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Number Seventeen   By: (1863-1928)

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Number Seventeen

BY

Louis Tracy

1915

CHAPTER I

THE OUTCOME OF ARTISTIC CURIOSITY

"Taxi, sir? Yes, sir. No. 4 will be yours."

A red faced, loud breathing commissionaire, engaged in the lucrative task of pocketing sixpences as quickly as he could summon cabs, vanished in a swirl of macintoshes and umbrellas.

People who had arrived at the theater in fine weather were emerging into a drizzle of rain. "All London," as the phrase goes, was flocking to see the latest musical comedy at Daly's, but all London, regarded thus collectively, is far from owning motor cars, or even affording taxicabs, so the majority of the play goers were hurrying on foot towards tube railways and omnibus routes.

Still, a popular light opera could hardly fail to draw many patrons from the upper ranks of society, and, in the crush at the main exit, Francis Berrold Theydon, hesitating whether to walk or wait the hazard of a cab, deemed himself fortunate when a panting commissionaire promised to secure a taxi "in half a minute."

Automobiles of every known variety were snorting up to the curb and bustling off again as promptly as their users could enter and bestow themselves in dim interiors. Being a considerate person wishful also to light a cigarette Theydon moved out of the way. In so doing, he was cannoned against by an impetuous footman, whose cry, "Your car, sir," led him to follow the man's alert eyes.

He saw a tall, elderly gentleman, with clean shaven, shrewd, and highly intelligent features, of the type which finance, or the law, or a combination of both, seems to evolve only in big cities, escorting a young lady from the vestibule. Then Theydon remembered that he had noticed this self same girl's remarkable beauty as she was silhouetted in white against the dark background of a first tier box. He had even speculated idly as to her identity, and had come to the conclusion, on catching her face in profile, that she must be the daughter of the man seated by her side but half hidden behind a heavy curtain.

The likeness was momentarily lost now while the two neared him, yet discovered anew when they halted for a second at his elbow. Oddly enough, the man was carrying an umbrella, which he proceeded to open, and his daughter's astonished question put their relationship beyond doubt.

"Dad," she said, with a charming smile in which there was just a hint of a pout, "aren't you coming home with me?"

"No. I must look in at the Constitutional Club. It's only a step. I'll take no harm. This sleet looks worse than it is when every drop shines in the glare of so many lamps. Now, in with you, Evelyn! Tell Downs to come back, and don't forget which club. Anyhow, I'll tell him myself."

"Shall I wait up for you?"

"Well er I shan't be late. I'll be free by the time Downs returns."

"No. 4 taxi!" came a voice, and Theydon saw his commissionaire perched on the step of a cab swinging in deftly behind the waiting car. The girl, gazing at her father, happened to look for an instant at Theydon, who, fearful lest his candidly admiring glance might have been a trifle too sustained, pretended a hurried interest in an unlighted cigarette. That was all. The three crossed the pavement almost simultaneously.

The next moment the unknown goddess was gone, though Theydon snatched a final glimpse of her, faintly visible, yet no less radiantly lovely, as she leaned forward from the depths of the limousine, and waved a white gloved hand to her father through a window jeweled with raindrops.

There was nothing in the incident to provoke a second thought. Assuredly, Frank Theydon as his friends called him was not the only man in the vestibule of Daly's Theater who had found the girl well worth looking at, and it was the mere accident of propinquity which enabled him to overhear the quite commonplace remarks of father and daughter.

A score of similar occurrences had probably taken place in the like circumstances that night in London, and the maddest dreamer of fantastic dreams would not have heard the fluttering wings of the spirit of romance in connection with any one of them... Continue reading book >>




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