The Black Bag Part 54

"Precious few. There was another motor from Scotland Yard trailing Captain Stryker's. If they had run past, or turned aside, they would have been overhauled in short order."

He relapsed into his whimsical reverie; the wistful look returned to his eyes, replacing the glow of triumph and pleasure. And he sighed a little regretfully.

"What I don't understand," contended Kirkwood, "is how you convinced Calendar that he couldn't get revenge by pressing his charge against Miss Calendar--Dorothy."

"Oh-h?" Mr. Brentwick elevated his fine white eyebrows and sat up briskly.

"My dear boy, that was the most delectable dish on the entire menu. I have been reserving it, I don't mind owning, that I might better enjoy the full relish of it.... I may answer you best, perhaps, by asking you to scan what I offered to the fat scoundrel's respectful consideration, my dear sir."

He leveled a forefinger at the card.

At first glance it conveyed nothing to the younger man's benighted intelligence. He puzzled over it, twisting his brows out of alignment.

An ordinary oblong slip of thin white cardboard, it was engraved in fine script as follows:



"Oh!" exclaimed Kirkwood at length, standing up, his face bright with understanding. "_You_--!"

"I," laconically assented the elder man.

Impulsively Kirkwood leaned across the table. "Dorothy," he said tenderly; and when the girl's happy eyes met his, quietly drew her attention to the card.

Then he rose hastily, and went over to stand by the window, staring mistily into the blank face of night beyond its unseen panes.

Behind him there was a confusion of little noises; the sound of a chair pushed hurriedly aside, a rustle of skirts, a happy sob or two, low voices intermingling; sighs.... Out of it finally came the father's accents.

"There, there, my dear! My dearest dear!" protested the old gentleman.

"Positively I don't deserve a tithe of this. I--" The young old voice quavered and broke, in a happy laugh.... "You must understand," he continued more soberly, "that no consideration of any sort is due me. When we married, I was too old for your mother, child; we both knew it, both believed it would never matter. But it did. By her wish, I went back to America; we were to see what separation would do to heal the wounds dissension had caused. It was a very foolish experiment. Your mother died before I could return...."

There fell a silence, again broken by the father. "After that I was in no haste to return. But some years ago, I came to London to live. I communicated with the old colonel, asking permission to see you. It was refused in a manner which precluded the subject being reopened by me: I was informed that if I persisted in attempting to see you, you would be disinherited.... He was very angry with me--justly, I admit.... One must grow old before one can see how unforgivably one was wrong in youth.... So I settled down to a quiet old age, determined not to disturb you in your happiness.... Ah--Kirkwood!"

The old gentleman was standing, his arm around his daughter's shoulders, when Kirkwood turned.

"Come here, Philip; I'm explaining to Dorothy, but you should hear.... The evening I called on you, dear boy, at the Pless, returning home I received a message from my solicitors, whom I had instructed to keep an eye on Dorothy's welfare. They informed me that she had disappeared. Naturally I canceled my plans to go to Munich, and stayed, employing detectives. One of the first things they discovered was that Dorothy had run off with an elderly person calling himself George Burgoyne Calendar--the name I had discarded when I found that to acknowledge me would imperil my daughter's fortune.... The investigations went deeper; Charles--let us continue to call him--had been to see me only this afternoon, to inform me of the plot they had discovered. This Hallam woman and her son--it seems that they were legitimately in the line of inheritance, Dorothy out of the way. But the woman was--ah--a bad lot. Somehow she got into communication with this fat rogue and together they plotted it out. Charles doesn't believe that the Hallam woman expected to enjoy the Burgoyne estates for very many days. Her plan was to step in when Dorothy stepped out, gather up what she could, realize on it, and decamp. That is why there was so much excitement about the jewels: naturally the most valuable item on her list, the most easy to convert into cash.... The man Mulready we do not place; he seems to have been a shady character the fat rogue picked up somewhere. The latter's ordinary line of business was diamond smuggling, though he would condescend to almost anything in order to turn a dishonest penny....

"That seems to exhaust the subject. But one word more.... Dorothy, I am old enough and have suffered enough to know the wisdom of seizing one's happiness when one may. My dear, a little while ago, you did a very brave deed. Under fire you said a most courageous, womanly, creditable thing. And Philip's rejoinder was only second in nobility to yours.... I do hope to goodness that you two blessed youngsters won't let any addlepated scruples stand between yourselves and--the prize of Romance, your inalienable inheritance!"

Abruptly Brentwick, who was no longer Brentwick, but the actual Calendar, released the girl from his embrace and hopped nimbly toward the door.

"Really, I must see about that petrol!" he cried. "While it's perfectly true that Charles lied about it's running out, we must be getting on. I'll call you when we're ready to start."

And the door crashed to behind him....

Between them was the table. Beyond it the girl stood with head erect, dim tears glimmering on the lashes of those eyes with which she met Philip's steady gaze so fearlessly.

Singing about them, the silence deepened. Fascinated, though his heart was faint with longing, Kirkwood faltered on the threshold of his kingdom.

"Dorothy!... You did mean it, dear?"

She laughed, a little, low, sobbing laugh that had its source deep in the hidden sanctuary of her heart of a child.

"I meant it, my dearest.... If you'll have a girl so bold and forward, who can't wait till she's asked but throws herself into the arms of the man she loves--Philip, I meant it, every word!..."

And as he went to her swiftly, round the table, she turned to meet him, arms uplifted, her scarlet lips a-tremble, the brown and bewitching lashes drooping over her wondrously lighted eyes....

After a time Philip Kirkwood laughed aloud.

And there was that quality in the ring of his laughter that caused the Shade of Care, which had for the past ten minutes been uneasily luffing and filling in the offing and, on the whole, steadily diminishing and becoming more pale and wan and emaciated and indistinct--there was that in the laughter of Philip Kirkwood, I say, which caused the Shade of Care to utter a hollow croak of despair as, incontinently, it vanished out of his life.

Chapter end

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