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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

And the other was poor little Thecla Perzio


'A genial idiot, Hodges yclept, has persuaded the whole village that a murder is on the carpet, and that Billy and I are at daggers drawn. Don't tell him this in any of your letters. It's a great tribute to our acting that even Hodges takes us to be in earnest. I can't call to mind any stage row I ever listened to that I shouldn't have spotted the hollowness of in a brace of shakes. At this minute Author summons Actor to Rehearsal. I close up. This Scrawl to tell you I haven't forgotten you. Would have written more, but authority's voice is urgent.

'Your affectionate brother,

'J.'

'I think you had something to say, sir,' said the military official turning to Barndale, and handing the letter back to Lilian.

'The supposed quarrel between poor Leland and myself is easily explained. We were rehearsing for amateur theatricals, almost nightly, in a somewhat animated scene, and I can only suppose that we were overheard, and that our play was taken for earnest.'

'Have you any clue to the whereabouts of this Greek?' the officer asked Lilian. The doctor broke in--

'Miss Leland was describing the Greek to me this morning with a view to his identification, when a man walked into the room, said he had overheard the lady through

the open window, and had seen the man she described two hours before. He was the boots of an hotel at Kingston. We came here at once, after sending an officer to look after him.'

'That will do, Mr. Webb,' said the superior official. 'There can be no necessity for detaining this gentleman.'

Lilian and the doctor read this last sentence in its most superficial light, but Barndale rose and turned with a feeling of vast inward relief--

'Our bargain holds good still,' he said to the inspector, as they went downstairs together.

'Yes, sir,' said the inspector, and bade the trio adieu with great politeness.

They three took train for Thames Ditton at once, and by the way Barndale told the story of his arrest.

Arrived at the historic 'Swan,' they settled down to their separate avocations--Lilian and the doctor to nurse Leland, and Barndale to do all that in him lay to track the Greek. My story nears its close; and I may say at once, without word-spinning, that Demetri Agryopoulo disappeared, and was no more heard of. He was too wily to speak the English described in the advertisement of his peculiarities. He spoke German like an Alsatian, French like a Gascon, and Italian like a Piedmontese, and could pass for any one of the three. By what devices he held himself in secrecy it matters not here to say. But again, and for the last time in this story, he went his way, and the darkness shrouded him.

On the day following Barndale's arrest and release, Lilian sat by her brother's bedside, when the door of the bedroom opened noiselessly, and two women stole in on stealthy tiptoe.

One was Barndale's maiden sister, and the other was poor little Thecla Perzio.

Lilian kissed them both; and Thecla said, in a tearful, frightened whisper.

'It is all my wicked, wicked fault. But O mademoiselle, may I not help to nurse him?'

'Not mademoiselle, dear--Lilian!' was Lilian's sole answer.

So the three women stayed, together with mamma Leland, and nursed the invalid in couples. And it came to pass that the indiscreet little Thecla won everybody's heart about the place, and that everybody came to be assured that no lack of maidenly honour had made her indiscreet, but only a very natural, unsuspecting, childlike confidence. It came to pass also that when Leland Junior began to get better he saw good and sufficient reasons for setting a term to his bachelor existence.

And with no great difficulty Thecla Perzio was brought to his opinion.

By Christmas time Leland was well and strong again. The chase after the Greek was dismissed from the official mind by this time: and Barndale, being reminded of Inspector Webb by the receipt of the promissory note for five hundred pounds, wrote to that official to offer him a week or two in the country. The inspector came, and brought the marvellous pipe with him. It had been detained until then to be put in evidence in case of the Greek's arrest and trial.

The inspector heard the comedy, and told Barndale, later on, that he regarded the quarrel scene as a masterpiece of histrionic art.

'I don't wonder that bumpkin took it all for earnest,' he said. 'I should ha' done that myself. No, thankee, sir. I don't care about mixing with the lords and swells upstairs. I'll have a look in on the butler. Smoking the old pipe again, I see, sir. Not many old meerschaums knocking about with a tale like that attached to 'em.'

It pleases me to add that Doctor Wattiss officiated at Leland's wedding, and married the maiden sister.


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