JOURNEYS END IN–TAXI BILLS

Outside a gilt-lettered door on the seventeenth floor of a New York
office building, a tall young man in a fur-lined coat stood shivering.

Why did he shiver in that coat? He shivered because he was fussed,
poor chap. Because he was rattled, from the soles of his custom-made
boots to the apex of his Piccadilly hat. A painful, palpitating
spectacle, he stood.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, the business of the American
branch of that famous marine insurance firm, Lloyds, of London–usually
termed in magazine articles “The Greatest Gambling Institution in the
World”–went on oblivious to the shiverer who approached.

The shiverer, with a nervous movement shifted his walking-stick to his
left hand, and laid his right on the door-knob. Though he is not at
his best, let us take a look at him. Tall, as has been noted,
perfectly garbed after London’s taste, mild and blue as to eye, blond
as to hair. A handsome, if somewhat weak face. Very
distinguished–even aristocratic–in appearance. Perhaps–the thrill
for us democrats here!–of the nobility. And at this moment sadly in
need of a generous dose of that courage that abounds–see any book of
familiar quotations–on the playing fields of Eton.

Utterly destitute of the Eton or any other brand, he pushed open the
door. The click of two dozen American typewriters smote upon his
hearing. An office boy of the dominant New York race demanded in loud
indiscreet tones his business there.

“My business,” said the tall young man weakly, “is with Lloyds, of
London.”

The boy wandered off down that stenographer-bordered lane. In a moment
he was back.

“Mr. Thacker’ll see you,” he announced.

He followed the boy, did the tall young man. His courage began to
return. Why not? One of his ancestors, graduate of those playing
fields, had fought at Waterloo.

Mr. Thacker sat in plump and genial prosperity before a polished
flat-top desk. Opposite him, at a desk equally polished, sat an even
more polished young American of capable bearing. For an embarrassed
moment the tall youth in fur stood looking from one to the other. Then
Mr. Thacker spoke:

“You have business with Lloyds?”

The tall young man blushed.

“I–I hope to have–yes.” There was in his speech that faint
suggestion of a lisp that marks many of the well-born of his race.
Perhaps it is the golden spoon in their mouths interfering a bit with
their diction.

“What can we do for you?” Mr. Thacker was cold and matter-of-fact,
like a card index. Steadily through each week he grew more
businesslike–and this was Saturday morning.

The visitor performed a shaky but remarkable juggling feat with his
walking-stick.

“I–well–I–” he stammered.

Oh, come, come, thought Mr. Thacker impatiently.

“Well,” said the tall young man desperately “perhaps it would be best
for me to make myself known at once. I am Allan, Lord Harrowby, son
and heir of James Nelson Harrowby, Earl of Raybrook. And I–I have
come here–”

The younger of the Americans spoke, in more kindly fashion:

“You have a proposition to make to Lloyds?”

“Exactly,” said Lord Harrowby, and sank with a sigh of relief into a
chair, as though that concluded his portion of the entertainment.

“Let’s hear it,” boomed the relentless Thacker.

Lord Harrowby writhed in his chair.

“I am sure you will pardon me,” he said, “if I preface
my–er–proposition with the statement that it is utterly–fantastic.
And if I add also that it should be known to the fewest possible
number.”

Mr. Thacker waved his hand across the gleaming surfaces of two desks.

“This is my assistant manager, Mr. Richard Minot,” he announced. “Mr.
Minot, you must know, is in on all the secrets of the firm. Now, let’s
have it.”

“I am right, am I not,” his lordship continued, “in the assumption that
Lloyds frequently takes rather unusual risks?”

“Lloyds,” answered Mr. Thacker, “is chiefly concerned with the fortunes
of those who go down to–and sometimes down into–the sea in ships.
However, there are a number of non-marine underwriters connected with
Lloyds, and these men have been known to risk their money on pretty
giddy chances. It’s all done in the name of Lloyds, though the firm is
not financially responsible.”

Lord Harrowby got quickly to his feet

“Then it would be better,” he said, relieved, “for me to take my
proposition to one of these non-marine underwriters.”

Mr. Thacker frowned. Curiosity agitated his bosom.

“You’d have to go to London to do that,” he remarked. “Better give us
an inkling of what’s on your mind.”

His lordship tapped uneasily at the base of Mr. Thacker’s desk with his
stick.

“If you will pardon me–I’d rather not,” he said.

“Oh, very well,” sighed Mr. Thacker.

“How about Owen Jephson?” asked Mr. Minot suddenly.

Overjoyed, Mr. Thacker started up.

“By gad–I forgot about Jephson. Sails at one o’clock, doesn’t he?”
He turned to Lord Harrowby. “The very man–and in New York, too.
Jephson would insure T. Roosevelt against another cup of coffee.”

“Am I to understand,” asked Harrowby, “that Jephson is the man for me
to see?”

“Exactly,” beamed Mr. Thacker. “I’ll have him here in fifteen minutes.
Richard, will you please call up his hotel?” And as Mr. Minot reached
for the telephone, Mr. Thacker added pleadingly: “Of course, I don’t
know the nature of your proposition–”

“No,” agreed Lord Harrowby politely.

Discouraged, Mr. Thacker gave up.

“However, Jephson seems to have a gambling streak in him that odd risks
appeal to,” he went on. “Of course, he’s scientific. All Lloyds’
risks are scientifically investigated. But–occasionally–well,
Jephson insured Sir Christopher Conway, K.C.B., against the arrival of
twins in his family. Perhaps you recall the litigation that resulted
when triplets put in their appearance?”

“I’m sorry to say I do not,” said Lord Harrowby.

Mr. Minot set down the telephone. “Owen Jephson is on his way here in
a taxi,” he announced.

“Good old Jephson,” mused Mr. Thacker, reminiscent. “Why, some of the
man’s risks are famous. Take that shopkeeper in the Strand–every day
at noon the shadow of Nelson’s Monument in Trafalgar Square falls
across his door. Twenty years ago he got to worrying for fear the
statue would fall some day and smash his shop. And every year since he
has taken out a policy with Jephson, insuring him against that dreadful
contingency.”

“I seem to have heard of that,” admitted Harrowby, with the ghost of a
smile.

“You must have. Only recently Jephson wrote a policy for the Dowager
Duchess of Tremayne, insuring her against the unhappy event of a
rainstorm spoiling the garden party she is shortly to give at her
Italian villa. I understand a small fortune is involved. Then there
is Courtney Giles, leading man at the West End Road Theater. He fears
obesity. Jephson has insured him. Should he become too plump for
Romeo roles, Lloyds–or rather Jephson–will owe him a large sum of
money.”

“I am encouraged to hope,” remarked Lord Harrowby, “that Mr. Jephson
will listen to my proposition.”

“No doubt he will,” replied Mr. Thacker. “I can’t say definitely.
Now, if I knew the nature–”

But when Mr. Jephson walked into the office fifteen minutes later Mr.
Thacker was still lamentably ignorant of the nature of his titled
visitor’s business. Mr. Jephson was a small wiry man, crowned by a
vast acreage of bald head, and with the immobile countenance sometimes
lovingly known as a “poker face.” One felt he could watch the rain
pour in torrents on the dowager duchess, Courtney Giles’ waist expand
visibly before his eyes, the statue of Nelson totter and fall on his
shopkeeper, and never move a muscle of that face.

“I am delighted to meet your lordship,” said he to Harrowby. “Knew
your father, the earl, very well at one time. Had business dealings
with him–often. A man after my own heart. Always ready to take a
risk. I trust you left him well?”

“Quite, thank you,” Lord Harrowby answered. “Although he will insist
on playing polo. At his age–eighty-two–it is a dangerous sport.”

Mr. Jephson smiled.

“Still taking chances,” he said. “A splendid old gentleman. I
understand that you, Lord Harrowby, have a proposition to make to me as
an underwriter in Lloyds.”

They sat down. Alas, if Mr. Burke, who compiled the well-known
_Peerage_, could have seen Lord Harrowby then, what distress would have
been his! For a most unlordly flush again mantled that British cheek.
A nobleman was supremely rattled.

“I will try and explain,” said his lordship, gulping a plebeian gulp.
“My affairs have been for some time in rather a chaotic state.
Idleness–the life of the town–you gentlemen will understand.
Naturally, it has been suggested to me that I exchange my name and
title for the millions of some American heiress. I have always
violently objected to any such plan. I–I couldn’t quite bring myself
to do any such low trick as that. And then–a few months ago on the
Continent–I met a girl–”

He paused.

“I’m not a clever chap–really,” he went on. “I’m afraid I can not
describe her to you. Spirited–charming–” He looked toward the
youngest of the trio. “You, at least, understand,” he finished.

Mr. Minot leaned back in his chair and smiled a most engaging smile.

“Perfectly,” he said.

“Thank you,” went on Lord Harrowby in all seriousness. “It was only
incidental–quite irrelevant–that this young woman happened to be very
wealthy. I fell desperately in love! I am still in that–er–pleasing
state. The young lady’s name, gentlemen, is Cynthia Meyrick. She is
the daughter of Spencer Meyrick, whose fortune has, I believe, been
accumulated in oil.”

Mr. Thacker’s eyebrows rose respectfully.

“A week from next Tuesday,” said Lord Harrowby solemnly, “at San Marco,
on the east coast of Florida, this young woman and I are to be married.”

“And what,” asked Owen Jephson, “is your proposition?”

Lord Harrowby shifted nervously in his chair.

“I say we are to be married,” he continued. “But are we? That is the
nightmare that haunts me. A slip. My–er–creditors coming down on
me. And far more important, the dreadful agony of losing the dearest
woman in the world.”

“What could happen?” Mr. Jephson wanted to know.

“Did I say the young woman was vivacious?” inquired Lord Harrowby.
“She is. A thousand girls in one. Some untoward happening, and she
might change her mind–in a flash.”

Silence within the room; outside the roar of New York and the clatter
of the inevitable riveting machine making its points relentlessly.

“That,” said Lord Harrowby slowly, “is what I wish you to insure me
against, Mr. Jephson.”

“You mean–”

“I mean the awful possibility of Miss Cynthia Meyrick’s changing her
mind.”

Again silence, save for the riveting machine outside. And three men
looking unbelievingly at one another.

“Of course,” his lordship went on hastily, “it is understood that I
personally am very eager for this wedding to take place. It is
understood that in the interval before the ceremony I shall do all in
my power to keep Miss Meyrick to her present intention. Should the
marriage be abandoned because of any act of mine, I would be ready to
forfeit all claims on Lloyds.”

Mr. Thacker recovered his breath and his voice at one and the same time.

“Preposterous,” he snorted. “Begging your lordship’s pardon, you can
not expect hard-headed business men to listen seriously to any such
proposition as that. Tushery, sir, tushery! Speaking as the American
representative of Lloyds–”

“One moment,” interrupted Mr. Jephson. In his eyes shone a queer
light–a light such as one might expect to find in the eyes of Peter
Pan, the boy who never grew up. “One moment, please. What sum had you
in mind, Lord Harrowby?”

“Well–say one hundred thousand pounds,” suggested his lordship. “I
realize that my proposition is fantastic. I really admitted as much.
But–”

“One hundred thousand pounds.” Mr. Jephson repeated it thoughtfully.
“I should have to charge your lordship a rather high rate. As high as
ten per cent.”

Lord Harrowby seemed to be in the throes of mental arithmetic.

“I am afraid,” he said finally, “I could not afford one hundred
thousand at that rate. But I could afford–seventy-five thousand.
Would that be satisfactory, Mr. Jephson?”

“Jephson,” cried Mr. Thacker wildly. “Are you mad? Do you realize–”

“I realize everything, Thacker,” said Jephson calmly. “I have your
lordship’s word that the young lady is at present determined on this
alliance? And that you will do all in your power to keep her to her
intention?”

“You have my word,” said Lord Harrowby. “If you should care to
telegraph–”

“Your word is sufficient,” said Jephson. “Mr. Minot, will you be kind
enough to bring me a policy blank?”

“See here, Jephson,” foamed Thacker. “What if this thing should get
into the newspapers? We’d be the laughing-stock of the business world.”

“It mustn’t,” said Jephson coolly.

“It might,” roared Thacker.

Mr. Minot arrived with a blank policy, and Mr. Jephson sat down at the
young man’s desk.

“One minute,” said Thacker. “The faith of you two gentlemen in each
other is touching, but I take it the millennium is still a few years
off.” He drew toward him a blank sheet of paper, and wrote. “I want
this thing done in a businesslike way, if it’s to be done in my
office.” He handed the sheet of paper to Lord Harrowby. “Will you
read that, please?” he said.

“Certainly.” His lordship read: “I hereby agree that in the interval
until my wedding with Miss Cynthia Meyrick next Tuesday week I will do
all in my power to put through the match, and that should the wedding
be called off through any subsequent direct act of mine, I will forfeit
all claims on Lloyds.”

“Will you sign that, please?” requested Mr. Thacker.

“With pleasure.” His lordship reached for a pen.

“You and I, Richard,” said Mr. Thacker, “will sign as witnesses. Now,
Jephson, go ahead with your fool policy.”

Mr. Jephson looked up thoughtfully.

“Shall I say, your lordship,” he asked, “that if, two weeks from to-day
the wedding has not taken place, and has absolutely no prospect of
taking place, I owe you seventy-five thousand pounds?”

“Yes.” His lordship nodded. “Provided, of course, I have not
forfeited by reason of this agreement. I shall write you a check, Mr.
Jephson.”

For a time there was no sound in the room save the scratching of two
pens, while Mr. Thacker gazed open-mouthed at Mr. Minot, and Mr. Minot
light-heartedly smiled back. Then Mr. Jephson reached for a blotter.

“I shall attend to the London end of this when I reach there five days
hence,” he said. “Perhaps I can find another underwriter to share the
risk with me.”

The transaction was completed, and his lordship rose to go.

“I am at the Plaza,” he said, “if any difficulty should arise. But I
sail to-night for San Marco–on the yacht of a friend.” He crossed
over and took Mr. Jephson’s hand. “I can only hope, with all my
heart,” he finished feelingly, “that you never have to pay this policy.”

“We’re with your lordship there,” said Mr. Thacker sharply.

“Ah–you have been very kind,” replied Lord Harrowby. “I wish you
all–good day.”

And shivering no longer, he went away in his fine fur coat.

As the door closed upon the nobleman, Mr. Thacker turned explosively on
his friend from oversea.

“Jephson,” he thundered, “you’re an idiot! A rank unmitigated idiot!”

The Peter Pan light was bright in Jephson’s eyes.

“So new,” he half-whispered. “So original! Bless the boy’s heart.
I’ve been waiting forty years for a proposition like that.”

“Do you realize,” Thacker cried, “that seventy-five thousand pounds of
your good money depends on the honor of Lord Harrowby?”

“I do,” returned Jephson. “And I would not be concerned if it were ten
times that sum. I know the breed. Why, once–and you, Thacker, would
have called me an idiot on that occasion, too–I insured his father
against the loss of a polo game by a team on which the earl was
playing. And he played like the devil–the earl did–won the game
himself. Ah, I know the breed.”

“Oh, well,” sighed Thacker, “I won’t argue. But one thing is certain,
Jephson. You can’t go back to England now. Your place is in San Marco
with one hand on the rope that rings the wedding bells.”

Jephson shook his great bald head.

“No,” he said. “I must return to-day. It is absolutely necessary. My
interests in San Marco are in the hands of Providence.”

Mr. Thacker walked the floor wildly.

“Providence needs help in handling a woman,” he protested. “Miss
Meyrick must not change her mind. Some one must see that she doesn’t.
If you can’t go yourself–” He paused, reflecting. “Some young man,
active, capable–”

Mr. Richard Minot had risen from his chair, and was moving softly
toward his overcoat. Looking over his shoulder, he beheld Mr.
Thacker’s keen eyes upon him.

“Just going out to lunch,” he said guiltily.

“Sit down, Richard,” remarked Mr. Thacker with decision.

Mr. Minot sat, the dread of something impending in his heart.

“Jephson,” said Mr. Thacker, “this boy here is the son of a man of whom
I was very fond. His father left him the means to squander his life on
clubs and cocktails if he had chosen–but he picked out a business
career instead. Five years ago I took him into this office, and he has
repaid me by faithful, even brilliant service. I would trust him
with–well, I’d trust him as far as you’d trust a member of your own
peerage.”

“Yes?” said Mr. Jephson.

Mr. Thacker wheeled dramatically and faced his young assistant.

“Richard,” he ordered, “go to San Marco. Go to San Marco and see to it
that Miss Cynthia Meyrick does not change her mind.”

A gone feeling shot through Mr. Minot in the vicinity of his stomach.
It was possible that he really needed that lunch.

“Yes, sir,” he said faintly. “Of course, it’s up to me to do anything
you say. If you insist, I’ll go, but–”

“But what, Richard?”

“Isn’t it a rather big order? Women–aren’t they like an–er–April
afternoon–or something of that sort? It seems to me I’ve read they
were–in books.”

“Humph,” snorted Mr. Thacker. “Is your knowledge of the ways of women
confined to books?”

A close observer might have noted the ghost of a smile in Mr. Minot’s
clear blue eyes.

“In part, it is,” he admitted. “And then again–in part, it isn’t.”

“Well, put away your books, my boy,” said Mr. Thacker. “A nice,
instructive little vacation has fallen on you from heaven. Mad old
Jephson here must be saved from himself. That wedding must take
place–positively, rain or shine. I trust you to see that it does,
Richard.”

Mr. Minot rose and stepped over to his hat and coat.

“I’m off for San Marco,” he announced blithely. His lips were firm but
smiling. “The land of sunshine and flowers–and orange blossoms or I
know the reason why.”

“Jephson trusts Harrowby,” said Mr. Thacker. “All very well. But just
the same if I were you I’d be aboard that yacht to-night when it leaves
New York harbor. Invited or uninvited.”

“I must ask,” put in Mr. Jephson hurriedly, “that you do nothing to
embarrass Lord Harrowby in any way.”

“No,” said Thacker. “But keep an eye on him, my boy. A keen and busy
eye.”

“I will,” agreed Mr. Minot. “Do I look like Cupid, gentlemen? No?
Ah–it’s the overcoat. Well, I’ll get rid of that in Florida. I’ll
say good-by–”

He shook hands with Jephson and with Thacker.

“Good-by, Richard,” said the latter. “I’m really fond of old Jephson
here. He’s been my friend in need–he mustn’t lose. I trust you, my
boy.”

“I won’t disappoint you,” Dick Minot promised. A look of seriousness
flashed across his face. “Miss Cynthia Meyrick changes her mind only
over my dead body.”

He paused for a second at the door, and his eyes grew suddenly
thoughtful.

“I wonder what she’s like?” he murmured.

Then, with a smile toward the two men left behind, he went out and down
that stenographer-bordered land to San Marco.

Though San Marco is a particularly gaudy tassel on the fringe of the
tourist’s South, it was to the north that Mr. Richard Minot first
turned. One hour later he made his appearance amid the gold braid and
dignity of the Plaza lobby.

The young man behind the desk–an exquisite creature done in Charles
Dana Gibson’s best manner–knew when to be affable. He also knew when
not to be affable. Upon Mr. Minot he turned the cold fishy stare he
kept for such as were not guests under his charge.

“What is your business with Lord Harrowby?” he inquired suspiciously.

“Since when,” asked Mr. Minot brightly, “have you been in his
lordship’s confidence?”

This was the young man’s cue to wince. But hotel clerks are
notoriously poor wincers.

“It is customary–” he began with perfect poise.

“I know,” said Mr. Minot. “But then, I’m a sort of a friend of his
lordship.”

“A sort of a friend?” How well he lifted his eyebrows!

“Something like that. I believe I’m to be best man at his wedding.”

Ah, yes; that splendid young man knew when to be affable. Affability
swamped him now.

“Boy!” he cried. “Take this gentleman’s card to Lord Harrowby.”

A bell-boy in a Zenda uniform accepted the card, laid it upon a silver
tray, glued it down with a large New York thumb, and strayed off down
gilded corridors shouting, “Lord Harrowby.”

Whereat all the pretty little debutantes who happened to be decorating
the scene at the moment felt their pampered hearts go pit-a-pat and,
closing their eyes, saw visions and dreamed dreams.

Lord Harrowby was at luncheon, and sent word for Mr. Minot to join him.
Entering the gay dining-room, Minot saw at the far end the blond and
noble head he sought. He threaded his way between the tables.
Although he was an unusually attractive young man, he had never
experienced anything like the array of stares turned upon him ere he
had gone ten feet. “What the devil’s the matter?” he asked himself.
“I seem to be the cynosure of neighboring eyes, and then some.” He did
not dream that it was because he was passing through a dining-room of
democrats to grasp the hand of a lord.

“My dear fellow, I’m delighted, I assure you–” Really, Lord
Harrowby’s face should have paid closer attention to his words. Just
now it failed ignominiously in the matter of backing them up.

“Thank you,” Mr. Minot replied. “Your lordship is no doubt surprised
at seeing me so soon–”

“Well–er–not at all. Shall I order luncheon?”

“No, thanks. I had a bite on the way up.” And Mr. Minot dropped into
the chair which an eager waiter held ready. “Lord Harrowby, I trust
you are not going to be annoyed by what I have to tell you.”

His lordship’s face clouded, and worry entered the mild blue eyes.

“I hope there’s nothing wrong about the policy.”

“Nothing whatever. Lord Harrowby, Mr. Jephson trusts you–implicitly.”

“So I perceived this morning. I was deeply touched.”

“It was–er–touching.” Minot smiled a bit cynically. “Understanding
as you do how Mr. Jephson feels toward you, you will realize that it is
in no sense a reflection on you that our office, viewing this matter in
a purely business light, has decided that some one must go to San Marco
with you. Some one who will protect Mr. Jephson’s interests.”

“Your office,” said his lordship, reflecting. “You mean Mr. Thacker,
don’t you?”

Could it be that the fellow was not so slow as he seemed?

“Mr. Thacker is the head of our office,” smiled Mr. Minot. “It has
been thought best that some one go with you, Lord Harrowby. Some one
who will work night and day to see to it that Miss Meyrick does not
change her mind. I–I am the some one. I hope you are not annoyed.”

“My dear chap! Not in the least. When I said this morning that I was
quite set on this marriage, I was frightfully sincere.” And now his
lordship’s face, frank and boyish, in nowise belied his words. “I
shall be deeply grateful for any aid Lloyds can give me. And I am
already grateful that Lloyds has selected you to be my ally.”

Really, very decent of him. Dick Minot bowed.

“You go south to-night?” he ventured.

“Yes. On the yacht _Lileth_, belonging to my friend, Mr. Martin Wall.
You have heard of him?”

“No. I can’t say that I have.”

“Indeed! I understood he was very well-known here. A big, bluff,
hearty chap. We met on the steamer coming over and became very good
friends.”

A pause.

“You will enjoy meeting Mr. Wall,” said his lordship meaningly, “when I
introduce you to him–in San Marco.”

“Lord Harrowby,” said Minot slowly, “my instructions are to go south
with you–on the yacht.”

For a moment the two men stared into each other’s eyes. Then Lord
Harrowby pursed his thin lips and gazed out at Fifth Avenue, gay and
colorful in the February sun.

“How extremely unfortunate,” he drawled. “It is not my boat, Mr.
Minot. If it were, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to
extend an invitation to you.”

“I understand,” said Minot. “But I am to go–invited or uninvited.”

“In my interests?” asked Harrowby sarcastically.

“As the personal conductor of the bride-groom.”

“Mr. Minot–really–”

“I have no wish to be rude, Lord Harrowby. But it is our turn to be a
little fantastic now. Could any thing be more fantastic than boarding
a yacht uninvited?”

“But Miss Meyrick–on whom, after all, Mr. Jephson’s fate depends–is
already in Florida.”

“With her lamp trimmed and burning. How sad, your lordship, if some
untoward event should interfere with the coming of the bridegroom.”

“I perceive,” smiled Lord Harrowby, “that you do not share Mr.
Jephson’s confidence in my motives.”

“This is New York, and a business proposition. Every man in New York
is considered guilty until he proves himself innocent–and then we move
for a new trial.”

“Nevertheless”–Lord Harrowby’s mouth hardened–“I must refuse to ask
you to join me on the _Lileth_.”

“Would you mind telling me where the boat is anchored?”

“Somewhere in the North River, I believe. I don’t know, really.”

“You don’t know? Won’t it be a bit difficult–boarding a yacht when
you don’t know where to find it?”

“My dear chap–” began Harrowby angrily.

“No matter.” Mr. Minot stood up. “I’ll say au revoir, Lord
Harrowby–until to-night.”

“Or until we meet in San Marco.” Lord Harrowby regained his good
nature. “I’m extremely sorry to be so impolite. But I believe we’re
going to be very good friends, none the less.”

“We’re going to be very close to each other, at any rate,” Minot
smiled. “Once more–au revoir, your lordship.”

“Pardon me–good-by,” answered Lord Harrowby with decision.

And Richard Minot was again threading his way between awed tables.

Walking slowly down Fifth Avenue, Mr. Minot was forced to admit that he
had not made a very auspicious beginning in his new role. Why had Lord
Harrowby refused so determinedly to invite him aboard the yacht that
was to bear the eager bridegroom south? And what was he to do now?
Might he not discover where the yacht lay, board it at dusk, and
conceal himself in a vacant cabin until the party was well under way?
It sounded fairly simple.

But it proved otherwise. He was balked from the outset. For two
hours, in the library of his club, in telephone booths and elsewhere,
he sought for some tangible evidence of the existence of a wealthy
American named Martin Wall and a yacht called the _Lileth_. City
directories and yacht club year books alike were silent. Myth, myth,
myth, ran through Dick Minot’s mind.

Was Lord Harrowby–as they say at the Gaiety–spoofing him? He mounted
to the top of a bus, and was churned up Riverside Drive. Along the
banks of the river lay dozens of yachts, dismantled, swathed in winter
coverings. Among the few that appeared ready to sail his keen eye
discerned no _Lileth_.

Somewhat discouraged, he returned to his club and startled a waiter by
demanding dinner at four-thirty in the afternoon. Going then to his
rooms, he exchanged his overcoat for a sweater, his hat for a golf cap.
At five-thirty, a spy for the first time in his eventful young life, he
stood opposite the main entrance of the Plaza. Near by ticked a taxi,
engaged for the evening.

An hour passed. Lights, laughter, limousines, the cold moon adding its
brilliance to that already brilliant square, the winter wind sighing
through the bare trees of the park–New York seemed a city of dreams.
Suddenly the chauffeur of Minot’s taxi stood uneasily before him.

“Say, you ain’t going to shoot anybody, are you?” he asked.

“Oh, no–you needn’t be afraid of that.”

“I ain’t afraid. I just thought I’d take off my license number if you
was.”

Ah, yes–New York! City of beautiful dreams!

Another hour slipped by. And only the little taxi meter was busy,
winking mechanically at the unresponsive moon.

At eight-fifteen a tall blond man, in a very expensive fur coat which
impressed even the cab starter, came down the steps of the hotel. He
ordered a limousine and was whirled away to the west. At eight-fifteen
and a half Mr. Minot followed.

Lord Harrowby’s car proceeded to the drive and, turning, sped north
between the moonlit river and the manlit apartment-houses. In the
neighborhood of One Hundred and Tenth Street it came to a stop, and as
Minot’s car passed slowly by, he saw his lordship standing in the
moonlight paying his chauffeur. Hastily dismissing his own car, he ran
back in time to see Lord Harrowby disappear down one of the stone
stairways into the gloom of the park that skirts the Hudson. He
followed.

On and on down the steps and bare wind-swept paths he hurried, until
finally the river, cold, silvery, serene, lay before him. Some thirty
yards from shore he beheld the lights of a yacht flashing against the
gloomy background of Jersey. The _Lileth_!

He watched Lord Harrowby cross the railroad tracks to a small landing,
and leap from that into a boat in charge of a solitary rower. Then he
heard the soft swish of oars, and watched the boat draw away from
shore. He stood there in the shadow until he had seen his lordship run
up the accommodation ladder to the _Lileth’s_ deck.

He, too, must reach the _Lileth_, and at once. But how? He glanced
quickly up and down the bank. A small boat was tethered near by–he
ran to it, but a chain and padlock held it firmly. He must hurry.
Aboard the yacht, dancing impatiently on the bosom of Hendrick Hudson’s
important discovery, he recognized the preparations for an early
departure.

Minot stood for a moment looking at the wide wet river. It was
February, yes, but February of the mildest winter New York had
experienced in years. At the seashore he had always dashed boldly in
while others stood on the sands and shivered. He dashed in now.

The water was cold, shockingly cold. He struck out swiftly for the
yacht. Fortunately the accommodation ladder had not yet been taken up;
in another moment he was clinging, a limp and dripping spectacle, to
the rail of the _Lileth_.

Happily that side of the deck was just then deserted. A row of outside
cabin doors in the bow met Minot’s eye. Stealthily he swished toward
them.

And, in the last analysis, the only thing between him and them proved
to be a large commanding gentleman, whose silhouette was particularly
militant and whose whole bearing was unfavorable.

“Mr. Wall, I presume,” said Minot through noisy teeth.

“Correct,” said the gentleman. His voice was sharp, unfriendly. But
the moonlight, falling on his face, revealed it as soft, genial,
pudgy–the inviting sort of countenance to which, under the melting
influence of Scotch and soda, one feels like relating the sad story of
one’s wasted life.

Though soaked and quaking, Mr. Minot aimed at nonchalance.

“Well,” he said, “you might be good enough to tell Lord Harrowby that
I’ve arrived.”

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“I’m a friend of his lordship. He’ll be delighted, I’m sure. Just
tell him, if you’ll be so kind.”

“Did he invite you aboard?”

“Not exactly. But he’ll be glad to see me. Especially if you mention
just one word to him.”

“What word?”

Mr. Minot leaned airily against the rail.

“Lloyds,” he said

An expression of mingled rage and dismay came into the pudgy face. It
purpled in the moonlight. Its huge owner came threateningly toward the
dripping Minot.

“Back into the river for yours,” he said savagely.

Almost lovingly–so it might have seemed to the casual observer–he
wound his thick arms about the dripping Minot. Up and down the deck
they turkey-trotted.

“Over the rail and into the river,” breathed Mr. Wall on Minot’s damp
neck.

Two large and capable sailormen came at sound of the struggle.

“Here, boys,” Wall shouted. “Help me toss this guy over.”

Willing hands seized Minot at opposite poles.

“One–two–” counted the sailormen.

“Well, good night, Mr. Wall,” remarked Minot.

“Three!”

A splash, and he was ingloriously in the cold river again. He turned
to the accommodation ladder, but quick hands drew it up. Evidently
there was nothing to do but return once more to little old New York.

He rested for a moment, treading water, seeing dimly the tall homes of
the cave dwellers, and over them the yellow glare of Broadway. Then he
struck out. When he reached the shore, and turned, the _Lileth_ was
already under way, moving slowly down the silver path of the moon. An
old man was launching the padlocked rowboat.

“Great night for a swim,” he remarked sarcastically.

“L-lovely,” chattered Minot. “Say, do you know anything about the
yacht that’s just steamed out?”

“Not as much as I’d like ter. Used ter belong to a man in Chicago.
Yesterday the caretaker told me she’d been rented fer the winter. Seen
him to-night in a gin mill with money to throw to the birds. Looks
funny to me.”

“Thanks.”

“Man came this afternoon and painted out her old name. Changed it t’
_Lileth_. Mighty suspicious.”

“What was the old name?”

“The _Lady Evelyn_. If I was you, I’d get outside a drink, and quick.
Good night.”

As Minot dashed up the bank, he heard the swish of the old man’s oars
behind. He ran all the way to his rooms, and after a hot bath and the
liquid refreshment suggested by the waterman, called Mr. Thacker on the
telephone.

“Well, Richard?” that gentleman inquired.

“Sad news. Little Cupid’s had a set-back. Tossed into the Hudson when
he tried to board the yacht that is taking Lord Harrowby south.”

“No? Is that so?” Mr. Thacker’s tone was contemplative. “Well,
Richard, the Palm Beach Special leaves at midnight. Better be on it.
Better go down and help the bride with her trousseau.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll do that. And I’ll see to it that she has her lamp
trimmed and burning. Considering that her father’s in the oil
business, that ought not to be–”

“I can’t hear you, Richard. What are you saying?”

“Nothing–er–Mr. Thacker. Look up a yacht called the _Lady Evelyn_.
Chicago man, I think–find out if he’s rented it, and to whom. It’s
the boat Harrowby went south on.”

“All right, Richard. Good-by, my boy. Write me whenever you need
money.”

“Perhaps I can’t write as often as that. But I’ll send you bulletins
from time to time.”

“I depend on you, Richard. Jephson must not lose.”

“Leave it to me. The Palm Beach Special at midnight. And after
that–Miss Cynthia Meyrick!”

No matter how swiftly your train has sped through the Carolinas and
Georgia, when it crosses the line into Florida a wasting languor
overtakes it. Then it hesitates, sighs and creeps across the fiat
yellow landscape like an aged alligator. Now and again it stops
completely in the midst of nothing, as who should say: “You came down
to see the South, didn’t you? Well, look about you.”

The Palm Beach Special on which Mr. Minot rode was no exception to this
rule. It entered Florida and a state of innocuous desuetude at one and
the same time. After a tremendous struggle, it gasped its way into
Jacksonville about nine o’clock of the Monday morning following.
Reluctant as Romeo in his famous exit from Juliet’s boudoir, it got out
of Jacksonville an hour later. And San Marco was just two hours away,
according to that excellent book of light fiction so widely read in the
South–the time-table.

It seemed to Dick Minot that he had been looking out of a car window
for a couple of eternities. Save for the diversion at Jacksonville,
nothing had happened to brighten that long and wearisome journey. He
wanted, now, to glance across the car aisle toward the diversion at
Jacksonville. Yet it hardly seemed polite–so soon. Wherefore he
continued to gaze out at the monotonous landscape.

For half a mile the train served its masters. Then, with a pathetic
groan, it paused. Still Mr. Minot gazed out the window. He gazed so
long that he saw a family of razor-backs, passed a quarter of a mile
back, catch up with the train and trot scornfully by. After that he
kept his eyes on the live oaks and evergreens, to whose topmost
branches hung gray moss like whiskers on a western senator.

Then he could stand it no longer. He turned and looked upon the
diversion at Jacksonville. Gentlemen of the jury–she was beautiful.
The custodian of a library of books on sociology could have seen that
with half an astigmatic eye. Her copper-colored hair flashed
alluringly in that sunny car; the curve of her cheek would have created
a sensation in the neighborhood where burning Sappho loved and sang.
Dick Minot’s heart beat faster, repeating the performance it had staged
when she boarded the train at Jacksonville.

Beautiful, yes–but she fidgeted. She had fidgeted madly in the
station at Jacksonville during that hour’s wait; now even more madly
she bounced about on that plush seat. She opened and shut magazines,
she straightened her pleasant little hat, she gazed in agony out the
window. Beauty such as hers should have been framed in a serene and
haughty dignity. Hers happened to be framed in a frenzy of fidget.

In its infinite wisdom, the train saw fit to start again. With a sigh
of relief, the girl sank back upon her seat of torture. Mr. Minot
turned again to the uneventful landscape. More yellow sand, more
bearded oaks and evergreens. And in a moment, the family of
razor-backs, plodding along beside the track with a determined demeanor
that said as plainly as words: “You may go ahead–but we shall see what
we shall see.”

Excellent train, it seemed fairly to fly. For a little while. Then
another stop. Beauty wildly anxious on the seat of ancient plush.
Another start–a stop–and a worried but musical voice in Dick Minot’s
ear:

“I beg your pardon–but what should you say are this train’s chances
for reaching San Marco by one o’clock?”

Minot turned. Brown eyes and troubled ones looked into his. A dimple
twitched beside an adorable mouth. Fortunate Florida, peopled with
girls like this.

“I should say,” smiled Mr. Minot, “about the same as those of the
famous little snowball that strayed far from home.”

“Oh–you’re right!” Why would she fidget so? “And I’m in a
frightfully uncomfortable position. I simply must reach San Marco for
luncheon at one. I must!” She clenched her small hands. “It’s the
most important luncheon of my life. What shall I do?”

Mr. Minot glanced at his watch.

“It is now twenty minutes of twelve,” he said. “My advice to you is to
order lunch on the train.”

“It was so foolish of me,” cried the girl. “I ran up to Jacksonville
in a friend’s motor to do a little shopping. I should have known
better. I’m always doing things like this.”

And she looked at Dick Minot accusingly, as though it were he who
always put her up to them.

“I’m awfully sorry, really,” Minot said. He felt quite uncomfortable
about it.

“And can’t you suggest anything?”–pleadingly, almost tearfully.

“Not at this moment. I’ll try, though. Look!” He pointed out the
window. “That family of razor-backs has caught up with us four times
already.”

“What abominable service,” the girl cried. “But–aren’t they cunning?
The little ones, I mean.”

And she stood looking out with a wonderful tenderness in her eyes,
which, considering the small creatures upon which it was lavished, was
almost ludicrous.

“Off again,” cried Minot.

And they were. The girl sat nervously on the edge of her seat, with
the expression of one who meant to keep the train going by mental
suggestion. Five cheerful minutes passed in rapid transit. And
then–another abrupt stop.

“Almost like a football game,” said Minot blithely to the distressed
lady across the aisle. “Third down–five yards to go. Oh, by jove,
there’s a town on my side.”

“Not a trace of a town on mine,” she replied.

“It’s the dreariest, saddest town I ever saw,” Minot remarked. “So of
course its name is Sunbeam. And look–what do you see–there beside
the station!”

“An automobile!” the girl cried.

“Well, an automobile’s ancestor, at any rate,” laughed Minot. “Vintage
of 1905. Say–I have a suggestion now. If the chauffeur thinks he can
get you–I mean, us–to San Marco by one o’clock, shall we–”

But the girl was already on her way.

“Come on!” Her eyes were bright with excitement. “We–oh, dear–the
old train’s started again.”

“No matter–I’ll stop it!” Minot reached for the bell cord.

“But do you dare–can’t you be arrested?”

“Too late–I’ve done it. Let me help you with those magazines. Quick!
This way.”

On the platform they met an irate conductor, red and puffing.

“Say–who stopped this train?” he bellowed.

“I don’t know–who usually stops it?” Minot replied, and he and the
girl slid by the uniform to the safety of Sunbeam.

The lean, lank, weary native who lolled beside the passé automobile was
startled speechless for a moment by the sight of two such attractive
visitors in his unattractive town. Then he remembered.

“Want a taxi, mister?” he inquired. “Take you up to the Sunbeam House
for a quarter apiece–”

“Yes, we do want a taxi–” Minot began.

“To San Marco,” cried the girl breathlessly. “Can you get us there by
one o’clock?”

“To–to–say, lady,” stammered the rustic chauffeur. “That train you
just got off of is going to San Marco.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t,” Minot explained. “We know better. It’s going out
into the country to lie down under a shade tree and rest.”

“The train is too slow,” said the girl. “I must be in San Marco before
one o’clock. Can you get me–us–there by then? Speak quickly,
please.”

The effect of this request on the chauffeur was to induce even greater
confusion.

“T–to–to San Marco,” he stumbled. “W–well, say, that’s a new one on
me. Never had this car out o’ Sunbeam yet.”

“Please–please!” the girl pleaded.

“Lady,” said the chauffeur, “I’d do anything I could, within reason–”

“Can you get us to San Marco by one o’clock?” she demanded.

“I ain’t no prophet, lady.” A humorous gleam came into his eye. “But
ever since I got this car I been feelin’ sort o’ reckless. If you say
so, I’ll bid all my family and friends good-by, and we’ll take a chance
on San Marco together.”

“That’s the spirit,” laughed Minot. “But forget the family and
friends.”

He placed his baggage in the front of the car, and helped the girl into
the tonneau. With a show of speed, the countryman went around to the
front of the car and began to crank.

He continued to crank with agonized face. In the course of a few
minutes, sounds of a terrific disturbance came from inside the car.
Still, like a hurdy-gurdy musician, the man cranked.

“I say,” Minot inquired, “has your machine got the Sextette from
_Lucia_?”

“Well, there’s been a lot of things wrong with it,” the man replied,
“but I don’t think it’s had that yet.”

The girl laughed, and such a laugh, Dick Minot was sure, had never been
heard in Sunbeam before. At that moment the driver leaped to his seat,
breathing hard, and had it out with the wheel.

“Exeunt, laughingly, from Sunbeam,” said Minot in the girl’s ear.

The car rolled asthmatically from the little settlement, and out into
the sand and heat of a narrow road.

“Eight miles to San Marco,” said the driver out of the corner of his
mouth. “Sit tight. I’m going to let her out some.”

Again Dick Minot glanced at the girl beside him. Fate was in a jovial
mood to-day to grant him this odd ride in the company of one so
charming! He could not have told what she wore, but he knew she was
all in white, and he realized the wisdom of white on a girl who had, in
her hair and eyes, colors to delight the most exacting. About her
clung a perfume never captured in a bottle; her chin was the chin of a
girl with a sense of humor; her eyes sparkled with the thrill of their
adventure together. And the dimple, in repose now, became the champion
dimple of the world.

Minot tried to think of some sprightly remark, but his usually agile
tongue remained silent. What was the matter with him? Why should this
girl seem different, somehow, from all the other girls he had ever met?
When he looked into her eyes a flood of memories–a little sad–of all
the happy times he had ever known overwhelmed him. Memories of a
starlit sea–the red and white awnings of a yacht–the wind whispering
through the trees on a hillside–an orchestra playing in the
distance–memories of old, and happy, far-off things–of times when he
was even younger, even more in love with life. Why should this be? He
wondered.

And the girl, looking at him, wondered, too–was he suddenly bereft of
his tongue?

“I haven’t asked you the conventional question?” she said at last.
“How do you like Florida?”

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Minot replied, coming to with a start. “I
can speak of it even more enthusiastically than any of the railroad
folders do. And yet, it’s only recent–my discovery of its charms.”

“Really?”

“Yes. When I was surveying it on that stopwatch of a train, my
impression of it was quite unfavorable. It seemed so monotonous. I
told myself nothing exciting could ever happen here.”

“And–something has happened?”

“Yes–something certainly has happened.”

She blushed a little at his tone. Young men usually proposed to her
the first time they saw her. Why shouldn’t she blush–a little?

“Something very fine,” Minot went on. “And I am surely very grateful
to fate–”

“Would you mind looking at your watch–please?”

“Certainly. A quarter after twelve. As I was saying–”

“Do you think we can make it?”

“I am sure of it.”

“You see, it is so very important. I want so very much to be there by
one o’clock.”

“And I want you to.”

“I wonder–if you really knew–”

“Knew what?”

“Nothing. I wish you would, please–but you just did look at your
watch, didn’t you?”

They rattled on down that road that was so sandy, so uninteresting, so
lonely, with only a garage advertisement here and there to suggest a
world outside. Suddenly the driver ventured a word over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry, lady,” he said. “We’ll get there sure.”

And even as he spoke the car gave a roar of rage and came to a dead
stop.

“Oh, dear–what is it now?” cried the girl.

“Acts like the train,” commented Minot.

The driver got out and surveyed the car without enthusiasm.

“I wonder what she’s up to now?” he remarked. “Fifteen years I drove
horses, which are supposed to have brains, but this machine can think
of things to do to me that the meanest horse never could.”

“You promised, driver,” pleaded the girl. “We must reach San Marco on
time. Mr.–er–your watch?”

“Twenty-five past twelve,” smiled Minot.

The native descended to the dust and slid under the car. In a moment
he emerged, triumphant.

“All O.K.” he announced. “Don’t you worry, lady. It’s San Marco or
bust.”

“If only something doesn’t bust,” Minot said.

Again they were plowing through the sand. The girl sat anxiously on
the edge of the seat, her cheeks flaming, her eyes alight. Minot
watched her. And suddenly all the happy, sad little memories melted
into a golden glow–the glow of being alive–on this lonesome
road–with her! Then suddenly he knew! This was the one girl, the
girl of all the world, the girl he should love while the memory of her
lasted, which would be until the eyes that looked upon her now were
dust. A great exultation swept through him–

“What did you mean,” he asked, “when you said you were always doing
things like this?”

“I meant,” she answered, “that I’m a silly little fool. Oh, if you
could know me well–” and her eyes seemed to question the
future–“you’d see for yourself. Never looking ahead to calculate the
consequences. It’s the old story of fools rushing in–”

“You mean of angels rushing in, don’t you? I never was good at old
saws, but–”

“And once more, please–your watch?”

“Twenty minutes of one.”

“Oh, dear–can we”–

A wild whoop from the driver interrupted.

“San Marco,” he cried, pointing to where red towers rose above the
green of the country. “It paid to take a chance with me. I sure did
let her out. Where do you want to go, lady?”

“The Hotel de la Pax,” said the girl, and with a sigh of deep relief,
sank back upon the cushions.

“And Salvator won,” quoted Mr. Minot with a laugh.

“How can I ever thank you?” the girl asked.

“Don’t try,” said Minot. “That is–I mean–try, if you will, please.”

“It meant so very much to me–”

“No–you’d better not, after all. It makes me feel guilty. For I did
nothing that doesn’t come under the head of glorious privilege. A
chance to serve you! Why, I’d travel to the ends of the earth for
that.”

“But–it was good of you. You can hardly realize all it meant to me to
reach this hotel by one o’clock. Perhaps I ought to tell you–”

“It doesn’t matter,” Minot replied. “That you have reached here is my
reward.” His cheeks burned; his heart sang. Here was the one girl,
and he built castles in Spain with lightening strokes. She should be
his. She must be. Before him life stretched, glorious, with her at
his side–

“I think I will tell you,” the girl was saying. “This is to be the
most important luncheon of my life because–”

“Yes?” smiled Mr. Minot

“Because it is the one at which I am going to announce my engagement!”

Minot’s heart stopped beating. A hundred castles in Spain came
tumbling about his ears, and the roar of their falling deafened him.
He put out his hand blindly to open the door, for he realized that the
car had come to a stop.

“Let me help you, please,” he said dully.

And even as he spoke a horrible possibility swept into his heart and
overwhelmed him.

“I–I beg your pardon,” he stammered, “but would you mind telling me
one thing?”

“Of course not. But I really must fly–”

“The name of–the happy man.”

“Why–Allan, Lord Harrowby. Thank you so much–and good-by.”

She was gone now–gone amid the palms of that gorgeous hotel courtyard.
And out of the roar that enveloped him Minot heard a voice:

“Thirty-five dollars, mister.”

So promptly did he pay this grievous overcharge that the chauffeur
asked hopefully:

“Now could I take you anywhere, sir?”

“Yes,” said Minot bitterly. “Take me back to New York.”

“Well–if I had a new front tire I might try it.”

Two eager black boys were moving inside with Minot’s bags, and he
followed. As he passed the fountain tinkling gaily in the courtyard:

“What was it I promised Thacker?” he said to himself. “‘Miss Cynthia
Meyrick changes her mind only over my dead body.’ Ah, well–the good
die young.”