If Miss Mollie Madison supposed for one moment that Simon Iff meant to take his two week's Penance lightly, she was very much enlightened on arrival at Ormond, where, and not to Palm Beach, Mrs. Mills had taken the malingering Agnes.
He had bought a tremendous black stallion, 17 hands high, and every other morning went for a fifty-mile gallop along the broad smooth sands. Alternate mornings he would swim from dawn to noon. His lunch invariably consisted of grape-fruit and a big rare beef-steak, washed down with a bottle of plain spring water. He did not smoke any more. From one o'clock till sunset he might have been found in a palm-grove, deep hidden, sitting absolutely motionless with his legs tucked away under him.
At seven he joined the party for dinner, when he ate fish and drank a quart of milk. Immediately after the meal he walked swiftly to the beach and back, usually with Mollie or Agnes or both, and then retired to sleep. At midnight he awoke, and continued his meditation until dawn.
The good lady was exceedingly perturbed, after about a week, by the character of his conversation, which consisted in contradicting every statement made in his presence. If she said it was a fine day, he would reply, "Pardon me, madam, if I cannot admit that it is fine. At the same time, it is not wet, cold, windy, or anything else unpleasant." His explanation was that nothing that could be thought was true, in the highest philosophical sense; similarly, nothing that could be throught was not true, so that his only chance of telling the truth was to deny everything, and its contradiction also, whenever opportunity arose.
Mrs. Mills was very grateful to him for saving her fortune, and she thought that the least she could do to repay him was to have a doctor to look at him. She knew that he would never consent to a consultation, so she quietly asked a famous nerve specialist from New York, who spent his winters in Florida, making a fortune out of patching up the idle rich, to come to dinner, and have an unoffical look at him.
Dr. Buzzard was a very clever man, and knew enough never to tell a patient that there was nothing the matter with him; so he reported to Mrs. Mills that he couldn't quite say that it was paranoia, that to call it neuraesthenia might be premature, that dementia praecox, while worthy of our earnest consideration, was not actually to be considered as definitively established at present, and that while there were or might be or seem to be decided symptoms of a medenologicolalic type, it could hardly be maintained diagnostically that psychopathological caehexia, in any of its commoner forms, at least, was inhibiting the nous, almost as non-committally as Iff himself could have wished.
However, a second dinner party might enable him to endeavour to draw out Mr. Iff. If he could be got to take interest once more in the common things of life, the mind might take on a healthier tone.
The wind was somewhat taken out of his sails by the appearance of Simon Iff at dinner in full evening dress. He had ordered the meal, moreover: oysters, clear green turtle, pompano en papillote, mallard duck au sang with coeur de palmier salad, bavaroise au chocolat, and a savoury invented by himself consisting of Toast Melba spread with mushrooms, anchovies, olives and pimento made into a paste. This was covered with bay-leaves, on which was spread a mixture of caviar, raw onions, ginseng, and Bombay Duck, sprinkled lightly with powdered hashish.
The wine list was equally elaborate. Cocktails consisting of two teasepoonfuls of liqueur brandy, one of Curacoa, and one of laudanum preceded the repast. With the oysters he caused Chablis to be served, with the soup Tokay, with the fish Chateau Yquem. The duck was accompanied by Mumm Cordon Rouge 1904. The sweet was enriched by a marvelous sauce with a basis of Creme de Cacao, and the savoury fortified with an astonishingly fine Burgundy of incomparable body and bouquet. The coffee was Turkish, prepared by Simon himself at the table, and perfected by the addition of an aromatic consisting of essential oil of cedar-wood and ambergris.
The liqueurs were Green Chartreuse of the original shipping, a particular Absinthe from a private still belonging to a friend of Simon Iff living in Switzerland among the crags of Jura, and an introuvable Metternich brandy. With the nuts came Château Margaux, Port, and a Madeira dating from William the Fourth.
An unopened bottle of rye whisky was also placed prominently on the table. There must be a skeleton, said Simon Iff, at every banquet.
For he had begun to do the honours by announcing that this was His Night Off. "Am I," he asked indignantly, "of no more value than many housemaids?"
"A lucid interval," thought Dr. Buzzard, acutely. "Let me improve the occasion!" Towards the finale of the duck rondo, therefore, he expressed a wish that Mr. Iff could be induced to apply his truly marvellous powers to the discovery of the Crime of Titusville.
"Useless," rejoined Simon, "I have already discovered it."
"Why, what is the Crime of Titusville?" mooed Mrs. Mills.
"Titusville," replied Iff, with finality.
"He's off again," thought the doctor to himself, having no sense of humour.
"I rode over there the other day," explained the mystic, "it is the worst of crimes - a crime against Nature." And he began to sing softly.
"What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o're Titusville,
Though every prospect pleases,
The people make me ill."
"Do they 'Bow down to wood and stone'?" laughed Miss Mollie Madison, who had up to that moment attended strictly to the business of dinner. She had been copying The Master's asceticism with feminine fidelity, and now meant to make up for it.
"They do," said Iff.
"But surely they are Christians?" tittered Mrs. Mills, with surprise.
"They are," crashed the magician. "They worship Wood in the Head, and Stone in the Heart."
"Oh dear!" faded away the good matron, wondering whether she had not perhaps drunk a little too much.
Dr. Buzzard determined to put forth a great effort to prevent his prospective patient from slipping back.
"Yesterday morning," he said thickly but firmly, "the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe, who live some fifteen miles out of Titusville, on the St. John River, disappeared. And she has not been found."
"Tell me the facts," said the magician, suddenly serious.
"Thorpe's grove is ten miles from the next inhabited dwelling. He employs several men to work for him, but they were all with him in the grove during the period of which we are to speak. Thorpe is a bluff bearded fellow of fifty or so; his wife Birdie is not yet thirty. They are intensely religious, devoted to I don't know quite which of the warring sects of Baptist. The grove is a large and flourishing concern; Thorpe has plenty of money in the bank, and owns real estate in Titusville to a considerable value. A rich man for these parts, you may say.
"Mamie, the only child, is not yet five years old.
"The house stands on the east bank of the river; access from the west is almost impossible; the stream is shallow, a mere trickle over thick banks of soft mud; it flows through many and changing channels; the swamp extends for many miles.
"A rough track leads through thick jungle to the grove; thence it becomes a little wider and smoother as it winds towards Titusville. The point to notice is that it would be difficult for any person to reach the house without being seen by the men at work in the grove. It would be easy for him, however, to hide in the jungle all night, and get away the following day after sundown when the men returned from labour.
"I must tell you that Mrs. Thorpe was previously married to a man named Spring. There was a daughter; but the Thorpes are reticent on the subject. After Spring's death Birdie was courted by several men, notably by one James Harper, a man of twenty-five, of good prospects and religious character."
"But Thorpe had better prospects and was more religious."
"I think that was the case. Anyhow, she married Thorpe. Harper vowed vengeance; in particular he threatened that if she ever had a child he would kidnap it. He then went away and started a ranch in Texas. Here his character degenerated; he openly denied religion, and took to drinking."
"Dreadful," said Simon, motioning the wine steward to refill the doctor's glass.
"However, he seems to have made himself universally liked as a good fellow. But he never would look at a woman. His heartiness appears to have been assumed for the benefit of his friends; when alone, he was morose. He was often found in his cottage with his head sunk upon the table, and the caller, greeted with a shout and a laugh, would yet perceive that he had been crying bitterly.
"Yesterday morning Mrs. Thorpe was hanging out the washing. Mamie was playing in front of the house. She was last seen by her mother trying to climb a cumquat tree of unusual size to reach the fruit upon the upper branches.
"A few minutes later - naturally the poor woman cannot be sure of the exact period - the child had disappeared. She called out, and then went on with her work. Then again she noticed that Mamie had not answered the call. She became anxious and went after her.
"The child's footsteps were plain to follow. They led along the track for a little way, and then turned off into the jungle. A strip of torn cotton was found at this point.
"The footsteps vanished. Mrs. Thorpe, now thoroughly alarmed, ran back to the house and fired the shotgun which was the signal for the men to come in to dinner. She searched around the house, the swamp, the river banks, while waiting, and found no trace. Thorpe ran in from the grove, surprised at the untimely summons. She told her story. Thorpe fired again to call in the men. Together, they verified the evidence of the trail. There was nothing for it but to beat the jungle. Thorpe sent a man on horseback to Titusville to get assistance. The whole town turned out, and arrived on the spot by noon. The disappearance had taken place, roughly, at seven in the morning.
"The sheriff of Titusville is a fine fellow, and a very hot man on a trail. He verified the evidence once more, and entirely agreed with the previous indications. As luck would have it, I was passing through Titusville in my car, noticed the commotion, and offered him a lift. We arrived well ahead of the rest of the town. So, you see, I have my knowledge at first hand."
"Excellent. Well, what did you discover?"
"A man's footprints, wide apart and softly impressed, leading from another part of the jungle, a quite different part, to the clearing about the house. They led to a knoll which overlooks the whole of the open space from the river to the jungle. He had stopped there, and shifted his feet about. Then he must have turned, and run like the wind. It was a series of wild leaps back to the jungle. He seems to have plunged head foremost into the thickest part of it. He did not choose an opening, but charged like a bull. Torn cloth and blood bore evident witness to the event.
"Sheriff Higgs and I followed with about a dozen men. The others were busy on the other side, hunting systematically from the place where the child's tracks ended. Ours was a terrible trail. Broken twigs and trampled grass made it easy to follow, save where the man in his fury had leapt across the ever-recurring pools, long snaky shiny stinking stagnations, which the sheriff, although a great athlete, did not dare to attempt.
"But the longest trail ends at last. About three o'clock we came upon Harper. He was lying half-in, half-out of a pool. He was stone dead. I examined him; the cause of death was evident, the rupture of a blood-vessel on the brain.
"There was nothing suggestive in his pockets, except an old worn photograph of Mrs. Thorpe with 'Ever thine Birdie' scrawled across it in a slow uneducated hand. There was not a shred of evidence to prove that he had ever had possession of the child, though of course he must have done so. And she has not been found anywhere else, either. Not a trace!"
"Not a button, or feather, or mark!" quoted Simon, and they stared at his levity.
"I don't think I will explain just now. By the way, doctor, just one question. Do Mrs. Thorpe's tracks anywhere cross Harper's?"
"Not within fifty yards."
"I will take a look round. My holiday ends at midnight, but I might as well ride that way as another, and I hereby, in the superior interests of humanity, absolve myself from my Vow of negation during my little pilgrimage."
Punctually at twelve o'clock he broke up the party, and went to his room. Five minutes later he was in his riding breeches, with a blue poncho, striped with white and purplish brown. The moon, rising at one o'clock, fell on his pale face as he cantered on the great black stallion towards Titusville.
Following the directions given him, he turned off the main road a little before dawn into a narrow track that wound between the groves. Presently he came to a bifurcation; a few minutes later, to another, more doubtful as to direction. In half an hour it petered out completely. He had lost his way.
He looked about him for signs of habitation. There were none. He decided to take the safest course, and return to a house some miles back, where he could refresh his orientation.
Just then, in the solemnity of dawn's silence, he heard a voice. Some one - some one within a few hundred yards of him - was singing.
The voice was untutored, but its range and its richness astounded him. There did not seem to be any words, and yet it was articulate. Higher it soared and higher, in trills and arpeggios, then fell as a cascade falls in luxurious cadences, then shrilled again. It was the wildest maddest music.
Some instinct prompted Simon Iff to play the spy. Perhaps it was that he did not want to disturb the singer, possibly to frighten her. So he slipped off his horse, and tied the bridle to a tree, then crept warily through the undergrowth. He had been a successful shikari in the Hambantota province of Ceylon, and cared nothing for any shooting but the stalk. Five or six minutes later he was in full view of the quarry.
He judged her to be of sixteen years of age. Her body was sinewy and agile, though rather short and sturdy. Her face had something of the satyr in it, with a double curve to strong voluptuous lips. The face was oval, with deep set violet eyes, and dark lines under them, the complexion otherwise absolutely pallid, a dead ivory. Her hair was long and loose, deep violet like her eyes, hanging in heavy masses that curled Medusa-wise about her head. She was clad only in a cotton shift, but her dress, a coarse brown merino, lay with her shoes and stockings a little distance behind her.
Hardly had he taken notice of these matters when her song stopped, and she began to dance. It was a savage romp, reminding him of certain Spanish girls at Granada. But this was a true witch-dance, done with the deliberate purpose of invocation.
She stopped suddenly, with curious naïvété; sat down, and began to put on her dress.
The magician read her soul easily, for it was close kin to his own. He knew that there was but one way to approach her. He began in a very low deep voice, like the muttering of distant thunder, to chant the Hymn to Pan from the Ajax of Sophocles.
At first the girl did not hear; but as the magician grew louder and bolder and more dynamic, she rose and looked about her. Simple Simon was far too well hidden for such crude search. His voice soared and sank, roared and rolled in passionate ecstasy, like the beating of African drums.
Suddenly the girl fell upon her knees. She tore off her clothes, even the shift itself, closed her eyes, threw her head back, and extended her arms.
The magician ceased his song. He came forward quietly toward her, and caught her in his arms. A terrible shudder passed through her frame as he put his mouth on hers; she went limp, and he laid her upon the ground unconscious. Then he covered her with her own dress, and stood with folded arms, waiting. In a few minutes she came out of her swoon. As she saw Iff she trembled, and put her forearm over her eyes. The word "Pan" came in a whisper from her lips.
"Yes, child," said the magician very gently. "It is well, Syrinx, that you never 'ran into the forest from Arcadian Pan.' But I am not Pan only; I am one Simon Iff, 'a desperate magician concealed within the circle of this forest.' In that capacity, I am quite quiet and harmless, and I have lost my way. I will turn back while you dress, and then you will come with me to my horse and put me on my way. Also, I will put you on yours."
"My name is Alma," she said very coolly. "I am a witch."
"Glad to meet you," said Simon, "and glad to hear it. But don't try to bewitch me when I'm not looking. It's easier, anyhow, when I am!"
He turned his back. In two minutes he felt her arm slip through his. They went dancing together out of the hummocks.
"Oh, there's the Devil's black horse!"
"And me the Devil!"
"Of course you are. I belong to you, you know."
"I sold my soul for an hour's happiness, and your voice told me that I should have it, and you would come to take me away in a year and a day. Oh how splendid of you to keep your word! The year and a day are up to-day!"
"But where am I to take you?"
"To hell, of course."
The magician regarded her with growing surprise.
"I've had my happiness," she said, "when you put your arms round me and kissed me. Don't you dare think I want to get out of the bargain!"
"So you are really willing to go to hell?"
"Of course I am."
Simon Iff considered her keenly for a few moments.
"The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman," he quoted at last, "Modo he's called, and Mahu. As a gentleman, I don't want to take unfair advantage. So would you mind telling me exactly what you mean by hell?"
"Why, the bottomless pit, of course. The lake of fire and brimstone that burneth for ever and ever, whose worm dieth not and whose fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and they gnaw their tongues for pain."
"I understand," said Simon Iff. "That place!"
"Don't you realize how much better that is than Titusville? I could be happy there, I think. There's a great gulf fixed, isn't there? No one could get across from heaven to torture me."
"So that was why you sold your soul?"
"I just had to be eternally lost. I was in horrible danger. They had baptized me in my infancy, by total immersion, not the other kinds that don't count; at any moment I might have died and gone to heaven, where mother is."
"I am afraid I shall have to talk seriously to you about theology. Did it never occur to you that some of your pastors and teachers might be liable to some slight inaccuracy at times?"
"Do you mean - it might not be all true?"
"I fear I do."
"But it is true, for I've sold my soul to you, and you've come to take me on the very day you said you would!"
"But I didn't promise to take you to hell, did I?"
"Not exactly. But where else could you take me?"
"Well, I rather thought I would send you over to Paris to some friends of mine who teach little girls to sing when they have voices like yours - only, they haven't. Yours happens to be the finest natural voice I've heard in forty years. And you've got the personality, and the temperament, and the religious feeling, and the dramatic power. When you are twenty-two you will be the greatest singer in the world."
"But I haven't a cent. Oh if only I could have got to Jacksonville, like Selma Spring! She went on the streets, you know, and now she's a dancer in a cabaret in New York. Tom Biddle told me."
"Spring! Spring! I know that name. Is that the girl whose mother married Thorpe?"
"So the plot thickens? Aha! I smell battle," he murmured to himself.
"Well, let me extend my holiday awhile, and save the living before I go to take vengeance for the dead."
"And you can't get away?" he added aloud. "Ah, but you can when the Devil takes you."
"My father would catch me and drag me back."
"The only safe place is hell, you think? I'll show you that the Devil is Prince of this world. I'm sorry if you miss the brimstone, but I'll do all I can. Now up we get on the Demon Horse, and away!"
He lifted her lightly to the saddle.
"I have a friend at Ormond, a very charming girl named Mollie Madison. Let us get to some place where I can telephone, and this Young Lochinvar Act will go great at the first house. Direct me, Alma child, we mustn't run into people just now."
She knew the country perfectly. They never saw a soul until, near a cross-road, they came upon a hamlet which boasted a post-office. Iff left her with the horse in a little grove, well out of sight, and went forward to send his message. His excellent French was too much, he hoped, for any eavesdropping clerks.
An hour later Miss Mollie Madison arrived at the edge of the grove in Simon's big limousine. She had one of her own dresses ready for the girl, who was sitting at the feet of the magician, acquiring elementary instruction in the Art of Geomancy. The change was quickly made, toilet and all, for Mollie would have made a first class lady's maid had all else failed. Alma still looked a little like a satyr, but oh! a satyr in the very best society.
"Take her to Jacksonville in the car," commanded Simon. "There you can get the limited. Fix her up in New York with money and clothes and a story, and introduce her to plenty of nice people. Then leave her in charge of the apartment, and come back to finish the rest-cure."
"But I thought you were going to take me away yourself," pouted Alma.
"The fact is, dear child, I've a date to take somebody else away. And this time there's going to be the smell of brimstone, and a little over."
"You'll come for me soon, though?"
"If you're good - I mean bad - and stick to your singing!"
"Kiss me good-bye!"
Simon Iff took the child in his arms for a moment, and touched her lips.
"The Devil gives good measure," he said. "You bargained for an hour's happiness; you shall have a lifetime of it. And your soul's all your own for ever!"
He kissed her again, and put her into the car. Mollie put down the lever. They were off.
"Exit the Chorus," observed Simon, a trifle surly. "Now let us get to business!"
He made no mistake about his road on the second time of asking, and came to the house of the Thorpes a little before sundown.
Mrs. Thorpe was at the door, sweeping. He looked fully upon her. Not yet thirty-five! Her eyes seemed enormous because of the emaciation of her cheeks, sunken upon her toothless jaws. Her hair was scanty and turning grey over the temples. Her lean breasts sagged in her thin dress. She stooped as if with age. Her hands were coarse, dirty, like claws. Her thin long straight mouth was colourless, the lips pinched inwards.
She turned from her mechanical sweep, sweep of the worn broom, and looked up. The sun was setting angrily over the swamps, whose miasma turned his rays to a dull red. In that light Simon on his giant steed towered terrific and menacing. The foul crone fixed her eyes upon his face. It was convulsed by a Satanic sneer.
"Who are you?" she gasped, in a thin squeak.
His voice was hoarse and rasping and malignant. "I am the Devil, come to take his own."
"But I'm saved, I do assure you, I'm saved. I've been baptized, adult baptism by sprinkling, not the ways that aren't any good. I always go to chapel to Brother Teague's. I - I -"
Simon's frown had become more frightful than at first. "Oh, you can't take me, you can't take me!" she screamed. "I read the Bible everyday."
The magician gave a sardonic laugh, grating and hideous.
"Is that all? Come!"
"No, no, I'm not ready," wailed the hag, and, falling on her knees, began to call upon 'Jesus'.
It was an incoherent flood of blasphemies, had she known it.
Simon sat silent. Presently the prayer gave her some sort of courage, and became intelligible.
"Did I do wrong, Lord," she screamed, "oh don't tell me I did wrong to throw Mamie to the alligators, dear, dear Lord Jesus, don't say that! Didn't you say, Lord, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me?' I couldn't, I couldn't let her grow up like Selma to disgrace me!"
She began to babble again; when she looked up, the horseman had gone as silently as he had come. She had a great story to tell her husband of a miraculous answer to her prayer.
Simon Iff rode all through the night. He was chilled to the marrow; he rode like a dead man. Dawn found him near Ormond; the rising sun awoke him from his trance. The stallion gave a weak sigh. "Damnation!" cried Simon, "I've been a brute to my horse!" He dismounted, and led him to the stable.
He stumbled wearily up the steps to the verandah of the hotel.
As it chanced, Dr. Buzzard had been out early, and saw him. "Lord, that man wants a doctor!" he thought, and ran forward to assist him.
Simon sank wearily into a chair. All the virtue seemed to have gone out of him. Buzzard called the waiter to bring some brandy. Simon waved it aside. "I only drink brandy," he faltered, "when I'm feeling fiery and martial." He tried to smile.
"Damnation!" he roared suddenly, like a lion, "and I ought to be feeling fiery and martial, not moping like a dumb beast in agony. That's better. A damned good suggestion of yours, doctor, here's thanks - and jolly good luck to you and to all brave men that are out to fight ignorance!" He drained the liquor at a gulp.
"I'm good at finding excuses for a drink, you see," he laughed defiantly. There was a false note in his voice. To Buzzard it suggested the strained artificiality of a man in dreadful pain, striving with all his pride or courage to conceal the fact.
"But I am rather tired, now you don't mention it, and I think I'll go up and have a nap. Meet me at lunch, will you? I can a tale unfold 'whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood' - oh, you finish the quotation, it's all too ghastly apt!"
He left the doctor a little confirmed in the less optimistic aspects of his original diagnosis.
But at lunch he was his own jovial self once more, though he had gone back to grape-fruit and beef-steak and mineral water.
"Dr. Buzzard, you are a famous alienist. It is perhaps impertinent of me to offer you a clinical picture of what is called sanity in the back-blocks of America. But I have my object.
"Imagine yourself a woman born into a universe containing three sections. The first is a colourless place, described as joyful by people who have had no joy to colour their imaginations. The second is a place of dreadful, senseless agony, readily enough realized by those whose whole lives are full of pain. It is very much more real than the first, because both places are merely shadowy expansions to infinity of what they actually know. Eternal fire is much more suggestive than eternal - I won't call it music.
"The third place is a place of continual torment. Childhood is one long round of scoldings and punishments varied by threats of unknown terrors. Youth is an apprenticeship to slavery. Marriage means an increased dose of drudgery, with an annual agony of childbearing, more joyless and sordid than a sow's. All pleasures without exception are sins, and incur the penalty of going after death to the place which has been defined as the eternal and infinite exaggeration of all the known miseries of life. Oh strait is the gate and narrow is the way, when of the seventy-seven methods of baptism only one is efficacious, and the neighbours are as sure that their way is right as you are about yours! Life is a trackless abyss of pain and fear - above all, fear.
"Then remove all human society, even those naughty neighbours! Remove books! Remove music! Remove art! Remove even interest in politics, and the wide world! Leave such a woman for a while in an isolated house in a swamp, sick with malaria, acrid with mosquitoes, a year-long stench of putrefying weeds. Add a hot climate, with a summer of steaming rains. Can you, with all your educated imagination, picture a more abominable hell, physical, mental, moral, spiritual - can you?"
Dr. Buzzard shook his head, and began to speak.
"Don't spoil my scenario! The scene changes. Could you not read the plain story of the footprints? I do not know why Harper came so stealthily to the house; but he was evidently crazy about Birdie Thorpe. He reaches the knoll. He sees her - the desirable woman of six or seven years before - become the ghastly crone you saw two days ago. Not yet thirty-five!
"And what is she doing? She does not see him at all, for she is standing by a pool in the swamp, throwing her little child to the alligators!"
"Good God!" cried Buzzard, leaping from his chair. "Who told you so?"
"She said so in my presence. She did not want her to grow up like Selma to disgrace her!"
"Good God! Good God!"
"I am sometimes tempted to doubt it," remarked Simon Iff with acidity.
"I suppose that's right," said Buzzard, chewing the cud of his memory of the trail. "She could have taken the child, walking, to the jungle, and led it in, leaving that torn rag. Then she could have picked her up, and gone to the swamp. She had a good story to cover her tracks over there. Probably Harper saw just the end of it, the brute's snout snapping at the screaming baby, and the mother crying out to Jesus Christ!
"They do that in India too, don't they, by the way?"
"No," snapped Simon. "Only another missionary lie."
"Well, no wonder Harper went clean crazy and ran from the accursed house until his brain burst!"
"That's how I read it."
"Say, but I've got to put Higgs wise to this." He got up to telephone.
"Oh, I wouldn't," said Simon, very wearily. "If you're peeved with her, why not just leave her in Florida?"
"I guess hell is too good for her."
"No fear o'that. She had the only right kind of baptism."
Mrs. Mills swept into the room, radiant, with Agnes in tow.
"Oh, my dear Mr. Iff, I'm so glad to see you back. I hope you have had a perfectly lovely time. There's more work for you, haven't you heard? Mysterious disappearance of a girl named Alma Something. I suppose it's only the White Slave Traffic, but probably you'd like to detect it, wouldn't you? It must be deliciously exciting."
"I am afraid I must really go back to my meditation. But I'll tell you what, if you're fond of your joke, why not wire Dolores Travis - the famous Cass girl, you know? - to come and spend a week or so with you. Just indicate the facts of the mystery, and say I'm here, but too busy to take the case."
Mrs. Mills bustled out to send a telegram, while Simple Simon lay back in his chair chuckling.
"A little touched, too, for all his cleverness, just a little touched!" murmured Buzzard under his breath.
'The plans of mice and men gang aft agley;' and so, now and then, do those of Mrs. Mills.
Dinner brought her a telegram. Dolores Travis regretted that social engagements in Boston prevented her, etc.
The 'Travis' and the 'social engagements' were two good hard slaps for Simon Iff.
He opened his own telegram with apprehension. It read. "Once bit, twice shy. Dolores Cass."