BANNERMANN pushed his chair a few inches, shifting his position so that he faced the window. Maitland, twisting the sticky stem of his liqueur glass, sat in silence waiting for the lawyer to speak. But the latter was in no hurry; his mood was rather contemplative and genial. Mad Maitland was known as a man thoroughly conversant with the art of ordering a dinner; that which they had just discussed had been exceptional. Bannermann drew pensively at his cigar and thought with fond regret of the salad; it was not every day that one's existence was gladdened by such a salad.
Maitland flicked the ash from his cigarette and his eyes followed the lawyer's gaze out through the open window. Because of the excessive heat the curtains were looped back and there was nothing to obstruct the view. Madison Square lay beneath, a wilderness of foliage here and there made vivid by electric lamps, its walks teeming with humanity, benches crowded, fountain splashing faintly in the distance. The whole was flanked by the towering hotels on Broadway, whence came the rumbling groan of the surface-cars like the tortured protest of a chained brute.
Again Maitland thought of the city, and of destiny, and the gray girl, the impress of whose hand was imprisoned beneath the brazen bowl in his study. For by now he was quite satisfied that she and none other had invaded the privacy of his apartments in his absence, obtaining entrance by means as indefinable as her motive. For the moment he was strongly tempted to take Bannermann into his confidence, but he resisted the impulse. Bannermann was so severely practical, and this business so madly whimsical and impossible. ... If she had made away with anything it would have been different. But -
"I'm waiting, old man," Maitland suggested. "What's up?"
Bannermann unwillingly put the salad out of mind and turned his attention to his client. "Oh, I don't know," he said, smiling, "I dare say you're thinking that 'a matter of pressing moment' that can wait a week can wait longer. It's nothing excessively important, perhaps; only I have been worried by your utterly careless habits, and dropped you that line on the impulse of the moment."
Maitland grinned. "What now?" he demanded. "Don't read me a lecture to-night. If that's what you've got on your chest, wait until some morning when I'm in the humor for it."
"No lecture," Bannermann laughed. "But - well, I've been wondering what you are going to do with the Maitland jewels."
"What? Oh, those things? They're safe enough - in the safe out at Greenfields."
"To be sure, quite safe." said the lawyer, with irony. "Oh, quite!" And he proceeded to take all Madison Square into his confidence, addressing it from the window: "Here's a young man, sole proprietor of a priceless collection of family heirlooms - diamonds, rubies, sapphires, galore - and he thinks they're safe enough in a safe in his country residence on Long Island, fifty miles from anywhere! What a simple, trustful soul it is!"
"Why should I bother?" argued Maitland sulkily. "It's a good, strong safe, and - and there are plenty of servants around," he concluded vaguely.
Precisely. Likewise plenty of burglars. You don't suppose a determined criminal like Anisty, for instance, would bother himself about a handful of thick-headed servants, do you?"
"Anisty?" with the rising inflection of inquiry.
Bannermann squared himself to face his host, elbows on table. "You don't mean to say you've not heard of Anisty, the great Anisty?" he demanded.
"I suppose I have," Maitland conceded, unperturbed. "Name sounds familiar, somehow.''
"Anisty," deliberately, "is said to be the greatest jewel thief the world has ever known. He has the police of America and Europe by the ears to catch him. They've been hot on his trail for the past three years and would have nabbed him a dozen times if only he'd had the grace to stay in one place long enough. He's the man who made off with the Bracegirdle diamonds, wrecking a burglar-proof-safe to get 'em - don't you remember?"
"Yes," Maitland admitted, "I recall that affair, now that you mention it. Well, what about Anisty?"
"Only what I have told you, together with the fact that a detective from the central office called on me some time ago, failing to find you at home and being directed to me by the janitor. He came to advise me that Anisty was believed to be in New York, and that it would be wise to put the Maitland jewels in a safe-deposit vault, if that had not already been done."
"Um-m-m," said Maitland. "They think Mr. Anisty has his eye on my property, eh?"
"It's a big enough haul to attract him," said the lawyer earnestly. "Anisty always aims high. ... Now will you do what I have been asking you to do for the past eight years?"
"Seven," corrected Maitland punctiliously. "It's just seven years since I entered into my inheritance and you became my counselor."
"Well, seven, then. Will you put those jewels in safe deposit?"
"Oh, I suppose so.''
"Will it suit you if I run out to Greenfields to-night?" Maitland demanded, so abruptly that Bannermann was disconcerted.
"I ask nothing better."
"I'll bring them in to your office to-morrow. You arrange about the vault, will you, like a good fellow?"
"Bless my soul! I never dreamed that you would be so - so -"
"Amenable to discipline?" Maitland grinned, boylike, and, leaning back, inspected Bannermann's startled expression with keen enjoyment. "Well, consider that for once you've scared me. I'm off - just time to catch the ten-twenty for Greenfields. Waiter!"
He scrawled his name at the bottom of the card presented to him, and arose.
"Sorry, Bannermann," he said, chuckling, "to cut short a pleasant evening. But you shouldn't frighten me so, you know. Pardon me if I run; I might miss that train."
"But there was something else -"
"It can wait."
"Take a later train, then."
"What! With this grave peril hanging over me! Impossible! 'Night."
Bannermann, discomfited, saw Maitland's shoulders disappear through the dining-room doorway, meditated pursuit, thought better of it and reseated himself, smiling.
"Mad Maitland, indeed!" he commented.
As for the gentleman so characterized, he emerged a moment later from the portals of the club, still chuckling mildly to himself as he struggled into a light evening overcoat. His temper, having run the gamut of boredom, interest, perturbation, mystification, and plain amusement, was now altogether inconsequential, a dangerous mood for Maitland. Standing on the corner of Twenty-Sixth Street, he thought it over, tapping the sidewalk gently with his cane. Should he or should he not carry out his intention as declared to Bannermann and go to Greenfields that same night, or should he keep his belated engagement with Cressy's party?
An errant cabby, cruising aimlessly but hopefully, sighted the tall figure with the white shirt-bosom from a distance and bore down with a gallant clatter of hoofs. "Kebsir?" he demanded breathlessly, pulling in at the corner.
Maitland came out of his reverie and looked up slowly. " Why, yes, thank you," said he amiably.
"Where to, sir?"
Maitland paused on the forward deck of the craft and faced about, looking the cabby squarely in the eye. "I leave that to you," he replied politely. "Just as you please."
The driver gasped.
"You see," Maitland continued with a courteous smile, "I have two engagements: one at Madeira's, the other with the ten-twenty train from Long Island City. What would you, as man to man, advise me to do, cabby?"
"Well, sir, seem' as you puts it to me straight," returned the cabby with engaging candor, "I'd go home, sir, if I was you, afore I got any worse."
"Thank you," gravely. "Long Island City depot, then, cabby." Maitland extended himself languidly upon the cushions. "Surely," he told the night, "the driver knows best - he and Bannermann."
They started jogging so sedately up Madison Avenue that Maitland glanced at his watch and elevated his brows dubiously; then with his stick poked open the trap in the roof of the vehicle. "If you really think it best for me to go home, cabby, you'll have to drive like hell," he suggested mildly.
"Yessir!" A whiplash cracked loudly over the horse's back, the hansom lurched into Thirty-Fourth Street on one wheel, and was presently jouncing eastward over rough cobbles at a pace which roused the gongs of surface-cars to a clangor of hysterical expostulation. In a trice the L extension was roaring overhead and the ferry-gates yawning before them. Again Maitland consulted his watch, commenting briefly: "In time."
Yet he reckoned without his ferry, one of whose employees deliberately and implacably swung the gates shut in the very face of the astonished cab-horse, which promptly rose upon its hind legs and pawed the air with gestures of exasperation. To no avail, however; the gates remained closed, the cabby (with language) reined his steed back a yard or two, and Maitland, lighting a cigarette, composed himself to simulate patience. Then followed a wait of ten minutes or so, during which a number of vehicles joined company with the cab; the passenger was vaguely aware of the soft, jarring purr of an automobile, like that of some huge cat in the immediate rear, a circumstance which he had occasion to recall before long.
At length the gates were opened again, the bridge cleared of incoming traffic, and Maitland's cabby drove aboard the ferry-boat, with nice consideration selecting the choicest stand of all well out upon the forward deck. A moment later a motor-car slid humming in on the right of the hansom.
Maitland sat forward, resting his arms on the apron, and jerked his cigarette out over the gates. The glowing stub described a fiery arc and took the water with a hiss. Warm whiffs of the river's moist and salty breath fanned his face gratefully and he became aware that there was a moon. His gaze roving at will, he nodded an even-tempered approbation of the night's splendor, in the city a thing unsuspected. Never, he thought, had he known moonlight so pure, so silvery and strong. The shadows of the collapsible gates fell along the forward deck as if stenciled in lampblack upon white marble. Beyond the boat's blunt, rounded nose the East River stretched its restless, dark reaches, glossy, black, woven with gorgeous ribbons of reflected light streaming from the pier-head lamps of the farther shore. Overhead the sky, a pallid and luminous blue around to low-swung moon, shaded to profound depths of bluish-black toward the horizon. Above Brooklyn rested a tenuous haze. A revenue cutter, a slim, pale shape, cut across the bows like a hunted ghost. Farther out a homeward bound excursion steamer, tier upon tier of glittering lights, drifted slowly toward a pier beneath the new bridge, the blare of its band swelling and dying upon the night-breeze.
Presently Maitland's attention was distracted and drawn by the abrupt cessation of its motor's pulsing to the automobile on his right. He lifted his chin sharply, narrowing his eyes, and whistled low; thereafter he had interest in nothing else. The car he saw with the experienced eye of a connoisseur was a recent model of one of the most expensive and popular foreign makes, built on lines that promised a deal of speed and equipped with engines pregnant with multiplied horse-power, all in all not the sort of car one would expect to see a lone woman operating, least of all after ten of a summer's night.
Nevertheless its single occupant was a woman and there was that in her bearing, an indefinable something - whether the carriage of her head and shoulders, which was spirited and independent, or a certain air of self-confidence and reliance to set Mad Maitland's pulses drumming with excitement. For, unless he labored gravely under a misapprehension, he was observing her for the second time within the past four hours. Could he be mistaken, or was this in truth the woman who had, as he believed, made herself free of his rooms that evening? There was the hue of her attire to confirm his suspicion: it was all gray. Her head and face were thoroughly well protected against inquisitive glances by a veil of misty gray, drawn in and daintily knotted beneath her chin; her hands, too - they were small - were hidden in light gauntlets of gray kid and a light wrap of gray linen, cut full and flowing, cloaked her figure completely.
But nothing could conceal the fact that she was quite small and girlishly slender, like the woman in the doorway, nor did aught temper the impersonal and detached composure of her bearing, also identical with that of the woman in the doorway. And, again, she was alone. ... Yes? Or, no? And if yes, what was he to do? Alight and accost her, accuse her of forcing an entrance to his rooms for the sole purpose, so far as he knew, of leaving him the outline of her hand in the dust of his desk's top? Hardly that. Maitland was daringly eccentric and careless of the world's opinion, but he scarcely cared either to be laughed at by the gray girl, or to he set upon and soundly pummeled by his fellow passengers for offering an insult to an unprotected woman.
He was still pondering ways and means when the boat, to his intense surprise, bumped into the Long Island City ferry-slip. "The devil!" exclaimed Maitland in dismay. He had been so absorbed with his problem that the passage from shore to shore had taken place without his knowledge. And now, he realized, it was too late to take any steps; in another five minutes at most the gray girl, with her attendant mystery, would have slipped away from him. Sulkily he resigned himself to the inevitable - saw the woman straighten up briskly as the boat stopped and, bending forward, start the motor. A little later, when the gates were open and the restraining chain down, he saw the car sweep away over the bridge and out of sight at a very considerable, even if lawful, rate of speed.
Whereupon Mr. Maitland, cursing his lack of inventiveness, paid off his cabby and, to that worthy's intense amazement, walked into the waiting-room without wavering a hairbreadth from the straight and narrow path of the sober in mind and body.
The ten-twenty had departed by a bare two minutes. The next and last train for Greenfields was to leave at ten-fifty-nine. Maitland, with assumed nonchalance, composed himself upon a bench in the waiting-room to endure the thirty-seven-minute interval. Five minutes later an able-bodied washerwoman with six children in quarter sizes descended upon the same bench, and the young man in desperation allowed himself to be dispossessed. The news-stand next attracting him, he garnered a fugitive amusement and twenty-four copper cents by the simple process of purchasing six "night extras," which he did not want, and paying for each with a five-cent piece. Comprehending, at length, that he had irritated the newsdealer, he meandered off, jingling his copper fortune in one hand, his newspapers in the other, and made a determined attack on a slot machine. The latter having vomited twenty-four assorted samples of chewing-gum and stale sweetmeats, Maitland returned to the washerwoman and sowed dissension in her brood by presenting the treasure-horde to the eldest girl with instructions to share it with her brothers and sisters.
It is difficult to imagine what folly might next have been recorded against him had not, at that moment, a ferocious and inarticulate howl from the train-starter announced the fact that the ten-fifty-nine was in waiting.
He settled himself as comfortably as he could in the smoker and endeavored to find surcease of ennui in his collection of extras. In vain; even a two column portrait of Mr. Dan Anisty, cracksman, accompanied by a lurid catalogue of that worthy's achievements in the field of polite burglary, hardly stirred his interest, and an elusive resemblance which he traced in the features of Mr. Anisty, as presented by the sketch-artists-on-the-spot to some one whom he, Maitland, had known in the dark backward and abysm of time, merely drew from him the comment: Homely brute!"
He laid the papers aside, cradling his chin in the palm of his hand and staring out of the car-window at a reeling and moon-smitten landscape. He yawned exhaustively, his thoughts astray between a girl garbed all in gray, Bannermann's earnest and thoughtful face, and the pernicious activities of Mr. Daniel Anisty, at whose door Maitland laid the responsibility for his most fatiguing errand.
The brakeman's wolf-like yelp, "Greenfields," was ringing in his ears when he awoke and stumbled down the aisle and car-steps just in the nick of time. The train, whisking around a curve cloaked by a belt of somber pines, left him quite alone in the world, thrown utterly on his own resources.
An hour had passed and it was mid-night. The moon rode high, a cold white disk upon a background of sapphire velvet. Its pellucid rays revealed with disheartening distinctiveness the dark and inanimate roadside hamlet called Greenfields - the general store and post-office, the hotel so-called, the straggling line of dilapidated habitations, all wrapt in silence profound and impenetrable. Not a belated villager was in sight; not even a dog barked; and it was a moral certainty that the local livery service had closed down for the night.
Nevertheless, Maitland, with a hardihood bred of desperation at the prospect of a five-mile tramp, spent some ten valuable minutes hammering upon the door of the house infested by the proprietor of the livery-stable. He succeeded only in waking the dog, and, inasmuch as he was not on friendly terms with that animal, withdrew at discretion and set his face northward upon the open road. It stretched before him invitingly enough, a silver ribbon winding between patches of pine and scrub-oak or fields lush with rustling corn and wheat. Having over come his primary disgust as the blood began to circulate more briskly in his veins, Maitland became aware that he was actually enjoying his enforced exercise. It could have been hardly otherwise with a night so sweet, with airs so bland, so fragrant of the woods and of fresh-turned earth, with so clear a light to define his way
He stepped out briskly at first, swinging his stick and watching his shadow, a squat, incredibly agitated silhouette in the golden dust. But gradually, insensibly, the peaceful influences of that still and lovely hour tempered his impatience, and he found himself walking at a pace more leisurely. After all, there was no hurry; he was unwearied, and Maitland Manor was less than five miles distant.
Thirty minutes passed and he had covered less than a third of the way, yet was content. By remembered landmarks he knew that he was close upon the little stream called, by courtesy, Myannis River, and, in due course, stepped out upon the long wooden structure that spans that water. He was close to the farther end when, upon a chance impulse, he glanced over the nearest guardrail down at the bed of the creek, and stopped incontinently, gaping. Stationary in the immediate center of the depression, hub-deep in the shallow waters, was an automobile - and the same automobile which had occupied his thoughts on the ferry-boat. Less wonderful, perhaps - but to him amazing enough - in the driver's seat was the girl in gray.
The succession of coincidences had hardened him; the first shock of surprise over, he stood in silent contemplation, interested but beyond capacity for astonishment. Evidently the girl had not heard his footsteps, deadened as they had been by the deep soft blanket of dust on the bed of the bridge. She sat motionless, apparently lost in reverie, temporarily unconscious of the embarrassing predicament which was hers. So complete, indeed, was her abstraction, that Maitland found himself speculating upon the reality of her. A wraith of the night she might well have seemed to him, a shimmer of gray as she was, slight and unsubstantial to behold, still as any mouse.
He noted that her veil was now raised, but her countenance remained so deeply shadowed by the visor of her mannish motoring-cap that he received only a dim and unsatisfactory impression of her features, but enticing, however dim. Maitland turned noiselessly, rested his elbows on the rail, and staring down framed a theory to account for her position, if not for her patience.
On either hand the road struck off at a tangent, down the banks and into the river-bed. It was plausible to presume that the girl had lost control of the machine and that, taking the bit between its teeth, it had swung gaily down the incline to its bath. Why she lingered there was, however, less patent. The water, as has been indicated, was some inches below the chassis of the car; it did not seem possible that it could have interfered with the running-gear or the motor.
At this point in Maitland's meditations the gray girl appeared to have arrived at a decision. She straightened up suddenly with a little resolute nod of her head, raised one small foot to her knee, and began to fumble with the laces of her shoe. Maitland grasped her intention to abandon the machine: she was determined to wade! Clearly then there had been a breakdown, irreparable so far as frail, feminine hands were concerned. After one shoe another would doubtless be removed, and then. ... The witness was moved to protest, out of sheer chivalry.
"Don't!" he cried hastily. "I say, don't wade!"
Her superb composure claimed his admiration. Absolutely ignorant though she had been of his proximity, the voice from out of the skies evidently alarmed her not at all. Still bending over the shoe she turned her head slowly and looked up.
"Oh!" said a small voice tinged with relief. Knotting the laces again, she sat up. "I didn't hear you, you know."
"Nor did I see you," Maitland supplemented unblushingly, "until a moment ago. I - er - can I be of assistance?"
"Idiot! " said Maitland severely, both to and of himself, then aloud: "I think I can."
"I hope so," doubtfully. "It's very unfortunate. I ... was running rather fast, I suppose, and didn't see the slope until too late. "Now," opening her hands with a gesture ingenuously charming with its suggestion of helplessness and dependence, "I don't see what can be the matter with the machine."
"I'm coming down," said Maitland briefly. "Wait."
"Thank you, I shall."
She laughed and Maitland could have blushed for the inanity of his caution; happily he had action to cloak his discomfiture. In a twinkling he was at the water's edge, pausing there to listen with admirable docility to her plaintive objection: "But you'll get wet and - and ruin your clothing. I can't ask that of you."
He chuckled, by way of reply slapping gallantly into the shallows and courageously wading out to the side of the tonneau. Whereupon he was warned, in tones of fluttered indignation: "You simply wouldn't listen to me! And I warned you! Now you're soaking wet and will catch your death of cold and - and what can I do? Truly I am sorry -"
Here the young man lost track of her remarks. He was looking up into the shadow of the motoring-cap, discovering things. The shadow was set at naught by the moonglare reflected from the surface of the stream, and the face that bent above him was invested with a gentle radiance. He caught his breath sharply, his direst fears confirmed. She was pretty, indeed perilously pretty. The firm, resolute chin, the sensitive sweet line of scarlet lips, the straight little nose, the brows delicately arched, the large, alert eyes with the dangerous shadows beneath them, the glint as of raw copper where her hair caught the light - Maitland appreciated them all far too well, and clutched nervously at the rail of the seat, trying to steady himself, to re-collect his whirling thoughts and consider sensibly that belike it all lay in the magic of the moon, this bewitching apparition that looked down upon him so gravely.
"Of course," he mumbled, "it's too wonderful to endure. Of course it will all fade away, vanish utterly in the cold light of day."
Above him perplexed brows gathered, "I beg pardon?"
"I - er - yes," he stammered at random.
"You - er - what?"
Positively she was laughing at him! He, Maitland the exquisite, Mad Maitland, the imperturbable, was being laughed at by a mere child, a girl scarcely out of her teens! He glanced upward, caught her eye agleam with merriment, and looked away with much dignity.
"I was saying," he manufactured, "that I did not mind the wetting in the least. I'm happy to be of service."
"You weren't saying anything of the sort," she contradicted calmly. "However -," She paused significantly.
Maitland experienced .an instantaneous sensation of furtive guilt, as though he had been caught in the wrong. It was the reverse of comfortable. He shuffled uneasily. There was a brief silence, on her part expectant, on his blank. His mental attitude was hopeless. For some mysterious reason his nonchalance had deserted him in the hour of need; not in all his experience did he remember anything like it - any situation as awkward.
The river purled indifferently about his calves; a vagrant breeze stirred the tree-tops and died of sheer lassitude; time plodded on with measured stride. Then, of a sudden, full-winged inspiration was born out of the chaos of his mind. Listening intently, he glanced with covert suspicion at the bridge; it proved untenanted and inoffensive of mien, nor was there any sound of hoof or wheel upon the roadway. Again he looked up at the girl and found her in thoughtful mood, frowning, regarding him steadily from beneath level brows.
He assumed a disarming levity of demeanor, smiling winningly. "There's only one way," he suggested - not too archly - and extended his arms.
"Indeed?" She considered him with pardonable dubiety.
He became as adamant. "I must carry you. It's the only way."
"Oh, indeed no! I - couldn't impose upon you. I'm - very heavy, you know -"
"Never mind," firmly insistent. "You can't stay here all night, of course."
"But are you sure?" She was yielding. "I don't like to -"
He shook his head, careful to restrain the twitching at the corners of his lips. "It will take but a moment," he urged gravely, "and I promise to be careful."
"Well -" She perceived that, if not right, he was stubborn, and with a final small gesture of deprecation weakly surrendered. "I'm sorry to be such a nuisance," she murmured, rising and gathering her skirts about her.
Maitland opened the door of the tonneau, stoutly denying the base insinuation: "I am only too glad -" She balanced herself lightly upon the step, while he moved nearer and assured himself of a firm foothold on the pebbly river-bed. She sank gracefully into his arms, proving a considerable burden - weightier, in fact, than he had anticipated. He was somewhat staggered; it seemed that he embraced countless yards of ruffles and things ballasted with, at a shrewd guess, lead. He swayed, then, recovering his equilibrium incautiously glanced into her eyes, and lost it again, completely.
"I was mistaken," he told himself; "daylight will but enhance -"
She held herself considerately still, perhaps wondering why he made no move. But perhaps she didn't wonder. There is reason to believe that she may have suspected - being a woman. At length, "Is there anything I can do," she inquired meekly, "to make it easier for you?"
"I'm afraid," he replied, attitude apologetic, "that I must ask you to put your arm around my ne - my shoulders. It would be more natural."
The monosyllable was heavy with meaning, with any one of a dozen meanings, in truth. Maitland debated the most obvious. Did she imagine he had insinuated that it was his habit to ferry armfuls of attractive femininity over rocky fords by the light of a midnight moon? No matter. While he thought it out, she was consenting, and a slender arm was passed around his neck. As though he had waited only for that, he began to wade cautiously shoreward. The distance lessened perceptibly. He contemplated the decreasing interval without joy, for all that she was of an appreciable weight; there are compensations for all burdens.
Unconsciously, inevitably her head sank toward his shoulder; he was aware of her breath, fragrant and warm, upon his cheek. He stopped abruptly, cold chills running up and down his back, and gritted his teeth and shuddered. "What is the matter?" she demanded, deeply concerned but at pains not to stir.
Maitland made a strange noise with his tongue behind clenched teeth. "Urrrrgh," he said distinctly. She lifted her head, startled, and relief followed, intense and instantaneous.
"I'm sorry," he said humbly, face aflame, "but you - tickled."
"I'm - so - sorry," she gasped, violently agitated for an instant. Then she laughed, a low, almost silent little laugh, as with deft fingers she tucked away the errant lock of hair.
"Ass!" Maitland told himself fiercely, striding forward.
In another moment they were on dry land. The girl slipped from his arms and faced him, eyes dancing, cheeks crimson, lips a tense, quivering line. He met this phase with a rueful smile.
"But - thank you - but," she gasped explosively, "it was so funny!"
Wounded dignity melted before her laughter. For a time, there in the moonlight, under the scornful regard of the disabled motor-car's twin headlights, those two rocked and shrieked, while the silent night flung back disdainfully echoes of their mad laughter. Perhaps the insane incongruity of their performance was first apparent to the girl; she, at all events, first controlled herself. Maitland subsided, rumbling, while she dabbed at her eyes with a wisp of lace and linen.
"Forgive me," she said faintly, at length; "I didn't mean to -"
"How could you help it? Who'd expect a hulking brute like myself to be ticklish?"
"You are awfully good," she countered more calmly.
"Don't say that. I'm a clumsy lout. But -" He held her gaze inquiringly, "but may I ask -?"
"Oh, of course - certainly. I am - was - bound for Greenpoint-on-the-Sound -"
"Ten miles!" he interrupted.
The corners of her lips drooped, her brows puckered with dismay. Instinctively she glanced toward the waterbound car. "What am I to do?" she cried. "Ten miles! ... I could never walk it, never in the world! You see, I went to town to-day to do a little shopping. As we were coming home my chauffeur was arrested for careless driving. He had bumped a delivery-wagon - it wasn't really his fault. I telephoned home for money to bail him out and my father said he would bring it in. Then I dined, returned to the police-station, and waited. Nobody came. I couldn't stay there all night. I phoned to everybody I knew, until my money gave out, but not one was in town. At last I started home, alone."
Maitland nodded comprehension. "Your father -?" he hinted delicately.
"Judge Erastus Wentworth," she explained hastily. "We have rented the Grover place at Greenpoint for the season."
"I see," thoughtfully. And this was the girl who he had believed had been in his rooms that evening, in his absence! Oh, clearly, that was impossible. Her tone rang clear with truth -
She interrupted his train of thought with a cry of despair. "What will they think!"
"I dare say," he ventured hopefully, "that I could hire a team at some farm-house -"
"But the delay! It's so late already!"
Undeniably late - one o'clock at the earliest. Maitland regarded her thoughtfully, then, without a word, turned and again began to wade out.
"What are you going to do?" she cried, surprised.
"See what's the trouble," he called back. "I know a little about motors. Perhaps -"
"Then - but why -" She stopped; and Maitland forebore to encourage her to complete her question. It was not difficult for him to supply the missing words. Why had he not thought of investigating the motor before insisting that he must carry her ashore?
The humiliating conviction forced itself upon him that he was not appearing to great advantage in this adventure. The feeling was distinctly humiliating; ordinarily he was by way of having a fine conceit in himself. It requires a certain amount of egotism to enable one to play the exquisite to one's personal satisfaction. Maitland had enjoyed the possession of that certain amount and hitherto his satisfaction in self had been passably complete. Now, he could not deny, the boor had shown himself beneath the polish of the exquisite. Intolerable thought! "Cad!" exclaimed Maitland bitterly. It was all due to hasty jumping at conclusions; if he had not chosen to believe a young and charming girl identical with an - an adventuress, this thing had not happened, he had still retained his own good will. For one little moment he despised himself heartily - one little moment of clear insight into self was his. Forthwith he began to meditate an apology, formulating phrases that should prove adequate without sounding exaggerated.
He had reached the car and, through sheer, blundering luck, at once stumbled upon the seat of trouble, a clogged valve in the carbureter. It was no serious matter; with the assistance of a repair kit he had the valve clear in a jiffy. News of this triumph he shouted to the girl, receiving in reply an "Oh, thank you!" so fervently grateful that he felt more guilty than ever.
Ruminating unhappily on the cud of his contemplated apology he waded around the car, satisfying himself that there was nothing else out of gear, and apprehensively cranked up. The motor began to hum contentedly. All was well. Maitland, flushed with this success, climbed into the driver's seat and opened the throttle a trifle. The car moved. Then, with a swish, a gurgle, and a watery whoosh, it surged forward, up, out of the river, gallantly up the slope. At the top the amateur chauffeur shut down the throttle and jumped out, turning to face the girl in gray. She was by the step almost before he could offer his hand to help her in. As she paused to thank him, it became evident that she harbored little, if any, resentment; eyes shining, face aglow with delight, she dropped him a droll little courtesy.
"You are too good!" she declared with spirit. "How can I thank you?"
"You might," he suggested, looking down into her face from his superior height, "give me a bit of a lift - just a couple of miles up the road. Though," he supplemented eagerly, "if you'd really prefer, I should be only too happy to drive the car home for you."
"Two miles, did you say?"
He fancied something odd in her tone; besides, the question was superfluous. His forehead was wrinkled with wonder as he replied, "Why, yes - that much, more or less. I live -"
"Of course," she put in quickly, "I'll give you a lift - only too glad. But as for your taking me home at this hour, I can't hear of it."
"Besides, what would they say?" she countered obstinately. " Oh, no," she decided, and he felt that from her decision there would be no appeal. "I couldn't think of interfering with your arrangements."
Her eyes held his for a single instant, instinct with mischief, gleaming with bewildering light from out a face schooled to gravity. Maitland experienced a sensation of having grasped after and missed a subtle allusion. His wits, keen as they were, recoiled, baffled by her finesse. And the more he divined that she was playing with him, as an experienced swordsman might with an impertinent novice, the greater became his confusion.
"But I have no other arrangements -" he stammered.
"Don't!" she insisted - as if he were fabricating and she knew it! "We must hurry, you know, because - There, I've dropped my handkerchief - by the tree there. Do you mind -?"
"Of course not." He set off swiftly toward the point indicated, but on reaching it cast about vainly for anything in the nature of a handkerchief. In the midst of his futile quest a change in the impatient drumming of the motor surprised him. Startled, he looked up. Too late! The girl was in the seat, the car in motion, already some yards from the point at which he had left it. Dismayed he strode forward, raising his voice in perturbed expostulation. "But - I say - !"
Over the rear of the seat a gray gauntlet was waved at him, as tantalizing as the mocking laugh that came to his ears. He paused, thunderstruck, appalled by this monstrosity of ingratitude. The machine gathered impetus, drawing swiftly away. Yet in the stillness the farewell of the gray girl came to him very clearly. "Good-by!" with a laugh. "Thank you and good-by - Handsome Dan!"