THE REWARD OF MERIT
Facing for the first time in his life an instant and absolute need of money, Kirk found himself singularly lacking in resource; and a period of sober contemplation brought him no helpful thought. Perhaps, after all, he decided, his best course would be to seek relief from the Cortlandts. Accordingly, he strolled into the offices of the steamship company near by and asked leave to telephone. But on calling up the Hotel Tivoli, he was told that his friends were out; nor could he learn the probable hour of their return. As he hung up the receiver he noticed that the office was closing, and, seeing the agent about to quit the place, addressed him:
“I’d like to ask a favor.”
“What is it?”
“Will you introduce me to the best hotel in town? I have friends in Panama City, but they’re out and it’s getting late.”
“There isn’t a good hotel here, but you don’t need an introduction; just walk in. They’re not full.”
“I’m broke, and I have no baggage.”
“Don’t you know anybody?”
“I know the American consul—been stopping at his house for a week—but he threw me out.”
A great light seemed suddenly to dawn upon the agent. “Oh, you’re Locke!” said he, with the air of one who detects a fraud too obvious to be taken seriously. “Now I understand. The purser on the Santa Cruz told me about you. Sorry I can’t help you, but I’m a salaried man.”
“I’ve got to sleep,” stoutly maintained the other. “Somebody will have to take care of me; I can’t sit up all night.”
“See here, my friend, I don’t know what your game is, but you can’t sting me.” The agent finished locking up, then walked away, leaving his visitor to reflect anew upon the average human being’s ignoble lack of faith in his fellows.
It was growing dark. From farther down the water-front the lights of the Wayfarers Club shone invitingly, and Kirk decided to appeal there for assistance. In spite of Weeks’s warning, he felt sure he could prevail upon some of the members to tide him over for the night, but as he neared the place he underwent a sudden change of heart. Slowly mounting the stairs ahead of him like a trained hippopotamus was the colossal, panting figure of the American consul, at sight of which Kirk’s pride rose up in arms and forbade him to follow. Doubtless Weeks had spread his story broadcast; it was manifestly impossible for him to appeal to his recent card partners—they would believe he had deliberately imposed upon them. It was humiliating, yet there seemed nothing to do except to await the Cortlandts’ return, and, if he failed to reach them by telephone, to spend the night in the open. It occurred to him that he might try to locate Stein or some other of his late fellow-passengers, but they were probably scattered across the Isthmus by this time.