When I reached the hotel I found Miss Gage at the door, and
Kendricks coming out of the office toward her.
"Oh, here he is!" she called to him at sight of me.
"Where in the world have you been?" he demanded. "I had just found out from the clerk that you hadn't come in yet, and I was going back for you with a searchlight."
"Oh, I wasn't so badly lost as all that," I returned. "I missed you in the crowd at the door, but I knew you'd get home somehow, and so I came on without you. But my aged steps are not so quick as yours."
The words, mechanically uttered, suggested something, and I thought that if they were in for weirdness I would give them as much weirdness as they could ask for. "When you get along toward fifty you'll find that the foot you've still got out of the grave doesn't work so lively as it used. Besides, I was interested in the night effect. It's so gloriously dark; and I had a fine sense of isolation as I came along, as if I were altogether out of my epoch and my environment. I felt as if the earth was a sort of Flying Dutchman, and I was the only passenger. It was about the weirdest sensation I ever had. It reminded me, I don't know how, exactly of the feeling I had when I was young, and I saw the sunset one evening through the woods after a sleet-storm."
They stared at each other as I went on, and I could see Kendricks's fine eyes kindle with an imaginative appreciation of the literary quality of the coincidence. But when I added, "Did you ever read a poem about the end of the world by that City of Dreadful Night man?" Miss Gage impulsively caught me by the coat lapel and shook me.
"Ah, it was you all the time! I knew there was somebody following us, and I might have KNOWN who it was!"
We all gave way in a gale of laughter, and sat down on the verandah and had our joke out in full recognition of the fact. When Kendricks rose to go at last, I said, "We won't say anything about this little incident to Mrs. March, hey?" And then they laughed again as if it were the finest wit in the world, and Miss Gage bade me a joyful good-night at the head of the stairs as she went off to her room and I to mine.
I found Mrs. March waiting up with a book; and as soon as I shut myself in with her she said, awfully, "What WERE you laughing so about?"
"Laughing? Did you hear me laughing?"
"The whole house heard you, I'm afraid. You certainly ought to have known better, Basil. It was very inconsiderate of you." And as I saw she was going on with more of that sort of thing, to divert her thoughts from my crime I told her the whole story. It had quite the effect I intended up to a certain point. She even smiled a little, as much as a woman could be expected to smile who was not originally in the joke.
"And they had got to comparing weird experiences?" she asked.
"Yes; the staleness of the thing almost made me sick. Do you remember when we first compared our weird experiences? But I suppose they will go on doing it to the end of time, and it will have as great a charm for the last man and woman as it had for Adam and Eve when they compared THEIR weird experiences."
"And was that what you were laughing at?"
"We were laughing at the wonderful case of telepathy I put up on them."
Mrs. March faced her open book down on the table before her, and looked at me with profound solemnity. "Well, then, I can tell you, my dear, it is no laughing matter. If they have got to the weird it is very serious; and her talking to him about her family, and his wanting to know about her father, that's serious too—far more serious than either of them can understand. I don't like it, Basil; we have got a terrible affair on our hands."
"Yes, terrible. As long as he was interested in her simply from a literary point of view, though I didn't like that either, I could put up with it; but now that he's got to telling her about himself, and exchanging weird experiences with her, it's another thing altogether. Oh, I never wanted Kendricks brought into the affair at all."
"Come now, Isabel! Stick to the facts, please."
"No matter! It was you that discovered the girl, and then something had to be done. I was perfectly shocked when you told me that Mr. Kendricks was in town, because I saw at once that he would have to be got in for it; and now we have to think what we shall do."
"Couldn't we think better in the morning?"
"No; we must think at once. I shall not sleep to-night anyhow. My peace is gone. I shall have to watch them every instant."
"Beginning at this instant. Why not wait till you can see them?"
"Oh, you can't joke it away, my dear. If I find they are really interested in each other I shall have to speak. I am responsible."
"The young lady," I said, more to gain time than anything else, "seems quite capable of taking care of herself."
"That makes it all the worse. Do you think I care for her only? It's Kendricks too that I care for. I don't know that I care for her at all."
"Oh, then I think we may fairly leave Kendricks to his own devices; and I'm not alarmed for Miss Gage either, though I do care for her a great deal."
"I don't understand how you can be so heartless about it, Basil," said Mrs. March, plaintively. "She is a young girl, and she has never seen anything of the world, and of course if he keeps on paying her attention in this way she can't help thinking that he is interested in her. Men never can see such things as women do. They think that, until a man has actually asked a girl to marry him, he hasn't done anything to warrant her in supposing that he is in love with her, or that she has any right to be in love with him."
"That is true; we can't imagine that she would be so indelicate."
"I see that you're determined to tease, my dear," said Mrs. March, and she took up her book with an air of offence and dismissal. "If you won't talk seriously, I hope you will think seriously, and try to realise what we've got in for. Such a girl couldn't imagine that we had simply got Mr Kendricks to go about with her from a romantic wish to make her have a good time, and that he was doing it to oblige us, and wasn't at all interested in her."
"It does look a little preposterous, even to the outsider," I admitted.
"I am glad you are beginning to see it in that light, my dear, and if you can think of anything to do by morning I shall be humbly thankful. I don't expect to."
"Perhaps I shall dream of something," I said more lightly than I felt. "How would it do for you to have a little talk with her—a little motherly talk—and hint round, and warn her not to let her feelings run away with her in Kendricks's direction?" Mrs. March faced her book down in her lap, and listened as if there might be some reason in the nonsense I was talking. "You might say that he was a society man, and was in great request, and then intimate that there was a prior attachment, or that he was the kind of man who would never marry, but was really cold-hearted with all his sweetness, and merely had a passion for studying character."
"Do you think that would do, Basil?" she asked.
"Well, I thought perhaps you might think so."
"I'm afraid it wouldn't," she sighed.
"All that we can do now is to watch them, and act promptly, if we see that they are really in love, either of them."
"I don't believe," I said, "that I should know that they were in love even if I saw it. I have forgotten the outward signs, if I ever knew them. Should he give her flowers? He's done it from the start; he's brought her boxes of Huyler candy, and lent her books; but I dare say he's been merely complying with our wishes in doing it. I doubt if lovers sigh nowadays. I didn't sigh myself, even in my time; and I don't believe any passion could make Kendricks neglect his dress. He keeps his eyes on her all the time, but that may be merely an effort to divine her character. I don't believe I should know, indeed I don't."
"I shall," said Mrs. March.