Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Rex Beach > Auction Block > This page

The Auction Block, a novel by Rex Beach

Chapter 24

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

On Tuesday afternoon a badly shaken, exceedingly frightened young man called at Campbell Pope's boarding-house.

"Good Lord, Bob! Been on another bat?" cried Pope, at sight of his caller. Wharton took a fleeting glance at himself in a mirror and nodded, noting for the first time the sacks beneath his eyes, the haggard lines from nostrils to lip-corners.

"I'm all in. Lorelei's quit me," he said, dully.

"Quit you!" Pope frowned. "Tell me about it."

"Well, I climbed the vine again and fell off. She packed up-- disappeared--been gone since Saturday night, and I can't find her. Nobody seems to know where she is. I came up for air Sunday, but ... I'm hard hit, Pope. I'm ready to quit the game if I can't find her; me for a sea-foam pillow, sure. Oh, I'm not kidding--I'll start walking from here toward Jersey. ... God! I keep thinking that maybe SHE took the river. You see, I'm all gone." He sank into a chair, twitching and trembling in a nervous collapse.

"Better have a drink," Pope suggested; but Bob returned roughly:

"That's what broke up the sketch. I got stewed at Fennellcourt-- high-hat week-end party--fast crowd, and the usual trimmings. Never again! That is, if I find my wife."

"Fennellcourt! Suppose you tell me all about it. If there's a chance that it's suicide--" Pope's reportorial instinct brought the last word into juxtaposition with "Fennellcourt," and he saw black head-lines.

"Judge for yourself. Maybe you can help me; nobody else can." Bob recounted the story of the house-party; how he and Lorelei had met Bert Hayman; how, once in the company of his old friends, he had succumbed to his weakness, and how he had caroused most of Saturday night. He told Pope that he could remember little of Sunday's occurrences, having been plunged in an alcoholic stupor so benumbing that not until late that evening had he fully grasped the fact that Lorelei had gone. Even then he was too befuddled to act. Neither Mrs. Fennell nor her husband could give him any help, and Bert Hayman, who had been with Lorelei all Saturday evening, had no explanation to give of her departure. Bob remembered in passing that Bert had been confined to his room all day Sunday as the result of a fall or an accident of some sort. Monday morning, while still suffering from the effects of his spree, Bob had returned to the city to find his home deserted, and for twenty- four sleepless hours now he had been hunting for his wife. He had called up Lorelei's family, but they could give him no clue; nor could he find trace of her in any other quarter. So, as a last resort before calling in the police, he had come to Pope. When he had finished his somewhat muddled tale he stared at the critic with a look of dumb appeal.

Campbell began in a matter-of-fact, positive tone. "She's altogether too healthy to think of suicide; rest easy on that score. You're weak enough emotionally to do such a thing, but not she. Besides, why should she? I can't imagine that any act of yours could very deeply offend anybody, even your wife. However--" He studied briefly. "Have you been to see Miss Demorest?"

"Sure! Adoree hasn't seen her."

"Possibly!" Pope eyed his caller speculatively. "So you decided to jimmy her into society, eh! Who was at the party? Oh, Lord!" he exclaimed, as Bob muttered over the list of names. "How did she compare with those sacred cows?"

"Oh, great! The men went crazy over her--I knew they would."

"But how did the women treat her?"

"Why, all right. I didn't notice anything."

"What? No, of course you didn't. You were probably too drunk to notice much." Bob flushed. "You introduced her to the fastest people in New York, then left her entirely to her own resources while you went away and made an ass of yourself. Well, something must have happened to alarm her, and, since you were too maudlin to be of any assistance, she evidently took the bit in her teeth. I can't blame her. For Heaven's sake, why did you set her in with THAT crowd? If you wanted to take her slumming, why didn't you hire a guide and go into the red-light district?"

Bob defended himself listlessly. "That's the only crowd I know; it's the only set that's open to a Pittsburg furnace-man's son. Those people aren't so bad; I guess they're no worse than the rest. If a person goes looking for nastiness he can find it nearly anywhere. I never did--and I never saw anything very scandalous around that bunch."

"One's observations are never very keen when they're made through the bottom of a glass," observed Pope.

Bob exploded irritably. "All right, Lieutenant! Play 'Jerusalem' on the cornet while I pass the tambourine. Damn the post-mortems! I want my wife, not a 'Ballington Booth' on the terrors of intemperance. I've got to have her, too. I--can't last this way. She's the only person who can straighten me up. ... I was doing fine. Had a job ... I'll go straight to hell again if I don't find her." There was no doubt of the man's sincerity: his mental and his physical condition were obvious.

Pope did his best to repair the wreckage in some degree, and, having quieted the sufferer, he set out for Miss Demorest's home.

Adoree, clad in a slightly soiled negligee, answered his ring, then, recognizing him, blocked the door hastily, exposing a face overcast with defiance and contempt.

"Aha!" she exclaimed. "Aha!" and Pope's sensitive ego recoiled before the fierce challenge of her tone. Physically the caller stood his ground, but inwardly he retreated in disorder. Adoree never failed to affect him uncomfortably; for he was conscious of having wronged her, and he could in no way reconcile her public reputation with his personal impressions of her. His inability to keep her notorious character constantly in mind made him angry with himself; and, further, she offended him by assuming bewilderingly different aspects every time they met. Invariably she greeted him with contumely; invariably he arose to the challenge and overcame her attack; invariably she fought him on every subject. And yet all the time he vaguely suspected that they were really in complete accord and growing to like each other.

"I've come to see Lorelei," he explained, affably.

"Oh, you're looking for scandal, eh?" breathed Miss Demorest. "Well, you won't get it, body-snatcher!"

Pope bowed gravely. "You overwhelm me with your courtesy," he said. "I do not represent the press to-day. I'm here as a friend. Bob's nearly dead."

"Serves him right. I suppose you've left another reporter to take down his dying words for the evening paper."

"Don't be silly. I want to see--"

"She's not here."

"Then I'd like to talk with you." The door opened slightly, and Pope smiled, whereupon the opening narrowed. "No. You can't come in. I've just cleaned house."

In desperation the man exclaimed: "I won't sit down, but I must talk to you. Really, I must, about--ducks, if nothing else."

"Ducks!" Adoree's expression altered.

"Let's be sensible. I want you to like me." Pope tried to appear amiable, but the effort resulted in a painful smirk.


"We like the same things--let's be friends. You needn't tell me anything about Lorelei, but I do want your advice about Bob."

"I suppose there's no reason why you shouldn't come in. You'll probably wriggle in somehow, even if you have to steal a key. If you don't know the truth you'll probably make up something about Lorelei, as you did about me--Buzzard!" Pope began to perspire, as he always did when deeply embarrassed. But the door swung wide, and he entered with a strained, unnatural smile upon his face.

"You see I'm not concealing her anywhere," Miss Demorest challenged.

"Of course not. We never suspected you, but we're afraid something has happened to her."

"Something has."


Adoree tossed her head. "You're paid to find out."

"See here, I'm not always a newspaper man. Try and forget that side of me for once. Bob will drink himself to death, or do something equally foolish, if Lorelei doesn't come back. He's repentant. He's in a terrible condition. I really believe she can straighten him out if she'll have patience, and you know he's too good a man to lose. He thinks she left him because he got drunk, but I'm sure there must have been some other reason."

"I should say there was! You want scandal? I'll give you some." Adoree's eyes were flashing now. "If he's going to drown himself he ought to realize what he did and think it over when he comes up for the third time. Have you any idea what that girl went through out there on Long Island? Listen." She plumped herself down beside Pope and began to talk swiftly with an intensity of indignation that made her forgetful of her dishabille. She was animated; she had an expressive, impulsive manner of using her hands when interested, and now she gesticulated violently. She also squirmed, bounced, hitched, flounced; she seized Pope's arm, she emphasized her points from time to time by a shake or by a dig of her white fingers. When she had finished her story her shocked blue eyes interrogated his, and the critic roused himself with an effort. He found that he was tightly holding the fingers of her right hand, but dropped them and cleared his throat.

"You say she's staying here with you?"

"I didn't say so, but she is."

"Doesn't she care for Bob any more?"

"Y-yes! At first she was furious, but we've talked a good deal, and I think she does care--away down underneath. She may not know it herself, but she does, especially now that--"

"What?" asked Pope, as Adoree hesitated and flushed.

"Nothing! But she won't go back. She declares she won't spoil her whole life for a drunken wretch like him, and she's quite right, of course."

"She's quite wrong, of course! Bob's done pretty well for a man of his type, and he's had a hard lesson. After all, it's a woman's part to sacrifice--she's not happy unless she gives more than she gets. You and I must bring them together."


Pope had been thinking while he talked, and now he sketched his plan eagerly.

"You are perfectly detestable and horrid," she told him when he had finished, "but I suppose there must be some good in you. Don't think you argued me into this, however, for you didn't. There's an altogether different reason why I want those two to make up." She laid her hand upon his arm again, and when Pope caught her meaning his sallow cheeks were glowing and his eyes as bright as hers.

"Gee! You're all right!" said he. "I'll call for you after the show."

Adoree's smile was uncertain as she demurred. "Perhaps you'd better meet me here. What will people say?" But Pope was insistent.

We are accustomed to resent the efforts of our friends to arrange our affairs for us, and we pray for deliverance from their mistakes, yet without their assistance we would often make miserable failures of our lives. So it was in the case of Bob and Lorelei.

Burning with shame and resentment, she had been strong in her determination to end their marriage, and this frame of mind had continued for some time; but as her anger cooled she dimly understood that a change had come over her and that she no longer looked upon the world with the eyes of a girl. Simultaneously there came another discovery which completely upset all her calculations and to which she had not fully adjusted herself even up to the time of the critic's visit to Adoree. One great mystery she had solved; another, the deepest mystery of a woman's life, had begun to unfold, and as yet she could scarcely give it credence.

She was surprised when Adoree brought Campbell Pope home with her that night, and she was somewhat diverted by the complete change in their mutual attitude. Now that the first clash was over, now that they had expressed their dislike and disapproval of each other, they no longer quarreled. Pope was frankly admiring, and Adoree could not conceal her awe at Campbell's literary and musical ability. She explained to Lorelei: "I asked him in for the sake of the piano. I knew you were blue, and there's nothing so cheering as music."

But when Pope finally got around to play the result was not altogether happy. Adoree, to be sure, seemed delighted, but Lorelei felt herself gripped by a greater loneliness than usual. Pope's music was far from lively, and he had cunningly chosen the hour when it exerts its greatest emotional appeal. He was artist enough, moreover, to work his effects with certainty.

Lorelei sought relief at length in the seclusion of Adoree's rear room, and there in the midst of a "crying spell" Bob found her.

Her first quick resentment at the deception practised upon her melted at sight of him, for he had suffered, and he was evidently suffering now. He was not the Bob she had known, but chastened, repentant, speechless with a tremulous delight at seeing her again. In the next room Campbell played on, smoothing the way for a reconciliation.

Lorelei found herself in her husband's arms, listening dazedly to his passionate protestations and his earnest self-denunciation. Bob had received the fright of his life, his lesson had been seared into him, and he lost no time in telling his wife about it.

At last Lorelei laid her fingers upon his lips, her eyes misty and luminous with the light of a new and wondrous certainty.

"Wait! Let me speak," she said. "I've done a lifetime of thinking in these few days. I'm not sorry that I left you, for it has enabled me to see clearly. But I'll never leave you again, Bob, no matter what you do; I can't--"

He crushed her to him, then held her away at the hint of something unsaid. "You mean you've begun to love me?" he inquired, gladly.

"Perhaps. I don't know. SOMETHING has changed--tremendously." Under his bewildered gaze the blood rose, warming her cheeks; her eyes swam, but not with tears; her bosom was tremulous with the knowledge that clamored for freedom, and yet refused to come.

"Don't you understand, stupid?" she said, seeing him still mystified. She hid her face, then whispered in his ear, whereupon he fell to trembling, and the fervor of his embrace relaxed. He held her gently, tenderly, as if he suddenly found her to be a fragile thing.

"My dear!--my--DEAR!" And then he too hid his face as if blinded by a pitiless light. When he raised it tears glistened on his lashes and a happiness that was like pain pierced him. "Oh! If I had only known--" he choked. "Kid, what a fool I've been, never to think that this might come! I--can't believe it."

"It's true," she smiled, and her cheeks were still dyed with that virginal flush. "Perhaps that's why I've changed toward you-- something HAS happened, Bob, and you mustn't leave me now. I couldn't bear to do without you."

"YOU may forgive me," he cried, "but I'll never forgive myself. To think that I should learn of this right now--after what I did. Well, I'm through making new promises; I'm going to keep some of the old ones."

"I think it's about time we both came to earth."

"No need for you--you're the sensible one. If I can't straighten up on my own account and on yours, surely I can and will for-- this."

An hour later Adoree tiptoed back to the piano after a surreptitious peek into the back room, whence nothing but the faintest murmurs issued. Her face was radiant.

"You've played some high-priced divorce lawyer out of a good case, Mr. Cricket," she beamed on Campbell. "She's in his lap." Pope's rippling fingers paused, his hands dropped, and he sighed.

"I could have set them quarreling just as well, but the role of cupid suits me to-night." His shoulders drooped wearily; the feverish brightness of his eyes and the pallor of his thin face indicated that he had indeed spent all his nervous force.

"Cupid in a sweater!" Adoree exclaimed. "Well, I believe it, for your playing made me positively mushy. I've been hugging a sofa- cushion and dreaming of heroes for ever so long. Why, at this moment I'd marry the janitor."

With the eager shyness of a boy he inquired: "Do you really like to hear me play? Can I come and play for you again?"

"Not without a chaperon," she told him, positively; "wool tickles my cheek."

Pope rose hastily and in some embarrassment. He could write about love with a cynic's pen, but he could not bear to talk about it even in a joking way. He eyed the speaker with the frightened fascination of a charmed rabbit, until she laughed in mischievous enjoyment of his perturbation.

"Oh, never fear! It will take more than music to make me forget what you are. Say!" She yawned, doubled up her little fists, and stretched. "Won't you play something to make those lovers go home, so I can go to bed?"

He shook his head. "Not until we go to the nearest cafe and have a bite to eat."

"There are no cafes open at this hour."

In spite of her protestations that she was not hungry he bore her away with him, bareheaded as she was, and in the next block they found an unsuspected little place called the "Chauffeurs' Lunch," where a man was busy making sandwiches of the whitest bread and the most delicious-smelling Hamburger for a hungry cabby with a battered hat. And there they each ate a bowl of crackers and milk with a baked apple, using the arms of their chairs for tables. Pope's bill was forty cents, and, strangely enough, not even when he paid it did he remember that this was the woman for whose company at supper other men paid five hundred dollars. _

Read next: Chapter 25

Read previous: Chapter 23

Table of content of Auction Block


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book