fool trick, too. Well, I'm cured of it!"
"Oh, if it were only a little money and nothing else that I'd lost! The money means nothing." Mellin choked.
"I suppose you're pretty well fixed. Well, so am I," Cooley shook his head, "but money certainly means something to me!"
"It wouldn't if you'd thrown away the most precious friendship of your life."
"See here," said Cooley, halting at the foot of the bed and looking at his stricken companion from beneath frowning brows, "I guess I can see how it is with you, and I'll tell you frankly it's been the same with me. I never met such a fascinating woman in my life: she throws a reg'ler ole-fashioned spell over you! Now I hate to say it, but I can't help it, because it plain hits me in the face every time I think of it; the truth is--well, sir, I'm afraid you and me have had little red soldier-coats and caps put on us and strings tied to our belts while we turned somersets for the children."
"I don't understand. I don't know what you're talking about."
"No? It seems to get more and more simple to me. I've been thinking it all over and over again. I can't help it! See here: I met Sneyd on the steamer, without any introduction. He sort of warmed into the game in the smoking-room, and he won straight along the trip. He called on me in London and took me to meet the Countess at her hotel. We three went to the theatre and lunch and so forth a few times; and when I left for Paris she turned up on the way: that's when you met her. Couple of days later, Sneyd came over, and he and the Countess introduced me to dear ole friend Pedlow. So you see, I don't rightly even know who any of 'em really are: just took 'em for granted, as it were. We had lots of fun, I admit that, honkin' about in my car. We only played cards once, and that was in her apartment the last night before I left Paris, but that one time Pedlow won fifteen thousand francs from me. When I told them my plans, how I was goin' to motor down to Rome, she said she would be in Rome--and, I tell you, I was happy as a poodle-pup about it. Sneyd said he might be in Rome along about then, and open-hearted ole Pedlow said not to be surprised if he turned up, too. Well, he did, almost to the minute, and in the meantime she'd got you hooked on, fine and tight."
"I don't understand you," Mellin lifted himself painfully on an elbow. "I don't know what you're getting at, but it seems to me that you're speaking disrespectfully of an angel that I've insulted, and I--"
"Now see here, Mellin, I'll tell you something." The boy's white face showed sudden color and there was a catch in his voice. "I was--I've been mighty near in love with that woman! But I've had a kind of a shock; I've got my common-sense back, and I'm not, any more. I don't know exactly how much money I had, but it was between thirty-five and thirty-eight thousand francs, and Sneyd won it all after we took off the limit--over seven thousand dollars--at her table last night. Putting two and two together, honestly it looks bad. It looks mighty bad! Now, I'm pretty well fixed, and yesterday I didn't care whether school kept or not, but seven thousand dollars is real money to anybody! My old man worked pretty hard for his first seven thousand, I guess, and"--he gulped--"he'd think a lot of me for lettin' go of it the way I did last night, wouldn't he? You never see things like this till the next morning! And you remember that other woman sat where she could see every hand you drew, and the Countess--"
"Stop!" Mellin flung one arm up violently, striking the headboard with his knuckles. "I won't hear a syllable against Madame de Vaurigard!" Young Cooley regarded him steadily for a moment. "Have you remembered yet," he said slowly, "how much you lost last night?"
"I only remember that I behaved like an unspeakable boor in the presence of the divinest creature that ever--"
Cooley disregarded the outburst, and said:
"When we settled, you had a pad of express company checks worth six hundred dollars. You signed all of 'em and turned 'em over to Sneyd with three one-hundred-lire bills, which was all the cash you had with you. Then you gave him your note for twelve thousand francs to be paid within three days. You made a great deal of fuss about its being a 'debt of honor.'" He paused. "You hadn't remembered that, had you?"
Mellin had closed his eyes. He lay quite still and made no answer.
"No, I'll bet you hadn't," said Cooley, correctly deducing the fact. "You're well off, or you wouldn't be at this hotel, and, for all I know, you may be fixed so you won't mind your loss as much as I do mine; but it ought to make you kind of charitable toward my suspicions of Madame de Vaurigard's friends."
The six hundred dollars in express company checks and the three hundred-lire bills were all the money the unhappy Mellin had in the world, and until he could return to Cranston and go back to work in the real-estate office again, he had no prospect of any more. He had not even his steamer ticket. In the shock of horror and despair he whispered brokenly:
"I don't care if they 're the worst people in the world, they're better than I am!"
The other's gloom cleared a little at this. "Well, you have got it!" he exclaimed briskly. "You don't know how different you'll feel after a long walk in the open air." He looked at his watch. "I've got to go and see what that newspaper-man, Cornish, wants; it's ten o'clock. I'll be back after a while; I want to reason this out with you. I don't deny but it's possible I'm wrong; anyway, you think it over while I'm gone. You take a good hard think, will you?"
As he closed the door, Mellin slowly drew the coverlet over his head. It was as if he covered the face of some one who had just died.
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