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- The Purple Parasol - 4/7 -


She left him, and he lit another cigar. Daylight came at last to break up his thoughts, and then his tired eyes began to look for the man and buggy. Fatigued and weary, he sat upon his steamer trunk, his back to the wall. There he fell sound asleep.

He was awakened by some one shaking him gently by the shoulder.

"You are a very sound sleeper, Mr. Rollins," said a familiar voice, but it was gay and sprightly. He looked up blankly, and it was a full half-minute before he could get his bearings.

A young woman with a purple parasol stood beside him, laughing merrily, and at her side was a tall, dark, very good-looking young man.

"I couldn't go without saying good-by to you, Mr. Rollins, and thanking you again for the care you have taken of me," she was saying. He finally saw the little gloved hand that was extended toward him. Her companion was carrying her jacket and the little travelling-bag.

"Oh--er--good-by, and don't mention it," he stammered, struggling to his feet. "Was I asleep?"

"Asleep at your post, sir. Mr. Dudley--oh, this is Mr. Dudley, Mr. Rollins--came in ten minutes ago and found--us--both--asleep."

"Isn't it lucky Mr. Dudley happens to be an honest man?" said Rossiter, in a manner so strange that the smile froze on the face of the other man. The unhappy barrister caught the quick glance that passed between them, and was vaguely convinced that they had been discussing him while he slept. Something whispered to him that they had guessed the nature of his business.

"My telegram was not delivered to him until this morning. Wasn't it provoking?" she was saying.

"What time is it now?" asked Rossiter.

"Half-past seven," responded Dudley rather sharply. His black eyes were fastened steadily upon those of the questioner. "Mr. Van Haltford's man came in and got Miss Dering's telegram yesterday, but it was not delivered to me until a neighbor came to the house with both the message and messenger in charge. Joseph had drunk all the whisky in Fossingford.

"Then there's no chance for me to get a drink, I suppose," said Rossiter with a wry smile.

"Do you need one?" asked Miss Dering saucily.

"I have a headache."

"A pick-me-up is what you want," said Dudley coldly.

"My dear sir, I haven't been drunk," remonstrated Rossiter sharply. His hearers laughed and he turned red but cold with resentment.

"See, Mr. Rollins, I have smoothed out your clothes and folded them," she said, pointing to her one-time couch. "I couldn't pack them in your trunk because you were sitting on it. Shall I help you now?"

"No, I thank you," he said ungraciously. "I can toss 'em in any old way."

He set about doing it without another word. His companions stood over near the window and conversed earnestly in words too low for him to distinguish. From the corner of his eye he could see that Dudley's face was hard and uncompromising, while hers was eager and imploring. The man was stubbornly objecting to something, and she was just as decided in an opposite direction.

"He's finding fault and she's trying to square it with him. Oh, my beauties, you'll have a hard time to shake off one Samuel Rossiter. They're suspicious--or he is, at least. Some one has tipped me off to them, I fancy."

"I'm sorry they are so badly mussed, Mr. Rollins, but they did make a very comfortable bed," she said, walking over to him. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were gleaming. "You are going to Eagle Nest to-day?"

"Just as soon as I can get a conveyance. There is a stage-coach at nine, Miss Dering."

"We will have room for you on our break," she said simply. Her eyes met his bravely and then wavered. Rossiter's heart gave a mighty leap.

"Permit me to second Miss Dering's invitation," said Dudley, coming over. The suggestion of a frown on his face made Rossiter only too eager to accept the unexpected invitation. "My aunt and Miss Crozier are outside with the coachman. You can have your luggage sent over in the stage. It is fourteen miles by road, so we should be under way, Mr. Rollins."

As Rossiter followed them across the platform he was saying to himself:

"Well, the game's on. Here's where I begin to earn my salary. I'll hang out my sign when I get back to New York: 'Police Spying. Satisfaction guaranteed. References given.' Hang it all, I hate to do this to her. She's an awfully good sort, and--and--But I don't like this damned Havens!"

Almost before he knew it he was being presented to two handsome, fashionably dressed young women who sat together in the rear seat of the big mountain break.

"Every cloud has its silver lining," Miss Dering was saying. "Let me present you to Mr. Dudley's aunt, Mrs. Van Haltford, and to Miss Crozier, Mr. Rollins."

In a perfect maze of emotions, he found himself bowing before the two ladies, who smiled distantly and uncertainly. Dudley's aunt? That dashing young creature his aunt? Rossiter was staggered by the boldness of the claim. He could scarce restrain the scornful, brutal laugh of derision at this ridiculous play upon his credulity. To his secret satisfaction he discovered that the entire party seemed nervous and ill at ease. There was a trace of confusion in their behavior. He heard Miss Dering explain that he was to accompany the party and he saw the poorly concealed look of disapproval and polite inquiry that went between the two ladies and Dudley. There was nothing for it, however, now that Miss Dering had committed herself, and he was advised to look to his luggage without delay.

He hurried into the station to arrange for the transportation of his trunk by stage, all the while smiling maliciously in his sleeve. Looking surreptitiously from a window he saw the quartet, all of them now on the break, arguing earnestly over--him, he was sure. Miss Dering was plaintively facing the displeasure of the trio. The coachman's averted face wore a half-grin. The discussion ended abruptly as Rossiter reappeared, but there was a coldness in the air that did not fail to impress him as portentous.

"I'm the elephant on their hands--the proverbial hot coal," he thought wickedly. "Well, they've got to bear it even if they can't grin." Then aloud cheerily: "All aboard! We're off!" He took his seat beside the driver. The events of the ensuing week are best chronicled by the reproduction of Rossiter's own diary or report, with liberties in the shape of an author's comments.

THURSDAY.

"Settled comfortably in Eagle Nest House. Devilish rugged and out-of-the-way place. Mrs. Van Haltford is called Aunt Josephine. She and Miss Debby Crozier have rooms on the third floor. Mine is next to theirs, Havens's is next to mine, and Mrs. Wharton has two rooms beyond his. We are not unlike a big family party. They're rather nice to me. I go walking with Aunt Josephine. I don't understand why I'm sandwiched in between Havens and Aunt Josephine. Otherwise the arrangement is neat. There is a veranda outside our windows. We sit upon it. Aunt Josephine is a great bluff, but she's clever. She's never napping. I've tried to pump her. Miss Crozier is harmless. She doesn't care. Havens never takes his eyes off Mrs. W. when they are together. She looks at him a good bit, too. They don't pay much attention to me. Aunt Josephine's husband is very old and very busy. He can't take vacations. Everybody went to bed early to-night. No evidence to-day."

FRIDAY NIGHT.

"Havens and Mrs. W. went hill-climbing this afternoon and were gone for an hour before I missed them. Then I took Aunt Jo and Debby out for a quick climb. Confound Aunt Jo! She got tired in ten minutes and Debby wouldn't go on without her. I think it was a put-up job. The others didn't return till after six. She asked me if I'd like to walk about the grounds after dinner. Said I would. We did. Havens went with us. Couldn't shake him to save my life."

SATURDAY NIGHT.

"I have to watch myself constantly to keep from calling her Mrs. Wharton. I believe writing her real name is bad policy. It makes me forget. After this I shall call her Miss Dering, and I'll speak of him as Dudley. This morning he asked me to call him 'Jim.' He calls me 'Sam.' Actors do get familiar. When she came downstairs to go driving with him this morning I'll swear she was the prettiest thing I ever saw. They took a lunch and were gone for hours. I'd like to punch his face. She was very quiet all evening, and I fancied she avoided me. I smelt liquor on his breath just before bedtime.

"_One A. M._--I thought everybody had gone to bed, but they are out there on the veranda talking. Just outside her windows. I distinctly heard him call her 'dearest.' Something must have alarmed them, for they parted abruptly. He walked the veranda for an hour, all alone. Plenty of evidence."

SUNDAY NIGHT.

"For appearance's sake he took Miss Crozier for a walk to-day. I went to the chapel down the hill with Miss Dering and Aunt Josephine. Aunt Josephine put a ten-dollar bill in the box. Thinks she's squaring herself with the Lord, I suppose. Miss Dering was not at all talkative and gave every sign of being uncomfortable because he had the audacity to go walking with another girl. In the afternoon she complained of being ill and went to her room. Later on she sent for Dudley and Mrs. Van Haltford. They were in her room all afternoon. I smoked on the terrace with Debby. She is the most uninteresting girl I ever met. But she's on to their game. I know it because she forgot herself once, when I mentioned Miss Dering's illness, and said: 'Poor girl! She is in a most trying position. Don't you think Mr. Dudley is a splendid fellow?' I said that he was very good-


The Purple Parasol - 4/7

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