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The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 12941

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

"May I go out, ma'am, and see what they'll be givin' me for the gold bag?" Kate asked, when the unpacking-for a few days-was done at a Los Angeles hotel.

This was a sore subject with Angela. She believed that she disliked the bag; but also she disliked having it go out of her life beyond recall. "Think of the money he spent, and the trouble he took!" something seemed to moan in her mind. But with an impersonal air she gave Kate permission, dismissing the past as represented by the Hilliard incident, and plunging into the joy of arranging future motor-cars and trains-a future which was to concern her, and Kate, and Kate's cat alone, not Mr. Hilliard.

A singularly sympathetic and apparently intelligent hotel clerk not only advised a motor for sightseeing in the neighbourhood, but recommended one owned and invented by a friend. It was a "clipper," he said; could do anything but climb trees or jump brooks, and might be hired by Mrs. May, at a reasonable price, for a day, a week, a month, a year. Angela felt bound to say that she should like to see it; and-almost before the last word was out of her mouth-the garage was rung up by telephone.

The car arrived with startling promptness, and if Angela had been given time to think it might have occurred to her that there was not, perhaps, as much competition for this new invention as the hotel clerk had implied. The inventor, who was driver and chauffeur as well, bore a striking resemblance to a sulky codfish, but his half-boiled eyes lighted up and glittered (even as his car glittered with blue paint), at the prospect of business. Other vehicles were now being produced by a firm who had bought his patent, said he, but at present his own; appropriately named the "Model," was the "only one running." He lifted the brilliant bonnet, and revealed intricate things, all new and silvery and glistening like crystallized sugar. Angela fell an easy victim. She knew nothing about the mechanical virtues and vices of cars, though she had two at home for her own use, and the Prince a dozen, valued only less than his aeroplanes. Hers had been gray and dark green. She had always wanted a blue car, and this was a lovely colour. Though she was no more vain than a pretty young woman ought to be, she consented to an experimental run, with an undertone of conviction that the car would become her as a background.

As she made her decision, Kate arrived, breathless with the excitement of bargaining, to find her mistress on the curbstone.

"Oh, ma'am!" she panted. "I've done it! I've got five hundred dollars in me pocket!"

"And they've got the bag," Angela regretfully murmured.

"Yes, ma'am, they have. Unless they've sold it since. Such a fine jewellery shop. The name an Oirish one, and I went there first, for luck. Then I tried another place, but they offered less, and I ran back to Barrymore's. They said 'twas a splendid bag, and they'd 'a give more, but they haven't the same call for the article as if 'twas Paris or New York; and they must make their profit."

"No doubt they will make it," Angela almost snapped. She felt as a certain type of woman feels on hearing that the first man who ever proposed to her has married some one else. And when the codfish, whose name was Sealman, asked her where she would go for a trial spin, she said that he might take her to the shop of Barrymore the jeweller. But that was when Kate had disappeared into the hotel.

The automobile ran quietly, and the springs, as the codfish said, were "grasshoppers." The motor made a pleasant purring, not much louder than Timmy's when you scratched his head through the open roof of his basket. It was a small car, but as Angela wanted it only to run about the neighbouring country, keeping Los Angeles as a centre, she began to think that she might as well engage it. After the poor codfish had given her this run for nothing, how could she disappoint him?

Exactly what she meant to do when she stopped before the shop of Thomas Barrymore & Company she could not have explained, even to herself. Perhaps she had the curiosity to see how the bag would look in the window, in case the jeweller had placed it there; and sure enough, he had displayed it, anxious not to miss a sale. There were other gold bags, but this one-of many adventures-was by far the most beautiful; and suddenly she knew why she had come. She was going to buy the thing for herself. She could not bear to let any one else own that bag.

Of course, if she had been sensible and business-like, she might have told Kate before selling to inquire at some shop what would be a fair price; and then she might have offered the girl that amount. Now she must pay for her pride; and having less than half the income of the Princess di Sereno, Mrs. May ought to have been thinking about the California land she wished to purchase before committing useless extravagances which she could no longer afford. Besides, if she bought back the bag, she would always be ashamed to use it under the eyes of Kate.

She pointed it out to one of the Barrymore assistants, who said it had just arrived from Paris, and the price was seven hundred and fifty dollars. For her life, Angela could not have contradicted him or haggled. Luckily, or unluckily, her money had come from San Francisco. It served her right, she thought, to pay two hundred and fifty dollars more than if she had dealt with Kate. She should have been ashamed even to want Mr. Hilliard's bag, still more to buy it; and she took away her purchase in a beautiful box, with all the joy of a normal female thing who has secured for her own something which she ought not to have. When Angela di Sereno had been able to afford everything, she had longed for nothing. There was a new spice in life. And the redemption of the bag was to be a dead secret.

"Back to the hotel, please; and I'll engage your car for the next three or four days," said Mrs. May to Sealman, suddenly full of kindness for him and all the world.

Nick sat in the window of a better hotel than Angela's. She had chosen hers on the advice of a lady in the dining-car, a lovely blonde, née brunette, who had once enjoyed a honeymoon in Los Angeles, and was now on her way Nevadaward to get a divorce. Nick had been to Los Angeles before, and knew where to go without asking advice, though the same lovely lady would have been enchanted to give him some. Mr. Millard was also in his hotel, and would not

move to Mrs. May's (although it was cheaper), so long as Nick remained on guard. That was one of the reasons why Nick stayed. But there were others. His luggage he had wired for, and it would come back.

He sat by the window, wondering whether Mrs. May would be angry if he showed himself; or whether, on the principle that a cat may look at a king, she would consider that he had as much right to be in Los Angeles as she had.

Then she flashed by in the blue automobile, which was as becoming as she had expected. Nevertheless, Nick jumped up from the chair in which he had been lounging, and frowned. "Great guns! If there ain't that bandy-legged, crop-eared, broken-nosed auto Sealman came to offer Mrs. Gaylor last winter, and wanted to palm off on me!" he grumbled to himself. "How in creation did that maverick get hold of Mrs. May? Bet there've been bribes flyin' around somewhere."

Angela, being on the way back to her hotel from Barrymore's when Nick caught sight of her, had returned by the time he strolled in to ask if Mr. Sealman was staying there. Mr. Sealman was not; but the clerk admitted acquaintance with him.

"I want to know if his car's engaged," began Nick.

Yes, the clerk happened to know that it was engaged for the next three days, perhaps longer, to a young lady in the hotel who intended to do some touring in the neighbourhood.

"Contract all fixed up?" asked Nick.

Everything was arranged; had just been settled; in fact, Mr. Sealman had gone home.

Nick stood still and thought for a moment, looking as sad as if he had earnestly desired the Model for himself, which was, of course, the impression conveyed. As he reflected (not so much wondering what he wanted to do next, as whether the thing he wanted to do would "work") Kate came down, with a letter in her hand ready to post to Mr. Timothy Moriarty, White Orchard, Oregon.

"Oh, sir!" she exclaimed, flitting up to Nick. "P'raps you don't remember me, but I'm maid to Mrs. May, and 'twas to me you gave that beautiful bag you said you'd throw out o' window if I didn't take it. Ye don't mind if I sold it, do ye?"

"Of course not," Nick assured her. "I gave it to you for that."

"I thought so, sir; and I've done fine with it to-day. A gentleman named Barrymore, who keeps a smart jewellery shop, paid me five hundred dollars. I'm all in a flutter, sir! Just to think, it's the same as if you'd give me the money."

"Not a bit of it," said Nick. "Some cow might have swallowed the bag by this time if you'd let me chuck it out of the car window. Or a goat, maybe."

"Well, thank you again a thousand times. And what with you, and my lady, Mrs. May, I'm the happiest girl in the wurruld." And Kate tripped away to post her letter.

"'My lady, Mrs. May,'" echoed Nick, beneath his breath. "She's my lady, too-my angel-though she doesn't know it. And nothing can change that till doomsday."

He had hated the gold bag when it was rejected by Angela; but now he felt differently. His heart warmed toward it. Had it not been hers, if only for a little while? It had hung on her wrist. It had been in her hand. It had held her lace handkerchief, which smelled like some mysterious flower of fairyland. Now he knew what he had come to learn, there was nothing to keep him any longer; and, walking out of the hotel, he asked the first intelligent-looking man he met where to find Barrymore's.

"A young lady in black, in a blue auto, sir, bought the bag you must have seen in the window," he was presently informed by the youth who had served Angela. "A young lady with golden hair. You might almost have met her on the way."

"I rather think I did meet her," drawled Nick. And though the bag was gone forever, he was suddenly so happy that he could have sung for joy. He hurried away to telegraph Henry Morehouse, at Doctor Beal's Nursing Home, asking a favour which he was sure Morehouse would grant, because they had grown very friendly on the journey East. Next, he called at the largest garage in Los Angeles, and asked advice of the manager about buying a motor-car. "You wrote me in the winter, saying you had a fine one here to dispose of," he said. "Maybe you remember?"

Remember? Why, of course, the manager remembered Mr. Hilliard! Every one had been talking of his Lucky Star gusher.

Nick laughed. "A right smart lot of letters wanting me to buy things came along about that time. I hadn't got any use for an auto then. Now I have. And I want a good one, for touring. The best there is."

"Any make you fancy?"

"I don't know much more about motors than elephants," Nick confessed. "No use pretendin' to be an expert, but I'm going to learn the whole game from A to Z."

"I've got a machine here now," said the man of the garage, "that might suit you if you want something first-rate. Belongs to a millionaire who went broke before he'd had his auto a week. Best American on the market, and better than new. She's found herself. Come and have a look at her." Nick went. "She" was a beauty, inside and out a pale primrose yellow.

"Almost the colour of her hair," he thought.

"I must have a shuvver to overhaul the machine, until I've been put wise," he said, when, after some discussion, he had agreed to buy the yellow car if it were satisfactory. "But I want to learn to drive right away. I'd sure be on pins and needles, sittin' like a duke, in behind, with somebody else at the helm. How long will it take me? I'm pretty quick at pickin' up new things."

"Can you drive a horse?" the man inquired.

Nick laughed. "I can worry along some."

Few men in California knew more about horses than he.

"Well, then, you'll get the trick of steering sooner. Six or seven lessons might do you."

"Lessons of an hour or two?"

"Well, yes. That's about it."

"Suppose I pay extra, and practise extra? If I keep at it all day and every day, will I be warranted safe and kind after, say, four lessons? I can have several men to teach me maybe, if I tire one out."

"But you're only one man. Keeping at it like that you'd feel a strain."

"No, I wouldn't," said Nick. "I'd have a doze or two and a sandwich or two in between spins. No harder work than a round-up."

"All right, then. In four days like that you'll be a dandy driver, I promise you, Mr. Hilliard," said the man of the garage.

"Fit to drive-ladies?"

"Fit to drive a queen."

"That's what I want to do," mumbled Nick under his breath.

* * *

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