THE FALLING OF THE HANDKERCHIEF: Monsieur Albert looked over her shoulder for the man who must surely bein attendance–but he looked in vain. “Mademoiselle wishes a table–for herself alone!” he repeateddoubtfully. “If you please,” she answered.
It was obvious that Mademoiselle was of the class which does notfrequent night cafes alone, but after all that was scarcely MonsieurAlbert’s concern. She came perhaps from that strange land of the free,whose daughters had long ago kicked over the barriers of sex with thesame abandon that Mademoiselle Flossie would display the soles of herfeet a few hours later in their national dance. If she had chanced toraise her veil no earthly persuasions on her part would have secured forher the freedom of that little room, for Monsieur Albert’s appreciationof likeness was equal to his memory for faces. But it was not until shewas comfortably ensconced at a corner table, from which she had a goodview of the room, that she did so, and Monsieur Albert realized with aphilosophic shrug of the shoulders the error he had committed.Phyllis looked about her with some curiosity. It was too early for thehabitu?s of the place, and most of the tables were empty. Thescarlet-coated band were smoking cigarettes, and had not yet producedtheir instruments. The conductor curled his black moustache and staredhard at the beautiful young English lady, without, however, being ableto attract a single glance in return. One or two men also tried toconvey to her by smiles and glances the fact that her solitude needcontinue no longer than she chose. The unattached ladies put their headstogether and discussed her with little peals of laughter. To all ofthese things she remained indifferent. She ordered a supper which sheate mechanically, and wine which she scarcely drank. All the while shewas considering. Now that she was here what could she do? Of whom wasshe to make inquiries? She scanned the faces of the newcomers with acertain grave curiosity which puzzled them. She neither invited norrepelled notice. She remained entirely at her ease.Monsieur Albert, during one of his peregrinations round the room, passedclose to her table. She stopped him.”I trust that Mademoiselle is well served!” he remarked with a littlebow.”Excellently, I thank you,” she answered.He would have passed on, but she detained him.”You have very many visitors here,” she remarked. “Is it the samealways?”He smiled.”To-night,” he declared, “it is nothing. There are many who come hereevery evening. They amuse themselves here.””You have a good many strangers also?” she asked.”But certainly,” he declared. “All the time!””I have a brother,” she said, “who was here eleven nights ago–let mesee–that would be last Tuesday week. He is tall and fair, abouttwenty-one, and they say like me. I wonder if you remember him.”Monsieur Albert shook his head slowly.”That is strange,” he declared, “for as a rule I forget no one. LastTuesday week I remember perfectly well. It was a quiet evening. La Scalawas here–but of the rest no one. If Mademoiselle’s brother was here itis most strange.”Her lip quivered for a moment. She was disappointed.”I am so sorry,” she said. “I hoped that you might have been able tohelp me. He left the Grand Hotel on that night with the intention ofcoming here–and he never returned. I have been very much worried eversince.”She was no great judge of character, but Monsieur Albert’s sympathy didnot impress her with its sincerity.”If Mademoiselle desires,” he said, “I will make inquiries amongst thewaiters. I very much fear, however, that she will obtain no news here.”He departed, and Phyllis watched him talking to some of the waiters andthe leader of the orchestra.Presently he returned.”I am very sorry,” he announced, “but the brother of Mademoiselle couldnot have come here. I have inquired of the gar?ons, and of MonsieurJules there, who forgets no one. They answer all the same.””Thank you very much,” she answered. “It must have been somewhere else!”She was unreasonably disappointed. It had been a very slender chance,but at least it was something tangible. She had scarcely expected tohave it snapped so soon and so thoroughly. She dropped her veil to hidethe tears which she felt were not far from her eyes, and summoned thewaiter for her bill. There seemed to be no object in staying longer.Suddenly the unexpected happened.A hand, flashing with jewels, was rested for a moment upon her table.When it was withdrawn a scrap of paper remained there.Phyllis looked up in amazement. The girl to whom the hand had belongedwas sitting at the next table, but her head was turned away, and sheseemed to be only concerned in watching the door. She drew the scrap ofpaper towards her and cautiously opened it. This is what she read,written in English, but with a foreign turn to most of the letters:–“Monsieur Albert lied. Your brother was here. Wait till Ispeak to you.”Instinctively she crumpled up this strange little note in her hand. Shestruggled hard to maintain her composure. She had at once the idea thatevery one in the place was looking at her. Monsieur Albert, indeed, onhis way down the room wondered what had driven the hopeless expressionfrom her face.The waiter brought her bill. She paid it and tipped him with prodigalitywhich for a woman was almost reckless. Then she ordered coffee, andafter a second’s hesitation cigarettes. Why not? Nearly all the womenwere smoking, and she desired to pass for the moment as one of them. Forthe first time she ventured to gaze at her neighbor.It was the young lady from Vienna. She was dressed in a wonderfuldemi-toilette of white lace, and she wore a large picture hat adjustedat exactly the right angle for her profile. From her throat and bosomthere flashed the sparkle of many gems–the finger which held hercigarette was ablaze with diamonds. She leaned back in her seat smokinglazily, and she met Phyllis’s furtive gaze with almost insolentcoldness. But a moment later, when Monsieur Albert’s back was turned,she leaned forward and addressed her rapidly.”A man will come here,” she said, “who could tell you, if he waswilling, all that you seek to know. He will come to-night–he comes allthe nights. You will see I hold my handkerchief so in my right hand.When he comes I shall drop it–so!”The girl’s swift speech, her half-fearful glances towards the door,puzzled Phyllis.”Can you not come nearer to me and talk?” she asked.”No! You must not speak to me again. You must not let any one,especially the man himself, know what I have told you. No more now.Watch for the handkerchief!””But what shall I say to him?”The girl took no notice of her. She was looking in the oppositedirection. She seemed to have edged away as far as possible from her.Phyllis drew a long breath.She felt her heart beating with excitement. The place suddenly seemed toher like part of a nightmare.And then all was clear again. Fortune was on her side. The secret ofGuy’s disappearance was in this room, and a few careless words from thegirl at the next table had told her more than an entire police systemhad been able to discover. But why the mystery? What was she to say tothe man when he came? The girl from Vienna was talking to some friendsand toying carelessly with a little morsel of lace which she had drawnfrom her bosom. Phyllis watched it with the eyes of a cat. Every nowand then she watched also the door.The place was much fuller now. Mademoiselle Flossie had arrived with asmall company of friends from Maxim’s. The music was playing all thetime. The popping of corks was almost incessant, the volume of sound hadswelled. The laughter and greeting of friends betrayed more abandon thanearlier in the evening. Old acquaintances had been renewed, and new onesmade. Mademoiselle from Vienna was surrounded by a little circle ofadmirers. Still she held in her right hand a crumpled up little ball oflace.Men passing down the room tried to attract the attention of thebeautiful young English demoiselle who looked out upon the little sceneso indifferently as regarded individuals, and yet with such eagerinterest as a whole. No one was bold enough, however, to make a secondeffort. Necessity at times gives birth to a swift capacity. Fresh fromher simple country life, Phyllis found herself still able witheffortless serenity to confound the most hardened boulevarders whopaused to ogle her. Her eyes and lips expressed with ease the mostconvincing and absolute indifference to their approaches. A man maysometimes brave anger; he rarely has courage to combat indifference. SoPhyllis held her own and waited.And at last the handkerchief fell. Phyllis felt her own heart almoststop beating, as she gazed down the room. A man of medium height, dark,distinguished, was slowly approaching her, exchanging greetings on everyside. His languid eyes fell upon Phyllis. Those who had watched herpreviously saw then a change. The cold indifference had vanished fromher face. She leaned forward as though anxious to attract hisattention. She succeeded easily enough.He was almost opposite her table, and her half smile seemed to leave himbut little choice. He touched the back of the chair which fronted hers,and took off his hat.”Mademoiselle permits?” he asked softly.”But certainly,” she answered. “It is you for whom I have been waiting!””Mademoiselle flatters me!” he murmured, more than a little astonished.”Not in the least,” she answered. “I have been waiting to ask you whathas become of my brother–Guy Poynton!”He drew out the chair and seated himself. His eyes never left her face.”Mademoiselle,” he murmured, “this is most extraordinary!”She noticed then that his hands were trembling.