The Midnight Matchmaker

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The Midnight Matchmaker  (1901) 
by Gelett Burgess

From The Smart Set, Jun 1901


By Gelett Burgess

"SEE here," said the man in the Inverness cape, "do you mean to accuse me of breaking my glasses on purpose? You evidently don't know what a serious thing it is to be near-sighted."

The girl drew her opera-cloak about her shoulders and adjusted her hat, which was somewhat awry, before the mirror. Then she pulled her veil down smoothly about her chin and looked round. "Well, I don't know that you're quite clever enough for that, but it's rather suspicious," she said.

The young man was evidently in no hurry to leave the room. He leaned back in the armchair and popped his crush hat. Then he said, after a prolonged stare at the carpet: "Why?"

"You said you only wanted to run up here for a moment to get another pair of glasses, but you've kept me here half an hour, on one pretext and another."

"Haven't you had a good time?" he asked, without looking at her.

The girl made a little mouth and shrugged her shoulders. "So-so," she said. "Of course, I was very anxious to see your rooms, after all I've heard about them, and they're really very prettily fitted up. But you might have invited me to come up here some time with a chaperon. Mrs. Hewlitt would have been glad to take me."

The young man smiled grimly. "If you had waited for me to invite Mrs. Hewlitt, you'd have waited a long time," he said.

"Of course, it's a lark to come up alone," said the girl, as if she felt the necessity of apologizing for her presence, "and if you hadn't taken advantage of it, and tried to kiss me, it would have been awfully jolly. But now I feel so horrid and common and guilty I can't enjoy it any more, and I'll hate to remember it, even. You ought to have known me better! I suppose you thought that if I'd come up to your rooms— I wonder what you did think! You have spoiled the whole thing now, and I'm worried about getting home. Come, we must go. I'd die if anyone found it out."

"No one's going to find it out," said the young man. "What are you afraid of, Millie? We've only to jump into the cab at the door, and no one can possibly see us. You know you can trust me, don't you?"

"If I didn't, do you think I would have come?" said the girl, proudly. She turned to go out, but her eyes still wandered about the room, examining the bric-à-brac, until suddenly the clock rang. "Good gracious! eleven o'clock!" she cried, and ran over and plucked at his sleeve. "Come, Oliver," she said, anxiously; "hurry, or they'll wonder where we have been so long."

Oliver rose reluctantly, with something apparently still unsaid. "It's too bad!" he complained, as he drew on his gloves. "These conventionalities are too absurd to be endured. I'd like to know what's the difference between your calling on me in my room and my calling on you in yours! There's nothing wrong about your being here, Millicent, and you know it!"

"Well, it isn't your fault that there isn't," she said, significantly.

Oliver sighed, and then lighted a candle at the gas fixture. "I suppose I know what you mean," he said, sadly. "You're letting me down easy, that's all. You know very well why I wanted to kiss you, and why I still want to. It's no foolishness; I'm in earnest!"

It was very evident that she did know what he meant, for his remark seemed to make her still more anxious to get away and change the conversation as well as the scene. The visit had amused her, but the striking of the clock made her nervous. It was on her lips to say, "Well, what did you mean?" and have it over, but she decided to wait until they were safe in the carriage. She opened the door suddenly and was about to step into the hall, but she fell back with a little suppressed scream of terror. Directly confronting her stood a man with a lantern and a revolver. He, too, drew back for a moment, and then advanced, with a threatening gesture.

His calling was sufficiently evident to the two by his stealthy attitude and the pistol, which he held pointed ready to fire. At his startling and unforeseen presence, so malignly aggressive, the two retreated into the room, now lighted only by the wavering light of the candle Oliver held, at a loss what to do in this dangerous emergency. The burglar, however, quickly instructed them.

"Hands up, quick, now!" came from between his teeth. "Don't stir, or I'll settle for you both!"

Oliver's wits came back to him, and regardless of the consequences, he was about to spring at the man, when Millicent laid a hand on his arm. "Stop!" she cried; "for heaven's sake, don't touch him, or he'll shoot! Think of me! What shall I do, if there's trouble here?"

The young man, baffled and furious at the suppression of his attack, fell back, seeing the force of her appeal. His hands were, indeed, tied by her presence. The burglar, too, was not slow to realize the situation, and grinned wickedly.

"So that's yer little game, is it? I'm afraid I interrupted a quiet little call, eh? You weren't expecting company, eh?" and he seemed mightily to enjoy their plight. "Sorry I intruded, miss, but biz is biz, and I thought it was this gent's night out!"

"See here," Oliver interrupted, "I'll give you just five minutes to get out of this, and I'll promise not to follow you up. Clear out of this now, and next time you come I'll be ready for you!"

"Go, go!" cried Millicent, on whose nerves the tensity of the scene was exerting itself.

"Much obliged for this entoosiastic reception," said the burglar. "They ain't nobody sitting up for me to come home. I guess I'll look around for a little while and see what's doin'. "

"For heaven's sake, go!" Millicent implored, at the edge of tears. "Go away, please!"

"Seems to me you're pretty anxious to be let alone," the burglar remarked. "Looks like they ought to be something in this for me."

Oliver now put in a word, saying, "Here's ten dollars, if you get out immediately by the way you came in. I'll promise not to call for help or notify the police if you leave just as quick as you can. Here; I'll let you out the front door!" The sight of Millicent's tears was working on him powerfully, but the burglar saw his advantage.

"I see," said the man; "afraid of a little talky-talk, eh? The lady doesn't care to testify in court and be wrote up in the papers. I understand. But that's worth more than ten dollars, boss; it's worth more to me, and it's worth more to her—ain't it, miss? Suppose you make it a twenty!"

"Twenty, then!" Millicent exclaimed; "twenty, if you go immediately."

"I don't know about twenty, after all," the burglar insisted, with exasperating coolness, shaking his revolver playfully. "I expected to make more'n a twenty out of this job. Say forty."

"I'll see you arrested first!" Oliver exclaimed, out of all patience at the extortion. "You needn't think you can blackmail us as hot as you please. Twenty or nothing!"

Millicent now burst into sobs. "Oh, Oliver, pay him the forty dollars!" she pleaded. "I can't stand it!"

"But I haven't got forty dollars with me," said Oliver. "Besides, if I agree, he'll only jump up the price again!"

"Let's sit down and talk it over," said the burglar. "Or would you rather yell for the cops? If you do, I'll have to shoot, and the perlice will find me alone with the lady, which will be worse 'n being found alone with you! An' she'll be a-weepin' over a bleedin' corpse, into the bargain! I say, let's sit down and talk it over friendly. It ain't often I get a chance to arbertrate like this, and I'm ready to do the square thing."

There was nothing for it, then, but to assent to this ridiculous and undignified arrangement, and Oliver and Millicent took chairs together, while the burglar seated himself comfortably on a wide couch. In his hand the revolver still twinkled wickedly.

Millicent's eyes ran from the clock to the burglar and from the burglar to the clock again. Every minute made the case harder. But the man grew more cheerful. "Got a smoke?" he asked of his host.

Oliver pointed to a box of cigars on the mantel, and the visitor helped himself, tossed one to the young man and reseated himself. "That is, if the young lady don't object," he added, with mock courtesy.

Millicent tossed her head in contempt. "Fine evening," the man remarked, cordially.

"Oh, can't you have pity on us?" cried Millicent, unable to stand the suspense. "Do say what you want, and go! I'll give you all I have, if you'll only go away!"

"We'll have to make terms with you, I suppose," Oliver added. "Name your price, and we'll see what we can do. But, as I said, I haven't forty dollars with me. Shall I give you a cheque?"

The burglar grinned. "I can't use cheques in my business, thanks," he said, drily. "They're too liable to be stopped by telephone. Go ahead, smoke up, young feller!" and he puffed luxuriously at his own cigar.

Oliver, exasperated and anxious as he was, swallowed his mortification and resolved to make the best of a bad situation and humor the man. He lighted the cigar, therefore, and said, "What do you want, then? Let's get down to business."

"Oh, hang business!" said the burglar. "I can't talk without a drink. What you got here, anyway?"

There was a decanter on the table, and from it he helped himself, after pouring two glasses for the others. To one of these he pointed affably with his pistol. "Have one with me," he said. "We'll drink to the young lady here; she's a peach! I'm proud to be in such company, and to have you make me at home in this way. Well, here goes!" and he tossed off his drink, with an unremitting glance over the top of his glass the while.

Oliver drank with an unhappy smile. "I can't refuse that toast," he said, apologetically.

The burglar, refreshed and mellowed, satisfied with his anomalous position as dictator, allowed his glance to rove about the room. The trophy of arms on the wall interested him greatly, though the pair of dueling pistols aroused his scorn. "They wouldn't be much use in a fix like this," he observed. "Bully old knives, though," he said, testing their edges on his thumb. "I s'pose, now, all this old junk is hot stuff, and worth all kinds o' money, but it don't go with me. You're devilish shy of plate! They ain't much swag here."

By this time, edging round the room, watching the two narrowly, he had reached a small table on which lay a card case. "What's this?" he said, and he opened it and took out an engraved card.

Millicent's rage, suppressed with great effort, at the gross indignity of her position, flamed at this minor insult. "That's mine, you coward! Do you have to rob women, too? Can't you be satisfied with your dirty trade without that?"

The burglar leered at Oliver. Then he read the name on the card. "Miss Raybridge, 2115 East avenue," he drawled. "So that's your name, is it, miss?"

Millicent bit her lip at her stupidity. The fat was in the fire now, and her blush gave the man his cue. "Miss Raybridge visitin' her gentlem'n friend at eleven p.m. Scandal in high life. Prominent young clubman in trouble. By the way," he said, "I missed your name when we was introduced. What did you say it was?"

Oliver, white with fury, kept his silence as well as he could. Millicent's foot was tapping the floor. The burglar walked toward the secretary. "They's more'n one way to kill a cat besides a-kissin' of it to death," he remarked. "Let's have a look at the desk."

He fumbled among the pigeonholes, keeping a sharp sidelong glance at Oliver. He drew out a bundle of letters and shuffled them over, looking at the addresses. "Mr. Oliver Herkomer, 21 Randall Mansions," he read aloud. "I guess that's the party, eh?" Not content with this, he calmly opened the sheet inside an envelope. "Rotten bad writin'," he remarked. "I wish these highrollers used typewriters more. Let's see what's up. P'raps the young lady would like to listen."

"Oh, I say," cried Oliver, who had caught sight of the handwriting, "let my letters alone, will you? Take everything else you want, but don't you read those letters!"

"Private business, eh? Don't care for to have 'em read out loud? Well, I'll just take a look through for luck. No, you better stay right where you are, young feller!" and he held his pistol ready. His eye dropped to the signature of the note. "'Kitty,'" he read—"who's Kitty? Perhaps Miss—what's-her-name—Raybridge, knows." He looked over to her interrogatively.

"I don't know, and I don't care," she said, defiantly, but her looks belied her.

"Well, all right," said the burglar; "here's another. 'Mrs. Abram Hewlett requests the pleasure of Mr. Herkomer's presence on December 5th, to meet Mr. Godfrey Ballard, nine till 'leven.' That's to-day, ain't it? Wonder what Mrs. Abram Hewlett would think if she knew how long it took to get home."

"See here," cried Oliver, fiercely; "drop that, please! You had better quit. If you dare to insult this young lady with another comment, I'll kill you! Miss Raybridge is engaged to be married to me, and she has a perfect right to be here. If you think you can blackmail us you're mistaken. I've stood this long enough, and it's time we settled and you got out of this. Are you going to keep us here all night with this tomfoolery? Don't threaten me with that pistol; I'm not afraid of it. If it hadn't been for the young lady's being here, you'd have been a dead man half an hour ago!"

"Don't get worried," replied the burglar; "I guess it's time to have another drink." He went up to the table and poured out a glass. "So you two are supposed to be engaged, eh? Why didn't you say so before? Let me congratulate you. Miss Raybridge, have you got any objections?"

Millicent was visibly confused. The liberties the man had taken were past forbearance, and her pride rose. "It's none of your business!" she answered, in disgust.

The burglar smiled sarcastically. "Then your little bluff don't go," he remarked to Oliver. "This is so sudden, you know!" He looked audaciously at the two. "Pretty good match, though, for all I can see. Lady's a greyhound and the gent's well fixed." Then he turned to Millicent. "What's the trouble?" he asked; "somebody else in it?"

The lady hid her face in her hands and refused to answer. The burglar turned his attention to the young man and gave him an elaborate wink. "Throwed down, eh? Better try it on again. I'll see what I can do for you. Perhaps we can bring her round."

The scene, atrocious as it was, forced a smile from Mr. Herkomer. "How long do you intend to keep this up?" he asked.

"I'm going to stay with it until she says she'll have you," replied the burglar, with a quick decision. The remark seemed to please him, and he rubbed his hands. "Say," he continued, "how much you got in your wad?"

Oliver opened his purse and felt in his pockets, counting out his change. "Twenty-seven dollars," he said, finally. Millicent looked up with a ray of hope on her face.

"Perhaps you could make it thirty if you tried good and hard," the man suggested.

"Look in that left-hand drawer, below the pigeonholes," said Oliver.

The man opened the drawer and took out a few bills. "Five dollars," he announced. "That'll do. Now we'll talk biz. I had expected to pull more out of this job, but then I didn't look to have so much fun. I've rather took a fancy to the pair of you, and you've been square. See here, now. Just as soon as the young lady says she'll have you, on the square, and no funny business—for keeps, honor of a lady—then I'll get out, and not before. What d'you say to that? I say it's handsome, and I'm doin' you both a favor."

Millicent had looked up and then down again. She awaited Oliver's answer eagerly. It did not take him long to decide. "Of course not!" he answered. "Do you think I'd consent to forcing a lady's hand that way?"

The burglar laughed. "All right, then," he said, and poured himself another drink. Millicent looked at the clock. Then she drew her chair nearer to Oliver's.

"Oliver," she whispered, so that the burglar could not hear.

"Well!" said the young man.

"It's very late; I don't know what they'll be thinking at home!"

"I don't see how I can help it," said Oliver. "I can't rush him, for he's watching me all the time. If you weren't here I'd risk it, but if anything happens to you on my account you'll be in a worse fix than you're in now. There's nothing to do that I can see."

"Unless—" suggested the lady.

"Yes, unless—" he answered.

There was silence for a minute or so. The burglar had taken another cigar, and was regarding them benevolently from the further side of the room, watching his leaven work.

Millicent drew her chair still closer. "What did you mean by saying you were in earnest when you wanted to kiss me?" she whispered, softly.

"I meant that I wanted to marry you, of course," he replied, restraining a desire to look at her.

"Did you really?" she said. "Then why didn't you ask me?"

A tremor in her voice aroused Oliver's hopes. "I didn't dare," he asserted. "That was why I asked you to come up here, but when you wouldn't kiss me I thought it was no use, and you meant to refuse me, and I couldn't stand it! Millie, would you have said 'Yes?'"

"A little louder, please," interrupted the burglar. "Speak up; I'm in charge of this party. What's she saying?"

The look Oliver cast him now was for the first time that evening indulgent. It was even friendly.

"What did she say?" the burglar insisted.

"I really didn't hear it myself," Oliver protested.

The burglar, under the genial influence of a third glass, turned to Miss Ray bridge. "Well, miss, what did you say?" he demanded.

"I said 'Yes!' " she announced, calmly.

"Good-night, then," the man said,affably, as he helped himself generously to the Cabanas. "I'll expect to get cards for the wedding, sure. I'd like to give the bride away, but you can trust me. So long!"

Hardly had he closed the door when Millicent, who did not seem to be in so much of a hurry as before, turned to Oliver.

"Who is Kitty?" she demanded.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.