It did seem, reflected Miss Diversey as she trudged down the corridor, that the easiest way to bury the woman part of a person was to become a trained nurse. Here she was, thirty-two?no, one must be honest with oneself; it was closer to thirty-three?and what were her prospects? That is to say, her romantic prospects? Nothing, simply nothing. The men she met in the travails of her profession were roughly of two kinds, she thought bitterly: those who paid no attention to her at all, and those who paid far too much. In the first category were doctors and male relatives of rich.patients; in the second were internes and male employees of rich patients. The first class didn’t recognize her as a woman at all, just a machine; Donald Kirk belonged to that class. The second kind wanted to?to take her apart with their grubby fingers to see what made her tick. That grovelling little Hubbell, now, she thought with a curl of her lip?Mr. Kirk’s butler and valet and Lord knows what else. When he was with his betters he was the soul of self-effacement and rectitude; but still and all she’d had to slap that pasty face of his only this morning. Patients, of course, didn’t count. You could hardly get goo-goo about a person when you fetched bedpans and that sort of thing. Now, Mr. Osborne was different . . . .

A gentle vagueness settled upon Miss Diversey’s hard features; almost a girlish smile. Thoughts of Mr. Osborne were?there was no denying it?pleasant. First of all, he was a gentleman; none of Hubbell’s low tricks for him. Come to think of it, he was in a third class, sort of in a class by himself. Not rich, and yet not a servant. As Mr. Kirk’s confidential assistant he was in between. Like one of the family and yet not like one of the family, as you might say; he worked on a salary like herself. That made it?somehow?very, very satisfying to Miss Diversey . . . . She wondered if she really hadn’t overstepped the bounds of propriety weeks and weeks ago, when she’d only just met Mr. Osborne. How had the talk drifted around to?she blushed faintly?marriage? Oh, nothing personal, of course; she’d merely said that she would never marry a man who couldn’t provide a good?a more than good?living. Oh, no. She’d seen too many marriages break up because of money; that is, lack of it. And Mr. Osborne had seemed so distressed, as if she’d hurt him; now, could that mean anything? Surely he wasn’t thinking . . .

Miss Diversey took a firm grip on her errant thoughts. Her amble had brought her to a door on the opposite side of the corridor from the Kirk suite. It was the last door on the wall, the door nearest the other corridor that led from the elevators to the Kirk apartment. A plain door, really an undistinguished member of the family of doors; and yet sight of it brought a slight flush to Miss Diversey’s cheeks, a flush subtly different from the angry red response to Dr. Kirk’s brimstone blasphemies. She tried the handle; it gave.

It wouldn’t hurt to peep in, she thought. If there were some one waiting in the anteroom it would mean that he?that Mr. Osborne was probably very busy. If the anteroom was empty, surely there wouldn’t be any harm in . . . under the circumstances . . . The old fossil couldn’t talk to her that way! . . . A person was human, wasn’t she?

She opened the door. The anteroom was?happy chance?empty. Directly opposite her was the only other door of the room, and it was closed. On the other side lay . . . She sighed and turned to go. But then she brightened and hurried in. A bowl of fresh fruit on the reading table against the wall between the windows beckoned. It was nice of Mr. Kirk to be so thoughtful of other people, even strangers; and the Lord knew enough of them came to see him and sat in the little anteroom, with its nice English oak furniture and its books and lamps and rug and flowers and things.

She pecked among the fruits, making up her mind. One of those huge sugar-pears, now? Hothouse, most likely. But no, it was too close to dinner. Possibly an apple . . . . Ah, tangerines! Now that she came to think of it, tangerines were her favorites. Better than oranges, because they were easier to peel. And they came apart so nicely!

She stripped the rind from the tangerine with the industry of a squirrel and proceeded to chew the damp, sweet morsels of orange with her strong teeth. The pips she spat daintily into the palm of her hand.

When she had finished she looked about, decided the room and the table were too trim and neat and clean to be defiled with pips and orange-peel, and cheerfully hurled the handful of remains out one of the windows into the court made by the setback of the building four stories below. On passing the table, she hesitated. Another? There were two very alluring fat tangerines left in the bowl . . . . But she shook her head sternly and went out by the corridor door, shutting it behind her.

Feeling a little better, she sauntered around the bend into the main corridor. What to do? The old devil would kick her out if she went back now, and she didn’t feel much like going to her own room . . . . She brightened once more. A stout middle-aged woman dressed in black, with severe gray hair, was sitting at a desk farther up the corridor, directly opposite the elevators. It was Mrs. Shane, clerk on duty on the twenty-second floor.

Miss Diversey shut her eyes when she passed a door on her right; the door which?she blushed again?opened into the office of Mr. Donald Kirk, the office adjoining the anteroom. It was in this office that the gallant Mr. Osborne was to be f?She sighed and passed on.

Hullo, Mrs. Shane,” she said cheerily to the stout woman. “How’s the back this afternoon?”

Mrs. Shane grinned. She peered with caution up and down the corridor, kept an eye cocked on the elevators facing her, and said: “Why, it’s Miss Diversey! I declare, Miss Diversey, I never see you any more! Is the old scoundrel keepin’ you that busy?”

Damn his soul,” said Miss Diversey without rancor. “He’s Satan himself, Mrs. Shane. Just now he chased me out of his room. Imagine!” Mrs. Shane clucked with horror. “Mr. Kirk’s partner came back from Europe or some place today?that’s Mr. Berne?and Mr. Kirk is giving a dinner-party for him. Naturally, he would have to go. So what do you think? He has to dress for dinner, so?”

“Dress?” echoed Mrs. Shane blankly. “Is he nekkid?”

Miss Diversey laughed. “I mean a tuxedo and things. Well, he can’t dress himself. He can hardly stand on his feet, with his joints all twisted up with rheumatiz. Why, he’s seventy-five if he’s a day! But what do you think? He wouldn’t let me dress him. Chased me out!”

“Imagine,” said Mrs. Shane. “Men-folks are funny that way. I remember once my Danny?God rest his soul?was taken bad with lumbago and I had to?” She stopped abruptly and stiffened as the elevator evacuated a passenger. The lady, however, was not on the alert for possible defections of hotel employees. She exuded a faint odor of alcohol as she staggered by the desk bound up the corridor toward the other side of the floor. “See that hussy?” hissed Mrs. Shane, leaning forward. Miss Diversey nodded. “The things I could tell you about her, dearie! Why, my girls who clean up on this floor told me the awfullest things they’ve found in her room. Only last week they picked up from her floor a?”

“I’ve got to go,” said Miss Diversey hastily. “Uh?is Mr. Kirk’s office?I mean, has Mr. Kirk??”

Mrs. Shane relaxed to fix Miss Diversey with a shrewd suspicious eye. “You mean is Mr. Osborne alone?”

Miss Diversey colored. “I didn’t ask that?”

I know, honey. He is that. There’s been not a soul near that blessed office for an hour or more.”

You’re sure?” breathed Miss Diversey, beginning to poke her square-tipped fingers in the reddish hair beneath her cap.

Of course I’m sure! I haven’t stirred from this spot all the afternoon, and nobody could ‘a’ gone into that office without me seeing him.”

Well,” said Miss Diversey carelessly. “I think, since I’m here, I’ll stop in for a minute. I’ve nothing to do, anyway. It gets so boring, Mrs. Shane. And then I do feel sorry for poor Mr. Osborne, cooped up in that office all day with not a living soul to talk to.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Mrs. Shane with demoniac subtlety. “Only this morning there was a perfeckly stunning young lady. Something to do with Mr. Kirk’s book publishing?an author, I do think. She was in there with Mr. Osborne for the longest time?”

“Well, and why shouldn’t she be?” murmured Miss Diversey. “I’m sure I don’t care, Mrs. Shane. And anyway it’s his work, isn’t it? Besides, Mr. Osborne isn’t the kind . . . Well, so long.”

So long,” said Mrs. Shane warmly.

Miss Diversey strolled back the way she had come, her strides growing smaller and smaller as she approached the enchanted area before the closed door of Donald Kirk’s office. Finally, and by some miracle of

Вы читаете The Chinese Orange Mystery
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату