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- The Tempting of Tavernake - 65/65 -

cannot get an engagement, I have been turned out of my rooms, and I am hungry. My father always told me that you would be a friend if at any time it happened that I needed help. I am very sorry to have to come and beg, yet that is what I am doing. Will you lend or give me ten or twenty dollars, so that I can go on for a little longer? Or will you help me to get a place among some of your theatrical people? "

Mr. Cruxhall puffed steadily at his cigar for a moment, and leaning back in his chair thrust his hand into his trousers' pocket.

"So bad as that, is it?" he remarked. "So bad as that, eh?"

"It is very bad indeed," she answered, looking at him quietly, "or you know that I should not have come to you."

Mr. Cruxhall smiled.

"I remember the last time we talked together," he said, "we didn't get on very well. Too high and mighty in those days, weren't you, Miss Beatrice? Wouldn't have anything to say to a bad lot like Anthony Cruxhall. You're having to come to it, eh?"

She began to tremble again, but she held herself in.

"I must live," she murmured. "Give me a little money and let me go away."

He laughed.

"Oh, I'll do better than that for you," he answered, thrusting his hand into his waistcoat pocket and drawing out a pile of dollar bills. "Let's look at you. Gee whiz! Yes, you're shabby, aren't you? Take this," he went on, slamming some notes down before her. "Go and get yourself a new frock and a hat fit to wear, and meet me at the Madison Square roof garden at eight o'clock. We'll have some dinner and I guess we can fix matters up."

Then he smiled at her again, and Beatrice, whose hand was already upon the bills, suddenly felt her knees shake. A great black horror was upon her. She turned and fled out of the room, past the astonished clerk, into the lift, and was downstairs on the main floor before she remembered where she was, what she had done. The clerk, after gazing at her retreating form, hurried into the inner office.

"Young woman hasn't bolted with anything, eh?" he asked.

Mr. Cruxhall smiled wickedly.

"Why, no," he replied, "I guess she'll come back!"

Tavernake left the meeting on that same afternoon with his future practically assured for life. He had been appointed surveyor to the company at a salary of ten thousand dollars a year, and the mine in which his savings were invested was likely to return him his small capital a hundredfold. Very kind things had been said of him and to him.

Pritchard and he had left the place together. When they had reached the street, they paused for a moment.

"I am going to make a call near here," Pritchard said. "Don't forget that we are dining together, unless you find something better to do, and in the meantime"--he took a card from his pocket and handed it to Tavernake--"I don't know whether I am a fool or not to give you this," he added. "However, there it is. Do as you choose about it."

He walked away a little abruptly. Tavernake glanced at the address upon the card: 1134, East Third Street. For a moment he was puzzled. Then the light broke in upon him suddenly. His heart gave a leap. He turned back into the place to ask for some directions and once more stopped short. Down the stone corridor, like one who flies from some hideous fate, came a slim black figure, with white face and set, horrified stare. Tavernake held out his hands and she came to him with a great wondering sob.

"Leonard!" she cried. "Leonard!"

"There's no doubt about me," he answered, quickly. "Am I such a very terrifying object?"

She stood quite still and struggled hard. By and by the giddiness passed.

"Leonard," she murmured, "I am ill."

Then she began to smile.

"It is too absurd," she faltered, "but you've got to do it all over again."'

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Get me something to eat at once," she begged. "I am starving. Somewhere where it's cool. Leonard, how wonderful! I never even knew that you were in New York."

He called a carriage and took her off to a roof garden. There, as it was early, they got a seat near the parapet. Tavernake talked clumsily about himself most of the time. There was a lump in his throat. He felt all the while that tragedy was very near. By degrees, though, as she ate and drank, the color came back to her cheeks, the fear of a breakdown seemed to pass away. She became even cheerful.

"We are really the most amazing people, Leonard," she declared. "You stumbled into my life once before when I was on the point of being turned out of my rooms. You've come into it again and you find me once more homeless. Don't spend too much money upon our dinner, for I warn you that I am going to borrow from you."

He laughed.

"That's good news," he remarked, "but I'm not sure that I'm going to lend anything."

He leaned across the table. Their dinner had taken long in preparing and the dusk was falling now. Over them were the stars, the band was playing soft music, the hubbub of the streets lay far below. Almost they were in a little world by themselves.

"Dear Beatrice," he said, "three times I asked you to marry me and you would not, and I asked you because I was a selfish brute, and because I knew that it was good for me and that it would save me from things of which I was afraid. And now I am asking you the same thing again, but I have a bigger reason, Beatrice. I have been alone most of the last two years, I have lived the sort of life which brings a man face to face with the truth, helps him to know himself and others, and I have found out something."

"Yes?" she faltered. "Tell me, Leonard."

"I found out that it was you I cared for always," he continued, "and that is why I am asking you to marry me now, Beatrice, only this time I ask you because I love you, and because no one else in the world could ever take your place or be anything at all to me."

"Leonard!" she murmured.

"You are not sorry that I have said this?" he begged.

She opened her eyes again.

"I always prayed that I might hear you say it," she answered, "but it seems--oh, it seems so one-sided! Here am I starving and penniless, and you--you, I suppose, are well on the way towards the success you worshiped."

"I am well on the way," he said, earnestly, "towards something greater, Beatrice. I am well on the way towards understanding what success really is, what things count and what don't. I have even found out," he whispered, "the thing which counts for more than anything else in the world, and now that I have found it out, I shall never let it go again."

He pressed her hand and she looked across the table at him with swimming eyes. The waiter, who had been approaching, turned discreetly away. The band started to play a fresh tune. From down in the streets came the clanging of the cars. A curious, cosmopolitan murmur of sounds, but between those two there was the wonderful silence.

The Tempting of Tavernake - 65/65

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