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   Chapter 8 THE INVISIBLE WIRE

The Green Mouse By Robert W. Chambers Characters: 17636

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In Which the Telephone Continues Ringing

When he had finished writing he sorted out some silver, and handed it and the yellow paper to Sacharissa.

"It's dark in here. Would you mind reading it aloud to me to see if I've made it plain?" he asked.

"Certainly," said Sacharissa; and she read:

MRS. DELANCY COURLAND, Tuxedo.

I'm stuck in an idiotic elevator at 1008-1/2 Fifth Avenue. If I don't appear by New Year's you'll know why. Be careful that no reporters get hold of this.

KILLIAN VAN K. VANDERDYNK.

Sacharissa flushed deeply. "I can't send this," she said.

"Why not?" demanded the young man, irritably.

"Because, Mr. Vanderdynk, my father, brother-in-law, married sister, and three younger sisters are expected at the Courlands'. Imagine what effect such a telegram would have on them!"

"Then cross out the street and number," he said; "just say I'm stuck in a strange elevator."

She did so, rang, and a servant took away the telegram.

"Now," said the heir apparent to the Prince Regency of Manhattan, "there are two things still" possible. First, you might ring up police headquarters and ask for aid; next, request assistance from fire headquarters."

"If I do," she said, "wouldn't the newspapers get hold of it?"

"You are perfectly right," he said.

She had now drawn her chair so close to the gilded grille that, hands resting upon it, she could look down into the car where sat the scion of the Vanderdynks on a flimsy Louis XV chair.

"I can't express to you how sorry I am," she said. "Is there anything I can do to--to ameliorate your imprisonment?"

He looked at her in a bewildered way.

"You don't expect me to remain here until after New Year's, do you?" he inquired.

"I don't see how you can avoid it. Nobody seems to want to work until after New Year's."

"Stay in a cage--two days and a night!"

"Perhaps I had better call up the police."

"No, no! Wait. I'll tell you what to do. Start that man, Ferdinand, on a tour of the city. If he hunts hard enough and long enough he'll find some plumber or locksmith or somebody who'll come."

She rang for Ferdinand; together they instructed him, and he went away, promising to bring salvation in some shape.

Which promise made the young man more cheerful and smoothed out the worried pucker between Sacharissa's straight brows.

"I suppose," she said, "that you will never forgive my maid for this--or me either."

He laughed. "After all," he admitted, "it's rather funny."

"I don't believe you think it's funny."

"Yes, I do."

"Didn't you want to go to Tuxedo?"

"I!" He looked up at the pretty countenance of Sacharissa. "I did want to--a few minutes ago."

"And now that you can't your philosophy teaches you that you don't want to?"

They laughed at each other in friendly fashion.

"Perhaps it's my philosophy," he said, "but" I really don't care very much.... I'm not sure that I care at all.... In fact, now that I think of it, why should I have wished to go to Tuxedo? It's stupid to want to go to Tuxedo when New York is so attractive."

"Do you know," she said reflectively, "that I came to the same conclusion?"

"When?"

"This morning."

"Be-before you--I----"

"Oh, yes," she said rather hastily, "before you came----"

She broke off, pink with consternation. What a ridiculous thing to say! What on earth was twisting her tongue to hint at such an absurdity?

She said, gravely, with heightened color: "I was standing by the window this morning, thinking, and it occurred to me that I didn't care to go to Tuxedo.... When did you change your mind?"

"A few minutes a--that is--well, I never really wanted to go. It's jollier in town. Don't you think so? Blue sky, snow--er--and all that?"

"Yes," she said, "it is perfectly delightful in town to-day."

He assented, then looked discouraged.

"Perhaps you would like to go out?" he said.

"I? Oh, no.... The sun on the snow is bad for one's eyes; don't you think so?"

"Very.... I'm terribly sorry that I'm giving you so much trouble."

"I don't mind--really. If only I could do something for you."

"You are."

"I?"

"Yes; you are being exceedingly nice to me. I am afraid you feel under obligations to remain indoors and----"

"Truly, I don't. I was not going out."

She leaned nearer and looked through the bars: "Are you quite sure you feel comfortable?"

"I feel like something in a zoo!"

She laughed. "That reminds me," she said, "have you had any luncheon?"

He had not, it appeared, after a little polite protestation, so she rang for Sparks.

Her own appetite, too, had returned when the tray was brought; napkin and plate were passed through the grille to him, and, as they lunched, he in his cage, she close to the bars, they fell into conversation, exchanging information concerning mutual acquaintances whom they had expected to meet at the Delancy Courlands'.

"So you see," she said, "that if I had not changed my mind about going to Tuxedo this morning you would not be here now. Nor I.... And we would never have--lunched together."

"That didn't alter things," he said, smiling. "If you hadn't been ill you would have gone to Tuxedo, and I should have seen you there."

"Then, whatever I did made no difference," she assented, thoughtfully, "for we were bound to meet, anyway."

He remained standing close to the grille, which, as she was seated, brought his head on a level with hers.

"It would seem," he said laughingly, "as though we were doomed to meet each other, anyway. It looks like a case of Destiny to me."

She started slightly: "What did you say?"

"I said that it looks as though Fate intended us to meet, anyhow. Don't you think so?"

She remained silent.

He added cheerfully: "I never was afraid of Fate."

"Would you care for a--a book--or anything?" she asked, aware of a new constraint in her voice.

"I don't believe I could see to read in here.... Are you--going?"

"I--ought to." Vexed at the feeble senselessness of her reply she found herself walking down the landing, toward nowhere in particular. She turned abruptly and came back.

"Do you want a book?" she repeated.

"Oh, I forgot that you can't see to read. But perhaps you might care to smoke."

"Are you going away?"

"I--don't mind your smoking."

He lighted a cigarette; she looked at him irresolutely.

"You mustn't think of remaining," he said. Whereupon she seated herself.

"I suppose I ought to try to amuse you--till Ferdinand returns with a plumber," she said.

He protested: "I couldn't think of asking so much from you."

"Anyway, it's my duty," she insisted. "I ought."

"Why?"

"Because you are under my roof--a guest."

"Please don't think----"

"But I really don't mind! If there is anything I can do to make your imprisonment easier----"

"It is easy. I rather like being here."

"It is very amiable of you to say so."

"I really mean it."

"How can you really mean it?"

"I don't know, but I do." In their earnestness they had come close to the bars; she stood with both hands resting on the grille, looking in; he in a similar position, looking out.

He said: "I feel like an occupant of the Bronx, and it rather astonishes me that you haven't thrown me in a few peanuts."

She laughed, fetched her box of chocolates, then began seriously: "If Ferdinand doesn't find anybody I'm afraid you might be obliged to remain to dinner."

"That prospect," he said, "is not unpleasant. You know when one becomes accustomed to one's cage it's rather a bore to be let out."

They sampled the chocolates, she sitting close to the cage, and as the box would not go through the bars she was obliged to hand them to him, one by one.

"I wonder," she mused, "how soon Ferdinand will find a plumber?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

She bent her adorable head, chose a chocolate and offered it to him.

"Are you not terribly impatient?" she inquired.

"Not--terribly."

Their glances encountered and she said hurriedly:

"I am sure you must be perfectly furious with everybody in this house. I--I think it is most amiable of you to behave so cheerfully about it."

"As a matter of fact," he said, "I'm feeling about as cheerful as I ever felt in my life."

"Cooped up in a cage?"

"Exactly."

"Which may fall at any--" The idea was a new one to them both. She leaned forward in sudden consternation. "I never thought of that!" she exclaimed. "You don't think there's any chance of its falling, do you?"

He looked at the startled, gray eyes so earnestly fixed on his. The sweet mouth quivered a little--just a little--or he thought it did.

"No," he replied, with a slight catch in his voice, "I don't believe it's going to fall."

"Perhaps you had better not move aro

und very much in it. Be careful, I beg of you. You will, won't you, Mr. Vanderdynk?"

"Please don't let it bother you," he said, stepping toward her impulsively.

"Oh, don't, don't move!" she exclaimed. "You really must keep perfectly still. Won't you promise me you will keep perfectly still?"

"I'll promise you anything," he said a little wildly.

Neither seemed to notice that he had overdone it.

She drew her chair as close as it would go to the grille and leaned against it.

"You will keep up your courage, won't you?" she asked anxiously.

"Certainly. By the way, how far is it to the b-basement?"

She turned quite white for an instant, then:

"I think I'd better go and ring up the police."

"No! A thousand times no! I couldn't stand that."

"But the car might--drop before----"

"Better decently dead than publicly paragraphed.... I haven't the least idea that this thing is going to drop.... Anyway, it's worth it," he added, rather vaguely.

"Worth--what?" she asked, looking into his rather winning, brown eyes.

"Being here," he said, looking into her engaging gray ones.

After a startling silence she said calmly: "Will you promise me not to move or shake the car till I return?"

"You won't be very long, will you?"

"Not--very," she replied faintly.

She walked into the library, halted in the center of the room, hands clasped behind her. Her heart was beating like a trip hammer.

"I might as well face it," she said to herself; "he is--by far--the most thoroughly attractive man I have ever seen.... I--I don't know what's the matter," she added piteously.... "if it's that machine William made I can't help it; I don't care any longer; I wish----"

A sharp crack from the landing sent her out there in a hurry, pale and frightened.

"Something snapped somewhere," explained the young man with forced carelessness, "some unimportant splinter gave way and the thing slid down an inch or two."

"D-do you think----"

"No, I don't. But it's perfectly fine of you to care."

"C-care? I'm a little frightened, of course.... Anybody would be.... Oh, I wish you were out and p-perfectly safe." "If I thought you could ever really care what became of a man like me----"

Killian Van K. Vanderdynk's aristocratic senses began gyrating; he grasped the bars, the back of his hand brushed against hers, and the momentary contact sent a shock straight through the scion of that celebrated race.

She seated herself abruptly; a delicate color grew, staining her face.

Neither spoke. A long, luminous sunbeam fell across the landing, touching the edge of her hair till it glimmered like bronze afire. The sensitive mouth was quiet, the eyes, very serious, were lifted from time to time, then lowered, thoughtfully, to the clasped fingers on her knee.

Could it be possible? How could it be possible?--with a man she had never before chanced to meet--with a man she had seen for the first time in her life only an hour or so ago! Such things didn't happen outside of short stories. There was neither logic nor common decency in it. Had she or had she not any ordinary sense remaining?

She raised her eyes and looked at the heir of the Vanderdynks.

Of course anybody could see he was unusually attractive--that he had that indefinable something about him which is seldom, if ever, seen outside of fiction or of Mr. Gibson's drawings--perhaps it is entirely confined to them--except in this one very rare case.

Sacharissa's eyes fell.

Another unusual circumstance was engaging her attention, namely, that his rather remarkable physical perfection appeared to be matched by a breeding quite as faultless, and a sublimity of courage in the face of destruction itself, which----

Sacharissa lifted her gray eyes.

There he stood, suspended over an abyss, smoking a cigarette, bravely forcing himself to an attitude of serene insouciance, while the basement yawned for him! Machine or no machine, how could any girl look upon such miraculous self-control unmoved? She could not. It was natural that a woman should be deeply thrilled by such a spectacle--and William Destyn's machine had nothing to do with it--not a thing! Neither had psychology, nor demonology, nor anything, with wires or wireless. She liked him, frankly. Who wouldn't? She feared for him, desperately. Who wouldn't? She----

"C-r-rack!"

"Oh--what is it!" she cried, springing to the grille.

"I don't know," he said, somewhat pale. "The old thing seems--to be sliding."

"Giving way!"

"A--little--I think----"

"Mr. Vanderdynk! I must call the police----"

"Cr-rackle--crack-k-k!" went the car, dropping an inch or two.

With a stifled cry she caught his hands through the bars, as though to hold him by main strength.

"Are you crazy?" he said fiercely, thrusting them away. "Be careful! If the thing drops you'll break your arms!"

"I--I don't care!" she said breathlessly. "I can't let----"

"Crack!" But the car stuck again.

"I will call the police!" she cried.

"The papers may make fun of you."

"Was it for me you were afraid? Oh, Mr. Vanderdynk! What do I care for ridicule compared to--to----"

The car had sunk so far in the shaft now that she had to kneel and put her head close to the floor to see him.

"I will only be a minute at the telephone," she said. "Keep up courage; I am thinking of you every moment."

"W-will you let me say one word?" he stammered.

"Oh, what? Be quick, I beg you."

"It's only goodbye--in case the thing drops. May I say it?"

"Y-yes--yes! But say it quickly."

"And if it doesn't drop after all, you won't be angry at what I'm going to say?"

"N-no. Oh, for Heaven's sake, hurry!"

"Then--you are the sweetest woman in the world!... Goodbye--Sacharissa-- dear."

She sprang up, dazed, and at the same moment a terrific crackling and splintering resounded from the shaft, and the car sank out of sight.

Faint, she swayed for a second against the balustrade, then turned and ran downstairs, ears strained for the sickening crash from below.

There was no crash, no thud. As she reached the drawing-room landing, to her amazement a normally-lighted elevator slid slowly down, came to a stop, and the automatic grilles opened quietly.

As Killian Van K. Vanderdynk crept forth from the elevator, Sacharissa's nerves gave way; his, also, seemed to disintegrate; and they stood for some moments mutually supporting each other, during which interval unaccustomed tears fell from the gray eyes, and unaccustomed words, breathed brokenly, reassured her; and, altogether unaccustomed to such things, they presently found themselves seated in a distant corner of the drawing-room, still endeavoring to reassure each other with interclasped hands.

They said nothing so persistently that the wordless minutes throbbed into hours; through the windows the red west sent a glowing tentacle into the room, searching the gloom for them.

It fell, warm, across her upturned throat, in the half light.

For her head lay back on his shoulder; his head was bent down, lips pressed to the white hands crushed fragrantly between his own.

A star came out and looked at them with astonishment; in a little while the sky was thronged with little stars, all looking through the window at them.

Her maid knocked, backed out hastily and fled, distracted. Then Ferdinand arrived with a plumber.

Later the butler came. They did not notice him until he ventured to cough and announce dinner.

The interruptions were very annoying, particularly when she was summoned to the telephone to speak to her father.

"What is it, dad?" she asked impatiently.

"Are you all right?"

"Oh, yes," she answered, carelessly; "we are all right, dad. Goodbye."

"We? Who the devil is 'We'?"

"Mr. Vanderdynk and I. We're taking my maid and coming down to Tuxedo this evening together. I'm in a hurry now."

"What!!!"

"Oh, it's all right, dad. Here, Killian, please explain things to my father."

Vanderdynk released her hand and picked up the receiver as though it had been a live wire.

"Is that you, Mr. Carr?" he began--stopped short, and stood listening, rigid, bewildered, turning redder and redder as her father's fluency increased. Then, without a word, he hooked up the receiver.

"Is it all right?" she asked calmly. "Was dad--vivacious?"

The young man said: "I'd rather go back into that elevator than go to Tuxedo.... But--I'm going."

"So am I," said Bushwyck Carr's daughter, dropping both hands on her lover's shoulders.... "Was he really very--vivid?"

"Very."

The telephone again rang furiously.

He bent his head; she lifted her face and he kissed her.

After a while the racket of the telephone annoyed them, and they slowly moved away out of hearing.

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