Winnie and the Tiger Man

Winnie and the Tiger Man (1921)
by Bertram Atkey
Extracted from Saturday Evening Post 12 March 1921, pp. 12–14, 32, 35, 36. Illustrations by Leslie L. Benson may be omitted. Revised and included in the novel Winnie O'Wynn and the Wolves (1921)

Sections: IIIIIIVV

3839852Winnie and the Tiger Man1921Bertram Atkey

WINNIE AND THE TIGER MAN

By BERTRAM ATKEY


WINNIE was singing a little, soft, plaintive lullaby all to herself in the south drawing-room at Hawkshover Hall. It was late afternoon. The hunting people had not yet returned. The bridge fiends were still rapt in tense and bitter communion in the card room, and Lady Fasterton had retired temporarily into the restful seclusion of her most private holy of holies.

Winnie was one of many guests there, and she had been disinclined either for bridge, sleep, mild intoxication or any other of the diversions which usually ameliorated a wet-weather midafternoon for the party at any one of the Fasterton country houses. So, finding the cozy south drawing-room empty of people, she had settled down to amuse herself for a few passing moments at the piano. It was a little old-fashioned lullaby, with the ghost of an exquisite, half-faded melody haunting it, and the girl looked very sweet, very childlike, as she sat on the great carved stool, a little figure, looking upwards, her slender fingers straying over the keys, singing softly in the subdued light like a tiny bird piping sweetly in the dusk.

It was a very pretty picture, indeed, and it very definitely arrested the progress of Cyril Fitzmedley as in muddy hunting kit, he passed the open door.

Sir Cyril stopped, gazing in spellbound at Winnie, and the sweetness of the lullaby lapped about him like the soft waters of Lethe. He listened and was lulled. He never had been quite so excessively or pleasantly lulled in his short and rather confused life. At least, that was his impression. It was all so sweet and gentle and somehow so different that he could not help being lulled. The words were quite simple. There was, he gathered, a naughty wolf that wanted to eat a baby all up, but—sang Winnie—baby needn't be afraid. All baby needed to do was just to go quietly to sleep, and when she was asleep mummy would go and get the naughty, greedy wolf's skin and make a pretty rug of it for baby to roll on—that was all. There appeared to be nothing in it for the wolf.

But the youthful and somewhat spoiled baronet thought he had never known anything quite so charming, regarded purely as a brief change from the normal. He waited till the last note died out, then went in.

"Dear Miss Winnie," he said earnestly, "I want to thank you for the sweetest few moments I remember for—er—many a long day. That was charmin', quite."

Winnie was very surprised and pleased, but not excited.

"It was only a little lullaby my nurse used to sing to me, dear Sir Cyril. A little thing—it just came into my head, sitting there."

"Ah, it just went into my heart!" said Fitzmedley. He was leaning low to Winnie. "I shall often think of it—often. Will you let me give you some little souvenir of that little moment of pleasure—our tiny secret—what?"

Winnie's wide blue eyes gazed gravely up at him.

"How kind you are to me!" she said. "But I don't think there is anything I want. And I am beginning to feel that I ought not to accept presents—oh, don't be angry with me, please." Impulsively a hand, fair as a flower, rested upon his pink sleeve.

"But why?" said Cyril, leaning nearer. "Do you know, dear Miss Winnie, that I am old enough to be your elder brother—what?"

"I think that must be why!" sighed Winnie. "Is it right for me to accept gifts from you?"

"Oh, quite, quite—especially when it is a souvenir of such a special little secret pleasure as your charmin' song gave me. I assure you it would be quite all right. I love to give things to people who give me things."

The frank admiration in Winnie's eyes made him almost desperately eager to mark the occasion. Unconsciously he felt violently wishful to live up to that look.

"I think you have a great nature, Sir Cyril," she lullabied. "You don't mind my saying that, do you? I think that if there happened to be anything I wanted I could accept it from you without being misunderstood."

He leaned nearer yet.

"You could; indeed, you could!"

"I mustn't accept jewelry, Sir Cyril. That would be wrong. I haven't had much experience of these things, but I know a girl mustn't accept jewelry from rich, good-looking men, no matter how chivalrous they may be."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Miss Winnie."

"But perhaps it would not be much harm to accept a little pet."

His naturally rather dull eyes lit up.

"I should love to give you a pet, dear Miss Winnie. What would you like?"

Winnie's eyes fell. "You will laugh at me, I am afraid," she said.

He caught at her hand—in order to reassure her.

"No, no! How could I laugh at you for wanting a pet?"

He was thinking how perfectly sweet she would look fondling a tiny Pekingese pup or Persian kitten presented by himself.

"What pet would you like, dear Miss Winnie?"

"A little race horse, please," cooed Winnie.

"A race horse!"

For an instant the infatuated youth was startled. After all, you can't gallop a race horse into Lullabyland without the temporary inhabitants thereof getting a slight shock. But suddenly he got what he conceived to be the right perspective of the thing. When a few months before he had inherited his father's approximately three-quarter-million estate he had inherited the big racing stud into which something like another quarter million had been sunk by his turf-loving parent. He realized that there were few things he could spare better than a little race horse, for, counting foals, yearlings, horses of racing age, studhorses and brood mares, he possessed something like a hundred. Dimly it occurred to him that Winnie was paying him a pretty compliment, or so he vaguely interpreted it. The shock passed and he grew enthusiastic.

"Why—why, that's a splendid idea, Miss Winnie!"

"It seemed so appropriate, somehow," smiled Winnie.

"Which would you like?" he asked eagerly. "You were with the party that I showed over the stables and farm yesterday, weren't you? Did you see one you liked?"

"I liked them all, I think," said the girl. "But there was one that I fell quite in love with. A—a—yearling, I think it was called; a lovely little black one with four white stockings—don't they say?—and a white patch on its forehead like a big star."

He knitted his brows. Sir Cyril had not inherited his father's passion for Thoroughbreds, and except for the classical-event winners he hardly knew one from the other. He possessed himself of Winnie's other hand.

"Then you shall have that one!" he declared impulsively. "What was its name?"

"I don't think it had a name. Shall we—just you and I—telephone to the trainer and ask about it?"

"Yes, rather, Miss Winnie! Just you and I—on the quiet, eh? Toppin' idea."

They crossed the room to the ornately camouflaged telephone and rang up Cyril's sharp-eyed, rather withered-looking master of horse, one Mr. Dan Harmon. The lovely little black one was, it appeared, an unnamed yearling filly of extremely aristocratic parentage, her mamma being Moonlady, who in her day had won the Oaks, while the filly's papa, the celebrated Volt, had annexed the Derby, the St. Leger, the Two Thousand Guineas, the Eclipse Stakes and other similar useful little affairs.

"You have chosen very well, Miss Winnie," said Cyril.

"Have I? How lucky!" sighed Winnie. "I chose her because she is so pretty."

Cyril gave the necessary instructions, and made way at the telephone for Winnie.

"Is that Mr. Harmon, please? Good afternoon, Mr. Harmon. This is Miss O'Wynn speaking. Thank you for your congratulations. Yes, the little black one with the white stockings; the—is it?—the Moonlady filly—how pretty—mine now, yes. Sir Cyril wishes it—so kind. I beg your pardon, Mr. Harmon? Oh, do you think so? That would be too good to be true. Yes, yes! With you, Mr. Harmon, of course. I could not think of allowing her to be trained by anybody but you. May I come for a little talk to-morrow? Thank you, that will be nice. I want her to be named Lullaby"—Cyril thrilled—"Lullaby. What is she doing now? Yes, this very minute—in her box? How nice! Yes—I shall bring her some sugar to-morrow, tell her—Lullaby. Thank you, Mr. Harmon. Take great care of her, won't you? She is the only one I have, you know. Thank you, that is kind—kind. Good-by, Mr. Harmon!"

She turned to Cyril. "Do you like Lullaby for a name—just in memory of our little secret, Sir Cyril?"

"Ah, Miss Winnie, you know I do!" he bleated. "You——"

He broke off sharply as a thinnish, middle-aged lady came in; a pale, well-gowned woman with a manner so icy, remote and faultlessly correct that she was positively awe-inspiring. This was Lady Foxelen, Cyril's future mamma-in-law, for Cyril was firmly betrothed to Vivien Foxelen. "You are home early, Cyril," she said slowly.

"Yes, I took a short cut and missed the others."

"I hope you are not wet through." Her eyes played over his pink.

"Perhaps I had better get out of my things," said Cyril, rather piano, and faded away.

"Cyril is so reckless," observed the lady, with a chill smile, to Winnie. Winnie agreed.

Lady Foxelen patronized her—this unknown little nobody—for a few moments, not unkindly, and presently moved on to the big lounge hall where the hunting folk were beginning to appear in search of tea or other support to tide them over till dinnertime. Winnie looked at the telephone, hesitated, then rang up the trainer again.

"This is Miss O'Wynn speaking, Mr. Harmon. Is Lullaby doing any work? Splendid! I think you are quite right, Mr. Harmon. I shall come out early to-morrow morning to see her gallop. Thank you—if Mrs. Harmon would really like it, it would be so nice to breakfast with you—yes."

She hung up. So did Mr. Harmon, whose comment was not without interest. "She must be that blue-eyed slip of a thing that asked Evans all those questions about the Moonlady filly yesterday," he said to his assistant. "She looked like a child to me."

"Well, child or not, she's owner of the likeliest yearling ever bred in the Fitzmedley stud," said the other, one Skyland. "I wonder if the boss knows what he's parted with."

The trainer laughed.

"Knows? Does he know the Moonlady filly from a Hereford heifer? Lord! What can a man know who'll give away a filly like that—for nothing?"

Mr. Skyland smiled.

"Oh, perhaps he got a kiss for it, if he had sense enough. More likely she let him 'old 'er 'and for a minute," he added inelegantly.

The trainer pondered.

"Well, she was certainly a lovely little thing—that blue-eyed little lady. But—the finest filly in the South! Given away! It makes me tired! Well, I'd as soon train for a girl with an eye for a horse as a man who knows nothing. And I've no doubt I'll have my own way—that's one thing," he added innocently. "I usually do with owners—Lullaby, eh? I guess she'll lullabize some of 'em before all's finished!"

Whether he meant the yearling or the yearling's sweet little owner he did not say.

"D'ye think she knows anything about horses, or was just a lucky dip?"

Dan Harmon shook his head.

"I shouldn't say she knows much—she sounds like a kid. At least, she did the first time she spoke on the phone. But come to think of it, the second time she rang up she sounded sort of businesslike." He frowned slightly. "She wanted to know if the yearling was doing any work. And she's coming to see a short pipe-opener to-morrow. Well, now, was that just ignorance? Or did she know that Lullaby will soon be a two-year-old, and forward at that. Y'know, Ben, the boss has parted with the winner of next year's Middle Park Plate, with a bit of luck. O'Wynn! Kind of familiar name too. Seem to have heard of it—on the course too! Funny! However, if I can manage the owners I've got to, and the place and people I'm paid to, I guess I can manage a blue-eyed baby like little Miss O'Wynn." He spoke in his ignorance.


II

LONG before six o'clock next morning Winnie, mounted on a good-looking hack lent to her during her visit by warm-hearted Lady Fasterton, who was really fond of the girl, was cantering through the mist towards the Harmon training stables.

She was in high spirits and breathlessly eager to see how her little lady, Lullaby, promised. She was quite alone, and none of the house party was aware that she was going to see the Fitzmedley string at work—not even Cyril. Winnie was leaving for London two days later, and quite the last thing she desired to happen while she was at Hawkshover was for the secret she shared with Cyril to leak out.

"If Lady Foxelen should hear that he has given me Lullaby, and that I've accepted her, I am sure that she and Vivien would freeze me to death," she said, smiling. "But luckily they know less about Cyril's horses so far than poor Cyril does himself, and by the time they know—if ever—it will be ancient history."


[Illustration: "Look down, Major," She Advised Kindly. "People Will Notice Your Eyes. They Will Think You are Going to Spring at Mr."]


She cantered in thoughtful silence for a little.

"If Lullaby is what I really think she might be she shall go for the Ascot New Stakes next June, the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood in July, and, if she does well, I the Middle Park Plate in October. Some of these big two-year-old sprints will be good for her."

She laughed for the sheer joy of life.

"Oh, if only poor daddy were alive! We would make them lie down and cry, as he used to say. I think Cyril Fitzmedley will never be a very ferocious wolf. I don't think he will ever snap up a little girl in one bite—unless she is a little silly in her mind! And how could anyone resist accepting a wolf's skin—a small part of it—when the wolf comes gamboling up and implores one to help oneself? If it had been Lord Fasterton, now——"

She looked more serious, for Fasterton was a wolf of different caliber from Cyril Fitzmedley. She would have been less ready to accept a near-two-year-old from Lord Fasterton, ready as that nobleman no doubt would have been to give her one, though possibly not one such as Lullaby. Acceptance of such a gift from the experienced Fasterton would have called for somewhat more complicated handling than it did from an innocent young wolfling like Cyril. Besides, Winnie felt that it was as well to keep the gay Fasterton in reserve. She might be requiring a three-year-old some day, all being well.

But however that may have been, certainly all was well with Lullaby. The veriest beginner could have seen the class of the yearling. Her breeding was stamped on her from hoofs to ear tips. High-spirited and fidgety as a happy, healthy child, with the promise of all the shapeliness, grace and sweet temper of her famous dam, Moonlady, exquisitely merged with the power and look of speed of the great Volt, her sire, Lullaby took her little owner's heart by storm.

"Oh, you darling!" went Winnie, fondling the yearling.

She purposed to possess a good many race horses in the course of time; but she knew at once that never, never would she own any horse that would ever be to her what this beautiful, fairy-footed creature was going to be.

Mr. Dan Harmon smiled at her enthusiasm as a man might smile at a child with her first kitten or a boy with his first pup. They rode out to the great Heath, watched the work of the string and returned together. Winnie tore herself away from Lullaby and breakfasted at the trainer's home. She was so happy that she was radiant. It was all very jolly, indeed, but when presently she rode away Mr. Harmon seemed faintly puzzled.

"There goes the prettiest thing in lady owners I've ever seen," quoth he. "Why, she's but a child! She talked a good deal, didn't she?" His wife agreed.

"But I don't call to mind that she said one silly thing about racing—or made one mistake. Her ideas are sound as a bell. Did you notice her rattle 'em off—Ascot New Stakes, Richmond Stakes and Middle Park Plate, please—like milk gurgling out of the jug? A young, innocent, blue-eyed thing like her! And you know, Kate, I don't quite know how it happened, but, come to think of it, I'm damned if I don't believe I've agreed to train the filly at a figure that isn't going to show me more than about a couple of cigars profit a year! Funny!"

His wife laughed.

"Why, you great baby, you're half in love with the child yourself!" she said easily. "Sure, she can tie you in knots round her fingers—the same as I can," she explained kindly. "Not that she isn't all you say," she added. "You must do well for her with the Moonlady filly.

"She's only a kiddy and I rather fancy she needs it. Can you, Dan, d'you think?"

Rig Kathleen Harmon was half Irish, still as generous, easy and emotional after twenty years of married life as on the first day.

"If only the filly trains on as she promises to," he said solemnly, "Miss O'Wynn has had a fortune given her. I tell you, Kate, Lullaby's a flyer! I wonder what he gave her to the girl for."

"Ah, get along to your horses!" said Kate. "What do you want with wonder? Did you never give me a present in the old days and you half engaged to that yellow-headed Maud MacGill? Wonder! Sure, it's the men who wonder half the fairy stories in the world!"

"And it's the women that tell them, Katie," said Dan, and escaped.

But Mr. Harmon was not the only person who believed that Lullaby was a flyer. There were others. Winnie met one of them as she rode through the flowing dawn to Hawkshover. This was Major Mountarden, who, with his extremely smart wife, was a popular member of the Fasterton house party. Winnie had had very little to do with the Mountardens so far, for they were leading lights of the more desperate bridge section; nor did she feel particularly drawn toward either of them, though she believed the major to be one of the most distinguished-looking men she had ever seen. He was very tall, broad, with a soldierly face and a rather uncommon golden mustache, which he wore drooping in the old-style cavalry-man fashion. It was tremendously effective.

He greeted Winnie with such a very careful, almost elaborate sweep of the hat and with such cordiality that all her natural instincts of caution jumped on parade at once. The major, it appeared, was riding out to the Heath. He was not surprised to meet Winnie, he said, for he had guessed that she would be going out.

"And how do you like the Moonlady filly, dear Miss Winnie?" he asked, adding casually, "Cyril told me—in strict confidence—that you had won the yearling from him."

"Won Lullaby, Major Mountarden?" echoed Winnie.

"Over your wager that he could not give you a stroke a hole at golf, wasn't it?" said the major.

Winnie thought quickly. She had played a game of golf with Cyril Fitzmedley two days before—Vivien Foxelen having a headache—and she was pleased and rather surprised that Cyril had been bright enough to find so plausible an accounting for his gift and her acceptance of Lullaby.

"Oh, that! For a moment I did not understand," she said demurely. "Yes, wasn't it lucky? Do you think it was right for me to accept the yearling, major?"

"Why, certainly, dear Miss Winnie! A wager is a wager. Oh, of course! It's rather a pity that she isn't a two-year-old, or even a three-year-old. You see, it will be a long time before she can win a race for you, and the cost of training mounts up."

"But, please, why need it be so long?" asked Winnie, her lips drooping a little.

"Why, Lullaby—what a pretty name!—is only a yearling. She can't race till she is two years old, and even then you mustn't overwork her. It is nice to have such a handsome little horse, but a good, useful three-year-old would give you far more fun and put you to far less expense."

Winnie's face shadowed with disappointment.

"I—I never thought of that," she said. "I wanted her to race at once—lots of times." The major smiled.

"Don't take it too much to heart," he advised. "There are ways and means. You might sell the filly and invest the proceeds in a useful three-year-old, for instance."

"But what can such a baby horse be worth, please, Major Mountarden?" faltered Winnie. "A yearling isn't worth so much money as an experienced three-year-old racer, is it—any more than a calf is worth as much as a cow?"

The major turned his head for a half second, his lips flickering.

But he was quite grave when he answered.

"Oh, not at all, Miss Winnie! You see, Lullaby is a little aristocrat. Her breeding makes her worth a fair, sum. In fact, you ought to be able to make a quite useful exchange, if you can find a man who is reckless enough to give you a reliable three-year-old for a speculative, well-bred yearling. Lots of men love to gamble in yearlings. They are rather foolish men, between you and me. They nearly always lose, but it's a weakness—a foible. I ought to know"—the major smiled ruefully—"for, you see, I am one of those silly fellows."

Winnie looked shyly sorry for him.

"Oh, what a pity!" she cried.

"No, no, not at all. We enjoy the gamble. But it's odd, isn't it? As I said, it's a foible. There's no accounting for it. Take myself now. I happen to own a grand three-year-old. Indeed, they say—and I am inclined to agree with them—that he is the handsomest horse on the English turf to-day—a great, slashing, magnificent red bay with white stockings and a splendid white blaze. He's called Royal Splendour! You've heard of him, perhaps. His dam was Queen of Beauty and his sire was Golden Prince. A beautiful horse—beautiful," said the major absently. Then, rousing from reverie, he went on: "And yet anybody could tempt me to exchange him for a pretty yearling. Silly, isn't it? It's just the charm of the unknown quantity, I suppose."

Winnie said nothing, but she looked very sympathetic; and the major beamed upon her, greatly pleased with his finesse. He had wanted Lullaby for some weeks. Indeed, nothing but an ingrained dislike to pay a fair price for anything had prevented him from making Cyril Fitzmedley a fair offer for her long before. Still, he was inclined to congratulate himself already on taking his early ride. Dreamily he saw himself working off that showy cur of a horse, Royal Splendour, in exchange for the most promising yearling, now practically a two-year-old, he had ever known. Nor was he encumbered by any feeling of reluctance to take advantage of this innocent, baby-sweet child, of pity for her lack of experience, of indulgence, generosity or lenience in consummating the deal. For he was a hard man—a very hard man—in spite of his straight-gazing eyes and his beautiful golden mustache.

"Royal Splendour," said Winnie softly. "It's a ringing name, isn't it?"

"Rather good, but he carries it well."


[Illustration: He Greeted Winnie With Such an Elaborate Sweep of the Hat and With Such Cordiality That All Her Natural Instincts of Caution Jumped on Parade at Once]


Winnie dropped her eyes quickly. Few people knew better than she how well Royal Splendour carried his name. Her daddy had often told her of that handsome fraud. His trouble was not how he carried his name, but where he carried it to. Usually he carried it in a position which gave his jockey an admirable view of all other runners' heels and tails.

"Well, Miss Winnie, are you going to indulge my weakness and exchange your little yearling for my big beauty?" Confidence made the major a little careless. He was not usually a careless man.

"I don't think I should like to do that, major," said Winnie. "You see, I love my little horse too well ever to give her away for another, and she is so well bred. Perhaps some day she will win the Derby. Nobody can tell, after all. But I do sympathize with you, and I quite understand about your liking yearlings, major, even though I don't know much about horse racing. I wish I could help you."

She thought for a moment. "What is an option, major Isn't it something that means first choice?"

"Something of that sort, Miss Winnie." He was watching her.

"If you like—perhaps I am only saying something silly; do forgive me if I am—if it would help you, I would sell you—doesn't that sound mercenary?—the option to buy Lullaby if ever I could bring myself to part with her. I don't think I know enough about racing to exchange for a great, handsome horse like Royal Splendour. But I've heard of options. Daddy used to buy them from a man in the city, but they were awfully unlucky ones."

"Better sell her outright, Miss Winnie. I would advise it. No end of bother, racing—for a lady. I could get you a hundred guineas for the yearling. In fact, I'd pay you that for her myself."

"What a lot of money for a baby horse!" said Winnie. "I'm sure she isn't worth it, except to me."

"Well, you are the only one that matters, you see," the major pointed out rather less confidently.

"It seems unkind, but I wouldn't sell Lullaby for five hundred pounds!" declared the girl softly.

"Pounds!" The major laughed—almost naturally—and then sighed. "All right, Miss Winnie, it's a deal. I'll pay you five hundred guineas."

"For the option, major?"

"Lord, no, my dear child! For the filly."

"Why, major, she isn't for sale—at any price. I couldn't possibly part with her."

The major scowled, carefully turning away. But he was too wolf-wise to press her.

"Very well, Miss Winnie. I'll buy the option."

Her face lighted up.

"Oh, I am so glad to be able to do that for you, major!" she cried, her blue eyes shining on him like stars. "Mr. Harmon had a friend who would have given me a hundred guineas for the option to buy her if ever I wished to sell her, but I would ever so much sooner you had it."

Major Mountarden's smile was rather wry.

"By Jove, it's a stiff price for an option on an unproved yearling!" he said. "But," he added reluctantly, "we'll make it a bargain, Miss Winnie. I'll give you a check after breakfast. Forgive me if I hurry away now. I have to see a trial on the Heath, if I am not too late already."

"Of course, major."

He rode off, and Winnie watched him as he went. It is possible that he would not have felt quite so debonair as he undoubtedly looked had he seen the expression in the blue eyes of the girl. As was her custom, she drew upon her natural-history lore to classify him.

"Felis tigris, or tiger," she said gently. "I shall never regret fining him that hundred and five pounds." She always thought of a guinea as one pound one shilling. It was instinct, but a useful one, for nothing is more easily thrown away than the odd shilling that tags onto the English guinea.

"Never! He offered me—because he thought I knew no better—that notorious brute Royal Splendour for my little lady Lullaby. And if I had not learned to take care of myself—and remembered poor daddy's advice—he would have done it. What a shame!"

For a moment Winnie felt very, very sorry for the little girl who would have been without a Lullaby if she had not been careful. Then her eyes sparkled and she laughed softly.

"How absurd!"

She turned her horse and rode on, happy as the birds that were watching her from the trees.

For himself, Felis Tigris Mountarden was somewhat less joyous. He was engaged in wondering precisely what sort of an option it was that he had bought. It seemed to him, thinking it over, that he had agreed to pay a hundred and five healthy sovereigns for an excessively nebulous, ghostlike and attenuated option indeed. But it was the best he could do—only he caught himself wishing that the child had been a little more sophisticated. He felt that he could have made a better trade with someone a little less obviously just out of the nursery.

"Damn these {{wg:flapper|flappers}}!" he said to his horse. "They know nothing, and they do better out of their infernal innocence than women who have spent half their lives and all their beauty in gaining experience."

Then suddenly his mood changed, as if an idea had occurred to him.

"The very thing!" he exclaimed. "By Jove, that hundred was money well spent, after all!"

He rode on, smiling.


III

WITHIN a space of hours Winnie became aware that she appeared to have made three new conquests during the weekend—namely, Cyril Fitzmedley, tied in steel-strong though silky-looking chains to Vivien Foxelen though he was; Major F. Tigris Mountarden and his brilliant wife. Hitherto the Mountardens had not exactly fatigued themselves in their efforts at cordiality to Winnie.

The young, verdant and slightly sappy Cyril she took rather as a matter of course. He was different from whole battalions of his like only in that he possessed far more money than was good for him. And although Winnie did not precisely shoulder him roughly away, she found him absurdly easy to understand and deal with. His position—with her—was weak, very weak, and she took care to let him see that she knew it. But with the Mountardens it was different and more difficult. The major's increased cordiality she could understand.

"He does not mean to lose sight of me, and he wants to become closer friends because of Lullaby," said Winnie to herself. "But why should Mrs. Mountarden be so gushing? Especially as May Fasterton says that Cyril was prone to worship at her shrine in Vivien's absence until he transferred his spare worship to me."

She decided that the major had asked his wife to be nice to her, no reason being immediately apparent.

Certainly the Mountardens were charming to her; so much so that an invitation to stay a little while with them at their place in town was extended to the girl and accepted by her. She agreed to go on to them from Hawkshover—indeed, to leave with them in their big limousine. Winnie was young, but not so young that she disdained to consult her friend, worldly wise Lady Fasterton, about accepting the invitation.

"Oh, yes, go, my dear! They are all right—no worse than the rest of us, I think. They'll give you a good time. But don't play there."

"Play?"

"Cards—roulette—that sort of thing, child. They play very high at Mountardens', and level-headed little woman as you are, you might get bitten. I know, Winnie. I cost Fasterton lots of money there some years ago, when I was more like you than I am now, you sweet little thing. They make a flutter a very pleasant sensation at Mountardens'. You will enjoy yourself without gambling there. I'll come in there when I get back to town."

So Winnie went back to London, convinced that the major was not only after Lullaby, but that he purposed winning her in preference to paying money for her.

"That is quite, quite obvious," thought Winnie as, curled up in a luxurious corner of the big comfortable car with the Mountardens, she watched the countryside swing silently past. "Quite obvious, and yet—and yet——"

Her brain, her reason, was not satisfied.

Felis tigris is a tolerably catholic feeder. Hungry, he will eat almost anything he can bite. He is not particular as to quality, but he is something of a stickler for quantity. He likes bulk—big mouthfuls. And she did not feel mathematically sure that she and Lullaby were quite a tiger-sized mouthful. In her best ingénue manner she had learned quite a good deal about the Mountardens since she had collected the major's hundred guineas, and it seemed to her that she hardly did either Felis Tigris or his wife justice in assuming that they were not capable of a rather more adroit way of getting Lullaby than winning her with cards or a roulette wheel.

"They don't know how much I have in reserve," mused Winnie, her lovely eyes absently studying the rather heavy and bulbous jaw hinges of the major—a sign, her daddy had once told her, of ruthlessness and possibly brutality. "And they can have no reason to think that I could not pay what I lose, if I lose"—she smiled faintly—"without parting with my little race horse. It's—somehow it's clumsy, ponderous. Yes, it is taking a mountain to crush a molehill."

But it was very pleasant, very restful and lulling to be petted as the major and his wife—a dark, virile beauty in the well-known hidden-fire, passionate, or Spanish style—proceeded to pet Winnie. Before she had been a day in their big, elaborately comfortable and expensively fitted house near Eaton Square the girl realized that if she were their only and idolized daughter they could not have made more fuss over her, and it was delicately and subtly done. Neither the major nor his wife made any mistakes. There was a charming semi-motherly touch in Fay Mountarden's manner toward the girl, and the major was something between old Uncle Henry, papa, and a courtly old admirer who was much too courtly to say so.

"All for Lullaby?" asked Winnie softly of Faithful-Little-Friend-in-the-Mirror in her room that evening before dinner. She curled up on a big settle before the electric fire and thought diligently. But her reflection led her nowhere, save to a decision to question Cyril Fitzmedley, who was dining at the Mountardens' that evening with two or three other guests, on a few points concerning the major's position as a racing man. It might give her some hint that would prove useful, she fancied.

"Of course, all this attention may be due to their personal liking for me," said she, smiling. "But there was no sign that they were particularly fond of me at Hawkshover until Lullaby was mine, so I don't think it is me that is the attraction. It must be Lullaby. They want something from me, I am quite sure of that. Well, we shall see. Meantime——"

It was quite a joyous little evening. A delightful, cozy, well-put-on dinner, a little music—not too much—some bridge, and later roulette. There were eight young people there—five boys of about Cyril's type, three with their wives. The bridge illumined life for the ladies in the drawing-room—they played a tolerably tight game, Winnie observed—while as the evening drew on the men forgathered round the roulette wheel.

Winnie had plenty of opportunities for conversation with Cyril. She gathered all she wished for from the youth, who, if his affection for her was merely his left-hand affection—the right-hand variety presumably being reserved for Vivien Foxelen—it was clearly of an intensely affectionate nature.

"Did Major Mountarden tell you he wanted to buy Lullaby from me, Sir Cyril?" asked Winnie.

"Yes, rather—what? But you wouldn't sell her, Miss Winnie."

Winnie gazed kindly at him.

"I don't think I should like to sell your present to me," she said softly. "Besides, I love Lullaby, and Mr. Harmon says that she might easily win a race."

Sir Cyril nodded wisely, his face lighting up. Winnie was an agreeable addition to the major's plentiful champagne.

"Very wise, dear Miss Winnie. Lullaby is a very good, very promisin' yearling. Don't you part with her. She might turn out wonderfully well. I always believed in her."

Winnie spared him a few radiations of good fellowship, listening respectfully. She would cheerfully have staked a good deal of money against his recognizing Lullaby among a dozen of his yearlings.

"Hasn't the major any yearlings of his own?" she asked presently.

"I think so—several very promisin' ones. He doesn't need your pet so badly. He has one beauty, I know—a Projectile colt. Picked him up for a trifle too. They say that if this colt trains on he will be a sensation. But tell me about yourself, Miss Winnie. Are you enjoying yourself here? You have a flat in town, haven't you?"

But here they were interrupted. Bridge had begun in the drawing-room and the boys were going to have some roulette with the major.

Winnie watched them for a little. She was very interested in their play. She would have disclaimed any intimate knowledge of roulette, for, as she told them shyly, she had never seen a real game for what she called real money before; and that was perfectly true. But though she did not speak of it, there had been a period during her daddy's career when he had been possessed of a devil who led him to believe he had discovered a system which was fated to freeze all other systems out of existence. He and Winnie had spun no more than thirty thousand turns of a small roulette wheel before the perfectly ghastly array of paper losses discouraged the aforesaid devil, cured Captain O'Wynn and convinced his daughter that, regarded as means of livelihood, roulette belonged to the stuff that mirages are made of.

So, having watched long enough to realize that the stakes were not low, that the boys were not precisely experts, that their methods of playing were perhaps champagnely optimistic, and that one or two others were expected to drop in presently for some baccarat, though it was near midnight, Winnie unobtrusively departed to bed.


IV

WHEN, a few days later, Winnie said demurely at lunch that she was permitting Cyril Fitzmedley to take her to tea at the Astoritz that afternoon, nothing but smiles and quiet encouragement greeted her announcement. Everything was quite couleur de rose. The major fired off a playful reminder that he still had an eagle eye on Lullaby and must enlist Cyril's powers of persuasion in his aid, and Mrs. Mountarden had so friendly a word for Cyril that she had evidently forgiven his defection from her. It was all very jolly—so free, so homelike, so unwolfy.

"Bring Cyril back to dine, darling," said Mrs. Mountarden. "There will be one or two people in—enough for some bridge."

Winnie promised. The Mountardens, she had long ago found, were never without dinner guests who, as the evening wore on, became bridge or roulette or baccarat battlers.

That afternoon, cozily ensconced in an extremely retired corner of the Astoritz with Sir Cyril, the girl discovered that the too-wealthy youth was apparently in the mood to press right romantically his left-handed wooing. But for a little she subtly shouldered him away from the subject of hearts that beat as one.

"You know, Cyril," she said, dropping her lids for an instant, "I don't understand games very well; but surely, surely you all play a great deal and for very high stakes at the Mountardens', don't you?" Her tone was timidly chiding. Cyril looked very much the man of the world.

"Well, certainly one can always get a thrill at the major's," he confessed.

"Ah, but don't you lose a great deal? I—I—don't like to think of you losing so heavily," she sighed.

"That's simply toppin' of you, dear Miss Winnie—oh, toppin'! But don't worry. I can afford to lose what I lose, you know."

Winnie nodded.

"Yes, I know you are awfully rich. Have you lost very much during the last week at the Mountardens'? Men are so bold and reckless!"

Cyril hesitated. Then, evidently believing that it would invest him with a species of terrible glory in her blue eyes as it did in his own, he informed her that he had won heavily during the early part of Winnie's stay at the Mountarden place, but that he had lost far more heavily during the latter end of the week.

"I have dropped four thousand during the week," he said, staring at her. And so little did this lucky son of a rich father realize exactly what the sum really meant that it might have been fourpence. Winnie saw that.

"I shall take it back from Mountarden—when the luck turns," he added airily.

Winnie was suitably impressed. When she had recovered she asked another question:

"How reckless you are! Have you played long at the major's?"

"I used to play there a good deal, but I gave up goin' there a few months ago when I—I got tired of it."

He meant when he first became engaged to Vivien Foxelen.

"I only started dining there again, or calling in later, when I knew you were staying there," he added boldly. "But let's drop the Mountardens and talk of you, Winnie."

Winnie said nothing. Her silence seemed to encourage him, and quite suddenly the spoiled child and the juvenile but developing wolf flamed out in him. He put it just well enough to allow of Winnie listening, but no better than that. He made it quite clear that his matrimonial future was unalterably fixed with the comparatively poor but extremely well-connected and excessively blue-blooded Vivien Foxelen, and for whom in his fashion he reserved his right-handed love. He hinted, too, that his father's will had something to do with the Foxelen alliance. But, that understood, the left-handed portion of his devotion and income was wholly at Winnie's disposal. He spoke of allowances, he babbled of cozy flats and he burbled of motors. Upon the joys of houseboats he held forth, nor did he neglect to touch upon the charms of Monte Carlo. To Paris he referred enthusiastically also, and dwelt, too, upon millinery, silks, satins and jewels. But in his discourse—and he was young enough to look slightly sheepish throughout—he made no mention of the simple and less-complicated aids to the social fabric, such as plain golden rings. Diamonds, emeralds and rubies he spoke of, also sables; but he seemed unaware of the simpler product of the honest goldsmith's art. Deeds of gift upon parchment, in fair black and white, he did not exclude from his eloquence; but he uttered nothing concerning those plain but wholesome slips of paper called marriage certificates. Finally he ran down, gulped and was silent.

Winnie looked at him curiously, with a quite-honest curiosity. He had insulted her pretty badly—about as badly as he could have done—but she bore him no ill will for that. She was not even angry. She realized that quite a lot of men were like him, though she hoped that some day she might meet one who was not. But she really wondered that he could not see the difference between herself and Vivien Foxelen; not the surface difference, for his proposal implied that probably he did see that, but the intellectual difference.

With his three-quarters of a million and her wits she could have put him anywhere—might even have made him worth while. Vivien, cold, unenthusiastic, correct but dull, could do nothing for him. Winnie doubted even whether that slip of the aristocracy cared for him at all. But in any case Winnie would not have had him. Her ideas and arrangements about matrimony concerned a different type of man from Cyril Fitzmedley.

A time was to come when he would squirm a little and feel warm to think that he had ever had the impudence and folly to imagine that Winnie O'Wynn was a suitable candidate for his left-handed love, and staring with considerable and increasing discontent into the blue eyes shining before him he became vaguely and most uncomfortably aware of some strange premonition of this. Then Winnie smiled.

"I forgive you, Cyril," she said gently. "Don't blush so. I know you will be ashamed some day. You look as if you were going to cry. But that's vanity, not heartbreak." Her voice was like a velvet whip, but one that cut like rawhide. "I think we needn't be enemies because of it." She rose. "You know, I am sure you could be quite nice—nice in your soul, I mean—if you tried. I would think it over if I were you. I am sure it really isn't necessary to be a wolf in order to get most fun out of life. There now, it's forgotten—finished."

And it was—except for the penalty. Winnie never forgot the penalty. Wolves, even baby wolves, must expect to pay for the luxury of being wolfy—naturally. Besides, she felt that she could afford to be forgiving. She had learned all she need to know of the real reason why the Mountardens had been so excessively kind and indulgent to her.

Cyril, a little—but very little—subdued, went back to the Maison Mountarden with her—the Foxelens were visiting a political marquis, a relative, in Scotland—but he saw nothing of her after dinner. She pleaded a headache and vanished to her own room immediately after leaving the dining room. She wanted to think over her discovery.

"I knew I was right when I called the major a tiger man," she told herself presently, when, luxuriously relaxed and kimonoed before the big mirror, she began to consider her problems.

"But how clever he is! I wonder I guessed at all. I see how it is. I am too innocent, too trusting. Yes, I am too credulous. And yet it was clever to use Lullaby as a mask—an excuse. I believed it! But really they are using me as a decoy for Cyril Fitzmedley. I felt somehow that Major and Mrs. Mountarden were pouncing on me with great, soft, velvety paws—tigers' paws! They knew Cyril's feelings towards me the moment he gave me Lullaby. Well, they chose the weapons. They can hardly blame me—an orphan, almost one and nearly friendless in the world—if I fight them with the sort of weapons they use themselves."

She smiled and rang for Mrs. Mountarden's maid to brush her beautiful hair.

She rose early next morning—so early, indeed, that the gray fingers of the dawn had only just begun to pluck back the thick veils of night. Silent as a kitten, Winnie embarked on what seemed likely to develop into a tour of inspection through part of the house. She went first to the roulette room, from which presently she emerged with happy eyes, and went down to the smaller of the rooms immediately underneath—the major's den. She was in the den perhaps fifteen minutes, and during almost all that time her attention was fully occupied with the tall gun cabinet, a massive bit of furniture reaching from floor to ceiling. The major was notoriously, even ferociously fastidious about his guns. He cleaned them himself, and kept them in the specially built wood-fronted cabinet, to which, as to the den itself, the servants were forbidden access.

The cabinet was locked. The key Winnie found in the top drawer of the major's writing desk. She appeared to have a desire to study the guns in the cabinet, which was big enough to hold forty, though she found only a pair.

Very sweet and innocent she looked in her dressing gown as she stood in the dawn in that tiny room peering with big blue eyes to the depths of the big cabinet. She was smiling when presently she came out and passed, soft as some lovely little ghost, up the thickly carpeted stairs to her bedroom.

"Yes, Felis tiqris," she said. "Eater of men, to say nothing of lonely little girls who must fight for themselves with the best weapons they can find."

Then she nestled down again in the big soft bed and in a minute was sound asleep.


V

WINNIE made two calls on the following morning. The first was upon that (illegible text) and breezy-mannered agent of Finch Court, Southampton Row, Mr. George H. Jay, with whom she in the course of her career had already transacted business.

Mr. Jay professed himself charmed to see her, and produced a welcoming laugh nearly as loud as the wind bellowing across the moors. His eyes, though, were the eyes of a careful man. But he need not on this occasion have put himself so rigidly on guard against too-baffling innocence and naïveté which oddly enough had cost him a good deal of money almost every time he had endeavored to turn an honest penny out of it, for Winnie only required a very small favor from him—so small that she seemed really shy about bothering him about it.

Looking at her as she sat before him, fair as a flower, and much better dressed, the enchanting half promise of a smile on her perfect lips, a gift—optical—of gold in her (illegible text) hair, of cool ivory, rose-tinted, in her cheek, and with lullabies in her deep, deep eyes, he warmed to her as always—as fatal a feminine problem to mere man as ever experienced Mr. Jay had contemplated.

"I am afraid you will think me very foolish, dear Mr. Jay," she said. "But I am nervous. I have been staying with a Major and Mrs. Mountarden, and I expect to leave there to-day this afternoon at out teatime. I"—her eyes were downcast—"I am afraid that, the major will try to force unwelcome attentions on me before I leave. Do you understand, please, Mr. Jay?"

Mr. Jay nodded vigorously. Oh, yes, he understood perfectly! It was a shame!

"And I was hoping that, perhaps you would not mind very much if I begged you to help me in a certain way."

Mr. Jay was very willing.

"Why, of course, dear Miss Winnie! You have come to the right man. Old George H. Jay will always be ready to help you against the wolves that infest this big city," he declared. "I know them—I know what they are." Probably he did—he was one of them. "What would you like me to do, Miss Winnie?"

Winnie gave him a foolscap envelope sealed with a big blob of red sealing wax.

"Would it irritate you, please, Mr. Jay, if I asked you to stand opposite Major Mountarden's house with this envelope just showing out of your pocket—so that I can see it from the house—from half past four to half past five o'clock this afternoon?"

Mr. Jay looked puzzled but willing.

"Why, certainly not, my dear little lady!" he agreed, slowly, staring rather keenly at her. "That's not very much to do."

"Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Jay! You are always so kind. I think you are the kindest man I know," cried Winnie. "And I forgot to ask if you would tell a taxi to stop at the house to pick me up at about half past five."

"Well, that will be easy enough, too," he said. "May I inquire why you want me to do this, Miss Winnie?"

"Oh, yes, of course! I want to be able to point out that my guardian is waiting for me—if necessary."

His heavy face cleared. The last time he had acted as temporary guardian to this charming little ward he had netted a wholesome two hundred pounds for himself, the first incoming he had had from Winnie's direction, though he had experienced heavy and rather inexplicable outgoings towards her.

"Oh, certainly I see! I regard that as a great compliment, Miss Winnie," he said.

"And you won't think I am purse-proud or arrogant will you, please, if I say I expect to pay you a fee?" inquired Winnie anxiously.

"Oh, no, not at all!" said Mr. Jay, marveling at the extraordinary way in which the child seemed to retain her fresh, innocent, unspoiled outlook. "Not at all!"

Winnie rose.

"How fortunate I am to have one good friend!"

She smiled wistfully, permitted him to shake hands and left. Next she went to her own flat and announced to her acidulated and somewhat forbidding housekeeper, Mrs. Darnall, that she would be home that afternoon at five-forty-five precisely. Then joyously back to the Mountardens to lunch.

It was a big bridge afternoon there, and the card fiends rallied thither from afar as to the sound of the last no trump. Practically everyone in the Mountarden inner circle that mattered was there, and several of the roulette and baccarat devotees dropped in during the afternoon.

Winnie had informed her housekeeper that she would return to her flat for good at five-forty-five. But at five o'clock there was apparent no sign of her intending departure from the Mountardens' establishment. On the contrary, few of the chattering crowd in the big drawing-room during a bridge armistice looked more reposeful or permanently settled there than Winnie. Exquisite in one of her more-careful frocks, she was sitting on a lounge with Major Mountarden, who, having just taken a mahogany-colored one, had dropped down beside her for a few seconds' respite from his not very arduous labors as host.

"Well, little Miss Winnie, have you decided to let me have Lullaby?" he said gayly, using his stock opening.

Winnie smiled.

"I don't think so, major. You don't really need her, do you, with Royal Splendour and the Projectile colt already yours?"

The major's eyes flickered slightly.

"When did I tell you of the Projectile colt, my dear?" he asked.

"It was Cyril Fitzmedley who told me." she explained. "I guessed a little while ago that, you didn't really want Lullaby at all."

"But I paid you a hundred guineas for the option of buying her," laughed the major.

"Yes, I thought that was so clever. It quite convinced me for a time that you really wanted her. I think you are wonderful, major. Don't mind my saying that. It made me quite believe that the reason you and dear Mrs. Mountarden invited me here and were are so kind was because you really wanted Lullaby and meant to persuade me to sell her."

The major seemed a shade puzzled, but he still laughed.

"Well, my dear, you have discovered my little strategy, haven't you?" he said.

"Yes," smiled Winnie, "I have discovered your little strategy, dear major. I know now that it wasn't on account of Lullaby at all that you invited me here."

"What do you mean, child?"

A sharpness tinged the major's voice, and his eyes narrowed slightly.

"Yes," purred Winnie softly, "I know now that why you wanted me here was to act as decoy for Cyril Fitzmedley and his roulette money, which he had given up bringing here."

She watched those bulbs at his jaw hinges enlarge as his teeth clenched hard. A vein swelled suddenly on his forehead so that it looked like a cord, and a pale glare blazed in his eyes which thrilled into the girl a certain sense of relief that she had deliberately chosen a crowded drawing-room in which to deal with him. She saw that she had been right in her classification. This was a tiger man, dangerous and ferocious at bay.

"That is not true," he said, controlling himself.

"I put it badly, perhaps, major," she smiled. "You know how I dread hurting anyone's feelings, though people don't seem ever to care how they hurt mine. But if I put everything quite clearly—it would be fairer, wouldn't it?"

"Ah, yes, be fair to him, Miss Winnie!" chuckled a youth who, passing the couch, had caught her last words.

She smiled back at him as he moved on obviously believing he had mildly enlivened a tiny, half-playful flirtation. Not a soul in the room who noticed Winnie and the major dreamed that they were discussing business, and business of a razor-keen variety at that.

"You've got hold of some wild idea that I don't follow," said the major in a low, malign voice. But he smiled—albeit a little stiffly—as he spoke. He had to.

"I will try to explain better, major. Some months ago Cyril Fitzmedley gave up coming here to gamble. You missed badly the money you won from him. At Hawkshover you found out that he had transferred his—his left-hand love, I always call it, from Mrs. Mountarden to me. So you contrived to get me here—Lullaby helped—and Cyril began again his old custom. Only this time I was the decoy, and I did not realize it until Cyril had lost four thousand pounds. I suppose that things get very fast and furious in the roulette room after I have gone to bed and the wine has done its work. There, I think that is all I wanted to say." Her blue eyes were fixed squarely on his. "I have to ask you to let me have Cyril's four thousand pounds back, and you must promise never to let him gamble here again, please, major. There, that is all! I am sure it is all very painful to you, and I don't like it very well either," she concluded rather plaintively.

He stared at her like a man who does not know quite what is happening. He looked as if he might either laugh at her, as at a child who relates an amusing fancy, or try to strangle her. The gossip, laughter, tinkle of teacups and glasses went serenely on around them. Finally the major smiled—a tight, unmirthful smile.

"You funny, romantic, imaginative child!" he said. "That sort of thing is not done nowadays, at least not deliberately. But it's rather quaint how well the fairy tale you have made up seems to fit things. Only it's an accidental fit, my dear. Whether you are just a little duffer, or an adventuress, I don't know; but in any case, child, it is rather bad taste to raise the thing. It is perfectly true that I have won a few thousand from Fitzmedley this week, but that in a circle of sporting gentlemen is an almost daily occurrence. It may be quite the other way round next week."

Winnie sighed.

"Well, at least, I tried not to hurt your feelings, major, didn't I?" she said. "But you make me do it." She leaned nearer, sinking her voice to a whisper. "Listen, major, and take care, for I am afraid I am going to give you a surprise. Do all sporting gentlemen who keep a roulette wheel keep it on a special table with heavy carved legs and a big electromagnetic machine, in an almost terrifying tangle of wires and things, in a gun cabinet in the room underneath, all connected up with the roulette table in some way? And do sporting gentlemen have a set of switch keys hidden under a silent panel under the banker's end of the roulette table?"

She felt the tremor of the big settee as he went rigid.

"Look down, major," she advised kindly. "People will notice your eyes. They will think you are going to spring at me."

He was not yet beaten, and she guessed that. So precisely as the tiger tamer with the whip lashes the impulse to spring out of his pupil's mind, the girl lashed the impulse of violence out of her tiger.

"Control yourself, major," she said. "It would take perhaps one minute to guide all these people to see the surprise of their lives. Everyone is interested in electric puzzles, especially when they are fixed under roulette wheels. I expect that device has kept you in luxury for a long time, but now you are discovered, do you prefer to pay me back Cyril's four thousand, or will you be exposed?"

He relaxed a little, and she knew that he had given in.

"I will wait here while you get Cyril's money, please, major," she said—"in notes."

"I haven't four thousand in notes in the house," he said.

"Oh, do smile, major, please! People will think you are annoyed about something. If you have only three thousand nine hundred and ninety it will do. But you must play fair. There is a detective waiting for me outside. You can see him from the window. He does not know why he is waiting, but if I do not appear with my trunks at the front door by half past five he has orders to open a sealed packet of instructions. Come and see for yourself. Quickly, for it is twenty minutes past five already."

Like a man in a dream, with a fixed and painful smile on his lips, the major crossed the room with Winnie. As she had said, a man was loitering on the far side of the road. From his side pocket protruded slightly the top of a foolscap envelope, the red blob of sealing wax was plainly visible. He looked like a private detective to the major. Even as they gazed out upon him he stopped a taxi and waved it over to the front door of the Mountarden house.

The major was satisfied. That fixed smile still upon his face, he turned away and went out. A minute or two later Winnie followed him. But she remained quite near the drawing-room door until he returned with a thick packet in his hand. He thrust it at her, white and trembling with fury, and drew breath for the whispered maledictions with which he was charged. But Winnie, slender and dainty as a child in a pretty party frock, cool as a white rose, stopped him.

"Oh, don't spoil everything by being uselessly angry, major!" she said. "There is no time to swear at me now."

She was running through the thick wad of hundred-pound notes.

"Sixteen, seventeen—you tried to make use of me, you know—twenty—you pounced upon me like a tiger—twenty-two, four, six, eight, nine, thirty—to be your decoy—thirty-two—and even a little lonely unprotected girl has her feelings—thirty-six, thirty-eight, and two fifties is thirty-nine. Why, I make it a hundred pounds short, major!"

She smiled angelically.

"Oh, never mind that! It will set off the money for the option on Lullaby. And of course, you must stop the electric roulette, you know, major."

She moved past him. He lifted his hand with a low, bitter sound in his throat.

"Ah, no!" she said. "I have only three minutes left. I don't think you could kill me in three minutes. The detective will open his envelope before you can do it."

His hands fell. She was so openly unafraid of him that it made him uncertain. Then she ran up the stairs. The servants were already bringing down her trunks. The major hung restlessly about the hall till she appeared again—as charming as ever in a furry-collared coat and a little French hat with a tassel. But it was at the dispatch case in her hand that he stared, half fascinated. Then the door opened, revealing the waiting taxi and Mr. Jay, closed again, and Winnie was gone.

"Thank you ever so much, Mr. Jay," said she, leaning out of the taxi. "It was exactly as I feared—in there. But I knew I could rely on you to be ready."

She beamed upon him and passed him a folded note. It was one of the fifties—good pay, but Winnie was never mean. Mr. Jay smiled as he raised his hat. He was not surprised that Major Mountarden desired to pay his attentions to Winnie, though he was not thinking of the kind of attentions that Winnie had meant. He looked after her cab for a moment, then suddenly remembered the envelope of sealed instructions, which he had forgotten to return. He looked at it and hesitated.

"Oh, well, it's addressed to me anyway," he said. "After all, one can't help being interested in her—pretty, innocent little thing."

He ripped open the envelope and took out a sheet of note paper. It was quite blank. Winnie liked George H. Jay—in the sense that she did not dislike him—but she saw no reason to admit him more than about a sixteenth of an inch into her secrets, and it was to the glimpse of the envelope and the red sealing wax that she had trusted to clinch the doubts of Major Mountarden. Mr. Jay slowly tore up the blank sheet.

"Queer!" he mused. "Queer, that!" He shrugged his shoulders. "Impulsive as a bird—probably tore a sheet in two and put the wrong half in the envelope. Yes, impulsive as a kitten—and prettier." He scowled at the Maison Mountarden.

"A pretty girl gets a thin time of it in this burg," he muttered as he turned away. "Pestered and pursued all the time!"

Another thought struck him—an odd, rather surprising one.

"I had an idea once that I could employ her in my business," he said to himself with a slight frown. "But—but"—he fingered the fifty—"I'm damned if it doesn't begin to look to me as if she's employing me—in her business!"

But however it may have been with Mr, Jay, Winnie was not harassed with any doubts as to who employed who; nor did she seem pestered. Indeed, she had rarely looked more tranquil.

"And that more than provides for Lullaby," she smiled, nursing the dispatch case "until she begins to earn her own living. If Cyril had not insulted me so I would have given him back this money, perhaps. But he tried to be a wolf and pounce on me; the major tried to be a tiger and pounce on him and me; and the only way I could possibly defend myself, of course, was to pounce on them both."

She smiled sweetly at the strip of looking-glass, and leaning back began her favorite method of resting her mind—namely, counting a flock of imaginary bank notes, passing one by one over a bank counter into her own account.

A tiny clock chimed as presently she entered her flat. It was five-forty-five to the tick. Mrs. Darnall was ready with tea as previously instructed.

"Dear Mrs. Darnall," purred Winnie and proceeded to put in a telephone call to Newmarket.

She was not exactly anxious about Lullaby, but she liked to know how the filly was bearing up without her. After all Winnie was a woman, even if she could tame tigers and had a way with wolves.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.


The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 71 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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