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First published in The Saturday Evening Post, 28 May 1927

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
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The Saturday Evening Post, 28 May 1927, with "The Laughing Loser"

A YOUNG man, pleasantly and suitably dressed for the place and season, stood upon the topmost step of the Casino at Monte Carlo, looking down upon the gay scene with eyes; which seemed just at first a little vacant, although the remains of a smile still lingered about the corners of his lips. He wore flannel trousers, a gray homespun coat, soft collar and shirt, and the familiar tie of a famous cricket club. His Homburg hat was set at a somewhat jaunty angle, his hands behind his back toyed with a Malacca cane of the usual pattern. He appeared to be about thirty years of age. His complexion was sunburned and slightly freckled, his features good, his eyes of a very attractive shade of blue.

He seemed entirely at his ease, in no hurry to move, playing apparently with some fancy, the humor of which appealed to him. His eyes wandered over the amphitheater of hills which surrounded the place, traveled slowly from the ridiculous pink building which crowned the slopes of La Turbie to the Observatoire on the Corniche Road, glanced lightly at the red-roofed, clustering habitations of Beausoleil, rested on the nearer gardens, the green of the trees, the brilliant coloring of the flower beds, swept the inviting front of the Hôtel de Paris, followed a pigeon in its flight, and took in the little crowd of people seated in cheerful leisure in front of the Café de Paris, drinking their aperitifs and listening to the music of the gypsy band. Suddenly the smile reappeared. His eyes twinkled and he began to laugh softly to himself.

He walked slowly across the Place, the counterpart of a well-set-up, light-hearted young Englishman, sat down at a vacant table, ordered a mixed vermouth and lit a cigarette. With his apparent appetite for life, he seemed, perhaps, a little inattentive to the music, curiously oblivious to the gay crowd by which he was surrounded. Two young ladies, newly arrived from Paris, ventured to return what they might very possibly have regarded as a smile of invitation; a slightly older woman, who was caressing a Pekinese, lifted her really beautiful dark eyes and favored him with a gracious glance; but to all these advances he remained unresponsive.

Whatever it was which had brought him, laughing, out to take his place amongst this gay crowd, belonged, without s doubt, not to the kaleidoscopic present but to his own inner consciousness. His detachment in fact was so complete that he even started as one who has received a shock when the occupant of the neighboring table leaned over and addressed him:

"So that's how it makes you feel to win the money of this hard-working and philanthropic institution the Societé de Bains de Mer!"

The young man turned around and looked at his questioner, a middle-aged person with a clean-shaven, sallow face, somewhat incongruously dressed in somber black. His broad-brimmed hat and flowing tie suggested the foreigner, but his voice had been distinctly American.

"Well, really I don't know," he rejoined. "How was I looking?"

"You were laughing."

At the very idea, the young man laughed again, and then he was suddenly very grave. His mouth relapsed into set lines. Something of the light passed from his eyes.

"If you are a shareholder in this very amiable institution," he said, with a wave of his hand toward the Casino, "you can set your mind at rest. I am not one of its despoilers."

"Yet you came out smiling," the other persisted. "You crossed the Place laughing to yourself. It must be a good joke which instigates unshared mirth."

The young man knocked the ash from his cigarette and glanced once more indifferently at his companion. "That depends," he said. "I was laughing because I came here for three weeks, I have been here three hours and I have lost every penny I possess in the world."

The recipient of this somewhat amazing confidence abandoned abruptly his attitude of amused incredulity. His tone, when he spoke again, had lost its faintly disagreeable quality.

"Are you in earnest?" he demanded.


There was a brief pause. The loiterer at the café, who had shown so much curiosity in his neighbor, stretched out his hand and drank from a tumbler which stood by his side—a tumbler which contained some dark-green liquid. "I drink to your sense of humor," he observed. "I admire it. I may say that it appeals to me very much."

The young man shrugged his shoulders and looked away. He seemed disinclined to continue the conversation. His neighbor, however, had other ideas.

"Yours is, I presume," the latter remarked, "the language of exaggeration. It would not be easy for anyone to carry about with him, in convertible form, everything he owned in the world."

"Perfectly easy for me," was the casual reply. "I have been tea-planting in Assam—out there for two years, and got thoroughly sick of it. Two months ago I sold the whole show, every particle of land, bungalow, furniture and all, except my personal apparel. It realised exactly eleven hundred and fifty pounds beyond what I owed, which meant that I had worked for two years for a profit of fifty pounds."

The listener relapsed into his first Americanism. "Tough luck!" he murmured.

"It cost me a hundred and fifty pounds to get to Marseilles, and I landed here with a draft for a thousand. I cashed it up at Barclay'a this morning, directly the bank opened, went into the Casino, meaning to risk a matter of twenty pounds and lost the lot!"

"And came out laughing!"

"A distorted sense of humor, of course. Somehow or other, my condition appealed to me—the sheer ignominious folly of it, I suppose,"

He threw down ten francs upon the table and looked around for a waiter. His companion gazed at the note thoughtfully.

"Every penny you have in the world was a stretch of the imagination, I guess."

The young man felt in his pockets. "There is that ten francs and three franc-pieces," he confided.

"Say, I want to ask you something How do you intend to pay for your luncheon?"

The young man crushed out the end of his cigarette in the ash-tray and looked once more impatiently around. He had the air of one desiring to finish the conversation. "It is a matter which I have not considered," was his curt admission. He rose to his feet, having at last succeeded in attracting the attention of a waiter, paid for his mixed vermouth, pocketed the change, less an unexpectedly large gratuity, and was on the point of sauntering off. His neighbor, however, addressed him again, and this time with a distinct access of courtesy in his tone,

"One mixed vermouth," he observed, "seems an insufficient solace for such a misfortune as yours. Will you do me the pleasure of drinking a cocktail with me?"

"You are very kind," was the somewhat hesitating response.

His prospective host rose to his feet and handed a check to a chasseur.

"You need not hesitate to accept my hospitality," he remarked, "I am not one of those impossible persons who call themselves philanthropists, and who go about the world offering to help people who should be perfectly well able to look after themselves. I take my morning cocktail on the hill, and I like company. Your laugh pleased me, but I can assure you that you need not be afraid of stepping into any fairy story. Our acquaintance may very well cease with the excellent Martini I am soon about to offer you, unless—"

"I knew there was a catch in it," the young man interrupted.

His companion shook his head. "You have nothing to fear, or to hope for, from me," he declared.

A very handsome car of a famous make rolled up. An obsequious commissionaire held open the door; one of the wandering maîtres d'hôtel also stepped forward to make his bow. The two men seated themselves.

"You observe that I am well-known here," the owner of the limousine remarked as they glided away. "I should be, for I spend more than half my life in these parts. My name is Joseph Harmon Wrey—Crazy Jo, they call me sometimes. And yours?"

"Francis Hill," the young man replied, after a scarcely perceptible pause.

"Francis Hill," his companion observed, "is some sort of a name all right, but I wonder why the initials upon your cigarette case are B.D.?"

The pseudo Francis Hill made no remark. He lifted his eyebrows very slightly and looked out of the window. One might have imagined that the seniority of the man by his side had prevented the obvious retort.

IN the picturesque open-air bar where the two men were presently ensconced, the younger became very soon aware of a curious change in his companion's speech and demeanor. At the Café de Paris, Mr. Harmon Wrey had seemed a somewhat mysterious and cynical personage, with almost negligible Anglo-Saxon characteristics. Here he was, from the moment of their entrance, the genial and sociable American. There was scarcely a soul seated at the dozen or so of little tables who did not wave a greeting, scarcely a newcomer entering the place who did not pause to shake hands. Apparently there was no one who did not know Mr. Harmon Wrey, and approve of him.

Yet there was a moment when he distinctly lapsed into his former and less human self, a moment when the Italian proprietor of the place glided silently to his side and whispered a few quick words in his ear. There was conversation then of a very different sort conducted, too, in fluent Italian, not a word of which the younger man understood. It lasted for a very short time, however; and afterward, while the second cocktail was being poured out, came the real event of the morning. A girl, carrying a rose-pink parasol, who had mounted the steps from the street below, made an unexpected appearance before their table. Both men rose to their feet—the younger transported, almost dizzy. Adventures were crowding in upon him that morning. He had lost every penny be possessed in the world and he was suddenly confronted with the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Mr. Harmon Wrey turned toward him.

"Rosa," he said, "I should like to present my young friend—"

"Bernard Densham," the other suddenly interpolated.

Mr. Wrey smiled, but made no comment. "Mr. Bernard Densham—Miss Rosa Soretti."

The girl—Italian in name, Italian in her exquisite complexion and coloring, her liquid brown eyes, her smoothly brushed hair—was pleasantly Anglo-Saxon in speech.

"How do you do, Mr. Densham?" she said. "Are you a new arrival here? And how long have you known this eccentric uncle of mine?"

His feet were no longer upon the earth. He answered rashly enough. "I arrived this morning," he confided. "I have known your uncle for about half an hour, but I can't help feeling—I am quite sure—I have known you a great deal longer."

She laughed softly and accepted his chair. "Where did you meet my uncle?" she inquired.

"I have never met this young man," Mr. Harmon Wrey declared—"that is to say, I have never been introduced to him in proper form. I saw him coming out of the Casino, and he was laughing. He crossed the square, and he was still laughing. He sat down close to me at the Café de Paris, and when I asked what was amusing him, he told me that be had just lost every penny be had in the world."

"How romantic!" she exclaimed. "And yet how very uncomfortable! You must have an extraordinary sense of humor, Mr. Densham."

"It is failing me just at the moment," he confessed, reflecting ruefully how much he would have liked to ask his new friends to luncheon. Disabilities of various kinds were already crowding into his mind.

"If it brought you out of the Casino smiling, it will revive presently," she assured him. "How I hate that place!"

A party of friends, in flannels and with tennis rackets, waved to her from a distant table. She rose to her feet with some reluctance. "I quite forgot that I am invited for cocktails," she said. "I hope that we shall meet again soon, and that you will have better fortune, Mr. Densham."

Than his sudden romance fluttered away, passing under the sunlit and flower-wreathed arches to the inner room.

He looked after her wonderingly. "Your niece!" he murmured.

Mr. Harmon Wrey nodded. He had picked up his hat and stick and risen to his feat. Mechanically, his companion followed his example. They strolled out together toward the car.

"Can I drop you anywhere?" its owner inquired.

"My hotel is just at the bottom of these steps," Densham replied. "Thank you very much for the cocktail."

Mr. Harmon Wrey, with his hand upon the door of the car, looked at his companion quizzically. "Well," he said, "your career during the next few days should be interesting. Still, I am afraid we must say good-by."

The two men shook banda, Densham turned away with a new-found sense of despondency. The other's voice recalled him. "Good-by, unless—"


"—you care to dine with me tonight at eight o'clock on board my yacht, the Flavia."

"With great pleasure." the young man accepted eagerly. "Would it sound impertinent if I asked whether I would have the pleasure of meeting your niece again?"

"Not tonight. That may come later," was the not altogether discouraging reply. "Be so kind as not to change."

DENSHAM. as dinner that evening drew toward its close, suddenly set down his wineglass with a little start. He stared out of the porthole. "Why, we're moving!" he exclaimed.

Has host nodded. "Yes," he admitted, "we are moving; in fact, we are already out of the harbor. Not much of a sea, is there?"

"But where are we off to?"

Mr. Harmon Wrey shrugged his shoulders. "Does it matter very much?" he asked—"to you, I mean."

The younger man considered the position for s moment. "I don't suppose it does," he acknowledged. "Still, one may be curious. Are we just going a tittle way out to sea and back again, or are we off for a cruise? Remember that I haven't brought any clothes, won't you?"

There was just the flicker of a smile upon Mr. Harmon Wrey's hard lips. "We are going for a vary short cruise," he confided, "but you won't need any clothes other than what you have on. Just along the coast a little way—as far as Ospedaletti, perhaps."

"Has our journey a destination or an object?" Densham asked curiously.

Harmon Wrey leaned back in his chair. They had reached the coffee stage, and he pushed the cigars and cigarettes across to his guest. "So far as you are concerned," he admitted, "I suppose it may be said to have an object."

Densham lit a cigarette thoughtfully and waited until the steward had left the room. "It seems to me, sir," he remarked, "that you are going back upon your word. You assured me that I had nothing to look for from you in the shape of adventure, yet here I am being taken to an unknown destination in a yacht which, on a dark night, is traveling without any lights. I am not complaining. Anything in the way of a new experience is welcome to me just now, but isn't it almost time I understood a little more about the business?"

Mr. Harmon Wrey smoked for a moment or two in silence. His cigar showed a tendency to drift toward the corner of his mouth, and when at last he spoke there was a great deal more of the American than the Italian now apparent in his tone and manner. He drew from his pocket a morocco case and counted out upon the table two hundred and fifty pounds in bank notes.

"This," he confided, "is the price of a small commission I wish you to undertake for me—two hundred and fifty pounds. Put it in your pocket."

"Hadn't I better have an idea first as to the nature of this commission?" Densham suggested.

"You're going to hear about that right away. You'll accept it all right though. You can take my word for that."

The young man took possession of the states. "Am I to break the law?" he asked.

"Not in any ordinary sense of the word," his host assured him. "Roughly speaking, this is what is going to happen to you: You will be put ashore"—he glanced out of the port hole—"in about an hour on the Italian coast. You will be landed in a small bay dose to the railway track. Very soon after you have arrived there, the Rome Express will find signals against her and will be brought up within a few yards of you."

"This all sounds very interesting," the young man admitted. "Do I get into the train?"

"You do not. This is where your adventure begins, however, and where I guess you'll have to show your nerve and trust to your luck. Someone will be standing at the window of the first compartment of the carriage next to the engine. You have to hand that person a small box without being seen, slip back again into biding and be rowed to the yacht as soon as the train has gone on again."

"It doesn't seem very alarming," Densham observed. "Supposing the train doesn't stop though."

"It will stop," was the confident reply. "Express trains, even in Italy, can't afford to disregard the signals."

"And supposing anyone interferes with me."

"You bad better see that they don't," Harmon Wrey advised him dryly. "Otherwise you may have to spend some time in an Italian prison."

"One more question: What sort of a law am I breaking?"

Harmon Wrey stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I shouldn't say you'd come under the criminal statutes," he decided. "What you're going to do is to hand to the person whom you'll find waiting for it, a box which it is just as well should not be in her possession until after the frontier is crossed. Will that do for you?"

"I suppose it may as well," Densham acquiesced. "At a surmise, I should say that I was about to make my début in Italian politics."

"A very reasonable deduction," Mr. Harmon Wrey admitted: "but if you take my advice, young man, you'll let it go at that, and you won't ask on which side.... Try a tittle more of this fin. We shall be changing our course and making for land directly."

THERE came to Bernard Densham, as he cautiously raised himself to his full height after his scramble up the bench, a shuddering thrill of pleasure, the pure joy of imminent adventure. He had been obliged to wade the last dozen yards or so, but he was unconscious of any discomfort, although the sea-water dripped from his clothes to the ground by his side.

He took careful stock of his surroundings. Just before him were the two lines of steel-gray metal; on his right, the signal box; far away to the left, the scattered lights of Vintimille. Facing him, on the other side of the railway track, was a small but thickly-planted orange grove—a black and mysterious belt now in the moonless night; behind him, the strip of beach up which he had climbed, and a huge rock, in the shelter of which the dinghy which had brought him was waiting. On the hillside inland was a sprinkling of solitary lights, but the country itself was shapeless and indistinguishable.

Hidden by his coat was a fiat wooden box with a brass handle and in his pocket a small automatic pistol, which he had not the slightest intention of using. There seemed to be no human being anywhere within sight or bearing, nor any traffic along the road, which was barely a quarter of a kilometer away. Once or twice during the last half hour, a watery moon had emerged from behind the masses of dark cloud. He watched the spot anxiously. The faintest gleam of moonlight during the next few minutes might be disastrous.

Then came the sound for which all the time he had been on the qui vive—the distant roar of the approaching express, its volume of sound magnified by the background of deep stillness, fading away sometimes almost to silence as the train crept into a tunnel, and bursting once more into deep-throated thunder as it emerged. All the time, although the fires from the engined were visible now, barely a kilometer away, there came no sign from the signal-box. At last, however, with a curious little thrill, he saw fulfillment of the first part of Harmon Wrey's prophecy. A shadowy figure was bending over some levers in the wooden shed. There was a harsh sound, a whir, and the green light had changed into red. Densham drew a sharp breath of excitement. The moment was close at hand.

Round a distant curve the train came now into full sight. Most of the passengers seemed to have retired for the night, and it swept on like a black serpent, only the engine-lights stabbing the darkness. Suddenly there arrived the sound for which Densham was waiting, the application of the brakes as the driver realized the signal against him. Sparks flew from the rails. Unevenly, with stertorous groans and clanging of attachments, the progress of the huge train was checked. Soon the engine, now almost motionless, drew level with Densham. It crawled on, dragging three baggage-vans in its wake, and finally came to a standstill, so that by scarcely moving from his place Densham found himself opposite the first compartment.

What followed was almost mechanical in the completeness of its execution. From a window of absolute darkness two white hands suddenly stole out. He caught a glimpse of a girl's figure leaning forward—a figure which had been haunting him ever since those few strange moments at the Royalty Bar. Some loose dressing-gown she was wearing fell back from her arms as she bent down. He saw the bare white throat glistening through the darkness, fancied that be even caught the flash of her eyes.

He had lost now the throb of anticipatory danger and found himself perfectly cool and collected. With his left hand resting lightly upon the carriage-rail, he sprang onto the footboard and held up the box. It was gone almost in a moment. He had a fleeting vision of white fingers raised to her lips. Then the blind was hurriedly drawn down. He jumped back onto the ground behind the rock and waited for a time, breathless.

Presently there were voices upon the track, sounds from the signal-box. A green light flashed out in place of the red, the engine screamed, and the train, like some great dragon of the night, groaned and roared its way onward once more. He waited until it was out of sight around a neighboring curve. Then he waded again through the cool, still water, regained the little dinghy, clambered in, took an oar from the waiting seaman and pulled off to where presently, in the bay, the dark shape of the yacht grew into form.

THERE are times when heresies are spoken of the Sporting Club at Monte Carlo as a meeting place for men and women of fashion. Admittedly, there is an hour in the afternoon when its frequenters are slightly reminiscent of a meeting of the town councilors of a Yorkshire borough with their wives, gathered together for some high moral but dreary business. At night, though, from eleven o'clock until one, on any but a most unfortunate occasion, it is without a doubt the brilliant playground of the world which amuses itself.

Densham, on the evening after his night cruise, arriving there about midnight, counted himself lucky to have found a place at one of the roulette tables, a Sicilian duchess, dazzling him with the luster of her jewels—alas, the gift of a Frankfort banker—and the eloquence of her eyes, on one side, and a famous lady of many husbands, many lovers, and still the beauty of her day, as his right-hand neighbor. He drew out a roll of notes. Two hundred and fifty pounds! Money quickly yet in a sense dramatically earned. Once more he was preparing to risk his entire fortune, he reflected, as be fingered the notes. The fault of the war, of course. People never gambled with their whole capital in the old days. Two hundred and fifty pounds! With an instinct of unaccustomed caution, he placed a fifty-pound note in his waistcoat pocket. The rest he handed to the chef who was standing with his back to the Bureau de Change.

"At today's exchange." he begged.

"Parfaitement, monsieur. Plaques ou louis?"

"Plaques seulement."

They seemed unending when they were piled up before him. He looked at the board, trying to visualize the numbers, and presently began to stake, sometimes on a number, sometimes on a transversale, sometimes only on an even chance. For a time he played with varying fortune. He held his own, increased his capital slightly, won an en plein and felt suddenly rich. Then everything began to melt away. Whatever he touched was wrong; whatever numbers he selected were farthest from the fateful one. He set his teeth, however, and went on until only five plaques remained. Quite enough to win a fortune with if one had the luck!

"I think, Mr. Densham, that you play roulette very badly," a quiet voice in his ear remarked.

He started, glanced up, and forgot all about roulette. It was Rosa Soretti, who was standing looking over his shoulder.

"You are back again already!" he exclaimed breathlessly.

"My journey was not such a long one, perhaps, as you imagined." she replied.

"Won't you have my seat?" he begged.

She shook her head—a wonderful vision in a gown of black georgette, with long rows of pearls hanging from her neck, her chestnut-brown hair brushed smoothly back, her lips like scarlet blossoms of tremulous beauty on the ivory pallor of her skin.

"I do not wish to sit, thank you," she assured him. The place next to his, however, was suddenly vacated and she slipped into it. "I want to tell you," she repeated, "that you play roulette very badly."

"Teach me, please," he ventured.

"Certainly, I will give you a lesson," she agreed, dropping her voice confidentially and leaning toward him. "All these croupiers who spin have different habits. Now this one, since he began, a quarter of an hour ago, has spun almost entirely voisins. Yet, have you taken any notice of that? No; you have deliberately backed the numbers on the other side of the board the whole of the time. You are playing against the run of the wheel. Therefore you lose. Perhaps you don't care whether you win or lose."

"It is a matter of some slight interest to me," he assured her, fingering those last five plaques.

"Then do as I suggest." she enjoined. "Now look at those numbers which the lady next to you has been keeping, and then look at the board. You will see that out of the last fifteen spins every winning number except one has been between eighteen and twenty-four. From what I know of that croupier, he will go on spinning the same way until his time is up. See how slowly he moves the wheel and how delicately he throws in the ball. Now stake halfway between the eighteen and the twenty-four—say, fourteen. Put one on fourteen and two on the transversale treize-dix-huit, because you see there are three of the numbers in that section. Keep your two remaining plaques. Now wait."

The weary summons of the croupier—"Faites vos jeux"—was followed by the more fateful announcement: "Rien ne va plus!" The ball fell into its place with a little click. The croupier glanced indifferently down the table as be announced the result: "Vingt-deux, pair, noir et passe. Rien au numéro."

Rosa shrugged her shoulders. "Well, you see," she pointed out, "twenty-two is amongst the little cycle of numbers I told you about, only we just missed it. What have you there? Two plaques. Well, we will remain faithful to fourteen and put the other plaque upon the transversale treize-dix-huit."

He obeyed. The gambling at the other end of the table was heavy and there was some delay. "When did you get back?" he ventured to inquire.

"We will not speak of that," she answered, looking out of the window to the glittering lights of the little port. "Concentrate upon the game, please. Try to see fourteen written up on the wall—anywhere. Try to believe that you must win, that you are bound to win, that when you hear that ball fall and look toward the wheel, you will find it in Number Fourteen."

"Do you really think that it makes any difference?" he asked doubtfully.

"Of course it does," »he assured him. "Don't talk, please. Concentrate."

Again the wheel spun, and the ball, in due course, sank into its place. The croupier announced the result with the same monotonous indifference: "Quatorze, rouge, pair et manque."

Densham stared incredulously down the table. The thing seemed impossible.

His companion laughed softly. "Now your luck is turning," she declared. "Wait for me to tell you what to do."

He received the five plaques for the transversale and three milles and a half for the plein.

"Double your plein and the transversale," she directed, "and add the chevaux of fourteen."

He did as he was told. She laid her fingers cool, white and soft upon his wrist.

"Don't look at me all the time," she ordered. "Look at the wheel and watch the ball. Remember that it must be fourteen."

The tumultuous hum of voices and chorus of exclamations usually excited by a repetition suddenly broke loose. The croupier's announcement was almost unheard: "Quatorze, rouge, pair et manque."

"Fourteen again!" he gasped.

"Naturally. Leave your stakes on this time," she advised him. "Don't double, but put a plaque upon each of the numbers, nine, thirty-one, twenty and one."

Twenty turned up. Again he raked in his winnings.

"Now you've begun," she said coolly. "So long as this man spins, and spins in the way he is doing, you must win. Go for a big coup now. Go for fourteen again. Why not the maximum?"

He got up half an hour later with two hundred milles. It was she who had insisted upon his leaving off playing.

"The ball has passed," she pointed out. "You will do no good with the other man. You shall give me a citronade for my advice."

They made their way into the bar and found two easy-chairs.

"Must it really be lemonade?" he asked.

"On second thought, perhaps your win deserves a champagne cocktail," she admitted.

He gave the order and looked cautiously around. They were almost alone in their corner. "Do tell me about your journey," he begged.

She shook her head. "You would never make a conspirator," she observed quietly. "One does not speak of these things. They happen; they pass. To my friends here, I have been, as a matter of fact, laid up for the last two days in my hotel with an attack of influenza."

He drank his cocktail, and took courage. "Well, if you won't confide in me, couldn't we go and dance somewhere?" he suggested.

She laughed at him. "I'm afraid not. Tomorrow night, perhaps there will be a party to which you can come. But if you do not wish to gamble any more, my car is outside; you can drive with me a little way if you would care to, and afterward we will call and see my uncle at the port. I ought to go and say good-night to him."

"Nothing I should like better," he assented joyfully.

LATER on in the evening Densham followed her down the companionway into the little gold-and-white saloon, where Harmon Wrey was lounging in an easy-chair and smoking the inevitable cigar.

"Still laughing, young man?" he demanded, gazing curiously at Densham.

"Something to laugh about this time, sir."

Rosa threw herself into a chair. "Dear maternal uncle," she said, "please listen. I took Mr. Densham out in the car to tell him why you made him walk the seas, clamber up a railway bank and risk his liberty for the sake of one small dispatch box. Alas, we scarcely mentioned the matter at all. We talked of other things. Now I've brought him here. It is you who can explain."

Mr. Harmon Wrey knocked the ash from his cigar and motioned his visitor to a seat.

"The first time I saw you, young man," he remarked, "I reckoned that your sense of humor had been tried pretty high. I'm going to give it something of a twist myself now."

"Go ahead, sir," Densham invited cheerfully. "I'm only anxious to know what sort of a criminal I am. Something political, I'm inclined to believe. I see there was a riot on the frontier and three Fascists arrested in Nice yesterday."

Mr. Harmon Wrey selected and lit a fresh cigar with great deliberation. "So you want to know what was inside that box, young man?" he queried. "Show him, Rosa."

She hesitated only for a moment. Then she opened the small jeweled bag she was carrying and slowly produced a few inches of lace and cambric. A faint perfume stole out from it as she held it up.

Densham stared at it in astonishment. "I don't understand," he admitted frankly.

"That," Harmon Wrey announced, looking the young man steadily in the face, "is the answer to your question. My niece started for Genoa to see a friend off to America early this morning, but unfortunately she forgot her handkerchief. You took it to her."

Densham tapped a cigarette thoughtfully upon the table. "To restore that handkerchief to your niece," he reflected, "we steamed along the coast with lights out, running the risk at any moment of a collision. I waded through several feet of sea water and saw the Rome Express stopped by a signalman whom you must have bribed with a very large sum and with considerable risk to yourself. I think you will admit that it seems, on the face of it, as though you were pulling my leg."

Harmon Wrey smoked placidly on for several minutes with inscrutable expression. His eyes never left the young man's face. "You've beard my nickname in Monte Carlo," he reminded him.

"Yes, I've heard it," the other admitted. "You told it to me yourself—Crazy Jo."

Mr. Harmon Wrey nodded.

"Well, that answers your question to some extent," he said. "I am crazy—eccentric, at any rate. Yesterday morning I was seated outside the Café de Paris worrying because I was badly in need of a secretary to go round the world with me next week. Also—"

"Please!" Rosa begged.

"—also someone to look after a very troublesome niece. I was thinking about it when you came along. I rather liked the look of you. That laugh intrigued me, and when you told me why you were laughing you set me wondering. My secretary has to have two gifts. One is the right sort of sense of humor, the other is nerve. You demonstrated the one and you proved the other."

For the first time there was a alight frown which might have been of annoyance upon the young man's face. "Am I to understand," he asked, "that this hold-up of the train—our whole expedition last night, in fact—was planned entirely to test my nerve?"

Mr. Harmon Wrey acquiesced. "I've got to put it to you, though," he confessed, "that the arrangements were perhaps not quite so elaborate as they seemed. For one thing, my skipper knows every inch of these seas and can handle the yacht in the dark as well as in the light, and for another, the Rome Express stops at exactly that spot every night to take water."

"I see," Densham murmured. "Do I get the post?"

"You certainly do," Mr. Harmon Wrey declared. "Your nerve's all right."

"There was something said," the newly engaged secretary ventured, "about looking after your niece."

"There surely was," Mr. Harmon Wrey agreed. "You two young people will have to fix that up between yourselves."

He rose to his feet, crossed the room and rang the bell for the steward, which was perhaps discreet of him. In the onrushing happiness of her tentative surrender, of the strange, fond light in her eyes, which met the eager demand of his, Densham was content to forget that swift, puzzling glance which had flashed from Rosa to her uncle—a glance in which there were strange elements of mystery, good humor and pleasant understanding. Afterward he was sometimes inclined to indulge in mild speculation as to whether he knew, or ever would know, the real history of that night's adventure.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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