MoboReader > Literature > The Port of Adventure


The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 14839

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

It was a blow to Nick to be told that there was little hope of finding the lost bag. He had pledged himself to "see the thing through," but he had reasons-immensely important reasons they seemed to him-for wishing to leave New Orleans next day.

So far as was known, Cohensohn was an honest man. There was nothing against him, and his shop could not be searched by the police. All they could do was to get a description of the people who had called between the times of Mrs. May's going out and coming in. But ten chances to one, like most women, she had mislaid her bag somewhere else, or left it at home.

Nick did not like these insinuations against the sex to which an angel deigned to belong; but he took them quietly, and instructed the police to offer five-hundred dollars reward for the bag alone, or a thousand with the contents intact. Then he went back and had lunch with Mrs. May, which was, without exception, the most exquisite experience of his life. Yet he did not know what he ate, or afterward, whether he had eaten anything at all-unless it was some bread which, with bitter disgust at his bad manners, he vaguely remembered crumbling on the table.

He was cheered, however, by a plan he had, and by the inscription on Angela's miniature frame. He would have hated the thing if it had been her husband's.

Evening came and there was no news of the missing bag. There were not even any satisfactory clues.

When Nick heard this he thought very hard for a few minutes, and then inquired at what time the shops closed. He was told; and consulting his watch, realized that they would shut in less than an hour.

"What's the name of the best jewellery store in this town?" he wanted to know.

There were several which ranked about the same, and scribbling three or four names on his shirt-cuff, he rushed off to find the first.

"Got any gold handbags?" he asked in a low voice, as if he had something to conceal. "Kind made of chain, with diamonds and sapphires along the top."

He was shown the stock; saw nothing apparently which struck his fancy, and was off like a shot in search of the next name on his list.

At this place lived a bag which, so far as he could remember, seemed the duplicate of Mrs. May's except that the stones alternating with the diamonds were emeralds instead of sapphires.

"Just keep that thing for twenty minutes," said he. "I'll come back to tell you whether I'll take it or not, and what I want done to it, if I do."

"Another gentleman was in to-day looking at that bag," said the attendant. "If he comes before you, I must let him have it."

"What price did you make for him?" asked Nick.

"Seven hundred and seventy-five dollars," was the reply.

"Well, will you do a little gamble? Keep it till I come in, and if I take it I'll pay eight hundred. If I don't, you can have twenty-five dollars interest on your time."

The attendant laughed. "We don't do business that way. But I guess I can promise to keep the bag till you come back, if you hurry."

Nick did hurry, and visited three other shops within ten minutes, though they were at some distance from each other. He found nothing to suit him.

"I'll take that bag, if you can change the stones and put in sapphires instead of emeralds," he announced, somewhat breathlessly, wiping his forehead. "I know it will come dearer. But I'm willing to pay."

"When would you want it?" asked the shopman.

"To-morrow morning by ten o'clock at latest."

"Oh, impossible!"

"I don't know much about that word," said Nick. "We've cut it out of the dictionary up my way. Offer your men what they want to do night work, and I guess they'll name a price."

After all, even in a smart jewellery shop they do not sell a gold bag every day; and a point was stretched to gratify the purchaser, who had a way which made people glad to please him.

He went back to his hotel, feeling guilty but happy. "She's going to have a gold bag, anyhow," he thought. "I don't believe she'll ever know the difference." And Nick began to rejoice that the old bag would never be found. It would be splendid to know that she was using a thing he had given her. If the other bag did turn up, the police would let him know. That was arranged; and he would manage somehow.

"Only to think," he said to himself, "a year ago I might have been as wild to do this deal as I am now, but I couldn't have run to it. This is the first real fun I've got out of my money. Mighty good thing money is-though I used not to know it mattered. Dollars, even if I'd a million, could never put me in the same class with an angel. But they give me a chance to travel with her, and that'll be something to remember."

For Nick had found the angel of his dreams, and had recognized her at first glance that day in the hall of the Valmont. He would have known the angel by her eyes and hair, if nothing else had answered the description; but all the rest belonged to the same picture-the picture of his ideal, the girl he had never expected to see in real life. And it was all the more wonderful that her name should be Angel, or something near it. He might not have learned that exquisite detail if she had not given him the diamond frame to hold as security. And to be sure of his security he was keeping it in a pocket over his heart. He knew that this was sentimental, but he did not care a red cent! Indeed, he gloried in it. Soon all would be over, for she was of a world different from his, and presently she would vanish back to her own high place, wherever that might be. He could not have defined the difference between their worlds, if he had been called upon to do so, but he felt it intensely. Still, he meant to make the most of every minute, and he intended to have as many minutes as he could get. Each could be separately treasured as if it were a pearl. He would make a jewel-case of his memory, he told himself, for he was very sure that never would so good a thing come to him again.

When he reached the hotel it was dinner-time, and hoping that Mrs. May might invite him to her table, as she had before, he dressed carefully, despite his inconvenient quarters. When he was ready, however, his heart failed him. It seemed too good to be true that his luck should hold. She would probably be dining in her own sitting-room, or else she would have had enough of his company earlier in the day. But no, there she was in the restaurant, at the same table where they had lunched together; and after all everything arranged itself very simply. He had to tell her the news of the gold bag-his version of it; and hearing that it might be restored, she exclaimed, "You're wonderful! I'm sure it's all through you. It will be nice to have my dear bag again, when I go aboard the train."

It was a pleasant dinner for both, and each seemed to find out a good deal about the other's likings and dislikings, though-perhaps purposely, perhaps by accident-they said singularly little about their own affairs, their past lives, or future intentions. Afterward, in her own room, Angela laughed as she thought over the day and the queer things she had somehow been led into doing.

"It's too quaint that I should have borrowed money of him!" she said to herself, giggling under her breath like a schoolgirl. "Of course, on top of that, it's nothing at all that I should invite him to lunch and dine. And the funniest

part is, it never once seemed queer at the time, or as if I could do anything else."

At all events she had no regrets. The coincidence of Mr. Nickson Hilliard's appearance in New Orleans, just as her hour of need was striking, had given a bright side to what would otherwise have been a disagreeable and sordid adventure. Certainly there was something about him that inspired confidence. She felt that through him she might retrieve her bag; and, if, by chance, the money were intact she could pay him what she owed. He would then return the miniature frame, and it would not be necessary to give her address or say where she was going! Not that he would misuse such information. She was sure of this now, and she could not help being pleased that he had come back into her life just for one day-long enough to explain himself.

Next morning, at a quarter-past ten precisely, a note was brought to her room. It began:

"Dear Madam" (Nick had not dared venture upon "Dear Mrs. May"; it had not even occurred to him that he might), and informed her primly that the bag had arrived. Also it inquired in stiff language whether the writer might be permitted to place it in her hands.

Angela laughed as she read, partly with pleasure because her bag was found, partly because the poor young man's stiffness amused her. She knew enough about him now to understand that it was shyness and ignorance of social customs; but earlier she might have thought she had offended him. "Anyway, he writes a good hand," she thought. "Full of character and strength and not a bit uneducated."

"Ask Mr. Hilliard to come to my sitting-room," she said to the bellboy.

A few minutes later Nick appeared, his manner strained in a painful endeavour to hide anxiety.

"So you've got my bag. How splendid!" Angela exclaimed, as they shook hands. "I'm sure I have your efforts to thank more than those of the police."

"No, indeed," said Nick valiantly. "The police of this town are a fine set of men."

"How did they find it?" she asked eagerly.

Nick looked grave.

"Well, it seems there's-er-a kind of secret concerned," he explained. "The thing required is that we don't ask questions. And perhaps you'll agree, for what you want is the bag."

Desperately obliterating all expression from his face, and hoping that his eyes were not anxious, Nick took from his pocket a gold bag whose diamonds, alternating with sapphires, sparkled as the sunshine struck them.

Angela accepted it delightedly, with but a superficial glance at the bag itself. "Why, there's something inside!" she exclaimed.

"Only money," he hurried to break the news. "Not the purse, nor the check-book. I'm mighty sorry, but they're both gone. The police did their best. May get them later."

Angela opened the bag. "Five hundred dollars," she said counting rapidly. "Now, isn't that odd? I didn't think I had quite so much! How queer the money should have come back without the purse it was in, and especially the check-book. One would think that would be of little value to a thief."

"There's no accounting for a thief's ways," said Nick solemnly. "And I guess a lady can't always remember to a dollar or two what money she had."

"No-o," Angela admitted. "But-it looks different, somehow." She glanced again at the outside of the bag, and Nick's heart jumped. "The bag looks different, too," she said. "Newer, and--"

"As a matter of fact I took the liberty of having it cleaned up before it came back to your hands."

"But the stones--"

"The worst of it is they had to be put back in again," said Nick. "That gives a different look."

"The thief had taken out the stones?"

"Somebody had, anyhow-some of them."

"And I'm not to ask questions! It's the most mysterious thing I ever heard."

"I expect it's one of those cases where 'the least said soonest mended,'" Nick remarked.

"But do you know who took the bag, and what happened?"

"No more than you do. I-just had to make the best of a bad business. I hope you don't think I did wrong?"

"No, indeed. That would be ungrateful. Only-it's very strange. I suppose this must be my bag, but--"

"You can take your oath of that, anyhow. And it's your money."

"More than I thought I had. And the bag looks prettier. It's as if I'd cast my bread on the waters and it had returned-buttered. One good thing is, I can pay you. Four hundred dollars I borrowed. Here it is."

Nick had not bargained for this transaction, and it was the last thing he wanted.

"But-but-you're not leaving yourself enough," he objected.

"Oh, yes. I can pay for my ticket as far as my first stopping-place. Already I've written the bank to have money to meet me there, and it will be in time, for I shall stay in that town several days. You must take it-really."

He could not refuse, although it meant that he would not have her address, or an excuse for giving his. Slowly he drew the miniature frame out from an inside pocket of his coat. "I kept it there so as to be sure it was safe," he explained, lest the lady should think he had taken a liberty in wearing her property close to his heart.

Then, with many more thanks from Angela, and protestations on his part, they said good-bye. Although the newspapers had told her that Mr. Hilliard lived near Bakersfield, California, she had no association with that part of the State, and it seemed improbable to Angela that she should ever meet the handsome forest creature again. As she had no home she could not, even if it seemed best, invite him to call upon her at some future time; but she felt a stirring of regret that her travelling adventure was over-quite over-now.

After that she had not much time to think, because there were things to do before she took the train. And then she was in the express, getting settled in a stateroom, which would be hers all the way to Los Angeles. Kate, who was to have a berth in the same car, arranged her mistress's things, and beamed with excitement and joy. They were really going West now-she and Timmy the cat: and going West meant getting nearer and nearer to Oregon. Meanwhile the girl was happy, for she adored Angela.

When Kate had finished her work everything was delightfully compact in the pretty green room, which was almost as big as Mrs. May's cabin on the ship. A white silk dressing-gown hung from a hook. The gold-backed brushes and crystal bottles from her fitted bag were arranged conveniently. There were lilies of the valley in a vase.

"Where did those flowers come from?" Angela asked.

"I don't know ma'am. I found them here," said Kate. "Perhaps the railway people supply them to the state-rooms."

Perhaps they did. But Angela suspected something different. She was touched and pleased. He must have taken some trouble in getting the lilies placed in the right room. And it was like him not to have come forward himself to bid her good-bye. But-suddenly the question sprang into her head-how had he found out that she was travelling in this train?

All the afternoon she watched the Louisiana plantations, lakes, and bayous fly by in sunshine and shadow; or she read a novel of the South as it had been in old days. It was an interesting story and held her attention so closely that she was late in going to dinner. When at last she went there was only one chair left, at a table for two. Mr. Nickson Hilliard sat in the other.

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