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- The Voice on the Wire - 37/37 -

society man, with no experience in such matters."

Shirley understood the subtle sarcasm of the remark, but he proceeded unruffled, to lull her suspicious.

"I only tried to cover the points which meant happiness and peace of mind to others. It was merely a matter of common or garden horse sense, as we call it in America. Warren has been systematically robbing the rich men of New York for three years, under various subterfuges. No wonder he could afford such gorgeous collections of art, keeping aloof from his associates in crime. His treasures, like those in many European museums were bought with blood. It is curious how a complex case like this smooths itself out so simply when the key is obtained. And you, Helene, have been the genius to supply that key: my own work has been merely corroborative!"

He looked at the delicate features of the girl, remembering with a recurring thrill the margin by which they had escaped death in the cellar den of the conspirators.

"Cleary and Dick Holloway told me how cleverly you led the men to the Somerset where you followed my trail through the mole's passage. It was a frightful risk for you to take: Cleary should have had more sense and led the way himself."

Helene's lips pursed themselves into a tempting pout.

"Are you not happier that it was I, at that supreme moment?"

"Indeed I am: success was all the sweeter. There is remaining only one mystery which I must admit is still unsolved in this curious affair. And that is you. Who are you?"

She parried with the same question.

"I know your name, sir, but you profess to be a society butterfly, flitting from pleasure to dissipation, and back again. Tell me the truth, now, if ever."

"Why--gracious, Helene--of all the foolish questions!" He was adorably boyish in his confusion. She laughed gleefully, like a happy schoolgirl.

"Then, Monty Shirley, my score is better than yours, for I have every mystery cleared. But while I know all about you, what frightful chances you are taking with me!"

Shirley reddened, as he burned his finger with the match which had been raised to the end of his cigarette. He accused her of teasing, and she glanced happily at the iridiscent solitaire upon the third finger of her left hand.

"Dear boy, I realize that I understand about you what you cannot fathom with me. You are not a moth, but your self-sacrifice, and bravery in this case are professional: you worked on this case as you have on a hundred others: you are a very original and successful expert in criminology. And I am not more than half bad at observation and deduction, myself; now, am I, dear?"

Shirley gracefully admitted defeat, with a question: "Who are you, Helene? And who is dear old Jack?"

The roses blossomed in her cheeks as she answered: "Jack is a very sweet boy, ten years older than you in gray hair and the calendar, and infinitely younger in worldly wisdom and intellect. He is an English army officer, who was foolish enough to imagine he loved me, foolish enough to propose every three days for the last three years and foolish enough to bore me until in self-defense I escaped from his clutches. As for myself, at least I am not the young woman who can stand staying in that gaudy theatrical hotel for another day longer. I have done so many bold, unmaidenly things that you may believe it easy for me. It is not.

"I am truly a horrid, old-time, hoopskirt-minded prude. My first act of domestic tyranny is to make you find a sedate, prim place for my work and play, where I may know my own blushes when I see them in the mirror, and will have less occasion to deserve them!"

"Your work? What is that?"

"It is very hard work--with a typewriter, but not in code. I will not divulge my name until we tell it to the marriage license clerk. But Dick Holloway knows me, and I came to this country, partly to see him. I have written a few plays, which simple as they were, seemed to interest European audiences and critics. Some of my novels have strangely enough brought in royalties, despite the publishers! But, I became satiated with life in England and on the Continent. I came here because I felt that I needed life in a younger and newer country. I needed an emotional and physical awakening."

"You have not wasted any time in drowsiness since you reached America."

"No--and all because I went to Holloway's office that fateful morning, before I saw any one else in New York, to ask about a play which he is to produce this spring. I confess that it was my first experience as an actress. Will you forgive my deception?"

Shirley nodded, as he studied the animated face with a new interest. He admitted to himself that Holloway's prediction had come true--he had met his match.

"And so, my dear Helene (for such I shall always call you, whether your really, truly name be Mehitabel, Samantha or Sophronisa) you came here, went through all these horrors without a complaint, crushing the independence of my confirmed bachelorhood for the sake of what we newspaper men call copy?"

Helene nodded demurely.

"Yes, but it was such wonderful 'copy,' Monty boy."

The criminologist scowled over his cigarette, yet he could not feel as unhappy as he felt this defeat should make him.

"When will the 'copy' be ready for publication, my dear girl. It would be most interesting, I fancy."

Helene caught his hand, drawing it toward her throbbing heart. Her wet lips were almost touching his ear, as she confided, whisperingly, with the blue eyes averted: "Only published in editions de luxe: some bindings will be with blue ribbons, some with pink. All of them with flexible backs and gloriously illumined by the Master's brush. The authors' autographs will be on every copy to prove the collaboration, and every volume will be a poem in itself .... But there, Montague dear, I am a novelist--not a fortune-teller!"

"How can I forecast the exact dates of publication?"

The Voice on the Wire - 37/37

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