Miss Dalrymple had seated herself at the piano; her fingers—light as spirit touches—now swept the keys; a Debussey fantasy, almost as pianissimo as one could play it, vibrated around them. Outside the whir! whir! of the skates went on. A little girl tumbled. Mr. Heatherbloom regarded her; ribbons awry; fat legs in the air. The music continued.
“You may go,” said a severe voice.
He aroused himself to belated action, but at the door he looked back. “I’m sure it will be all right,” he repeated to Miss Van Rolsen. “On my word”—more impetuously.
At the piano some one laughed, and Mr. Heatherbloom went.
“Why on earth, Aunt, did you want to keep him two weeks longer?” he heard the girl’s now passionate tones ask as he walked away.
“For a number of reasons, my dear,” came the response. “One, because he wanted to leave me in the lurch. Another—it will be easier to keep an eye on him until Naughty is returned, or”—her voice had the vindictive ring of a Roman matron’s—“this person’s culpability is proven. Naughty is a valuable dog and—”
Mr. Heatherbloom’s footsteps hastened; he had caught quite enough, but as he disappeared to the rear, the dream chords on the piano, now louder, continued to follow him.
That night, as if his rest were not already sufficiently disturbed, a disconcerting possibility occurred abruptly to Mr. Heatherbloom. It was born in the darkness of the hour; he could not dispel it. What if the person in whom he had confided in the park were not all she seemed? He hated the insinuating suggestion but it insisted on creeping into his brain. He had once, not so long ago, in his search for cheap lodgings, stumbled upon a roomful of alleged cripples and maimed disreputables who made mendicancy a profession; their jibes and jests on the credulity of the public yet rang in his ears. What if she—his casual acquaintance of the day before—belonged to that yet greater class of dissemblers who ply their arts and simulations with more individualism and intelligence?
Mr. Heatherbloom sat up in bed. Naughty might be worth five or even ten thousand dollars. He remembered having read at some previous time about a certain canine whose proud mistress and owner was alleged to have refused twenty thousand for him. The perspiration broke out on Mr. Heatherbloom’s face. Was Naughty of this category? He looked very “classy,” as if there couldn’t be another beast quite like him in the world. What had been the twenty-thousand-dollar mistress’ name; not Van—impossible!