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    X. The Cab at the Corner

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    Chapter 10
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    A ten o'clock, a page bearing a card upon a silver tray knocked upon the door, and stared with wide-eyed astonishment at the disordered gentleman who opened it.

    The card was Lady Mount-Rhyswicke's. Underneath the name was written:

    If you are there will you give me a few minutes? I am waiting in a cab at the next corner by the fountain.

    Mellin's hand shook as he read. He did not doubt that she came as an emissary; probably they meant to hound him for payment of the note he had given Sneyd, and at that thought he could have shrieked with hysterical laughter.

    "Do you speak English?" he asked.

    "Spik little. Yes."

    "Who gave you this card?"

    "Coachman," said the boy. "He wait risposta."

    "Tell him to say that I shall be there in five minutes."

    "Fi' minute. Yes. Good-by."

    Mellin was partly dressed--he had risen half an hour earlier and had been distractedly pacing the floor when the page knocked--and he completed his toilet quickly. He passed down the corridors, descended by the stairway (feeling that to use the elevator would be another abuse of the confidence of the hotel company) and slunk across the lobby with the look and the sensations of a tramp who knows that he will be kicked into the street if anybody catches sight of him.

    A closed cab stood near the fountain at the next corner. There was a trunk on the box by the driver, and the roof was piled with bags and rugs. He approached uncertainly.

    "Is--is this--is it Lady Mount-Rhyswicke?" he stammered pitifully.

    She opened the door.

    "Yes. Will you get in? We'll just drive round the block if you don't mind. I'll bring you back here in ten minutes." And when he had tremulously complied, "Avanti, cocchiere," she called to the driver, and the tired little cab-horse began to draw them slowly along the deserted street.

    Lady Mount-Rhyswicke maintained silence for a time, while her companion waited, his heart pounding with dreadful apprehensions. Finally she gave a short, hard laugh and said:

    "I saw your face by the corner light. Been havin' a hard day of it?"

    The fear of breaking down kept him from answering. He gulped painfully once or twice, and turned his face away from her. Light enough from a streetlamp shone in for her to see.

    "I was rather afraid you'd refuse," she said seriously. "Really, I wonder you were willin' to come!"

    "I was--I was afraid not to." He choked out the confession with the recklessness of final despair.

    "So?" she said, with another short laugh. Then she resumed her even, tired monotone: "Your little friend Cooley's note this morning gave us all a rather fair notion as to what you must be thinkin' of us. He seems to have found a sort of walkin' 'Who's- Who-on-the-Continent' since last night. Pity for some people he didn't find it before! I don't think I'm sympathetic with your little Cooley. I 'guess,' as you Yankees say, 'he can stand it.' But"--her voice suddenly became louder--"I'm not in the business of robbin' babies and orphans, no, my dear friends, nor of helpin' anybody else to rob them either!--Here you are!"

    She thrust into his hand a small packet, securely wrapped in paper and fastened with rubber bands. "There's your block of express checks for six hundred dollars and your I 0 U to Sneyd with it. Take better care of it next time."

    He had been tremulous enough, but at that his whole body began to shake violently.

    "What!" he quavered.

    "I say, take better care of it next time," she said, dropping again into her monotone. "I didn't have such an easy time gettin' it back from them as you might think. I've got rather a sore wrist, in fact."

    She paused at an inarticulate sound from him.

    "Oh, that's soon mended," she laughed drearily. "The truth is, it's been a good thing for me--your turning up. They're gettin' in too deep water for me, Helene and her friends, and I've broken with the lot, or they've broken with me, whichever it is. We couldn't hang together after the fightin' we've done to-day. I had to do a lot of threatenin' and things. Welch was ugly, so I had to be ugly too. Never mind"--she checked an uncertain effort of his to speak--"I saw what you were like, soon as we sat down at the table last night --how new you were and all that. It needed only a glance to see that Helene had made a mistake about you. She'd got a notion you were a millionaire like the little Cooley, but I knew better from your talk. She's clever, but she's French, and she can't get it out of her head that you could be an American and not a millionaire. Of course, they all knew better when you brought out your express checks and talked like somebody in one of the old-time story-books about 'debts of honor.' Even Helene understood then that the express checks were all you had." She laughed. "I didn't have any trouble gettin' the note back!"

    She paused again for a moment, then resumed: "There isn't much use our goin' over it all, but I want you to know one thing. Your little friend Cooley made it rather clear that he accused Helene and me of signalin'. Well, I didn't. Perhaps that's the reason you didn't lose as much as he did; I can't say. And one thing more: all this isn't goin' to do you any harm. I'm not very keen about philosophy and religion and that, but I believe if you're let in for a lot of trouble, and it only half kills you, you can get some good of it."

    "Do you think," he stammered--"do you think I'm worth saving?"

    She smiled faintly and said:

    "You've probably got a sweetheart in the States somewhere--a nice girl, a pretty young thing who goes to church and thinks you're a great man, perhaps? Is it so?"

    "I am not worthy," he began, choked suddenly, then finished--"to breathe the same air!"

    "That's quite right," Lady Mount-Rhyswicke assured him. "Think what you'd think of her if she'd got herself into the same sort of scrape by doin' the things you've been doin'! And remember that if you ever feel impatient with her, or have any temptations to superiority in times to come. And yet"--for the moment she spoke earnestly--"you go back to your little girl, but don't you tell her a word of this. You couldn't even tell her that meetin' you has helped me, because she wouldn't understand."

    "Nor do I. I can't."

    "Oh, it's simple. I saw that if I was gettin' down to where I was robbin' babies and orphans...." The cab halted. "Here's your corner. I told him only to go round the block and come back. Good-by. I'm off for Amalfi. It's a good place to rest."

    He got out dazedly, and the driver cracked his whip over the little horse; but Mellin lifted a detaining hand.

    "A spet," called Lady Mount-Rhyswicke to the driver. "What is it, Mr. Mellin?"

    "I can't--I can't look you in the face," he stammered, his attitude perfectly corroborative of his words. "I would--oh, I would kneel in the dust here before you--"

    "Some of the poetry you told me you write?"

    "I've never written any poetry," he said, not looking up. "Perhaps I can--now. What I want to say is--I'm so ashamed of it--I don't know how to get the words out, but I must. I may never see you again, and I must. I 'm sorry--please try to forgive me--I wasn't myself when I did it--"

    "Blurt it out; that's the best way."

    "I'm sorry," he floundered--"I'm sorry I kissed you."

    She laughed her tired laugh and said in her tired voice the last words he was ever destined to hear from her:

    "Oh, I don't mind, if you don't. It was so innocent, it was what decided me."

    One of the hundreds of good saints that belong to Rome must have overheard her and pitied the young man, for it is ascribable only to some such special act of mercy that Mellin understood (and he did) exactly what she meant.
    Chapter 10
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