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- The Purple Parasol - 6/7 -
savage desire to kill the other man and to denounce the woman. Pacing the grounds about the hotel, he soon worked himself into a fever, devilish in its hotness. More than once he passed them, and it was all he could do to refrain from springing upon them. At length he did what most men do: he took a drink. Whisky flew down his throat and to his brain. In his mind's eye he saw her in the other's arms--and he could bear it no longer! Rushing to his room, he threw himself on the bed and cursed.
"Good heaven! I love her! I love her better than all the world! I can't stay here and see any more of it! By thunder, I'll go back to New York and they can go to the devil! So can old Wharton! And so can Grover & Dickhut!"
He leaped to his feet, dashed headlong to the telegraph office downstairs, and ten minutes later this message was flying to Grover & Dickhut:
Get some one else for this job. I'm done with it. Coming home.--SAM.
"I'm coming on the first train, too," muttered the sender, as he hurried up-stairs. "I can pack my trunk for the night stage. I'd like to say good- by to her, but I can't--I couldn't stand it. What's the difference? She won't care whether I go or stay--rather have me go. If I were to meet her now I'd--yes, by George--kiss her! It's wrong to love her, but--"
There was nothing dignified about the manner in which big Sam Rossiter packed his trunk. He fairly stamped the clothing into it and did a lot of other absurd things. When he finally locked it and yanked out his watch his brow was wet and he was trembling. It had taken just five minutes to do the packing. His hat was on the back of his head, his collar was melting, and his cigar was chewed to a pulp. Cane and umbrella were yanked from behind the door and he was ready to fly. The umbrella made him think of a certain parasol, and his heart grew still and cold with the knowledge that he was never to carry it again.
"I hope I don't meet any of 'em," he muttered, pulling himself together and rushing into the hall. A porter had already jerked his trunk down the stair steps.
As he hastened after it he heard the swish of skirts and detected in the air a familiar odor, the subtle scent of a perfume that he could not forget were he to live a thousand years. The next moment she came swiftly around a corner in the hall, hurrying to her rooms. They met and both started in surprise, her eyes falling to his travelling-bag, and then lifting to his face in bewilderment. He checked his hurried flight and she came quite close to him. The lights in the hall were dim and the elevator car had dropped to regions below.
"Where are you going?" she asked in some agitation.
"I am going back to New York," he answered, controlling himself with an effort. She was so beautiful, there in the dim hallway.
"To-night?" she asked in very low tones.
"In half an hour."
"And were you going without saying good-by to--to us?" she went on rapidly.
He looked steadily down into her solemn eyes for a moment and an expression of pain, of longing, came into his own.
"It couldn't make any difference whether I said good-by to you, and it would have been hard," he replied unsteadily.
"Hard? I don't understand you," she said.
"I didn't want to see you. Yes, I hoped to get away before you knew anything about it. Maybe it was cowardly, but it was the best way," he cried bitterly.
"What do you mean?" she cried, and he detected alarm, confusion, guilt in her manner.
"You know what I mean. I know everything--I knew it before I came here, before I saw you. It's why I am here, I'm ashamed to say. But, have no fear--have no fear! I've given up the job--the nasty job--and you can do as you please. The only trouble is that I have been caught in the web; I've been trapped myself. You've made me care for you. That's why I'm giving it all up. Don't look so frightened--I'll promise to keep your secret."
Her eyes were wide, her lips parted, but no words came; she seemed to shrink from him as if he were the headsman and she his victim.
"I'll do it, right or wrong!" he gasped suddenly. And in an instant his satchel clattered to the floor and his arms were straining the slight figure to his breast. Burning lips met hers and sealed them tight. She shivered violently, struggled for an instant in his mad embrace, but made no outcry. Gradually her free arm stole upward and around his neck and her lips responded to the passion in his. His kiss of ecstasy was returned. The thrill of joy that shot through him was almost overpowering. A dozen times he kissed her. Unbelieving, he held her from him and looked hungrily into her eyes. They were wet with tears.
"Why do you go? I love you!" she whispered faintly.
Then came the revulsion. With an oath he threw her from him. Her hands went to her temples and a moan escaped her lips.
"Bah!" he snarled. "Get away from me! Heaven forgive me for being as weak as I've been to-night!"
"Sam!" she wailed piteously.
"Don't tell me anything! Don't try to explain! Be honest with one man, at least!"
"You must be insane!" she cried tremulously.
"Don't play innocent, madam. I _know_." In abject terror she shrank away from him. "But I have kissed you! If I live a thousand years I shall not forget its sweetness."
He waved his hands frantically above her, grabbed up his suit-case and traps, and, with one last look at the petrified woman shrinking against the wall under the blasts of his vituperation, he dashed for the stairway. And so he left her, a forlorn, crushed figure.
Blindly he tore downstairs and to the counter. He hardly knew what he was doing as he drew forth his pocket-book to pay his account.
"Going away, Mr. Rollins?" inquired the clerk, glancing at the clock. It was eleven-twenty and the last stage-coach left for Fossingford at eleven-thirty, in time to catch the seven o'clock down train.
"Certainly," was the excited answer.
"A telegram came a few moments ago for you, sir, but I thought you were in bed," and the other tossed a little envelope out to him. Mechanically Rossiter tore it open. He was thinking of the cowering woman in the hallway and he was cursing himself for his brutality.
He read the despatch with dizzy eyes and drooping jaw, once, twice, thrice. Then he leaned heavily against the counter and a coldness assailed his heart, so bitter that he felt his blood freezing. It read:
What have you been doing? The people you were sent to watch sailed for Europe ten days ago.
GROVER & DICKHUT.
The paper fell from his trembling fingers, but he regained it, natural instinct inspiring a fear that the clerk would read it.
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
"Bad news, Mr. Rollins?" asked the clerk sympathetically, but the stricken, bewildered man did not answer.
What did it mean? A vast faintness attacked him as the truth began to penetrate. Out of the whirling mystery came the astounding, ponderous realization that he had blundered, that he had wronged her, that he had accused her of--Oh, that dear, stricken figure in the hallway above!
He leaped to the staircase. Three steps at a time he flew back to the scene of the miserable tragedy. What he thought, what he felt as he rushed into the hallway can only be imagined. She was gone--heartbroken, killed! And she had kissed him and said she loved him!
A light shone through the transoms over the doors that led into her apartments. Quaking with fear, he ran down the hall and beat a violent tattoo upon her parlor door. Again he rapped, crazed by remorse, fear, love, pity, shame, and a hundred other emotions.
"Who is it?" came in stifled tones from within.
"It is I--Rossiter--I mean Rollins! I must see you--now! For pity's sake, let me in!"
"How dare you--" she began shrilly; but he was not to be denied.
"If you don't open this door I'll kick it in!" he shouted. "I must see you!"
After a moment the door flew open and he stood facing her. She was like a queen. Her figure was as straight as an arrow, her eyes blazing. But there had been tears in them a moment before.
"Another insult!" she exclaimed, and the scorn in her voice was withering. He paused abashed, for the first time realizing that he had hurt her beyond reparation. His voice faltered and the tears flew to his eyes.
"I don't know what to say to you. It has been a mistake--a frightful mistake--and I don't know whether you'll let me explain. When I got downstairs I found this telegram and--for heaven's sake, let me tell you the wretched story. Don't turn away from me! You shall listen to me if I have to hold you!" His manner changed suddenly to the violent, imperious forcefulness of a man driven to the last resort.
"Must I call for help?" she cried, thoroughly alarmed, once more the weak woman, face to face, as she thought, with an insane man.
"I love you better than my own life, and I've hurt you terribly. I'm not crazy, Helen! But I've been a fool, and I'll go crazy if you don't give me a chance to explain."
Whether she gave the chance or no he took it, and from his eager, pleading lips raced the whole story of his connection with the Wharton affair from first to last.
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