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- At the Mercy of Tiberius - 90/103 -
"For reasons that concern only myself. He can come here, and claim his property; or I will take it to him, and restore it, after he has answered some questions. You are quite welcome to the reward, which I am sure you merit because of your promptness and circumspection. Will you notify him that he can obtain his book by calling at the 'Anchorage'?"
"Our instructions are, to deliver the book at Room 213, Hotel Lucullus. It is now four o'clock."
"I will not surrender the book to you; but I will accompany you to the hotel, and deliver it to the owner in your presence. Let us lose no time."
"Very well. Sister, I'll keep a little behind, and jump on the first red star car that passes down. Look out for me on the platform, and I'll stop the car for you."
"Thank you," said Beryl, wondering whether the sanctity of her garb exacted this mark of deference, or whether the instinctive chivalry of American manhood prompted him to spare her the appearance of police surveillance.
Keeping her in sight, he loitered until they found themselves on the same car, where the officer, apparently engrossed by his cigarette, retained his stand on the rear platform. In front of the hotel two omnibuses were discharging their human freight, and in the confusion, Beryl and her escort passed unobserved into the building. He motioned her into one of the reception rooms on the second floor, and made his way to the office.
Drawing her quaint bonnet as far over her face as possible, and straightening her veil, Beryl sat down on a sofa and tried to quiet the beating of her pulses, the nervous tremor that shook her. She had ventured shyly out of her covert, and like all other hunted creatures, trembled at her own daring in making capture feasible. Memory rendered her vaguely apprehensive; bitter experience quickened her suspicions.
Was she running straight into some fatal trap, ingeniously baited with her brother's portrait? Would the Sheriff in X----, would Mr. Dunbar himself, recognize her in her gray disguise? She walked to a mirror set in the wall, and stared at her own image, put up one hand and pushed out of sight every ring of hair that showed beneath the white cap frill; then reassured, resumed her seat. How long the waiting seemed.
Somebody's pet Skye terrier, blanketed with scarlet satin embroidered with a monogram in gilt, had defied the bienseance of fashionable canine and feline etiquette, by flying at somebody's sedate, snowy Maltese cat, whose collar of silver bells jangled out of tune, as the combatants rolled on the velvet carpet, swept like a cyclone through the reception room, fled up the corridor. Two pretty children, gay as paroquets, in their cardinal plush cloaks, ran to the piano and began a furious tattoo, while their nurse gossiped with the bell boy.
With her hands locked around the portfolio, Beryl sat watching the door; and at last the policeman appeared at the threshold, where he paused an instant, then vanished.
A gentleman apparently forty years of age came in, and approached her. He was short in stature, florid, slightly bald; wore mutton chop whiskers, and a traveling suit of gray tweed broadly checked.
Beryl rose, the stranger bowed.
"Ah, you have my sketch book! Madam, I am eternally your debtor. Intrinsically worthless, perhaps; yet there are reasons which make it inestimably valuable to me."
"I picked it up from the pavement, and though I opened and examined it, you will find the contents intact. Will you look through it?"
"Oh! I dare say it is all right. No one cares for unfinished sketches, and these are mere studies."
He untied the thongs, turned over a dozen or more papers, then closed the lid, and put his hand in his pocket.
"I offered a reward to--"
"I wish no fee, sir; but the policeman has taken some trouble in the matter, and without his aid I should probably not have been able to restore it. Pay him what you promised, or may deem proper; and then permit me to ask for some information, which I think you can give me."
She beckoned to the officer who looked in just then; and when the money had been counted into his hand, the latter lifted his cap.
"Sister, shall I see you safe on the car?"
"Thank you, no. I can find my way home. I teach drawing at the 'Anchorage', and desire to ask a few questions of this gentleman, who I am sure is an artist."
When the policeman had left them, Beryl took the portfolio and opened it, while the owner watched her curiously, striving to penetrate the silver gray folds of her veil.
"May I ask whether you expect to leave America immediately?"
"I expect to sail on the steamer for Liverpool next Saturday."
"Have you relatives in this country?"
"None. I am merely a tourist, seeking glimpses of the best of this vast continent of yours."
"Did you make these sketches?"
"I did, from time to time; in fact, mine has been a sketching tour, and this book is one of several I have filled in America."
With trembling fingers she untied the silk, lifted the sketch, and said in a voice which, despite her efforts, quivered:
"I hope, sir, you will not consider me unwarrantably inquisitive, if I ask, where did you see this face?"
"Ah! My monk of the mountains? That is 'Brother Luke'; looks like one of Il Frate's wonderful heads, does he not? I saw him--let me see? Egad! Just exactly where it was, that is the rub! It was far west, beyond Assiniboia; somewhere in Alberta I am sure."
"Was it on British soil, or in the United States?"
"Certainly in British territory; and on one of the excursions I made from Calgary. I think it was while hunting in the mountains between Alberta and British Columbia. Let me see the sketch. Yes--10th of August; I was in that region until 1st of September."
Beryl drew a deep breath of intense relief, as she reflected that foreign territory might bar pursuit; and leaning forward, she asked hesitatingly:
"Have you any objection to telling me the circumstances under which you saw him; the situation in which you found him?"
"None whatever; but may I ask if you know him? Is my sketch so good a portrait?"
"It is wonderfully like one I knew years ago; and of whom I desire to receive tidings. My friend is a handsome man about twenty-four years of age."
"I was camping out with a hunting party, and one day while they were away gunning, I went to sketch a bit of fir wood clinging to the side of a rocky gorge. The day was hot, and I sat down to rest in the shadow of a stone ledge, that jutted over the cove where a spring bubbled from the crag, and made a ribbon of water. Here is the place, on this sheet. Over there, are the fir trees. Very soon I heard a rich voice chanting a solemn strain from Palestrinas' Miserere; the very music I had listened to in the Sistine Chapel, a few months before; and peeping from my sheltered nook, I saw a man clad in monkish garb stoop to drink from the spring. He sat a while, with his arms clasped around his knees, and his profile was so perfect I seized my pencil and drew the outlines; but before I completed it, he suddenly fell upon his knees, and the intense anguish, remorse, contrition--what not--so changed the countenance, that while he prayed, I made rapidly a new sketch. Then the most extraordinary thing happened. He rose, and turning fully toward me, I saw that one-half of his face was nobly regular, classically perfect; while the other side was hideously distorted, deformed. Absolutely he was 'Hyperion and Satyr' combined--with one set of features between them. I suppose my astonishment caused me to utter some exclamation, for he glanced up the cliff, saw me, turned and fled. I shouted and ran, but could not overtake him, and when I reached the open space, I saw a figure speeding away on a white mustang pony, and knew from the fluttering of the black skirts that it was the same man. My sketch shows the right side of his face, the other was drawn down almost beyond the lineaments of humanity. Beg pardon, madam, but would you be so good as to tell me whether this freak of nature was congenital, or the result of some frightful accident?"
Beryl had shut her eyes, and her lips were compressed to stifle the moan that struggled in her throat. When she spoke, the stranger detected a change in her voice.
"The person whose countenance was recalled by your sketch, was afflicted by no physical blemish, when last I saw him."
"His appearance was so singular, that I made sundry inquiries about him, but only one person seemed ever to have encountered him; and that was a half-breed Indian driver, belonging to our party. He told me, 'Brother Luke' belonged to a band of monks living somewhere beyond the mountains; and that he sometimes crossed, searching for stray cattle. That is the history of my sketch, and since I am indebted to you for its recovery, I regret for your sake that it is so meagre."
"It was last August that you made the sketch?"
"Last August. And now may I ask, to whom my thanks are due?"
"I am merely an humble member of a sisterhood of working women, and my name could possess no interest for you. I owe you an apology for trespassing upon your time, and prying into the mysteries of your
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