Read CHAPTER V - PISTOLS of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Evidently young Hamilton did not hear Monte come down the stairs, for he was sitting in a chair near the window, with his head in his hands, and did not move even when Monte entered the room.

“Hello, Hamilton,” said Covington.

Hamilton sprang to his feet a shaking, ghastly remnant of a man. He had grown thinner and paler than when Covington last saw him. But his eyes they held Covington for a moment. They burned in their hollow sockets like two candles in a dark room.

“Covington!” gasped the man.

Then his eyes narrowed.

“What the devil you doing here?” he demanded.

“Sit down,” suggested Monte. “I want to have a little talk with you.”

It was physical weakness that forced Hamilton to obey.

Monte drew up a chair opposite him.

“Now,” he said quietly, “tell me just what it is you want of Miss Stockton.”

“What business is that of yours?” demanded Hamilton nervously.

Monte was silent a moment. Here at the start was the question Marjory had anticipated the question that might have caused him some embarrassment had it not been so adequately provided for in the last few moments. As it was, he became conscious of a little glow of satisfaction which moderated his feelings toward young Hamilton considerably. He actually felt a certain amount of sympathy for him. After all, the little beggar was in bad shape.

But, even now, there was no reason, just yet, why he should make him his confidant. Secure in his position, he felt it was none of Hamilton’s business.

“Miss Stockton and I are old friends,” he answered.

“Then she has told you?”

“She gave me to believe you made a good deal of an ass of yourself this morning,” nodded Monte.

Hamilton sank back limply in his chair.

“I did,” he groaned. “Oh, my God, I did!”

“All that business of waving a pistol I did n’t think you were that much of a cub, Hamilton.”

“She drove me mad. I did n’t know what I was doing.”

“In just what way do you blame her?” inquired Monte.

“She would n’t believe me,” exclaimed Hamilton. “I saw it in her eyes. I could n’t make her believe me.”

“Believe what?”

Hamilton got to his feet and leaned against the wall. He was breathing rapidly, like a man in a fever.

Monte studied him with a curious interest.

“That I love her,” gasped Hamilton. “She thought I was lying. I could n’t make her believe it, I tell you! She just sat there and smiled not believing.”

“Good Lord!” said Monte. “You don’t mean that you really do love her?”

Hamilton sprang with what little strength there was in him.

“Damn you, Covington what do you think?” he choked.

Monte caught the man by the arms and forced him again into his chair.

“Steady,” he warned.

Exhausted by his exertion, Hamilton sat there panting for breath, his eyes burning into Covington’s.

“What I meant,” said Monte, “was, do you love her with with an honest-to-God love?”

When Hamilton answered this time, Covington saw what Marjory meant when she wondered how Hamilton could look like a white-robed choir-boy as he sang to her. He had grown suddenly calm, and when he spoke the red light in his eyes had turned to white.

“It’s with all there is in me, Covington,” he said.

The pity of it was, of course, that so little was left in him that so much had been wasted, so much soiled, in the last few years. The wonder was that so much was left.

As Monte looked down at the man, he felt his own heart beating faster. He felt several other things that left him none too comfortable. Again that curious interest that made him want to listen, that held him with a weird fascination.

“Tell me about it,” said Covington.

Hamilton sat up with a start. He faced Covington as if searching his soul.

“Do you believe me?” he demanded.

“Yes,” answered Monte; “I think I do.”

“Because did you see a play in New York called ’Peter Grimm’?”

“I remember it,” nodded Monte.

“It’s been like that like dying and coming back and trying to make people hear, and not being able to. I made an ass of myself until I met her. I know that. I’m not fit to be in the same room with her. I know that you can say nothing too bad about me up to the day I met her. I would n’t care what people said up to that day if they’d only believe the rest; if she’d only believe the rest. I think I could stand it even if I knew she she did not care for me if only I could make her understand how much she means to me.”

Monte looked puzzled.

“Just what does she mean to you?” he asked.

“All that’s left in life,” answered Hamilton. “All that’s left to work for, to live for, to hope for. It’s been like that ever since I saw her on the boat. I was coming over here to go the old rounds, and then everything was changed. There was no place to go, after that, except where she went. I counted the hours at night to the time when the sun came up and I could see her again. I did n’t begin to live until then; the rest of the time I was only waiting to live. Every time she came in sight it it was as if I were resurrected, Covington; as if in the mean while I’d been dead. I thought at first I had a chance, and I planned to come back home with her to do things. I wanted to do big things for her. I thought I had a chance all the while, until she came here until this morning. Then, when she only smiled well, I lost my head.”

“What was the idea back of the gun?” asked Monte.

Hamilton answered without bravado.

“I meant to end it for both of us; but I lost my nerve.”

“Good Lord! You would have gone as far as that?”

“Yes,” answered Hamilton wearily. “But I’m glad I fell down.”

Monte passed his hand over his forehead. He could not fully grasp the meaning of a passion that led a man to such lengths as this. Why, the man had proposed murder murder and suicide; and all because of this strange love of a woman. He had been driven stark raving mad because of it. He sat there now before him, an odd combination of craven weakness and giant strength because of it. In the face of such a revelation, Covington felt petty; he felt negative.

Less than ten minutes ago he himself had looked into the same eyes that had so stirred this man. He had seen nothing there particularly to disturb any one. They were very beautiful eyes, and the woman back of them was very beautiful. He had a feeling that, day in and day out for a great many years, they would remain beautiful. They had helped him last night to make the city his own; they had helped him this morning to recover his balance; they helped him now to see straight again.

But, after all, it was arrant nonsense for Hamilton to act like this. Admitting the man believed in himself, and Covington believed that much, he was, after all, Teddy Hamilton. The fact remained, even as he himself admitted, that he was not fit to be in the same room with her. It was not possible for a man in a month to cleanse himself of the accumulated mire of ten years.

Furthermore, that too was beside the point. The girl cared nothing about him. She particularly desired not to care about him or any one else. It was not consistent with her scheme of life. She had told him as much. It was this that had made his own engagement to her possible.

Monte rose from his chair and paced the room a moment. If possible, he wished to settle this matter once for all. On the whole, it was more difficult than he had anticipated. When he came down he had intended to dispose of it in five minutes. Suddenly he wheeled and faced Hamilton.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that if a man loved a woman, really loved her, then one of the things he would be most anxious about would be to make her happy. Are you with me on that?”

Hamilton raised his head.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Then,” continued Monte, “it does n’t seem to me that you are going about it in just the right way. Waving pistols and throwing fits ”

“I was mad, I tell you,” Hamilton broke in.

“Admitting that,” resumed Monte, “I should think the best thing you could do would be to go away and sober up.”

“Go away?”

“I would. I’d go a long way to Japan or India.”

The old mad light came back to Hamilton’s eyes.

“Did she ask you to tell me that?”

“No,” answered Monte; “it is my own idea. Because, you see, if you don’t go she’ll have to.”

“What do you mean?”

“Steady, now,” warned Monte. “I mean just what I say. She can’t stay here and let you camp in her front hall. Even Madame Courcy won’t stand for that. So why don’t you get out, quietly and without any confusion?”

“That’s your own suggestion?” said Hamilton, tottering to his feet.

“Exactly.”

“Then,” said Hamilton, “I’ll see you in hell first. It’s no business of yours, I say.”

“But it is,” said Monte.

“Tell me how it is,” growled Hamilton.

“Why, you see,” said Monte quietly, “Miss Stockton and I are engaged.”

“You lie!” choked Hamilton. “You ”

Monte heard a deafening report, and felt a biting pain in his shoulder. As he staggered back he saw a pistol smoking in Hamilton’s hand. Recovering, he threw himself forward on the man and bore him to the floor.

It was no very difficult matter for Monte to wrest the revolver from Hamilton’s weak fingers, even with one arm hanging limp; but it was quite a different proposition to quiet Madame Courcy and Marie, who were screaming hysterically in the hall. Marjory, to be sure, was splendid; but even she could do little with madame, who insisted that some one had been murdered, even when it was quite obvious, with both men alive, that this was a mistake. To make matters worse, she had called up the police on the telephone, and at least a dozen gendarmes were now on their way.

The pain in Monte’s arm was acute, and it hung from his shoulder as limply as an empty sleeve; but, fortunately, it was not bleeding a great deal, or at least it was not messing things up, and he was able, therefore, by always keeping his good arm toward the ladies, to conceal from them this disagreeable consequence of Hamilton’s rashness.

Hamilton himself had staggered to his feet, and, leaning against the wall, was staring blankly at the confusion about him.

Monte turned to Marjory.

“Hurry out and get a taxi,” he said. “We can’t allow the man to be arrested.”

“He tried to shoot himself?” she asked.

“I don’t believe he knows what he tried to do. Hurry, please.”

As she went out, he turned to Marie.

“Help madame into her room,” he ordered.

Madame did not want to go; but Monte impatiently grasped one arm and Marie the other, so madame went.

Then he came back to Hamilton.

“Madame has sent for the police. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Hamilton answered dully.

“And I have sent for a taxi. It depends on which gets here first whether you go to jail or not,” said Monte.

Then he sat down in a chair, because his knees were beginning to feel weak.

Marjory was back in a minute, and when she came in Monte was on his feet again.

“It’s at the door,” she said.

At the sound of her voice Hamilton seemed to revive; but Monte had him instantly by the arm.

“Come on,” he ordered.

He shoved the boy ahead a little as he passed Marjory, and turning, drew the revolver from his pocket. He did not dare take it with him, because he knew that in five minutes he would be unable to use it. Hamilton, on the other hand, might not be. He shoved it into her hand.

“Take it upstairs and hide it,” he said. “Be careful with it.”

“You’re coming back here?” she asked quickly.

She thought his cheeks were very white.

“I can’t tell,” he answered. “But don’t worry.”

He hurried Hamilton down the steps and pushed him into the car.

“To the Hotel Normandie,” he ordered the driver, as he stumbled in himself.

The bumping of the car hurt Monte’s arm a good deal. In fact, with every bump he felt as if Hamilton were prodding his shoulder with a stiletto. Besides being unpleasant, this told rapidly on his strength, and that was dangerous. Above all things, he must remain conscious. Hamilton was quiet because he thought Monte still had the gun and was still able to use it; but let him sway, and matters would be reversed. So Monte gripped his jaws and bent his full energy to keeping control of himself until they crossed the Seine. It seemed like a full day’s journey before he saw that the muddy waters were behind them. Then he ordered the driver to stop.

Hamilton’s shifty eyes looked up.

“Hamilton,” said Monte, “have you got it clear yet that that Miss Stockton and I are engaged?”

Hamilton did not answer. His fingers were working nervously.

Monte, summoning all his strength, shook the fellow.

“Do you hear?” he called.

“Yes,” muttered Hamilton.

“Then,” said Monte, “I want you to get hold of the next point: that from now on you’re to let her alone. Get that?”

Hamilton’s lips began to twitch.

“Because if you come around bothering her any more,” explained Monte, “I’ll be there myself; and, believe me, you’ll go out the door. And if you try any more gun-play the little fellows will nail you next time. Sure as preaching, they’ll nail you. That would be too bad for every one for you and for her.”

“How for her?” demanded Hamilton hoarsely.

“The papers,” answered Monte. “And for you because ”

“I don’t care what they do to me,” growled Hamilton.

“I believe that,” nodded Monte. “Do you know that I ’m the one person on earth who is inclined to believe what you say?”

He saw Hamilton crouch as if to spring. Monte placed his left hand in his empty pocket.

“Steady,” he warned. “There are still four shots left in that gun.”

Hamilton relaxed.

“You don’t care what the little fellows do to you,” said Monte. “But you don’t want to queer yourself any further with her, do you? Now, listen. She thinks you tried to shoot yourself. By that much I have a hunch she thinks the better of you.”

Hamilton groaned,

“And because I believe what you told me about her,” he ran on, fighting for breath “just because because I believe the shooting fits into that, I ’m glad to to have her think that little the better of you, Hamilton.”

The interior of the cab was beginning to move slowly around in a circle. He leaned back his head a second to steady himself his white lips pressed together.

“So so clear out,” he whispered.

“You you won’t tell her?”

“No. But clear out, quick.”

Hamilton opened the cab door.

“Got any money?” inquired Monte.

“No.”

Monte drew out his bill-book and handed it to Hamilton.

“Take what there is,” he ordered.

Hamilton obeyed, and returned the empty purse.

“Remember,” faltered Monte, his voice trailing off into an inaudible murmur, “we’re engaged Marjory and I ”

But Hamilton had disappeared. It was the driver who was peering in the door.

“Where next, monsieur?” he was saying.

“Normandie,” muttered Monte.

The windows began to revolve in a circle before his eyes faster and faster, until suddenly he no longer was conscious of the pain in his shoulder.