That affair at elizabeth, p.1
That Affair at Elizabeth, p.1Burton Egbert Stevenson
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THAT AFFAIR AT ELIZABETH
BY BURTON E. STEVENSON
AUTHOR OF "THE MARATHON MYSTERY," "THE HOLLADAY CASE," ETC.
NEW YORK HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY 1907
COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
_Published October, 1907_
THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS RAHWAY, N. J.
I. AN URGENT SUMMONS
II. A BRIDE'S VAGARY
III. THE LOVER'S STORY
IV. A STRANGE MESSAGE
V. DEEPER IN THE MAZE
VI. AN ASTONISHING REQUEST
VII. TANGLED THREADS
VIII. THE PATH THROUGH THE GROVE
IX. THE OLD SORROW
X. THE MYSTERIOUS LIGHT
XI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
XII. WORD FROM THE FUGITIVE
XIV. RECALLED TO THE FRONT
XV. A BATTLE OF WITS
XVI. THE SECRET OF THE CELLAR
XVII. A TRAGEDY UNFORESEEN
XVIII. A NEW TURN TO THE PUZZLE
XIX. UNDER SUSPICION
XX. AN APPEAL FOR ADVICE
XXII. LIGHT AT LAST!
XXIII. THE STORY
XXIV. THE SECRET
XXV. THE REVELATION
XXVI. THE RETURN
XXVII. THE CURTAIN LIFTS
THAT AFFAIR AT ELIZABETH
An Urgent Summons
"That seems to be all right, Lester," said Mr. Royce, and handed thepapers back to me. "I'll be mighty glad when we get that off our hands."
So, I knew, would the whole force of the office, for the case had beenan unusually irritating one, tangling itself up in the most unexpectedways, until, with petitions and counter-petitions and answers anddemurrers and what not, we were all heartily tired of it. I slipped thepapers into an envelope and shot them into a pigeon-hole with a sigh ofrelief.
"I think that'll end it," I said. "I don't see how there can be anyfurther delay."
"No," agreed our junior, "neither do I. Are the papers in the Griffincase ready?"
"Not yet; I doubt if they will be ready before this afternoon."
"Well, they can wait," he said, and glanced at his watch. "I want tocatch the ten-ten for Elizabeth."
"Yes. I know it's a mighty awkward time for me to leave, but it's anengagement I've got to keep. You've heard me speak of Burr Curtiss?"
"Yes," I said; "I seem to remember the name."
"He's been one of my best friends for the past ten years. I met himfirst at Yale, and a liking sprang up between us, which grew stronger astime went on. I played a sort of second fiddle to him, then, for he waspresident of the class in his senior year and was voted the most popularman in it. He came to New York, as soon as he was graduated, and got aplace on the construction staff of the Pennsylvania road. He wasassigned to one of the western divisions, and I didn't see anything ofhim for two or three years, but finally he was recalled, and we used tohobnob at the University Club. Since my marriage, he comes around tosmoke a pipe with me occasionally and talk over old times. He's a socialfellow, likes companionship, and, my wife says, is just the man to makea woman happy; so when he wrote me a note, two months ago, announcinghis engagement, we were naturally curious concerning the woman in thecase--for his ideals were high--too high, I always told him."
Mr. Royce paused and sat for a moment smiling out the window at the greywall of the building opposite.
"I remember it was one evening early last winter," he went on at last,"that Curtiss happened in and, as we sat smoking together, our talksomehow turned to women. It was then I learned what an idealist he was.The woman to win his heart must be accomplished, of course; witty,knowing the world, and yet unsoiled by it, capable of original thought,of being her husband's intellectual companion--so much for the mentalside. Physically--well, physically he wanted a Venus de Milo or Helen ofTroy, nothing less. I laughed at him. I pointed out that beautiful womenare seldom intellectual. But he was obdurate. He protested that he wouldcapitulate on no other terms. I retorted that, in that case, he wouldprobably remain a bachelor."
"But," I remarked, "it seems to me that this friend of yours is a trifleegotistical. What has he to offer in exchange for such perfection?"
"Well," said Mr. Royce slowly, "it would be a good bargain on bothsides. Given such a woman, I could fancy her longing for such a man asCurtiss, just as he would long for her. I've told you something of hismental calibre--physically, he's the handsomest man I ever saw. And itseems to me he gets handsomer every year. In our college days, he wasrather too stout, too girlish-looking, but hard work and contact withthe world have rubbed all that away. George!" he added, "the children ofsuch a pair would be fit for Olympus!"
"And did he find her?" I asked, curious for the rest of the story.
"After I got his note," said my companion, "I hunted him up at hisapartments as soon as I could. He let me in himself, got out his cigars,and sat down opposite me fairly beaming. I looked him over--I had neverbefore seen a man who seemed so supremely happy.
"'So,' I asked at last, 'you've found her?'
"'Yes,' he said; 'yes.'
"'The woman you were looking for?'
"'The very woman.'
"'That impossible ideal?'
"'An ideal, yes; but not impossible, since she exists in the flesh and Ihave found her.'
"'Well, you're a lucky dog,' I said. 'Tell me about her.'
"So he told me--quite a Laura Jean Libbey story. She was everything, itseemed, that could be desired in a woman.
"'And beautiful?' I asked him.
"For reply, he brought out a photograph from his desk. I tell you,Lester, it fairly took my breath away. I felt as though I were lookingat a masterpiece--say Andrea del Sarto's Madonna. And I would as soonhave thought of marrying the one as the other. It was like snatching astar down out of heaven.
"Curtiss was leaning back in his chair watching me, and he smiled as Ilooked up.
"'Well?' he asked.
"I went over and shook hands with him--I couldn't find words to tell himwhat I felt.
"'But where has she been?' I demanded. 'How does it happen she was leftfor you?'
"'She's been abroad for five or six years,' he explained.
"'That's no answer,' I said. 'Why isn't she a queen, then; or a duchess,at least?'
"'She's had chances enough, I dare say,' and he smiled at my enthusiasm.'I agree with you that she's worthy to wear a crown; but then, you see,she has ideals, too. Perhaps none of the kings she met measured up tothem.'
"'And you did?'
"'She's good enough to think so.'
"I had been idling over the photograph, and my eyes happened to fallupon some lines written across the back--I didn't know them, then, butI've looked them up, since:--
'My days were sunless and my nights were moonless, Parched the pleasant April herbage and the lark's heart's outbreak tuneless, If you loved me not!'
"I tell you, Lester," and there was a little break in our junior'svoice, "I was overwhelmed. You know, love--passion--the real thing thepoets write about--has grown mighty rare in this world. We're toocommercial for it, I suppose; too much given to calculating chances. Buthere I was, face to face with it. Well, I was unequal to thesituation--I didn't know what to say, but he helped me.
"'The date hasn't been set, yet,' he said,
"I was glad of the chance to be of service and told him so," concludedMr. Royce, glancing again at his watch and rising hastily. "Thewedding's to be at noon to-day. You see I'm cutting it rather fine. I'dintended to go down yesterday afternoon, but that Barnaby petition upsetmy plans. I'll be back to-night or in the morning at the latest. In themeantime, if anything imperative turns up, a telegram to the SheridanHouse at Elizabeth will catch me."
"Very well," I replied and made a note of the address. "But don't worryabout the work here. I'll get along all right."
"Of course you will," he agreed, and an instant later, the door closedbehind him.
But more than once in the course of the morning, I was inclined to thinkthat I had spoken too confidently. Mr. Graham, our senior partner, hadbroken down about a month before, under a stress of work which had beenunusual, even for our office, and had been ordered away for a longvacation; one or two members of the office force had resigned to acceptother positions, and the task of filling their places was one whichrequired thought and care; so for the time being, we were extremelyshort-handed.
That morning, perversely enough, it seemed to me that the work piled upeven more rapidly than usual, and it was not until the mellow chimes ofTrinity, marking the noon hour, floated through the open window, that Isucceeded in clearing away the most pressing portion of the morning'sbusiness, and leaned back in my chair with a sigh of satisfaction. ThatMarjoribanks case was now ours; Mr. Royce would approve....
No doubt, at this very moment, he was before the altar of the Elizabethchurch, listening to the low responses. I had only to close my eyes topicture the scene--the dim, flower-decked interior; thehandsomely-gowned, sympathetically-expectant audience; the bride,supremely beautiful in her veil and orange blossoms, her eyes downcast,the warm colour coming and going in her cheeks....
"Telegram, sir," said a voice, and I swung around to find the office-boyat my elbow. "For you, sir," he added.
I took the yellow envelope and tore it open absently, my mind still onthe vision my fancy had conjured up. Then, as my eyes caught the wordsof the message, I sat bolt upright with a start. It read:
"Come to Elizabeth by first train. Don't fail us."
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