heavens!" he said, appalled, and dropped his suit case with
are you d-doing—" She controlled her voice and the wavering
weapon with an effort. "What are you doing in this house?"
In this house?" he repeated, his eyes protruding in the direction
of the unsteady pistol muzzle. "What are you doing in this
house—if you don't mind saying!"
m-must ask you to put up your hands," she said. "If you
move I shall certainly s-shoot off this pistol."
will go off, anyway, if you handle it like that!" he said,
exasperated. "What do you mean by pointing it at me?"
to fire it off in a few moments if you don't raise your hands above
at the pistol; it was new and shiny; he looked at the athletic young
figure silhouetted against the brilliant light.
if you make a point of it, of course." He slowly held up both
hands, higher, then higher still. "Upon my word!" he breathed.
"Held up by a woman!" And he said aloud, bitterly: "No
doubt you have assistance close at hand."
doubt," she said coolly. "What have you been packing into
into what? Oh, into that suit case? That is my suit case."
course it is," she said quietly, "but what have you inside
you or your friends would care for," he said meaningly.
be the judge of that," she retorted. "Please open that
can I if my hands are in the air?" he expostulated, now intensely
interested in the novelty of being held up by this graceful and
vaguely pretty silhouette.
may lower your arms to unpack the suit case," she said.
had rather not if you are going to keep me covered with your pistol."
course I shall keep you covered. Unpack your booty at once!"
do you take me for a thief? Have you, by chance, entered the wrong
house? I—I cannot reconcile your voice with what I am forced
to consider you—a housebreaker—"
will discuss that later. Unpack that bag!" she insisted.
there is nothing in it except samples of marble—"
she exclaimed nervously. "What did you say? Samples of marble?"
madam! Georgia marble!"
So you are the young man who goes about pretending to peddle Georgia
marble from samples! Are you? The famous marble man I have heard
Madam, I don't know what you mean!"
she said scornfully; "let me see the contents of that suit
case. I—I am not afraid of you; I am not a bit afraid of you.
And I shall catch your accomplice, too."
you speak like an honest woman! You must have managed to enter the
wrong house. This is number thirty-eight, where I live."
is number thirty-six; my house!"
I know it is number thirty-eight; Mr. Lee's house," he protested
hopefully. "This is some dreadful mistake."
Lee's house is next door," she said. "Do you not suppose
I know my own house? Besides, I have been warned against a plausible
young man who pretends he has Georgia marble to sell—"
is a dreadful mistake somewhere," he insisted. "Please
p-p-put up your p-pistol and aid me to solve it. I am no robber,
madam. I thought at first that you were. I'm living in Mr. Lee's
house, No. 38 East Eighty-third Street, and I've looked carefully
at the number over the door of this house and the number is thirty-eight,
and the street is East Eighty-third. So I naturally conclude that
I am in Mr. Lee's house."
arguments and your conclusions are very plausible," she said,
"but, fortunately for me, I have been expressly warned against
a young man of your description. You are the marble man!"
a mistake! A very dreadful one."
how did you enter this house?"
a key—I mean I found the front door unlatched. Please don't
misunderstand me; I know it sounds unconvincing, but I really have
a key to number thirty-eight."
to reach for his pocket and the pistol glittered in his face.
you let me prove my innocence?" he asked.
can't prove it by showing me a key. Besides, it's probably a weapon.
Anyhow, if, as you pretend, you have managed to get into the wrong
house, why did you bring that suit case up here?"
was here. It's mine. I left it here in this passageway."
my house?" she asked incredulously.
number thirty-eight; that is all I know. I'll open the suit case
if you will let me. I have already described its contents. If it
has samples of marble in it you must be convinced!"
will convince me that it is your valise. But what of that? I know
it is yours already," she said defiantly. "I know, at
least, that you are the marble man—if nothing worse!"
malefactors don't go about carrying samples of Georgia marble,"
he protested, dropping on one knee under the muzzle of her revolver
and tugging at the straps and buckles. In a second or two he threw
open the case—and the sight of the contents staggered him.
For there, thrown in pellmell among small square blocks of polished
marble was a complete kit of burglar's tools, including also a mask,
a dark lantern, and a blackjack.
on earth is this?" he stammered. "These things don't belong
to me. I won't have them! I don't want them. Who put them into my
suit case? How the deuce—"
are the marble man!" she said with a shudder. "Your crimes
are known! Your wretched accomplice will be caught! You are the
marble man—or something worse!"
there, aghast, bewildered, he passed his hand across his eyes as
though to clear them from some terrible vision. But the suit case
was still there with its incriminating contents when he looked again.
sorry for you," she said tremulously. "I—if it were
not for the marble—I would let you go. But you are the marble
and I'm probably a madman, too. I don't know what I am! I don't
know what is happening to me. I ought to be going, that is all I
let you go."
I must! I've got to catch a train."
of his excuse chilled her pity.
not let you go," she said, resting the hand which held the
pistol on her hip, but keeping him covered. "I know you came
to rob my house; I know you are a thoroughly bad and depraved young
man, but for all that I could find it in my heart to let you go
if you were not also the marble man!"
on earth is the marble man?" he asked, exasperated.
know. I have been earnestly warned against him. Probably he is a
relative of my butler—"
not a relative of anybody's butler!"
say you are not. How do I know? I—I will make you an offer.
I will give you one last chance. If you will return to me the jewels
that my butler took—"
heavens, madam! Do you really take me for a professional burglar?"
can I help it?" she said indignantly. "Look at your suit
case full of lanterns and masks—full of marble, too!"
he stared at the burglar's kit.
sorry—" Her voice had altered again to a tremulous sweetness.
"I can't help feeling sorry for you. You do not seem to be
hardened; your voice and manner are not characteristically criminal.
I—I can't see your face very clearly, but it does not seem
to be a brutally inhuman face—"
desire to laugh seized Kerns; he struggled against it; hysteria
lay that way; and he covered his face with both hands and pinched
mistook the action for the emotion of shame and despair born of
bitter grief; perhaps of terror of the law. It frightened her a
little, but pity dominated. She could scarcely endure to do what
she must do.
is dreadful, dreadful!" she faltered. "If you only would
give me back my jewels—"
smothered, escaped him. She believed them to be groans, and it made
her slightly faint.
simply got to telephone for the police," she said pityingly.
"I must ask you to sit down there and wait—there is a
chair. Sit there—and please don't move, for I—this has
unnerved me—I am not accustomed to doing cruel things; and
if you should move too quickly or attempt to run away I feel certain
that this pistol would explode."
you going to telephone?" he asked.
away, cautiously, pistol menacing him, reached for the receiver,
and waited for Central. She waited a long time before she realized
that the telephone as well as the electric light was out of commission.
you cut all these wires?" she demanded angrily.
out and pressed the electric button which should have rung a bell
in her maid's bedroom on the top floor. She kept her finger on the
button for ten minutes. It was useless.
laid deliberate plans to rob this house," she said, her cheeks
pink with indignation. "I am not a bit sorry for you. I shall
not let you go! I shall sit here until somebody comes to my assistance,
if I have to sit here for weeks and weeks!"
you'd let me telephone to my club—" he began.
club! You are very plausible. You didn't offer to call up any club
until you found that the telephone was not working!"
a moment. "I don't suppose you would trust me to go out and
get a policeman?"
go into the front room and open a window and summon some passer-by?"
do I know you haven't confederates waiting outside?"
true," he said seriously.
a silence. Her nerves seemed to trouble her, for she began to pace
to and fro in front of the passageway where he sat comfortably on
his chair, arms folded, one knee dropped over the other.
being behind her he could not as yet distinguish her features very
clearly. Her figure was youthful, slender, yet beautifully rounded;
her head charming in contour. He watched her restlessly walking
on the floor, small hand clutching the pistol resting on her hip.
burnished glimmer on the edges of her hair he supposed, at first,
was caused by the strong light behind her.
"This is atrocious!" she murmured,
halting to confront him. "How dared you sever every electric
connection in my house?"
As she spoke
she stepped backward a pace or two, resting herself for a moment
against the footboard of the bed—full in the gaslight. And
he saw her face.
For a moment
he studied her; an immense wave of incredulity swept over him—of
wild unbelief, slowly changing to the astonishment of dawning conviction.
Astounded, silent, he stared at her from his shadowy corner; and
after a while his pulses began to throb and throb and hammer, and
the clamoring confusion of his senses seemed to deafen him.
is atrocious,' she murmured, halting to confront him."
a moment or two against the footboard of the bed, her big gray eyes
fixed on his vague and shadowy form.
won't do," she said.
he said, "it won't do."
very quietly, very gently. She detected the alteration in his voice
and started slightly, as though the distant echo of a familiar voice
did you say?" she asked, coming nearer, pistol glittering in
'It won't do.' I don't know what I meant by it. If I meant anything
I was wrong. It will do. The situation is perfectly agreeable to
will not help you," she said sharply. And under the sharpness
he detected the slightest quaver of a new alarm.
going to free myself," he said coolly.
you move I shall certainly shoot!" she retorted.
going to move—but only my lips. I have only to move my lips
to free myself."
scarcely advise you to trust to your eloquence. I have been duly
warned, you see."
warned you?" he asked curiously. And, as she disdained to reply:
"Never mind. We can clear that up later. Now let me ask you
are scarcely in a position to ask questions," she said.
I not speak to you?"
a moment. "No, not necessary. Nothing is in this life, you
know. I thought differently once. Once—when I was younger—six
years younger—I thought happiness was necessary. I found that
a man might live without it."
gazing at him through the shadows, pistol on hip.
do you mean?" she asked.
that happiness is not necessary to life. Life goes on all the same.
My life has continued for six years without that happiness which
some believe to be essential."
After a silence
she said: "I can tell by the way you speak that you are well
born. I—I dread to do what I simply must do."
sat silent a long time—long enough for an utterly perverse
and whimsical humor to take complete possession of him.
you let me go—this time?" he pleaded.
had better let me go while you can," he said, "because,
perhaps, you may find it difficult to get rid of me later."
she shrank back from the doorway and stood in the center of her
room, angry, disdainful, beautiful, under the ruddy glory of her
mood changed, too; he leaned forward, studying her minutely—the
splendid gray eyes, the delicate mouth and nose, the full, sweet
lips, the witchery of wrist and hand, and the flowing, rounded outline
of limb and body under the pretty gown. Could this be she? This
lovely, mature woman, wearing scarcely a trace of the young girl
he had never forgotten—scarcely a trace save in the beauty
of her eyes and hair—save in the full, red mouth, sweet and
sensitive even in its sudden sullenness?
he said, and his voice sounded to him like voices heard in dreams—"once,
years and years ago, there was a steamer, and a man and a young
girl on board. Do you mind my telling you about it?"
leaning against the footboard of the bed, not even deigning to raise
her eyes in reply. So he made the slightest stir in his chair; and
then she looked up quickly enough, pistol poised.
steamer," said Kerns slowly, "was coming into Southampton—six
years ago. On deck these two people stood—a man of twenty-eight,
a girl of eighteen—six years ago. The name of the steamer
was the Carnatic. Did you ever hear of that ship?"
She was looking
at him attentively. He waited for her reply; she made none; and
he went on.
man had asked the girl something—I don't know what—I
don't know why her gray eyes filled with tears. Perhaps it was because
she could not do what the man asked her to do. It may have been
to love him; it may have been that he was asking her to marry him
and that she couldn't. Perhaps that is why there were tears in her
eyes—because she may have been sorry to cause him the pain
of refusal—sorry, perhaps, perhaps a little guilty. Because
she must have seen that he was falling in love with her, and she—she
let him—knowing all the time that she was to marry another
man. Did you ever hear of that man before?"
She had straightened
up, quivering, wide eyed, lips parted. He rose and walked slowly
into her room, confronting her under the full glare of light.
fell clattering to the floor. It did not explode because it was
he said unsteadily, "will you give me my freedom? I have waited
for it—not minutes—but years—six years. I ask
it now—the freedom I enjoyed before I ever saw you. Can you
give it back to me? Can you restore to me a capacity for happiness?
Can you give me a heart to love with—love some woman, as other
men love? Is it very much I ask of you—to give me a chance
in life—the chance I had before I ever saw you?"
Her big gray
eyes seemed fascinated; he looked deep into them, smiling; and she
you give me what I ask?" he said, still smiling.
to speak; she could not, but her eyes never faltered. Suddenly the
color flooded her neck and cheeks to the hair, and the quick tears
did not understand; I was too young to be cruel," she faltered.
"How could I know what I was doing? Or what—what you
Did you think that I escaped heart free? Do you realize what my
punishment was—to—to marry—and remember! If I
was too young, too inexperienced to know what I was doing, I was
not too young to suffer for it!"
mean—" He strove to control his voice, but the sweet,
fearless gray eyes met his; the old flame leaped in his veins. He
reached out to steady himself and his hand touched hers—that
soft, white hand that had held him all these years in the hollow
of its palm.
you ever love me?" he demanded.
wet with tears, met his straight as the starry gaze of a child.
tightened over hers; she swayed a moment, quivering from head to
foot; then drawing a quick, sobbing breath, closed her eyes, imprisoned
in his arms; and, after a long while, aroused, she looked up at
him, her divine eyes unclosing dreamily.
is hammering at the front door," he breathed. "Listen!"
I believe it must be the Tracer of Lost Persons."
a Mr. Keen."
said Kerns faintly, and covered his face with her fragrant hands.
very gravely, she drew her hands away, and, laying them on his shoulders,
looked up at him.
know what there is in your suit case," she faltered; "are
you a burglar, dear?"
the Tracer of Lost Persons," said Kerns gently, "what
sort of a criminal I am!"
together for one blissful moment listening to the loud knocking
below, then, hand in hand, they descended the dark stairway to admit
the Tracer of Lost Persons.