HIGH WORDS AT HIGH NOON

Early Tuesday morning, while Mr. Minot still slept and mercifully
forgot, two very wide awake gentlemen sat alone together in the office
of the _San Marco Mail_. One was Manuel Gonzale, proprietor of that
paper, as immaculate as the morn; the other was that broad and breezy
gentleman known in his present incarnation as Mr. Martin Wall.

“Very neat. Very neat indeed,” said Mr. Wall, gazing with evident
approval at an inky smelling sheet that lay before him. “It ought to
do the work. If it does, it will be the first stroke of luck I’ve had
in San Marco.”

Gonzale smiled, revealing two even rows of very white teeth.

“You do not like San Marco?” he ventured.

Mr. Wall snorted angrily.

“Like it? Does a beheaded man like the ax? In a long and golden
professional career, I’ve never struck anything like this town before
for hard luck. I’m not in it twenty-four hours when I’m left alone, my
hands tied, with stuff enough to make your eyes pop out of your head.
That’s pleasant! Then, after spending two months and a lot of money
trailing Lord Harrowby for the family jools, I finally cop them. I
give the crew of my borrowed boat orders to steam far, far away, and
run to my cabin to gloat. Do I gloat? Ask me. I do not gloat. I
find the famous Chain Lightning’s Collar is a very superior collection
of glass, worth about twenty-three cents. I send back the glass, and
stick around, hoping for better days. And the best I get is a call
from the owner of my yacht, with orders to vacate at once. When I
first came here I swore I’d visit that jewelry store again–alone.
But–there’s a jinx after me in this town. What’s the use? I’m going
to get out.”

“But before you go,” smiled Manuel, “one stroke of luck you shall have.”

“Maybe. I leave that to you. This kind of thing”–he motioned toward
the damp paper–“is not in my line.” He bent over a picture on the
front page. “That cut came out pretty well, didn’t it? Lucky we got
the photograph before big brother George arrived.”

“I have always found San Marco lucky,” replied Gonzale. “Always–with
one trifling exception.” He drummed reminiscently on his desk.

“I say–who’s this?” Mr. Wall pointed to a line just beneath the name
of the paper. “Robert O’Neill, Editor and Proprietor,” he read.

Manuel Gonzale gurgled softly somewhere within, which was his cunning,
non-committal way of indicating mirth.

“Ah–my very virtuous managing editor,” he said. “One of those dogs
who dealt so vilely with me–I have told you of that. Manuel Gonzale
does not forget.” He leaned closer. “This morning at two, after
O’Neill and Howe had sent to-day’s paper to press as usual, Luypas, my
circulation manager, and I arrived. My virtuous editors had departed
to their rest. Luypas and I stopped the presses, we substituted a new
first-page form. O’Neill and Howe–they will not know. Always they
sleep until noon. In this balmy climate, it is easy to lie abed.”

Again Manuel Gonzale gurgled.

“May their sleep be dreamless,” he said. “And should our work of the
morning fail, may the name of O’Neill be the first to concern the
police.”

Wall laughed.

“A good idea,” he remarked. He looked at his watch. “Nine-fifteen.
The banks ought to be open now.”

Gonzale got to his feet. Carefully he folded the page that had been
lying on his desk.

“The moment for action has come,” he said. “Shall we go down to the
street?”

“I’m in strange waters,” responded Martin Wall uneasily. “The first
dip I’ve ever taken out of my line. Don’t believe in it either–a man
should have his specialty and stick to it. However, I need the money.
Am I letter perfect in my part, I wonder?”

The door of the _Mail_ office opened, and a sly little Cuban with an
evil face stepped in.

“Ah, Luypas,” Gonzale said, “you are here at last? Do you understand?
Your boys they are to be in the next room–yes? You are to sit near
that telephone. At a word from my friend, Mr. Martin Wall, to-day’s
edition of the _Mail_ is to flood the streets–the news-stands.
Instantly. Delay might be fatal. Is that clear?”

“I know,” said Luypas.

“Very good,” said Gonzale. He turned to Martin Wall. “Now is the
time,” he added.

The two descended to the street. Opposite the Hotel de la Pax they
parted. The sleek little Spaniard went on alone and mounted boldly
those pretentious steps. At the desk he informed the clerk on duty
that he must see Mr. Spencer Meyrick at once.

“But Mr. Meyrick is very busy to-day,” the clerk objected.

“Say this is–life and death,” replied Gonzale, and the clerk, wilting,
telephoned the millionaire’s apartments.

For nearly an hour Gonzale was kept waiting. Nervously he paced the
lobby, consuming one cigarette after another, glancing often at his
watch. Finally Spencer Meyrick appeared, pompous, red-faced, a hard
man to handle, as he always had been. The Spaniard noted this, and his
slits of eyes grew even narrower.

“Will you come with me?” he asked suavely. “It is most important.”

He led the way to a summer-house in a far forgotten corner of the hotel
grounds. Protesting, Spencer Meyrick followed. The two sat down.

“I have something to show you,” said Gonzale politely, and removed from
his pocket a copy of the _San Marco Mail_, still damp from the presses.

Spencer Meyrick took the paper in his own large capable hands. He
glanced casually at the first page, and his face grew somewhat redder
than its wont. A huge head-line was responsible:

HARROWBY WASN’T TAKING ANY CHANCES.

Underneath, in slightly smaller type, Spencer Meyrick read:

Remarkable Foresight of English Fortune
Hunter Who Weds Miss Meyrick To-Day
Took Out a Policy For Seventy-Five
Thousand Pounds With Lloyds.
Same to be Payable in Case the
Beautiful Heiress Suffered a
Change of Heart

Prominent on the page was a large photograph, which purported to be “An
Exact Facsimile of the Policy.” Mr. Meyrick examined it. He glanced
through the story, which happened to be commendably brief. He told
himself he must remain calm, avoid fireworks, think quickly. Laying
the paper on his knee, he turned to the little white-garbed man beside
him.

“What trick is this?” he asked sharply.

“It is no trick, sir,” said Gonzale pleasantly. “It is the truth.
That is a photograph of the policy.”

Old Meyrick studied the cut again.

“I’ll be damned,” he remarked.

“I have no desire to annoy,” Gonzale went on. “But–there are five
thousand copies of to-day’s _Mail_ at the office ready to be
distributed at a signal from me. Think, sir! Newsboys on the street
with that story at the very moment when your daughter becomes Lady
Harrowby.”

“I see,” said Meyrick slowly. “Blackmail.”

Manuel Gonzale shuddered in horror.

“Oh, I beg of you,” he protested. “That is hardly it. A business
proposition, I should call it. It happens that the men back of the
Star Publishing Company, which issues the _Mail_, have grown tired of
the newspaper game in San Marco. They are desirous of closing out the
plant at once–say this morning. It occurs to them that you might be
very glad to purchase the _Mail_–before the next edition goes on the
street.”

“You’re a clever little dog,” said Meyrick, through his teeth.

“You are not exactly complimentary. However–let us say for the
argument–you buy the _Mail_ at once. I am, by the way, empowered to
make the sale. You take charge. You hurry to the office. You destroy
all copies of to-day’s issue so far printed. You give orders to the
composing-room to kill this first-page story–good as it is. ‘Please
kill,’ you say. A term with newspaper men.”

“You call yourself a newspaper man?”

“Why not? The story is killed. Another is put in its place–say, for
example, an elaborate account of your daughter’s wedding. And in its
changed form the _Mail_–your newspaper–goes on the street.”

“Um–and your price?”

“It is a valuable property.”

“Especially valuable this morning, I take it,” sneered Meyrick.

“Valuable at any time. Our presses cost a thousand. Our linotypes two
thousand. And there is that other thing–so hard to estimate
definitely–the wide appeal of our paper. The price–well–fifteen
thousand dollars. Extremely reasonable. And I will include–the good
will of the retiring management.”

“You contemptible little–” began Spencer Meyrick.

“My dear sir–control yourself,” pleaded Gonzale. “Or I may be unable
to include the good will I spoke of. Would you care to see that story
on the streets? You may at any moment. There is but one way out. Buy
the newspaper. Buy it now. Here is the plan–you go with me to your
bank. You procure fifteen thousand in cash. We go together to the
_Mail_ office. You pay me the money and I leave you in charge.”

Old Meyrick leaped to his feet.

“Very good,” he cried. “Come on.”

“One thing more,” continued the crafty Gonzale. “It may pay you to
note–we are watched. Even now. All the way to the bank and thence to
the office of the _Mail_–we will be watched. Should any accident, now
unforeseen, happen to me, that issue of the _Mail_ will go on sale in
five minutes all over San Marco.”

Spencer Meyrick stood glaring down at the little man in white. His
enthusiasm of a moment ago for the journey vanished. However, the
head-lines of the _Mail_ were staring up at him from the bench. He
stooped, pocketed the paper, and growled:

“I understand. Come on!”

There must be some escape. The trap seemed absurdly simple. Across
the hotel lawn, down the hot avenue, in the less hot plaza, Meyrick
sought a way. A naturally impulsive man, he had difficulty restraining
himself. But he thought of his daughter, whose happiness was more than
money in his eyes.

No way offered. At the counter of the tiny bank Meyrick stood writing
his check, Gonzale at his elbow. Suddenly behind them the screen door
slammed, and a wild-eyed man with flaming red hair rushed in.

“What is it you want?” Gonzale screamed.

“Out of my way, Don Quixote,” cried the red-topped one. “I’m a
windmill and my arms breathe death. Are you Mr. Meyrick? Well, tear
up that check!”

“Gladly,” said Meyrick. “Only–”

“Notice the catbirds down here?” went on the wild one. “Noisy little
beasts, aren’t they? Well, after this take off your hat to ’em. A
catbird saved you a lot of money this morning.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow–” said the dazed Spencer Meyrick.

“No? I’ll explain. I have been working on this man’s paper for the
last week. So has a very good friend of mine. We knew he was crooked,
but we needed the money and he promised us not to pull off any more
blackmail while we stayed. Last night, after we left the office, he
arranged this latest. Planned to incriminate me. You little devil–”

Manuel, frightened, leaped away.

“We usually sleep until noon,” went on O’Neill. “He counted on that.
Enter the catbird. Sat on our window-sill at ten A.M. and screeched.
Woke us up. We felt uneasy. Went to the office, broke down a bolted
door, and found what was up.”

“Dog!” foamed Manuel. “Outcast of the gutter–”

“Save your compliments! Mr. Meyrick, my partner is now at the _Mail_
office destroying to-day’s issue of the _Mail_. We’ve already ruined
the first-page form, the cut of the policy, and the negative. And
we’re going north as fast as the Lord’ll let us. You can do what you
please. Arrest our little lemon-tinted employer, if you want to.”

Spencer Meyrick stood, considering.

“However–I’ve done you a favor.” O’Neill went on. “You can do me
one. Let Manuel off–on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“That he hands me at once two hundred dollars–one hundred for myself,
the other for my partner. It’s legitimate salary money due us–we need
it. A long walk to New York.”

“I myself–” began Meyrick.

“Don’t want your money,” said O’Neill. “Want Gonzale’s.”

“Gonzale’s you shall have,” agreed Meyrick. “You–pay him!”

“Never!” cried the Spaniard.

“Then it’s the police–” hinted O’Neill.

Gonzale took two yellow bills from a wallet He tossed them at O’Neill.

“There, you cur–”

“Careful,” cried O’Neill. “Or I’ll punch you yet–”

He started forward, but Gonzale hastily withdrew. O’Neill and the
millionaire followed to the street.

“Just as well,” commented Meyrick. “I should not have cared to cause
his arrest–it would have meant country-wide publicity.” He laid a
hand on the arm of the newspaper man. “I take it,” he said, “that your
fortunes are not at the highest ebb. You have done me a very great
service. I propose to write two checks–one for you, one for your
partner–and you may name the amounts.”

But the red-haired one shook his head.

“No,” he replied. “Nix on the anticlimax to virtue on a rampage. We
can’t be paid for it. It would sort of dim the glory. We’ve got the
railroad fare at last–and we’re going away from here. Yes–away from
here. On the choo-choo–riding far–riding north.”

“Well, my boy,” answered Spencer Meyrick, “if I can ever do anything
for you in New York, come and see me.”

“You may have to make good on that,” laughed O’Neill, and they parted.

O’Neill hastened to the _Mail_ office. He waved yellow bills before
the lanky Howe.

“In the nick of time,” he cried. “Me, the fair-haired hero. And
here’s the fare, Harry–the good old railroad fare.”

“Heaven be praised,” said Howe. “I’ve finished the job, Bob. Not a
trace of this morning’s issue left. The fare! North in parlor cars!
My tobacco heart sings. Can’t you hear the elevated–”

“Music, Harry, music.”

“And the newsboys on Park Row–”

“Caruso can’t touch them. Where can we find a time-table, I wonder?”

Meanwhile, in a corner of the plaza, Manuel Gonzale spoke sad words in
the ear of Martin Wall.

“It’s the jinx,” moaned Wall with conviction. “The star player in
everything I do down here. I’m going to burn the sand hot-footing it
away. But whither, Manuel, whither?”

“In Porto Rico,” replied Gonzale, “I have not yet plied my trade. I go
there.”

“Palm Beach,” sighed Wall, “has diamonds that can be observed to
sparkle as far away as the New York society columns. But alas, I lack
the wherewithal to support me in the style to which my victims are
accustomed.”

“Try Porto Rico,” suggested Gonzale. “The air is mild–so are the
police. I will stake you.”

“Thanks. Porto Rico it is. How the devil do we get there?”

Up the main avenue of San Marco Spencer Meyrick walked as a man going
to avenge. With every determined step his face grew redder, his eye
more dangerous. He looked at his watch. Eleven.

The eleventh hour! But much might happen between the eleventh hour and
high noon!

In the Harrowby suite the holder of the title, a handsome and
distinguished figure, adorned for his wedding, walked nervously the
rather worn carpet. His brother, hastily pressed into service as best
man, sat puffing at a cigar with a persistency which indicated a
somewhat perturbed state of mind on his own part.

“Brace up, Allan,” he urged. “It’ll be over before you realize it.
Remember my own wedding–gad, wasn’t I frightened? Always that way
with a man–no sense to it, but he just can’t help it. Never forget
that little parlor, with the flower of Marion society all about, and me
with my teeth chattering and my knees knocking together.”

“It is a bit of an ordeal,” said Allan weakly. “Chap feels all sort
of–gone–inside–”

The telephone, ringing sharply, interrupted. George Harrowby rose and
stepped to it.

“Allan? You wish Allan? Very well. I’ll tell him.”

He turned away from the telephone and faced his brother.

“It was old Meyrick, kid. Seemed somewhat hot under the collar. Wants
to see you in their suite at once.”

“Wha–what do you imagine he wants?”

“Going to make you a present of Riverside Drive, I fancy. Go ahead,
boy. I’ll wait for you here.”

Allan Harrowby went out, along the dusky corridor to the Meyrick door.
Not without misgivings, he knocked. A voice boomed “Come!” He pushed
open the door.

He saw Spencer Meyrick sitting purple at a table, and beside him
Cynthia Meyrick, in the loveliest gown of all the lovely gowns she had
ever worn. The beauty of the girl staggered Harrowby a bit; never
demonstrative, he had a sudden feeling that he should be at her feet.

“You–you sent for me?” he asked, coming into the room. As he moved
closer to the girl he was to marry he saw that her face was whiter than
her gown, and her brown eyes strained and miserable.

“We did,” said Meyrick, rising. He held out a paper. “Will you please
look at that.”

His lordship took the sheet in unsteady hands. He glanced down.
Slowly the meaning of the story that met his gaze filtered through his
dazed brain. “Martin Wall did this,” he thought to himself. He tried
to speak, but could not. Dumbly he stared at Spencer Meyrick.

“We want no scene, Harrowby,” said the old man wearily. “We merely
want to know if there is in existence a policy such as the one
mentioned here?”

The paper slipped from his lordship’s lifeless hands. He turned
miserably away. Not daring to face either father or daughter, he
answered very faintly:

“There is.”

Spencer Meyrick sighed.

“That’s all we want to know. There will be no wedding, Harrowby.”

“Wha–what!” His lordship faced about “Why, sir–the guests must
be–down-stairs–”

“It is–unfortunate. But there will be no wedding.” The old man
turned to his daughter. “Cynthia,” he asked, “have you nothing to say?”

“Yes.” White, trembling, the girl faced his lordship. “It seems,
Allan, that you have regarded our marriage as a business proposition.
You have gambled on the stability of the market. Well, you win. I
have changed my mind. This is final. I shall not change it again.”

“Cynthia!” And any who had considered Lord Harrowby unfeeling must
have been surprised at the anguish in his voice. “I have loved you–I
love you now. I adore you. What can I say in explanation–of this.
We gamble, all of us–it is a passion bred in the family. That is why
I took out this absurd policy. My dearest–it doesn’t mean that there
was no love on my side. There is–there always will be, whatever
happens. Can’t you understand–”

The girl laid her hand on his arm, and drew him away to the window.

“It’s no use, Allan,” she said, for his ears alone. “Perhaps I could
have forgiven–but somehow–I don’t care–as I thought I did. It is
better, embarrassing as it may be for us both, that there should be no
wedding, after all.”

“Cynthia–you can’t mean that. You don’t believe me. Let me send for
my brother–he will tell you of the passion for gambling in our
family–he will tell you that I love you, too–”

He moved toward the telephone.

“No use,” said Cynthia Meyrick, shaking her head. “It would only
prolong a painful scene. Please don’t, Allan.”

“I’ll send for Minot, too,” Harrowby cried.

“Mr. Minot?” The girl’s eyes narrowed. “And what has Mr. Minot to do
with this?”

“Everything. He came down here as the representative of Lloyds. He
came down to make sure that you didn’t change your mind. He will tell
you that I love you–”

A queer expression hovered about Miss Meyrick’s lips. Spencer Meyrick
interrupted.

“Nonsense,” he cried. “There is no need to–”

“One moment.” Cynthia Meyrick’s eyes shone strangely. “Send for your
brother, Allan. And–for–Mr. Minot.”

Harrowby stepped to the telephone. He summoned his forces. A strained
unhappy silence ensued. Then the two men entered the room together.

“Minot–George, old boy,” Lord Harrowby said helplessly. “Miss Meyrick
and her father have discovered the existence of a certain insurance
policy about which you both know. They have believed that my motive in
seeking a marriage was purely mercenary–that my affection for the girl
who is–was–to have become my wife can not be sincere. They are
wrong–quite wrong. Both of you know that. I’ve sent for you to help
me make them understand–I can not–”

George Harrowby stepped forward, and smiled his kindly smile.

“My dear young lady,” he said. “I regret that policy very deeply.
When I first heard of it I, too, suspected Allan’s motives. But after
I talked with him–after I saw you–I was convinced that his affection
for you was most sincere. I thought back to the gambling schemes for
which the family has been noted–I saw it was the old passion cropping
out anew in Allan–that he was really not to blame–that beyond any
question he was quite devoted to you. Otherwise I’d have done
everything in my power to prevent the wedding.”

“Yes?” Miss Meyrick’s eyes flashed dangerously. “And–your other
witness, Allan?”

The soul of the other witness squirmed in agony. This was too
much–too much!

“You, Minot–” pleaded Harrowby. “You have understood–”

“I have felt that you were sincerely fond of Miss Meyrick,” Minot
replied. “Otherwise I should not have done–what I have done.”

“Then, Mr. Minot,” the girl inquired, “you think I would be wrong to
give up all plans for the wedding?”

“I–I–yes, I do,” writhed Minot

“And you advise me to marry Lord Harrowby at once?”

Mr. Minot passed his handkerchief over his damp forehead. Had the girl
no mercy?

“I do,” he answered miserably.

Cynthia Meyrick laughed, harshly, mirthlessly.

“Because that’s your business–your mean little business,” she said
scornfully. “I know at last why you came to San Marco. I understand
everything. You had gambled with Lord Harrowby, and you came here to
see that you did not lose your money. Well, you’ve lost! Carry that
news back to the concern you work for! In spite of your heroic
efforts, you’ve lost! At the last moment Cynthia Meyrick changed her
mind!”

Lost! The word cut Minot to the quick. Lost, indeed! Lost Jephson’s
stake–lost the girl he loved! He had failed Jephson–failed himself!
After all he had done–all he had sacrificed. A double defeat, and
therefore doubly bitter.

“Cynthia–surely you don’t mean–” Lord Harrowby was pleading.

“I do, Allan,” said the girl more gently. “It was true–what I told
you–there by the window. It is better–father! Will you go down
and–say–I’m not to be married, after all?”

Spencer Meyrick nodded, and turned toward the door.

“Cynthia,” cried Harrowby brokenly. There was no reply. Old Meyrick
went out.

“I’m sorry,” his lordship said. “Sorry I made such a mess of it–the
more so because I love you, Cynthia–and always shall. Good-by.”

He held out his hand. She put hers in it.

“It’s too bad, Allan,” she said. “But–it wasn’t to be. And, even
now, you have one consolation–the money that Lloyds must pay you.”

“The money means nothing, Cynthia–”

“Miss Meyrick is mistaken,” Minot interrupted. “Lord Harrowby has not
even that consolation. Lloyds owes him nothing.”

“Why not?” asked the girl defiantly.

“Up to an hour ago,” said Minot, “you were determined to marry his
lordship?”

“I should hardly put it that way. But–I intended to.”

“Yes. Then you changed your mind. Why?”

“I changed it because I found out about this ridiculous, this insulting
policy.”

“Then his lordship’s taking out of the policy caused the calling off of
the wedding?”

“Y–yes. Why?”

“It may interest you to know–and it may interest Lord Harrowby to
recall–that five minutes before he took out this policy he signed an
agreement to do everything in his power to bring about the wedding.
And he further promised that if the wedding should be called off
because of any subsequent act of his, he would forfeit the premium.”

“By gad,” said Lord Harrowby.

“The taking out of the policy was a subsequent act,” continued Minot.
“The premium, I fancy, is forfeited.”

“He’s got you, Allan,” said George Harrowby, coming forward, “and I for
one can’t say I’m sorry. You’re going to tear up that policy now–and
go to work for me.”

“I for one am sorry,” cried Miss Meyrick, her flashing eyes on Minot.
“I wanted you to win, Allan. I wanted you to win.”

“Why?” Minot asked innocently.

“You ought to know,” she answered, and turned away.

Lord Harrowby moved toward the door.

“We’re not hard losers,” he said blankly. “But–everything’s
gone–it’s a bit of a smash-up. Good-by, Cynthia.”

“Good-by, Allan–and good luck.”

“Thanks.” And Harrowby went out with his brother.

Minot stood for a time, not daring to move. Cynthia Meyrick was at the
window; her scornful back was not encouraging. Finally she turned, saw
Minot and gave a start of surprise.

“Oh–you’re still here?”

“Cynthia, now you understand,” he said. “You know why I acted as I
did. You realize my position. I was in a horrible fix–”

She looked at him coldly.

“Yes,” she said, “I do understand. You were gambling on me. You came
down here to defend your employer’s cash. Well, you have succeeded.
Is there anything more to be said?”

“Isn’t there? On the ramparts of the old fort the other night–”

“Please do not make yourself any more ridiculous than is necessary.
You have put your employer’s money above my happiness. Always.
Really, you looked rather cheap to-day, with your sanctimonious advice
that I marry Harrowby. Aren’t you beginning to realize your own
position–the silly childish figure you cut?”

“Then you–”

“Last night when you came staggering across the lawn to me with this
foolish gown in your arms–I told you I hated you. Do you imagine I
hate you any less now. Well, I don’t.” Her voice became tearful. “I
hate you! I hate you!”

“But some day–”

She turned away from him, for she was sobbing outright now.

“I never want to see you again as long as I live,” she cried. “Never!
Never! Never!”

Limp, pitiable, worn by the long fight he had waged, Minot stood
staring helplessly at her heaving shoulders.

“Then–I can only say I’m sorry,” he murmured. “And–good-by.”

He waited. She did not turn toward him. He stumbled out of the room.

Minot went below and sent two messages, one to Jephson, the other to
Thacker. The lobby of the De la Pax was thronged with brilliantly
attired wedding guests who, metaphorically, beat their breasts in
perplexity over the tidings that had come even as they craned their
necks to catch the first glimpse of that distinguished bridal party.
The lavishly decorated parlor that was to have been the scene of the
ceremony stood tragically deserted. Minot cast one look at it, and
hurried again to his own particular cell.

He took a couple of time-tables from his desk, and sat down in a chair
facing the window. All over now. Nothing to do but return to the
North, as fast as the trains would take him. He had won, but he had
also lost. He felt listless, weary. He let the time-tables fall to
the floor, and sat gazing out at that narrow
street–thinking–wondering–wishing–

It was late in the afternoon when the clamor of his telephone recalled
him to himself. He leaped up, and seized the receiver. Allan
Harrowby’s voice came over the wire.

“Can you run down to the room, Minot?” he inquired. “The last call,
old boy.”

Minot went. He found both the Harrowbys there, prepared to say good-by
to San Marco forever.

“Going to New York on the _Lady Evelyn_,” said George Harrowby, who was
aggressively cheerful. “From there I’m taking Allan to Chicago. Going
to have him reading George Ade and talking our language in a week.”

Lord Harrowby smiled wanly.

“Nothing left but Chicago,” he drawled. “I wanted to see you before I
went, Minot, old chap. Not that I can thank you for all you did–I
don’t know how. You stood by me like–like a gentleman. And I realize
that I have no claim on Lloyds–it was all my fault–if I’d never let
Martin Wall have that confounded policy– But what’s the use of
if-ing? All my fault. And–my thanks, old boy.” He sighed.

“Nonsense,” said Minot. “A business proposition, solely, from my point
of view. There’s no thanks coming to me.”

“It seems to me,” said George Harrowby, “that as the only victor in
this affair, you don’t exhibit a proper cheerfulness. By the way, we’d
be delighted to take you north on our boat. Why not–”

But Minot shook his head.

“Can’t spare the time–thank you just the same,” he replied. “I’d like
nothing better–”

Amid expressions of regret, the Harrowbys started for the elevator.
Minot walked along the dusky corridor with them.

“We’ve had a bit of excitement–what?” said Allan. “If you’re ever in
London, you’re to be my guest. Old George has some sort of a berth for
me over there–”

“Not a berth, Allan,” objected George, pressing the button for the
elevator. “You’re not going to sleep. A job. Might as well begin to
talk the Chicago language now. Mr. Minot, I, too, want to thank you–”

They stepped into the elevator, the door slammed, the car began to
descend. Minot stood gazing through the iron scroll work until the
blond head of the helpless Lord Harrowby moved finally out of sight.
Then he returned to his room and the time-tables, which seemed such
dull unhappy reading.

Mr. Jack Paddock appeared to invite Minot to take dinner with him. His
bags, he remarked, were all packed, and he was booked for the seven
o’clock train.

“I’ve slipped down the mountain of gold,” he said in the course of the
dinner. “But all good things must end, and I certainly had a good
thing. Somehow, I’m not so gloomy as I ought to be.”

“Where are you going, Jack?” Minot asked.

Mr. Paddock leaned over confidentially.

“Did I say her father was in the plumbing business?” he inquired. “My
error, Dick. He owns a newspaper–out in Grand Rapids. Offered me a
job any time I wanted it. Great joke then–pretty serious now. For
I’m going out to apply.”

“I’m glad of it.”

“So am I, Dick. I was a fool to let her go back like that. Been
thinking it all over–and over–one girl in–how many are there in the
world, should you say? The other day I had a chill. It occurred to me
maybe she’d gone and married the young man with the pale purple necktie
who passes the plate in the Methodist Church. So I beat it to the
telegraph counter. And–”

“She’s heart whole and fancy free?”

“O.K. in both respects. So it’s me for Grand Rapids. And say, Dick,
I–er–I want you to know I’d sent that telegram before the accident
last night. As a matter of fact, I sent it two days ago.”

“Good boy,” said Minot. “I knew this game down here didn’t satisfy
you. May I be the first to wish you joy?”

“You? With a face like a defeated candidate? I say, cheer up! She’ll
stretch out eager arms in your direction yet.”

“I don’t believe it, Jack.”

“Well, while there’s life there’s still considerable hope lying loose
about the landscape. That’s why I don’t urge you to take the train
with me.”

An hour later Mr. Paddock spoke further cheering words in his friend’s
ear, and departed for the North. And in that city of moonlight and
romance Minot was left (practically) alone.

He took a little farewell walk through that quaint old town, then
retired to his room to read another chapter in the time-table. At
four-twenty in the morning, he noted, a small local train would leave
for Jacksonville. He decided he would take it. With no parlor cars,
no sleepers, he would not be likely to encounter upon it any of the
startled wedding party bound north.

The call he left did not materialize, and it was four o’clock when he
awoke. Hastily in the chill dawn he bade farewell to town and hotel.
In fifteen minutes he had left both behind, and was speeding toward the
small yellow station set on the town’s edge. He glanced feverishly at
his watch. There was need of haste, for this train was made up in San
Marco, and had had as yet no chance to be late.

He rushed through the gate just as it was being closed, and caught a
dreary little train in the very act of pulling out. Gloomy oil lamps
sought vainly to lessen the dour aspect of its two coaches. Panting,
he entered the rear coach and threw himself and his bag into a seat.

Five seconds later he glanced across the aisle and discovered in the
opposite seat Miss Cynthia Meyrick, accompanied by a very sleepy-eyed
family!

“The devil!” said Minot to himself. He knew that she would see in this
utter accident nothing save a deliberate act of following. What use to
protest his innocence?

He considered moving to another seat. But such a theatric act could
only increase the embarrassment. Already his presence had been
noted–Aunt Mary had given him a glare, Spencer Meyrick a scowl, the
girl a cloudy vague “where have I seen this person before?” glance in
passing.

Might as well make the best of it. He settled himself in his seat.
Once again, as on another railroad car, he sought to keep his eyes on
the landscape without–the dim landscape with the royal palms waving
like grim ghosts in the half light. The train sped on.

A most uncomfortable situation! If only it would grow light! It
seemed so silly to be forced to find the view out the window entrancing
while it was still very dark.

Spencer Meyrick went forward to the smoker. Aunt Mary, weary of life,
slid gently down to slumber. Her unlovely snore filled the dim car.

How different this from the first ride together! The faint pink of the
sky grew brighter. Now Minot could see the gray moss hanging to the
evergreens, and here and there a squalid shack where human beings lived
and knew nothing of life. And beside him he heard a sound as of a
large body being shaken. Also the guttural protest of Aunt Mary at
this inconsiderate treatment.

Aunt Mary triumphed. Her snore rose to shatter the smoky roof. Three
times Minot dared to look, and each time wished he hadn’t. The whole
sky was rosy now. Somewhere off behind the horizon the good old sun
was rising to go to work for the passenger department of the coast
railroad.

Some sense in looking out now. Minot saw a shack that seemed
familiar–then another. Next a station, bearing on its sad shingle the
cheery name of “Sunbeam.” And close to the station, gloomy in the
dawn, a desiccated chauffeur beside an aged automobile.

Minot turned quickly, and caught Cynthia Meyrick in the act of peering
over his shoulder. She had seen the chauffeur too.

The train had stopped a moment, but was under way again. In those
brown eyes Minot saw something wistful, something hurt,–saw things
that moved him to put everything to a sudden test. He leaped to his
feet and pulled madly at the bell cord.

“What–what have you done?” Startled, she stared at him.

“I’ve stopped the train. I’m going to ride to Jacksonville as I rode
to San Marco–ages ago. I’m not going alone.”

“Indeed?”

“Quick. The conductor will be here in a minute. Here’s a card and
pencil–write a note for Aunt Mary. Say you’ll meet them in
Jacksonville! Hurry, please!”

“Mr. Minot!” With great dignity.

“One last ride together. One last chance for me to–to set things
right if I can.”

“If you can.”

“If–I admit it. Won’t you give me the chance? I thought you would be
game. I dare you!”

For a second they gazed into each other’s eyes. The train had come to
a stop, and Aunt Mary stirred fretfully in her sleep. With sudden
decision Cynthia Meyrick wrote on the card and dropped it on her
slumbering relative.

“I know I’ll be sorry–but–” she gasped.

“Hurry! This way! The conductor’s coming there!”

A moment later they stood together on the platform of the Sunbeam
station, while the brief little train disappeared indignantly in the
distance.

“You shouldn’t have made me do that!” cried the girl in dismay. “I’m
always doing things on the spur of the moment–things I regret
afterward–”

“I know. You explained that to me once. But you can also do things on
the spur of the moment that you’re glad about all your life. Oh–good
morning, Barney Oldfield.”

“Good morning,” replied the rustic chauffeur with gleeful recognition.
“Where’s it to this time, mister?”

“Jacksonville. And no hurry at all.” Minot held open the door and the
girl stepped into the car.

“The gentleman is quite mistaken,” she said to the chauffeur. “There
is a very great hurry.”

“Ages of time until luncheon,” replied Minot blithely, also getting in.
“If you were thinking of announcing–something–then.”

“I shall have nothing to announce, I’m sure. But I must be in
Jacksonville before that train. Father will be furious.”

“Trust me, lady,” said the chauffeur, grinding again at his hooded
music-box. “I’ve been doing stunts with this car since I saw you last.
Been over a hundred miles from Sunbeam. Begins to look as though
Florida wasn’t going to be big enough, after all.”

He leaped to the wheel, and again that ancient automobile carried
Cynthia Meyrick and the representative of Lloyds out of the town of
Sunbeam. But the exit was not a laughing one. The girl’s eyes were
serious, cold, and with real concern in his voice Minot spoke:

“Won’t you forgive me–can’t you? I was only trying to be faithful to
the man who sent me down here–faithful through everything–as I should
be faithful to you if you gave me the chance. Is it too
late–Cynthia–”

“There was a time,” said the girl, her eyes wide, “when it was not too
late. Have you forgotten? That night on the balcony, when I threw
myself at your feet, and you turned away. Do you think that was a
happy moment for me?”

“Was it happy for me, for that matter?”

“Oh, I was humiliated, ashamed. Then your silly rescue of my
gown–your advice to me to marry Harrowby–”

“Would you have had me throw over the men who trusted me–”

“I–I don’t know. I only know that I can’t forgive what has
happened–in a minute–”

“What was that last?”

“Nothing.”

“You said in a minute.”

“Your ears are deceiving you.”

“Cynthia–you’re not going to punish me because I was faithful– Don’t
you suppose I tried to get some one in my place?”

“Did you?”

“The day I first rode in this car with you. And then–I stopped
trying–”

“Why?”

“Because I realized that if some one came in my place I’d have to go
away and never see you again–and I couldn’t do that I had to be near
you, dear girl–don’t worry, he can’t hear, the motor’s too noisy–I
had to be where I could see that little curl making a question mark
round your ear–where I could hear your voice–I had to be near you
even if to do it I must break my heart by marrying you to another man.
I loved you. I love you now–”

A terrific crash interrupted. Dolefully the chauffeur descended from
the car to make an examination. Dolefully he announced the result.

“Busted right off,” he remarked. “Say, I’m sorry. I’ll have to walk
back to the garage at Sunbeam and–and I’m afraid you’ll have to jest
sit here until I come back.”

He went slowly down the road, and the two sat in that ancient car in
the midst of sandy desolation.

“Cynthia,” Minot cried. “I worship you. Won’t you–”

The girl gave a strange little cry.

“I wanted to be cross with you a little longer,” she said almost
tearfully. “But I can’t. I wonder why I can’t. I cried all night at
the thought of never seeing you again. I wonder why I cried. I
guess–it’s because–for the first time–I’m really–in love.”

“Cynthia!”

“Oh, Dick–don’t let me change my mind again–ever–ever!”

“Only over my dead body!”

With one accord they turned and looked at that quaint southern
chauffeur plodding along through the dust and the sunshine. It did not
seem to either of them that there was any danger of his looking back.

And, happily, he didn’t.