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Elusive Isabel By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 7981

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Mr. Grimm was chatting idly with Se?orita Rodriguez, daughter of the minister from Venezuela, the while he permitted his listless eyes to wander aimlessly about the spacious ball-room of the German embassy, ablaze with festooned lights, and brilliant with a multi-colored chaos of uniforms. Gleaming pearl-white, translucent in the mass, were the bare shoulders of women; and from far off came the plaintive whine of an orchestra, a pulsing sense rather than a living sound, of music, pointed here and there by the staccato cry of a flute. A zephyr, perfumed with the clean, fresh odor of lilacs, stirred the draperies of the archway which led into the conservatory and rustled the bending branches of palms and ferns.

For a scant instant Mr. Grimm's eyes rested on a young woman who sat a dozen feet away, talking, in playful animation, with an undersecretary of the British embassy-a young woman severely gowned in some glistening stuff which fell away sheerly from her splendid bare shoulders. She glanced up, as if in acknowledgment of his look, and her eyes met his. Frank, blue-gray eyes they were, stirred to their depths now by amusement. She smiled at Se?orita Rodriguez, in token of recognition.

"Aren't they wonderful?" asked Se?orita Rodriguez with the quick, bubbling enthusiasm of her race.

"What?" asked Mr. Grimm.

"Her eyes," was the reply. "Every person has one dominant feature-with Miss Thorne it is her eyes."

"Miss Thorne?" Mr. Grimm repeated.

"Haven't you met her?" the se?orita went on. "Miss Isabel Thorne? She only arrived a few days ago-the night of the state ball. She's my guest at the legation. When an opportunity comes I shall present you to her."

She ran on, about other things, with only an occasional remark from Mr. Grimm, who was thoughtfully nursing his knee. Somewhere through the chatter and effervescent gaiety, mingling with the sound of the pulsing music, he had a singular impression of a rhythmical beat, an indistinct tattoo, noticeable, perhaps, only because of its monotony. After a moment he shot a quick glance at Miss Thorne and understood; it was the tapping of an exquisitely wrought ivory fan against one of her tapering, gloved fingers. She was talking and smiling.

"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!" said the fan.

Mr. Grimm twisted around in his seat and regaled his listless eyes with a long stare into the se?orita's pretty face. Behind the careless ease of repose he was mechanically isolating the faint clatter of the fan.

"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"

"Did any one ever accuse you of staring, Mr. Grimm?" demanded the se?orita banteringly.

For an instant Mr. Grimm continued to stare, and then his listless eyes swept the ball-room, pausing involuntarily at the scarlet splendor of the minister from Turkey.

"I beg your pardon," he apologized contritely. There was a pause. "The minister from Turkey looks like a barn on fire, doesn't he?"

Se?orita Rodriguez laughed, and Mr. Grimm glanced idly toward Miss Thorne. She was still talking, her face alive with interest; and the fan was still tapping rhythmically, steadily, now on the arm of her chair.

"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"

"Pretty women who don't want to be stared at should go with their faces swathed," Mr. Grimm suggested indolently. "Haroun el Raschid there would agree with me on that point, I have no doubt. What a shock he would get if he should happen up at Atlantic City for a week-end in August!"

"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"

Mr. Grimm read it with perfect understanding; it was "F-F-F" in the Morse code, the call of one operator to another. Was it accident? Mr. Grimm wondered, and wondering he went on talking lazily:

"Curious, isn't it, the smaller the nation the more color it crowds into the uniforms of its diplomatists? The British ambassador, you will observe, is clothed sanely and modestly, as befits the representative of a gre

at nation; but coming on down by way of Spain and Italy, they get more gorgeous. However, I dare say as stout a heart beats beneath a sky-blue sash as behind the unembellished black of evening dress."

"F-F-F," the fan was calling insistently.

And then the answer came. It took the unexpectedly prosaic form of a violent sneeze, a vociferous outburst on a bench directly behind Mr. Grimm. Se?orita Rodriguez jumped, then laughed nervously.

"It startled me," she explained.

"I think there must be a draft from the conservatory," said a man's voice apologetically. "Do you ladies feel it? No? Well, if you'll excuse me-?"

Mr. Grimm glanced back languidly. The speaker was Charles Winthrop Rankin, a brilliant young American lawyer who was attached to the German embassy in an advisory capacity. Among other things he was a Heidelberg man, having spent some dozen years of his life in Germany, where he established influential connections. Mr. Grimm knew him only by sight.

And now the rhythmical tapping of Miss Thorne's fan underwent a change. There was a flutter of gaiety in her voice the while the ivory fan tapped steadily.

"Dot-dot-dot! Dash! Dash-dash-dash! Dot-dot-dash! Dash!"

"S-t-5-u-t," Mr. Grimm read in Morse. He laughed pleasantly at some remark of his companion.

"Dash-dash! Dot-dash! Dash-dot!" said the fan.

"M-a-n," Mr. Grimm spelled it out, the while his listless eyes roved aimlessly over the throng. "S-t-5-u-t m-a-n!" Was it meant for "stout man?" Mr. Grimm wondered.

"Dot-dash-dot! Dot! Dash-dot-dot!"

"F-e-d," that was.

"Dot-dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash! Dash-dot-dash-dot! Dot!"

"Q-a-j-e!" Mr. Grimm was puzzled a little now, but there was not a wrinkle, nor the tiniest indication of perplexity in his face. Instead he began talking of Raphael's cherubs, the remark being called into life by the high complexion of a young man who was passing. Miss Thorne glanced at him once keenly, her splendid eyes fairly aglow, and the fan rattled on in the code.

"Dash-dot! Dot! Dot-dash! Dot-dash-dot!"

"N-e-a-f." Mr. Grimm was still spelling it out.

Then came a perfect jumble. Mr. Grimm followed it with difficulty, a difficulty utterly belied by the quizzical lines about his mouth. As he caught it, it was like this: " J-5-n-s-e-f-v-a-t-5-f," followed by an arbitrary signal which is not in the Morse code: "Dash-dot-dash-dash!"

Mr. Grimm carefully stored that jumble away in some recess of his brain, along with the unknown signal.

"D-5-5-f," he read, and then, on to the end: "B-f-i-n-g 5-v-e-f w-h-e-n g g-5-e-s."

That was all, apparently. The soft clatter of the fan against the arm of the chair ran on meaninglessly after that.

"May I bring you an ice?" Mr. Grimm asked at last.

"If you will, please," responded the se?orita, "and when you come back I'll reward you by presenting you to Miss Thorne. You'll find her charming; and Mr. Cadwallader has monopolized her long enough."

Mr. Grimm bowed and left her. He had barely disappeared when Mr. Rankin lounged along in front of Miss Thorne. He glanced at her, paused and greeted her effusively.

"Why, Miss Thorne!" he exclaimed. "I'm delighted to see you here. I understood you would not be present, and-"

Their hands met in a friendly clasp as she rose and moved away, with a nod of excuse to Mr. Cadwallader. A thin slip of paper, thrice folded, passed from Mr. Rankin to her. She tugged at her glove, and thrust the little paper, still folded, inside the palm.

"Is it yes, or no?" Miss Thorne asked in a low tone.

"Frankly, I can't say," was the reply.

"He read the message," she explained hastily, "and now he has gone to decipher it."

She gathered up her trailing skirts over one arm, and together they glided away through the crowd to the strains of a Strauss waltz.

"I'm going to faint in a moment," she said quite calmly to Mr. Rankin. "Please have me sent to the ladies' dressing-room."

"I understand," he replied quietly.

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