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The Splendid Outcast, Page 2

George Gibbs



  In a courageous moment, a day or so later, the patient requested NurseNewberry to try to get what information she could as to the whereaboutsof his cousin, Corporal James Horton, B Company, --th Engineers, andwaited with some impatience and anxiety the result of her inquiries.She discovered that Corporal James Horton had been last seen in thefight for Boissiere Wood, but was now reported as missing.


  The blank expression on the face of her patient was rather pitiful.

  "It probably means that he's a prisoner. He may be all right. H.Q. ispretty cold-blooded with its information."

  But the patient knew that Corporal Horton wasn't a prisoner. If he wasmissing, it was because he had gone to the rear--nothing less than adeserter. Nevertheless the information, even indefinite as it was,brought him comfort. He clung rather greedily to its veryindefiniteness. In the eyes of the army or of the world "missing" meant"dead" or "prisoner," and until Harry revealed himself, the good name ofthe corporal of Engineers was safe. That was something.

  And the information brought the wounded man abruptly to the point ofrealizing that he was now definitely committed to play the role he hadunwittingly chosen. He had done his best to explain, but they hadn'tlistened to him. And when confronted with the only witnesses whoseopinions seemed to matter (always excepting Harry himself), he hadmiserably failed in carrying out his first intentions. He tried tothink of the whole thing as a joke, but he found himself confronted withpossibilities which were far from amusing.

  The slate-blue Irish eyes of Harry's war-bride haunted him. They wereeyes meant to be tender and yet were not. Her fine lips were meant forthe full throated laughter of happiness, and yet had only wreathed infaint uncertain smiles.

  Barry Quinlevin was a less agreeable figure to contemplate. If JimHorton hadn't read his letter to Harry he would have found it easier tobe beguiled by the man's genial air of good fellowship and sympathy, buthe couldn't forget the incautious phrases of that communication, andhaving first formed an unfavorable impression, found no desire tocorrect it.

  To his surprise it was Moira who came the following week to the hospitalat Neuilly on visitors' day. Jim Horton had decided on a course ofaction, but when she approached his bed, all redolent with the joy ofout of doors, he quite forgot what he meant to say to her. In Moira,too, he seemed to feel an effort to do her duty to him with a goodgrace, which almost if not quite effaced the impression of her earliervisit. She took his thin hand in her own for a moment while sheexamined him with a kindly interest, which he repaid with a fraternalsmile.

  "Father sent me in his place," she said. "I've put him to bed with acold."

  "I'm so glad----" said Horton, and then stopped with a short laugh. "Imean--I'm glad you're here. I'm sorry he's ill. Nothing serious?"

  "Oh, no. He's a bit run down, that's all. And you--you're feelingbetter?"

  He liked the soft way she slithered over the last syllable.

  "Oh, yes--of course."

  All the while he felt her level gaze upon him, cool and intenselyserious.

  "You are out of danger entirely, they tell me. I see they've taken thebandage off."

  "Yesterday," he said. "I'm coming along very fast."

  "I'm glad."

  "They promise before long that I can get out into the air in awheel-chair."

  "That will do you all the good in the world."

  In spite of himself, he knew that his eyes were regarding her toointently, noting the well modeled nose, the short upper lip, firm redmouth and resolute chin, all tempered with the softness of youth andexquisite femininity. He saw her chin lowered slightly as her gazedropped and turned aside while the slightest possible compression of herlips indicated a thought in which he could have no share.

  "I have brought you some roses," she said quietly.

  "They are very beautiful. They will remind me of you until you comeagain."

  The sudden raising of her eyes as she looked at him over the blossomswas something of a revelation, for they smiled at him with splendiddirectness.

  "You _are_ improving," she laughed, "or you've a Blarney Stone under thepillow. I can't remember when you've said anything so nice as that atall."

  He was thoughtful for a moment.

  "Perhaps I have a new vision," he said at last. "The bullet in my headmay have helped. It has probably affected my optic nerve."

  She smiled with him.

  "You really do seem different, somehow," she broke in. "I can't exactlyexplain it. Perhaps it's the pallor that makes the eyes look dark andyour voice--it's softer--entirely."

  "Really----!" he muttered, uncomfortably, his gaze on the gray blanket."Well, you see, I suppose it's what I've been through. My eyes _would_seem darker, wouldn't they, against white, and then my voice--er--itisn't very strong yet."

  "Yes, that's it," she replied.

  Her eyes daunted him from his purpose a little, and he knew that hewould have to use extreme caution, but he had resolved whatever came tosee the game through. After all, if she discovered his secret, it wasonly what he had tried in vain to tell her.

  "I'm sure of it," he went on. "When a fellow comes as near death asI've been, it makes him different. I seem to think in a new way about alot of things--you, for instance."

  "Me----?" He fancied that there was a hard note in her voice, a littletoss, scarcely perceptible, of the rounded chin.

  "Yes. You see, you oughtn't ever to have married me. You're too goodfor me. I'm just a plain rotter and you--oh, what's the use?"

  He paused, hoping that she would speak. She did, after a silence and ashrug.

  "Father wanted it. It was one way of paying what he owed you. I don'tknow how much that was, but I'm still thinking I went pretty cheap."She halted abruptly and then went on coolly, "I didn't come here to bethinking unpleasant thoughts--or to be uttering them. So long as weunderstand each other----"

  "We do," he put in eagerly, almost appealingly. "I want you to believethat I have no claim upon you--that my--my relations with BarryQuinlevin will have nothing to do with you."

  "And if I fell in love with another man-- That never seems to haveoccurred to either of you----"

  He laughed her soberness aside. "As far as I'm concerned, divorce orsuicide. I'll leave the choice to you."

  He gained his purpose, which was to bring the smile to her lips again.

  "Your wounds have inoculated you with a sense of humor, at any rate,"she said, fingering the roses. "You've always been lacking in that, youknow."

  "I feel that I can laugh at them now. But it might have been better foryou if I hadn't come out of the ether."

  "No. I don't like your saying that. I haven't the slightest intentionof falling in love with any man at all. I shan't be wanting tomarry--really marry----" she added, coloring a little. "I've begun mywork. It needed Paris again. And I'm going to succeed. You'll see."

  "I haven't a doubt of it. You were made for success--and forhappiness."

  "Sure and I think that I was--now that you mention it," she put inquaintly.

  "I won't bother you. You can be certain of that," he finishedpositively. And then cautiously, "Things have not gonewell--financially, I mean?"

  "No. And of course father's worried about it. Our income from Irelandhas stopped coming--something about repairs, he says. But then, Isuppose we will get it again some day. Dad never did tell me anything,you know."

  Horton thought for a moment.

  "He doesn't want to worry you, of course. And you oughtn't to beworried. Things will come out all right."

  "I intend that they shall. Father always gave me the best when he hadit. I'll see that he doesn't suffer now."

  "But that's my job, Moira. We'll get some money together--someway--when I get out."

  "Thanks. But I'm hoping to do a lot of painting. I've got one portraitto b
egin on--and it doesn't cost much in the Quartier."

  Horton sat up in bed and looked out of the window.

  "I'll get money," he said. "Don't you worry."

  He saw her eyes studying him quietly and he sank back at once in bed outof the glare of the sunlight. He wondered if he had gone too far. Buthe had found out one of the things that he had wanted to know. She knewnothing of what Barry Quinlevin was doing.

  Her next remark was disquieting.

  "It's very strange, the way I'm thinking about you. You've growndifferent in the army--or is it the sickness? There's a sweeter look toyour mouth, and a firmer turn to your jaw. Your gaze is wider and yourheart has grown soft, with the suffering. It's like another man, I'mseeing somehow, Harry, and I'm glad."

  "Suffering--yes, perhaps," he muttered.

  She leaned forward impulsively and put her hand over his, smilingbrightly at him.

  "We'll be good friends now, alanah. I'm sure of it."

  "You like me a little better----?"

  "Sure and I wouldn't be sitting here holding hands if I didn't," shelaughed. Then with a quick glance at her wrist watch she rose. "Andnow I must be going back to father. Here is the nurse. Time is up."

  "You will come soon again?" he asked slowly.

  "Yes--with better news, I hope. _Au revoir, mon brave_."

  And she was gone.

  The visit gave him more food for thought. But he hadn't learned much.What he did know now was that the girl Moira trusted Barry Quinlevinimplicitly and that he had managed to keep her in ignorance as to thereal sources of his livelihood. The Irish rents had failed to reachthem! Were there any Irish rents? And if so, what had "de V" to dowith them? He took Quinlevin's letter from under the pillow and re-readit carefully. Nothing about Irish rents there. Perhaps other lettershad followed, that Harry had destroyed. In any case he would have toplay the game carefully with the girl's father or Quinlevin would findhim out before Horton discovered what he wanted to know. The quiet eyesof the girl Moira disturbed him. Her eyes, her intuitions, were shrewd,yet he had succeeded so far. If he could pass muster with the daughter,why shouldn't he succeed with the father? The weakness, the failingmemory of a sick man, could be trusted to bridge difficulties. If therehad only been a few more letters he would have been better equipped forthe interview with Barry Quinlevin, which must soon follow. He inquiredof Miss Newberry, but she had given him everything that had been foundin his uniform. He scrutinized the notebook carefully, which containedonly an expense account, some addresses in Paris, and a few militarynotes, and so he discarded it. It seemed that until Quinlevin came tothe hospital "de V" must remain one of the unsolved mysteries of hisversatile brother.

  But Moira's innocence, while it failed to enlighten him as to themystery, made him more certain that her loveless marriage with Harry hadsomething to do with the suspected intrigue. Did Harry love the girl?It seemed scarcely possible that any man who was half a man could bemuch with her without loving her. It wasn't like Harry to marry anygirl unless he had something to gain by it. The conversation he hadjust had with Moira showed exactly the relationship between them, if hehad needed any further evidence than her letter.

  As to his own personal relations with Moira, he found it necessary tofortify himself against a more than strictly fraternal interest in herpersonality. She was extremely agreeable to look at and he had to admitthat her very presence had cheered up his particular part of thehospital ward amazingly. Her quaintness, her quiet directness and hermodest demeanor, were inherent characteristics, but they could notdisguise the overflowing vitality and humor that struggled against thelimitations she had imposed. Her roses, which Nurse Newberry hadarranged in a bowl by the bedside, were unnecessary reminders of thegiver. Like them, she was fragrant, pristine and beautiful--altogethera much-to-be-desired sister-in-law.

  The visit of Barry Quinlevin was not long delayed and Jim Hortonreceived him in his wheel chair by an open window in the convalescentward. He came in with a white silk handkerchief tied about his neck,but barring a husky voice showed no ill effects of his indisposition. Hewas an amiable looking rogue, and if the shade of Whistler will forgiveme, resembled much that illustrious person in all the physical graces.It would be quite easy to imagine that Barry Quinlevin could be quite asdangerous an enemy.

  "Well, Harry boy, here I am," he announced, throwing open his coat withsomething of an air, and loosening his scarf. "No worse than the devilmade me. And ye're well again, they tell me, or so near it that ye'reno longer interesting."

  "Stronger every day," replied Horton cautiously.

  "Then we can have a talk, maybe, without danger of it breaking thespring in yer belfry?"

  "Ah, yes,--but I'm a bit hazy at times," added Horton.

  "Well, when the fog comes down, say the word and I'll be going."

  "Don't worry. I want to hear the news."

  Quinlevin frowned at his walking stick. "It's little enough, Godknows." Then glanced toward the invalid at the next window and loweredhis voice a trifle.

  "The spalpeen says not a word--or he's afflicted with pen-paralysis, forI've written him three times--twice since I reached Paris, giving himthe address. So we'll have to make a move."

  "What will you do?"

  "Go to see him--or you can. At first, ye see, I thought maybe he'd goneaway or died or something. But I watched the Hotel de Vautrin in theRue de Bac until I saw him with my own eyes. That's how I took thisbronchitis--in the night air with devil a drink within a mile of me. Isaw him, I tell you, as hale and hearty as ye please, and debonair likea new laid egg, with me, Barry Quinlevin, in the rain, not four pacesfrom the carriage way."

  The visitor paused as though for a comment, and Horton offered it.

  "He didn't see you?"

  "Devil a one of me. For the moment I thought of bracing him then andthere. But I didn't--though I was reduced to a small matter of ahundred francs or so."

  "Things are as bad as that----?"

  Quinlevin shrugged. "I bettered myself a bit the next night and I'llfind a way----"

  He broke off with a shrug.

  "But I'm not going to be wasting my talents on the little officer-boysin Guillaume's. Besides, 'twould be most unpatriotic. I'm out forbigger game, me son, that spells itself in seven figures. Nothing lessthan a _coup d'etat_ will satisfy the ambitions of Barry Quinlevin!"

  "Well?" asked Horton shrewdly.

  "For the present ye're to stay where ye are, till yer head is as tightas a drum, giving me the benefit of yer sage advice. We'll worry along.The rent of the apartment and studio is a meager two hundred francs andthe food--well, we will eat enough. And Moira has some work to do. Butwe can't be letting the Duc forget I've ever existed. A man with areputation in jeopardy and twenty millions of francs, you'll admit, isnot to be found growing on every mulberry bush."

  Horton nodded. It _was_ blackmail then. The Duc de Vautrin----

  "You wrote that you had a plan," he said. "What is it?"

  Barry Quinlevin waved a careless hand.

  "Fair means, as one gentleman uses to another, if he explains hisnegligence and remits the small balance due. Otherwise, we'll have tosqueeze him. A letter from a good lawyer--if it wasn't for thetestimony of Nora Burke!"

  He was silent in a moment of puzzled retrospection and his glitteringgeneralities only piqued Jim Horton's curiosity, so that his eagernessled him into an error that nearly undid him.

  "Nora Burke----" he put in slowly.

  "I wrote ye what happened----"

  "I couldn't have received the letter----"

  He stopped abruptly, for Quinlevin was staring at him in astonishment.

  "Then how the devil could ye have answered it?"

  Horton covered the awkward moment by closing his eyes and passing hisfingers across his brow.

  "Answered it! Funny I don't remember."

  The Irishman regarded him a moment soberly, and then smiled indeprecation.

bsp; "Of course--ye've slipped a cog----"

  Then suddenly he clapped a hand on Horton's knee.

  "Why, man alive,--Nora Burke--the Irish nurse who provides the necessarytestimony--Moira's nurse, d'ye mind, when she was a baby, who saw theDuc's child die--now do ye remember----?"

  Horton ran his fingers over his hair thoughtfully and bent his headagain.

  "Nora Burke--Moira's nurse--who saw the Duc's child die," he repeatedparrot-like, "and the Duc--de Vautrin----" he muttered and paused.

  "Thinks his child by this early marriage is still alive----" saidQuinlevin, regarding him dubiously.

  "Yes, yes," said Horton eagerly. "It's coming back to me now. And deVautrin's money----"

  "He'll pay through the nose to keep the thing quiet--unless----"

  Barry Quinlevin paused.


  There was a moment of silence in which the visitor frowned out of thewindow.

  "I don't like the look of things, I tell ye, Harry. Ye're in no fitshape to help 'til the fog clears up, but I've a mind that somebody'sslipped a finger into the pie. Nora Burke wants more money--five hundredpounds to tell a straight story and where I'm going to get it--the devilhimself only knows."

  "Nora Burke--five hundred pounds!" muttered Horton vaguely, for he wasthinking deeply, "that's a lot of money."

  "Ye're right--when ye haven't got it. And de Vautrin's shutting down atthe same time. It looks suspicious, I tell ye."

  He broke off and fixed his iridescent gaze on Horton. "Ye're sure yesaid nothing to any one in Paris before ye went to the front?"

  Of this at least Jim Horton was sure.

  "Nothing," he replied.

  "Not to Piquette Morin?"

  Here was dangerous ground again.

  "Nothing," he repeated slowly, "nothing."

  "And ye wouldn't be remembering it if ye had," said Quinlevin peevishlyas he rose. "Oh, well--I'll have to raise this money some way or go toGalway to put the gag on Nora Burke until we play the trick----"

  "I--I'm sorry I can't help----" said Horton, "but you see--I'm not----"

  "Oh, yes, I see," said Quinlevin more affably. "I shouldn't bebothering ye so soon, but may the devil take me if I know which way toturn."

  "Will you see de Vautrin?"

  "Perhaps. But I may go to Ireland first. I've got to do somethinking--alone. Good bye. Ye're not up to the mark. Be careful whenMoira comes, or ye may let the cat out of the bag. D'ye hear?"

  "Don't worry--I won't," said Horton soberly.

  He watched the tall figure of Quinlevin until it disappeared into theouter hall and then turned a frowning gaze out of the window.