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Title: Captivating Mary Carstairs
Author: Harrison, Henry Sydnor, 1880-1930
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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CAPTIVATING MARY CARSTAIRS


BY


HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON


WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY R.M. CROSBY

(_This book was first published pseudonymously in February, 1911_)



1910, 1914.



TO NAWNY: HER BOOK



_NOTE_


_This book, representing the writer's first effort at a long story, has
something of a story of its own. First planned in 1900 or 1901, it was
begun in 1905, and finished at length, in a version, three years later.
Through the two years succeeding it underwent various adventures,
including, if memory serves, two complete overhauling. Having thus
reached by stages something like its present form, it was, in August,
1910, favorably reported on by the publishers; but yet another rewriting
preceded its final acceptance, a few weeks later. Meanwhile, I had
turned to fresh work; and, as it chanced, "Queed" was both begun and
finished in the interval while "Captivating Mary Carstairs" was taking
her last journeys abroad. Turned away by two publishers, the newer
manuscript shortly found welcome from a third. So it befell that I, as
yet more experienced in rejections, suddenly found myself with two
books, of widely different sorts and intentions, scheduled for
publication by different publishers, almost simultaneously. As this
seemed to be more books than society required from an unknown writer, it
was decided to put out the present story--which is a "story," as I
conceive the terms, and not a novel--over a pen name.

At that time, be it said, with an optimism that now has its humorous
side, I viewed myself prospectively as a ready and fertile writer,
producing a steady flow of books of very various sorts. Hence it
occurred to me that a pseudonym might have a permament serviceability.
So far from these anticipations proving justified, I am now moved to
abandon the pseudonym in the only instance I have had occasion to use
it. Writers have sometimes been charged with seeking to capitalize their
own good fortune. My motive, in authorizing the republication of this
story over my name, is not that. The fact is only that experience has
taught me not to like pseudonymity: my feeling being that those who take
an interest in my work are entitled, if they so desire, to see it as a
whole_.

H.S.H.

_Charleston, West Virginia, 16 March, 1914_



CONTENTS


I The Chief Conspirator Secures a Pal

II They Embark upon a Crime

III They Arrive in Hunston and Fall in with a Stranger

IV Which Concerns Politics and other Local Matters

V Introduces Mary Carstairs and Another

VI The Hero Talks with a Lady in the Dark

VII In which Mary Carstairs is Invited to the Yacht "Cypriani"

VIII Concerning Mr. Ferris Stanhope, the Popular Novelist; also Peter,
the Quiet Onlooker

IX Varney Meets with a Galling Rebuff, while Peter Goes Marching On

X The Editor of the _Gazette_ Plays a Card from His Sleeve

XI Which Shows the Hero a Fugitive

XII A Yellow Journalist Secures a Scoop but Fails to Get Away with it

XIII Varney Meets His Enemy and is Disarmed

XIV Conference between Mr. Hackley, the Dog Man, and Mr. Ryan, the Boss

XV In which Varney Does Not Pay a Visit, but Receives One

XVI Wherein Several Large Difficulties are Smoothed Away

XVII A Little Luncheon Party on the Yacht "Cypriani"

XVIII Captivating Mary

XIX In which Mr. Higginson and the Sailing-Master Both Merit Punishment,
and Both Escape it

XX Varney, Having Embarked upon a Crime, Finds out that there is a Price
to Pay

XXI Mr. Ferris Stanhope Meets His Double; and Lets the Double Meet
Everything Else

XXII Relating How Varney Fails to Die; and Why Smith Remained in
Hunston; and How a Reception is Planned for Mr. Higginson

XXIII In which Varney, after all, Redeems His Promise



CAPTIVATING MARY CARSTAIRS



Captivating Mary Carstairs



CHAPTER I


THE CHIEF CONSPIRATOR SECURES A PAL

In a rear room of a quaint little house uptown, a great bronzed-faced
man sat at a piano, a dead pipe between his teeth, and absently played
the most difficult of Beethoven's sonatas. Though he played it divinely,
the three men who sat smoking and talking in a near-by corner paid not
the least attention to him. The player, it seemed, did not expect them
to: he paid very little attention himself.

Next to the selection of members, that is, no doubt, the most highly
prized thing about the Curzon Club: you are not expected to pay
attention unless you want to. It is a sanctuary where no one can bore
you, except yourself. The members have been chosen with this in mind,
and not chosen carelessly.

Lord Pembroke, who married a Philadelphian, is quoted as saying that the
Curzon is the most democratic club in a too confoundedly democratic
country. M. Arly, the editor, has told Paris that it is the most
exclusive club in the world. Probably both were right. The electing
board is the whole club, and a candidate is stone-dead at the first
blackball; but no stigma attaches to him for that. Of course, it is a
small club. Also, though money is the least of all passports there, it
is a wealthy club. No stretch of the imagination could describe its dues
as low. But through its sons of plutocracy, and their never-ending
elation at finding themselves in, has arisen the Fund, by which poor but
honest men can join, and do join, with never a thought of ways and
means. Of these Herbert Horning, possibly the best-liked man in the
club, who supported a large family off the funny department of a
magazine, was one. He had spurned the suggestion when it was first made
to him, and had reluctantly foregone his election; whereon Peter
Maginnis had taken him aside, a dash of red in his ordinarily composed
eye.

"How much?" he demanded brutally.

"How much for what?"

"How much for you?" roared Peter. "How much must the club pay you to get
you in?"

Horning stared, pained.

"God meant no man to be a self-conscious ass," said Peter more mildly.
"The club pays you a high compliment, and you have the nerve to reply
that you don't take charity. I suppose if Congress voted you a medal for
writing the funniest joke in America, you'd have it assayed and remit
the cash. Chuck it, will you? Once in a year we find a man we want, and
then we go ahead and take him. We don't think much of money here but--as
I say, how much?"

The "but" implied that Horning did, and hurt as it was meant to. He came
into the club, took cheerfully what they offered him that way, and felt
grateful ever afterwards that Maginnis had steered him to the light.

The big man, Maginnis himself, sat on at the piano, his great fingers
rambling deftly over the keys. He was playing Brahms now and doing it
magnificently. He was fifteen stone, all bone and muscle, and looked
thirty pounds heavier, because you imagined, mistakenly, that he carried
a little fat. He was the richest man in the club, at least so far as
prospects went, but he wore ready-made clothes, and one inferred,
correctly, that a suit of them lasted him a long time. He looked capable
of everything, but the fact was that he had done nothing. But for his
money and a past consisting of thirty years of idleness, he might have
been the happiest dog alive.

"The best government," said one of the three men who were not listening
to the piano, "is simply the surest method for putting public opinion
into power."

The sentence drifted over the player's shoulder and Brahms ended with a
crash.

"Balzac said that," he cried, rising abruptly, "and said it better! But,
good heavens, how you both miss the point! Why, let me tell you."

But this they stoutly declined to do. Amid laughter and protests--for
the big man's hobbies were well known to the club--two of them sprang up
in mock terror, and headed for the door. They indicated that they had
promised each other to play billiards and dared not break the
engagement.

"I couldn't stay to the end, anyway, Peter," explained one, from the
door. "My wife sits up when I'm out after midnight. Meet me here for
breakfast some bank-holiday, and we'll give the day to it."

Maginnis, who never got over feeling disappointed when he saw his
audience slipping away from him, sighed, searched through his frowzy
pockets for a match, lit his pipe, and fell upon a lounge near to all
the society that was left him.

"Why weren't you up?" said this society presently.

"The idea of dinner was repellent to me."

"To you, Peter--the famous trencherman of song and story? Why this
unwonted daintiness?"

"Lassitude. Too weary to climb the stairs. Besides, I wasn't hungry."

"Ah," said Reggie Townes, "you have the caveman's idea of dinner, I see.
It strikes you as purely an occasion for purveying provender to man's
interior. The social feature eludes you. You know what I think, Peter?
You ought to go to work."

"_Work!_"

"That's the word. What of it?"

"Not a thing. The idea was new to me; that's all."

"Persiflage and all that aside, why don't you take a stab at politics?"

"Politics! Here in New York! I'd sooner go into Avernus of the easy
descent. If you had a town to run all by yourself now, there might be
something in it. That idea of yours as to going to work, while
unquestionably novel, strikes me as rather clever."

"No credit belongs to me," said Townes, "if I happened to be born
brilliant instead of good-looking."

"I'll ponder it," said Peter; and stretching out his great hand with a
gesture which banished the subject, he pushed a service button and
begged Townes to be so kind as to name his poison.

Outside in the hall a voice just then called his name, and Maginnis
answered.

A young man in evening dress strolled through the doorway, a tallish,
lithe young man with a pleasant clean-cut face and very light hair. It
was evident enough that he patronized a good tailor. He glanced at the
two men, nodded absently, and dropped without speech into a chair near
the door. Townes eyed him somewhat quizzically.

"Evening, Larry. A little introspective to-night, yes?"

Peter said: "By bull luck you have stumbled into a company of gentlemen
about to place an order. Go ahead. Mention a preference."

The young man, unseeing eyes on Peter, did not answer. Instead, he
sprang up, as though struck by a thought of marked interest and bolted
out the door. They saw him vanish into the telephone booth across the
hall and bang the glass door shut behind him.

"Forgot an engagement."

"You mean remembered one," said Peter.

"It all figures out to the same answer," said Townes; and glancing
presently at his watch, he announced that he must be trotting on.

"But I've ordered something for you, man."

"Varney can use it, can't he?"

The door opened, and the tallish young man stood on the threshold again,
this time social and affable. His distraitness, oddly enough, had all
gone. He greeted the two in the smoking-room as though he had seen them
for the first time that evening; expressed his pleasure at being in
their company; inquired after their healths and late pursuits; pressed
cigarettes upon them.

They rallied him upon his furtive movements and fickle demeanor, but
drew only badinage in kind, and no explanations; and Townes, laughing,
turned to the door.

"Dally with us yet a little while, Reggie."

"No, gentles, no! I'm starting abroad to-night and have already dallied
too long."

"Abroad!"

"My sister," said Townes, "as perhaps you don't know, wedded a
foreigner--Willy Harcourt, born and raised in Brooklyn. Therefore, I am
now leaving to go to a party in Brooklyn. Say that to yourself
slowly--'a party in Brooklyn!' Sounds sort of ominous, doesn't it? If
the worst happens, I look to you fellows to break it to my mother.
Please mention that I was smiling to the last."

He waved a farewell and disappeared into the hall. Varney dropped into
the chair Townes had left empty, and elevated his feet to the lounge
where sprawled the length of Peter Maginnis. Peter looked up and the
eyes of the two men met.

"Well, Laurence? What is the proposition?" "Proposition? What do you
mean?"

"An ass," replied Maginnis, pumping seltzer into a tall glass, "could
see that you have something on your mind."

Varney pulled a match from the little metal box-holder, and looked at
him with reluctant admiration. "Sherlock Holmes Maginnis! I _have_
something on my mind. A friend dropped it there half an hour ago, and
now I 've come to drop it on yours." He glanced at the room's two doors
and saw that both were shut. "Time is short. The outfit upstairs may
drift in any minute. Listen. Do you recall telling me the other day,
with tears in your eyes, that you were slowly dying for something new
and interesting to do?"

Peter nodded.

"I think of your pleasure," said Varney, "always. By looking about me
and keeping my eyes and ears open at all hours, I have found you just
the thing."

"New and interesting?"

"There are men in this town who would run themselves to death trying to
get in it on the ground floor."

Maginnis shook his head.

"I have done everything in this world," he said almost sadly, "except, I
may say, the felonies."

"But this," said Varney, "is a felony."

Struck by his tone, Peter glanced up. "Mean it?"

"Sure thing."

"As I remarked before, what is the proposition?"

"To sum it all up in a word," said Varney, "there's a job of kidnapping
on and I happened to get the contract. That's all there is to the little
trifle."

Peter swung his feet around to the floor, and sat up. His conviction
that Varney was trying to be funny died hard.

Varney laughed. "I need a pal," he added. "Five minutes ago I telephoned
and got permission to offer the place to you."

"Stop being so confounded mysterious," Peter broke out, "and go ahead!"

Varney blew smoke thoughtfully and said, "I will. In fact, that's what I
came for. It's a devil of a delicate little matter to talk about to
anybody, as it happens. Of course, what I tell you must never go an inch
further, whether you come along or not."

"Naturally."

"You know my Uncle Elbert?"

"Old Carstairs?"

Varney nodded. "He wouldn't thank you for the adjective, though. I got
the contract from him. By the way, he's not my uncle, of course; he was
simply a great friend of my mother's. I inherited the friendship, and in
these last five years he and I have somehow managed to get mighty close
together. Eight years or so ago," he continued, "as you may, or may not
know, Uncle Elbert and his wife parted. There wasn't a thing the matter,
I believe, except that they weren't hitting it off particularly well.
They simply agreed to disagree. _Nouveau riche_, and all that, wasn't
it? Mrs. Carstairs has some money of her own. She picked up, packed up,
walked out, bought a place up the river, near Hunston, and has lived
there ever since."

Peter looked up quickly. "Hunston? Ha! But fire away."

"She and Uncle Elbert have stayed pretty good friends all through it.
They exchange letters now and then, and once or twice when she has been
in the city, I believe they have met--though not in recent years. My
private suspicion is that she has never entirely got over being in love
with him. Anyhow, there's their general relationship in a
nutshell--parted but friendly. It might have stayed just like that till
they were both in their graves, but for one accidental complication.
There is a child."

"I seem to remember," said Peter. "A little boy."

"On the contrary. A little girl. Uncle Elbert," said Varney, "is a bit
of a social butterfly. Mrs. Carstairs is an earnest domestic character.
As I gather, that was what they clashed on--the idea of what a home
ought to be. When the split came, Mrs. Carstairs took the child and
Uncle Elbert was willing enough to have her do it. That was natural
enough, Peter. He had his friends and his clubs and his little dinners,
and he was no more competent to raise a girl baby than you are, which is
certainly going some for a comparison. I suppose the fact was that he
was glad to be free of the responsibility. But it's mighty different
now.

"You see," said Varney, lighting one cigarette from another and
throwing the old one away, "he must be pretty lonely all by himself in
that big house of his. On top of that he's getting old and isn't in very
good health. Explain it any way you like. The simple fact is that within
this last year or so, it's gradually gotten to be a kind of obsession
with him, an out-and-out, down-and-out monomania, to know that kid--to
have her come and spend part of every year with him. That's natural,
too, I should say."

"H'm. Mrs. Carstairs sticks to her like fly-paper, I suppose?"

"Not at all. She admits Uncle Elbert's rights and is entirely willing to
let him have Mary--for such is our little heroine's name--for part of
the time. It is the child who is doing the fly-paper business. The
painful fact is that she declines to have anything whatever to do with
her father. Invitations, commands, entreaties--she spurns them all. Yes,
I asked him if they had tried spanking, but he didn't answer--seemed
rather miffed, in fact. The child simply will not come, and that is
point number one. Now, of course, Uncle Elbert realizes that he has not
been what the world would call a good father. And he has figured it out
that Mary, evidently a young precocity, has judged him, found him
guilty, and sentenced him to banishment from her affections. That hurts,
you know. Well, he is certain that if he could once see her and be
thrown with her for a few days, she would find that he is not such an
old ogre, after all, would take him back as a father, as we might say,
and that after that everything would be plain sailing. That's his
theory. The point is how to see her and be thrown with her for the
necessary few days."

"Why does n't he get on the train and go to Hunston? Or, if Mrs.
Carstairs is really so decent about the thing, why doesn't she get on
the train and bring Mary down here?"

"Good. I put both of those up to him, and they seemed to embarrass him a
little. I gathered that he had suggested them both to Mrs. Carstairs,
and that she had turned them down hard. The ground seemed delicate. You
see, we must allow for the personal equation in all this. No matter
where they met, he couldn't hang around the house getting acquainted
with Mary without coming into sort of intimate contact with Mrs.
Carstairs, and giving a kind of domestic touch to their relations. You
see how that is. She wants to be fair and generous about it, but if she
is in love with him, that would be a little more than flesh and blood
could bear, I suppose. Then, as I say, there is the pig-headedness of
the child. Anyway, Uncle Elbert assures me that both those plans are
simply out of the question. So there is the situation. Mary won't come
to see him by herself. Mrs. Carstairs won't bring Mary to see him, and
she won't let him come to see Mary. Well, what remains?"

Peter said nothing. In a room overhead a manifestly improvised quartet
struck up "Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot?" with great enthusiasm.

"You see there is only one thing. The old gentleman," said Varney, "has
brooded over the matter till it's broken him all up. He was in bed when
I was there just now. He asked me to go to Hunston and bring his
daughter to him. I told him that kidnapping was a little out of my line.
'Kidnapping is rather a harsh word,' he said. 'Yes,' said I, 'it's a
criminal word, I believe.' But--"

Peter looked up, interrupting. "Is this all straight? Is that really
what he wants you to do?"

"Naturally, Peter. Why not? You cling to the theory that such heroic
measures are entirely unnecessary? So did I till I had threshed the
whole thing up and down with Uncle Elbert for an hour and a half, trying
to suggest some alternative that didn't look so silly. Kindly get the
facts well into your head, will you? The man must pursue Mary's
affection either there or here, mustn't he? He can't do it there because
his wife won't let him. In order to do it here, one would say offhand
that Mary would have to be here, and since her mother declines to bring
her, it does look to me as if the job would have to be done by somebody
else. However, if my logic is wrong, kindly let your powerful--"

"I don't say it's wrong. I merely say that it sounds like a cross
between a modern pork-king's divorce suit and a seventeenth century
peccadillo."

"And I reply that I don't care a hoot how it sounds. The only question
of any interest to me, Peter, is whether or not Uncle Elbert has a moral
right to a share in his own child. I say that he has such a right, and I
say further that this is the only way in the world that he can assert
his right. Oh, hang how it sounds! I'm the nearest thing to a son that
he has in this world, and I mean for him to have his rights. So--"

"Very fine," said Peter dryly. "But what's the matter with Carstairs
getting his rights for himself? Why doesn't he sneak up there and pull
the thing off on his own?"

Varney laughed. "Evidently you don't know Uncle Elbert, after all. He's
as temperamentally unfit to carry through a job of this sort as a
hysterical old lady. Besides, even though they haven't met for so long,
I suppose his own daughter would recognize him, wouldn't she? I never
gave that idea a thought. Like his wife, he says he wants to have
nothing whatever to do with it. In fact, I made him put that in the form
of a promise--he's to give me an absolutely free hand, subject to the
conditions, and not interfere in any way. In return I ended by swearing
a great iron-clad oath not only to go, but to bring the child back with
me. The swear was Uncle Elbert's idea, and I didn't mind. Confound
it!--this is getting rather intimate, but here is Mrs. Carstairs's
letter giving a partial consent to the thing. It just got in this
afternoon; he sent for me the minute he'd read it, I believe, and I
never saw a man more excited."

He pulled a scrawled and crossed note-sheet from his pocket, and read in
a guarded and slightly embarrassed voice:

HUNSTON, 25th of September.

MY DEAR ELBERT,--I hardly know how to answer you, though I have been
over and over the whole subject on my knees. As you know, if I could
send Mary to you, I would, sadly as I should miss her, for the wish
lies close to my heart to have her know her father. But she will not
hear of leaving me and there is an end of that. What you suggest is so
new and so _dreadful_ in many ways that it is very hard to consent to
it. Of course, I realize that it is not right for me to have her always.
But the utmost I can bring myself to say is that if you can succeed in
what you propose I will do nothing to interfere with you, and will see
that there is no scandal here afterwards. Of course, I am to have no
part in it, and no force is to be used, and everything is to be made as
agreeable for her as is possible under the circumstances. Oh, I am
miserable and doubtful about the whole thing, but pray and trust that it
is for the best, and that she will find some way to forgive me for it
afterwards.

A.E.C.

"H'm. No force is to be used," said Peter. "May I ask just how you
expect to get Mary on the choo-choo?"

"Now we are getting to the meat of the matter," said Varney. "We shall
not have to get Mary on the choo-choo at all. We are going to use a
yacht, which will be far more private and pleasant, and also far easier
to get people on. Uncle Elbert's _Cypriani_ lies in the harbor at this
moment, ready to start anywhere at half a day's notice. It will start
for Hunston to-morrow afternoon, with me on board. I'll need another man
to put the thing through right, and I'd rather trust a friend than a
servant. So would Uncle Elbert. When I came in here just now, I was at
once taken with your looks for the part, and I have been authorized by
'phone to give you first refusal on this great chance."

Peter said nothing. Varney feared that he looked rather bored.

"At first," he went on promptly, "I'll confess that I didn't see so much
in the thing. But the more I've thought of it the more its unique charm
has appealed to me. It is nothing more nor less than a novel, piquant
little adventure. Exactly the sort of thing to attract a man who likes
to take a sporting chance. Look at the difficulties of it. Go to a
strange town where there are thousands and millions of strange children,
locate Mary, isolate her, make friends with her, coax her to the
yacht--captivate her, capture her! How are we to do all that, you ask? I
reply, the Lord knows. That is where the sport comes in. We are
forbidden to use force. We are forbidden to use Mrs. Carstairs or bring
her into it in any way. We are forbidden, of course, to let the child
know who we are. Everything must be done by almost diabolical craft,
while dodging suspicion at every step. Can you beat it for a fascinating
little expedition?"

Peter relit his pipe and meditatively dropped the match on the floor.
"How old is Mary?"

"Old?" said Varney, surprised at the question, "Oh, I don't know. The
separation took place--h'm--say eight years ago, and my guess is that
she was about four at the time. From this and the way Uncle Elbert spoke
of her, I daresay twelve would hit it fair and square. A grand age for
kidnapping, what?"

"On the contrary," said Peter, "it makes it mere baby-work. Turn it over
as you will, it all boils down to spanking a naughty child."

"Never! Think of slipping a cog in our plans--making a false start,
having somebody get on to us! Why, man, there may be jail for us both in
this!"

He examined Peter's face hopefully, but found unaffected apathy there.

"Suppose," he cried boastfully, "that the Associated Press got on to it!
Think of the disgrace of it! 'Millionaire Maginnis Caught Kidnapping!'
Think of being fired from the Curzon and having to leave New York a
hunted and broken man! Think," he added in an inspired climax, "of
having your photograph in the Sunday _Herald_!"

Maginnis perked up visibly at this. "There is no chance of that really,
do you think?"

"None in the world," said Varney desperately.

He felt sure that this had cost him Peter, whom he had come to as his
oldest and best friend. Having no idea whom he could turn to next, he
rose, tentatively, and for the moral effect, to go.

"After all," he said aloud, "I have another man in my mind who would, on
second thoughts, suit me better."

"Oh, sit down!" cried Peter, impatiently.

Larry sat down. His face showed, in spite of him, how really anxious he
was to have Peter go. There was a brief pause.

"Since you are so crazy to have me," said Peter, "I'll go."

"Thank you," said Varney. He picked up his glass, which he had hitherto
not touched, drained it at a gulp and pushed the bell vigorously. "I
knew," he cried, "that you'd see the possibilities when once your brain
began to work."

Peter's faint smile was an insult in its way. "Three things have decided
me to go with you, old son, and none of them has anything to do with
your possibilities. The first is that I'm the one man in a million you
really need in case of trouble."

"Peter, your modesty is your curse."

"The second is--did you read the _Sun_ this morning? It seems that this
little town of Hunston is having a violent spasm of politics right now.
Rather lucky coincidence, I should say. The dispatch I read was pretty
vague, but I gather that there's an interesting fight on between a
strong machine and a small but firm reform movement."

"Ha! Occupation for you while I beat the woods for little Mary."

"I'll need it."

"Well, what was your other wonderful reason?"

"Don't you know? It is that sixty horse-power oath your uncle made you
swear."

"Because it committed me, you mean?"

The door opened, men entered noisily, and Peter had to draw Varney aside
to explain darkly: "Because it committed me to wondering what
difficulties foxy old Carstairs made a point of concealing from you."

"Meet me upstairs in ten minutes," said Varney, "and we'll talk about
plans."



CHAPTER II


THEY EMBARK UPON A CRIME

Varney was wrong in one thing: Mr. Carstairs's _Cypriani_ was not ready
to start anywhere at half a day's notice. For that reason it did not
start for Hunston on the following afternoon. As always happens, the
preparations for the little expedition took four times as long as
anybody would have thought possible.

For these delays no blame could be attached to Peter Maginnis. He had no
getting ready to do beyond bidding his father's man to pack him for a
week, and obtaining from his hatter's, at an out-of-season cut-price, an
immense and peculiar Panama with an offensive plaid band. Possibly it
was the only hat of its kind in the world. One might picture the
manufacturer as having it made up as an experiment, becoming morose when
he looked at it, and ordering his superintendent to make no more like it
at the peril of his life.

Peter, however, was delighted with it. Gazing at himself with smirking
satisfaction in the hat-shop mirror, he ordered the old one sent home
and was all ready to go to Hunston and kidnap Mary Carstairs.

But other preparations could not be completed with such speedy
satisfaction. The yacht had to coal, take on supplies, and pick up two
or three extra men for the crew. A Sunday came in and threw everything
back a day. Lastly the sailing-master's wife, whom Mr. Carstairs was
sending along to take charge of Mary on the homeward trip, chanced to be
down with an influenza.

As the details of getting ready multiplied about him, Varney's interest
in his novel undertaking imperceptibly grew. The thing had come upon him
so unexpectedly that it had not yet by any means lost its strangeness.
To the old friend of his mother's girlhood, Elbert Carstairs, he was
sincerely devoted, though knowing him for an indulgent man whose
indulgences were chiefly of himself. But when, responding to his excited
summons that night, he had sat and listened while Mr. Carstairs unfolded
his mad little domestic plot, he had been first utterly amazed and then
utterly repelled. And it was not until a final sense of the old man's
genuine need was borne in upon him, of his loneliness, his helplessness,
and his entire dependence upon him, Varney, that he had consented to
undertake the extraordinary commission.

In a sense, it was all simply preposterous. Here was he, Laurence
Varney, in sane mind, of law-abiding habits and hitherto of tolerable
standing in the community, solemnly pledged to go and steal the person
of a child, in defiance and contempt of the statutes of all known
nations. And the place where this lawless deed was to be done was not
Ruritania or the hazy dominions of Prince Otto, but a commonplace,
humdrum American town, not an hour and a half from his office chair by
the expresses.

In going about this task he was to conduct himself with the frankness
and straightforwardness of a sneak-thief. Not a soul in New York was to
know where he had gone. Not a soul in Hunston must dimly suspect what he
had come for. It must be gum-shoe work from start to finish, and the
_Cypriani's_ motto would be the inspiring word, "Sh-h-h." Though he had
to find a nondescript child whom he did not know from Eve, he was
forbidden to do it in a natural, easy, and dashing way. He could not
ring her mother's door-bell, ask for her, throw a meal-sack over her
head, and whip his waiting horses to a gallop. No, he must beat the tall
grasses before the old homestead until such time as she chose to walk
abroad alone. Really, when you came to think of it, it was an asinine
sort of proposition.

But when Mary did come out of that house, he saw that the fun would
begin. A well brought-up, moneyed, petted and curled girl of twelve was
no easy pawn in anybody's game. He could not win her love by a mere
offer of gum-drops. In fact, getting acquainted was likely to be a
difficult matter, taxing his ingenuity to a standstill. But he
entertained no doubts of his ability to do it, sooner or later.

"Not to put too fine a point on it," mused he, glancing out of his
twentieth story window, "they flock to me, children do. I'm their good
old Uncle Dudley. But why the deuce isn't she five years younger?"

Clearly, it was the next step that was the most delicate: getting Mary
aboard the yacht. This was both the crux and the _finale_ of the whole
thing: for Uncle Elbert was to be waiting for them, in a closed
carriage, at a private dock near 130th Street (Peter remaining in
Hunston to notify him by telephone of the start down), and Varney's
responsibilities were over when the _Cypriani_ turned her nose homeward.
But here lay the thin ice. If anything should happen to go wrong at the
moment when they were coaxing Mary on the yacht, if there was a leak in
their plans or anybody suspected anything, he saw that the situation
might be exceedingly awkward. The penalties for being fairly caught with
the goods promised to be severe. As to kidnapping, he certainly
remembered reading in the newspapers that some States punished it with
death. At any rate, maybe the natives would try to thrash him and Peter.
In hopeful moments he conjured up visions of the deuce to pay.

But, after all, he was going to Hunston, whether he liked it or not,
simply because Uncle Elbert had asked him. The lonely old gentleman, he
knew, loved him like a son: he had turned straight to him in his hour of
need. This had touched the young man, and had finally made up his mind
for him. Moreover Mary, a spoiled little piece who was suffered to set
her smug childish will against the combined wills of both her parents,
aroused his keenest antipathy. To put her in her place, to teach her
that children must obey their parents in the Lord, was a duty to
society, to the State. What Uncle Elbert wanted with such a child, he
could not conceive; but since he did want her, have her he should.
Tilting back his office chair and running his hand through his hair,
Varney longed to spank her.

This thought came to him, definitely and for about the seventh time, at
half-past one o'clock on the third day, Monday. At the same moment, his
telephone-bell rang sharply. It was the sailing-master to say that his
good spouse had come aboard and that everything on the _Cypriani_ was in
readiness for the start.

"I'll be on board inside of an hour," said Varney.

He telephoned to Uncle Elbert, telephoned to Peter, and locked up his
desk. To his office he casually gave out that pressing business matters
were calling him out of town for a day or two.

The two young men had been as furtive as possible about their proposed
journey. They had not met since the night Varney had dangled the hope of
jail and disgrace into Peter's lightening face, and so, or otherwise,
cajoled him into going along. Both of them had kept carefully away from
the _Cypriani_. Now they proceeded to her by different routes, and
reached her at different times, Peter first. Their luggage had gone
aboard before them, and there was no longer a thing to wait for. At
three o'clock, on Varney's signal, the ship's bell sounded, her whistle
shrieked, and she slid off through the waters of the bay.

About the start there was nothing in the least dramatic: they had merely
begun moving through the water and that was all. The _Cypriani_, for all
her odd errand, was merely one of a thousand boats which indifferently
crossed each other's wakes in one of the most crowded harbors in the
world.

"For all the lime-light we draw," observed Maginnis, drinking in the
freshening breeze, "we might be running up to Harlem to address the
fortnightly meeting of a Girls' Friendly Society."

Varney said: "Give us a chance, will you?"



CHAPTER III


THEY ARRIVE IN HUNSTON AND FALL IN WITH A STRANGER

The landscape near Hunston, as it happened, was superfluously pretty. It
deserved a group of resident artists to admire and to catch it upon
canvas; and it had, roughly speaking, only artisans out of a job. The
one blot was the town, sprawling hideously over the hillside. Set down
against the perennial wood, by the side of the everlasting river, it
looked very cheap and common. But all this was by day. Now night fell
upon the poor little city and mercifully hid it from view.

They had made the start too late for hurry to be any object. It was only
a three hours' run for the _Cypriani_, but she took it slowly, using
four. At half-past six o'clock, when their destination was drawing near,
the two men went below and dined. At seven, while they were still at
table, they heard the slow-down signal, and, a moment later, the rattle
of the anchor line. Now, at quarter-past seven, Varney lounged alone by
the starboard rail and acquainted himself with the purview.

They had run perhaps quarter of a mile above the town, for reasons which
he had not communicated to the sailing-master in transmitting his
orders. One was that they might be removed somewhat from native
curiosity. The other was, they might be near the Carstairs residence,
which was up this way somewhere. So, between the yacht and the town lay
hill and wood intervening. The _Cypriani_, so to say, had anchored in
the country. Only a light glimmering here and there through the trees
indicated the nearness of man's abode.

A soporific quality lurked in the quiet solitude, and Varney, sunk in a
deck-chair, yawned. They had decided at dinner that they would do
nothing that night but go to bed, for it seemed plain that there was
nothing else to do: little girls did not ramble abroad alone after dark.
Up the companion-way and over the glistening after-deck strolled Peter,
an eye-catching figure in the flooding moonlight. For, retiring to his
stateroom from the table, he had divested himself of much raiment and
encased his figure in a great purple bathrobe. He was a man who loved to
be comfortable, was Peter. Topping the robe, he wore his new Panama.
Varney looked around at the sound of footsteps, and was considerably
struck by his friend's appearance.

"Feeling well, old man?" he asked with solicitude.

"Certainly."

"Not seasick at all? You won't let me fetch you the hot-water bottle?"

"No, ass."

Peter sank down in an upholstered wicker chair with pillows in it, and
looked out appreciatively at the night. The yacht's lights were set, but
her deck bulbs hung dark; for the soft and shimmering radiance of the
sky made man's illumination an offense.

However, aesthetics, like everything else, has its place in human
economy and no more. No one aboard the _Cypriani_ became so absorbed in
the marvels of nature as to become insensible to other pleasures. The
air, new and fine from the hands of its Maker, acquired a distinct
flavor of nicotine as it flitted past the yacht. From some hidden depth
rose the subdued and convalescent snores of that early retirer, the
sailing-master's wife. Below forward, two deck-hands were thoughtfully
playing set-back for pennies, while a machinist sat by and read a
sporting extra by a swinging bulb. Above forward, on a coil of rope,
McTosh, the head steward and one of Mr. Carstairs's oldest servants,
smoked a bad pipe, and expectorated stoically into the Hudson.

The thought of the essential commonplaceness of this sort of thing
recurred to Peter Maginnis. For all his life of idleness, which was, as
it were, accidental, Peter was essentially a man of action; and life's
sedentary movements irked him sorely.

"Who is the individual monkeying around at the bow?" he asked presently.

"It is Mr. Bissett, the ship's engineer, who is putting a coat of white
lead over the yacht's name."

"Aha! Aren't we old-sleuthy, though! And what's that piece of stage-play
for?"

"All these little hookers," said Varney, "are listed in a book, which
many persons own. Why have the local press tell everybody to-morrow that
the yacht _Cypriani_ belonging to Mr. Carstairs, husband once-removed to
our own Mrs. Elbert Carstairs, is anchored off these shores?"

"It seems," said Peter, "like a lot of smoke for such a little fire."

He got up and sprawled on the rail, his yellow Panama pulled far over
his eyes, his gaze fixed on the shining water.

"First and last, I've seen rivers in my time," he said presently, "big
and little, pretty and not, clean and soiled, decent and indecent. Yes,
boy," said he, "you can take it from me that I've seen the world's
darnedest in the matter of rivers, and I have liked them all from Ganges
to the Sacramento and back again. There was a time when I didn't have
that sort of personal feeling for 'em, but a little chap up in Canada,
he helped me to the light. He was the keenest on rivers I ever knew."

He broke off to yawn greatly, started to resume, thought better of it,
checked himself, and presently said in an absent voice:

"No, that's too long to tell."

"There's two hours till bedtime."

Peter straightened and began strolling aimlessly about the deck, half
regretting that they had decided to spend the evening on the yacht.
Varney looked after him with a certain sense of guilt. Against this
background of quiet night and moonlit peace, his enterprise began to
look very small and easy. A ramble through the pleasant woods over
there, a little girl met and played with, a leisurely stroll
hand-in-hand down a woodland path to the yacht--was it for this that he
had begged the assistance of Peter Maginnis, of the large administrative
abilities and the teeming energies? Varney began to be a little ashamed
of himself. To follow out Peter's own figure, it appeared that he had
called out the fire department to help him put out a smoking sheet of
note-paper on a hearth.

Soon, in one of his goings and comings, Peter halted. "There was another
Hunston dispatch in the paper this morning," he vouchsafed.

"Politics?"

"Said the reform movement was a joke."

"Good one?"

"Good movement, you mean?"

"No--good joke."

"No reform movement is ever a good joke, under any circumstances
whatsoever. Where it appears a joke at all, it is the kind that would
appeal only to pinheads of the dottiest nature."

"I see."

"I'm going up there to-morrow," said Peter, nodding toward the town,
"and look into it a little. If there is time, I may even decide to show
these fellows how a reform proposition ought to be handled to ensure
results."

Far off on the hill a single light twinkled through the trees, very
yellow against the pale moonlight. Varney's eye fell upon it and
absently held it. It was Mary Carstairs's light, though, of course, he
had no means of knowing that.

Presently Peter lolled around and looked at him. "H'm! Sunk in a sodden
slumber, I suppose?"

"Not at all. Interested by your conversation--fascinated. Ha! Here is
something to vary the evening's monotony. A row-boat is drifting
down-stream towards us. Let us make little wagers with each other as to
who'll be in it."

He looked over his shoulder upward at the moon, which a flying scud of
cloud had momentarily veiled. Peter, who had sat down again, glanced up
the river.

"I don't see any boat."

"There is where the wager comes in, my son. Hurry up--the moon will pop
out in another minute, and spoil the sport."

"Drifting, you say. Bet you she's empty--broke away from her moorings
and riding down with the current. Bet you half a dollar. My second bet,"
he said, warming to the work, "is an old washerwoman and her little boy,
out on their rounds collecting clothes. It's Monday. In case both firsts
are wrong, second choices get the money."

"My bet is--Ha! Stand ready with your half! There she comes--Jove!"

"Good God!" cried Peter and sprang up.

For the moon had jumped out from behind its cloud like a cuckoo in a
clock, and fallen full upon the drifting boat, now hardly fifty yards
away. In the bottom of it lay a man, sprawled over his useless oars,
his upturned face very white in the moonlight, limp legs huddled under
him anyhow. Something in the abandon of his position suggested that he
would not get up any more.



CHAPTER IV


WHICH CONCERNS POLITICS AND OTHER LOCAL MATTERS

It was an odd sight against the setting of pretty night and light, idle
talk. Peter's lip tightened.

"He's dead, poor chap!" he said, in a low voice. "Murdered."

"So it seems. We can't be sure from here, though. Where's that watch?
Here--some of you! Lower away the dinghy! Get a move!"

The boats were on their hooks, swung outboard ready for instant use. The
crew, tumbling out swiftly at the call, cleared away one and let it fall
over the side. The young men went down with it, Peter seizing the oars
as his by right. The floating boat with its strange cargo had drifted
close and was now lost in the vast black shadow of the yacht.

"Where is it?"

"I can't--Yes! There it is. Straight back. Now a little to the right.
Way enough!"

Varney, in the stern, leaned out and gripped the drifting gunwale
securely. But it was so dark here that he could see almost nothing.

"He's breathing, I think," he said, his hand against the strange man's
chest. "Pull out into the light."

But just then the arm that lay under the still head unmistakably
twitched.

"Good!" cried Peter and laughed a little. "Strike a match and let's have
a look at him."

Varney fumbled in his pockets, found one and scratched it on the side.
Shielding the flame in his curved hand, he leaned forward and held it
close to that motionless face.

It was a young face, pale and rather haggard, lined about the mouth and
yellow about the eyes; the face of a clever but broken gentleman. Full
of contrasts and a story as it was, it would have been a striking face
at any time; and to the two peering men in the _Cypriani's_ boat, it was
now very striking indeed. For they saw immediately that the curious eyes
were half open and were fixed full upon them.

The match burned Varney's fingers, went out and dropped into the water.
He said nothing. Neither did Peter. The man in the boat did not stir. So
went by a second of profound stillness. Then a somewhat blurred voice
said:

"When a gentleman goes rowing--in a private boat--and is raided by a
pair of unknown investigators--one of them wearing a Mother Hubbard--
who strike matches in his face and make personal remarks--he naturally
awaits their explanations."

The speech fell upon four of the most astonished ears in the State of
New York.

Peter recovered first: the remark about the Mother Hubbard had stung him
a little, even in that dumfounded moment, but he only laughed.

"The fact is, we made absolutely sure that you were a corpse. Our
mistake."

"But God save us!" murmured the young man. "Can't a man die these days
without a yacht-full of anxious persons steaming up and clamping a light
against his eyeball?"

"But can't we do something for you?" asked Varney. "That's what we are
here for."

The young man lay still and thought a moment, which he appeared to do
with some difficulty.

"To be frank," his voice came out of the dark, rather clearer now, "you
can. Give me a match, will you?"

Varney laughed; he produced and handed over a little box of them. Lying
flat on his back in the boat, the young man fished a cigarette out of
his pocket, hurriedly, and stuck it between his lips. The next minute
the spurt of a match cut the air. The two in the ship's boat caught a
brief, flashing glimpse of him--thin white hands raised to thin white
face.

"Something of a _poseur_, aren't you?" suggested Peter pleasantly.
"What's your rôle to-night?"

There followed a fractional pause.

"That of a vagrant student of manners and customs," answered the
colorless voice. "Therefore, to imitate your frankness, you interest me
greatly."

"Those who study manners," said Peter, "should learn them after a while.
Why didn't you sing out, when you saw us hustling to get out a boat, and
tell us not to bother, as you were only playing dead for the lark of the
thing?"

"Singing, whether out or in, is an art at which I can claim small
proficiency. But tell me the time, will you? I seem to have hocked my
watch."

Peter laughed a little ruefully. "It's seven thirty-six--no more and no
less."

The young man sat up with an effort, and uncertainly gathered up his
oars.

"You'll excuse me, then?" he said. "I have an engagement at seven
thirty, and as you see, there is little time to make it."

"We gave you a light," said Peter. "Why not reciprocate? Who the devil
are you?"

"I am a part of all that I have met," said the stranger, pulling off. "I
am wily wandering Ulysses. I am--"

"That will do," said Peter sharply.

He bowed gravely and rowed away. Peter looked after him for some time,
in rather impressive silence.

"What d' you suppose was the matter with the beggar, anyway? He wasn't
drunk."

"Didn't you notice his wrists when he held them up to light his
cigarette? Full of little scars."

Peter whistled. "So morphine is his trouble, is it? Listen!"

From down the river rose a faint roar, like the sound of many voices a
long way off. While the two men listened, it subsided and then rose
again.

"Hello!" said Varney. "Look at your student of manners and customs now."

The man in the boat was still plainly discernible, his face picked out
by the moon in greenish white. But there was no longer any lethargy in
his manner. He was bending his back to his best stroke--an excellent one
it was--and driving his light bark rapidly down the stream.

"My bet," said Varney, "is that he hears those shouts, and they mean
something to him--something interesting and important."

"Larry, be a sport! Let's follow this thing along and find out what it
all means."

"Oh, I'm willing to drop into town for a little reconnoissance, if you
like. Maybe we can pick up something that will help us in our business."

"Spoken like a scholar and a gentleman. One minute while I get on my
clothes. Oh--by the way! Er--this new--robe of mine doesn't look like a
Mother Hubbard, does it?"

"In my opinion," said Varney, "two things could not well be more utterly
unlike."

Peter was back in five minutes, clothed and in his right mind. His
falling foot hit the center-line of the gig with a thump, and they shot
away toward the town wharf.

They bade the boat wait their signal in the shadows a little upstream,
and jumped out upon the old and rotting landing. A street ran straight
before them, up a steep hill and into the heart of the town, and they
took it, guided by a burst of still distant laughter and hoarse shouts.
Toiling up the evil sidewalk, they looked about curiously at the town
which was to engage their attention for the next day or so. Over
everything hung that vague air of dejection and moral decay which is so
hard to define and so easy to detect. The street was lit with feeble
electric lights which did little more than nullify the moon. Grass grew
at its pleasure through the broken brick pavement; and even in that
dimness, it was very evident that the White Wing department had been
taking a long vacation.

Varney's eye took in everything. It occurred to him that this was a most
extraordinary place for the family of the exquisite and well-fixed
Elbert Carstairs to live. Hard on the heels of that came another thought
and he stopped.

"What's the matter?" said Peter.

"We simply mustn't get mixed up in any doings here, you know. Can't
afford it. Whatever is going on, our rôle must be that of quiet
onlookers only. Remember that."

"Quiet onlookers it is. Hello! Did you see that?"

"What?"

"Old duck in a felt hat walking behind us, a good distance off--I'd
heard him for some time. He stopped when we stopped, and when I turned
then I was just in time to see him go skipping up the side street."

"Well, what of it?"

"Not a thing. I'm interested in the sights of the town, that's all.
Listen to those hoodlums, will you?"

In the middle of that block rose a great public building of florid and
hideous architecture, absurdly expensive for so small a town, and
running fast to seed. On the corner ahead, at the crest of the slope,
stood the handsomest and most prosperous-looking building they had yet
seen. Its long side was cut by many windows, all brilliantly lit up, and
above the lower tier ran the gold-lettered legend:

WINES & LIQUORS. THE OTTOMAN. D. RYAN.

"When the saloon-keeper is the richest man in town," observed Peter,
"look out for trouble."

A roar of laughter, mingled with various derisive cries, broke out just
then, now from very near. The next minute the two men reached the brow
of the hill, and both stopped involuntarily, arrested by the tableau
which met their gaze beyond.

They stood on the upper side of a little rectangular "square," at the
lower edge of which, some fifty yards away, were gathered possibly
thirty or forty jostling and noisy men. Facing them, standing on a
carriage-block at the curb, stood a cool little man obviously engaged in
making a speech. The commonness of the men and the rough joviality of
their mood were the more accentuated by the supreme dignity of the
orator. He was a very small man, with pink cheeks and eye-glasses,
beautifully made and still more beautifully dressed; and for all their
boisterous "jollying" his auditors appeared rather to like him than the
contrary.

The men from the _Cypriani_ crossed the square and came up with the
merry-making Hunstonians. Varney's gaze went round the circle of faces
and saw inefficiency, shiftlessness, and failure everywhere stamped
upon them. Suddenly his wandering eye was arrested by a face of quite a
different sort. Directly opposite stood the eccentric young man of the
row-boat, watching the show out of listless eyes whose expression never
changed.

"On that horse-block," said Peter, raising his voice to carry above an
outburst of catcalls and allegedly humorous comment, "stands the Hunston
Reform Movement. Giving 'em a ripping talk, too--all out of Bryce, Mill,
and the other fellows."

But at that moment, as luck had it, the oratory came to a sudden end. A
sportive bull-pup, malevolently released by some one in the crowd,
danced up to the horse-block, barking joyfully, and made a lightning
dive for the spellbinder's legs. The spellbinder dexterously
side-stepped; the dog's aim was diverted from that fleshy portion of the
thigh which his fancy had selected; but his snapping teeth closed firmly
in the tail of the pretty light-gray coat, which the little man wore
rather long according to the mode of the day. And there he swung,
kicking and snarling, squirming and grunting, in the liveliest fashion
imaginable.

Merry pandemonium broke out among the onlookers; they howled with
shameless delight. It was hardly a pleasant scene to witness, though
redeemed by the little orator's gameness. His face, when he took in what
had happened to him, slowly turned the color of a sheet of white paper.
With indescribable dignity, he descended from his rostrum, carrying the
dog along, and walked out into the ring. In front of a tall,
loose-jointed, scraggly-mustached fellow he paused, and stared him in
the eye with steady fixity.

"T-t-take your d-d-damned d-dog off me, Hackley," he said, stuttering
badly, but very cool.

But Hackley backed away, shaking his head and bellowing with laughter.
In an ecstasy of delight, the onlookers began pressing more closely
about the men, narrowing the circle. And then it was that Peter, quite
forgetting his rôle of quiet onlooker and unable for his life to
restrain himself longer, put his shoulder to the ring and broke a
vigorous way through. He touched the little orator on the arm.

"No need to trouble the gentleman," Varney heard him say pleasantly.
"Just hold the position a moment, please." And so saying he swung back
his foot.

It landed with an impact that was loud and not agreeable to the ear. The
dog dropped with a frightful howl and, yelping madly, fled.
Simultaneously, cries arose about the ringside, and the dog's owner, an
alcoholic blaze in his eye, spat bitterly into his two palms and headed
straight for Peter.

"What in the blank-blank d' yer mean by kickin' my blank dog, you
blank-blankety-blank, you?" he inquired.

"I meant that he was behaving as no dog should," explained Peter, "and
the same remark applies to you."

He was not without skill at fisticuff, was Hackley. With the speed of a
tiger, he let out first his left fist, then his right, at Peter
Maginnis's head. But instead of arriving there, they collided with a
forearm which had about the resiliency of a two-foot stone-wall.
Simultaneously, Peter released his famous left-hook--had of the Bronx
Barman at ten dollars a lesson--and the fight was over.

Mr. Hackley's head struck first, and struck passionately; men picked him
up and bore him limply from the field. And Peter, a tiny spot of red in
the corner of his right eye, spoke thus to the horseshoe of watching
faces:

"You're a devil of a fine gang of red-hot sports, aren't you, boys? A
whole regiment of you with no more decency than to pick on one man like
this. I come from a white man's country where this kind of thing doesn't
go--thank God! And any man who has formed a bad opinion of my manners
and my general style of conversation can just step out into the ring and
let me explain my system to him."

But nobody accepted that invitation. Possibly the rub was that no one
cared to see that left-hook work again, at his own expense, or to
encourage any trouble to come athwart his quiet career. At any rate,
there were a few mutterings here and there; and then some one sang out:

"None fer mine, Mister! I ain't took out my life insurance yet."

There was a general laugh at this, and with that laugh Peter knew that
all hope of more fighting was gone. He bade them a sardonic good-night,
hooked his arm through the orator's (who actually showed signs of an
intention to resume his speech), and bore him off down the street.

The three men walked half a block in silence, and then the little
stranger stopped short.

"I say," he said in a faintly unsteady voice, "I want to thank you for
taking that confounded dog off me. In another minute he might have torn
my coat, don't you know?"

"Oh, that's all right," said Peter, repressing a smile. "Kicking dogs is
rather a specialty of mine, and it isn't often I get the chance to
attend to two of them in one evening. I wouldn't give the episode
another thought."

The little man gave a sudden fierce laugh. "Oh, certainly not! It's a
mere bagatelle for a candidate for Mayor to get a hand-out like that
from a gathering of voters!"

"Mayor! I beg your pardon! Of course I didn't quite understand."

Whereupon Peter begged to introduce himself as an ardent amateur
statesman, a student of good government from New Hampshire to New
Zealand and from Plato to Lincoln Steffens, who had--er--come to Hunston
hoping to see something of the fight for reform. The candidate, in turn,
produced cards. It became apparent that he bore the name of J. Pinkney
Hare. And the upshot of the colloquy was that the two young men
presently found themselves invited to call upon Candidate Hare next
morning, and learn something of the situation.

"I'll be delighted," accepted Peter promptly,--"delighted."

"That's settled then. Good-night--and thanks awf'ly for your
assistance."

He pivoted on his trim heels, abruptly, and went away up the side
street.

Peter turned to Varney with a faint grin. "That chap gets his first
lesson in the art of being a reformer to-morrow. Curious, wasn't
it?--stumbling right into the heart of the agitation an hour after we
hit the town."

Varney, who had followed Peter's activities of the last five minutes
with considerable disapproval, did not answer his smile.

"Give me a hasty sketch of your conception of a quiet onlooker, will
you, Peter?"

"Tush!" said Peter. "Why, can't you see that this sort of thing will
make the finest kind of blind? St! Here's our little friend coming back
again."

"I say," called the voice of J. Pinkney Hare out of the gloom.

"Yes?" said Peter.

The candidate drew nearer.

"Our city is not plentifully supplied with amusements," he began in his
somewhat pompous manner. "It just occurred to me that, in lieu of
anything better, you gentlemen might care to go home with me now. I
should be happy to have you--and to reciprocate your courtesy in any way
within my power."

Peter, doubtless remembering the slow time he had been having on the
yacht, brightened instantly and visibly.

"Why, _thanks_. I'll be awfully glad to come. I--er--I'm tremendously
interested in your situation here, I assure you."

Then, catching a warning glance from Varney, who politely declined the
invitation, he apologized to the candidate and drew his captain briefly
aside.

"I'll pick up all the information I can--understand?" he murmured
hurriedly. "And don't you worry. A little flurry in politics will make
the best sort of a cover for you while you sneak around after Mary."

On that the two friends parted. Peter hurried on after the little
reformer, and Varney, turning, continued his way down Main Street toward
the river and the _Cypriani_, not entirely displeased, after all, that
Peter had found some congenial diversion for the evening.

The street was almost a desert. If the unmistakable sounds of revelry by
night meant anything, nearly the whole population was behind him in the
Ottoman bar. But in the middle of the next block, two ragged men,
standing idly and talking together, turned at the sounds of the young
man's steps. One of them, revealed by a near-by shop-light, had straggly
gray whiskers, vacant eyes, and a bad foolish mouth. Both of them stared
at Varney with marked intentness. He had to go quite out of his way to
get round them.

"They don't see strangers every day, I take it," he thought absently;
and suddenly he cast an inquiring eye at the heavens.

The night, so shining half an hour before, was becoming heavily
overcast. Clouds had rolled up from nowhere and blotted out the moon.
About him the night breeze was freshening with a certain significance;
and now unexpectedly there fell upon his ear the faint far rumble of
thunder. Decidedly, there would be rain, and that right soon. Varney
quickened his pace.

At the end of that quiet block he came upon a crimson-cheeked lady,
somewhat past her first youth and over-plump for beauty, who was engaged
in putting up the shutters at her mother's grocery establishment.
Glancing around casually at his approach, her glance became transfixed
into a stare.

"Well!" she exclaimed in surprise and not without coquettishness--"if it
ain't Mr. Ferris!"

"If it ain't Mr. Ferris--what then?" asked Varney. "For, madam, I assure
you that it ain't."

The woman, taken aback by this denial, only stared and had no reply
ready. But the young man, walking on, was set to thinking by this second
encounter, and presently he mused: "I'm somebody's blooming double,
that's what. I wonder whose."

And on that word, as though to get an answer to his speculation, he
suddenly halted and turned.

He had now progressed nearly a block from the buxom young woman of the
grocery. For some time, even before that meeting, he had been aware of
light, steady footsteps behind him on the dark street, gaining on him.
By this time they had come very near; and now as he wheeled sharply,
with a vague anticipation of Peter's "old duck in a felt hat," he found
himself face to face with quite a different figure--that of a thin young
man whom he recognized.

"Bless us!" said Varney urbanely. "It's the student of manners again."

The pale young stranger stopped two paces away and gave back his look
with the utmost composure.

"Still on my studies," said he, in his flat tones--"though I doubt," he
added thoughtfully, "if that fully explains why I have followed you."

"Ah? Perhaps I may venture to ask what would explain it more fully?"

"Oh, certainly. My real motive was to suggest, purely because of a
paternal interest I take in you, that you leave town to-morrow
morning--you and your ferocious friend."

Varney eyed him amusedly. "But is not this somewhat--er--precipitate?"

"Oh, not a bit of it. In fact, you hardly require me to tell you, Beany,
that you were a great fool to come back at all."

"Beany!"

"You don't mind if I sit down?"

A row of packing-cases clogged the sidewalk at the point where they
stood, and the young man dropped down wearily upon one of them, and
leaned back against the store-front.

"Beany?" repeated Varney.

"It was dark down on the river," observed the other slowly, "but the
instant I saw you on the square, I recognized you, and so, my friend,
will everybody else."

"With even better success, I trust, than you have done. For my name is
not Beany, but indeed Varney--Laurence Varney--permit me--"

"Ah, well! Stick it out if you prefer. In any case--"

"But do tell me the name of this individual to whom I bear such a
marked resemblance. I naturally--"

"The individual to whom you bear such a marked, I may say such a very
marked, resemblance," said the stranger, mockingly, "is a certain Mr.
Ferris Stanhope, a prosperous manufacturer of pink-tea literature. You
never heard the name--of course. But never mind about that. I should
advise you both to leave town anyway."

"Is it trespassing too far if I ask--"

"Any one who associates with little Hare, as I have a premonition that
you two will do if you stay, is born to trouble as the sparks fly
upward."

Varney came a step nearer and rested his foot on the edge of the
packing-case.

"Now that," said he, "is by all odds the best thing you've said yet.
Elucidate it a bit, won't you? I admit to some curiosity about that
little tableau in the square--"

"Yes? Well, I owe you one for that box of matches, Beany--er--Mr.--and
it would be rather asinine for you or your pugilistic partner to begin
monkeying with our buzz-saw. I happened, you see, to overhear part of
your talk with J. Pinkney Hare just now. How others might view it I know
not, but to me it seemed only fair to warn you that that interesting
young man must be shunned by the wise. As to the mayoralty, he has as
much chance of getting in as a jack-rabbit has of butting a way through
the Great Wall of China. For we have a great wall here of the sturdiest
variety."

He meant, as he briefly explained, the usual System, and back of it the
usual Boss: one Ryan, owner of the Ottoman saloon and the city of
Hunston, who held the town in the hollow of his coarse hand, and was
slowly squeezing it to death.

"The election," he went on listlessly, "is only two weeks off, but the
rascal isn't lifting a finger. He doesn't have to. To-morrow night he
holds what he calls his annual 'town-meeting'--a fake and a joke. The
trustful people gather, listen to speeches by Ryan retainers, quaff free
lemonade. Nominally, everybody is invited to speak; really only the
elect are permitted to. I saw a reform candidate try it once, and it was
interesting to see how scientifically they put a crimp in him."

"And J. Pinkney Hare?" queried Varney becoming rather interested.

Was everything, the young man explained, that Ryan was not--able,
honest, unselfish, public-spirited. Studying the situation quietly for a
year, he had uncovered a most unholy trail of graft leading to high
places. But when he began to try to tell the people about it, he found
his way hopelessly blocked at every turn.

"He can't even hire a hall," summarized the stranger. "Not to save his
immortal soul. That was the meaning of the ludicrous exhibition a few
minutes ago. In one word, he can't get a hearing. He might talk with the
tongues of men and angels, but nobody will listen to him. It is a dirty
shame. But what in the world can you expect? Lift a finger against the
gang, and, presto, your job's gone, and you can't find another high or
low. Ryan's money goes everywhere--into the schools, the church, the
press. The press. That, of course, is the System's most powerful ally.
The--infamous _Hollaston Gazette_--"

"The _Hollaston Gazette_--is that published here?" asked Varney in
surprise, for the _Gazette_ was famous: one of those very rare
small-town newspapers which, by reason of great age and signal editorial
ability, have earned a national place in American journalism.

"Named after the county. You have heard of it?" said the young man in a
faintly mocking voice, and immediately went on: "The _Gazette_ is eighty
years old. Even now, in these bad times, everybody in the county takes
it. They get all their opinions from it, ready-made. It is their Bible.
A fool can see what a power such a paper is. For seventy-seven years the
_Gazette_ fully deserved it. That was the way it won it. But all that is
changed now. And the paper is making a great deal of money."

"It is crooked, then?"

"I said, did I not, that it was for Ryan?"

He lounged further back in the shadows upon his packing-case; he
appeared not to be feeling well at all. Varney regarded him with puzzled
interest.

"A very depressing little story," he suggested, "but after all, hardly a
novel one. I don't yet altogether grasp why--"

"Your Jeffries of a friend is a red-hot political theorist, isn't he?"
asked the other apathetically. "Our Hunston politicians are practical
men. They are after results, and seek them with small regard, I fear,
to copy-book precepts. You follow me? Rusticating strangers, visiting
sociological students, itinerant idealists, these would do well to speak
softly and walk on the sunny side of the road."

"You appear," said Varney, his curiosity increasingly piqued, "to speak
of these matters with authority--"

"Rather let us say with certitude."

"Possibly you yourself have felt the iron-toothed bite of the machine?"

"I?"

"Why not?"

The young man looked shocked; slowly his pale face took on a look of
cynical amusement. "Yes, yes. Certainly. Who more so?" He appeared to
hesitate a moment, and then added with a laugh which held a curious
tinge of defiance: "In fact, I myself have the honor of being the owner
and editor of the _Gazette_--Coligny Smith, at your service--"

"Coligny Smith!" echoed Varney amazed.

The young man glanced up. "It was my father you have heard of. He died
three years ago. However," he added, with an odd touch of pride, "he
always said that I wrote the better articles."

There was a moment's silence. Varney felt by turns astonished,
disgusted, sorry, embarrassed. Then he burst out laughing.

"Well, you have a nerve to tell me this. Smith. In doing so, you seem to
have brought our conversation to a logical conclusion. I thank you for
your kindly advice and piquant confession, and so, good evening."

Mr. Smith straightened on his packing-case and spoke with unexpected
eagerness.

"Oh--must you go? The night's so young--why not--come up to the Ottoman
and have something? I'll--I'd be glad to explain--"

"I fear I cannot yield to the editorial blandishments this evening."

"Well--I merely--"

"What?"

"Oh, nothing. But remember--you'll get into trouble if you stay."

Varney laughed.

He went on toward his waiting gig feeling vaguely displeased with the
results of his half-hour ashore, and deciding that for the future it
would be best to give the town a wide berth. The privacy of the yacht
better suited his mission than Main Street, Hunston. However, the end
was not yet. He had not reached the landing before a thought came to him
which stopped him in his tracks.



CHAPTER V


INTRODUCES MARY CARSTAIRS AND ANOTHER

Clearly he must see Peter, at once, before that impetuous enthusiast had
had time to involve himself in anything, and tell him bluntly that he
must leave the affairs of Hunston alone until their own delicate
business had been safely disposed of.

In such a matter as this it was not safe to take chances. Varney had a
curious feeling that young Mr. Smith's melodramatic warnings had been
offered in a spirit of friendliness, rather than of hostility.
Nevertheless, the eccentric young man had unmistakably threatened them.
While Varney had been more interested by the man, personally, than by
his whimsical menaces, the editor's conversation could certainly not be
called reassuring. Smith owned a corrupt newspaper; he was a clever man
and, by his own confession, an unscrupulous one, bought body and soul by
the local freebooters; and if he thought the headlong intruder Maginnis
important enough to warrant it, there were presumably no lengths to
which he would not go to make the town uncomfortable for him, to the
probable prejudice of their mission. Clearly, here was a risk which he,
as Mr. Carstairs's emissary, had no right to incur. The _Cypriani_ was
in no position to stand the fire of vindictive yellow journalism.
Besides, there was the complicating matter of his own curious
resemblance to somebody whom, it seemed, Hunston knew, and not too
favorably.

Considerably annoyed, Varney turned his face back toward the town. To
avoid more publicity, he turned off the main thoroughfare to a narrow
street which paralleled it, and, walking rapidly, came in five minutes
to the street where Peter and the little candidate had left him. This
street came as a surprise to him: Hunston's best "residence section"
beyond doubt. It was really pretty, spaciously wide and flanked by
handsome old trees. Houses rose at increasingly long intervals as one
got away from the town; and they were for the most part charming-looking
houses, set in large lawns and veiled from public scrutiny by much fine
foliage.

Varney cast about for somebody who would give him his bearings, and had
not far to look.

Puffing stolidly on the butt of an alleged cigar, into which he had
stuck a sharpened match as a visible means of support, a boy who was
probably not so old as he looked sat upon the curbstone at the corner,
and claimed the world for his cuspidor. He was an ill-favored runt of a
boy, with a sedate manner and a face somewhat resembling a hickory-nut.

Varney, approaching, asked him where Mr. Hare lived. Without turning
around, or desisting an instant from the tending of his cigar (which,
indeed, threatened a decease at any moment), the boy replied:

"Acrost an' down, one half a block. Little yaller house wit' green
blinds and ornings. Yer could n't miss it. Yer party left dere ten
minutes ago, dough."

"What party?" asked Varney puzzled.

"Tall big party wit' yaller hat, stranger here. Seen him beatin' it out
the street for the road, him and Hare. Goin' some, they was."

"How did you know I was looking for that party?"

"Took a chanst," said the boy. "Do I win?"

His stoical gravity made Varney smile. "You do--a good cigar. That one
of yours has one foot in the grave, hasn't it?"

"T'ank you, boss."

"By the way," he added casually, struck by a thought, "Mrs. Carstairs
must live on this street somewhere, doesn't she? Which way?"

"Same way as yer party went. Last house on de street--Remsen Street. Big
white one, up on a hill like."

Varney hurried off on the trail of his elusive friend. He was puzzled in
the last degree to know why Peter, having just entered Hare's house,
should have left it at once and gone racing off, with Hare, down this
empty street toward the open country. The one explanation that occurred
to him was on the whole an unwelcome one. This was that he had made an
opening to introduce the subject of Mary Carstairs, and the grateful
candidate had volunteered his friendly offices--perhaps to show Peter
the house, perhaps actually to take him up and present him.

In the light of a depressed corner-lamp he glanced at his watch. Having
supposed that it must be nearly nine o'clock, he was surprised to find
that it was only a few minutes after eight. He had the handsome street
to himself. The night had grown very dark, and the faint but continuous
rumble of thunder was a warning to all pedestrians to seek shelter
without delay. Varney's stride was swift. Whatever Peter meant to do, he
wanted to overtake him before he did it, and gently lead him to
understand, here at the outset, that he was a subordinate in this
expedition, expected to do nothing without orders from above.

But he found himself at the end of the street, and saw the country road
dimly winding on beyond, without having found a trace of Peter, or seen
any other human being. Here, for all his hurry, he was checked for a
moment by a sudden new interest. Mindful of the boy's succinct
directions, he paused in the shadow of the wood, which here came to the
sidewalk's edge, and looked across the street for the residence of Mrs.
Carstairs.

Through the trees of a sloping lawn, his gaze fell at once upon a wide
rambling white house, directly opposite, well back from the street and
approached by a winding white driveway. The house was well lighted;
there was a porch-lamp lit; over the carriage-gate hung a large electric
globe. Despite the darkness of the night, Varney had a first-rate view.
The house was big; it was white; unquestionably it was up on a hill
like. In fact there could be no doubt in the world that this was the
house he had come from New York to find.

The sight drew and interested him beyond all expectation. Presently, by
a curious coincidence, something happened which increased his interest
tenfold. His eye had run over the house, about the lawn, even up at the
windows, taking in every detail. There was no sign of life anywhere. But
now as he stood and watched, the swing front-door was unexpectedly
pushed open, and, like some feat in mental telepathy, a girl stepped out
upon the piazza.

Involuntarily Varney shrank back into the shadows, assuming by instinct
the best conspirators' style, and glued his eyes upon the impelling
sight. Not that the girl herself was peculiarly fascinating to the eye.
The porch-light revealed her perfectly: a small, dark, nondescript
child, not above thirteen years old, rather badly dressed and, to say
truth, not attractive-looking in any way. But to Varney, at the moment,
she was the most irresistibly interesting figure in the six continents.

She came to the top of the step and stood there, peering out into the
darkness as though looking for some one. Varney, from his dark retreat
stared back at her. There they stood unexpectedly face to face, the
kidnapper and his quarry. A sudden wild impulse seized the young man to
act immediately: to make a dash from his cover, bind the girl's mouth
with his handkerchief, toss her over his shoulder, and fly with her to
the yacht. That was the way these things ought to be done, not by the
tedious and furtive methods of chicanery. But, since this man-like
method was forbidden him, why should he not at least cross boldly and go
in--a lost wayfarer inquiring for directions--anything to start up the
vitally necessary acquaintance? Would he ever have a better chance?

The thought had hardly come to him before the child herself killed it.
She turned as suddenly as she had come and disappeared into the house.
That broke the spell; and Varney, interested by the discovery that his
heart was beating above normal, slipped unseen from his lurking-place,
and resumed his interrupted progress after Peter and Hare.

Beyond the Carstairs's fence of hedge, the houses stopped with the
sidewalk. The highway, having no longer anything to keep up appearances
for, dwindled into an ordinary country road, meandering through an
ordinary country wood. What could have carried Peter out here it was
impossible to conceive; but clearly something had, and Varney raced on,
hoping at every moment to descry his great form looming up ahead of him
out of the blackness.

What luck--what beautiful luck--to have found her in his very first hour
in Hunston! It was half his work done in the wink of an eye. To-morrow
morning, the first thing, he would return to this quiet street, watch at
his ease for the child to come outdoors, saunter calmly from his
hiding-place, make friends with her. By this time to-morrow night, in
all human probability, he would be back in New York, his errand safely
accomplished. That done, Peter could play politics to his heart's
content. Meantime, it was more desirable than ever to tell him of these
unexpected developments and deter him from taking any step which might
complicate the game....

A loud thunderclap crashed across the train of his thought. Another and
a worse one crowded close upon it. He glanced up through the trees into
the inky cavern of the skies, and a single large drop of water spattered
upon his upturned forehead.

"Hang it!" he thought disgustedly. "Here comes the rain."

It came as though at his word, and with unbelievable suddenness. Thunder
rolled; the breeze stiffened into a gale. Another drop fell upon his
hat, and then another, and another. The young man came to an unwilling
halt.

But he immediately saw that further pursuit was, for the moment at
least, out of the question. The storm broke with a violence strangely at
variance with the calm of the earlier evening. The heavens opened and
the floods descended. Shelter was to be found at once, if at all, but as
he hesitated, he remembered suddenly that he had not passed a house in
five minutes. In the same moment his eye fell upon a little cottage just
ahead of him, unlighted and barely perceptible in the thick darkness,
standing off the road not a hundred feet away. He made for it through
the driving rain and wind, stepped upon the narrow porch, discovered
immediately that it gave him no protection at all, and knocked loudly
upon the shut door. He got no answer. Trying it with a wet hand he
perceived that it was unlocked; and without more ado, he opened it and
stepped inside.

It was evidently, as he had surmised, an empty house. The hall was dark
and very quiet. He leaned against the closed front door and dipped into
his pockets for a match. Behind him the rain fell in torrents, and the
turbulent wind dashed after it and hurled it against the streaming
windows. It had turned in half an hour from a peaceful evening to a wild
night, a night when all men of good sense and good fortune should be
sitting secure and snug by their own firesides. And where, oh where, was
Peter?

Speculating gloomily on this and still exploring his pockets for a
match, he heard a noise not far away in the dark, and knew suddenly that
he was not alone. The next moment a voice floated to him out of the
blackness near at hand, clear, but a little irresolute, faintly
frightened.

"Didn't some one come in? Who is there?"

It was a woman's voice and a wholly charming one. There could hardly
have been its match in Hunston.

"What a very interesting town!" the young man thought. "People to talk
to every way you turn."



CHAPTER VI


THE HERO TALKS WITH A LADY IN THE DARK

Varney called reassuringly into the gloom: "I sincerely beg your pardon
for bursting in like that. I--had no idea there was any one here."

There was a second's pause.

"N--no," said the pretty voice, hesitatingly. "You--you couldn't--of
course."

"But please tell me at once," he said, puzzled by this--"have I taken
the unforgivable liberty of breaking into your house?"

"My house?" And he caught something like bewildered relief in her voice.
"Why--I--was thinking that I had broken into yours."

Varney laughed, his back against the door.

"If it were, I'm sure I should be able to offer you a light at the
least. If it were yours, now that I stop to think--well, perhaps it
_would_ be a little eccentric for you to be sitting there in your parlor
in the inky dark."

To this there came no reply.

"I suppose you, like me," he continued courteously, "are an unlucky
wayfarer who had to choose hastily between trespassing and being
drowned."

"Yes."

Inevitably he found himself wondering what this lady who shared his
stolen refuge could be like. That she was a lady her voice left no
doubt. His eye strained off into the Ethiopian blackness, but could make
neither heads nor tails of it.

"Voices always go by contraries," he thought. "She's fifty-two and wears
glasses."

Aloud he said: "But please tell me quite frankly--am I intruding?"

"Not at all," said the lady, only that and nothing more.

"Perhaps then you won't object if I find a seat? Leaning against a door
is so dull, don't you think?"

He groped forward, hands outstretched before him, stumbled against the
stairway which he sought, and sat down uncomfortably on the
next-to-the-bottom step. Then suddenly the oddness of his situation
rushed over him, and, vexed though he was with the chain of needless
circumstances which had brought him into it, he with difficulty
repressed a laugh.

An hour ago he had been lounging at peace upon the yacht, looking
forward to nothing more titillating than bed at the earliest respectable
hour. Now he was sitting with a strange lady of uncertain age in an
unlighted cottage on a lonely country road, while a howling thunderstorm
raved outside imprisoning him for nobody could say how long. In the
interval between these two extremes, he had discovered that he was a
"double," been threatened with violence, hopelessly lost Peter, and
found Mary Carstairs. Surely and in truth, a pretty active hour's work!

On the tin roof of the cottage the rain beat a wild tattoo. Within, the
silence lengthened. Under the circumstances, Varney considered reserve
on the lady's part not unnatural; but a little talk, as he viewed the
matter, would tend to help the dreary evening through.

He cleared his throat for due notice and began with a laugh.

"I was industriously chasing two men from town when the storm caught me.
You know what I mean--not drumming them out of the city, but merely
pursuing them in this general direction. I wonder if by any chance you
happened to pass them on the road?"

"N-no, I believe not."

"A very small man, very well-dressed, and a very large man, very badly
dressed, wearing a kind of curious, rococo straw hat. I know," he mused,
"that you could not have forgotten that hat. Once seen--"

"Oh!" she exclaimed with sudden evidences of interest--"do tell me--is
the smaller man you mention Mr. Hare?"

"He is indeed," he answered surprised. "You know him? Oh,
yes,--certainly! In Hunston--"

"Know him!" said she in tones of hardly suppressed indignation. "It is
he who is responsible for my being caught in this--this annoying
predicament."

At something in the way the lady said that, Varney unconsciously chipped
twenty years off her age and conceded that she might be no more than
thirty-two.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said with a laugh. "I should say that Mr.
Hare has already had quite enough troubles for one night."

"Oh--then you have seen him this evening?"

"I had the pleasure of meeting him on the square not half an hour ago."

Each waited for the other to say more; and it was the lady who yielded.
She went on hesitatingly, yet somehow as if she were not unwilling to
justify herself to this stranger in the curious position in which she
found herself.

"It--is very strange--and unlike him," she said doubtfully. "He was to
call for me--at quarter past seven--and take me home. I was at the
seamstress's, perhaps quarter of a mile up the road. I waited and
waited--and then--Oh--what was that, do you know?"

"Only this old floor cracking. Don't flatter it by noticing. How odd to
find, meeting in this way, that we are both searching for the same man.
Isn't it?"

"It--seems to me even odder to find that he is not searching for me."

She was sitting, so he judged from the sound, about fifteen feet away.
There was coldness in her voice as she spoke of the candidate. Varney
felt sorry for that young man when he next held converse with her. From
her voice he had also gathered that the dark rather frightened her, and
that the presence of an unknown man had not allayed her uneasiness;
though something of her reserve had vanished, he thought, when she found
that the intruder knew Mr. Hare.

"Oh, but he was--is!" he cried encouragingly.

"I'm positive that he's searching for you at this minute. Why, of
course--certainly! That would explain the whole thing."

Sitting damply on the dark stairway, he told of J. Pinkney Hare's
evidently impromptu experiences in the public square, which had
undoubtedly knocked from his mind all memory of his engagement at the
seamstress's; and of the sudden recollection of it, which, there could
be no question, was what had sent him and his new friend bursting out of
the house and tearing for dear life up the road.

"I'll bet," said he, "that not a minute after you turned into shelter,
they raced by here after you. Now they're kicking their heels at the
sewing-lady's, probably soaked through, and wild to know if you got home
safely. Oh, he's being punished for his sins, never fear."

"I--am sorry for your friend," her voice replied. "And I believe that I
forgive Mr. Hare--now that I know what detained him. I think I must have
heard them go by--just after I got in. Once I was sure I heard voices,
but, of course, I was expecting Mr. Hare to be alone."

"Ha!" thought Varney. "A Hunston romance!"

"You don't know Maginnis," he answered gloomily. "Nobody in the world
ever stays alone long when Maginnis can possibly get to him."

He heard something that he thought might be a faint laugh. And
immediately ten years more came off the lady's age, and she stood at
twenty-two. The young man began to consider with less distaste his
obvious duty of escorting her home.

In the momentary silence, wood somewhere near them once more creaked
loudly and scarily.

"Oh!" came her voice out of the blackness. "Would you mind striking a
match and seeing if there isn't a lamp or something we could light?"

"But I haven't a match--that's just it! If I _had_--! Why I assure you
I've been wishing for nothing so much as a light ever since you--ever
since I came in."

"If I were a man--" she began, vexedly, but suddenly checked herself.
"Are you quite sure you haven't a single _one_?"

"I'll gladly look again in all my twenty-seven pockets. I've been doing
it ever since I arrived, and I've gotten rather to like it. But I'm
awfully afraid it's a wild goose chase."

Crack! Crack! went the mysteriously stirring woodwork, for all the world
like a living thing; and the lady again said "Oh!" And after that she
said: "You are not--in this room, are you?"

"I'm sitting quietly on the steps digging around for matches," he said.
"Would you prefer to have me come in there?"

"Would you mind--? Not that I'm in the least frightened, but--"

"It will give me great pleasure to come--faithfully searching my pockets
as I grope forward. Thus," he said, laughing, "I must grope only with my
head and feet, which is a slightly dangerous thing to do. Ouch! Where
are you, please?"

"Here."

"'Here' is not very definite, you know. I have nothing to steer by but
my ear. Would you mind talking a good deal for a while?"

"It is not often," she said, with further signs of a thawing in her
manner, "that a woman gets an invitation like that."

"Opportunity knocks at your door, golden, novel, and unique."

"The luck of it is that I can't think of anything to say. Would you care
to have me hum something?"

Off came the lady's glasses, never to be donned again in fancy or in
life; and Varney was ready to admit that there might be ladies in
Hunston who were worse-looking than she by far. In the Stygian blackness
he collided with a chair and paused, leaning upon the back of it.

"I'd like extremely to have you hum. From your voice, I--I'm sure that
you do it div--awfully well. But since you seem to leave it to me, I'd
honestly rather have you do something else."

"Yes?"

Larry laughed. "It's a game. A--an evening pastime--a sort of novel
guessing contest. Played by strangers in the dark. You see--I must tell
you that ever since you first spoke, my mind has been giving me little
thumbnail sketches--each one different from the last--of what you look
like."

She said nothing to this; so he laughed again.

"Oh, it's not mere curiosity, you know. It's purely a scientific matter
with me. The science of deduction. The voice, you know, tells little or
nothing. I may say that I have made something of a study of voices, and
have discovered that they always go by contraries. For this reason," he
laughed gayly, "when you first spoke, I--but perhaps I am simply tiring
you?"

There was a small pause, and then the lady spoke, with apparent
reluctance:

"I am not tired."

Varney smiled into the great darkness. "Well, when I first heard your
voice--ha, ha!--I made up my mind that you could not possibly be less
than fifty-two."

He was rewarded with a faint laugh: this time there could be no doubt of
it.

"You remember that mythological tunnel where everybody went in old and
came out young. This conversation has been like that. Since we have
talked," said Varney, "I have knocked thirty years off your age. But
much remains to be told--and that is the game. Are you dark?"

"Are you punning?"

"This is no punning matter," he said; and began his third exploration of
himself for a match. And above them the water continued to thud upon the
roof like a torrent broken out of a dam.

"This is _too_ bad!" breathed the lady impatiently, and plainly she was
not speaking to Varney. "I believe it's coming down harder and harder
every minute!"

"Yes," he answered cheerfully, "the good old rain is at it in earnest.
We're probably fixed for hours and hours. I might argue, you know," he
added, "that I have a right to know these things. The box of matches I
just gave away like a madman would have told me, and no questions asked.
Matches and lamps you have none, but such as you have--"

"Could you not talk of something else, please?"

Varney laughed. "Certainly, if I must. Only I've been rather generous
about this, I think, showing you my hand and giving you the chance to
laugh at me. You see, for all I know you may be fifty-two, after all. Or
even sixty-two--Oh, glory! Hallelujah!"

"What on earth is the matter?"

"Oh, nothing! Nothing at all! Just I have found a match. That's all!"

"A _match_! Splendid!" she cried, and her voice suddenly seemed to come
from a higher point in the darkness, as though she had risen. "Just one!
Oh, we--you must be extremely careful with it."

"The trouble is," he said with exaggerated dejection, "it's pretty wet.
I don't know whether it will strike or not."

"You must _make_ it strike. Oh, it will be--unpardonable--if you don't
make it strike!"

"Then I'll throw my soul into the work. I'll concentrate my whole
will-power upon it. On the back of this chair here--shall I?"

"All right. I'll concentrate too. Are--you ready?"

"Ready it is," said Varney.

Gently he drew the match across the rough wood of the chair-back, his
ear all eager expectancy--and nothing happened. Thrice he did this
fruitless thing, and something told him that a large section of the
sulphur had been rubbed away into eternity.

"It's nip and tuck," he breathed, stifling an impulse to laugh. "Nip and
tuck!"

Pressing the match's diminished head firmly against the wood, he drew it
downward vigorously and long. There was a faint crackle, a little
splutter, and--glory of glories!--a tiny flame faltered out into the
darkness.

"Oh--_be careful_!"

Varney cupped his hand about the little flare, and for a moment ceased
to breathe. Then it caught more fully, and it was evident to both that
the victory was won.

He had meant to look instantly about for lamp or candle to light; but if
all his future happiness had hinged upon it, it seemed to him that he
could not have helped one glance at the lady who shared that shelter and
that match with him.

She stood a few feet away, regarding him breathlessly, hatted, gloved,
all in white, one hand resting lightly on the center-table, one folded
about the crook of a dainty draggled parasol. The match threw a small
and ghostly light, but he saw her, and she wore no veil.

"Why--why--I--"

"Oh, quick! There's a lamp just behind you."

He caught himself with a start. By incredible luck a lamp was at his
very elbow; as it was the match died on the wick. He put back the
chimney and shade, turned up the wick, and the room was bathed in golden
light.

It was a good-sized room, evidently newly furnished and as neat as a
bandbox. The empty book-case on which the lamp rested was of handsome
quartered oak, which transiently struck him as curious. But in the next
instant he turned away and forgot all about it.

The lady stood where she had risen and was regarding him without a word.
The lamplight fell full upon her. He came nearer, and his waning
assurance shook him like a pennant in the wind and was suddenly gone.
The sense of _camaraderie_ which the dark had given faded; his easy
friendliness left him; and he was an embarrassed young man face to face
with a girl whose sudden beauty seemed to overwhelm him with the
knowledge that he did not so much as know her name.

"None of my thumbnail sketches," he faltered, "made you look like this."

She had rested her wet parasol against the table, where a slow pool
gathered at the ferrule, and was pulling on more trimly her long white
gloves. Now she looked at him rather quizzically, though her young eyes
reflected something of his own unsteadying embarrassment.

"No," she said, "I shall not be sixty-two for--for some time yet. But of
course it was a game--a pastime--where I had a--little the advantage. Do
you know, I--I am not entirely surprised, after all."

"Oh, aren't you?" he said, completely mystified, but as charmed by her
smile as he was by the subtle change in her manner which had come with
the lighting of that match.

"And it _was_ nice of you to tell me that polite story at the
beginning," she said. "And quick--and clever. When I heard the front
door burst open, the first thing I thought of, really, was that it must
be you."

"I can't think," he said, unable to take his eyes off her, "what in the
world you are talking about."

She laughed with something of an effort, and sat down exquisitely in a
cruel cane chair. "Well, then--_do_ you forgive me for taking possession
of your house like this? You will, won't you? I can't be silly, now, and
pretend not to know you. But really I never dreamed that you--"

"Is it possible," he broke in stormily, "that you are mistaking me for
that insufferable Stanhope?"

She looked at him startled, dumfounded; in her eyes amazement mingled
with embarrassment; then her brow wrinkled into a slow, doubtful smile.

"Oh-h--I beg your pardon! I--did n't understand. But is it my fault that
I've seen your picture a hundred times? Yes, I suppose it is; for, at
the risk of making you crosser still, I'll confess that I--I cut it out
and framed it."

Varney leaned his elbow on the mantel and faced her.

"You have made a mistake," he said. "I am not Mr. Stanhope."

"You mean," she laughed, very pretty and pink, "that it is no affair of
mine that you are."

A kind of desperation seized him. It was evident that she did not
believe him, just as Coligny Smith had not believed him, and the plump
young woman of the grocery who had used his Christian name. He was
almost ready not to believe himself. However, there were cards in his
pocket; he got one of them out, and coming nearer, handed it to her.

"My name is Laurence Varney," he said mechanically, for that slogan
seemed fated to meet skeptics everywhere. "I am from New York and have
happened to come up here on a friend's yacht to--to spend a few days.
You have made a mistake."

She took the card, held it lightly in her gloved hand, bowed to him with
mocking courtesy.

"I am very glad to meet you--Mr. Laurence Varney! I--I am from New York,
too, and have happened to come up here on the New York Central with my
mother to spend a few years. And I live in a white house half a mile
down the road, where I ought to have been an hour ago. And I am Mary
Carstairs, who has read all your books and thinks that they--Oh"--she
broke off all at once: for there was no missing the look in his
astounded face. "What in the world have I said now?"

"You--can't be--_Mary Carstairs_!" he cried.

"Is--that so terrible?" she laughed, a little uncertainly.



CHAPTER VII


IN WHICH MARY CARSTAIRS IS INVITED TO THE YACHT "CYPRIANI"

But he recovered in a flash, aware of the criticalness of that moment,
and met her bewildered gaze steadily.

"Terrible? Certainly not. Your name surprised me a little. That was all.
I thought, you see, that you were somebody else."

"Yes? Who?"

"I really--do not know exactly. Do forgive my stupidity, won't you? As I
say, I was just a little surprised."

"You would explain to a man," she said, "and don't you think you ought
to to me? If you did not know exactly who you thought I was, why should
my name surprise you so?"

He picked up a hideous china swan from a smart little oak stand and
examined it with excessive interest.

"It was merely that I happen to know some one in New York who had
mentioned you--and done it in a way to make me think you were not--very
old. In fact, I had supposed that Miss Mary Carstairs wore short dresses
and a plait down her back. You see," he said, with a well-planned smile,
"how absurdly wrong I was. And then, just now, somebody pointed out your
house to me. There was a girl standing in the doorway--a small, dark
girl, with--"

A peal like chimes cut him short. "Dear Jenny Thurston! Our
seamstress's little girl. She is spending the day with my mother, while
I've been spending most of the day with _her_ mother! Turn about! But I
wish you'd tell me," she said, "who it is that could have spoken of
me--to you. How interesting that we have a friend in common!"

"Not a friend," he said grimly, at the window. "Only a former--
acquaintance of yours--somebody that I imagine you have pretty well
forgotten. I'll tell you--another time. But I see it has stopped raining,
Miss--Miss--Miss Carstairs. Perhaps we had better take advantage of the
lull to start?--for I hope you are going to let me act for Mr. Hare, and
walk home wih you."

"Oh--would you! Then indeed we had!" she said rising at once. "I am
horribly late now: I know my mother is frantic. I don't mind your not
telling me that, really! But--it is odd that you should have spoken of
my age twice to-night. Shall I tell you something, Mr. Stanhope--to show
you why I have had to give up pigtails? This is my birthday: I am
nineteen to-day!"

She raised her eyes, shining, heavy-fringed, deep as the sea and bluer,
and looked at him. His own fell instantly. A shade of annoyance flitted
across his still face.

"It is a delightful surprise," he said, mechanically. "But you must not
call me Mr. Stanhope, please, Miss Carstairs."

"Why--mayn't I call you by your name?"

"My name," said Varney, "in fairly legible print, is on the card which
you hold in your hand."

She raised her eyes and looked at him, perplexed, hesitating, a little
mortified, like one who has encountered an unlooked-for rebuff. "Forgive
me," she ventured rather shyly, "but do you think it would be possible
for you to--to keep an incog here--where you must have so many friends?
If you want to do that--to try it--of course I'll not tell a soul. But
I'd like it very much if you could trust--_me_, who have known you
through your books for so long."

"I should be quite willing to trust you, Miss Carstairs, but there is
nothing to trust you about. I am not incog. I am not the author. I have
written no books whatever--"

"Ah! Then good-bye," she said with a swift change of manner, starting at
once for the door. "I shall not trouble you to walk home with me. Thank
you again for giving me shelter and light during the storm."

"Will you be good enough to wait one minute?"

She paused with one gloved hand on the knob, cool, resolute, a little
angry, the blue battery of her eyes fixing him across her white
embroidered shoulder. But he had turned away, hands thrust deep into the
pockets of his coat, brow rumpled into a frown, jaw set to anathema of
the plight in which a needless fortune had plunged him.

If he let Uncle Elbert's daughter go like this, he might as well put the
_Cypriani_ about at once for New York, for he knew that he would never
have the chance to talk with her again. With engaging young
friendliness which overrode reserve, she had been moved to ask his
confidence, and he had angered her, even hurt her feelings, it seemed,
by appearing to withhold it. In return she had thrown down the issue
before him, immediate and final. Abstract questions of morals, and there
were new ones of great seriousness now, would have to wait. Should he
allow her to think that he was another man, or should he bid her
good-bye and abandon his errand?

There was no alternative: she had made that unmistakable. His oath to
her father came suddenly into his mind. After all, was it not a little
absurd to boggle over one small deception when the whole enterprise, as
now suddenly revealed, was to be nothing but one continuous and colossal
one?

"Miss--Miss Carstairs," said Varney, "with _you_ I shall not argue this.
I am going to let you think I am whoever you want. We needn't say
anything more about it, need we? Only--I'll ask you to call me by the
name I gave you, please, and, so far as you can, to regard me that way.
Is that--a bargain?"

Mary Carstairs stood at the threshold of the lighted room, looking at
him from under her wide white hat, eyes shining, lips smiling, cheeks
faintly flushed with a sense of the triumph she had won.

"Of course," she said. "And I don't think you'll need ever be sorry for
having trusted me--_Mr. Varney!"_

He bowed stiffly. "If you will kindly open the door, I will blow out the
lamp and give myself the pleasure of taking you home."

They left the hospitable cottage of Ferris Stanhope, and went out into
the night, side by side, Varney and Mary Carstairs. The young man's
manner was deceptively calm, but his head was in a whirl. However, the
one vital fact about the situation stood out in his mind like a tower
set on a hill. This was that Uncle Elbert's daughter was walking at his
elbow, on terms of acquaintanceship and understanding. The thing had
happened with stunning unexpectedness, but it had happened, and the game
was on. The next move was his own, and what better moment for making it
would he ever have?

The road was dark and wet. Rain-drops from the trees fell upon them as
they walked, gathered pools splashed shallowly under their feet.
Suddenly Varney said:

"Do you happen to be interested in yachts, Miss Carstairs? Mine is
anchored just opposite your house, I believe, and it would be a pleasure
to show her to you sometime."



CHAPTER VIII


CONCERNING MR. FERRIS STANHOPE, THE POPULAR NOVELIST; ALSO PETER, THE
QUIET ONLOOKER

Peter had not yet returned to the yacht when Varney went to bed that
night. Like the Finnegan of song, he was gone again when Varney rose
next morning. Indeed, it was only too clear that his Celtic interests
had been suddenly engrossed by matters much nearer his heart than the
prospect, as he saw the thing, of spanking a naughty child.

"He was off by half-past eight, sir," the steward, McTosh, told Varney
at breakfast. "He said to tell you to give yourself no uneasiness, sir;
that he was only going to Mr. Hare's--I think was the name--for a short
call, and would return by ten o'clock."

"What else did he say?"

"Well, sir, he was saying how the poltix of the village is not all they
might be, but he seemed very cheerful, sir, and took three times to the
chops."

At dinner-time last night such extraordinary behavior from his
fellow-conspirator would have both disturbed and angered Varney. At
breakfast-time this morning it hardly interested him. He had employed
his walk from the cottage of refuge to the Carstairs front gate to
unbelievable advantage. In fact, his mission in Hunston seemed to be all
over but the shouting, and until the moment of final action arrived,
there appeared no reason why Peter should not employ his time in any way
he saw fit.

The heavy storm had scoured the air, and the world was bright as a new
pin. In the shaded solitude of the after-deck, Mr. Carstairs's agent sat
in an easy-chair with a cigarette, and thought over the remarkable
happenings of his first night in Hunston. In retrospect young Editor
Smith seemed to be but the ordered instrument of fate, dispatched in a
rowboat to draw him against his will from the yacht to the town, where
all his business was neatly arranged for his doing. Certainly it
appeared as if the hand of intelligent destiny must have been in it
somewhere. No mere blind luck could have driven him half a mile into the
country to the one spot in all Hunston--impossibly unlikely as it
was--where he could become acquainted with Uncle Elbert's daughter
without the formality of an introduction.

Uncle Elbert! How desperately the old man must desire his daughter to
have planned a mad scheme like this with a subterfuge at the expense of
his best friend cunningly hidden away in the heart of it. Yet, after the
first staggering flash, Varney had found it impossible to be angry with
Mr. Carstairs. He only felt sorry for him, sorrier than he had ever felt
for anybody in his life. The old man's madness and his deceit were but
the measure of his desire for his daughter. And the more he desired her,
so it seemed to Varney, the more he was entitled to have her.

Interrupting his meditations, the steward approached on silent feet,
bearing a flat brown-paper package in his hand. It appeared that the
under-steward had just returned from a marketing tour in Hunston, had
met Mr. Maginnis on the street, and been ordered to take back the parcel
to Mr. Varney.

"All right, McTosh," said Varney.

He broke the string with some curiosity and pulled off the wrappers.
Within was nothing but a copy of a current literary monthly.

A present of a magazine from Peter! This was a delicate apology for his
remissness, indeed. "He will be sending me chocolates next," thought
Varney, not a little puzzled.

He turned the pages curiously. Soon, observing a bit of brown
wrapping-paper sticking out between the leaves, he opened the magazine
at that point and found himself looking at a picture; and he sat still
and stared at it for a long time.

It was the full-page portrait of a young man of some thirty years: a
rather thin young man with a high forehead, a straight nose, and a
smallish chin. The face was good-looking, but somehow not quite
attractive. About the eyes was an expression faintly unpleasant, which
the neat glasses did not hide. On the somewhat slack lip was a slight
twist, not agreeable, which the well-kept mustache could not conceal.
Still it was an interesting face, clever, assured, half-insolent. To
Varney, it was exceptionally interesting; for removing the mustache and
eye-glasses, it might have passed anywhere for his own.

Below the portrait was printed this legend:

_FERRIS STANHOPE_.

The popular author of "Rosamund," etc., who will reopen the old Stanhope
cottage near Hunston, New York, and spend the autumn there upon a new
novel.

Mr. Stanhope's health has not been good of late, and his physicians have
recommended an extended stay in this quiet Hudson River country.

       *       *       *       *       *

Here was that "Mr. Ferris," whom the young lady of the grocery had coyly
saluted; the "Beany," whom the pale young editor had bluntly bidden to
leave town; and the literary celebrity whom Miss Mary Carstairs so
evidently and so warmly admired. Varney stared at the portrait with a
kind of fascination. Now he saw many points of difference between the
face of "the popular author" and his own. The resemblance was only
general, after all. Still it was undoubtedly strong enough to warrant
all kinds of mistakes.

What a very extraordinary sort of thing to have happen!

Suddenly his eye fell upon a penciled line in the white margin above the
picture which had at first escaped him:

"On no account leave the yacht till I come back. Vitally important."

Varney pitched the magazine across the deck with an irritated laugh.
Peter--utterly ignorant of how matters stood--attempting to fire off
long-distance orders and direct his movements. The splendid gall!

As it chanced, he had no occasion to leave the yacht, either before or
after Peter got back. His work was done. He made himself comfortable
with morning papers and a novel--not one of Mr. Stanhope's--and began to
seek beguilement.

But his reading went forward rather fitfully. There were long intervals
when his book, "eleventh printing" though it was, slipped forgotten to
his knees, and he sat staring thoughtfully over the sunny water....

Peter failed to keep his promise about returning to the yacht at ten
o'clock. In fact, it was four o'clock that afternoon when he arrived,
and at that, the manner in which he sprang up the stair indicated him as
a man who had but few moments to spare to yachts and that sort of thing.

Varney, at his ease upon the transom, watched his friend's approach with
a quizzical eye.

"Greetings, old comrade! How did you leave them all in Hunston?"

Peter, who, truth to tell, had been looking forward to bitter personal
denunciation, looked somewhat relieved, and laughed. However, his manner
suggested little of hang-dog consciousness of guilt; it was far too
absorbed and business-like for that. He dropped down into a chair by
Varney and swabbed the back of his neck with a damp-looking
handkerchief.

"Larry, who'd have dreamed last night that we were parting for all this
time?"

"Well, not I for one."

"Awfully sorry about it all, and I know you'll think I'm acting like a
funny kind of helper. I hadn't the faintest idea of bottling you up on
the yacht all day like this, but--well, you might say, Larry, that a man
couldn't help it to save his life. I certainly meant to be back by the
time you had finished breakfast and explain the whole situation to
you--there are a deuced lot of complications, you know--but one thing
led right on to another and--good Lord! I couldn't find a minute with a
fine-tooth comb."

"It's all right, statesman. You don't hear me making any complaints. All
I ask is a little _résumé_ of what you've been doing since you so
cleverly lost me. In Reform to the ears, I suppose?"

Peter again looked rather surprised at his chief's easy indifference.

"You want that part of it first? Well," he said rapidly, "I've been
trying to do four days' work for Reform in one, and a pinch it's been to
make both ends meet, I can tell you. At it practically without a break
since I left you last night. J. Pinkney took me right in and bared his
soul. Said he was down and out and beaten to a fluid. A clever little
devil fast enough, but no more idea of how to play the game than a baby
baboon. When he caught on to what I wanted to do for him, he would have
fallen on my neck except that he isn't that kind. That was this morning.
I worked out my idea in the still watches: couldn't sleep for thinking
of it. It just means this: if my plans carry through Hare gets the
biggest hearing to-night that this old town can give. And I think
they'll carry all right. You wouldn't be interested in the details. Now
this other thing--"

"Oh, but I would, though! Give me at least a peep behind the scenes
before you dash on. What about these plans of yours?"

Peter laid down the newspaper with which he had been busily fanning
himself. A sudden light came into his eyes.

"I'll tell you just how it all happened," he said in an eager voice.
"Only I'll have to hurry, as I'm due back in town right away--that is,
of course, unless you should need me for anything. Well, I left Hare
last night after only a couple of hours' talk, listening to the same old
story of boss-rule, and giving him, if I do say it, some cracking good
practical pointers. By the way, we were interrupted at that. Hadn't got
started before Hare remembered that he'd promised to bring some girl
home from somewhere, and dragged me off a mile down the road, only to
find out afterwards that she'd gone home with somebody else. Made me
tired. I left him about ten o'clock and started down Main Street for the
river, meaning to come straight back here. But as I was footing it
along, thinking over my talk with Hare and attending to my own business,
who should brace me but that pale-faced rascal we saw playing dead in
the rowboat. This time the _poseur_ was lying flat on some packing-cases
in front of a store, and who do you suppose he turned out to be?"

"The brains of the machine," said Varney.

He told briefly of his own meeting with Coligny Smith at the same spot
two hours earlier, and of the editor's stagey warnings.

"Exactly the way he did me!" cried Peter. "Saved the announcement of
who he was for the grand _finale_ in Act V. I got mad as a wet hen, told
him what I thought of him in simple language, and then when the grafter
twitted me to go and do something about it, I broke loose and swore that
I'd make Hare Mayor of Hunston if I had to buy the little two-by-twice
town to do it. Told him to pack his trunk, for all the crooks would soon
be traveling toward the timber. So then I turned right around, hiked
back to Hare's, told him what I'd done, gave him my hand on it, and
pulled out the old family check-book. This morning I went to him and
laid before him the greatest scheme that ever was. You know Hare can't
get a hall to speak in for love or money--nobody dares rent him one; he
can't buy an inch of space in the _Gazette_; he can't put spreads on the
billboards without having 'em pasted out in the night. To-night the
whole thing's been done for him--Ryan's big town-meeting. Well, we're
going to try to _swipe that meeting_--do you see? I'm getting in some
husky fellows from New York to see fair play, and so on. Oh, it's a
bully chance--you can see! I've spent a nice bunch of father's money
working the scheme up, and, by George! I believe we are going to get by
with it. If we do--well, we give this town the biggest shock it's had in
years, and that's the way reform begins, Larry. _Shock_!"

Something of his contagious enthusiasm spread to and fired Varney. Fate
had thrown in their way a plucky and honest man engaged in an apparently
hopeless fight against overwhelming powers of darkness. He deserved
help. And what possible risk was there now when the _Cypriani's_ work
was practically done?

"I can't say," continued Peter dutifully, "that this is exactly playing
the quiet onlooker, as my orders read. As I said last night, I consider
that this excursion into politics will help our little business, not
interfere with it. It will divert attention. It will seem to explain why
we are here. But if you don't agree with me, if you want me to drop
it--"

"No," said Varney, slowly. "I don't."

"Good for you, old sport!" cried Peter, evidently relieved. "Needless to
say, I'm right on the job whenever you need me. And nothing's going to
happen. Trust me. Now as to this other matter. You got that magazine I
sent this morning?"

"Yes. Thanks for the picture of my twin brother. But why couldn't I
leave the yacht till you got back?"

Peter stared. "Why, just that, of course. Deuced unfortunate
coincidence, isn't it? Everybody in town is going to think that you are
this fellow Stanhope."

"Well?"

"_Well_? Oh, I forgot--you haven't heard. Well, from the stories that
are floating round town to-day, Stanhope is a cad of the original brand.
He was born here--lived here until he was twenty-one or two. Women were
his trouble. The climax came about twelve years ago. The girl was named
Orrick--Mamie Orrick, I believe. Nobody knows exactly what became of
her, but they practically ran Stanhope out of the town then. Well--there
it is."

He paused long enough to light one of his Herculean cigars, employing
his hat as a wind-shield, and rapidly continued: "It's very curious and
strange, and all that, but there it is. A month or so ago the _Gazette_
announced that Stanhope was coming back to Hunston. Last night you were
seen on the square, and now the news has spread like wildfire that the
author has arrived. Hare heard a lot of gossip on the street to-day.
He's lived here only a few years and doesn't know anything personally;
but he says the old feeling against Stanhope seems to have revived as
though it had all happened yesterday. Orrick, the girl's father, a
half-witted old dotard, was heard to say that he would shoot on sight.
There are three or four others besides Orrick who've got personal
grudges too. If any of these meet you, there is almost sure to be
trouble. How is that for a little complication?"

"And this was the reason you sent me word to lock myself up on the
_Cypriani_? You're a bird, Peter. Not that it made any difference, but I
ventured to suppose that my leaving before you got back would interfere
with some plans you had been making for me, and--"

"It would interfere with some plans I have been making for you, in a
general way, to have you assassinated."

"Stuff. Ten to one all these stories that somebody has been so careful
to have get back to you are right out of the whole cloth--"

"What's the use of setting up your cranky opinions against the hard
facts? The plain truth is that everybody who ever heard of Stanhope is
going to give you the cold shoulder for a dog; we can depend absolutely
on that."

But Varney had his own reasons for depending on nothing of the sort.

"You've been imposed upon, Peter. In fact, one of the population mistook
me for the author last night, and instead of giving me the cold
shoulder, as you say, she seemed to think that being Stanhope was the
best credentials that a man could have."

"She? Who're you talking about?"

"I'm talking about Uncle Elbert's daughter, Miss Mary Carstairs. I had
the pleasure of meeting her last night."

"The devil you did!" cried Peter, laughing with astonishment. "You
certainly walk off with the prize for prompt results. How in the world
did you manage it?"

Varney told him succinctly how he had managed it.

"Fine! Fine! Honestly, I was getting afraid that you never could do it
at all, with the rotten reputation they've pinned on you here. Good
enough! Still it's absurd to cite the opinion of a little child in a
matter like this."

"It depends upon what you call a little child, doesn't it? Miss
Carstairs is nineteen years old."

Peter straightened in his chair with a jerk, and stared at him as though
one or the other had suddenly gone mad.

"_Nineteen_! Why, I thought she was twelve."

"So did I."

"Why, how in Sam Hill did you ever make such an asinine mistake?"

Varney gave an impatient laugh.

"What difference does that make now? My impression was that the
separation took place about eight years ago. It may have been twelve. My
other impression was that the girl was about four at the time. She may
have been eight instead. If it's of any interest to you, I should say
that the mistake was natural enough. Besides, Uncle Elbert rather helped
it along."

"Uncle Elbert rather lied to you--that's what he did," said Peter with
the utmost quietness.

There was a considerable silence. Peter pulled frowningly at his cigar;
it had gone out but he was too absorbed to notice it, and mechanically
pulled on. Presently he raised his head and looked at Varney.

"Well? This ends it, I suppose? You'll go back to New York this
afternoon?"

"No," said Varney, "I'm going to stay and carry it through just as I
expected."

Peter tapped the chair-arm with his heavy fingers. "Why?"

"Because--well, I promised to, and on the strength of my promise, Uncle
Elbert has gone to trouble and expense for one thing, and has pinned
high hopes on me, for another. I had my chance to ask questions and make
terms and stipulations--and I didn't do it. That was my fault. I am not
even sure that he meant to deceive me. I have no right to break a
contract because I find that my part in it is going to be harder than I
thought."

"This business about her age changes everything. Carstairs has no legal
rights over a nineteen-year-old daughter."

"Legal rights! My dear Peter, you never supposed I thought I was doing
anything legal, did you? No, no; the moral part of it has been my prop
and stay all along, and that still holds. I promised without conditions,
and I'll go ahead on the same terms."

"Give me a match," said Peter thoughtfully. "Maybe you are right,
Larry," he added presently. "I only wanted to point out another way of
looking at it. I stand absolutely by your decision. You think that this
girl is wrong-headed and obstinate, and that her father has a moral
right to have her, over age or not. This--discovery makes it a pretty
serious business, but of course you've thought of all that. But--will it
be possible now?"

"I have invited her," said Varney, with a light laugh, "to lunch on the
_Cypriani_ on Thursday with two or three other Hunston friends."

"Well?"

"She accepted with every mark of pleasure. Great men like Stanhope, it
seems, require no introduction: it beats me. The point now is to find
the other Hunston friends."

"Hare and his sister, Mrs. Marne--the very thing!--chaperon and all!
I'll invite them to-night. Then the whole thing's done!" Peter sat
silent a moment, looking at Varney. "I've been awfully rushed to-day,"
he resumed, "because if I was going to help Hare at all, I didn't dare
lose this one big opportunity. But remember, anything that has to be
done from now on--I'm your man."

"There'll be nothing more now until Thursday. The thing's practically
done."

Peter was still looking at him steadily. "It's going to be dirt easy,
provided we don't weaken. You can't do things to your friends, but you
can emphatically do them to your enemies. We have got to remember always
that this girl, who has been so heartless to her old fool of a father,
is our enemy."

"Yes, that is what we have got to remember."

"Good Lord!" cried Peter, looking at his watch. "Twenty minutes past
four, and I must be at the hall at four-thirty sharp. I'll have to sneak
right away. You're going to sit tight on the yacht, of course?"

"Never! I like to have a little of the fun myself. I must certainly take
in this meeting to-night, and watch you put your heel on their necks and
all that."

"Don't! With what you've got to do, you can't afford to expose yourself.
What's the use of running risks, even little ones, when there is nothing
to gain?"

"Satan reproving sin! Fudge! Free yourself once for all, my dear sir,
that I'm starring in The Prisoner on the Yacht for the next three days,
or anything of that sort."

"Well, if you will go," said Peter, reluctantly, "here's a reserved seat
ticket--a peacherine, right up at the front."

"Great! Count on me to lead the applause."

Peter rose. His engrossed brow advertised the fact that his thought had
already flown back to his own private maelstrom of new concerns.

"If Hare gets his chance to-night," he meditated out loud, "you can rely
on him to make the most of it. He'll make good; he's a man, sound in
wind and limb, head and heart. I do wish, though, he wasn't so--somehow
innocent--so easy--so confoundedly affable and handshaking with
everybody that comes along. There's a sneaky-looking stranger at the
hotel--rubber-heeled fellow named Higginson, with one of these black
felt hats pulled down over his eyes like a stage villain--that Hare
never laid eyes on till to-day. For all he knows the man may be an agent
of Ryan's, a hired spy imported to--By Jove! That's just what he is,
I'll bet!" he cried suddenly; and after a frowning pause, hurried warmly
on: "Don't you remember last night, just after we hit the town, I said
there was a man following us--sneaked up the alley when he saw me
looking at him?"

"I believe I do, Peter. But the fact is that I met so many exciting
people last night--"

"It's the same man--it was Higginson!" said Peter positively. "I'm sure
of it! I didn't get a look at his face last night, but it's the same
hat, same figure--everything. I'll bet anything he's on Ryan's payroll;
and there's little Hare hobnobbing with him as friendly as though they'd
been classmates at college! That kind of free-for-all geniality doesn't
go, you know! A reformer in a rotten town like this," said Peter
vehemently "would do well to cultivate a profound distrust of
strangers."

Varney burst out laughing.

"You yourself have known Hare from the cradle, I believe?"

"I'm different," said Peter without a smile. "Well! I must move. Now
let's see--that lunch. What time shall I ask Hare and Mrs. Marne for?"

"Two o'clock, Thursday. I didn't have the nerve," Varney explained, "to
ask Miss Carstairs for to-day--rather lucky I didn't--and she was
engaged for Thursday."

"Right. I'll arrange it all. Well, for the Lord's sake take care of
yourself to-night, Larry, and trust me to keep out of trouble. So long."

Varney looked after Peter's disappearing back, and envied him all the
fun he was having. His own lot was certainly far less entertaining.
However, it was his own; and here he resembled his friend in one respect
at least. His thoughts, like Peter's, had a way just now of reverting at
short notice to the matters in which he himself was most closely
concerned.

He lay back idly among the cushions, and let his mind once more run over
the unexpected problems of his situation.

The new graveness of what he was pledged to do had, of course, been
strongly present in his mind from the first moment of revelation.
Kidnapping a nineteen-year-old girl was certainly, as Peter had pointed
out, a pretty serious business. He perceived that it would not look well
in the papers in the least. Also if she cared to raise a row
afterwards, there might be an aftermath which would not be wholly a
laughing matter.

Nevertheless, this side of the question seemed remote and of minor
interest to him just now. The problem appeared to be a personal one, not
a question of statutes and judges. In his talk with Miss Carstairs
before he knew her by name, he had failed to notice anything that
suggested the spoiled and wilful child he had come to find. He could
remember nothing she had said or done that helped him at all to think of
her as his enemy. The fact was that it was all quite the other way. And
this helped him to understand now, as he had not understood before, why
Uncle Elbert had begged a solemn oath from him with such a piteous look
on his handsome, haggard old face.



CHAPTER IX


VARNEY MEETS WITH A GALLING REBUFF, WHILE PETER GOES MARCHING ON

Peter's pronounced views as to Mr. Stanhope were not, it appeared,
purely of the stuff that dreams are made of. Testimony to the author's
lack of popularity in his native town came to Varney with unexpected
promptness.

In the corner of the square, as he swung along toward the Academy
Theatre that evening, he found himself suddenly confronted by a man who,
lounging against the fence of a shabby dwelling, straightened
dramatically at his approach and bent a sharp gaze upon him. He was a
tall, shambling fellow with a white cloth swathed about the top of his
head; and Varney, in the act of passing, suddenly recognized him as the
dog man, whom Peter had knocked out the night before. His gaze was a
wanton challenge for the young man to stop, and Varney cheerfully
accepted it.

"Why, it's--Mr.--er--Hackley, isn't it?"

The man's bandage left only one eye free to operate, and he kept this
upon Varney with a curious unwinking stare.

"Yes," said he slowly, "I'm Hackley."

"How'd the dog come out?" asked Varney.

"Dead," said Hackley, as quiet in mien as the Hackley of last night was
bellicose. "Dead _an'_ buried."

"I'm sorry," said Varney, his glance on the head-cloth. "The man who did
the kicking was a friend of mine, and he wouldn't want you to lose your
dog without some compensation. Er--please accept this with his
compliments and regrets."

Hackley, his single washed-out eye starting with pleasure, accepted the
proffered note with a gesture resembling a clutch, investigated its size
in the dim light with hardly concealed delight, and pinned it into his
waistcoat pocket with a large brass safety-pin. Then he raised his head
slowly and looked at Varney.

"Why n't you leave town to-night, Stanhope?" he inquired casually.

Varney started. Almost to the very language this was exactly what Editor
Smith had suggested to him the night before.

"Why do you call me Stanhope, Hackley? My name happens to be Laurence
Varney."

Mr. Hackley's gaze never relaxed. "Chuck it," he said without emotion.
"A sensible and eddicated man," he added impersonally, "never lies when
a lie couldn't do him no good. If I was you, Stanhope, I wouldn't lose a
minute in cuttin' loose from this town."

"If I were Stanhope, I daresay I wouldn't either. But suppose I were,"
he added, "why shouldn't I stay here if I wanted to?"

"For one reason," said Mr. Hackley deliberately, "there's me. When I'm
a-feelin' myself, there ain't a cammer, a more genteel nor lor-abidin'
citizen in Hunston. As for fussin' and fightin', I'd no more think of it
than a dyin' inverlid in the orspitle. But only throw a few drinks under
my belt like last night, and I'm a altogether different creetur. And I'm
mighty afraid that the next time I over-drink myself and don't rightly
know what I'm doin', I'll go out after you with a club. And then
there'll be trouble."

"But why should you want to go after Stanhope with a club? What did he
ever do to you?"

"Don't you know? I married Mamie Orrick's little sister!"

"Most interesting," said Varney, "as a bit of genealogy, but what's it
got to do with Stanhope and the club?"

But Mr. Hackley said again, cryptically: "Chuck it." Then, softened by
the young man's pleasant ways, and by the windfall of a fortune pinned
into his vest: "Be sensible, Stanhope," he added amiably. "I ain't the
only one. Old Orrick's heard that you've hit the town and is totin' a
gun and talk-in' wild. And, of course, there's others. Don't jump off no
tall buildin's, I say, expectin' Providence to land you soft. There's a
train to Noo York at eight-ten. Cut while you can!"

"Why, thanks," said Varney, laughing and starting on. "If I should see
Mr. Stanhope at any time, I won't fail to pass him the friendly tip."

"And if you should see that friend o' yourn," called Hackley after him,
"him that gimme the paste in the jor--you c'n just tell him that Jim
Hackley is goin' to fix you both, _good!_"

"At your convenience, Hackley."

The young man passed on, undisturbed by the dog man's quaint menaces. He
did not exactly see himself and Peter getting into trouble at the hands
of a crack-brained village humorist.

Streams of people, converging from all directions, guided him easily to
the theatre. Pushing his way in, he found the stage empty and the
proceedings not yet begun; and he stood for a minute at the inner door,
glancing over the house. It was crowded. Oratory is a real inducement in
societies seldom blessed with that attraction. Even lemonade is a magnet
if you get it seldom and never to surfeit. Already men were sitting in
the long low windows which ran down either side of the building; and a
score of ushers, singularly alert-looking men, were hurriedly
distributing camp-chairs to accommodate the overflow. Certainly, Peter
could have desired no better setting for his daring adventure for
reform.

Thanks to the reserved seat which his friend's reluctant liberality had
furnished him, Varney was in no hurry to join the throng inside.
Presently, to get clear of the rush at the doors, he strolled into the
lobby and idly stood at one side, watching the people streaming by.

Thus, by sheer luck, he became witness to the crucial episode of the
evening. An oily Teutonic voice spoke just at his elbow:

"Id's eight o'clock, I zee. We'd better go back und gif Taylor his
speech, I guess."

The young man turned. He happened to be standing just in front of the
little cubby of a box-office. In it stood two men, one large and fat and
blonde, the other short and stocky and dark. This latter, looking up
from a typewritten manuscript, spoke briefly:

"No hurry. Find Smith if you can and send him here."

The fat oily person departed obediently. Immediately there stepped
through the door of the box-office a rough-looking man in a slouch hat,
with three days' stubble stippling a grimy chin. He shut the door
carefully and came near. Varney, from where he stood, could see and hear
everything.

"Mr. Ryan?"

The stocky, dark man nodded. _Aha!_ thought Varney.

"Then step outside a minute, will yer? There's a genaman wants to speak
to you right away on a matter as concerns you close."

Ryan coldly looked the man over: "Then tell him to come in here. No! I
ain't got no time to fool with him now. Tell him to go to the devil."

The stranger never moved a muscle. "There's a reason w'y he can't come
in here--you'll see when you come outside, all right." Then bringing his
dark face sharply a foot nearer, he went on in a hasty undertone: "Hey,
you! Ever hear of a man named Maginnis?"

Ryan had: Peter's fame had traveled far in Hunston that day.

"Well, listen! There's a game on to bust this meetin' to-night and put
the hook into you good and hard. Maginnis has spent a thousand to do it.
D'yer savvy? Now will yer step lively?"

The boss considered a moment and then stepped lively. Varney, falling in
behind, stepped lively too, his curiosity strongly stirred. But outside,
before the theatre, there was no sign of a gentleman awaiting an
audience: only the people pouring on into the Academy.

"Around the corner," whispered the dark man hoarsely. "He dassen't wait
here. Quick!"

Around the corner the pair hurried, Varney close in their wake. In the
silent alley, half-hidden in the shadows of the building, stood a large
carriage with a pair of strapping bays tugging at their traces. They
halted before it, and the stranger, who had considerately taken Ryan's
arm, flung open the door.

"Here he is, Jim--Mr. Ryan. Now you c'n tell him--"

The sentence died unended. At the same moment the sound of a violent
scuffle smote the nocturnal air. It appeared that Jim, presumably
laboring under an unfortunate misapprehension, had not received his
visitor with that refined hospitality due from one gentleman to another.
Even more inexplicable, it looked in the deceitful darkness, remarkably
as though the boss's guide, suddenly dropping that gentleman's arm, had
laid forcible hold upon his outraged and madly protesting legs.

It was all over in a minute. There was a faint yell, quickly and
violently muffled. Then the carriage door banged, leaving nobody on the
sidewalk, and the horses, responding to an acutely painful lash from the
strong arm on the box, sprang forward at the gallop.

Varney stood in the dark alley, looking after the vanishing carriage
with mingled admiration and amazement. Swift footsteps sounded near him;
and the next moment a strong hand seized him and pulled him back into
the shadow of the wall.

"_Sh-h! It's me_! Anybody see it?"

"_Hello!_ Not a soul but me."

Peter leaned against the wall and drew a deep breath.

"He can never prove it on me--not to save his soul!--_and I hold his
meeting in the hollow of my hand_. Do you see that lighted window at
the back there? That's my last bridge. Waiting in there are the chairman
of the meeting and the mayor, who's the orator of the evening. I'm going
in and make 'em take me on as one of the platform speakers. I'll pass
out a few remarks and call on Hare--"

"But how will you make them--"

"They daren't refuse me anything," said Peter swiftly, and tapped his
breast-pocket. "I've papers here that mean stripes for them both. Mind
your eye, Larry, and be good!"

He disappeared through the little gate toward the dressing-room, where
the officials of the meeting waited vainly for last instructions from
their lord. Varney looked after him with a sigh. In Hunston only
twenty-four hours and already to be running the town!

He emerged from the alley feeling rather gloomy, and halted on the
sidewalk in front of the theatre, idly watching the people as they
poured in. The spectacle of this steady stream made a fitting background
for his meditations; for he was thinking, absently, of the extreme
boldness of Peter's course. Certainly, there was little here to suggest
the quiet onlooker. But all at once something happened which checked the
current of his thought as effectually as a slap upon the cheek.

In that shifting, waste of strange faces, his vagrant eye suddenly fell
upon a familiar one--two, three familiar ones--and his flagging interest
sprang to life. There approached, side by side, J. Pinkney Hare, who,
though few knew it, might prove the brilliant hero of the night's
proceedings; the child, little Jenny Something, who had spent yesterday
at the Carstairs house, leading strangers to think that she was somebody
else; and Miss Carstairs herself, a fair flower in that moving tangle of
weeds.

Hare saw Varney and bowed in his stiff affected way. But Varney's eyes
had already gone on to Miss Carstairs, and he did not return that
greeting. Seeing the little candidate lift his hat, her look followed
his, and so her eye met Varney's.

When this happened her expression did not change, except that, so he
thought, she faintly colored. Varney awaited her bow; he half bowed
himself: a stiff smile was ready on his lips. But he never gave it. Her
eyes rested full upon him for a second, with no sign of recognition, and
then moved away; and the next moment she swept past him into the
theatre.

There was no shadow of doubt about it. She who only last night had
treated him with such marked kindness, had unmistakably cut him. It
hardly seemed possible. Why, they had parted like friends!

But he understood instantly what had happened. To her, he was Ferris
Stanhope; he himself had given her the right to think that. Since they
had parted, some of that unpleasant gossip about Stanhope--of which she
had known nothing last night--had made its way to her; and she had
believed it as to him, Laurence Varney. Yes, she had believed it as to
him. Peter was right, after all. A self-respecting girl owed it to
herself, it seemed, not to recognize him. Curiously, so strong was his
sense of the personal meaning of the insult that its more practical
aspects for the moment altogether escaped him.

But that was only for the moment. In the next breath, it rushed over him
that with that cool glance the luncheon engagement upon which his whole
mission depended stood canceled; and with that thought he felt his will
hardening into iron. What she thought of him, personally, was of course
nothing; but no power should keep him from carrying through his plans
precisely as he had arranged them. He elbowed his way into the lobby to
find Uncle Elbert's daughter and make her retract that look.

But it gradually became evident that Uncle Elbert's daughter was not in
the lobby: the most systematic exploration failed to reveal any trace of
her. In fact, it was certain that she had passed straight on to her seat
within the hall; whence a loud roar presently gave warning to stragglers
that the oratory had begun.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later Varney rose from his seat, at once marveling over the
splendor of Peter's _coup_ and bewildered by the blaze of publicity
which it had turned upon his comrade and co-schemer. The well-laid plans
had carried through to brilliant success, and Ryan's meeting had been
converted into a triumph for Ryan's deadly enemy, J. Pinkney Hare.

The candidate had sat unobtrusively down in the audience with his friend
Miss Carstairs and the child Jenny,--spectators all: that was the way
they had arranged it. Peter, on the contrary, sat in the great white
light of a front seat on the stage, where he had masterfully intruded
himself in the galaxy of "other prominent citizens." And sure enough,
when the set speeches were over, it was the honorable chairman who
presented "a Mr. Maginnis of New York" to the meeting, doubtless having
been satisfactorily convinced beforehand that it was to his advantage to
do so. But, doubtless also convinced that there would be an accounting
to his master for this night's work, he rose to his duty only after Mr.
Maginnis had glared at him through a noticeable stage-wait, and then
made the introduction as prejudicial as he dared.

Mr. Maginnis did not appear disconcerted in the least. He began
speaking with a pertinence and ease which rather surprised his friend
Varney down in the audience, and with words which instantly let the
dullest know that something unusual was taking place. However, he had
not proceeded far when, the house having become very still, he was
suddenly interrupted by a sharp hiss from the rear of the hall, and a
raucous voice which shouted:

"Sit down, you! Nobody wants yer!"

Laughter followed and various murmurs, some approving, a few protesting.
Ryan's good and faithful servants were evidently settling down to work.

Peter's eye roved over the audience, seemed to catch something and lit
up with a faint signal.

"The gentleman who made that remark," he said in tones of great
gentleness, "will kindly leave the hall at once."

A ripple of merriment ran through the crowd, breaking in many places
into ostentatious guffaws. To those who knew the underside of those
meetings, the mild request appeared so ineffectual as to be merely
ridiculous. The honorable chairman, on the stage, hid a sinister smile
behind his hand.

Then a strange thing happened. Four "ushers" moved silently down the
side-aisle, halted at the end of the sixth row from the rear, laid hands
upon an angry and wriggling little man who screamed to high heaven that
he hadn't done nothing, and dropped him out of the open window, which
was just five feet above the ground.

It was rather a clean-cut piece of work, the moral effect of which was
in no wise weakened by the strong probability that they had ejected the
wrong man. It proved the turning-point in the evening's proceedings.
Ryanism seemed paralyzed by the mysterious absence of its chief, and a
few further essays by the faithful, more and more half-hearted in their
nature, made it plain that the control of that meeting had passed into
other hands. Peter, apologizing for the little interruption, told simply
but vividly how, coming to Hunston a stranger, he had instantly seen
that something was badly wrong with the town: how he had looked about at
the dirty streets, the dead business, the empty stores, the good men
idling, the good wives suffering for the money that streamed into the
big red saloon--

"That's right!" called a shrill, scared woman's voice. "That's right,
Mister!"

"No!" Peter answered steadily. "It's the _wrongest_ thing that ever
was--God help you poor women!"

Then a burst of hand-clapping, unforced by the faithful hirelings from
New York, ran unexpectedly through the house.

Peter told how easy it had been to find out what was choking the life
out of Hunston. His open countenance, democratic manners, and pungent
speech produced a most favorable impression, and it was undeniable that,
for the moment at least, he had the house with him when he swung into
his peroration.

"You know we are told," he said, "that it is the truth that makes us
free. Well, you are going to hear the truth to-night, at last. There is
a man listening to me at this moment who knows everything there is to be
known. Like me, he has no axe to grind, no special interest to promote,
no ambition but the manly wish to loose this town from the bonds with
which a dishonest boss has shackled it. He has sacrificed much to the
hope that he might help you, and for months he has been fighting against
big odds, just to get a chance to tell you the facts. To-night he has
got his chance, and you may be very sure that he will make the most of
it.

"Relieving your honorable chairman of the trouble of rising for the
purpose, I take pleasure in introducing to you Mr. J. Pinkney Hare, who
is, with your consent, the next mayor of Hunston."

Back in the center of the house, a foot scraped upon the floor, and
there was J. Pinkney Hare standing out in the aisle, his little black
bag stuffed with documents swinging in his hand. And then there arose,
to the surprise of everybody (barring those good fellows who had been
well paid for their work and were earnestly determined to earn it) a
deafening roar of applause, starting in the rear of the house, taken up
at certain definite points all through it, and gradually spreading
almost everywhere, many people joining in because they liked Peter
greatly and others without having any idea why. The roar subsided a
little as Hare drew near to the stage, mounted it, and deposited his
little bag upon the table. Then it broke again, more loudly, as he came
forward a step, looking out upon the crowded house--he who could not
hire a hall for himself--a little pale, a little awed by the bigness of
his chance, but with neither tremor nor uncertainty on his small, cool
face....

Hare spoke for an hour and a half, and not a soul left the hall. It was
impossible to call him off or cry him down: the plain sentiment of the
house was, "Give the little man his show." Afterwards, Chairman Bates
had made a desperate effort to overcome the damning effect of that
address, calling on various Ryanites of aggressive manners, and making a
second speech himself, but with little avail. Even the free fight which
broke out during the distribution of the ice-cream of the Neapolitans
(the announcement of which addition to the regular _menu_ evoked the
loudest spontaneous applause of the evening) resulted, until the police
checked it, decidedly in favor of the strangers from New York.

This part of the evening's pleasures Varney did not see. He rose with
many others when the published tidings of refreshment gave notice that
the speechmaking was over, and turned his face toward the door against a
stream of ushers entering with alluring trays. Already all sense of the
daring brilliance of Peter's stroke had faded and dropped from his mind.
His own concerns crowded instantly upon his attention, and all his
thought was of finding Mary Carstairs immediately and compelling her to
recognize him for the man he was.

She, too, had risen to leave the hall. While he listened to the fierce
philippic of J. Pinkney Hare, Varney's eye had carefully marked her
seat: it was empty now. Once, as he pushed his way slowly toward the
door, he caught a brief glimpse of her over in the other aisle, some
distance ahead of him; but he hardly saw her before she was lost to him
again, swallowed up in the jostling throng. The theatre was in an
uproar: all was noise and bustle and movement. And the wide lobby, when
at length he reached it, was no better; it looked scarcely more
promising to his quest than the traditional haystack to the searcher of
needles.

Here were set the ice-cream freezers and the other paraphernalia of
delight, and about them was a struggling mob. Varney circled the throng
with a roving eye. Of the lady he saw no sign anywhere. But presently,
on the outer fringe of the cohorts which stormed the freezers, he came
upon the child Jenny, and knew that he had found a guide according to
his heart's desire.

He touched her on the elbow. "Do you want to get some ice-cream?"

She turned her homely little face up towards him, and said shyly:

"Yes, sir. But they won't let me get near. And they say the chocolate is
going fast."

"They'll let me get near," said Varney heartily. "Chocolate is it, then?
Lemonade, of course. And a thought of the cake with icing, shall we say?
Good! But you're not here alone, are you?"

"No, sir. I'm here with Miss Mary--over there in that corner."

"Well, you just run over there with her and wait. Trust everything here
to me."

He emerged from the ruck a few moments later, disheveled but triumphant.
Hat under his arm and both hands heavily laden, he made a gingerly
progress to the place of his tryst, a comparatively unpopulated corner
near the door. And there she stood, her comely youth brought into sharp
relief by her surroundings, side by side with the living hunger and
thirst of Jenny, whose yearning eyes summoned the young man like a
beacon.

Miss Carstairs happened to be looking in another direction. Varney,
standing before her, calmly took up their acquaintance where he had left
it last night at her mother's gate.

"Good evening, Miss Carstairs. I bear refreshment for your little
friend. What a magnificent evening for Hare and Reform, isn't it?"

She turned, startled at the sound of his voice, looked at him, and
looked at once away.

"Oh ... yes, indeed. I--am waiting for Mr. Hare now. Jenny, are you sure
you haven't seen him come out?"

"Yessum," said Jenny, her eyes all for the tall stranger.

Unable to resist their imploring appeal, he turned at once and delivered
his burden.

"Ice-cream--lemonade--" he made inventory--"cake with icing--tin
spoon--paper napkin in my pocket. Is there anything else?"

"I think," said Jenny, conscientiously, "there's figs."

"You do not wish any figs to-night, Jenny," declared Miss Carstairs,
rather more severely than mere figs seemed to warrant.

"_No'm!_ I thought maybe he might want some."

"I doubt if I'll take any figs to-night, either," laughed Varney. "But
mayn't I get something for you, Miss Carstairs? I'm happy to say that
the chocolate is holding out better than we feared."

"Thank you," she said, apparently addressing the child, "I don't believe
I wish anything."

Jenny here produced and handed around a small, rather dangerous-looking
paper-bag, which proved, upon investigation, to contain marshmallows.
Miss Carstairs declined. Varney, to show how unimpeachable he considered
his standing with the party, gratefully accepted.

"I'm afraid," he said, looking at Miss Carstairs, "that Mr. Hare's
admirers are likely to detain him some time. If you don't care to wait
so long, perhaps you would again give me the pleasure of supplanting him
and taking you home--you and Miss--Miss Jenny?"

"No, thank you--I am sure he will be out soon ... You look awfully
trampled on and--mashed, Jenny," she continued, twitching the child's
hat on straight. "And _my dear! Don't_ eat so fast."

Despite himself, Varney felt his blood rising a little. "Miss
Carstairs," he said slowly, "I must tell you that I came with Miss Jenny
on purpose to see you. There is something that I wanted to say."

She raised her eyes then, and though their look was very young and
embarrassed, he felt himself lose something of his composure under it.

"You wanted to say something--to me?"

"A good deal. I have an explanation to make--"

"I'm afraid that I have not time to--listen--Mr. Hare--"

"You must listen--to be fair," he said slowly. "I have to blame myself
for it, but you are doing me an injustice at this moment. I am not--that
man."

She made no answer. Beside them, Miss Jenny ate ice-cream succulently.
All around them were people jostling this way and that, laughing,
shouting: but they might have been alone on a mountain-top for all
either was aware of them.

"Since I have been in Hunston--just a day," Varney said easily, "I seem
to have done nothing but explain over and over that I am not Mr.
Stanhope. I got awfully tired of it, Miss Carstairs; it seemed so
horribly useless. Like the others, you insisted that I was he. You
candidly didn't believe me--"

"No," she said, "that is true."

"I shall make you believe me now," said Varney.

A great hullabaloo suddenly arose around them. Four or five men broke
pellmell, and for the most part backwards, out of the swing-doors,
evidently ejected from within. A lonely-looking policeman, on guard at
the entrance, charged them. The lobby was already thronged; now people
retreating before that violent infusion of arms and legs crowded them
close.

Varney, standing in front of Miss Carstairs, shielded her from the
press, her capable buffer. Soon he noticed that that part of the wall
upon which she leaned was not a wall, but a door. He reached past her,
turned the knob, revealed a brilliantly-lit little room.

"Ah!... A haven, Miss Carstairs."

She stepped backward, into the tiny box-office where Ryan had stood two
hours before and cynically waited for his sport to begin. It was empty
now, offering a perfect refuge. Varney followed and stood with his hand
on the knob just inside the door.

"Thank you," said Miss Carstairs, breathing a little rapidly. "The
meetings have never been as bad as this before. But--I must not lose
sight of Jenny."

"I'm here, Miss Mary," gurgled an ice-creamy voice at the door.

"I think I had better wait outside after all," said Mary. "Mr. Hare will
hardly know where to look for me."

"Miss Jenny will be his clew: he couldn't miss her," said Varney. "Let
me go on, while I have time. Miss Carstairs, it is not fair to either of
us to let matters stay like this. In the cottage last night, you forced
me to let you think I was--another man--"

"That is absurd," she said. "How could I possibly force you to say what
was not--the fact?"

"Did I really say anything that was not--the fact? I tried particularly
not to. But I did let you deceive yourself about it: that is quite true
and I'm sorry. I did it because--well, because if I hadn't done it, you
were not going to let me walk home with you."

She leaned against the little desk at which the Academy man sat to sell
tickets, and hesitated, almost imperceptibly. "Then why," she asked,
"should you wish to _undeceive_ me now?"

"You know why," he answered. "If I don't, something tells me that you
are not going to speak to me any more."

Her silence conceded the truth of this. It began to be evident how
difficult he had made matters for himself.

Varney laughed. "I am determined to make you believe me, yet just how am
I to go about it? It's rather an absurd position, when you come to think
of it--this arguing with somebody as to who one is. Suppose I were that
fellow, Miss Carstairs. How could I possibly hope to come back to my old
hometown and persuade people to believe that I am somebody else?"

Her eyes had wandered out through the little grated window, and she made
no reply.

"You see how preposterous that would be. A mere resemblance is not
enough to condemn a man upon, Miss Carstairs."

She turned her head with a sudden gesture of annoyance. "What difference
can it possibly make whether I speak to you or not, Mr. St--"

"_Don't!_" he interrupted swiftly. "You know my name. You shall not call
me by that one."

Hare's neat pink face appeared at the ticket-window, for all the world
like a belated theatre-goer, anxious for several in the orchestra.

"Ah, Mary! There you are! Whenever you are ready--"

"I have been waiting for you a long time," said Miss Carstairs. "It was
so splendid, Mr. Hare! Is Jenny there? We'll go at once."

She turned to Varney, cool as a dewy rose, and came forward a short
step. "I--I must say this before I go: has no one told you that you are
in danger here?"

Under her tone and her look, his plan of being the easy master of the
situation grew increasingly difficult. "Everybody has told me," he said
rather shortly. "It's gotten to be a bore."

"Then--won't you--won't you please go away before--anything happens?"

"I am going on Thursday afternoon," he answered, stung by her beauty,
which was so remote, and by the sudden compassion in her voice. "My
engagements will keep me here till that day, you remember? I promise
you, since you are so good as to interest yourself in the matter, that I
shall leave Hunston directly after that--"

"Your engagements on Thursday?" she repeated, looking away. "Are--you
speaking of--"

"The luncheon on my yacht. We are inviting Mr. Hare and his sister to
meet you."

"I am sorry," began Miss Carstairs, not looking at him, "but--I--I find
that I shall n--"

"Er--Mary?" said the candidate's voice through the window.

She turned toward the door at once, as though welcoming a summons which
so opportunely relieved her from embarrassing explanations: but Varney,
who happened to have duties to her father to discharge, stood before
her, not moving.

"Just now in the theatre," he said pleasantly, "you cut me. That was for
him. I understood. But is there any valid reason why you should not stay
on speaking terms with--Laurence Varney?"

To his surprise, a vivid red swept up her face from throat to hair and
her eyes fluttered and fell.

"Please," she said, "don't ask me to discuss this any more."

Varney stood aside, bowing, to let her pass out.

"I shall bring you proofs of my identity to-morrow, since that seems
necessary," he said with a laugh. "You won't refuse to see me, if you
care anything about being fair. But shall I tell you something, Miss
Carstairs? In your heart _you believe me now_!"

At the outer door, Varney all but collided with a man listlessly
entering, and, glancing up, saw that it was the pale young editor,
Coligny Smith.

"I hope you enjoyed the meeting," flung out Varney in passing.

"Why, greetings--greetings!" said Mr. Smith, a mocking smile on his thin
lips. "I've just been out to buy your picture, Beany."

With which singular rejoinder, he slipped by into the lobby.

       *       *       *       *       *

J. Pinkney Hare lingered some time in the theatre after Miss Carstairs
joined him, enveloped in a heartening whirl of new popularity. To the
candidate it seemed that his star had changed with stunning swiftness.
His advance to the door had been a Roman progress; and when he finally
reached the lobby he was still the focus of a coterie of enthusiasts who
would not be shaken off. Here a new halt was made: new people surrounded
him; more hand-shakings and back-slappings took place; and everything
seemed merry as a marriage-bell.

But Peter, coming out of the hall a moment after Varney had left, saw
hovering about this intimate circle an elderly man of a faded exterior
and shabby clothes, who wore a black felt hat pulled down over
wary-looking eyes. Even at that moment of splendid triumph, Peter was
annoyed to recognize in him the man Higginson, of whose too friendly
interest in the candidate's doings he had complained to Varney a few
hours earlier. Whether he was, in truth, the man who had followed them
on the street the night before, he was not ready to make affidavit. But
undoubtedly there was something furtive in the man's appearance and
manner; and Peter, watching him from the door, was highly irritated to
see Hare present the fellow to Miss Carstairs, who smiled on him as upon
one of her friend's good friends.

"The sneak!" thought Peter. "I'll just drop him a quiet hint to butt out
before he gets hurt."

But his "head-usher" due to vanish back to New York by the
ten-forty-five claimed him just then for a business talk, and when Peter
had time to think of Mr. Higginson again, he found that the man had
disappeared.



CHAPTER X


THE EDITOR OF THE GAZETTE PLAYS A CARD FROM HIS SLEEVE

Varney slept badly. The night was long, like art and the lanes that have
no turning; and interludes punctuated it, now and again, when he lay
wide-eyed in his bunk, staring into the darkness. At these times without
exception, he thought how, early in the morning, he would climb the hill
to the white house, blandly proffering letters to show that he was no
cad, no cur, but Laurence Varney, whom ladies need not flee from as from
the plague; suavely putting Uncle Elbert's daughter so utterly in the
wrong that he himself would grow merciful towards her abashment, and
sorry.

He fell asleep, woke again, rehearsed once more what he would say to
her. At last he saw the dawn break along the horizon and the gray of a
new day meet and mingle with the receding darkness. It was Wednesday.
To-morrow would be Thursday, and he could go away, his business done.
The prospect was rich recompense for everything. It came to him,
suddenly and for the first time, that he hated his mission in Hunston
with a disheartening and sickening hatred. And formulating this thought,
polishing it to aphorism and sharpening it to epigram, he slumbered and
slept for the last time that night.

But on the heels of the morning came Peter, bursting in half-dressed, a
newspaper flaunting in his hand, an unfastened suspender flapping behind
him like a pennant on a clubhouse.

"Oh, you're awake, are you?" said he, looking very keen and wide-awake
himself. "Good! You'd hardly want to be dead to the world while this
kind of thing is going on."

Varney, on an elbow, sleepily surprised at this vehemence, said: "What's
up?"

"The jig!" cried Peter succinctly. "At least it looks that way. It's
that rascal Smith."

He sat down on the edge of Varney's bunk, the folded newspaper in his
hand, and continued: "I ran out before I was dressed to look at this
contemptible _Gazette_, because I wanted to see how they handled the
meeting last night. But the minute I picked it up, I saw this,
and--well, by George! Look at it!"

He whipped open the _Gazette_ with a movement which all but shredded it
and thrust it into Varney's hand. Varney sat up in bed and smoothed it
out upon the coverlet.

Coligny Smith was clever and his eye ranged wide. He saw all the chances
that there were, and what he saw he made the most of. For his front-page
"picture feature" that morning, he had selected a two-column half-tone
of a good-looking, though not altogether pleasant-faced young man; and
beneath it had indited in bold capitals which the most casual eye could
not miss: "Mr. Ferris Stanhope, Author and Former Hunstonian, Who Has
Just Arrived in Town."

"I see," said Varney, slowly. "Meaning me." Beside the portrait ran a
"story," which said in part:

  "It leaked out yesterday that the 'mysterious stranger'
  who suddenly appeared off Hunston in an elegant
  private yacht on Monday night, is none other than Ferris
  Stanhope, well-known author of novels of the pink-tea
  type....

  "Mr. Stanhope is a native of Hunston, and is well
  remembered here. As the result of certain escapades
  which need not be detailed in a home paper like the
  _Gazette_, he left town, somewhat hurriedly, one night
  twelve years ago. Until Monday he has never been back
  since. The news of his arrival has not been received
  with general expressions of pleasure. Predictions were
  freely made about the streets yesterday that if certain
  old and respected citizens of Hunston should chance to
  meet the author, trouble is sure to arise.

  "Why Mr. Stanhope should have elected to come back
  to Hunston has not yet been ascertained. Some say that
  it is the result of a bet, friends having wagered that he
  would not venture to return for a month's stay here.
  These declare that he is using the yacht as base of operations
  to reconnoiter and determine whether it is safe to
  land. Color is lent to this theory by the pains which the
  distinguished author is taking to conceal his identity.
  The name of the yacht has been carefully erased, and he
  is using, it is said, an assumed name.

  "The secret of Mr. Stanhope's identity came out too
  late last night for the _Gazette_ to obtain an interview.
  With him on the yacht is a 'Mr. Maginnis,' representing
  himself as a wealthy New Yorker and a 'student of
  government.' Both gentlemen, it is said, are claimed as
  allies by Hunston's new 'Reform party.'"

Peter broke out the moment Varney laid down the paper, but Varney,
staring absently out of the porthole, did not listen. This, then, was
the meaning of the pale young editor's enigmatical remark last night.
Here was no idle malice. Diabolically resourceful and without shame,
young Mr. Smith had circulated this lie to discredit reform and drive
off its new champion. And this was the way that he, Varney, had kept the
coming of the _Cypriani_ quiet in Hunston!

"And think of the cursed bull luck of it!" cried Peter. "The most the
rascal hoped to do was to ruin my plans for helping Hare by these dirty
hints about both of us--at the best to scare us away from Hunston. He
never dreamed that he was knocking the bottom out of any private plans
of _yours_!"

Varney stretched and yawned. "Well, he isn't."

"Doubtless I am a stupid ass and all that," said Peter, staring, "but
with the _Gazette_ publishing it about the countryside that you are a
yellow dog of the worst nature, I don't grasp how you expect Miss
Carstairs to come on this yacht and lunch with you."

A knock sounded on the stateroom door, and McTosh entered, announcing
two telegrams for Mr. Varney.

Varney, wondering a little who had known his whereabouts, took the
yellow envelopes, nodded to the steward not to wait, broke them open,
read the typewritten words within, read them again.

Then he looked up and found Peter gazing at him more or less
expectantly.

Varney laughed. "Do you remember that night at the club my saying to
you, as a great inducement: 'Suppose the New York papers get on to
this'?"

Peter nodded.

Varney handed him the yellow slips; then he arose and pushed the service
button.

"McTosh," he said, "send to town at once and get me copies of the _Sun_,
the _Times_, the _Daily_ and the _Herald_--all the New York papers. No,
go yourself, and don't stay longer than is absolutely necessary."

Peter, meantime, with a heart beating as it had not beat the night
before when he had overthrown Ryan and stolen his meeting, was reading
the following:

  _Daily_ story has got us all guessing. If it's really
  you, what the devil are you up to, anyway?
                                       R. E. TOWNES.

The other was in a similar vein:

  Alarming story in _Daily_ to-day. Absolute secrecy a
  prerequisite as explained. Reporters tried to reach me
  to-night. Trust you fully, but implore you to proceed
  with utmost caution.
                                   ELBERT CARSTAIRS.

"The plot thickens," said Peter when Varney turned back, "till I, for
one, can't see the drift. However--you've sent for the _Daily_?"

Varney nodded. "I told him to get three or four others, too, for a
blind."

"Politics," said Peter, in his calmest fighting manner, "is all off. I'm
not the least interested in it. We'll give the morning to studying
yellow journalism. But about Miss Carstairs. How can you possibly--"

"By heaven," said Varney, with a sudden burst of anger, "I'll make her
know who I am, if I have to drag in her own mother to introduce me."

He went off to his bath, dressed hurriedly, dawdled a moment at the
breakfast-table, where he found Peter discussing a cereal not without a
certain solemn pleasure, and went above grappling with the thought that
all this would mean a postponement of his call at the Carstairs house,
and maybe something more serious still. The morning was sunny and crisp.
He walked to the bow, briskly, by way of a constitutional, turned and
started down again. As he did this, his eye fell upon a strange figure
which had at first escaped him. Toward the stern of the _Cypriani_, near
the wheel, a little runt of a boy hung over the rail, and made the air
noxious with the relicts of a low-born cigar. He was an aged, cynical
boy, with a phlegmatic mien and a face of the complexion and general
appearance of a hickory-nut.

A little surprised by the sudden apparition, Varney came down the deck
and dropped into a chair near him.

"Well, my lad! I'm happy to see you and your cigar again. But to what do
we owe the pleasure of this call from you two old friends?"

The boy turned his back to the rail and faced him impassively. In the
brilliant sunshine, he looked singularly worn and wise.

"I brung dem wires," he said courageously plying the cigar. "Any
answer?"

"I'll see, after a while," said Varney, hastily lighting a pipe as
counter-irritant. "So you're the telegraph boy, are you?"

"Nawser. Odjobbin' I do. Anythink as comes handy. They don't deliver no
wires down here. I handles 'em sometimes for wut dere is in it."

"Oh! Well, I won't fail to see that there is something in it for you
this time. And do you make much money odd-jobbing?"

"I git along awright. Summertimes I do. Wintertimes there ain't no
odjobbin' much."

"How old are you, my boy?"

"Twelve year old."

"Twelve! I thought you were sixteen, at least."

A faint look of gratification crossed the boy's face, but he only said
stoically: "Twelve year's my age."

"What do you do in the wintertime when there isn't much odd-jobbing? How
do you get along then?"

"I git along awright. Sometimes I git help. Off a lady here, a frien' o'
mine."

"What lady? What's her name?"

"Name o' Miss Mary. Miss Carstair, some calls her. I git money and clo's
off her. I'd 'a' had some bum winters, hadn't ben for her."

There was a pause, and then Varney said: "What's your name, my boy?"

Again the boy hesitated. "Tommy," he said presently.

"Tommy what?"

"Tommy--Orrick."

Varney started. Of all the sordid Hunston of the natives, that was the
one name which meant anything to him. It was rather a curious
coincidence.

"Then I suppose old Sam Orrick," he said kindly, "is your father's
father."

"Nawser," he answered slowly. And he added presently, "He wuz me
mudder's father."

After that, the silence lengthened. Varney looked off down the river.
Tommy Orrick, whose father was named something else, clapped his hand
suddenly to his lip, because his cigar just then scorched it unbearably.

"What is your father's name, Tommy?" asked Varney, in a low voice.

His back toward Varney, his fragment of a cigar poised, reluctantly
ready to drop, the boy shook his head. "I don't rightly know," he said
in his husky little voice.

But Varney knew that name: and he said it now slowly over to himself in
a dull and futile anger.

From the shore a boat put out hurriedly and the faithful steward came
flying over the water with meritorious speed. With him he was bringing
the papers that might settle the _Cypriani's_ mission, but Varney, for
the moment, hardly gave him a thought. His own affairs were blotted from
his mind just then by the tragedy of the little waif before him,
luckless victim of another's sin, small flotsam which barely weathered
the winters when odd-jobbing was scarce, and only one lady cared.

"Where do you live, Tommy?"

"Kerrigan's loft mostly--w'en Kerrigan ain't dere."

"This morning," said Varney rapidly, "I'm just as busy as a bee. But
this afternoon, or to-morrow morning anyway, I want to come down to
Kerrigan's and call on you."

"Wut about?" the boy demanded with an instant suspiciousness which was
rather pathetic.

"About you, Tommy. I have got a little plan in my head, and there isn't
any time to talk about it now. What would you say to having a home with
some nice people I know in another city--in New York?"

A sudden dumbness seized Tommy. His head slowly lowered and he did not
answer. Around the deck-house from the port-side hurried McTosh, his arm
embracing a bundle of papers, his brow beady with the honest toil of
speed wrung out of country paths.

"Ah, steward! You made good time. Ask Mr. Maginnis if he won't come on
deck when he is at leisure. Thomas, you're for the shore, aren't you?
Forward, there!"

He got up and stood by the side of grave little Tommy Orrick, who was
staring silently down at the white deck.

"Down in New York, Tommy, I know a nice woman who has a home and no boys
at all to put in it. A long time ago she used to be the nurse of a boy I
knew, but he grew up; and now her husband's dead and she's all alone.
And here in Hunston is a boy with no home to put himself in. That's you,
Tommy, and I--but here's your boat. I'll come to see you to-morrow at
Kerrigan's--sure, and we'll talk it all over. Good-bye. And remember
that you and I are just the best friends going."

He held out his hand, to shake, but Tommy, in an excess of stage-fright
at the unwonted ceremonial, nimbly turned his back; and the next instant
he slipped over the rail like an acrobat and dropped into the waiting
dinghy. Safely there, he glanced tentatively upward; but seeing that the
tall man above was still standing at the rail and was smiling down upon
him, looked tactfully away again. And Varney heard him say to the
oarsman in a snappy, impatient voice: "Pull for all you know, dere! I
got bizness dat won't keep."

Varney sat down with the bundle of papers. Within the minute, Peter
appeared, replete but characteristically alert.

"Read it yet?"

"No, but I've found it. It wasn't hard."

He handed Peter the paper, his thumb crooked to indicate the place,
which was superfluous; for near the middle of the front page, top of
column and in the strong type of captions, the words leaped out to
Peter's eye as though hand-illumined in many colors:

  FERRIS STANHOPE OR LAURENCE VARNEY

  Mystery Surrounding Young Man On Yacht Near Hunston.

  He Says He's Varney--Natives say He's Stanhope
  and Trouble Feared--Yacht is Elbert Carstairs's, with
  Her Name Painted Out--Mr. Varney's Movements
  Unknown to Friends Here.

Peter read the story aloud in a guarded undertone. In general, it
closely followed the story in the _Gazette_; so closely indeed as to
show at a glance that both productions came from one brain and pen. But
toward the end, the new story took a different turn. It said:

"The above is a sample of the gossip which is agitating this usually
quiet little town. Late to-night there are two distinct factions. One
holds that the young 'stranger' is Ferris Stanhope, reconnoitring under
an _alias_. The other contends that he is really Laurence Varney, or
somebody else, up here on some secret mission. Unless the stranger
leaves town before, the facts will doubtless be brought out to-morrow.
The gossips promise that a sensation of no mean order is forthcoming."

Below this, some one in the _Daily_ office had added:

"A certain air of mystery surrounds Laurence Varney's recent movements.
At his bachelor apartments, in the Arvonia, it was learned last night
that Mr. Varney was out of the city, but the man-servant there had no
idea of his master's whereabouts. From other sources, however, it was
learned that Mr. Varney left New York several days ago on the
_Cypriani_, a handsome steam yacht belonging to Elbert Carstairs of No.
00 Fifth Avenue. An attempt was made to reach Mr. Carstairs at his home,
but the hour was late, and he could not be interviewed. A telegram sent
to Ferris Stanhope's last known address, Camp Skagway in the
Adirondacks, was unanswered up to the hour of going to press."

Peter let the paper drop upon his knees, and whistled father
shamefacedly. Here was a pretty kettle of fish indeed, and it was all of
his brewing. If he had kept his fingers out of the affairs of Hunston,
as both his enemy and his friend had warned him to do, the unscrupulous
editor would have had no interest in attacking him, over his captain's
shoulders, and this damaging story would never have been concocted and
spread broadcast as a feast for gossips. He had been brought to Hunston
to help Varney--and here was the front-page result.

If a similar thought flashed across Varney's mind in this disturbing
moment, he instantly forgot it for others more practical. He sat curled
up in a folding deck-chair, swiftly weighing what this new issue might
mean, and a moment of rather heavy silence ensued.

The cat was all but out of the bag: this fatal hint at "some secret
mission" made that plain. A little carelessness, some more shrewd
probing into his affairs, and the jig would be up, indeed. This was the
one way that their enemies in Hunston could interfere with
him--insisting on knowing why he had come there; and Coligny Smith had
had the bull luck, as Peter put it, to stumble on it.

Thus it fell out that he, Varney, who had needed to seek the dark and
unobtrusive ways, found himself thrust suddenly into the full glare of
the calcium. He who was guarding an errand which nobody should know
about was now to be asked by everybody who read newspapers just what
that errand was.

It was so absurd that all at once he laughed aloud. However, it was
becoming quite serious, and he saw that, too.

"Damn him!" broke out Peter, compactly, and he added presently: "Think
of his throwing a bomb in the air like that, and smoking out poor old
Carstairs!"

Varney looked up, knocked out his pipe against his heel, and restored it
thoughtfully to his pocket. "Yes. Did you notice the difference between
those two stories? He doesn't want Hunston even to suspect that I may be
myself. His game here is to _know_ I'm Stanhope, whom the whole town is
sore on. In New York, he tries both stories, not knowing which will hurt
the most. However, theories will keep. The facts are plain. They've
started out to run us down--that's all. The point is now to decide what
we are going to do about it."

He stood up, tall and cool, his jaw shut tightly, his brow puckered into
a long frown, thinking rapidly.

"As I see it," he said slowly, "it works about like this. Probably the
_Gazette_ is the local news bureau for this town. At any rate, it is
evident that somebody on it is the correspondent of the _Daily_. The
_Gazette_, we know, wants to run you out of town in order to have a free
hand in slaughtering Hare. Last night they supposed that my looking like
Stanhope was the best card they had. This morning they will guess that
there may be a still better one lying around somewhere. The _Daily_
tells them that I'm Varney, and, what is much more interesting, that I'm
using Elbert Carstairs's yacht. Mrs. Elbert Carstairs lives in Hunston.
Putting two and two together, and adding the painted-out name and a dash
of seeming furtiveness on my part, you have all the materials for a
nice, yellow mystery. I haven't the slightest doubt that when that
telegraph editor in New York gets down to his office about one o'clock
to-day, the very first thing he does, after hanging his coat on the
nail, is to wire his correspondent to begin operating on me."

Peter nailed the alternative. "If he doesn't, the _Gazette_ will attend
to the job, anyway."

"Yes, the press is on our trail, in any case. The fact that this is the
Carstairs yacht will mean more to the _Gazette_ than it could to the
_Daily_. It will be a kind of connecting link for them. Of course,
they'll jump at it like wildfire. If they can make anything at all out
of it, they'll play it up to-morrow so that nobody in this town can
possibly miss seeing it."

"Pray heaven," said Peter, referring to Mary Carstairs, "that she won't
see the _Daily_ this morning!"

"Yes. Her father's name would naturally start her to thinking, which
would make things awkward."

"Larry, the _Gazette_ is going to print his name to-morrow morning as
sure as Smith is a lying sneak."

"We've still got to-day, haven't we? By Jove, it's nearly eleven
already. A reporter may be down on us at almost any minute. We can't
stand being cross-examined. No searchlight of journalism playing about
on the _Cypriani_ just now, thank you. My own idea is--"

"To grab him, to batter the face off him--"

"No, to elude him. Not to be here. In short, to run away."

"_What?_ You can't mean that you are going to let that dog drive you
back to New York?"

"Well, hardly. But I do mean to make him think he has! I mean to run
down the river a few miles and anchor where they can't find us, simply
to get out of the way. Then we'll run back to-morrow in time for the
luncheon. What do you think of that?"

Peter, his forehead rumpled like a corduroy road, stared at him fixedly
and thought it over. "I think it's the best thing in sight," he said
judicially. "An exceedingly neat little idea."

"If we're being watched, it may persuade them that we've gone. Anyway,
it will give us time to decide what next," said Varney. And he hurried
off to confer with the sailing-master.

Presently the engine-room bell rang out a signal. Orders were given and
repeated above and below. Men began moving about swiftly. The noise of
coal scraped hurriedly out of bunkers smote the air. The _Cypriani's_
hold throbbed with sudden life.

Varney, running hastily through the two newspaper stories again to make
sure that they had missed nothing that might be important to them, was
presently joined by Peter, who was looking at his watch every third
minute and swearing softly every time he looked. Something had been
discovered amiss with the machinery, it seemed. The captain was sure he
would have the plaguy thing all right in another half-hour, but you
never could tell. For his part he'd swear that a yacht was worse than
an old-style motor car: you could absolutely count on her to be out of
order at any moment when you positively had to have her.

To be delayed until somebody appeared to challenge their going was to
lose half the battle. Varney went off to the sailing-master and spoke
with him again, concisely. The sailing-master, a sensitive man to
criticism, once more apologized, very technically, and redoubled his
energies. He went below himself to superintend the repairs and to prod
the laggards to their utmost endeavors. In less than three quarters of
an hour, by Peter's watch, he was up again, in a shower of falling
perspiration, to announce that all was ready.

However, valuable moments had been lost. It was now nearly half-past
twelve, or, in Peter's indignant summary, "just an hour and a half too
late."

Varney glanced toward the bridge.

"All ready there?" he called.

"All ready, sir," said the sailing-master, and sprang for the indicator.

"Hold on," said Peter suddenly. "We're getting visitors. There's some
one signaling us from the shore."

Varney's heart bounded. He turned with an exclamation; but in the next
breath, he ordered: "Let her go, Ferguson."

Upon the shore, at the spot where the _Cypriani's_ boat ordinarily
landed, stood a tallish, stocky young man, looking at them cheerfully
and swabbing his brow with a large blue handkerchief. Catching Varney's
eye, he waved his hand with the handkerchief in it, and said, for the
second time:

"Hello, aboard the _Cypriani!_"

Varney stepped to the rail, a faint smile on his lip. "Hello, there!
What can we do for you?"

"Hot as merry hell, isn't it?" said the young man pleasantly. "Send a
boat over for me, will you? I'm Hammerton, of the _Gazette_ and the New
York _Daily_, and I want to come aboard for a little talk."

"Never in this world!" breathed Peter, _sotto voce_.

Varney smiled, grimly. "Sorry, Mr. Hammerton. You're just too late. We
are starting away from Hunston this very minute."

The _Cypriani_ shuddered like a live thing and slid slowly forward.



CHAPTER XI


WHICH SHOWS THE HERO A FUGITIVE

Four miles downstream, the river's banks grew a long mile apart, and the
scenery was lonesome and a little wild. Here, as it chanced, there was
flung across the water a thin, rocky island, well-wooded and of a
respectable length. It lay nearest the western shore; and not a hamlet
or even a house, it seemed, commanded it from either side.

They recognized it from afar as ideal anchorage for a yacht which wanted
to be let alone. So they slowed down into the island's curving shore and
dropped anchor in the lee of it, out of sight of the Hunston side of the
river and in little evidence from any point in midstream above or below.

Securely hidden from the probing eye of the press, they were now in
something of a quandary as to what their next step should be. The hour
set for the luncheon, upon which their mission hung, was only
twenty-four hours away: and they had no idea whether the guest of honor
intended to come or stay away. Varney was torn between the necessity of
keeping clear of reporters, and the even more pressing necessity of
calling upon Mary Carstairs. If to go to town was a risk, not to go to
town was a much greater one.

They finally decided that Peter should go to Hunston first, at once and
alone. He would walk in, lest the use of the _Cypriani_ boat should
betray them; and there take charge of the situation and see what could
be done.

"You sit tight," Peter urged, "and give me a chance at it first. The
_Gazette_ has got nothing on me, you know; they can camp on my
shirt-tail till they get good and tired. Meantime, I'll spread it around
that you've gone away and that I'm hanging on a day or two longer to
help Hare. You only came on a pleasure trip, and all these sensational
lies spoiled your pleasure: so you pulled out. That's plausible and
reasonably true, you see. Then I'm going to find that fellow Hammerton
and try to bluff him off."

"How?"

"I'd much like to give him money, but it's never safe to try that with
reporters. Oh, I'll hobnob with the fellow, hand him cigars, jolly him
along about the neat way they got revenge on us for the meeting, and
sort of take it for granted that the incident ended when they chased you
away from town. If he seems dubious and acts as if he meant to work on
the 'secret mission' idea just the same, I'll go in and call on Coligny
Smith. Oh, I'm not going to hit him. If I hadn't known that would be the
worst possible tactics, I'd have gone uptown at nine o'clock this
morning and yanked him out of bed by his long, lying ears. I'm only
going to talk to him in a kindly way. He told us himself that he was out
for the hard money, you know."

"All right," said Varney.

Peter hesitated. "You've _got_ to go in, I suppose? It's hard luck. Here
we are working overtime to build up the popular idea that you've quit
and gone back to New York. It'll be deuced awkward if that reporter nabs
you the minute you set foot in Hunston."

"I've got to risk it. I'll wait a while, though, and give them a chance
to drop the trail. And when I do go in, I'm not going with a brass
band."

"There's not the least hurry," said Peter. "You've got all the rest of
the day--to-morrow morning, too, for that matter. Wait here till you
hear from me, will you? Maybe I can turn up something which will save
you from having to go in at all."

Varney grinned. "Remember yesterday, Peter?--when you were coming back
at ten o'clock and came at four? No more unlimited contracts from me. It
is twenty minutes past one now. You can get in by two thirty if you
hustle. I must start in by half-past four. It wouldn't be safe to wait
any longer."

"Give me a show, will you? Make it five, anyway."

"Five, then. If you're not back on the dot, in I start for my call. Till
we meet again."

Peter started down the stair, hesitated, turned and came back again.
"Larry," he said, with sudden gruffness, "of course, we 've both been
thinking that if it hadn't been for me, none of this mess would have
happened. I kick myself when I think--"

"Drop it, Peter. Nobody in the world could have foreseen--"

"Every ass in the United States," said Maginnis, his ponderous foot on
the ladder, "could have foreseen it but me. I just want you to know that
politics is absolutely sidetracked now. Before I'll let this deal of
ours fall through, I'll see Hare licked till they can't scrape him
together afterward with a fine-tooth comb."

It was deadly quiet on the yacht after Peter left. At two o'clock Varney
went down to a solitary luncheon. At quarter past, followed by the
reproachful gaze of McTosh, he came out again. In the pit of his stomach
reposed a great emptiness, but it was not hunger. He felt restless,
high-strung, all made of nerves. He wanted to do something of a violent,
physical sort, the more grueling the better; and his task was to loll in
an easy-chair under a pretty awning and inspect the landscape.

The port side of the _Cypriani_ was jammed as close into the island as
the science of navigation made possible. Varney went over to the other
side and sat down to wait. In front of him, a hundred yards away, the
western bank rose abruptly from the water's edge, reaching here and
there to loftiness. There were woods upon it, thick and silent, which
looked as if the defiling hand of man had never entered there. At his
back was the still, empty little island; at either side stretched the
deserted river.

He thought it as lonely a spot as could have been found in a day's
journey, but a moment later he discovered his mistake. It was suddenly
borne in upon him that the tall, thin object which nestled so closely
among the trees a mile to the south that it was scarcely distinguishable
from them, was in reality the spire of some church; and he knew that he
was much closer to his kind than he had thought.

And then, in time, he noticed other things. Before a great while, he saw
a boat with one person in it--a woman he thought--put out from the shore
at about where the village must be and start across to the other bank.
And later, as the afternoon wore on, he caught sight of a canoe, a few
hundred yards upstream, rocking idly down with the current. An
elderly-looking man sat in it, with a short brown beard and sun-goggles
showing under his soft hat--for the water burned under a brilliant
sky--stolidly fishing and reading a book. He looked like a rusticating
college professor--of Greek, say--and this theory seemed to be supported
by his obvious ignorance as to how to keep a canoe on the popular side
of the water.

And later still a row-boat came swinging briskly up the quiet channel
where the yacht lay and passed her at fifty yards. A man and a woman sat
in it, presumably bound for Hunston, and they stared at the hidden,
detected _Cypriani_ with a degree of frank interest which suggested that
they would not fail to mention the strange sight to every acquaintance
they met in town.

"That's the beauty about a yacht," thought Varney, annoyed. "You might
as well try to hide an elephant in a hall room."

But his mind soon strayed from the pair of bumpkins and went off to
other and more pressing matters. He had now, not one great difficulty to
meet and overcome, but two. One of them was to make Uncle Elbert's
daughter keep her engagement with him. The other was to prevent the
_Gazette_ from linking the name of the _Cypriani_ with the name of
Carstairs to-morrow morning. About the first of these he allowed himself
no doubts. If the worst came to the worst, he would turn to Mrs.
Carstairs. Brutal it might be to compel the mother to introduce the
kidnapper to his quarry, her daughter; but that was no fault of his. He
would do his duty by Mrs. Carstairs's husband, no matter who got hurt.
Miss Carstairs should come to the _Cypriani_ to-morrow as she had
promised. In heaven or earth, on land or sea, there was no power which
should keep him from having his will there.

But then there was the _Gazette_. Smith, the clever, would doubt that
the _Cypriani_ had really gone back to New York. Suppose, since he could
not find her, he would venture a few shrewd guesses in his paper
to-morrow morning connecting that "secret mission" the _Daily_ had
mentioned with Mrs. Elbert Carstairs. Miss Carstairs would see what the
_Gazette_ said; and what questions would she have to ask him before she
would come as his guest to the yacht?...

A ripple of water fell across the young man's thought, and he glanced
up. The college professor, whom the current had washed much nearer now,
fancying, it appeared, that he had got a bite, had suddenly thrown
himself far over the edge of his canoe, stretching his rod to the
farthest reach. The slender birch-bark tipped so violently that even he
noticed it; and the next instant, he sprang back again, rocking at a
great rate.

"Simpleton!" thought Varney. "He will go over in a minute...."

Now her face rose before him as he had seen it first last night at
Stanhope's cottage, radiant as a dream come true--looking at him and
saying: "I'd like it very much if you could just trust _me!_" And he saw
her again when she had looked at him, eye to eye over the many heads
before the theatre, with only blank unrecognition in her glance, or had
there been, after all, a sort of latent sorrowfulness there? And then he
saw her once more, as she stood in the little box-office, her cheeks
suddenly stained red, when she begged him, please, not to ask her to
discuss it any more....

A sudden sharp thought came to him, putting all his imaginings to
flight, a thought so vital and so obvious that it was incredible that it
had not once crossed his mind before. If the _Gazette_ doubted that he
had returned to New York, if it was still on his trail and still wanted
to embarrass him, _it would send a man straight to Mrs. Carstairs_.

How could he possibly have overlooked that? With the secret of the
_Cypriani's_ ownership out, of course that would be the first thing
Smith would think of: to ask Mrs. Carstairs what had brought her
husband's yacht to Hunston. And when the reporter went, who could say
what damaging admission he might surprise out of the poor lady, or at
the least what inklings to hang diabolical guesses upon? Worst of all,
he might see Miss Carstairs herself--awaken no one knew what suspicions
in her already perplexed mind.

He sprang up and glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes past four.
Every minute had become precious now, and waiting for Peter was of
course not to be thought of. While he loitered ineffectually here,
Coligny Smith, four miles away, might be doing his plans the
irremediable injury. And he started for the cabin swiftly to get his
hat.

But there came an interruption which stopped him short. A quick loud
splashing and sudden cries arose from the water near at hand; and he
divined instantly what had happened. The college professor, like the ass
he was, had upset his canoe.

Varney halted, strode back to the rail. The professor came up
spluttering, blowing quarts of water from his mouth and nose, making
feeble strokes with his ineffective, collegiate arms.

"Help!" he called in a thin watery voice. "Help! I can't swim." Whereon,
he immediately bobbed under again.

Of course, there was nothing to do but accede to that request.

"Lay hold of the canoe," called Varney impatiently, when the poor fellow
reappeared. "I'll send a boat down for you."

There had been no chance of his drowning: for the overturned canoe was
staunch, and floated, a splendid life-belt, not a foot away from him. At
Varney's word, he seized hold of it feebly, with both hands. The crew
were quick. One or two of them had been watching the madman's antics for
some time, it appeared; and they had a boat down and over to him in no
time.

Sopping with water, dripping it from his clothes and his hair and his
brown academic beard, a dazed and pitiable-looking object, he came up
the ladder not without nimbleness, and stepped through the gangway upon
the deck.

Varney took it that his own duties in the matter were now at an end.
"Hold your places," he called to the boat crew. "I shall need you myself
at once."

Then he turned hurriedly to the man he had rescued, who stood silently
on the deck, wringing cups of water from the skirts of his black cutaway
coat.

"I'll have them bring you dry clothes," he said swiftly, "and anything
else you need. You'll excuse me? I am compelled to--"

But at that he stopped dead; for the brown beard of the college
professor suddenly loosened and fell upon the deck. The professor, not
at all discomposed by the extraordinary accident, kicked it carelessly
to one side, and pitching his large hat and goggles after it, faced
Varney with a jovial smile.

"You don't happen to have a thimble-full of redeye about, do you, Mr.
Varney?" he asked chattily. "I'm Hammerton, of the _Gazette_ and the
_Daily_, you know, and that river down there is _wet_."



CHAPTER XII


A YELLOW JOURNALIST SECURES A SCOOP BUT FAILS TO GET AWAY WITH IT

Garbed in a suit of Varney's clothes, warmed beneath his belt by a
libation from the _Cypriani's_ choicest stock, eased as to his person by
a pillow beneath his head and a comfortable rest for his feet, Charlie
Hammerton threw back his head and laughed.

"I'm not crazy about those grand-stand plays as a rule," he said.
"Because in the first place they're yellow, and in the second place
they're a darned lot of bother. But I just _had_ to see you--I guess you
know why--and I couldn't think of anything else that struck me as really
sure. How'd I do it? Fair imitashe, hey? And I only told one lie, which
is pretty good for a proposition of this sort. I _can_ swim, Mr. Varney.
Like a blooming duck."

Varney laughed. "You're half an hour too late in telling me that, you
know! But tell me how you managed all this: it was so clever! And do try
one of these cigars."

They sat at ease on the awninged after-deck, a wicker table between them
convivial with decanters and their recognized appurtenances, like two
old friends met for a happy reunion. The _Gazette's_ star reporter was
as different from one's conception of a dangerous adversary as it is
possible for a man to be. He seemed only a pleasant-faced, friendly boy
of twenty-three or four, with an honest eye and a singularly infectious
laugh.

"Don't mind if I do--thanks!" said Hammerton, to the proffer of cigars.
"Well, it wasn't so very hard. After you steamed off, and left me gazing
nervously out to sea like a deserted fisher's wife, I--"

"No, you don't!" laughed Varney. "Begin way back at the beginning. I'm
as ignorant as a baby about all this, you know."

Hammerton rather liked the idea of lolling on a luxurious yacht and
explaining to the outwitted owner just how he had done it.

"Well," he said, "it's like this. When you fellows jumped in and
kidnapped Ryan and banged the administration in the eye and slapped the
_Gazette_ some stinging ones on the wrist, of course, we couldn't just
sit still and go quietly on with our knitting. Nay, nay! So we played up
that gossip about you as strong as we could, sort of guessing that it
might hurt your feelings a little. I'm going to be frank with you, you
see! And then another idea came to us that wasn't half bad. You said you
were Mr. Laurence Varney of New York. Well, whether that was true or
not--begging your pardon, of course!--that gave it a New York interest,
don't you see? So Mr. Smith, more by way of a feeler than anything else,
wired it off to the _Daily_--"

"Why," interrupted Varney, "I thought you were the correspondent of the
_Daily_?"

"So I am. But this time it was only nominal. He's pretty fond of doing
it himself, Smith is. Well, as soon as I got down this morning, he
called me in and showed me the _Daily_. You've seen it, I suppose? Of
course, we were struck with the way our story had caught on, and
particularly with the postscript about Elbert Carstairs and the mystery
idea. Smith said: 'There appears to be more in this than meets the eye,
Charles. Hustle you down to the _Cypriani_, or ever the birds be flown.'
So I hustled. But then I did a fool thing that nearly gummed the game
entirely. Just at the edge of the woods, I met a boy coming up the hill.

"Maybe you remember that kid, Mr. Varney--the telegraph boy? He was just
on his way back from the yacht when I ran into him."

"Come to think of it, I believe I did see that boy hanging around here."

"As hard a little nut," said Hammerton, "as you ever saw in your life.
When he saw me, he stopped short and asked where I was going. I told him
to the yacht. ''T ain't no use,' he said--I won't try to give his
lingo--'they've gone.' And the little devil actually went on to tell me
how he had overheard the two gentlemen talking--guys he called you--and
how you had decided to return to New York at once, and how he had looked
back from the shore and seen the yacht already steaming away."

Thus Varney learned that he had one friend in Hunston who was true to
him, according to his poor little lights; and he felt that that kindly
lie of Tommy Orrick's, if it was ever set down against him anywhere,
must be the kind that is blotted out again in tears.

"Why, I've been good to that kid," said Hammerton, "giving him
cigar-ends nearly every time I see him and that sort of thing. I never
thought he had so much pure _malice_ in him. Well, like a fool, I turned
right around and went back. I felt so pleased about it--for of course
that was just what the _Gazette_ wanted--that I dropped in at the
Ottoman for an eye-opener, and by Jove! it was nearly an hour before I
got back to the office."

He laughed, at first ruefully, then merrily--for had not everything
turned out in the most satisfactory way in the world?

"Smith's a beaut," he said, shaking his head reminiscently. "I don't
believe anything ever got away from him since he was big enough to sit
in front of a desk. When I told him that you fellows had gone back to
New York, he never batted an eye. He just pulled a telescope out of the
bottom drawer of his desk and went up to the roof. In two minutes he was
down again. 'Charles,' he said in that quiet biting way of his, 'God may
have put bigger fools than you into this world, but in his great mercy
he has not sent them to retard the work of the _Gazette_. The yacht lies
precisely where she has lain for these two days. Will it be quite
convenient for you to drop down there and have a talk, or do you design
to wait until the gentlemen call at your desk and beg the privilege of
telling you all?'"

He laughed again, this time without a trace of resentment; and so merry
and spontaneous was this laugh that Varney could not help joining in.

"I suppose old Smith can tell you to go-to-hell more politely, yet more
thoroughly, than any man that ever lived. I _ran_--and I was just in
time at that, hey? Well, when you fellows steamed off, I kind of
suspected that you weren't going very far. So I got a boy and had him
trail you down the old River road on a wheel. By the time he got back
and told me that I had sized it up about right, I had my plans arranged
and my make-up all ready. That make-up was rather neat, I thought, what?
Meantime, a long wire had come in from the _Daily_ office, which made me
keener than ever to see you. So I hired another wheel, ran on down,
borrowed a canoe from a man I know here, and I guess you know the rest."

"I should say I did," said Varney. "Ha, ha! I should rather say I did."

One reason why it was so advantageous to make the boy talk was that it
gave one a chance to think. All the time that he had listened so
pleasantly to this garrulous chatter, Varney had been swiftly planning.
Now he had the situation pretty well analyzed and saw all the ways that
there were.

He might send the reporter away convinced that there was nothing in this
new theory, after all, that the _Gazette's_ trump card in fighting
Maginnis and Reform was still his own unhappy resemblance to the
outlawed author. Or he might send him off with enough of a new theory to
make him think it unnecessary to go to Mrs. Carstairs or her
daughter--the fatal possibility. Or, if both of these proved
impracticable as they almost certainly would, there was only one course
left: he would not let Hammerton go away at all.

"But have another little drop or two, won't you? Those dips with your
clothes on aren't a bit good for the health."

"Well, just a little tickler," said Charlie Hammerton. But he permitted
himself to be helped quite liberally, with no protesting "when." "My
regards, Mr. Varney! Also my compliments and thanks for accepting the
situation like such a genuine game one."

Varney nodded. "The fortunes of war, Mr. Hammerton. But do go on. You
have no idea how interesting the newspaper game is to an outsider,
particularly--ha, ha!--when it walks right across his own quiet career.
As I understand it, you're on the regular staff of the _Gazette_, and
then are a special correspondent of the _Daily_, besides?"

Hammerton, cocksure of his game and pleasantly cheered by the potent
draught, thought that he had never interviewed so agreeable a man.

"That's it exactly. Then, besides, we run a little news-bureau at the
_Gazette_, you know--sell special stuff, whenever there's anything
doing, to papers all over the country. The bureau didn't touch this
story last night--why, I thought it was too 'it-is-understood' and
'rumor-has-it' and all that, to go even with the _Daily_--in your old
own town. It'll be different to-night, all right. We'll query our whole
string on it now--unless," he added with frank despondency, "the darned
old Associated Press decides to pinch it."

"Query them, Mr. Hammerton?"

"Yes, wire them a brief, kind of piquant outline of the story, you know,
and ask them if they don't want it. And I sort of guess they'll all want
it, all right!"

"We'll see about that in a minute," laughed Varney. "There's lots of
time. Tell me about that brilliant young editor of yours, Mr. Smith. The
men in the office all like him and sympathize with his policies, I
suppose?"

Hammerton laughed, doubtfully. "Well, they all look up to him and
respect him as one of the cleverest newspaper men in the country.
Personally, I like old Smith fine, though nobody ever gets close to him
a bit. He's mighty good to me--lets me write little editorials two or
three times a week, and says I'm not so awful at it. As for sympathizing
with his policies--well, you know I'm not sure Smith sympathizes with
'em much himself. I have a kind of private hunch that he's gotten sore
on his job and would sell out if somebody--well, suppose we say our
friend Ryan--would offer him his price. No, I'm not so keen for these
indirect methods, Mr. Varney. At the same time, it's part of the game, I
suppose, and I always believe in playing a game right out to the end,
for everything there is in it."

At the unmistakable significance in his tone, Varney looked up and found
the reporter's eyes fixed upon him in an odd gaze which made him look
all at once ten years older and infinitely difficult to baffle: a gaze
which made it plain, in fact, that the wearer of it was not to be put
off with anything short of the whole truth. The next second that look
broke into an easy laugh, and Hammerton was a chattering boy again.

But Varney's mood rose instantly to meet the antagonism of the
reporter's look, and hung there. He pulled a silver case from his
pocket, selected a cigarette with care and lit it with deliberation. He
had learned everything that he wanted to know; the conversation was
beginning to grow tiresome; and he found the boy's careless
self-confidence increasingly exasperating.

"But as for undercutting Hare," laughed Hammerton, "I don't like it a--"

"Tell me this," Varney interrupted coolly. "When the _Gazette_ prepared
its story about me last night, did it believe for one moment that I was
this man Stanhope?"

"Why, I'm not the _Gazette_, of course," said Hammerton, a little taken
aback by the cool change of both topic and manner, "but my private
suspicion is that it entertained a few doubts on the subject. What do we
think now? Look here, Mr. Varney," the boy said amiably, "you've been
white about this business, and I do really want to show that I
appreciate it."

He fumbled in the side-pocket of his wet coat, which hung on a near-by
chair, produced a damp paper of the familiar yellow, smoothed it out and
handed it across the table.

"I guess I won't keep any secrets from you, Mr. Varney."

Varney, taking the telegram with a nod, read the following:

  _Gazette_, HUNSTON:

  Varney-Stanhope story good stuff, but lacking details,
  vague and inaccurate. Stanhope located in Adirondacks,
  though not reached. See _Daily_ to-day. Man on yacht
  Varney. Apparent secrecy surrounding departure from
  here. Interview him sure and secure full statement as
  to business which brought him to Hunston. Also interview
  Mrs. Elbert Carstairs in Hunston. She separated
  from husband years ago. His yacht there with name
  erased suggests mystery. Rush fullest details day-rate if
  necessary. Pictures made. Expect complete story and
  interviews early to-night sure.
                                      S. P. STOKES.

"Now," said Charlie Hammerton, when Varney looked up, "you see why I
went to such a lot of trouble to get hold of you."

"Yes," said Varney, slowly, his eye upon him, "I see."

He folded the telegram, laid it at Hammerton's elbow, got up and stood
with his hands on the back of his chair, looking down. At the thought
that he had ever hoped to call the reporter off, to stop this deadly
machinery of journalism, once it had been started, he could have
laughed. The _Daily_ telegram showed how impossible that had always
been. Now it was suddenly and overwhelmingly plain that to force a
fight on Hammerton, which had been his favorite purpose from the
beginning, even to seize and lock him up, would be of no avail whatever.
Other reporters in endless procession, waited behind him, ready to step
into his place; and the pitiless machinery, in which he, Varney,
happened to be caught at the moment, would go steadily grinding on till
it had crushed out the heart of the hidden truth.

He saw no way out at all. His mind revolved at fever heat, while he said
calmly: "Go back to your employers, Mr. Hammerton, and report that you
have no story to sell them. Say further that since they knowingly
printed a lying slander about me this morning, you, as an honorable man,
insist upon their making full retractions and apologies to-morrow."

Hammerton, who had taken his interview as a foregone conclusion, looked
momentarily astounded; but on top of that his manner changed again, to
meet Varney's changed one, in the wink of an eye.

"You can't mean," he said briskly, ignoring Varney's last remark
entirely, "that you decline to make a statement for our readers?"

"Why should I encourage your readers to stick their infernal noses into
my business?"

"For your own sake, Mr. Varney--because everybody has started asking
questions. To refuse to answer them, from your point of view, is the
worst thing you could do. As you know, newspapers always have other
sources of information, and also ways of making intelligent guesses.
While these guesses are usually surprisingly accurate, it sometimes
happens that we work out a theory that is a whole lot worse than the
truth."

"Of course," said Varney, with sudden absentness. "That's the way you
sell your dirty papers, is n't it?"

"Mr. Varney, why did you come--?" began Hammerton, but stopped short,
perceiving that the other no longer listened, and quite content to leave
him to a little reflection.

For Varney, struck by a thought so new that it was overwhelming, had
unexpectedly turned away. He leaned upon the rail and looked out over
the blue, sunny water. A brilliant plan had flashed into his mind--a big
daring plan which, far more than anything else he had thought of, might
be effective and final. Instead of making an enemy of Hammerton, which
could accomplish nothing, it would turn him into a champion, which meant
victory.

It was a desperate solution, but it was a solution.

After all, what else remained? To dismiss the boy with nothing would be
to send him straight to the Carstairs house with no one knew what
results. To manhandle him would be simply to start another sleuth on the
trail. But this plan, if it worked, would avoid that, and every other,
risk of trouble. And if it failed, he would be no worse off than he was
now; for in that case he would not allow Hammerton to go back to the
_Gazette_ at all that day.

He dropped his cigarette over the side, turned and found the eye of the
press firmly fastened upon him.

"Mr. Varney," said Hammerton, with swift acuteness, "maybe I'm not as
bad a fellow as you think. Why can't you trust me with this story--of
what brought you to Hunston, and what made you run away this morning and
hide? If it's really something that newspapers haven't got anything to
do with, I'll go straight back to the office and make them leave you
alone. Oh, I have enough influence to do it, all right! And if it's
something different and--well, a little unusual, I'll promise to put you
in the best light possible. Why don't you trust me with it?"

"Well," said Varney with a stormy smile, "suppose I do, then!"

"Good!" cried Hammerton cordially, observing him, however, with some
intentness. "Honestly, it's the very best thing you could do."

Varney rested upon the back of his chair again and stood staring down at
the reporter for some time in silence.

"Mr. Hammerton," he began presently, "I know that the great majority of
newspaper men are fair and honorable and absolutely trustworthy. I know
that it is a part of their capital to be able to keep a secret as well
as to print one. For this reason, I have upon reflection decided to
confide--certain facts to you, feeling sure that they will never go any
further--"

"Of course, Mr. Varney," the reporter interrupted, "you understand that
I can't make any promises in advance."

"Let the risk be mine," said Varney. "I am certain that when you have
heard what I have to tell you, you will report to your papers that my
'mysterious errand' turns out to be simply a matter of personal and
private business, with which the public has no concern, and whose
publication at this time would hopelessly ruin it. Mr. Hammerton, I came
to Hunston to see Miss Mary Carstairs."

A gleam came into Hammerton's eye. Varney, watching that observant
feature, knew that no detail of his story, or of his manner in telling
it, would escape a most critical scrutiny.

"The fewer particulars the better," he said grimly. "I shall tell the
substance because that seems now, after all, the best way to protect the
interests of those concerned. Mr. Hammerton, as the _Daily_ told you,
Mr. Carstairs and his wife have separated, though they are still on
friendly terms with each other. Their only child remains with the
mother. Mr. Carstairs is getting old. He is naturally an affectionate
man, and he is very lonely. In short, he has become most anxious to have
his daughter spend part of her time with him. Mrs. Carstairs entirely
approves of this. The daughter, however, absolutely refuses to leave her
mother, feeling, it appears, that nothing is due her father from her.
Arguments are useless. Well, what is to be done? Mr. Carstairs, because
his great need of his daughter grows upon him, conceives an unusual
plan. He will send an ambassador to Hunston--unaccredited, of course, a
man, young, not married, who--don't think me a coxcomb--but who might
be able to arouse the daughter's interest. This ambassador is to go on
Mr. Carstairs's own yacht, the name, of course, being erased, so that
the daughter may not recognize it. He is to meet the young lady,
cultivate her, make friends with her--all without letting her dream that
he comes from her father, for that would ruin everything. And, then--"

He broke off, paused, considered. In Hammerton's eye he saw a light
which meant sympathy, kindly consideration, human interest. He knew that
the battle was half won. He had only to say: "And then talk to her about
her poor old father, who loves her, and who is growing old in a big
house all by himself; and tell her how he needs her so sorely that old
grudges ought to be forgotten; and ask her, in the name of common
kindness, to come down and pay him a visit before it is too late." He
had only to say that, and he knew, for he read it in Hammerton's whole
softened expression, that the boy would go away with his lips locked.

But he couldn't say that, the reason being that it was not true.

"And then," he said, with a truthfulness so bold that he was sure the
reporter would not follow it, "and then--don't you see? he is to try to
_make_ her go down to New York and pay a visit to that lonely old father
who needs her so badly. Since she is so obstinate about it, he must find
some way to _make_ her go before it is too late. _Now_ do you
understand, Mr. Hammerton? _Now_ do you perceive why the thought of
having all this pitiful story scareheaded in a penny paper is
insufferable to me?"

He towered above Hammerton, crisp words falling like leaden bullets,
stern, insistent, determined to be believed. But he saw a look dawn on
the younger man's face which made him instantly fear that he had told
too much.

And then suddenly Hammerton sprang to his feet, keen eyes shot with
light, ruddy cheek paled a little with excitement, fronting Varney in
startled triumph over the drinks they had shared.

"Make her!" he blurted in a high shrill voice. "Mr. Varney, _you came up
here to kidnap her!_"

The two men stared at each other in a moment of horrified silence.
Something in the reporter's air of victory, in the kind of thrilling joy
with which he pounced upon the carefully guarded little secret and
dragged it out into the light, made him all at once loathsome in
Varney's eyes, a creature unspeakably repellent.

Suddenly he leaned across the little table and struck Hammerton lightly
across the mouth with the back of his hand.

"You cad," he said whitely.

But Hammerton, never to be stopped by details now, ignored both the
insult and the blow. He was on the rail like a cat, ready to swim for
it, hot to take his great scoop to Mrs. Carstairs, to Coligny Smith, to
readers of newspapers all over the land.

The table was between them, and it went over with a crash. Quick as he
was, Varney was barely in time. His hand fell upon the reporter's coat
when another fraction of a second would have been too late. Then he
flung backward with a wrench, and Hammerton came toppling heavily to the
deck.

Smarting with the pain of the fall, hot with anger at last, the
reporter was up in an instant, spitting blood, and they clenched with
the swiftness of lightning. Then they broke away, violently, and went at
it in grim earnest.

It was the fight of a lifetime for each of them and they were splendidly
matched. Hammerton was two inches the shorter, but he had twenty pounds
of solid weight to offset that; and in close work, especially, his
execution was polished. They had it up and down the deck, hammer and
tongs, swinging, landing, rushing, sidestepping. At the first crash of
broken glass on the deck, the crew had begun to appear, unobtrusively
from all directions. Now cabin-hatch, galley-hatch, deck-house, every
coign of vantage along the battlefield held its silent cluster of
wondering figures. But McTosh, familiar old family retainer, slipped
nearer at the first opportunity and whispered, in just that eager tone
with which he pressed a side-dish upon one's notice:

"Can't I give you a little help, sir?"

"Keep away, steward," said Varney, between clenched teeth, "or you'll
get hurt."

Saying which, he received a savage blow on the point of the chin and
struck the deck with a thud.

"Oh, my Gawd, sir!" breathed McTosh.

But his young master was on his feet like a tiger, in a whirl of crazy
passion. He had resolved all along that Hammerton would have to kill him
before he should get away with that secret. Now it came to him like a
divine revelation that the way to avoid this was to kill Hammerton. To
that pleasant end, he goaded his adversary with a light blow,
side-stepped his rush, uppercutted and the reporter went down, almost
head first, and cruelly hard.

He came up dazed, game but very wild, and Varney got another chance
promptly, which was just as well. Hammerton went down again, head on
once more, and this time he did not come up at all.

The crew, unable to repress themselves, let out a cheer, and came
crowding on the deck. But Varney, standing over Hammerton's limp body,
waved them back impatiently.

"Hold your noise!" he ordered. "And stand back! I'm attending to this
job!"

He picked Hammerton up in his arms, staggered with him to his own
stateroom, and laid him down on the bunk. The boy did not stir, gave no
visible sign of life. But when Varney put his hand over the other's
heart, he found it beating away quite firmly. His breathing and pulse
were regular--everything was quite as it should be. He would come round
in half an hour, and be as good a man as ever. And he would have a long,
idle time to rest, and look after his bruises and get back his strength
again.

Varney took the key from the door, put it in outside, turned it and came
on deck again. The crew had vanished to their several haunts. Two
deck-hands in blouses and red caps had just completed the rehabilitation
of the deck, and at sight of him discreetly vanished forward.

"Ferguson," called Varney, "a word with you, please."

The grizzled sailing-master came quickly, obviously curious for an
explanation of these strange matters.

Rapidly Varney explained to him that the incarcerated man was a reporter
who thought that he had got hold of a scandalous story about Mr.
Carstairs, and was most anxious to get ashore so that he could publish
this scandal all over the country.

"I am obliged to go to town immediately," he continued. "Rumors of this
ugly story have already been started, and I must do everything I can to
nail them. I am going to trust the responsibility here to you. As soon
as I leave the yacht, I want you to start her down the river. That is to
get the gentleman and the yacht out of the way. Go straight ahead for
two or three hours and then come back. Make your calculations so that
you'll get back here at--say ten o'clock to-night--here, mind you, not
the old anchorage. I'll be ready to come aboard by that time. Have two
men guard that stateroom constantly every minute. Give the gentleman
every possible attention, but don't let him make any noise, and don't
let him get out. No matter what he says or does, _don't let him get
out_. Do you follow me?"

"I do, sir. To the menootest detail."

"If you carry the matter through, you may rely upon Mr. Carstairs's
gratitude. If, on the other hand, you fail--"

"Oh, I'll not fail, sir. Have no fear of that."

"I am speaking to you man to man, Ferguson, when I say, for God's sake
don't."

He walked away to arrange himself a little for the town, seeing clearly
that there was but one possible way out of all this for him now. The
sailing-master stared after him with a very curious expression upon his
weather-beaten face.

At about the same moment, in a tiny room four miles away, an elderly,
melancholy man sat bowed over a telegraph board and drowsily plied his
keys. He was the _Gazette's_ special operator, and, having his orders
from Mr. Parker, who looked after the news bureau when Hammerton was
away, he was methodically going through his list like this:

_Tribune_, PITTSBURG:

Ferris Stanhope or Laurence Varney? Baffling mystery surrounding
prominent men, one of whom now hiding here. Probable scandal, one
thousand words.

_Press_, CINCINNATI:

Ferris Stanhope or Laurence Varney? Baffling mystery--



CHAPTER XIII


VARNEY MEETS HIS ENEMY AND IS DISARMED

Varney crossed the square in the gathering dusk and went slowly up Main
Street, looking about him as he walked. He had wrenched his ankle
slightly in one of his falls upon the _Cypriani's_ deck, and the
four-mile walk over the ruts of the River road to the town had done it
no good. Worse yet, it had made the trip down from the yacht laboriously
slow, and he was harried with the fear that the irreparable damage might
already have been done.

If it had not, if no reporter had yet gone to the Carstairs house, his
one possible hope of escape stood before him like a palm-tree in a
plain. Stiffened and strengthened by all his difficulties, his resolve
to win throbbed and mounted within him; but he faced the knowledge that
the odds now were heavily against him. On the long chance, he had played
a desperate game, had come within an ace of winning, and had lost. His
great secret which, beyond any other purpose, he had meant to guard to
the end, was glaringly out. Now it was the iron heart of his will that
it should go no further. Talkative young Hammerton had given him the
hint how that might be accomplished; and if the method was extreme, it
would be sure. Whatever the cost, it would be a small price to pay for
keeping his name, and Uncle Elbert's, out of ruinous headlines in
to-morrow's papers.

Two blocks further on he came opposite a neat, three-story brick
building, across the width of which was a black and gold signboard,
lettered THE GAZETTE. Below it was the large plate-glass window of a
counting-room, now dark. On the left was a lighted doorway, leading
upstairs.

Varney crossed, climbed the stairs, found himself in a narrow upstairs
hall, rapped upon a closed ground-glass door bearing the legend
"Editorial." From within, a voice of unenthusiasm bade him enter, and he
went in, closing the door behind him.

In a swivel-chair by an open roller-top desk, a young man sat, idly
smoking a cigarette, his back to the door, his languorous feet hung out
of the window. There were electric lights in the room, but they were not
lit. All the illumination that there was came from a single dingy
gas-fixture stuck in the wall near the desk, but that was enough.

Varney came closer. "Smith," said he.

"Well," said Smith.

"I have come to see you."

"Well--look away," said Smith.

There was not a trace of the "Hast thou found me?" in the editor's voice
or his manner. If he expected assassination, he did not appear to mind.
He sat on without turning, staring apathetically out of the window, just
as he had done when he watched Varney cross and come in at his door.

"I have come," said Varney, "because I understand that you are the sole
owner, as well as the editor, of this paper. Am I right?"

Smith lit a fresh cigarette, flipped the old one out of the window and
paused to watch the boys outside fight for it. Half-smoked stubs came
frequently out of that window when Mr. Smith sat there and many boys in
Hunston knew it.

"Assuming that you are?" queried he.

"Assuming that," said Varney, "I'll say that I have come to buy this
paper. And to discharge you from the editorship."

Smith drew in his feet, and swung slowly around. The two men measured
each other in an interval of intelligent silence. On the whole, upon
this close view, Varney found it harder to think of Smith as a
contemptible cur who circulated lying slanders for profit than as the
young man who wrote the famous editorials.

"And still they come," said Smith, enigmatically. "Three of them in one
day--well, well!" And he added musingly: "So I have stung you as hard as
that, have I?"

"Let us say rather," said Varney, whose present tack was diplomacy,
"that I have some loose money which I want to stow away in a paying
little enterprise."

"I am the last man in the world to boast of a kindness," continued
Smith, in his faintly mocking manner, "but I gave you fair warning to
leave town."

"Instead I stayed. And an exceedingly interesting town I have found it.
Something doing every minute. But, as I just remarked, I have looked in
to buy your paper."

"If I were like some I know," meditated Smith, "I'd be thinking: 'The
Lord has delivered him into my hand, aye, delivered dear old Beany.' I'd
embarrass you with questions, make you blush with catechisms. But I am a
merciful man, and observe that I ask you nothing. You want to buy the
_Gazette_ for an investment. Let it stand at that. So you're the
money-grubbing sort that supposes that everything on God's hassock has
its price?"

"I believe it's street knowledge that the _Gazette_ has its. But I
called really not so much to discuss ethics, as to ascertain your
figure."

Smith gave a sigh which was not without its trace of mockery.
"'Fortunately, I am hardened to insults. Editors are expected to stand
anything. Times are dull--nothing much to do--drop around and kick the
editor. You've no idea what we have to put up with from spring poets
alone. Rejoice, B----, that is, Mr.--er--Blank, that the _Gazette_ is
never to be yours."

"You can't mean that you decline to sell?"

"When I implied to you just now that I was sole owner of the _Gazette_,
I was, of course, speaking rather reminiscently than in the strict light
of present facts."

"What do you mean by that?"

"That I sold the _Gazette_ at four o'clock this afternoon."

For an instant the room whirled and Varney saw nothing in it but the odd
eyes of Coligny Smith steadily fixing him. By the shock of that blow, he
realized that, after all, he had wholly counted upon succeeding in
this. From the moment when he had turned his stateroom key on
unconscious Charlie Hammerton, he had recognized it as his one chance.
And now he was too late. Clever Ryan, who missed nothing, doubtless
suspecting that the faithless editor who had sold out once to him might
now be planning to do it again to a higher bidder, had outstripped him.
And the _Gazette_ to-morrow would damn him utterly.

But Varney's face, as these thoughts came to him, wore a faint,
non-committal smile. "That is final, I suppose?"

"As death, so far as I am concerned. I leave Hunston permanently
to-morrow morning."

"Who was the buyer?"

"There is really no reason why I should divulge his confidence that I
know of; but, curses on me, I'll do it if you'll tell me this: Where is
Charles Hammerton?"

Varney laid his hat and stick on the table, to rid his hands of them,
and faced Mr. Smith, leaning lightly against it.

"I came here, Smith, to ask questions, not to answer them. On second
thoughts, I withdraw my last one, for I can guess the answer. But before
we proceed further, I want you to tell me this: what made you sell?"

The editor pitched another cigarette-end out of the window. Again a
shout from the street indicated that it had become a bone of bitter
contest among the town's smokers of the _sub-rosa_ class.

"Suppose I were to tell you," said Smith slowly, "that I anticipate a
shakeup here which will cut the backbone out of my profits? What would
you say to that?"

"I suppose I should say that it was ever the custom of rats to desert a
sinking ship. So that was your mainspring, was it?"

"On the contrary," said Smith. "I am taking what is technically known as
a small rise out of you. You ask why I sold. It was a man with the
price. Money," began Mr. Smith, "screams. The cash on my desk was this
man's way of doing business, and a good deal it was. However, it'll net
him six per cent year in and out, at that--a good rate in these lean
times. I, of course, did better. I got--shall we say?--pickings. The
past tense already, heigho! Well, it's been a most instructive life. My
father taught me to write. He was esteemed a good editor, and he was,
but at eighteen I was correcting his leaders for him. Hand Greeley a
soft pencil and a pass at the encyclopedia, so he used to say, and he
could prove anything under the sun. I am like that, except that--well, I
don't believe I need the encyclopedia. It wasn't Greeley who made the
remark, of course. It's a rule on the press to pin all journalistic
anecdotes on Greeley. You sign the pledge when you go in. To be
accounted strictly moral," continued Smith, "an editor must be blind in
one eye and astigmatic in the other. Then he rings the bull's-eye of
Virtue ten times out of ten, and the clergy bleats with delight. You
can't find spiritual candor anywhere with a telescope, except in the
criminal classes. There are no Pharisees there, God be praised! For my
part, I see both sides of every question that was ever asked, and
usually--don't you think?--both of them are right. I first adopt my
point of view and subsequently prove it. Obviously, this is where the
pickings come in. My grandfather started this paper on two hundred and
fifty dollars, fifty dollars of which, I have heard, was his own. I
could knock off for life as an idle member of the predatory classes, I
suppose, but after all, I was made for an editor. In years past, I have,
of course, had my offers from New York. Two of them were left open
forever, and a little while ago, I telegraphed down and took the best. A
grateful wire came in five minutes ahead of you. And that," he concluded
wearily, in the flattest tones of a curiously flat voice, "is the life
story of C. Smith, editor, up to the hour of going to press."

Varney, who had never once been tempted to interrupt this strange
apologia, struggled with an impulse to feel desperately sorry for Mr.
Smith, and almost overcame it.

"Smith," he said, in a moment, "why don't you tell me why you sold?"

The editor got up and stared out of the window. Presently he turned, an
odd faint flush tingeing his ordinarily colorless cheek. His air of
smooth cynicism was gone, for once; and Varney saw then, as he had
somehow suspected before, that the editor of the _Gazette_ wore polished
bravado as a cloak and that underneath it he carried a rather troubled
soul.

"You are right," said Smith, "I--was twigging you again. Let us say,"
he added, looking at Varney with a kind of shamefaced defiance, "that a
man gets tired of living on pickings after a while."

If he had been ten times a liar, ten times a slanderer and assassin of
character, a man would have known that the young editor spoke the truth
then. That knowledge disarmed Varney. To have sold the _Gazette_ to one
who would prostitute it still further was hardly a noble act; but for
Smith it meant unmistakably that he wanted to cut loose from the old
evil walks where he had done ill by his honor and battened exceedingly.

"All along," said Varney slowly, "I have had a kind of sneaking feeling
that there was a spark left in you yet."

He picked up his hat and stick again, and faced the pale young editor.

"Smith, you have done me a devilish wrong. You have knowingly printed a
vile slander about me, aware that the natural result of your falsehood
was that some poor drunken fool would shoot me down from behind. When I
walked in here five minutes ago, I had two purposes in mind. One was to
buy your paper. The other was to throw you down the front stairs. I am
leaving now without doing either. I abandoned the first because I had
to; I abandon the second, voluntarily, because--I don't quite know
why--but I think it is because it seems inappropriate to hit a man when
he is down and something is just driving him to try to scramble up."

He put on his hat and started to go; but Smith stopped him with a
gesture. He let his eye, from which all sign of emotion had faded, run
slowly over Varney's slender figure.

"I wasn't such a slouch in my younger days," he said. "Football at my
prep school, football and crew at my college. Boxed some at odd moments;
was counted fair to middling. Some offhand practice since with people
I've roasted--agents, actors, and the like. As to that throwing
downstairs proposition now, if you'd care to try it on--"

Varney shook his head. "I don't know that I can explain it--and no one
regrets it more than I--but all the wish to _smash_ you, Smith, has gone
away somewhere. The bottom has dropped out of it. Good-bye."

"You are going? So am I," said Smith, with a fair imitation of his usual
lightness. "Going away for good. I hope you will come through this all
right. I'll never see you again. Shake hands, will you? You couldn't
know it, of course, but--it--is possible that I owe something to--you
two fellows."

He stood motionless, half turned away, thin hands hanging loosely at his
sides.

Varney, who had colored slightly, took a last look at him. "No," he
said, suddenly much embarrassed, "I--I'm afraid I couldn't do it in the
way you mean, and so there wouldn't be any point in it. But I--I do wish
you luck with all my heart."

He shut the door, and started down the stairway; and he straightway
forgot Smith in the returning tide of his own difficulties. He saw
clearly that there was no longer any hope; his plans were wrecked past
mending. Persuading Miss Carstairs to keep her engagement to-morrow, his
one great problem this morning, had become an unimportant detail now.
Charlie Hammerton, with his merciless knowledge, filled the whole
horizon like a menacing mirage.

It would not be enough to close the boy's month till after the luncheon
and then let it open to babble. For Elbert Carstairs had flatly drawn
the line at a yellow aftermath of sensation. He would count a tall-typed
scandal the day after to-morrow, when his daughter was with him, fully
as bad as the same affliction now. And, the newspaper finally lost to
them, there was no conceivable way in which that scandal could be
averted now.

But about the moment when his foot hit the bottom of the worn stairs,
the door at the head of them burst open, and a curiously stirred voice,
which he had some difficulty in recognizing as Smith's, called his name.

"Varney! oh, Varney! I--really meant to tell you--and then I forgot."

He turned and saw the editor's pale face hanging over the banisters.

"It was Maginnis I sold the _Gazette_ to, you know--Peter Maginnis. I
wouldn't have sold it to anybody else. You'll find him at the hotel
eating supper."

Varney, looking at him, knew then what it was that Smith thought he owed
to him and Maginnis.

He went back up the stairs and the two men shook hands in rather an
agitated silence.



CHAPTER XIV


CONFERENCE BETWEEN MR. HACKLEY, THE DOG MAN, AND MR. RYAN, THE BOSS

At half past six o'clock, or thereabouts, James Hackley dragged slowly
up Main Street. He was garbed in his working suit of denim blue, trimmed
with monkey wrench and chisel, and he wore, further, an air of
exaggerated fatigue. A rounded protuberance upon his cheek indicated
that the exhilaration of the quid was not wanting to his inner man, but
the solace he drew from it appeared pitifully trifling. Now and then he
would pause, rest his person against a lamp-post, or the front of some
emporium, and shake his head despondently, like one most fearful of the
consequences of certain matters.

Since four o'clock that afternoon, in fact, Mr. Hackley had been out
upon a reluctant stint of lawn-mowing, reluctant because he hated all
work with a Titanic hatred and sedulously cultivated the conviction that
his was a delicate health. In view of the magnificent windfall in
connection with the killing of his dog, it had not been his design to
accept any more retainers for a long time to come. That occurrence had
lifted him, as by the ears, from the proletariat into the capitalistic
leisure class; and the map of the world had become but the portrait of
his oyster.

But at noon as he lolled upon his rear veranda, chatting kindly with
his wife as she hung the linen of quality upon her drying lines, a lady
had knocked upon his door, beautiful and insistent, to wheedle his will
from him. It was only a tiny bit of a lawn, she had reiterated
imploringly, hardly a constitutional to cut, and there was not one tall
fellow in all Hunston whom she would permit to touch it but Hackley.
Dead to all flattery as he was, his backbone ran to water at the
clinging beauty of her smile, and so incredibly betrayed him into
yielding. And now, at hard upon half after six o'clock, post-meridian,
the dangerous dews of night already beginning to fall, he leaned against
a lamp-post, a physical wreck, with a long block and a half still
separating him from the comforts of home.

At the next corner but one above rose the red brick Ottoman, its
inviting side stretching for many yards down the street towards him.
Windows cut it here and there along its length, and over their green
silk half-curtains, poured forth a golden light which was hospitality
made visible. Yet, so strange are the ways of life, the proprietor of
all these luxuries, who stood at the furthest window, beyond Hackley's
range, did not look happy in their possession. His eyes gleamed
fiercely; his heavy chin protruded savagely, as though deliberately
insulting Main Street and the northward universe. Even his small derby,
which he seldom doffed save at the hour for taps, contrived to bespeak a
certain ferocity.

The Ottoman bar was bare of customers, all Hunston now verging towards
its evening meal. Ryan rested his elbow upon its polished surface, and
glared into the twilight. He was, as luck had it, in a terrible
ill-humor. For he knew himself to-day for a man who had been physically
flouted, a boss whose supremacy had been violently assailed, a king who
felt his throne careen sickeningly beneath him.

Last night, when four men whom he had never seen before, three of them
masked, had borne him off on a long wild drive, and dropped him at ten
o'clock in a lonely bit of country eight miles from the Academy Theatre,
there had at least been action to give point to his choler. All but out
of his mind with passion, he had besought them all, singly or quadruply,
to descend from their carriage and meet him in combat, thirsting sorely
to kill or be killed. But they had only laughed at him, silently, and
galloped away, leaving him screaming out futile curses on the empty
night air.

Two hours later, when he had got back to Hunston, after an interminable
nightmare of running over rough ground with unaccustomed limbs, and
stumbling heavily to earth, and rising up to struggle again, he had
learned to what uses his enemies had put that absence. Smith had related
the story in the fastness of his office, and in wholly different guise
from that which it wore next morning in the columns of his newspaper.
And Ryan, listening, had slowly calmed, calmed to the still fury of
implacable hate.

But he and Smith had quarreled violently. He was for publishing the
story of his taking off in type as black as the dastardly act. Smith had
a difficult time in holding him down, however much he pointed out that
Ryan had no shadow of proof against his new adversary on the yacht, and
that public sympathy in an affair of this sort was always with the
successful. In the end Smith had carried his point, because he was, of
those two men, both the more wise and the more resolute. But this
morning they had conferred again and quarreled even more bitterly.

Yet Ryan, plotting in the window of his splendid gin-palace, his eye
always sweeping the evening street as though a-search, was not thinking
of the young editor now. Two other policies for the days to come
monopolized his attention. One of these was crushing victory at the
polls. The other was revenge. Probably in thinking of these, he put them
at the moment in reverse order.

"Damn him!" he suddenly exploded: and it was not little Hare that he
cursed. "Damn his soul!"

In the next breath, the boss suddenly ducked, and disappeared from the
half-curtained window altogether. A moment later, he appeared outside
his swinging door, yawning and stretching himself, as one who, wearied
with the tedium of life indoors, would see what beguilement might await
him abroad.

The boss looked first up the street and permitted his beady eye to range
casually over the view. Then his gaze came slowly down and rested in
time upon the person of James Hackley, now almost directly opposite. The
boss's countenance lit up with a smile of pleased surprise.

"Why, hello, Jim!" he called out. "Where you been hidin' yourself
lately? Ain't seen you for a week o' Sundays. Come across and pass the
time of day!"

Mr. Hackley, who had been debating whether or not he should pause for
inspiration at the Ottoman, and had just virtuously declared for the
negative, shambled over.

Ryan eyed him sympathetically. "You look kind o' played out, Jim. What
you been doin' with yourself? Come in and take a drop of somethin' to
hearten you up some. On the house."

"Well," said Mr. Hackley, unable to resist the novel fascination of
liquoring gratis, "just a weeny mite for to cut the dust out o' my
windpipe."

Ryan went behind the bar and served them himself, selecting with care a
bottle which he described as the primest stuff in the house. From this
he poured Hackley a remarkably stiff potation, slightly wetting the
bottom of his own glass the while. The bottle he left standing ready on
the bar.

"Here's how, friend Jim!"

Whatever Mr. Hackley's foibles, he was a man at his cups. His platform
was the straight article uncontaminated by ice or flabby
sparkling-water; and chasers and the like of those he left to
schoolboys.

"Ain't took a drink for days," he said, holding up his glass to the
electric light and squinting through it. "Cut it out religious, I have.
Been settin' around the house, an' settin', under physic'an's orders,
tryin' fer to get my health back so's I could go to moldin' agin. But
Lordamussy, what's the use of torkin'! I ain't no more fitten fer work
than a noo-born baby. Well, here's luck, Ryan!"

He set his glass down and involuntarily smacked his lips. The fiery
liquid percolated through him down to his very toes. He felt better at
once, more ambitious, less conscious of his constitution. And
simultaneously, he lost something of that indolent good-nature which was
the badge of all his sober hours.

Ryan regarded him with friendly anxiety. "You gotter be more careful
with yourself, honest! Here--strengthen your holt a little. One little
swallow ain't no help to a man as beat out as you are."

"As yer like, Dennis," said Mr. Hackley, listlessly. "What I reely need
is a good long rest, like in a 'orspittle."

Kindly Mr. Ryan filled the small glass almost to the brim; and Hackley,
though he had modestly stipulated for "on'y a drap" tossed it all off
thirstily at a single practised toss.

"That'll fix you up nice. But ain't I glad," said his host with a sly
chuckle, "that nobody sees you taking these drinks on the quiet, which
_we_ know you need bad for your health."

Mr. Hackley set down his glass again, this time with something of a
bang. "How's that?" he demanded suspiciously.

Ryan laughed deprecatingly. While doing so, he manipulated the tall dark
bottle again.

"Shuh!" said he. "It's only the boys' fun, of course. Don't you mind
_them_, Jim."

"What're you drivin' at?" asked Hackley, bristling a bit. "If you got
anything worth sayin' to me, spit it out plain, I say."

"Well," laughed Ryan, "if some of the boys was to see you in here
putting away a harmless drink or so, o' course they'd say that you was
gettin' up your Dutch courage. He, he!"

"Dutch courage!" cried Mr. Hackley, indignantly. "An' wot the hell fer?"

"Sh! Not so loud, Jim. Why, it's only their little joke, o' course.
They'd say you was gettin' up your nerve to meet them two friends of
yours from New York! Hey? He, he!"

"Wot friends?" asked Hackley again, hotly.

Ryan observed the mounting color on the other's cheek and brow, and his
eye, which was like a small, glossy shoe-button, gleamed.

"Why, that 'un that killed that dog o' yours, and put you to sleep
before the crowd, and that 'un that sent Mamie Orrick to Gawd knows
where. But shucks! Drop it, Jim. I wouldn't have allooded to it, on'y I
thought you'd see the fun of the thing."

It takes a philosopher to perceive humor in taunts at his own personal
courage, and Mr. Hackley, with three drinks of the Ottoman's choicest
beneath his tattered waistcoat, was not that kind of man at all.

He leaned forward against the bar with a belligerence suggesting that he
wished to push it over, pinning his pleasant-spoken host to the wall,
and pounded the top of it till the glasses tingled.

"Fill her up with the same!" he ordered loudly, looking suddenly, and
for the first time, very much like the rough-looking customer who had
tackled Peter Maginnis in defense of his dog. "An' I'll have you know,
_Mister_ Ryan--I'll have you know, my fine, big, bouncin' buck, that Jim
Hackley ain't afeared of anythink that walks."

Ryan filled her up again, though this time more conservatively. He was a
keen man and an excellent judge of what was enough.

"Shuh! Don't _I_ know that, Jim! Why, after that big bloke licked the
stuffin' out of you the other night, the boys said: 'Well, that's the
last o' that little differculty! Jim Hackley'll never foller that up
none,' they says. And what'd I say?"

"Well, what'd you say?"

"I says, 'Hell!' I says. 'You boys don't _know_ Jim Hackley!'"

"I'll interdooce myself to 'em!" said Hackley savagely. "And whoever
says that Maginnis licked me's a liar. You hear me? Tripped my toe on a
rock, I did, and banged all the sense outen my head--"

"I understand, Jim," interrupted Ryan suavely. "Just what I told the
boys. O' course, just between you an me, I have been kinder took by
surprise that you've waited so long to get your evens. Why, this morning
when the piece came out in the _Gazette_, tellin' the whole town that
the feller's side-partner was that yellow cur-dog Stanhope, I says to
the boys, first thing: 'Boys, we gotter watch Jim Hackley mighty careful
to-day,' says I. 'I'm afeard there'll be gun-play before sunset.'
'Gun-play!' says they. 'F'om Hackley! Hell,' says they. 'You boys,' says
I, 'don't know old Jim like I do!' And then o' course,--he, he!--as the
whole day slipped by and nothin' doin' at all--why, o' course, I won't
deny that they ain't been jollyin' me some."

Hackley leaned far over the bar, and shook his fist in the boss's face.
"I ain't a man," he shouted, "to be pushed an' a-nagged at in a deal
like this. I takes my time, I makes my plans, I decides on the ways I'll
do it. Do yer pipe to that? An' now I've got ever'think fixed and I'm
ready. Do yer see!"

The boss, who had retreated a step before that menacing fist, glanced
out of the window and instantly started, this time with an amazement
that was genuine.

"Why, blast my eyes," he cried, raising a pudgy arm, "if there ain't
that dog Stanhope now!"

Hackley, following the pointing finger, peered over the green silk
curtain out into the darkening street. A young man, tall and rather
thin, in a blue suit and wide gray-felt hat, was walking slowly and with
a slight limp up the cross street, evidently heading for the Palace
Hotel.

The two men watched him intently, in a moment of perfect silence. Then
the boss, who was not without a certain dramatic sense, said slowly:

"_Mamie Orrick's old friend_!"

A baleful light leaped into Hackley's eyes. He broke away from the bar
with a movement that was like a wrench, and started for the door.

"I'll fix him," he muttered dourly. "Fix him _good_."

But Ryan, who wanted something much better than that, sprang around the
bar like lightning, and caught Hackley roughly by the shoulder, at the
door.

"What, here in the square!" he hissed sharply. "With the po-lice in
sight a'most! Why, you fool, it'll mean the pen for you as sure as your
name's Jim Hackley!"

Hackley paused, his resolution unsettled by the other's superior
knowledge of the law.

"No, no, Jim--it won't do," went on Ryan with bland decisiveness. "What
you want is the two of them together, hey?--on a nice dark stretch o'
road, and old Orrick and a few good fellows along to help. You ain't the
only one that's got it in for Stanhope, are you? An' you want Maginnis
too, I guess? Come on in the orfice and talk about it over a seegar."



CHAPTER XV


IN WHICH VARNEY DOES NOT PAY A VISIT, BUT RECEIVES ONE

Coligny Smith had told the truth. Peter Maginnis had bought the
_Gazette_, and the _Cyprianl's_ troubles, from this source at any rate,
were at an end.

Varney found the new proprietor at the hotel, completing a hurried
supper, and Peter hailed him with astonishment and delight. All
afternoon he had been bursting with his great news, eager to get word of
it to Varney on the yacht. But there had been no trustworthy messenger
to send; his own time had been rilled to overflowing, with contracts,
bills of sale and deeds; and, besides, his certain knowledge that
everything was all right made it seem a minor matter that Varney should
know it too.

"But what the deuce," he exclaimed at once, "brings you at this hour to
the Palace Hotel and Restaurant?"

"I, too," quoted Varney, "have not been idle."

As they walked back to the _Gazette_ building, where Peter had still
various details to attend to, he gave a terse epitome of his afternoon's
experiences. At the news that he, too, had sought to buy the paper which
was so determinedly on their trail, Peter chuckled and started to speak;
but when he learned in the next sentence that Hammerton had their
secret at his mercy, his face grew suddenly grave.

"The rub is," he summed up meditatively, "he may take his walking-papers
rather than let go of such a scoop as that. Of course, he knows that the
New York papers would trample each other to death trying to snatch it
away from him. However, we can fix it somehow. We've got to--that's
all."

"He'll listen to reason, I dare say," said Varney briefly. "What put it
into your head to try to buy the paper, Peter?"

They sat in the business manager's little office at the rear of the long
counting-room downstairs, where Peter had thoughtfully paused and
snapped on all the lights. At this question an annoyed look settled
instantly on the new owner's open countenance.

"No brains of mine," he said shortly. "It's a queer thing."

He paused to light his battered pipe, which he produced ready-filled
from his pocket, and then said abruptly:

"Remember that old sneak named Higginson I mentioned to you yesterday?
Well, I bagged the idea from him. When I hit town this afternoon the
first thing I heard was that Higginson was going to buy the
_Gazette_--had bought it, some said."

"_Higginson!_" Varney stared. "What the mischief did he want with the
_Gazette?_"

"Echo answers. No good to us, you can bet," said Peter grimly. "Gave it
out, I believe, that he was acting for a syndicate of New Yorkers who
expected flush times with the change of administration, and were
rushing to get in on the ground floor. You can believe that if you want
to. To me it sounds too fishy to do even a beginner credit. You could
wake me up in the middle of the night and I could put over a better one
than that. However," he continued, frowning, "to get back to my story.
When I heard what Higginson was up to, it naturally flashed into my mind
that it would be a mighty convenient thing if I owned the _Gazette_
myself, instead of him. I raced off to Smith on the chance, shot an
offer at him from the door and to my surprise he accepted it--right off
the bat, cool as though the deal were for half a dozen copies of
yesterday's issue--"

"You got in ahead of Higginson, then?"

"On the contrary," said Peter. "And that's another queer thing--about
Smith, I mean. Higginson had been in and made him an offer an hour ahead
of me, and the fellow had turned him down flat. Yet I happen to know
that the price I offered was under Higginson's by a pretty good year's
income. Now what d' you think of that?"

Varney was silent a moment. "Smith wants a new deal all around, I
imagine," he said slowly. "He knew that you would make the _Gazette_ an
honest paper; he didn't know anything of the sort about the other man.
Probably he knew just the contrary. Bully for Smith, I say! But what do
you make of this chap Higginson?"

"Search me," said Peter, rather impatiently. "He's clearly imported by
Ryan for some definite purpose, but just what his game is beats me.
There'll be more developments, of course. After I'd signed up with Smith
I spent half an hour of valuable time looking for the rascal, but
couldn't find a footprint anywhere. He seems to have a special gift for
appearing and disappearing. If he decides to stay with us, though, he'll
explain himself to me to-morrow, or I'll know the reason why."

"Well, you've already pulled his teeth, haven't you? This little
purchase of yours knocks the wind out of his sails in any event."

"I wish I could be sure of that."

"And, by the way, that reminds me. Of course I'm in on this, you
understand--on what you paid for the _Gazette_."

"Not on my account," said Peter frankly. "When this town starts booming,
as it will in eight days from date--Higginson had that part of it right,
anyway--the _Gazette's_ going to be the prettiest little property you
ever saw in your life. I saw it first and you will kindly back away off
the grass. By the bye," he went on, "the lunch to-morrow. Hare and his
sister both accepted--two o'clock. You ought to have seen Hare's face
when I told him we owned this little old _Gazette_. Worth the price of
admission alone--he'd been hot as a stove all day about that story this
morning. I asked Mrs. Marne whether Miss Carstairs had happened to say
anything about coming, but she hadn't seen her to-day at all. I guess
there won't be any trouble in that quarter, though, when she gets
through reading the paper's apologies to-morrow."

"I don't know," said Varney. "I am going to her house to-night to find
out."

"Why?" said Peter, surprised. "What do you think we bought this paper
for, anyway?"

"The great trouble is that she may not believe the paper. This is
important, you see. The whole thing hinges on whether or not she is
coming to lunch with us. The only way I can be certain that she is
coming is to have her tell me so."

Peter jingled his keys. "Of course, we don't want to take chances,
but--"

"Another thing," said Varney. "She promised to lunch with Stanhope--the
celebrity--not me, you know."

"H'm," said Peter cogitatively, and added: "I guess you're right. I'm
sure everything's all serene, but it'll do no harm to press a call.
Well! I must fly upstairs for a while and see how things are going."

"What about the _Daily?_"

"That's what I've got to do right now--settle the _Daily_ and dictate a
strong _Gazette_ story for to-morrow's issue, stripping the socks off
the Stanhope lie and all that. I've got to show the boys upstairs
exactly how we want the whole thing, handled."

"Fire away, old top."

"It's all sketched out in my mind," continued Peter, rising. "Did it at
the hotel over my chuck-steak. I won't be long. You wait here for me,
will you? I've chartered an automobile for a week and I'll run you up to
the Carstairs house and wait outside till you're ready to go back to the
yacht."

"Why these civilities, my son?"

"The fact is," said Peter, a little reluctantly, "that story this
morning seems to have pulled open a lot of old sores, just as it was
meant to. Hare's picked up some loose odds and ends of talk about town
to-day. I noticed two men hanging around here as we came in just now who
didn't look right to me. I can't get it out of my head that there's
something in the wind to-night, and Higginson's back of it. Anyway,
there's no use of running needless risks, now that we've practically got
a strangle-hold on the whole proposition."

Varney glanced at his watch. "Right for you. It's too early to call yet,
anyway. I'll wait."

"Correct," said Peter at the door. "One last item of news. Stanhope
himself, the real one, is coming to-morrow."

"Here--to stay?"

Peter nodded. "The caretaker of his cottage told Hare--told him not to
tell a soul. But I don't believe he'll stay long. The fellow's clearly a
fool as well as a dog."

"We ought to warn him how things stand here," said Varney, "no matter
what kind of person he is. You and I know that we 've made matters a
good deal worse for him."

"He's made them a good deal worse for us, also. But I'll see that he's
promptly advised to leave while the leaving's good. Back in an hour at
the farthest."

Peter tramped off down the passageway, banging the front door behind
him; and Varney was left alone in the little office to attend his
return. At once it came to him that this was exactly what he had been
doing ever since he had been in Hunston,--waiting for Peter.

"I am the greatest waiter that the human race has yet produced," he
thought, despondently, and dropping down into a chair, stared long at
the shut door.

What a day it had been!--beginning with cut-and-dried little plans that
seemed sure, running off in the middle into black depths of hopeless
complications, blossoming suddenly into unlooked-for triumph. Yes,
complete triumph at last. The visit that he meant to pay a little later
was merely an added precaution; he felt no doubts as to how matters
would turn out now. To-morrow, the _Gazette_, Peter's paper, would set
him square before all Hunston, and Mary Carstairs, sorry for the wrong
she had done him, would come to the yacht as she had engaged to do. With
the clairvoyance born of his swift revulsion of feeling, he knew that
his victory was already won. Yet he did not feel now as a conqueror
feels. In the loneliness of the tight-shut little office, he confronted
the knowledge that he did not think of Uncle Elbert's daughter as his
enemy, and that it mattered to him that she was to hate him and worse....

Suddenly in the entire stillness, he heard a sound close by, and
straightened up sharply. Some one was gently trying the front door. He
felt quite sure of it. He got up quickly and quietly, and hurried down
the passageway to the front; but there was nothing to be seen.

Outside, the street, from the brilliantly-lighted room, looked inky
black. He stood a moment listening intently. He thought he heard
footsteps not far away, swiftly receding, but he could not be sure. Then
he remembered the men that Peter had seen in the street a little while
before, and understood.

Somebody was watching him, apparently waiting for a chance. Those whom
Stanhope had wronged had been spurred to square the old account, and the
_Gazette's_ canard had not been undone yet. He yearned to dash after
those retreating footsteps and find out who was the prudent proprietor
of them. But even to stand here was hardly fair to Elbert Carstairs.

"How can I go sailing to-morrow," he said aloud, musingly, "if I'm laid
up in a hospital, or laid out in the morgue?"

He went back to his office, shut himself in again; and with the closing
of the door he shut out all thought of the enemies of Ferris Stanhope.
Soon his mind broke away from him, and went galloping off to the morrow.
Great vividness marked the pictures that danced before the eye of his
thought. Now the luncheon, the planned and fought for, was over. They
were there, strung out gayly along deck,--Mrs. Marne, Hare, Peter, Mary
Carstairs, and he. Then, by some deft stratagem, the others were gone
and he was sitting alone by Mary at the rail. The _Cypriani_ was slowly
moving, as though for a ten-minute spin down the river. And then, as she
gathered headway, he turned suddenly to Mary and told her everything:
how he had deceived and tricked her, and how she would not go back to
Hunston that afternoon....

It might have been ten minutes that he sat like this. It might have been
half an hour. But after a time he heard, suddenly and distinctly, that
noise at the door again.

There was the less doubt about it this time, in that the shutting of the
door was now clearly audible, and there followed the distinct sound of
some one moving in the main office. Then the door in the passageway
swung open and footsteps pattered, coming nearer. The light firm steps
drew nearer, halted; and there came a small rap upon his door.

"Come in," he called loudly, encouragingly. "I'm here, all right. Come
in."

The door opened, a little slowly, as though not quite certain whether it
was going to open or not, and Mary Carstairs stood upon the threshold,
silhouetted in the sudden frame.



CHAPTER XVI


WHEREIN SEVERAL LARGE DIFFICULTIES ARE SMOOTHED AWAY

He had sat upright, his hands over his chair-arms, his mind and muscle
tense; but at that unbelievable sight, he fell back in his chair
relaxed, staring and dazed like one who sees a goddess in a vision.

"Good evening," said this goddess, looking decidedly embarrassed and
remarkably pretty. "I--I am so glad that we've found you."

"You were looking for _me_?" he said incredulous, utterly mystified; and
the instinct of long training, working on with no guidance from him,
impelled him to rise with a stiff and somewhat belated bow.

"Yes. And there are two men with me who are anxious to help...."

Her fragrant presence seemed to fill and transform the dingy office; and
he was at once aware that her manner had lost that cool remoteness which
at their last meeting had set him so far away.

He pulled himself sharply together, entirely missing the implication in
her speech, and struck abruptly to the one point that mattered.

"Some one has convinced you since last night that I am not that man."

"Yes," she answered, looking away from him with faintly heightened
color. "I--I must ask you to forgive me for--last night."

He bowed stiffly from behind the table.

"But who--if I may know--persuaded you, where I appeared so--"

"My mother," she said, simply. "She caught a glimpse of you on the
street yesterday. I did not know of it till to-day--never dreamed that
she knew you. I'm glad," she added hurriedly, resolutely contrite, "of
the chance to--to say this--"

"It is extraordinarily kind," said Varney. He looked at her steadily, as
far from understanding the mystery of her coming as ever.

"But I came," she went on at once, as though reading the question in his
eyes, "for quite another reason. We happened to stop just now at poor
Jim Hackley's."

The name riveted his attention. A quality in her voice had already told
him that something troubled her.

"At Hackley's?"

She stood just behind Peter's deserted chair and rested her ungloved
right hand upon it. He noticed, as though it were a matter which was
going to be vital to him later on, that she wore no rings, and that
there was a tiny white spot on the nail of her thumb.

"Some men are waiting on this dark street somewhere, Mr. Varney," she
began hurriedly, "waiting, I'm afraid, for you to come out--four or
five--I don't know how many. You know--what that means. But oh, it isn't
their fault!--they don't know any better, you see!--"

The sudden anxiety in her voice cleared his wits and braced him like a
tonic: and so he came front to front with the fact that it was to help
him--to help _him_--that Uncle Elbert's daughter had come to the
_Gazette_ office that night.

"I appreciate that perfectly, of course. But--the rest is not so clear.
I don't quite understand--how did you happen to learn of this?"

"I? Oh, my learning about it was the purest chance. It was told me two
minutes ago by a visitor here, a Mr. Higginson, whom I met last night.
He is outside in the car now, and--"

"Mr. Higginson!" echoed Varney, astounded.

"You know him, perhaps?"

"I? Oh, no--no. But I interrupted you. Do go on and tell me--"

She began to speak rapidly and earnestly:

"This afternoon I went motoring, I and a friend of mine--Mr. John
Richards. We took a wrong turn coming back, and of course were horribly
late. But at the edge of the square we stopped a minute to inquire about
Mrs. Hackley, who was taken quite ill yesterday afternoon. Just as I was
getting back into the car, up ran this Mr. Higginson, very much
flustered and excited. You see, he had just found out about all
this--this plot--even to knowing where you were; he had seen poor Jim
Hackley, it seems, not at all himself, and overheard him talking. Of
course, we saw that you must be warned at once, so we took him in the
car, and all three of us ran back here."

She paused a moment, and he prompted her with a close-clipped: "Yes?"

"I wanted him to--come in and tell you about it," she said
hesitatingly--"but he wouldn't do it. He is a most agreeable old man,
but, I imagine--of a very nervous temperament. So," she added with a
hurried little laugh, "as I was the only one who--knew you, I said that
I would come in and tell you myself."

"It was most kind--most kind of you all."

He turned away sharply to hide his sudden rush of indignation and
resentment. Turbulently he longed to get his hands upon the sly
Higginson, who had had the effrontery to dispatch a woman to protect
him, and this woman of all others that lived in Hunston.... Protect
him? Hardly. That an attack had been planned against his person was,
indeed, likely enough, but not that any hireling of Ryan's should rush
forward hysterically to pluck him from his peril. What move in that
mysterious game, what strange plot within a plot was here?...

"Did Mr. Higginson happen to explain why he took such a generous, and I
fear very troublesome, interest in my welfare?"

Genuinely anxious for light, he tried to iron all suggestion of a sneer
out of his voice, but evidently he did not quite succeed.

"Oh, I don't think you ought to speak that way! Surely he has done only
what anybody would do for any stranger who was in danger and didn't know
it."

"And you?"

She looked at him rather shyly out of her somewhat spectacular eyes.

"That explains me, too--if you wish."

"Maginnis and I," said Varney immediately, "are not going out for some
time yet. Oh, a long, long time! These poor fellows you speak of will
tire of waiting long before that. And when we do go--"

"You must not go together."

"I don't think I understand you."

"Don't you see," she said, speaking very earnestly, "that that is
exactly what they are hoping for? This ambuscade didn't just happen--it
is manufactured--it is politics. Men like these haven't the initiative,
or whatever you call it, to get up a thing of this sort. Some one has
done it for them. Don't you know why? _They want to get rid of Mr.
Maginnis_. But they can't hurt him _alone_--without having it brought
right home to them--to the politicians. With you--it is--different--"

"Yes, yes--I see. But forgive my asking--did Mr. Higginson explain the
situation to you in just this way?"

"Mr. Higginson?" she said, plainly surprised at his harking back to
that. "It was not necessary. I understood the situation very well, from
what Mr. Hare has told me. Mr. Higginson simply gave us the facts about
these men hiding out there--there was no time for anything more."

He was staring at her with unconscious steadiness, and now his face took
on a slow faint smile, which she was very far from understanding. Blurry
as it all still was, light was beginning to break through upon him. Of
course, that was all that Mr. Higginson had told her. Of course. The
last thing desired by that clever rogue, who used petticoats for
stalking-horses and was not above hiding behind them for the safety of
his own skin, was for the engineered "attack" to go off prematurely,
landing only Varney and failing to "get" Maginnis. Warnings that the two
should _not_ go out together from Higginson? Hardly.

"I understand perfectly. Maginnis is quite safe without me, but not at
all safe with me. You may count upon me absolutely. I'll give him the
slip and leave here alone."

"You mustn't do anything of the kind," said Mary sharply.

She looked at him, unsmiling, eye to eye like a man; but she looked from
under a fantastic and exceedingly becoming little hat, swathed all about
with a wholly fascinating gray veil. Her skin was of an exquisite
freshness, which threw into sharp relief the vivid coloring of her lips;
the modeling of her cheek and throat was consummate, beyond improvement;
and her eyes--he told himself that they could have no match anywhere.

Varney laughed shortly. "I am not to go out with Maginnis. I am not to
go out without him. May I ask if I am expected to spend thnight
prudently curled up under the office table here?"

The situation was odious to him; he knew that his manner betrayed it;
but if she was aware of this she gave no sign. On the contrary her face
all at once became miraculously sweet.

"You aren't thinking that there's any question of courage mixed up in
this, Mr. Varney? Indeed, indeed, there is not. They would fight in the
dark; they would fight from behind. The very _bravest_ men would have no
chance, and very brave men don't take foolish risks, do they? I know by
Mr. Hare. Mr. Varney, I have a little plan."

"Indeed? Do tell me."

"Our car is at the door, you know--Mr. Richards's car. We'd both like it
very much if you would come with us."

"Where?"

"Well--I thought that perhaps you'd come to my house. Only to get rid of
these men and not to--get them into any trouble. Of course, no one in
Hunston would annoy you when you were with me."

If he had hated the thought of accepting protection from Mary Carstairs
less intensely, he might have laughed aloud. As Higginson's catspaw, she
was certainly the most screaming failure that the whole world could have
yielded. What, oh what, would the old gum-shoe have said if he could
have heard that invitation?

"Thank you, but that is quite impossible."

"I am awfully sorry."

There was a faint stiffening in her manner. She began to draw on her
right glove, slowly tucking out of sight the thumb with the tiny white
spot on the nail.

"I hoped that perhaps you might come to dinner with us. I haven't had
any yet. May I--suggest another way out of all this, then? There is a
back gate to this place, leading into a kind of alley, you know. I am
sure that they--these poor men--haven't thought of that. Couldn't you
please go out--"

"Certainly," said Varney. "Certainly. Yes, indeed. I'll do
anything--anything in the wide world to avoid getting thumped on the
head with Mr. Hackley's walking-stick."

Her face told him that she found his tone and manner somewhat
disconcerting, but she took no notice of it otherwise.

"I hope it won't be necessary to do anything more than that. But if it
should be, I hope you'll do it. I'm afraid I've failed to make you see
that this is really serious. Good-night."

But Varney, having a question to ask her, could not let her go yet.

"But--but," he said, hastily, "you must allow me to thank you--you and
Mr. Higginson--"

"The thanks are all Mr. Higginson's. I'm only a messenger--and besides,
you aren't grateful at all, you know! You think we've all been
_extremely_ intrusive!" She smiled brightly, bowed, and then was
suddenly checked by a new thought. "Oh--I wonder if you would tell me
something before I go?"

"By all means," said Varney, having no idea whether he would or not.

But the loud jangling whir of a telephone bell from the adjoining room
cut into the air, drowning out conversation; and it rang on and on and
on as though Central had had her orders.

"I suppose I'll have to answer that to shut them up," he said. "Excuse
me for the merest second, won't you?"

He passed through into the brightly-lit business office beyond, and
found the telephone, still ringing away on a desk at the farther end.
Behind him the door swung shut, a circumstance for which he later had
reason to be glad.

"Well?" he called impatiently.

"You, Larry?" asked a familiar voice.

"Yes. What's the matter?"

"Matter enough," said Peter in a guarded undertone. "Hammerton's loose."

"_What_!"

"It's a fact. God knows how he did it; but he's just phoned in here from
a house a long way down the road. Wanted to let the city editor know he
was flying in with the one best bet of the year. Luckily he gave no
details."

Varney's lips tightened; he spoke in a low voice. "He mustn't
arrive--not till I've seen him first. Did you find out how he's
coming--river or road?"

"Trust Uncle Dudley. He's borrowed a bicycle and is burning up the River
road with it."

"Good. How soon will you be through?"

"About three minutes."

"You've hired a motor, you said? Get it and run back here as soon as you
can, will you?"

He rapidly explained the situation, though making no mention of
Higginson: how somebody had plotted to get them together in the darkness
of Main Street, how Miss Carstairs and her friend had kindly stopped to
warn them, and how he had humored her by promising to take all sorts of
precautions.

"Right-O," said Peter. "I'll be in the alley at the back in no time.
Come quick when I honk three times."

Varney came back into the little office where Mary Carstairs waited,
fresh from more cheap plotting in which she was the innocent central
figure; and faced her, uncomfortable, ill at ease, disquieted inwardly
as a conspirator taken red-handed.

"It was Maginnis--upstairs," he explained awkwardly.

"Yes?" she said indifferently, and resumed the buttoning of her glove.
"And will you tell me something now? It has been on my mind since last
night."

"Certainly."

"Who was it that spoke of me to you and made you think that I was a
little girl?"

He was entirely taken aback by the question; but he could have parried
it easily, and he knew it. However, he was heartily sick of subterfuge
for that night.

"It was your father," he said bluntly.

"My father!" She stood silent a moment, slim hands interlocked before
her, heavily fringed eyes lowered. "So you know them both--my mother and
my father. Then--the mistake--about my age," she added with something of
an effort, "was natural enough. I have not seen my father for many
years."

"I see him," said he, "constantly. Your father and I are great chums." A
sudden insane hope overwhelmed him, and he went on with a rush: "You
know, or rather probably you don't know, that he and my mother were old
friends; and I am proud to have fallen heir to the friendship. You say
that you have not seen him for some time? He is growing older very fast
this last year or two; he is much changed of late. And then, Miss
Carstairs, he is desperately lonely, all by himself in that great house
of his--"

"_Stop_!" cried Mary Carstairs, with quick passionateness. "Stop! You
are trying to make me feel sorry for my father."

"Well," he said, as stormy as she, "_you ought to_! But your friends are
waiting. I must not detain you any longer."

At the curtness of his speech a very faint wave of color ran up her
cheek; and when he saw this he was sorry and glad in a single breath. At
least, she could not say afterwards that he had ever tried to make
himself falsely civil and lyingly agreeable. "Yes, I have stayed very
much too long already. You've promised that you will be careful, haven't
you? I'm really too sorry," she said, from the door, "that your visit to
Hunston should have been made disagreeable in all these ways."

"In the name of heaven," he said, stung into momentary recklessness,
"you don't suppose that I came here expecting any _fun_!"

"Why--I had understood that it was purely a pleasure-trip that brought
you here!"

He made no answer to this, but stepped forward and swung open the door
for her.

"Maginnis," he said, "is to call for me immediately in a motor. We
shall leave by the unobtrusive back alley. Two men, a motor, and a dark
rear exit. You will scarcely imagine that there is any danger now. But
may I thank you again for giving us warning when there _was_, perhaps,
some danger?"

"So you think there is a 'perhaps'? If you take precautions, it is only
to humor a--"

"I withdraw that 'perhaps,'" he broke out in a rush. "I blot it out,
annihilate it. Who am I to catch at tatters of self-respect? Are you
blind? Can't you see that every fiber of me is tingling with the
knowledge that there was real danger, and that you saved me from it?"

The quick bitterness in his voice, which there was no missing, was the
last straw, breaking through her reserve, demolishing her dainty
aloofness. She shook the swinging gray veil back out of her eyes and
looked up at him, openly and frankly bewildered, looking very young and
immeasurably alluring.

"Will you tell me why you speak in that way? Will you tell me why it is
the worst thing that has happened to you in Hunston to have been helped
a little by me?"

They faced each other at the open door, not an arm's length between
them; and the moment of his reckoning for the quarter of an hour he had
spent with her that night was suddenly upon him. He met her eyes, which
were darkly blue, stared down into them; and as he did so, the spell of
her beauty treacherously closed round him, piping away his self-control,
deadening him to the iron fact of who she was and who he was, shutting
out all knowledge except that of her fragrant nearness.

"It is absurd," he answered her suddenly, "but to save my life I can't
decide whether you are tall or short."

The front door came open with a bang; the noise brought him sharply to
himself; and the next moment a pleasant impatient masculine voice called
out:

"I say, Miss Carstairs! Er--everything all right?"

"Oh!--yes, Mr. Richards!" she called penitently. "I'm coming this
minute. No, please don't go out with me, Mr. Varney. Don't let anybody
see that you are here."

"Certainly not," said he, struggling for a poise which he could not
quite recapture. "Then will you be good enough to convey my gratitude to
Mr. Higginson and say that I hope to have the opportunity of thanking
him personally to-morrow?"

"Yes, of course. Good-night once more--and good luck!"

But he detained her long enough to put the plain business question which
had been torturing his soul for the last twenty-four hours.

"We shall see you at luncheon to-morrow?"

He strove to give his remark the air of a mere commonplace of farewell;
but at it, he saw her look break away from his and the warm color stream
into her face.

"Why--I--I'll come with pleasure. We don't get the chance to lunch on
yachts every day in Hunston. Oh, but please," she exclaimed, her
embarrassment suddenly melting in a very natural and charming
smile--"never let my mother _dream_ that we've _not been introduced!_"

He bowed low so that she might not see the burlesque of polite pleasure
on his face.

       *       *       *       *       *

The back alley exit proved all that the most timorous could have
desired. Peter approached it by an elusive detour; Varney appeared
promptly at the sound of his three honks; and the rendezvous was
effected in a black darkness which they seemed to have entirely to
themselves. Not a hand was raised to them, not a threatening figure
sprang up to dispute their going, not a fierce curse cursed them. The
would-be assassins, if such there were, presumably still lurked in some
Main Street cranny, patiently and stupidly waiting, entirely unaware
that they had been neatly outwitted by the clever strategies of Miss
Mary Carstairs.

The car rolled noiselessly out of the alley, skimmed off through the
southern quarter of the town and bowled into the rough and rutty River
road toward the yacht. Once there, since a sharp lookout for the
reporter was necessary, they slowed down and down until the smooth
little car, with all lights out, crawled along no faster than a vigorous
man will walk.

"What're you going to do when we catch him?" asked Peter. "Want to haul
him on back to the yacht?"

"No. I'm--only going to talk to him a little. Go on with the story."

"Well," resumed Peter, taking one hand from the driving-wheel to remove
a genuine Connecticut Havana, "the first thing was a wire from the
_Daily_ firing Hammerton. That assisted a little, of course. Then, they
asked us to give them a new, good man at once, and meantime to push
along all the story we had. We answered with a wire that was a beauty,
if I do mention it myself, telling them exactly how they'd been sold a
second-hand gold brick by a corrupt paper which was trying to play
politics. It simply knocked the pins from under them. It took 'em quite
a while to come back with inquiries about the name off the yacht,
Varney's air of mystery and all that line of slush. My response was
vigorous, yet gentlemanly, straining the truth for all she'd stand, and
even bu'sting her open here and there, I gravely fear. However, it was a
clincher. It crimped them right. Not a peep have we had from 'em since."

"I suppose they'll run four lines on the thirteenth page to-morrow
explaining it was all a mistake."

"But that wasn't the serious part of the thing--not by a mile-walk,"
continued Peter, the shine of victory in his honest eyes. "Am I still in
the road? Sing out if you see me taking to the woods, will you? The more
I think of what you and I have missed by a shave, the more I'm likely to
feel sick in the stomach. You know those rascals had already begun
asking for orders all over the country--they were so sure they'd have a
hot story to send out. Not only that, but a lot of papers wired for it
without being asked. It looked as if every newspaper office in America
that had got a glimpse at the _Daily_ this morning instantly got dead
stuck on that story. I stood at the telegraph desk and watched the
accursed things come in, like this: '500 words story involving Stanhope,
Rochester _Tribune_.' 'No. 3.--' That was the number of our story on the
query list.--'No. 3.--Full details, Chicago _Ledger_.' 'No. 3--1000
words, Philadelphia _Journal_.' And so on and on. It looked uncanny, I
tell you--all those far-away people calling for information about our
affairs just like old friends. Will you kindly let your mind play about
that a minute, Laurence? Will you kindly think of a situation like that
with Ryan and Coligny Smith handling it as their little whimseys
dictated?"

"I'd rather not. You wired those papers that the story was a canard and
all that, I suppose?"

"No!" roared Peter, "I did something a whole lot better than that. I had
one of the men write a hot political story about the _Gazette_ and the
change of management and the sudden rise of Reform. There's _news_ in
that, don't you see?--and it was the Stanhope-Varney story, too--the
real one. When I left the office, they were selling it like hot cakes,
all over the country--all over the world--"

"Hold on!" said Varney, sharply. "Here's Hammerton, I think--bringing in
a whole lot better story than yours!"

The road here was straight as a string stretched tight. Far down it,
they saw a single small light, dancing towards them a foot or two above
the ground.

Peter threw off his clutch, clapped on his brakes and stopped short.
Varney slid out of the seat and stood waiting in the black inkiness
beside the unlighted car. In the sudden stillness they could hear the
rattle of the bicycle chain and even the crunch of the hard-blown tires,
spinning rapidly over the road. Now the light was perhaps a hundred
yards away.

"Blow!" hispered Varney.

The horn's honk cut the silent air hoarsely. Instantly the speed of the
oncoming light was checked. It advanced steadily, but much more slowly,
as though the rider sensed that his road might be blocked, but could not
yet determine where the hidden obstacle might be.

"Hello!" called a lusty young voice suddenly. "Who's there?"

There was no answer. The light came on more slowly still. Now it was
fifty yards away, now twenty, now ten. Varney stepped out of the
blackness, directly in front of it, and seized both handle-bars in
fingers that gripped like a vise. The shock of the sudden stopping all
but cost the rider his seat.

"May I detain you one moment, please, Mr. Hammerton?"

The little light of the bicycle lamp was all concentrated downward.
Above that round yellow ray, faces were unrecognizable in the pitchy
blackness. The voice, however, was unmistakable. Hammerton was off the
back of his wheel in the wink of an eye, on a sudden desperate bolt for
the woods.

Peter, still on the driver's seat, and seeing neither his friend nor his
enemy, saw the light with the bicycle behind it go over with a crash.
That was when Varney's hands let go of the handle-bars. The next instant
they fell upon Hammerton's withdrawing figure and brought it up with a
sharp jerk.

Peter heard the ensuing struggle, but saw nothing. He paid Varney the
tribute of sitting still in his seat and saying not a word. The contest
was bitter, but brief. Hammerton fought wildly, but Varney's arms
presently closed round him, squeezing the life out of him. Locked fast
in each other's arms, they fell heavily, Hammerton underneath. Varney
freed his legs with a swift wrench, swung round and came up riding upon
the other's chest.

Charlie Hammerton was beaten and knew it. His body lay along the rocky
road, inert and unresisting. He breathed in convulsive gasps, but apart
from that, now that he was down, he never moved. He was as tired as a
man well could be. Varney sitting closely upon him, holding him fast,
felt that the reporter's clothes were wringing wet. However, he had him,
and the _Cypriani's_ great secret was once more in captivity.

The eyes of the two men strained into the dark where each other's faces
must be, but they saw nothing.

"It's all up with you, Hammerton," said Varney presently. "The _Daily_
fired you an hour ago."

"Thanks to you," said Hammerton doggedly. "But if you think that lets
_you_ out, you're a bigger fool than I thought."

"That is not all," said Varney slowly. "The _Gazette_ has fired you,
too."

The reporter swore bitterly beneath his breath: curiously enough, he
did not seem to question the statement for a moment. "What of it?" he
cried. "You don't think that'll stop my mouth, do you--you _devil_!"

"There is still something more. Maginnis has bought the _Gazette_. He
and I own the news of this town now. Coligny Smith is fired, too. The
_Gazette_ starts an honest life to-morrow, and the old dirty regime is
over forever."

"Liar!" cried Hammerton, hoarsely. "Liar!" but there was no conviction
in the mad resentment of his voice.

"No," said Varney, without anger. "I am telling you the truth and you
know it."

"Well--there are other papers,--other towns," cried Hammerton
passionately. "What I've got on you will sell anywhere. Why, damn you,
_damn you, damn you_--don't you know you'll have to kill me to hush this
up?"

"No," said Varney, "I'm going to do better than that. I'm going to make
a friend of you. I'm going to make you editor of the _Gazette_ in
Smith's place with double your present salary and an interest in the
paper."

There was black silence, more thrilling than any speech.

"Will you take it?" asked Varney.

Then the boy's overstrained self-command snapped like a bow-string and
his breast shook with sudden hysteria. "Will I take it?" he cried with a
gasping laugh that was rather more like a sob. "Will I take the Court
of St. James? Will I take money from home? Oh, my God, will I take it!"

"Hooray!" rang Peter's great voice out of the gloom. "Hip, hip, hooray
for Editor Hammerton!"

Peter's tribute, in reality, was not so much for Hammerton's acceptance
as for the astonishing neatness with which Varney had disposed of the
editorship of _his_ paper. But to Varney, rising limply from Hammerton's
chest at the edge of the dark road, that cheer meant only that he had
kicked the last obstacle out of his path and that he and Mary were going
to New York to-morrow.



CHAPTER XVII


A LITTLE LUNCHEON PARTY ON THE YACHT "CYPRIANI"

The expectation appeared thoroughly conservative: not a cloud so large
as a man's hand any longer darkened the horizon. At two o'clock next day
Mr. Carstairs's _Cypriani_ rode gayly at her old anchorage. At the rail
stood Varney and Maginnis, hosts of pleasant and guileless mien, their
eyes upon the trim gig which came dancing over the water toward them. In
the gig sat J. Pinkney Hare and his sister, Mrs. Marne, blithely coming
to lunch aboard with their two new friends.

The yacht's return to Hunston had been in all ways different from her
going. She had slipped away like the hunted thing she was, running to
cover with a hold full of fears, shying at every craft that passed, and
yelled after from the shore by a stoutish young man with inimical
opinions in his eye. She had steamed back, early this morning, not
merely without fear, but proudly, her whistle screaming for the
lime-light, her fore-truck flying, so to say, the burgee of vindication;
and the stoutish and inimical young man had come aboard for breakfast
with his new employer at nine o'clock sharp. Such was the measure of the
whitewashing work accomplished by three columns in Mr. Maginnis's
_Gazette_ that morning.

Of the "news value" of those astonishing columns, "the author's double"
(as the _Gazette's_ converted reporters felicitously dubbed him) had had
abundant evidence in the many glances that followed him upon the streets
of Hunston that morning. Varney's errand in town had had to do with
Tommy Orrick. Some search was needed to find the transient tenant of
Kerrigan's loft; but when he was finally located the matter of homes in
New York was discussed and settled in the most satisfactory way in the
world. It was decided that Tommy should remove his Penates to the city
that very evening, where he was to be met at Forty-second Street by a
Mr. Horace O'Hara, an interesting personage who had once been a burglar
but was now in the fish and vegetable way at Fulton Market. Together
they would make their way to the Home. Future plans had to do with an
educative course at the graded schools and other matters so strange and
exalted that one could not hear them mentioned without experiencing the
most benumbing abashment.

The two good friends parted with a handshake, enforced by the young
man--a unique ceremonial which filled the small breast of Thomas with a
conflict of strange emotions; and Varney, having dispatched a telegram
to Mr. O'Hara, and another to Mrs. Marie Duval, who had the home with no
boys in it on 117th Street, had at once turned his face back to the
yacht. He chose the woodland path for his walk, which struck straight
down from the handsome residence street and skirted the river at a
point near the _Cypriani's_ anchorage; and here an incident of interest
befell him. As he sauntered down the path, conscious of a sudden curious
loss of spirits, his attention was caught by the blurred sound of voices
from the street, some fifty yards behind him; and presently the vague
rumble crystallized into something like this:

"... Infernal absence of livery ... Far ... station-master fellow say
it was, Henry?"

The voice was masculine, carefully modulated, decidedly elegant. A
different sort of voice gave answer:

"'E said, sir ... mile, but knowing the hodd way they count distances
away from the cities, sir, I'm 'ardly 'oping to see it under two
mile--hif that."

Varney idly turned. The woods were thick just ahead of him, cutting off
all view of the street; but further on, to the north, there was a break
in the leafy wall, revealing a small slit of patent cement sidewalk.
Soon, as he watched, two pedestrians stepped into view within this frame
of foliage: a tall immaculate-looking man swinging a trim cane, and
behind him a stocky, middle-sized, black-garbed fellow struggling along
under two suit-cases and a roll of umbrellas. In three steps they had
passed across the little open space and were again lost behind the
trees, their voices running once more into an indistinguishable rumble.

Varney, halting in the path, had little doubt who the tall man was. It
was Ferris Stanhope, returning to the home of his boyhood and sublimely
unaware of the nature of the reception which awaited him.

Cordially as Varney loathed the great author, he had no wish to see him
taken by surprise and beaten to a pulp by mob-law. Moreover, if anything
like that happened, he and Peter would be largely responsible, since the
present excitement of feeling had been largely worked up for their
benefit. He had half a mind to go straight after the _insouciant_
visitor now, unpleasant as it would be to have to speak to him, and give
him the fair warning he was entitled to. But he dismissed the impulse as
plainly overdoing his duty: the man was in no possible danger in broad
daylight, and Peter had already promised that he would attend to the
warning business himself.

Now, as they stood calmly chatting at the rail under the brilliant sky,
he told Peter of the author's arrival, and dutifully reminded him of
that promise. Peter renewed it, without enthusiasm. His eyes rested on
the approaching gig with a kind of fascination; and Varney followed his
gaze.

"Isn't Hare dressy, though! Frock-coat and all that ..."

"Yes ... He'll add a needed touch of elegance to the somber setting of
the drama."

"By the way," said Varney presently, "how did Hammerton get away last
night? I believe Ferguson's been dodging me all day, but the fact is
I've never given it a thought."

Peter laughed.

"He's sharp as a tack, that boy is. He played dead till old Ferguson got
first interested, then nervous, and lastly careless. Lay there two hours
without moving; breathed as little as he could do with, and at long
intervals fluttered one eyelid and took a peep how the land lay. After a
while there came a time when the door was left wide open and only one
deckhand in sight. Hammerton floored him with a chair from behind, and
jumped over the rail. She happened to be moving close inshore at the
time, and he was in the woods before the fatheads even got a boat down."

Varney echoed his laugh absently. All morning, since his return from
Hunston, he had felt himself enfolded by a mysterious despondency, which
he had seemed unable either to account for or to shake off. But now, as
the final climax of his business drew near to summon him, he felt his
spirits inexplicably rising again. A certain excitement possessed him;
he was glad that at last his hour had come.

Hardly listening to Peter, he was running over in the most business-like
way the little scheme, mapped out and rehearsed together that morning,
by which the two superfluous guests, the mere "sleepers" in the
orchestra, were to be detached at the proper moment. Yes, certainly; it
was sound and would hold water. So would everything else. Peter's things
had gone ashore two hours before, for he was to remain in Hunston.
Everything had been provided for; the last detail systematically
arranged. A surer scheme and a clearer coast could not possibly have
been contrived or desired.

"At breakfast," continued Peter, "Hammerton suddenly blurted out that,
while he wasn't crazed with conscientiousness as a rule, one thing had
kept him awake last night. Demanded whether we had the nerve to think
that we had simply bought him off with a job. 'Perish the thought,
Charlie,' said I, looking kind of hurt at the bare suggestion. 'Thank
you, Maginnis,' said he, dignified as the President. 'It's an honest
fact that I gave up the chase because I felt all along that you two
fellows couldn't possibly be mixed up in anything underhanded.' Aha!
thinks me to myself ... Eh, Laurence?"

"Just exactly."

"Well, cheer up. It's done every day by our best families. And speaking
of doing underhanded things," said Peter, "our guests approach rapidly.
Up, guards, and at them!"

He took off his terrible Panama and waved it in a friendly manner.

"How-de-do, Mrs. Marne! Morning, candidate! Welcome aboard."

The sister and brother came up the stair, and were cordially greeted by
their hosts.

"Ashore again!" ordered Varney over the side. "There is another guest."

"So we have not kept you waiting after all," cried Mrs. Marne, flashing
a triumphant eye upon her brother. "Mary is not here yet--the prinker!"

She was dark, vivacious for a chaperon, easily on the correct side of
thirty, and arrayed in very light mourning indeed. She had a will: for
it was she who had baited J. Pinkney Hare with sociology and politics to
abandon the law in New York, at which he was doing rather well, and
follow her to Hunston. This was when her husband, a member of Hunston's
oldest family--for there was aristocracy in the town--had left her
widowed the year of their marriage.

"Three times," Hare elucidated to Varney, "did she tell me, 'I'll be
ready in a minute.' And a ten-minute interval elapsed each time, by my
grandfather's trusted chronometer."

"Oh, well," said Varney, "who'd put any trust in a woman who was ready
when she said she'd be? Let's get into the shade."

"Pinky," said Mrs. Marne, sister-wise, as she turned with Varney, "gets
his ideas about women from the comic weeklies."

They sauntered aft, Peter and Hare in the rear.

"Committee meeting at five-thirty?"

"Precisely. And by the bye," began Hare....

The candidate, in his tiny frock coat, with pale gray spats and scarf to
match, looked overdressed in the brilliant sunshine. Yet probably Peter,
whose purple tie blossomed too gorgeously above a blue silk "fancy vest"
of a cut a good deal affected in the early nineties, looked the more
striking of the two.

"He's a fool," declared Peter presently. "The chances are that Ryan has
a barrel of votes salted down where we'll have the devil's own time
tapping them. You can't smoke out a skunk in a minute, I tell you."

Mrs. Marne, in a cushioned chair, was being markedly agreeable to her
host.

"It's my _début_ on a yacht," she was rattling away. "Is there any
special etiquette? Coach me from time to time when you see me fumbling,
won't you? And if there _is_ a code, there is one thing that I move
shall go into it, here and now. Politics is--or are--_barred_ for the
day! Will you make it a rule that whoever mentions it--or them--forfeits
butter, Mr. Varney?"

Varney laughed. "A rank outsider myself," said he, "I'm absolutely
willing. But I fear that in a division the nays would have it."

"You and I," she said, "against Mr. Maginnis and Pinky. A tie. Mary
would have the deciding vote."

"Then you'd lose out," said her brother, whose social manner, it was
developing, differed somewhat from that of his official moments.

"I know women," said Mrs. Marne. "I could lobby Mary over in exactly two
minutes, Mr. Varney. Besides, she is absent at roll-call, you know."

"The point is well taken," said Varney, to whom the thought was anything
but a novelty.

"There she is now," said Peter over their shoulders.

Varney turned and looked ashore at the point where the gig was patiently
waiting. There was no sign of anybody there.

"Upstream," added Peter, and the sudden honk of a motor-horn punctuated
the observation like a full stop.

Two hundred yards above them, a narrow driveway circled down to the
river to an ancient boat-house, and here the gaze of the little party
turned. Where the road curved at the water's edge, there stood a great
white touring-car, shining in the sun like a new pin. Upon the driver's
seat sat a bare-headed young man with a brown face and light sunburned
hair, brushed back. On the farther side of him, gloved hand holding to
the seat back, stood a young girl in a blue linen dress and a rather
conspicuously large hat, also of blue. Both of them were looking off
toward the _Cypriani_. Now the horn tooted again in salutation; and the
girl, catching their eyes, waved her hand and smiled, making a little
gesture indicative of her lack of equipment to navigate the intervening
stretch of water.

Mrs. Marne answered the salute in kind. Reassuring gesticulations were
duly wafted ashore.

"Who's the new swain, Pinky?" demanded Mrs. Marne thoughtfully.

Pinky did not know. The sailing-master, at a word from Varney, hurled an
order to the gig ashore. Then he swept his megaphone upstream, pointing
it straight at the motor:

"The gig is on the way to you now, Miss."

"That's an awfully sweet hat she's wearing," said Mrs. Marne. "I wonder
where she found that shape."

Miss Carstairs nodded her thanks to the sailing-master. The bare-headed
young man sprang down, assisted her to descend, waited with her at the
water's edge, assisted her most thoroughly into the _Cypriani's_ gig. He
was a handsome boy. He stood on the shore looking after the departing
boat, laughing and calling out something.

"We wanted to have luncheon on deck," said Varney, abruptly, to Mrs.
Marne, "as the day is so uncommonly fine. But about noon there came up a
little cloud no larger than a man's hand--it took a telescope to see
it--and the steward, a pronounced conservative, begged us not to trifle
with our luck. It seems too bad to go indoors on such a glorious day."

"But if we were to stay outdoors," she laughed, "would it have been such
a glorious day? These are the questions that make cynics of us all. I am
unhappy, Mr. Varney, because I have to fly the moment luncheon is over.
The Married Women's Culture Club meets at four o'clock. Only fancy!--I
am to read a paper on Immanuel Kant."

Peter, who had known no women in his life and was oppressed with the
thought that Hare's sister was his personal responsibility for the day,
was strolling moodily about the deck, hands thrust deep in his trousers
pocket. Hare hung at the rail, his neat glasses turned upstream.

The gig came alongside and Miss Carstairs mounted the steps, the party
gathered at the head of them to meet her. Peter, as it chanced, greeted
her first. He had been introduced to her, in passing, the night of the
meeting, but now he was dimly conscious that he had rather
underestimated her appearance.

"I am dreadfully sorry to be late," she said. "We went for the shortest
little drive, and all at once it was two o'clock and we were three miles
away."

"You must have done something to the speed-limit, madam," said Peter in
his stiffest manner, "for you are in ample time."

"How do you do, Mr. Hare?"

"Excellently well, thank you, Mary. It is supererogatory to ask you."

"Pinky," said Mrs. Marne, "have that word and I met? I don't seem to
recognize it."

"Good-morning, Mr. Varney." Mary offered him her hand; but, greeting
her, he had turned to pull a chair out of her way, and so missed seeing
it.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome you aboard the yacht, Miss
Carstairs."

"If I seem at all addicted to melancholia to-day," said Mary, "you won't
be surprised, will you? My mother isn't well--really! When I left her an
hour ago, you might have supposed that we were parting for a year. And
then, besides I had an omen--a mysterious warning...."

Varney's gaze became fixed. "A warning?"

She laughed. "A rather queer and scary one! I'll tell you presently."

"My dear," said Mrs. Marne, when Varney had turned to explain the
working of the boat-falls to Hare, "_who_ is he? He is simply
cunning!"

Mary laughed. Hare, who was listening to boat matters with one ear only,
thought it was rather a conscious laugh.

"Only John Richards. He came up in his car yesterday to spend a day with
us. How do you like my hat?"

"It's a love," said Mrs. Marne. "A great big love."

"I trimmed it myself. You recognize the feather, of course?"

They went down to luncheon. The ladies cried out with pleasure at the
prettiness of the little saloon.

The room was darkened, through half-drawn shades, to a pleasant
dimness. The table was round, red, and bare. It was a splendid mass of
flowers. In the center was a great blossoming thing in a silver
basket-frame, so large and high that when they were seated, Hare, who
was neither, could just see Mary over the top of it. About it were four
tall vases of cut roses, two of white, two of red. Button-holes in white
and red lay at three covers, gigantic American Beauties, red, with
flowing white ribbons, at two. And napery, silver, iridescent glass, all
the materialities, were well worthy of so pretty a floral setting.

In short, it was a most alluring bait that Uncle Elbert's yacht had
flung out for Uncle Elbert's daughter.

"These roses," said Mary, raising hers to her lips, "were never grown in
Hunston."

"I want to explain a rule that Mr. Varney and I adopted just now, Mr.
Maginnis," said Mrs. Marne. "Did you hear it? It concerns the two
subjects of butter and politics."

Hare lifted a glass of the _Cypriani's_ excellent sherry and caught his
host's eye. "Mr. Varney! By a pleasant coincidence, we happen to be
gathered here within a day or two of the birthday of one member of our
charming party. The little discrepancy of date is immaterial--am I
right? Why may I not propose the health and great happiness of Miss
Carstairs?"

"Standing!" cried Mrs. Marne, pushing back her chair. "Bravo!"

They stood, glasses raised, turned toward Miss Carstairs, bowing,
saluting her according to their several kinds; and she sat, looking up
at them, laughing, flushed, prettily pleased by the little rite. For
Varney, conscious of the mockery of his felicitations, there had been no
escape. But Hare, who noticed everything, observed that he did not touch
his glass to his lips.

The luncheon progressed merrily. It was evident from the beginning that
it was to be a pronounced success. Only Peter was stiff and bored; and
even he grew somewhat enlivened before the ceremonies ended. There was
Scotch and soda for the gentlemen, and he did not spurn it when the
decanters passed. Varney, whose want of appetite pained McTosh, was a
conversational tower of strength. But his talk was false-faced talk, his
mirth was lying mirth, his smile a painted smile. Uncle Elbert's
daughter sat at his left, as befitted a guest of honor. Her eyes, when
she looked at him, were kind and friendly, but it early became his habit
not to meet them; for he always saw behind that--saw them changed as he
was destined to see them within the hour....

"So you're quite alive and well to-day!" she said to him presently.
"Will you believe that I picked up the _Gazette_ this morning with fear
and trembling?"

"Oh--thank you--yes! We eluded Mr. Hackley's well-meant attentions with
marvelous dexterity and success."

"Ah, you still don't take it seriously, I see. I'm going to make one
more effort to frighten you to-day--but I'm afraid you are one of these
terribly reckless people who think being safe is too tame to be
interesting. What do you think of our poor little city, Mr. Varney?"

"I? I assure you," he said, turning a gay face toward her, "I think it
positively the most exciting town I ever saw in my life. But then, of
course, I 've had unusual privileges. What is much more important--what
do you think of it?"

"Of course, I love it. My mother went here to boarding school a great,
great many years ago. No, not that--some years ago. She fell in love
with the place on account of the scenery, and the air, which she says is
fresher than you can get in other places. Personally, I believe that the
same quality can be had elsewhere, but she says not at all. So when
we--left New York, nothing would do for her but to come straight here."

"But don't you find it a little dull?"

"Dull! Why," she cried, after a moment, "you talk exactly the way she
does."

"May I offer you an olive?"

She took it daintily in her fingers, bit it and resumed: "I suppose your
metropolitan idea is that a person would be buried alive in Hunston?"

A sunny shaft broke in from without and became entangled with her hair,
which was in some ways so curiously like it. McTosh, whose eye was
everywhere, promptly lowered a shade two inches--the one blunder he made
that day.

"Isn't it?"

"That would depend altogether on the person."

"Me."

"I do think so, decidedly."

"Really you and my mother would be very congenial."

"McTosh, the bread," said Peter's cool voice.

Mrs. Marne, who had been interested by Peter's taciturnity and
fascinated by his waistcoat, had been leading that ordinarily masterful
man something of a conversational dance. Detached for the moment by his
demand for provender, she called across the table: "Mary, I herewith
invite you to attend the Culture Club meeting at four o'clock this
afternoon, to lead the applause for my paper on Immanuel Kant. Pinky
wrote it and--"

"Before any court in the land," said Hare, lifting his glance above
squab _en casserole_, "I am prepared to establish my innocence of this
charge."

"If he positively will not take no for an answer," continued Mrs. Marne,
"you may bring John Richards along. No claret, thank you, Mr. Maginnis.
Men, it is true, are not admitted to the sacred mysteries, but I will
arrange to have him seated on the piazza where he may eavesdrop the
whole thing through the long French window."

"Unfortunately," said Mary, "he has to go to Albany this afternoon, I
believe."

"To resume our conversation, Mrs. Marne," said Peter.

"I shouldn't if I were you," Hare recommended. "If memory serves, it was
hardly worth it. Why not, instead, permit me to tell the story of the
seven fat men of Kilgore?"

McTosh, of the gum-shoe tread, shuffled courses dextrously. An
under-steward assisted in the presentation of the viands, another
manipulated dishes in the hidden precincts of the pantry. The service
was swift and noiseless, but not more so than the passage of time. The
hands of the little clock fastened against the forward bulkhead already
stood at quarter after three.

Mary's eyes, which had been resting on the candidate, turned back to
Varney, and they were shining. "Seriously, Mr. Varney," she said in a
lowered voice--"how could any one possibly be buried in a town where
Mr. Hare is?"

"Mr. Hare?"

She nodded. "Because he is so _alive_! Why just to live in the same town
with him is an inspiration. To be friends with him--well, that is all
you ever need to keep from feeling buried alive! He isn't listening, is
he?"

"No," said Varney, "he is, I believe, telling the story of the seven fat
men of Kilgore."

"If you wish to hand bouquets to Pinky for a while," called Mrs. Marne,
aside, "I will see that you are not disturbed, Mary."

"Thank you, Elsie, but it's your sisterly duty to listen to the story.
Mr. Hare," she presently went on, to Varney, "had a great career ahead
of him in New York--Judge Prentiss told me so--and he kicked it over
without a quiver and came up here where there isn't any glitter or
fireworks, but only plain hard work. Politics is only an incident with
him. No one will ever understand all that he has done for Hunston,
without any thought of return--working with all his heart and his head
and his hands."

"Ha! Ha!" said Peter down the table. "That reminds me--"

"You have known him a long time, I suppose?" asked Varney.

"Yes," she laughed, "but he has known me longer--ever since I was a
very little girl. That is why he calls me by my name, which gives him a
great moral advantage. I call him Mister because I didn't know him when
he was a very little boy. I have figured it all out, and I couldn't
have, because he was thirteen when I was born. Besides, you can't begin
to know people till you have reached a certain age. Can you?"

"Not to say know, I should think."

"Say six," said Miss Carstairs. "That's liberal, I think. Well, he was
nineteen _then_, and I never even saw him till seven years afterwards,
anyway. That made him twenty-six, which was much too late. Now he says
that I should call him by his name, but of course I'm not going to do
it."

"It is hard to change an old habit in a thing like that."

"Oh, I don't mind the hardness of it. But whoever heard of calling a
Mayor by his first name? Call a Mayor Pinky! The thought is ridiculous.
Isn't it, Mr. Hare?"

But Hare was engrossed with a conversation of his own, now turned upon
economic lines.

"Everything in the world that goes up must come down," he was saying
didactically, "except prices. They alone defy the laws of gravity."

Peter challenged the aphorism, wordily. Mrs. Marne smiled at Mary across
the flower-sweet table.

"No," answered Hare presently. "Money isn't everything, but it is most.
It makes the mare go; also the nightmare. It talks, it shouts, and in
the only language that needs no interpreter. I may describe it, without
fear of contradiction, as the Esperanto of commerce."

"Clever, Pinky!" called his sister, derisively. "Confess that you
rehearsed this before a mirror."

The luncheon ended. If anything had been wanting to prove how agreeable
it had been, it appeared now in the pretty reluctance with which the
ladies rose. There was the customary pushing back of chairs, smoothing
down of garments, recovering of handkerchiefs from beneath the board.
The room and the table were the objects of new compliments, given in
farewell.

"Who would have dreamed," said Mary, looking back from the door at her
father's perfectly appointed room, "that yachts were as nice as this?"

"And to think," said Mrs. Marne, "that it was all done by a Mere Man."

McTosh, the mere man in question, blushed violently behind his deft
hand.

They stepped up on deck into the shade of a great striped awning, and
loitered along the side, caught by the beauty of the late summer scene.
Sky and water and green wood blended into practised perfectness. The
rippling water was blue as the heavens, which was very blue indeed. The
sun kissed it like a lover.

"Will some one kindly tell me," demanded Hare, referring to his sister's
remark, "how the superstition arose that men have no taste?"

"I have read," said Mary idly, her back against the rail, "that it was
invented by the authority who started the slander about women's having
no sense of humor."

"Why, they haven't, have they?"

"You're wrong there, Hare," said Peter, out of his fathomless ignorance.
"For my part I think that women are often more amusing than men."

"Of course, Maginnis, of course. The point is that it never dawns on
them."

They were strung out along the after deck, a gay and friendly company,
exactly as Varney had pictured them in his thoughts. From the hatch
emerged the stewards, in stately processional, bearing coffee and
cigars, their paraphernalia and appurtenances. Twenty feet away, on the
other side, was to be seen the sailing-master's wife, sitting under
orders, sedate, matronly, knitting a pale blue shawl and giving to the
bright scene an air of indescribable domesticity.

"Women," said Mrs. Marne to Varney, "have a splendid sense of humor. I
am a woman and I know. True, we keep a tight grip on our wit when we are
with men, because, whatever men may say in moments like these, they do
loathe and despise a comical woman. But when we are alone together--ah,
dearie me, what funny things we do say! Don't we, Mary?"

Varney, to show himself how cool he was, was lighting a cigarette, and
had just perceived with annoyance that his hand shook.

"At least," he answered easily, "no man will ever disprove that, since
no man has ever had the pleasure of being present when women are alone
together. I can recommend the Invincibles, Hare."

Peter, as one sensitive to the duties of host, now begged Mrs. Marne to
let him show her something of the yacht. He mentioned the crew's
quarters and the--er--butler's pantry as points which he particularly
desired to bring to her attention.

"I'd _love_ to see them! Oh--I must take just one peep before I fly."

The trio started forward in a whirl of her animated talk, Peter leading
with a dutiful face, Hare strutting solemnly along in the rear. Mary
glanced at Varney.

"Aren't you going to show me your butler's pantry, too?"

"Rather!" he said, starting with her up the deck. "But I want you to see
the whole ship, you know, much more thoroughly than Mrs. Marne has time
for--and to take a little spin--"

He was interrupted by an exaggerated cry from the lady last mentioned,
who, happening to glance down at her watch, had stopped short at the
cabin-hatch in great dismay.

Now she turned back to Varney crying: "Oh! oh! Mr. Varney, it's _twenty
minutes to four_! I must fly to my Culture _this instant_!"

At that, for Varney, the little party lost the last traces of its false
good-fellowship and stood out for what it was. Mrs. Marne's hurried
departure slightly dislocated his carefully-laid plans; it was evident
that her brother had no intention of going with her. Over her
unconscious head, his eye caught Peter's in a faint sweep which
indicated the little candidate.

"Oh--must you, Mrs. Marne?" said Varney, with civil regret.

"I _must_! I wish--oh, how I wish!--that culture had never been
invented. The world lasted a long time without it, I'm sure. I detest to
eat and run, yet what else can possibly be done by the author of
'_Ideals of Immanuel Kant_'?"

"It is too bad," said Varney, "but if duty really calls, I suppose there
is nothing for it but to have your boat ready at once."

"I ought to go, too," said Mary.

A chorus of protests annihilated the thought. Mrs. Marne declared that
she would never, no, never, forgive herself if she broke up so
delightful a party. It was unanimously decided that the other guests
were to remain long enough to be shown something of the yacht. Mention
of a little spin down the river was once more casually thrown out.

Events moved swiftly. The gig was manned, waiting. Varney under cover of
issuing orders, found opportunity to say a hurried word to Peter. Mrs.
Marne approached Mary, who was discussing yachts with Hare, to make
adieu. Suddenly the large face of Maginnis loomed over her shoulder.

"Good-bye, Miss Carstairs--you'll excuse me, won't you?" said he,
briefly. "I--I thought perhaps I'd just walk in with Mrs. Marne."

Mary repressed an inclination to smile. "Certainly, Mr. Maginnis.
Good-bye. I've enjoyed it a great, great deal." And to Pinkney Hare she
added: "You are going over the yacht with us, of course?"

Mrs. Marne embarked in a shower of farewells. Peter, however, loitered
at the head of the stairs, and the gig waited at the foot of them.
Varney stood at Miss Carstairs's elbow, cool, smiling, controlling the
situation with entire and easy mastery.

"It occurs to me, Miss Carstairs," he said, "that I should begin our
tour by showing you our sailing-master's wife, Mrs. Ferguson--decidedly
the cultured member of the ship's household. She reads Shakespeare. She
recites Browning. I dare say that she even sings a little Tennyson. You
would enjoy meeting her, I am sure. Will you step around the other side
for a moment?"

"How exceedingly interesting," murmured Hare, falling in beside them.
"Years ago, I used to read quite a bit of poetry myself."

The gig still waited at the foot of the stairs. Mrs. Marne, waving
upward last adieus to Mary and Varney, called: "Do hurry, Mr. Maginnis.
I'm outrageously late."

But Peter, who had more important matters than Kant on his mind at that
moment, answered in a low, hurried voice: "Don't be alarmed, Mrs.
Marne--but I _must_ see your brother at once about--a critical matter.
Oh, I say, Hare."

The candidate, now some distance up the deck with the others, stopped
and looked back.

"May I have a word with you, please?"

Hare turned, with only a polite show of reluctance to his host and Miss
Carstairs, and drew near. Politics interested him far more than the
staunchest ship that ever sailed.

Five minutes later when Varney, having launched Miss Carstairs and the
sailing-master's wife upon a strictly innocuous conversation, came
around the deck-house again, neither the candidate nor his sister was
anywhere to be seen. Peter--he who had engaged to accompany the
lady--stood alone on the sunny deck, staring off at the returning gig,
his great hands clenched in his coat-pockets. He met his friend with a
calm face.

"It's all over but the shouting," he said. "They've just landed. I told
Hare that there was a plot on against your life--which is very likely
true by the way--said he and I must have a conference at once without
alarming Miss Carstairs. I had to draw it pretty strong, you can bet, to
make him go without telling her good-bye."

"You've got the letters," said Varney hurriedly. "Go to see Mrs.
Carstairs the first thing--make the explanations. Call up Uncle Elbert
and tell him six-thirty for the carriage at the dock. Be sure to explain
to Hare and Mrs. Marne at once--prearranged visit to her father, kept
quiet for--any good reason."

"Of course," said Peter. "Well, I must hurry along. I promised to
overtake them in the woods. Oh, the lies I've told in this ten minutes!"

He turned and picked up his hat and cane to go.

To Varney, the simple act drove home with great force the stark fact
that he was face to face with his business at last. Peter, holding out
his hand to say good-bye, was struck to speculation by the look of that
eye.

"Well, good luck, Larry!"

"In heaven's name--what does that mean?"

"Hanged if I know," said Peter, frankly. "I'll see you in New York--if
not sooner." With which cryptic observation he clattered down the stairs
to the gig.

Varney beckoned the sailing-master from the quarter-deck.

"I am returning to New York, as I told you, Ferguson, with the young
lady, Mr. Carstairs's daughter. Start as soon as possible."

The sailing-master stared at the deck. "Ready at once, sir."

Mrs. Ferguson's fondness for classical poetry was no part of any stage
make-believe. Varney, having found her the day before sitting on a coil
of rope with Mr. Pope's _Odyssey_ from the ship's library, had conceived
a veneration for her taste. Now, as he drew near them again, she was
telling Mary that though Tennyson was fine for the purty language, it
was really Browning who understood the human heart. And down in the
engine room they had everything ready for the bell.

"Have you two settled the poets' hash yet?" asked Varney. "I hope you
didn't make the mistake of preferring Tennyson to Browning, Miss
Carstairs? Thank you very much for entertaining our guest so nicely,
Mrs. Ferguson."

"What a wonder that woman is!" said Mary, looking back at her as they
walked away. "I had thought that I was rather good at liking poetry, but
she leaves me feeling like the dunce at the kindergarten."

She turned and looked out over the water, caught anew by the shining
landscape. They stood side by side in the shade of the wide low awning.
Half a mile to their left huddled the town, whither the others were
already on their way; a few hundred yards behind them stood the big
white Carstairs house, handsomely cresting the hill. From many miles to
the northward a breeze danced down the river, and played capriciously
over their faces, and so whisked on about its business. All the world
looked smiling and very good.

Suddenly a bell tinkled. There was a slight splash, a faint rumble and
quiver.

Varney laughed. "The passion for poetry," said he, "is a curious and
complex thing. Its origin is shrouded in the earliest dawn of
civilization. It appears in man's first instinctive gropings toward
written self-expression--"

"Why," said Mary, in sudden surprise, "_we are going!"_



CHAPTER XVIII


CAPTIVATING MARY

So Elbert Carstairs's dream had come true, and his daughter was going
home to him at his desire. She stood on his yacht, as truly a prisoner
as though she wore a ball and chain; and the beat of the engines,
already gathering speed, was driving her straight toward that dock in
Harlem whither he, within a very short time, would be driving down to
meet her.

"Going? Of course we are," said Varney.

He leaned against the rail and, looking at Mary, almost laughed at the
thought of how easy and simple it was.

"The point of being on a yacht, Miss Carstairs, is to see her go.
Otherwise, one might as well sit in the den at home and look at pictures
of them in the encyclopedia."

"But I--didn't expect to go," she said, gazing at him doubtfully--"only
to look around a little. I'm really afraid I haven't time for a sail."

"Well, you know," he said cheerfully, "as far as looking around is
concerned, going doesn't necessarily take any longer than staying. In
one case, you stay and look around: in the other you go and look around.
That is really all the difference, isn't it?"

"Well, then, it must be a little go and a short look around. Where does
one begin, in looking around a yacht?"

It would have been plain to a far duller plotter that they should be
fully clear of Hunston before he explained the situation to her more
definitely.

"Suppose," said Varney, "we begin with a few general remarks of a
descriptive nature. This vessel, Miss Carstairs, is what is known as a
schooner-rigged steam-yacht. She stands a good bit under a hundred tons.
She is ninety feet long, eighteen feet in the beam and she draws ten
feet--"

"I don't understand a word of that except ninety feet long, but it all
has a perfectly splendid sound! But where can Mr. Hare be? Please send
for him like a good host, and begin back at the beginning again. He just
told me that yachts interested him intensely."

"But, unfortunately, Mr. Hare is no longer with us."

"Not with us? Why--did he _get off_?"

"He certainly did. He and Maginnis are a great pair, aren't they? Not a
minute to give to pleasure or anything of that sort. I believe they
slipped off to Hare's house for another of their eternal private talks."

"But--" Mary stared astoundedly. "He _said_ he was going around with us!
I asked him and he accepted. And besides," she went on, rolling up the
count against the unhappy candidate, "he's got my parasol!"

"We detached that from him before he left. It's around on the other
side. I'll send for it at once."

But her puzzled frown lingered. "I have known Mr. Hare well for six
years," she said, "and this is the first time I ever knew him to do such
an uncivil thing."

"It wasn't his fault, depend upon it. Maginnis called him back, you
know, and no doubt hauled him off bodily, positively refusing to let him
pause for good-byes. A man of ruthless determination, is Maginnis."

She glanced up the deck with vague uneasiness, disquieted by the
unexpected situation. Forty feet away sat the sailing-master's wife
still placidly knitting at her pale blue shawl, the perfect portrait of
secure propriety. The sight of her there was somehow reassuring.

"So is Mr. Hare, I always believed. But never mind. How fast we are
going already!"

"Yes, the _C_--this yacht goes fast."

"What is considered fast for a yacht? How long would it take us to get
to New York?"

"Three hours. Why not go?"

A white-clad steward noiselessly approached with her parasol. She took
it and smiled at Varney's idle pleasantry.

"Thank you, I have too many responsibilities this afternoon. First of
all, we--have a guest at home. Then I simply must go to Mrs. Thurston's
to see about some sewing at five. Last obstacle of all--my mamma! What
would she think had happened?"

"Don't you suppose that she would guess?"

"Do you think I'm the daughter of a clairvoyant, Mr. Varney? No, she
would not guess. She would simply stand at the front window in a Sister
Ann position all the afternoon, crying her pretty, eyes red. But--this
is a schooner-something steam-yacht, ninety feet long, I believe you
said. What comes after that?"

They had left the town dock behind and were scudding swiftly. There was
no longer any reason, even any pretext, for waiting. Every pulse of the
_Cypriani's_ machinery was beating into his brain: "Tell her now! Tell
her now!"

But all at once he found it very hard to speak.

"There is time enough for that. There is something that I must tell you
first--in fairness to Hare. The fact is that I--I made Peter take him
away because I wanted to be alone with you."

The crude speech plainly embarrassed her; she became suddenly engrossed
in examining the carved handle of her parasol, as though never in her
life had she seen it before.

Varney turned abruptly from her and looked out at the flying shore.

"Last night," said he, "you may remember that you asked me a question.
You asked me why I objected to accepting help from you."

"Yes, but that was last night," she interrupted, her instinct instantly
warning her away from the topic--"and you didn't tell me, you know!
Really--we must turn around in two minutes, and so I haven't time to
talk about a thing but yachts."

"I fear that you must find time."

"Must, Mr. Varney?"

"Must. This is a matter in which you are directly concerned."

She faced him in frank wonderment. "Why, what on earth can you mean?"

"Now you must! Now you must!" sang the _Cypriani's_ staunch little
engines.

But he made the mistake of looking at her, and this move betrayed him.
There was no doubt of him in her upturned, perplexed face, no shadow of
distrust to give him strength. His earlier dread of this moment,
strangely faded for a while, closed in on him once more with deadly
force.

"Don't you see that I am trying to tell you and that I am finding
it--hard?" he said quietly.

There was a moment's silence; then she said hurriedly: "Of course I am
all in the dark as to what you--are talking about--but tell me another
time, won't you? Not now, please. And oh--meantime," she sped on, with
the air of hailing a new topic with acclaim, "I have something to tell
you, Mr. Varney!--mystery seems to be in the air to-day. You _must_
hear the strange thing that happened to me this morning. I haven't had a
chance to tell you before."

"Ah, yes! That mysterious warning."

He clutched at the respite like a drowning man at straws, though no
drowning man would have felt his sudden rush of self-contempt.

"Who gave it to you, and what was it about?"

Free of his hidden restraints, she had quite thrown off the
embarrassment which she had felt settling down upon her a moment
before, and laughed lightly and naturally.

"It was about coming to this beautiful luncheon to-day--about _not_
coming, I mean--and it was given to me--don't be angry--by Mr.
Higginson, the old man, you know, who helped you last night."

"Ah!... Mr. Higginson."

"Tell me!" she said impulsively, her eyes upon his face--"I saw last
night that you distrusted him--_do_ you know anything about him?"

With an obvious effort he wrenched his thought from his present urgency,
and brought it to focus upon a puzzle which now seemed oddly like an
echo from a distant past.

"Not yet," he said, with an impassive face. "But I trust--"

"Oh, I don't like the way you say that! I don't see how you _can_ be so
suspicious of such a patently well-meaning old dear. And yet--"

"Well, then, tell me what he said to you and convert me."

"I suppose I must--I have had it on my mind a little, and you have a
right to know. Yet I don't want to at all! For I must say it seems just
a little to--to support your view. Well, then," she said, some
perplexity showing beneath her smile, "it happened about eleven o'clock
this morning as I was going down the street to see Elsie Marne--never
dreaming of mysteries. I met Mr. Higginson walking towards our house,
and we stopped, so I thought, for a friendly word. For he and I made
friends last night. Oh, you have a right to think I am too free, too
easy, in the way I--I make friends with strangers, and yet really
this--is not like me at all. And there is something very winning about
this old man. Well, he asked me point-blank--begged me--not to come to
your lunch-party to-day. What have you to say to that?"

He continued to look at her as from a distance, not answering her little
laugh. Behind the grave mask of his face he cursed himself heartily for
his self-absorption of the morning, which had led him entirely to lose
sight of Mr. Higginson's activities last night. He had fully meant to
search out that "winning" old man on his excursion to the town, but in
his engrossment over the more important duty of the day, the matter had
dropped completely from his mind. That the old spy had somehow ferreted
out their secret was now too plain to admit a doubt. But what
conceivable use did he mean to make of it? To interfere with the
_Cypriani's_ homegoing was beyond his power now. Did it better suit his
mysterious purpose to hold back until the thing was done, in order to
raise the dogs of scandal afterwards?...

For the moment his mind attacked the problem with curiously little
spirit; but one thing at least was instantly clear. He must return to
Hunston to-night, by the first train after his arrival in New York, find
Higginson and call him to his well-earned reckoning. Meantime ... here
was this girl, this daughter of Uncle Elbert, whom the old sneak had for
the second time failed to bend to his mean uses....

"But what reason," he said mechanically, "did he give for his rather
unusual request?"

"He wouldn't give any! That's what makes it all so ridiculous--don't you
see? Naturally I asked, but he only said in his nervous apologetic way
that he wasn't at liberty to tell, but that after last night I ought to
consider whether you--your surroundings were likely to be quite safe. I
said: 'But oughtn't you to give me some idea and, if there is any
danger, warn Mr. Varney and Mr. Maginnis? You can't mean that there is
another plot, involving the yacht this time--the likelihood of a naval
battle on the Hudson?' And then he wrung his hands and said that he
couldn't tell me what he meant, but that I'd certainly regret it if I
came. There! Oh, I _know_ he thought he was doing somebody a
kindness--you and me both, I believe! And yet--that was just a little
creepy, wasn't it?"

He made no answer to this; hardly heard what she said. Mr. Higginson,
his works and ways, had once more slipped wholly from his mind.
Something in the look of her face, its young trustfulness, its utter
lack of suspicion, had already laid paralyzing hold upon him. Now a new
thought possessed him; and all at once his breast was in a tumult.

"And yet," he said, with sudden fierce exultation, "_you came_!"

She colored slightly under his look and tone and, to cover it, gave a
light laugh.

"Oh, yes.. dauntless person that I am! Have you the remotest idea what
he was talking about?... But oh, really we must turn around now! Indeed
we must--I hadn't noticed how far we have come. And you can show me
things as we go back, can't you?"

He started at her speech; asked himself suddenly and wildly what was
wrong with him. A better opening for his crushing announcement could not
have been desired. Yet he stood dumb as a man of stone. One blurted
phrase would commit him irrevocably, but his lips would not say it. And
he was glad.

He stared over the water thinking desperately what this might mean.

In that first meeting, radiant as it had somehow seemed to him, he knew
that, given this chance, he could have carried his business through
without a quiver. Even last night when, he thought, things to make it
harder had piled one on another like Ossa on Pelion, it would not have
been impossible. Now his lips appeared sealed by a new and overwhelming
reluctance; a resistless weakness saturated him through and through,
seducing his will, filching away his very voice.

The _Cypriani_ rattled and wheezed, and her speed sharply slackened, but
he did not notice it. His mind fastened on the stark fact of his
impotence like a key in a lock: his heart leapt up to meet it. He turned
slowly and looked at her.

She leaned lightly upon the rail, her eyes on the water, her lashes on
her cheek like a silken veil. At her breast nodded his favor, the
_Cypriani's_ perfect rose. In her youth, her beauty, and, most of all,
her innocent helplessness, there was something indescribably wistful,
indescribably compelling: it sprang at him and possessed him. Even in
permitting him her acquaintance, she had trusted him far past what he
had any right to expect; and now, with his own sickening game at the
touch, she gave this crowning proof of confidence in him--dashing it
full in the face of the whispering and hinting Higginson, full in his
own face too. Could anything in all the world matter beside the fact
that this girl believed in him, that she had trusted him not only
against convention, not only against his cowardly enemy, but last and
biggest, _against himself?_

And she should not be disappointed. His pledge to her father was a
Jephthah's oath, honorable only in the breaking. His mission, all his
hours in Hunston, took changed shape before the eye of his whirling
mind, monstrous, accusing, unbelievably base. Reward that trust with
treachery, that faith with betrayal? Never while he lived.

Out of his turmoil came peace and light, flooding the far reaches of his
soul.

In crises thought moves with the speed of light. The young man's mental
revolution was over and done with in a second's time; the pause was
infinitesimal. Almost as she finished her last remark, Mr. Carstairs's
daughter turned from the rail and took a step forward upon the deck, as
though to jog her host toward that promised tour of the yacht which had
now flagged so long.

"I thought you ought to know this," she was saying, apparently quite
unaware of his descent into the psychological deeps, "though perhaps you
will think it not worth repeating. But before we go on, do tell me
--won't you?--is Mr. Higginson merely--_seeing things_--a sort of
he-Cassandra, you know--or really do you think there is any danger?"

"No!" answered Varney, so promptly as to give the air of having waited
long for just that question. "There is no danger now, thank God!"

A heavy step sounded near, approaching. Starting to speak, he broke off,
turned and saw the sailing-master coming towards him. Over the
intervening stretch of deck the two men looked at each other, the master
nervously, Varney victoriously.

It was one of those critical moments whose importance no one can gauge
until after the time for guaging is past. However, as it fell out, it
was the master who spoke first.

"Very sorry, sir, indeed," he began, with a curiously uneasy and
hang-dog expression. "The gear's broke down again--in another place.
Couldn't possibly have been foreseen, sir. We can--hem--manage to beat
about without any trouble, but I fear it would not be safe to try to
push on to New York."

"To New York!" said Mary Carstairs, looking at Varney and laughing at
the man's stupidity. "It certainly would not be safe at all!"

Even the furtive-glancing sailing-master was conscious of the tide of
gladness that had broken into his young master's eyes.

"_Put about this instant, man_!" he cried imperiously. "Miss Carstairs
wishes to return to Hunston as soon as possible."

"Right, sir," stammered the astonished Ferguson, backing away. "At once,
sir."

Varney met the man's amazement steadily, laughed into it, and so turned
again to his old friend's daughter. She was conscious of thinking that
this was the first _happy_ smile she had seen on his face since the
night when he lit the lamp at Mr. Stanhope's.

"He seemed nearly stupefied because you weren't going to scold him, did
you notice? I wonder if you are usually very cross with him. But on with
our sightseeing! What is the name of this such-and-such a kind of
steam-yacht?"

"Miss Carstairs," said Varney, struggling against his sudden exaltation
for calmness and self-control--"we are both conscious that I owe you an
explanation for--for what of course you must think my very extraordinary
behavior. Believe me, you shall have it very soon. There is nothing in
the wide world--ah--that is, I'd like very much to give it to you now.
But--no, no--it wouldn't be quite right--no--not fair--"

"You think I am eaten up with feminine curiosity about Mr. Higginson!"
she said, a little hastily. "Oh, I'll show you. Look! Look! We're
turning around already."

"Don't look there. Look in this general direction now and then, and tell
me what you see."

"I see," she said, looking anywhere but at him, "the strangest, the
most _volatile_ and--_not_ excepting Mr. Higginson--the most
_mysterious_ man in Hollaston County!"

"Where are your eyes, Miss Carstairs? You are standing within two feet
of the happiest man in America, and you don't even know it."



CHAPTER XIX


IN WHICH MR. HIGGINSON AND THE SAILING-MASTER BOTH MERIT PUNISHMENT, AND
BOTH ESCAPE IT

Passing the town-wharf laggingly like the maimed thing she was, limping
nearer and nearer the spot whence she had set out three-quarters of an
hour before, Mr. Carstairs's _Cypriani_ slowed down at an abandoned
private landing--the same one by which Peter's trunk had been conveyed
ashore that morning--and ran out her stairs.

As the two on board stood watching the yacht make fast, conversing, if
the truth be known, somewhat disjointedly, they were astonished to see
the great form of a man rise from a grassy bed a little way back from
the river-bank and advance towards them.

"Why, look!" said Mary. "There's Mr. Maginnis! I thought he'd gone to
town long ago."

Varney did not answer her. His eyes were glued upon Maginnis, and he
called in a strange voice:

"You have been waiting for us."

"Haven't budged a step," answered Peter, moving out upon the landing.
And he added what seemed an odd remark to Miss Carstairs: "I knew you
were coming back."

He greeted Mary at the foot of the stairs, cordially, and begged the
privilege of escorting her to any destination it might be her fancy to
name. But she stoutly declined his good offices, as she had Varney's a
moment before, declaring that she could not think of troubling so busy
and important a man.

"But where did you spirit Mr. Hare off to, if I might ask?" she said.

"On a very important mission I assure you, madam,--that is, Miss
Carstairs," said Peter, diplomatically, having no idea how matters
stood. "He begged me to let him go back and say good-bye to you, but I
told him I'd make it a personal matter."

"I am awfully glad that you have stopped calling me 'madam,'" said Mary,
rather inconsequently. "I _did_ hate it so!"

And she walked off up the woodland path, swinging her recovered parasol,
and finding herself with a good deal to think about.

Peter, coming on deck, found his friend waiting for him, taut as a
whipcord.

"Well, old horse!" said Maginnis. "Welcome back to jolly little
Hunston."

"The machinery broke down on me," said Varney, turning away to light a
cigarette.

"Sure," said Peter cheerfully. "You knew it was going to do it when you
started. I read it in your eye when we said farewell forever."

"You are quite mistaken," said Varney. "Ask Ferguson."

"Oh! Then you'll do it to-morrow morning, when the machinery is all
right again?"

"No," said Varney, "nor at any other time."

The two men looked at each other steadily, unwinkingly. As the look
lengthened, each face gave way to a slow reluctant smile.

"I won't pretend," said Peter, "that I am disappointed in you. I never
dreamed that I hated this thing till the time came, and hang me if I
don't rather like that little girl."

"It was a thing," said Varney, "that simply couldn't be done. We were a
pair of asses not to see that all along." He glanced hurriedly at his
watch and started for the companionway. "Jove! I'll have to hustle."

"Hustle! Where the devil to?"

"I'm off to New York by the five o'clock train to tell Uncle Elbert that
I've resigned. I'll feel mighty mean doing it, too."

"Well, don't anticipate trouble," called Peter dryly. "You can't feel
mean by the five o'clock train, however much you may deserve--"

"Why not?"

"There isn't any. She goes through at four-seven. You'll have to compose
yourself to wait till eight-ten, unless you want to walk."

Varney halted at the head of the companionway, surprisingly
disappointed. From the moment when the _Cypriani_ had put about, he had
been insistently conscious that his first duty now was to see Mr.
Carstairs, beg absolution from his promise, and formally surrender his
commission. So only, he had felt, could he go on with clean hands.

"Well, don't look so glum over it," said Peter. "You're not any sorrier
about your prolonged stay in our midst than I am."

Varney turned an inquiring eye upon him, and he began walking rather
restlessly up and down the deck.

"Oh, this same old rot!" he broke out impatiently. "I'll never be easy
in my mind till you are back in New York, and _stay_ there--"

"Well, well, Peter! Stick it out for three hours more--"

"Not long after you and Miss Carstairs steamed off," continued Peter,
"Hare blew back down here, tired of waiting and a little excited. He had
just heard some passing whispers about you and me. He says there seems
to be a little suppressed excitement in town this afternoon."

"Why, I thought your paper had kicked all that nonsense into a cocked
hat."

"A lot of people don't believe the paper, though," said Peter. "On the
contrary they believe that you are Stanhope and that you bought the
_Gazette_ to disown yourself and save your hide. A foolish idea, but it
has doubtless been helped out by whispers from higher up. Smith's
selling out has made Ryan see red. Smith's still in town, by the way,
which argues a good deal of cool nerve on his part. Hare hears that Ryan
is in a murdering humor--"

"You seem to forget entirely that Stanhope--the real, the genuine,
double-extry-guaranteed--has appeared, to bear his own--"

"But Hunston doesn't know it yet!" exclaimed Peter. "Kindly get that
well into your head. All these Hackleys and Orricks still think that
you're their meat--Where're you going?"

Varney, pausing at the hatch, deliberated whether he should say anything
to Peter about Mr. Higginson's latest and most daring intrusion, and
declared for the negative. "There's no reason," he mused, "why I should
let him in on this. And besides--"

"To town," he said aloud. "I've got to send a telegram to Uncle Elbert.
He's very much on my conscience--poor old chap!"

"I'll go with you. Got a Reform Committee meeting at five-thirty. And
some other business."

But Varney had already disappeared below. Peter picked up his splendid
guitar and, sprawling upon the transom, gave himself up to soft humming
and, presently, to the work of composition. Soon, after some little
painstaking effort, he produced the following, to be rendered to the
tune of "Yankee Doodle":

  The tale of crime is at an end,
    For little Laurence Va-arney
  Declines to swipe his loidy friend
    Upon the _Cypria-a-ani_!

Peter tried this over to himself with considerable satisfaction. He
possessed a remarkably sweet tenor and pleasurably anticipated singing
his ditty to its hero, and doubtless getting a cushion pitched at his
head for his pains. But it happened that Varney was to go to his grave
without ever hearing that small chanson.

He came on deck again in five minutes with a face which drove all
thoughts of melody from Peter's head. In fact, at sight of it, he came
instantly to a sitting position and his guitar slid unheeded to the
floor.

"What's happened?"

Varney did not answer immediately. He stood at the rail and stared into
the woods with fixed eyes which saw nothing. Peter rose and came towards
him.

"Out with it!" he said encouragingly. "I'm full partner here. You want
to murder somebody. Well and good! Now who is it?"

Varney turned towards him, half-reluctantly, and spoke in a quiet voice.

"I told you just now that the machinery broke down. I was mistaken. It
was broken down."

"_Broken down?_"

"When I went below," continued the younger man, "it occurred to me to
look in the engine-room and see how bad the damage was. It was very bad
indeed. I'm no mechanic, Lord knows, but a child could make no mistake
here. The effect is about as if somebody had jammed a crowbar in the
works while she was running full-tilt. Probably that is just what
somebody did. It'll be some days before she'll run again."

Peter's bewilderment deepened. "What in the world does this mean?"

"Treachery," said Varney calmly. "Somebody on board has been bought."

The two men stared at each other. Varney read on Peter's face the swift
unfolding of precisely his own thought. He was rather surprised at
Peter's quickness, in view of the fact that he knew nothing of the
episode of the morning.

"Yes," he said. "That's the man."

He told concisely of Mr. Higginson's attempt to break up the lunch-party
by keeping the guest of honor away. Peter's face, as he listened,
underwent a curious change. It first slowly gained color, then slowly
lost it; and all of it, from the top of his forehead to the end of his
chin, seemed subtly to contract and tighten up.

His comment at the end was: "Excuse me a minute."

Upon which he vanished below to see with his own eyes and judge with his
own brain. He was back in less than two minutes, with a tiny spot of red
in the corner of his eye, and his manner unwontedly calm.

"You're right. Pretty clumsy treachery that," he said, standing and
staring at Varney, who had dropped into a chair. "What was the man
thinking about to ... I don't begin to see bottom on this."

Varney's eyes were on the sailing-master, who sat far forward, feet on
the rail, apparently engrossed in a magazine. The young man had just
recalled the master's curious manner when he notified him of the
accident to the machinery.

"Larry--you meant to turn around anyway?"

"But Higginson, you see, couldn't predict that."

"The immediate cause of your turning--"

"Was the little mishap to our gear."

He raised his voice: "Ferguson! I'd like a word with you if you please."

The sailing-master jumped at the sound of the voice as though it had
shot a projectile into his back. However, he rose at once and came
forward in his usual, brisk, stiff way, halting before the two men with
a salute. Varney eyed him inscrutably.

"I believe you were in town for a while this morning, Ferguson?"

"Yes, sir, I was."

"While there did you chance to see anything of an elderly gentleman, a
stranger here, by the name of Higginson?"

Though he had the look of being braced for trouble, the man changed
color at the direct question, and his eyes instantly shifted. With an
evident effort he recaptured something like his usual steadiness and
spoke in a voice of elaborate thought fulness.

"Higginson? No, sir. I know no one of that name."

"Ah? I thought not. I asked on the mere chance. And oh, Ferguson."

"Sir?"

"I have just been down to look at the damaged machinery. Ignorant of
these matters myself, I can naturally make little of it. You will
prepare a written report for Mr. Carstairs, explaining in detail the
nature of the accident, and in particular just how it took place."

"Very good, sir."

"And--oh, Ferguson."

"Yes, sir?"

"As the--er--mishap appears to be so serious, I think it best to have an
expert from town advise with me before the work of repairing begins. You
will therefore leave matters just as they are until I instruct you
otherwise."

"Oh--very good, sir."

Peter turned his dissatisfied eyes from the back of the retreating
sailing-master to Varney.

"What better proof d'you want than the rogue's face? Why didn't you fire
him on the spot?"

"I neither hire nor fire here," said Varney. "These are Mr. Carstairs's
employees. He will have to deal with them as he thinks best."

He rose immediately and put on his hat.

"With Mr. Higginson, however," he mused, starting for the stair, "the
case is altogether different."

"Exactly," said Peter with great heartiness.

As one man they descended the stairs, crossed the battered landing and
struck rapidly up the woodland path for Remsen Street and the town. As
they walked, Varney silently condemned the unfailing genius of the Irish
for intruding themselves into all the trouble that hove upon the
horizon. It was with acute pleasure that he recalled, before long, his
friend's engagement for half-past five. For he himself had but three
hours left in Hunston that day, and he had an urgent use for
them--beyond even Mr. Higginson.

"I confess once more," said Peter, tramping heavily, "that this chap is
too many for me. I don't seem to grasp his game."

"And you call yourself a conspirator, Peter! Why, this is ABC."

"All right. I'm listening. Spell it out for me."

"Suppose the gang here is deep enough, as you think, to plan a little
rough-house, ostensibly for my benefit, but really to get you into it
and thus wipe you out. Doesn't it occur to you that my fading away to
New York at the critical moment would rather knock the bottom out of the
scheme? Why, it's as clear as noonday! Higginson, learning somehow that
I expected to fly off immediately after the lunch-party, first tries to
break up the party, and failing that, he bribes Ferguson to break up the
machinery. Thus he hopes to make it impossible for me to get away--me
whom he needs in his business as the red rag for his little old mob."

They had emerged from the woods and walked a block up Remsen Street
before Peter replied.

"By Jove! That does seem to explain everything! That's it! It's
Higginson, not Smith, who has been pulling all these wires from the
beginning. I suspected the man the first minute I ever clapped eyes on
him. But where do you suppose he got his hint?"

"Hammerton?"

"Never. That boy is trustworthy, or I'll eat my hat."

"Well, I think so too. Then he simply corrupted Ferguson and wormed the
whole thing out of him. Pretty clever, the whole thing, wasn't it? How
much Ferguson may really know, or suspect, I have no idea. Of course,
there is only one thing to fear now, and that is scareheads in the New
York papers to-morrow--attempted kidnapping foiled, and so on. It would
break Uncle Elbert's heart if anything of that sort should come out--"

"Don't you worry. It won't. I'll close his trap--tight."

Once more Varney was slightly annoyed by Peter's presence.

"If we find him," he began, as they came to the square, "you--"

"We must try not to be brutal, Larry," warned Peter soberly. "I remind
myself that he is an elderly man--"

"If we find him," began Varney again, "you will please remember that he
belongs to me. Higginson is strictly my pickings."

Peter grunted, looking rather annoyed too.

They crossed the square, two determined-looking men, and entered the
Palace Hotel. Behind the desk a bored clerk sat paring his nails with a
pair of office scissors. He looked up with a certain resentfulness.

"Excuse my interruption," said Varney. "Is Mr. Higginson in?"

The clerk's glance lowered tiredly. "Naw. Left town on the four-seven."

"I don't believe it," said Peter instantly.

There followed a silence. So stern were the gazes fastened upon the
clerk that, looking hastily up at Peter's word, he promptly lost
something of his lordly demeanor and became for the moment almost human.

"Well, sir, he's left _us_. _Said_ he was takin' the four-seven."

"Where did he go?" demanded Varney.

"Don't know, sir, but I think to New York."

"You must know where he checked his baggage to."

"Didn't have any baggage, sir," protested the clerk. "Only his
suit-case."

"Did he leave no address for the forwarding of his mail?"

"Naw, sir. He did not."

"Of course not. Why on earth should he?" said Peter.

Desisting from the absent but fierce stare with which he was transfixing
the clerk, he drew Varney hurriedly aside.

"All bluff!" he stated positively. "Is it likely, after _his_ day's
work, that he'd be lolling around the lobby waiting for us to call? He's
_moved_! But depend on it, he's got more work to do, and he _hasn't left
town_!"

"If that's so, where do you recommend looking?"

Peter made a large gesture. "That's a horse of another color. I told you
he had a faculty for disappearing into a hole and pulling the hole in
after him. If anybody besides Ryan knows where he is, I should say that
it might be Miss Carstairs. She seems to be his only friend on our side
of the fence, since I tipped Hare off."

Varney all but jumped. "I'll ask her!" he offered almost precipitately.
"The very thing!"

"It is quite possible," continued Peter, tensely thoughtful, "that the
old rascal has sneaked to her since the luncheon, to try to pump
something out of her about our movements--even within the bounds of
possibility that he is with her at this moment--"

"A great suggestion!" said Varney cordially. "You certainly have a head
on you, Peter. Of course, on the other hand, it is quite possible that
he _has_ skipped--made a bee-line for Newspaper Row. In that case, I'll
see if she--Miss Carstairs, you know--if she knows his address in New
York, and I'll hunt him up to-night."

Peter, glancing at his watch, discovered that he was already fifteen
minutes late for his committee meeting.

"For this afternoon, then," he said, unwillingly, "you can have him, if
you can find him. After to-day, though, he belongs to me. Wherever he is
now, he'll certainly be back on the job to-morrow. Well--I'll leave you,
then. Er--Larry. It's just as well not to be prowling around after dark
by yourself, you know. I'll be back at the yacht early and we'll have
dinner together before your train. Say six-thirty, eh?"

"I'll be there."

Peter hurried off for Hare's house with a mingled sense of unjustly
baffled vengeance and vague uneasiness. Varney, drawing a long breath of
relief, headed for the telegraph office, whence he dispatched the
following telegram to Mr. Carstairs:

  "Plan permanently abandoned. Arrive in New York
  by train 9.20 to-night. Expect me ten minutes later."

That done, he started rapidly down Remsen Street with a steadily
mounting spirit.



CHAPTER XX


VARNEY, HAVING EMBARKED UPON A CRIME, FINDS OUT THAT THERE IS A PRICE TO
PAY

There was a fine old hedge of box bordering the Carstairs lawn, old
rosebushes inside it and many flowering shrubs. Splendid oaks curtained
the big white house on either side, shading the expanse of close-clipped
turf. At the left, a fountain-sprayer now whirled a mist of water over
the trim grass, and far to the rear a man in rubber boots was hosing off
a phaeton before a carriage house. On the back porch, an elderly cook
was peeling potatoes and gently crooning some old ballad of Erin.

It was a serene and reassuring scene. Yet upon the spacious piazza,
which undeniably contributed to the pervading air of all's well, the
stunning information came to Varney that the lady of his quest was not
at home. Nor could the maid at the door say where her young mistress had
gone, or with whom, or when she would return. Possibly Mrs. Carstairs
knew, but Mrs. Carstairs was unwell and could not be disturbed. Miss
Carstairs would be sorry to miss him, the kind-hearted girl opined, and
would he please leave his name?

The young man descended the steps in a state of the flattest depression.
Disappointment, he reflected bitterly, crowded upon the heels of
disappointment on this anticlimactic afternoon which yet should have
been, in a bigger sense, so gloriously climactic. He had missed his
train, and with it his honorable confession to Mr. Carstairs; missed
Higginson; last and worst of all--it seemed to him now that this was all
that mattered in the least--he had missed Miss Carstairs. In sooth, the
world was all awry.

But at the gate, a thought came to him, radiant as a heavenly messenger.
Miss Carstairs was at her seamstress's on the Remsen road. Had she not
told him with her own lips that she was to be there at this hour?

He made a _Te Deum_ of the click of the gate, and turned northward a
face which bore record of an inner splendor.

He had set out to see Miss Carstairs in order to ask of her if she knew
the whereabouts, in Hunston or New York, of the fair-spoken yet elusive
Higginson. But with every step he found the force of this errand
weakening within him. The memory of that gentleman's villany, so burning
a moment since, grew steadily fainter and more inconsequential. Failing
to locate him, he would of course make a precautionary round of the
newspaper offices in New York that night. At the worst, he told himself
with the swift fading of his anger, there was only a remote risk of any
unpleasant aftermath. Why, the thing was over and done with--let
by-gones be by-gones. As for those other matters supposed to be upon his
mind--hints of approaching trouble for himself, and the knowledge of Mr.
Carstairs's bitter disappointment over the collapse of his all but
triumphant scheme--he could not for the life of him give them any
attention whatever.

A far nearer and more vital matter was pressing upon his mind and heart.

To tell her everything at the moment when the yacht had swung back and
he had thrown up his commission forever had been his first strong
impulse. He had crushed it down only because he saw that to speak then
was to take her at an ungenerous disadvantage. Now Fortune had sent him
this new meeting, to be untrammeled by any such restraints. No grim duty
governed his movements now; no consciousness of secret chicanery any
longer enfolded him like a pall. Already the thought of what he had
meant to do came back to him hazily, like the plot of a half-forgotten
play. The hobgoblins in a nightmare seemed not more unreal to him now.
His heart sang with the knowledge that he was to see her again, this
time with no shadow between.

Two nights' rain had left the road dustless: it was silent and empty.
All about him fell the pleasant evening noises of the wood, but he did
not hear them. As he walked, his mind was rehearsing the whole story of
his coming to Hunston, as he was now free to confess it to Uncle
Elbert's daughter. That she would forgive him he never entertained a
doubt. For he would throw himself wholly on her mercy--telling her
everything, painting himself as blackly as he could--and suing for
pardon only because he had failed.

But when suddenly he saw her, sooner than he had expected, his polished
and elaborate phrases dropped from his mind as cleanly as had the
recollection of the roguery of Higginson.

It was at that hour when the skies remember the set sun in a gold and
pink glow. A little kink in the road straightened out under his swift
feet, and a small cottage in a fair-sized lawn jumped out of the woods
into vision, almost upon him. On the small square porch, her back to the
road, stood Miss Carstairs, talking through the open window to some one
in the room beyond.

Varney, having stopped short at the first sudden sight of her, walked on
very slowly. Her voice came to him distinctly, and now and then he
caught scattering words of what she was saying. She wore her blue dress
of the luncheon and the hat which Mrs. Marne, and others, had so
admired; and she gave him the odd impression of being somehow _older_
than she had ever seemed before.... Yet she was ten years his junior and
three days ago, at this very hour, he had never so much as laid eyes
upon her.

"I'll come Saturday morning, then," she was saying, "and you'll
certainly have them ready for me, won't you? Good-bye."

She turned from the window, came towards the steps. At the top of them,
she saw Varney standing at the gate, not twenty yards away, and stopped
dead. Then she came on down the stairs, down the graveled walk towards
him.

"I'm going away at eight o'clock," he began without greeting, striving
to make his voice casual. "I went to your house first--and--"

"You--followed me here?"

"Yes," he said, unsmiling. "I had to see you before I went--on matters
of business--and--"

She was nearer to him now: for the first time he could see her eyes. In
them lay a faint shadowiness like the memory of shed tears; but sweeping
over that and blotting it out he saw a look which struck him like a
blow.

"There is nothing for you to see me about, I think--any more," she said
with a little laugh. "The game is up--isn't that what they say in
melodrama? My mother has told me all about it."

"Your mother has _told you_!" he echoed stupidly, as one to whom the
words conveyed no meaning.

"She had not expected to see me so soon again, when I went off to lunch
on my father's yacht. The surprise was a little too much for her. You
must try to forgive her," said Mary, and punctuated the observation with
a small, final bow. "Will you open the gate for me?"

"No," said Varney, pulling himself sharply together. "Not like that."

The shock of her voice and look, even more than her words, had been
stunning in their first unexpectedness. But now he remembered, with
infinite relief, that of course she did not understand the matter at
all; of course she would speak and look very differently when he had
made his explanation.

"You think," Varney said, "that I _mind_ your knowing about our poor
little plot--that I am found out and my plans are all upset? How on
earth could you think that? Why, that's all like something in another
life. Don't you know what my being here at this moment means? The thing
is all over, Miss Carstairs--all past and done with an hour before you
ever saw your mother. I gave it up voluntarily. When the time came, just
now on the yacht, I found out that it was impossible--unthinkable--I
couldn't do it. The game was up then. That is one thing that your mother
could not tell you, and it was to tell you this, and all the rest of it,
that I followed you here."

She stood on the other side of the gate, hardly an arm's length from
him, looking at him; a figure so pretty, so dainty, so extremely
decorative that she seemed incapable of giving anything but pleasure.
But in the eyes that met his own so unwaveringly, he read at once the
contradiction of this.

"Yes, I suppose that would always be the way, wouldn't it?--that
whenever I found out, you were just going to tell me?"

If she had searched her mind for a way to strangle his headlong
self-defence, she could not possibly have done it more effectually.
There followed a horrible pause.

"You mean ... that you do not believe me?"

"In the little while that I have known you, have you given me much
reason to?"

"Can't you see that that is exactly the reason I wanted to tell you all
the truth now?"

"Why did you wait till _now_? Weren't there chances to tell me this
afternoon on my father's yacht? But--there's no use to speak of all
this. It is enough that I know it now."

He was aware that her voice had lost that hard and polished lightness
with which she had first struck at him; on this last sentence, he
thought that it trembled a little; and in a flash, he saw the whole
matter from her side of it, and for the moment ceased to think about
himself.

He leaned his arms upon the green panel of the gate and looked down at
her.

"Don't think that I blame you for not taking my word. Probably I
couldn't expect it. We can't very well argue about that.... And of
course I have known all along--how you would feel about me, when you
found out what I came here to do. I was ready for that--ready for you to
be angry. But I don't seem to have taken it in that you would be ...
hurt. That makes it a good deal worse."

She made no reply. She had lowered her heavy-fringed eyes; her slim,
gloved hands were busily furling and unfurling her white parasol.

"There is nothing in this that need hurt you. Believe me in this, at any
rate. Only three people are concerned in it. You will have no doubt of
your mother. That she told you shows how impossible it was to her, even
with Uncle Elbert wanting you so much. You will not mind about your
father--not in any personal way. He is a stranger to you. That leaves
only me."

Still she said nothing. It seemed to him that he had never looked at so
still a face.

"For me, I might make you angry as any--acquaintance might--any
stranger. But that is all. It is not ... as if we had been friends."

She raised her eyes, and the look in them seemed to give the lie to
every word he had said.

"What do you call a friend? Did I not trust you--put myself in your
power--fall confidingly in with your hateful plot--after I had been
plainly warned not to? Oh, if I had only listened to Mr. Higginson, I
should not have the humiliation of remembering that--hour on the yacht!"

The name stung him into instant recollection. He stood staring at her,
and his face darkened.

In the first staggering revelation of her look, his sub-conscious mind
had leapt instantly to the conclusion that his cunning enemy, having
found out his secret, had betrayed it to Miss. Carstairs. Her first
words had disposed of that. It was the tortured mother, not the
professional sneak, who had been before him with his explanation. But
now it rushed over him that he had an infinitely deeper grudge against
the vanished spy. For it was Higginson, with his bribe-money, who had
broken down the yacht; Higginson who would, in any case, have forced the
return to Hunston; Higginson who had given this girl the right to think,
as she did think, that she owed her escape wholly to an "accident" to
the machinery.

He had thought that he had saved Uncle Elbert's daughter from himself,
and lo, his enemy had plucked the honor from him. The world should not
be big enough for this man to elude his vengeance.

"You mention Mr. Higginson. Where is he?"

She glanced at him, impersonally, struck by the unconscious sternness of
his voice.

"I do not know, but I am most anxious to see him--to thank him--"

"I am told that he left town at four o'clock. Perhaps you know his
address in New York?"

"I do not," she answered coldly. "No doubt he went away hurriedly ...
frightened of you because of his kindness to me."

She came a step forward to the gate. Instantly his thought veered back
to her and his tense face softened.

"How can I blame you," he said hurriedly, "for thinking the worst of me?
I've been thinking badly enough of myself, God knows. But don't you
know, can't you imagine, that nothing could have held me to the
miserable business a single moment after I saw you, had I not been bound
by a solemn promise to your poor father?"

"My father! Oh, if he is the sort of man to plot a thing like this, and
to bludgeon my mother into it, how could you endure to _promise_ to do
it for him?"

"Because he is breaking his heart for you, and you didn't know it. It
seemed right that he should see you, since he wants to so much."

All her sense of the wrong he had done her flared up in anger at that.
"How do _you_--_dare_ say what seems right between my father and me? He
is breaking his heart for me, he told you? Did he mention to you that
she had _broken_ hers for him? Don't you suppose that I have had
time--and reasons--to decide which of them I belong to?"

"All this," he said, "was before I knew you."

About them hung the stillness of the country and the long empty road.
The woods stirred; a bird called; a portly hare poked his nose through
the brush over the way, and suddenly scuttled off, his white flag up. In
Mrs, Thurston's yard, the quiet was profound.

"All his life," said Mary Carstairs, "my father has thought about
nothing but himself. I am sorry for him--but he must take the
consequences of that now. If he is lonely, it is his own making. If my
mother has been lonely till it has almost killed her, that is his doing,
too. For you--there was never any place in this. As for me, I owe him
nothing. He must beg my mother's forgiveness before he shall ever get
mine."

She came forward another half-step and laid her hand upon the gate-latch
with a movement whose definiteness did not escape him.

"You may take back that answer from me if you wish. And so, good-bye."

"Not good-bye," said Varney, instantly. "You must not say that."

"I am quite sure that I have nothing else left to say."

Her eyes went past him over the gate, out into the wood beyond. Dusk was
falling about them; it shaded her face, intangibly altered it, made it
for the moment almost as he had known it before. She looked very young,
and tired. This was the picture of her, and he knew it then as he looked
at her, that he would carry with him to the longest day he lived.

"Is it nothing to you," he cried in a rush, "that when the time came I
couldn't do it? The yacht's breaking down had nothing in the world to do
with it. I had already decided to turn back, to break my promise. That
the--accident happened just then was only a wretched chance. I was going
to put about at that moment."

She hesitated almost imperceptibly, seemed for a brief second to waver.
But perhaps she dared not let herself believe him now: perhaps the
strongest wish of her heart was to hurt him as deeply as she could.

"To say the least," she said with a little deliberate movement of
distaste, "your coincidences are unfortunate. You--won't mind if I go on
being grateful to the--_gear_?"

Under that crowning taunt, his self-restraint snapped like an
overstretched bow-string.

"You shall not say that. You shall not. Miss Carstairs, you _know_ I
could have kept you on the yacht if I had wanted to. You _know_ how I
gave the order to put about and bring you back to Hunston. Did I look in
the least then like a man whose hopes and plans had been ruined? You
know I did not. You know I said to you that I--I was the happiest man in
America. Will you tell me what on earth that could mean--except that I
had decided to give up a thing that has been a millstone around my neck
ever since--I met you?"

She made no reply, did not look at him. The dusk shadowed her eyes; and
whether her silence meant good or ill he could not tell.

"You cannot answer, you see. We both know why. You will not be fair to
me, Miss Carstairs. It is that night in the Academy box-office over
again. Because I _had_ to deceive you once--not for my own sake--you
will not look at the plain facts. But in your heart--just like that
other night--_I know you believe me."_

Of course she could not let that pass now. "I do not!" she said. "I do
not. I must ask you, please, not to keep me here any longer."

Varney's face went a shade paler. Arguing about his own veracity was
even less bearable than he had thought; his manner all at once became
singularly quiet.

"The merest moment, if you will. I can prove what I say," he answered
slowly, "but of course I won't do that. You must believe what _I_ say,
believe _me_. Nothing else matters but that.... Don't you know that it
took a very strong reason to make me break faith with my old friend,
your father--to make me stand here begging to be believed, like this?
You have only to look at me, I think. Don't you know that I couldn't
possibly deceive you now ... after what has happened to me?"

"I don't know what you mean. I don't understand. Don't tell me. Nothing
has happened ..."

"Everything has happened," he said still more quietly. "I've fallen
crazily in love with you."

She did not lift her eyes; neither moved nor spoke; gave no sign that
she had heard. He went on slowly:

"This--might be hard to believe, except that it must be so easy to see.
I've known you less than three days, and I never wanted to--even like
you. My one idea was to think of you as my enemy. That was what Maginnis
and I agreed--plotting together like a pair of nihilists. It all seems
so preposterous now. Everything was against me from the beginning. I
wouldn't face it till to-day, this afternoon. Then it all came over me
in a rush, and, of course, your happiness became a great deal more to me
than your father's. So we turned around, and it was then that I told you
how happy I was. Didn't you know then what I meant? Of course it was
because I had just found out ... how you were the one person in the
world who mattered to me."

There was a long silence. It deepened, grew harder to break. Little
Jenny Thurston, watching these two through an upstairs shutter, marveled
what adults found to say to each other in these interminable colloquies.
A young cock-sparrow, piqued by their stillness, alighted on the fence
near by and studied them, eye cocked inquisitively.

"Of course, I'm not--asking anything," said Varney. "About this, I mean.
I am answered, and over-answered, already. But ... do you believe now
that I--voluntarily gave it up?"

"Oh," said Mary, "you--you must not ask me that. You must not talk to me
like this. I did trust you once--fully--when you were almost a stranger;
last night--and then this afternoon--"

"Do you believe me," said Varney, "or do you not?"

Her lower lip was trembling very slightly, and she set her white teeth
upon it. The sudden knowledge that she was near to tears terrified her,
goaded her to lengths. She gathered all her pride of opinion and young
sense of wrong and frightened feminine instinct, for a final desperate
stand; and so flung at him more passionately than she knew: "How many
times must I tell you? _I do not! I do not_!"

Varney gave her a last look, stamping her face upon his mind, and took a
step backward from the gate.

"Then," said he ... "this is good-bye, indeed."

Presently Mary raised her eyes. He had turned southward, toward the
town, but at a pace so swift that he was already far down the road. A
jutting curve came soon, and he vanished behind it, out of her sight.

Dusk was falling fast on the wood now. The green of the trees deepened
and blackened, turning into a crooked smudge upon the sky-line. The road
fell between them like a long gray ribbon. Nothing was to be seen upon
it; nothing was to be heard but the rustle of the early night wind and
the pleasant sounds of the open road.

Varney's mind as he walked, was a blank white wall. He had forgotten
Elbert Carstairs, forgotten the train he was to take, forgotten even the
unendurable injury that Higginson had put upon him. His one blind
instinct had been to get away as quickly and completely as possible. But
now, slowly, it was borne in upon him that he knew this road, that he
had walked it once before like this, at the end of the day. His first
night in Hunston--he remembered it all very well. It must have been
just here--or here--that the rain had caught him, and he had gone on to
meet _her_.

The cottage which had sheltered them that night must be close at hand.
His eyes, which had been upon the ground, lifted and went off down the
road. They fell upon the dark figure of a man, shuffling slowly along in
the gloom, not twenty yards ahead of him.

He was an old man, shambling and gray-whiskered, and stooped as he
walked. If he was aware that another wayfarer followed close behind, he
gave no sign. Suddenly he stopped short with a feeble exclamation, and
began peering about the ground at his feet. The young man was up with
him directly, and his vague impression of recognition suddenly became
fitted to a name.

"Orrick?"

The bowed form straightened and turned. Through the thickening twilight
the two men looked at each other.

"You were not by any chance waiting for me?"

The darkness hid old Orrick's eyes; he shook his head slowly a number of
times. "I passed you when you was at Miz Thurston's, sir. I can' walk
fas' like you can." And he bent down over the road again.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Varney. "Have you lost something?"

"Los' my luck-piece," said the other, slowly, not looking up. "I was
carryin' it in my hand 's I come along an' it jounced out. A 1812 penny
it was an' vallyble."

He cut rather a pitiful figure, squatting down in the dirt and
squinting about with short-sighted old eyes; and Varney felt
unaccountably sorry for him.

"I wouldn' los' my luck-piece for nothin'," he added, dropping to his
knees. "I'm a kind of a stoop'sitious man, an' I allus was."

"Perhaps I can help you; my eyes are good."

He went back a step or two, bending down and scrutinizing the brown
earth. Orrick, presently announcing that the coin might have rolled,
made a slow way across the road on his knees, patting the ground with
his hand as he moved. Near the edge of it, half in the woods, lay a
thick piece of split firewood, long as a man's arm and stouter. The
knotted old fingers stealthily closed on it.

"It could n't have rolled far on this soft road," said Varney presently.
"Just where do you think you dropped it?"

Sam Orrick rose behind his stooping figure with upraised club, a blaze
of triumph in his sodden old eyes.

"There!" he cried with a senseless laugh. "It's _there_, Stanhope!"

The club fell with a thud; and Varney, meeting it as he straightened up,
toppled over like a log, face downward.

Old Orrick stared down at the prostrate figure, and presently touched it
with his tattered foot. It did not stir. His fierce joy died. He looked
about him apprehensively, and his eye fell at once upon a dim-lit
cottage off the road just back of him. _His_ cottage--how had he
forgotten that? Was that dark thing--a man--standing there at the gate?
Suddenly a great terror seized the old man. He threw his stick into the
woods and slunk away, toward the town. A loud yell from behind brought
his heart to his throat, and he broke into a wild, lumbering run.



CHAPTER XXI


MR. FERRIS STANHOPE MEETS HIS DOUBLE; AND LETS THE DOUBLE MEET
EVERYTHING ELSE


In the new-made study of his Remsen road cottage, Ferris Stanhope,
Hunston's returned celebrity, sat under a green-shaded lamp and frowned
down at a sheaf of his own neat manuscript. Behind him, in a corner,
books and various knick-knacks lay spilled over the floor around an open
trunk. The room was, in fact, in the litter incident to getting to
rights. But this did not act as a stay on the great man's habit of
industry, which happened to be of the most persistent variety.

The study blinds were drawn, and the rest of the house was in darkness.
The author noted three emendations upon his manuscript, made three more.
Then, with a muttered exclamation, he stripped off the interlined sheet
altogether, tore it into shreds, threw the shreds on the floor and
reached for a pad of white paper. At that moment he became aware of
footsteps and heavy breathing in the hall, and looked up inquiringly.

His man-servant, Henry, was standing in the doorway, the long limp body
of a man in his arms.

Mr. Stanhope sprang hurriedly to his feet. In his face the servant saw
that same odd look of fleeting anxiety which he had noted there when
they descended from the train that morning.

"In the name of heaven--what have you there?"

"Harskin' your pardon, sir," gasped Henry, staggering into the room,
"I'm honcertain whether 'e 's kilt or not. Struck down from behind by an
old codger with long 'air and gray whiskers. Hi was at the gate--"

"But what do you mean by hauling the carcass in here? Do you think I'm
running a private morgue?"

Henry, who had been in his present employment a bare month, came to a
wobbly pause, surprised. The body grew very heavy in his stout arms. Now
the man's head slid off Henry's shoulder and tumbled backwards, hanging
down in the full glow of the lamp.

"Hi thought, sir--" began the servant with panting dignity.

"O my God!" said the author suddenly.

Henry, who had not had a look at his burden, misunderstood.

"Ghastly sight, hain't it, sir--that bloody gash on 'is 'ead?"

"Quick! Put him on the sofa.--Now some water."

The servant, whose limbs were numb from the long carry, obeyed with
alacrity. But returning hurriedly with the water, he was met at the door
by his perverse master, who took the glass from his hands with the curt
announcement that that would do.

Henry looked as displeased as his subservient position made advisable.
"Hif you please, sir, I have quite a 'and with the hinjured and--"

"He's only stunned," said his master impatiently. "I 'll attend to him
myself."

And he banged the door in the servant's face.

The man lay on the lounge precisely as Henry had happened to place him,
his averted face half buried in the pillows. Investigation showed that
he had no bloody gash on his head: that was Henry's imagination. There
did not, in fact, seem to be a mark on him beyond three small scratches
on his forehead.

Stanhope put his hand under the chin and turned it toward him, none too
gently. For a full moment he stood motionless, staring down at that
white face so like his own. Then he dipped his hand in the glass, and
splashed a handful of water upon the closed eyes.

At the first touch of it, the still figure of the injured man stirred
with faint signs of returning consciousness. Far down in a black and
utter void, he sensed the first glimmer of distant light. Slowly,
slowly, the glimmer grew. The silence within gave place to a vast
roaring in his ears and indescribable pain in his head; and the dull
glow which had seemed to him the shining frontier of some far new world
whither he was gratefully journeying, resolved itself into a circle of
greenish light.

"Drink this," said a soft but peremptory voice.

He drank, incuriously; and the fiery liquid ran to his head and heart
and shot new life into his dead limbs. But the more his lost strength
came back to his body, the more he was aware of the terrible pain in his
head. It occurred to him vaguely that when once he opened his eyes,
which he would have to do some time, there would be a horrible explosion
and his head would go off like a sky-rocket.

"You feel better now," asserted rather than inquired the voice.

"Much. Thanks to you. It's only--my head. Something seems to be wrong
with it, a little."

"Somebody hit you there with a club, from behind. You remember now,
don't you? Who was it?"

"I don't know," said Varney wearily.

"Oh, come! Your head isn't as bad as all that--there's not even a bump
on it. Think a moment. An old man, with long hair and gray whiskers. You
must know who it was."

Varney pressed his hand upon his racking forehead. "Oh! So it was
he--then. Poor old Orrick."

The author's face lost something of its color. "Orrick!... What--what
has this fellow got against you?"

Varney did not answer. The name had started remote memories to working,
and, very slowly, returning comprehension advanced to meet them. He and
old Orrick had been standing together on a woodland road. They were
hunting for something. An 1812 penny and valuable. That was it. Before
that, he had stood a long time near a green gate somewhere, looking at a
pair of dark-blue eyes. He remembered distinctly what merciless eyes
they were, though something in a far corner of his mind recalled that he
had once, oddly enough, associated them with pleasant things. Then,
like one rounding a sharp corner in a driveway, his memory came face to
face with everything; and he turned his head to the wall.

But there was no escape from that insistent voice, so eager for an
explanation. A hand fell upon his shoulder, shook it almost roughly.
"Don't let yourself drop off again. Here! You want another drink?"

"No, I'm quite all right now--thank you."

To prove it, and to make ready to get away where he could be quiet, he
performed the herculean task of opening his eyes. A tall man was bending
over him, an anxious expression on his handsome face. More than the
liquor, more even than the jostling hand upon his shoulder, the look of
that face, so strange yet so familiar, braced Varney to action.

The two pairs of gray-blue eyes, so oddly matched in tint and shape,
stared into each other steadily. Presently Varney dragged his feet
around to the floor, with difficulty, as was natural to their thousand
tons of weight, and taking hold of a chair pulled himself up on them. He
raised his hands, slowly and cautiously, to his head. Good! It was still
there. The impression that it had left his shoulders and was floating
around in the air a foot or two above them thus turned out to be an
illusion.

"There!" he heard the author saying briskly. "A little effort was all
you needed, as I thought."

"That was all. Thank you. You must have pulled me in from the road,
didn't you? It was very kind. You have just arrived in Hunston--I
believe?"

"I came only this morning," his good Samaritan replied. "In the nick of
time, it seems, to be of assistance. And you?" he added, with a slight
bow. "You are a native here, perhaps?"

"Do you remember me," asked Varney quietly, "when you were here twelve
years ago?"

Mr. Stanhope selected a cigarette from a large open box on the table,
lit it carefully, took several long inhalations. "No," he said easily.
"But for that matter, I fear that I remember few of my boyhood
acquaintances in Hunston. But--this man--Orrick, you said?--has there
been bad blood between you two for some time then?"

"No," said Varney, simply. "He struck me, I believe, because he thought
I was you?"

"_What_!" cried the author with overdone surprise.

"I am glad--to meet you so soon after your arrival," continued Varney.
"Some one should tell you that your boyhood acquaintances have longer
memories. You came here for your health, I believe? I think you might do
well to leave for the same reason."

Stanhope's eyes became little slits behind his trim glasses. "What do
you mean by these extraordinary remarks?"

Varney, whose brain seemed to have changed into a ball of shooting pains
and brilliant fireworks, endeavored to think out clearly just what he
had meant by his extraordinary remarks.

"Possibly you think that I resemble you somewhat?" he said, slowly. "A
number of people here seem to hold that view. In fact, they have
mistaken me for you--everybody has. Doubtless you know why they should
feel unkindly towards you. I make myself perfectly clear, do I not? Only
this afternoon I heard that a little party was being gotten together for
my benefit."

The author dropped his nervous-looking eyes; he tugged uncertainly at
his wisp of a mustache.

"This thump on the head from poor old Orrick may satisfy them,"
continued Varney. "But my idea is that it won't. I think Orrick was
acting independently this afternoon. A kind of free lance, you know. I
think he met me by accident. There's a train to New York at eight-ten,"
he added, looking about for his hat. "I believe I'd clear out if I were
you."

"Something's back of this!" broke out Stanhope suddenly. "Some dirty
scheme--some infamous plot--"

"Yes, you are right," said Varney with an effort. "There is a plot back
of it. But I don't know that that makes it any better for you--"

"I insist that you explain yourself at once!"

"I was just about to. I came here three days ago, a stranger--on a
little stay. A friend who is with me got interested in a reform movement
here. Politics, you understand. The other side to injure him, published
the story that I was you, under an _alias_. Naturally we didn't like
that. We bought the paper just to say that I wasn't. I supposed that had
settled it. It seems I was wrong. You see, a good deal of feeling had
been worked up meantime--"

"Hello!" exclaimed Stanhope suddenly raising his hand. "What's that?"

Varney listened. "Men's voices," he said slowly.

The door flew open and a man whose ordinary impassivity was touched with
a pleasurable excitement stood on the threshold.

"If you please, sir, there's some rough-looking men just sneaked up on
the lawn. Ten or twelve--sort of a mob-like, Hi should say--"

"What do they want?" demanded Stanhope in a high voice.

"No good, sir, I'm thinking," said the servant shaking his head. "I was
at an upstairs window and saw 'em come sneaking up one by one, hentering
at different places. I made a noise not honlike the click of a 'ammer of
a gun, and they took alarm and scattered back. But they hain't gone
away, sir. Not by a long shot they hain't."

Henry's master leaned against his handsome writing table, his face white
as a sheet. It appeared to be a moment when quick action was rather
important.

"They'll try the bell first," said Varney. "Lock all the doors and
windows downstairs, my man. Quick! When they ring, open a window
upstairs, and ask what they want."

Henry recognized the note of competent authority. He assumed, anyway,
that it was the strange gentleman's quarrel they had so fortunately been
let into, and it was only fair that he should manage it. "Very good,
sir," he said and flew.

"But I'm afraid," added Varney to Stanhope, "there is no doubt what they
want."

A single quiet footfall sounded on the porch and the door-bell pealed.
In the silence that followed, the noise of the turning of locks and the
drawing of bolts was distinctly audible in the study.

"Damn you!" cried Stanhope, pale with the sudden white-hot passion of
the unstable. "This is your doing--you--you masquerader!"

The two men stood facing each other, hardly a yard apart. They were
almost exactly of a figure, Stanhope being if anything a shade the
taller. Each was conscious as he regarded the other that he might be
looking at himself, intangibly altered, in a mirror; and the fancy was
pleasing to neither.

"I suppose I might as reasonably call you that," said Varney quietly. "I
might as reasonably say that this knock on the head from Sam Orrick was
your doing. The fact is that you were a fool to come back here. But as
for those poor fellows out there--"

The door-bell rang again, insistently, and he broke off. A window
upstairs rattled open, and they heard a man's steady voice:

"'I there on the piazza! What do you want?"

"I want to see Mr. Stanhope a minute," called a thicker voice from
below. "On important business."

"'E's not 'ere," said faithful Henry. "'E's expected to arrive
to-morrow."

"You're a ---- ---- liar!"

Immediately a general yelling arose, from farther back in the darkness.
Diplomacy, it seemed, was about to be abandoned for immediate action.
But over the sudden hubbub, that cool voice at the window rang out
again:

"Hif it's fight you want, Hi'll say we were expectin' you. There's ten
of us 'ere, hall armed--"

A derisive voice was heard in answer. "We'll see about that, my buck,
pretty--soon--"

"Men! Hi've got a brace of six-shooters 'ere in my 'and. The first of
you as comes into the light gets a couple of 'oles drilled into 'is
hinside, neat and clean."

Having launched this threat from his inky window to gain a little time,
Henry silently withdrew, flung downstairs and broke into the study, his
scrape and bow forgotten, to inquire whether either of the gentlemen
had, in Gawd's mercy, hanythink that would shoot.

His master, whose well-kept hands were opening and shutting by his side,
did not answer.

"No," said Varney, "I am unarmed."

"Heven without a gun, sir," said Henry to Stanhope, and his look was not
such as a servant wears to his master, "we could lick a harmy of them
chaps."

"We could never do it!" cried Mr. Stanhope shrilly.

The shouting outside, though still a discreet distance back, grew more
articulate. Very fearful were their menaces.

"Come out, Stanhope! Your time's come!"

"We'll string yer to a tree, yer----"

"Fellers, let's burn the damn rat out!"

Stanhope's face went from white to pale green. He steadied himself
against the table with a hand that quivered, and looked at Varney.

"It's--it's you they want," he said.

"O my Gawd," cried Henry and put his face into his hands.

"Yes," said Varney, averting his eyes also, "it's I they want." And he
started for the door.

But Henry, who had noted the marked resemblance between the two men and
had caught faint glimmerings of what these strange things meant, barred
his way with an immortal rejoinder.

"Hif you please, sir, Stanhope was the name they called."

Varney gave a tired laugh. His terrible headache made him chafe at any
prolonging of the scene. Moreover, it made rational thought difficult,
twisting common-sense into fanciful shapes. It seemed to him an
unendurable thing that he should protect himself under the wing of such
a man as Stanhope; and the thought of fierce action drew him like a
lodestone.

"You're a good fellow, Henry," he said quietly. "However, your master
and I agree perfectly."

But at that moment, the small window at the back of the room, which no
one had thought to fasten, flew open and a man slipped nimbly through
it--a big, hard-breathing, iron-faced man, with perspiration streaming
rivers down his sun-tanned cheeks.

Mr. Stanhope, with a weak exclamation, moved so as to bring the table
between himself and the intruder. Varney's eyes grew suddenly anxious.

"Thank God, you're safe, Larry!" gasped Peter, looking hurriedly about
him, and characteristically asking no questions. "Four of us!
Magnificent! We can hold this room for a year against those drunken
sheep...."

The din outside grew deafening. One man, braving Henry's threat, had
made a bolt across the star-lit space to the house, and no shot had rung
out from the upstairs window. Others had instantly followed, and the
little front porch now echoed under many feet. Yet, boisterous as they
were, the mobbers seemed to hesitate at taking the front door at a rush,
as though fearful of what reception might await them in the dark and
silent hall beyond.

But now a stone crashed through a front window downstairs, and a man's
voice rang out suddenly so close that it seemed to be inside the parlor:

"One minute to come out fair in the open, Stanhope, or we'll set a light
to this house, so help us God!"

Mr. Stanhope gave a low cry. "Call to them, Henry!" he ordered, wildly.
"Quick! Tell them I'm coming out this minute."

Henry, his back against the door, did not stir.

"_Hare_ you goin' out, sir?"

"No," said Varney, "he isn't. But I am."

Peter came further into the pretty room, impatient eyes fixed on Varney.
"What fool's talk is this?" he demanded roughly. "Nobody is going out.
We four--"

Another loud crash of broken glass drowned him out. In Varney's eye the
look of anxiety had deepened. He understood everything at a glance.
Adroit proddings of a few poor Hackleys, some cheap liquor, the word
passed to Maginnis as from a friend--this was how the boss of Hunston
had plotted to set his heel upon Reform and stamp it out forever. He
came three steps back into the room, sternly.

"You were a monumental fool to let them send you here, Peter--"

But the swelling tumult without made parley out of the question.

"No time for talk!" roared Peter. "It's fight now--before they are in on
us! Lights out--and to the front, all of us!"

"Right hoh!" cried Henry, man to man, and ran out the door.

"No, no!" protested Mr. Stanhope thickly, "it is n't fair--"

Peter wheeled and looked at him, personally, for the first time. He had
recognized him instantly, and now when he saw what he saw on that sickly
green face, his fine eyes hardened.

"Four, I said? I see there are only three men here. No matter--three
good ones are more than enough. Larry, stay here! I'll take the front
door--the man the front windows--"

But Varney blocked his way to the door with a face more resolute than
his own.

"Stand back, Peter. We'll do nothing of the sort. Those are Ryan's men
out there. They don't want Mr. Stanhope--you know that. I don't like
this place anyhow--I'm going to get out--"

"I'll sizzle in hell if you do!" bellowed Peter, and violently pinioned
his arms.

But Stanhope, clutching at the chance, struck again for the safety of
his skin. "He ought to go," he cried swiftly. "It is n't my
quarrel--don't you see? Let go his arm there--you bully!--let him go!"

The shock of that, curiously, surprised Peter into complying. He
dropped Varney's arms, turned swiftly to the author and fixed him with a
look for which, alone, another man would have cried for his blood. "Did
I hear you aright?" he said in an oddly still voice. "Do I understand
you to suggest that he be sent out there alone?"

Mr. Stanhope shrank before that look, but this was the utmost concession
to it.

"It's not my quarrel," he said moistening his lips--and suddenly,
glancing over Peter's shoulder, his eyes lit with a frightened gleam of
triumph. "It's he they--"

Over the shouting a single hoarse cry rang out very close at hand.

"Curse you for the cowardliest dog God ever made!" cried Peter, his
passion breaking its thin veil of calmness like a bullet. "If you
interfere in this, you'll not hide afterward where I'll not find you.
Larry! You'll--" Peter turned and broke off short with an exclamation
which was a good deal like a groan.

Varney was not there. Taking advantage of Peter's momentary distraction,
he had slipped through the door and fled down the hall.

Shaken with the rushing sense of his friend's danger, Peter started
wildly for the door. But in that fraction of a second, the lamp on the
center table was blown suddenly out and he found himself in inky
darkness. At the same moment something thrust itself dexterously between
his moving legs and he fell heavily to the floor. Falling he struck out
blindly, and his whirling fist collided with something warm and soft.
The next instant he was up and groping madly for the door, his sense of
direction all gone from him. But the author lay where he had fallen,
quite still, and, for the moment, afraid no longer.

The moment's gain, however, was all that Stanhope needed, though it was
no more. In the dark hall where a single candle burned, Varney had met
Henry. The instant before, a man's head and shoulders had protruded
suddenly through the broken-in parlor window, and Henry, waiting
patiently in the shadow of the wall had flatted him to the floor with a
heavy chair, which broke in his hands. Then he heard swift footsteps in
the hall, and divining what had happened, bounded out.

"Stand clear, man!" cried Varney loudly. "I'm going out."

A prolonged shouting indicated that the promise was heard with approval
outside. But not so with Henry, who closed in on him fiercely, crying:
"Not hon your bloomin' life, you don't--harskin' your pardon, sir!"

Varney, however, was a thing of nerves and passion now, all energy and
muscle and concentrated purpose. He shook the man off like a rat, and
the next moment burst open the front door.

All this had happened far more quickly than it can be set down. Five
minutes had hardly passed since Henry's first challenge had rung from
the upstairs window. This would have been ample time to carry the house
by storm, front and back, had the invaders had the leadership and wit;
but these things they lacked. They were still massed on the front porch,
pell-mell, in a turbulent group, ramping, raging, thirsty for action,
but as yet ineffective; though one of them had at that moment set a
match to a torch of newspapers and kindling wood. Delay had loosed the
hunter's instinct in the half-drunken band: it broke into flame at sight
of the quarry. Varney had scarcely shown himself in the half-opened door
when some one struck him a savage blow on the chin that sent him reeling
backwards.

He had come out to them with no plan, no sense of hostility, and only
because, in his disturbed mood, he despised Stanhope so utterly that he
would take no protection from him, or give him any share in his own
troubles. But at that blow, a demon sprang to life in him which knew no
law but an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. His left arm shot out
like a piston at the dim flushed face before him, and the face bobbed
downward out of sight.

At the same moment, the heavy back of a chair in supple hands descended
out of space behind him with a thud; and a great tall fellow, staggering
backward with the unexpected pain of that stroke, for the moment
obstructed his comrades. For Henry had followed where he could not lead,
and now ranged himself joyously at Varney's side in the narrow
threshold.

The setback, however, was trivial. In the next breath, they closed round
him with a great shout, thrusting Henry violently to one side. Three men
were required for this latter task, who so missed the real sport of the
night. Another was caught when the front porch fell in with a crash, and
was pulled out with a broken leg an hour later. But enough remained.
Varney was instantly lost in a struggling and kicking hurly-burly of
arms and legs, and was borne with them in a rush down the short flight
of steps to the lawn. All, of course, could not reach him. So it
happened that two or three, on the outskirts of the tossing group, heard
the feet of reinforcements in the hallway and wheeled at that sound.
Even in the faint light, Peter's great size made him easily
recognizable; and a young man of Hare's party named Bud Spinks, who
admired him intensely and had partaken of his hospitality in the town,
was still enough himself to cry out:

"Keep away, Mr. Maginnis! This ain't your fuss!"

"You'll see!" shouted Peter, and cleared the wrecked porch at a bound.

In his dash through the darkness for the door he had stumbled over the
fragments of Henry's broken chair. One stout leg of it remained in his
hand now. Peter's prowess with that weapon has passed into legend in
Hunston. They tell to this day of a great giant, eight feet tall,
watchful eyes in all parts of him, impervious to all blows,
hundred-handed and every hand like the kick of a mule, who met ten men
almost single-handed that night and routed them utterly.

He was the biggest man in Hunston, the strongest and the most terrible
in anger. Bud Spinks, because he did not know whose fuss that was, felt
the bite of that anger, and toppled beneath it like a sapling under the
woodman's axe. So did poor old Orrick, who had met the others on the
road and returned with them, and who was the only man of them all that
Peter recognized. Two of those who were looking after Henry, having laid
him to rest by this time, rushed Peter from behind. One of them struck
him heavily on the point of the jaw as he swung around, and was
astonished that he did not appear to notice it. The next instant he fell
senseless under a blow that crushed through his upraised fists as a
hammer might go through a drumhead. One Peter hit a glancing blow upon
the shoulder, and as long as he lived he could never raise that arm
above his head again.

Thus Peter was free to fling himself on that violently swaying mass
which he knew held Varney. Even those on the further side knew precisely
the moment he struck it. The whole body quivered with the shock of that
impact. Those nearer that chair leg and that equally terrible fist had
more personal testimony to his presence. There was no resisting either.
They got in many blows upon him, as his bruised body and discolored face
showed next morning. But he never once faltered. To himself, with a
precious moment lost back in the study and a heart afire to know if he
were yet in time, his progress seemed desperately slow; yet he cleft a
path for himself as by magic.

Knocking some down, thrusting others aside or frightening them away, he
found his answer at last with sudden directness. A big raw-boned fellow,
fiercely drunk and working with his feet at something on the ground,
wheeled and struck passionately at Peter's face. A blow like a cannon
shot was his reply, and, for the second time under the impact of that
fist, Jim Hackley (though Peter did not know him) measured his length
upon the ground. Two or three scattering ones, still up, were hovering
in Peter's rear with a discreetness which, it chanced was now quite
superfluous. For at that instant, he caught sight of his friend, and
immediately all the fight went out of him and his knees shook.

Varney lay anyhow on the trodden grass, dappled with blood, his head
curved fantastically beneath his shoulders. Another had gone down with
him and lay half over him, a long arm locked about him in a curious
gesture that oddly suggested protection. This one lay face downward, but
Varney, as it happened, was on his back, and his upturned face looked in
the dusky night the image of death.

Peter dropped his club with a strangled cry, and went down on his hands
and knees. No reassuring flutter met the hand which he thrust inside the
trampled bosom. That heart seemed stilled. He gathered the limp form in
his arms like a child's and turned a dreadful face upon the beaten
fragments of the mobbing-party.

"By God!" he shouted passionately. "You've killed him!"

They faded away into the darkness, such of them as could walk, sobered
by the horror of that cry, frightened more at that face than at all the
blows which had gone before.

So Peter stood alone in the little lawn, dark figures of his enemies
stretched here and there about him, his great arms clutching the inert
body of his friend, groaning his pain to the four winds. But the next
instant, flying hoof-beats sounded on the road, raced near, and a
two-horse buggy, overloaded with men, pulled up sharply at the gate. A
very small pale man, in a frock-coat plastered with dirt, and stuttering
violently as he shouted Peter's name, tore up the path.

"You're too late, Hare!" cried Peter wildly. "They've killed him!"



CHAPTER XXII


RELATING HOW VARNEY FAILS TO DIE; AND WHY SMITH REMAINED IN HUNSTON; AND
HOW A RECEPTION IS PLANNED FOR MR. HIGGINSON


Thus it happened that the southbound local, which went through at
eight-ten, did not acquire Varney as a passenger that night; and his old
friend, Elbert Carstairs, did not meet his emissary at nine-thirty, or
indeed at any hour that evening. But two travelers for New York did
board the local at Hunston, and both of them, as it chanced, repaired to
the car provided for smokers, each for his own reasons.

One of them straightway lighted a long cigar, which a gentleman had
given him that morning, doubtless unwisely, for he was not above twelve
years old. The other, who happened to sit in the seat just before him,
did not smoke. He was rendered conspicuous by the fact that he wore no
hat, and by the deadly pallor of his face, relieved only by a reddening
bump beneath the right eye. His clothes also were dirty and disheveled
till he seemed scarcely the superior in elegance of the little
ragamuffin behind him.

So that it was not surprising that the amiable conductor, standing by
for the tickets and struck by the obvious likeness, should have
observed:

"Your son's pretty young to be a-smokin' seegars, ain't he?"

Mr. Stanhope, not knowing what this remark meant, and caring less,
answered with a cold stare, though inwardly he cursed the man for his
fatuous impertinence. That done, he relapsed dully into his own
thoughts, which were all of the house he had scurried from, terrified by
Peter's cry, half an hour before....

In that house, in Mr. Stanhope's own deserted bed, Varney lay at his
ease, as quiet as a statued man. Over the bed, industriously at work,
hung the keen-faced town doctor, whom Hare had gotten with a speed which
passed all understanding. At the foot of the bed stood Peter Maginnis,
his face like the face of a carven image.

At the very moment when the garrulous conductor was trying to foist off
poor little Tommy Orrick upon Mr. Stanhope, the old doctor raised his
head.

"He's not dead _yet_. An excellent chance I should say."

Peter's face did not change. His hand tightened on the foot-board till
his nails whitened. It was as though he had pulled a signal cord which
ran unseen under the bed-clothes and rung a mysterious bell in some
remote corner of his friend's head. Varney immediately opened one eye,
let it rest on Peter and said in a clear voice:

"You all right, Peter?"

That done he relapsed immediately into unconsciousness again. The doctor
took out a large handkerchief, wiped his brow and smiled. Peter, his
quick relief like a storm of joy, went downstairs to tell his friends
of the Reform Committee, and do a thousand other things.

By nine o'clock the town was ringing with the wild story, and in the
still watches of the later night the telegraph flung it to far places,
to be read in wonder next morning in a million homes. Overnight, the
great eye of the country turned like an unwinking searchlight upon the
dingy town by the Hudson where happened to dwell Mrs. Elbert Carstairs
and her only daughter, Mary. And all the world read how two men who were
doubles had strangely met in a lonely house with a drunken mob outside;
how one of them, who had earned the mob, turned the other out to face
it; how the son of a famous captain of industry had shamed the
Berserkers in his passionate muscularity: how one "double" had fled to
save his skin and how the other, battered almost beyond recognition, now
lay trembling between life and death.

In Hunston, there followed next day a whirl of police activity, of which
the net results were tame in the extreme. Of all the fierce band which
had stormed the house of Mr. Stanhope, only poor old Orrick and Mr.
British, the bookseller--he who had been pulled out senseless from under
the beams of the porch--were identified. Mr. British flatly and
resolutely declined to testify as to who his comrades were, and old Sam
Orrick, terrified though he was by prospective horrors of the law,
loyally perjured his immortal soul by swearing that the men were all
strangers to him and that he believed them to be visitors from another
city.

The count against these two proved to be only assault and battery,
though for three days and nights it was a toss of the coin whether they
would not have to answer for a graver charge. Peter's joy had soon
proved premature and the doctor's smile faded in unexpected
bewilderment. The sick man did not improve in the least. Delirium
followed hard upon deadly stupor and there seemed no rousing him from
either.

The yellow cottage with the trampled flower-beds and smashed windows,
which looked so bare-faced with its front porch shaved away, had passed
to Peter for the moment by right of conquest. In it everything that
conducted to the comfort of ill man had been quickly and lavishly
installed. Everybody was wonderfully kind and thoughtful. Mrs. Marne,
who reached the cottage with Mrs. Carstairs half an hour after the
doctor the first night, and had done wonders before the nurses arrived,
was simply invaluable. Hare came night and morning, horribly formal and
ill at ease, begging for something to do. Flowers and inquiries from
total strangers were an hourly occurrence. From Charlie Hammerton came a
quart of magnificent Scotch, followed on the second day by a pile of
clippings from the _Gazette's_ exchanges which must have gratified the
injured man extremely if only he had been able to read them. His own
leading article, headed "Laurence Varney, Hero," Editor Hammerton
modestly suppressed. By the hand of sad-faced McTosh came a hideous
floral piece, in fact, a red, white, and blue star, bearing the label
"From the sorrowing crew of the _Cypriani_." Mrs. Carstairs, whose
emotions at the time were hardly fully understood in the yellow cottage,
called daily and sent beautiful roses and chicken jelly. The roses faded
and the chicken jelly was considerably enjoyed by the nurses. But from
Mrs. Carstairs's daughter, whose filial relations had invoked all these
things, there came neither flower nor word.

The fight had taken place upon a Thursday night. On Friday, the Hunston
doctor, at his wits' end, had asked for a consultation. On Saturday, the
great doctor from the city had spent an hour in the sick-room, first
examining the patient in a bodily way, and then prodding him with a
tireless stream of questions, however futile--anything to make him talk.
At the end of that time he had whispered awhile with the town doctor and
drawn Peter into the study downstairs.

"What's the matter with him, Mr. Maginnis?" he asked abruptly.

"Matter?" echoed Peter. "Wasn't he beaten to a pulp?"

"Kicks don't kill a man with that kind of physique. What has he got on
his mind?"

"I don't know," said Peter, miserably. "The last time I saw him--"

"Find out," said the great doctor, briefly. "If you don't, he may die.
He seems to have had a shock of some kind. You must work upon that line.
There is nothing the matter with his body that he can't throw off. But
he will not get well unless you put the idea into his head that he
_must_."

And glancing at his watch, he bowed stiffly, and was whirled away to
the station.

Peter was utterly at a loss. He had no idea what had taken Varney up the
road to Stanhope's that afternoon, much less of any shock that could
conceivably have come to him. But he set himself to find out. By the
next morning, partly through inquiry, partly through patching two and
two together, he had worked out a theory. Guesswork, of course, was
rather dangerous in a delicate matter such as this; but the doctor's
report after breakfast had been the very worst yet. Peter never
faltered. He picked up his hat from the study table, in front of which
he had been figuring these things out, and started down the hall.

Mrs. Marne was sitting quietly on the bottom step of the stairway, her
dark head in her hands; and Peter was glad to see her.

"I've found out a little about that," said Peter, in a low voice. "I
believe it was--to see Miss Carstairs that he came up the road that
day."

"Yes," said Mrs. Marne. "I have heard that too."

"She struck me," said Peter, "as a nice little girl. Probably she
doesn't understand the situation. I am going to see her now."

"She won't see you," said Mrs. Marne.

"Yes, she will," said Peter quietly, and started for the door.

But Mrs. Marne caught him by the hand, protectingly, like an elder
sister, and drew him into the parlor and shut the door.

Half an hour later Peter came out and went up the stairs. At the
landing he paused to take off his shoes, and went on up in his stocking
feet.

It was Sunday morning, near eleven o'clock, a brilliant morning all sun
and wind. The far church bells of Hunston were ringing on the clear air
like chimes from another world. Never afterward could Peter hear the
Sunday bells without thinking of that moment. At the door, he met Miss
Nevin, the day-nurse, coming out. She said she was going to telephone
the doctor.

Peter slipped into the darkened room and shut the door noiselessly
behind him. After a moment, he tipped over to the bed and sat down in
the nurse's chair, silently. The bed looked very fresh and white and
unrumpled, and that was because the injured man had for two days lain
almost wholly quiet. The thin coverlet defined his long frame perfectly.
Many bandages about the limbs and trunk made it look grotesquely bumpy
and misshapen. One arm, wrapped from shoulder to finger-tip was outside
the coverlet; now and then the hand, which was muffled large as a
boxing-glove, moved a little. Cloths ran slantwise about chin, brow, and
head, leaving only breathing space and one eye uncovered.

Presently, as he became more used to the darkness, Peter observed that
the eye was open and regarding him incuriously: and he started in some
confusion. "Do you feel much pain now, old chap?" he began rather
huskily.

"Pain?" repeated Varney, vaguely. "No, I don't feel any pain."

"No pain! That's fine!" said Peter with lying cheerfulness, for he knew
that this deadness to sensation was the worst feature in the case.
"That--left leg is rather badly bruised, it seems. I was a little afraid
_that_ might be troubling you some."

Silence.

"Did Miss Nevin show you all your flowers? They 've just been pouring in
all day every day. We could turn florists to-day without spending a
penny for stock. Couldn't we, Larry, eh?"

"Yes," said Varney laboriously. "We could."

"Everybody has been so kind," continued Peter, desperately, "that upon
my word it's hard to pick and choose. If I were asked to say who had
really been kindest--let me see--yes, I'd name--Mrs. Carstairs. Flowers
and something to eat, some little dainty or delicacy, twice a day. The
fact is, old chap, to put it plainly, though I don't want to distress
you, you know--she is blaming herself about this. Blaming herself
greatly."

"She oughtn't to do that," said Varney after a time.

"Of course she ought n't to. Yet it's natural enough in a way. Of
course, I'm blaming myself, too--like the mischief--I'd had so many
warnings, you know. Little Hare is blaming himself. And Mr.
Carstairs--poor old fellow! I'll show you his letters when--the light's
a little better for reading. They're fine, honestly. Of course, he
wanted to come on right away, but I wouldn't let him."

Silence again.

"So you see how many of us," continued Peter, nearing his awkward
climax, "have been worried, _personally_, about this--trouble. And how
much, well--how much--happiness is bound up in your getting well. And by
the way--I declare I nearly forgot Miss Carstairs--I declare!"

There was a long silence, which Peter resolved not to break. Through the
shuttered window, the distant bells chimed faintly into the room. The
sick man's stray arm moved restlessly on the coverlet, but otherwise he
lay quite still.

At length Varney said: "When did you see Miss Carstairs? She
hasn't--been here--?"

But poor Peter's errand was not so easy as that. He had no glad shaft of
promise with which to pierce that deadly Nessus-coat of apathy.

"She couldn't come here, old chap," said Peter, very gravely. "You
hadn't heard, of course. Miss Carstairs is very ill."

"Miss Carstairs is very ill," repeated Varney, not inquiringly, but like
a child saying over a lesson.

"Awfully ill," said Peter encouragingly. "It seems that she came home
Thursday night a little after seven, looking very pale and badly, but
insisting that there was nothing the matter. She sat upstairs with her
mother until about eight, when somebody called her down to the
telephone. Well, she didn't come back. So after a while Mrs. Carstairs
sent down to find out why. The maid found her in the hall--in fact, on
the floor, I believe. She had fainted, you know. Yes--that was it.
Fainted dead away--poor little girl."

After what seemed an eternity of waiting, Varney asked: "What was
it--do you know? At the telephone?"

"Yes. It was Mrs. Marne. She called up Miss Carstairs in the first
excitement of--of your accident, it seems, and I'm afraid she gave a
very exaggerated and alarming account, you know. They put her to bed,"
continued Peter clearing his throat, "and there she's been ever since.
The great shock, you know. Mrs. Marne saw her this morning--the first
time she had been admitted. It's all quite sad. Quite sad. We'll talk of
it again when--you're feeling a bit stronger."

Varney, who had lain like a statue for two days and nights, had begun
moving a little under the coverlet, stirring first one swathed leg, then
the other, as though seeking vainly to shift his position. Now he said
at once: "I want to hear now."

Peter gave a deep sigh. He thought, and rightly, that this was the best
thing that had happened yet.

"Well, it's all very strange, Larry. When I said that it was the shock
of the accident that had made her ill, I did not tell the whole truth.
It seems that she is suffering from a terrible hallucination about it.
She feels in some strange way that the responsibility for all this--is
hers. She told Mrs. Marne that she was responsible for your being on the
road that night, and that she had been unfair about something or other,
and that but for that the--trouble would never have happened. I don't
pretend to understand it. But feeling as she does now--if anything were
to--to go wrong, the poor child would count herself--she would count
herself--"

"Don't!" said Varney very clearly and distinctly.

His face looked all at once so ghastly that Peter's heart stopped
beating. He thought in a horrible flash that the end had come, and that
he, Peter Maginnis, had brought it by tearing at the worst wound his
friend had. His clumsy diplomacy fell from him as at the last trump. He
dropped on his knees beside the bed with a groan.

"For God's sake, Larry, don't leave _that_ mark to a child like her.
Don't give us all _that_ sorrow to carry to our graves--"

But Varney had pulled his arms free and was clutching wildly at his
head-bandages with heavily swathed fingers.

"You needn't worry about me," he said in a sharp anguished voice. "Great
Scott! What's--what's wrong with my _head_! It's killing me."

He recovered with a speed which puzzled the old Hunston doctor even more
than his previous lethargy had done. Five days later he was well enough
to be lifted downstairs to the small back piazza, and here he lay
blanketed up in a reclining chair for half the sunny afternoon.

A bundle of letters and telegrams lay on his covered knees; and going
slowly through them, he came presently to one from Elbert Carstairs,
arrived only that morning:

  "MY DEAR BOY:

  Words are feeble things at their best,
  and I know of none that would convey to you my great
  joy at the news that you are out of danger. By the same
  mail, I have learned that my other dear sick one in Hunston
  is quite herself again, and I say to God in gratitude
  upon my knees that my cup is full."

A pause in the reading here. The long hand of the nurse's clock on the
window-sill had crawled half around the dial before Varney raised the
letter again from his blanketed lap:

  "There is much in my heart to tell you, much to beg your
  forgiveness for, but I shall keep it to say to you face to
  face. Just now the keenest point in my grief is that all
  this suffering I have brought upon you has been worse
  than unnecessary. Light has come to me in these sleepless
  nights, and I see now that there was a much better
  way to seek what I sought, a far happier path."

The letter slipped down upon the swathed knees again, and he lay staring
at the blown and sunny tree-tops. Presently the door at his side opened;
a man started to come through it, stopped short, and stood motionless on
the threshold.

Varney slowly turned his head. In the doorway, to his dim surprise,
stood Mr. Stanhope's man, Henry, bowing, unobtrusive, apologetic, ready
to efface himself at a gesture like the well-trained servant he was.

"Why--is that you, Henry?"

"Harskin' your pardon for the hintrusion, sir," said Henry with a wooden
face. "I didn't know you were 'ere, sir. 'Opin' you are feeling improved
to-day, sir--if you please, Hi'll withdraw--"

"Henry," said Varney, "that is no way for you to speak to me--after the
way you stood up for me that night. Come here."

And he disentangled from his covers and held out a rather maimed-looking
hand.

Then he saw the soul of the man whip through the livery of the menial
like a knife, and Henry, stumbling forward with a working face, clasped
that hand proudly in his strong white one: only he dropped on one knee
to do it, as if to show that, though gentlemen might be pleased to show
him kindness now and then, he perfectly understood that he was not as
they.

"Ho, sir," he broke out in a tone very different from his
well-controlled voice of service, "I never seen a pluckier thing done,
nor a gamer fight put up. You make me too proud, sir, with your
'and--man to man ... I was shamed, sir, till I couldn't bear it when I
came to and learned that I 'ad not stayed with you, sir, to the end.
Three of them closed in on me, sir, and harskin' your pardon, sir, I was
whippin' hof 'em to standstill when one of them tripped me from be'ind,
sir,--"

"Stand up, Henry," said Varney, rather agitated, "like the man you are."

Henry stood up, with a jerky "Thank you, sir," striving with momentary
ill-success to get a lackey's mask back upon that quivering face.

"I'll always remember you," said Varney with some difficulty, "as a good
and brave man. I don't think I'll ever forget how you disobeyed an
order--to try to save me. And now tell me--what became of your master?"

"'E's in the village, sir," said Henry rather bothered by his throat
"I'm expecting 'im in any moment, sir--"

"In the village?" repeated Varney, surprised. "Mr. Stanhope is in
Hunston?"

"_Mr. Stanhope_!" said Henry with an insufferable contemptuousness for
which he at once apologized. "Harskin' your pardon, sir--I thought you
inquired for my master. Mr. Stanhope, I 'ave 'eard, sir, has sailed for
Europe."

"Well, who's your master, then?"

"Mr. Maginnis is my master, sir."

Varney deliberated on this, and slowly smiled. "Well, you've got a good
one, Henry."

"Thank you, sir. That's 'im now, sir. I 'ear 'is motor in the road. If
you'll excuse me, sir--I'll go and let 'im in."

And he bowed and went away, only pausing in the entry to attend a moment
to his blurred eyes with the back of a supple hand.

Peter stepped out into the porch with a cheery greeting and dropped into
a rocking-chair, looking worn and tired. The instant his heavy anxiety
over Varney was relieved, he had thrown himself back into the fight for
reform with a desperate vigor which entirely eclipsed all his previous
efforts.

"We-ell," he said in answer to Varney's question, "we're humping
along--just humping along. Time's so confoundedly short, though. You
know, Larry, this business the other night is proving the best card
we've got. Fact. I haven't tried to tell you how worked up the people
have been about your--accident, and how most of them don't stand for it
for a minute. It's pretty well understood around town that politics was
back of it all in some way, though nobody can state a single fact, and
I've scoured the town for evidence without finding a scrap. Anyway, it's
the solemn fact, and the committee can prove it, that that feeling is
bringing over a lot of votes that we never could have reached otherwise
with a long distance 'phone."

"Praise be that they're coming over, anyhow."

"This fight," continued Peter, absorbedly, "is confoundedly interesting
because it is typical of what's going on all over the country. Hunston
is just a dingy little microcosm of the whole United States of America.
You can't blame these poor beggars here much, afraid of their jobs as
they are. It takes courage to make a break for virtue when the devil's
holding you by your bread and meat. But--well, I'd hate like the
mischief to lose, particularly since we've managed to come in for such a
beautiful lot of lime-light. You know this fight is being watched all
over the country, since that trouble? And hang it, it does make a
difference when the Associated Press carries half a column about you
every night. Do you remember that first night in Hunston, Larry," he
continued, "when you said that our part in the town's affairs must be
that of quiet onlookers only? Quiet onlookers! And now everybody in the
country is playing quiet onlookers on us. Our names are household words
in California, and I'm credibly informed that they're naming babies
after you all through the middle West. Funny, isn't it?"

Varney assented with a laugh. Presently he said rather constrainedly:
"Peter--I want you to tell me a little about that night. Who was
caught?"

Peter named the two. "They wouldn't testify," he explained, "and I
couldn't. Old Orrick was the only man I spotted. He will get punished
for assault. I don't see that they've got a case against British. He was
knocked out when the porch fell, and he hadn't done a thing then, except
yell probably. You can't hang a man for yelling in this State."

"No. Did you--you--was anybody killed?"

"Bless your heart, no!" cried Peter. "Why, it was only a little old
kicking-match and hair-pulling, you know, hardly worse than a college
rush."

Varney looked suddenly and strangely relieved.

"I'm mighty glad to hear that," he said, and presently added: "Have you
seen--Smith?"

"Smith! He went to New York some days ago. I remember--it was the very
day you pulled up and got well. Why, what about him?"

"Didn't you know? He was there that night," said Varney. "Right in the
thick of it, helping me."

"Helping _you_! Smith!"

Varney nodded. "The minute they closed in on me," he said after a
moment, "and we all bunched together, I felt that there was somebody in
there fighting on my side. Pretty soon I heard a voice in my ear, it
said: '_Keep on your pins as long as you can: these dogs'll trample you
if they get you down_.' I said, 'Is that you, Smith?' and he laughed
and said, '_Still on my studies_.' Then somebody hit me over the head
with something, and I went down and he went with me. He had one arm
around me, I remember. I've been thinking, ever since I could think at
all, that they might--might have finished him. I believe he saved my
life, Smith did."

"Well--bully for him!" said Peter slowly, much impressed. "What on earth
struck him to do that, do you suppose? Well, well! I'll certainly look
that old boy up in New York and shake him by the hand."

There was a considerable silence. At just the moment when Varney was
about to put another question, Peter opened his mouth and answered it.

"However," he said, an irrepressible note of irritation creeping into
his honest voice, "even that was not the strangest thing that happened
that night. Not by a long shot."

Varney's gaze fixed with sudden interest. "Higginson? You don't mean to
say that he turned up?"

"I do. And got away with it again--confound his soul!"

"What happened? Any more dirty work? Did anything get into the papers?"

"No--oh, no! You've got that sized up wrong, Larry. He's no yellow
journalist or anything like that. He's only the slickest underground
worker this town ever saw--with his confounded apologetic,
worried-looking mask of a face. As for more dirty work--well, I guess
the bloodshed the other night scared him up so--"

"But go on and tell me! Where'd you see him? What did you say and--"

"Sitting in our front parlor, if you please, like a dear old friend of
the family."

The remembrance of the way he had been affronted and outwitted chafed
Peter's spirit uncontrollably. He rose and began pacing up and down the
little porch, hands thrust deep into his trousers pockets.

"About an hour after we put you to bed," he exploded, "I slipped
downstairs to tell Hare to keep everybody off the place. However, a lot
of people had already come in. I glanced in at the parlor and it seemed
full of them--Mrs. Carstairs and Mrs. Marne--they were the first to get
here after Hare's delegation--Hammerton and another man from the
_Gazette_, the committeemen, and several I'd never laid eyes on before.
Well, there in a corner, looking like a hired mourner at a nigger
funeral, sat that fellow Higginson. You could have knocked me flat with
a pin feather. I'm as sure as I stand here that it was he who worked up
that mob for Ryan, and the whole dirty scheme--and then coming around
with his tongue in his cheek to inquire after the victim! Can you beat
that gall?"

"Not easily. What happened?"

"They asked me how you were. I told'em. Then I said before the
room-full: 'I was very sorry to find you out this afternoon, Mr.
Higginson, when I called at your hotel.' The fellow looked white as a
sheet and mumbled something I couldn't catch. Well--I couldn't smash him
there before all the women, so I said: 'Please don't go away this time
until I see you. I'm most anxious to have a little private conversation
with you.' Oh, of course that was a mistake--I hate to think about it!
But--well, I was a good deal worried just then," he explained, rather
sheepishly, "and fact is, for the minute I wasn't thinking very much
about Higginson. I needn't add that he had sneaked when I came down
again. Had the cheek to leave behind a message with Hare saying he
regretted to miss me, but felt it his duty to escort the ladies home."

Varney, though he had grounds for animosity which Peter never even
guessed, laughed aloud. But it was a brief laugh, which quickly faded.

"And he's never been seen or heard of from that day to this? Well, for
my part," he went on, rather constrainedly, "I'm almost ready to believe
the man's a myth--a mere personification of evil--an allegorical name
for the powers of darkness--"

"Myth!" cried Peter. "You'll see! Why, he's certain to turn up again,
Larry--absolutely certain. You couldn't keep him away with a flock of
cannon. If he doesn't come before, it's dead sure that he'll appear
among us again on election day--four days from now--just to see the
results of his pretty work. And when he does--"

"Well?" said Varney, amused through his own heartsoreness by Peter's
vehemence. "When he does?"

"I've got two men watching every train, day and night," said Peter.
"When Higginson sets foot in this town again, one man trails him, and
the other runs for me.... Well, I'm a generous and forbearing man,
Larry, and I recall that you havn't had much fun here. I'll--yes, hang
it all!--I'll bring the old rogue to you, dead or alive, and stand by in
silence while you speak him your little piece."



CHAPTER XXIII


IN WHICH VARNEY, AFTER ALL, REDEEMS HIS PROMISE

From the roaring ovation which followed Peter's brief remarks there
emerged again the sudden, clean-cut silence. Mayor Hare--Mayor by the
narrowest margin in the heaviest vote ever cast in that town--stood upon
the improvised little stand and looked out over the packed square. He
rested one small hand upon the gay-clothed rail, and many people saw
that it quivered. The showy "demonstration" of Peter's planning,
brilliantly launched the moment the count was announced--the imported
brass-band, the triumphal procession with the bugles, the streamers and
the flag-wrapped carriages, and now the rostrum ready set and waiting in
the heart of the dense crowd--all had taken him completely by surprise.
His face showed it; yet he was not thinking of that exactly. All at once
the Mayor's mind had harked back to another moment, not so many days
before, when he had stood in this square to make a speech; and at the
rushing thought of the great contrast between that moment and this,
there rose in him a sense of gratefulness so deep that it took palpable
form, and stuck, suffocatingly, in his throat.

The square swam before his blinded eyes. He took off his glasses and
wiped them frankly. Stiff formality left him, without a nod at parting,
carrying along the "few remarks" he had nervously thrown together in his
Roman progress up Main Street.

"The modesty of the man who has just addressed you," he began
unsteadily, "will deceive no one. You all know what I owe to him--what
our town owes to him. You all know that if I am almost too proud and too
happy to speak at all just now, it is because a kindly chance sent Mr.
Maginnis to Hunston."

Cheers, more cheers, and yet again cheers; cheers running on and on as
though they never meant to stop; spontaneous waves of applause that
meant, what nearly all knew, that Maginnis personally had captured
Hunston, and that his efficiency with a chair-leg had reared him into a
kind of demi-god among certain rough fellows of the baser sort.

The speaker was resuming, not yet through with his tributes. His eye
flitting over the shouting crowd had fallen upon a face.

"I know that both honesty and logic were on the side which Mr. Maginnis,
coming here a stranger, elected to support. But honesty does not always
make a winning cause, nor does logic. What I may call sympathy is often
better than both. The splendid help that we got from Mr. Maginnis
received this supplement. Sympathy came to aid Reform. A brutal outrage
sullied the name of our town--an outrage which, there is sad reason to
believe, was born of politics. The victim of that outrage, and the hero
of that terrible night, is happily with us to-day.... I will not offend
him with any words of praise. But may I not say in the market-place what
is the truism of the committee-room ... that when this gentleman did
what he did, he brought to Reform the sympathy which ... has made me
Mayor of Hunston."

Every eye followed the direction of the speaker's glance and his grave
bow; and by the chance of good position, it happened that nearly all
could see. Upon a dingy porch, a few yards up the Main Street side of
the square, stood a tall, young man leaning on a cane, a wide felt hat
shading a rather badly marked face. And--there was no possibility of any
mistake--it was Jim Hackley's porch that he stood upon, and--yes--it was
Jim Hackley himself, a sober and genial Jim Hackley, who stood by his
side, in intimate pose, and grinning somewhat sheepishly into the glare
of fame which suddenly enveloped him.

What part Hackley had borne in the events to which the orator had
referred was never officially known, but it may be said without
exaggeration that there had been suspicions abroad against him. His
present friendliness with the victim of those events, therefore, seemed
the gauge and symbol of penitence and reconciliation.

It was the first time that Hunston had seen Varney since the night he
was hurt, and the first time that most of Hunston had ever seen him. The
story of his deeds and his sufferings, doubtless considerably
embellished and known to every one, made him a figure of keen popular
interest, and the cheers and hand-clappings now were thunderous,
compelling him to lift his hat again and again. Some even started a
swift descent upon the Hackley residence with the evident intention of
carrying the young man to the stand on their shoulders. But Hackley came
down to his gate to meet them and buffeted them away, explaining loudly,
like an old friend and generally acknowledged sponsor: "He ain't up to
it to-day, boys! Stand back!"

"Go on with your speech," said Peter in a fierce undertone to Hare.
"He's going to faint."

"Let us give honor to whom honor is due," cried Hare, hastily, and so
resumed his remarks.

Peter's melancholy prediction, though it spread quickly among the crowd
after Varney left the porch, was quite unfounded. Varney had not the
least idea of fainting. At Hare's tribute, which was as unexpected as he
felt it to be totally undeserved, and the sudden rain of eyes upon him,
an unaccountable dizziness had seized him, while he stood reluctantly
bowing; he had thrust out his hand and caught hold of the post. This
blackness passed as quickly as it had come. The next instant he felt as
fit a man as ever; and to the tender requests of his host, Mr. Hackley,
that he should withdraw into the house for a "leetle rest-up," he
returned a laughing refusal. For this was his last appearance in
Hunston, as well as his first in recent days, and very strongly did he
desire to make it testify to his warm interest in the town's great day
and the personal triumph of his friend, Peter Maginnis.

What removed Varney so abruptly from the Hackley porch and the public
view was the sudden fulfilment of quite another prediction of Peter's:
the one about the return to Hunston of the gum-shod Mr. Higginson.

The news came without warning. At just the moment when the Mayor
replunged into his interrupted oratory, Varney became aware that a low,
anxious voice behind him was insistently calling his name. He turned,
and saw the figure of a man standing in Hackley's entryway, just inside
the door; he had evidently slipped in from the rear; and now, catching
the young man's eye, he began mysteriously beckoning and making signs.

"Kin I speak to you a minute, Mr. Varney?" he called in the same
dramatic whisper.

Varney, in some surprise, advanced to the doorway and stepped inside the
entry after the stranger--a poorly dressed fellow with an unshaven chin
and a collarless neck.

"Well? What do you want, my man? And how do you know my name?"

At that the man gave the air of exploding, though his voice remained
only a whisper, at once apologetic and immensely reproachful.

"_Know_ your _name_, sir! Why, _excuse_ me for usin' it so free, but I
guess there ain't nobody in Hunston don't know _you_, Mr. Varney! Why,
Mr. Varney, my six-year-old kid c'd pick you right out o' that crowd out
there, same as 't was her pa, what with seein' your picture in the
papers an' all, an' I guess there ain't anything you'd ever want in
_Hunston_ you couldn't have just for the trouble o' namin' it."

The random assertion struck some of the blood from the young man's
cheek, but he said good-humoredly: "Well, I'm glad to hear it. But tell
me who you are, and what I can do for you."

The man's face, which had grown rather loose and mobile, instantly
became business-like and alert.

"I'm 'Lije Stobo, Mr. Varney--Hackley'll tell you. I was hired a week
ago by Mr. Maginnis to watch trains for a certain party kind of expected
to show up here." His voice, already very low, dropped several tones
lower, as he hurriedly went on: "Well, Mr. Varney, the party come in on
Number 14 just now. It ain't five minutes ago since he stepped down on
the deepo platform--disguised in some pretty good glad rags, he was, but
o' course we spotted him right off, and--"

"Higginson?"

The man nodded. "My partner was with me--Callery--and we shadows our
party to the Palace Hotel where he takes Room 41 and sneaks upstairs.
Callery's sitting in the lobby now, and I runs out to take the tip to
Mr. Maginnis--but Lord bless you, Mr. Varney--" He pointed out the open
door in the direction of the little speaker's stand where Peter sat
impregnably walled in on all sides by dense human masses. "It might be
an hour before I could get to him through _that_. I was up against it,
f'r he'd sure kill me if I let our party give us the slip again, and
then I heard 'em all cheerin' you, and thinks I, _there's_ my man,
and--"

Varney interrupted gratefully but briskly.

"You did exactly right, Mr. Stobo. I have long been anxious to see
Mr.--that is, this party. In fact," he added, putting on his hat with
significant firmness, "it is because of some business that I have with
this party that Mr. Maginnis asked you to look out for him."

Mr. Stobo's eyes ardently approved the young man's readiness for
"trouble."

"Well, _sir_--that's took a load off'n my mind, I tell you! I'll just
skip on--will I, Mr. Varney?--and try to get the tip to Mr. Maginnis, as
my orders was. He was _that set_ on interviewin' this here party--but
Lor', he'd give him to you, same's himself. Only--are you _sure_ you're
feelin' up to it to-day, Mr. Varney? If mebbe you'd let me'r Callery go
along now, just in case, y' know--"

Varney gave an answer which Mr. Stobo found completely reassuring. At
the same time, he rapidly produced his pocket-book and pulled out a bill
of alluring complexion.

"I owe you a great deal for bringing me this information, Mr.
Stobo--more than I can repay. But perhaps you would let me--"

He stopped suddenly, for the man had started backing off down the
entryway, a dull unaccustomed color showing in his grimy face.

"You didn't mean it, Mr. Varney! Why, how'd I look my missus in the
face--let alone myself--and tell her I took money off'n _you_--"

He disappeared out of the back door, and Varney, feeling uncomfortable
and disproportionately touched, put his spurned bill back in his
pocket. Hackley, now perceiving that his guest's visitor was gone,
turned his back on the speechmaking and hurried forward solicitously.

"I could 'a' hit that Stobo sneakin' in a-botherin' and a-'noyin' you,"
he said in tones of great sympathy. "I know how it is, Mr. Varney. Bit
of a inverlid myself, I am--no health and no constitootion whatsomever,
sir. Feelin' a leetle stiddier now, are you? Better lie down on my
parlor sofy a while and git rested up nice, hadn't ye?--many's the day
I've lazied there, Lord knows, tryin' f'r to coddle my strength back."

Varney regretfully declined the offer. In fact, he must be going at
once, he said, as he had a rather important business engagement; and
would Mr. Hackley kindly show him the quiet back-exit to the street and
the outer world?

Hackley, a tireless host, re-urged the charms of his sofy and cool
well-water for invalids; but his guest remained politely firm. So there,
on the little rear veranda, the two men parted with mutual esteem:
Varney expressing sincere thanks for all Mr. Hackley's courtesies;
Hackley compassionate over Mr. Varney's impaired constitution, but
boggling over what regrets might haply betray him into the grip of the
law's long arm.

Varney traversed the clothes-hung backyard, came out into the dingy
alley, and made rapidly for the cross-street, where a string of
carriages showed that "the quality" of Hunston was not without interest
in the day's proceedings. He did not see the carriages; to himself he
seemed suddenly to walk in a great and silent solitude. There was noise
enough about him, in all conscience, for every sentence that fell from
Hare's lips was punctuated by a salvo; but the tumult beat itself to
stillness against the closed fastness of his mind.

Under his eye, half way down the block to which he drew near, rose the
weatherworn flank of the Palace Hotel. Somewhere within the ugly pile
was his mortal enemy Higginson, trapped to his reckoning at last. Within
five minutes they two would stand face to face; and he had long since
promised himself that Higginson would remember the meeting for as long
as he lived. A moment ago, the thought had filled him with a strange
exhilaration: the prospect of a final accounting with the intriguing
fly-by-night who had wronged him past all forgiveness had set his blood
to leaping. But, exactly because that wrong went so deep, his
pleasurable excitement ebbed faster than it had mounted. The wound that
he had had from Higginson was one that no vengeance would heal. And with
the recurrence of this knowledge his battle-joy flickered and went out
like a spent match, and the little alley was a war-list no longer but a
stretch without end of dry and dusty years....

"I was lookin' for yer, Mist' Varney," said a husky, abashed voice.

Varney stared down at the small apparition before him with momentary
unrecognition.

"Why--Tommy! Heaven bless us! Where did you spring from, boy?"

Tommy's eyes fell in awe, but sure enough, he was sticking out his
small flipper in salutation. In fact, he had shaken hands a number of
times since that first memorable occasion, and, in his way, was
gradually beginning to catch the spirit of the thing.

"Kem up on the two-forty-five. Wit' Hauser's band. Got a loan of t'ree
bucks off a frien'."

"The mischief you did! Where do you find friends like that nowadays? But
what on earth made you pop back here? To hear Hauser's play and see all
the fireworks?"

Tommy examined his toe with affected interest and shook his head.

"What then? Don't you like it in New York?"

"Yasser. Noo York's all right, it is." And reluctantly he added: "You
be'n sick, ain't you? Thought I'd come and see how you was makin' it.
Come afore now, on'y I couldn't get next to de price."

"Tommy," said Varney, snuggling the boy's left hand into his own right
and resuming the promenade, "you're a mighty good friend to me."

They emerged into the street where a double line of vehicles, some of
them gay with bright hats and parasols, flanked the curb on either side,
and Varney turned north, his back to the square, unconscious of the many
curious glances that were flung at him as he passed.

"Tommy," said Varney, "I'm bound for the hotel on business, but I'm not
going to pull you away from all the fun--"

"Wut, that? That ain't no fun, sir."

"Don't you suppose I know fun when I meet it in the road, you little
rascal? You stay here till it's all over and then I want you to come
down to the yacht, and we'll have some dinner. Then I'll put you up for
the night and to-morrow morning we'll go to New York together, eh? How's
that?"

But Tommy said: "Nawser. We can't go yet. Somebody sent me to bring you.
We got a car'dge here--"

"A carriage?"

"A victori'," emphasized Tommy.

"A victoria! All this on three bucks, Tommy! Well, well! You are the
spender, though."

"Here's _our_ victori'!" said Tommy proudly.

They halted abruptly before an open carriage ... a victoria, indeed: a
handsome double victoria, all polished dark wood and blue upholstery and
shining nickeled harness, and sleek bay horses. This he saw in the first
flash, wondering by what miracle Tommy Orrick had secured control of so
glorious an equipage. And then ... there was the pretty edge of a
furbelowed skirt upon the carriage-floor ... a dainty patent-leather toe
upon the foot-rest ... an unrolling panorama of white-gloved hands, pale
buff dress, great plumed hat, eyes not seen yet known to be blue to
match the upholstery ... an exquisite lady sitting in the victoria. And
this lady had recognized his presence, first with a faint frightened
"Oh!" and then with a movement of those great hat-plumes which was
beyond all doubt or cavil a bow ... a bow of proper and civil greeting.

For him that meeting was stunning in its entire unexpectedness. The
landscape went off in protest, exploded in pyrotechnic marvels; the
earth spun and cavorted; the solar system was disrupted and planets ran
amuck with din unbelievable. But he was used to these cataclysms now,
and out of the roar of breakage he heard a voice much like his own
saying pleasantly:

"Tommy refers to this calmly as _his_ carriage, Miss Carstairs. See what
a week of New York has done for him. Where did he disappear to--did you
notice? A great day it has been"--in the rising inflection of
farewell--"hasn't it?"

Came out of space in answer, like a fluttering bird from nowhere, a
voice that had once seemed music in his ears:

"I sent him ... to look for you. They said that you were ... ill.
Perhaps you would let us drive you to the river?"

"And make you miss the speech?" continued this easy and agreeable young
man, whom Laurence Varney, a great distance off, stood dumbly and
watched from the swirling void with a certain remote admiration. "Of
course not. I was never better in my life and the walk will be pleasant
on so nice an afternoon. But thank you very much."

Again his tone held the faint inflection of finality, of leave-taking.
Came again the voice like tossed chimes out of space:

"Then ... won't you stay and hear the end? It would please Mr. Hare.
From this carriage ... you can see and hear everything very well."

"Thank you," said the debonair spirit, rather carelessly--while
Laurence Varney, off in another world, clutched at the invitation,
fought for it, lied, thieved, prayed, lived and died for it--"I'm afraid
I must go on now."

"There is something I wanted to say. And ... a message."

A shuffling of the cosmos, a shrieking readjustment of the universe, and
he found himself sitting on a blue upholstered seat staring at two great
golden moons, which later on turned out to be, after all, mere burnished
buttons upon a coachman's purple back.

So, not for the first time, the sudden meeting with a lady knocked from
the young man's head all recollection of his enemy. And if their parting
had taken place in the entire privacy of a country road, their
re-meeting, certainly, was in the fullest view of the many. Only,
luckily, nobody chanced to be looking, or within eavesdropping distance;
and even the coachman presently removed himself to stand at his horses'
restive heads. Tommy's carriage happened to be the last one in the line.
Behind it the street was a desert. Before it was nothing but a packed
army of backs.

"I did not know that you were here until Mr. Hare spoke. And they all
began to look...."

"Mr. Hackley especially invited me to share his porch ..." and the other
Varney, not the one who sat so stiff and mute, desperate eyes glued on
the far horizon, but the easy, negligent Varney, gay dare-devil that he
was, actually achieved a pleasant laugh. "I must show you his note. It's
been a long time since I have had anything to please me so much."

He unfolded and held out into the blue empyrean a rather soiled bit of
paper, which a small white-gloved hand descended from heaven like a dove
and took. Then, presumably, this was duly read:

  MR. VARNEY. dear sir: Announcment of Election will
  be made in the Squair this p.m. around 6 p.m. Would
  feel onered if you would come to my Poarch where everthink
  can be seen & heard & no crouding, Josle ect.
  Will call at your Yot with horse and Bugy around 5 p.m.
  this p.m. if agreble though you don't nead no eskort anywairs
  in Hunston, the Unfortunit mistaik having been
  diskovered. Noing your intrest in our Poltix will add
  that I voated for Mister Hair, first think this a.m. with
  sorro for the Past and hoapes for your Speady convlessense,

  Resp.

  J. HACKLEY.

  S.P.--Should you come to my Poarch all would no as
  bygorns was bygorns.

"Wasn't that kind of him?" he asked when the note had again come down
into the ornamental lap, which was the upper line of his range of
vision. "And thoughtful. But then everybody has been so wonderfully kind
to me. I think I shall remember Hunston as altogether the kindest town I
ever saw."

There was quite a silence after that.

"I am like Jim," came the voice beside him, troubled chimes waving
bravely, "in having wronged you by ... an unfortunate mistake. You have
forgiven him, haven't you ... let by-gones be by-gones? Can you do as
much ... for me?"

"Don't," he begged with sudden hoarseness--and there the mannersome
insouciant Varney waved an easy hand and blew himself away, like the
rascally light o' heels he was--"I have to ask forgiveness of you--not
give it," he said.

"You have much to forgive. That day in the road--I was angry. I was not
just ... not fair. I am mortified to remember ... what I said to you."

His heart contracted for the trouble in her voice; his spirit made
obeisance to the courage which carried her so perfectly through that
pretty suit for pardon; but for himself--

"There is not one thing--believe me--that your goodness can reproach
itself for--not one thing for you to be sorry for. If you have forgiven
me now--for all that you had to forgive--I go away quite happy."

His first easy composure, which far outmatched her own, had unsteadied
her. His wasted and scarred face, which she had been quite unprepared
for, had shocked her inexpressibly. And now there was this new thought
knocking at the door of her mind--that he was going away quite happy.

"There was something else I wanted to tell you ... if you could wait a
moment ... some news."

He turned toward her with a movement of pleasant interest, meant to
verify his recent gallant promise; but he turned so quickly that his
face had no time to come into the kindly conspiracy, and no triumph of
hyperbole could have described its look as happy.

"Yes? Good news, I hope?"

"I won't ... be cowardly and let you think that this was accidental ...
my seeing you ... and telling you that I'm sorry. We--we were going to
drive down to the yacht ... after the speeches were over. I don't
understand it all yet, but this afternoon a great thing happened. There
came a letter from my father ... and everything is all settled now. He
... wants my mother ... more than me, now. Why shouldn't I tell you? It
is what I have longed for ... prayed for every night ... for twelve
years. We are going to New York--to-morrow--to see my father."

His great gladness at that made him forget himself entirely, and for the
first time he could look at her.

"Why, I can't _tell_ you how glad I am! How tremendously happy that
makes me!"

She sat back in her cushioned seat, still as a sculptured lady, hands
clasped on her silken lap, eyes gone off down the street, though not for
vision, to where Hare was thundering a splendid peroration. He had
already become aware, without looking at her, that she was richly and
beautifully dressed; but he was hardly prepared for the effect which
such a setting would have upon her face. For all his conjuring of
memory, he had forgotten that she looked quite like that....

"Yes ... it makes me happy, too. And my mother wants to ask you--no, I
do--that is, both of us want to ask you--if you won't allow us to go
down ... in the yacht?"

Misunderstanding, the senseless world started mad antics again; but
Intelligence, which saw more clearly, reached out a long arm and jerked
it firmly back on its feet.

"Allow you! It's exactly what I'd like most _immensely_. She's all ready
for you--I'll have my things off her in no time--catch the eight-ten
to-night and go straight to congratulate Uncle Elbert. How great to see
him so happy! I 'll run right down to the yacht this minute and attend
to it."

"There is nothing to attend to ... is there? You said she was all ready.
Of course we could not let you--leave her. We could not go in the yacht
... unless you will go with us."

But speech stuck in his throat like a bone gone wrong. She would get no
help from him; that was evident. If suffering had wrought miracles of
absolution, she alone could make that plain.

"You came to Hunston ... to take me to my father ... didn't you?" said
Mary Carstairs. "Why ... won't you do it?"

A fugitive wave of pallor ran up her cheek, leaving its white trail
behind. She knew now that she had said the last word to him that she
could say, and that if he wanted to go away, he must go. The heavy
curtain of her lashes fell, veiling her eyes ... but, as it chanced,
fell slowly. He had turned at her words, very quickly; he caught the
curtain half-drawn, and a look come and gone like an arrow had shot
through those windows into the lit place beyond.

"I could only do that," he began unsteadily--"I--you know how it is with
me.... To the longest day I live--I'll love you ... with every breath I
draw. I could not do that--unless ... Will you marry me?"

The stillness about them then was like a tangible thing, measureless and
infinite. But into it faltered almost at once that voice like silver
bells.

"If you're _perfectly sure_ you want me to," said Mary faintly.

Her eyes met his in a wonderful union, divinely sealed the promise of
her lips, stamped it forever and ever with a heavenly stamp....

The bay horses curveted and pranced, the coachman sprang to his seat, a
big red motor backed, snorted, honked, and whizzed past them. The
speechmaking was over. The little line of gay carriages, breaking itself
into pieces, was maneuvering for rights of way homeward. The bay horses,
turning, too, were caught in the press and must needs go slowly: so that
the whole vivid pageant might have been but the ordered setting for this
moment--for Laurence Varney and the girl he had sworn to carry home to
her father....

In the square, the lingering crowd, attuned to cheering, was summoning
one name after another to noisy felicitation. Out of the tumult rose one
persistent voice, clamoring a changeless request. Yes, it was Hackley's
voice, very near, evidently on his own front porch, and he was saying
over and over: "Lemme ask you! Lemme ask you!" And about the moment the
victoria--Tommy's victori' (Tommy himself, if the truth be known, riding
snugly on the back springs at that very moment)--got safely put about,
Mr. Hackley secured what public notice he required and divulged the
nature of his request.

"_Fellers, what's the matter with Varney_?"

Instantly a thousand voices pulverized the man's fatuous anxiety. Hard
after, as the gallant slogan swept on to make assurance doubly sure,
they gave back the name in a roar like the rush of waters....

But the man for whom all the voices strained themselves did not hear
their doubt-destroying response, tumultuous though it was. Another
voice, close beside him, had taken up that refrain, making all others
inaudible, a shy, glad, whispering voice of chimes.

"_He's all right_."

The common words were glorified by that voice, made over into a sweet
and solemn benediction. He sat very silent, humbled and awed by the
revealed visage of his own great happiness. At last she found courage to
venture a look at him; and she saw that over his pale and disfigured
face there had come a kind of glory, the joy of sudden peace out of
pain.

Soon he spoke; and his words at first seemed to her very far afield,
though there was that in his unsteadied voice which reassured her beyond
speech.

"Would you mind stopping at the hotel--only a minute? I--have an old
enemy there, and I feel that I _must_ see him."

"Oh, no, no!--must you? Oh, please--I can't let you go now! And I am
afraid--afraid of what might happen--"

She stopped on that, somehow gathering without looking at him that she
had not followed his thought.

"I want to take him by the hand," said Varney, "and tell him that it's
all right now."

There was a light carriage-robe about them, for the vanished sun had
left the breath of autumn in the air; and beneath it her hand, from
which the white glove had been stripped, touched and was suddenly
gathered into his own. A glorious tremble shot through his body; and now
he could turn his shining face fully toward her.

"You aren't thinking that I could keep an enemy _to-day_!"

As the carriage stopped before the hotel entrance, he added:

"And I must tell him not to bother Peter any more. You see, Peter's a
fine man, but he hasn't got my reasons for being--in love with all the
world. I--I--I hate to go. Our first parting has come soon. But--this is
a duty, and--and--good-bye!"

She never forgot the look upon his face.

"Good-bye. And oh! would you please _hurry_?"

With an herculean effort he detached himself from the carriage and
rushed into the hotel. The same bored-looking clerk was sitting behind
the desk, paring the same nails with the same office scissors. But this
time, at sight of Varney, he sprang instantly to his feet, all smiles
and eagerness to serve.

"Why, _good_ evening, Mr. Varney! Well, sir! You're lookin' better'n we
expected, and I tell you Hunston's mighty glad to see you up and about
again."

Varney marveled how he had ever formed such a mean opinion of the clerk,
whom he now saw to be a decidedly likable young man.

"Thank you--thank you! It's a wonderful little city--Hunston--wonderful!
Try a few of these cigars--that's right; fill your pocket. And would you
be good enough to send my card up to Mr. Higginson? Perhaps I'd better
write just a line--"

"Mr. Higginson's in the small parlor, Mr. Varney--straight down the
corridor. Yes, sir! Just came down and went in--I think he saw you
coming--"

"And ran away again? Why, bless me, what's the old chap afraid of?"

He started gayly down the dim hall to the right of the desk, swinging
his stick and humming to himself; and presently became aware that a man
was following silently at his elbow.

"It's me--Callery," said the man apologetically, as Varney turned. "I--I
'll just be here, Mr. Varney, you know, if anything's wanted."

Varney laughed again. "You're mighty good to me, Mr. Callery," he said
cordially--"you and Mr. Stobo--I can't tell you how much I appreciate
it. But it isn't a bit of use, you know! I'm positively not going to
kill anybody to-day."

"Yes, sir," said Callery. "Here's the door, Mr. Varney."

"This one?"

"Yes, sir. He come runnin' down the steps, spoke a word to the clerk,
and then he dodges down here and slams the door behind him. Seen you
through the window, I guess--"

"Well, I'll just step in and have a look at him, Mr. Gallery. Excuse me
a minute."

He rapped on the closed door and called in a loud cheery voice: "Mr.
Higginson."

"Come in," said a voice from within--a rather agitated voice which had a
curiously familiar ring in the young man's ears.

Varney swung open the door, stepped into the small parlor, and (greatly
to the disappointment of Mr. Gallery) closed the door behind him.

In the middle of the room, staring nervously toward the door, stood a
handsome elderly gentleman, of distinguished presence and clothes of a
rather notable perfection. At sight of him the young man's advance
halted in utter bewilderment, and he fell back limply against the shut
door.

But the elderly gentleman came running toward him with a suppressed cry,
and seizing the young man's hand disarmingly in both his own, threw
himself almost hysterically upon his apologia.

"Can you forgive me, my boy? Ah, I'll confess that I've dreaded this
meeting, while longing for it, too! You look badly--ah, very
badly!--yet--not bitter, not resentful--thank God, not unhappy! My boy,
can you find it in your heart to forgive an old man who has suffered
deeply for his sins?"

Out of his whirling confusion, his insane sense of the world suddenly
gone upside down and the familiar order stood upon its head, the young
man laughed dazedly. But he kept tight hold of the old one's hand, and
fell to patting it with wild reassurance.

"Everything's all right--all right! Yes, indeed, sir. Of course! But I
don't understand--I don't grasp--I came here looking for--Are
you--_you_--Mr. Higginson?"

"Ah, you hadn't guessed then? And yet who could wonder, such a terrible,
frightful mix-up as it all became! You see," the old gentleman hurried
on, lowering his gaze, yet already recovering something of his normal
composure, "you had scarcely started before I--I became strangely uneasy
over the--seriousness of the matter and the possible consequences,
and--and decided that I had best come on myself in--in a private manner,
merely to have an eye on things. Believe me, that was all I meant. But I
did not dare let you know that I was here, even in that way, having
promised you that I would not interfere, and besides--I feared that you
might think I had--ah--withheld the full facts about--her age."

In an access of nervous self-consciousness, the old man's voice trailed
to an uncertain pause; and Varney comforted him with a burst of
bewildered laughter.

"Forgive my glassy stare--no offence intended, but my head's going
around, Mr. Higginson! It's all still nebulous, you
know--topsy-turvy--incredible! That day of the luncheon, now--the
mysterious warning--the bribe to Ferguson to smash up the yacht--"

A fine flush spread over the old man's face to the roots of his
silvered hair. Yet it was obvious that the young man's unaffected
cordiality had heartened him immensely.

"Well, you see, my dear boy," he began, embarrassedly, "by that time I
had met her--she was so sweet to me from the start--and I began to hope
that such heroic, such painful, measures might not be necessary. Yet
perhaps they would be, after all, and so--ah, I did wrong, I
know--wrong!--and yet--don't you see how inevitably it all came about? I
did not dare communicate with you, begging you to let matters stand a
few days--fearing that upon learning of my presence you would simply
abandon the commission entirely, and God knows you would have been
justified in doing so. Yet I longed to postpone the--the final step,
holding it in reserve, in the ardent hope that it might be avoided
entirely. So I--gave instructions to Ferguson. It was wrong not to trust
you, and oh, I have been punished for it, suffered miserably--"

"_Dear_ sir! I'm so sorry! But that is all past now--all past--and
to-day all's right with the world!"

The old man's hands tightened their earnest clasp. Tears sprang suddenly
into his fine eyes.

"But oh, I have been richly blest, too--far beyond my deserts! The night
that you were hurt--I came quite unexpectedly face to face with Mrs.
Carstairs at the cottage. We had a long talk that night--a wonderful
talk, which gave me a totally new point of view, brought me new light
and peace. And now--everything is arranged, and if you have truly
forgiven me, I am happy as I never dreamed for happiness again."

"Forgiven you! For what, dear sir? Why, don't you begin to guess yet
what you have done for me?"

He tucked the old man's hand masterfully under his arm, and drew him to
the door.

"God bless you, boy, for what _you've_ done for me and mine.
But--where--where are we going?"

"Out into the world," said Varney, "where Mary Carstairs is waiting for
you and me."

"But--but--I feel extremely nervous--does she know?"

"She is going to know in about thirty seconds, and we are the three
happiest people in America."

"I think," said the old man palely, "that she--she likes me--"

"In less than a minute," said the young one, "she is going to love you."

His voice betrayed him a little on the words, but he instantly recovered
his poise, and, hand on the knob, faced the other with his gayest smile.

"Tell me, Mr. Higginson--_did_ you skip to New York that afternoon, when
Maginnis and I, you know, dashed up here to assassinate you?"

"Yes," replied the handsome old intriguer with a nervous cough, "yes,
I--you see, it had been reported to me that Mr. Maginnis had threatened
to horsewhip me in the public square, after my attempt to buy the paper
and save us all from scandal. So naturally, on the afternoon you
mention, I--I anticipated trouble. However, I quietly returned to
Hunston on the next train back, going, of course, to a different hotel,
a most dreadful little place--"

Varney shouted.

"It's just as Peter said, I declare! You're the noblest plotter of them
all, Mr. Higginson. Dear old Hunston will not look upon your like
again."

The two enemies came out into the corridor arm-in-arm, and advanced in
utter amity to the doorway. And as they walked, Varney's tongue
unloosed, and he spoke his still incredible happiness aloud: only,
because he was not Latin and exuberant, he spoke it according to the
indirect uses of his race.

"That man we passed standing in the hall--the one with the face of
incredulity and chagrin--was old Callery--horribly miffed because you
and I failed to lock in mortal combat. He's a fine fellow, Callery is,
only I imagine he's had a lot of hard luck. Did you ever see a prettier
little hotel than this--I mean, of course, for a town of this size?
_Look_! That's the clerk behind the desk there. An amazingly clever
fellow--you just ought to have seen how sharp he was in knowing where
you were--and that's a _Cypriani_ cigar he's smoking, if you'd like to
know. Jim Hackley's house is just over on the other corner--why, you can
_see_ it from here. I want you to know Hackley, sir! A great big
whimsical fellow with a fist like a ham and a heart like a woman's....
Ah!..."

They emerged from the hotel upon the noisy street, still lively with the
rush of home-goers; and now the two men stood side by side before the
waiting carriage, and Varney's flow of talk had ceased.

From the square there came the shouts of many lingerers, making merry
in the tail of the great day according to their desire. Down either
sidewalk poured a stream of people, laughing, talking, and calling to
each other; the street still rumbled under passing vehicles; the Palace
Hotel, in particular, had become a lodestone and near to Tommy's
victoria much human traffic converged. In truth, it was a public place
where all who wished could see, and many did see. Yet there was nothing
in the little scene to fix the gaze of the casual wayfarer: a young girl
sitting in a well-appointed carriage, and two men, one young and one
old, approaching with bared heads to speak to her. Only a close observer
would have been likely to notice that the old man's cheek was markedly
pale, and that upon the marred face of the younger one there had
descended a strange and solemn look....

For Mary there had been no surprise in seeing the young man come out to
her with the old one on his arm--had he not told her that he went in
peace?--and even the glorious metamorphosis in Mr. Higginson's
appearance quite failed to arrest her attention. She had smoothed his
approach with a welcoming smile and the beginning of a gay greeting; but
her eyes were for her lover. And now as she saw the look on Varney's
face, and became aware of the odd and impressive silence in which he
stood, like one called to officiate at some high ceremony, understanding
incredibly dawned within her, and she was suddenly without speech or
breath. Her little greeting was never finished; all at once her face,
grown wonderfully sweet, was whiter than the old man's own; and the
eyes which she now turned back to him were full and overfull of tears.

"Miss Carstairs," said Varney, not quite steadily, "may I have the great
honor of presenting your father?"


THE END





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