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The Black Bag Part 2

"Yes?" Kirkwood looked the man over with more interest, less matter-of-course courtesy.

He proved not unprepossessing, this unclassifiable Mr. Calendar; he was dressed with some care, his complexion was good, and the fullness of his girth, emphasized as it was by a notable lack of inches, bespoke a nature genial, easy-going and sybaritic. His dark eyes, heavy-lidded, were active--curiously, at times, with a subdued glitter--in a face large, round, pink, of which the other most remarkable features were a mustache, close-trimmed and showing streaks of gray, a chubby nose, and duplicate chins. Mr. Calendar was furthermore possessed of a polished bald spot, girdled with a tonsure of silvered hair--circumstances which lent some factitious distinction to a personality otherwise commonplace.

His manner might be best described as uneasy with assurance; as though he frequently found it necessary to make up for his unimpressive stature by assuming an unnatural habit of authority. And there you have him; beyond these points, Kirkwood was conscious of no impressions; the man was apparently neutral-tinted of mind as well as of body.

"So you knew I was an American, Mr. Calendar?" suggested Kirkwood.

"'Saw your name on the register; we both hail from the same neck of the woods, you know."

"I didn't know it, and--"

"Yes; I'm from Frisco, too."

"And I'm sorry."

Mr. Calendar passed five fat fingers nervously over his mustache, glanced alertly up at Kirkwood, as if momentarily inclined to question his tone, then again stared glumly into the fire; for Kirkwood had maintained an attitude purposefully colorless. Not to put too fine a point upon it, he believed that his caller was lying; the man's appearance, his mannerisms, his voice and enunciation, while they might have been American, seemed all un-Californian. To one born and bred in that state, as Kirkwood had been, her sons are unmistakably hall-marked.

Now no man lies without motive. This one chose to reaffirm, with a show of deep feeling: "Yes; I'm from Frisco, too. We're companions in misfortune."

"I hope not altogether," said Kirkwood politely.

Mr. Calendar drew his own inferences from the response and mustered up a show of cheerfulness. "Then you're not completely wiped out?"

"To the contrary, I was hoping you were less unhappy."

"Oh! Then you are--?"

Kirkwood lifted the cable message from the mantel. "I have just heard from my partner at home," he said with a faint smile; and quoted: "'Everything gone; no insurance.'"

Mr. Calendar pursed his plump lips, whistling inaudibly. "Too bad, too bad!" he murmured sympathetically. "We're all hard hit, more or less."

He lapsed into dejected apathy, from which Kirkwood, growing at length impatient, found it necessary to rouse him.

"You wished to see me about something else, I'm sure?"

Mr. Calendar started from his reverie. "Eh? ... I was dreaming. I beg pardon. It seems hard to realize, Mr. Kirkwood, that this awful catastrophe has overtaken our beloved metropolis--"

The canting phrases wearied Kirkwood; abruptly he cut in. "Would a sovereign help you out, Mr. Calendar? I don't mind telling you that's about the limit of my present resources."

"Pardon _me_." Mr. Calendar's moon-like countenance darkened; he assumed a transparent dignity. "You misconstrue my motive, sir."

"Then I'm sorry."

"I am not here to borrow. On the other hand, quite by accident I discovered your name upon the register, down-stairs; a good old Frisco name, if you will permit me to say so. I thought to myself that here was a chance to help a fellow-countryman." Calendar paused, interrogative; Kirkwood remained interested but silent. "If a passage across would help you, I--I think it might be arranged," stammered Calendar, ill at ease.

"It might," admitted Kirkwood, speculative.

"I could fix it so that you could go over--first-class, of course--and pay your way, so to speak, by, rendering us, me and my partner, a trifling service."

"Ah?"

"In fact," continued Calendar, warming up to his theme, "there might be something more in it for you than the passage, if--if you're the right man, the man I'm looking for."

"That, of course, is the question."

"Eh?" Calendar pulled up suddenly in a full-winged flight of enthusiasm.

Kirkwood eyed him steadily. "I said that it is a question, Mr. Calendar, whether or not I am the man you're looking for. Between you and me and the fire-dogs, I don't believe I am. Now if you wish to name your _quid pro quo_, this trifling service I'm to render in recognition of your benevolence, you may."

"Ye-es," slowly. But the speaker delayed his reply until he had surveyed his host from head to foot, with a glance both critical and appreciative.

He saw a man in height rather less than the stock size six-feet so much in demand by the manufacturers of modern heroes of fiction; a man a bit round-shouldered, too, but otherwise sturdily built, self-contained, well-groomed.

Kirkwood wears a boy's honest face; no one has ever called him handsome. A few prejudiced persons have decided that he has an interesting countenance; the propounders of this verdict have been, for the most part, feminine.

Kirkwood himself has been heard to declare that his features do not fit; in its essence the statement is true, but there is a very real, if undefinable, engaging quality in their very irregularity. His eyes are brown, pleasant, set wide apart, straightforward of expression.

Now it appeared that, whatever his motive, Mr. Calendar had acted upon impulse in sending his card up to Kirkwood. Possibly he had anticipated a very different sort of reception from a very different sort of man. Even in the light of subsequent events it remains difficult to fathom the mystery of his choice. Perhaps Fate directed it; stranger things have happened at the dictates of a man's Destiny.

At all events, this Calendar proved not lacking in penetration; men of his stamp are commonly endowed with that quality to an eminent degree. Not slow to reckon the caliber of the man before him, the leaven of intuition began to work in his adipose intelligence. He owned himself baffled.

"Thanks," he concluded pensively; "I reckon you're right. You won't do, after all. I've wasted your time. Mine, too."

"Don't mention it."

Calendar got heavily out of his chair, reaching for his hat and umbrella.

"Permit me to apologize for an unwarrantable intrusion, Mr. Kirkwood." He faltered; a worried and calculating look shadowed his small eyes. "I _was_ looking for some one to serve me in a certain capacity--"

"Certain or questionable?" propounded Kirkwood blandly, opening the door.

Pointedly Mr. Calendar ignored the imputation. "Sorry I disturbed you.

G'dafternoon, Mr. Kirkwood."

"Good-by, Mr. Calendar." A smile twitched the corners of Kirkwood's too-wide mouth.

Calendar stepped hastily out into the hall. As he strode--or rather, rolled--away, Kirkwood maliciously feathered a Parthian arrow.

"By the way, Mr. Calendar--?"

The sound of retreating footsteps was stilled and "Yes?" came from the gloom of the corridor.

"Were you ever in San Francisco? Really and truly? Honest Injun, Mr.

Calendar?"

For a space the quiet was disturbed by harsh breathing; then, in a strained voice, "Good day, Mr. Kirkwood"; and again the sound of departing footfalls.

Kirkwood closed the door and the incident simultaneously, with a smart bang of finality. Laughing quietly he went back to the window with its dreary outlook, now the drearier for lengthening evening shadows.

"I wonder what his game is, anyway. An adventurer, of course; the woods are full of 'em. A queer fish, even of his kind! And with a trick up his sleeve as queer and fishy as himself, no doubt!"

Chapter end

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