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The Black Bag Part 10

"Lor, lumme!" cried the fellow in amaze, pivoting on his heel. Cupidity and quick understanding enlivened the eyes which in two glances looked Kirkwood up and down, comprehending at once both his badly rumpled hat and patent-leather shoes. "S'help me,"--thickly,--"where'd you drop from, guvner?"

"That's my affair," said Kirkwood briskly. "Are you engaged?"

"If you mykes yerself my fare," returned the cabby shrewdly, "I _ham_."

"Ten shillings, then, if you get us out of here in one minute and to--say--Hyde Park Corner in fifteen."

"Us?" demanded the fellow aggressively.

Kirkwood motioned toward the passageway. "There's a lady with me--there.

Quick now!"

Still the man did not move. "Ten bob," he bargained; "an' you runnin' awye with th' stuffy ol' gent's fair darter? Come now, guvner, is it gen'rous?

Myke it a quid an'--"

"A pound then. _Will_ you hurry?"

By way of answer the fellow scrambled hastily up to the box and snatched at the reins. "_Ck_! Gee-e hup!" he cried sonorously.

By now the mews had wakened to the fact of the presence of a "toff" in its midst. His light topcoat and silk hat-rendered him as conspicuous as a red Indian in war-paint would have been on Rotten Row. A cry of surprise was raised, and drowned in a volley of ribald inquiry and chaff.

Fortunately, the cabby was instant to rein in skilfully before the passageway, and Kirkwood had the door open before the four-wheeler stopped.

The girl, hugging her cloak about her, broke cover (whereat the hue and cry redoubled), and sprang into the body of the vehicle. Kirkwood followed, shutting the door. As the cab lurched forward he leaned over and drew down the window-shade, shielding the girl from half a hundred prying eyes. At the same time they gathered momentum, banging swiftly, if loudly out of the mews.

An urchin, leaping on the step to spy in Kirkwood's window, fell off, yelping, as the driver's whiplash curled about his shanks.

The gloom of the tunnel inclosed them briefly ere the lights of the Hog-in-the-Pound flashed by and the wheels began to roll more easily.

Kirkwood drew back with a sigh of relief.

"Thank God!" he said softly.

The girl had no words.

Worried by her silence, solicitous lest, the strain ended, she might be on the point of fainting, he let up the shade and lowered the window at her side.

She seemed to have collapsed in her corner. Against the dark upholstery her hair shone like pale gold in the half-light; her eyes were closed and she held a handkerchief to her lips; the other hand lay limp.

"Miss Calendar?"

She started, and something bulky fell from the seat and thumped heavily on the floor. Kirkwood bent to pick it up, and so for the first time was made aware that she had brought with her a small black gladstone bag of considerable weight. As he placed it on the forward seat their eyes met.

"I didn't know--" he began.

"It was to get that," she hastened to explain, "that my father sent me ..."

"Yes," he assented in a tone indicating his complete comprehension. "I trust ..." he added vaguely, and neglected to complete the observation, losing himself in a maze of conjecture not wholly agreeable. This was a new phase of the adventure. He eyed the bag uneasily. What did it contain? How did he know ...?

Hastily he abandoned that line of thought. He had no right to infer anything whatever, who had thrust himself uninvited into her concerns--uninvited, that was to say, in the second instance, having been once definitely given his conge. Inevitably, however, a thousand unanswerable questions pestered him; just as, at each fresh facet of mystery disclosed by the sequence of the adventure, his bewilderment deepened.

The girl stirred restlessly. "I have been thinking," she volunteered in a troubled tone, "that there is absolutely no way I know of, to thank you properly."

"It is enough if I've been useful," he rose in gallantry to the emergency.

"That," she commented, "was very prettily said. But then I have never known any one more kind and courteous and--and considerate, than you." There was no savor of flattery in the simple and direct statement; indeed, she was looking away from him, out of the window, and her face was serious with thought; she seemed to be speaking of, rather than to, Kirkwood. "And I have been wondering," she continued with unaffected candor, "what you must be thinking of me."

"I? ... What should I think of you, Miss Calendar?"

With the air of a weary child she laid her head against the cushions again, face to him, and watched him through lowered lashes, unsmiling.

"You might be thinking that an explanation is due you. Even the way we were brought together was extraordinary, Mr. Kirkwood. You must be very generous, as generous as you have shown yourself brave, not to require some sort of an explanation of me."

"I don't see it that way."

"I do ... You have made me like you very much, Mr. Kirkwood."

He shot her a covert glance--causelessly, for her _naivete_ was flawless.

With a feeling of some slight awe he understood this--a sensation of sincere reverence for the unspoiled, candid, child's heart and mind that were hers. "I'm glad," he said simply; "very glad, if that's the case, and presupposing I deserve it. Personally," he laughed, "I seem to myself to have been rather forward."

"No; only kind and a gentleman."

"But--please!" he protested.

"Oh, but I mean it, every word! Why shouldn't I? In a little while, ten minutes, half an hour, we shall have seen the last of each other. Why should I not tell you how I appreciate all that you have unselfishly done for me?"

"If you put it that way,--I'm sure I don't know; beyond that it embarrasses me horribly to have you overestimate me so. If any courage has been shown this night, it is yours ... But I'm forgetting again." He thought to divert her. "Where shall I tell the cabby to go this time, Miss Calendar?"

"Craven Street, please," said the girl, and added a house number. "I am to meet my father there, with this,"--indicating the gladstone bag.

Kirkwood thrust head and shoulders out the window and instructed the cabby accordingly; but his ruse had been ineffectual, as he found when he sat back again. Quite composedly the girl took up the thread of conversation where it had been broken off.

"It's rather hard to keep silence, when you've been so good. I don't want you to think me less generous than yourself, but, truly, I can tell you nothing." She sighed a trace resentfully; or so he thought. "There is little enough in this--this wretched affair, that I understand myself; and that little, I may not tell ... I want you to know that."

"I understand, Miss Calendar."

"There's one thing I may say, however. I have done nothing wrong to-night, I believe," she added quickly.

"I've never for an instant questioned that," he returned with a qualm of shame; for what he said was not true.

"Thank you ..."

The four-wheeler swung out of Oxford Street into Charing Cross Road.

Kirkwood noted the fact with a feeling of some relief that their ride was to be so short; like many of his fellow-sufferers from "the artistic temperament," he was acutely disconcerted by spoken words of praise and gratitude; Miss Calendar, unintentionally enough, had succeeded only in rendering him self-conscious and ill at ease.

Nor had she fully relieved her mind, nor voiced all that perturbed her.

"There's one thing more," she said presently: "my father. I--I hope you will think charitably of him."

"Indeed, I've no reason or right to think otherwise."

Chapter end

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