TEN MINUTES OF AGONY

At the desk of the De la Pax Mr. Minot learned that for fifteen dollars
a day he might board and lodge amid the splendors of that hotel.
Gratefully he signed his name. One of the negro boys–who had matched
coins for him with the other boy while he registered–led the way to
his room.

It proved a long and devious journey. The Hotel de la Pax was a series
of afterthoughts on the part of its builders. Up hill and down dale
the boy led, through dark passageways, over narrow bridges, until at
length they arrived at the door of 389.

“My boy,” muttered Minot feelingly, “I congratulate you. Henry M.
Stanley in the flower of his youth couldn’t have done any better.”

“Yes, suh.” The boy threw open the door of a narrow cell, at the
farther end of which a solitary window admitted the well-known Florida
sunshine. Minot stepped over and glanced out. Where the gay courtyard
with its green palms waving, its fountain tinkling? Not visible from
389. Instead Minot saw a narrow street, its ancient cobblestones
partly obscured by flourishing grass, and bordered by quaint, top-heavy
Spanish houses, their plaster walls a hundred colors from the
indignities of the years.

“We seem to have strayed over into Spain,” he remarked.

The bell-boy giggled.

“Yes, suh. We one block and a half from de hotel office.”

“I didn’t notice any taxis in the corridors,” smiled Minot.
“Here–wait a minute.” He tossed the boy a coin. “Your fare back
home. If you get stranded on the way, telegraph.”

The boy departed, and Minot continued to gaze out. Directly across
from his window, looking strangely out of place in that dead and buried
street, stood a great stone house that bore on its front the sign
“Manhattan Club and Grill.” On the veranda, flush with the sidewalk
and barely fifteen feet away, a huge red-faced man sat deep in slumber.

Many and strange pursuits had claimed the talents of old Tom Stacy,
manager of the Manhattan Club, ere his advent in San Marco. A too
active district attorney had forced the New York police to take a keen
interest in his life and works, hence Mr. Stacy’s presence on that
Florida porch. But such troubles were forgot for the moment. He
slumbered peacefully, secure in the knowledge that the real business of
the club would not require his attention until darkness fell. His
great head fell gradually farther in the direction of his generous
waist, and while there is no authentic evidence to offer, it is safe to
assume that he dreamed of Broadway.

Suddenly Mr. Stacy’s head took another tilt downward, and his Panama
hat slipped off to the veranda floor. To the gaze of Mr. Minot, above,
there was revealed a bald pate extensive and gleaming. The habitual
smile fled from Minot’s face. A feeling of impotent anger filled his
soul. For a bald head could recall but one thing–Jephson.

He strode from the window, savagely kicking an innocent suit-case that
got in his way. What mean trick was this fate had played him as he
entered San Marco? To show to him the one girl in all her glory and
sweetness, to thrill him through and through with his discovery–and
then to send the girl scurrying off to announce her engagement to
another man! Scurvy, he called it. But scurvier still, that it should
be the very engagement he had hastened to San Marco to bring to its
proper close–“I do,” and Mendelssohn.

He sat gloomily down on the bed. What could he do? What save keep his
word, given on the seventeenth floor of an office building in New York?
No man had yet had reason to question the good faith of a Minot. His
dead father, at the beginning of his career, had sacrificed his fortune
to keep his word, and gone back with a smile to begin all over again.
What could he do?

Nothing, save grit his teeth and see the thing through. He made up his
mind to this as he bathed and shaved, and prepared himself for his
debut in San Marco. So that, when he finally left the hotel and
stepped out into San Sebastian Avenue, he was cheerful with a dogged,
boy-stood-on-the-burning-deck cheerfulness.

A dozen negroes, their smiles reminiscent of tooth powder
advertisements, vainly sought to cajole him into their shaky vehicles.
With difficulty he avoided their pleas, and strolled down San Marco’s
main thoroughfare. On every side clever shopkeepers spread the net for
the eagle on the dollar. Jewelers’ shops flashed, modistes hinted,
milliners begged to present their latest creations.

He came presently to a narrow cross street, where humbler merchants
catered to the Coney instinct that lurks in even the most affluent of
tourists. There gaudy souvenir stores abounded. The ugly and
inevitable alligator, fallen from his proud estate to fireside slipper,
wallet, cigar case, umbrella stand, photograph album and
Lord-knows-what, was head-lined in this street. Picture post-cards
hung in flocks, tin-type galleries besought, news-stands, soda-water
fountains and cheap boarding-houses stood side by side. And, every few
feet, Mr. Minot came upon “The Oldest House in San Marco.”

On his way back to the hotel, in front of one of the more dazzling
modiste’s shops, he saw a limousine drawn up to the curb, and in it
Jack Paddock, friend of his college days. Paddock leaped blithely from
the machine and grasped Dick Minot by the hand.

“You here?” he cried.

“Foolish question,” commented Mr. Minot.

“Yes, I know,” said Mr. Paddock. “Been here so long my brain’s a
little flabby. But I’m glad to see you, old man.”

“Same here.” Mr. Minot stared at the car. “I say, Jack, did you earn
that writing fiction?”

Paddock laughed.

“I’m not writing much fiction now,” he replied. “The car belongs to
Mrs. Helen Bruce, the wittiest hostess in San Marco.” He came closer.
“My boy,” he confided, “I have struck something essentially soft. Some
time soon, in a room with all the doors and windows closed and the
weather-strips in place, I’ll whisper it to you. I’ve been dying to
tell somebody.”

“And the car–”

“Part of the graft, Dick. Here comes Mrs. Bruce now. Did I mention
she was the wittiest–of course I did. Want to meet her? Well, later
then. You’re at the Pax, I suppose. See you there.”

Mr. Minot moved on from the imminence of Mrs. Bruce. A moment later
the limousine sped by him. One seat was generously filled by the
wittiest hostess in San Marco. Seated opposite her, Mr. Paddock waved
an airy hand. Life had always been the gayest of jokes to Mr. Paddock.

Life was at the moment quite the opposite to Dick Minot. He devoted
the next hour to sad introspection in the lobby. It was not until he
was on his way in to dinner that he again saw Cynthia Meyrick. Then,
just outside the dining-room door, he encountered her, still all in
white, lovelier than ever, in her cheek a flush of excitement no doubt
put there by the most important luncheon of her life. He waited for
her to recognize him–and he did not wait in vain.

“Ah, Mr.–”

“Minot.”

“Of course. In the hurry of this noon I quite overlooked an
introduction. I am–”

“Miss Cynthia Meyrick. I happen to know because I met his lordship in
New York. May I ask–was the luncheon–”

“Quite without a flaw. So you know Lord Harrowby?”

“Er–slightly. May I offer my very best wishes?”

“So good of you.”

Formal, formal, formal. Was that how it must be between them
hereafter? Well, it was better so. Miss Meyrick presented her father
and her aunt, and that did not tend to lighten the formality. Icicles,
both of them, though stocky puffing icicles. Aunt inquired if Mr.
Minot was related to the Minots of Detroit, and when he failed to
qualify, at once lost all interest in him. Old Spencer Meyrick did not
accord him even that much attention.

Yet–all was not formal, as it happened. For as Cynthia Meyrick moved
away, she whispered: “I must see you after dinner–on important
business.” And her smile as she said it made Minot’s own lonely dinner
quite cheery.

At seven in the evening the hotel orchestra gathered in the lobby for
its nightly concert, and after the way of orchestras, it was almost
ready to begin when Minot left the dining-room at eight. Sitting
primly in straight backed chairs, an audience gathered for the most
part from the more inexpensive hostelries waited patiently. Presumably
these people were there for an hour with music, lovely maid. But it
was the gowns of more material maids that interested the greater number
of them, and many drab little women sat making furtive mental notes
that should while away the hours conversationally when they got back to
Akron or Terre Haute.

Minot sat down in a veranda chair and looked out at the courtyard. In
the splendor of its evening colors, it was indeed the setting for
romance. In the midst of the green palms and blooming things splashed
a fountain which might well have been the one old Ponce de Leon sought.
On three sides the lighted towers and turrets of that huge hotel
climbed toward the bright, warm southern sky. A dazzling moon shamed
Mr. Edison’s lamps, the breeze came tepid from the sea, the very latest
in waltzes drifted out from the gorgeous lobby. Here romance, Minot
thought, must have been born.

“Mr. Minot–I’ve been looking everywhere–”

She was beside him now, a slim white figure in the dusk–the one thing
lacking in that glittering picture. He leaped to meet her.

“Sitting here dreaming, I reckon,” she whispered, “of somebody far
away.”

“No.” He shook his head. “I leave that to the newly engaged.”

She made no answer. He gave her his chair, and drew up another for
himself.

“Mr. Minot,” she said, “I was terribly thoughtless this noon. But you
must forgive me–I was so excited. Mr. Minot–I owe you–”

She hesitated. Minot bit his lip savagely. Must he hear all that
again? How much she owed him for his service–for getting her to that
luncheon in time–that wonderful luncheon–

“I owe you,” finished the girl softly, “the charges on that taxi.”

It was something of a shock to Minot. Was she making game of him?

“Don’t,” he answered. “Here in the moonlight, with that waltz playing,
and the old palms whispering–is this a time to talk of taxi bills?”

“But–we must talk of something–oh, I mean–I insist. Won’t you
please tell me the figure?”

“All the time we were together this morning, I talked figures–the
figures on the face of a watch. Let us find some pleasanter topic. I
believe Lord Harrowby said you were to be married soon?”

“Next Tuesday. A week from to-morrow.”

“In San Marco?”

“Yes. It breaks auntie’s heart that it can’t be in Detroit. Cord
Harrowby is her triumph, you see. But father can’t go north in the
winter–Allan wishes to be married at once.”

Minot was thinking hard. So Harrowby was auntie’s triumph? And was he
not Cynthia Meyrick’s as well? He would have given much to be able to
inquire.

Suddenly, with the engaging frankness of a child, the girl asked:

“Has your engagement ever been announced, Mr. Minot?”

“Why–er–not to my knowledge,” Minot laughed. “Why?”

“I was just wondering–if it made everybody feel queer. The way it
makes me feel. Ever since one o’clock–I ought never to say it–I’ve
felt as though everything was over. I’ve seemed old! Old!” She
clenched her fists, and spoke almost in terror. “I don’t want to grow
old. I’d hate it.”

“It was here,” said Minot softly, “Ponce de Leon sought the fountain of
youth. When you came up I was pretending the one splashing out there
was that very fountain itself–”

“If it only were,” the girl cried. “Oh–you could never drag me away
from it. But it isn’t. It’s supplied by the San Marco Water Works,
and there’s a meter ticking somewhere, I’m sure. And now–Mr. Minot–”

“I know. You mean the thirty-five dollars I paid our driver. I wish
you would write me a check. I’ve a reason.”

“Thank you. I wanted to–so much. I’ll bring it to you soon.”

She was gone, and Minot sat staring into the palms, his lips firm, his
hands gripping the arms of his chair. Suddenly, with a determined
leap, he was on his feet.

A moment later he stood at the telegraph counter in the lobby, writing
in bold flowing characters a message for Mr. John Thacker, on a certain
seventeenth floor, New York.

“I resign. Will stay on the job until a substitute arrives, but start
him when you get this.

“RICHARD MINOT.”

The telegram sent, he returned to his veranda chair to think. Thacker
would be upset, of course. But after all, Thacker’s claim on him was
not such that he must wreck his life’s happiness to serve him. Even
Thacker must see that. And the girl–was she madly in love with the
lean and aristocratic Harrowby? Not by any means, to judge from her
manner. Next Tuesday–a week. What couldn’t happen in a–Minot
stopped. No, that wouldn’t do, either. Even if a substitute arrived,
he could hardly with honor turn about and himself wreck the hopes of
Thacker and Jephson. He lost, either way. It was a horrible mix-up.
He cursed beneath his breath.

The red glow of a cigar near by drew closer as the smoker dragged his
chair across the veranda floor. Minot saw behind the glow the keen
face of a man eager for talk.

“Some scene, isn’t it?” said the stranger. “Sort of makes the musical
comedies look cheap. All it needs is seven stately chorus ladies
walking out from behind that palm down to the left, and it would have
Broadway lashed to the mast.”

“Yes,” replied Minot absently. “This is the real thing.”

“I’ve been sitting here thinking,” the other went on. “It doesn’t seem
to me this place has been advertised right. Why, there are hundreds of
people up north whose windows look out on sunset over the
brewery–people with money, too–who’d take the first train for here if
they realized the picture we’re looking at now. Get some good hustler
to tell ’em about it–” He paused. “I hate to talk about myself, but
say–ever hear of Cotrell’s Ink Eraser? Nothing ever written Cotrell
can’t erase. Will not soil or scratch the paper. If the words Cotrell
has erased were put side by side–”

“Selling it?” Minot inquired wearily.

“No. But I made that eraser. Put it on every desk between New York
and the rolling Oregon. After that I landed Helot’s Bottled Sauces.
And then Patterson’s Lime Juice. Puckered every mouth in America.
Advertising is my specialty.”

“So I gather.”

“Sure as you sit here. Have a cigar. Trimmer is my name–never mind
the jokes. Henry Trimmer. Advertising specialist. Is your business
flabby? Does it need a tonic? Try Trimmer. Quoting from my
letter-head.” He leaned closer. “Excuse a personal question, but
didn’t I see you talking with Miss Cynthia Meyrick a while back?”

“Possibly.”

Mr. Trimmer came even closer.

“Engaged to Lord Harrowby, I understand.”

“I believe so–”

“Young fellow,” Mr. Trimmer’s tone was exultant, “I can’t keep in any
longer. I got a proposition in tow so big it’s bursting my brain
cells–and it takes some strain to do that. No, I can’t tell you the
exact nature of it–but I will say this–to-morrow night this time I’ll
throw a bomb in this hotel so loud it’ll be heard round the world.”

“An anarchist?”

“Not on your life. Advertiser. And I’ve got something to advertise
this hot February, take it from me. Maybe you’re a friend of Miss
Meyrick. Well, I’m sorry. For when I spring my little surprise I
reckon this Harrowby wedding is going to shrivel up and fade away.”

“You mean to say you–you’re going to stop the wedding?”

“I mean to say nothing. Watch me. Watch Henry Trimmer. Just a tip,
young fellow. Well, I guess I’ll turn in. Get some of my best ideas
in bed. See you later.”

And Mr. Trimmer strode into the circle of light, a fine upstanding
figure of a man, to pass triumphantly out of sight among the palms.
Dazed, Dick Minot stared after him.

A voice spoke his name. He turned. The slim white presence again,
holding toward him a slip of paper.

“The check, Mr. Minot. Thirty-five dollars. Is that correct?”

“Correct. It’s splendid. Because I’m never going to cash it–I’m
going to keep it–”

“Really, Mr. Minot, I must say good–”

He came closer. Thacker and Jephson faded. New York was far away. He
was young, and the moon was shining–

“–going to keep it–always. The first letter you ever wrote me–”

“And the last, Mr. Minot. Really–I must go. Good night.”

He stood alone, with the absurd check in his trembling fingers. Slowly
the memory of Trimmer came back. A bomb? What sort of a bomb?

Well, he had given his word. There was no way out–he must protect old
Jephson’s interests. But might he not wish the enemy–success? He
stared off in the direction the advertising wizard had gone.

“Trimmer, old boy,” he muttered, “here’s to your pitching arm!”

Miss Cynthia Meyrick was a good many girls in one. So many, indeed,
that it might truthfully be added that while most people are never so
much alone as when in a crowd, Miss Meyrick was never so much in a
crowd as when alone. Most of these girls were admirable, a few were
more mischievous than admirable, but rely upon it that every single one
of them was nice.

It happened to be as a very serious-minded girl that Miss Meyrick
opened her eyes on Tuesday morning. She lay for a long time watching
the Florida sunshine, spoken of so tenderly in the railroad’s come-on
books, as it danced across the foot of her bed. To-day the _Lileth_
was to steam into San Marco harbor! To-day her bridegroom was to smile
his slow British smile on her once more! She recalled these facts
without the semblance of a thrill.

Where, she wondered, was the thrill? The frivolous girl who had met
Lord Harrowby abroad, and dazzled by dreams of social triumphs to come
had allowed her aunt to urge her into this betrothal, was not present
at the moment. Had she been, she would have declared this Cynthia
Meyrick a silly, and laughed her into gaiety again.

Into the room toddled the aunt who had stood so faithfully on the
coaching line abroad. With heavy wit, she spoke of the coming of Lord
Harrowby. Miss Cynthia did not smile. She turned grave eyes on her
aunt.

“I’m wondering,” she confessed. “Was it the thing to do, after all?
Shall I be so very happy?”

“Nonsense. Ninety-nine out of a hundred engaged girls have doubts.
It’s natural.” Aunt Mary sat down on the bed, which groaned in agony.
“Of course you’ll be happy. You’ll take precedence over Marion
Bishop–didn’t we look that up? And after the airs she’s put on when
she’s come back to Detroit–well, you ought to be the happiest of
girls.”

“I know–but–” Miss Meyrick continued to gaze solemnly at her aunt.
She was accustomed to the apparition. To any one who knew Aunt Mary
only in her public appearances, a view of her now would have been
startling. Not to go too deeply into the matter, she had not yet been
poured into the steel girders that determined her public form. Her
washed-out eyes were puffy, and her gray hair was not so luxurious as
it would be when she appeared in the hotel dining-room for lunch.
There she sat, a fat little lump of a woman who had all her life chased
will-o’-the-wisps.

“But what?” she demanded firmly.

“It seems as if all my fun were over. Didn’t you feel that way when
you became engaged?”

“Hardly. But then–I hadn’t enjoyed everything money will buy, as you
have. I’ve always said you had too much. There, dear–cheer up. You
don’t seem to realize. Why, I can remember when you were born–in the
flat down on Second Street–and your father wearing his old overcoat
another year to pay the doctor’s bill. And now that little fluffy baby
is to marry into the peerage! Bless you, how proud your mother would
be had she lived–”

“Are you sure, Aunt Mary?”

“Positive.” Aunt Mary’s eyes filled, and with a show of real, if
clumsy affection, she leaned over and kissed her niece. “Come, dear,
get up. I’ve ordered breakfast in the rooms.”

Miss Cynthia sat up. And as if banished by that act, the serious
little mouse of a girl scampered into oblivion, and in her place
appeared a gay young rogue who sees the future lying bright ahead.

“After all,” she smiled, “I’m not married–yet.” And humming brightly
from a current musical comedy–“Not just yet–just yet–just yet–” she
stretched forth one slim white arm to throw aside the coverlet. At
which point it is best discreetly to withdraw.

Mr. Minot, after a lonesome if abundant breakfast, was at this moment
strolling across the hotel courtyard toward yesterday morning’s New
York papers. As he walked, the pert promises of Mr. Trimmer filled his
mind. What was the proposition Mr. Trimmer had in tow? How would it
affect the approaching wedding? And what course of action should the
representative of Jephson pursue when it was revealed? For in the
sensible light of morning Dick Minot realized that while he remained in
San Marco as the guardian of Jephson’s interests, he must do his duty.
Adorable Miss Meyrick might be, but any change of mind on her part must
be over his dead body. A promise was a promise.

With this resolve firm, he proceeded along the hot sidewalk of San
Sebastian Avenue. On his right the rich shops again, a dignified
Spanish church as old as the town, a rambling lackadaisical
“opera-house.” On his left the green and sand colored plaza, with the
old Spanish governor’s house in the center, now serving Uncle Sam as
post-office. A city of the past was this; “other times, other manners”
breathed in the air.

At the news-stand Minot met Jack Paddock, jaunty, with a gardenia in
his buttonhole and the atmosphere of prosperity that goes with it.

“Come for a stroll,” Paddock suggested. “I presume you want the giddy
story of my life I promised you yesterday? Been down to the old
Spanish fort yet? No? Come ahead, and there on the ramparts I’ll
impart.”

They went down the narrow and very modern street of the souvenir
venders. Suddenly the street ended, and they walked again in the past.
The remnants of the old city gates restored, loomed in the sunlight.
They stepped through the portals, and Minot gave a gasp.

There in the quiet morning stood the great gray fort that the early
settlers had built to protect themselves from the gay dogs who roamed
the seas. Its massive walls spoke clearly of romance, of bloody days
of cutlass and spike, of bandaged heads and ready arms. Such things
still stood! Still stood in the United States–land of steam radiators
and men who marched in suffrage parades!

The old caretaker let them in, and they went up the stone steps to
stand at last on the parapet looking down on the shimmering sea. To
Minot, fresh from Broadway, it all seemed like a colorful dream. They
climbed to the highest point and sat, swinging their legs over the
edge. Far below the bright blue waters broke on the lower walls.

“It’s a funny country down here,” Paddock said slowly. “A sort of
too-good-to-be-true, who-believes-it place. Bright and gay and full of
green palms, and so much like a musical comedy you keep waiting all the
time for the curtain to go down and the male population to begin its
march up the aisle. I’ve been here three months, and I don’t yet think
it’s really true.”

He shifted on the cold stones.

“Ever since white men hit on it,” he went on, “it’s sort of kept luring
them here on fool dream hunts–like a woman. Along about the time old
Ponce de Leon came over here prospecting for the fountain that nobody
but Lillian Russell has located yet, another Spaniard–I forget his
name–had a pipe dream, too. He came over hot-foot looking for a
mountain of gold he dreamed was here. I’m sorry for that old boy.”

“Sorry for him?” repeated Minot.

“Yes–sorry. He had the right idea, but he arrived several hundred
years too soon. He should have waited until the yellow rich from the
North showed up here. Then he’d have found his mountain–he’d have
found a whole range of them.”

“I suppose I’m to infer,” Mr. Minot said, “that where he failed, you’ve
landed.”

“Yes, Dick. I am right on the mountain with my little alpenstock in
hand.”

“I’m sorry,” replied Minot frankly. “You might have amounted to
something if you’d been separated from money long enough.”

“So I’ve heard,” Paddock said with a yawn. “But it wasn’t to be. I
haven’t seen you since we left college, have I? Well, Dick, for a
couple of years I tried to make good doing fiction. I turned them out
by the yard–nice quiet little tea-table yarns with snappy dialogue.
Once I got eighty dollars for a story. It was hard work–and I always
did yearn for the purple, you know.”

“I know,” said Minot gravely.

“Well, I’ve struck it, Dick. I’ve struck the deep purple with a loud
if sickening thud. Hist! The graft I mentioned yesterday.” He
glanced over his shoulder. “Remember Mrs. Bruce, the wittiest hostess
in San Marco?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well, I write her repartee for her.”

“Her–what?”

“Her repartee–her dialogue–the bright talk she convulses dinner
tables with. Instead of putting my smart stuff into stories at eighty
per, I sell it to Mrs. Bruce at–I’d be ashamed to tell you, old man.
I remarked that it was essentially soft. It is.”

“This is a new one on me,” said Minot, dazed.

A delighted smile spread over Mr. Paddock’s handsome face.

“Thanks. That’s the beauty of it I’m a pioneer. There’ll be others,
but I was the first. Consider the situation. Here’s Mrs. Bruce,
loaded with diamonds and money, but tongue-tied in company, with a wit
developed in Zanesville, Ohio. Bright, but struggling, young author
comes to her–offers to make her conversation the sensation of the
place for a few pesos.”

“You did that?”

“Yes–I ask posterity to remember it was I who invented the graft.
Mrs. Bruce fell on my fair young neck. Now, she gives me in advance a
list of her engagements, and for the important ones I devise her line
of talk. Then, as I’m usually present at the occasion, I swing things
round for her and give her her cues. If I’m not there, she has to
manage it herself. It’s a great life–only a bit of a strain on me. I
have to remember not to be clever in company. If I forget and spring a
good one, she jumps on me proper afterward for not giving it to her.”

“Jack,” said Minot slowly, “come way from here with me. Come north.
This place will finish you sure.”

“Sorry, old man,” laughed Paddock, “but I’ve had a nip of the lotus.
This lazy old land suits me. I like to sit on a veranda while a dusky
menial in a white coat hands me the tinkle-tinkle in a tall cool glass.
Come away? Oh, no–I couldn’t do that.”

“You’ll marry down here,” sighed Minot “Some girl with money. And the
career we all hoped you’d make for yourself will go up in a golden
cloud.”

“I met a girl,” Paddock replied, half closing his eyes and smiling
cynically at the sea–“little thing from the Middle West, stopping at a
back street boarding-house–father in the hardware business, nobody at
all–but eyes like the sea there, hands like butterflies–sort of–got
me– That’s how I happen to know I’ll never marry. For if I married
anybody it would have to be her–and I let her go home without saying a
word because I was selfish and like this easy game and intend to stick
to it until I’m smothered in rose-leaves. Shall we wander back?”

“See here, Jack–I don’t want to preach”–Minot tried to conceal his
seriousness with a smile–“but if I were you I’d stick to this girl,
and make good–”

“And leave this?” Paddock laughed. “Dick, you old idiot, this is meat
and drink to me. This nice old land of loiter in the sun. Nay, nay.
Now, I’ve really got to get back. Mrs. Bruce is giving a tango tea
this afternoon–informal, but something has to be said– These fellows
who write a daily humorous column must lead a devil of a life.”

With a laugh, Minot followed his irresponsible friend down the steps.
They crossed the bridge over the empty moat and came through the city
gates again to the street of the alligator.

“By the way,” Paddock said as they went up the hotel steps, “you
haven’t told me what brought you south?”

“Business, Jack,” said Minot. “It’s a secret–perhaps I can tell you
later.”

“Business? I thought, of course, you came for pleasure.”

“There’ll be no pleasure in this trip for me,” said Minot bitterly.

“Oh, won’t there?” Paddock laughed. “Wait till you hear Mrs. Bruce
talk. See you later, old man.”

At luncheon they brought Mr. Minot a telegram from a certain
seventeenth floor in New York. An explosive telegram. It read:

“Nonsense nobody here to take your place, see it through, you’ve given
your word.

“THACKER.”

Gloomily Mr. Minot considered. What was there to do but see it
through? Even though Thacker should send another to take his place,
could he stay to woo the lady he adored? Hardly. In that event he
would have to go away–never see her again–never hear her voice– If
he stayed as Jephson’s representative he might know the glory of her
nearness for a week, might thrill at her smile–even while he worked to
wed her to Lord Harrowby. And perhaps– Who could say? Hard as he
might work, might he not be thwarted? It was possible.

So after lunch he sent Thacker a reassuring message, promising to stay.
And at the end of a dull hour in the lobby, he set out to explore the
town.

The Mermaid Tea House stood on the waterfront, with a small
second-floor balcony that looked out on the harbor. Passing that way
at four-thirty that afternoon, Minot heard a voice call to him. He
glanced up.

“Oh, Mr. Minot–won’t you come into my parlor?” Cynthia Meyrick smiled
down on him.

“Splendid,” Minot laughed. “I walk forlorn through this old Spanish
town–suddenly a lattice is thrown wide, a fair hand beckons. I dash
within.”

“Thanks for dashing,” Miss Meyrick greeted him, on the balcony. “I was
finding it dreadfully dull. But I’m afraid the Spanish romance is a
little lacking. There is no moonlight, no lattice, no mantilla, no
Spanish beauty.”

“No matter,” Minot answered. “I never did care for Spanish types.
They flash like a sky-rocket–then tumble in the dark. Now, the
home-grown girls–”

“And nothing but tea,” she interrupted. “Will you have a cup?”

“Thanks. Was it really very dull?”

“Yes. This book was to blame.” She held up a novel.

“What’s the matter with it?”

“Oh–it’s one of those books in which the hero and heroine are forever
‘gazing into each other’s eyes.’ And they understand perfectly. But
the reader doesn’t. I’ve reached one of those gazing matches now.”

“But isn’t it so in real life–when people gaze into each other’s eyes,
don’t they usually understand?”

“Do they?”

“Don’t they? You surely have had more experience than I.”

“What makes you think so?” she smiled.

“Because your eyes are so very easy to gaze into.”

“Mr. Minot–you’re gazing into them–brazenly. And–neither of us
‘understand,’ do we?”

“Oh, no–we’re both completely at sea.”

“There,” she cried triumphantly. “I told you these authors were all
wrong.”

Minot, having begun to gaze, found difficulty in stopping. She was
near, she was beautiful–and a promise made in New York was a dim and
distant thing.

“The railroad folders try to make you believe Florida is an annex to
Heaven,” he said. “I used to think they were lying. But–”

She blushed.

“But what, Mr. Minot?”

He leaned close, a strange light in his eyes. He opened his mouth to
speak.

Suddenly he glanced over her shoulder, and the light died from his
eyes. His lips set in a bitter curve.

“Nothing,” he said. A silence.

“Mr. Minot–you’ve grown awfully dull.”

“Have I? I’m sorry.”

“Must I go back to my book–”

She was interrupted by the shrill triumphant cry of a yacht’s siren at
her back. She turned her head.

“The _Lileth_,” she said.

“Exactly,” said Minot. “The bridegroom cometh.”

Another silence.

“You’ll want to go to meet him,” Minot said, rising. He stood looking
at the boat, flashing gaily in the sunshine. “I’ll go with you as far
as the street.”

“But–you know Lord Harrowby. Meet him with me.”

“It seems hardly the thing–”

“But I’m not sentimental. And surely Allan’s not.”

“Then I must be,” said Minot. “Really–I’d rather not–”

They went together to the street. At the parting of the ways, Minot
turned to her.

“I promised Lord Harrowby in New York,” he told her, “that you would
have your lamp trimmed and burning.”

She looked up at him. A mischievous light came into her eyes.

“Please–have you a match?” she asked.

It was too much. Minot turned and fled down the street. He did not
once look back, though it seemed to him that he felt every step the
girl took across that narrow pier to her fiancé’s side.

As he dressed for dinner that night his telephone rang, and Miss
Meyrick’s voice sounded over the wire.

“Harrowby remembers you very pleasantly. Won’t you join us at dinner?”

“Are you sure an outsider–” he began.

“Nonsense. Mr. Martin Wall is to be there.”

“Ah–thank you–I’ll be delighted,” Minot replied.

In the lobby Harrowby seized his hand.

“My dear chap–you’re looking fit. Great to see you again. By the
way–do you know Martin Wall?”

“Yes–Mr. Wall and I met just before the splash,” Minot smiled. He
shook hands with Wall, unaccountably genial and beaming. “The Hudson,
Mr. Wall, is a bit chilly in February.”

“My dear fellow,” said Wall, “can you ever forgive me? A thousand
apologies. It was all a mistake–a horrible mistake.”

“I felt like a rotter when I heard about it,” Harrowby put in. “Martin
mistook you for some one else. You must forgive us both.”

“Freely,” said Minot. “And I want to apologize for my suspicions of
you, Lord Harrowby.”

“Thanks, old chap.”

“I never doubted you would come–after I saw Miss Meyrick.”

“She is a ripper, isn’t she?” said Harrowby enthusiastically.

Martin Wall shot a quick, almost hostile glance at Minot.

“You’ve noticed that yourself, haven’t you?” he said in Minot’s ear.

At which point the Meyrick family arrived, and they all went in to
dinner.

That function could hardly be described as hilarious. Aunt Mary
fluttered and gasped in her triumph, and spoke often of her horror of
the new. The recent admission of automobiles to the sacred precincts
of Bar Harbor seemed to be the great and disturbing fact in life for
her. Spencer Meyrick said little; his thoughts were far away. The
rush and scramble of a business office, the click of typewriters, the
excitement of the dollar chase–these things had been his life.
Deprived of them, like many another exile in the South, he moved in a
dim world of unrealities and wished that he were home. Minot, too, had
little to say. On Martin Wall fell the burden of entertainment, and he
bore it as one trained for the work. Blithely he gossiped of queer
corners that had known him and amid the flow of his oratory the dinner
progressed.

It was after dinner, when they all stood together in the lobby a moment
before separating, that Mr. Henry Trimmer made good his promise out of
a clear sky.

Cynthia Meyrick stood facing the others, talking brightly, when
suddenly her face paled and the flippant words died on her lips. They
all turned instantly.

Through the lobby, in a buzz of excited comment, a man walked slowly,
his eyes on the ground. He was a tall blond Englishman, not unlike
Lord Harrowby in appearance. His gray eyes, when he raised them for a
moment, were listless, his shoulders stooped and weary, and he had a
long drooping mustache that hung like a weeping willow above a
particularly cheerless stream.

However, it was not his appearance that excited comment and caused Miss
Meyrick to pale. Hung over his shoulders was a pair of sandwich boards
such as the outcasts of a great city carry up and down the streets.
And on the front board, turned full toward Miss Meyrick’s dinner party,
was printed in bold black letters:

I
AM
THE
REAL
LORD
HARROWBY

With a little gasp and a murmured apology, Miss Meyrick turned quickly
and entered the elevator. Lord Harrowby stood like a man of stone,
gazing at the sandwich boards.

It was at this point that the hotel detective sufficiently recovered
himself to lay eager hands on the audacious sandwich man and propel him
violently from the scene.

In the background Mr. Minot perceived Henry Trimmer, puffing excitedly
on a big black cigar, a triumphant look on his face.

Mr. Trimmer’s bomb was thrown.

“All I ask, Mister Harrowby, is that you consent to a short interview
with your brother.”

Mr. Trimmer was speaking. The time was noon of the following day, and
Trimmer faced Lord Harrowby in the sitting-room of his lordship’s hotel
suite. Also present–at Harrowby’s invitation–were Martin Wall and
Mr. Minot.

His lordship turned his gray eyes on Trimmer’s eager face. He could
make those eyes fishy when he liked–he made them so now.

“He is not my brother,” he said coldly, “and I shall not see him. May
I ask you not to call me Mr. Harrowby?”

“You may ask till you’re red in your noble face,” replied Trimmer, firm
in his disrespect. “But I shall go on calling you ‘Mister’ just the
same. I call you that because I know the facts. Just as I call your
poor cheated brother, who was in this hotel last night between sandwich
boards, Lord Harrowby.”

“Really,” said his lordship, “I see no occasion for prolonging this
interview.”

Mr. Trimmer leaned forward. He was a big man, but his face was
incongruously thin–almost ax-like. The very best sort of face to
thrust in anywhere–and Trimmer was the very man to do the thrusting
without batting an eye.

“Do you deny,” he demanded with the air of a prosecutor, “that you had
an older brother by the name of George?”

“I certainly do not,” answered Lord Harrowby. “George ran off to
America some twenty-two years ago. He died in a mining camp in Arizona
twelve years back. There is no question whatever about that. We had
it on the most reliable authority.”

“A lot of lies,” said Trimmer, “can be had on good authority. This
situation illustrates that. Do you think, Mr. Harrowby, that I’d be
wasting my time on this proposition if I wasn’t dead sure of my facts.
Why, poor old George has the evidence in his possession.
Incontrovertible proofs. It wouldn’t hurt you to see him and look over
what he has to offer.”

“Your lordship,” Minot suggested, “you know that I am your friend and
that my great desire is to see you happily married next week. In order
that nothing may happen to prevent, I think you ought to see–”

“This impostor,” cut in his lordship haughtily. “No, I can not. This
is not the first time adventurers have questioned the Harrowby title.
The dignity of our family demands that I refuse to take any notice
whatsoever.”

“Go on,” sneered Trimmer. “Hide behind your dignity. When I get
through with you you won’t have enough left to conceal your stick-pin.”

“Trimmer,” said Martin Wall, speaking for the first time, “how much
money do you want?”

Mr. Trimmer kept his temper admirably.

“Your society has not corrupted me, Mr. Wall,” he said sweetly. “I am
not a blackmailer. I am simply a publicity man. I’m working on a
salary which Lord Harrowby–the real Lord Harrowby–is to pay me when
he comes into his own. I’ve handled successfully in publicity
campaigns prima donnas, pills, erasers, perfumes, holding companies,
race horses, soups and society leaders. It isn’t likely that I shall
fall down on this proposition. For the last time, Mr. Allan Harrowby,
will you see your brother?”

“Lord Harrowby, if I were you–” Minot began.

“My dear fellow.” His lordship raised one slim hand. “It is quite
impossible. Which, I take it, terminates our talk with Mr. Trimmer.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Trimmer, rising. “Except for one thing. Our young
friend here, when he urges you to grant my request, is giving a correct
imitation of a wise head on youthful shoulders. He’s an American, and
he knows about me–about Henry Trimmer. I guess you never heard, Mr.
Harrowby, what I did for Cotrell’s Ink Eraser–”

“Come on,” said Mr. Wall militantly, “erase yourself.”

“For the moment, I will,” smiled Mr. Trimmer. “But I warn you, Mr.
Harrowby, you are going to be sorry. You aren’t up against any piker
in publicity–no siree. That little sandwich-board stunt of mine last
night was just a starter. I’m going to take the public into
partnership. Put it up to the people–that’s my motto.”

“Good day, sir,” snapped Lord Harrowby.

“Put it up to the people. And when I pull off the little trick I
thought of this morning, you’re going to get down before me on your
noble knees, and beg off. I warn you. Good day, gentlemen. And may I
add one simple request on parting? Watch Trimmer!”

He went out, slamming the door behind him. Mr. Wall rose and walked
rapidly toward a decanter.

“Rather tough on you, Lord Harrowby,” he remarked, pouring himself a
drink. “Especially just now. The fresh bounder! Ought to have been
kicked out of the room.”

“An impostor,” snorted Harrowby. “A rank impostor.”

“Of course.” Mr. Wall set down his glass. “But don’t worry. If
Trimmer gets too obstreperous, I’ll take care of him myself. I guess
I’ll be going back to the yacht.”

After Wall’s departure, Minot and Harrowby sat staring at each other
for a long moment.

“See here, your lordship,” said Minot at last. “You know why I’m in
San Marco. That wedding next Tuesday must take place without fail.
And I can’t say that I approve of your action just now–”

“My dear boy,” Harrowby interrupted soothingly, “I appreciate your
position. But there was nothing to be gained by seeing Mr. Trimmer’s
friend. The Meyricks were distressed, naturally, by that ridiculous
sandwich-board affair last evening, but they have made no move to call
off the wedding on account of it. The best thing to do, I’m sure, is
to let matters take their course. I might be able to prove that chap’s
claims false–and then again I mightn’t, even if I knew they were
false. And–there is a third possibility.”

“What is that?”

“He might really be–George.”

“But you said your brother died, twelve years ago.”

“That is what we heard. But–one can not be sure. And, delighted as I
should be to know that George is alive, naturally I should prefer to
know it after next Tuesday.”

Anger surged into Minot’s heart.

“Is that fair to the young lady who–”

“Who is to become my wife?” Lord Harrowby waved his hand. “It is.
Miss Meyrick is not marrying me for my title. As for her father and
aunt, I can not be so sure. I want no disturbance. You want none. I
am sure it is better to let things take their course.”

“All right,” said Minot. “Only I intend to do every thing in my power
to put this wedding through.”

“My dear chap–your cause is mine,” answered his lordship.

Minot returned to the narrow confines of his room. On the bureau,
where he had thrown it earlier in the day, lay an invitation to dine
that night with Mrs. Bruce. Thus was Jack Paddock’s hand shown. The
dinner was to be in Miss Meyrick’s honor, and Mr. Minot was not sorry
he was to go. He took up the invitation and reread it smilingly. So
he was to hear Mrs. Bruce at her own table–the wittiest hostess in San
Marco–bar none.

The drowsiness of a Florida midday was in the air. Mr. Minot lay down
on his bed. A hundred thoughts were his: the brown of Miss Meyrick’s
eyes, the sincerity of Mr. Trimmer’s voice when he spoke of his
proposition, the fishy look of Lord Harrowby refusing to meet his long
lost brother. Things grew hazy. Mr. Minot slept.

On leaving Lord Harrowby’s rooms, Mr. Martin Wall did not immediately
set out for the _Lileth_, on which he lived in preference to the hotel.
Instead he took a brisk turn about the spacious lobby of the De la Pax.

People turned to look at him as he passed. They noted that his large,
placid, rather jovial face was lighted by an eye sharp and queer, and a
bit out of place amid its surroundings. Mr. Wall considered himself
the true cosmopolite, and his history rather bore out the boast. Many
and odd were the lands that had known him. He had loaned money to a
prince of Algiers (on excellent security), broken bread with a sultan,
organized a baseball nine in Cuba, and coming home from the East via
the Indian ports, had flirted on shipboard with the wife of a Russian
grand duke. As he passed through that cool lobby it was not to be
wondered at that middle west merchants and their wives found him worthy
of a second glance.

The courtyard of the Hotel de la Pax was fringed by a series of modish
shops, with doors opening both on the courtyard and on the narrow
street outside. Among these, occupying a corner room was the very
smart jewel shop of Ostby and Blake. Occasionally in the winter
resorts of the South one may find jewelry shops whose stock would bear
favorably competition with Fifth Avenue. Ostby and Blake conducted
such an establishment.

For a moment before the show-window of this shop Mr. Wall paused, and
with the eye of a connoisseur studied the brilliant display within.
His whole manner changed. The air of boredom with which he had
surveyed his fellow travelers of the lobby disappeared; on the instant
he was alert, alive, almost eager. Jauntily he strolled into the store.

One clerk only–a tall thin man with a sallow complexion and hair the
color of a lemon–was in charge. Mr. Wall asked to be shown the stock
of unset diamonds.

The trays that the man set before him caused the eyes of Mr. Wall to
brighten still more. With a manner almost reverent he stooped over and
passed his fingers lovingly over the stones. For an instant the tall
man glanced outside, and smiled a sallow smile. A little girl in a
pink dress was crossing the street, and it was at her that he smiled.

“There’s a flaw in that stone,” said Mr. Wall, in a voice of sorrow.
“See–”

From outside came the shrill scream of a child, interrupting. The tall
man turned quickly to the window.

“My God–” he moaned.

“What is it?” Mr. Wall sought to look over his shoulder.
“Automobile–”

“My little girl,” cried the clerk in agony. He turned to Martin Wall,
hesitating. His sallow face was white now, his lips trembled.
Doubtfully he gazed into the frank open countenance of Martin Wall.
And then–

“I leave you in charge,” he shouted, and fled past Mr. Wall to the
street.

For a moment Martin Wall stood, frozen to the spot. His eyes were
unbelieving; his little Cupid’s bow mouth was wide open.

“Here–come back–” he shouted, when he could find his voice.

No one heeded. No one heard. Outside in the street a crowd had
gathered. Martin Wall wet his dry lips with his tongue. An
unaccountable shudder swept his huge frame.

“My God–” he cried in a voice of terror, “I’m alone!”

For the first time he dared to move. His elbow bumped a hundred
thousand dollars’ worth of unset diamonds. Frightened, he drew back.
He collided with a show-case rich in emeralds, rubies and aquamarines.
He put out a plump hand to steady himself. It rested on a display case
of French, Russian and Dutch silver.

Mr. Wall’s knees grew weak. He felt a strange prickly sensation all
over him. He took a step–and was staring at the finest display of
black pearls south of Maiden Lane, New York.

Quickly he turned away. His eyes fell upon the door of a huge safety
vault. It was swinging open!

Little beads of perspiration began to pop out on the forehead of Martin
Wall. His heart was hammering like that of a youth who sees after a
long separation his lady love. His eyes grew glassy.

He took out a silk handkerchief and passed it slowly across his damp
forehead.

Staggering slightly, he stepped again to the trays of unset stones.
The glassy eyes had grown greedy now. He put out one huge hand as the
lover aforesaid might reach toward his lady’s hair.

Then Mr. Wall shut his lips firmly, and thrust both of his hands deep
into his trousers pockets. He stood there in the middle of that
gorgeous room–a fat figure of a man suffering a cruel inhuman agony.

He was still standing thus when the tall man came running back.
Apprehension clouded that sallow face.

“It was very kind of you.” The small eyes of the clerk darted
everywhere; then came back to Martin Wall. “I’m obliged–why, what’s
the matter, sir?”

Martin Wall passed his hand across his eyes, as a man banishing a
terrible dream.

“The little girl?” he asked.

“Hardly a scratch,” said the clerk, pointing to the smiling child at
his side. “It was lucky, wasn’t it?” He was behind the counter now,
studying the trays unprotected on the show-case.

“Very lucky.” Martin Wall still had to steady himself. “Perhaps you’d
like to look about a bit before I go–”

“Oh, no, sir. Everything’s all right, I’m sure. You were looking at
these stones–”

“Some other time,” said Wall weakly. “I only wanted an idea of what
you had.”

“Good day, sir. And thank you very much.”

“Not at all.” And the limp ex-guardian passed unsteadily from the
store into the glare of the street.

Mr. Tom Stacy, of the Manhattan Club, half dozing on the veranda of his
establishment, was rejoiced to see his old friend Martin Wall crossing
the pavement toward him.

“Well, Martin–” he began. And then a look of concern came into his
face. “Good lord, man–what ails you?”

Mr. Wall sank like a wet rag to the steps.

“Tom,” he said, “a terrible thing has just happened. I was left alone
in Ostby and Blake’s jewelry shop.”

“Alone?” cried Mr. Stacy. “You–alone?”

“Absolutely alone.”

Mr. Stacy leaned over.

“Are you leaving town–in a hurry?” he asked.

Gloomily Mr. Wall shook his head.

“He put me on my honor,” he complained. “Left me in charge of the
shop. Can you beat it? Of course after that, I–well–you know,
somehow I couldn’t do it. I tried, but I couldn’t.”

Mr. Stacy threw back his head, and his raucous laughter smote the lazy
summer afternoon.

“I can’t help it,” he gasped. “The funniest thing I ever–you–the
best stone thief in America alone in charge of three million dollars’
worth of the stuff!”

“Good heavens, man,” whispered Wall. “Not so loud!” And well might he
protest, for Mr. Stacy’s indiscreet and mirthful tone carried far. It
carried, for example, to Mr. Richard Minot, standing hidden behind the
curtains of his little room overhead.

“Come inside, Martin,” said Stacy. “Come inside and have a bracer.
You sure must need it, after that.”

“I do,” replied Mr. Wall, in heartfelt tones. He rose and followed Tom
Stacy.

Cheeks burning, eyes popping, Mr. Minot watched them disappear into the
Manhattan Club.

Here was news indeed. Lord Harrowby’s boon companion the ablest jewel
thief in America! Just what did that mean?

Putting on coat and hat, he hurried to the hotel office and there wrote
a cablegram:

“Situation suspicious are you dead certain H. is on the level?”

An hour later, in his London office, Mr. Jephson read this message
carefully three times.