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   Chapter 6 WHEN THE TABLES WERE TURNED

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 29961

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Next morning Angela said nothing to Kate of what had happened in the night. Her thoughts were full of the affair, but since the true version was to be suppressed, it would be better to have no confidant. She asked, however, to see a morning paper, and when it came was disappointed to find no paragraph concerning the thief at the Hotel Valmont. She did not know anything about the making of newspapers, but took it for granted that the story had been too late for press, and became very eager to meet her neighbour, that she might hear all at first hand from him.

She passed him hurriedly the day before, her head bent, because she was afraid he meant to speak, and she would have to snub him. But now the tables were turned. She dressed and went down early, making an excuse to glance over a quantity of magazines and papers in the big hall, hoping that he might appear. But he did not. It was almost, she told herself, as if he were punishing her for avoiding him yesterday, by paying her back in her own coin. Not that she believed he was really doing so. Yet it was extremely aggravating that he should keep out of the way. He ought to have understood that she would want to know what happened after the first chapter of the story was brought to a close by the shutting of the door.

Because she was waiting for him (whether she acknowledged this or not) and because he did not come, Angela thought of the man every moment, without being able to put him out of her mind. He had shown such astonishing tact as well as pluck last night, and was so good-looking, that his very lack of cultivation made him more interesting as a study. She would have liked to ask the hotel people about him; whence he came and what was his name; but, of course, she did nothing of the sort. All she did was to make various pretexts for lingering in the hall till nearly luncheon time; and then the arrival of evening papers partly explained to her mind the mystery of the man's absence. Also they made her a present of his name, and a few other personal items.

"Nick Hilliard of California Makes Hotel Thief Feel Small," was the heading of a conspicuous half-column which caught her eye.

The said thief, it seemed, was known to friends and enemies as "Officer Dutchy." He had "worked" with success in Chicago and the Middle West, but was a comparative stranger in New York. He "claimed" to have been an officer in the German army, but probably lied, though he had evidently been a soldier at one time. He had numerous aliases, and spoke with a German accent. His name appeared on the register of the Valmont as Count von Osthaven, and he admitted an attempt to enter the room occupied by Mr. Hilliard, having reached it by a daring passage along a stone cornice, from his own window, four rooms to the left, on the twelfth storey.

The case against "Officer Dutchy" would be an interesting one, as his previous career was-according to the reporter-full of "good stories." Mr. Hilliard was hoping, however, that it might be hurried on and off, taking up as little time as possible, as he had use for every moment other than hanging about a court-room giving evidence. Born in New York, he had gone West while a boy, and had never since been in the East till a day or two ago, when he had arrived from the neighbourhood of Bakersfield, California, with the avowed intention of enjoying himself. Naturally he did not want to have his enjoyment curtailed by business.

Angela felt guilty. It was her fault that the poor young man's holiday was spoiled. She ought not to have let him take her burdens on his shoulders; but it was too late to repent now. She could not come forward and tell the real story, for that would do him harm, since it would differ from his version. She could atone only by showing her gratitude in some way. Because he came from California, she longed to show how friendly and kind she could be to a man of her father's country-a man worthy of that country and its traditions she began to think.

She lunched in a quiet corner of the restaurant; but Mr. Nickson Hilliard of California did not show himself, and at last Angela went up to her own rooms disappointed. Hardly had she closed the door, however, when a knock sent her flying to open it again. A bellboy had brought a note, and she sprang to the conclusion that it must be from Mr. Hilliard. He had found out her name, and had written to tell what had happened behind the closed door-the loose end of the story which the newspapers had not got, never would get, from any one concerned. But the bright pink of excitement and interest which had sprung to her face died away, as she opened the envelope and glanced down the first page of the letter, which was headed, "Doctor Beal's Nursing Home." She read:

Madam:

I am requested by Mr. Henry Morehouse of San Francisco to express

his regret at not being able to meet your ship and offer his

services as he hoped to do, at the request of his elder brother,

Mr. James Morehouse, of the Fidelity Trust Bank, San Francisco. Mr.

H. Morehouse was coming East on law business, when his brother

suggested that he make himself useful to you, and he was looking

forward to doing so, having known the late Mr. Franklin Merriam. On

starting, however, Mr. Morehouse was far from well, and found

himself so much worse on reaching New York, that he was obliged to

consult a doctor. The result was an immediate operation of

appendicitis. This was performed successfully yesterday and Mr.

Morehouse feels strong enough to express (through me) his regret,

wishing to explain why he failed, in case his brother may have let

you know that he intended to meet you.

Yours faithfully,

N. Millar

(Nurse in Doctor Beal's Private Hospital).

Mr. James Morehouse (in whose bank there were funds for "Mrs. May") had not informed her of his brother's intentions, and though she was sorry to hear of the poor man's sufferings, she could not regret his failure to meet her at the ship. She did not wish to be helped, nor told how to see things, nor be personally conducted to California. She enjoyed being free, and vague, able to stop as long or as short a time as she liked on the way. She wanted to see only places which she wanted to see, not places which she ought to want to see; for there was sure to be a difference.

* * *

Nevertheless, she wrote a gracious answer to the letter, and ordered flowers sent to Doctor Beal's Nursing Home, for Mr. Henry Morehouse. Then she proceeded to forget him, unconscious of the direct influence his illness was to have upon her future. She thought far more about Mr. Nickson Hilliard, whom she had avoided yesterday, and who seemed to avoid her to-day. The fact that the letter which had brought colour to her face was from a strange, unwanted Mr. Morehouse, vexed the Princess unreasonably with Nickson Hilliard, who ought to have written, if he could not call, to tell his story; and when she heard nothing from him, saw nothing of him, it was in resentment that she left New York next morning. Though it was entirely subconscious, the real thought in her mind was:

"Since he didn't choose to take the chance when he had it, now he shan't have it at all!"

For a woman of twenty-three is very young. It is annoying to be cut off in the midst of an adventure, by the hero of the adventure, when you have flattered yourself that the poor fellow was yearning to know you. If Angela was unjust to Hilliard she was not an isolated instance; for all women are unjust to all men, especially to those in whom they are beginning to take an interest. Angela did not know that she was interested in Nickson Hilliard, and would have laughed if any one had suggested the idea, from a personal point of view; but in her social reign as the Princess di Sereno, she had been a good deal spoiled-by every one except the Prince. Vaguely, and like a petted child, she had taken it for granted that all men were glad to be "nice" to her, and she thought the "forest creature" was showing himself a backwoods creature-rude and unenlightened.

Angela loved the sea, and chose to travel on it whenever she could. The trip from New York to New Orleans was even more interesting than she had expected from tales of her father's, for the ship steamed along the coast, in blue and golden weather, turning into the Gulf of Mexico after rounding the long point of Florida. Cutting the silk woof of azure, day by day, a great longing to be happy knocked at Angela's heart, like something unjustly imprisoned, demanding to be let out. She had never felt it so strongly before. It must be, she thought, the tonic of the air, which made her conscious of youth and life, eager to have things happen, and be in the midst of them. But Kate was a comfort, almost a friend. And Timmy the cat was a priceless treasure.

No town in America, perhaps, could have contrasted more sharply with New York than New Orleans. Angela felt this, even as the ship moved slowly along the great canal and slipped into the dark, turbid gold of the Mississippi River. The drowsy landscape on either side was Southern landscape, and among live-oaks draped with mourning flags of moss, and magnolia-trees gemmed with buds, there were planters' houses which seemed all roof and balcony. Buzzards flew up suddenly, out of rice-fields, as the ship rounded a curve-creatures big and long-legged as the storks of Holland and Algeria. The wharf, when the ship docked at last, was filled with bales of cotton, and it was as if all the negroes in America must have come down to meet the boat. She might have been walking into an old story of Cable's, in the days "befoh the wah."

Her idea had been to travel on to the West next day, but New Orleans held her. She had left the Old World eagerly for the New; but this bit of the Old, in the midst of the New, made her feel as if she had stumbled into an ancient Spanish court, in the middle of a modern skyscraper. The contrast was sharp as the impress of an old seal in new wax, and Angela loved it. She liked her hotel, too, and said but half-heartedly each morning, "To-morrow I'll go on." With Kate for duenna, she wandered through streets which, though they had historic French names, reminded her more of Spain than of France, with their rows of balconies and glimpses of flowery patios paved with mossy stones, or cracked but still beautiful tiles. She made friends with an elderly French shopkeeper of the Vieux Carré, who looked as if carved out of ivory and yellowed with age. His business was the selling of curiosities; antique furniture brought in sailing ships from France when New Orleans was in the making; quaintly set jewels worn by famous beauties of the great old days; brocades and velvets which had been their ball dresses; books which had Andrew Jackson's name on yellow fly-leaves; weird souvenirs from the haunted house where terrible Madame Lalaurie tortured slaves to death; fetishes which had belonged to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen; sticks and stones of the varnished house where Louis Philippe lived, and letters written by Nicholas Girod, who plotted to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena and spirit him across the sea to New Orleans. The selling of these things, or rather the collecting of them, was the pleasure as well as the business of Monsieur Bienvenu, and he had stored in his mind as many legends of the old town as he had stored treasures in his low-browed, musky-smelling shop. Angela spent her mornings listening to his tales of slave-days, and always she bought something before she bade him au revoir, in the Parisian French which enchanted the old man.

"You light up my place, madame," he said; and insisted, with graceful gestures, that she should not pay for her collection of old miniatures, necklaces, gilded crystal bottles, illuminated books and ivory crucifixes, until the day fixed for her departure.

"Once you pay, madame, you may not come again," he smiled. "I am superstitious. I will not take your money till the last moment."

On the third day, however, Angela decided that she must go. Her father's country called, with a voice she could hear above the music of the Southern town, the laughter of the pretty French girls and the chatter of black and brown babies who babbled a language which was neither French, Spanish, nor English, but a mixture of all. She bought more things of Monsieur Bienvenu, and also in other curiosity shops which she dared not mention to him, since his one failing was a bitter jealousy of rivals.

"Where is my gold bag, Kate? Have you got it?" she asked, when the moment came to pay a hundred dollars for two or three snuff-boxes, picked up in a place she had not visited until that day.

"No, ma'am, you had it on yer arm when I noticed last," said Kate, looking startled. "Fur all the saints, I hope ye haven't lost it!"

Angela, too, began to look anxious. Not only was her bag valuable-worth seven or eight hundred dollars-but all her money was in it, and a check-book she had brought out that morning, to pay Monsieur Bienvenu the rather large sum she owed him. Still, she was not greatly distressed. She had lost that gold bag so many times, had dropped it from her lap when she got up, left it in motor-cars, or lying on the floor in friends' houses, and always it had come back to her! She cheered herself, therefore by saying that to-day would be no exception.

"Let me think, where were we last, Kate?" she wondered. "The shop where I bought the lilac and silver stole, wasn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am it was. And indade, if ye'll not mind my sayin' so, I begged ye not to go in there, the place looked so disrespectable, as if there might be measles or 'most anything, and the man himself come poppin' out to entice ye in, like the spider with the fly."

"We must go back at once and see if I left the bag after paying for the stole," said Angela. And, explaining to the late owner of the snuff-boxes, she hurried out with Kate, leaving her parcel to be called for.

Little Mr. Isaac Cohensohn, of the brocade shop, made a search, but could not find the missing trinket. Unfortunately, a number of people had been in since the lady left, strangers to him. If madam was sure she had gone out of the shop without the bag, why, somebody must have taken it since then. The question was, who? But she must apply to the police.

"If only I hadn't stuffed in that check-book!" Angela said to Kate. "Perhaps they would have cashed a check in the hotel. Anyhow, Monsieur Bienvenu would have taken one for what I owe him. Now I'm in the most horrid scrape! I don't know how I'm going to get out of it."

They walked back toward the shop of the snuff-boxes gloomily discussing the situation, which was complicated by the fact that, grown cautious since the attempted burglary at the Valmont, Angela had left her most valuable jewellery in a bank at New York. It was to b

e sent on, insured, only when she finished her travelling, and settled down.

"I'll have to call the police, I suppose," she said. "Though it's sure to do no good. I shall never see my bag again! I can telegraph to have the checks stopped at the San Francisco bank; but I had nearly five hundred dollars in the purse. What shall I do about my hotel bill and everything? And my railway tickets? We'll have to stay till I can get money."

Suddenly, because it seemed impossible, she wanted passionately to start at once.

Always she had hated postponing things.

"Somehow, I will go!" she said to herself. "I don't know how-but I will." And she walked on with Kate, back to the hotel, remembering how she had told the head clerk that this was her last day-she was giving up the rooms to-morrow. And the hotel was crammed, because there was a Convention of some sort. It might be that her suite was already let for the next day.

She went to the desk, asking abruptly, "If I find that I need to stop longer, are my rooms free for to-morrow?"

"Unfortunately, we've just let them-not as a suite, but separately," said the young man. "This is a big week for the Crescent City, you know, and we've got people sleeping in bathrooms."

"What shall I do?" Angela exclaimed, trouble breaking down reserve. "All my money and a check-book I had in my gold bag have been stolen. I'll have to telegraph my bank." And she had visions of being deposited in a bathroom, with all her luggage and Kate, and Tim the cat.

"Well, that's a shame," the clerk sympathized. "I'll tell you what I can do. A gentleman came in about an hour ago; said he was looking for a friend; glanced over the register, and must have found the name, because he's going to stay. He's got to sleep in the laundry to-night, but he's among those I've allotted to your suite to-morrow. When he hears a lady wants to keep her room, he's sure to wait for it."

"I don't like to ask a favour of a stranger," Angela hesitated.

"American men don't call things like that favours, when there's a lady in the case," replied the clerk. "It wouldn't do for you to be in the laundry."

It was rather unthinkable; so when the young man added that the newcomer might be in at any minute for luncheon, Angela flitted to her own quarters, which looked more than ever attractive now that they might be snapped away from her. She descended again soon, hoping to hear her fate; and there, by the desk, stood Mr. Nickson Hilliard.

His brown face reddened at sight of Mrs. May, but he did not show surprise. Seeing that she intended to recognize him, his eyes brightened, and Angela felt that she, too, was blushing a little. She was vexed with him still, but it would have been stupid as well as ungrateful to show her annoyance except by being elaborately polite. After all, she owed him gratitude, which she had wished for a chance to pay.

She put out her hand, and he radiated joy as he took it. Happiness was becoming to Nick. An all too cordial grip he gave, then loosened his grasp in a fright; "I hope I haven't hurt you!" he exclaimed, horrified.

Angela laughed. "Only a tiny bit; and that's better than a fishy handshake. Luckily, I left my sharpest rings in New York. And, oh, the gold bag you saved is gone forever! I've just had it stolen."

"That's too bad," he remarked. But he did not look cast down. "I'll rummage New Orleans for it, if you give me leave to have a try," he volunteered.

"Thank you," she said. "But I shall have to tell the police, I suppose. Not that there's much hope."

"You wouldn't let me set the ball rolling, would you?" he asked, as if he were begging a favour instead of wishing to do one. "I mean go to the police for you, and all that?"

"How kind you are!" exclaimed Angela. "But-no, indeed, I won't spoil your visit to New Orleans as I did your visit to New York."

Nick looked astounded. "What makes you think you spoiled my visit to New York?"

Here was Angela's chance for a gentle reproach, and she could not resist the temptation of administering it, wrapped in sugar.

"I don't think. I know. And it distressed me very much," she said, sweetly. "I read in the papers that you hadn't been in New York since you were a boy; that you were there to 'enjoy yourself.' And all your time was taken up with the bother that ought to have been mine! You were too busy even to let me hear what happened that night, after--" Suddenly she was sorry that she had begun. It was silly and undignified to reproach him.

His face grew scarlet, as if he were a scolded schoolboy.

"Too busy!" he echoed. "Why, you didn't think that, did you? You couldn't!"

"What was I to think?" asked Angela, lightly. "But really, what I thought isn't worth talking about."

"It may not be to you, but it is to me, if you don't mind," he persisted. "I-I made sure you'd know why I didn't-send you any word or-or anything. But if you didn't see it the right way, I've got to tell you now. It was because-of course, it was because-I just didn't dare butt in. I was afraid you'd feel, if I had the cheek to write a note, or follow up and speak to you in the hotel, that I was-kind of takin' advantage of what was an accident-my luck in gettin' a chance to do a little thing for you. A mighty small thing; 'twouldn't have been visible except in a high-powered microscope, and only then if you looked hard for it. So I said to myself, 'Twas enough luck to have had that chance.' I'd be a yellow dog to presume on it."

Instantly Angela realized that it was her vanity which had been hurt by his seeming negligence, and that it was stroked the right way by this embarrassed explanation. She was ashamed of herself for drawing it out, yet she was pleased; because she had been really hurt. Now that she need not puzzle over the man's motives, she would perhaps cease to think of him. But she must be kind, just for a minute or two-to make up for putting him in the confessional, and to prove the gratitude she wished to show.

"You must be a very modest person, if you didn't understand that I longed to hear-lots of things you wouldn't let the newspapers get hold of," she smiled. "Of course, it was interesting to read about that wretched man-Dutchy, or whatever they called him. And as he seems to have stolen from heaps of people, I suppose it's well for the world that he'll be shut up in prison-although I can't bear the thought of prison for any one. It stifles me. There ought to be some other kind of punishment. But I did want to know what happened in your room after--"

"Nothing much happened," said Nick. "The little beast was all in. I'd kind of got on his nerves, and he knew I'd dig a hole in the ground with him if he so much as peeped. I just rounded him up, and then the police came and played out the rest of the hand. As for you spoilin' my visit to New York, why ma'am, you made it. I had the time of my life."

Angela laughed, because he called her "ma'am" (which was even funnier than "lady," from the hero who had saved her life), and because all his expressions struck her as extremely "quaint."

"It was a very short time of your life then. I should have thought you'd want to stay weeks in New York, as you hadn't been there for so long-and you'd travelled so far. You see, I saw in the paper that you'd come from California. And that interested me, because my-because dear friends of mine have told me so much about California." She did not add that she was on her way there, but, of course, he might suspect, meeting her in New Orleans, if he were curious concerning her movements.

"I did mean to stay some time when I went East," he admitted, "but-well, perhaps I was homesick. Anyhow, I felt as if I'd got a hurry call to go home."

"What an odd coincidence, our meeting here!" Angela spoke out her thought.

"Ye-es," assented Nick. "I reckon it does seem that way." He was interested in the pattern of the carpet. "If you won't think it a liberty, now I am here," he began again, "I'll be mighty glad to try and find your bag. If you'll tell me just how and where you lost it--"

Angela shook her head. "You're not to spend your time fussing with the police, as you did in New York."

"But I'd like it better than anything," he said. "I didn't come to New Orleans to see the sights, anyhow. I'll feel down and out if you won't let me help. 'Twill seem as if I'd managed wrong in New York."

"Oh, if you're going to feel like that!" And forthwith Angela told him the story of her loss.

"All your money and a check-book full of blank checks!" he echoed.

"Yes. I've wired already to have the checks stopped for the bank's sake. But it's a bore. And I was fond of that bag. Besides, I had about five hundred dollars in my purse. Now I shall have to wait here till I can get more."

"You wanted to go?" he asked.

"Yes-to-morrow. However, that doesn't matter."

"It does, if you wanted to. But, see here, ma'am, I've thought of something."

"My name is Mrs. May," said Angela, smiling.

"I know-I mean, are you willing I should call you it, just as if I was really acquainted with you?"

"Of course. Why not?"

"Well, you see," he explained. "What I don't know about society and the right way to act with ladies could be put in a book bigger than the Bible. And I wouldn't offend you, for-for a good deal."

"I feel certain you'd know the 'right way to act,' by instinct," Angela assured him. "You were splendid to me that night in New York. Very few men would have known how to do what you did."

"Thank you a thousand times for saying that, though I don't deserve one word," Nick burst out, flushing again, and hoping she did not see, because he had a trying task before him. "But my idea is this. Couldn't you let me lend the money you need, and go on when you like, instead of waiting? You could send it back, any old way-check or anything. And I wouldn't care a hang-I wouldn't care a red cent-when."

"Oh, I couldn't--" Angela began, but the look on his face stopped her. It was so strong a mixture of disappointment and chagrin, as to make him instantly pathetic in her eyes. She had just said that he was a man whose instinct would always be right, and she had meant it sincerely. She knew, if she knew anything about men, that here was one of Nature's gentlemen. He had proved that already; and-it was a shame to hurt his feelings after all he had done for her.

"I beg your pardon if I've said the wrong thing. I meant no harm," he apologized warmly. "But I get left-handed and tongue-tied, I guess, when it comes to being civilized-where there's a lady in the case. It must have been I said it the wrong way, for, I do know the thing itself would be right. You want to go. You've lost your money. And I expect your bank wouldn't send it on a telegram. They mostly won't. That means waiting days, perhaps. So I thought--"

"It would mean waiting," she broke into his pause. "My bank is a long way off. You're very kind, and I will borrow the money, if it won't inconvenience you, on condition that-you let me give you security."

"That would hurt my feelings badly," said he; "but I'd rather you'd do it than not take the money, because your convenience is a heap more important than my feelings."

"If I go I can get money in a few days, and wire it back to you here," Angela reflected aloud, at a loss how to treat the situation when it became a question of hurting Mr. Hilliard's feelings.

Nick's face fell. "I-unless you give me your orders-I don't want to stay here very long," said he. "I don't care when I get the money back."

"Why, you've only just arrived, haven't you?"

"Ye-es. But I feel my homesickness coming on again. I shouldn't wonder if I'll always be sort of restless, now, away from the West. It's my country-anyhow, the country of my heart."

Angela came near saying, "So it is mine." But that might have necessitated explanations. "Well, you must take the security, I'm afraid," she said, "or I can't take the loan. As I told you, I left most of my things in New York, to be sent on when I settle down. Still, there's one thing, which I couldn't pawn, or leave with hotel people. But I wouldn't mind giving it to you. It's a diamond frame for a miniature I always carry with me. I could take the miniature out."

Nick stared hard at the carpet again. He was afraid to let her see the look on his face. "It's her dead husband's picture," he thought. "She must have loved him, if she always carries his portrait around." Aloud he said, "Very well, if you won't do my way, I'll have to do yours."

"I'll give you the address of my bank; and I must have your address," Angela went on. "Then, if you should change your mind and stay here--"

"I'm going to stay just long enough to get your bag," he replied.

She laughed. "That may be forever."

"I reckon it will be some hours at longest."

"You must be a wonderful detective!"

"There's more of the bulldog than the detective in me. But it will go hard if we don't find that bag."

"Thank you again. We shall see!" she said. "Anyway, as you're to be my banker I can tell the hotel clerk I shan't need to keep people in bathrooms, waiting for my suite, after to-night."

"Oh, was it you?" exclaimed Nick. "The fellow was telling me a lady wanted to stay--"

"Then it's you they've stuffed into a laundry!"

"I like it," Nick assured her. "It's a mighty clean place. I wish you could see some of the holes I've slept in-that is, I don't wish so! But it's all right. And now, just say how much money you want. Anything up to three thousand dollars I can give you in a minute--"

"Oh, not nearly so much. A few hundreds. But I'm going to lunch now. Would you care to lunch at the same table, and we can arrange about the loan? Also you can tell me more of Dutchy."

"I'd like it better than anything," said Nick. "But first I've got to fix things about your bag with the police. I'll be back, and look you up by the time you're halfway to dessert. I remember just what that bag was like, because-maybe you've forgotten-I picked it up in the hotel hall when you dropped it. I can see it as plain as if it was here. 'Twas a kind of knitted gold, like chain armour for a doll. And there was a rim all smothered in diamonds and blue stones."

"Sapphires," said Angela.

"That's right. Well, I'll be back in twenty minutes."

It was useless to protest against his going, for he had gone before she could speak. And instead of beginning luncheon, Angela went upstairs to take from its diamond frame her father's miniature. On the gold back of this frame there was an inscription: "Angela, on her eleventh birthday, from her father. The day before she sails." And it was because of the inscription that she could not have offered the frame to an ordinary person as security, no matter how desperately she had wanted a loan. But Mr. Nickson Hilliard was not an ordinary person.

* * *

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