"Ox" said Marion the next morning, "I have to go to the bank-the moving men will only take cash. Colin will be here sometime before nine, to take this."
She held out a sturdy package, neatly wrapped and tied with twine. My last tie to Indy she thought. Except for one, of course...
"If I miss him tell him thank you, and I'll see you both for dinner tonight." She hurried down the stairs, followed by a worried look form Oxley.
Promptly at nine, there was a knock on Marion's door.
"Good mornig Ox", Colin said pleasantly. "We've come to make that little delivery for Marion."
Nigel Stewart followed Colin into the apartment. Oxley greeted him with a courteosly proffered hand and an uplifted brow.
"And you might be, sir?"
NIgel shook the other man's hand. "Nigel Stewart, Dr. Oxley. I don't believe we've met. Colin asked me to help him with his business today."
"I'm afraid, Mr. Stewart", said Oxley "that Miss Ravenwood is not here at present. I'm but her locum until the movers arrive."
He gestured to the furniture and boxes in the living room. "And I fear I've nothing to offer you beyond a glass of water. "
Nigel glanced around him and smiled. "That's quite all right, sir. I don't need anything."
"Then if you'll excuse us, Mr. Stewart, I should like a word with Colin."
Ox pulled Colin into the warren of taped boxes that had formerly been Marion Ravenwood's kitchen and spoke under his breath.
"What in God's name were you thinking to drag someone else into this, Col? And who is the man, anyway?"
Colin matched him tone for tone. "Nige is one of my closest friends, and I trust him absolutely. He's an honourable man who can keep his own counsel. Tomorow, he'll piloting the plane that will hopefully fly Marion and me to England. Today he's my wingman for this mission."
Oxley frowned, clearly skeptical.
Colin had spent time in the field with both Indiana and Oxley, and he sincerely enjoyed his fellow Briton's company. But 'The Ox' was a brilliant man with his head in the clouds and he could be damned obtuse at times. This semed to be one of them. He sighed and tried again.
"Ox, in the first place, most courier assignments require that two men make delivery- I suppose it's to be sure that one chap doesn't abscond with the goods. In the second place, see here. It does you credit that you're reluctant to believe ill of a man who-well, was our friend. But think-Indiana's word that he's leaving the country is likely worth just as much as all the other promises he made that girl."
"I see," said Ox, looking thoughtful.
"Right. Nige has strict orders to keep me from handing the cad a facer if we do see him."
Ox still looked unhappy; and Colin suddenly realised what was troubling him. "You needn't lump me in with a man like Jones, thank you," he said firmly. "I'm not proposing to set Marion up as my mistress once we get to London. He pulled a crumpled sheet of paper form his pocket and passed it to the other man. "I wired my Mum and Da yesterday- they're willing to have her stay with them until she finds her feet. I was hoping to see her this morning so I could tell her."
Ox caught his friend's eye and spoke gently. "Colin, she's loved Indiana since she was a girl. She can't be faulted if handing over her last momento of him was -too much for her to bear."
And in her condition, too, Colin thought. "Poor little mite" he said after a pause. "At least we can settle this last for her-shipshape and Bristol fashion. Wish us luck."
"Good luck and Godspeed, then" said Oxley and handed Colin the parcel. "I'll tend to matters here."
Colin and Nigel had planned on a quick stop at the National Museum. But when they arrived, the found all the offices closed and workmen busily repairing a leak in the roof.
Colin turned ruefully to his companion. "Nothing for it, I'm afraid. It's a cab to Grand Central and the train to that college where Jones and Brody teach. I've been there before. "
When they arrived in Fairfield, they took a cab to the Barnett campus. The Archaeology Department was housed in a handsome neogothic building that fronted onto a tree-lined quadrangle, glittering with fresh snow and winter sun.
Colin bounced a bit on his heels and looked around, eyes gleaming, flexing his hands. Nigel knew that look of old, and stopped to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We can't have a scene, Col, " he said quietly. " If Jones is here, I'll take the packet in by myself. Not that I don't symnpathise" he added-"my Dad would thrash any man who did this to my sister within an inch of his life. And I'd be right behind him."
"My Da," Colin added, "Would use a horsewhip. But you're right. Our job is to shield Marion from scandal and cover her retreat. And who knows- Fate may take a hand and give Jones what he he deserves."
Colin and Nigel headed for to the Acheology Department, which occupied a faux tower at one end of the building. In the tower, faculty offices were arranged like spokes on a wheel , with an elegant, mahogany-paneld reception area serving as the hub. The room was dominated by an impressive desk and credenza An attractive dark haired woman sat behind them, answering the phone. Colin glanced through the door, then put his finger to his lips and stepped back into the hall.
"What-ho? Is Jones there?" hissed Nigel, who seemed to have forgotten all about avoiding a scene.
" Not he's not, lucky for him. But our job just got a damn sight easier, mate. I know that girl. And I think I have a plan..."
Miss Irene Appleton prided herself on being one of the best secretaries at Barnett College. Her impeccable typing was both swift and error-free, her shorthand, superb, and she had managed to wrestle most of the Archaeology Department's files into submission within three months of being transferred there. Her scheduling was a thing of beauty, and she handled a myriad of student requests and faculty appointments with unruffled aplomb. Best of all, she adored her fiancé- an up and coming young accountant-which rendered her largely immune to the charms of dashing, volatile, disorganized Professor Jones.
But even Irene had found these last few days rather trying. To begin with, Professor Jones had vanished- simply vanished into thin air. This in itself was inconvenient but not unforeseen. On her first day in the Archeology Department, in fact, Irene had been called into the Dean's office and prepared for this very eventuality. She'd been given to understand that the Government sometimes required Dr. Jones' services, the nature of which, the Dean hinted, they were not at liberty to disclose, on very short notice. He'd handed her a manila envelope of instructions, to keep in her desk under lock and key. If I am called away was written on the flap in Dr. Jones' untidy scrawl. Irene had come across a similar document in the course of straightening Dr. Marcus Brody's files. Except that Dr. Brody's envelope was labeled For Marcus, in the event of my death.
The plans for Dr. Jones' absence had quickly been put into motion. Irene cancelled his appointments. A graduate teaching assistant proctored his exams, and Dr. Brody stepped in to submit his students' grades. A few people made polite inquiries, and Irene gave them polite noncommittal replies.
Matters were proceeding calmly until Dr. Jones' colleagues received notice that his wedding would not take place. Then telephones rang, rumors flew, and pointed questions were asked. Irene chose not to dignify the rumors with her notice, but she was thoroughly tired of being plagued with questions that she had no way to answer. Of course it was such a shame about Miss Ravenwood-she and Dr. Jones had seemed so in love- but no one had been able to reach her, either. All in all, Irene reflected, it was really just as well that the term was ending and Christmas vacation was almost here. She fervently hoped that this whole sorry affair would blow over by the New Year and let her corner of Barnett return to business as usual.
This bright December morning, the Archaeology Department's reception area was crowded with students picking up final papers and faculty talking about the departmental Christmas party. And of course, gossip was still buzzing about Dr Jones. When two handsome men, one in business attire and one in a pilot's uniform, arrived at Irene's desk, she turned to them with something approaching relief.
"Good morning, Miss Appleton", said the pilot in a cultured British accent. "I scarcely dare hope you remember me-Colin Williams?"
Irene's cheeks actually flushed. "Of course I remember you, Pilot Officer Williams."
"And may I present my associate, Mr. Nigel Stewart?"
"Charmed" said Nigel. Irene extended a hand and shook Nigel's warmly.
Colin braced his hands on the desk and leaned forward with his most winning smile. "And I see," he said, "that congratulations are in order. Why, the last time we met, you were on the switchboard and now you're department secretary."
"Laying it on a bit thick, old man", Nigel muttered. Colin ignored him.
"Thank you" Irene said, smiling back. "Everyone here keeps me busy, especially your friend Dr. Jones, but I like it."
Colin had been handed his opening. "Well, speaking of Professor Jones, is he available?"
"We actually have a package for the Archaeology Department; Miss," Nigel added. "Our instructions are that either Dr. Brody or Dr. Jones can sign for it."
"Dr. Jones isn't presently in his office, I'm afraid," said Irene. She threw a harried glance at his door, which both men pretended not to notice.
"Oh? Well, sorry to have missed him." Colin kept his tone offhanded. "Do you by chance expect him back later today?"
Irene looked flustered "l I haven't- I don't-I mean I really can't say…"
This was the cue they'd been waiting for. The two men made a point of exchanging significant looks. Nigel shook his head mournfully. "Should have expected this,-poor blighter."
Colin nodded sadly "More than understandable under the circumstances, though, isn't it?"
Irene pounced, desperate for news. "What circumstances would those be?"
Nigel coughed delicately. "Oh, the business with his wedding, don't you know. Surely you've heard…"
Cracks were beginning to show in Irene's reserve ."Well, that's just it, Mr. Stewart, no-one's heard! Now I did get a card in the mail, very proper, saying" she lowered her voice –"that Dr. Jones and Miss Ravenwood had called off their wedding. Most of the faculty did as well. I tried to telephone Miss Ravenwood several times, but her phone just rang and rang with no answer. And now no one has seen or heard from Dr. Jones."
Colin looked sympathetic. "It's good of you to care, Miss Appleton. I'm sure anyone would find those circumstances most worrisome."
"He's had to leave suddenly before, of course, but this…" She looked up hopefully. "You're a friend of his, Mr. Williams-have you heard from Dr. Jones? Have you heard anything at all?"
Nigel straightened his tie and seemed to come to a decision. "Well, Miss Appleton, you seem so sincerely concerned, perhaps it would be all right if we relieved your mind a bit?"
"Insofar as gentlemen can," Colin reminded him sternly.
"Of course" said Irene, "I'm not motivated by vulgar curiosity."
Colin lowered his voice and said "As it happens, Miss Appleton,…."
"Oh please call me Irene."
"Nigel's wife is a friend of Miss Ravenwood's."
Nigel- who hadn't been aware that he was married- startled at this, but threw himself gamely into the fray.
"And as a woman yourself, Miss Appleton, I'm sure you understand why Miss Ravenwood was able to take my dear, er, Helen into her confidence. Though it's a rather delicate matter, I fear …"
"Oh, I'm sure it is" Irene countered. "But as a confidential secretary, Mr. Stewart, I'm accustomed to keeping delicate matters- ah, hush-hush, shall we say? And if I had something to go on, it would help me keep the vultures at bay-for Dr. Jones' sake, you understand."
"Oh, of course-for Dr. Jones sake." Colin added piously. He turned to Nigel with a conspiratorial grin.
A few young coeds hovered nearby, obviously hoping Irene wouldn't notice they were listening. Nigel pretended to ignore them and began.
"Well then, Miss Irene, if you've met Marion Ravenwood you're doubtless aware that she spent several years abroad?"
"Now, it appears that during this time she met a man, a wealthy and titled man, who fell in love with her. But he wasn't free to marry because he had a wife who was very ill with..." Nigel paused and licked his lips.
"Consumption, I think," Colin put in solemnly, "Consumption."
"Quite right, my dear fellow, Consumption." Colin listened, fascinated, as Nige spun a tale of star-crossed lovers, noble renunciation, deathbed confessions, and a desperate search against all odds. It was straight out of every Mills and Boon novel he had ever teased his sisters for reading, with a dash of Rider Haggard and Boy's Own thrown in.
"And so he found her at last", Nigel finished, "right here in New York-just a week before her wedding to Dr. Jones!"
The cluster of spellbound co-eds drew a collective breath.
"Noo!" exclaimed a pretty blonde.
"That's so romantic!" gushed another girl.
"Would he have stood up in the church at her wedding and said he objected?" a third asked.
Even Irene had begun to believe and her eyes were huge. "Oh my gosh, Mr. Stewart," she said, "that's like something from the movies. Whatever happened?"
Colin decided to pitch in and help. He sighed dramatically and said "I think the three of them will carry that secret to their graves. But I'll wager Dr. Jones realized he couldn't stand in the way of true love. He obviously released Miss Ravenwood from their engagement and stepped aside. Quite gentlemanly of him, really."
Nigel's lips twitched, and Colin shot him a quelling look.
"But one can't expect a chap to stand by and watch another man romance his bride-to-be," Colin added, "so if Dr. Jones had a chance to leave the country, it's no wonder he took it."
"Poor, poor Dr. Jones- who could blame him?" said the blonde coed. "If only he'd had someone to take his part and comfort him!"
Colin choked, and pretended to clear his throat.
Nigel looked at his audience sternly. "But when Dr. Jones gets back you mustn't ever let on that you know…"
"Think of the poor man's pride…." Colin added.
"I should say", Irene finished firmly. She gathered the coeds in by eye. "We must never allude to this. Ever."
There was a chorus of "No" and "of course not" from the girls. They nodded earnestly and started leaving, singly or in whispering pairs.
"So, Miss Irene,"-Colin held out Marion's parcel,- "Since you are a confidential secretary, could you possibly see your way clear to signing for this box? Mr. Stewart and I are leaving on the mail run for England tomorrow and we'd hate to leave these valuable artifacts unaccounted for…"
Irene knew where her duty lay. "Of course, gentlemen, I'd be happy to oblige. I'll put the parcel in the safe and let Dr. Brody know it's here."
Nigel flashed a winning smile of his own. "I hope they appreciate you, Miss Appleton. It's a relief to leave this matter in your capable hands."
Irene dropped her eyes modestly. "Oh, one does one's poor best," she murmured in a gratified tone.
Colin produced a receipt book from his breast pocket, and Irene solemnly signed for the parcel. Marion Ravenwood's ties to her past were borne off to the Archaeology Department's safe without further ado.
With their mission accomplished, Colin and Nigel made their farewells, then headed outside to hail a cab. The two young aviators were gravely formal until the car doors closed. Then they slapped each other on the back, roaring with laughter.
"This, mate, deserves a drink," said Colin as he wiped his eyes. "Must say you mised your calling Nige- you ought to be writing weepers for the women's magazines."
Nigel grinned back. "So? it worked-did you see that daft little bint pining for poor jilted Indiana? Ha!" He pointed an admonishing finger at his co-conspirator. "And you've got no room to talk- the way you were chatting up that secretary, my lad, it's a wonder you didn't cut Jones out long before this."
Colin ran a hand through his hair, shamefaced. "Not for lack of trying, I fear. Tuppence-Marion, I mean- wasn't having any, though."
"Speaks well of her," Nigel answered thoughtfully. "Perhaps our Indiana will wake up one day and realise what he let slip through his fingers."
"He may-but that's not my problem or yours."
'And it's rather poetic justice that none of those people will think your Marion was left at the altar..."
"She's not my Marion-yet."
Nigel waved this inconsequential objection away. "Matter of time. So, is she flying out with us tomorrow?"
"She hasn't given me her answer, but plan on it unless you hear otherwise from me. I'll talk to her at dinner tonight."
Nigel's eyebrows went up. "Dinner, is it? Already?"
"Tomorrow would have been her wedding day-she shouldn't be alone."
"Right then." There was a promising grill on the next corner and Nigel tapped on the cab window.
"So how about lunch and a pint before you go back to her?"