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- The Purple Parasol - 1/7 -
Produced by Avinash Kothare, Charles Aldarondo and the On-line Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE PURPLE PARASOL
GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
THE PURPLE PARASOL
Young Rossiter did not like the task. The more he thought of it as he whirled northward on the Empire State Express the more distasteful it seemed to grow.
"Hang it all," he thought, throwing down his magazine in disgust, "it's like police work. And heaven knows I haven't wanted to be a cop since we lived in Newark twenty years ago. Why the dickens did old Wharton marry her? He's an old ass, and he's getting just what he might have expected. She's twenty-five and beautiful; he's seventy and a sight. I've a notion to chuck the whole affair and go back to the simple but virtuous Tenderloin. It's not my sort, that's all, and I was an idiot for mixing in it. The firm served me a shabby trick when it sent me out to work up this case for Wharton. It's a regular Peeping Tom Job, and I don't like it."
It will require but few words to explain Sam Rossiter's presence in the north-bound Empire Express, but it would take volumes to express his feelings on the subject in general. Back in New York there lived Godfrey Wharton, millionaire and septuagenarian. For two years he had been husband to one of the prettiest, gayest young women in the city, and in the latter days of this responsibility he was not a happy man. His wife had fallen desperately, even conspicuously, in love with Everett Havens, the new leading man at one of the fashionable playhouses. The affair had been going on for weeks, and it had at last become the talk of the town. By "the town" is meant that vague, expansive thing known as the "Four Hundred." Sam Rossiter, two years out of Yale, was an attachment to, but not a component part of, the Four Hundred. The Whartons were of the inner circle.
Young Rossiter was ambitious. He was, besides, keen, aggressive, and determined to make well for himself. Entering the great law offices of Grover & Dickhut immediately after leaving college, he devoted himself assiduously to the career in prospect. He began by making its foundation as substantial as brains and energy would permit. So earnest, so successful was he that Grover & Dickhut regarded him as the most promising young man in New York. They predicted a great future for him, no small part of which was the ultimate alteration of an office shingle, the name of Rossiter going up in gilt, after that of Dickhut. And, above all, Rossiter was a handsome, likable chap. Tall, fair, sunny-hearted, well groomed, he was a fellow that both sexes liked without much effort.
The Wharton trouble was bound to prove startling any way one looked at it. The prominence of the family, the baldness of its skeleton, and the gleeful eagerness with which it danced into full view left but little for meddlers to covet. A crash was inevitable; it was the _clash_ that Grover & Dickhut were trying to avert. Old Wharton, worn to a slimmer frazzle than he had ever been before his luckless marriage, was determined to divorce his insolent younger half. It was to be done with as little noise as possible, more for his own sake than for hers. Wharton was proud in, not of, his weakness.
It became necessary to "shadow" the fair débutante into matrimony. After weeks of indecision Mr. Wharton finally arose and swore in accents terrible that she was going too far to be called back. He determined to push, not to pull, on the reins. Grover & Dickhut were commanded to get the "evidence"; he would pay. When he burst in upon them and cried in his cracked treble that "the devil's to pay," he did not mean to cast any aspersion upon the profession in general or particular. He was annoyed.
"She's going away next week," he exclaimed, as if the lawyers were to blame for it.
"Well, and what of it?" asked Mr. Grover blandly.
"Up into the mountains," went on Mr. Wharton triumphantly.
"Is it against the law?" smiled the old lawyer.
"Confound the law! I don't object to her going up into the mountains for a rest, but--"
"It's much too hot in town for her, I fancy."
"How's that?" querulously. "But I've just heard that that scoundrel Havens is going to the mountains also."
"The same mountain?"
"Certainly. I have absolute proof of it. Now, something has to be done!"
And so it was that the promising young lawyer, Samuel W. Rossiter, Jr., was sent northward into the Adirondacks one hot summer day with instructions to be tactful but thorough. He had never seen Mrs. Wharton, nor had he seen Havens. There was no time to look up these rather important details, for he was off to intercept her at the little station from which one drove by coach to the quiet summer hotel among the clouds. She was starting the same afternoon. He found himself wondering whether this petted butterfly of fashion had ever seen him, and, seeing him, had been sufficiently interested to inquire, "Who is that tall fellow with the light hair?" It would be difficult to perform the duties assigned to him if either she or Havens knew him for what he was. His pride would have been deeply wounded if he had known that Grover & Dickhut recommended him to Wharton as "obscure."
"They say she is a howling beauty as well as a swell," reflected Rossiter, as the miles and minutes went swinging by. "And that's something to be thankful for. One likes novelty, especially if it's feminine. Well, I'm out for the sole purpose of saving a million or so for old Wharton, and to save as much of her reputation as I can besides. With the proof in hand the old duffer can scare her out of any claim against his bank account, and she shall have the absolute promise of 'no exposure' in return. Isn't it lovely? Well, here's Albany. Now for the dinky road up to Fossingford Station. I have an hour's wait here. She's coming on the afternoon train and gets to Fossingford at eleven-ten to-night. That's a dickens of a time for a young woman to be arriving anywhere, to say nothing of Fossingford."
Loafing about the depot at Albany, Rossiter kept a close lookout for Mrs. Wharton as he pictured her from the description he carried in his mind's eye. Her venerable husband informed him that she was sure to wear a white shirt-waist, a gray skirt, and a Knox sailor hat, because her maid had told him so in a huff. But he was to identify her chiefly by means of a handsome and oddly trimmed parasol of deep purple. Wharton had every reason to suspect that it was a present from Havens, and therefore to be carried more for sentiment than protection.
A telegram awaited him at Fossingford Station. Fossingford was so small and unsophisticated that the arrival of a telegraphic message that did not relate to the movement of railroad trains was an "occasion." Everybody in town knew that a message had come for Samuel Rossiter, and everybody was at the depot to see that he got it. The station agent had inquired at the "eating-house" for the gentleman, and that was enough. With the eyes of a Fossingford score or two upon him, Rossiter read the despatch from Grover & Dickhut.
"Too bad, ain't it?" asked the agent, compassionately regarding the newcomer. Evidently the contents were supposed to be disappointing.
"Oh, I don't know," replied Rossiter easily. But just the same he was troubled in mind as he walked over and sat down upon his steamer trunk in the shade of the building. The telegram read:
"She left New York five-thirty this evening. Stops over night Albany. Fossingford to-morrow morning. Watch trains. Purple parasol. Sailor hat. Gray travelling suit.
"G. and D."
It meant that he would be obliged to stay in Fossingford all night--but where? A general but comprehensive glance did not reveal anything that looked like a hotel. He thought of going back to Albany for the night, but it suddenly occurred to him that she might not stop in that city, after all. Pulling his wits together, he saw things with a new clearness of vision. Ostensibly she had announced her intention to spend the month at Eagle Nest, an obscure but delightful hotel in the hills; but did that really mean that she would go there? It was doubtless a ruse to throw the husband off the track. There were scores of places in the mountains, and it was more than probable that she would give Eagle Nest a wide berth. Rossiter patted his bump of perceptiveness and smiled serenely until he came plump up against the realization that she might not come by way of Fossingford at all, or, in any event, she might go whisking through to some station farther north. His speculations came to an end in the shape of a distressing resolution. He would remain in Fossingford and watch the trains go by!
After he had dashed through several early evening trains, the cheerful, philosophical smile of courage left his face and trouble stared from his eyes. He saw awkward prospects ahead. Suppose she were to pass through on one of the late night trains! He could not rush through the sleepers, even though the trains stopped in Fossingford for water.
Besides, she could not be identified by means of a gray suit, a sailor hat, and a purple parasol if they were tucked away in the berth. At eleven o'clock he was pacing the little depot platform, waiting for the eleven- ten train, the last he was to inspect for the night. He had eaten a scanty meal at the restaurant nearby, and was still mad about it. The station agent slept soundly at his post, and all the rest of the town had gone to bed.
The train pulled in and out again, leaving him at the far end of the platform, mopping his harassed brow. He had visited the chair-cars and had seen no one answering the description. A half-dozen passengers huddled off and wandered away in the darkness.
"I'll bet my head she's in one of those sleepers," he groaned, as he watched the lights on the rear coach fade away into the night. "It's all off till to-morrow, that's settled. My only hope is that she really
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