The Master of Mysteries/The Lorsson Elopement
THE LORSSON ELOPEMENT
THE Master of Mysteries entered the great studio smiling, and, without removing his overcoat or silk hat, threw himself on the divan and chuckled.
Valeska looked up from her desk with a question in her eyes, though she did not speak. As Astro did not seem inclined to answer, she resumed her work with the finger prints. Each one of these, printed in pale red ink on a small sheet of bristol board, she examined carefully, then with a pencil she traced out the primary figure formed by the capillary lines, starting from the microscopic triangle on the inside of the finger, where the lines, coming from the back, first separated, and then following the curve till it met the corresponding little triangle or "island" on the outside of the finger. The axes of this diagram were then drawn, and the pattern thus defined was entered on the card index as an "invaded loop", an "arched spiral", or a "whorl", according to Galton's classification.
So absorbing was her work that it took her whole attention, and she did not think again of her employer until he spoke aloud. He had thrown off his overcoat and put on his oriental turban and his red silk robe to be ready for patrons. No visitors had yet appeared to interview the palmist, however, and Astro was lazily puffing his narghile.
"Valeska," he said at last, between two long inhalations of the water-pipe, "did you ever try to put out a fire in the grate by covering the front with a blower?"
She laid down her pencil and looked up smiling. "Why, no. It only makes the fire burn the hotter, doesn't it?"
He nodded his head gravely. "Precisely. And yet that's what Mrs. Lorsson is doing with her daughter Ruth."
Valeska waited for something more.
"I had an interesting time there to-day," he went on. "There were a dozen or more pretty well-known society women at her tea, and they were all crazy to have me read their palms, of course. That was all stupid enough, until Ruth Lorsson came in. Have you ever seen her?"
"Oh, yes," said Valeska. "A pretty girl of about eighteen, with dark eyes and dark hair, isn't she? She always looks so innocent that I want to pet her."
"You needn't worry. She has somebody to pet her, if I'm not mistaken. And as for being timid and innocent; well, you never can tell by the looks; that is, unless you see what I saw." He smiled again mysteriously.
"Is she in love then?" Valeska asked.
"Without doubt, by her handwriting, which I saw a sample of—you should have seen the double curve in the crossing of her t's—and by her heart line, too, for that matter; and by her general appearance and demeanor, most decidedly. But I had better proof than all that."
"Why, was he there? I could have told in an instant, I'm sure."
"No, he wasn't there; but another man was; and, though it was evident that Mrs. Lorsson considers him eligible and is trying to make a match of it, Ruth hates him. Of course you or any bright woman could have seen that as well as I."
"Then how did you find out specifically?"
"Why, in a surreptitious way, I must admit. You know that Mrs. Lorsson wanted to exploit me as the latest fad, and she insisted that I should come in costume. Very well, I was willing to oblige. Mrs. Larsson is rich and influential, and I made out my bill accordingly.
"Well, I was shown up into Miss Ruth's room to dress. There on her secretary I happened to see her blotter covered with figures. If it had been writing, I shouldn't have read it; but I confess that that list of numbers piqued my curiosity, and I looked at it. It wasn't a sum, or anything like that. It occurred to me at first glance that it was a cipher. I don't know why—perhaps because the thing seemed so meaningless. At any rate, it interested me, and I made a copy. Here it is."
He pulled out a note-book and showed Valeska the list:
"What do you make of it?"
"Why, nothing as yet. It's absolutely meaningless." Valeska looked up.
"I agree with you so far. But let me tell you the rest of the story. Ruth is, as you know, a very pretty young girl; but she's more than that—she's clever. Of course the cleverness of eighteen isn't quite so deep as the cleverness of maturity; but I think she is intelligent enough to keep that stepmother of hers guessing. Of course one of the first things I said was that she was in love. Her stepmother denied it so indignantly that I immediately smelled a mouse. Ruth didn't betray herself; but I noticed that the young man who was present immediately began to take notice. He is Sherman Fuller, and, I imagine from what I heard, a millionaire in his own right. Decidedly an eligible! The way Mrs. Lorsson managed him was wonderful. There's no doubt that if she can throw Ruth at his head she'll do it. He seemed to be perfectly willing; but Ruth scarcely looked at him. When she did, it was with scorn. It was easy enough to see how the land lay. She was in love with some one else.
"Well, I had used my eyes pretty well when I was up in her room, and had noticed several things. Among these were, first, a Bible on her book-shelf, a half-filled box of caramels, a copy of The Star with one page torn out, and so on. I tried what the spiritualistic mediums call a 'fishing test' on her, saying that I thought she was very religious. She smiled rather cynically; but her stepmother thought it was wonderful. 'Why, Ruth goes up to her room every night after dinner to read her Bible!' she exclaimed. I next informed her that she was fond of sweet things, and her stepmother corroborated me by saying that she bought a box of candy every day or two.
"The rest was easy, and doesn't matter. But I could see that she was strictly chaperoned. She didn't go out of the room without Mrs. Lorsson's asking her where she was going, and from the conversation I inferred that she went nowhere alone. I was certain it was not only mere conventionality. Mrs. Lorsson watches her. As I was going out, a maid brought some letters in on a salver. One was for Miss Ruth. Mrs. Lorsson opened it calmly, as if it were for herself, glanced it over, and handed it to her stepdaughter. I have no doubt that the letters Miss Ruth writes are inspected as well."
"Isn't it awful?" sighed Valeska. "I thought that sort of thing had all gone by nowadays."
"Not when you have a stepdaughter, and an eligible young millionaire to marry her to," said Astro. "That woman is a tyrant and a schemer. There's little love lost in that family, I'm sure. But now look at the cipher again."
"First, let me think," Valeska said thoughtfully, holding the paper in her hand. "Here's a young girl who is having a young man, whom she doesn't like, forced on her. She is probably in love with another; but is not allowed to see him or to write to him. Well, I'd manage to communicate with him in some way."
"Yes, and you're clever, for eighteen, and you read the Bible every night after dinner."
"Oh!" Valeska's eyes grew bright. "Then these figures refer to Bible texts? But that was the way our grandmothers wrote, interlarding their messages with Scriptural quotations. I don't really believe Ruth is so religious as that."
"Ah, you don't know your Bible then," Astro rejoined, as he went to a bookcase and took down a copy. "Why, it's the most wonderful book in the world in more ways than one! It not only contains the sum of human and divine wisdom, but almost every message that one might wish to send. Why, it's a ready-made lover's codex! It isn't only the Song of Songs that contains beautiful love messages, I assure you. They're scattered all through the book."
"Then these figures must refer to the chapters and verses," Valeska said, scrutinizing the numbers.
"And the books," Astro added.
Valeska still puzzled over the list of figures. "The numbers seem too high for that."
"And there's our first clue. Now let us examine the columns in detail. We'd naturally expect the number of the book to come first, the chapter next, and the verse last. The highest number in the first row is seventy-one. But there are only sixty-six books in the Bible; so that can't be the number of any book. Taking the second column, we see that the highest number is three hundred forty-one. But the longest book in the Bible, the book of Psalms, has only one hundred and fifty chapters, so that column can't give the chapter numbers as it is, at least. The third column has only the number ninety-one. That can't be the number of every verse."
He waited for Valeska. She frowned prettily as she studied it out. For some time her look was intense, rapt. Then, as if some idea passed from him to her, her smile came radiantly, and she exclaimed:
"The figures are reversed! What a sly-boots she is!"
Astro smiled also. "Of course I saw that at the first glance. There is a direct corroboration of it plainly evident. In the first place, ninety-one reversed is nineteen, the number in Biblical order of the book of Psalms, which has more personal messages than any other book and second we get the chapter one hundred forty-three, which could come from no other book, of course. Now let us try and see what we get. I'll begin at the top, the sixty-third Psalm, verses three, four, and five." And he read aloud:
"'Because thy loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
"'Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
"'My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.'"
"It's pretty, isn't it?" he asked.
The tears had come into Valeska's eyes. "Oh, it's beautiful!" she exclaimed. "No one could call it sacrilegious, even though she has used the words that apply to the Almighty for her own lover. She's a dear! It seems wrong to pry into so charming a secret; but I'm dying to hear the rest of it."
Astro put down the cipher. "This is evidently only one side of the correspondence, you must remember. If we are to get it all, we must find his answers. That's a little more difficult."
"It seems impossible to me," said Valeska. "You only happened on this. I shouldn't know where to look for his messages."
He sat down and looked at her seriously. "The only way is to use your imagination and your memory. Put yourself in her place. You can't trust servants or mails. You are watched everywhere except in your own room. Think it out; concentrate your mind on the problem."
Valeska dropped her head on her hand thoughtfully, and spoke as if to herself. "Let's see. I am in my room alone. I read my Bible and pick out appropriate messages. But how do I get them to him?" She looked up, puzzled.
"Never mind that now. How does he communicate with you?"
"There's a box of candy there, and a newspaper—" She paused and then, gazing at him through narrowed eyes, went on. "It must be through the paper; I can't see any other way possible. No one would suspect that, if the message were concealed. It might be in the 'Personal' column."
"That's too easy, and it might be noticed. Besides, The Star has no 'Personals'."
"Then— It couldn't be in a news item; for he wouldn't be sure of its being inserted, even if he were a reporter. It must be in an advertisement."
He went into the waiting-room, and returned with a copy of The Star.
"Correct," he said. "That's the only possible solution. Now the thing to do is to look through this file of The Star and see if we can discover any advertisement that seems suspicious. First, what date shall we lookup?"
Valeska returned to the paper on which the numbers were written. "Well," she said, "if it were I, I should want to have a message as often as possible. If I send him my texts every night, he ought to reply in the morning paper. This paper seems to show four messages. The last one must be yesterday's. That would bring his first advertisement just four days ago—Monday, May twenty-fifth."
He turned to the file, and they looked over the pages together, her chin on his shoulder, Astro's long forefinger hovering at one advertisement after another, his suave voice keeping up a running commentary:
"We'll omit the displayed ads. He's probably poor, or Ruth's stepmother wouldn't object to him; so couldn't afford that, and besides they would be too conspicuous. All the little ones are classified under heads. Let's see: 'Automobiles,'—h'm, all well-known second-hand shops. 'Lawyers,'—nothing there. 'Real Estate, Villa Lots,'—don't see anything, do you? 'Furnished Rooms.' 'Unfurnished Flats,'—let's go carefully here. What we want is three figures. We'll recognize them by the wording, if they're put in on purpose. I don't see anything there. H'm, 'For Sale,'—go slow now! 'Fixtures.' 'Bargains.' 'Typewriters.' 'Sacrifice,'—well! what do you think of that? Eureka!"
His finger stopped at a three-line notice, which read:
19 vols. of Sir Roger de Coverley, 63 illustrations on wood; $6 and $8 each. G. P. James & Co., Flatiron Bldg.
"Now, isn't that crazy enough to be suspicious? 'Nineteen' again, too, her favorite number. Who ever heard of Sir Roger de Coverley, except in the papers of The Spectator, anyway? There you are: 19:63—6 and 8. Look it up!"
Valeska flew to the Bible and turned to the Psalms, and read from the sixty-third chapter:
"'When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
"'My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.'"
"The blessed infants! Isn't it perfectly lovely? Ruth must have had hard work to answer that; but the one she sent was nearly as good, wasn't it? Oh, let's find the next one, and get the whole correspondence quick! It's too exciting!"
Astro opened the issue of the twenty-sixth, and scanned the advertisements carefully. It was some time before they found it, and several false clues were followed up. Valeska, thinking she had discovered the secret, would hurriedly take the Bible, only to be referred to some such text in Ezra as,—
"'The children of Magbish, an hundred fifty and six.
"'The children of Kirjath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred and forty and three,'"
and would go off into peals of laughter. Some of these false scents led deep into the "Begats"; some led into the whale's belly.
But at last the right one was discovered in the "Second Hand" column, which read, innocently enough:
FOR SALE: 64 good, 1st class, 2d hand tables. Address CHESTER, Star Office.
"'Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.'"
"Now let's arrange the whole correspondence as far as we have it," Valeska suggested, after the four messages were all deciphered. "It certainly is a charming set of love-letters!"
"It may well be, written by the ablest literary men of King James' epoch," said Astro. "You read off the texts, and I'll write them down. It's a relief from solving murder mysteries and dynamite outrages and stolen jewels."
Valeska, having the references checked off, read as follows, insisting that Ruth's lover should be called Chester, from the name in the second advertisement.
"'I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. (Ps. 18:1.)
"'Thou wilt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'" (Ps. 16:11.)
"'And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. (2 John, 5.)
"'I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.'" (Ps. 143:6.)
"'I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Ps. 101:2.)
"'My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.'" (Ps. 89:34.)
"'How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps. 119: 103.)
"'Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.'" (Ps. 73:25.)
"'Cause me to hear thy loving kindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. (Ps. 143:8.)
"'And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble; hear me speedily.'" (Ps. 69-17.)
Valeska reread the whole series, and her eyes burned deep. Astro watched her pretty serious face without a word, waiting for her comments. The tears glistened in her eyes as she said finally:
"Oh! can't we help them somehow? Surely you can, if you only will!"
Astro recited whimsically to himself:
"'They warned him of her,
And they warned her of him;
"'And the courtship proceeded
To go on with a vim!'"
"It's altogether too romantic for us to interfere with. Let them have their clandestine correspondence; it makes the affair interesting. Wait till we read his reply in to-morrow's Star, Valeska. Perhaps they can manage it themselves."
This was all she could get out of the Master of Mysteries that day; but she knew from his silent contemplation that he had not stopped thinking the matter over. She herself puzzled her wits as to how Ruth had communicated with her lover, until she had to give it up. She knew that if she waited Astro would solve that mystery, if indeed he had not already found it out.
She came into the studio next morning excitedly. "Oh! isn't it awful?" were her first words. She held the morning Star out to him, with an anxious look.
Astro smiled and pointed to another copy which lay on his great table where his astrological charts were spread out. "It's only a lover's quarrel, I think. He's a little jealous of that Sherman Fuller, I imagine."
"Well, that's enough. I should think Chester would be wild!"
"Well," said Astro, yawning, "I'm glad he made one jump out of the Psalms, anyway. I was getting tired of that number nineteen. Job is a good place for a jealous man to look. You'd better add his remarks to our list."
Valeska, therefore, wrote down the following texts, which she had drawn from the advertisement of that morning's paper:
"'I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. (Ps. 119:147.)
"'Thou boldest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I can not speak. (Ps. 77:4.)
"'Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness. (Ps. 18:18.)
"'When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. (Ps. 73:16.)
"'Why doth thine heart carry thee away? and what do thine eyes wink at . . .? (Job 15:12.)
"'Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.'" (Ps. 22:20.)
"Surely you'll help them out now, won't you?" Valeska pleaded. "We can't let it all be spoiled this way! Think how hard it is for her to explain!"
"Trust her," said Astro, shaking his head. "Only I'd like to know how she does it; that's all I want. I propose that we take a walk out to Fifty-third Street this evening. You know she goes up-stairs into her room every night after dinner, say from eight till nine o'clock. I think if we walk up and down in front of that block we may find something doing."
"Oh, I hope we'll find Chester, anyway!" Valeska exclaimed.
They proceeded as he had suggested, that evening, to walk up Fifth Avenue after dinner, reaching Fifty-third Street at a few minutes past eight. Astro pointed out Ruth's window, which was already lighted. Then together they walked slowly up and down on the opposite side of the street, keeping the house well in view.
They had not been there for more than ten minutes, when the sash was suddenly thrown up in Ruth Lorsson's room. They could see her form silhouetted against the light. A white something was thrown out, and fell on the sidewalk. Immediately a man emerged from the shadow of the adjacent doorway, ran down the steps, picked up the white package, and walked rapidly up the street.
"It's Chester!" Valeska exclaimed.
"Yes, we must find out where he lives and who he is," was Astro's reply. "You had better go home, and I'll follow him."
The man had walked off so rapidly that she saw it would be useless to attempt to keep up with him, much less overtake him, and she tried to stifle her disappointment as Astro, leaving her, walked quickly up the street. As Chester walked, she saw him tear something from the package he carried. Then another white piece dropped. She followed far enough to discover what the fragments were—the sides of an empty candy box which Ruth Lorsson had thrown into the street. Her message had indubitably been written on the bottom, since he had thrown all the rest away.
"I see now why Miss Ruth is so fond of candy," Valeska said to herself. "A note thrown from the window would be too dangerous and too hard to find. It's ridiculously simple! I think I'm growing fond of that girl."
Next day Astro appeared at the studio with the information that the young man's name was indeed Chester; that he was an artist or illustrator for magazines; and that he lived on the south side of Washington Square.
"He's getting into a terrible state," said Valeska. "Did you read his advertisement this morning? It was under 'Lawyers' this time."
"I haven't had time to look over The Star. What is it?"
Valeska read from her list the last addition:
"'For thou hast made him most blessed forever; thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance. (Ps. 21:6.)
"'Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah. (Ps. 21:2.)
"'Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it. (Ps. 35:21.)
"'I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.'" (Ps. 38:6.)
"Poor devil!" Astro grew serious. "I did see a paragraph in Town Gossip this morning about a Fifty-third Street belle who was about to make a brilliant match. It was thinly disguised, and evidently referred to Ruth Lorsson."
"He evidently believes she is engaged," said Valeska; "but I don't. No girl would give up such a romantic lover."
"Now," said Astro, "the question is: How are we going to get hold of her side of the correspondence? I'm getting as interested in this affair as if I were paid for it. The fact that there is a misunderstanding does alter the matter too, and I don't see but that we'll have to straighten it out if we can. I've thought of a way to get hold of to-night's message by a trick. It may work, and it may not. Of course it's rather low of us to interfere with their private post-office; but we may be able to make that up to them later. Anyway, it will make it exciting for them. I'm going to bait a box myself," he went on, "and place it on the sidewalk at a quarter of eight. Chester will arrive and think that for some reason she has already thrown it out, and he'll take it and make off. Then, when she throws her own box out, we'll grab it."
The temptation was too great for Valeska's curiosity, and she gave a hesitating consent, on the agreement that it should be tried only once. "But you'll have to put a message on the box, or he'll know there's something wrong," she said.
"Turn to Psalms 102. I think that will not compromise her too much," Astro said.
"'My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. (Ps. 102:4.)
"'Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.'"(Ps. 102:10.)
The ruse succeeded. Shortly after eight o'clock, Chester came walking down the street, spied the box which Astro had placed conspicuously on the sidewalk, examined it quickly, and walked hurriedly away. Fifteen minutes later, Ruth's box dropped from the window. Astro secured it and took it to a near-by lamp post, looked at the figures, and then consulted a small Bible which he drew from his pocket.
"This is too bad," he said to Valeska, who had accompanied him. "I didn't think she'd be so strong. It won't do for him to miss this message, poor chap! Here, read it:"
"'Deliver me not over unto the the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. (Ps. 27:12.)
"'I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. (Ps. 26:4.)
"'But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me.'" (Ps. 26:11.)
"I'll tell you what'll do," said Astro, "we'll send this down to his house by a messenger boy. He won't know what to make of it; but he won't be able to ask her how it was delivered till it's all over."
The message was sent at once; then, as Astro walked with Valeska to her home, he said:
"We can't do this again; it will make too much trouble. You'll have to see if you can't get into his studio some way and find out what messages he is receiving. You can go and offer yourself as a model. That will give you plenty of time to look about, and you may manage to find the bottoms of the boxes every day. If I know the young man in love, he won't destroy them."
Valeska consented to attempt the adventure, and accordingly set out the next morning after entering on her list the following message deciphered from Chester's advertisement in The Star:
"'Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous. (Ps. 31:18.)
"'For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. (Ps. 31:22.)
"'In the day when I cried them answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul. (Ps. 138:3.)
"'So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee.'" (Ps. 73:22.)
Astro worked all day in his studio alone, reading palms and casting horoscopes for his fashionable clients, and during the leisure times between their calls, casting many a glance across to the desk where his pretty blond assistant was wont to look up at him with such animation whenever he spoke. The velvet hangings were dull and shadowy, and the high lights on trophies of arms and tinseled costumes on the wall twinkled through the dusk, when the portières parted, and Valeska, smartly attired, gloved and feathered, appeared. Astro smiled for almost the first time that day. She sank into a deep divan to get her breath. He turned on a light above her head.
"He's a perfect dear!" she said as soon as she could speak. "He isn't at all handsome, in fact he's ugly; but he's the most romantic and kind-hearted chap in the world. I'd trust him anywhere. He has red hair, and twinkling blue eyes, and fine teeth, and so young—why he made me feel eighty years old! It was too easy! I was just what he wanted, and I was intelligent, and he liked my hands." She extended them gracefully for Astro to admire. He kissed her finger-tips.
"It was a funny old place, all full of canvases with their faces to the wall, and dust, and pewter pots, and brushes, and old magazines, and everything. It smelled horribly of tobacco and turpentine; but it was such fun! I didn't have to do much detective work, either. Do you know, the child actually had all those candybox bottoms nailed in a row on the wall over the mantel-piece! I felt like a thief. There they were, all of them you got the list of, and the one we sent last night, and there was a shabby Bible on his mantel-piece."
"How did he treat you?"
Valeska laughed. "Well, not in a way to make me conceited. Oh, he's in love, all right. He looked at me exactly as if he were purchasing a horse. I almost expected him to open my mouth and examine my teeth to see how old I was. But he was nice, all the same, and delighted to find a model that had brains and could take and hold a pose. My, if I'm not tired, though! I was supposed to be playing on a piano—the table—and looking up mischievously over my shoulder. I ache all over!"
"Of course he didn't say anything significant?"
"No. But he stopped working every little while and began to think; and I knew what that meant. Then he'd go to the window and look out for a long while, and then come back and draw like mad. Oh, he had all the signs! Poor boy!"
"Does he want you to-morrow?"
"Yes, all this week."
"Good! By that time I think we shall have arranged some plan to help him. If I bought a picture or two, it might help, perhaps."Valeska posed for Chester the six days, returning each evening to the studio to report to Astro, each time more interested in the love-affair. Each day she wrote down the cipher message printed in The Star, and the text she found in the studio written on Ruth's
"He looked at me as if he were purchasing a horse."
"'He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house; he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight. (Ps. 101:7.)
"'But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.'" (Ps. 102:27.)
"'I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.'" (Ps. 32:8.)
"'And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. (Ps. 119:47.)
"'But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. Ps. 38:19.)
"'All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt.'" (Ps. 41:7.)
"'Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause. (Ps. 35:19.)
"'Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha.'" (Ps. 70:3.)
"'Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. (Ps. 31: 4.)
"'Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak and answer thou me.'" (Job 13:22.)
"'Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.'" (2 John:12.)
"'They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they wait for my soul. (Ps. 56: 6.)
"'And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then I would fly away, and be at rest. (Ps. 55:6.)
"'I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest. (Ps. 55:8.)
"'That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.'" (Ps. 60:5.)
"'And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.'" (Num. 10:32.)
"'Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. (Ps. 40:7.)
"'And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'" (Ruth 1:16.)
"It is getting serious, isn't it?" said Valeska, when she brought the last message of Ruth's. "Poor Chester is half crazy. He's been working like mad to get some illustrations for The Universal Magazine done; so as to get money enough to get married on, I suppose. But how in the world they are going to elope, I don't see."
"Love laughs at locksmiths," said Astro.
"But not at stepmothers. All the same, they're going to do it somehow, and I want to see the fun. It's bound to come off in a day or so now. I'm dying to speak of it to Chester and offer to help him; but I'm afraid it would spoil his fun. Hadn't we better just play about on the edge of it, and be ready for anything that happens?"
"It all depends on the next message. You go to the studio to-morrow and see if you can't find out about the elopement."
"All right," said Valeska.
At ten o'clock the next morning Astro received by a messenger a hurriedly penciled note. It read:
"Something awful has happened! Chester broke his leg last night, and was taken to the hospital; but when it was set (the leg), he insisted on being brought home to the studio. He's almost crazy, and has a fever, and I'm sure the elopement was planned for to-night. I'll get it out of him somehow, and you must tell me what to do. Here's the text he got last night: I can't make it out; so please tell me immediately.V."
The text indicated was from the fifty-ninth Psalm, verse fourteen:
"'And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city.'"
As soon as Astro had looked it up, he put on his hat and coat, and jumping into his green limousine drove to Washington Square.
It was half past eight when Ruth Lorsson raised the shade of her window and threw up the sash. It was raining, and the asphalt pavement shimmered with reflected lights. At the curb opposite her house a taxicab was waiting. She looked at it eagerly.
There came a sudden noise like the barking of a dog repeated three times. Ruth smiled, let down the sash, and drew the shade. Then, stuffing a package wrapped in a towel inside her full blouse, she ran down-stairs.
"Ruth, child! what are you doing?" Mrs. Lorsson's voice came petulantly.
Ruth hovered a moment by the doorway, to say, in a voice that trembled a little, "Oh, I only want to get the Smiths' address from one of their cards on the hall table."
She walked swiftly to the front door, opened it noiselessly, slipped out, and shut it carefully behind her. She had to slam it to make it latch, and the jar frightened her. She fairly flew down the steps now, and ran across the street straight for the cab. The door in its side swung open, and she popped inside. The cab instantly drove off at a furious pace. There was a dark figure inside. She snuggled up to it deliciously. "Oh, Harry!" she breathed. "At last! Oh, I thought this time never would come!" Then with a little scream she jumped away from him. "Who are you!" she demanded. Her voice rang with terror.
"My dear," said Astro, "don't be frightened. Mr. Chester couldn't come. He has had a slight accident; but not bad enough to prevent his being married tonight. I'm going to have the pleasure of giving you away. I have your bridesmaid all ready at the studio."
"Why, how did you know?" she demanded, staring at him. Then, as an electric light suddenly illuminated the interior of the cab, she recognized the fine picturesque features of the Master of Mysteries, and gave a little sigh of relief. "Oh, it's Astro!" she exclaimed. "You know everything, don't you? Did you see it in your crystal ball?"
He smiled as he replied, "My dear, I saw it in your pretty eyes the first time I saw you."
"But tell me about Harry! Oh, I am so frightened! It must be a bad accident to keep him away—to-night."
He reassured her, and they drove on she, excited, eager with anticipation, fearful of the step she had taken, but more and more confident in Astro's protection. They reached Washington Square, and hurried to the studio. Valeska met them at the door with a smile. For a moment Ruth eyed her suspiciously.
"Your bridesmaid," said Astro.
Ruth, relieved, but anxious for a sight of her lover, darted by with hardly a glance, and ran to the bed where Harry Chester lay, weak, but impatiently awaiting her.
Astro and Valeska walked into the hall. "Well," said Astro, "I hope she's satisfied now. She has lost four millions and three magnificent houses, not to speak of a permanent place in smart society."
"For which she'd have to pay all her life," said Valeska. "If you ask me, I'd say she's got a bargain. Come, let's call in the minister! I'm going to wait and see it out!"