“Jones has disappeared!” Those were the words, plain and terrible in their clearness, tremendous in their brutality. Slowly the rest of the message began to urge its claims upon his brain. “Come to our office immediately” and “Will wait all night” battled for recognition. He was calm because he had not the power to express an emotion. How he maintained control of himself afterward he never knew. Some powerful, kindly force asserted itself, coming to his relief with the timeliness of a genii. Gradually it began to dawn upon him that the others were waiting for him to read the message aloud. He was not sure that a sound would come forth when he opened his lips to speak, but the tones were steady, natural and as cold as steel.
“I am sorry I can’t tell you about this,” he said, so gravely that his hearers were silenced. “It is a business matter of such vital importance that I must ask you to excuse me for an hour or so. I will explain everything to-morrow. Please don’t be uneasy. If you will do me the honor to grace the board of an absent host, I’ll be most grateful. It is imperative that I go, and at once. I promise to return in an hour.” He was standing, his knees as stiff as iron.
“Is it anything serious?” asked DeMille.
“What! has anything happened?” came in halting, frightened tones from Peggy.
“It concerns me alone, and it is purely of a business nature. Seriously, I can’t delay going for another minute. It is vital. In an hour I’ll return. Peggy, don’t be worried—don’t be distressed about me. Go on and have a good time, everybody, and you’ll find me the jolliest fellow of all when I come back. It’s twelve o’clock. I’ll be here by one on the 23d of September.”
“Let me go with you,” pleaded Peggy, tremulously, as she followed him into the hallway.
“I must go alone,” he answered. “Don’t worry, little woman, it will be all right.”
His kiss sent a chill to the very bottom of Peggy’s heart.
THE FLIGHT OF JONES
Everything seemed like a dream to Brewster as he rushed off through the night to the office of Grant & Ripley. He was dazed, bewildered, hardly more than half-conscious. A bitter smile crept about his lips as he drew away from the street-car track almost as his hand touched the rail of a car he had signaled. He remembered that he did not have money enough to pay his fare. It was six or seven blocks to the office of the lawyers, and he was actually running before he stopped at the entrance of the big building.
Never had an elevator traveled more slowly than the one which shot him to the seventh floor. A light shone through the transom above the attorneys’ door and he entered without so much as a rap on the panel. Grant, who was pacing the floor, came to a standstill and faced his visitor.