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- The Man on the Box - 40/44 -
"He speaks truly," said the colonel. "It is his."
"The hour of madness is past," the Russian began, slowly and musically. The tone was musing. He seemed oblivious of his surroundings and that three pairs of curious eyes were leveled in his direction. He studied the note, creased it, drew it through his fingers, smoothed it and caressed it. "And I should have done exactly as I threatened. There is, then, a Providence which watches jealously over the innocent? And I was a skeptic!... Two hundred thousand dollars,"--picking up the packet of banknotes and balancing it on his hand. "Well, it is a sum large enough to tempt any man. How the plans and schemes of men crumble to the touch! Ambition is but the pursuit of mirages.... Mademoiselle, you will never know what the ignominy of this moment has cost me--nor how well I love you. I come of a race of men who pursue their heart's desire through fire and water. Obstacles are nothing; the end is everything. In Europe I should have won, in honor or in dishonor. But this American people, I do not quite understand them; and that is why I have played the villain to no purpose."
He paused, and a sad, bitter smile played over his face.
"Mademoiselle," he continued, "henceforth, wherever I may go, your face and the sound of your voice shall abide with me. I do not ask you to forget, but I ask you to forgive." Again he paused.
She uttered no sound.
"Well, one does not forget nor forgive these things in so short a time. And, after all, it was your own father's folly. Fate threw him across my path at a critical moment--but I had reckoned without you. Your father is a brave man, for he had the courage to offer himself to the law; I have the courage to give you up. I, too, am a soldier; I recognize the value of retreat." To Warburton he said: "A groom, a hostler, to upset such plans as these! I do not know who you are, sir, nor how to account for your timely and peculiar appearance. But I fully recognize the falseness of your presence here. Eh, well, this is what comes of race prejudice, the senseless battle which has always been and always will be waged between the noble and the peasant. Had I observed you at the proper time, our positions might relatively have been changed. Useless retrospection!" To Annesley: "Sir, we are equally culpable. Here is this note of yours. I might, as a small contribution toward righting the comparative wrong which I have done you, I might cast it into the fire. But between gentlemen, situated as we are, the act would be as useless as it would be impossible. I might destroy the note, but you would refuse to accept such generosity at my hands,--which is well."
"What you say is perfectly true." The colonel drew his daughter closer to him.
"So," went on the count, putting the note in his pocket, "to-morrow I shall have my ducats."
"My bank will discount the note," said the colonel, with a proud look; "my indebtedness shall be paid in full."
"As I have not the slightest doubt. Mademoiselle, fortune ignores you but temporarily; misfortune has brushed only the hem of your garment, as it were. Do not let the fear of poverty alarm you,"--lightly. "I prophesy a great public future for you. And when you play that _Largo_ of Handel's, to a breathless audience, who knows that I may not be hidden behind the curtain of some stall, drinking in the heavenly sound made by that loving bow?.... Romance enters every human being's life; like love and hate, it is primitive. But to every book fate writes _finis_."
He thrust the bank-notes carelessly into his coat pocket, and walked slowly toward the hallway. At the threshold he stopped and looked back. The girl could not resist the magnetism of his dark eyes. She was momentarily fascinated, and her heart beat painfully.
"If only I might go with the memory of your forgiveness," he said.
"I forgive you."
"Thank you." Then Karloff resolutely proceeded; the portiere fell behind him. Shortly after she heard the sound of closing doors, the rattle of a carriage, and then all became still. Thus the handsome barbarian passed from the scene.
The colonel resumed his chair, his arm propped on a knee and his head bowed in his hand. Quickly the girl fell to her knees, hid her face on his breast, and regardless of the groom's presence, silently wept.
"My poor child!" faltered the colonel. "God could not have intended to give you so wretched a father. Poverty and dishonor, poverty and dishonor; I who love you so well have brought you these!"
Warburton, biting his trembling lips, tiptoed cautiously to the window, opened it and stepped outside. He raised his fevered face gratefully to the icy rain. A great and noble plan had come to him.
As Mrs. Chadwick said, love is magnificent only when it gives all without question.
A FINE LOVER
Karloff remained in seclusion till the following Tuesday; after that day he was seen no more in Washington. From time to time some news of him filters through the diplomatic circles of half a dozen capitals to Washington. The latest I heard of him, he was at Port Arthur. It was evident that Russia valued his personal address too highly to exile him because of his failure in Washington. Had he threatened or gone about noisily, we should all have forgotten him completely. As it is, the memory of him to-day is as vivid as his actual presence. Thus, I give him what dramatists call an agreeable exit.
I was in the Baltimore and Potomac station the morning after that unforgetable night at Senator Blank's house. I had gone there to see about the departure of night trains, preparatory to making a flying trip to New York, and was leaving the station when a gloved hand touched me on the arm. The hand belonged to Mrs. Chadwick. She was dressed in the conventional traveling gray, and but for the dark lines under her eyes she would have made a picture for any man to admire. She looked tired, very tired, as women look who have not slept well.
"Good morning, Mr. Orator," she said, saluting me with a smile.
"You are going away?" I asked, shaking her hand cordially.
"'Way, 'way, away! I am leaving for Nice, where I expect to spend the winter. I had intended to remain in Washington till the holidays; but I plead guilty to a roving disposition, and I frequently change my mind."
"Woman's most charming prerogative," said I, gallantly.
What a mask the human countenance is! How little I dreamed that I was jesting with a woman whose heart was breaking, and numbed with a terrible pain!
Her maid came up to announce that everything was ready for her reception in the state-room, and that the train was about to draw out of the station. Mrs. Chadwick and I bade each other good-by. Two years passed before I saw her again.
At eleven o'clock I returned to my rooms to pack a case and have the thing off my mind. Tramping restlessly up and down before my bachelor apartment house I discerned M'sieu Zhames. His face was pale and troubled, but the angle of his jaw told me that he had determined upon something or other.
"Ha!" I said railingly. He wore a decently respectable suit of ready- made clothes. "Lost your job and want me to give you a recommendation?"
"I want a few words with you, Chuck, and no fooling. Don't say that you can't spare the time. You've simply _got_ to."
"With whom am I to talk, James, the groom, or Warburton, the gentleman?"
"You are to talk with the man whose sister you are to marry."
I became curious, naturally. "No police affair?"
"No, it's not the police. I can very well go to a lawyer, but I desire absolute secrecy. Let us go up to your rooms at once."
I led the way. I was beginning to desire to know what all this meant.
"Has anybody recognized you?" I asked, unlocking the door to my apartment.
"No; and I shouldn't care a hang if they had."
Warburton flung himself into a chair and lighted a cigar. He puffed it rapidly, while I got together my shaving and toilet sets.
"Start her up," said I.
"Chuck, when my father died he left nearly a quarter of a million in five per cents; that is to say, Jack, Nancy and I were given a yearly income of about forty-five hundred. Nancy's portion and mine are still in bonds which do not mature till 1900. Jack has made several bad investments, and about half of his is gone; but his wife has plenty, so his losses do not trouble him. Now, I have been rather frugal during the past seven years. I have lived entirely upon my Army pay. I must have something like twenty-five thousand lying in the bank in New York. On Monday, between three and four o'clock, Colonel Annesley will become practically a beggar, a pauper."
"What?" My shaving-mug slipped from my hand and crashed to the floor, where it lay in a hundred pieces.
"Yes. He and his daughter will not have a roof of their own: all gone, every stick and stone. Don't ask me any questions; only do as I ask of you." He took out his check-book and filled out two blanks. These he handed to me. "The large one I want you to place in the
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