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CHAPTER XII
When Larry awoke the next morning, he blinked for several bewildered moments about his bedroom, so unlike his cell at Sing Sing and so unlike Hunt's helter-skelter studio down at the Duchess's which he had shared, before he realized that this big, airy chamber and this miracle of a bed on which he lay were realities and not a mere continuation of a dream of fantastic and body-flattering wealth.

Then his mind turned back a page in the book of his life and he lay considering the events of the previous evening: the scene with Barney and Old Jimmie and Maggie, their all denouncing him as a police stool-pigeon and a squealer, and Maggie's defiant departure to begin her long-dreamed-of career as a leading-woman and perhaps star in what she saw as great and thrilling adventures; his own enforced and frenzied flight; his strange method of reaching this splendid apartment; his meeting with the handsome, drink-befuddled young man in evening clothes; his meeting with the exquisitely gowned patrician Miss Sherwood, who had received him with the poise and frank friendliness of a democratic queen, and had immediately ordered him off to bed.

Strange, all of these things! But they were all realities. And in this new set of circumstances which had come into being in a night, what was he to do?

He recalled that Miss Sherwood had said that she and he would have their talk that morning. He pulled his watch from under his pillow. It was past nine o'clock. He looked about him for clothes, but saw only a bathrobe. Then he remembered Judkins carrying off his rain-soaked garments, with “Ring for me when you wake up, sir.”

Larry found an electric bell button dangling over the top of his bed by a silken cord. He pushed the button and waited. Within two minutes the door opened, and Judkins entered, laden with fresh garments.

“Good-morning, sir,” said Judkins. “Your own clothes, and some shirts and other things I've borrowed from Mr. Dick. How will you have your bath, sir—hot or cold?”

“Cold,” said the bewildered Larry.

Judkins disappeared into the great white-tiled bathroom, there was the rush of splashing water for a few moments, then silence, and Judkins reappeared.

“Your bath is ready, sir. I've laid out some of Mr. Dick's razors. How soon shall I bring you in your breakfast?”

“In about twenty minutes,” said Larry.

Exactly twenty minutes later Judkins carried in a tray, and set it on a table beside a window looking down into Park Avenue. “Miss Sherwood asked me to tell you she would see you in the library at ten o'clock, sir—where she saw you last night,” said Judkins, and noiselessly was gone.

Freshly shaven, tingling from his bath, with a sense of being garbed flawlessly, though in garments partly alien, Larry addressed himself to the breakfast of grapefruit, omelette, toast and coffee, served on Sevres china with covers of old silver. In his more prosperous eras Larry had enjoyed the best private service that the best hotels in New York had to sell; but their best had been coarse and slovenly compared to this. He would eat for a minute or two—then get up and look at his carefully dressed self in the full-length mirror—then gaze from his high, exclusive window down into Park Avenue with its stream of cars comfortably carrying their occupants toward ten o'clock jobs in Wall or Broad Streets—and then he would return to his breakfast. This was amazing—bewildering!

He was toward the end of his omelette when a knock sounded at his door. Thinking Judkins had returned, he called, “Come in”; but instead of Judkins the opening door admitted the belligerent young man in rumpled evening clothes of the previous night. Now he wore a silk dressing-gown of a flamboyant peacock blue, his feet showed bare in toe slippers, his wavy, yellowish hair had the tousled effect of a very recent separation from a pillow. A cigarette depended from the corner of his mouth.

Larry started to rise. But the young man arrested the motion with a gesture of mock imperativeness.

“Keep your seat, fair sir; I would fain have speech with thee.” He crossed and sat on a corner of Larry's table, one slippered foot dangling, and looked Larry over with an appraising eye. “Permit me to remark, sir,” he continued in his grand manner, “that you look as though you might be some one.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell me, Mr. Sherwood?” queried Larry.

The other's grand manner vanished and he grinned. “Forget the 'Mr. Sherwood,' or you'll make me feel not at home in my own house,” he begged with humorous mournfulness. “Call me Dick. Everybody else does. That's settled. Now to the reason for this visitation at such an ungodly hour. Sis has just been in picking on me. Says I was rude to you last night. I suppose I was. I'd had several from my private stock early in the evening; and several more around in jovial Manhattan joints where prohibition hasn't checked the flow of happiness if you know the countersign. The cumulative effect you saw, and were the victim of. I apologize, sir.”

“That's all right, Mr.—”

“Dick is what I said,” interrupted the other.

“Dick, then. It's all right. I understand.”

“Thanks. I'll call you Old Captain Nemo for short. Sis didn't tell me your name or anything about you, and she said I wasn't to ask you questions. But whatever Isabel does is usually one hundred percent right. She said I'd probably be seeing a lot of you, so I'll introduce myself. You'd learn all about me from some one else, anyhow, so you might as well learn about me from me and get an impartial and unbiased statement. Clever of me, ain't it, to beat 'em to it?”

Larry found himself smiling back into the ingratiating, irresponsible, boyish face. “I suppose so.”

“I'll shoot you the whole works at once. Name, Richard Livingston Sherwood. Years, twenty-four, but alleged not yet to have reached the age of discretion. One of our young flying heroes who helped save France and make the world safe for something or other by flapping his wings over the endless alkali of Texas. Occupation, gentleman farmer.”

“You a farmer!” exclaimed Larry.

“A gentleman farmer,” corrected Dick. “The difference between a farmer and a gentleman farmer, Captain Nemo, is that a gentleman farmer makes no profit on his crops. Now my friends say I'm losing an awful lot of money and am sowing an awfully big crop. And according to them, instead of practicing sensible crop rotation, I'm a foolish one-crop farmer—and my one crop is wild oats.”

“I see,” said Larry.

“Of course I do do a little something else on the side. Avocation. I'm in the brokerage business. But my chief business is looking after the Sherwood interests. You see, my mother—father died ten years before she did—my mother, being dotty about the innate superiority of the male, left me in control of practically everything, and I do as well by it as the more important occupation of farming will permit. Which completes the racy history of myself.”

“I'm sorry I can't reciprocate.”

“That's all right, Captain Nemo. There's plenty of time—and it doesn't make any difference, anyhow.” For all his light manner and careless chatter, Larry had a sense that Dick had been sizing him up all this while; that, in fact, to do this was the real purpose of the present call. Dick slipped to his feet. “If you're just now a bit shy on duds, as I understand you are, why, we're about the same size. Tell Judkins what you want, and make him give you plenty. What time you got?”

“Just ten o'clock.”

“By heck—time a farmer was pulling on his overalls and going forth to his dew-gemmed toil!”

“And time for me to be seeing your sister,” said Larry, rising.

“Come on. I'm a good seneschal, or major domo, or what you like—and I'll usher you into her highness's presence.”

A moment later Larry was pushed through the library door and Dick announced in solemn tone:

“Senorita—Mademoiselle—our serene, revered, and most high sister Isabel, permit us to present our newest and most charming friend, Captain Nemo.”

“Dick,” exclaimed Miss Sherwood, “get out of here and get yourself into some clothes!”

“Listen to that!” complained Dick. “She still talks to me as though I were her small brother. Next thing she'll be ordering me to wash behind my ears!”

“Get out, and shut the door after you!”

The reply was Dick's stately exit and the sharp closing of the door.

“Has Dick been talking to you about himself?” asked Miss Sherwood.

“Yes.”

“What did he say?”

Larry gave the substance of the autobiography which Dick had volunteered.

“Part of that is more than the truth, part less than the truth,” Miss Sherwood remarked. “But this morning we were to have a real talk about your affairs, and let's get to the subject.”

She had motioned him to a chair beside the quaint old desk, and they were now sitting face to face. Isabel Sherwood looked as much the finished patrician as on the evening before, and with that easy, whimsical humor and the direct manner of the person who is sure of herself; and in the sober, disillusioning daylight she had no less of beauty than had seemed hers in the softer lighting of their first meeting. The clear, fresh face with its violet-blue eyes was gazing at him intently. Larry realized that she was looking into the very soul of him, and he sat silent during this estimate which he recognized she had the right to make.

“Mr. Hunt has written me the main facts about you, certainly the worst,” she said finally. “You need tell me nothing further, if you prefer not to do so; but it might be helpful if I knew more of the details.”

Larry felt that there was no information he was not willing to give this clear-eyed, charming woman; and so he told her all that had happened since his return from Sing Sing, including his falling in love with Maggie, the nature of their conflict, her departure into the ways of her ambition.

“You are certainly facing a lot of difficult propositions.” Miss Sherwood checked them off on her fingers. “The police are after you—your old friends are after you—you do not dare be caught. You want to clear yourself—you want to make a business success—you want to eradicate Maggie's present ambitions and remove her from her present influences.”

“That is the correct total,” said Larry.

“Certainly a large total! Of them all, which is the most important item?”

Larry considered. “Maggie,” he confessed. “But Maggie really includes all the others. To have any influence with her, I must get out of the power of the police, I must overcome her belief that I am a stool and a squealer, and I must prove to her that I can make a success by going straight.”

“Just so. And all these things you must do while a fugitive in hiding.”

“Exactly. Or else not do them.”

“H'm!... The most pressing thing, I judge, is to have a safe and permanent place to hide, and to have work which may lead to an opportunity to prove yourself a success.”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Hunt's O.K. on you would be sufficient, in any event, and he has given that O.K.,” Miss Sherwood said in her even voice. “Besides, my own judgment prompts me to believe in your truth and your sincerity. I have been thinking the matter over since I saw you last night. I therefore ask you to remain here, never leaving the apartment—”

“Miss Sherwood!” he ejaculated.

“And a little later, when we go out to our place on Long Island, you'll have more freedom. For the present you will be, to the servants and any other persons who may chance to come in, Mr. Brandon, a second cousin staying with us; and your explanation for never venturing forth can be that you are convalescing after an operation. Perhaps you can think of a plan whereby later on you might occasionally leave the house without too great risk to yourself.”

“Yes. The risk comes from the police, and from some of my old friends and the gangsters they have enlisted. So long as they believe me in New York, they'll all be on the lookout for me every moment. If they believed me out of New York, they would all discontinue their vigilance. If—if—But perhaps you would not care to do so much.”

“Go on.”

“Would you be willing to write a letter to some friend in Chicago, requesting the friend to post an enclosed letter written by me?”

“Certainly.”

“My handwriting would be disguised—but a person who really knows my writing would penetrate the attempted disguise and recognize it as mine. My letter would be addressed to my grandmother requesting her to express my recent purchase of forfeited pledges to me in Chicago. A clever person reading the letter would be certain I was asking her to send me my clothes.”

“What's the point to that?”

“One detail of the police's search for me will be to open secretly, with the aid of the postal authorities, all mail addressed to my grandmother. They will steam open this letter about my clothes, then seal it and let it be delivered. But they will have learned that I have escaped them and am in Chicago. They will drop the hunt here and telegraph the Chicago police, And of course the news will leak through to my old friends, and they'll also stop looking for me in New York.”

“I see.”

“And enclosed in another letter written by you, I'll send an order, also to be posted in Chicago, to a good friend of mine asking him to call at the express office, get my clothes, and hold them until I call or send for them. When he goes and asks for the clothes, the Chicago police will get him and find the order on him. They'll have no charge at all against him, but they'll have further proof that I'm in Chicago or some place in the Middle West. The effect will be definitely to transfer the search from New York.”

“Yes, I see,” repeated Miss Sherwood. “Go ahead and do it; I'll help you. But for the present you've got to remain right here in the apartment, as I said. And later, when you think the letters have had their effect, you must use the utmost caution.”

“Certainly,” agreed Larry.

“Now as to your making a start in business. I suspect that my affairs are in a very bad shape. Things were left to my brother, as he told you. I have a lot of papers, all kinds of accounts, which he has brought to me and he's bringing me a great many more. I can't make head or tail of them, and I think my brother is about as much befuddled as I am. I believe only an expert can understand them. Mr. Hunt says you have a very keen mind for such matters. I wish you'd take charge of these papers, and try to straighten them out.”

“Miss Sherwood,” Larry said slowly, “you know my record and yet you risk trusting me with your affairs?”

“Not that I wouldn't take the risk—but whatever there is to steal, some one else has already stolen it, or will steal it. Your work will be to discover thefts or mistakes, and to prevent thefts or mistakes if you can. You see I am not placing any actual control over stealable property in you—not yet.... Well, what do you say?”

“I can only say, Miss Sherwood, that you are more than good, and that I am more than grateful, and that I shall do my best!”

Miss Sherwood regarded him thoughtfully for a long space. Then she said: “I am going to place something further in your hands, for if you are as clever as I think you are, and if life has taught you as much as I think it has, I believe you can help me a lot. My brother Dick is wild and reckless. I wish you'd look out for him and try to hold him in check where you can. That is, if this isn't placing too great a duty on you.”

“That's not a duty—it's a compliment!”

“Then that will be all for the present. I'll see you again in an hour or two, when I shall have some things ready to turn over to you.”

Back in his bedroom Larry walked exultantly to and fro. He had security! And at last he had a chance—perhaps the chance he had been yearning for through which he was ultimately to prove himself a success!...

He wondered yet more about Miss Sherwood. And again about her and Hunt. Miss Sherwood was clever, gracious, everything a man could want in a woman; and he guessed that behind her humorous references to Hunt there was a deep feeling for the big painter who was living almost like a tramp in the attic of the Duchess's little house. And Larry knew Miss Sherwood was the only woman in Hunt's life; Hunt had said as much. They were everything to each other; they trusted each other. Yet there was some wide breach between the two; evidently his own crisis had forced the only communication which had passed between the two for months. He wondered what that breach could be, and what had been its cause.

And then an idea began to open its possibilities. What a splendid return, if, somehow, he could do something that would help bring together these two persons who had befriended him!...

But most of the time, while he waited for Miss Sherwood to summon him again, he wondered about Maggie. Yes, as he had told Miss Sherwood, Maggie was the most important problem of his life: all his many other problems were important only in the degree that they aided or hindered the solution of Maggie. Where was she?—what was she doing?—how was he, in this pleasant prison which he dared not leave, ever to overcome her scorn of him, and ever to divert her from that dangerous career in which her proud and excited young vision saw only the brilliant and profitable adventure of high romance?




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