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- The Tempting of Tavernake - 40/65 -
glass which the professor was carrying to his lips. He set it down at once.
"My child," he said, in a low tone, " I understand you."
"No, no," she insisted, "I didn't mean that, but you are always better when you are working. A man like you," she went on, a little wistfully, "should not waste his talents."
"You are perhaps right, my child," he admitted. "I will go and see my agents to-morrow. Up till now," he went on, "I have refused all offers. I have felt that Elizabeth, the care of Elizabeth in her peculiar position, demanded my whole attention. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I have over-estimated the necessity of being constantly at her right hand. She is a very clever woman Elizabeth," he concluded, "very clever indeed."
"Where is she now, father?" Beatrice asked.
"She motored into the country early this morning with some friends," the professor said. "They went to a party last night with Walter Crease, London correspondent to the New York Gazette," he explained, turning a little away from Tavernake. "They were all home very late, I understand, and Elizabeth complained of a headache this morning. Personally, I regret to say that I was not up when they left."
Beatrice leaned quite close to her father.
"Do you see anything of the man Pritchard?" she inquired.
The professor was suddenly flabby. He set down his glass, spilling half its contents. He stole a quick glance at Tavernake.
"My child," he exclaimed, "you ought to consider my nerves! You know very well that the sudden mention of any one whom I dislike so intensely is bad for me. I am surprised at you, Beatrice. You show a culpable lack of consideration for my infirmities."
"I am sorry, father," she whispered, "but is he here?"
"He is," the professor admitted. "Between ourselves," he added, a white, scared look upon his pale face, "he is spoiling my whole peace of mind. My enjoyment of the comforts which Elizabeth is able to provide for me is interfered with by that man's constant presence. He seldom speaks, and yet he seems always to be watching. I do not trust him, Beatrice. I am a judge of men and I tell you that I do not trust him."
"I wish that Elizabeth would go away," Beatrice said in a low tone. "Of course, I have no right--to say things. Nothing serious has perhaps ever happened. And yet--and yet, for her own sake, I do not think that she should stay here in London with Pritchard close at hand."
The professor raised his glass with shaking fingers.
"Elizabeth knows what is best," he declared, "I am sure that Elizabeth knows what is best, but I, too, am beginning to wish that she would go away. Last night we met him at Walter Crease's."
Once more he turned a little nervously towards Tavernake, who was looking down into the body of the restaurant with immovable face.
"We tried to persuade him then to go away. He is really in rather a dangerous position here. Jimmy Post has sworn that he will not be taken back to New York, and there are one or two others--a pretty desperate crew. We tried last night to reason with Pritchard."
"It was no good?" she whispered.
"No good at all," the professor answered, drily. "Perhaps, if we had not been interrupted, we might have convinced him."
"Tell me about it," she begged.
The professor shook his head. Tavernake still had that air of paying no attention whatever to their conversation.
"It is not for you to know about, my dear," he concluded. "You have chosen very wisely to keep out of these matters. Elizabeth has such wonderful courage. My own nerve, I regret to say, is not quite what it was. Waiter, I will take a liqueur of the old brandy in a large glass."
The brandy was brought, but the professor seemed haunted by memories and his spirits never wholly returned. Not until the lights were turned down and Tavernake had paid the bill, did he partially recover his former manner.
"Dear child," he said, as they stood up together, "I cannot tell you what the pleasure has been of this brief reunion."
She rested her fingers upon his shoulders and looked up into his face.
"Father," she begged, softly, "come to me. I can keep you, if you don't mind for a short time being poor. You shall have all my salary except just enough for my clothes, and anything will do for me to wear. I will try so hard to make you comfortable."
He looked at her with an air of offended dignity.
"My child," he replied, "you must not talk to me like that. If I did not feel that my duty lay with Elizabeth, I should insist upon your coming to me, and under those conditions it would be I who should provide, not you. But for the moment I cannot leave your elder sister altogether. She needs me."
Beatrice turned away a little sadly. They all three descended the stairs.
"I shall leave our young friend, Mr. Tavernake, to escort you to your home," the professor announced. "I myself shall telephone to see if Elizabeth has returned. If she is still away, I shall spend an hour or two, I think, with my friends at the Blue Room Club. Beatrice, this has been a joy to me, a joy soon, I hope, to be repeated."
He took both her hands. She smiled at him with an attempt at cheerfulness.
"Good-night, father!" she said.
"And to you, sir, also, good-night!" the professor added, taking Tavernake's hand and holding it for a minute in his, while he looked impressively in his face. "I will not say too much, but I will say this: so much as I have seen of you, I like. Good-night!"
He turned and strode away. Both Beatrice and Tavernake watched him until he disappeared. Then, with a sigh, she picked up her skirts with her right hand, and took Tavernake's arm.
"Do you mind walking home?" she asked. "My head aches."
Tavernake looked for a moment wistfully across the road toward the Milan Court. Beatrice's hand, however, only held his arm the tighter.
"I am going to make you come with me every step of the way," she declared, "so you can just as well make the best of it. Afterwards--"
"What about afterwards?" he interrupted.
"Afterwards," she continued, with decision, "you are to go straight home!"
SOME EXCELLENT ADVICE
Tavernake, in response to a somewhat urgent message, walked into his solicitor's office almost as soon as they opened on the following morning. The junior partner of the firm, who took an interest in him, and was anxious, indeed, to invest a small amount in the Marston Rise Building Company, received him cordially but with some concern.
"Look here, Tavernake," he said, "I thought I'd better write a line and ask you to come down. You haven't forgotten, have you, that our option of purchase lasts only three days longer?"
"Well, what of it?" he asked.
"It's just as well that you should understand the situation," the lawyer continued. "Your old people are hard upon our heels in this matter, and there will be no chance of any extension--not even for an hour. Mr. Dowling has already put in an offer a thousand pounds better than yours; I heard that incidentally yesterday afternoon; so you may be sure that the second your option has legally expired, the thing will be off altogether so far as you're concerned."
"That's all very well," Tavernake remarked, "but what about the plots that already belong to me?"
"They have some sort of scheme for leaving those high and dry," the solicitor explained. "You see, the drainage and lighting will be largely influenced by the purchaser of the whole estate. If Dowling gets it, he means to treat your plots so that they will become practically valueless. It's rather a mean sort of thing, but then he's a mean little man."
"Well," he announced, "I was coming to see you, anyhow, this morning, to talk to you about the money."
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