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"What is thy will, O Breaker of Hearts?"

"That'll be about all for yours," announced Violet reprovingly. "You
hadn't oughta carry on like that--at your age, too! Not that _I_
mind--I rather like it; but what'd your family say if they knew you
was stuck on an actress?"

"'Love blows as the wind blows,'" P. Sybarite quoted gently. "How
shall I hide the fact of my infatuation? If my family cast me off, so
be it!"

"I told you, behave! Next thing you know, George will be bitin' the
fence.... What's all this about you givin' a box party at the
Knickerbocker to-night?"

"It's a fact," affirmed P. Sybarite. "Only I had counted on the
pleasure of inviting you myself," he added with a patient glance at
George.

"Never mind about that," interposed the lady. "I'm just as tickled to
death, and I love you a lot more'n I do George, anyway. So _that's_
all right. Only I was afraid for a while he was connin' me."

"You feel better now?"

Violet placed a theatrical hand above her heart. "Such a relief!" she
declared intensely--"you'll never know!" Then she jumped up and
wheeled about to the door with petticoats professionally a-swirl.
"Well, if I'm goin' to do a stagger in society to-night, it's me to go
doll myself up to the nines. So long!"

"Hold on!" George cried in alarm. "You ain't goin' to go dec--decol--low
neck and all that? Cut it, kid: me and P.S. ain't got no dress soots,
yunno."

"Don't fret," returned Violet from the doorway. "I know how to pretty
myself for my comp'ny, all right. Besides, you'll be at the back of
the box and nobody'll know you exist. Me and Molly Leasing'll get all
the yearnin' stares."

She disappeared by way of the vestibule. George shook a head heavy
with forebodings.

"Class to that kid, all right," he observed. "Some stepper, take it
from me. Anyway, I'm glad it's a box: then I can hide under a chair. I
ain't got nothin' to go in but these hand-me-downs."

"You'll be all right," said P. Sybarite hastily.

"Well, I won't feel lonely if you don't dress up like a horse. What
are you going to wear, anyway?"

"A shave, a clean collar, and what I stand in. They're all I have."

"Then you got nothin' on me. What's your rush?"--as P. Sybarite would
have passed on. "Wait a shake. I wanna talk to you. Sit down and have
a cig."

There was a hint of serious intention in the manner of the shipping
clerk to induce P. Sybarite, after the hesitation of an instant, to
accede to his request. Squatting down upon the steps, he accepted a
cigarette, lighted it, inhaled deeply.

"Well?"

"I dunno how to break it to you," Bross faltered dubiously. "You
better brace yourself to lean up against the biggest disappointment
ever."

P. Sybarite regarded him with sharp distrust. "You interest me
strangely, George.... But perhaps you're no more addled than usual.
Consider me gently prepared against the worst--and get it off your
chest."

"Well," said George regretfully, "I just wanna put you next to the
facts before you ask her. Miss Lessing ain't goin' to go with us
to-night."

P. Sybarite looked startled and grieved.

"No?" he exclaimed.

George wagged his head mournfully. "It's a shame. I know you counted
on it, but I guess you'll have to get summonelse."

"I'm afraid I don't understand. How do you know Miss Lessing won't go?
Did she tell you so?"

"Not what you might call exactly, but she won't all right," George
returned with confidence. "There ain't one chance in a hundred I'm in
wrong."

"In wrong? How?"

"About her bein' who she is."

P. Sybarite subjected the open, naf countenance of the shipping clerk
to a prolonged and doubting scrutiny.

"No, I ain't crazy in the head, neither," George asseverated with some
heat. "I suspicioned somethin' was queer about that girl right along,
but now I _know_ it."

"Explain yourself."

"Ah, it ain't nothin' against her! You don't have to scorch your
collar. _She's_ all right. Only--she 's in bad. I don't s'pose you
seen the evenin' paper?"

"No."

"Well, I picked up the _Joinal_ down to Clancey's--this is it." With
an effective flourish, George drew the sheet from his coat pocket and
unfolded its still damp and pungent pages. "And soon's I seen that,"
he added, indicating a smudged halftone, "I begun to wise up to that
little girl. It's sure some shame about her, all right, all right."

Taking the paper, P. Sybarite examined with perplexity a portrait
labelled "Marian Blessington." Whatever its original aspect, the
coarse mesh of the reproducing process had blurred it to a vague
presentment of the head and shoulders of almost any young woman with
fair hair and regular features: only a certain, almost indefinable
individuality in the pose of the head remotely suggested Molly
Lessing.

In a further endeavour to fathom his meaning, the little bookkeeper
conned carefully the legend attached to the putative likeness:

MARIAN BLESSINGTON

only daughter of the late Nathaniel Blessington, millionaire
founder of the great Blessington chain of department stores.
Although much sought after on account of the immense property into
control of which she is to come on her twenty-fifth birthday, Miss
Blessington contrived to escape matrimonial entanglement until last
January, when Brian Shaynon, her guardian and executor of the
Blessington estate, gave out the announcement of her engagement to
his son, Bayard Shaynon. This engagement was whispered to be
distasteful to the young woman, who is noted for her independent
and spirited nature; and it is now persistently being rumoured that
she had demonstrated her disapproval by disappearing mysteriously
from the knowledge of her guardian. It is said that nothing has
been known of her whereabouts since about the 1st of March, when
she left her home in the Shaynon mansion on Fifth Avenue,
ostensibly for a shopping tour. This was flatly contradicted this
morning by Brian Shaynon, who in an interview with a reporter for
the EVENING JOURNAL declared that his ward sailed for Europe
February 28th on the _Mauretania_, and has since been in constant
communication with her betrothed and his family. He also denied
having employed detectives to locate his ward. The sailing list of
the _Mauretania_ fails to give the name of Miss Blessington on the
date named by Mr. Shaynon.

Refolding the paper, P. Sybarite returned it without comment.

"Well?" George demanded anxiously.

"Well?"

"Ain't you hep yet?" George betrayed some little exasperation in
addition to his disappointment.

"Hep?" P. Sybarite iterated wonderingly.

"Hep's the word," George affirmed: "John W. Hep, of the well-known
family of that name--very closely related to the Jeremiah Wises. Yunno
who I mean, don't you?"

"Sorry," said P. Sybarite sadly: "I'm not even distinctly connected
with either family."

"You mean you don't make me?"

"God forestalled me there," protested P. Sybarite piously.
"Inscrutable!"

Impatiently brushing aside this incoherent observation, George slapped
the folded paper resoundingly in the palm of his hand.

"Then this here don't mean nothin' to you?"

"To me--nothing, as you say."

"You ain't dropped to the resemblance between Molly Lessing and Marian
Blessington?"

"Between Miss Lessing and _that_ portrait?" asked P. Sybarite
scornfully.

"Why, they're dead ringers for each other. Any one what can't see
that's blind."

"But I'm _not_ blind."

"Well, then you gotta admit they look alike as twins--"

"But I've known twins who didn't look alike," said P.S.

"Ah, nix on the stallin'!" George insisted, on the verge of losing his
temper. "Molly Lessing's the spit-'n'-image of Marian Blessington--and
you know it. What's more--look at their names? _Molly_ for _Mary_--you
make that? _Mary_ and _Marian's_ near enough alike, ain't they? And
what's _Lessing_ but _Blessington_ docked goin' and comin'?"

"Wait a second. If I understand you, George, you're trying to imply
that Miss Lessing is identical with Marian Blessington."

"You said somethin' then, all right."

"Simply because of the similarity of two syllables in their surnames
and a fancied resemblance of Miss Lessing to this so-called portrait?"

"Now you're gettin' warm, P.S."

P.S. laughed quietly: "George, I've been doing you a grave injustice.
I apologise."

George opened his eyes and emitted a resentful "_Huh?_"

"For years I've believed you were merely stupid," P.S. explained
patiently. "Now you develop a famous, if fatuous, gift of imagination.
I'm sorry. I apologise twice."

"Imag'nation hell!" Mr. Bross exploded. "Where's your own? It's
plain's daylight what I say is so. When did Miss Lessing come here?
Five weeks ago, to a day--March foist, or close onto it--just when the
_Joinal_ says she did her disappearin' stunt. How you goin' to get
around that?"

"You forget that the _Journal_ simply reports a rumour. It doesn't
claim it's true. In fact, the story is contradicted by the very person
that ought to know--Miss Blessington's guardian."

"Well, if she sailed for Europe on the _Mauretania_, like he
says--how's it come her name wasn't on the passenger list?"

"It's quite possible that a young woman as much sought after and
annoyed by fortune hunters, may have elected to sail incognita. It can
be done, you know. In fact, it _has_ been done."

George digested this in profound gloom.

"Then you don't believe what I'm tellin' you?"

"Not one-tenth of one iota of a belief."

George betrayed in a rude, choleric grunt, his disgust to see his
splendid fabrication, so painfully concocted for the delusion and
discomfiture of P. Sybarite, threatening to collapse of sheer
intrinsic flimsiness. He had counted so confidently on the credulity
of the little bookkeeper! And Violet had supported his confidence with
so much assurance! Disgusting wasn't the word for George's emotions.

In desperation he grasped at one final, fugitive hope.

"All right," he said sullenly: "_all_ right! You don't gotta believe
me if you don't wanta. Only wait--that's all I ask--_wait_! You'll see
I'm right when she turns down your invite to-night."

P.



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