The Bandbox - Louis Joseph Vance - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1911

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Opis ebooka The Bandbox - Louis Joseph Vance

The tale bristles with breathless adventure, mistaken identities, detective investigations, romantic developments, and startling situations... It is a rousing story, told with a stimulating style, and culminating in love rewarded; but, before that happy end is reached, there are many thrilling revelations.

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Fragment ebooka The Bandbox - Louis Joseph Vance

About
Chapter 1 - INTRODUCING MR. IFF
Chapter 2 - THE BANDBOX

About Vance:

Louis Joseph Vance (September 19, 1879–December 16, 1933) was an American novelist, born in Washington, D. C., and educated in the preparatory department of the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. He wrote short stories and verse after 1901, then composed many popular novels. His character "Michael Lanyard", also known as "The Lone Wolf", was featured in eight books and 24 films between 1917 and 1949, and also appeared in radio and television series. Vance was separated from his wife (whom he married in 1898 and by whom he had a son the next year) when he was found dead in a burnt armchair inside his New York apartment; a cigarette had ignited some benzene (used for cleaning his clothes or for his broken jaw) that he had on his body and he was intoxicated at the time. He had recently returned from the West Indies, where he gathered material for a new book. The death was ruled accidental.

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Chapter 1 INTRODUCING MR. IFF

At half-past two of a sunny, sultry afternoon late in the month of August, Mr. Benjamin Staff sat at table in the dining-room of the Authors’ Club, moodily munching a morsel of cheese and a segment of cast-iron biscuit and wondering what he must do to be saved from the death-in-life of sheer ennui.

A long, lank gentleman, surprisingly thin, of a slightly saturnine cast: he was not only unhappy, he looked it. He was alone and he was lonely; he was an American and a man of sentiment (though he didn’t look that) and he wanted to go home; to sum up, he found himself in love and in London at one and the same time, and felt precisely as ill at ease in the one as in the other of these, to him, exotic circumstances.

Inconceivable as it may seem that any rational man should yearn for New York in August, that and nothing less was what Staff wanted with all his heart. He wanted to go home and swelter and be swindled by taxicab drivers and snubbed by imported head-waiters; he wanted to patronise the subway at peril of asphyxiation and to walk down Fifth Avenue at that witching hour when electric globes begin to dot the dusk of evening—pale moons of a world of steel and stone; he wanted to ride in elevators instead of lifts, in trolley-cars instead of trams; he wanted to go to a ball-game at the Polo Grounds, to dine dressed as he pleased, to insult his intelligence with a roof-garden show if he felt so disposed, and to see for himself just how much of Town had been torn down in the two months of his exile and what they were going to put up in its place. He wanted, in short, his own people; more specifically he wanted just one of them, meaning to marry her if she’d have him.

Now to be homesick and lovesick all at once is a tremendously disturbing state of affairs. So influenced, the strongest men are prone to folly. Staff, for instance, had excellent reason to doubt the advisability of leaving London just then, with an unfinished play on his hands; but he was really no more than a mere, normal human being, and he did want very badly to go home. If it was a sharp struggle, it was a short one that prefaced his decision.

Of a sudden he rose, called for his bill and paid it, called for his hat and stick, got them, and resolutely—yet with a furtive air, as one who would throw a dogging conscience off the scent—fled the premises of his club, shaping a course through Whitehall and Charing Cross to Cockspur Street, where, with the unerring instinct of a homing pigeon, he dodged hastily into the booking-office of a steamship company.

Now Mystery is where one finds it, and Romantic Adventure is as a rule to be come upon infesting the same identical premises. Mr. Staff was not seeking mysteries and the last rôle in the world in which he could fancy himself was that of Romantic Adventurer. But in retrospect he can see quite clearly that it was there, in the humdrum and prosaic setting of a steamship booking-office, that he first stumbled (all unwittingly) into the toils of his Great Adventure.

When he entered, there was but one other person on the outer or public side of the booking-counter; and he, sticking close in a far corner and inaudibly conferring with a clerk, seemed so slight and unpretending a body that Staff overlooked his existence altogether until circumstances obliged him to recognise it.

The ignored person, on the other hand, showed an instant interest in the appearance of Mr. Staff. You might have thought that he had been waiting for the latter to come in—absurd as this might seem, in view of the fact that Staff had made up his mind to book for home only within the last quarter-hour. None the less, on sight of him this other patron of the company, who had seemed till then to be of two minds as to what he wanted, straightened up and bent a freshened interest on the cabin-plot which the clerk had spread out upon the counter for his advisement. And a moment after Staff had audibly stated his wishes, the other prodded a certain spot of the chart with a thin and fragile forefinger.

“I’ll take this one,” he said quietly.

“Upper’r lower?” enquired his clerk.

“Lower.”

“Then-Q,” said the clerk… .

Meanwhile Staff had caught the eye of an impregnable young Englishman behind the counter; and, the latter coming forward, he opened negotiations with a succinct statement:

“I want to book on the Autocratic, sailing tomorrow from Liverpool, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Quite so,” said his clerk, not without condescension. “For yourself, may I awsk?”

“For myself alone.”

“Then-Q.” The clerk fetched a cabin-plot.

“I’m afraid, sir,” he said, removing a pencil from behind his ear the better to make his meaning clear, “there’s not much choice. It’s quite late to book, you know; and this is the rush season for westbound traffic; everything’s just about full up.”

“I understand; but still you can make room for me somewhere, I hope.”

“Oh, yes. Quite so, indeed. It’s only a question of what you’d like. Now we have a cabine de luxe—”

“Not for me,” said Staff firmly.

“Then-Q… . The only other accommodation I can offer you is a two-berth stateroom on the main-deck.”

“An outside room?”

“Yes, sir. You can see for yourself. Here it is: berths 432 and 433. You’ll find it quite cosy, I’m sure.”

Staff nodded, eyeing the cubicle indicated by the pencil-point.

“That’ll do,” said he. “I’ll take it.”

“Then-Q. Upper’r lower berth, sir?”

“Both,” said Staff, trying not to look conscious—and succeeding.

“Both, sir?”—in tones of pained expostulation.

“Both!”—reiterated in a manner that challenged curiosity.

“Ah,” said the clerk wearily, “but, you see, I thought I understood you to say you were alone.”

“I did; but I want privacy.”

“I see. Then-Q.”—as who should say: Another mad Amayrican.

With this the clerk took himself off to procure a blank ticket.

While he waited, Staff was entertained by snatches of a colloquy at the far end of the counter, where the other patron was being catechised as to his pedigree by the other booking-clerk. What he heard ran something to the following effect:

“What did you say the name was, sir?”

The name?”

“If you please—”

“What name?”

“Your name, sir.”

“I didn’t say, did I?”

“No, sir.”

“Ah! I thought not.”

Pause; then the clerk, patiently: “Do you mind giving me your name, sir, so that I may fill in your ticket?”

“I’d r’ally rather not; but seein’ as it’s you and you make a point of it—Iff.”

Pause… . “Beg pardon?”

“Iff.”

“If what, sir?”

“I-double-F, Iff: a name, not a joke. I-F-F—William Howard Iff. W. H. Iff, Whiff: joke.”

“Ow-w?”

“But you needn’t laugh.”

With dignity: “I was not intending to laugh, sir.”

Staff could hardly refrain from refreshing himself with a glance at the individual so singularly labelled. Appraising him covertly, he saw a man whose stature was quite as much shorter than the normal as his own was longer, but hardly less thin. Indeed, Staff was in the habit of defining his own style of architecture as Gothic, and with reasonable excuse; but reviewing the physical geography of Mr. Iff, the word emaciation bobbed to the surface of the literary mentality: Iff was really astonishingly slight of build. Otherwise he was rather round-shouldered; his head was small, bird-like, thinly thatched with hair of a faded tow colour; his face was sensitively tinted with the faintest of flushes beneath a skin of natural pallor, and wore an expression curiously naive and yet shrewd—an effect manufactured by setting the eyes of a child, round and dimly blue, in a mask of weathered maturity.

Now while Staff was receiving this impression, Mr. Iff looked sharply round; their glances crossed. Primarily embarrassed to be caught rudely staring, Staff was next and thoroughly shocked to detect a distinct if momentary eclipse of one of Mr. Iff’s pale blue eyes. Bluntly, openly, deliberately, Mr. Iff winked at Mr. Staff, and then, having accomplished his amazement and discomfiture, returned promptly, twinkling, to the baiting of his clerk.

“Your age, sir?”

Mr. Iff enquired in simple surprise: “Do you really care to know?”

“It’s required, sir, by the—”

“Oh, well—if I must! But, mind you, strictly as man to man: you may write me down a freeborn American citizen, entitled to vote and more ’n half white.”

Beg pardon?”

“I say, I am an adult—”

“Oh!” The clerk wrote; then, bored, resumed: “Married or single, please?”

“I’m a spinster—”

“O-w?”

“Honestly—neither married nor unmarried.”

“Then-Q”—resignedly. “Your business—?”

But here Staff’s clerk touched the exasperated catechist on the shoulder and said something inaudible. The response, while equally inaudible, seemed to convey a sense of profound personal shock. Staff was conscious that Mr. Iff’s clerk glanced reproachfully in his direction, as if to suggest that he wouldn’t have believed it of him.

Divining that he and Mr. Iff were bargaining for the same accommodations, Staff endeavoured to assume an attitude of distinguished obliviousness to the entire proceeding; and would have succeeded but for the immediate and impatient action of Mr. Iff.

That latter, seizing the situation, glanced askance at dignified Mr. Staff, then smiled a whimsical smile, cocked his small head to one side and approached him with an open and ingenuous air.

“If it’s only a question of which berth,” said he, “I’m quite willing to forfeit my option on the lower, Mr. Staff.”

That gentleman started and stared.

“Oh, lord, man!” said Iff tolerantly—“as if your portrait hadn’t been published more times than you can remember!—as if all the world were unaware of Benjamin Staff, novelist!”

There was subtle flattery in this; and flattery (we are told) will warm the most austere of authors—which Staff was not. He said “Oh!” and smiled his slow, wry smile; and Mr. Iff, remarking these symptoms of a thaw with interest and encouragement, pressed his point.

“I don’t mind an upper, really—only chose the lower because the choice was mine, at the moment. If you prefer it—”

“The trouble is,” Staff interrupted, “I want the whole room.”

“Oh!… Friend with you?”

“No; but I had some notion of doing a little work on the way over.”

“Writing? I see. But if that’s all—!” Mr. Iff routed a negligible quibble with an airy flirt of his delicate hand. “Trust me; you’ll hardly ever be reminded of my existence—I’m that quiet. And besides, I spend most of my time in the smoking-room. And I don’t snore, and I’m never seasick… . By the way,” he added anxiously, “do or are you?”

“Never—”

“Then we’ll get along famously. I’ll cheerfully take the upper, and even should I tumble out on top of you, you’d never know it: my weight is nothing—hardly that. Now what d’ you say? Is it a go?”

“But—I don’t know you—”

“Business of making a noise like an Englishman!” commented Mr. Iff with bitter scorn.

“—well enough to accept such a favour from you. I’ll take second choice myself—the upper, I mean.”

“You won’t; but we’ll settle that on shipboard,” said Mr. Iff promptly. “As for knowing me—business of introducing myself. Mr. Staff, I want you to shake hands with my friend, Mr. Iff. W. H. Iff, Whiff: sometimes so-called: merry wheeze based on my typographical make-up; once a joke, now so grey with age I generally pull it myself, thus saving new acquaintances the mental strain. Practical philanthropy—what? Whim of mine.”

“Indeed?”

“Believe me. You’ve no notion how folks suffer in the first throes of that giddy pun. And then when it falls flat—naturally I can’t laugh like a fool at it any longer—blooie!” said Mr. Iff with expression—“like that—blooie!—they do feel so cheap. Wherefore I maintain I do humanity a service when I beat it to that moth-eaten joke. You follow me?”

Staff laughed.

“Then it’s all settled. Good! We shan’t be in one another’s way. You’ll see.”

“Unless you talk in your sleep, too.”

Mr. Iff looked unspeakable reproach. “You’ll soon get accustomed to me,” he said, brightening—“won’t mind my merry prattle any more ’n the song of a giddy humming-bird.”

He turned and saw their booking-clerks in patient waiting behind the counter. “Ah, there you are, eh? Well, it’s all settled… .”

Thus was the thing accomplished.

And shortly thereafter these two paused in parting at the door.

“Going my way?” enquired Mr. Iff.

Staff named whatever destination he had in mind.

“Sorry. I go t’other way. Take care of yourself. See you tomorrow.”

“Good-bye,” said Staff, and took himself briskly off.

But Mr. Iff did not at once go in the opposite direction. In fact, he moved no more than a door or two away, and then stopped, apparently fascinated by an especially stupid shop-window show.

He had very quick eyes, had Mr. Iff, so alert and observant that they had made him alive to a circumstance which had altogether escaped Staff’s notice—a trifling incident that took place just as they were on the point of parting.

While still they were standing in the doorway, a motor-cab, plunging down Haymarket, had swooped in a wide curve as if meaning to pull in at the curb in front of the steamship company’s office. The cab carried a solitary passenger—a remarkably pretty young woman—and on its roof a remarkably large and ornate bandbox.

It was, in fact, the bandbox which had first fixed the interest of Mr. Iff. Only an introspective vision, indeed, such as that of the imaginative and thoughtful Mr. Staff, could have overlooked the approach of a bandbox so big and upstanding, so profusely beflowered and so prominently displayed.

Now before the cab could stop, its fare, who had been bending forward and peering out of the window as if anxious to recognise her destination, started still farther forward, seized the speaking-tube and spoke into its mouthpiece in a manner of sharp urgency. And promptly the driver swerved out from the curb and swung his car away down Pall Mall.

If it was mere inquisitiveness that held Mr. Iff rooted to the spot, gaping at that uninteresting window show, it served to discover him in the guise of an admirably patient person. Fully fifteen minutes elapsed before the return of the motor-cab was signalled unmistakably by the blatant bandbox bobbing back high above the press of traffic. And when this happened, Mr. Iff found some further business with the steamship company, and quietly and unobtrusively slipped back into the booking-office.

As he did so the cab stopped at the curb and the pretty young woman jumped out and followed Mr. Iff across the threshold—noticing him no more than had Mr. Staff, to begin with.


Chapter 2 THE BANDBOX

In the playhouses of France, a hammering on the stage alone heralds the rising of the curtain to disclose illusory realms of romance. Precisely so with Mr. Staff, upon the door of whose lodging, at nine o’clock the next morning, a knocking announced the first overt move against his peace of mind.

At that time, Staff, all unconscious of his honourable peril, was standing in the middle of the floor of the inner room (his lodgings comprised two) and likewise in the approximate geographical centre of a chaotic assemblage of assorted wearing apparel and other personal impedimenta.

He was wondering, confusedly, how in thunderation he was to manage to cram all that confounded truck into the limited amount of trunk space at his command. He was also wondering, resentfully in the names of a dozen familiar spirits, where he had put his pipe: it’s simply maddening, the way a fellow’s pipe will persist in getting lost at such critical times as when he’s packing up to catch a train with not a minute to spare… . In short, so preoccupied was Staff that the knocking had to be repeated before he became objectively alive to it.

Then, confidentially, he said: “What the devil now?”

In louder tones calculated to convey an impression of intense impatience, he cried: “Come in!”

He heard the outer door open, and immediately, upon an impulse esoteric even in his own understanding, he chose to pretend to be extravagantly busy—as busy as by rights he should have been. For a minute or longer he acted most vividly the part of a man madly bent on catching his train though he were to perish of the attempt. And this despite a suspicion that he played to a limited audience of one, and that one unappreciative of the finer phases of everyday histrionic impersonation: an audience answering to the name of Milly, whose lowly station of life was that of housemaid-in-lodgings and whose imagination was as ill-nourished and sluggish as might be expected of one whose wages were two-and-six a week.

Remembering this in time, the novelty of make-believe palled on Staff. Not that alone, but he could hear Milly insisting in accents not in the least apologetic: “Beg pardon, sir … ”

He paused in well-feigned surprise and looked enquiringly over his shoulder, as though to verify a surmise that somebody had spoken. Such proving to be the case, he turned round to confront Milly—Milly true to type, wearing a grimy matutinal apron, an expression half sleepy, half sullen, and a horrid soot smudge on her ripe, red, right cheek.

In this guise (so sedulously does life itself ape the conventions of its literature and drama) Milly looked as lifelike as though viewed through the illusion of footlights. Otherwise, as Staff never failed to be gratified to observe, she differed radically from the stock article of our stage. For one thing, she refrained from dropping her aitches and stumbling over them on her first entrance in order merely to win a laugh and so lift her little rôle from the common rut of “lines” to the dignity of “a bit.” For another, she seldom if ever brandished that age-honoured wand of her office, a bedraggled feather-duster. Nor was she by any means in love with the tenant of the fust-floor-front.

But though Staff was grateful for Milly because of this strong and unconventional individuality of hers, he wasn’t at all pleased to be interrupted, and he made nothing whatever of the ostensible excuse for the interruption; the latter being a very large and brilliantly illuminated bandbox, which Milly was offering him in pantomime.

“It have just come,” said Milly calmly, in response to his enquiring stare. “Where would you wish me to put it, sir?”

“Put what?”

Milly gesticulated eloquently with the bandbox.

“That thing?” said Staff with scorn.

“Yessir.”

“I don’t want you to put it anywhere. Take it away.”

“But it’s for you, sir.”

“Impossible. Some mistake. Please don’t bother—just take it away. There’s a good girl.”

Milly’s disdain of this blandishment was plainly visible in the added elevation of her already sufficiently tucked-up nose.

“Beg pardon, sir,” she persisted coldly, “but it’s got your nime on it, and the boy as left it just now asked if you lived here.”

Staff’s frown portrayed indignation, incredulity and impatience.

“Mistake, I tell you. I haven’t been buying any millinery. Absurd!”

“Beg pardon, sir, but you can see as it’s addressed to you.”

It was: the box being held out for examination, Staff saw plainly that it was tagged with a card inscribed in fashionably slapdash feminine handwriting with what was unquestionably the name and local address of Benjamin Staff, Esq.

Because of this, he felt called upon to subject the box to more minute inspection.

It was nothing more nor less than the everyday milliners’ hat-box of commerce: a capacious edifice of stout pasteboard neatly plastered with wall-paper in whose design narrow stripes of white alternated with aggressive stripes of brown, the whole effectively setting off an abundance of purple blossoms counterfeiting no flower known to botanists. And one gibbous side was further decorated with bold black script advertising the establishment of its origin.

Maison Lucille, New Bond Street, West,” Staff read aloud, completely bewildered. “But I never heard of the d—— the place!”

Helplessly he sought Milly’s eyes, and helpfully Milly rose to the occasion.

“Nossir,” said she; and that was all.

“I know nothing whatever about the thing,” Staff declared severely. “It’s all a mistake. Take it away—it’ll be sent for as soon as the error’s discovered.”

A glimmer of intelligence shone luminous in Milly’s eyes. “Mebbe,” she suggested under inspiration of curiosity—“Mebbe if you was to open it, you’d find a note or—or something.”

“Bright girl!” applauded Staff. “You open it. I’m too busy—packing up—no time—”

And realising how swiftly the golden minutes were fleeting beyond recall, he cast desperately about for his pipe.

By some miracle he chanced to find it, and so resumed packing.

Behind him, Milly made noises with tissue-paper.

Presently he heard a smothered “O sir!” and looked round to discover the housemaid in an attitude of unmitigated adoration before what he could not deny was a perfect dream of a hat—the sort of a hat that only a woman or a society reporter could do justice to. In his vision it bore a striking resemblance to a Gainsborough with all modern improvements—as most big hats do to most men. Briefly, it was big and black and trimmed with an atmosphere of costly simplicity, a monstrous white “willow” plume and a huge buckle of brilliants. It impressed him, hazily, as just the very hat to look ripping on an ash-blonde. Aside from this he was aware of no sensation other than one of aggravated annoyance.

Milly, to the reverse extreme, was charmed to distraction, thrilled to the core of her and breathless—though by no means dumb. Women are never dumb with admiration.

“O sir!” she breathed in ecstasy—“it’s a real creashun!”

“Daresay,” Staff conceded sourly. “Did you find a note?”

“And the price-tag, sir—it says twen-ty five pounds!”

“I hope there’s a receipted bill, then… . Do you see anything remotely resembling a note—or something?”

With difficulty subduing her transports—“I’ll see, sir,” said Milly.

Grunting with exasperation, Staff bent over a trunk and stuffed things into it until Milly committed herself to the definite announcement: “I don’t seem to find nothing, sir.”

“Look again, please.”

Again Milly pawed the tissue-paper.

“There ain’t nothing at all, sir,” she declared finally.

Staff stood up, thrust his hands into his pockets and champed the stem of his pipe—scowling.

“It is a bit odd, sir, isn’t it?—having this sent to you like this and you knowing nothing at all about it!”

Staff said something indistinguishable because of the obstructing pipe-stem.

“It’s perfectly beautiful, sir—a won’erful hat, really.”

“The devil fly away with it!”

“Beg pardon, sir?”

“I said, I’m simply crazy about it, myself.”

“Oh, did you, sir?”

“Please put it back and tie it up.”

“Yessir.” Reluctantly Milly restored the creation to its tissue-paper nest. “And what would you wish me to do with it now, sir?” she resumed when at length the ravishing vision was hidden away.

“Do with it?” stormed the vexed gentleman. “I don’t care what the d—ickens you do with it. It isn’t my hat. Take it away. Throw it into the street. Send it back to the place it came from. Give it … or, wait!”

Pausing for breath and thought, he changed his mind. The hat was too valuable to be treated with disrespect, no matter who was responsible for the mistake. Staff felt morally obligated to secure its return to the Maison Lucille.

“Look here, Milly … ”

“Yessir?”

“I’ll just telephone … No! Half a minute!”

He checked, on the verge of yielding to an insane impulse. Being a native of New York, it had been his instinctive thought to call up the hat-shop and demand the return of its delivery-boy. Fortunately the instinct of a true dramatist moved him to sketch hastily the ground-plot of the suggested tragedy.

In Act I (Time: the Present) he saw himself bearding the telephone in its lair—that is, in the darkest and least accessible recess of the ground-floor hallway. In firm, manful accents, befitting an intrepid soul, he details a number to the central operator—and meekly submits to an acidulated correction of his Amurrikin accent.

Act II (fifteen minutes have elapsed): He is clinging desperately to the receiver, sustained by hope alone while he attends sympathetically to the sufferings of an English lady trying to get in communication with the Army and Navy Stores.

Act III (ten minutes later): He has exhausted himself grinding away at an obsolete rotary bell-call. Abruptly his ears are enchanted by a far, thin, frigid moan. It says: “Are you theah?” Responding savagely “NO!” he dashes the receiver back into its hook and flings away to discover that he has lost both train and steamer. Tag line: For this is London in the Twentieth Century. Curtain: End of the Play.

Disenchanted by consideration of this tentative synopsis, the playwright consulted his watch. Already the incident of the condemnable bandbox had eaten up much invaluable time. He would see himself doomed to unending perdition if he would submit to further hindrance on its behalf.

“Milly,” said he with decision, “take that … thing down-stairs, and tell Mrs. Gigg to telephone the hat-shop to call for it.”

“Yessir.”

“And after that, call me a taxi. Tell it to wait. I’ll be ready by ten or know—”

Promptly retiring, Milly took with her, in addition to the bandbox, a confused impression of a room whose atmosphere was thick with flying garments, in the wild swirl of which a lanky lunatic danced weirdly, muttering uncouth incantations… .

Forty minutes later (on the stroke of ten) Mr. Staff, beautifully groomed after his habit, his manner (superbly nonchalant) denying that he had ever known reason why he should take a single step in haste, followed his trunks down to the sidewalk and, graciously bidding his landlady adieu, presented Milly with a keepsake in the shape of a golden coin of the realm.

A taxicab, heavy-laden with his things, fretted before the door. Staff nodded to the driver.

“Euston,” said he; “and a shilling extra if you drive like sin.”

“Right you are, sir.”

In the act of entering the cab, Staff started back with bitter imprecations.

Mrs. Gigg, who had not quite closed the front door, opened it wide to his remonstrant voice.

“I say, what’s this bandbox doing in my cab? I thought I told Milly—”

“Sorry, sir; I forgot,” Mrs. Gigg interposed—“bein’ that flustered—”

“Well?”

“The woman what keeps the ’at-shop said as ’ow the ’at wasn’t to come back, sir. She said a young lidy bought it yestiddy ahfternoon and awsked to ’ave it sent you this mornin’ before nine o’clock.”

“The deuce she did!” said Staff blankly.

“An’ the young lidy said as ’ow she’d write you a note explynin’. So I tells Milly not to bother you no more abaht it, but put the ’at-box in the keb, sir—wishin’ not to ’inder you.”

“Thoughtful of you, I’m sure. But didn’t the—ah—woman who keeps the hat-shop mention the name of the—ah—person who purchased the hat?”

By the deepening of its corrugations, the forehead of Mrs. Gigg betrayed the intensity of her mental strain. Her eyes wore a far-away look and her lips moved, at first silently. Then—“I ain’t sure, sir, as she did nime the lidy, but if she did, it was somethin’ like Burnside, I fancy—or else Postlethwayt.”

“Nor Jones nor Brown? Perhaps Robinson? Think, Mrs. Gigg! Not Robinson?”

“I’m sure it may ’ave been eyether of them, sir, now you puts it to me pl’in.”

“That makes everything perfectly clear. Thank you so much.”

With this, Staff turned hastily away, nodded to his driver to cut along, and with groans and lamentations squeezed himself into what space the bandbox did not demand of the interior of the vehicle.