小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 儿童英文小说 » Children of the Whirlwind » CHAPTER XVIII
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
CHAPTER XVIII
The next morning Larry tried to force his mind to attend strictly to Miss Sherwood's affairs. But in this effort he was less than fifty per cent effective. His experience of the night before had been too exciting, too provocative of speculation, too involved with what he frankly recognized to be the major interest of his life, to allow him to apply himself with perfect and unperturbed concentration to the day's routine. Constantly he was seeing the transformed Maggie in the cerise evening gown with the fan of green plumes—seeing her elaborate setting in her suite at the Grantham—hearing that vaguely familiar but unplaceable voice outside her door—recalling the frenzied effort with which Maggie had so swiftly effected his escape.

This last matter puzzled him greatly. If she were so angered at him as she had declared, if she so distrusted him, why had she not given him up when she had had him at her mercy? Could it be that, despite her words, she had an unacknowledged liking for him? He did not dare let himself believe this.

Again and again he thought of this adventure in whose very middle Maggie now was, and of whose successful issue she had proudly boasted to him. It was indeed something big, as she had said; that establishment at the Grantham was proof of this. Larry could now perceive the adventure's general outlines. There was nothing original in what he perceived; and the plan, so far as he could see it, would not have interested him in the least as a novel creation of the brain were not Maggie its central figure, and were not Barney and Old Jimmie her directing agents. A pretty woman was being used as a lure to some rich man, and his infatuation for her was to cause him to part with a great deal of money: some variation of this ancient idea, which has a thousand variations—that was the plan.

Obviously the enterprise was not directed at some gross victim whose palate might permit his swallowing anything. If any one item essentially proved this, it was the item of the overwhelmingly respectable chaperon. Maggie was being presented as an innocent, respectable, young girl; and the victim, whoever he was, was the type of man for whom only such a type of girl would have a compelling appeal.

And this man—who was he? Ever and again he tried to place the man's voice, with its faintly familiar quality, but it kept dodging away like a dream one cannot quite recall.

The whole business made Larry rage within himself. Maggie to be used in such a way! He did not blame Maggie, for he understood her. Also he loved her. She was young, proud, willful, had been trained to regard such adventures as colorful and legitimate; and had not lived long enough for experience to teach her otherwise. No, Maggie was not to blame. But Old Jimmie! He would like to twist Old Jimmie's neck! But then Old Jimmie was Maggie's father; and the mere fact of Old Jimmie being Maggie's father would, he knew, safeguard the old man from his wrath even were he at liberty to go forth and act.

He cursed his enforced seclusion. If only he were free to go out and do his best in the open! But then, even if he were, his best endeavors would have little influence upon Maggie—with her despising and distrusting him as she did, and with her so determined to go ahead in her own way.

Once during the morning, he slipped from the library into his room and gazed at the portrait of Maggie that Hunt had given him the night before: Maggie, self-confident, willful, a beautiful nobody who was staring the world out of countenance; a Maggie that was a thousand possible Maggies. And as he gazed he thought of the wager he had made with Hunt, and of his own rather scatter-brained plannings concerning it. He removed Maggie's portrait from the fellowship of the picture of the Italian mother, and hid it in his chiffonier. Whatever he might do in his endeavor to make good his boast to Hunt, for the present he would regard Maggie's portrait as his private property. To use the painting as he had vaguely planned, before he had been surprised to find it Maggie's portrait, would be to pass it on into other possession where it might become public—where, through some chance, the Maggie of the working-girl's cheap shirt-waist might be identified with the rich Miss Cameron of the Grantham, to Maggie's great discomfiture, and possibly to her entanglement with the police.

When Miss Sherwood came into the library a little later, Larry tried to put Maggie and all matters pertaining to his previous night's adventure out of his mind. He had enough other affairs which he was trying adroitly to handle—for instance, Miss Sherwood and Hunt; and when his business talk with her was ended, he remarked:

“I saw Mr. Hunt last evening.”

He watched her closely, but he could detect no flash of interest at Hunt's name.

“You went down to your grandmother's?”

“Yes.”

“That was a very great risk for you to take,” she reproved him. “I'm glad you got back safely.”

Despite the disturbance Maggie had been to his thoughts, part of his brain had been trying to make plans to forward this other aim; so he now told Miss Sherwood of his wager with Hunt and his bringing away a picture—he said “one picture.” He wanted to awaken the suppressed interest each had in the other; to help bridge or close the chasm which he sensed had opened between them. So he brought the picture of the Italian mother from his room. She regarded it critically, but with no sign of approval or disapproval.

“What do you think of it?” she asked.

“It's a most remarkable piece of work!” he said emphatically—wishing he could bring in that picture of Maggie as additional evidence supporting his opinion.

She made no further comment, and it was up to Larry to keep the conversation alive. “What is the most Mr. Hunt ever was paid for a painting? I mean one of what he swears at as his `pretty pictures'?”

“I believe about two thousand dollars.”

That was part of the information necessary to Larry's plan.

“Miss Sherwood, I'm going to ask another favor of you. In connection with a bet I made with Mr. Hunt. I want to talk with a picture dealer—the best one there is. I can't very well go to him. Can you manage to have him come here?”

“Easily. I know the man best for your purpose. I'll telephone, and if he's in New York he'll come to see you this afternoon.”

“Thank you.”

She started out, then turned. “Better finish your business with him to-day if you can. We go to the country to-morrow or the day after. I've just had word that the workmen are finally out of the house; though the grounds, of course, are in bad shape, and will probably remain so. With this labor situation, it's practically impossible to get men.”

Larry remembered something else. “Miss Sherwood, you recall my once speaking about a man I got to be friends with in prison—Joe Ellison?”

“Yes.”

“I've written him, under an assumed name, of course, and have had an answer. He'll be out in a very few days now. He's through with his old ways. I know he'd like nothing better than a quiet place to work, off to himself somewhere. I'm sure you can trust him.”

“We'll arrange to have him come out to Cedar Crest. Oh, don't think I'm being generous or sentimental,” she interrupted smilingly as he started to thank her. “I'd be glad to put two or three more ex-convicts to work on our place if I could get them. And so would my friends; they can't get workmen of any kind.”

That afternoon the picture dealer came. Miss Sherwood introduced Larry to him as Mr. Brandon, her cousin, and then left the two men together. Larry appraised Mr. Graham as a shrewd man who knew his business and who would like to score a triumph in his own particular field. He decided that the dealer had to be handled with a great deal of frankness, and with some stiff bluffing which must appear equally frank. The secret of Larry's earlier success had been to establish confidence and even enthusiasm in something which had little or no value. In selling an honest thing at an honest price, the first and fundamental procedure was the same, to establish confidence and, if possible, enthusiasm.

From the moment of introduction Larry quietly assumed the manner of an art collector who was very sure of himself; which manner was abetted by the setting of the Sherwood library. He felt something of the old zest when wits had been matched against wits, even though this was to be a strictly honorable enterprise.

“You know the work of Mr. Jerome Hunt?” he asked.

“I have handled practically all his work since he began to sell,” replied Mr. Graham.

“I was referring to work in his recent manner.”

“He has not been doing any work recently,” corrected Mr. Graham.

“No?” Larry picked up the Italian mother which for this occasion he had mounted with thumb-tacks upon a drawing-board, and stood it upon a chair in the most advantageous light. “There is a little thing in Mr. Hunt's recent manner which I lately purchased.”

Mr. Graham regarded the painting long and critically.

Finally he remarked:

“At least it is different.”

“Different and better,” said Larry with his quiet positiveness. “So much better that I paid him three thousand dollars for it.”

“Three thousand!” The dealer regarded Larry sharply. “Three thousand for that?”

“Yes. And I consider that I got a bargain.”

Mr. Graham was silent for several moments. Then he said “For what reason have I been asked here?”

“I want you to undertake to sell this picture.”

“For how much?”

“Five thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand dollars!”

“It is easily worth five thousand,” Larry said quietly.

“If you value it so highly, why do you want to sell?”

“I am pressed by the present money shortage. Also I secured a second picture when I got this one. That second picture I shall not sell. You should have no difficulty in selling this,” Larry continued, “if you handle the matter right. Think of how people have started again to talk about Gaugin: about his starting to paint in a new manner down there in the Marquesas Islands, of his trading a picture for a stick of furniture or selling it for a few hundred francs—which same paintings are now each worth a small fortune. Capitalize this Gaugin talk; also the talk about poor mad Blakeslie. You've got a new sensation. One all your own.”

“You can't start a sensation with one painting,” Mr. Graham remarked dryly.

This had been the very remark Larry had adroitly been trying to draw from the dealer.

“Why, that's so!” he exclaimed. And then as if the thought had only that moment come to him: “Why not have an exhibition of paintings done in his new manner? He's got a studio full of things just as characteristic as this one.”

Larry caught the gleam which came into the dealer's eyes. It was instantly masked.

“Too late in the spring for a picture show. Couldn't put on an exhibition before next season.”

“But why not have a private pre-exhibition showing?” Larry argued—“with special invitations sent to a small, carefully chosen list, putting it over strong to them that you were offering them the chance of a first and exclusive view of something very remarkable. Most of them will feel flattered and will come. And that will start talk and stir up interest in your public exhibition in the fall. That's the idea!”

Again there was the gleam, quickly masked, in the dealer's eyes. But Larry got it.

“How do I know this picture here isn't just an accident?—the only one of the sort Mr. Hunt has ever painted, or ever will paint?” cautiously inquired Mr. Graham. “You said you had a second picture. May I see it?”

Larry hesitated. But he believed he had the dealer almost “sold”; a little more and Mr. Graham would be convinced. So he brought in Maggie's portrait. The dealer looked it over with a face which he tried to keep expressionless.

“How much is this one?” he asked at length.

“It is not for sale.”

“It will bring more money than the other. It's a more interesting subject.”

“That's why I'm keeping it,” said Larry. “I think you'll admit, Mr. Graham, that this proves that Mr. Hunt is not now painting accidents.”

“You're right.” The mask suddenly dropped from Mr. Graham's face; he was no longer merely an art merchant; he was also an art enthusiast. “Hunt has struck something bold and fresh, and I think I can put him over. I'll try that scheme you mentioned. Tell me where I can find him and I'll see him at once.”

“That picture has got to be sold before I give you his address. No use seeing him until then; he'd laugh at you, and not listen to anything. He's sore at the world; thinks it doesn't understand him. An actual sale would be the only argument that would have weight with him.”

“All right—I'll buy the picture myself. Hunt and I have had a falling out, and I'd like him to have proof that I believe in him.” Again Mr. Graham was the art merchant. “Though, of course, I can't pay the five thousand you ask. Hunt's new manner may catch on, and it may not. It's a big gamble.”

“What will you pay?”

“What you paid for it—three thousand.”

“That's an awful drop from what I expected. When can you pay it?”

“I'll send you my check by an assistant as soon as I get back to my place.”

“I told you I was squeezed financially—so the picture is yours. I'll send you Mr. Hunt's present address when I receive your check. Make it payable to 'cash.'”

When Mr. Graham had gone with the Italian mother—it was then the very end of the afternoon—Larry wondered if his plan to draw Hunt out of his hermitage was going to succeed; and wondered what would be the result, if any, upon the relationship between Hunt and Miss Sherwood if Hunt should come openly back into his world an acclaimed success, and come with the changed attitude toward every one and every thing that recognition bestows.

But something was to make Larry wonder even more a few minutes later. Dick, that habitual late riser, had had to hurry away that morning without speaking to him. Now, when he came home toward six o'clock, Dick shouted cheerily from the hallway:

“Ahoy! Where you anchored, Captain Nemo?”

Larry did not answer. He sat over his papers as one frozen. He knew now whose had been the elusively familiar voice he had heard outside Maggie's door. It was Dick Sherwood's.

Dick paused without to take some messages from Judkins, and Larry's mind raced feverishly. Dick Sherwood was the victim Maggie and Barney and Old Jimmie were so cautiously and elaborately trying to trim! It seemed an impossible coincidence. But no, not impossible, after all. Their net had been spread for just such game: a young man, impressionable, pleasure-loving, with plenty of money, and with no strings tied to his spending of it. That Barney should have made his acquaintance was easily explained; to establish acquaintance with such persons as Dick was Barney's specialty. What more natural than that the high-spirited, irresponsible Dick should fall into this trap?—or indeed that he should have been picked out in advance as the ideal victim and have been drawn into it?

“Hello, there!” grumbled Dick, entering. “Why didn't you answer a shipmate's hail?”

“I heard you; but just then I was adding a column of figures, and I knew you'd look in.”

At that moment Larry noted the portrait of Maggie, looking up from the chair beside him. With a swiftness which he tried to disguise into a mechanical action, he seized the painting and rolled it up, face inside.

“What's that you've got?” demanded Dick.

“Just a little daub of my own.”

“So you paint, too. What else can you do? Let's have a look.”

“It's too rotten. I'd rather let you see something else—though all my stuff is bad.”

“You wouldn't do any little thing, would you, to brighten this tiredest hour in the day of a tired business man,” complained Dick. “I've really been a business man to-day, Captain. Worked like the devil—or an angel—whichever works the harder.”

He lit a cigarette and settled with a sigh on the corner of Larry's desk. Larry regarded him with a stranger and more contradicting mixture of feelings than he had ever thought to contain: solicitude for Dick—jealousy of him—and the instinct to protect Maggie. This last seemed to Larry grotesquely absurd the instant it seethed up in him, but there the instinct was: was Dick treating Maggie right?

“How was the show last night, Dick?”

“Punk!”

“I thought you said you were to see 'The Jest.' I've heard it's one of the best things for years.”

“Oh, I guess the show's all right. But the company was poor. My company, I mean. The person I wanted to see couldn't come.”

“Hope you had a supper party that made up for the disappointment,” pursued Larry, adroitly trying to lead him on.

“I sure had that, Captain!”

Dick slid to a chair beside Larry, dropped a hand on Larry's knee, and said in a lowered tone:

“Captain, I've recently met a new girl—and believe me, she's a knock-out!”

“Better keep clear of those show girls, Dick.”

“Never again! The last one cured me for life. Miss Cameron—Maggie Cameron, how's that for a name?—is no Broadway girl, Captain. She's not even a New York girl.”

“No?”

“She's from some place out West. Father owned several big ranches. She says that explains her crudeness. Her crude? I should say not! They don't grow better manners right here in New York. And she's pretty, and clever, and utterly naive about everything in New York. Though I must say,”