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CHAPTER IX THE FLIVVER AS A POST-OFFICE
Shortly before ten next morning Hickey was despatched in the flivver to the Stickney Arms. Small probability of any delicately nurtured ladies venturing out before that hour. Hickey's instructions were detailed and explicit.

"I've got to send you," said Greg, "because I might be recognized. You're to take up your stand just above the entrance to the apartment house where you can roll down to the door at the right moment. You may have to wait a considerable time. Throw back the hood of your engine and fool around inside with a wrench. This will give you an excuse for standing there so long, and will enable you to turn down anybody else who might want to engage you. But keep your eye on the entrance to the apartment house, and the minute that the girl you have heard described so many times comes out, close your engine and call attention to your cab as if asking for a fare, see?

"I don't know if they let her out alone or not; probably not. If she is by herself bring her down Riverside past the Soldiers and Sailors monument, where I will be waiting under cover. If you have her inside alone, point up with your finger as you pass the monument and stop beyond, and I will join you. But if one or both of the other women are with her, point down as you pass and keep on to wherever they wish you to take them. Don't forget now; point up for good news and stop; point down for bad news and keep on."

"I get you."

"One thing more. Supposing the ladies come out together and you are engaged to take them on a shopping expedition or anything like that, when they are through with you, charge them bargain rates, see? Give them a discount of twenty per cent off the legal fare. Tell them it's because you're trying to work up a regular trade and you hope they'll engage you again. If we can only get them to hire you every day in advance, it will establish first-rate communications."

"I'm on," said Hickey.

Greg rode up-town with him as far as the Soldiers and Sailors monument. On the way he scribbled a note worded in such a way that none but the one it was intended for would be able to make sense of it. In it he told the girl he had secured the body as she had desired, and asked for further instructions. He was very cold and formal, hoping that she might be led to ask the reason when she replied. He tucked this note behind the seat in the spot where he had found the diamond pin.

Concealed behind the bushes that grow around the base of the monument, Greg was obliged to wait more than an hour for Hickey's return. When he finally made out the flivver pursuing its lopsided way down the drive, Hickey was pointing down, and Greg's heart went down in unison. Of those inside as they passed, Greg had only a glimpse of the brilliant Se?orita Guitterez who was sitting on the little seat facing back. Greg walked aimlessly down the Drive, a prey to heavy doubts and anxieties. Suppose that after all there was an understanding between the other girl and the deceitful Bianca: suppose they had shared his note and were even now laughing over it. That this was inconsistent with the facts as he knew them, had no effect on Greg at the moment. He was jealous, and incapable of reasoning clearly.

Meanwhile time hung heavy on his hands, and once more he walked half the length of the town. It was impossible for him to put his mind to anything else until his doubts were resolved.

Hickey returned to the yard at one. Before exchanging a word with him, Greg flung open the door of the cab, and thrust his hand behind the back seat. His fingers met with a folded paper that he drew out with burning eagerness. His first feeling on beholding it was one of blank disappointment for it seemed to be his own note. But upon opening it he saw that while it was his own note, she had written an answer on the back. His eyes flew over the microscopic lines.


"My friend:

"I am writing this in the rest room of a department store, having given my jailer the slip for a moment. It must be brief. Bianca watches me by his orders I suppose: I cannot imagine what has made them suddenly suspicious of me. She tries to keep me from guessing that she watches; a pretty comedy! I will explain more fully when I see you. For I must see you. It is impossible for me to plan anything by letter. There is one thing that ought to be done; de Socotra should be watched. Find a reliable man to do it if you can. You will be needed for other things. We haven't seen him for the last two days, but he telephoned mamma that he'd be at the office of the Managuayan consul—East Thirty-sixth Street at three to-day, if she wanted to call him up. He could be picked up there.

"Ah, my friend, I was so glad to get your good letter! How ever can I thank you! How clever you are! I laughed at your stratagems in the midst of my anxieties. How nice you looked yesterday morning, and what a blessed relief to see you unharmed! I burn to hear all that has happened. Trust me, I will find a way.

"Amy."


A great, glad reaction took place in Greg's breast. The pale December sun suddenly shone with the warmth of June, and the dingy, muddy yard seemed transfigured. As for Hickey, he could have hugged him. She trusted him! called him friend! gave him her own name! Amy! how sweet and how absolutely fitting! Nothing foreign about Amy!

But a lover is never satisfied for long. Hard upon his first warmth a little chill struck through his breast. Friendship was all very well in its way, but he wanted more than that. He thought of the supercilious Castilian, and writhed. Did he get more? He was aware of the fact that a girl feeling herself safely anchored to one man becomes free of her "friendship" to others. If she ever intended to give more perhaps she would not so readily have given so much!

He was recalled to himself by the sight of Hickey's sly grin. Evidently he was giving everything away in his face. Frowning portentously he asked very offhand what had happened.

"Nothing," said Hickey. "I done just what you said. The three ladies come out of the apartment house together. I carried 'em from one store to another shopping. I caught the little girl looking at me funny-like once or twice, but I never let anything on. When I took 'em back home, I knocked off twenty per cent as you said, and the old lady fell for it like a baby. She engaged me to call for 'em again at two thirty to take them to a concert at Harmony Hall."

"Good!" said Greg. "I'll write an answer to this while you're eating. Get a good dinner, Hickey."

Hickey grinned slyly, and gave the windshield a wipe. As Greg walked away he murmured to himself: "Cupid's messenger, that's me!"

Greg sat at his table biting his pen. It was not that he had nothing to say but too much. His heart was charged with enough matter to fill a quire—but there was that damned Castilian! He dared not let himself go until the other was explained. He made a mighty effort to be merely friendly as she had been—warmer feelings only broke through once or twice as will be seen.


"Certainly we must meet. It is too dangerous to commit things to paper. But I know so little of the circumstances surrounding you that I must leave the arrangements to you. All I can say is, rely on me absolutely—for anything. How weak that sounds! Please don't thank me. What I have done is nothing. It was just an adventure. I shall not be satisfied until you make some real demands on me. I am making friends for us. In case of need you can depend on the driver. Why do you stay where you are if you are surrounded by enemies? I have read your letter a dozen times already, trying to guess what is hidden between the lines. Not what I'd like to find there, I'm afraid. Please don't insist so hard on my being your friend. It makes me savage. Find some way to let me see you. This uncertainty is horrible. I can do nothing but walk the streets. I will see that a certain party is watched. I hope you wrote to me during lunch time, but I don't suppose you did. I will look while the concert is going on.

"Greg."


It must not be supposed that this was arrived at in a single draft. Greg was still writing when Hickey called up to him that it was time to start, whereupon he finished in a hurry and carried it down to its hiding-place. To Hickey he said:

"I suppose they'll want you to carry them home from the concert. While it's going on you can hang around and pick up any business that offers. But first of all after you have dropped them at the hall meet me at the corner of Sixth and Forty-third so that I can see if she left anything for me on the way down."

Hickey drove out of the yard with the sly grin that provoked Greg, or half provoked him, for at the same time he was well assured that he was faithfully served in Hickey.

Greg looked around the taxi-yard. Three of the cabs were in, the owners presumably sleeping inside. Greg peeped through the windows considering which one would best suit his purpose; the morose Blossom, honest, thick-witted Bull Tandy, or old Pa Simmons. He decided on the latter; Pa Simmons, red and white as a snow-apple, was so indubitably the cabman, no one would ever suspect him of acting in another capacity. Pa Simmons was never seen without his cabman's overcoat; he seemed atrophied from the waist down, and one guessed that he had not walked more than a hundred yards at a time in thirty years. In imagination he still dwelt fondly on the days when he had driven a gentleman's private hansom; now his vehicle was an antique Pack-Arrow that still retained a faded air of luxury in its dim enamel and worn upholstery.

At Greg's summons Pa Simmons sprang up blinking rapidly, on the alert for a fare. There was something at once plucky, piteous and comical in his assumption of youthful sprightliness. His face fell at the sight of Greg, for he suspected a practical joke. Yet he and all the cabmen liked Greg for his unaffected friendly ways. All knew by now that Greg was involved in a fascinating mystery.

"Will you take a job for me, Pa?" asked Greg.

"On the level?" asked Pa Simmons warily.

"Dead level. By the day, with gasoline and all expenses. I want you to do a little detective work."

Pa Simmons' blue eyes brightened. "I'm your man! I allus said I'd make a A1 sleuth. Lay the matter open to me. It'll be a pleasant change not to be looking for fares for a few days."

An arrangement was quickly effected, and Pa Simmons, armed with a careful description of de Socotra, was dispatched to the address on Thirty-sixth Street.

Half an hour later Greg was impatiently waiting at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Forty-third Street. Down the block he could see the cabs driving up to Harmony Hall, and the two streams of pedestrians converging at the door. As he waited he took out his note-book and wrote:


"There's nothing special to say since morning except that I have put a reliable man on you know whose trail. But I thought you might like to have a greeting on your way home from the concert, and the real reason is that it's such a pleasure to write to you that I can't help myself anyway. I'm waiting on the corner for Hickey (your driver) to see if there is anything for me tucked behind the seat. Of course it is scarcely possible you had a chance to write while you were home to lunch, but I shall be disappointed just the same if there is nothing there. Queer kind of post-office, isn't it? Here he is——"


Hickey drew up beside him with his grin. But he might grin as hard as he liked for all Greg cared if there was a note there. His eager fingers did indeed meet with a little folded square of paper and he drew it out beaming.

Hickey remarked: "I guess it takes some managing for her always to get that same seat when they go out."

Greg read:


"I have to be as quick and sly as a rat with my little pad of paper that I keep inside my dress and pull out when I get a few seconds alone, and whisk out of sight again when I hear anybody coming. So excuse me if I sound scrappy. We are dressing for the concert. I suppose I ought to wait until I hear from you before writing again, but I have had an idea and I can't keep it to myself. There is a young man in Managuay who used to be my dear uncle's assistant or secretary and is, I am sure, his devoted friend. He must know all the circumstances leading up to this dreadful situation. We ought to have him here. His name is Mario Estuban; his address 37 Calle Pizarro, Santiago de Managuay. Please cable him and ask if he can come at once, expenses paid. If he answers yes I'll give you the money to be forwarded by cable. He is poor. Mamma calls that it is time to go. First thing as we seat ourselves in the cab I shall slyly slide my hand behind me. I shall be so sad if there is nothing there, but I am sure there will be.

"Amy."


Upon reading this Greg finished his own note:


"I have just read yours written as you started for the concert. It makes me happy. Why? because you feel about these notes the same as I do—only not so much. At least you say you do. Girls have the privilege of keeping their real thoughts to themselves. I wish I knew yours. I'm on my way to send the cablegram.

"Greg."


Hickey went on to pick up a dollar or two for the firm if he could, while Greg wended his way to the cable office. He smiled to himself thinking of the imperious little lady who so coolly commanded a man from Central America to come to her aid.

At six o'clock Greg and Hickey met in the yard. Once more Greg, telling himself there could not be a letter for him,—how could she have written during the concert?—nevertheless felt for it, and lo! the little folded square was there, fatter than the others.


"Dear Greg:

(It was the first time she had used his name; he had not dared write hers.) "Isn't there an old saying to the effect that in boldness there is safety? If there isn't, there ought to be. I am sitting right out in the open theatre writing to you, and I mean to take my time and say all I want. Mamma sits between me and Bianca, so that the latter cannot read what I am writing. Her efforts to do so, while making believe not to, are too funny! Does she think I am a complete idiot? I write small to tantalize her. Finally, unable to bear it any longer she asks with an innocent air to whom am I writing? I reply with an air no less innocent: 'to Clorinda.' Clo-clo is my chum in Managuay. Bianca then says with gentle reproach: 'But you know, dear' (she dears me with every breath, the crocodile!), 'Francisco asked us not to write home during this trip because it was necessary to his business that people should not know for the present where we were.' I reply: 'I'll show it to Francisco when we see him, and if he disapproves I'll tear it up.' Of course I'll contrive to have another letter ready to show him.

"I am not enjoying the concert any the less because I am writing to you. The orchestra is playing the Romeo and Juliet overture—Tschaikowsky's, and delicious chills are running up and down my spine. The nicest thing about music is that one doesn't have to think about it while it plays. One may think what one pleases and the music glorifies one's little thoughts. I feel now as if I were an elf swinging to one of the prisms of the chandelier under the ceiling. Did you ever feel like that? I wonder if things will ever arrange themselves so that you and I can go to a concert together like regular friends. But I forgot—for some reason you do not want to be friends. I do not understand that part of your letter. It grieves me.

"I must tell you I have made a plan for us to meet to-night—we need not meet as friends, but just to talk business. Our maid Nina is devoted to me, and I can depend on her absolutely. Fortunately it happens to be the custom in our family that each one's room is his castle. We lock our doors when we retire, and no one thinks of disturbing another except in case of necessity. Well, when everybody is safe in bed I shall dress myself in some of Nina's clothes—since my former disguise seemed to shock you so terribly, and Nina will let me out by the service entrance. There is a separate servant's stairway and elevator in this building. And she will let me in again when I come home. Let the driver be waiting for me in Ninety-fourth Street, say, at eleven, for we go to bed early. Don't you come yourself, the risk is too great. I particularly forbid you to come. Arrange a suitable place for us to meet, and we will decide what must be done.

"Silly! the reason I stay where I am is very simple; I have no other place to go. Mamma is the only friend I have in America barring yourself. I am not at all prudish, but I couldn't very well—well, could I?

"They are playing D'Apres Midi d'un Faun now.

"Your rejected friend,
        "Amy."


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