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The Blond Beast
by [?]


IT had been almost too easy–that was young Millner’s first feeling, as he stood again on the Spence door-step, the great moment of his interview behind him, and Fifth Avenue rolling its grimy Pactolus at his feet.

Halting there in the winter light, with the clang of the ponderous vestibule doors in his ears, and his eyes carried down the perspective of the packed interminable thoroughfare, he even dared to remember Rastignac’s apostrophe to Paris, and to hazard recklessly under his small fair moustache: “Who knows?”

He, Hugh Millner, at any rate, knew a good deal already: a good deal more than he had imagined it possible to learn in half an hour’s talk with a man like Orlando G. Spence; and the loud-rumouring city spread out there before him seemed to grin like an accomplice who knew the rest.

A gust of wind, whirling down from the dizzy height of the building on the next corner, drove sharply through his overcoat and compelled him to clutch at his hat. It was a bitter January day, a day of fierce light and air, when the sunshine cut like icicles and the wind sucked one into black gulfs at the street corners. But Millner’s complacency was like a warm lining to his shabby coat, and heaving steadied his hat he continued to stand on the Spence threshold, lost in the vision revealed to him from the Pisgah of its marble steps. Yes, it was wonderful what the vision showed him. … In his absorption he might have frozen fast to the door-step if the Rhadamanthine portals behind him had not suddenly opened to let out a slim fur-coated figure, the figure, as he perceived, of the youth whom he had caught in the act of withdrawal as he entered Mr. Spence’s study, and whom the latter, with a wave of his affable hand, had detained to introduce as “my son Draper.”

It was characteristic of the odd friendliness of the whole scene that the great man should have thought it worth while to call back and name his heir to a mere humble applicant like Millner; and that the heir should shed on him, from a pale high-browed face, a smile of such deprecating kindness. It was characteristic, equally, of Millner, that he should at once mark the narrowness of the shoulders sustaining this ingenuous head; a narrowness, as he now observed, imperfectly concealed by the wide fur collar of young Spence’s expensive and badly cut coat. But the face took on, as the youth smiled his surprise at their second meeting, a look of almost plaintive good-will: the kind of look that Millner scorned and yet could never quite resist.

“Mr. Millner? Are you–er–waiting?” the lad asked, with an intention of serviceableness that was like a finer echo of his father’s resounding cordiality.

“For my motor? No,” Millner jested in his frank free voice. “The fact is, I was just standing here lost in the contemplation of my luck”–and as his companion’s pale blue eyes seemed to shape a question, “my extraordinary luck,” he explained, “in having been engaged as your father’s secretary.”

“Oh,” the other rejoined, with a faint colour in his sallow cheek. “I’m so glad,” he murmured: “but I was sure–” He stopped, and the two looked kindly at each other.

Millner averted his gaze first, almost fearful of its betraying the added sense of his own strength and dexterity which he drew from the contrast of the other’s frailness.

“Sure? How could any one be sure? I don’t believe in it yet!” he laughed out in the irony of his triumph.

The boy’s words did not sound like a mere civility–Millner felt in them an homage to his power.

“Oh, yes: I was sure,” young Draper repeated. “Sure as soon as I saw you, I mean.”

Millner tingled again with this tribute to his physical straightness and bloom. Yes, he looked his part, hang it–he looked it!