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- Green Fancy - 50/51 -
He gave the wedding breakfast at one o'clock that night.
Three days later he and "Miss Jones" said farewell to the strollers and boarded a day train for New York City. They left the company in a condition of prosperity. The show was averaging two hundred dollars nightly, and Mr. Rushcroft was already booking return engagements for the early fall. He was looking forward to a tour of Europe at the close of the war.
"My boy," he said to Barnes on the platform of the railway station, "I trust you will forgive me for not finding a place in our remarkably well-balanced cast for your friend. I have been thinking a great deal about her in the past few days, and it has occurred to me that she might find it greatly to her advantage to accept a brief New York engagement before tackling the real proposition. It won't take her long to find out whether she really likes it, and whether she thinks it worth while to go on with it. Let me give you one bit of advice, my dear Miss Jones. This is very important. The name of Jones will not get you anywhere. It is a nice old family, fireside name, but it lacks romance. Chuck it. Start your new life with another name, my dear. God bless you! Good luck and--good-bye till we meet on the Rialto."
"I wonder how he could possibly have known," she mused aloud, the pink still in her cheeks as the train pulled out.
"You darling," cried Barnes, "he doesn't know. But taking it by and large, it was excellent advice. The brief New York engagement meets with my approval, and so does the change of name. I am in a position to supply you with both."
"Do you regard Barnes as an especially attractive name?" she inquired, dimpling.
"It has the virtue of beginning with B, entitling it to a place well toward the top of alphabetical lists. A very handy name for patronesses at charity bazaars, and so forth. People never look below B unless to make sure that their own names haven't been omitted. You ought to take that into consideration. If you can't be an A, take the next best thing offered. Be a B."
"You almost persuade me," she smiled.
His sister met them at the Grand Central Terminal.
"It's now a quarter to five," said Barnes, after the greeting and presentation. "Drop me at the Fifth Avenue Bank, Edith. I want to leave something in my safety box downstairs. Sha'n't be more than five minutes."
He got down from the automobile at 44th Street and shot across the sidewalk into the bank, casting quick, apprehensive glances through the five o'clock crowd on the avenue as he sprinted. In his hand he lugged the heavy, weatherbeaten pack. His sister and the Countess stared after him in amazement.
Presently he emerged from the bank, still carrying the bag. He was beaming. A certain worried, haggard expression had vanished from his face and for the first time in eight hours he treated his travelling wardrobe with scorn and indifference. He tossed it carelessly into the seat beside the chauffeur, and, springing nimbly into the car, sank back with a prodigious sigh of relief.
"Thank God, they're off my mind at last," he cried. "That is the first good, long breath I've had in a week. No, not now. It's a long story and I can't tell it in Fifth Avenue. It would be extremely annoying to have both of you die of heart failure with all these people looking on."
He felt her hand on his arm, and knew that she was looking at him with wide, incredulous eyes, but he faced straight ahead. After a moment or two, she snuggled back in the seat and cried out tremulously:
"Oh, how wonderful--how wonderful!"
Mrs. Courtney, in utter ignorance, inquired politely:
"Isn't it? Have you never been in New York before, Miss Cameron? Strangers always find it quite wonderful at the--"
"How are all the kiddies, Edith, and old Bill?" broke in her brother hastily.
He was terribly afraid that the girl beside him was preparing to shed tears of joy and relief. He could feel her searching in her jacket pocket for a handkerchief.
Mrs. Courtney was not only curious but apprehensive. She hadn't the faintest idea who Miss Cameron was, nor where her brother had picked her up. But she saw at a glance that she was lovely, and her soul was filled with strange misgivings. She was like all sisters who have pet bachelor brothers. She hoped that poor Tom hadn't gone and made a fool of himself. The few minutes' conversation she had had with the stranger only served to increase her alarm. Miss Cameron's voice and smile--and her eyes!--were positively alluring.
She had had a night letter from Tom that morning in which he said that he was bringing a young lady friend down from the north,--and would she meet them at the station and put her up for a couple of days? That was all she knew of the dazzling stranger up to the moment she saw her. Immediately after that, she knew, by intuition, a great deal more about her than Tom could have told in volumes of correspondence. She knew, also, that Tom was lost forever!
"Now, tell me," said the Countess, the instant they entered the Courtney apartment. She gripped both of his arms with her firm little hands, and looked straight into his eyes, eagerly, hopefully. She had forgotten Mrs. Courtney's presence, she had not taken the time to remove her hat or jacket.
"Let's all sit down," said he. "My knees are unaccountably weak. Come along, Ede. Listen to the romance of my life."
And when the story was finished, the Countess took his hand in hers and held it to her cool cheek. The tears were still drowning her eyes.
"Oh, you poor dear! Was that why you grew so haggard, and pale, and hollow-eyed?"
"Partly," said he, with great significance.
"And you had them in your pack all the time? You--!"
"I had Sprouse's most solemn word not to touch them for a week. He is the only man I feared. He is the only one who could have--"
"May I use your telephone, Mrs. Courtney?" cried she, suddenly. She sprang to her feet, quivering with excitement. "Pray forgive me for being so ill-mannered, but I--I must call up one or two people at once. They are my friends. I have written them, but--but I know they are waiting to see me in the flesh or to hear my voice. You will understand, I am sure."
Barnes was pacing the floor nervously when his sister returned after conducting her new guest to the room prepared for her. The Countess was at the telephone before the door closed behind her hostess.
"I wish you had been a little more explicit in your telegram, Tom," she said peevishly. "If I had known who she is I wouldn't have put her in that room. Now, I shall have to move Aunt Kate back into it to- morrow, and give Miss Cameron the big one at the end of the hall." Which goes to prove that Tom's sister was a bit of a snob in her way. "Stop walking like that, and come here." She faced him accusingly. "Have you told me ALL there is to tell, sir?"
"Can't you see for yourself, Ede, that I'm in love with her? Desperately, horribly, madly in love with her. Don't giggle like that! I couldn't have told you while she was present, could I?"
"That isn't what I want to know. Is she in love with YOU? That's what I'm after."
"Yes," said he, but frowned anxiously.
"She is perfectly adorable," said she, and was at once aware of a guilty, nagging impression that she would not have said it to him half an hour earlier for anything in the world.
The Countess was strangely white and subdued when she rejoined them later on. She had removed her hat. The other woman saw nothing but the wealth of sun-kissed hair that rippled. Barnes went forward to meet her, filled with a sudden apprehension.
"What is it? You are pale and--what have you heard?"
She stopped and looked searchingly into his eyes. A warm flush rose to her cheeks; her own eyes grew soft and tender and wistful.
"They all believe that the war will last two or three years longer," she said huskily. "I cannot go back to my own country till it is all over. They implore me to remain here with them until--until my fortunes are mended." She turned to Mrs. Courtney and went on without the slightest trace of indecision or embarrassment in her manner. "You see, Mrs. Courtney, I am very, very poor. They have taken everything. I--I fear I shall have to accept the kind, the generous proffer of a--" her voice shook slightly--"of a home with my friends until the Huns are driven out."
Barnes's silence was more eloquent than words. Her eyes fell. Mrs. Courtney's words of sympathy passed unheard; her bitter excoriation of the Teutons and Turks was but dimly registered on the inattentive mind of the victim of their ruthless greed; not until she expressed the hope that Miss Cameron would condescend to accept the hospitality of her home until plans for the future were definitely fixed was there a sign that the object of her concern had given a thought to what she was saying.
"You are so very kind," stammered the Countess. "But I cannot think of imposing upon--"
"Leave it to me, Ede," said Barnes gently, and, laying his hand upon his sister's arm, he led her from the room. Then he came swiftly back to the outstretched arms of the exile.
"A very brief New York engagement," he whispered in her ear, he knew not how long afterward. Her head was pressed against his shoulder, her eyes were closed, her lips parted in the ecstasy of passion.
"Yes," she breathed, so faintly that he barely heard the strongest word ever put into the language of man.
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