The Majestic came gliding into New York harbor on an April morning. She sniffed at the tugboats and turtle-gaited ferries, winked at a gaudy young yacht, and ordered a cattle-boat out of her way with a snarling whistle of steam. Then she parked at her private dock with all the fuss of a stout lady sitting down, and announced complacently that she had just come from Cherbourg and Southampton with a cargo of the very best people in the world.
The very best people in the world stood on the deck and waved idiotically to their poor relations who were waiting on the dock for gloves from Paris. Before long a great toboggan had connected the Majestic with the North American continent, and the ship began to disgorge these very best people in the world—who turned out to be Gloria Swanson, two buyers from Lord & Taylor, the financial minister from Graustark with a proposal for funding the debt, and an African king who had been trying to land somewhere all winter and was feeling violently seasick.
The photographers worked passionately as the stream of passengers flowed on to the dock. There was a burst of cheering at the appearance of a pair of stretchers laden with two Middle-Westerners who had drunk themselves delirious on the last night out.
The deck gradually emptied, but when the last bottle of Benedictine had reached shore the photographers still remained at their posts. And the officer in charge of debarkation still stood at the foot of the gangway, glancing first at his watch and then at the deck as if some important part of the cargo was still on board. At last from the watchers on the pier there arose a long-drawn “Ah-h-h!” as a final entourage began to stream down from deck B. First came two French maids, carrying small, purple dogs, and followed by a squad of porters, blind and invisible under innumerable bunches and bouquets of fresh flowers. Another maid followed, leading a sad-eyed orphan child of a French flavor, and close upon its heels walked the second officer pulling along three neurasthenic wolfhounds, much to their reluctance and his own.
A pause. Then the captain, Sir Howard George Witchcraft, appeared at the rail, with something that might have been a pile of gorgeous silver-fox fur standing by his side.
Rags Martin-Jones, after five years in the capitals of Europe, was returning to her native land!
Rags Martin-Jones was not a dog. She was half a girl and half a flower, and as she shook hands with Captain Sir Howard George Witchcraft she smiled as if some one had told her the newest, freshest joke in the world. All the people who had not already left the pier felt that smile trembling on the April air and turned around to see.
She came slowly down the gangway. Her hat, an expensive, inscrutable experiment, was crushed under her arm, so that her scant boy’s hair, convict’s hair, tried unsuccessfully to toss and flop a little in the harbor wind. Her face was like seven o’clock on a wedding morning save where she had slipped a preposterous monocle into an eye of clear childish blue. At every few steps her long lashes would tilt out the monocle, and she would laugh, a bored, happy laugh, and replace the supercilious spectacle in the other eye.
Tap! Her one hundred and five pounds reached the pier and it seemed to sway and bend from the shock of her beauty. A few porters fainted. A large, sentimental shark which had followed the ship across made a despairing leap to see her once more, and then dove, broken-hearted, back into the deep sea. Rags Martin-Jones had come home.
There was no member of her family there to meet her, for the simple reason that she was the only member of her family left alive. In 1913 her parents had gone down on the Titanic together rather than be separated in this world, and so the Martin-Jones fortune of seventy-five millions had been inherited by a very little girl on her tenth birthday. It was what the consumer always refers to as a “shame.”
Rags Martin-Jones (everybody had forgotten her real name long ago) was now photographed from all sides. The monocle persistently fell out, and she kept laughing and yawning and replacing it, so no very clear picture of her was taken—except by the motion-picture camera. All the photographs, however, included a flustered, handsome young man, with an almost ferocious love-light burning in his eyes, who had met her on the dock. His name was John M. Chestnut, he had already written the story of his success for the American Magazine, and he had been hopelessly in love with Rags ever since the time when she, like the tides, had come under the influence of the summer moon.
When Rags became really aware of his presence they were walking down the pier, and she looked at him blankly as though she had never seen him before in this world.
“Rags,” he began, “Rags—”
“John M. Chestnut?” she inquired, inspecting him with great interest.
“Of course!” he exclaimed angrily. “Are you trying to pretend you don’t know me? That you didn’t write me to meet you here?”
She laughed. A chauffeur appeared at her elbow, and she twisted out of her coat, revealing a dress made in great splashy checks of sea-blue and gray. She shook herself like a wet bird.
“I’ve got a lot of junk to declare,” she remarked absently.
“So have I,” said Chestnut anxiously, “and the first thing I want to declare is that I’ve loved you, Rags, every minute since you’ve been away.”
She stopped him with a groan.
“Please! There were some young Americans on the boat. The subject has become a bore.”
“My God!” cried Chestnut, “do you mean to say that you class MY love with what was said to you on a BOAT?”
His voice had risen, and several people in the vicinity turned to hear.
“Sh!” she warned him, “I’m not giving a circus. If you want me to even see you while I’m here, you’ll have to be less violent.”
But John M. Chestnut seemed unable to control his voice.
“Do you mean to say”—it trembled to a carrying pitch—“that you’ve forgotten what you said on this very pier five years ago last Thursday?”
Half the passengers from the ship were now watching the scene on the dock, and another little eddy drifted out of the customs-house to see.
“John”—her displeasure was increasing—“if you raise your voice again I’ll arrange it so you’ll have plenty of chance to cool off. I’m going to the Ritz. Come and see me there this afternoon.”
“But, Rags!” he protested hoarsely. “Listen to me. Five years ago—”
Then the watchers on the dock were treated to a curious sight. A beautiful lady in a checkered dress of sea-blue and gray took a brisk step forward so that her hands came into contact with an excited young man by her side. The young man retreating instinctively reached back with his foot, but, finding nothing, relapsed gently off the thirty-foot dock and plopped, after a not ungraceful revolution, into the Hudson River.
A shout of alarm went up, and there was a rush to the edge just as his head appeared above water. He was swimming easily, and, perceiving this, the young lady who had apparently been the cause of the accident leaned over the pier and made a megaphone of her hands.
“I’ll be in at half past four,” she cried.
And with a cheerful wave of her hand, which the engulfed gentleman was unable to return, she adjusted her monocle, threw one haughty glance at the gathered crowd, and walked leisurely from the scene.
The five dogs, the three maids, and the French orphan were installed in the largest suite at the Ritz, and Rags tumbled lazily into a steaming bath, fragrant with herbs, where she dozed for the greater part of an hour. At the end of that time she received business calls from a masseuse, a manicure, and finally a Parisian hair-dresser, who restored her hair-cut to criminal’s length. When John M. Chestnut arrived at four he found half a dozen lawyers and bankers, the administrators of the Martin-Jones trust fund, waiting in the hall. They had been there since half past one, and were now in a state of considerable agitation.
After one of the maids had subjected him to a severe scrutiny, possibly to be sure that he was thoroughly dry, John was conducted immediately into the presence of m’selle. M’selle was in her bedroom reclining on the chaise-longue among two dozen silk pillows that had accompanied her from the other side. John came into the room somewhat stiffly and greeted her with a formal bow.
“You look better,” she said, raising herself from her pillows and staring at him appraisingly. “It gave you a color.”
He thanked her coldly for the compliment.
“You ought to go in every morning.” And then she added irrelevantly: “I’m going back to Paris tomorrow.”
John Chestnut gasped.
“I wrote you that I didn’t intend to stay more than a week anyhow,” she added.
“Why should I? There isn’t an amusing man in New York.”
“But listen, Rags, won’t you give me a chance? Won’t you stay for, say, ten days and get to know me a little?”
“Know you!” Her tone implied that he was already a far too open book. “I want a man who’s capable of a gallant gesture.”
“Do you mean you want me to express myself entirely in pantomime?”
Rags uttered a disgusted sigh.
“I mean you haven’t any imagination,” she explained patiently. “No Americans have any imagination. Paris is the only large city where a civilized woman can breathe.”
“Don’t you care for me at all any more?”
“I wouldn’t have crossed the Atlantic to see you if I didn’t. But as soon as I looked over the Americans on the boat, I knew I couldn’t marry one. I’d just hate you, John, and the only fun I’d have out of it would be the fun of breaking your heart.”
She began to twist herself down among the cushions until she almost disappeared from view.
“I’ve lost my monocle,” she explained.
After an unsuccessful search in the silken depths she discovered the illusive glass hanging down the back of her neck.
“I’d love to be in love,” she went on, replacing the monocle in her childish eye. “Last spring in Sorrento I almost eloped with an Indian rajah, but he was half a shade too dark, and I took an intense dislike to one of his other wives.”
“Don’t talk that rubbish!” cried John, sinking his face into his hands.
“Well, I didn’t marry him,” she protested. “But in one way he had a lot to offer. He was the third richest subject of the British Empire. That’s another thing—are you rich?”
“Not as rich as you.”
“There you are. What have you to offer me?”
“Love!” She disappeared again among the cushions. “Listen, John. Life to me is a series of glistening bazaars with a merchant in front of each one rubbing his hands together and saying ’Patronize this place here. Best bazaar in the world.’ So I go in with my purse full of beauty and money and youth, all prepared to buy. ’What have you got for sale?’ I ask him, and he rubs his hands together and says: ’Well, Mademoiselle, to-day we have some perfectly be-OO-tiful love.’ Sometimes he hasn’t even got that in stock, but he sends out for it when he finds I have so much money to spend. Oh, he always gives me love before I go—and for nothing. That’s the one revenge I have.”
John Chestnut rose despairingly to his feet and took a step toward the window.
“Don’t throw yourself out,” Rags exclaimed quickly.
“All right.” He tossed his cigarette down into Madison Avenue.
“It isn’t just you,” she said in a softer voice. “Dull and uninspired as you are, I care for you more than I can say. But life’s so endless here. Nothing ever comes off.”
“Loads of things come off,” he insisted. “Why, to-day there was an intellectual murder in Hoboken and a suicide by proxy in Maine. A bill to sterilize agnostics is before Congress—”
“I have no interest in humor,” she objected, “but I have an almost archaic predilection for romance. Why, John, last month I sat at a dinner-table while two men flipped a coin for the kingdom of Schwartzberg-Rhineminster. In Paris I knew a man named Blutchdak who really started the war, and has a new one planned for year after next.”
“Well, just for a rest you come out with me tonight,” he said doggedly.
“Where to?” demanded Rags with scorn. “Do you think I still thrill at a night-club and a bottle of sugary mousseaux? I prefer my own gaudy dreams.”
“I’ll take you to the most highly-strung place in the city.”
“What’ll happen? You’ve got to tell me what’ll happen.”
John Chestnut suddenly drew a long breath and looked cautiously around as if he were afraid of being overheard.
“Well, to tell you the truth,” he said in a low, worried tone, “if everything was known, something pretty awful would be liable to happen to ME.”
She sat upright and the pillows tumbled about her like leaves.
“Do you mean to imply that there’s anything shady in your life?” she cried, with laughter in her voice. “Do you expect me to believe that? No, John, you’ll have your fun by plugging ahead on the beaten path—just plugging ahead.”
Her mouth, a small insolent rose, dropped the words on him like thorns. John took his hat and coat from the chair and picked up his cane.
“For the last time—will you come along with me to-night and see what you will see?”
“See what? See who? Is there anything in this country worth seeing?”
“Well,” he said, in a matter-of-fact tone, “for one thing you’ll see the Prince of Wales.”
“What?” She left the chaise-longue at a bound. “Is he back in New York?”
“He will be to-night. Would you care to see him?”
“Would I? I’ve never seen him. I’ve missed him everywhere. I’d give a year of my life to see him for an hour.” Her voice trembled with excitement.
“He’s been in Canada. He’s down here incognito for the big prize-fight this afternoon. And I happen to know where he’s going to be to-night.”
Rags gave a sharp ecstatic cry:
“Dominic! Louise! Germaine!”
The three maids came running. The room filled suddenly with vibrations of wild, startled light.
“Dominic, the car!” cried Rags in French. “St. Raphael, my gold dress and the slippers with the real gold heels. The big pearls too—all the pearls, and the egg-diamond and the stockings with the sapphire clocks. Germaine—send for a beauty-parlor on the run. My bath again—ice cold and half full of almond cream. Dominic—Tiffany’s, like lightning, before they close. Find me a brooch, a pendant, a tiara, anything—it doesn’t matter—with the arms of the house of Windsor.”
She was fumbling at the buttons of her dress—and as John turned quickly to go, it was already sliding from her shoulders.
“Orchids!” she called after him, “orchids, for the love of heaven! Four dozen, so I can choose four.”
And then maids flew here and there about the room like frightened birds. “Perfume, St. Raphael, open the perfume trunk, and my rose-colored sables, and my diamond garters, and the sweet-oil for my hands! Here, take these things! This too—and this—ouch!—and this!”
With becoming modesty John Chestnut closed the outside door. The six trustees in various postures of fatigue, of ennui, of resignation, of despair, were still cluttering up the outer hall.
“Gentlemen,” announced John Chestnut, “I fear that Miss Martin-Jones is much too weary from her trip to talk to you this afternoon.”
“This place, for no particular reason, is called the Hole in the Sky.”
Rags looked around her. They were on a roof-garden wide open to the April night. Overhead the true stars winked cold, and there was a lunar sliver of ice in the dark west. But where they stood it was warm as June, and the couples dining or dancing on the opaque glass floor were unconcerned with the forbidding sky.
“What makes it so warm?” she whispered as they moved toward a table.
“It’s some new invention that keeps the warm air from rising. I don’t know the principle of the thing, but I know that they can keep it open like this even in the middle of winter—”
“Where’s the Prince of Wales?” she demanded tensely.
John looked around.
“He hasn’t arrived yet. He won’t be here for about half an hour.”
She sighed profoundly.
“It’s the first time I’ve been excited in four years.”
Four years—one year less than he had loved her. He wondered if when she was sixteen, a wild lovely child, sitting up all night in restaurants with officers who were to leave for Brest next day, losing the glamour of life too soon in the old, sad, poignant days of the war, she had ever been so lovely as under these amber lights and this dark sky. From her excited eyes to her tiny slipper heels, which were striped with layers of real silver and gold, she was like one of those amazing ships that are carved complete in a bottle. She was finished with that delicacy, with that care; as though the long lifetime of some worker in fragility had been used to make her so. John Chestnut wanted to take her up in his hands, turn her this way and that, examine the tip of a slipper or the tip of an ear or squint closely at the fairy stuff from which her lashes were made.
“Who’s that?” She pointed suddenly to a handsome Latin at a table over the way.
“That’s Roderigo Minerlino, the movie and face-cream star. Perhaps he’ll dance after a while.”
Rags became suddenly aware of the sound of violins and drums, but the music seemed to come from far away, seemed to float over the crisp night and on to the floor with the added remoteness of a dream.
“The orchestra’s on another roof,” explained John. “It’s a new idea—Look, the entertainment’s beginning.”
A negro girl, thin as a reed, emerged suddenly from a masked entrance into a circle of harsh barbaric light, startled the music to a wild minor, and commenced to sing a rhythmic, tragic song. The pipe of her body broke abruptly and she began a slow incessant step, without progress and without hope, like the failure of a savage insufficient dream. She had lost Papa Jack, she cried over and over with a hysterical monotony at once despairing and unreconciled. One by one the loud horns tried to force her from the steady beat of madness but she listened only to the mutter of the drums which were isolating her in some lost place in time, among many thousand forgotten years. After the failure of the piccolo, she made herself again into a thin brown line, wailed once with sharp and terrible intensity, then vanished into sudden darkness.
“If you lived in New York you wouldn’t need to be told who she is,” said John when the amber light flashed on. “The next fella is Sheik B. Smith, a comedian of the fatuous, garrulous sort—”
He broke off. Just as the lights went down for the second number Rags had given a long sigh, and leaned forward tensely in her chair. Her eyes were rigid like the eyes of a pointer dog, and John saw that they were fixed on a party that had come through a side entrance, and were arranging themselves around a table in the half-darkness.
The table was shielded with palms, and Rags at first made out only three dim forms. Then she distinguished a fourth who seemed to be placed well behind the other three—a pale oval of a face topped with a glimmer of dark-yellow hair.
“Hello!” ejaculated John. “There’s his majesty now.”
Her breath seemed to die murmurously in her throat. She was dimly aware that the comedian was now standing in a glow of white light on the dancing floor, that he had been talking for some moments, and that there was a constant ripple of laughter in the air. But her eyes remained motionless, enchanted. She saw one of the party bend and whisper to another, and after the low glitter of a match the bright button of a cigarette end gleamed in the background. How long it was before she moved she did not know. Then something seemed to happen to her eyes, something white, something terribly urgent, and she wrenched about sharply to find herself full in the center of a baby spot-light from above. She became aware that words were being said to her from somewhere, and that a quick trail of laughter was circling the roof, but the light blinded her, and instinctively she made a half-movement from her chair.
“Sit still!” John was whispering across the table. “He picks somebody out for this every night.”
Then she realized—it was the comedian, Sheik B. Smith. He was talking to her, arguing with her—about something that seemed incredibly funny to every one else, but came to her ears only as a blur of muddled sound. Instinctively she had composed her face at the first shock of the light and now she smiled. It was a gesture of rare self-possession. Into this smile she insinuated a vast impersonality, as if she were unconscious of the light, unconscious of his attempt to play upon her loveliness—but amused at an infinitely removed HIM, whose darts might have been thrown just as successfully at the moon. She was no longer a “lady”—a lady would have been harsh or pitiful or absurd; Rags stripped her attitude to a sheer consciousness of her own impervious beauty, sat there glittering until the comedian began to feel alone as he had never felt alone before. At a signal from him the spot-light was switched suddenly out. The moment was over.
The moment was over, the comedian left the floor, and the far-away music began. John leaned toward her.
“I’m sorry. There really wasn’t anything to do. You were wonderful.”
She dismissed the incident with a casual laugh—then she started, there were now only two men sitting at the table across the floor.
“He’s gone!” she exclaimed in quick distress.
“Don’t worry—he’ll be back. He’s got to be awfully careful, you see, so he’s probably waiting outside with one of his aides until it gets dark again.”
“Why has he got to be careful?”
“Because he’s not supposed to be in New York. He’s even under one of his second-string names.”
The lights dimmed again, and almost immediately a tall man appeared out of the darkness and approached their table.
“May I introduce myself?” he said rapidly to John in a supercilious British voice. “Lord Charles Este, of Baron Marchbanks’ party.” He glanced at John closely as if to be sure that he appreciated the significance of the name.
“That is between ourselves, you understand.”
Rags groped on the table for her untouched champagne, and tipped the glassful down her throat.
“Baron Marchbanks requests that your companion will join his party during this number.”
Both men looked at Rags. There was a moment’s pause.
“Very well,” she said, and glanced back again interrogatively at John. Again he nodded. She rose and with her heart beating wildly threaded the tables, making the half-circuit of the room; then melted, a slim figure in shimmering gold, into the table set in half-darkness.
The number drew to a close, and John Chestnut sat alone at his table, stirring auxiliary bubbles in his glass of champagne. Just before the lights went on, there was a soft rasp of gold cloth, and Rags, flushed and breathing quickly, sank into her chair. Her eyes were shining with tears.
John looked at her moodily.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He was very quiet.”
“Didn’t he say a word?”
Her hand trembled as she took up her glass of champagne.
“He just looked at me while it was dark. And he said a few conventional things. He was like his pictures, only he looks very bored and tired. He didn’t even ask my name.”
“Is he leaving New York to-night?”
“In half an hour. He and his aides have a car outside, and they expect to be over the border before dawn.”
“Did you find him—fascinating?”
She hesitated and then slowly nodded her head.
“That’s what everybody says,” admitted John glumly. “Do they expect you back there?”
“I don’t know.” She looked uncertainly across the floor but the celebrated personage had again withdrawn from his table to some retreat outside. As she turned back an utterly strange young man who had been standing for a moment in the main entrance came toward them hurriedly. He was a deathly pale person in a dishevelled and inappropriate business suit, and he had laid a trembling hand on John Chestnut’s shoulder.
“Monte!” exclaimed John, starting up so suddenly that he upset his champagne. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
“They’ve picked up the trail!” said the young man in a shaken whisper. He looked around. “I’ve got to speak to you alone.”
John Chestnut jumped to his feet, and Rags noticed that his face too had become white as the napkin in his hand. He excused himself and they retreated to an unoccupied table a few feet away. Rags watched them curiously for a moment, then she resumed her scrutiny of the table across the floor. Would she be asked to come back? The prince had simply risen and bowed and gone outside. Perhaps she should have waited until he returned, but though she was still tense with excitement she had, to some extent, become Rags Martin-Jones again. Her curiosity was satisfied—any new urge must come from him. She wondered if she had really felt an intrinsic charm—she wondered especially if he had in any marked way responded to her beauty.
The pale person called Monte disappeared and John returned to the table. Rags was startled to find that a tremendous change had come over him. He lurched into his chair like a drunken man.
“John! What’s the matter?”
Instead of answering, he reached for the champagne bottle, but his fingers were trembling so that the splattered wine made a wet yellow ring around his glass.
“Are you sick?”
“Rags,” he said unsteadily, “I’m all through.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m all through, I tell you.” He managed a sickly smile. “There’s been a warrant out for me for over an hour.”
“What have you done?” she demanded in a frightened voice. “What’s the warrant for?”
The lights went out for the next number, and he collapsed suddenly over the table.
“What is it?” she insisted, with rising apprehension. She leaned forward—his answer was barely audible.
“Murder?” She could feel her body grow cold as ice.
He nodded. She took hold of both arms and tried to shake him upright, as one shakes a coat into place. His eyes were rolling in his head.
“Is it true? Have they got proof?”
Again he nodded drunkenly.
“Then you’ve got to get out of the country now! Do you understand, John? You’ve got to get out NOW, before they come looking for you here!”
He loosed a wild glance of terror toward the entrance.
“Oh, God!” cried Rags, “why don’t you do something?” Her eyes strayed here and there in desperation, became suddenly fixed. She drew in her breath sharply, hesitated, and then whispered fiercely into his ear.
“If I arrange it, will you go to Canada tonight?”
“I’ll arrange it—if you’ll pull yourself together a little. This is Rags talking to you, don’t you understand, John? I want you to sit here and not move until I come back!”
A minute later she had crossed the room under cover of the darkness.
“Baron Marchbanks,” she whispered softly, standing just behind his chair.
He motioned her to sit down.
“Have you room in your car for two more passengers to-night?”
One of the aides turned around abruptly.
“His lordship’s car is full,” he said shortly.
“It’s terribly urgent.” Her voice was trembling.
“Well,” said the prince hesitantly, “I don’t know.”
Lord Charles Este looked at the prince and shook his head.
“I don’t think it’s advisable. This is a ticklish business anyhow with contrary orders from home. You know we agreed there’d be no complications.”
The prince frowned.
“This isn’t a complication,” he objected.
Este turned frankly to Rags.
“Why is it urgent?”
“Why”—she flushed suddenly—“it’s a runaway marriage.”
The prince laughed.
“Good!” he exclaimed. “That settles it. Este is just being official. Bring him over right away. We’re leaving shortly, what?”
Este looked at his watch.
Rags rushed away. She wanted to move the whole party from the roof while the lights were still down.
“Hurry!” she cried in John’s ear. “We’re going over the border—with the Prince of Wales. You’ll be safe by morning.”
He looked up at her with dazed eyes. She hurriedly paid the check, and seizing his arm piloted him as inconspicuously as possible to the other table, where she introduced him with a word. The prince acknowledged his presence by shaking hands—the aides nodded, only faintly concealing their displeasure.
“We’d better start,” said Este, looking impatiently at his watch.
They were on their feet when suddenly an exclamation broke from all of them—two policemen and a red-haired man in plain clothes had come in at the main door.
“Out we go,” breathed Este, impelling the party toward the side entrance. “There’s going to be some kind of riot here.” He swore—two more blue-coats barred the exit there. They paused uncertainly. The plain-clothes man was beginning a careful inspection of the people at the tables.
Este looked sharply at Rags and then at John, who shrank back behind the palms.
“Is that one of your revenue fellas out there?” demanded Este.
“No,” whispered Rags. “There’s going to be trouble. Can’t we get out this entrance?”
The prince with rising impatience sat down again in his chair.
“Let me know when you chaps are ready to go.” He smiled at Rags. “Now just suppose we all get in trouble just for that jolly face of yours.”
Then suddenly the lights went up. The plain-clothes man whirled around quickly and sprang to the middle of the cabaret floor.
“Nobody try to leave this room!” he shouted. “Sit down, that party behind the palms! Is John M. Chestnut in this room?”
Rags gave a short involuntary cry.
“Here!” cried the detective to the policeman behind him. “Take a look at that funny bunch across over there. Hands up, you men!”
“My God!” whispered Este, “we’ve got to get out of here!” He turned to the prince. “This won’t do, Ted. You can’t be seen here. I’ll stall them off while you get down to the car.”
He took a step toward the side entrance.
“Hands up, there!” shouted the plain-clothes man. “And when I say hands up I mean it! Which one of you’s Chestnut?”
“You’re mad!” cried Este. “We’re British subjects. We’re not involved in this affair in any way!”
A woman screamed somewhere, and there was a general movement toward the elevator, a movement which stopped short before the muzzles of two automatic pistols. A girl next to Rags collapsed in a dead faint to the floor, and at the same moment the music on the other roof began to play.
“Stop that music!” bellowed the plain-clothes man. “And get some earrings on that whole bunch—quick!”
Two policemen advanced toward the party, and simultaneously Este and the other aides drew their revolvers, and, shielding the prince as they best could, began to edge toward the side. A shot rang out and then another, followed by a crash of silver and china as half a dozen diners overturned their tables and dropped quickly behind.
The panic became general. There were three shots in quick succession, and then a fusillade. Rags saw Este firing coolly at the eight amber lights above, and a thick fume of gray smoke began to fill the air. As a strange undertone to the shouting and screaming came the incessant clamor of the distant jazz band.
Then in a moment it was all over. A shrill whistle rang out over the roof, and through the smoke Rags saw John Chestnut advancing toward the plain-clothes man, his hands held out in a gesture of surrender. There was a last nervous cry, a chill clatter as some one inadvertently stepped into a pile of dishes, and then a heavy silence fell on the roof—even the band seemed to have died away.
“It’s all over!” John Chestnut’s voice rang out wildly on the night air. “The party’s over. Everybody who wants to can go home!”
Still there was silence—Rags knew it was the silence of awe—the strain of guilt had driven John Chestnut insane.
“It was a great performance,” he was shouting. “I want to thank you one and all. If you can find any tables still standing, champagne will be served as long as you care to stay.”
It seemed to Rags that the roof and the high stars suddenly began to swim round and round. She saw John take the detective’s hand and shake it heartily, and she watched the detective grin and pocket his gun. The music had recommenced, and the girl who had fainted was suddenly dancing with Lord Charles Este in the corner. John was running here and there patting people on the back, and laughing and shaking hands. Then he was coming toward her, fresh and innocent as a child.
“Wasn’t it wonderful?” he cried.
Rags felt a faintness stealing over her. She groped backward with her hand toward a chair.
“What was it?” she cried dazedly. “Am I dreaming?”
“Of course not! You’re wide awake. I made it up, Rags, don’t you see? I made up the whole thing for you. I had it invented! The only thing real about it was my name!”
She collapsed suddenly against his coat, clung to his lapels, and would have wilted to the floor if he had not caught her quickly in his arms.
“Some champagne—quick!” he called, and then he shouted at the Prince of Wales, who stood near by. “Order my car quick, you! Miss Martin-Jones has fainted from excitement.”
The skyscraper rose bulkily through thirty tiers of windows before it attenuated itself to a graceful sugar-loaf of shining white. Then it darted up again another hundred feet, thinned to a mere oblong tower in its last fragile aspiration toward the sky. At the highest of its high windows Rags Martin-Jones stood full in the stiff breeze, gazing down at the city.
“Mr. Chestnut wants to know if you’ll come right in to his private office.”
Obediently her slim feet moved along the carpet into a high, cool chamber overlooking the harbor and the wide sea.
John Chestnut sat at his desk, waiting, and Rags walked to him and put her arms around his shoulder.
“Are you sure YOU’RE real?” she asked anxiously. “Are you absolutely SURE?”
“You only wrote me a week before you came,” he protested modestly, “or I could have arranged a revolution.”
“Was the whole thing just MINE?” she demanded. “Was it a perfectly useless, gorgeous thing, just for me?”
“Useless?” He considered. “Well, it started out to be. At the last minute I invited a big restaurant man to be there, and while you were at the other table I sold him the whole idea of the night-club.”
He looked at his watch.
“I’ve got one more thing to do—and then we’ve got just time to be married before lunch.” He picked up his telephone. “Jackson? . . . Send a triplicated cable to Paris, Berlin, and Budapest and have those two bogus dukes who tossed up for Schwartzberg-Rhineminster chased over the Polish border. If the Dutchy won’t act, lower the rate of exchange to point triple zero naught two. Also, that idiot Blutchdak is in the Balkans again, trying to start a new war. Put him on the first boat for New York or else throw him in a Greek jail.”
He rang off, turned to the startled cosmopolite with a laugh.
“The next stop is the City Hall. Then, if you like, we’ll run over to Paris.”
“John,” she asked him intently, “who was the Prince of Wales?”
He waited till they were in the elevator, dropping twenty floors at a swoop. Then he leaned forward and tapped the lift-boy on the shoulder.
“Not so fast, Cedric. This lady isn’t used to falls from high places.”
The elevator-boy turned around, smiled. His face was pale, oval, framed in yellow hair. Rags blushed like fire.
“Cedric’s from Wessex,” explained John. “The resemblance is, to say the least, amazing. Princes are not particularly discreet, and I suspect Cedric of being a Guelph in some left-handed way.”
Rags took the monocle from around her neck and threw the ribbon over Cedric’s head.
“Thank you,” she said simply, “for the second greatest thrill of my life.”
John Chestnut began rubbing his hands together in a commercial gesture.
“Patronize this place, lady,” he besought her. “Best bazaar in the city!”
“What have you got for sale?”
“Well, m’selle, to-day we have some perfectly bee-OO-tiful love.”
“Wrap it up, Mr. Merchant,” cried Rags Martin-Jones. “It looks like a bargain to me.”
Published in “McCall's” (July 1924)
“Rags Martin Jones: Struck by personality of girl just home from Europe and hating America. Also gossip about Prince of Wales. Invention.
Перевод А. Б. Руднева: «Сиротка» Мартин-Джонс и Пр-нц У-льский