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- The Golden Slipper - 1/54 -
THE GOLDEN SLIPPER And Other Problems for Violet Strange
by ANNA KATHARINE GREEN (Mrs. Charles Rohlfs)
I THE GOLDEN SLIPPER
II THE SECOND BULLET
III THE INTANGIBLE CLEW
IV THE GROTTO SPECTRE
V THE DREAMING LADY
VI THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS
VII THE DOCTOR, HIS WIFE, AND THE CLOCK
VIII MISSING: PAGE THIRTEEN
IX VIOLET'S OWN
The Golden Slipper And Other Problems for Violet Strange
PROBLEM I THE GOLDEN SLIPPER
"She's here! I thought she would be. She's one of the three young ladies you see in the right-hand box near the proscenium."
The gentleman thus addressed--a man of middle age and a member of the most exclusive clubs--turned his opera glass toward the spot designated, and in some astonishment retorted:
"She? Why those are the Misses Pratt and--"
"Miss Violet Strange; no other."
"And do you mean to say--"
"That yon silly little chit, whose father I know, whose fortune I know, who is seen everywhere, and who is called one of the season's belles is an agent of yours; a--a--"
"No names here, please. You want a mystery solved. It is not a matter for the police--that is, as yet,--and so you come to me, and when I ask for the facts, I find that women and only women are involved, and that these women are not only young but one and all of the highest society. Is it a man's work to go to the bottom of a combination like this? No. Sex against sex, and, if possible, youth against youth. Happily, I know such a person--a girl of gifts and extraordinarily well placed for the purpose. Why she uses her talents in this direction--why, with means enough to play the part natural to her as a successful debutante, she consents to occupy herself with social and other mysteries, you must ask her, not me. Enough that I promise you her aid if you want it. That is, if you can interest her. She will not work otherwise."
Mr. Driscoll again raised his opera glass.
"But it's a comedy face," he commented. "It's hard to associate intellectuality with such quaintness of expression. Are you sure of her discretion?"
"Whom is she with?"
"Abner Pratt, his wife, and daughters."
"Is he a man to entrust his affairs unadvisedly?"
"Abner Pratt! Do you mean to say that she is anything more to him than his daughters' guest?"
"Judge. You see how merry they are. They were in deep trouble yesterday. You are witness to a celebration."
"Don't you observe how they are loading her with attentions? She's too young to rouse such interest in a family of notably unsympathetic temperament for any other reason than that of gratitude."
"It's hard to believe. But if what you hint is true, secure me an opportunity at once of talking to this youthful marvel. My affair is serious. The dinner I have mentioned comes off in three days and--"
"I know. I recognize your need; but I think you had better enter Mr. Pratt's box without my intervention. Miss Strange's value to us will be impaired the moment her connection with us is discovered."
"Ah, there's Ruthven! He will take me to Mr. Pratt's box," remarked Driscoll as the curtain fell on the second act. "Any suggestions before I go?"
"Yes, and an important one. When you make your bow, touch your left shoulder with your right hand. It is a signal. She may respond to it; but if she does not, do not be discouraged. One of her idiosyncrasies is a theoretical dislike of her work. But once she gets interested, nothing will hold her back. That's all, except this. In no event give away her secret. That's part of the compact, you remember."
Driscoll nodded and left his seat for Ruthven's box. When the curtain rose for the third time he could be seen sitting with the Misses Pratt and their vivacious young friend. A widower and still on the right side of fifty, his presence there did not pass unnoted, and curiosity was rife among certain onlookers as to which of the twin belles was responsible for this change in his well-known habits. Unfortunately, no opportunity was given him for showing. Other and younger men had followed his lead into the box, and they saw him forced upon the good graces of the fascinating but inconsequent Miss Strange whose rapid fire of talk he was hardly of a temperament to appreciate.
Did he appear dissatisfied? Yes; but only one person in the opera house knew why. Miss Strange had shown no comprehension of or sympathy with his errand. Though she chatted amiably enough between duets and trios, she gave him no opportunity to express his wishes though she knew them well enough, owing to the signal he had given her.
This might be in character but it hardly suited his views; and, being a man of resolution, he took advantage of an absorbing minute on the stage to lean forward and whisper in her ear:
"It's my daughter for whom I request your services; as fine a girl as any in this house. Give me a hearing. You certainly can manage it."
She was a small, slight woman whose naturally quaint appearance was accentuated by the extreme simplicity of her attire. In the tier upon tier of boxes rising before his eyes, no other personality could vie with hers in strangeness, or in the illusive quality of her ever-changing expression. She was vivacity incarnate and, to the ordinary observer, light as thistledown in fibre and in feeling. But not to all. To those who watched her long, there came moments--say when the music rose to heights of greatness--when the mouth so given over to laughter took on curves of the rarest sensibility, and a woman's lofty soul shone through her odd, bewildering features.
Driscoll had noted this, and consequently awaited her reply in secret hope.
It came in the form of a question and only after an instant's display of displeasure or possibly of pure nervous irritability.
"What has she done?"
"Nothing. But slander is in the air, and any day it may ripen into public accusation."
"Accusation of what?" Her tone was almost pettish.
"Of--of theft," he murmured. "On a great scale," he emphasized, as the music rose to a crash.
"Inestimable ones. They are always returned by somebody. People say, by me."
"Ah!" The little lady's hands grew steady,--they had been fluttering all over her lap. "I will see you to-morrow morning at my father's house," she presently observed; and turned her full attention to the stage.
Some three days after this Mr. Driscoll opened his house on the Hudson to notable guests. He had not desired the publicity of such an event, nor the opportunity it gave for an increase of the scandal secretly in circulation against his daughter. But the Ambassador and his wife were foreign and any evasion of the promised hospitality would be sure to be misunderstood; so the scheme was carried forward though with less eclat than possibly was expected.
Among the lesser guests, who were mostly young and well acquainted with the house and its hospitality, there was one unique figure,--that of the lively Miss Strange, who, if personally unknown to Miss Driscoll, was so gifted with the qualities which tell on an occasion of this kind, that the stately young hostess hailed her presence with very obvious gratitude.
The manner of their first meeting was singular, and of great interest to one of them at least. Miss Strange had come in an automobile and had been shown her room; but there was nobody to accompany her down-stairs afterward, and, finding herself alone
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