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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 27
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The Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 27 Post by :Arina Category :Long Stories Author :Harold Macgrath Date :May 2012 Read :1048

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The Drums Of Jeopardy - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII

Champagne in the glass is a beautiful thing to see. So is water, the morning after. That is the fault with frolic; there is always an inescapable rebound. The most violent love drops into humdrum tolerance. A pessimist is only a poor devil who has anticipated the inevitable; he has his headache at the start. Mental champagnes have their aftermaths even as the juice of the grape.

Hawksley and Kitty, hurrying back, began to taste lees. They began to see things, too--menace in every loiterer, threat in every alley. They had had a glorious lark; somewhere beyond would be the piper with an appalling bill. They exaggerated the dangers, multiplied them; perhaps wisely. There would be no let-down in their vigilance until they reached haven. But this state of mind they covered with smiling masks, banter, bursts of laughter, and flashes of wit.

They were both genuinely frightened, but with unselfish fear. Kitty's fear was not for herself but for Johnny Two-Hawks. If anything happened the blame would rightly be hers. With that head he wasn't strictly accountable for what he did; she was. A firm negative on her part and he would never have left the apartment. And his fear was wholly for this astonishing girl. He had recklessly thrust her into grave danger. Who knew, better than he, the implacable hate of the men who sought to kill him?

Moreover, his strength was leaving him. There was an alarming weakness in his legs, purely physical. He had overdone, and if need rose he would not be able to protect her. Damnable fool! But she had known. That was the odd phase of it. She hadn't come blindly. What mood had urged her to share the danger along with the lark? Somehow, she was always just beyond his reach, this girl. He would never forget that fan popping out of the pistol, the egg burning in the pan.

The apartment was only three blocks away when Kitty decided to drop her mask. "I'd give a good deal to see a policeman. They are never around when you really want them. Johnny Two-Hawks, I'm a little fool! You wouldn't have left the apartment but for me. Will you forgive me?"

"It is I who should ask forgiveness. I say, how much farther is it?"

"Only about two blocks; but they may be long ones. Let's step into this doorway for a moment. I see a taxicab. It looks to be standing opposite the building. Don't like it. Suppose we watch it for a few minutes?"

Hawksley was grateful for the respite; and together they stared at the unwinking red eye of the tail light. But no man approached the cab or left it.

"I believe I've hit upon a plan," said Kitty. "Certainly we have not been followed. In that event they would have had a dozen chances. If someone saw us leave together, naturally they will expect us to return together. We'll walk to the corner of our block, then turn east; but I shall remain just out of sight while you will go round the block. Fifteen minutes should carry you to the south corner. I'll be on watch for you. The moment you turn I'll walk toward you. It will give us a bit of a handicap in case that taxi is a menace. If any one appears, run for it. Where's the cane you had?"

"What a jolly ass I am! I remember now. I left the stick against the wall of the opera house. Blockhead! With a stick, now!... I'm hopeless!"

"Never mind. Let's start. That taxi may be perfectly honest. It's our guilty consciences that are peopling the shadows with goblins. What really bothers us is that we have broken our word to the kindliest man in all this world."

Hawksley wondered if he could walk round the block without falling down. He saw that he was facing a physical collapse, hastened by the knowledge that the safety of the girl depended largely upon himself. What he had accepted at the beginning as strength had been nothing more than exhilaration and nerve energy. There was now nothing but the latter, and only feeble straws at that. Oh, he would manage somehow; he jolly well had to; and there was a bare chance of falling in with a bobby. But run? Honestly, now, how the devil was a chap to run on a pair of spools?

Arriving at the appointed spot they separated. He waved his hand airily and marched off. If he fell it would be out of sight, where the girl could not see him. Clever chap--what? Damned rotter! For himself he did not care. He was weary of this game of hide and seek. But to have lured the girl into it! When he turned the first corner of his journey he paused and leaned against the wall, his eyes shut. When he opened them the sidewalk and the street lamps were normal again.

As soon as he disappeared a new plan came to Kitty. She put it into execution at once, on the basis that yonder taxicab was an enemy machine. She left her retreat and walked boldly down the street, her eyes alert for the least suspicious sign. If she could make the entrance before they suspected the trick, she could obtain help before Johnny Two-Hawks made the south turn. She reached her objective, pushed through the revolving doors, and turned. Dimly she could see the taxi driver; but he appeared to be dozing on the seat.

As a matter of fact, one of the three men in the taxi recognized Kitty, but too late to intercept her. Her manoeuvre had confused him temporarily. And while he and his companions were debating, Kitty had time to summon Cutty's man from Elevator Four.

"Step into the car!" he roughly ordered, after she had given him a gist of her suspicions. He turned off the lights, stepped out, and shut the gates with a furious bang. "And stick to the corner! I'll attend to the other fool."

He rushed into the street, his automatic ready, eyed the taxicab speculatively, wheeled suddenly, and ran south at a dog-trot. He rounded the south corner, but he did not see Hawksley anywhere. The dog-trot became a dead run. As he wheeled round the corner of the parallel street he almost bumped into Hawksley, who had a policeman in tow.

"Officer," said the man with the boy's face, "this is Federal business. Aliens. Come along. There may be trouble. If there should be any shooting don't bother with the atmosphere. Pick out a real target."

"Anarchists?"

"About the size of it."

"Miss Conover?" asked Hawksley.

"Safe. No thanks to you, though. I'd like to knock your block off, if you want to know!"

"Do it! Damned little use to me," declared Hawksley, sagging.

"Here, what's the matter with you?" cried the policeman, throwing his arm round Hawksley.

"They nearly killed him a few days gone. A crack on the bean; but he wasn't satisfied. Help him along. I'll be hiking back."

But the taxicab was gone.

Before Cutty's lieutenant opened the gate to the apartment he spoke to Hawksley. "The boss is doing everything he can to put you through, sir. Miss Conover's wit saved you. For if you hadn't separated they'd have nailed you. I've been running round like a chicken with its head cut off. I forgot that door on the seventeenth floor. I tell you honestly, you've been playing with death. It wasn't fair to Miss Conover."

"It was my fault," volunteered Kitty.

"Mine," protested Hawksley.

"Well, they know where you roost now, for a fact. You've spilled the beans. I'm sorry I lost my temper. The devil fly away with you both!" The boy laughed. "You're game, anyhow. But darn it all, if anything had happened to you the boss would never have forgiven me. He's the whitest old scout God ever put the breath of life into. He's always doing something for somebody. He'd give you the block if you had the gall to ask for it. Play the game fifty-fifty with him and you'll land on both feet. And you, Miss Conover, must not come here again."

"I promise."

"I'll tell you a little secret. It was the boss who sent you out of town. He was afraid you'd do something like this. When you are ready to go home you'll find Tony Bernini downstairs. Sore as a crab, too, I'll bet."

"I'll be glad to go home with him," said Kitty, thoroughly chastened in spirit.

"That's all for to-night."

Kitty and Hawksley stepped out into the corridor, the problem they had sought to shake off reestablished in their thoughts, added too, if anything.

"How do you feel?"

"Top-hole," lied Hawksley. "My word, though, I wobbled a bit going round that block. I almost kissed the hobby. I say, he thought I'd been tilting a few. But it was a lark!"

"Dinner is served," announced Kuroki at their elbows. His expression was coldly bland.

"Dinner!" cried Hawksley, brightening. "What does the American soldier say?"

"Eats!" answered Kitty.

All tension vanished in the double laughter that followed. They approached dinner with something of the spirit that had induced Hawksley to fiddle and Kitty to pass the hat in front of the Metropolitan Opera House. Hawksley's recuperative powers promised well for his future. By the time coffee was served his head had cleared and his legs had resumed their normal functions of support.

"I was so infernally bored!"

"And now?" asked Kitty, recklessly.

"Fancy asking me that!"

"Do you realize that all this is dreadfully improper?"

"Oh, I say, now! Where's the harm? If ever there was a young woman capable of taking care of herself--"

"That isn't it. It's just being here alone with you."

"But you are not alone with me!"

"Kuroki?" Kitty shrugged.

"No. At my side of the table is Stefani Gregor; at yours the man who has befriended me."

"Thank you for that. I don't know of anything nicer you could say. But the outside world would see neither of our friends. I did not come here to see you."

"No need of telling me that."

"I had a problem--a very difficult one--to solve; and I believed that I might solve it if I came to these rooms. I had quite forgotten you."

Instantly, upon receiving this blunt explanation, he determined that she should never cease to remember him after this night. His vanity was not touched; it was something far more elusive. It was perhaps a recurrence of that inexplicable desire to hurt. Somehow he sensed the flexible steel behind which lay the soul of this baffling girl. He would presently find a chink in the armour with that old Amati.

Blows on the head have few surgical comparisons. That which kills one man only temporarily stuns another. One man loses his identity; another escapes with all his faculties and suffers but trifling inconvenience. In Hawksley's case the blow had probably restricted some current of thought, and that which would have flowed normally now shot out obliquely, perversely. It might be that the natural perverseness of his blood, unchecked by the noble influence of Stefani Gregor and liberated by the blow, governed his thoughts in relation to Kitty. The subjugation of women, the old cynical warfare of sex--the dominant business of his rich and idle forbears, the business that had made Boris Karlov a deadly and implacable enemy--became paramount in his disordered brain.

She had forgotten him! Very well. He would stir the soul of her, play with it, lift it to the stars and dash it down--if she had a soul. Beautiful, natural, alone. He became all Latin under the pressure of this idea.

"I will play for you," he said, quietly.

"Please! And then I'll go home where I belong. I'll be in the living room."

When he returned he found her before a window, staring at the myriad lights.

"Sit here," he said, indicating the divan. "I shall stand and walk about as I play."

Kitty sat down, touching the pillows, reflectively. She thought of the tears she had wept upon them. That sinister and cynical thought! Suddenly she saw light. Her problem would have been none at all if Cutty had said he loved her. There would have been something sublime in making him happy in his twilight. He had loved and lost her mother. To pay him for that! He was right. Those twenty-odd years--his seniority--had mellowed him, filled him with deep and tender understanding. To be with him was restful; the very thought of him now was resting. No matter how much she might love a younger man he would frequently torture her by unconscious egoism; and by the time he had mellowed, the mulled wine would be cold. If only Cutty had said he loved her!

"What shall I play?"

Kitty raised her eyes in frank astonishment. There was a fiercely proud expression on Hawksley's face. It was not the man, it was the artist who was angry.

"Forgive me! I was dreaming a little," she apologized with quick understanding. "I am not quite--myself."

"Neither am I. I will play something to fit your dream. But wait! When I play I am articulate. I can express myself--all emotions. I am what I play--happy, sad, gay, full of the devil. I warn you. I can speak all things. I can laugh at you, weep with you, despise you, love you! All in the touch of these strings. I warn you there is magic in this Amati. Will you risk it?"

Ordinarily--had this florid outburst come from another man--Kitty would have laughed. It had the air of piqued vanity; but she knew that this was not the interpretation. On the streets he had been the most amusing and surprising comrade she had ever known, as merry and whimsical as Cutty--young and handsome--the real man. He had been real that night when he entered through her kitchen window, with the drums of jeopardy about his neck. He had been real that night she had brought him his wallet.

Electric antagonism--the room seemed charged with it. The man had stepped aside for a moment and the great noble had taken his place. It was not because she had been reared in rather a theatrical atmosphere that she transcribed his attitude thus. She knew that he was noble. That she did not know his rank was of no consequence. Cutty's narrative, which she had pretended to believe, had set this man in the middle class. Never in this world. There was only one middle class out of which such a personality might, and often did, emerge--the American middle class. In Europe, never. No peasant blood, no middle-class corpuscle, stirred in this man's veins. The ancient boyar looked down at her.

"Play!" said Kitty. There was a smile on her lips, but there was fiery challenge in her slate-blue eyes. The blood of Irish kings--and what Irishman dares deny it?--surged into her throat.

We wear masks, we inherit generations of masks; and a trivial incident reveals the primordial which lurks in each one of us. Savages--Kitty with her stone hatchet and Hawksley swinging the curved blade of Hunk.

He began one of those tempestuous compositions, brilliant and bewildering, that submerge the most appreciative lay mentality--because he was angry, a double anger that he should be angry over he knew not what--and broke off in the middle of the composition because Kitty sat upright, stonily unimpressed.

Tschaikowsky's "Serenade Melancolique." Kitty, after a few measures, laid aside her stone hatchet, and her body relaxed. Music! She began to absorb it as parched earth absorbs the tardy rain. Then came the waltz which had haunted her. Her face grew tenderly beautiful; and Hawksley, a true artist, saw that he had discovered the fifth string; and he played upon it with all the artistry which was naturally his and which had been given form by the master who had taught him.

For the physical exertions he relied upon nerve energy again. Nature is generous when we are young. No matter how much we draw against the account she always has a little more for us. He forgot that only an hour gone he had been dizzy with pain, forgot everything but the glory of the sounds he was evoking and their visible reaction upon this girl. The devil was not only in his heart, but in his hand.

Never had Kitty heard such music. To be played to in this manner--directly, with embracing tenderness, with undivided fire--would have melted the soul of Gobseck the money lender; and Kitty was warm-blooded, Irish, emotional. The fiddle called poignantly to the Irish in her. She wanted to go roving with this man; with her hand on his shoulder to walk in the thin air of high places. Through it all, however, she felt vaguely troubled; the instinct of the trap. The sinister and cynical idea which had clandestinely taken up quarters in her mind awoke and assailed her from a new angle, that of youth. Something in her cried out: "Stop! Stop!" But her lips were mute, her body enchained.

Suddenly Hawksley laid aside the fiddle and advanced. He reached down and drew her up. Kitty did not resist him; she was numb with enchantment. He held her close for a second, then kissed her--her hair, eyes, mouth--released her and stepped back, a bantering smile on his lips and cold terror in his heart. The devil who had inspired this phase of the drama now deserted his victim, as he generally does in the face of superior forces.

Kitty stood perfectly still for a full minute, stunned. It was that smile--frozen on his lips--that brought her back to intimacy with cold realities. Had he asked her pardon, had he shown the least repentance, she might have forgiven, forgotten. But knowing mankind as she did she could give but one interpretation to that smile--of which he was no longer conscious.

Without anger, in quiet, level tones she said: "I had foolishly thought that we two might be friends. You have made it impossible. You have also abused the kindly hospitality of the man who has protected you from your enemies. A few days ago he did me the honour to ask me to marry him. I am going to. I wish you no evil." She turned and walked from the room.

Even then there was time. But he did not move. It was not until he heard the elevator gate crash that he was physically released from the thraldom of the inner revelation. Love--in the blinding flash of a thunderbolt! He had kissed her not because he was the son of his father, but because he loved her! And now he never could tell her. He must let her go, believing that the man she had saved from death had repaid her with insult. On top of all his misfortunes, his tragedies--love! There was a God, yes, but his name was Irony. Love! He stepped toward the divan, stumbled, and fell against it, his arms spread over the pillows; and in this position he remained.

For a while his thoughts were broken, inconclusive; he was like a man in the dark, groping for a door. Principally, his poor head was trying to solve the riddle of his never-ending misfortunes. Why? What had he done that these calamities should be piled upon his head? He had lived decently; his youth had been normal; he had played fair with men and women. Why make him pay for what his forbears had done? He wasn't fair game.

He! A singular revelation cleared one corner. Kitty had spoken of a problem; and he, by those devil-urged kisses, had solved it for her. She had been doddering, and his own act had thrust her into the arms of that old thoroughbred. That cynical suggestion of his the other morning had been acted upon. God had long ago deserted him, and now the devil himself had taken leave. Hawksley buried his face in the pillow once made wet with Kitty's tears.

The great tragedy in life lies in being too late. Hawksley had learned this once before; it was now being driven home again. Cutty was to find it out on the morrow, for he missed his train that night.

The shuttles of the Weaver in this pattern of life were two green stones called the drums of jeopardy, inanimate objects, but perfect tools in the hands of Destiny. But for these stones Hawksley would not have tarried too long on a certain red night; Cutty would not now be stumbling about the labyrinths into which his looting instincts had thrust him; and Kitty Conover would have jogged along in the humdrum rut, if not happy at least philosophically content with her lot.

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CHAPTER XXVIIIDecision is always a mental relief, hesitance a curse. Kitty, having shifted her burdens to the broad shoulders of Cutty, felt as she reached the lobby as if she had left storm and stress behind and entered calm. She would marry Cutty; she had published the fact, burned her bridges. She had stepped into the car, her heart full of cold fury. Now she began to find excuses for Hawksley's conduct. A sick brain; he was not really accountable for his acts. Her own folly had opened the way. Of course she would never see him again. Why should she?
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CHAPTER XXVIHawksley heard the lift door close, and he knew that at last he was alone. He flung out his arms, ecstatically. Free! He would see no more of that nagging beggar Ryan until tomorrow. Free to put into execution the idea that had been bubbling all day long in his head, like a fine champagne, firing his blood with reckless whimsicality. Quietly he stole down the corridor. Through a crack in the kitchen door he saw Kuroki's back, the attitude of which was satisfying. It signified that the Jap was pegging away at his endless studies and that only the
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