The Professor's Mystery - Wells Hastings - ebook

The Professor's Mystery ebook

Wells Hastings

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I walked the platform fanning myself with my hat. I bought cigarettes, magazines and a shine. I explored the station, scrutinizing faces and searching vainly for matters of interest. I exhausted my resources in filling up fifteen minutes, and the hand of the electric clock seemed as tremulous with indecision as it had before been jerky with haste. Nothing happened. Nothing would happen or could happen anywhere. Romance was dead.

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THE PROFESSOR’S MYSTERY

Wells Hastings

JOVIAN PRESS

Thank you for reading. If you enjoy this book, please leave a review.

All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2017 by Wells Hastings

Published by Jovian Press

Interior design by Pronoun

Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781537824123

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER I

~

IN WHICH THINGS ARE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

“Has the two-forty-five for Boston gone yet?”

The train announcer looked at me a long time; then he shifted his plug of tobacco to the other cheek and drawled:

“Naouw. Reported forty minutes late.”

At this point I believe I swore. At least I have no recollection of not doing so, and I should hardly have forgotten so eminent an act of virtue under such difficult circumstances. It was not only that I had worked myself into a heat for nothing. But the train could hardly fail of losing yet more time on its way to Boston, and my chances of making the steamer were about one in three. My trunk would go to Liverpool without me, a prey to the inquisitive alien; and as for me I was at the mercy of the steamship company. For a moment I wondered how I could possibly have doubted my desire to go abroad that summer and to go on that boat though the heavens fell. I thought insanely of automobiles and special trains. Then came the reaction and I settled back comfortably hopeless into the hands of fate. After all I did not care an improper fraction whether I stayed or went: let the gods decide. Only I wished something would happen. The shining rails reached away to lose themselves in a haze of heat. Somewhere a switching engine was puffing like a tired dog. Knots of listless humanity stood about under the dingy roof of the platform; and the wind across the harbor brought a refreshing aroma of tidal mud and dead clams. It occurred to me that my collar was rather sticky on the inside.

I walked the platform fanning myself with my hat. I bought cigarettes, magazines and a shine. I explored the station, scrutinizing faces and searching vainly for matters of interest. I exhausted my resources in filling up fifteen minutes, and the hand of the electric clock seemed as tremulous with indecision as it had before been jerky with haste. Nothing happened. Nothing would happen or could happen anywhere. Romance was dead.

Feet scraped; a bell chattered; then breathing flame and smoke, and with a shriek that would have put Saint George to utter rout, the down express rumbled between me and the sky, and ground heavily to a standstill. And there, framed in the wide Pullman window, was a face that altered all the colors of the day, and sent me back among sleigh-bells and holly. Not that I had known her well; but the week of intimate gaiety at a Christmas house party had shown her so sweetly merry, so well fashioned in heart and brain and body that the sight of her renewed pleasant memories, like the reopening of a familiar book. She was smiling now; not at me, but with the same humorously pensive little smile that I remembered, that seemed to come wholly from within and to summarize her outlook upon the world. Her dark brows were lifted in cool and friendly interest as she glanced over the comfortless crowd; and although I was now somewhat more at peace with the world, and no longer hot nor hurried, she seemed to me to sit there in the window of her sweltering car a thing aloof and apart, the embodiment of all unruffled daintiness.

Her eyes found me and she nodded, smiling. I went forward eagerly. Here, at least, in a stuffy and uninteresting world was somebody cool, somebody amusing, somebody I knew. I picked up my bag and ran up the steps of her car. As I came down the aisle she half rose and stretched out a welcoming slim hand. I dropped into the chair beside her.

“Well, this is luck,” I said. “But what are you doing here in the world in July? You belong to Christmas in a setting of frosty white and green. You’re out of season now.”

She laughed. “Surely I have as much right in July as you have, Mr. Crosby. You are only a sort of yule-tide phantom yourself.”

“Wasn’t it a jolly week?” I asked.

Miss Tabor’s smile answered me. Then turning half away with a face grown suddenly and strangely bleak: “I think it was the best Christmas of my life,” she said mechanically. And then with a sudden return to sunshine: “I suppose I see the professor starting on his learned pilgrimage. Is it Europe this summer, or the great libraries of America?”

She had twitted me before upon my lack of scholarly bearing which, as I had always explained, was but a mask to unsuspected profundity.

“Well,"—I began, deliberately groping for a decision among the tangled fates of the afternoon, my doubtful steamer and my grudging plans, “to tell you the truth, Miss Tabor—”

She touched my arm and pointed out of the window. “Look,” she said, “you haven’t nearly time enough for that now. Do hurry—you mustn’t take chances.”

The platform was slipping by faster and faster, and with it sobriety and common sense and the wisdom of the beaten path. On the other hand lay the comedy of the present and that flouting of one’s own arrangements which is the last word of freedom. I glanced down at her ticket, where it lay face upward on the window-sill.

“To tell you the truth, Miss Tabor,” I finished, “I am on my way to Stamford,” and I settled back comfortably into my seat.

Miss Tabor regarded me tolerantly, with the air of a collector examining a doubtful specimen: one eyebrow a trifle raised, and an adorable twist at the corners of her mouth. As for me, I tried to look innocently unconcerned. It may be possible to do this; but no one is ever conscious of success at the time.

“I’m going there myself,” she said suddenly. “Isn’t this a coincidence?”

“Easily that. Let me amend the word and call it a dispensation. But appearances are against you. You ought to be going to a lawn party—in a dog-cart.”

“I wonder where you ought to be going,” she mused. “Probably to the British museum to dig up a lot of dead authors that everybody ought to know about and nobody reads.”

This was altogether too near the truth. “I didn’t know you lived in Stamford,” I said. “You appeared last Christmas in a character of the daughter of Gotham. Wasn’t there an ancestor of yours who went to sea in a bowl?”

Her smile faded as if a light had gone out in her. After a pause she answered rather wearily, “We’ve only been in Stamford a few months. We had always lived in town before.”

We looked out of the window for a few moments in silence, while I formulated a hasty hypothesis of financial reverses which had driven the family from their city home, and registered a resolution to avoid the uncomfortable subject. Still, I reflected, the lower shore of the Sound is not precisely the resort of impoverished pride. Had I touched upon some personal sorrow of her own? She was not in mourning. Yet as she lay back in the green chair, one hand listless in her lap, the other twisting at the slender chain that ran about her neck and lost itself in the bosom of her gown, the fringe of her eyelid clear against the soft shadows of her profile, I imagined in her something of the enchanted princess bound by evil spells in some dark castle of despair. And immediately, with a surge of absurd valor, I saw myself striding, sword in hand, across the drawbridge to blow the brazen horn and do battle with the enchanter. The next moment she routed my imagination by returning lightly to the subject.

“It’s a lovely place. I’m out of doors the whole time, and I’m so well I get positively bored trying to work off energy. I can’t get tired enough to sit still and improve my uneducated mind. Ever so many nice people, too. By the way, whom do you know there?”

I was on the defensive again. “Why—I don’t know anybody exactly there—but there are some friends of mine down at one of those beach-places in the neighborhood—the Ainslies. Bob was in my class.”

She resumed the air of the connoisseur. “Why, I know them. I’m going to visit Mrs. Ainslie myself over the week-end. Do they know you’re coming?”

“I’m not going to them,” I said desperately. “That is, I may while I’m near by, but I haven’t any definite plans. For once in my life I’m not going to have any definite plans, but just start out and see what happens to me. For six months I’ve been telling things I care about to a lot of kids that aren’t old enough to care about anything; and now I want adventures. I went down to the station to take the first train that came along, go wherever it took me and let things happen.”

“You might have gone to some romantic place,” she suggested. “Three months would hardly be time enough for the Far East, but you might have tried Russia or the Mediterranean.”

“That’s just the point,” I returned. “Romance and adventure don’t depend on time; they only depend on people. If you’re the kind of person things happen to you can have adventures on Fifth Avenue. If you’re not, you might walk through all the Arabian Nights and only feel bored and uncomfortable. It all depends upon turning out of your way to pick up surprises. You’re walking in the wood and you see something that looks like a root peeping out from between the rocks. Well, if you’re the right kind of person you’ll catch hold of it and pull. It may be only a root; or it may be the tail of a dragon. And in that case you ought to thank Heaven for excitement, even if you’re scared to death.”

By this time I almost believed in my own explanation. But Miss Tabor did not seem particularly impressed.

She put on the voice and manner of a child of ten. “You must be awfully brave to like being afraid of things,” she lisped; then with a sudden change of tone, “Mr. Crosby, suppose—only for the sake of argument—that you’re making this up as you go along and that you did know perfectly well where you were going, where do you think you would have gone?”

Then I gave up and explained, “I was going to Europe to study,” I said, “for no better reason than that I had nothing more interesting to do. Then my train was late and I should have missed my steamer anyway and—and then you came along and I thought I might just as well make the most of the situation. Now I can go down and tell the Ainslies they want to see me and all will be well.”

After some meditating she said, “Are you as irresponsible as that about everything?”

“I don’t see where all the irresponsibility comes in,” I protested. “It isn’t a sacred and solemn duty to follow out one’s own plans, especially when they were only made to fill up the want of anything more worth while, and have fallen through already. I didn’t care about going to Europe in the first place; then I couldn’t—at least not at once; then I found something else that I did care about doing.”

“Men,” said Miss Tabor, “usually find a logical reason for what they do on impulse, without any reason at all.”

“And the proof that women always act reasonably,” I retorted, “is that they never give you the reason.”

Instead of taking that for the flippancy it was, she thought about it for some minutes; or else it reminded her of something.

“Besides,” I went on, “this is an adventure, as far as it goes; a little one, if you like, but still with all the earmarks of romance. It was unexpected, and it fits into itself perfectly—all the parts of the scene match like a picture-puzzle—and it happened through a mixture of chance and the taking of chances. It’s just that snatching at casual excitement that makes things happen to people.”

“Don’t things enough happen to people without their seeking them out?” she asked.

“Not to most people; and not nowadays, if they ever did. Do you remember Humpty Dumpty’s objection to Alice’s face, that it was just like other faces—two eyes above, nose in the middle, mouth under? Well, that’s the only objection I have to life; days and doings are too regular, too much according to schedule. Why is a train less romantic than a stage-coach? Because it runs on time and on a track; it can’t do anything but be late. But the stage-coach dallies along through the countryside, with inns and highwaymen, and pretty girls driving geese to market, and all the chances of the open road. The horse of the knight-errant was better still, and for the same reason.”

“I don’t think anything very much has ever happened to you,” she said slowly.

“Well,” said I, “I’m not pretending to be Ulysses; and you’ve reminded me of my tender age so often that I can hardly forget it in your presence. But I have had a few exciting moments, and I want more. I don’t care whether they are pleasant or not, so long as I come safe out of them somehow. They’ll pay for themselves with the gold of memory.”

“That’s just what I mean,” she returned. “You talk about things as if the only question of importance were whether they are exciting. One looks at books that way, and pictures, and things that are not real. A moment ago, you put highwaymen in the same class with inns and goose-girls. Do you suppose any one that was actually held up and robbed of his fortune would think of the robber as merely a pleasant thrill?”

“I’d rather be robbed by a highwayman than by a railroad, anyway. At the worst, I’d have had a run for my money.”

She went on without smiling: “And even trains run off the track sometimes. Do you think you would enjoy the memory of a railroad accident—even if you weren’t hurt yourself?”

“Perhaps not. But there’s another disadvantage of the train. It’s so regular and mechanical that if anything does go wrong there is an ugly smash. It’s the same way with modern people. Most of us live such an ordinary habitual life that if we get thrown off the track we’re likely to break up altogether.”

I had struck the wrong note again. The light went out in her face, as a cloud-shadow darkens a sunny field, and she looked away without answering. Not to make my mistake worse by taking notice of it, I said, “After all, what should we do if things always went smoothly and there weren’t any adventures?”

She said quietly, “We might be normal and wholesome and comfortable,” and continued looking out of the window and toying with her chain, while I cursed myself for a tactless clodhopper without the sense to avoid a danger sign. Then I found myself wondering what this trouble could be that by the mere touch of an accidental allusion could strike the joy out of a creature so naturally radiant. Whatever it was, it had come upon her within the last six months, or the chances of our Christmas week had been singularly free from reminders of it. Could there be possibly any connection between it and that chain with its hidden pendant? Or was it only by accident that her hand went to it in her moments of brooding? I seemed to have noticed the chain before, and her habit of playing with it in idleness, but I could not be sure.

She roused herself presently, and the talk went on, though with an undercurrent of discomfort. For my part, I was still repenting my clumsiness; and she, I suppose, felt annoyed at having shown so palpably an emotion which she had not intended for my eyes. So that, in spite of regret for the approaching end of the adventure, I was hardly sorry when our arrival at Stamford supplemented speech with action.

“Are you expecting any one to meet you?” I asked, as the platform emptied and left us standing alone.

“No, they didn’t know what train I was coming on. But there’s the trolley now. And it’s your car, too, that is, if you’re still going to the Ainslies’.”

A short open car, with an air of putting its wheels close together in order to buck, squeaked around the curve and took us aboard. When we were well under way a short, heavy man came around the corner of the station on an unsteady run and pursued a little distance with inarticulate shoutings and violent gestures. We were too far off to see him very distinctly, but I thought he had somehow a foreign look; and unless my ears were at fault he was cursing us in Italian. We left him standing in the middle of the road, shaking his fist and mopping his face with a red handkerchief.

There was only one other passenger on the car, a fattish woman with blonde hair, who sat at the farther end; but for all that, it could hardly be called either a private or a comfortable conveyance. There was a badly flattened wheel forward, which banged and jolted abominably; and the motorman, instead of running slowly on that account, seemed possessed of a speed mania induced by artificial happiness. He bumped over crossings and rocked around curves at an alarming rate, accompanying the performance with occasional snatches of song; while the conductor, balanced on the back platform, read a newspaper and chewed a toothpick without paying the slightest attention. Where we ran for a long stretch along the highway, an automobile came along and proceeded to have fun with us after the manner of joyous automobiles. It ran languidly beside us until we were at our best speed; then with a derisive toot, buzzed half a mile ahead. Then it waited for us to come up, and repeated the evolution, “barking” at us with the engine. The motorman’s songs turned to muttered anathemas. And as we turned from the roadside along a low embankment of sand across the meadows we held to a rate of speed that was really exciting.

“Are we making up time?” I asked. “Or is it only the festive motorman?”

Miss Tabor shook her head. “I never went so fast before. The man must be—”

Just then we struck a curve. I had one instant’s sickening sense of danger as the front wheels bumped and thudded over the ties. Miss Tabor caught at my arm with a smothered cry. Then the car lurched drunkenly to the edge of the embankment and slowly rolled over.

CHAPTER II

~

THE MEADOW OF ILLUSION

I LAY FOR A MOMENT half stunned, my face buried in the moist depths of the grass. It was as if Earth had been suddenly engulfed in a wandering star, as if all known and familiar things had come to an instant end and I must gather my vague soul to face unimagined eternities.

Cautiously I raised my head and looked about. A meadow stretched blooming before me. To my left loomed the absurd bulk of the upturned trolley, on its back with wheels in air, looking for all the world a stupid mastodon puppy. A very much frightened conductor stood near by.

“Say,” he asked hoarsely, “is yous all right? Kin you look after things till Joe an’ me git back?”

“Look after things?” I repeated dully.

“Sure, the lydies, I mean. Sure you kin. We’ll beat it right off, an’ I hope to gosh Joe sobers up on the way! So long.”

He was gone before I could gather my wits for a question, and uncomprehendingly I watched the two blue-coated figures scrambling up the steep, scarred sides of the viaduct. Frantically they scaled the top and made off down the tracks without so much as another glance in my direction.

Then of a sudden memory came upon me, and my heart contracted with a greatness of fear that I had never known.

For a moment I could see her nowhere, then as I staggered to uncertain feet I found her. She lay behind me, her hand pillowing her cheek as if she slept. And as I knelt beside her to listen fearfully at her heart I laughed with half a sob, for the beat came surely and with growing strength.

The sudden easing of my fear came over me drowsily until it seemed as if all the world lay in the hollow of the meadow about me and time had been blotted out. In the grass beside her I sat down to wait.

To my bewildered sense we were two shadowy people in an impossible dream. A wayward tendril of dark hair had fallen across her eyes. I smoothed it softly back and my fingers brushed her hair lightly and strayingly, as my mother’s had mine in bygone days, tenderly and as if we shared in the secret of sleep.

I do not know when her eyes opened, but looking down I found them turned to mine. She smiled, sighed softly, and closed them. Then again they opened.

“I think that I should like to sit up,” she said.

I helped her carefully. “Are you all right?” I asked.

She smiled uncertainly. “I think so. I am very dizzy.”

My arm was half about her, and for a long moment her head rested against me. Then she sat up very straight and a little apart, busying herself about her dress, giving a practised touch to her hair and the laces at her neck, and smoothing the scarcely ruffled breadths of her skirt.

I gazed out across our meadow to where three black and white cows stood sleepily knee-deep in a small pool. A meadow-lark rose and crossed the field in erratic, wavering flight. A little cloud tempered the brightness and passed.

“What happened?” she asked softly at last.

I pointed to where the trolley lay towering behind her.

She lost color a little and sprang to her feet, then she turned to me laughing.

“I never saw anything look so ashamed of itself in my life,” she said. “Speak to it kindly, Mr. Crosby; it can’t lie there with its feet in the air for ever.”

I shook my head ruefully. “I am afraid that it will have to stay there for the afternoon, at least.”

“But how are we—how am I—going to get home? Where are the crew, and wasn’t there another passenger?”

I gasped. I had absolutely forgotten the other woman.

She was lying not far from us in a little hollow of the long grass, and for the moment I thought that she was dead. The sallow, foreign face was yellow white, the plump hands were gripped, as if in some past convulsive agony, above her head, and this same muscular rigidity seemed to underlie incongruously every formless line of the flabby body.

Miss Tabor’s hand trembled upon my arm. “Do you think that she—that she is dead?” she whispered.

I stooped to the woman’s wrist. The pulse came faintly with a dull throb that was unbelievably slow. But as I still fumbled the pulpy hand caught mine in a grip that made me wince, the bloodless lips stirred in a shuddering moan, and without opening her eyes she spoke.

“It is hard, hard,” she said, “there is too much light. Will some one turn down the light?” A long convulsive tremor ran over the entire body and the hand in mine struggled in anguish.

Miss Tabor shivered.

“I am afraid that she is very much hurt,” I said as gently as I could. I was ashamed of myself, but fear seemed to clutch me. Then I gave myself a mental shake and caught my hat from the ground. “You will have to stay with her, I suppose, while I get some water. You might loosen her dress.” It was all that I could think of.

Miss Tabor knelt to the work without a word, and I made off across the meadow to the pool, running at my best speed.

In a moment I was back again and dashed what little water my hat still held over the twitching, yellow face.

The eyelids fluttered and lack-luster eyes looked into mine. The woman gasped and sat up.

“That is a very dangerous thing to do, young man.” The voice beneath its severity of tone was softly unctuous and vaguely Latin. “A very dangerous thing, indeed. Sudden shock has killed us many times. That is well known.”

Miss Tabor looked at her with pity. Evidently the woman was still out of her head.

“If you will sit quietly for a little while you will be better,” I said.

She nodded, looking curiously about her. Comprehension was coming back. She took out a crumpled handkerchief and wiped the water from her face.

“What on earth are we to do now?” Miss Tabor whispered. “We must do something, for they are expecting me home already.” She glanced anxiously at the little watch at her wrist. “But I don’t see how we can leave this poor woman here all by herself.”

“No, I don’t see how we can,” I answered, “but perhaps she can walk. Do you think that she could climb that bank, even if you could?”

Miss Tabor shook her head. “We must walk back and look for an easier place. But I am afraid that the car will come before we can find one.”

We had spoken in very low voices, but the woman looked up.

“You have ten minutes before the car will arrive. I will be myself by then.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, for I had not seen her look at a watch.

She smiled scornfully. “You have ten minutes. The car will arrive then. Have you lost anything in your fall?”

Mechanically I put my hand in my pocket, to find it empty. For a second I was thunderstruck, then I stepped over to the place where I had fallen and poked about in the grass. My pocketbook, I found immediately, and after a moment came upon my keys and change in a scarcely scattered pile.

Miss Tabor was watching me. “Nothing missing,” I said. “How about you?”

“Oh, all my things are in my bag.” And she pointed to where it lay near mine, in a tangle of blackberry vines.

But when I turned from rescuing them I found her standing with her hand at her neck, searching distractedly among her laces.

“What! you have lost something?” I cried.

“Yes,” she said, and it seemed to me that her eyes were afraid, “there was a little gold chain that I wore. Oh, it can’t be lost, it can’t be!”

Her manner surprised me. To all my knowledge she had been so unruffled, had borne herself with such a certain serenity, that to see her now, with frightened eyes staring and full of tears, pain written clear between the lovely brows, and with hands that trembled at her breast, startled me out of my own composure.

“Certainly it’s not lost,” I said harshly, for I was puzzled. After all, there was nothing so tragic in the loss of a little chain. Then I knew better, knew that if she valued it so I would find it if it took me my vacation. “Come,” I said more gently, “we will look.”

She had gained some control over herself, and now began to search the ground where we had fallen, carefully and on her knees. I thought that she was crying softly and glanced to see if the other woman noticed.

Her back was turned to us and her face seemed buried in her hands. As I looked at her she spoke.

“If you seek a small chain,” she said listlessly, “you will find it close beside the fallen car.”

And there as I walked directly to it I saw the glimmer of a strand of gold straggling from beneath the upturned roof.

“Here it is,” I cried wonderingly and drew it forth. Then I stood dumbly, the thing in my hands, my mind reeling. For from the mangled clasp hung a woman’s wedding-ring.

CHAPTER III

~

AN ALARM IN THE NIGHT

THERE WAS NOTHING THAT I could ask, nothing that I could say, and aside from her thanks she was silent. So without a word I turned and helped the other woman to her feet, and still in silence the three of us walked along until we came to an easy rise where I helped them both to the track. We were just in time, for as we gained the track our trolley rounded the curve and took us aboard.

So for a mile or so Miss Tabor and I sat in intimate aloofness, while the car bore us through the beauty of the fading summer day. Everywhere birds were chanting the evening, and ever and again with growing insistence the vivid breath of the nearing sea blew past us. All my life this first summer tang of salt air had never failed to stir me. It had meant vacation and the vague trumpet call of the unknown. But now I sat unheeding, burning with an unreasoning and sullen resentment. I knew that I was a fool. What possible difference could it make to me if the acquaintance of a merry week and a few more intimate hours chose to hide a wedding-ring in her breast. It certainly was no business of mine, nor could she owe me any explanation. Yet I wanted explanation more than anything else in the world. It certainly could not be her own and yet—whose was it, anyway? Certainly not her mother’s, for her mother I knew was alive. But then, whose could it be? And why did it matter so much? Why should such a patent terror fill her at the thought of its loss? Why was it again so finally and so quickly hidden away? It was even strange, I thought, that she should let the emotion that she must know I had seen, pass with no effort of explanation.

I glanced at her. She was sitting, looking wearily ahead, distress was in her eyes, and every little line of her body spoke fatigue without hope; only her hands, tightly clasped in her lap, showed the determination of some hidden thought. The blue of a little bruise had begun to show near her temple. A wave of tenderness swept over me, the pity of a man for a woman tired and in unvoiced distress. Who was I that I should question her? What possible claim had I upon even the least of her thoughts? She was pathetically weary and disturbed, and I was a sullen brute.

I spoke to her as if conversation had been unbroken. “Of course I am to take you home.”

She shook her head.

“That’s perfectly absurd,” I said. “There must be some inn or other near you. I can put up there for the night and go on in the morning. In fact, I am pretty tired, myself; the nearest place that I can get supper and a bed is the best place for me.”

She considered for a long moment. “Very well,” she said at last, “I am tired and still a little dizzy; it would be nice to be taken all the way home. I don’t generally mind the dark, but I suppose that we were a good deal shaken up. There is an inn, too, but it would be very silly of you to go there, unless—unless for some reason we could not put you up.”

“Oh, come,” I said, “you probably have a houseful at the present moment, and you know it. Nothing is more upsetting in the world than the unexpected guest.”

“Well, we shall see,” she answered. “I am pretty sure that nobody but the family is at home, and father will want to see you and thank you. Knight-errantry appeals to him. We will leave the asking to mother. If she can she will want you to stay. If she can’t, well the inn is not so bad after all. There it is, by the way, on that little hill. I had no idea that we were so near home. We get off at that next electric light. Will you please signal to the conductor?”

The car stopped and I helped her down, taking our two bags with the strange feeling that I was suddenly coming to the end of a brief sentimental journey. Our companion in misfortune, who had chosen a seat by herself, scarcely looked up. It was no great walk to the house and presently Miss Tabor pointed it out to me. It was large and low, set well back upon a great lawn that a tall, dark hedge divided from the outer world.

As we neared the pillared gate a high-shouldered man stepped out nervously from the shadow. Miss Tabor put her hand upon my arm. “Just wait here a moment, please,” she said and ran forward to him.

It had grown almost dark, but I could see that she leaned toward him, placing both hands upon his shoulders. The soft sibilance of her whispered words and the startling rumble of his bass came to me indistinctly, merely wordless tones. I grew red in the darkness and turned my back, for I had caught myself trying to listen.

Presently Miss Tabor came to me. “I didn’t mean to keep you so long,” she apologized, “but you see—”

“It wasn’t long,” I said shortly, surprised to find myself angry. So as we climbed the steps the shadow had dropped between us again.

For a moment I stood blinking when the door had shut behind us. The large, low room in which we stood was not brilliantly lighted, but the sudden change from the soft outdoor gloom dazzled me. The room was very large indeed, floored with dull red tile, paneled in dark oak; a great Dutch fireplace, filled with flowers, breathed fragrance. Opening from the room’s far end, and raised three steps above its level, was a dining-room. On our entrance two chairs had been pushed back from the table, and now a slim, pretty little woman came running down the steps and across the big room.

“Lady, dear,” she cried, “what on earth has made you so late?” She flung herself into Miss Tabor’s arms, hugging her as a child would.

Miss Tabor kissed her gaily. “We will tell you all about it, mother, dear,” she laughed. “Let me introduce Mr. Crosby, without whose help I should have probably been much later. And, Mr. Crosby, this is my mother.”

She greeted me graciously, turning to introduce me to her husband, who had followed her more slowly. He was a florid man and rather tall, his gray eyes being level with my own.

When places had been made for us at the table, and we were gathered in the close radius of the table lights, I found myself surprised that the daughter looked so little like either. Her mother was much smaller than she, one of those women who never grow thin or fat, but whose age comes upon them only as sort of dimming of color and outline. And indeed, in the more intimate light I found her looking more her years, pretty and soft and doll-like, but too delicate a vessel for any great strength of spirit, a sweet little woman, affectionate and inconsequent. Her words came quickly and with a certain merry insistence, but with little nervous pauses that were almost sad in their intensity; and once when a bicycle sounded faintly from the street she stopped altogether, her hand at her heart, her head turned and listening, until her husband’s quick laugh brought her blue eyes questioningly to him. Then we all plunged into conversation at once as if ashamed of the sudden pause it had given us.

Miss Tabor and I were made to give an account of our accident, or rather she gave it, and a very nicely tempered account it was, too. I was kept busy devising plausible confirmation of surprising understatements. She seemed for some reason very anxious to hide a possible seriousness in the matter, and her first brief, pleading glance bound me to her, freely accepting the judgment of her conscience for my own. Under these circumstances I expected no mention of the loss and finding of the ring and there was none.

Both mother and father called Miss Tabor “Lady”; so, I remembered, had all her intimates at the Christmas house party. Yet her bag had been initialed “M. B. T.” I thought the nickname a gracious one and well suited to all the manner of her bearing. I wondered idly as they talked what the M. stood for, sure in my heart that it, too, was graceful and fitting. And as “Lady” told of the beauty of the meadow where we had been delayed “almost two hours by an old flat wheel, or something like that—isn’t that the term, Mr. Crosby?” I decided that if the rest of my three months were spent in the most humdrum of ways, my vacation as a whole would not have been a barren one.

There was little conversation after we had left the table. Miss Tabor said that she was too sleepy to sit up—and, indeed, the strain that she had been under was already beginning to show through even the vivacity of her acting. For my part, I had no inclination to sit in the family circle that she left. I, too, was tired, and I had many things to think and little to say. So that as she got up I, too, pleaded fatigue, and my need of finding my room at the inn.

“The inn! Indeed you will do nothing of the sort,” said Mrs. Tabor. “There is a bed just waiting for tired young men here.” She glanced for confirmation at her daughter.

Miss Tabor said nothing but looked across to her father. He paused an uncomfortable second, then turned to me with a smile.

“Of course you are to stay here,” he said.

His pause had troubled me, and I hesitated, but Mrs. Tabor would hear no arguments or excuses, and overwhelmed my stammering in a rippling torrent of proof that I was a very silly young man, and that she would not hear another word about any such an absurdity as my going; and as I stood embarrassed, Mr. Tabor, with another glance at his daughter, took my bag himself, and, his hand upon my shoulder, fairly bore me off to my room. I was too comfortably tired to lie long awake, even with so eventful a day to turn over in retrospect. As I floated downward into the dark through a flood of incongruous images, green meadows and roaring trains, clamorous streets and calm rooms, delicate with white and silver, I distinctly heard a step upon the porch, the click and closure of the front door, and the deep voice of the man we had met at the gate. But even my angry interest in him was weaker than the waves of drowsiness.

I roused into that dubious half-consciousness which is the territory of the powers of darkness; in which the senses are vaguely alive, while no judgment restrains or questions the vagaries of imagination; the place of evil memories and needless fears, of sweeping reforms whose vanity appears with the new light, and of remembered dreams whose beauty faints upon the threshold of the day. It was still so dark that before I could place myself amid my unfamiliar surroundings, I was aware of smothered commotion. People were awake and in trouble;