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TO-OAVS SHORT STORY.] Thirteen!…

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TO-OAVS SHORT STORY.] Thirteen! ij By CHARLES D. LESLIE. I t, (OQPTEIGHT.) I It began ao pleasantly, that historic lun- cheon party, it ended so uncomfortably, and the sequel was so surprising that, though months have passed, I can recall all that befel as if it were yesterday. It was a Sun- day luncheon party, one of Mrs. Lee Hoxmaxt's, she gave one almost every Sun- day when in Onslow Gardens, and it was a j great privilege to be asked; the guests were I chosen with discrimination from among her friends. People who were quite celebrated I' often aoeled for invitations in vain, a faet- 1 which flattered our vanity highly. As one of the select myself, I impressed upon young I Bayfield, as we walked there that May day, ¡ the high honour bestowed upon him. He was a now acquaintance, a journalist straight from Oxford, and his list of friends in Lonr don small. "Sbe used to know my mother," he ex- plained, 'we met at Nice this winter, and she told me to call, when I settled in town. 1 called Last week, she was out, bat wrote and asked me to come to luncheon." "You'll meet some of the pleasanteat people in London," I said enthusiastically. "Art, literature, the stage; you'll find all worthily represented at her table. I expect Adams will be there for one. I hear he's back in town; the novelist, I mean." "That's splendid." the young man cried, "and her son. Captain Lee-Norman, the aeronautical expert, will he be there?" "Xo, he's tied to Alderehot at present, building the new airship." "Any pretty girls?" "You bet," was my colloquial response as we went up the steps. • I Punctually at half-past one we sat down 1 at the table. Bayfield, thanks to his hos- | tees's smiling speech of welcome, and the fact that pretty Miss Vera Sinclair-,who I I achieved the double distinction of being a J charming aotress on the stage and a charm- 1 ing girl off it next him, was already on 1 good terms with himself and his surround ings. Let me briefly enumerate the guests that day: Of the other ladies there were the two Miss O'Brians, both clever artists; Mrs. Arbuthnot, a real merry widow, and Lady Fairford, the only plain woman of the A party, bat an amazingly fine talker when in Sj the vein. Adams sat facing our hostess. Just turned forty, he ranked among the first six living writers of fiction. He was a big, burly man with a smiling face, who laughed through life. Yet his own, as his intimates knew, had been a tragedy. His marriage had been more than a failure; it had been a disaster. Death. had set him free, and we all suspected Mrs. Arbuthnot of hankering j to ziLarry him. 3Lajor Constant, the explorer, MaeOreedy, the medical attendant of most I of us, young Sinclair, the actor, twin brother )f to Vera, B?ynetd. and myself. t) At the very beginning Mrs. Arbuthnot and Adams started verbal sparring, and the lady flatly declined to sit next the novelist. Bay- field, on her left, had to change with her and relinquish his seat beside Vera. Sinclair. Adams began a tirade on the custom of so arranging guests that the sexes were sepa- rated. "The ladies should always be put together at table," he declared: 'they're designed to be looked at. I'd like to see You ladies all in a row, like half-a-dosen extremely fascinating Aunt Sallies which my eyes ean absorb and take in simultaneously." "Poor Mr. Adams, laughed the widow, "his eimiles get more and more wild as he en- deavours to avoid the obvious." "€kwd and new similes are hard to find," confessed Adams. That's the tragedy of the writer; failure to hit on a plot or a type never used before. What's the tragedy of an actress, Miss Vera?" "The fear of getting stout. If a woman can 'keep her figure she can play heroines at 63, like the great Sarah. I'm doomed to be fat at forty; it's hereditary. But I'll never play stage odd women; I'll die first, or retire." "Then we most save your figure. Stop eat- ing that mayonnaise. Salmon is fattening." The lady did not respond; she was looking j? towards the door which had just opened, ||j admitting a soldierly-looting young man. Mrs. Lee-Nonnaa rose with a cry of plea- sure. "My dear Adrian, what a pleasant sur- prise: you wrote you couldn't come." "My dear mother," the stalwart young man kissed her affectionately, "I thought I ooaldn't, bat we're at a standstill unexpec- tedly, and my chief had to come down to town this morning and brought me in his motor. He dropped me at the oorner. Ladies and gentlemen, your obedient servant, but it's a shaime to disturb the symmetry of the party. He wandered round shaking hands and stopped finally between the younger Miss O'Brian and Adams, the latter insisting he should sit next him. Connpton hastily laid a plate. and brought a chair. "And when are you coming to my digs in Gordon Place in your airship?" asked the novelist. "My balcony is specially adapted for calls from aeronauts, I'll have you know." "Within two years," answered the soldier gravely, amd fell upon the plate of mayon- naise OompC-on brought him. Luncheon went with a swing. Adams in particular ws? good company. He not oniy talked bnlliamtly. but he mapired others to talk brilliantly: the ball of conversation never flagged; we ate and drank, talked, laughed, and listered; we were the merriest party in London that day. The meal was ending, dessert in progress, ■when a cry from Mrs. Arbuthnot drew general attention to our merry widow, "Oh," she exclaimed, "oh, look, we're—we'je thir- teen at taible!" A sudden hush followed her words, every- body looked and reckoned and saw it was so, but no one spoke for a moment. Perso- nally, though I deny I'm superstitious, I "wished it hadn't happened. I believe I looked grave. I'm certain everyone else did. Then the men, including myself, began to speak, disclaiming any fear of consequences, but Adams with a commanding gesture silenced I us. "Don't rise anyone. Forgive me, Mrs. Lee- Iforman, let me arrange this. The supersti- tion is that the first of the thirteen who rises from tOO table dies before the year is out. Let's show how faJse that is. Here am I in the prime of life, here are two lusty yonng fellows younger than I," his hands shot out taking an arm of Lee-Norman and aGo arm. of Bayfield, "we'll rise together defy- ing fate and see what happens. Up, Guards! I think Mrs. Norman cried "Adrian, please dowt," but at the novelist's last word the three men rose simultaneously, laughing in the faces of the rest of us. But the ladies looked frightened. Then with more or less r effort we all began to talk and laugh at onee. Mrs. Lee-Norman led the way into the dra.win,g-ro-ocm, and Oompton served coffee, j but a shadow had fallen on the party; in vain Ads-ma told a fun.ny story. It fell flat. Conversation languished, and with one accord we hastened to take leave; never had -one at the famous luncheon parties broken ap aoearly and so awkwardly. Four months later, on a glorious. September ) afternoon, I sat in my rooms ringing u.p the f "Daily Herald," 4W I had a friend OIl the, staff, and with some trouble I got connec- tion. "Any news of the 'Oadenarde'?" I asked. There was none, I was told. Hope died in my heart. Bayfield must be dead. Six days had passed since the torpedo boat in which he was a passenger had left Great Yarmouth. A storm rose that night, and one of her boats and some wreckage were washed ashore at Oaister next day. After a while, feeling disinclined for work, I decided to go and call on Mrs. Lee-Norman, who had recently returned to London. At the corner of the street I ran across Miss Sinclair bound on a similar errand. Together we discussed young Bayfield's fate, ignoring the incident of the thirteenth luncheon party, but it was very present in our minds all the same. Oompton admitted us into the drawing- room, and returned with a message that if we didn't mind waiting, Mrs. Lee-Norman, at present engaged with her dressmaker, would be with us in a very few minutes. But before she arrived we were joined by Her- bert Sinclair. 'Have you heard the news?" he asked excitedly. "Adams is dead." I snatched the evening paper he held from hie hands. "Death of a famous novelist. Mr. Percival Adams, the well-known English novelist, who has for some time past been staying at the Hotel du President, Trouville, died suddenly last night.—Renter." Woe were still starin-g at each other, dumbly absorbing the news when Mrs. Lee- Norman entered. She burst into tears when I read the paragraph to her. "Adrian will die, too," she cried; "I feel sure of it. He was the real thirteenth" "Dear Mrs. Lee-Norman," cried Vera, tears of sympathy in her eyes, don't, please don't, anticipate the worst." "Listen," said the widow, unheeding her, "some disaster has happened. I hear a news- boy. They are trying the airship this week. Adrian is dead." The raucous voice of a perambulating news- vendor wailing 'Orrible disaster, spectral," was disturbing the peace of Onslow G-ardems. I rushed into the hall and gave Compton half-a-crown. Buy all the boy's papers," I said, quiet him somehow." I knew the worst had occurred from the man's white face when he came back three minutes later. Yes, sir, the captain's dead, he and the colonel; oh, my poor mistress!" In the stop press column I read Press Association Telegram. The new military airship with Colonel Hooper in charge, and Captain Lee-Norm&n acting as mechanician, which left the works at noon to-day, fouled a lofty oak near Farnham an hour later and was completely wrecked; the occupants were flung violently out; Captain fee--Norman was killed on the spot, and Colonel Hooper, picked up badly injured, died half an hour later. With reluctant feet I re-entered the draw- ing-room. Mrs. Lee-Norman, her comely face haggard, sat on the sofa convulsively holding Vera Sinclair's hands; dumbly her eyes asked the inevitable question. It was cruel to tell her the truth, equally cruel to withhold it; I felt like a butcher. I'm sorry to say there's a report-" my halting words died on my lips, theuuhappy lady sprang to her feet. Adrian, my son. my son!" The wail of a woman mourn- ing her only child rang out in the very modern, very luxurious drawing-room. She fell heavily into V era's arms. "Shes fainted, no, let her lie; a cushion, Herbert." I ran to the telephone and called up Mac- Creedy. By great good luck he was in, and five minutes later, for he lived close by, in attendance. But there was little to do. The bereaved mother lay on the sofa feebly m03in- ing for her son; it was a case beyond the whole College of Surgeons. The three of them," I groaned, all dead." Xa.cCreedy, striding up and down the room pulling his whiskers and muttering to him- self, turned savagely on me, Eh, what's that?" There's a telegram from Trouville; Adams died there last night, and Bayfield went down in the Oudenarde; there's no hope now that any of the carew have been saved. You remember how the three of them rose from the table to get .her that time we were thirteen at lunch." Beh!" cried NiacCreedy; "as for. that. What the devil do you want mow, Comp- ton ?" If you pleaze, sir, it's a telegram for the mis trees." What inspired me I don't know, but I took it off the salver and tore it open. Hurrah!" I shouted. Mrs. Lee-Norman, it's from Adrian. He's alive. He's alive. Listen!" Any reports of my death either in the newspapers or otherwise, are entirely un- authorised by me, and may be totally dis- regarded. I've broken two ribs and sprained mv wrist, but nothing worse. Was picked up senseless, hence the earlier rumour which I fear may have reached you. Come to the hospital to cheer me up. Adrian." "Good old Adrian!" shouted Herbert Sin- clair, amd catching his sister round the waist, waltzed her round the room. Mrs. Lee-Norman sat holding the precious telegram and crying softly, but they were tears of joy. You keep still for ten minutes," ordered MaeOreedy, and I'll take you down to Aldershot myself. Now, you," this was to me, what do you mean by say- ing Bayfield is drowned ? Where's that evening paper. Here we axe, a telegram from Stockholm. Five members of the crew of the Oudenarde, including Mr. Bayfield, a jour- nalist, were brought into port by the steamer Sophia Western early this morning. The captain reports colliding and ruoming down the torpedo boat in the night of the 9th inet. "Hue rest of the crww were drowned." Go on." I said feebly. tell me next dear old Adams isn't dead." The older I grow the less inclined I feel to dogmatise on an-y subjects. Regarding poor Adams, however, my lips are unsealed and I can give a very simple and prosiac reason for his death. He> been a doomed man this last twelvemonth.. He was jesting with death that Sunday. He knew he couldn't outlive the year. And I think he was glad. I believe, knowing him as I do, he welcomed death. And now, dear lady, that you're calmer, you may go and put your hat on and we'll take a taxi to Aldershot." THE END.

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