Damsel in Distress
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CHAPTER 4.

"Well, that's that!" said George.

"I'm so much obliged," said the girl.

"It was a pleasure," said George.

He was enabled now to get a closer, more leisurely and much more
satisfactory view of this distressed damsel than had been his good
fortune up to the present. Small details which, when he had first
caught sight of her, distance had hidden from his view, now
presented themselves. Her eyes, he discovered, which he had
supposed brown, were only brown in their general colour-scheme.
They were shot with attractive little flecks of gold, matching
perfectly the little streaks gold which the sun, coming out again
on one of his flying visits and now shining benignantly once more on
the world, revealed in her hair. Her chin was square and
determined, but its resoluteness was contradicted by a dimple and
by the pleasant good-humour of the mouth; and a further softening
of the face was effected by the nose, which seemed to have started
out with the intention of being dignified and aristocratic but had
defeated its purpose by tilting very slightly at the tip. This was
a girl who would take chances, but would take them with a smile and
laugh when she lost.

George was but an amateur physiognomist, but he could read what was
obvious in the faces he encountered; and the more he looked at this
girl, the less he was able to understand the scene which had just
occurred. The thing mystified him completely. For all her
good-humour, there was an air, a manner, a something capable and
defensive, about this girl with which he could not imagine any man
venturing to take liberties. The gold-brown eyes, as they met his
now, were friendly and smiling, but he could imagine them freezing
into a stare baleful enough and haughty enough to quell such a
person as the silk-hatted young man with a single glance. Why,
then, had that super-fatted individual been able to demoralize her
to the extent of flying to the shelter of strange cabs? She was
composed enough now, it was true, but it had been quite plain that
at the moment when she entered the taxi her nerve had momentarily
forsaken her. There were mysteries here, beyond George.

The girl looked steadily at George and George looked steadily at
her for the space of perhaps ten seconds. She seemed to George to
be summing him up, weighing him. That the inspection proved
satisfactory was shown by the fact that at the end of this period
she smiled. Then she laughed, a clear pealing laugh which to George
was far more musical than the most popular song-hit he had ever
written.

"I suppose you are wondering what it's all about?" she said.

This was precisely what George was wondering most consumedly.

"No, no," he said. "Not at all. It's not my business."

"And of course you're much too well bred to be inquisitive about
other people's business?"

"Of course I am. What was it all about?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you."

"But what am I to say to the cabman?"

"I don't know. What do men usually say to cabmen?"

"I mean he will feel very hurt if I don't give him a full
explanation of all this. He stooped from his pedestal to make
enquiries just now. Condescension like that deserves some
recognition."

"Give him a nice big tip."

George was reminded of his reason for being in the cab.

"I ought to have asked before," he said. "Where can I drive you?"

"Oh, I mustn't steal your cab. Where were you going?"

"I was going back to my hotel. I came out without any money, so I
shall have to go there first to get some."

The girl started.

"What's the matter?" asked George.

"I've lost my purse!"

"Good Lord! Had it much in it?"

"Not very much. But enough to buy a ticket home."

"Any use asking where that is?"

"None, I'm afraid."

"I wasn't going to, of course."

"Of course not. That's what I admire so much in you. You aren't
inquisitive."

George reflected.

"There's only one thing to be done. You will have to wait in the
cab at the hotel, while I go and get some money. Then, if you'll
let me, I can lend you what you require."

"It's much too kind of you. Could you manage eleven shillings?"

"Easily. I've just had a legacy."

"Of course, if you think I ought to be economical, I'll go
third-class. That would only be five shillings. Ten-and-six is the
first-class fare. So you see the place I want to get to is two
hours from London."

"Well, that's something to know."

"But not much, is it?"

"I think I had better lend you a sovereign. Then you'll be able to
buy a lunch-basket."

"You think of everything. And you're perfectly right. I shall be
starving. But how do you know you will get the money back?"

"I'll risk it."

"Well, then, I shall have to be inquisitive and ask your name.
Otherwise I shan't know where to send the money."

"Oh, there's no mystery about me. I'm an open book."

"You needn't be horrid about it. I can't help being mysterious."

"I didn't mean that."

"It sounded as if you did. Well, who is my benefactor?"

"My name is George Bevan. I am staying at the Carlton at present."

"I'll remember."

The taxi moved slowly down the Haymarket. The girl laughed.

"Yes?" said George.

"I was only thinking of back there. You know, I haven't thanked you
nearly enough for all you did. You were wonderful."

"I'm very glad I was able to be of any help."

"What did happen? You must remember I couldn't see a thing except
your back, and I could only hear indistinctly."

"Well, it started by a man galloping up and insisting that you had
got into the cab. He was a fellow with the appearance of a
before-using advertisement of an anti-fat medicine and the manners
of a ring-tailed chimpanzee."

The girl nodded.

"Then it was Percy! I knew I wasn't mistaken."

"Percy?"

"That is his name."

"It would be! I could have betted on it."

"What happened then?"

"I reasoned with the man, but didn't seem to soothe him, and
finally he made a grab for the door-handle, so I knocked off his
hat, and while he was retrieving it we moved on and escaped."

The girl gave another silver peal of laughter.

"Oh, what a shame I couldn't see it. But how resourceful of you!
How did you happen to think of it?"

"It just came to me," said George modestly.

A serious look came into the girl's face. The smile died out of her
eyes. She shivered.

"When I think how some men might have behaved in your place!"

"Oh, no. Any man would have done just what I did. Surely, knocking
off Percy's hat was an act of simple courtesy which anyone would
have performed automatically!"

"You might have been some awful bounder. Or, what would have been
almost worse, a slow-witted idiot who would have stopped to ask
questions before doing anything. To think I should have had the
luck to pick you out of all London!"

"I've been looking on it as a piece of luck--but entirely from my
viewpoint."

She put a small hand on his arm, and spoke earnestly.

"Mr. Bevan, you mustn't think that, because I've been laughing a
good deal and have seemed to treat all this as a joke, you haven't
saved me from real trouble. If you hadn't been there and hadn't
acted with such presence of mind, it would have been terrible!"

"But surely, if that fellow was annoying you, you could have called
a policeman?"

"Oh, it wasn't anything like that. It was much, much worse. But I
mustn't go on like this. It isn't fair on you." Her eyes lit up
again with the old shining smile. "I know you have no curiosity
about me, but still there's no knowing whether I might not arouse
some if I went on piling up the mystery. And the silly part is that
really there's no mystery at all. It's just that I can't tell
anyone about it."

"That very fact seems to me to constitute the makings of a pretty
fair mystery."

"Well, what I mean is, I'm not a princess in disguise trying to
escape from anarchists, or anything like those things you read
about in books. I'm just in a perfectly simple piece of trouble.
You would be bored to death if I told you about it."

"Try me."

She shook her head.

"No. Besides, here we are." The cab had stopped at the hotel, and a
commissionaire was already opening the door. "Now, if you haven't
repented of your rash offer and really are going to be so awfully
kind as to let me have that money, would you mind rushing off and
getting it, because I must hurry. I can just catch a good train,
and it's hours to the next."

"Will you wait here? I'll be back in a moment."

"Very well."

The last George saw of her was another of those exhilarating smiles
of hers. It was literally the last he saw of her, for, when he
returned not more than two minutes later, the cab had gone, the
girl had gone, and the world was empty.

To him, gaping at this wholly unforeseen calamity the commissionaire
vouchsafed information.

"The young lady took the cab on, sir."

"Took the cab on?"

"Almost immediately after you had gone, sir, she got in again and
told the man to drive to Waterloo."

George could make nothing of it. He stood there in silent
perplexity, and might have continued to stand indefinitely, had not
his mind been distracted by a dictatorial voice at his elbow.

"You, sir! Dammit!"

A second taxi-cab had pulled up, and from it a stout, scarlet-
faced young man had sprung. One glance told George all. The hunt
was up once more. The bloodhound had picked up the trail. Percy was
in again!

For the first time since he had become aware of her flight, George
was thankful that the girl had disappeared. He perceived that he
had too quickly eliminated Percy from the list of the Things That
Matter. Engrossed with his own affairs, and having regarded their
late skirmish as a decisive battle from which there would be no
rallying, he had overlooked the possibility of this annoying and
unnecessary person following them in another cab--a task which, in
the congested, slow-moving traffic, must have been a perfectly
simple one. Well, here he was, his soul manifestly all stirred up
and his blood-pressure at a far higher figure than his doctor would
have approved of, and the matter would have to be opened all over
again.

"Now then!" said the stout young man.

George regarded him with a critical and unfriendly eye. He disliked
this fatty degeneration excessively. Looking him up and down, he
could find no point about him that gave him the least pleasure,
with the single exception of the state of his hat, in the side of
which he was rejoiced to perceive there was a large and unshapely
dent.

"You thought you had shaken me off! You thought you'd given me the
slip! Well, you're wrong!"

George eyed him coldly.

"I know what's the matter with you," he said. "Someone's been
feeding you meat."

The young man bubbled with fury. His face turned a deeper scarlet.
He gesticulated.

"You blackguard! Where's my sister?"

At this extraordinary remark the world rocked about George dizzily.
The words upset his entire diagnosis of the situation. Until that
moment he had looked upon this man as a Lothario, a pursuer of
damsels. That the other could possibly have any right on his side
had never occurred to him. He felt unmanned by the shock. It seemed
to cut the ground from under his feet.

"Your sister!"

"You heard what I said. Where is she?"

George was still endeavouring to adjust his scattered faculties.
He felt foolish and apologetic. He had imagined himself unassailably
in the right, and it now appeared that he was in the wrong.

For a moment he was about to become conciliatory. Then the
recollection of the girl's panic and her hints at some trouble
which threatened her--presumably through the medium of this man,
brother or no brother--checked him. He did not know what it was all
about, but the one thing that did stand out clearly in the welter
of confused happenings was the girl's need for his assistance.
Whatever might be the rights of the case, he was her accomplice,
and must behave as such.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said.

The young man shook a large, gloved fist in his face.

"You blackguard!"

A rich, deep, soft, soothing voice slid into the heated scene like
the Holy Grail sliding athwart a sunbeam.

"What's all this?"

A vast policeman had materialized from nowhere. He stood beside
them, a living statue of Vigilant Authority. One thumb rested
easily on his broad belt. The fingers of the other hand caressed
lightly a moustache that had caused more heart-burnings among the
gentler sex than any other two moustaches in the C-division. The
eyes above the moustache were stern and questioning.

"What's all this?"

George liked policemen. He knew the way to treat them. His voice,
when he replied, had precisely the correct note of respectful
deference which the Force likes to hear.

"I really couldn't say, officer," he said, with just that air of
having in a time of trouble found a kind elder brother to help him
out of his difficulties which made the constable his ally on the
spot. "I was standing here, when this man suddenly made his
extraordinary attack on me. I wish you would ask him to go away."

The policeman tapped the stout young man on the shoulder.

"This won't do, you know!" he said austerely. "This sort o' thing
won't do, 'ere, you know!"

"Take your hands off me!" snorted Percy.

A frown appeared on the Olympian brow. Jove reached for his
thunderbolts.

"'Ullo! 'Ullo! 'Ullo!" he said in a shocked voice, as of a god
defied by a mortal. "'Ullo! 'Ullo! 'Ul-lo!"

His fingers fell on Percy's shoulder again, but this time not in a
mere warning tap. They rested where they fell--in an iron clutch.

"It won't do, you know," he said. "This sort o' thing won't do!"
Madness came upon the stout young man. Common prudence and the
lessons of a carefully-taught youth fell from him like a garment.
With an incoherent howl he wriggled round and punched the policeman
smartly in the stomach.

"Ho!" quoth the outraged officer, suddenly becoming human. His
left hand removed itself from the belt, and he got a businesslike
grip on his adversary's collar. "Will you come along with me!"

It was amazing. The thing had happened in such an incredibly brief
space of time. One moment, it seemed to George, he was the centre
of a nasty row in one of the most public spots in London; the next,
the focus had shifted; he had ceased to matter; and the entire
attention of the metropolis was focused on his late assailant, as,
urged by the arm of the Law, he made that journey to Vine Street
Police Station which so many a better man than he had trod.

George watched the pair as they moved up the Haymarket, followed by
a growing and increasingly absorbed crowd; then he turned into the
hotel.

"This," he said to himself; "is the middle of a perfect day! And I
thought London dull!"

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