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´╗┐Title: Green Fancy
Author: McCutcheon, George Barr, 1866-1928
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Green Fancy" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THE RED GLEAM FROM THE BLAZING LOGS FELL UPON HER
SHINING HAIR; IT GLISTENED LIKE GOLD. SHE WORE A SIMPLE EVENING GOWN OF
WHITE.]

GREEN FANCY

BY

GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

AUTHOR OF "GRAUSTARK," "THE HOLLOW OF HER HAND," "THE PRINCE OF
GRAUSTARK," ETC.

WITH FRONTISPIECE BY C. ALLAN GILBERT

NEW YORK

1917



CONTENTS


I.     THE FIRST WAYFARER AND THE SECOND WAYFARER MEET AND PART ON THE
         HIGHWAY

II.    THE FIRST WAYFARER LAYS HIS PACK ASIDE AND FALLS IN WITH
         FRIENDS

III.   MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE
         AWAY

IV.    AN EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERMAID, A MIDNIGHT TRAGEDY, AND A MAN WHO
         SAID "THANK YOU"

V.     THE FARM-BOY TELLS A GHASTLY STORY, AND AN IRISHMAN ENTERS

VI.    CHARITY BEGINS FAR FROM HOME, AND A STROLL IN THE WILDWOOD
         FOLLOWS

VII.   SPUN-GOLD HAIR, BLUE EYES, AND VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS

VIII.  A NOTE, SOME FANCIES, AND AN EXPEDITION IN QUEST OF FACTS

IX.    THE FIRST WAYFARER, THE SECOND WAYFARER, AND THE SPIRIT OF
         CHIVALRY ASCENDANT

X.     THE PRISONER OF GREEN FANCY, AND THE LAMENT OF PETER THE
         CHAUFFEUR

XI.    MR. SPROUSE ABANDONS LITERATURE AT AN EARLY HOUR IN THE MORNING

XII.   THE FIRST WAYFARER ACCEPTS AN INVITATION, AND MR. DILLINGFORD
         BELABORS A PROXY

XIII.  THE SECOND WAYFARER RECEIVES TWO VISITORS AT MIDNIGHT

XIV.   A FLIGHT, A STONE-CUTTER'S SHED, AND A VOICE OUTSIDE

XV.    LARGE BODIES MOVE SLOWLY,--BUT MR. SPROUSE WAS SMALLER THAN THE
         AVERAGE

XVI.   THE FIRST WAYFARER VISITS A SHRINE, CONFESSES, AND TAKES AN
         OATH

XVII.  THE SECOND WAYFARER IS TRANSFORMED, AND MARRIAGE IS FLOUTED

XVIII. MR. SPROUSE CONTINUES TO BE PERPLEXING, BUT PUTS HIS NOSE TO
         THE GROUND

XIX.   A TRIP BY NIGHT, A SUPPER, AND A LATE ARRIVAL

XX.    THE FIRST WAYFARER HAS ONE TREASURE THRUST UPON HIM,--AND
         FORTHWITH CLAIMS ANOTHER

XXI.   THE END IN SIGHT



CHAPTER I

THE FIRST WAYFARER AND THE SECOND WAYFARER MEET AND PART ON THE HIGHWAY


A solitary figure trudged along the narrow road that wound its
serpentinous way through the dismal, forbidding depths of the forest: a
man who, though weary and footsore, lagged not in his swift, resolute
advance. Night was coming on, and with it the no uncertain prospects of
storm. Through the foliage that overhung the wretched road, his
ever-lifting and apprehensive eye caught sight of the thunder-black,
low-lying clouds that swept over the mountain and bore down upon the
green, whistling tops of the trees. At a cross-road below he had
encountered a small girl driving homeward the cows. She was afraid of
the big, strange man with the bundle on his back and the stout walking
stick in his hand: to her a remarkable creature who wore "knee pants"
and stockings like a boy on Sunday, and hob-nail shoes, and a funny
coat with "pleats" and a belt, and a green hat with a feather sticking
up from the band. His agreeable voice and his amiable smile had no
charm for her. He merely wanted to know how far it was to the nearest
village, but she stared in alarm and edged away as if preparing to
break into mad flight the instant she was safely past him with a clear
way ahead.

"Don't be afraid," he said gently. "And here! Catch it if you can." He
tossed a coin across the road. It struck at her feet and rolled into
the high grass. She did not divert her gaze for the fraction of a
second. "I'm a stranger up here and I want to find some place to sleep
for the night. Surely you have a tongue, haven't you?" By dint of
persuasive smiles and smirks that would have sickened him at any other
time he finally induced her to say that if he kept right on until he
came to the turnpike he would find a sign-post telling him where to get
gasolene.

"But I don't want gasolene. I want bread and butter," he said.

"Well, you can git bread an' butter there too," she said. "Food fer man
an' beast, it says."

"A hotel?"

"Whut?"

"A boarding-house?" he substituted.

"It's a shindy," she said, painfully. "Men get drunk there. Pap calls
it a tavern, but Ma says it's a shindy."

"A road-house, eh?" She was puzzled--and silent. "Thank you. You'll
find the quarter in the grass. Good-bye."

He lifted his queer green hat and strode away, too much of a gentleman
to embarrass her by looking back. If he had done so he would have seen
her grubbing stealthily in the grass, not with her brown little hands,
but with the wriggling toes of a bare foot on which the mud, perhaps of
yesterday, had caked. She was too proud to stoop.

At last he came to the "pike" and there, sure enough, was the
sign-post. A huge, crudely painted hand pointed to the left, and on
what was intended to be the sleeve of a very stiff and unflinching arm
these words were printed in scaly white: "Hart's Tavern. Food for Man
and Beast. Also Gasolene. Established 1798. 1 mile." "Also Gasolene"
was freshly painted and crowded its elders in a most disrespectful
manner.

The chill spring wind of the gale was sweeping in the direction
indicated by the giant forefinger. There was little consolation in the
thought that a mile lay between him and shelter, but it was a relief to
know that he would have the wind at his back. Darkness was settling
over the land. The lofty hills seemed to be closing in as if to smother
the breath out of this insolent adventurer who walked alone among them.
He was an outsider. He did not belong there. He came from the lowlands
and he was an object of scorn.

On the opposite side of the "pike," in the angle formed by a junction
with the narrow mountain road, stood a humbler sign-post, lettered so
indistinctly that it deserved the compassion of all observers because
of its humility. Swerving in his hurried passage, the tall stranger
drew near this shrinking friend to the uncertain traveller, and was
suddenly aware of another presence in the roadway.

A woman appeared, as if from nowhere, almost at his side. He drew back
to let her pass. She stopped before the little sign-post, and together
they made out the faint directions.

To the right and up the mountain road Frogg's Corner lay four miles and
a half away; Pitcairn was six miles back over the road which the man
had travelled. Two miles and a half down the turnpike was Spanish
Falls, a railway station, and four miles above the cross-roads where
the man and woman stood peering through the darkness at the laconic
sign-post reposed the village of Saint Elizabeth. Hart's Tavern was on
the road to Saint Elizabeth, and the man, with barely a glance at his
fellow-traveller, started briskly off in that direction.

Lightning was flashing fitfully beyond the barrier heights and faraway
thunder came to his ears. He knew that these wild mountain storms moved
swiftly; his chance of reaching the tavern ahead of the deluge was
exceedingly slim. His long, powerful legs had carried him twenty or
thirty paces before he came to a sudden halt.

What of this lone woman who traversed the highway? Obviously she too
was a stranger on the road, and a glance over his shoulder supported a
first impression: she was carrying a stout travelling bag. His first
glimpse of her had been extremely casual,--indeed he had paid no
attention to her at all, so eager was he to read the directions and be
on his way.

She was standing quite still in front of the sign-post, peering up the
road toward Frogg's Corner,--confronted by a steep climb that led into
black and sinister timberlands above the narrow strip of pasture
bordering the pike.

The fierce wind pinned her skirts to her slender body as she leaned
against the gale, gripping her hat tightly with one hand and straining
under the weight of the bag in the other. The ends of a veil whipped
furiously about her head, and, even in the gathering darkness, he could
see a strand or two of hair keeping them company.

He hesitated. Evidently her way was up the steep, winding road and into
the dark forest, a far from appealing prospect. Not a sign of
habitation was visible along the black ridge of the wood; no lighted
window peeped down from the shadows, no smoke curled up from unseen
kitchen stoves. Gallantry ordered him to proffer his aid or, at the
least, advice to the woman, be she young or old, native or stranger.

Retracing his steps, he called out to her above the gale:

"Can I be of any assistance to you?"

She turned quickly. He saw that the veil was drawn tightly over her
face.

"No, thank you," she replied. Her voice, despite a certain nervous
note, was soft and clear and gentle,--the voice and speech of a
well-bred person who was young and resolute.

"Pardon me, but have you much farther to go? The storm will soon be
upon us, and--surely you will not consider me presumptuous--I don't
like the idea of your being caught out in--"

"What is to be done about it?" she inquired, resignedly. "I must go on.
I can't wait here, you know, to be washed back to the place I started
from."

He smiled. She had wit as well as determination. There was the
suggestion of mirth in her voice--and certainly it was a most pleasing,
agreeable voice.

"If I can be of the least assistance to you, pray don't hesitate to
command me. I am a sort of tramp, you might say, and I travel as well
by night as I do by day,--so don't feel that you are putting me to any
inconvenience. Are you by any chance bound for Hart's Tavern? If so, I
will be glad to lag behind and carry your bag."

"You are very good, but I am not bound for Hart's Tavern, wherever that
may be. Thank you, just the same. You appear to be an uncommonly
genteel tramp, and it isn't because I am afraid you might make off with
my belongings." She added the last by way of apology.

He smiled--and then frowned as he cast an uneasy look at the black
clouds now rolling ominously up over the mountain ridge.

"By Jove, we're going to catch it good and hard," he exclaimed. "Better
take my advice. These storms are terrible. I know, for I've encountered
half a dozen of them in the past week. They fairly tear one to pieces."

"Are you trying to frighten me?"

"Yes," he confessed. "Better to frighten you in advance than to let it
come later on when you haven't any one to turn to in your terror. You
are a stranger in these parts?"

"Yes. The railway station is a few miles below here. I have walked all
the way. There was no one to meet me. You are a stranger also, so it is
useless to inquire if you know whether this road leads to Green Fancy."

"Green Fancy? Sounds attractive. I'm sorry I can't enlighten you." He
drew a small electric torch from his pocket and directed its slender
ray upon the sign-post. So fierce was the gale by this time that he was
compelled to brace his strong body against the wind.

"It is on the road to Frogg's Corner," she explained nervously. "A mile
and a half, so I am told. It isn't on the sign-post. It is a house, not
a village. Thank you for your kindness. And I am not at all
frightened," she added, raising her voice slightly.

"But you ARE" he cried. "You're scared half out of your wits. You can't
fool me. I'd be scared myself at the thought of venturing into those
woods up yonder."

"Well, then, I AM frightened," she confessed plaintively. "Almost out
of my boots."

"That settles it," he said flatly. "You shall not undertake it."

"Oh, but I must. I am expected. It is import--"

"If you are expected, why didn't some one meet you at the station?
Seems to me--"

"Hark! Do you hear--doesn't that sound like an automobile--Ah!" The
hoarse honk of an automobile horn rose above the howling wind, and an
instant later two faint lights came rushing toward them around a bend
in the mountain road. "Better late than never," she cried, her voice
vibrant once more.

He grasped her arm and jerked her out of the path of the on-coming
machine, whose driver was sending it along at a mad rate, regardless of
ruts and stones and curves. The car careened as it swung into the pike,
skidded alarmingly, and then the brakes were jammed down. Attended by a
vast grinding of gears and wheels, the rattling old car came to a stop
fifty feet or more beyond them.

"I'd sooner walk than take my chances in an antediluvian rattle-trap
like that," said the tall wayfarer, bending quite close to her ear. "It
will fall to pieces before you--"

But she was running down the road towards the car, calling out sharply
to the driver. He stooped over and took up the travelling bag she had
dropped in her haste and excitement. It was heavy, amazingly heavy.

"I shouldn't like to carry that a mile and a half," he said to himself.

The voice of the belated driver came to his ears on the swift wind. It
was high pitched and unmistakably apologetic. He could not hear what
she was saying to him, but there wasn't much doubt as to the nature of
her remarks. She was roundly upbraiding him.

Urged to action by thoughts of his own plight, he hurried to her side
and said:

"Excuse me, please. You dropped something. Shall I put it up in front
or in the tonneau?"

The whimsical note in his voice brought a quick, responsive laugh from
her lips.

"Thank you so much. I am frightfully careless with my valuables. Would
you mind putting it in behind? Thanks!" Her tone altered completely as
she ordered the man to turn the car around--"And be quick about it,"
she added.

The first drops of rain pelted down from the now thoroughly black dome
above them, striking in the road with the sharpness of pebbles.

"Lucky it's a limousine," said the tall traveller. "Better hop in.
We'll be getting it hard in a second or two."

"I can't very well hop in while he's backing and twisting like that,
can I?" she laughed. He was acutely aware of a strained, nervous note
in her voice, as of one who is confronted by an undertaking calling for
considerable fortitude.

"Are you quite sure of this man?" he asked.

"Absolutely," she replied, after a pause.

"You know him, eh?"

"By reputation," she said briefly, and without a trace of laughter.

"Well, that comforts me to some extent," he said, but dubiously.

She was silent for a moment and then turned to him impulsively.

"You must let me take you on to the Tavern in the car," she said. "Turn
about is fair play. I cannot allow you to--"

"Never mind about me," he broke in cheerily. He had been wondering if
she would make the offer, and he felt better now that she had done so.
"I'm accustomed to roughing it. I don't mind a soaking. I've had
hundreds of 'em."

"Just the same, you shall not have one to-night," she announced firmly.
The car stopped beside them. "Get in behind. I shall sit with the
driver."

If any one had told him that this rattling, dilapidated
automobile,--ten years old, at the very least, he would have
sworn,--was capable of covering the mile in less than two minutes, he
would have laughed in his face. Almost before he realised that they
were on the way up the straight, dark road, the lights in the windows
of Hart's Tavern came into view. Once more the bounding, swaying car
came to a stop under brakes, and he was relaxing after the strain of
the most hair-raising ride he had ever experienced.

Not a word had been spoken during the trip. The front windows were
lowered. The driver,--an old, hatchet-faced man,--had uttered a single
word just before throwing in the clutch at the cross-roads in response
to the young woman's crisp command to drive to Hart's Tavern. That word
was uttered under his breath and it is not necessary to repeat it here.

He lost no time in climbing out of the car. As he leaped to the ground
and raised his green hat, he took a second look at the automobile,--a
look of mingled wonder and respect. It was an old-fashioned,
high-powered Panhard, capable, despite its antiquity, of astonishing
speed in any sort of going.

"For heaven's sake," he began, shouting to her above the roar of the
wind and rain, "don't let him drive like that over those--"

"You're getting wet," she cried out, a thrill in her voice. "Good
night,--and thank you!"

"Look out!" rasped the unpleasant driver, and in went the clutch. The
man in the road jumped hastily to one side as the car shot backward
with a jerk, curved sharply, stopped for the fraction of a second, and
then bounded forward again, headed for the cross-roads.

"Thanks!" shouted the late passenger after the receding tail light, and
dashed up the steps to the porch that ran the full length of Hart's
Tavern. In the shelter of its low-lying roof, he stopped short and once
more peered down the dark, rain-swept road. A flash of lightning
revealed the flying automobile. He waited for a second flash. It came
an instant later, but the car was no longer visible. He shook his head.
"I hope the blamed old fool knows what he's doing, hitting it up like
that over a wet road. There'll be a double funeral in this neck of the
woods if anything goes wrong," he reflected. Still shaking his head, he
faced the closed door of the Tavern.

A huge, old-fashioned lantern hung above the portal, creaking and
straining in the wind, dragging at its stout supports and threatening
every instant to break loose and go frolicking away with the storm.

The sound of the rain on the clap-board roof was deafening. At the
lower end of the porch the water swished in with all the velocity of a
gigantic wave breaking over a ship at sea. The wind howled, the thunder
roared and almost like cannon-fire were the successive crashes of
lightning among the trees out there in the path of fury.

There were lights in several of the windows opening upon the porch; the
wooden shutters not only were ajar but were banging savagely against
the walls. Even in the dim, grim light shed by the lantern he could see
that the building was of an age far beyond the ken of any living man.
He recalled the words of the informing sign-post: "Established in
1798." One hundred and eighteen years old, and still baffling the
assaults of all the elements in a region where they were never timid!

It may, in all truth, be a "shindy," thought he, but it had led a
gallant life.

The broad, thick weather-boarding, overlapping in layers, was brown
with age and smooth with the polishing of time and the backs, no doubt,
of countless loiterers who had come and gone in the making of the
narrative that Hart's Tavern could relate. The porch itself, while old,
was comparatively modern; it did not belong to the century in which the
inn itself was built, for in those far-off days men did not waste time,
timber or thought on the unnecessary. While the planks in the floor
were worn and the uprights battered and whittled out of their pristine
shapeliness, they were but grandchildren to the parent building to
which they clung. Stout and, beyond question, venerable benches stood
close to the wall on both sides of the entrance. Directly over the
broad, low door with its big wooden latch and bar, was the word
"Welcome," rudely carved in the oak beam. It required no cultured eye
to see that the letters had been cut, deep and strong, into the timber,
not with the tool of the skilled wood carver but with the hunting knife
of an ambitious pioneer.

A shocking incongruity marred the whole effect. Suspended at the side
of this hundred-year-old doorway was a black and gold, shield-shaped
ornament of no inconsiderable dimensions informing the observer that a
certain brand of lager beer was to be had inside.

He lifted the latch and, being a tall man, involuntarily stooped as he
passed through the door, a needless precaution, for gaunt, gigantic
mountaineers had entered there before him and without bending their
arrogant heads.



CHAPTER II

THE FIRST WAYFARER LAYS HIS PACK ASIDE AND FALLS IN WITH FRIENDS


The little hall in which he found himself was the "office" through
which all men must pass who come as guests to Hart's Tavern. A steep,
angular staircase took up one end of the room. Set in beneath its upper
turn was the counter over which the business of the house was
transacted, and behind this a man was engaged in the peaceful
occupation of smoking a corn-cob pipe. He removed the pipe, brushed his
long moustache with the back of a bony hand, and bowed slowly and with
grave ceremony to the arrival.

An open door to the right of the stairway gave entrance to a room from
which came the sound of a deep, sonorous voice, employed in what turned
out to be a conversational solo. To the left another door led to what
was evidently the dining-room. The glance that the stranger sent in
that direction revealed two or three tables, covered with white cloths.

"Can you put me up for the night?" he inquired, advancing to the
counter.

"You look like a feller who'd want a room with bath," drawled the man
behind the counter, surveying the applicant from head to foot. "Which
we ain't got," he added.

"I'll be satisfied to have a room with a bed," said the other.

"Sign here," was the laconic response. He went to the trouble of
actually putting his finger on the line where the guest was expected to
write his name.

"Can I have supper?"

"Food for man and beast," said the other patiently. He slapped his palm
upon a cracked call-bell, and then looked at the fresh name on the
page. "Thomas K. Barnes, New York," he read aloud. He eyed the newcomer
once more. "And automobile?"

"No. I'm walking."

"Didn't I hear you just come up in a car?"

"A fellow gave me a lift from the cross-roads."

"I see. My name is Jones, Putnam Jones. I run this place. My father an'
grandfather run it before me. Glad to meet you, Mr. Barnes. We used to
have a hostler here named Barnes. What's your idea fer footin' it this
time o' the year?"

"I do something like this every spring. A month or six weeks of it puts
me in fine shape for a vacation later on," supplied Mr. Barnes
whimsically.

Mr. Jones allowed a grin to steal over his seamed face. He re-inserted
the corn-cob pipe and took a couple of pulls at it.

"I never been to New York, but it must be a heavenly place for a
vacation, if a feller c'n judge by what some of my present boarders
have to say about it. It's a sort of play-actor's paradise, ain't it?"

"It is paradise to every actor who happens to be on the road, Mr.
Jones," said Barnes, slipping his big pack from his shoulders and
letting it slide to the floor.

"Hear that feller in the tap-room talkin'? Well, he is one of the
leading actors in New York,--in the world, for that matter. He's been
talkin' about Broadway for nearly a week now, steady."

"May I enquire what he is doing up here in the wilds?"

"At present he ain't doing anything except talk. Last week he was
treadin' the boards, as he puts it himself. Busted. Up the flue. Showed
last Saturday night in Hornville, eighteen mile north of here, and
immediately after the performance him and his whole troupe started to
walk back to New York, a good four hunderd mile. They started out the
back way of the opery house and nobody missed 'em till next mornin'
except the sheriff, and he didn't miss 'em till they'd got over the
county line into our bailiwick. Four of 'em are still stoppin' here
just because I ain't got the heart to turn 'em out ner the spare money
to buy 'em tickets to New York. Here comes one of 'em now. Mr.
Dillingford, will you show this gentleman to room eleven, and carry his
baggage up fer him? And maybe he'll want a pitcher of warm water to
wash and shave in." He turned to the new guest and smiled
apologetically.

"We're a little short o' help just now, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Dillingford
has kindly consented to--"

"My God!" gasped Mr. Dillingford, staring at the register. "Some one
from little old New York? My word, sir, you--Won't you have
a--er--little something to drink with me before you--"

"He wants something to eat," interrupted Mr. Jones sharply. "Tell Mr.
Bacon to step up to his room and take the order."

"All right, old chap,--nothing easier," said Mr. Dillingford genially.
"Just climb up the elevator, Mr. Barnes. We do this to get up an
appetite. When did you leave New York?"

Taking up a lighted kerosene lamp and the heavy pack, Mr. Clarence
Dillingford led the way up the stairs. He was a chubby individual of
indefinite age. At a glance you would have said he was under
twenty-one; a second look would have convinced you that he was nearer
forty-one. He was quite shabby, but chin and cheek were as clean as
that of a freshly scrubbed boy. He may not have changed his collar for
days but he lived up to the traditions of his profession by shaving
twice every twenty-four hours.

Depositing Barnes' pack on a chair in the little bedroom at the end of
the hall upstairs, he favoured the guest with a perfectly unabashed
grin.

"I'm not doing this to oblige old man Jones, you know. I won't attempt
to deceive you. I'm working out a daily bread-bill. Chuck three times a
day and a bed to sleep in, that's what I'm doing it for, so don't get
it into your head that I applied for the job. Let me take a look at
you. I want to get a good square peep at a man who has the means to go
somewhere else and yet is boob enough to come to this gosh-awful place
of his own free will and accord. Darn it, you LOOK intelligent. I don't
get you at all. What's the matter? Are you a fugitive from justice?"

Barnes laughed aloud. There was no withstanding the fellow's sprightly
impudence.

"I happen to enjoy walking," said he.

"If I enjoyed it as much as you do, I'd be limping into Harlem by this
time," said Mr. Dillingford sadly. "But, you see, I'm an actor. I'm too
proud to walk."

"Up against poor business, I presume?"

"Up against no business at all," said Mr. Dillingford. "We couldn't
even get 'em to come in on passes. Last Saturday night we had out
enough paper to fill the house and, by gosh, only eleven people showed
up. You can't beat that, can you? Three of 'em paid to get in. That
made a dollar and a half, box office. We nearly had to give it back."

"Bad weather?" suggested Barnes feelingly. He had removed his wet coat,
and stood waiting.

"Nope. Moving pictures. They'd sooner pay ten cents to see a movie than
to come in and see us free. The old man was so desperate he tried to
kill himself the morning we arrived at this joint."

"You mean the star? Poison, rope or pistol?"

"Whiskey. He tried to drink himself to death. Before old Jones got onto
him he had put down seven dollars' worth of booze, and now we've got to
help wipe out the account. But why complain? It's all in a day's--"

The cracked bell on the office desk interrupted him, somewhat
peremptorially. Mr. Dillingford's face assumed an expression of
profound dignity. He lowered his voice as he gave vent to the following:

"That man Jones is the meanest human being God ever let--Yes, sir,
coming, sir!" He started for the open door with surprising alacrity.

"Never mind the hot water," said Barnes, sorry for the little man.

"No use," said Mr. Dillingford dejectedly. "He charges ten cents for
hot water. You've got to have it whether you want it or not. Remember
that you are in the very last stages of New England. The worst
affliction known to the human race. So long. I'll be back in two shakes
of a lamb's--" The remainder of his promise was lost in the rush of
exit.

Barnes surveyed the little bed-chamber. It was just what he had
expected it would be. The walls were covered with a garish paper
selected by one who had an eye but not a taste for colour: bright pink
flowers that looked more or less like chunks of a shattered water melon
spilt promiscuously over a background of pearl grey. There was every
indication that it had been hung recently. Indeed there was a distinct
aroma of fresh flour paste. The bedstead, bureau and washstand were
likewise offensively modern. Everything was as clean as a pin, however,
and the bed looked comfortable. He stepped to the small, many-paned
window and looked out into the night. The storm was at its height. In
all his life he never had heard such a clatter of rain, nor a wind that
shrieked so appallingly.

His thoughts went quite naturally to the woman who was out there in the
thick of it. He wondered how she was faring, and lamented that she was
not in his place now and he in hers. A smile lighted his eyes. She had
such a nice voice and such a quaint way of putting things into words.
What was she doing up in this God-forsaken country? And how could she
be so certain of that grumpy old man whom she had never laid eyes on
before? What was the name of the place she was bound for? Green Fancy!
What an odd name for a house! And what sort of house--

His reflections were interrupted by the return of Mr. Dillingford, who
carried a huge pewter pitcher from which steam arose in volume. At his
heels strode a tall, cadaverous person in a checked suit.

Never had Barnes seen anything quite so overpowering in the way of a
suit. Joseph's coat of many colours was no longer a vision of
childhood. It was a reality. The checks were an inch square, and each
cube had a narrow border of azure blue. The general tone was a dirty
grey, due no doubt to age and a constitution that would not allow it to
outlive its usefulness.

"Meet Mr. Bacon, Mr. Barnes," introduced Mr. Dillingford, going to the
needless exertion of indicating Mr. Bacon with a generous sweep of his
free hand. "Our heavy leads. Mr. Montague Bacon, also of New York."

"Ham and eggs, pork tenderloin, country sausage, rump steak and spring
chicken," said Mr. Bacon, in a cavernous voice, getting it over with
while the list was fresh in his memory. "Fried and boiled potatoes,
beans, succotash, onions, stewed tomatoes and--er--just a moment,
please. Fried and boiled potatoes, beans--"

"Learn your lines, Ague," said Mr. Dillingford, from the washstand. "We
call him Ague for short, Mr. Barnes, because he's always shaky with his
lines."

"Ham and eggs, potatoes and a cup or two of coffee," said Barnes,
suppressing a desire to laugh.

"And apple pie," concluded the waiter, triumphantly. "I knew I'd get it
if you gave me time. As you may have observed, my dear sir, I am not
what you would call an experienced waiter. As a matter of fact, I--"

"I told him you were an actor," interrupted his friend. "Run along now
and give the order to Mother Jones. Mr. Barnes is hungry."

"I am delighted to meet you, Mr. Barnes," said Mr. Bacon, extending his
hand. As he did so, his coat sleeve receded half way to the elbow,
revealing the full expanse of a frayed cuff. "So delighted, in fact,
that it gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have at last
encountered a waiter who does not expect a tip. God forbid that I
should ever sink so low as that. I have been a villain of the deepest
dye in a score or more of productions--many of them depending to a
large extent upon the character of the work I did in--"

"Actor stuff," inserted Mr. Dillingford, unfeelingly.

"--And I have been hissed a thousand times by gallery gods and kitchen
angels from one end of this broad land to the other, but never, sir,
never in all my career have I been obliged to play such a diabolical
part as I am playing here, and, dammit, sir, I am denied even the
tribute of a healthy hiss. This is--"

The bell downstairs rang violently. Mr. Bacon departed in great haste.

While the traveller performed his ablutions, Mr. Dillingford, for the
moment disengaged, sat upon the edge of the bed and enjoyed himself. He
talked.

"We were nine at the start," said he, pensively. "Gradually we were
reduced to seven, not including the manager. I doubled and so did Miss
Hughes,--a very charming actress, by the way, who will soon be heard of
on Broadway unless I miss my guess. The last week I was playing Dick
Cranford, light juvenile, and General Parsons, comedy old man. In the
second act Dick has to meet the general face to face and ask him for
his daughter's hand. Miss Hughes was Amy Parsons, and, as I say,
doubled along toward the end. She played her own mother. The best you
could say for the arrangement was that the family resemblance was
remarkable. I never saw a mother and daughter look so much alike. You
see, she didn't have time to change her make-up or costume, so all she
could do was to put on a long shawl and a grey wig, and that made a
mother of her. Well, we had a terrible time getting around that scene
between Dick and the general. Amy and her mother were in on it too, and
Mrs. Parsons was supposed to faint. It looked absolutely impossible for
Miss Hughes. But we got around it, all right."

"How, may I ask?" enquired Barnes, over the edge of a towel.

"Just as I was about to enter to tackle the old man, who was seated in
his library with Mrs. Parsons, the lights went out. I jumped up and
addressed the audience, telling 'em (almost in a confidential whisper,
there were so darned few of 'em) that there was nothing to be alarmed
about and the act would go right on. Then Amy and Dick came on in total
darkness, and the audience never got wise to the game. When the lights
went up, there was Amy and Dick embracing each other in plain view, the
old folks nowhere in sight. General Parsons had dragged the old lady
into the next room. We made our changes right there on the stage,
speaking all four parts at the same time."

"Pretty clever," said Barnes.

"My idea," announced Mr. Dillingford calmly.

"What has become of the rest of the company?"

"Well, as I said before, two of 'em escaped before the smash. The low
comedian and character old woman. Joe Beckley and his wife. That left
the old man,--I mean Mr. Rushcroft, the star--Lyndon Rushcroft, you
know,--myself and Bacon, Tommy Gray, Miss Rushcroft, Miss Hughes and a
woman named Bradley, seven of us. Miss Hughes happened to know a chap
who was travelling around the country for his health, always meeting up
with us,--accidentally, of course,--and he staked her to a ticket to
New York. The woman named Bradley said her mother was dying in Buffalo,
so the rest of us scraped together all the money we had,--nine dollars
and sixty cents,--and did the right thing by her. Actors are always
doing darn-fool things like that, Mr. Barnes. And what do you suppose
she did? She took that money and bought two tickets to Albany, one for
herself and another for the manager of the company,--the lowest,
meanest, orneriest white man that ever,--But I am crabbing the old
man's part. You ought to hear what HE has to say about Mr. Manager. He
can use words I never even heard of before. So, that leaves just the
four of us here, working off the two days' board bill of Bradley and
the manager, Rushcroft's ungodly spree, and at the same time keeping
our own slate clean. Miss Thackeray will no doubt make up your bed in
the morning. She is temporarily a chambermaid. Cracking fine girl, too,
if I do say--"

"Miss Thackeray? I don't recall your mentioning--"

"Mercedes Thackeray on the programme, but in real life, as they say,
Emma Smith. She is Rushcroft's daughter."

"Somewhat involved, isn't it?"

"Not in the least. Rushcroft's real name is Otterbein Smith. Horrible,
isn't it? He sprung from some place in Indiana, where the authors come
from. Miss Thackeray was our ingenue. A trifle large for that sort of
thing, perhaps, but--very sprightly, just the same. She's had her full
growth upwards, but not outwards. Tommy Gray, the other member of the
company, is driving a taxi in Hornville. He used to own his own car in
Springfield, Mass., by the way. Comes of a very good family. At least,
so he says. Are you all ready? I'll lead you to the dining-room. Or
would you prefer a little appetiser beforehand? The tap-room is right
on the way. You mustn't call it the bar. Everybody in that little
graveyard down the road would turn over completely if you did. Hallowed
tradition, you know."

"I don't mind having a cocktail. Will you join me?"

"As a matter of fact, I'm expected to," confessed Mr. Dillingford.
"We've been drawing quite a bit of custom to the tap-room. The rubes
like to sit around and listen to conversation about Broadway and Bunker
Hill and Old Point Comfort and other places, and then go home and tell
the neighbours that they know quite a number of stage people. Human
nature, I guess. I used to think that if I could ever meet an actress
I'd be the happiest thing in the world. Well, I've met a lot of 'em,
and God knows I'm not as happy as I was when I was WISHING I could meet
one of them. Listen! Hear that? Rushcroft is reciting Gunga Din. You
can't hear the thunder for the noise he's making."

They descended the stairs and entered the tap-room, where a dozen men
were seated around the tables, all of them with pewter mugs in front of
them. Standing at the top table,--that is to say, the one farthest
removed from the door and commanding the attention of every creature in
the room--was the imposing figure of Lyndon Rushcroft. He was reciting,
in a sonorous voice and with tremendous fervour, the famous Kipling
poem. Barnes had heard it given a score of times at The Players in New
York, and knew it by heart. He was therefore able to catch Mr.
Rushcroft in the very reprehensible act of taking liberties with the
designs of the author. The "star," after a sharp and rather startled
look at the newcomer, deliberately "cut" four stanzas and rushed
somewhat hastily through the concluding verse, marring a tremendous
climax.

A genial smile wiped the tragic expression from his face. He advanced
upon Barnes and the beaming Mr. Dillingford, his hand extended.

"My dear fellow," he exclaimed resoundingly, "how are you?" Cordiality
boomed in his voice. "I heard you had arrived. Welcome,--thricefold
welcome!" He neglected to say that Mr. Montague Bacon, in passing a few
minutes before, had leaned over and whispered behind his hand:

"Fellow upstairs from New York, Mr. Rushcroft,--fellow named Barnes.
Quite a swell, believe me."

It was a well-placed tip, for Mr. Rushcroft had been telling the
natives for days that he knew everybody worth knowing in New York.

Barnes was momentarily taken aback. Then he rose to the spirit of the
occasion.

"Hello, Rushcroft," he greeted, as if meeting an old time and greatly
beloved friend. "This IS good. 'Pon my soul, you are like a thriving
date palm in the middle of an endless desert. How are you?"

They shook hands warmly. Mr. Dillingford slapped the newcomer on the
shoulder, affectionately, familiarly, and shouted:

"Who would have dreamed we'd run across good old Barnesy up here? By
Jove, it's marvellous!"

"Friends, countrymen," boomed Mr. Rushcroft, "this is Mr. Barnes of New
York. Not the man the book was written about, but one of the best
fellows God ever put into this little world of ours. I do not recall
your names, gentlemen, or I would introduce each of you separately and
divisibly. And when did you leave New York, my dear fellow?"

"A fortnight ago," replied Barnes. "I have been walking for the past
two weeks."

Mr. Rushcroft's expression changed. His face fell.

"Walking?" he repeated, a trifle stiffly. Was the fellow a tramp? Was
he in no better condition of life than himself and his stranded
companions, against whom the mockery of the assemblage was slyly but
indubitably directed? If so, what was to be gained by claiming
friendship with him? It behooved him to go slow. He drew himself up to
his full height. "Well, well! Really?" he said.

The others looked on with interest. The majority were farmers, hardy,
rawboned men with misty eyes. Two of them looked like
mechanics,--blacksmiths, was Barnes' swift estimate,--and as there was
an odor of gasolene in the low, heavy-timbered room, others were no
doubt connected with the tavern garage. For that matter, there was also
an atmosphere of the stables.

Lyndon Rushcroft was a tall, saggy man of fifty. Despite his determined
erectness, he was inclined to sag from the shoulders down. His head,
huge and grey, appeared to be much too ponderous for his yielding body,
and yet he carried it manfully, even theatrically. The lines in his
dark, seasoned face were like furrows; his nose was large and somewhat
bulbous, his mouth wide and grim. Thick, black eyebrows shaded a pair
of eyes in which white was no longer apparent; it had given way to a
permanent red. A two days' stubble covered his chin and cheeks.
Altogether he was a singular exemplification of one's idea of the
old-time actor. He was far better dressed than the two male members of
his company who had come under Barnes' observation. A fashionably made
cutaway coat of black, a fancy waistcoat, and trousers with a delicate
stripe (sadly in need of creasing) gave him an air of distinction
totally missing in his subordinates. (Afterwards Barnes was to learn
that he was making daily use of his last act drawing-room costume,
which included a silk hat and a pair of pearl grey gloves.) Evidently
he had possessed the foresight to "skip out" in the best that the
wardrobe afforded, leaving his ordinary garments for the sheriff to lay
hands upon.

"A customary adventure with me," said Barnes. "I take a month's walking
tour every spring, usually timing my pilgrimage so as to miss the
hoi-polloi that blunders into the choice spots of the world later on
and spoils them completely for me. This is my first jaunt into this
part of New England. Most attractive walking, my dear fellow. Wonderful
scenery, splendid air--" "Deliver me from the hoi-polloi," said Mr.
Rushcroft, at his ease once more. "I may also add, deliver me from
walking. I'm damned if I can see anything in it. What will you have to
drink, old chap?"

He turned toward the broad aperture which served as a passageway in the
wall for drinks leaving the hands of a fat bartender beyond to fall
into the clutches of thirsty customers in the tap-room. There was no
outstanding bar. A time-polished shelf, as old as the house itself,
provided the afore-said bartender with a place on which to spread his
elbows while not actively engaged in advancing mugs and bottles from
more remote resting-places at his back.

"Everything comes through 'the hole in the wall,'" explained Rushcroft,
wrinkling his face into a smile.

He unceremoniously turned his back on the audience of a moment before,
and pounded smartly on the shelf, notwithstanding the fact that the
bartender was less than a yard away and facing him expectantly. "What
ho! Give ear, professor. Ye gods, what a night! Devil-brewed
pandemonium--I beg pardon?"

"I was just about to ask what you will have," said Barnes, lining up
beside him with Mr. Dillingford.

Mr. Rushcroft drew himself up once more. "My dear fellow, I asked you
to have a--"

"But I had already invited Dillingford. You must allow me to extend the
invitation--"

"Say no more, sir. I understand perfectly. A flagon of ale, Bob, for
me." He leaned closer to Barnes and said, in what was supposed to be a
confidential aside: "Don't tackle the whiskey. It would kill a
rattlesnake."

A few minutes later he laid one hand fondly upon Barnes' shoulder and,
with a graceful sweep of the other in the direction of the hall,
addressed himself to Dillingford.

"Lead the way to the banquet-hall, good fellow. We follow." To the
patrons he was abandoning:

"We return anon." Passing through the office, his arm linked in one of
Barnes', Mr. Rushcroft hesitated long enough to impress upon Landlord
Jones the importance of providing his "distinguished friend, Robert W.
Barnes," with the very best that the establishment afforded. Putnam
Jones blinked slightly and his eyes sought the register as if to accuse
or justify his memory. Then he spat copiously into the corner, a
necessary preliminary to a grin. He hadn't much use for the great
Lyndon Rushcroft. His grin was sardonic. Something told him that Mr.
Rushcroft was about to be liberally fed.



CHAPTER III

MR. RUSHCROFT DISSOLVES, MR. JONES INTERVENES, AND TWO MEN RIDE AWAY


Mr. Rushcroft explained that he had had his supper. In fact, he went on
to confess, he had been compelled, like the dog, to "speak" for it.
What could be more disgusting, more degrading, he mourned, than the
spectacle of a man who had appeared in all of the principal theatres of
the land as star and leading support to stars, settling for his supper
by telling stories and reciting poetry in the tap-room of a tavern?

"Still," he consented, when Barnes insisted that it would be a kindness
to him, "since you put it that way, I dare say I could do with a little
snack, as you so aptly put it. Just a bite or two. Like you, my dear
fellow, I loathe and detest eating alone. I covet companionship,
convivial com--what have you ready, Miss Tilly?"

Miss Tilly was a buxom female of forty or thereabouts, with spectacles.
She was one of a pair of sedentary waitresses who had been so long in
the employ of Mr. Jones that he hated the sight of them. Close
proximity to a real star affected her intensely. In fact, she was
dazzled. For something like twenty years she had nursed an ambition
that wavered between the desire to become an actress or an authoress.
At present she despised literature. More than once she had confessed to
Mr. Rushcroft that she hated like poison to write out the bill-o'-fare,
a duty devolving solely upon her, it appears, because of a local
tradition that she possessed literary talent. Every one said that she
wrote the best hand in the county.

Mr. Rushcroft's conception of a bite or two may have staggered Barnes
but it did not bewilder Miss Tilly. He had four eggs with his ham, and
other things in proportion. He talked a great deal, proving in that way
that it was a supper well worth speaking for. Among other things, he
dilated at great length upon his reasons for not being a member of The
Players or The Lambs in New York City. It seems that he had promised
his dear, devoted wife that he would never join a club of any
description. Dear old girl, he would as soon have cut off his right
hand as to break any promise made to her. He brushed something away
from his eyes, and his chin, contracting, trembled slightly.

"Quite right," said Barnes, sympathetically. "And how long has Mrs.
Rushcroft been dead?"

A hurt, incredulous look came into Mr. Rushcroft's eyes. "Is it
possible that you have forgotten the celebrated case of Rushcroft vs.
Rushcroft, not more than six years back? Good Lord, man, it was one of
the most sensational cases that ever--But I see that you do not recall
it. You must have been abroad at the time. I don't believe I ever knew
of a case being quite so admirably handled by the press as that one
was. She got it after a bitter and protracted fight. Infidelity.
Nothing so rotten as cruelty or desertion,--no sir!"

"Ahem!" coughed Miss Tilly.

"The dear old girl married again," sighed Mr. Rushcroft, helping
himself to Barnes' butter. "Did very well, too. Man in the wine trade.
He saves a great deal, you see, by getting it at cost, and I can assure
you, on my word of honour, sir, that he'll find it quite an item. What
is it, Mr. Bacon? Any word from New York?"

Mr. Bacon hovered near, perhaps hungrily.

"Our genial host has instructed me to say to his latest guest that the
rates are two dollars a day, in advance, all dining-room checks payable
on presentation," said Mr. Bacon, apologetically.

Rushcroft exploded. "A scurvy insult," he boomed. "Confound his--"

The new guest was amiable. He interrupted the outraged star. "Tell Mr.
Jones that I shall settle promptly," he said, with a smile.

The "heavy leads" lowered his voice. "He told me that he had had a
horrible thought."

"He never has anything else," said Mr. Rushcroft.

"It has just entered his bean that you may be an actor, Mr. Barnes,"
said Bacon.

Miss Tilly, overhearing, drew a step or two nearer. A sudden interest
in Mr. Barnes developed. She had not noticed before that he was an
uncommonly good-looking fellow. She always had said that she adored
strong, "athletic" faces.

"Hence the insult," said Mr. Rushcroft bitterly. He raised both arms in
a gesture of complete dejection. "My God!"

"Says it looks suspicious," went on Mr. Bacon, "flocking with us as you
do. He mentioned something about birds of a feather."

Mr. Rushcroft arose majestically. "I shall see the man myself, Mr.
Barnes. His infernal insolence--"

"Pray do not distress yourself, my dear Rushcroft," interrupted Barnes.
"He is quite within his rights. I may be even worse than an actor. I
may turn out to be an ordinary tramp." He took a wallet from his
pocket, and smiled engagingly upon Miss Tilly. "The check, please."

"For both?" inquired she, blinking.

"Certainly. Mr. Rushcroft was my guest."

"Four twenty five," she announced, after computation on the back of the
menu.

He selected a five dollar bill from the rather plethoric purse and
handed it to her.

"Be so good as to keep the change," he said, and Miss Tilly went away
in a daze from which she did not emerge for a long, long time.

Later on she felt inspired to jot down, for use no doubt in some future
literary production, a concise, though general, description of the
magnificent Mr. Barnes. She utilised the back of the bill-of-fare and
she wrote with the feverish ardour of one who dreads the loss of a
first impression. I herewith append her visual estimate of the hero of
this story.

"He was a tall, shapely speciman of mankind," wrote Miss Tilly.
"Broad-shouldered. Smooth shaved face. Penetrating grey eyes. Short
curly hair about the colour of mine. Strong hands of good shape. Face
tanned considerable. Heavy dark eyebrows. Good teeth, very white.
Square chin. Lovely smile that seemed to light up the room for
everybody within hearing. Nose ideal. Mouth same. Voice aristocratic
and reverberating with education. Age about thirty or thirty one. Rich
as Croesus. Costume resembling the picture in the English novel the
woman forgot and left here last summer. Well turned legs. Would make a
good nobleman."

All this would appear to be reasonably definite were it not for the
note regarding the colour of his hair. It leaves to me the simple task
of completing the very admirable description of Mr. Barnes by
announcing that Miss Tilly's hair was an extremely dark brown.

Also it is advisable to append the following biographical information:
Thomas Kingsbury Barnes, engineer, born in Montclair, New Jersey, Sept.
26, 1885. Cornell and Beaux Arts, Paris. Son of the late Stephen S.
Barnes, engineer, and Edith (Valentine) Barnes. Office, Metropolitan
Building, New York City. Residence, Amsterdam Mansions. Clubs: (Lack of
space prevents listing them here). Recreations: golf, tennis, and
horseback riding. Author of numerous articles resulting from
expeditions and discoveries in Peru and Ecuador. Fellow of the Royal
Geographic Society. Member of the Loyal Legion and the Sons of the
American Revolution.

Added to this, the mere announcement that he was in a position to
indulge a fancy for long and perhaps aimless walking tours through more
or less out of the way sections of his own country, to say nothing of
excursions in Europe.

Needless to say, he obtained a great deal of pleasure from these lonely
jaunts, and at the same time laid up for future use an ample supply of
mind's ease. His was undoubtedly a romantic nature. He loved the
fancies that his susceptibilities garnered from the hills and dales and
fields and forests. He never tired of the changing prospect; the simple
meadow and the inspiring mountain peak were as one to his generous
imagination. He found something worth while in every mile he traversed
in these long and solitary tramps, and he covered no fewer than twenty
of them between breakfast and dinner unless ordered by circumstance to
loiter along the way.

Each succeeding spring he set out from his "diggings" in New York
without having the remotest idea where his peregrinations would carry
him. It was his habit to select a starting point in advance, approach
that spot by train or ship or motor, and then divest himself of all
purpose except to fare forward until he came upon some haven for the
night. He went east or west, north or south, even as the winds of
heaven blow; indeed, he not infrequently followed them.

For five or six weeks in the early spring it was his custom to forge
his daily chain of miles and, when the end was reached, climb
contentedly aboard a train and be transported, often by arduous means,
to the city where millions of men walk with a definite aim in view. He
liked the spring of the year. He liked the rains and the winds of early
spring. They meant the beginning of things to him.

He was rich. Perhaps not as riches are measured in these Midas-like
days, but rich beyond the demands of avarice. His legacy had been an
ample one. The fact that he worked hard at his profession from one
year's end to the other,--not excluding the six weeks devoted to these
mentally productive jaunts,--is proof sufficient that he was not
content to subsist on the fruits of another man's enterprise. He was a
worker. He was a creator, a builder and a destroyer. It was part of his
ambition to destroy in order that he might build the better.

The first fortnight of a proposed six weeks' jaunt through Upper New
England terminated when he laid aside his heavy pack in the little
bed-room at Hart's Tavern. Cock-crow would find him ready and eager to
begin his third week. At least, so he thought. But, truth is, he had
come to his journey's end; he was not to sling his pack for many a day
to come.

After setting the mind of the landlord at rest, Barnes declined Mr.
Rushcroft's invitation to "quaff" a cordial with him in the tap-room,
explaining that he was exceedingly tired and intended to retire early
(an announcement that caused unmistakable distress to the actor, who
held forth for some time on the folly of "letting a thing like that go
without taking it in time," although it was not made quite clear just
what he meant by "thing"). Barnes was left to infer that he considered
fatigue a malady that ought to be treated.

Instead of going up to his room immediately, however, he decided to
have a look at the weather. He stepped out upon the wet porch and
closed the door behind him. The wind was still high; the lantern
creaked and the dingy sign that hung above the steps gave forth
raucous, spasmodic wails as it swung back and forth in the stiff, raw
wind. Far away to the north lightning flashed dimly; the roar of
thunder had diminished to a low, half-hearted growl.

His uneasiness concerning the young woman of the cross-roads increased
as he peered at the wall of blackness looming up beyond the circle of
light. He could not see the towering hills, but memory pictured them as
they were revealed to him in the gathering darkness before the storm.
She was somewhere outside that sinister black wall and in the
smothering grasp of those invisible hills, but was she living or dead?
Had she reached her journey's end safely? He tried to extract comfort
from the confidence she had expressed in the ability and integrity of
the old man who drove with far greater recklessness than one would have
looked for in a wild and irresponsible youngster.

He recalled, with a thrill, the imperious manner in which she gave
directions to the man, and his surprising servility. It suddenly
occurred to him that she was no ordinary person; he was rather amazed
that he had not thought of it before.

She had confessed to total ignorance regarding the driver of that
ramshackle conveyance; to being utterly at sea in the neighbourhood; to
having walked like any country bumpkin from the railroad station,
lugging an unconscionably heavy bag; and yet, despite all this, she
seemed amazingly sure of herself. He recalled her frivolous remark
about her jewels, and now wondered if there had not been more truth
than jest in her words. Then there was the rather significant
alteration in tone and manner when she spoke to the driver. The soft,
somewhat deliberate drawl gave way to sharp, crisp sentences; the
quaint good humour vanished and in its place he had no difficulty in
remembering a very decided note of command.

Moreover, now that he thought of it, there was, even in the agreeable
rejoinders she had made to his offerings, the faint suggestion of an
accent that should have struck him at the time but did not for the
obvious reason that he was then not at all interested in her. Her
English was so perfect that he had failed to detect the almost
imperceptible foreign flavour that now took definite form in his
reflections. He tried to place this accent. Was it French, or Italian,
or Spanish? Certainly it was not German. The lightness of the Latin was
evident, he decided, but it was all so faint and remote that
classification was impossible, notwithstanding his years of association
with the peoples of many countries where English is spoken more
perfectly by the upper classes, who have a language of their own, than
it is in England itself.

He took a few turns up and down the long porch, stopping finally at the
upper end. The clear, inspiring clang of a hammer on an anvil fell
suddenly upon his ears. He looked at his watch. The hour was nine,
certainly an unusual time for men to be at work in a forge. He
remembered the two men in the tap-room who were bare-armed and wore the
shapeless leather aprons of the smithy.

He had been standing there not more than half a minute peering in the
direction from whence came the rhythmic bang of the anvil,--at no great
distance, he was convinced,--when some one spoke suddenly at his elbow.
He whirled and found himself facing the gaunt landlord.

"Good Lord! You startled me," he exclaimed. He had not heard the
approach of the man, nor the opening and closing of the tavern door.
His gaze travelled past the tall figure of Putnam Jones and rested on
that of a second man, who leaned, with legs crossed and arms folded,
against the porch post directly in front of the entrance to the house,
his features almost wholly concealed by the broad-brimmed slouch hat
that came far down over his eyes. He too, it seemed to Barnes, had
sprung from nowhere.

"Fierce night," said Putnam Jones, removing the corn-cob pipe from his
lips. Then, as an after thought: "Sorry I skeert you. I thought you
heerd me."

"I was listening to the song of the anvil," said Barnes, as the
landlord moved forward and took his place beside him. "It has always
possessed a singular charm for me."

"Special hurry-up job," said Jones, and no more.

"Shoeing?"

"Yep. You'd think these hayseeds could git their horses in here durin'
regular hours, wouldn't you?"

"I dare say they consider their own regular hours instead of yours, Mr.
Jones."

"I didn't quite ketch that."

"I mean that they bring their horses in after their regular day's work
is done."

"I see. Yes, I reckon that's the idee." After a few pulls at his pipe,
the landlord inquired: "Where'd you walk from to-day?" "I slept in a
farm-house last night, about fifteen miles south of this place I should
say."

"That'd be a little ways out of East Cobb," speculated Mr. Jones.

"Five or six miles."

"Goin' over into Canada?"

"No. I shall turn west, I think, and strike for the Lake Champlain
country."

"Canadian line is only a few miles from here," said Jones. "Last summer
we had a couple of crooks from Boston here, makin' a dash for the
border. Didn't know it till they'd been gone a day, however. The
officers were just a day behind 'em. Likely lookin' fellers, too. Last
men in the world you'd take for bank robbers."

"Bank robbers, as a rule, are very classy looking customers," said
Barnes.

Mr. Jones grunted. After a short silence, he branched off on a new
line. "What you think about the war? Think it'll be over soon?"

"It has been going on for nearly two years, and I can't see any signs
of abatement. Looks to me like a draw. They're all tired of it."

"Think the Germans are going to win?"

"No. They can't win. On the other hand, I don't see how the Allies can
win. I may be wrong, of course. The Allies are getting stronger every
day and the Germans must surely be getting weaker. As a matter of fact,
Mr. Jones, I've long since stopped speculating on the outcome of the
war. It is too big for me. I am not one of your know-it-alls who figure
the whole thing out from day to day, and then wonder why the fool
generals didn't have sense enough to perform as expected."

"I wish them countries over there would let me fix 'em out with
generals," drawled Mr. Jones. "I could pick out fifteen or twenty men
right here in this district that could show 'em in ten minutes just how
to win the war. You'd be surprised to know how many great generals we
have running two by four farms and choppin' wood for a livin' up here.
And there are fellers settin' right in there now that never saw a body
of water bigger'n Plum Pond, an' every blamed one of 'em knows more'n
the whole British navy about ketchin' submarines. The quickest way to
end the war, says Jim Roudebush,--one of our leadin' ice-cutters,--is
for the British navy to bombard Berlin from both sides, an' he don't
see why in thunder they've never thought of it. I suppose you've
travelled right smart in Europe?"

"Quite a bit, Mr. Jones."

"Any partic'lar part?"

"No," said Barnes, suddenly divining that he was being "pumped." "One
end to the other, you might say."

"What about them countries down around Bulgaria and Roumania? I've been
considerable interested in what's going to become of them if Germany
gets licked. What do they get out of it, either way?"

Barnes spent the next ten minutes expatiating upon the future of the
Balkan states. Jones had little to say. He was interested, and drank in
all the information that Barnes had to impart. He puffed at his pipe,
nodded his head from time to time, and occasionally put a leading
question. And quite as abruptly as he introduced the topic he changed
it.

"Not many automobiles up here at this time 'o the year," he said. "I
was a little surprised when you said a feller had given you a lift.
Where from?"

"The cross-roads, a mile down. He came from the direction of Frogg's
Corner and was on his way to meet some one at Spanish Falls." Barnes
shrewdly leaped to the conclusion that the landlord's interest in the
European War was more or less assumed. The man's purpose was beginning
to reveal itself. He was evidently curious, if not actually concerned,
about his guest's arrival by motor.

"That's queer," he said, after a moment. "There's no train arrivin' at
Spanish Falls as late as six o'clock. Gets in at four-ten, if she's on
time. And she was reported on time to-day."

"It appears that there was a misunderstanding. The driver didn't meet
the train, so the person he was going after walked all the way to the
forks. We happened upon each other there, Mr. Jones, and we studied the
sign-post together. She was bound for a place called Green Fancy."

"Did you say SHE?"

"Yes. I was proposing to help her out of her predicament when the
belated motor came racing down the slope. As a matter of fact, I was
wrong when I said that a man brought me here in an automobile. It was
she who did it. She gave the order. He merely obeyed,--and not very
willingly, I suspect."

"What for sort of looking lady was she?"

"She wore a veil," said Barnes, succinctly.

"Young?"

"I had that impression. By the way, Mr. Jones, what and where is Green
Fancy?"

Jones looked over his shoulder, and his guest's glance followed. The
man near the entrance had been joined by another.

"Well," began the landlord, lowering his voice, "it's about two mile
and a half from here, up the mountain. It's a house and people live in
it, same as any other house. That's about all there is to say about it."

"Why is it called Green Fancy?"

"Because it's a green house," replied Jones succinctly.

"You mean that it is painted green?"

"Exactly. Green as a gourd. A man named Curtis built it a couple o'
year ago and he had a fool idee about paintin' it green. Might ha' been
a little crazy, for all I know. Anyhow, after he got it finished he
settled down to live in it, and from that day to this he's never been
off'n the place. He didn't seem sick or anything, so we can't make out
his object in shuttin' himself up in the house an' seldom ever stickin'
his nose outside the door."

"Isn't it possible that he isn't there at all?"

"He's there all right. Every now an' then he has visitors,--just like
this woman to-day,--and sometimes they come down here for supper. They
don't hesitate to speak of him, so he must be there. Miss Tilly has got
the idee that he is a reecluse, if you know what that is."

"It's all very interesting. I should say, judging by the visitor who
came this evening, that he entertains extremely nice people."

"Well," said Jones drily, "they claim to be from New York. But," he
added, "so do them cheapskate actors in there." Which was as much as to
say that he had his doubts.

Further conversation was interrupted by the irregular clatter of
horses' hoofs on the macadam. Off to the left a dull red glow of light
spread across the roadway, and a man's voice called out: "Whoa, dang
ye!"

The door of the smithy had been thrown open and some one was leading
forth freshly shod horses.

A moment later the horses,--prancing, high-spirited animals,--their
bridle-bits held by a strapping blacksmith, came into view. Barnes
looked in the direction of the steps. The two men had disappeared.
Instead of stopping directly in front of the steps, the smith led his
charges quite a distance beyond and into the darkness.

Putnam Jones abruptly changed his position. He insinuated his long body
between Barnes and the doorway, at the same time rather loudly
proclaiming that the rain appeared to be over.

"Yes, sir," he repeated, "she seems to have let up altogether. Ought to
have a nice day to-morrow, Mr. Barnes,--nice, cool day for walkin'."

Voices came up from the darkness. Jones had not been able to cover them
with his own. Barnes caught two or three sharp commands, rising above
the pawing of horses' hoofs, and then a great clatter as the mounted
horsemen rode off in the direction of the cross-roads. The beat of the
hoofs became rhythmical as the animals steadied into a swinging lope.

Barnes waited until they were muffled by distance, and then turned to
Jones with the laconic remark:

"They seem to be foreigners, Mr. Jones." Jones's manner became natural
once more. He leaned against one of the posts and, striking a match on
his leg, relighted his pipe.

"Kind o' curious about 'em, eh?" he drawled.

"It never entered my mind until this instant to be curious," said
Barnes.

"Well, it entered their minds about an hour ago to be curious about
you," said the other.



CHAPTER IV

AN EXTRAORDINARY CHAMBERMAID, A MIDNIGHT TRAGEDY, AND A MAN WHO SAID
"THANK YOU"


Miss Thackeray was "turning down" his bed when he entered his room
after bidding his new actor friends good night. All three promised to
be up bright and early in the morning to speed him on his way with good
wishes. Mr. Rushcroft declared that he would break the habit of years
and get up in time to partake of a seven o'clock breakfast with him.
Mr. Dillingford and Mr. Bacon, though under sentence to eat at six with
the rest of the "help," were quite sanguine that old man Jones wouldn't
mind if they ate again at seven. So it was left that Barnes was to have
company for breakfast.

He was staggered and somewhat abashed by the appearance of Miss
Thackeray. She was by no means dressed as a chambermaid should be, nor
was she as dumb. On the contrary, she confronted him in the choicest
raiment that her wardrobe contained, and she was bright and cheery and
exceedingly incompetent. It was her costume that shocked him. Not only
was she attired in a low-necked, rose-coloured evening gown, liberally
bespangled with tinsel, but she wore a vast top-heavy picture-hat whose
crown of black was almost wholly obscured by a gorgeous white feather
that once must have adorned the king of all ostriches. She was not at
all his idea of a chambermaid. He started to back out of the door with
an apology for having blundered into the wrong room by mistake.

"Come right in," she said cheerily. "I'll soon be through. I suppose I
should have done all this an hour ago, but I just had to write a few
letters." She went on with her clumsy operations. "I don't know who
made up this bed but whoever did was determined that it should stay
put. I never knew that bed clothes could be tucked in as far and as
tight as these. Tight enough for old Mother Jones to have done it
herself, and heaven knows she's a tight one. I am Miss Thackeray. This
is Mr. Barnes, I believe."

He bowed, still quite overcome.

"You needn't be scared," she cried, observing his confusion. "This is
my regular uniform. I'm starting a new style for chambermaids. Did it
paralyse you to find me here?"

"I must confess to a moment of indecision," he said, smiling.

"Followed by a moment of uneasiness," she added, slapping the bolster.
"You didn't know what to think, now did you?"

"I couldn't believe my eyes."

She abandoned her easy, careless manner. A look of mortification came
into her eyes as she straightened up and faced him. Her voice was a
trifle husky when she spoke again, after a moment's pause.

"You see, Mr. Barnes, these are the only duds I have with me. It wasn't
necessary to put on this hat, of course, but I did it simply to make
the character complete. I might just as well make beds and clean
washstands in a picture hat as in a low-necked gown, so here I am."

She was a tall, pleasant-faced girl of twenty-three or four, not unlike
her father in many respects. Her features were rather heavy, her mouth
large but comely, her eyes dark and lustrous behind heavy lashes. As
she now appeared before Barnes, she was the typical stage society
woman: in other words, utterly commonplace. In a drawing-room she would
have been as conspicuously out of place as she was in her present
occupation.

"I am very sorry," he said lamely. "I have heard something of your
misfortunes from your father and--the others. It's--it's really hard
luck."

"I call it rather good luck to have got away with the only dress in the
lot that cost more than tuppence," she said, smiling again. "Lord knows
what would have happened to me if they had dropped down on us at the
end of the first act. I was the beggar's daughter, you see,--absolutely
in rags."

"You might have got away in your ordinary street clothes, however," he
said; "which would have been pleasanter, I dare say."

"I dare say," she agreed brightly. "Glad to have met you. I think
you'll find everything NEARLY all right. Good night, sir."

She smiled brightly, unaffectedly, as she turned toward the open door.
There was something forelorn about her, after all, and his heart was
touched.

"Better luck, Miss Thackeray. Every cloud has its silver lining."

She stopped and faced him once more. "That's the worst bromide in the
language," she said. "If I were to tell you how many clouds I've seen
and how little silver, you'd think I was lying. This experience? Why,
it's a joy compared to some of the jolts we've had,--dad and me. And
the others, too, for that matter. We've had to get used to it. Five
years ago I would have jumped out of a ten story window before I'd have
let you see me in this get-up. I know you'll laugh yourself sick over
the way I look, and so will your friends when you tell them about me,
but, thank the Lord, I shan't be in a position to hear you. So why
should I mind? What a fellow doesn't know, isn't going to hurt him. You
haven't laughed in my face, and I'm grateful for that. What you do
afterward can't make the least bit of difference to me."

"I assure you, Miss Thackeray, that I shall not laugh, nor shall I ever
relate the story of your--"

"There is one more bromide that I've never found much virtue in," she
interrupted, not disagreeably, "and that is: 'it's too good to be
true.' Good night. Sleep tight."

She closed the door behind her, leaving him standing in the middle of
the room, perplexed but amused.

"By George," he said to himself, still staring at the closed door,
"they're wonders, all of them. We could all take lessons in philosophy
from such as they. I wish I could do something to help them out of--"
He sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed and pulled his wallet from
his pocket. He set about counting the bills, a calculating frown in his
eyes. Then he stared at the ceiling, summing up. "I'll do it," he said,
after a moment of mental figuring. He told off a half dozen bills and
slipped them into his pocket. The wallet sought its usual resting place
for the night: under a pillow.

He was healthy and he was tired. Two minutes after his head touched the
pillow he was sound asleep, losing consciousness even as he fought to
stay awake in order that he might continue to vex himself with the
extraordinary behavior and statement of Putnam Jones.

He was aroused shortly after midnight by shouts, apparently just
outside his window. A man was calling in a loud voice from the road
below; an instant later he heard a tremendous pounding on the tavern
door.

Springing out of bed, he rushed to the window. There were horses in
front of the house,--several of them,--and men on foot moving like
shadows among them. A shuffling of feet came up to his open window; the
intervening roof shut off his view of the porch and all that was
transpiring. His eyes, accustomed to darkness, made out at least five
horses in the now unlighted area before the tavern.

Turning from the window, he unlocked and opened the door into the hall.
Some one was clattering down the narrow staircase. The bolts on the
front door shot back with resounding force, and there came the hoarse
jumble of excited voices as men crowded through the entrance. Putnam
Jones's voice rose above the clamour.

"Keep quiet! Do you want to wake everybody on the place?" he was saying
angrily. "What's up? This is a fine time o' night to be--Good Lord!
What's the matter with him?"

"Telephone for a doctor, Put,--damn' quick! This one's still alive. The
other one is dead as a door nail up at Jim Conley's house. Git ole Doc
James down from Saint Liz. Bring him in here, boys. Where's your
lights? Easy now! Eas-EE!"

Barnes waited to hear no more. His blood seemed to be running ice-cold
as he retreated into the room and began scrambling for his clothes. The
thing he feared had come to pass. Disaster had overtaken her in that
wild, senseless dash up the mountain road. He was cursing half aloud as
he dressed, cursing the fool who drove that machine and who now was
perhaps dying down there in the tap-room. "The other one is dead as a
door nail," kept running through his head,--"the other one."

The rumble of voices and the shuffling of feet continued, indistinct
but laden with tragedy. The curious hush of catastrophe seemed to top
the confusion that infected the place, inside and out. Barnes found his
electric pocket torch and dressed hurriedly, though not fully, by its
constricted light. As he was pulling on his heavy walking shoes, a head
was inserted through the half open door, and an excited voice called
out:

"You awake? Good work! Hustle along, will you? No more sleep to-night,
old chap. Man dying downstairs. Shot smack through the lungs. Get a
move--"

"Shot?" exclaimed Barnes.

"So they say," replied the agitated Mr. Dillingford, entering the room.
He had slipped on his trousers and was then in the act of pulling his
suspenders over his shoulders. His unlaced shoes gaped broadly; the
upper part of his body was closely encased in a once blue undershirt;
his abundant black hair was tousled,--some of it, indeed, having the
appearance of standing on end. And in his wide eyes there was a look of
horror. "I didn't hear much of the story. Old man Jones is telephoning
for a doctor and--"

"Did you say that the man was shot?" repeated Barnes, bewildered.
"Wasn't it an automobile accident?"

"Search ME. Gosh, I had one look at that fellow's face down there
and--I didn't hear another word that was said. I never saw a man's face
look like that. It was the colour of grey wall paper. Hurry up! Old man
Jones told me to call you. He says you understand some of the foreign
languages, and maybe you can make out what the poor devil is trying to
say." "Do they know who he is?"

"Sure. He's been staying in the house for three days. The other one
spoke English all right but this one not a word."

"Did they ride away from here about nine o'clock?"

"Yes. They had their own horses and said they were going to spend the
night at Spanish Falls so's they could meet the down train that goes
through at five o'clock in the morning. But hustle along, please. He's
trying to talk and he's nearly gone."

Barnes, buoyed by a sharp feeling of relief, followed the actor
downstairs and into the tap-room. A dozen men were there, gathered
around two tables that had been drawn together. Transient lodgers, in
various stages of dishabille, popped out of all sorts of passageways
and joined the throng. The men about the table, on which was stretched
the figure of the wounded man, were undoubtedly natives: farmers,
woodsmen or employees of the tavern. At a word from Putnam Jones, they
opened up and allowed Barnes to advance to the side of the man.

"See if you c'n understand him, Mr. Barnes," said the landlord.
Perspiration was dripping from his long, raw-boned face. "And you,
Bacon,--you and Dillingford hustle upstairs and get a mattress off'n
one of the beds. Stand at the door there, Pike, and don't let any women
in here. Go away, Miss Thackeray! This is no place for you."

Miss Thackeray pushed her way past the man who tried to stop her and
joined Barnes. Her long black hair hung in braids down her back; above
her forehead clustered a mass of ringlets, vastly disordered but not
untidy. A glance would have revealed the gaudy rose-coloured skirt
hanging below the bottom of the long rain-coat she had snatched from a
peg in the hall-way.

"It is the place for me," she said sharply. "Haven't you men got sense
enough to put something under his head? Where is he hurt? Get that
cushion, you. Stick, it under here when I lift his head. Oh, you poor
thing! We'll be as quick as possible. There!"

"You'd better go away," said Barnes, himself ghastly pale. "He's been
shot. There is a lot of blood--don't you know. It's splendid of you--"

"Dangerously?" she cried, shrinking back, her eyes fixed in dread upon
the white face.

The man's eyes were closed, but at the sound of a woman's voice he
opened them. The hand with which he clutched at his breast slid off and
seemed to be groping for hers. His breathing was terrible. There was
blood at the corners of his mouth, and more oozed forth when his lips
parted in an effort to speak.

With a courage that surprised even herself, the girl took his hand in
hers. It was wet and warm. She did not dare look at it.

"Merci, madame," struggled from the man's lips, and he smiled.

Barnes had heard of the French soldiers who, as they died, said "thank
you" to those who ministered to them, and smiled as they said it. He
had always marvelled at the fortitude that could put gratefulness above
physical suffering, and his blood never failed to respond to an
exquisite thrill of exaltation under such recitals. He at once deduced
that the injured man, while probably not a Frenchman, at least was
familiar with the language.

He was young, dark-haired and swarthy. His riding-clothes were
well-made and modish.

Barnes leaned over and spoke to him in French. The dark, pain-stricken
eyes closed, and an almost imperceptible shake of the head signified
that he did not understand. Evidently he had acquired only a few of the
simple French expressions. Barnes had a slight knowledge of Spanish and
Italian, and tried again with no better results. German was his last
resort, and he knew he would fail once more, for the man obviously was
not Teutonic.

The bloody lips parted, however, and the eyes opened with a piteous,
appealing expression in their depths. It was apparent that there was
something he wanted to say, something he had to say before he died. He
gasped a dozen words or more in a tongue utterly unknown to Barnes, who
bent closer to catch the feeble effort. It was he who now shook his
head; with a groan the sufferer closed his eyes in despair. He choked
and coughed violently an instant later.

"Get some water and a towel," cried Miss Thackeray, tremulously. She
was very white, but still clung to the man's hand. "Be quick! Behind
the bar." Then she turned to Jones. "Don't call my father. He can't
stand the sight of blood," she said.

Barnes unbuttoned the coat and revealed the blood-soaked white shirt.

"Better leave this to me," he said in her ear. "There's nothing you can
do. He's done for. Please go away."

"Oh, I sha'n't faint--at least, not yet. Poor fellow! I've seen him
upstairs and wondered who he was. Is he really going to die?"

"Looks bad," said Barnes, gently opening the shirt front. Several of
the craning men turned away suddenly.

"Can't you understand him?" demanded Putnam Jones, from the opposite
side.

"No. Did you get the doctor?"

"He's on the way by this time. He's got a little automobile. Ought to
be here in ten or fifteen minutes."

"Who is he, Mr. Jones?"

"He is registered as Andrew Paul, from New York. That's all I know. The
other man put his name down as Albert Roon. He seemed to be the boss
and this man a sort of servant, far as I could make out. They never
talked much and seldom came downstairs. They had their meals in their
room. Bacon served them. Where is Bacon? Where the hell--oh, the
mattress. Now, we'll lift him up gentle-like while you fellers slip it
under him. Easy now. Brace up, my lad, we--we won't hurt you. Lordy!
Lordy! I'm sorry--Gosh! I thought he was gone!" He wiped his brow with
a shaking hand.

"There is nothing we can do," said Barnes, "except try to stanch the
flow of blood. He is bleeding inwardly, I'm afraid. It's a clean wound,
Mr. Jones. Like a rifle shot, I should say."

"That's just what it is," said one of the men, a tall woodsman. "The
feller who did it was a dead shot, you c'n bet on that. He got t' other
man square through the heart."

"Lordy, but this will raise a rumpus," groaned the landlord. "We'll
have detectives an'--"

"I guess they got what was comin' to 'em," said another of the men.

"What's that? Why, they was ridin' peaceful as could be to Spanish
Falls. What do you mean by sayin' that, Jim Conley? But wait a minute!
How does it happen that they were up near your dad's house? That
certainly ain't on the road to Span--"

"Spanish Falls nothin'! They wasn't goin' to Spanish Falls any more'n I
am at this minute. They tied their hosses up the road just above our
house," said young Conley, lowering his voice out of consideration for
the feelings of the helpless man. "It was about 'leven o'clock, I
reckon. I was comin' home from singin' school up at Number Ten, an' I
passed the hosses hitched to the fence. Naturally I stopped, curious
like. There wasn't no one around, fer as I could see, so I thought I'd
take a look to see whose hosses they were. I thought it was derned
funny, them hosses bein' there at that time o' night an' no one around.
So as I said before, I thought I'd take a look. I know every hoss fer
ten mile around. So I thought I'd take--"

"You said that three times," broke in Jones impatiently.

"Well, to make a long story short, I thought I'd take a look. I never
seen either of them animals before. They didn't belong around here. So
I thought I'd better hustle down to the house an' speak to pa about it.
Looked mighty queer to me. Course, thinks I, they might belong to
somebody visitin' in there at Green Fancy, so I thought I'd--"

"Green Fancy?" said Barnes, starting.

"Was it up that far?" demanded Jones.

"They was hitched jest about a hundred yards below Mr. Curtis's
propity, on the off side o' the road. Course it's quite a ways in from
the road to the house, an' I couldn't see why if it was anybody callin'
up there they didn't ride all the ways up, 'stead o' walkin' through
the woods. So I thought I'd speak to pa about it. Say," and he paused
abruptly, a queer expression in his eyes, "you don't suppose he knows
what I'm sayin', do you? I wouldn't say anything to hurt the poor
feller's feelin's fer--"

"He doesn't know what you are saying," said Barnes.

"But, dern it, he jest now looked at me in the funniest way. It's given
me the creeps."

"Go on," said one of the men.

"Well, I hadn't any more'n got to our front gate when I heard some one
running in the road up there behind me. 'Fore I knowed what was
happenin', bang went a gun. I almost jumped out'n my boots. I lept
behind that big locus' tree in front of our house and listened. The
runnin' had stopped. The hosses was rarin' an' tearin' so I thought
I'd--"

"Where'd the shot come from?" demanded Jones.

"Up the road some'eres, I couldn't swear just where. Must 'a' been up
by the road that cuts in to Green Fancy. So I thought I'd hustle in an'
see if pa was awake, an' git my gun. Looked mighty suspicious, thinks
I, that gun shot. Jest then pa stuck his head out'n the winder an'
yelled what the hell's the matter. You betcher life I sung out who I
was mighty quick, 'cause pa's purty spry with a gun an' I didn't want
him takin' me fer burglars sneakin' around the house. While we wuz
talkin' there, one of the hosses started our way lickety-split, an' in
about two seconds it went by us. It was purty dark but we see plain as
day that there was a man in the saddle, bendin' low over the hoss's
neck and shoutin' to it. Well, we shore was guessin'. We waited a
couple o' minutes, wonderin' what to do, an' listenin' to the hoss
gittin' furder and furder away in the direction of the cross-roads.
Then, 'way down there by the pike we heerd another shot. Right there
an' then pa said he'd put on his clothes an' we'd set out to see what
it was all about. I had it figgered out that the feller on the hoss had
shot the other one and was streakin' it fer town or some'eres. That
second shot had me guessin' though. Who wuz he shootin' at now, thinks
I.

"Well, pa come out with my gun an' his'n an' we walks up to where I
seen the hosses. Shore 'nough, one of 'em was still hitched to the
fence, an' t'other was gone. We stood around a minute or two examinin'
the hoss an' then pa says let's go up the road aways an' see if we c'n
see anything. An' by gosh, we hadn't gone more'n fifty feet afore we
come plumb on a man layin' in the middle of the road. Pa shook him an'
he didn't let out a sound. He was warm but deader'n a tombstone. I wuz
fer leavin' him there till we c'd git the coroner, but pa says no. We'd
carry him down to our porch, an' lay him there, so's he'd be out o'
danger. Ma an' the kids wuz all up when we got him there, an' pa sent
Bill and Charley over to Mr. Pike's and Uncle John's to fetch 'em
quick. I jumps on Polly an' lights out fer here, Mr. Jones, to
telephone up to Saint Liz fer the sheriff an' the coroner, not givin' a
dang what I run into on the way. Polly shied somethin' terrible jest
afore we got to the pike an' I come derned near bein' throwed. An'
right there 'side the road was this feller, all in a heap. I went back
an' jumped off. He was groanin' somethin' awful. Thinks I, you poor
cuss, you must 'a' tried to stop that feller on hossback an' he plunked
you. That accounted fer the second shot. But while I wuz tryin' to lift
him up an' git somethin' out'n him about the matter, I sees his boss
standin' in the road a couple o' rods away. I couldn't understand a
word he said, so I thought I better go back home an' git some help,
seein's I couldn't manage him by myself. So I dragged him up on the
bank an' made him comfortable as I could, and lit out fer home. We
thought we'd better bring him up here, Mr. Jones, it bein' just as near
an' you could git the doctor sooner. I hitched up the buck-board and
went back. Pa an' some of the other fellers took their guns an' went up
in the woods lookin' fer the man that done the shootin'. The thing that
worries all of us is did the same man do the shootin', or was there two
of 'em, one waitin' down at the cross-roads?"

"Must have been two," said Jones, thoughtfully. "The same man couldn't
have got down there ahead of him, that's sure. Did anybody go up to
Green Fancy to make inquiries?"

"'Twasn't necessary. Mr. Curtis heard the shootin' an' jest before we
left he sent a man out to see what it was all about. The old skeezicks
that's been drivin' his car lately come down half-dressed. He said
nothin' out of the way had happened up at Green Fancy. Nobody had been
nosin' around their place, an' if they had, he said, there wasn't
anybody there who could hit the side of a barn with a rifle."

"It's most mysterious," said Barnes, glancing around the circle of awed
faces. "There must have been some one lying in wait for these men, and
with a very definite purpose in mind."

"Strikes me," said Jones, "that these two men were up to some kind of
dirty work themselves, else why did they say they were goin' to Spanish
Falls? It's my idee that they went up that road to lay fer somebody
comin' down from the border, and they got theirs good an' plenty
instead of the other way round. They were queer actin' men, I'll have
to say that."

His eyes met Barnes' and there was a queer light in them.

"You don't happen to know anything about this, do you, Mr. Barnes?" he
demanded, suddenly.



CHAPTER V

THE FARM-BOY TELLS A GHASTLY STORY AND AN IRISHMAN ENTERS


Barnes stared. "What do you mean?" he demanded sharply.

"I mean just what I said. What do you know about this business?"

"How should I know ANYTHING about it?"

"Well, we don't know who you are, nor what you're doing up here, nor
what your real profession is. That's why I ask the question."

"I see," said Barnes, after a moment. He grasped the situation and he
admitted to himself that Jones had cause for his suspicions. "It has
occurred to you that I may be a detective or a secret service man,
isn't that the case? Well, I am neither. Moreover, this man and his
companion evidently had their doubts about me, if I am to judge by your
remark and your actions on the porch earlier in the evening."

"I only said that they were curious about you. The man named Roon asked
me a good many questions about you while you were in at supper. Who
knows but what he was justified in thinkin' you didn't mean any good to
him and his friend?"

"Did you know any more about these two men, Mr. Jones, than you know
about me?"

"I don't know anything about 'em. They came here like any one else,
paid their bills regular, 'tended to their own business, and that's
all."

"What was their business?"

"Mr. Roon was lookin' for a place to bring his daughter who has
consumption. He didn't want to take her to a reg'lar consumptive
community, he said, an' so he was lookin' for a quiet place where she
wouldn't be associatin' with lungers all the time. Some big doctor in
New York told him to come up here an' look around. That was his
business, Mr. Barnes, an' I guess you'd call it respectable, wouldn't
you?"

"Perfectly. But why should he be troubled by my presence here if--"
Miss Thackeray put an end to the discussion in a most effectual manner.

"Oh, for the Lord's sake, cut it out! Wait till he's dead, can't you?"
she whispered fiercely. "You've got all the time in the world to talk,
and he hasn't more than ten minutes left to breathe unless that rube
doctor gets here pretty soon. If you've GOT to settle the question
right away, at least have the decency to go out of this room."

Barnes flushed to the roots of his hair. Jones was aghast, dumb with
surprise and anger.

"You are right, Miss Thackeray," said the former, deeply mortified.
"This is not the time nor the place to----"

"He can't understand a word we say," said Putnam Jones loudly. "You
better get out of here yourself, young woman. This is a job for men,
not--"

"I think he's going now," she whispered in an awe-struck voice. "Keep
still, all of you. Is he breathing, Mr. Barnes? That awful cough just
now seemed to--"

"Come away, please," said Barnes, taking her gently by the arm. "I--I
believe that was the end. Don't stay here, Miss Thackeray. Dillingford,
will you be good enough to escort Miss--"

"I've never seen any one die before," she said in a low, tense voice.
Her eyes were fixed on the still face. "Why--why, how tightly he holds
my hand! I can't get it away--he must be alive, Mr. Barnes. Where is
that silly doctor?"

Barnes unclasped the rigid fingers of the man called Andrew Paul, and,
shaking his head sadly, drew her away from the improvised bier. He and
the shivering Mr. Dillingford conducted her to the dining-room, where a
single kerosene lamp gave out a feeble, rather ghastly light. The tall
Bacon followed, the upper part of his person enveloped in the blanket
Putnam Jones had hastily snatched from the mattress before it was
slipped under the dying man. Several of the women of the house,
including the wife of the landlord, clogged the little entrance hall,
chattering in hushed undertones.

"Would you like a little brandy?" inquired Barnes, as she sat down
limply in the chair he pulled out for her. "I have a flask upstairs in
my--"

"I never touch it," she said. "I'm all right. My legs wabble a little
but--Sit down, Mr. Barnes. I've got something to say to you and I'd
better say it now, because it may come in pretty handy for you later
on. Don't let those women come in here, Dilly."

Barnes drew a chair close beside her. Bacon, with scant regard for
elegance, seated himself on the edge of the table and bent an ear.

"It's all rot about that man Roon being here to look for a place for
his daughter." She spoke rapidly and cautiously. "I don't know whether
Jones knows, but that certainly wasn't what he was here for. The young
fellow in there was a sort of secretary. Roon had a room at the other
end of the hall from yours, on the corner, facing the road and also
looking toward the cross-roads. Young Paul had the next room, with a
door between. I was supposed to make up their rooms after they'd gone
out in the forenoon for a horseback ride. I kept out of their sight,
because I knew they were the kind of men who would laugh at me. They
couldn't understand, and, of course, I couldn't explain. Yesterday
morning I found a sort of map on the floor under young Paul's
washstand. The wind had blown it off the table by the window and he
hadn't missed it. It was in lead pencil and looked like a map of the
roads around here. I couldn't read the notations, but it required only
a glance to convince me that this place was the central point. All of
the little mountain roads were there, and the cross-roads. There wasn't
anything queer about it, so I laid it on his table and put a book on it.

"This afternoon I walked up in the woods back of the Tavern to go over
some lines in a new piece we are to do later on,--God knows when! I
could see the house from where I was sitting. Roon's windows were
plainly visible. I wasn't very far away, you see, the climb being too
steep for me. I saw Roon standing at a window looking toward the
cross-roads with a pair of field-glasses. Every once in awhile he would
turn to Paul, who stood beside him with a notebook, and say something
to him. Paul wrote it down. Then he would look again, turning the
glasses this way and that. I wouldn't have thought much about it if
they hadn't spent so much time there. I believe I watched them for an
hour. Suddenly my eyes almost popped out of my head. Paul had gone away
from the window. He came back and he had a couple of revolvers in his
hands. They stood there for a few minutes carefully examining the
weapons and reloading them with fresh cartridges. The storm was coming
up, but I love it so that I waited almost until dark, watching the
clouds and listening to the roar of the wind in the trees. I'm a queer
girl in that way. I like turmoil. I could sit out in the most dreadful
thunder storm and just revel in the crashes. Just as I was about to
start down to the house--it was a little after six o'clock, and getting
awfully dark and overcast,--Roon took up the glasses again. He seemed
to be excited and called his companion. Paul grabbed the glasses and
looked down the road. They both became very much excited, pointing and
gesticulating, and taking turn about with the glasses."

"About six o'clock, you say?" said Barnes, greatly interested.

"It was a quarter after six when I got back to the house. I spoke to
Mr. Bacon about what I'd seen and he said he believed they were German
spies, up to some kind of mischief along the Canadian border. Everybody
is a German spy nowadays, Mr. Barnes, if he looks cross-wise. Then
about half an hour later you came to the Tavern. I saw Roon sneak out
to the head of the stairs and listen to your conversation with Jones
when you registered. That gave me an idea. It was you they were
watching the road for. They saw you long before you got here, and it
was--"

Barnes held up his hand for silence. "Listen," he said in a low voice,
"I will tell you who they were looking for." As briefly as possible he
recounted his experience with the strange young woman at the
cross-roads. "From the beginning I have connected this tragedy with the
place called Green Fancy. I'll stake my last penny that they have been
hanging around here waiting for the arrival of that young woman. They
knew she was coming and they doubtless knew what she was bringing with
her. They went to Green Fancy to-night with a very sinister purpose in
mind, and things didn't turn out as they expected. What do you know
about the place called Green Fancy?"

He was vastly excited. His active imagination was creating all sorts of
possibilities and complications, depredations and intrigues.

Bacon was the one who answered. He drew the blanket closer about his
lean form and shivered as with a chill.

"I know this much about the place from hearsay," he said in a guttural
whisper. "It's supposed to be haunted. I've heard more than one of
these jays,--big huskies too,--say they wouldn't go near the place
after dark for all the money in the state."

"That's just talk to scare you, Ague," said Dillingford. "People live
up there and since we've been here two or three men visitors have come
down from the place to sample our stock of wet goods. Nothing
suspicious looking or ghostly about them either. I talked with a couple
of 'em day before yesterday. They were out for a horseback ride and
stopped here for a mug of ale."

"Were they foreigners?" inquired Barnes.

"If you want to call an Irishman a foreigner, I'll have to say one of
them was. He had a beautiful brogue. I'd never seen an Irishman in
slick riding clothes, however, so I doubted my ears at first. You don't
associate a plain Mick with anything so swell as that, you know. The
other was an American, I'm sure. Yesterday they rode past here with a
couple of swell looking women. I saw them turn up the road to Green
Fancy, so that knocks your ghost story all to smash, Bacon."

"It isn't MY ghost story," began Mr. Bacon indignantly. The arrival of
four or five men, who stamped into the already crowded hallway from the
porch outside, claimed the attention of the quartette. Among them was
the doctor who, they were soon to discover, was also the coroner of the
county. A very officious deputy sheriff was also in the group.

Before rejoining the crowd in the tap-room, Barnes advised his
companions, especially the girl, to say as little as possible about
what they had heard and seen.

"This thing is going to turn out to be a whacking sensation, and it may
be a great deal more important than we think. You don't want to become
involved in the investigation, which may become a national affair. I'd
like to have a hand in clearing it up. My head is chock-full of
theories that might--"

"Maybe Roon was right," said Dillingford, slowly, as he edged a step or
two away from Barnes.

"In what respect?"

"He certainly thought you were a detective or something like that.
Maybe he thought you came with that young woman, or maybe he thought
you were shadowing her, or--"

"There are a lot of things he may have thought," interrupted Barnes,
smiling. "It is barely possible that my arrival may have caused him to
act more hastily than he intended. That may be the reason why the job
ended so disastrously for him."

Mrs. Jones called out from the doorway. "Mr. Barnes, you're wanted in
there."

"All right," he responded.

"Better let me get you a wet towel to wash your hand," said Bacon to
Miss Thackeray. "My God, I wouldn't have THAT on my hand for a million
dollars."

The doctor had been working over the prostrate form on the tables. As
Barnes entered the room, he looked up and declared that the man was
dead.

"This is Mr. Barnes," said Putnam Jones, indicating the tall traveller
with a short jerk of his thumb.

"I am from the sheriff's office," said the man who stood beside the
doctor. The rest of the crowd evidently had been ordered to stand back
from the tables. The sheriff was a burly fellow, whose voice shook in a
most incongruous manner, despite his efforts to appear composed and
otherwise efficient. "Did you ever see this man before?"

"Not until he was carried in here half an hour ago. I arrived here this
evening."

"What's your business up here, Mr. Barnes?"

"I have no business up here. I just happened to stroll in this evening."

"Well," said the sheriff darkly, "I guess I'll have to ask you to stick
around here till we clear this business up. We don't know you
an'--Well, we can't take any chances. You understand, I reckon."

"I certainly fail to understand, Mr. Sheriff. I know nothing whatever
of this affair and I intend to continue on my way to-morrow morning."

"Well, I guess not."

"Do you mean to say that I am to be detained here against my--"

"You got to stay here till we are satisfied that you don't know
anything about this business. That's all."

"Am I to consider myself under arrest, sir?"

"I wouldn't go as far as to say that. You just stick around here,
that's all I got to say. If you're all right, we'll soon find it out.
What's more, if you are all right you'll be willin' to stay. Do you get
me?"

"I certainly do. And I can now assure you, Mr. Sheriff, that I'd like
nothing better than to stick around here, as you put it. I'd like to
help clear this matter up. In the meantime, you may readily find out
who I am and why I am here by telegraphing to the Mayor of New York
City. This document, which experience has taught me to carry for just
such an emergency as this, may have some weight with you." He opened
his bill-folder and drew forth a neatly creased sheet of paper. This he
handed to the sheriff. "Read it, please, and note the date, the
signature, the official seal of the New York Police department, and
also the rather interesting silver print pasted in the lower left hand
corner. I think you will agree that it is a good likeness of me. Each
year I take the precaution of having myself properly certified by the
police department at home before venturing into unknown and perhaps
unfriendly communities. This, in a word, is a guarantee of good
citizenship, good intentions and-good health. I was once taken up by a
rural Sherlock on suspicion of being connected with the theft of a
horse and buggy, although all the evidence seemed to indicate that I
was absolutely afoot and weary at the time, and didn't have the outfit
concealed about my person. I languished in the calaboose for
twenty-four hours, and might have remained there indefinitely if the
real desperado hadn't been captured in the nick o' time. Have you read
it?"

"Yes," said the sheriff dubiously; "but how do I know it ain't a
forgery?"

"You don't know, of course. But in case it shouldn't be a forgery and I
am subjected to the indignity of arrest or even detention, you would
have a nasty time defending yourself in a civil suit for damages. Don't
misunderstand me. I appreciate your position. I shall remain here, as
you suggest, but only for the purpose of aiding you in getting to the
bottom of this affair."

"What do you think about it, Doc?"

"He says he's willing to stay, don't he? Well, what more can you ask?"
snapped the old doctor. "I should say the best thing for you to do,
Abner, is to get a posse of men together and begin raking the woods up
yonder for the men that did the shooting. You say there is another one
dead up at Jim Conley's? Well, I'll go over and view him at once. The
first thing to do is to establish the corpus delicti. We've got to be
able to say the men are dead before we can charge anybody with murder.
This man was shot in the chest, from in front. Now we'll examine his
clothes and so forth and see if they throw any additional light on the
matter."

The most careful search of Andrew Paul's person established one thing
beyond all question: the man had deliberately removed everything that
might in any way serve to aid the authorities in determining who he
really was and whence he came. The tailor's tags had been cut from the
smart, well-fitting garments; the buttons on the same had been replaced
by others of an ordinary character; the names of the haberdasher, the
hat dealer and the boot maker had been as effectually destroyed. There
were no papers of any description in his pockets. His wrist watch bore
neither name, date nor initials. Indeed, nothing had been overlooked in
his very palpable effort to prevent actual identification, either in
life or death.

Subsequent search of the two rooms disclosed the same extreme
precautions. Not a single object, not even a scrap of paper had been
left there on the departure of the men at nine o'clock. Ashes in an
old-fashioned fireplace in Roon's room suggested the destruction of
tell-tale papers. Everything had vanished. A large calibre automatic
revolver, all cartridges unexploded, was found in Paul's coat pocket.
In another pocket, lying loose, were a few bank notes and some silver,
amounting all told to about thirty dollars.

The same thorough search of the dead body of Roon later on by the
coroner and sheriff, revealed a similar condition. The field-glasses,
of English make, were found slung across his shoulder, and a fully
loaded revolver, evidently his, was discovered the next morning in the
grass beside the road near the point where he fell. There were several
hundred dollars in the roll of bills they found in his inside coat
pocket.

Roon was a man of fifty or thereabouts. Although both men were
smooth-faced, there was reason to suspect that Roon at least had but
recently worn a mustache. His upper lip had the thick, stiff look of
one from which a beard of long-standing recently had been shaved.

Later on it was learned that they purchased the two horses in
Hornville, paying cash for the beasts and the trappings. The
transaction took place a day or two before they came to Hart's Tavern
for what had been announced as a short stay.

Standing on Jim Conley's front porch a little after sunrise, Barnes
made the following declaration:

"Everything goes to show that these men were up here for one of two
reasons. They were either trying to prevent or to enact a crime. The
latter is my belief. They were afraid of me. Why? Because they believed
I was trailing them and likely to spoil their game. Gentlemen, those
fellows were here for the purpose of robbing the place you call Green
Fancy."

"What's that?" came a rich, mellow voice from the outskirts of the
crowd. A man pushed his way through and confronted Barnes. He was a
tall, good-looking fellow of thirty-five, and it was apparent that he
had dressed in haste. "My name is O'Dowd, and I am a guest of Mr.
Curtis at Green Fancy. Why do you think they meant to rob his place?"

"Well," began Barnes drily, "it would seem that his place is the only
one in the neighbourhood that would BEAR robbing. My name is Barnes. Of
course, Mr. O'Dowd, it is mere speculation on my part."

"But who shot the man?" demanded the Irishman. "He certainly wasn't
winged by any one from our place. Wouldn't we have known something
about it if he had attempted to get into the house and was nailed
by--Why, Lord love you, sir, there isn't a soul at Green Fancy who
could shoot a thief if he saw one. This is Mr. De Soto, also a guest at
Green Fancy. He will, I think, bear me out in upsetting your theory."

A second man approached, shaking his head vigorously. He was a thin,
pale man with a singularly scholastic face. Quite an unprepossessing,
unsanguinary person, thought Barnes.

"Mr. Curtis's chauffeur, I think it was, said the killing occurred just
above this house," said he, visibly excited. "Green Fancy is at least a
mile from here, isn't it? You don't shoot burglars a mile from the
place they are planning to rob, do you? Is the man a native of this
community?"

"No," said Barnes, on whom devolved the duties of spokesman. "By the
way, his companion lies dead at Hart's Tavern. He was shot from his
horse at the cross-roads."

"God bless me soul," gasped O'Dowd. "The chauffeur didn't mention a
second one. And were there two of them?"

"And both of them dead?" cried De Soto. "At the cross-roads? My dear
sir, how can you reconcile--" He broke off with a gesture of impatience.

"I'll admit it's a bit out of reason," said Barnes. "The second man
could only have been shot by some one who was lying in wait for him."

"Why, the thing's as clear as day," cried O'Dowd, facing the crowd. His
cheerful, sprightly face was alive with excitement. "They were not
trying to rob any one. They were either trying to get across the border
into Canada themselves or else trying to head some one off who was
coming from that side of the line."

"Gad, you may be right," agreed Barnes instantly. "If you'd like to
hear more of the story I'll be happy to relate all that we know at
present."

While the coroner and the others were loading the body of Albert Roon
into a farm wagon for conveyance to the county-seat, Barnes, who had
taken a sudden fancy to the two men from Green Fancy, gave them a brief
but full account of the tragedy and the result of investigations as far
as they had gone.

"Bedad," said O'Dowd, "it beats the devil. There's something big in
this thing, Mr. Barnes,--something a long shot bigger than any of us
suspects. The extraordinary secrecy of these fellows, their evident
gentility, their doubtful nationality--why, bedad, it sounds like a
penny-dreadful thriller."

"You'll find that it resolves itself into a problem for Washington to
solve," said De Soto darkly. "Nothing local about it, take my word for
it. These men were up to some international devilment. I'm not saying
that Germany is at the back of it, but, by Jove, I don't put anything
beyond the beggars. They are the cleverest, most resourceful people in
the world, damn 'em. You wait and see if I'm not right. There'll be a
stir in Washington over this, sure as anything."

"What time was it that you heard the shots up at Green Fancy?" ventured
Barnes.

"Lord love you," cried O'Dowd, "we didn't hear a sound. Mr. Curtis, who
has insomnia the worst way, poor devil, heard them and sent some one
out to see what all the racket was about. It wasn't till half an hour
or so ago that De Soto and I were routed out of our peaceful nests and
ordered,--virtually ordered, mind you,--to get up and guard the house.
Mr. Curtis was in a pitiful state of nerves over the killing, and so
were the ladies. 'Gad, everybody seemed to know all about the business
except De Soto and me. The man, it seems, made such a devil of a racket
when he came home with the news that the whole house was up in pajamas
and peignoirs. He didn't say anything about a second Johnnie being
shot, however. I'm glad he didn't know about it, for that matter. He'll
be seeing one ghost for the rest of his days and that's enough, without
having another foisted upon him."

"I think I have a slight acquaintance with the chauffeur," said Barnes.
"He gave me the most thrilling motor ride I've ever experienced. 'Gad,
I'll never forget it."

The two men looked at him, plainly perplexed.

"When was all this?" inquired De Soto.

"Early last evening. He took me from the cross-roads to Hart's Tavern
in a minute and a half, I'll bet my soul."

"Last evening?" said O'Dowd, something like skepticism in his tone.

"Yes. He picked up your latest guest at the corners, and she insisted
on his driving me to the Tavern before the storm broke. I've been
terribly anxious about her. She must have been caught out in all that
frightful--"

"What's this you are saying, Mr. Barnes?" cut in De Soto, frowning. "No
guest arrived at Green Fancy last evening, nor was one expected."

Barnes stared. "Do you mean to say that she didn't get there, after
all?"

"She? A woman, was it?" demanded O'Dowd. "Bedad, if she said she was
coming to Green Fancy she was spoofing you. Are you sure it was old
Peter who gave you that jolly ride?"

"No, I am not sure," said Barnes, uneasily. "She was afoot, having
walked from the station below. I met her at the corners and she asked
me if I knew how far it was to Green Fancy, or something like that.
Said she was going there. Then along came the automobile, rattling down
this very road,--an ancient Panhard driven by an old codger. She seemed
to think it was all right to hop in and trust herself to him, although
she'd never seen him before."

"The antique Panhard fits in all right," said O'Dowd, "but I'm hanged
if the woman fits at all. No such person arrived at Green Fancy last
night."

"Did you get a square look at the driver's face?" demanded De Soto.

"It was almost too dark to see, but he was old, hatchet-faced, and
spoke with an accent."

"Then it couldn't have been Peter," said De Soto positively. "He's old,
right enough, but he is as big as the side of a house, with a face like
a full moon, and he is Yankee to his toes. By gad, Barnes, the plot
thickens! A woman has been added to the mystery. Now, who the devil is
she and what has become of her?"



CHAPTER VI

CHARITY BEGINS FAR FROM HOME, AND A STROLL IN THE WILDWOOD FOLLOWS


Mr. Rushcroft as furious when he arose at eleven o'clock on the morning
after the double murder, having slept like a top through all of the
commotion. He boomed all over the place, vocal castigations falling
right and left on the guilty and the innocent without distinction. He
wouldn't have missed the excitement for anything in the world. He
didn't mind missing the breakfast he was to have had with Barnes, but
he did feel outraged over the pusillanimous trick played upon him by
the remaining members of his troupe. Nothing was to have been expected
of Putnam Jones and his damnation crew; they wouldn't have called him
if the house was afire; they would let him roast to death; but
certainly something was due him from the members of his company,
something better than utter abandonment!

He was still deep in the sulks when he came upon Barnes, who was pacing
the sunlit porch, deep in thought.

"There will never be another opportunity like that," he groaned, at the
close of a ten minute dissertation on the treachery of friends; "never
in all the years to come. The driveling fools! What do I pay them for?
To let me lie there snoring so loud that I couldn't hear opportunity
for the noise I was making? As in everything else I undertake, my dear
Barnes, I excel at snoring. My lung capacity is something amazing. It
has to have an outlet. They let me lie there like a log while the
richest publicity material that ever fell to the lot of an actor went
to waste,--utter waste. Why, damme, sir, I could have made that scene
in the tap-room historic; I could have made it so dramatic that it
would have thrilled to the marrow every man, woman and child in the
United States of America. That's what I mean. They allowed a chance
like that to get away. Can you beat it? Tragedy at my very elbow,--by
gad, almost nudging me, you might say,--and no one to tell me to get
up. Think of the awful requiem I could have--But what's the use
thinking about it now? I am so exasperated I can't think of anything
but anathemas, so--"

"I don't see how you managed to sleep through it," Barnes broke in.
"You must have an unusually clear conscience, Mr. Rushcroft."

"I haven't any conscience at all, sir," roared the star. "I had an
unusually full stomach, that's what was the matter with me. Damme, I
ought to have known better. I take oath now, sir, never to eat again as
long as I live. A man who cannot govern his beastly appetite ought to
defy it, if nothing else."

"I gather from that remark that you omitted breakfast this morning."

"Breakfast, sir? In God's name, I implore you not to refer to anything
so disgusting as stewed prunes and bacon at a time like this. My mind
is--"

"How about luncheon? Will you join me at twelve-thirty?"

"That's quite another matter," said Mr. Rushcroft readily. "Luncheon is
an aesthetic tribute to the physical intelligence of man, if you know
what I mean. I shall be delighted to join you. Twelve-thirty, did you
say?"

"It would give me great pleasure if your daughter would also grace the
festal board."

"Ahem! My daughter and I are--er--what you might say 'on the outs' at
present. I dare say I was a trifle crusty with her this morning. She
was a bit inconsiderate, too, I may add. As a matter of fact she told
me to go and soak my head." Mr. Rushcroft actually blushed as he said
it. "I don't know where the devil she learned such language, unless
she's been overhearing the disrespectful remarks that some of these
confounded opera house managers make when I try to argue with them
about--But never mind! She's a splendid creature, isn't she? She has it
born in her to be one of the greatest actresses in--"

"I think it is too bad that she has to go about in the gown she wears,
Mr. Rushcroft," said Barnes. "She's much too splendid for that. I have
a proposition I'd like to make to you later on. I cannot make it,
however, without consulting Miss Thackeray's feelings."

"My dear fellow!" beamed Rushcroft, seizing the other's hand. "One
frequently reads in books about it coming like this, at first sight,
but, damme, I never dreamed that it ever really happened. Count on me!
She ought to leave the stage, the dear child. No more fitted to it than
an Easter lily. Her place is in the home, the--"

"Good Lord, I'm not thinking of--" And Barnes, aghast, stopped before
blurting out the words that leaped to his lips. "I mean to say, this is
a proposition that may also affect your excellent companions, Bacon and
Dillingford, as well as yourselves."

"Abominations!" snorted Rushcroft. "I fired both of them this morning.
They are no longer connected with my company. I won't have 'em around.
What's more, they can't act and never will. The best bit of acting that
Bacon ever did in his life was when he told me to go to hell a little
while ago. I say 'acting,' mind you, because the wretch COULDN'T have
been in earnest, and yet he gave the most convincing performance of his
life. If I'd ever dreamed that he had it in him to do it so well, I'd
have had the line in every play we've done since he joined us, author
or no author."

At twelve-thirty sharp, Barnes came down from his room freshly shaved
and brushed, to find not only Mr. Rushcroft and Miss Thackeray awaiting
him in the office, but the Messrs. Dillingford and Bacon as well.
Putnam Jones, gloomy and preoccupied behind the counter, allowed his
eyes to brighten a little as the latest guest of the house approached
the group.

"I've given all of 'em an hour or two off," he said genially. "Do what
you like to 'em."

Rushcroft expanded. "My good man, what the devil do you mean by a
remark like that? Remember--"

"Never mind, dad," said Miss Thackeray, lifting her chin haughtily.
"Forgive us our trespassers as we forgive our trespasses. And remember,
also, that poor, dear Mr. Jones is all out of sorts to-day. He is all
keyed up over the notoriety his house is going to achieve before the
government gets through annoying him."

"See here, Miss," began Mr. Jones, threateningly, and then, overcome by
his Yankee shrewdness, stopped as suddenly as he started. "Go on in and
have your dinner. Don't mind me. I am out of sorts." He was smart
enough to realise that it was wiser to have the good rather than the
ill-will of these people. He dreaded the inquiry that was imminent.

"That's better," mumbled Mr. Rushcroft, partially mollified. "I took
the liberty, old fellow," he went on, addressing Barnes, "of asking my
excellent co-workers to join us in our repast. In all my career I have
not known more capable, intelligent players than these--"

"Delighted to have you with us, gentlemen," said Barnes affably. "In
fact, I was going to ask Mr. Rushcroft if he had the slightest
objection to including you--"

"Oh, the row's all over," broke in Mr. Dillingford magnanimously. "It
didn't amount to anything. I'm sure if Mr. Rushcroft doesn't object to
us, we don't object to him."

"Peace reigns throughout the land," said Mr. Bacon, in his deepest
bass. "Precede us, my dear Miss Thackeray."

The sole topic of conversation for the first half hour was the
mysterious slaying of their fellow lodgers. Mr. Rushcroft complained
bitterly of the outrageous, high-handed action of the coroner and
sheriff in imposing upon him and his company the same restrictions that
had been applied to Barnes. They were not to leave the county until the
authorities gave the word. One would have thought, to hear the star's
indignant lamentations, that he and his party were in a position to
depart when they pleased. It would have been difficult to imagine that
he was not actually rolling in money instead of being absolutely
penniless.

"What were these confounded rascals to me?" he demanded, scowling at
Miss Tilly as if she were solely to blame for his misfortune. "Why
should I be held up in this God-forsaken place because a couple of
scoundrels got their just deserts? Why, I repeat? I'd--"

"I--I'm sure I--I don't know," stammered Miss Tilly, wetting her dry
lips with her tongue in an attempt to be lucid.

"What?" exploded Mr. Rushcroft, somewhat taken aback by the retort from
an unexpected quarter. "Upon my soul, I--I--What?"

"He won't bite, Miss Tilly," said Miss Thackeray soothingly.

"Oh, dear!" said Miss Tilly, putting her hand over her mouth.

Barnes had been immersed in his own thoughts for some time. A slight
frown, as of reflection, darkened his eyes. Suddenly,--perhaps
impolitely,--he interrupted Mr. Rushcroft's flow of eloquence.

"Have you any objection, Mr. Rushcroft, to a more or less personal
question concerning your own private--er--misfortunes?" he asked,
leaning forward.

For a moment one could have heard a pin drop. Mr. Rushcroft evidently
held his breath. There could be no mistake about that.

"I don't mean to be offensive," Barnes made haste to add.

"My misfortunes are not private," said Mr. Rushcroft, with dignity.
"They are decidedly public. Ask all the questions you please, my dear
fellow."

"Well, it's rather delicate, but would you mind telling me just how
much you were stuck up for by the--er--was it a writ of attachment?"

"It was," said the star. "A writ of inquisition, you might as well
substitute. The act of a polluted, impecunious, parsimonious,--what
shall I say? Well, I will be as simple as possible: hotel keeper. In
other words, a damnation blighter, sir. Ninety-seven dollars and forty
cents. For that pitiful amount he subjected me to--"

"Well, that isn't so bad," said Barnes, vastly relieved. "It would
require that amount to square everything and release your personal
effects?"

"It would release the whole blooming production," put in Mr.
Dillingford, with unction. "Including my dress suit and a top hat, to
say nothing of a change of linen and--"

"Two wood exteriors and a parlor set, make-up boxes, wardrobe trunks, a
slide trombone and--" mused Mr. Bacon, and would have gone on but for
Barnes' interruption.

He was covertly watching Miss Thackeray's half-averted face as he
ventured upon the proposition he had decided to put before them. She
was staring out of the window, and there was a strained, almost
harassed expression about the corners of her mouth. The glimpse he had
of her dark eyes revealed something sullen, rebellious in them. She had
taken no part in the conversation for some time.

"I am prepared and willing to advance this amount, Mr. Rushcroft, and
to take your personal note as security."

Rushcroft leaned back in his chair and stuck his thumbs in the arm
holes of his vest. He displayed no undue elation. Instead he affected
profound calculation. His daughter shot a swift, searching look at the
would-be Samaritan. There was a heightened colour in her cheeks.

"Ahem," said Rushcroft, squinting at the ceiling beams.

"Moreover, I shall be happy to increase the amount of the loan
sufficiently to cover your return at once to New York, if you so
desire,--by train." Barnes smiled as he added the last two words.

"Extremely kind of you, my dear Barnes," said the actor, running his
fingers through his hair. "Your faith in me is most gratifying. I--I
really don't know what to say to you, sir."

"Of course, Mr. Barnes, you ought to know that you may be a long time
in getting your money back," said his daughter levelly. "We are poor
pay."

"My dear child," began Mr. Rushcroft, amazed.

"I shall permit your father himself to specify the number of months or
years to be written in the body of the note," said Barnes.

"And if he never pays, what then?" said she.

"I shall not trouble him with demands for the money," said Barnes.

"May I inquire just how you expect to profit by this transaction, Mr.
Barnes?" she asked steadily.

He started, suddenly catching her meaning.

"My dear Miss Thackeray," he exclaimed, "this transaction is solely
between your father and me. I shall have no other claim to press."

"I wish I could believe that," she said.

"You may believe it," he assured her.

"It isn't the usual course," she said quietly, and her face brightened.
"You are not like most men, Mr. Barnes."

"My dear child," said Rushcroft, "you must leave this matter to our
friend and me. I fancy I know an honest man when I see him. My dear
fellow, fortune is but temporarily frowning upon me. In a few weeks I
shall be on my feet again, zipping along on the crest of the wave. I
dare say I can return the money to you in a month or six weeks. If--"

"Oh, father!" cried Miss Thackeray.

"We'll make it six months, and I'll pay any rate of interest you
desire. Six per cent, eight per cent, ten per--"

"Six per cent, sir, and we will make it a year from date."

"Agreed. And now, Miss Tilly, will you ask the barmaid,--who happens to
be masculine,--to step in here and take the orders? We would drink to
Dame Fortune, who has a smile that defies all forms of adversity. Out
of the clouds falls a slice of silver lining. It alights in my
trembling palm. I--I--Damme, sir, you are a nobleman! In behalf of my
daughter, my company and the--Heaven forfend! I was about to add the
accursed management!--I thank you. Get up and dance for us, Dilly! We
shall be in New York to-morrow!"

"You forget the dictatorial sheriff, Mr. Rushcroft," said Barnes.

"The varlet!" barked Mr. Rushcroft.

It was arranged that Dillingford and Bacon were to go to Hornville in a
hired motor that afternoon, secure the judgment, pay the costs, and
attend to the removal of the personal belongings of the stranded
quartette from the hotel to Hart's Tavern. The younger actors stoutly
refused to accept Barnes' offer to pay their board while at the Tavern.
That, they declared, would be charity, and they preferred his
friendship and his respect to anything of that sort. Miss Thackeray,
however, was to be immediately relieved of her position as chambermaid.
She was to become a paying guest.

"I'll be glad to have my street togs, such as they are," said she,
rosily. "I dare say you are sick of seeing me in this rig, Mr. Barnes.
That's probably why you opened your heart and purse."

"Not at all," said he gaily. "As I presume I shall have to remain here
for some time, I deem it my right to improve the service as much as
possible. You are a very incompetent chambermaid, Miss Thackeray."

Rushcroft took the whole affair with the most noteworthy complacency.
He seemed to regard it as his due, or more properly speaking as if he
were doing Barnes a great favour in allowing him to lend money to a
person of his importance.

"A thought has just come to me, my dear fellow," he remarked, as they
arose from table. "With the proper kind of backing I could put over one
of the most stupendous things the theatre has known in fifty years. I
don't mind saying to you,--although it's rather sub rosa--that I have
written a play. A four act drama that will pack the biggest house on
Broadway to the roof for as many months as we'd care to stay. Perhaps
you will allow me to talk it over with you a little later on. You will
be interested, I'm sure. I actually shudder sometimes when I think of
the filthy greenbacks I'll have to carry around on my person if the
piece ever gets into New York. Yes, yes, I'll be glad to talk it over
with you. Egad, sir, I'll read the play to you. I'll--What ho,
landlord! When my luggage arrives this evening will you be good enough
to have it placed in the room just vacated by the late Mr. Roon? My
daughter will have the room adjoining, sir. By the way, will you have
your best automobile sent around to the door as quickly as possible? A
couple of my men are going to Hornville--damned spot!--to fetch hither
my--"

"Just a minute," interrupted Putnam Jones, wholly unimpressed. "A man
just called you up on the 'phone, Mr. Barnes. I told him you was
entertaining royalty at lunch and couldn't be disturbed. So he asked me
to have you call him up as soon as you revived. His words, not mine.
Call up Mr. O'Dowd at Green Fancy. Here's the number."

The mellow voice of the Irishman soon responded.

"I called you up to relieve your mind regarding the young woman who
came last night," he said. "You observe that I say 'came.' She's quite
all right, safe and sound, and no cause for uneasiness. I thought you
meant that she was coming here as a guest, and so I made the very
natural mistake of saying she hadn't come at all, at all. The young
woman in question is Mrs. Van Dyke's maid. But bless me soul, how was I
to know she was even in existence, much less expected by train or motor
or Shanks' mare? Well, she's here, so there's the end of our mystery.
We sha'n't have to follow your gay plan of searching the wilderness for
beauty in distress. Our romance is spoiled, and I am sorry to say it to
you. You were so full of it this morning that you had me all stirred up
meself."

Barnes was slow in replying. He was doubting his own ears. It was not
conceivable that an ordinary--or even an extraordinary--lady's maid
could have possessed the exquisite voice and manner of his chance
acquaintance of the day before, or the temerity to order that
sour-faced chauffeur about as if--The chauffeur!

"But I thought you said that Mr. Curtis's chauffeur was moon-faced
and--"

"He is, bedad," broke in Mr. O'Dowd, chuckling. "That's what deceived
me entirely, and no wonder. It wasn't Peter at all, but the rapscallion
washer who went after her. He was instructed to tell Peter to meet the
four o'clock train, and the blockhead forgot to give the order. Bedad,
what does he do but sneak out after her himself, scared out of his
boots for fear of what he was to get from Peter. I had the whole story
from Mrs. Van Dyke."

"Well, I'm tremendously relieved," said Barnes slowly.

"And so am I," said O'Dowd, with conviction. "I have seen the heroine
of our busted romance. She's a good-looking girl. I'm not surprised
that she kept her veil down. If you were to leave it to me, though, I'd
say that it's a sin to carry discretion so far as all that. I thought
I'd take the liberty of calling you up as soon as I had the facts, so
that you wouldn't go forth in knightly ardour--You see what I mean,
don't you?" His rich laugh came over the wire.

"Perfectly. Thank you for letting me know. My mind is at rest."

"Will you be staying on for some days at the Tavern?"

"I think so."

"Well, I shall give myself the pleasure of running over to see you in a
day or so."

"Do," said Barnes. "Good by." As he hung up the receiver he said to
himself, "You are a most affable, convincing chap, Mr. O'Dowd, but I
don't believe a word you say. That woman is no lady's maid, and you've
known all the time that she was there."

At four o'clock he set out alone for a tramp up the mountain road in
which the two men had been shot down. A number of men under the
direction of the sheriff were scouring the lofty timberland for the
deadly marksmen. He knew it would turn out to be as futile as the
proverbial effort to find the needle in the haystack.

His mind was quite clear on the subject. Roon and Paul were not
ordinary robbers. They were, no doubt, honest men. He would have said
that they were thieves bent on burglarising Green Fancy were it not for
the disclosures of Miss Thackeray and the very convincing proof that
they were not shot by the same man. Detected on the grounds about Green
Fancy by a watchman, they would have had an encounter with him there
and then. Moreover, they would have taken an active part in the play of
firearms. Desperadoes would not have succumbed so tamely.

It was not beyond reason,--indeed, it was quite probable,--that they
were trying to cross the border; in that event, their real operations
would be confined to the Canadian side of the line. They were
unmistakably foreigners. That fact, in itself, went far toward
establishing in his mind the conviction that they were not attempting
to intercept any one coming from the other side. Equally as strong was
the belief that the Canadian authorities would not have entered upon
United States territory for the purpose of apprehending these suspects,
no matter how thoroughly the movements and motives of the two men might
have been known to them.

He could not free himself of the suspicion that Green Fancy possessed
the key to the situation. Roon and his companion could not have had the
slightest interest in his movements up to the instant he encountered
the young woman at the cross-roads. It was ridiculous to even consider
himself an object of concern to these men who had been haunting the
border for days prior to his appearance on the scene. They were
interested only in the advent of the woman, and as her destination
confessedly was Green Fancy, what could be more natural than the
conclusion that their plans, evil or otherwise, depended entirely upon
her arrival at the strange house on the mountainside? They had been
awaiting her appearance for days. The instant it became known to them
that she was installed at Green Fancy, their plans went forward with a
swiftness that bespoke complete understanding.

His busy brain suddenly suffered the shock of a distinct conclusion. So
startling was the thought that he stopped abruptly in his walk and
uttered an exclamation of dismay. Was she a fellow-conspirator? Was she
the inside worker at Green Fancy in a well-laid plan to rifle the
place? She too was unmistakably a foreigner.

Could it be possible that she was the confederate of these painstaking
agents who lurked with sinister patience outside the very gates of the
place called Green Fancy?

In support of this theory was the supposition that O'Dowd may have been
perfectly sincere in his declarations over the telephone. Opposed to
it, however, was the absolute certainty that Roon and Paul were waylaid
and killed at widely separated points, and not while actively employed
in raiding the house. That was the rock over which all of his theories
stumbled.

His ramble carried him far beyond the spot where Roon's body was found
and where young Conley had come upon the tethered horses. His eager,
curious gaze swept the forest to the left of the road in search of
Green Fancy. Overcome by a rash, daring impulse, he climbed over the
stake and rider fence and sauntered among the big trees which so far
had obscured the house from view. He had looked in vain for the lane or
avenue leading from the road up to Mr. Curtis's house. He could not
have passed it in his stroll, of that he was sure, and yet he
remembered distinctly seeing O'Dowd and De Soto turn their horses into
the forest at a point far back of the place where he now entered the
grounds.

The trees grew very thickly on the slope, and they were unusually
large. Virgin timber, he decided, on which the woodman's axe had made
no inroads. The foliage was dense. Tree tops seemed to intermingle in
one vast canopy through which the sun but rarely penetrated. The bright
green of the grass, the sponginess of the soil, the presence of great
stretches of ferns and beds of moss told of almost perpetual moisture.
Strangely enough there was no suggestion of dankness in these shadowy
glades, rich with the fulness of early Spring.

He progressed deeper into the wood. At the end of what must have been a
mile, he halted. There was no sign of habitation, no indication that
man had ever penetrated so far into the forest. As he was on the point
of retracing his steps toward the road, his gaze fell upon a huge
moss-covered rock less than a hundred yards away. He stared, and
gradually it began to take on angles and planes and recesses of the
most astounding symmetry. Under his widening gaze it was transformed
into a substantial object of cubes and gables and--yes, windows.

He was looking upon the strange home of the even stranger Mr. Curtis:
Green Fancy.

Now he understood why it was called Green Fancy. Its surroundings were
no greener than itself; it seemed to melt into the foliage, to become a
part of the natural landscape. For a long time he stood stock-still,
studying the curious structure. Mountain ivy literally enveloped it.
Exposed sections of the house were painted green,--a mottled green that
seemed to indicate flickering sunbeams against an emerald wall. The
doors were green; the leafy porches and their columns, the chimney
pots, the window hangings,--all were the colour of the unchanging
forest. And it was a place of huge dimensions, low and long and
rambling. It seemed to have been forcibly jammed into the steep slope
that shot high above its chimneys; the mountain hung over its vine clad
roof, an ominous threat of oblivion.

There was no lawn, no indication of landscape gardening, and yet Barnes
was singularly impressed by the arrangement of the shrubbery that
surrounded the place. There was no visible approach to the house
through the thick, unbroken sea of green; everywhere was dense
underbrush, standing higher than the head of the tallest of
men,--clean, bright bushes, revealing the most astonishing uniformity
in size and character.

"'Gad," he said to himself, "what manner of crank is he who would bury
himself like this? Of all the crazy ideas I ever--"

His reflections ended there. A woman crossed his vision; a woman
strolling slowly toward him through the intricate avenues of the
wildwood.



CHAPTER VII

SPUN-GOLD HAIR, BLUE EYES, AND VARIOUS ENCOUNTERS


She was quite unaware of his presence, and yet he was directly in her
path, though some distance away. Her head was bent; her mien was
thoughtful, her stride slow and aimless.

The azure blue of the sweater she wore presented an inharmonious note
on the field of velvety green;--it was strangely out of place, he
thought,--almost an offence to the eye. He was conscious of an instant
protest against this profanation.

She was slender, graceful and evidently quite tall, although she seemed
a pigmy among the towering giants that attended her stroll. Her hands
were thrust deep into the pockets of a white duck skirt. A glance
revealed white shoes and trim ankles in blue. She wore no hat. Her hair
was like spun gold, thick, wavy and shimmering in the subdued light.

Suddenly she stopped, and looked up. He had a full view of her face as
she gazed about as if startled by some unexpected, even alarming,
sound. For a second or two he held his breath, stunned by the amazing
loveliness that was revealed to him. Then she discovered him standing
there.

He was never to forget the expression that came into her eyes; nor had
he ever seen eyes so blue. Alarm gave way to bewilderment as she stared
at the motionless intruder not thirty feet away. Then, to his utter
astonishment, her lips parted and a faint, wondering smile came into
her eyes. His heart leaped. She recognised him!

In a flash he realised that he was face to face with the stranger of
the day before,--she of the veil, the alluring voice, the unfaltering
spirits, and the weighty handbag!

He took two or three impulsive steps forward, his hand going to his
hat,--and then halted. Evidently his senses had deceived him. There was
no smile in her eyes,--and yet he could have sworn that it was there an
instant before. Instead, there was a level stare.

"I am sorry if I startled--" he began.

The figure of a man appeared, as if discharged bodily from some magic
tree-trunk, and stood directly in his path: A tall, rugged man in
overalls was he, who held a spade in his hand and eyed him inimically.
Without another glance in his direction, the first and more pleasing
vision turned on her heel and continued her stroll, sauntering off to
the right, her fair head once more bent in study, her back eloquently
indifferent to the gaze that followed her.

"Who do you want to see?" inquired the man with the spade.

Before Barnes could reply, a hearty voice accosted him from behind. He
whirled and saw O'Dowd approaching, not twenty yards away. The
Irishman's face was aglow with pleasure.

"I knew I couldn't be mistaken in the shape of you," he cried,
advancing with outstretched hand. "You've got the breadth of a
dock-hand in your shoulders, and the trimness of a prize-fighter in
your waist."

They shook hands. "I fear I am trespassing," said Barnes. His glance
went over his shoulder as he spoke. The man with the spade had been
swallowed up by the earth! He could not have vanished more quickly in
any other way. Off among the trees there were intermittent flashes of
blue and white.

"I am quite sure you are," said O'Dowd promptly, but without a trace of
unfriendliness in his manner. "Bedad, loving him as I do, I can't help
saying that Curtis is a bally old crank. Mind ye, I'd say it to his
face,--I often do, for the matter of that. Of course," he went on
seriously, "he is a sick man, poor devil. I have the unholy courage to
call him a chronic crank every once in awhile, and the best thing I can
say for his health is that he grins when I say it to him. You see, I've
known him for a dozen years and more, and he likes me, though God knows
why, unless it may be that I once did his son a good turn in London."

"Sufficient excuse for reparation, I should say," smiled Barnes.

"I introduced the lad to me only sister," said O'Dowd, "and she kept
him happy for the next ten years. No doubt, I also provided Mr. Curtis
with three grandchildren he might never have had but for my
graciousness. As for that, I let meself in for three of the most
prodigious nephews a man ever had, God bless them. I'll show you a
photograph of them if ye'd care to look." He opened the back of his
watch and held it out to Barnes. "Nine, seven and five, and all of them
as bright as Gladstone."

"They must be stunning," said Barnes warmly.

"They'll make a beggar of me, if I live long enough," groaned O'Dowd.
"It beats the deuce how childer as young as they are can have
discovered what a doddering fool their uncle is. Bedad, the smallest of
them knows it. The very instant I pretend to be a sensible, provident,
middle-aged gentleman he shows me up most shamelessly. 'Twas only a
couple of months ago that his confounded blandishments wiggled a
sixty-five dollar fire engine out of me. He squirted water all over the
drawing-room furniture, and I haven't been allowed to put foot into the
house since. My own darlin' sister refused to look at me for a week,
and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if she changed me namesake's
title to something less enfuriating than William." A look of distress
came into his merry eyes. "By Jove, I'd like nothing better than to ask
you in to have a dish of tea,--it's tea-time, I'm sure,--but I'd no
more think of doing it than I'd consider cutting off me head. He
doesn't like strangers. He--"

"My dear fellow, don't distress yourself," cried Barnes heartily.
"There isn't the least reason in the world why--"

"You see, the poor old chap asks us up here once or twice a year,--that
is to say, De Soto and me,--to keep his sister from filling the house
up with men he can't endure. So long as we occupy the only available
rooms, he argues, she can't stuff them full of objectionables. Twice a
year she comes for a month, in the late fall and early spring. He's
very fond of her, and she stands by him like a major."

"Why does he continue to live in this out-of-the-world spot, Mr.
O'Dowd? He is an old man, I take it, and ill."

"You wouldn't be wondering if you knew the man," said O'Dowd. "He is a
scholar, a dreamer, a sufferer. He doesn't believe in doctors. He says
they're all rascals. They'd keep him alive just for the sake of what
they could get out of him. So he's up here to die in peace, when his
time comes, and he hopes it will come soon. He doesn't want it
prolonged by a grasping, greedy doctor man. It's his kidneys, you know.
He's not a very old man at that. Not more than sixty-five."

"He certainly has a fanciful streak in him, building a place like
that," said Barnes, looking not at the house but into the thicket
above. There was no sign of the blue and white and the spun gold that
still defied exclusion from his mind's eye. He had not recovered from
the thrall into which the vision of loveliness plunged him. He was
still a trifle dazed and distraught.

"Right you are," agreed O'Dowd; "the queerest streak in the world. It's
his notion of simplicity. I wish you could see the inside of the place.
You'd wonder to what exalted heights his ideas of magnificence would
carry him if he calls this simplicity. He loves it all, he dotes on it.
It's the only joy he knows, this bewildering creation of his. For
nearly three years he has not been more than a stone's throw from the
walls of that house. I doubt if he's been as far as the spot where
we're standing now."

"Green Fancy. Is that the name he gave the place or does it spring
from--"

"'Twas christened by me own sister, Mr. Barnes, the first time she was
here, two years ago. I'll walk with you to the fence beyond if you've
no objections," said O'Dowd, genially, and linked his arm through that
of Barnes.

The latter was at once subtly aware of the fact that he was being
deliberately conducted from the grounds. Moreover, he was now convinced
that O'Dowd had been close upon his heels from the instant he entered
them. There was something uncanny in the feeling that possessed him.
Such espionage as this signified something deep and imperative in the
presence not only of O'Dowd but the Jack-in-the-box gardener a few
minutes earlier. He had the grim suspicion that he would later on
encounter the spectacled De Soto.

His mind was still full of the lovely stranger about whom O'Dowd had so
manifestly lied over the telephone.

"I must ask you to apologise to the young lady on whom I blundered a
few moments ago, Mr. O'Dowd. She must have been startled. Pray convey
to her my solicitude and excuses."

"Consider it done, my dear sir," said the Irishman. "Our most charming
and seductive guest," he went on. "Bedad, of the two of you, I'll stake
me head you were startled the most. Coming suddenly upon such rare
loveliness is almost equivalent to being struck by a bolt of lightning.
It did something like that to me when I saw her for the first time a
couple of weeks ago. I didn't get over it for the better part of a
day,--I can't say that I really got over it at all. More than one
painter of portraits has said that she is the most beautiful woman in
the world. I don't take much stock in portrait painters, but I'm always
fair to the lords of creation when their opinions coincide with mine.
Mayhap you have heard of her. She is Miss Cameron of New Orleans, a
friend of Mrs. Van Dyke. We have quite an enchanting house-party, Mr.
Barnes, if you consider no more than the feminine side of it.
Unfortunate creatures! To be saddled with such ungainly lummixes as De
Soto and me! By the way, have you heard when the coroner is to hold his
inquests?"

"Nothing definite. He may wait a week," said Barnes.

"I suppose you'll stick around until it's all over," ventured O'Dowd.
Barnes thought he detected a slight harshness in his voice.

"I have quite made up my mind to stay until the mystery is entirely
cleared up," he said. "The case is so interesting that I don't want to
miss a shred of it."

"I don't blame ye," said O'Dowd heartily. "I'd like nothing better
meself than to mix up in it, but, Lord love ye, if I turned detective
I'd also be turned out of the spare bed-room beyond, and sped on me way
with curses. Well, here we are. The next time you plan to pay us a
visit, telephone in advance. I may be able to persuade my host that
you're a decent, law-abiding, educated gentleman, and he'll consent to
receive you at Green Fancy. Good day to ye," and he shook hands with
the departing trespasser.

A quarter of a mile below the spot where he parted from O'Dowd, Barnes
caught a glimpse of De Soto sauntering among the trees. He smiled to
himself. It was just what he had expected.

"Takin' a walk?" was the landlord's greeting as he mounted the tavern
steps at dusk. Putnam Jones's gaunt figure had been discernible for
some time, standing motionless at the top of the steps.

"Going over the ground of last night's affair," responded Barnes,
pausing. "Any word from the sheriff and his party?"

"Nope. The blamed fools are still up there turnin' over all the loose
stones they c'n find," said Jones sarcastically. "Did you get a glimpse
of Green Fancy?"

Barnes nodded. "I strolled a little distance into the woods," he said
briefly.

"I wouldn't do it again," said Jones. "Strangers ain't welcome. I might
have told you as much if I'd thought you were going up that way. Mr.
Curtis notified me a long while ago to warn my guests not to set foot
on his grounds, under penalty of the law."

"Well, I escaped without injury," laughed Barnes. "No one took a shot
at me."

As he entered the door he was acutely aware of an intense stare
levelled at him from behind by the landlord of Hart's Tavern. Half way
up the stairway he stopped short, and with difficulty repressed the
exclamation that rose to his lips.

He had recalled a significant incident of the night before. Almost
immediately after the departure of Roon and Paul from the Tavern,
Putnam Jones had made his way to the telephone behind the desk, and had
called for a number in a loud, brisk voice, but the subsequent
conversation was carried on in subdued tones, attended by haste and
occasional furtive glances in the direction of the tap-room.

Upon reaching his room, Barnes permitted the suppressed emotion to
escape his lips in the shape of a soft whistle, which if it could have
been translated into words would have said: "By Gad, why haven't I
thought of it before? He sent out the warning that Roon and Paul were
on the way! And I'd like to bet my last dollar that some one at Green
Fancy had the other end of the wire."

Mr. Rushcroft stalked majestically into his room while he was shaving,
without taking the trouble to knock at the door, and in his most
impressive manner announced that if there was another hostelry within
reasonable distance he would move himself, his luggage and his entire
company out of Putnam Jones's incomprehensible house.

"Why, sir," he declared, "the man is not only a knave but a fool. He
flatly declines the prodigious offer I have made for the corner rooms
at the end of the corridor. In fact, he refuses to transfer my daughter
and me from our present quarters into what might be called the royal
suite if one were disposed to be facetious. The confounded blockhead
insists on seeing the colour of my money in advance." He sat down on
the edge of the bed, dejectedly. "My daughter, perversity personified,
takes the extraordinary stand that the wretch is right. She agrees with
him. She has even gone so far as to say, to my face, that beggars
cannot be choosers, although I must give her credit for not using the
expression in the scoundrel's presence. 'Pon my soul, Barnes, I have
never been so sorely tried in all my life. Emma,--I should say,
Mercedes,--denounces me to my face. She says I am a wastrel, a
profligate,--(there I have her, however, for she failed to consult the
dictionary before applying the word to me),--an ingrate, and a lot of
other things I fail to recall in my dismay. She contends that I have no
right to do what I please with my own money. Indeed, she goes so far as
to say that I haven't any money at all. I have tried to explain to her
the very simple principles upon which all financial transactions are
based, but she remains as obtuse as Cleopatra's Needle. Her ignorance
would be pitiful if she wasn't so damned obstinate about it. And to cap
the climax, she had the insolence to ask me to show her a dollar in
real money. By gad, sir, she's as unreasonable as Putnam Jones himself."

Barnes gallantly came to the daughter's defense. He was more than
pleased by the father's revelations. They proved her to be possessed of
fine feelings and a genuine sense of appreciation.

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Rushcroft, I think she is quite right," he
said flatly. "It isn't a bad idea to practice economy."

"My dear sir," said Rushcroft peevishly, "where would I be now in my
profession if I had practiced economy at the expense of progress?"

"I don't know," confessed Barnes, much too promptly.

"I can tell you, sir. I would be nowhere at all. I would not be the
possessor of a name that is known from one end of this land to the
other, a name that guarantees to the public the most elaborate
productions known to--"

"Pardon me," interrupted the other; "it doesn't get you anywhere with
Putnam Jones, and that is the issue at present. The government puts the
portrait of George Washington on one of its greenbacks but his face and
name wouldn't be worth the tenth of a penny if the United States went
bankrupt. As it is, however, if you were to go downstairs and proffer
one of those bills to Putnam Jones he would make his most elaborate bow
and put you into the best room in the house. George Washington has
backing that even Mr. Jones cannot despise. So, you see, your daughter
is right. Your name and face is yet to be stamped on a government bank
note, Mr. Rushcroft, and until that time comes you are no better off
than I or any of the rest of the unfortunates who, being still alive,
have to eat for a living."

"You speak in parables," said Mr. Rushcroft, arising. "Am I to assume
that you wish to withdraw your offer to lend me--"

"Not at all," said Barnes. "My desire to stake you to the comforts and
dignity your station deserves remains unchanged. If you will bear with
me until I have finished shaving I will go with you to Mr. Jones and
show him the colour of your money."

Mr. Rushcroft grinned shamelessly. "My daughter was right when she said
another thing to me," he observed, sitting down once more.

"She appears to be more or less infallible."

"A woman in a million," said the star. "She said that I wouldn't make a
hit with you if I attempted to put on too much side. I perceive that
she was right,--as usual."

"Absolutely," said Barnes, with decision.

"So I'll cut it out," remarked Rushcroft quaintly. "I will be
everlastingly grateful to you, Mr. Barnes, if you'll fix things up with
Jones. God knows when or whether I can ever reimburse you, but as I am
not really a dead-beat the time will certainly come when I may begin
paying in installments. Do we understand each other?"

"We do," said Barnes, and started downstairs with him.

Half an hour later Barnes succeeded in striking a bargain with Putnam
Jones. He got the two rooms at the end of the hall at half price,
insisting that it was customary for every hotel to give actors a
substantial reduction in rates.

"You shall be treasurer and business-manager in my reorganized
company," said Rushcroft. "With your acumen and my eccentricity united
in a common cause we will stagger the universe."

Despite his rehabilitation as a gentleman of means and independence,
Mr. Rushcroft could not forego the pleasure of staggering a small
section of the world that very night. He was giving Hamlet's address to
the players in the tap-room when Barnes came downstairs at nine
o'clock. Bacon and Dillingford having returned earlier in the evening
with the trunks, bags and other portable chattels of the defunct
"troupe," Mr. Rushcroft was performing in a sadly wrinkled Norfolk suit
of grey which Dillingford was under solemn injunction to press before
breakfast the next morning.

"I know I don't have to do it," said the star, catching the surprised
look in Barnes's eye and pausing to explain, sotto voce, "but I hadn't
the heart to refuse. They're eating it up, my dear fellow. Up to this
instant they've been sitting with their mouths wide open while I hurled
it, word after word, into their very vitals. "Whereupon he resumed the
sonorous monologue, glowering balefully upon his transfixed hearers.

Barnes, leaning against the door-jamb, listened with an amused smile on
his lips. His gaze swept the rapt faces of the dozen or more customers
seated at the tables, and he found himself wondering if one of these
men was the father of the little girl whose mother had described Hart's
Tavern as a "shindy." Was it only yesterday that he had spoken with the
barefoot child? An age seemed to have passed since that brief encounter.

Rushcroft ended Hamlet's speech in fine style, and almost instantly a
mild voice from the crowd asked if he knew "Casey at the Bat." Not in
the least distressed by this woeful commentary, Mr. Rushcroft
cheerfully, obligingly tackled the tragic fizzle of the immortal Casey.

A small, dark man who sat alone at a table in the corner, caught
Barnes's eye and smiled almost mournfully. He was undoubtedly a
stranger; his action was meant to convey to Barnes the information that
he too was from a distant and sophisticated community, and that a bond
of sympathy existed between them.

Putnam Jones spoke suddenly at Barnes's shoulder. He started
involuntarily. The man was beginning to get on his nerves. He seemed to
be dogging his footsteps with ceaseless persistency.

"That feller over there in the corner," said Jones, softly, "is a
book-agent from your town. He sold me a set of Dickens when he was here
last time, about six weeks ago. A year's subscription to two magazines
throwed in. By gosh, these book-agents are slick ones. I didn't want
that set of Dickens any more'n I wanted a last year's bird's nest. The
thing I'm afraid of is that he'll talk me into taking a set of Scott
before he moves on. He's got me sweatin' already."

"He's a shrewd looking chap," commented Barnes.

"Says he won't be satisfied till he's made this section of the country
the most cultured, refined spot in the United States," said Jones
dolefully. "He brags about how much he did toward makin' Boston the
literary centre of the United States, him and his father before him.
Together, he says, they actually elevated Boston from the bottomless
pit of ignorance and----Excuse me. There goes the telephone. Maybe it's
news from the sheriff."

With the spasmodic tinkling of the telephone bell, the book-agent arose
and made his way to the little office. As he passed Barnes, he winked
broadly, and said, out of the corner of his mouth:

"He'd make DeWolf Hopper look sick, wouldn't he?"

Barnes glanced over his shoulder a moment later and saw the book-agent
studying the register. The poise of his sleek head, however, suggested
a listening attitude. Putnam Jones, not four feet away, was speaking
into the telephone receiver. As the receiver was restored to its hook,
Barnes turned again. Jones and the book-agent were examining the
register, their heads almost meeting from opposite sides of the desk.

The latter straightened up, stretched his arms, yawned, and announced
in a loud tone that he guessed he'd step out and get a bit of fresh air
before turning in.

"Any news?" inquired Barnes, approaching the desk after the door had
closed behind the book-agent.

"It wasn't the sheriff," replied Jones shortly, and immediately resumed
his interrupted discourse on books, book-agents and the reclamation of
Boston. Ten minutes elapsed before the landlord's garrulity was checked
by the sound of an automobile coming to a stop in front of the house.
Barnes turned expectantly toward the door. Almost immediately the car
started up again, with a loud shifting of gears, and a moment later the
door opened to admit, not a fresh arrival, but the little book-agent.

"Party trying to make Hornville to-night," he announced casually.
"Well, good night. See you in the morning."

Barnes was not in a position to doubt the fellow's word, for the car
unmistakably had gone on toward Hornville. He waited a few minutes
after the man disappeared up the narrow stairway, and then proceeded to
test his powers of divination. He was as sure as he could be sure of
anything that had not actually come to pass, that in a short time the
automobile would again pass the tavern but this time from the direction
of Hornville.

Lighting a cigarette, he strolled outside. He had barely time to take a
position at the darkened end of the porch before the sounds of an
approaching machine came to his ears. A second or two later the lights
swung around the bend in the road a quarter of a mile above Hart's
Tavern, and down came the car at a high rate of speed. It dashed past
the tavern with a great roar and rattle and shot off into the darkness
beyond. As it rushed through the dim circle of light in front of the
tavern, Barnes succeeded in obtaining a brief but convincing view of
the car. That glance was enough, however. He would have been willing to
go before a jury and swear that it was the same car that had deposited
him at Hart's Tavern the day before.

Having guessed correctly in the one instance, he allowed himself
another and even bolder guess: the little book-agent had either
received a message from or delivered one to the occupant or driver of
the car from Green Fancy.



CHAPTER VIII

A NOTE, SOME FANCIES, AND AN EXPEDITION IN QUEST OF FACTS


Dillingford gave him a lighted candle at the desk and he started
upstairs, his mind full of the events and conjectures of the day.
Uppermost in his thoughts was the dazzling vision of the afternoon, and
the fleeting smile that had come to him through the leafy interstices.
As he entered the room, his eyes fell upon a white envelope at his
feet. It had been slipped under the door since he left the room an hour
before.

Terse reminder from the prudent Mr. Jones! His bill for the day! He
picked it up, glanced at the inscription, and at once altered his
opinion. His full name was there in the handwriting of a woman. For a
moment he was puzzled; then he thought of Miss Thackeray. A note of
thanks, no doubt, unpleasantly fulsome! Vaguely annoyed, he ripped open
the envelope and read:

"In case I do not have the opportunity to speak with you to-night, this
is to let you know that the little man who says he is a book-agent was
in your room for three-quarters of an hour while you were away this
afternoon. You'd better see if anything is missing.
                                    M.T."

He read the note again, and then held it over the candle flame.
Surprise and a temporary indignation gave way before the thrill of
exultation as the blazing paper fell upon the hearth.

"'Gad, it grows more and more interesting," he mused, and chuckled
aloud. "They're not losing a minute's time in finding out all they can
about me, that's certain. Thanks, my dear Miss Thackeray. You are
undoubtedly deceived but I am not. This chap may be a detective but he
isn't looking for evidence to connect me with last night's murders. Not
a bit of it. He is trying to find out whether I ought to be shot the
next time I go snooping around Green Fancy. I'd give a good deal to
know what he put into the report he sent off a little while ago. And
I'd give a good deal more to know just where Mr. Jones stands in this
business. Selling sets of Dickens, eh? Book-agent by day, secret agent
by night,--'gad, he may even be a road-agent!"

He made a hasty but careful examination of his effects. There was not
the slightest evidence that his pack had been opened or even disturbed.
Naturally he travelled without surplus impedimenta; he carried the
lightest outfit possible. There were a few papers containing notes and
memoranda; a small camera and films; a blank book to which he
transferred his daily experiences, observations and impressions; a
small medicine case; tobacco and cigarettes; a flask of brandy; copies
of Galworthy's "Man of Property" and Hutchinson's "Happy Warrior";
wearing apparel, and a revolver. His purse and private papers rarely
were off his person. If the little book-agent spent three-quarters of
an hour in the room he managed most effectually to cover up all traces
of his visit.

Barnes did not go to sleep until long after midnight. He now regarded
himself as definitely committed to a combination of sinister and
piquant enterprises, not the least of which was the determination to
find out all there was to know about the mysterious young woman at
Green Fancy.

His operations along any line of endeavour were bound to be difficult,
perhaps hazardous. Every movement that he made would be observed and
reported; his every step followed. He could hope to disarm suspicion
only by moving with the utmost boldness and unconcern. Success rested
in his ability to convince O'Dowd, Jones and the rest of them that they
had nothing to fear from his innocuous wanderings.

His interest in the sensational affair that had disturbed his first
night's rest at Hart's Tavern must remain paramount. His theories,
deductions and suggestions as to the designs and identity of Roon and
Paul; the stated results of personal and no doubt ludicrous
experiments; sly and confidential jabs at the incompetent
investigators, uttered behind the hand to Putnam Jones and, if
possible, to the book-agent;--a quixotic philanthropy in connection
with the fortunes of Rushcroft and his players; all these would have to
be put forward in the scheme to dispel suspicion at Green Fancy.

It did not occur to him that he ought to be furthering the ends of
justice by disclosing to the authorities his secret opinion of Putman
Jones, the strange behaviour of Roon as observed by Miss Thackeray, and
his own adventure with the lady of the cross-roads. The chance that
Jones, subjected to third degree pressure, might break down and reveal
all that he knew was not even considered.

Back of all his motives was the spur of Romance: his real interest was
centred in the lovely lady of Green Fancy.

He was confident that O'Dowd's system of espionage would quickly
absolve him of all interest in or connection with the plans of Albert
Roon; it remained therefore for him to convince the Irishman that he
had no notions or vagaries inimical to the well-being of Green Fancy or
its occupants. With that result achieved, he need have no fear of
meeting the fate that had befallen Roon and his lieutenant; nothing
worse could happen than an arrest and fine for trespass.

The next day he, with other lodgers in the Tavern, was put through an
examination by police and county officials from Saint Elizabeth, and
notified that, while he was not under suspicion or surveillance, it
would be necessary for him to remain in the "bailiwick" until
detectives, already on the way, were satisfied that he possessed no
knowledge that would be useful to them in clearing up what had now
assumed the dignity of a "national problem."

O'Dowd rode down from Green Fancy and created quite a sensation among
the officials by announcing that Mr. Curtis desired them to feel that
they had a perfect right to extend their search for clues to all parts
of his estate, and that he was deeply interested in the outcome of
their investigations.

"The devils may have laid their ambush on his property," said O'Dowd,
"and they may have made their escape into the hills back of his place
without running the risk of tackling the highways. Nothing, Mr. Curtis
says, should stand in the way of justice. While he knows that you have
a legal right to enter his grounds, and even his house, in the pursuit
of duty, he urges me to make it clear to you gentlemen, that you are
welcome to come without even so much as a demand upon him. If I may be
so bold as to offer my services, you may count on me to act as guide at
any time you may elect. I know the lay of the land pretty well, and
what I don't know the gardeners and other men up there do. You are to
call upon all of us if necessary. Mr. Curtis, as you know, is an
invalid. May I suggest, therefore, that you conduct your examination of
the grounds near his home with as little commotion as possible?
Incidentally, I may inform you, but one person at Green Fancy heard the
shots. That person was Mr. Curtis himself. He rang for his attendant
and instructed him to send some one out to find out what it was all
about. The chauffeur went down to Conley's, as you know. If you
consider it absolutely necessary to question Mr. Curtis as to the time
the shots were fired, he will receive you; but I think you may properly
establish that fact by young Conley without submitting a sick man to
the excitement and distress of a--"

The sheriff hastily broke in with the assurance that it was not at all
necessary to disturb Mr. Curtis. It wasn't to be thought of for a
moment. He would, however, like to "run over the ground a bit" that
very afternoon, if it was agreeable to Mr. O'Dowd.

It being quite agreeable, the genial Irishman proposed that his friend,
Mr. Barnes,--(here he bestowed an almost imperceptible wink upon the
New Yorker),--should join the party. He could vouch for the
intelligence and discretion of the gentleman.

Barnes, concealing his surprise, expressed himself as happy to be of
any service. He glanced at Putnam Jones as he made the statement. It
was at once borne in upon him that the landlord's attitude toward him
had undergone a marked change in the last few minutes. The furtive,
distrustful look was missing from his eyes and in its place was a
friendly, approving twinkle.

O'Dowd stayed to dinner. (Dinner was served in the middle of the day at
Hart's Tavern.) He made a great impression upon Lyndon Rushcroft, who,
with his daughter, joined the two men. Indeed, the palavering Irishman
extended himself in the effort to make himself agreeable. He was vastly
interested in the stage, he declared. As a matter of fact, he had been
told a thousand times that he ought to go on the stage. He had decided
talent....

"If you change your mind," said Mr. Rushcroft, "and conclude to try a
whirl at it, just let me know. I can find a place for you in my company
at any time. If there isn't a vacancy, we can always write in an Irish
comedy part."

"But I never wanted to be a comedian," said O'Dowd. "I've always wanted
to play the young hero,--the fellow who gets the girl, you know." He
bestowed a gallant smile upon Miss Thackeray.

"You may take my word for it, sir," said Mr. Rushcroft with feeling,
"heroism, and nothing less, is necessary to the man who has to play
opposite most of the harridans you, in your ignorance, speak of as
girls." And he launched forth upon a round of soul-trying experiences
with "leading-ladies."

The little book-agent came in while they were at table. He sat down in
a corner of the dining-room and busied himself with his subscription
lists while waiting for the meal to be served. He was still poring over
them, frowning intently, when Barnes and the others left the room.

Barnes walked out beside Miss Thackeray.

"The tailor-made gown is an improvement," he said to her.

"Does that mean that I look more like a good chambermaid than I did
before?"

"If you would consider it a compliment, yes," he replied, smiling. He
was thinking that she was a very pretty girl, after all.

"The frock usually makes the woman," she said slowly, "but not always
the lady."

He thought of that remark more than once during the course of an
afternoon spent in the woods about Green Fancy.

O'Dowd virtually commanded the expedition. It was he who thought of
everything. First of all, he led the party to the corner of the estate
nearest the point where Paul was shot from his horse. Sitting in his
own saddle, he called the attention of the other riders to what
appeared to be a most significant fact in connection with the killing
of this man.

"From what I hear, the man Paul was shot through the lungs, directly
from in front. The bullet went straight through his body. He was riding
very rapidly down this road. When he came to a point not far above
cross-roads, he was fired upon. It is safe to assume that he was
looking intently ahead, trying to make out the crossing. He was not
shot from the side of the road, gentlemen, but from the middle of it.
The bullet came from a point almost directly in front of him, and not
from Mr. Curtis's property here to the left, or Mr. Conley's on the
right. Understand, this is my whimsey only. I may be entirely wrong. My
idea is that the man who shot him waited here at the cross-roads to
head off either or both of them in case they were not winged by men
stationed farther up. Of course, that must be quite obvious to all of
you. My friend De Soto is inclined to the belief that they were trying
to get across the border. I don't believe so. If that were the case,
why did they dismount above Conley's house, hitch their horses to the
fence, and set forth on foot? I am convinced in my own mind that they
came here to meet some one to whom they were to deliver a verbal report
of vital importance,--some one from across the border in Canada. This
message was delivered. So far as Roon and Paul were concerned their
usefulness was ended. They had done all that was required of them. The
cause they served was better off with them dead than alive. Without the
slightest compunction, without the least regard for faithful service,
they were set upon and slain by their supposed friends. Now, you may
laugh at my fancy if you like, but you must remember that frightful
things are happening in these days. The killing of these men adds but a
drop to the ocean of blood that is being shed. Roon and Paul, suddenly
confronted by treachery, fled for their lives. The trap had been set
with care, however; they rushed into it."

"I am inclined to your hypothesis, O'Dowd," said Barnes. "It seems
sound and reasonable. The extraordinary precautions taken by Roon and
Paul to prevent identification, dead or alive, supports your whimsey,
as you call it. The thing that puzzles me, however, is the singular
failure of the two men to defend themselves. They were armed, yet
neither fired a shot. You would think that when they found themselves
in a tight place, such as you suggest, their first impulse would be to
shoot."

"Well," mused O'Dowd, squinting his eyes in thought, "there's something
in that. It doesn't seem reasonable that they'd run like whiteheads
with guns in--By Jove, here's a new thought!" His eyes glistened with
boyish elation. "They had delivered their message,--we'll assume that
much, of course,--and were walking back to their horses when they were
ordered to halt by some one hidden in the brush at the roadside. You
can't very well succeed in hitting a man if you can't see him at all,
so they made a dash for it instead of wasting time in shooting at the
air. What's more, they may have anticipated the very thing that
happened: they were prepared for treachery. Their only chance lay in
getting safely into their saddles. Oh, I am a good romancer! I should
be writing dime novels instead of living the respectable life I do.
Conley heard them running for their lives. Assassins had been stationed
along the road to head them off, however. The man who had his place
near the horses, got Roon. The chances are that Paul did not accompany
Roon to the meeting place up the road. He remained near the horses.
That's how he managed to get away so quickly. It remained for the man
at the cross-roads to settle with him. But, we're wasting time with all
this twaddle of mine. Let us be moving. There is one point on which we
must all agree. The deadliest marksmen in the world fired those shots.
No bungling on that score, bedad."

In course of time, the party, traversing the ground contiguous to the
public road, came within sight of the green dwelling among the trees.
Barnes's interest revived. He had, from the outset, appreciated the
futility of the search for clues in the territory they had covered. The
searchers were incapable of conducting a scientific examination. It was
work for the most skilful, the most practised, the most untiring of
tracers. His second view of the house increased his wonder and
admiration. If O'Dowd had not actually located it among the trees for
him, he would have been at a loss to discover it, although it was
immediately in front of him and in direct line of vision.

"Astonishing, isn't it?" said the Irishman, as they stood side by side,
peering ahead.

"Marvellous is the better word," said Barnes.

"The fairies might have built it," said the other, with something like
awe in his voice. He shook his head solemnly.

"One could almost fancy that a fairy queen dwelt there, surrounded by
Peter Pans and Aladdins," mused Barnes.

"Instead of an ogre attended by owls and nightbirds and the devil knows
what,--for I don't."

Barnes looked at him in amazement, struck by the curious note in his
voice.

"If you were a small boy in knickers, O'Dowd, I should say that you
were mortally afraid of the place."

"If I were a small boy," said O'Dowd, "I'd be scairt entirely out of me
knickers. I'd keep me boots on, mind ye, so that I could run the
better. It's me Irish imagination that does the trick. You never saw an
Irishman in your life that wasn't conscious of the 'little people' that
inhabit the places that are always dark and green."

De Soto was seen approaching through the green sea, his head appearing
and disappearing intermittently in the billows formed by the undulating
underbrush. He shook hands with Barnes a moment later.

"I'm glad you had the sense to bring Mr. Barnes with you, O'Dowd," said
he. "You didn't mention him when you telephoned that you were
personally conducting a sight-seeing party. I tried to catch you
afterwards on the telephone, but you had left the tavern. Mrs. Collier
wanted me to ask you to capture Mr. Barnes for dinner to-night."

"Mrs. Collier is the sister of Mr. Curtis," explained O'Dowd. Then he
turned upon De Soto incredulously. "For the love of Pat," he cried
"what's come over them? When I made so bold as to suggest last night
that you were a chap worth cultivating, Barnes,--and that you wouldn't
be long in the neighbourhood,--But, to save your feelings I'll not
repeat what they said, the two of them. What changed them over, De
Soto?"

"A chance remark of Miss Cameron's at lunch to-day. She wondered if
Barnes could be the chap who wrote the articles about Peru and the
Incas, or something of the sort, and that set them to looking up the
back numbers of the geographic magazine in Mr. Curtis's library. Not
only did they find the articles but they found your picture. I had no
difficulty in deciding that you were one and the same. The atmosphere
cleared in a jiffy. It became even clearer when it was discovered that
you have had a few ancestors and are received in good society--both
here and abroad, as the late Frederic Townsend Martin would have said.
I hereby officially present the result of subsequent deliberation. Mr.
Barnes is invited to dine with us to-night."

Barnes's heart was still pounding rapidly as he made the rueful
admission that he "didn't have a thing to wear." He couldn't think of
accepting the gracious invitation--

"Don't you think the clothes you have on your back will last through
the evening?" inquired O'Dowd quaintly.

"But look at them!" cried Barnes. "I've tramped in 'em for two weeks
and--"

"All the more reason why you should be thankful they're good and
stout," said O'Dowd.

"We live rather simply up here, Mr. Barnes," said De Soto. "There isn't
a dinner jacket or a spike tail coat on the place. It's strictly
against the law up here to have such things about one's person. Come as
you are, sir. I assure you I speak the truth when I say we don't dress
for dinner."

"Bedad," said O'Dowd enthusiastically, "if it will make ye feel any
more comfortable I'll put on the corduroy outfit I go trout fishing in,
bespattered and patched as it is. And De Soto will appear in the white
duck trousers and blazer he tries to play tennis in,--though, God bless
him, poor wretch, he hates to put them on after all he's heard said
about his game."

"If they'll take me as I am," began Barnes, doubtfully.

"I say," called out O'Dowd to the sheriff, who was gazing longingly at
the horses tethered at the bottom of the slope; "would ye mind leading
Mr. Barnes's nag back to the Tavern? He is stopping to dinner. And,
while I think of it, are you satisfied, Mr. Sheriff, with the day's
work? If not, you will be welcome again at any time, if ye'll only
telephone a half minute in advance." To Barnes he said: "We'll send you
down in the automobile to-night, provided it has survived the day.
We're expecting the poor thing to die in its tracks at almost any
instant."

Ten minutes later Barnes passed through the portals of Green Fancy.



CHAPTER IX

THE FIRST WAYFARER, THE SECOND WAYFARER, AND THE SPIRIT OF CHIVALRY
ASCENDANT


The wide green door, set far back in a recess not unlike a kiosk, was
opened by a man-servant who might easily have been mistaken for a
waiter from Delmonico's or Sherry's. He did not have the air or aplomb
of a butler, nor the smartness of a footman. On the contrary, he was a
thick-set, rather scrubby sort of person with all the symptoms of cafe
servitude about him, including the never-failing doubt as to
nationality. He might have been a Greek, a Pole, an Italian or a Turk.

"Say to Mrs. Collier, Nicholas, that Mr. Barnes is here for dinner,"
said De Soto. "I will make the cocktails this evening."

Much to Barnes's surprise,--and disappointment,--the interior of the
house failed to sustain the bewildering effect produced by the
exterior. The entrance hall and the living-room into which he was
conducted by the two men were singularly like others that he had seen.
The latter, for example, was of ordinary dimensions, furnished with a
thought for comfort rather than elegance or even good taste. The rugs
were thick and in tone held almost exclusively to Turkish reds; the
couches and chairs were low and deep and comfortable, as if intended
for men only, and they were covered with rich, gay materials; the
hangings at the windows were of deep blue and gold; the walls an
unobtrusive cream colour, almost literally thatched with etchings.

Barnes, somewhat of a connoisseur, was not slow to recognise the value
and extreme rarity of the prints. Rembrandt, Whistler, Hayden, Merryon,
Cameron, Muirhead Bone and Zorn were represented by their most notable
creations; two startling subjects by Brangwyn hung alone in one corner
of the room, isolated, it would seem, out of consideration for the
gleaming, jewel-like surfaces of other and smaller treasures. There
were at least a dozen Zorns, as many Whistlers and Camerons.

O'Dowd, observing the glance of appreciation that Barnes sent about the
room, said: "All of thim are in the very rarest state. He has one of
the finest collections in America. Ye'll want your boots cleaned and
polished, and your face needs scrubbing, if ye don't mind my saying
so," he went on, critically surveying the visitor's person. "Come up to
my room and make yourself tidy. My own man will dust you off and
furbish you up in no time at all."

They passed into another room at the left and approached a wide
stairway, the lower step of which was flush with the baseboard on the
wall. Not so much as an inch of the stairway protruded into the room,
and yet Barnes, whose artistic sense should have been offended, was
curiously pleased with the arrangement and effect. He made a mental
note of this deliberate violation of the holy rules of construction,
and decided that one day he would try it out for himself.

The room itself was obviously a continuation of the larger one beyond,
a sort of annex, as it were. The same scheme in decoration and
furnishings was observed, except here the walls were adorned with small
paintings in oil, heavily framed. Hanging in the panel at the right of
the stairway was an exquisite little Corot, silvery and feathery even
in the dim light of early dusk. On the opposite side was a brilliant
little Cazin.

The stairs were thickly carpeted. At the top, his guide turned to the
left and led the way down a long corridor. They passed at least four
doors before O'Dowd stopped and threw open the fifth on that side of
the hall. There were still two more doors beyond.

"Suggests a hotel, doesn't it?" said the Irishman, standing aside for
Barnes to enter. "All of the sleeping apartments are on this floor, and
the baths, and boudoirs, and what-not. The garret is above, and that's
where we deposit our family skeletons, intern our grievances, store our
stock of spitefulness, and hide all the little devils that must come
sneaking up from the city with us whether we will or no. Nothing but
good-humour, contentment, happiness and mirth are permitted to occupy
this floor and the one below. I might also add beauty, for you can't
conceive any of the others without it, me friend. God knows I couldn't
be good-natured for a minute if I wasn't encouraged by beauty
appreciative, and as for being contented, happy or mirthful,--bedad,
words fail me! Dabson," he said, addressing the man who had quietly
entered the room through the door behind them, "do Mr. Barnes, will ye,
and fetch me from Mr. De Soto's room when you've finished. I leave you
to Dabson's tender mercies. The saints preserve us! Look at the man's
boots! Dabson, get out your brush and dauber first of all. He's been
floundering in a bog."

The jovial Irishman retired, leaving Barnes to be "done" by the silent,
swift-moving valet. Dabson was young and vigorous and exceedingly
well-trained. He made short work of "doing" the visitor; barely fifteen
minutes elapsed before O'Dowd's return.

Presently they went downstairs together. Lamps had been lighted, many
of them, throughout the house. A warm, pleasing glow filled the rooms,
softening,--one might even say tempering,--the insistent reds in the
rugs, which now seemed to reflect rather than to project their hues; a
fire crackled in the cavernous fireplace at the end of the living-room,
and grouped about its cheerful, grateful blaze were the ladies of Green
Fancy.

Barnes was aware of a quickening of his pulses as he advanced with
O'Dowd. De Soto was there ahead of them, posed ungracefully in front of
the fire, his feet widespread, his hands in his pockets. Another man,
sallow-faced and tall, with a tired looking blond moustache and sleepy
eyes, was managing, with amazing skill, the retention of a cigarette
which seemed to be constantly in peril of detaching itself from his
parted though inactive lips.

SHE was there, standing slightly aloof from the others, but evidently
amused by the tale with which De Soto was regaling them. She was
smiling; Barnes saw the sapphire lights sparkling in her eyes, and
experienced a sensation that was woefully akin to confusion.

He had the feeling that he would be absolutely speechless when
presented to her; in the full, luminous glow of those lovely eyes he
would lose consciousness, momentarily, no doubt, but long enough to
give her,--and all the rest of them,--no end of a fright.

But nothing of the kind happened. Everything went off quite naturally.
He favoured Miss Cameron with an uncommonly self-possessed smile as she
gave her hand to him, and she, in turn, responded with one faintly
suggestive of tolerance, although it certainly would have been recorded
by a less sensitive person than Barnes as "ripping."

In reply to his perfunctory "delighted, I'm sure, etc.," she said,
quite clearly: "Oh, now I remember. I was sure I had seen you before,
Mr. Barnes. You are the magic gentleman who sprung like a mushroom out
of the earth yesterday afternoon."

"And frightened you," he said; "whereupon you vanished like the
mushroom that is gobbled up by the predatory glutton."

He had thrilled at the sound of her voice. It was the low, deliberate
voice of the woman of the crossroads, and, as before, he caught the
almost imperceptible accent. The red gleam from the blazing logs fell
upon her shining hair; it glistened like gold. She wore a simple
evening gown of white, softened over the shoulders and neck with a fall
of rare vallenciennes lace. There was no jewelry,--not even a ring on
her slender, tapering fingers. Oddly enough, now that he stood beside
her, she was not so tall as he had believed her to be the day before.
The crown of her silken head came but little above his shoulder. As she
had appeared to him among the trees he would have sworn that she was
but little below his own height, which was a liberal six feet. He
recalled a flash of wonder on that occasion; she had seemed so much
taller than the woman at the cross-roads that he was almost convinced
that she could not, after all, be the same person. Now she was back to
the height that he remembered, and he marvelled once more.

Mrs. Collier, the hostess, was an elderly, heavy-featured woman,
decidedly over-dressed. Barnes knew her kind. One encounters her
everywhere: the otherwise intelligent woman who has no sense about her
clothes. Mrs. Van Dyke, her daughter, was a woman of thirty, tall, dark
and handsome in a bold, dashing sort of way. She too was rather
resplendent in a black jet gown, and she was liberally bestrewn with
jewels. Much to Barnes's surprise, she possessed a soft, gentle
speaking-voice and a quiet, musical laugh instead of the boisterous
tones and cackle that he always associated with her type. The
lackadaisical gentleman with the moustache turned out to be her husband.

"My brother is unable to be with us to-night, Mr. Barnes," explained
Mrs. Collier. "Mr. O'Dowd may have told you that he is an invalid.
Quite rarely is he well enough to leave his room. He has been feeling
much better of late, but now his nerves are all torn to pieces by this
shooting affair. The mere knowledge that our grounds were being
inspected to-day by the authorities upset him terribly. He has begged
me to present his apologies and regrets to you. Another time, perhaps,
you will give him the pleasure he is missing to-night. He wanted so
much to talk with you about the quaint places you have described so
charmingly in your articles. They must be wonderfully appealing. One
cannot read your descriptions without really envying the people who
live in those enchanted--"

"Ahem!" coughed O'Dowd, who actually had read the articles and could
see nothing alluring in a prospect that contemplated barren, snow-swept
wildernesses in the Andes. "The only advantage I can see in living up
there," he said, with a sly wink at Barnes, "is that one has all the
privileges of death without being put to the expense of burial."

"How very extraordinary, Mr. O'Dowd," said Mrs. Collier, lifting her
lorgnon.

"Mrs. Collier has been reading my paper on the chateau country in
France," said Barnes mendaciously. (It had not yet been published, but
what of that?)

"Perfectly delightful," said Mrs. Collier, and at once changed the
subject.

De Soto's cocktails came in. Miss Cameron did not take one. O'Dowd
proposed a toast.

"To the rascals who went gunning for the other rascals. But for them we
should be short at least one member of this agreeable company."

It was rather startling. Barnes's glass stopped half-way to his lips.
An instant later he drained it. He accepted the toast as a compliment
from the whilom Irishman, and not as a tribute to the prowess of those
mysterious marksmen.

"Rather grewsome, O'Dowd," drawled Van Dyke, "but offset by the
foresightedness of the maker of this cocktail. Uncommonly good one, De
Soto."

The table in the spacious dining-room was one of those long, narrow
Italian boards, unmistakably antique and equally rare. Sixteen or
eighteen people could have been seated without crowding, and when the
seven took their places wide intervals separated them. No effort had
been made by the hostess to bring her guests close together, as might
have been done by using one end or the centre of the table. Except for
scattered doylies, the smooth, nut-brown top was bare of cloth; there
was a glorious patina to this huge old board, with tiny cracks running
like veins across its surface.

Decorations were scant. A half dozen big candlesticks, ecclesiastical
in character, were placed at proper intervals, and at each end of the
table there was a shallow, alabaster dish containing pansies. The
serving plates were of silver. Especially beautiful were the
long-stemmed water goblets and the graceful champagne glasses. They
were blue and white and of a design and quality no longer obtainable
except at great cost. The aesthetic Barnes was not slow to appreciate
the rarity of the glassware and the chaste beauty of the serving plates.

The man Nicholas was evidently the butler, despite his Seventh Avenue
manner. He was assisted in serving by two stalwart and amazingly clumsy
footmen, of similar ilk and nationality. On seeing these additional
men-servants, Barnes began figuratively to count on his fingers the
retainers he had so far encountered on the place. Already he has seen
six, all of them powerful, rugged fellows. It struck him. as
extraordinary, and in a way significant, that there should be so many
men at Green Fancy.

Somewhere back in his mind was the impression that O'Dowd had spoken of
Pierre the cook, a private secretary and male attendant who looked
after Mr. Curtis. Then there was Peter, the regular chauffeur, whom he
had not seen, and doubtless there were able-bodied woodchoppers and
foresters besides. Not forgetting the little book-agent! It suddenly
occurred to him that he was surrounded by a company of the most
formidable character: no less than twenty men would be a reasonable
guess if he were to include O'Dowd, De Soto and Van Dyke.

Much to his disappointment, he was not placed near Miss Cameron at
table. Indeed, she was seated as far away from him as possible. He sat
at Mrs. Collier's right. On his left was Mrs. Van Dyke, with Miss
Cameron at the foot of the table flanked by O'Dowd and De Soto. Van
Dyke had nearly the whole of the opposite side of the table to himself.
There was, to be sure, a place set between him and De Soto, for
symmetry's sake, Barnes concluded. In this he was mistaken; they had
barely seated themselves when Mrs. Collier remarked:

"Mr. Curtis's secretary usually joins us here for coffee. He has his
dinner with my brother and then, poor man, comes in for a brief period
of relaxation. When my brother is in one of his bad spells poor Mr.
Loeb doesn't have much time to himself. It seems to me that my brother
is at his best when his health is at its worst. You may be interested
to know, Mr. Barnes, that he is writing a history of the Five Nations."

"Indians, you know," explained Van Dyke.

"A history of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Cayugas, Onondagas and Senecas, and
their 'Long House' should be of great value, Mrs. Collier," said
Barnes, a trifle didactically. "When does he expect to have it
completed?"

"'Gad, you know a little of everything, don't you?" said Van Dyke,
sitting up a little straighter in his chair and eyeing Barnes fishily.
("Awfully smart chap," he afterwards confided to O'Dowd.) "If he lives
long enough, he'll finish it in 1999," he added, lifting his voice
above Mrs. Collier's passive reply out of which Barnes gathered the
words "couple" and "years."

It is not necessary to dilate upon the excellence of the dinner, to
repeat the dialogue, or to comment on the service, other than to say,
for the sake of record, that the first WAS excellent; the second
sprightly, and the third atrocious.

Loeb, the private secretary, came in for coffee. He was a tall, spare
man of thirty, pallidly handsome, with dark, studious eyes and features
of an unmistakably Hebraic cast, as his name might have foretold. His
teeth were marvellously white, and his slow smile attractive. When he
spoke, which was seldom unless a remark was directed specifically to
him, his voice was singularly deep and resonant. More than once during
the hour that Loeb spent with them Barnes formed and dismissed a
stubborn, ever-recurring opinion that the man was not a Jew. Certainly
he was not an American Jew. His voice, his manner of speech, his every
action stamped him as one born and bred in a land far removed from
Broadway and its counterparts. If a Jew, he was of the East as it is
measured from Rome: the Jew of the carnal Orient.

And as the evening wore on, there came to Barnes the singular fancy
that this man was the master and not the servant of the house! He could
not put the ridiculous idea out of his mind.

He was to depart at ten. The hour drew near and he had had no
opportunity for detached conversation with Miss Cameron. He had
listened to her bright retorts to O'Dowd's sallies, and marvelled at
the ease and composure with which she met the witty Irishman on even
terms. Her voice, always low and distinct, was never without the
suggestion of good-natured raillery; he was enchanted by the faint,
delicious chuckle that rode in every sentence she uttered during these
sprightly tilts.

When the conversation turned to serious topics, her voice steadied
perceptibly, the blue in her eyes took on a deeper and darker hue, the
half-satirical smile vanished from her adorable lips, and she spoke
with the gravity of a profound thinker. Barnes watched her, fascinated,
bereft of the power to concentrate his thoughts on anything else. He
hung on her every movement, hoping and longing for the impersonal
glance or remark with which she occasionally favoured him.

Not until the very close of the evening, and when he had resigned
himself to hopelessness, did the opportunity come for him to speak with
her alone. She caught his eye, and, to his amazement, made a slight
movement of her head, unobserved by the others but curiously imperative
to him. There was no mistaking the meaning of the direct, intense look
that she gave him.

She was appealing to him as a friend,--as one on whom she could depend!

The spirit of chivalry took possession of him. His blood leaped to the
call. She needed him and he would not fail her. And it was with
difficulty that he contrived to hide the exaltation that might have
ruined everything!

Loeb had returned to his labours in Mr. Curtis's study, after bidding
Barnes a courteous good-night. It seemed to the latter that with the
secretary's departure an indefinable restraint fell away from the small
company.

While he was trying to invent a pretext for drawing her apart from the
others, she calmly ordered Van Dyke to relinquish his place on the
couch beside her to Barnes.

"Come and sit beside me, Mr. Barnes," she called out, gaily. "I will
not bite you, or scratch you, or harm you in any way. Ask Mr. O'Dowd
and he will tell you that I am quite docile. What is there about me,
sir, that causes you to think that I am dangerous? You have barely
spoken a word to me, and you've been disagreeably nice to Mrs. Collier
and Mrs. Van Dyke. I don't bite, do I, Mr. O'Dowd?"

"You do," said O'Dowd promptly. "You do more than that. You devour.
Bedad, I have to look in a mirror to convince meself that you haven't
swallowed me whole. That's another way of telling you, Barnes, that
she'll absorb you entirely."

It was a long, deep and comfortable couch of the davenport class, and
she sat in the middle of it instead of at the end, a circumstance that
he was soon to regard as premeditated. She had planned to bring him to
this place beside her and had cunningly prepared against the
possibility that he might put the full length of the couch between them
if she settled herself in a corner. As it was, their elbows almost
touched as he sat down beside her.

For a few minutes she chided him for his unseemly aversion. He was
beginning to think that he had been mistaken in her motive, and that
after all she was merely satisfying her vanity. Suddenly, and as she
smiled into his eyes, she said, lowering her voice slightly:

"Do not appear surprised at anything I may say to you. Smile as if we
were uttering the silliest nonsense. So much depends upon it, Mr.
Barnes."



CHAPTER X

THE PRISONER OF GEEEN FANCY, AND THE LAMENT OF PETER THE CHAUFFEUR


He envied Mr. Rushcroft. The barn-stormer would have risen to the
occasion without so much as the blinking of an eye. He would have been
able to smile and gesticulate in a manner that would have deceived the
most acute observer, while he--ah, he was almost certain to flounder
and make a mess of the situation. He did his best, however, and,
despite his eagerness, managed to come off fairly well. Any one out of
ear-shot would have thought that he was uttering some trifling inanity
instead of these words:

"You may trust me. I have suspected that something was wrong here."

"It is impossible to explain now," she said. "These people are not my
friends. I have no one to turn to in my predicament."

"Yes, you have," he broke in, and laughed rather boisterously for him.
He felt that they were being watched in turn by every person in the
room.

"To-night,--not an hour ago,--I began to feel that I could call upon
you for help. I began to relax. Something whispered to me that I was no
longer utterly alone. Oh, you will never know what it is to have your
heart lighten as mine--But I must control myself. We are not to waste
words."

"You have only to command me, Miss Cameron. No more than a dozen words
are necessary."

"I knew it,--I felt it," she cried eagerly. "Nothing can be done
to-night. The slightest untoward action on your part would send you
after--the other two. There is one man here who, I think, will stand
between me and actual peril. Mr. O'Dowd. He is--"

"He is the liveliest liar I've ever known," broke in Barnes quickly.
"Don't trust him."

"But he is also an Irishman," she said, as if that fact overcame all
other shortcomings. "I like him; he must be an honest man, for he has
already lied nobly in MY behalf." She smiled as she uttered this quaint
anomaly.

"Tell me how I can be of service to you," said he, disposing of O'Dowd
with a shrug.

"I shall try to communicate with you in some way--to-morrow. I beg of
you, I implore you, do not desert me. If I can only be sure that you
will--"

"You may depend on me, no matter what happens," said he, and, looking
into her eyes was bound forever.

"I have been thinking," she said. "Yesterday I made the discovery that
I--that I am actually a prisoner here, Mr. Barnes. I--Smile! Say
something silly!"

Together they laughed over the meaningless remark he made in response
to her command.

"I am constantly watched. If I venture outside the house, I am almost
immediately joined by one of these men. You saw what happened
yesterday. I am distracted. I do not know how to arrange a meeting so
that I may explain my unhappy position to you."

"I will ask the authorities to step in and--"

"No! You are to do nothing of the kind. The authorities would never
find me if they came here to search." (It was hard for him to smile at
that!) "It must be some other way. If I could steal out of the
house,--but that is impossible," she broke off with a catch in her voice.

"Suppose that I were to steal INTO the house," he said, a reckless
light in his eyes.

"Oh, you could never succeed!"

"Well, I could try, couldn't I?" There was nothing funny in the remark
but they both leaned back and laughed heartily. "Leave it to me. I once
got into and out of a Morrocan harem,--but that story may wait. Tell
me, where--"

"The place is guarded day and night. The stealthiest burglar in the
world could not come within a stone's throw of the house."

"By Jove! Those two men night before last were trying to--" He said no
more, but turned his head so that the others could not see the hard
look that settled in his eyes. "If it's as bad as all that, we cannot
afford to make any slips. You think you are in no immediate peril?"

"I am in no peril at all unless I bring it upon myself," she said,
significantly.

"Then a delay of a day or so will not matter," he said, frowning.
"Leave it to me. I will find a way."

"Be careful!" De Soto came lounging up behind them. She went on
speaking, changing the subject so abruptly and so adroitly that for a
moment Barnes was at a loss. "But if she could obtain all those
luxuries without using a penny of his money, what right had he to
object? Surely a wife may do as she pleases with her own money."

"He was trying to break her of selfishness," said Barnes, suddenly
inspired. "The difference between men and women in the matter of
luxuries lies in the fact that one is selfish and the other is not. A
man slaves all the year round to provide luxuries for his wife. The
wife comes into a nice little fortune of her own, and what does she
proceed to do with it? Squander it on her husband? Not much! She sets
out immediately to prove to the world that he is a miser, a skinflint
who never gave her more than the bare necessities of life. The chap I
was speaking of--I beg pardon, Mr. De Soto."

"Forgive me for interrupting, but I am under command from royal
headquarters. Peter, the king of chauffeurs, sends in word that the car
is in an amiable mood and champing to be off. So seldom is it in a
good-humour that he--"

"I'll be off at once," exclaimed Barnes, arising.

"By Jove, it is half-past ten. I had no idea--Good night, Miss Cameron.
Sorry my time is up. I am sure I could have made you hate your own sex
in another half hour."

She held out her hand. "One of our virtues is that we never pretend to
be in love with our own sex, Mr. Barnes. That, at least, is a luxury
reserved solely for your sex."

He bowed low over her hand. "A necessity, if I may be pardoned for
correcting you." He pressed her hand re-assuringly and left her.

She had arisen and was standing, straight and slim by the corner of the
fireplace, a confident smile on her lips.

"If you are to be long in the neighbourhood, Mr. Barnes," said his
hostess, "you must let us have you again."

"My stay is short, I fear. You have only to reveal the faintest sign
that I may come, however, and I'll hop into my seven league boots
before you can utter Jack Robinson's Christian name. Good night, Mrs.
Van Dyke. I have you all to thank for a most delightful evening. May I
expect to see you down our way, Mr. Van Dyke? We have food for man and
beast at all times and in all forms."

"I've tackled your liquids," said Van Dyke. "You are likely to see me
'most any day. I'm always rattling 'round somewhere, don't you know."
(He said "rettling," by the way.) The car was waiting at the back of
the house. O'Dowd walked out with Barnes, their arms linked,--as on a
former occasion, Barnes recalled.

"I'll ride out to the gate with you," said the Irishman. "It's a
winding, devious route the road takes through the trees. As the crow
flies it's no more than five hundred yards, but this way it can't be
less than a mile and a half. Eh, Peter?"

Peter opined that it was at least a mile and a quarter. He was a
Yankee, as O'Dowd had said, and he was not extravagant in estimates.

The passengers sat in the rear seat. Two small lamps served to light
the way through the Stygian labyrinth of trees and rocks. O'Dowd had an
electric pocket torch with which to pick his way back to Green Fancy.

"I can't, for the life of me, see why he doesn't put in a driveway
straight to the road beyond, instead of roaming all over creation as we
have to do," said O'Dowd.

"We foller the bed of the crick that used to run through here 'fore it
was dammed a little ways up to make the ice-pond 'tween here an'
Spanish Falls," supplied Peter. "Makes a durned good road, 'cept when
there's a freshet. It would cost a hull lot o' money to build a road as
good as this-un."

"I was only thinking 'twould save a mile and more," said O'Dowd.

"What's the use o' him savin' a mile, er ten miles, fer that matter,
when he never puts foot out'n the house?" said Peter, the logician.

"Well, then," persisted O'Dowd testily, "he ought to consider the
saving in gasolene."

Peter's reply was a grunt.

They came in time, after many "hair-pins" and right angles, to the gate
opening upon the highway. Peter got down from the seat to release the
pad-locked chain and throw open the gate.

O'Dowd leaned closer to Barnes and lowered his voice.

"See here, Barnes, I'm no fool, and for that reason I've got sense
enough to know that you're not either. I don't know what's in your
mind, nor what you're trying to get into it if it isn't already there.
But I'll say this to you, man to man: don't let your imagination get
the better of your common-sense. That's all. Take the tip from me."

"I am not imagining anything, O'Dowd," said Barnes quietly. "What do
you mean?"

"I mean just what I say. I'm giving you the tip for selfish reasons. If
you make a bally fool of yourself, I'll have to see you through the
worst of it,--and it's a job I don't relish. Ponder that, will ye, on
the way home?"

Barnes did ponder it on the way home. There was but one construction to
put upon the remark: it was O'Dowd's way of letting him know that he
could be depended upon for support if the worst came to pass.

His heart warmed to the lively Irishman. He jumped to the conclusion
that O'Dowd, while aligned with the others in the flesh, was not with
them in spirit. His blithe heart was a gallant one as well. The lovely
prisoner at Green Fancy had a chivalrous defender among the
conspirators, and that fact, suddenly revealed to the harassed Barnes,
sent a thrill of exultation through his veins.

He realised that he could not expect O'Dowd to be of any assistance in
preparing the way for her liberation. Indeed, the Irishman probably
would oppose him out of loyalty to the cause he espoused. His hand
would be against him until the end; then it would strike for him and
the girl who was in jeopardy.

O'Dowd evidently had not been deceived by the acting that masked the
conversation on the couch. He knew that Miss Cameron had appealed to
Barnes, and that the latter had promised to do everything in his power
to help her.

Suspecting that this was the situation, and doubtless sacrificing his
own private interests, he had uttered the vague but timely warning to
Barnes. The significance of this warning grew under reflection. The
mere fact that he could bring himself to the point of speaking to
Barnes as he did, established beyond all question that his position was
not inimical. He was, to a certain extent, delivering himself into the
hands of one who, in his rashness, might not hesitate to cast him to
the lions: the beasts in this instance being his own companions.

Barnes was not slow to appreciate the position in which O'Dowd
voluntarily placed himself. A word or a sign from him would be
sufficient to bring disaster upon the Irishman who had risked his own
safety in a few irretrievable words. The more he thought of it, the
more fully convinced was he that there was nothing to fear from O'Dowd.
The cause for apprehension in that direction was wiped out by a simple
process of reasoning: O'Dowd would have delivered his warning elsewhere
if he intended evil. While it was impossible to decide how far O'Dowd's
friendly interest would carry him, Barnes was still content to believe
that he would withhold his suspicions, for the present at least, from
the others at Green Fancy.

He was at a loss to account for his invitation to Green Fancy under the
circumstances. The confident attitude of those responsible for Miss
Cameron's detention evidently was based upon conditions which rendered
their position tenable. Their disregard for the consequences that might
reasonably be expected to result from this visit was puzzling in the
extreme. He could arrive at no other conclusion than that their
hospitality was inspired by a desire to disarm him of suspicion. An
open welcome to the house, while a bold piece of strategy, was far
better than an effort to cloak the place in mystery.

As he left the place behind him, he found himself saying that he had
received his first and last invitation to visit Green Fancy.

Peter drove slowly, carefully over the road down the mountain, in
direct contrast to the heedless rush of the belated "washer."

Responding to a sudden impulse, Barnes lowered one of the side-seats in
the tonneau and moved closer to the driver. By leaning forward he was
in a position to speak through the window at Peter's back.

"Pretty bad going, isn't it?" he ventured.

"Bad enough in the daytime," said Peter, without taking his eyes from
the road, "but something fierce at night."

"I suppose you've been over it so often, however, that you know every
crook and turn."

"I know 'em well enough not to get gay with 'em," said Peter.

"How long have you been driving for Mr. Curtis?"

"Ever since he come up here, more'n two years ago. I used to drive the
station bus fer the hotel down below Spanish Falls. He stayed there
while he was buildin'. Guess I'm going to get the G. B. 'fore long,
though."

His listener started. "You don't say so! Cutting down expenses?"

"Not so's you could notice it," growled Peter. "Seems that he's gettin'
a new car an' wants an expert machinist to take hold of it from the
start. I was good enough to fiddle around with this second-hand pile o'
junk an' the Buick he had last year, but I ain't qualified to handle
this here twin-six Packard he's expectin', so he says. I guess they's
been some influence used against me, if the truth was known. This new
sec'etary he's got cain't stummick me."

"Why don't you see Mr. Curtis and demand--" "SEE him?" snorted Peter.
"Might as well try to see Napoleon Bonyparte. Didn't you know he was a
sick man?"

"Certainly. But he isn't so ill that he can't attend to business, is
he?"

"He sure is. Parylised, they say. He's a mighty fine man. It's awful to
think of him bein' so helpless he cain't ever git out'n his cheer
ag'in. Course, if he was hisself he wouldn't think o' lettin' me out.
But bein' sick-like, he jest don't give a durn about anything. So
that's how this new sec'etary gets in his fine work on me."

"What has Mr. Loeb against you, if I may ask?"

"Well, it's like this. I ain't in the habit o' bein' ordered aroun' as
if I was jest nobody at all, so when he starts in to cuss me about
somethin' a week or so ago, I ups and tells him I'll smash his head if
he don't take it back. He takes it back all right, but the first thing
I know I get a call-down from Mrs. Collier. She's Mr. Curtis's sister,
you know. Course I couldn't tell her what I told the sheeny, seein' as
she's a female, so I took it like a lamb. Then they gits a feller up
here to wash the car. My gosh, mister, the durned ole rattle-trap ain't
wuth a bucket o' water all told. You could wash from now till next
Christmas an' she wouldn't look any cleaner'n she does right now. So I
sends word in to Mr. Curtis that if she has to be washed, I'll wash
her. I don't want no dago splashin' water all over the barn floor an'
drawin' pay fer doin' it. Then's when I hears about the new car. Mr.
Loeb comes out an' asts me if I ever drove a Packard twin-six. I says
no I ain't, an' he says it's too bad. He asts the dago if he's ever
drove one and the dago lies like thunder. He says he's handled every
kind of a Packard known to science, er somethin' like that. I cain't
understand half the durn fool says. Next day Mrs. Collier sends fer me
an' I go in. She says she guesses she'll try the new washer on the
Packard when it comes, an' if I keer to stay on as washer in his place
she'll be glad to have me. I says I'd like to have a word with Mr.
Curtis, if she don't mind, an' she says Mr. Curtis ain't able to see no
one. So I guess I'm goin' to be let out. Not as I keer very much, 'cept
I hate to leave Mr. Curtis in the lurch. He was mighty good to me up to
the time he got bed-ridden."

"I dare say you will have no difficulty in finding another place," said
Barnes, feeling his way.

"'Tain't easy to git a job up here. I guess I'll have to try New York
er some of the big cities," said Peter, confidently.

An idea was taking root in Barnes's brain, but it was too soon to
consider it fixed.

"You say Mr. Loeb is new at his job?"

"Well, he's new up here. Mr. Curtis was down to New York all last
winter bein' treated, you see. He didn't come up here till about five
weeks ago. Loeb was workin' fer him most of the winter, gittin' up a
book er somethin', I hear. Mr. Curtis's mind is all right, I guess,
even if his body ain't. Always was a great feller fer books an' writin'
'fore he got so sick."

"I see. Mr. Loeb came up with him from New York."

"Kerect. Him and Mr. O'Dowd and Mr. De Soto brought him up 'bout the
last o' March."

"I understand that they are old friends."

"They was up here visitin' last spring an' the fall before. Mr. Curtis
is very fond of both of 'em."

"It seems to me that I have heard that his son married O'Dowd's sister."

"That's right. She's a widder now. Her husband was killed in the war
between Turkey an' them other countries four er five years ago."

"Really?"

"Yep. Him and Mr. O'Dowd--his own brother-in-law, y' know--was fightin'
on the side of the Boolgarians and young Ashley Curtis was killed. Mr.
O'Dowd's always fightin' whenever they's a war goin' on anywheres. I
cain't understand why he ain't over in Europe now helpin' out one side
or t'other."

"Was this son Mr. Curtis's only child?"

"So fer as I know. He left three little kids. They was all here with
their mother jest after the house was finished. Finest children I
ever--"

"They will probably come into this property when Mr. Curtis dies," said
Barnes, keeping the excitement out of his voice.

"More'n likely."

"Was he very feeble when you saw him last?"

"I ain't seen him in more'n six months. He was failin' then. That's why
he went to the city."

"Oh, I see. You did not see him when he arrived the last of March?"

"I was visitin' my sister up in Hornville when he come back
unexpected-like. This ijiot Loeb says he wrote me to meet 'em at
Spanish Falls but I never got the letter. Like as not the durn fool got
the address wrong. I didn't know Mr. Curtis was home till I come back
from my sister's three days later. The wust of it was that I had tooken
the automobile with me,--to have a little work done on her, mind
ye,--an' so they had to hire a Ford to bring him up from the Falls. I
wouldn't 'a' had it happen fer fifty dollars." Peter's tone was
convincingly doleful.

"And he has been confined to his room ever since? Poor old fellow! It's
hard, isn't it?"

"It sure is. Seems like he'll never be able to walk ag'in. I was
talkin' to his nurse only the other day. He says it's a hopeless case."

"Fortunately his sister can be here with him."

"By gosh, she ain't nothin' like him," confided Peter. "She's all fuss
an' feathers an' he is jest as simple as you er me. Nothin' fluffy
about him, I c'n tell ye. Course, he must 'a' had a screw loose
some'eres when he made sich a botch of that house up there, but it's
his'n an' there ain't no law ag'in a man doin' what he pleases with his
own property." He sighed deeply. "I'm jest as well pleased to go as
not," he went on. "Mrs. Collier's got a lot o' money of her own, an'
she's got highfalutin' New York ideas that don't seem to jibe with
mine. Used to be a time when everything was nice an' peaceful up here,
with Sally Perkins doin' the cookin' and her daughter waitin' table,
but 'tain't that way no more. Got to have a man cook an' men
waitresses, an' a butteler. An' it goes ag'in the grain to set down to
a meal with them hayseeds from Italy. You never saw sich table manners."

He rambled on for some minutes, expanding under the soulful influence
of his own woes and the pleasure of having a visible auditor instead of
the make-believe ones he conjured out of the air at times when privacy
afforded him the opportunity to lament aloud.

At any other time Barnes would have been bored by such confidences as
these. Now he was eagerly drinking in every word that Peter uttered.
His lively brain was putting the whole situation into a nutshell.
Assuming that Peter was not the most guileful person on earth, it was
quite obvious that he not only was in ignorance of the true state of
affairs at Green Fancy but that he was to be banished from the place
while still in that condition.

Long before they came to the turnpike, Barnes had reduced his hundred
and one suppositions to the following concrete conclusion: Green Fancy
was no longer in the hands of its original owner for the good and
sufficient reason that Mr. Curtis was dead. The real master of the
house was the man known as Loeb. Through O'Dowd he had leased the
property from the widowed daughter-in-law, and had established himself
there, surrounded by trustworthy henchmen, for the purpose of carrying
out some dark and sinister project.

Putting two and two together, it was easy to determine how and when
O'Dowd decided to cast his fortunes with those of the leader in this
mysterious enterprise. Their intimacy undoubtedly grew out of
association at the time of the Balkan Wars. O'Dowd was a soldier of
fortune. He saw vast opportunities in the scheme proposed by Loeb, and
fell in with it, whether through a mistaken idea as to its real
character or an active desire to profit nefariously time only would
tell. Green Fancy afforded an excellent base for operations. O'Dowd
induced his sister to lease the property to Loeb,--or he may even have
taken it himself. He had visited Mr. Curtis on at least two occasions.
He knew the place and its advantages. The woman known as Mrs. Collier
was not the sister of Curtis. She--but here Barnes put a check upon his
speculations. He appealed to Peter once more.

"I suppose Mrs. Collier has spent a great deal of time up here with her
brother."

"First time she was ever here, so far as I know," said Peter, and
Barnes promptly took up his weaving once more.

With one exception, he decided, the entire company at Green Fancy was
involved in the conspiracy. The exception was Miss Cameron. It was
quite clear to him that she had been misled or betrayed into her
present position; that a trap had been set for her and she had walked
into it blindly, trustingly. This would seem to establish, beyond
question, that her capture and detention was vital to the interests of
the plotters; otherwise she would not have been lured to Green Fancy
under the impression that she was to find herself among friends and
supporters. Supporters! That word started a new train of thought. He
could hardly wait for the story that was to fall from her lips.

Peter swerved into the main-road. "Guess I c'n hit her up a little
now," he said.

"Take it slowly, if you please," said Barnes. "I've had one experience
in this car, going a mile a minute, and I didn't enjoy it."

"You never been in this car before," corrected Peter.

"Is it news to you? Day before yesterday I was picked up at this very
corner and taken to Hart's Tavern in this car. The day Miss Cameron
arrived and the car failed to meet her at Spanish Falls."

"You must be dreamin'," said Peter slowly.

"If you should have the opportunity, Peter, just ask Miss Cameron,"
said the other. "She will tell you that I'm right."

"Is she the strange young lady that come a day er so ago?"

"The extremely pretty one," explained Barnes.

Peter lapsed into silence. It was evident that he considered it
impossible to continue the discussion without offending his passenger.

"By the way, Peter, it has just occurred to me that I may be able to
give you a job in case you are let out by Mr. Curtis. I can't say
definitely until I have communicated with my sister, who has a summer
home in the Berkshires. Don't mention it to Mr. Curtis. I wouldn't, for
anything in the world, have him think that I was trying to take you
away from him. That is regarded as one of the lowest tricks a man can
be guilty of."

"We call it ornery up here," said Peter. "I'll be much obliged, sir.
Course I won't say a word. Will I find you at the Tavern if I get my
walkin' papers soon?"

"Yes. Stop in to see me to-morrow if you happen to be passing."

There was additional food for reflection in the fact that Peter was
allowed to conduct him to the Tavern alone. It was evident that not
only was the garrulous native ignorant of the real conditions at Green
Fancy, but that the opportunity was deliberately afforded him to
proclaim his private grievances to the world. After all, mused Barnes,
it wasn't a bad bit of diplomacy at that!

Barnes said good night to the man and entered the Tavern a few minutes
later. Putnam Jones was behind the desk and facing him was the little
book-agent.

"Hello, stranger," greeted the landlord. "Been sashaying in society,
hey? Meet my friend Mr. Sprouse, Mr. Barnes. Sic-em, Sprouse! Give him
the Dickens!" Mr. Jones laughed loudly at his own jest.

Sprouse shook hands with his victim.

"I was just saying to our friend Jones here, Mr. Barnes, that you look
like a more than ordinarily intelligent man and that if I had a chance
to buzz with you for a quarter of an hour I could present a
proposition---"

"Sorry, Mr. Sprouse, but it is half-past eleven o'clock, and I am
dog-tired. You will have to excuse me."

"To-morrow morning will suit me," said Sprouse cheerfully, "if it suits
you."



CHAPTER XI

MR. SPROUSE ABANDONS LITERATURE AT AN EARLY HOUR IN THE MORNING


After thrashing about in his bed for seven sleepless hours, Barnes
arose and gloomily breakfasted alone. He was not discouraged over his
failure to arrive at anything tangible in the shape of a plan of
action. It was inconceivable that he should not be able in very short
order to bring about the release of the fair guest of Green Fancy. He
realised that the conspiracy in which she appeared to be a vital link
was far-reaching and undoubtedly pernicious in character. There was not
the slightest doubt in his mind that international affairs of
considerable importance were involved and that the agents operating at
Green Fancy were under definite orders.

Mr. Sprouse came into the dining-room as he was taking his last swallow
of coffee.

"Ah, good morning," was the bland little man's greeting. "Up with the
lark, I see. It is almost a nocturnal habit with me. I get up so early
that you might say it's a nightly proceeding. I'm surprised to see you
circulating at seven o'clock, however. Mind if I sit down here and have
my eggs?" He pulled out a chair opposite Barnes and coolly sat down at
the table.

"You can't sell me a set of Dickens at this hour of the day," said
Barnes sourly. "Besides, I've finished my breakfast. Keep your seat."
He started to rise.

"Sit down," said Sprouse quietly. Something in the man's voice and
manner struck Barnes as oddly compelling. He hesitated a second and
then resumed his seat. "I've been investigating you, Mr. Barnes," said
the little man, unsmilingly. "Don't get sore. It may gratify you to
know that I am satisfied you are all right."

"What do you mean, Mr.--Mr.--?" began Barnes, angrily.

"Sprouse. There are a lot of things that you don't know, and one of
them is that I don't sell books for a living. It's something of a side
line with me." He leaned forward. "I shall be quite frank with you,
sir. I am a secret service man. Yesterday I went through your effects
upstairs, and last night I took the liberty of spying upon you, so to
speak, while you were a guest at Green Fancy."

"The deuce you say!" cried Barnes, staring.

"We will get right down to tacks," said Sprouse. "My government,--which
isn't yours, by the way,--sent me up here five weeks ago on a certain
undertaking. I am supposed to find out what is hatching up at Green
Fancy. Having satisfied myself that you are not connected with the gang
up there, I cheerfully place myself in your hands, Mr. Barnes. Just a
moment, please. Bring me my usual breakfast, Miss Tilly." The waitress
having vanished in the direction of the kitchen, he resumed. "You were
at Green Fancy last night. So was I. You had an advantage over me,
however, for you were on the inside and I was not."

"Confound your impudence! I--"

"One of my purposes in revealing myself to you, Mr. Barnes, is to warn
you to steer clear of that crowd. You may find yourself in exceedingly
hot water later on if you don't. Another purpose, and the real one, is
to secure, if possible, your co-operation in beating the game up there.
You can help me, and in helping me you may be instrumental in righting
one of the gravest wrongs the world has ever known. Of course, I am
advising you in one breath to avoid the crowd up there and in the next
I ask you to do nothing of the kind. If you can get into the good
graces of--But there is no use counting on that. They are too clever.
There is too much at stake. You might go there for weeks and--"

"See here, Mr. Sprouse or whatever your name is, what do you take me
for?" demanded Barnes, assuming an injured air. "You have the most
monumental nerve in--"

"Save your breath, Mr. Barnes. We may just as well get together on this
thing first as last. I've told you what I am,--and almost who,--and I
know who and what you are. You don't suppose for an instant that I,
with a record for having made fewer blunders than any man in the
service, could afford to take a chance with you unless I was absolutely
sure of my ground, do you? You ask me what I take you for. Well, I take
you for a meddler who, if given a free rein, may upset the whole pot of
beans and work an irreparable injury to an honest cause."

"A meddler, am I? Good morning, Mr. Sprouts. I fancy--"

"Sprouse. But the name doesn't matter. Keep your seat. You may learn
something that will be of untold value to you. I used the word meddler
in a professional sense. You are inexperienced. You would behave like a
bull in a china shop. I've been working for nearly six months on a job
that you think you can clear up in a couple of days. Fools walk in
where angels fear to tread. You--"

"Will you be good enough, Mr. Sprouse, to tell me just what you are
trying to get at? Come to the point. I know nothing whatever against
Mr. Curtis and his friends. You assume a great deal--"

"Excuse me, Mr. Barnes. I'll admit that you don't know anything against
them, but you suspect a whole lot. To begin with, you suspect that two
men were shot to death because they were in wrong with some one at
Green Fancy. Now, I could tell you who those two men really were and
why they were shot. But I sha'n't do anything of the sort,--at least
not at present. I--"

"You may have to tell all this to the State if I choose to go to the
authorities with the statement you have just made."

"I expect, at the proper time, to tell it all to the State. Are you
willing to listen to what I have to say, or are you going to stay on
your high-horse and tell me to go to the devil? You interest yourself
in this affair for the sake of a little pleasurable excitement. I am in
it, not for fun, but because I am employed by a great Power to risk my
life whenever it is necessary. This happens to be one of the times when
it is vitally necessary. This is not child's play or school-boy romance
with me. It is business."

Barnes was impressed. "Perhaps you will condescend to tell me who you
are, Mr. Sprouse. I am very much in the dark."

"I am a special agent,--but not a spy, sir,--of a government that is
friendly to yours. I am known in Washington. My credentials are not to
be questioned. At present it would be unwise for me to reveal the name
of my government. I dare say if I can afford to trust you, Mr. Barnes,
you can afford to trust me. There is too much at stake for me to take
the slightest chance with any man. I am ready to chance you, sir, if
you will do the same by me."

"Well," began Barnes deliberately, "I guess you will have to take a
chance with me, Mr. Sprouse, for I refuse to commit myself until I know
exactly what you are up to."

Sprouse had a pleasant word or two for Miss Tilly as she placed the
bacon and eggs before him and poured his coffee.

"Skip along now, Miss Tilly," he said. "I'm going to sell Mr. Barnes a
whole library if I can keep him awake long enough."

"I can heartily recommend the Dickens and Scott--" began Miss Tilly,
but Sprouse waved her away.

"In the first place, Mr. Barnes," said he, salting his eggs, "you have
been thinking that I was sent down from Green Fancy to spy on you.
Isn't that so?"

"I am answering no questions, Mr. Sprouse."

"You were wrong," said Sprouse, as if Barnes had answered in the
affirmative. "I am working on my own. You may have observed that I did
not accompany the sheriff's posse to-day. I was up in Hornville getting
the final word from New York that you were on the level. You have a
document from the police, I hear, but I hadn't seen it. Time is
precious. I telephoned to New York. Eleven dollars and sixty cents. You
were under suspicion until I hung up the receiver, I may say."

"Jones has been talking to you," said Barnes. "But you said a moment
ago that you were up at Green Fancy last night. Not by invitation, I
take it."

"I invited myself," said Sprouse succinctly. "Are you inclined to
favour my proposition?"

"You haven't made one."

"By suggestion, Mr. Barnes. It is quite impossible for me to get inside
that house. You appear to have the entree. You are working in the dark,
guessing at everything. I am guessing at nothing. By combining forces
we should bring this thing to a head, and--"

"Just a moment. You expect me to abuse the hospitality of--"

"I shall have to speak plainly, I see." He leaned forward, fixing
Barnes with a pair of steady, earnest eyes. "Six months ago a certain
royal house in Europe was despoiled of its jewels, its privy seal, its
most precious state documents and its charter. They have been traced to
the United States. I am here to recover them. That is the foundation of
my story, Mr. Barnes. Shall I go on?"

"Can you not start at the beginning, Mr. Sprouse? What was it that led
up to this amazing theft?"

"Without divulging the name of the house, I will say that its
sympathies have been from the outset friendly to the Entente
Allies,--especially with France. There are two branches of the ruling
family, one in power, the other practically in exile. The state is a
small one, but its integrity is of the highest. Its sons and daughters
have married into the royal families of nearly all of the great nations
of the continent. The present--or I should say--the late ruler, for he
died on a field of battle not many months ago, had no direct heir. He
was young and unmarried. I am not permitted to state with what army he
was fighting, nor on which front he was killed. It is only necessary to
say that his little state was gobbled up by the Teutonic Allies. The
branch of the family mentioned as being in exile lent its support to
the cause of Germany, not for moral reasons but in the hope and with
the understanding, I am to believe, that the crown-lands would be the
reward. The direct heir to the crown is a cousin of the late prince. He
is now a prisoner of war in Austria. Other members of the family are
held by the Bulgarians as prisoners of war. It is not stretching the
imagination very far to picture them as already dead and out of the
way. At the close of the war, if Germany is victorious, the crown will
be placed upon the head of the pretender branch. Are you following me?"

"Yes," said Barnes, his nerves tingling. He was beginning to see a
great light.

"Almost under the noses of the forces left by the Teutonic Allies to
hold the invaded territory, the crown-jewels, charter and so forth,
heretofore mentioned as they say in legal parlance, were
surreptitiously removed from the palace and spirited away by persons
loyal to the ruling branch of the family. As I have stated, I am
engaged in the effort to recover them."

"It requires but little intelligence on my part to reach the conclusion
that you are employed by either the German or Austrian government, Mr.
Sprouse. You are working in the interests of the usurping branch of the
family."

"Wrong again, Mr. Barnes,--but naturally. I am in the service of a
country violently opposed to the German cause. My country's interest in
the case is--well, you might say benevolent. The missing property
belongs to the State from which it was taken. It represents a great
deal in the shape of treasure, to say nothing of its importance along
other lines. To restore the legitimate branch of the family to power
after the war, the Entente Allies must be in possession of the papers
and crown-rights that these misguided enthusiasts made away with. Of
course, it would be possible to do it without considering the demands
of the opposing claimants, arbitrarily kicking them out, but that isn't
the way my government does business. The persons who removed this
treasure from the state vaults believed that they were acting for the
best interests of their superiors. In a sense, they were. The only
fault we have to find with them is that they failed to do the sensible
thing by delivering their booty into the hands of one of the
governments friendly to their cause. Instead of doing so, they
succeeded in crossing the ocean, conscientiously believing that America
was the safest place to keep the treasure pending developments on the
other side.

"Now we come to the present situation. Some months ago a member of the
aforesaid royal house arrived in this country by way of Japan. He is a
distant cousin of the crown and, in a way, remotely looked upon as the
heir-apparent. Later on he sequestered himself in Canada. Our agents in
Europe learned but recently that while he pretends to be loyal to the
ruling house, he is actually scheming against it. I have been ordered
to run him to earth, for there is every reason to believe that the men
who secured the treasure have been duped into regarding him as an
avowed champion of the crown. We believe that if we find this man we
will, sooner or later, be able to put our hands on the missing
treasure. I have never seen the man, nor a portrait of him. A fairly
adequate description has been sent to me, however. Now, Mr. Barnes,
without telling you how I have arrived at the conclusion, I am prepared
to state that I believe this man to be at Green Fancy, and that in time
the loot,--to use a harsh word,--will be delivered to him there. I am
here to get it, one way or another, when that comes to pass."

Barnes had not taken his eyes from the face of the little man during
this recital. He was rapidly changing his opinion of Sprouse. There was
sincerity in the voice and eyes of the secret agent.

"What led you to suspect that he is at Green Fancy, Mr. Sprouse?"

"History. It is known that this Mr. Curtis has spent a great deal of
time in the country alluded to. As a matter of fact, his son, who lived
in London, had rather extensive business interests there. This son was
killed in the Balkan War several years ago. It is said that the man I
am looking for was a friend of young Curtis, who married a Miss O'Dowd
in London,--the Honourable Miss O'Dowd, daughter of an Irish peer, and
sister of the chap you have met at Green Fancy. The elder Curtis was a
close and intimate friend of more than one member of the royal family.
Indeed, he is known to have been a welcome visitor in the home of a
prominent nobleman, once high in the counsels of State. This man O'Dowd
is also a friend of the man I am looking for. He went through the
Balkan War with him. After that war, O'Dowd drifted to China, hoping no
doubt to take a hand in the revolution. He is that sort. Some months
ago he came to the United States. I forgot to mention that he has long
considered this country his home, although born in Ireland. About six
weeks ago a former equerry in the royal household arrived in New York.
Through him I learned that the daughter of the gentleman in whose house
the senior Mr. Curtis was a frequent guest had been in the United
States since some time prior to the beginning of the war. She was
visiting friends in the States and has been unable to return to her own
land, for reasons that must be obvious. I may as well confess that her
father was, by marriage, an uncle of the late ruler.

"Since the invasion and overthrow of her country by the Teutonic
Allies, she has been endeavouring to raise money here for the purpose
of equipping and supporting the remnants of the small army that fought
so valiantly in defence of the crown. These men, a few thousand only,
are at present interned in a neutral country. I leave you to guess what
will happen if she succeeds in supplying them with arms and ammunition.
Her work is being carried on with the greatest secrecy. Word of it came
to the ears of her country's minister in Paris, however, and he at once
jumped to a quick but very natural conclusion. She has been looked upon
in court circles as the prospective bride of the adventurous cousin I
am hunting for. The embassy has conceived the notion that she may know
a great deal about the present whereabouts of the missing treasure. No
one accuses her of duplicity, however. On the other hand, the man in
the case is known to have pro-German sympathies. She may be loyal to
the crown, but there is a decided doubt as to his loyalty. Of course,
we have no means of knowing to what extent she has confided her plans
to him. We do not even know that she is aware of his presence in this
country. To bring the story to a close, I was instructed to keep close
watch on the man O'Dowd. The ex-attache of the court to whom I referred
a moment ago set out to find the young lady in question. I traced
O'Dowd to this place. I was on the point of reporting to my superiors
that he was in no way associated with the much-sought-after
crown-cousin, and that Green Fancy was as free from taint as the
village chapel, when out of a clear sky and almost under my very nose
two men were mysteriously done away with at the very gates of the
place. In fact, so positive was I that O'Dowd was all right, that I had
started for Washington to send my report back home and wait for
instructions. The killing of those two men changed the aspect
completely. You will certainly agree with me after I have explained to
you that the one known as Andrew Roon was no other than the equerry who
had undertaken to find the--young woman."

"By Jove!" exclaimed Barnes.

"He came up here because he had reason to believe that the--er--girl
was either at Green Fancy or was headed this way. I was back here in
thirty-six hours, selling Dickens. I saw the bodies of the two men at
the county-seat, and recognised both of them, despite the fact that
they had cut off their beards. Now, they could not have been
recognised, Mr. Barnes, except by some one who had known them all his
life. And that is why I am positive that the man I am looking for is up
at Green Fancy."

Barnes drew a long breath. His mind was made up. He had decided to pool
issues with the secret agent, but not until he was convinced that the
result of their co-operation would in no way inflict a hardship upon
the young woman who had appealed to him for help. He was certain that
she was the fair propagandist described by Sprouse.

"Is it your intention to lodge him in jail if you succeed in capturing
your man, Mr. Sprouse, and to apply for extradition papers?" he asked.

"I can't land him in jail unless I can prove that he has the stolen
goods, can I?"

"You could implicate him in the general conspiracy."

"That is for others to say, sir. I am only instructed to recover the
treasure."

"And the young woman, what of her? She would, in any case, be held for
examination and--"

"My dear sir, I may as well tell you now that she is a loyal subject
and, far from being in bad grace at court, is an object of extreme
solicitude to the ambassador. Up to two months ago she was in touch
with him. From what I can gather, she has disappeared completely. Roon
was sent over here for the sole purpose of finding her and inducing her
to return with him to Paris."

"And to take the treasure with her, I suppose," said Barnes drily.

"Naturally."

"Well," began Barnes, introducing a harsh note into his voice, "I
should say that if she is guilty of receiving this stolen property she
ought to be punished. Jail is the place for her, Mr. Sprouse."

Sprouse put down his coffee cup rather suddenly. A queer pallor came
into his face. His voice was low and a trifle husky when he made reply.

"I am sorry to hear you say that, sir."

"Why, may I ask?"

"Because it puts an obstacle in the way of our working together in this
matter."

"You mean that my attitude toward her is--er--not in keeping with your
ideas?"

"You do not understand the situation. Haven't I made it plain to you
that she is innocent of any intent to do wrong?"

"You have said so, Mr. Sprouse, but your idea of wrong and mine may not
jibe."

"There cannot be two ways of looking at it, sir," said Sprouse, after a
moment. "She could do no wrong."

Whereupon Barnes reached his hand across the table and laid it on
Sprouse's. His eyes were dancing.

"That's just what I want to be sure about," he said. "It was my way of
finding out your intentions concerning her."

"What do you mean?" demanded Sprouse, staring.

"Come with me to my room," said Barnes, suppressing his excitement. "I
think I can tell you where she is,--and a great deal more that you
ought to know."

In the little room upstairs, he told the whole story to Sprouse. The
little man listened without so much as a single word of interruption or
interrogation. His sharp eyes began to glisten as the story progressed,
but in no other way did he reveal the slightest sign of emotion.
Somewhat breathlessly Barnes came to the end.

"And now, Mr. Sprouse, what do you make of it all?" he inquired.

Sprouse leaned back in his chair, suddenly relaxing. "I am completely
at sea," he said, and Barnes looked at him in surprise.

"By Jove, I thought it would all be as clear as day to you. Here is
your man and also your woman, and the travelling bag full of--"

"Right you are," interrupted Sprouse. "That is all simple enough. But,
my dear Barnes, can you tell me what Mr. Secretary Loeb's real game is?
Why has he established himself so close to the Canadian line, and why
the mobilisation? I refer to his army of huskies."

"Heirs-apparent usually have some sort of a bodyguard, don't they?"

Sprouse was staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. He either did not hear
the remark or considered it unworthy of notice. When he finally lowered
his eyes, it was to favour Barnes with a deep, inscrutable smile.

"I dare say the first thing for me to do is to advise the Canadian
authorities to keep a sharp lookout along the border."



CHAPTER XII

THE FIRST WAYFARER ACCEPTS AN INVITATION, AND MR. DILLINGFORD BELABOURS
A PROXY


Barnes insisted that the first thing to be considered was the release
of Miss Cameron. He held forth at some length on the urgency of
immediate action.

"If we can't think of any other way to get her out of this devilish
predicament, Sprouse, I shall apply to Washington for help."

"And be laughed at, my friend," said the secret agent. "In the first
place, you couldn't give a substantial reason for government
investigation; in the second place the government wouldn't act until it
had looked very thoroughly into the case; in the third place, it would
be too late by the time the government felt satisfied to act, and in
the fourth place, it is not a matter for the government to meddle in at
all."

"Well, something has to be done at once," said Barnes doggedly. "I gave
her my promise. She is depending on me. If you could have seen the
light that leaped into her glorious eyes when I--"

"Yes, I know. I've heard she is quite a pretty girl. You needn't--"

"Quite a pretty girl!" exclaimed Barnes. "Why, she is the loveliest
thing that God ever created. She has the face of--"

"I am beginning to understand O'Dowd's interest in her, Mr. Barnes.
Your enthusiasm conveys a great deal to me. Apparently you are not
alone in your ecstasies."

"You mean that he is--er--What the dickens do you mean?"

"He has probably fallen in love with her with as little difficulty as
you have experienced, Mr. Barnes, and almost as expeditiously. He has
seen a little more of her than you, but--"

"Don't talk nonsense. I'm not in love with her."

"Can you speak with equal authority for Mr. O'Dowd? He is a very
susceptible Irishman, I am told. Sweethearts in a great many
ports,--and still going strong, as we say of the illustrious Johnny
Walker. From all that I have heard of her amazing beauty, I can't blame
him for losing his heart to her. I only hope he loses his head as well."

"I don't believe he will get much encouragement from her, Mr. Sprouse,"
said Barnes stiffly.

"If she is as clever as I think she is, she will encourage him
tremendously. I would if I were in her place."

"Umph!" was Barnes's only retort to that.

"Is it possible that you have never had the pleasure of being
transformed into a perfect ass by the magic of a perfect woman, Mr.
Barnes? You've missed a great deal. It happened to me once, and came
near to upsetting the destinies of two great nations. Mr. O'Dowd is
only human. He isn't immune."

"I catch the point, Mr. Sprouse," said Barnes, rather gloomily. He did
not like to think of the methods that might have to be employed in the
subjugation of Mr. O'Dowd. "There is a rather important question I'd
like to ask. Is she even remotely eligible to her country's throne?"

"Remotely, yes," said Sprouse without hesitation.

Barnes waited, but nothing further was volunteered.

"So remotely that she could marry a chap like O'Dowd without giving
much thought to future complications?" he ventured.

"She'd be just as safe in marrying O'Dowd as she would be in marrying
you," was Sprouse's unsatisfactory response. The man's brow was
wrinkled in thought. "See here, Mr. Barnes, I am planning a visit to
Green Fancy to-night. How would you like to accompany me?"

"I'd like nothing better," said Barnes, with enthusiasm.

"Ever been shot at?"

"No."

"Well, you are likely to experience the novelty if you go with me.
Better think it over."

"Don't worry about me. I'll go."

"Will you agree to obey instructions? I can't have you muddling things
up, you know."

Barnes thought for a moment. "Of course, if the opportunity offers for
me to communicate with Miss Cameron, I don't see how I--"

Sprouse cut him off sharply. He made it quite plain to the would-be
cavalier that it was not a sentimental enterprise they were to
undertake, and that he would have to govern himself accordingly.

"The grounds are carefully guarded," said Barnes, after they had
discussed the project for some time. "Miss Cameron is constantly under
the watchful eye of one or more of the crowd."

"I know. I passed a couple of them last night," said Sprouse calmly.
"By the way, don't you think it would be very polite of you to invite
the Green Fancy party over here to have an old-fashioned country dinner
with you to-night?"

"Good Lord! What are you talking about? They wouldn't dream of
accepting. Besides, I thought you wanted me to go with you."

"You could offer them diversion in the shape of a theatrical
entertainment. Your friends, the Thespians, would be only too happy to
disport themselves in return for all your--"

"It would be useless, Mr. Sprouse. They will not come."

"I am perfectly aware of that, but it won't do any harm to ask them,
will it?"

Barnes chuckled. "I see. Establishing myself as an innocent bystander,
eh?"

"Get O'Dowd on the telephone and ask him if they can come," said
Sprouse. "Incidentally, you might test his love for Miss Cameron while
you are about it."

"How?" demanded Barnes.

"By asking him to call her to the telephone. Would you be sure to
recognise her voice?"

"I'd know it in Babel," said the other with some fervour.

"Well, if she comes to the 'phone and speaks to you without restraint,
we may be reasonably certain of two things: that O'Dowd is friendly and
that he is able to fix it so that she can talk to you without being
overheard or suspected by the others. It's worth trying, in any event."

"But there is Jones to consider. The telephone is in his office. What
will he think--"

"Jones is all right," said Sprouse briefly. "Come along. You can call
up from my room." He grinned slyly. "Such a thing as tapping the wire,
you know."

Sprouse had installed a telephone in his room, carrying a wire upstairs
from an attachment made in the cellar of the Tavern. He closed the door
to his little room on the top floor.

"With the landlord's approval," he explained, pointing to the
instrument, "but unknown to the telephone company, you may be sure.
Call him up about half-past ten. O'Dowd may be up at this unholy hour,
but not she. Now, I must be off to discuss literature with Mrs. Jim
Conley. I've been working on her for two weeks. The hardest part of my
job is to keep her from subscribing for a set of Dickens. She has been
on the point of signing the contract at least a half dozen times, and
I've been fearfully hard put to head her off. Conley's house is not far
from Green Fancy. Savvy?"

Barnes, left to his own devices, wandered from tap-room to porch, from
porch to forge, from forge to tap-room, his brain far more active than
his legs, his heart as heavy as lead and as light as air by turns. More
than once he felt like resorting to a well-known expedient to determine
whether he was awake or dreaming. Could all this be real?

The sky was overcast. A cold, damp wind blew out of the north. There
was a feel of rain in the air, an ugly greyness in the road that
stretched its sharply defined course through the green fields that
stole timorously up to the barren forest and stopped short, as if
afraid to venture farther.

The ring of the hammer on the anvil lent cheer to the otherwise harsh
and unlovely mood that had fallen upon Nature over night. It sang a
song of defiance that even the mournful chant of sheep on the distant
slopes failed to subdue. The crowing of a belated and no doubt
mortified rooster, the barking of faraway dogs, the sighing of
journeying winds, the lugubrious whistle of Mr. Clarence
Dillingford,--all of these added something to the dreariness of the
morning.

Mr. Dillingford was engaged in lustily beating a rug suspended on a
clothes line in the area back of the stables. His tune was punctuated
by stifled lapses followed almost immediately by dull, flat whacks upon
the carpet. From the end of the porch he was visible to the abstracted
Barnes.

"Hi!" he shouted, brandishing his flail at the New Yorker. "Want a job?"

Barnes looked at his watch. He still had an hour and a half to wait
before he could call up O'Dowd. He strolled across the lot and joined
the perspiring comedian.

"You seem to have a personal grudge against that carpet," he said,
moving back a few yards as Dillingford laid on so manfully that the
dust arose in clouds.

"Every time I land I say: 'Take that, darn you!' And it pleases me to
imagine that with every crack Mr. Putnam Jones lets out a mighty
'Ouch!' Now listen! Didn't that sound a little like an ouch?" Mr.
Dillingford rubbed a spot clean on the handle of the flail and pressed
his lips to it. "Good dog!" he murmured tenderly. "Bite him! (Whack!)
Now, bite him again! (Whack!) Once more! (Whack!) Good dog! Now, go lie
down awhile and rest." He tossed the flail to the ground and, mopping
his brow, turned to Barnes. "If you want a real treat, go into the
cellar and take a look at Bacon. He is churning for butter. Got a
gingham apron on and thinks he's disguised. He can't cuss because old
Miss Tilly is reading the first act of a play she wrote for Julia
Marlowe seven or eight years ago. Oh, it's a great life!"

Barnes sat down on the edge of a watering-trough and began filling his
pipe.

"You are not obliged to do this sort of work, Dillingford," he said.
"It would give me pleasure to stake--"

"Nix," said Mr. Dillingford cheerily. "Some other time I may need help
more than I do now. I'm getting three square meals and plenty of fresh
air to sleep in at present, and work doesn't hurt me physically. It
DOES hurt my pride, but that's soon mended. Have you seen the old man
this morning?"

"Rushcroft? No."

"Well, we're to be on our way next week, completely reorganised,
rejuvenated and resplendent. Fixed it all up last night. Tommy Gray was
down here with two weeks' salary as chauffeur and a little extra he
picked up playing poker in the garage with the rubes. Thirty-seven
dollars in real money. He has decided to buy a quarter interest in the
company and act as manager. Everything looks rosy. You are to have a
half interest and the old man the remaining quarter. He telegraphed
last night for four top-notch people to join us at Crowndale on Tuesday
the twenty-third. We open that night in 'The Duke's Revenge,' our best
piece. It's the only play we've got that provides me with a part in
which I have a chance to show what I can really do. As soon as I get
through spanking this carpet I'll run upstairs and get a lot of
clippings to show you how big a hit I've made in the part. In one town
I got better notices than the star himself, and seldom did I--"

"Where is Crowndale?" interrupted Barnes, a slight frown appearing on
his brow. He had a distinct feeling that there was handwriting on the
wall and that it was put there purposely for him to read.

"About five hours' walk from Hornville," said Dillingford, grinning.
"Twenty-five cents by train. We merely resume a tour interrupted by the
serious illness of Mr. Rushcroft. Rather than impose upon our audiences
by inflicting them with an understudy, the popular star temporarily
abandons his tour. We ought to sell out in Crowndale, top to bottom."

The amazing optimism of Mr. Dillingford had its effect on Barnes.
Somehow the day grew brighter, the skies less drear, a subtle warmth
crept into the air.

"You may count on me, Dillingford, to put up my half interest in the
show. I will have a fling at it a couple of weeks anyhow. If it doesn't
pan out in that time,--well, we can always close, can't we?"

"We certainly can," said the other, with conviction. "It wouldn't
surprise me in the least, however, to see you clean up a very tidy bit
of money, Mr. Barnes. Our season ordinarily closes toward the end of
June, but the chances are we'll stay out all summer if things go right.
Congratulations! Glad to see you in the profession." He shook hands
with the new partner. "Keep your seat! Don't move. I'll shift a little
so's the wind won't blow the dust in your eyes." He obligingly did so
and fell upon the carpet with renewed vigour.

Barnes was restless. He chatted with the rug-beater for a few minutes
and then sauntered away. Miss Thackeray was starting off for a walk as
he came around to the front of the Tavern. She wore a rather shabby
tailor-suit of blue serge, several seasons out of fashion, and a black
sailor hat. Her smile was bright and friendly as she turned in response
to his call. As he drew near he discovered that her lips were a vivid,
startling red, her eyes elaborately made up, and her cheeks the colour
of bismuth. She was returning to form, thought he, in some dismay.

"Where away?" he inquired.

"Seeking solitude," she replied. "I've got to learn a new part in an
old play." She flourished the script airily. "I have just accepted an
engagement as leading lady."

"Splendid! I am delighted. With John Drew, I hope."

"Nothing like that," she said loftily. Then her wide mouth spread into
a good-natured grin, revealing the even rows of teeth that were her
particular charm. "I am going out with the great Lyndon Rushcroft."

"Good! As one of the proprietors, I am glad to see you on
our--er--programme, Miss Thackeray."

"Programme is good," she mused. "I've been on a whole lot of programmes
during my brief career. What I want to get on some time, if possible,
is a pay-roll. Wait! Don't say it! I was only trying to be funny; I
didn't know how it would sound or I wouldn't have said anything so
stupid. You've done more than enough for us, Mr. Barnes. Don't let
yourself in for anything more. This thing will turn out like all the
rest of our efforts. We'll collapse again with a loud report, but we're
used to it and you're not."

"But I'm only letting myself in for a couple of hundred," he protested.
"I can stand that much of a loss without squirming."

"You know your own business," she said shortly, almost ungraciously.
"I'm only giving you a little advice."

"Advice is something I always ignore," he said, smiling. "Experience is
my teacher."

"Advice is cheaper than experience, and a whole lot easier to forget,"
she said. "My grandfather advised my father to stay in the hardware
business out in Indiana. That was thirty years ago. And here we are
to-day," she concluded, with a wide sweep of her hand that took in the
forlorn landscape. She said more in that expressive gesture than the
most accomplished orator could have put into words in a week.

"But there is always a to-morrow, you know."

"There may be a to-morrow for me, but there are nothing but yesterdays
left for dad. All of his to-morrows will be just like his yesterdays.
They will be just as empty of success, just as full of failure. There's
no use mincing matters. We never have had a chance to go broke for the
simple reason that we've never been anything else. He has been starring
for fifteen years, hitting the tanks from one end of the country to the
other. And for just that length of time he has been mooning. There's a
lot of difference between starring and mooning."

"He may go down somewhat regularly, Miss Thackeray, but he always comes
up again. That's what I admire in him. He will not stay down."

Her eyes brightened. "He is rather a brick, isn't he?"

"Rather! And so are you, if I may say so. You have stuck to him through
all--"

"Nothing bricky about me," she scoffed. "I am doing it because I can't,
for the life of me, get rid of the notion that I can act. God knows I
can't, and so does father, and the critics, and every one in the
profession, but I think I can,--so what does it all amount to? Now,
that will be enough about me. As for you, Mr. Barnes, if you have made
up your mind to be foolish, far be it from me to head you off. You will
drop considerably more than a couple of hundred, let me tell you,
and--but, as I said before, that is your business. I must be off now.
It's a long part and I'm slow study. So long,--and thanks!"

He sat down on the Tavern steps and watched her as she swung off down
the road. To his utter amazement, when she reached a point several
hundred yards below the Tavern, she left the highway and, gathering up
her skirts, climbed over the fence into the narrow meadow-land that
formed a frontage at the bottom of the Curtis estate. A few minutes
later she disappeared among the trees at the base of the mountain,
going in the direction of Green Fancy. He had followed her with his
gaze all the way across that narrow strip of pasture. When she came to
the edge of the forest, she stopped and looked back at the Tavern.
Seeing him still on the steps, she waved her hand at him. Then she was
gone.

"Where ignorance is bliss," he muttered to himself, and then looked at
his watch. Ten minutes later he was in Sprouse's room, calling for
Green Fancy over an extension wire that had cost the company nothing
and yielded nothing in return. After some delay, O'Dowd's mellow voice
sang out:

"Hello! How are you this morning?"

"Grievously lonesome," replied Barnes, and wound up a doleful account
of himself by imploring O'Dowd to save his life by bringing the entire
Green Fancy party over to dinner that night.

O'Dowd was heart-broken. Personally he would go to any extreme to save
so valuable a life, but as for the rest of the party, they begged him
to say they were sorry to hear of the expected death of so promising a
chap and that, while they couldn't come to his party, they would be
delighted to come to his funeral. In short, it would be impossible for
them to accept his kind invitation. The Irishman was so gay and
good-humoured that Barnes took hope.

"By the way, O'Dowd, I'd like to speak with Miss Cameron if she can
come to the telephone."

There was a moment of silence. Then: "Call up at twelve o'clock and ask
for me. Good-bye."

Promptly on the stroke of twelve Barnes took down the receiver and
called for Green Fancy. O'Dowd answered almost immediately.

"I warned you last night, Barnes," he said without preamble. "I told
you to keep out of this. You may not understand the situation and I
cannot enlighten you, but I will say this much: no harm can come to her
while I'm here and alive."

"Can't she come to the telephone?"

"Won't ye take my word for it? I swear by all that's holy that she'll
be safe while I've--"

Barnes was cautious. This might be the clever O'Dowd's way of trapping
him into serious admissions.

"I don't know what the deuce you are talking about, O'Dowd," he
interrupted.

"You lie, Barnes," said the other promptly. "Miss Cameron is here at my
elbow. Will you have her tell you that you lie?"

"Let her say anything she likes," said Barnes quickly.

"Don't be surprised if you are cut off suddenly. The coast is clear for
the moment, but--Here, Miss Cameron. Careful, now."

Her voice, soft and clear and trembling with eagerness caressed
Barnes's eager ear.

"Mr. O'Dowd will see that no evil befalls me here, but he refuses to
help me to get away. I quite understand and appreciate his position. I
cannot ask him to go so far as that. Help will have to come from the
outside. It will be dangerous--terribly dangerous, I fear. I have no
right to ask you to take the risk--"

"Wait! Is O'Dowd there?"

"He has left the room. He does not want to hear what I say to you.
Don't you understand?"

"Keeping his conscience clear, bless his soul," said Barnes. "It is
safe for you to speak freely?"

"I think so. O'Dowd suspected us last night. He came to me this morning
and spoke very frankly about it. I feel quite safe with him. You see,
I've known him for a long, long time. He did not know that I was to be
led into a trap like this. It was not until I had been here for several
hours that he realised the true state of affairs. I cannot tell you any
more at present, Mr. Barnes. So great are the other issues at stake
that my own misfortunes are as nothing."

"You say O'Dowd will not assist you to escape?"

"He urges me to stay here and take my chances. He believes that
everything will turn out well for me in the end, but I am frightened. I
must get away from this place."

"I'll manage it, never fear. Keep a stiff upper lip."

"Wha--keep a what?"

He laughed. "I forgot that you don't understand our language, Miss
Cameron. Have courage, is what I should have said. Are you prepared to
fly at a moment's notice?"

"Yes."

"Then, keep your eyes and ears open for the next night or two. Can you
tell me where your room is located?"

"It is one flight up; the first of the two windows in my room is the
third to the right of the entrance. I am confident that some one is
stationed below my windows all night long."

"Are you alone in that room?"

"Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Van Dyke occupy the rooms on my left, Mr. De Soto is
on my right."

"Where does Loeb sleep?"

"I do not know." He detected a new note in her voice, and at once put
it down to fear.

"You still insist that I am not to call on the authorities for help?"

"Yes, yes! That must not even be considered. I have not only myself to
consider, Mr. Barnes. I am a very small atom in--"

"All right! We'll get along without them," he said cheerily.
"Afterwards we will discuss the importance of atoms."

"And your reward as well, Mr. Barnes," she said. Her voice trailed off
into an indistinct murmur. He heard the receiver click on the hook,
and, after calling "hello" twice, hung up his own with a sigh.
Evidently O'Dowd had warned her of the approach of a less considerate
person than himself.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SECOND WAYFARER RECEIVES TWO VISITORS AT MIDNIGHT


The hour for the midday dinner approached and there was no sign of Miss
Thackeray's return from the woods. Barnes sat for two exasperating
hours on the porch and listened to the confident, flamboyant oratory of
Mr. Lyndon Rushcroft. His gaze constantly swept the line of trees, and
there were times when he failed to hear a word in whole sentences that
rolled from the lips of the actor. He was beginning to feel acutely
uneasy, when suddenly her figure issued from the woods at a point just
above the Tavern. Instead of striking out at once across the meadow,
she stopped and for as long as three or four minutes appeared to be
carrying on a conversation with some invisible person among the trees
she had just left behind. Then she waved her hand and turned her steps
homeward. A bent old man came out of the woods and stood watching her
progress across the open stretch. She had less than two hundred yards
to traverse between the woods and the fence opposite the Tavern. The
old man remained where he was until she reached the fence and prepared
to mount it. Then, as Barnes ran down from the porch and across the
road to assist her over the fence, he whirled about and disappeared.

"Aha," said Barnes chidingly: "politely escorted from the grounds, I
see. If you had asked me I could have told you that trespassers are not
welcome."

"He is a nice old man. I chatted with him for nearly an hour. His
business is to shoo gipsy moths away from the trees, or something like
that, and not to shoo nice, tender young ladies off the place."

"Does he speak English?"

"Not a word. He speaks nothing but the most awful American I've ever
heard. He has lived up there on the mountain for sixty-nine years, and
he has eleven grown children, nineteen grandchildren and one wife. I'm
hungry."

The coroner's inquest over the bodies of Roon and Paul was held that
afternoon at St. Elizabeth. Witnesses from Hart's Tavern were among
those to testify. The verdict was "Murder at the hands of parties
unknown."

Sprouse did not appear at the Tavern until long after nightfall. His
protracted absence was the source of grave uneasiness to Barnes, who,
having been summoned to St. Elizabeth, returned at six o'clock primed
and eager for the night's adventure.

The secret agent listened somewhat indifferently to the latter's
account of his telephonic experiences. At nine o'clock he yawned
prodigiously and announced that he was going to bed, much to the
disgust of Mr. Rushcroft and greatly to the surprise of Mr. Barnes, who
followed him from the tap-room and demanded an explanation.

"People usually go to bed at night, don't they?" said Sprouse
patiently. "It is expected, I believe."

"But, my dear man, we are to undertake--"

"There is no reason why we shouldn't go to bed like sensible beings,
Mr. Barnes, and get up again when we feel like it, is there? I have
some cause for believing that one of those chaps in there is from Green
Fancy. Go to bed at ten o'clock, my friend, and put out your light. I
don't insist on your taking off your clothes, however. I will rap on
your door at eleven o'clock. By the way, don't forget to stick your
revolver in your pocket."

A few minutes before eleven there came a gentle tapping on Barnes's
door. He sprang to his feet and opened it, presenting himself before
Sprouse fully dressed and, as the secret agent said later on, "fit to
kill."

They went quietly down a back stairway and let themselves out into the
stable-yard. A light, cold drizzle greeted them as they left the lee of
the building.

"A fine night for treason, stratagems and spoils," said Sprouse,
speaking barely above a whisper. "Follow me and don't ask questions.
You will have to talk if you do, and talking is barred for the present."

He stopped at the corner of the inn and listened for a moment. Then he
darted across the road and turned to the left in the ditch that
bordered it. The night was as black as pitch. Barnes, trusting to the
little man's eyes, and hanging close upon his coat-tails, followed
blindly but gallantly in the tracks of the leader. It seemed to him
that they stumbled along parallel to the road for miles before Sprouse
came to a halt.

"Climb over the fence here, and stick close to me. Are you getting your
cats'-eyes?"

"Yes, I can see pretty well now. But, great scot, why should we walk
half way to the North Pole, Sprouse, before--"

"We haven't come more than half a mile. The Curtis land ends here. We
stay close to this fence till we reach the woods. I was in here to-day
taking observations."

"You were?"

"Yes. Didn't that actress friend of yours mention meeting me?"

"No."

"I told her distinctly that I had eleven children, nineteen--"

"By Jove, was that you?" gasped Barnes, falling in beside him.

"If it were light enough you could see a sign on my back which says in
large type, 'Silence,'" said the other, and after that not a word
passed between them for half an hour or more. Then it was Sprouse who
spoke. "This is the short cut to Green Fancy," he whispered, laying his
hand on Barnes's arm. "We save four or five miles, coming this way. Do
you know where we are?"

"I haven't the remotest idea."

"About a quarter of a mile below Curtis's house. Are you all right?"

"Fine as a fiddle, except for a barked knee, a skinned elbow, a couple
of more or less busted ribs, something on my cheek that runs hot,--yes,
I'm all right."

"Pretty tough going," said Sprouse, sympathetically.

"I've banged into more trees than--"

"Sh!" After a moment of silence, intensified by the mournful squawk of
night-birds and the chorus of katydids, Sprouse whispered: "Did you
hear that?"

Barnes thrilled. This was real melodrama. "Hear what?" he whispered
shrilly.

"Listen!" After a second or two: "There!"

"It's a woodpecker hammering on the limb of a--"

"Woodpeckers don't hammer at midnight, my lad. Don't stir! Keep your
ears open."

"You bet they're open all right," whispered Barnes, his nerves aquiver.

Suddenly the sharp tattoo sounded so close to the spot where they were
standing that Barnes caught his breath and with difficulty suppressed
an exclamation. It was like the irregular rattle of sticks on the rim
of a snare-drum. The tapping ceased and a moment later a similar sound,
barely audible, came out of the distance.

Sprouse clutched his companion's arm and, dropping to his knees in the
thick underbrush, pulled the other down after him.

Presently heavy footsteps approached. An unseen pedestrian passed
within ten yards of them. They scarcely breathed until the sounds
passed entirely out of hearing. Sprouse put his lips close to Barnes's
ear.

"Telegraph," he whispered. "It's a system they have of reporting to
each other. There are two men patrolling the grounds near the house.
You see what we're up against, Barnes. Do you still want to go on with
it? If you are going to funk it, say so, and I'll go alone."

"I'll stay by you," replied Barnes sturdily.

"In about ten minutes that fellow will come back this way. He follows
the little path that winds down--but never mind. Stay where you are,
and don't make a sound, no matter what happens. Understand? No matter
what happens!" He arose and swiftly, noiselessly, stole away from his
companion's side. Barnes, his eyes accustomed to the night, either saw
or imagined that he saw, the shadowy hulk press forward for a dozen
paces and then apparently dissolve in black air.

Several minutes went by. There was not a sound save the restless patter
of rain in the tree tops. At last the faraway thud of footsteps came to
the ears of the tense listener. They drew nearer, louder, and once more
seemed to be approaching the very spot where he crouched. He had the
uncanny feeling that in a moment or two more the foot of the sentinel
would come in contact with his rigid body, and that he would not have
the power to suppress the yell of dismay that--

Then came the sound of a dull, heavy blow, a hoarse gasp, a momentary
commotion in the shrubbery, and--again silence. Barnes's blood ran
cold. He waited for the next footfall of the passing man. It never came.

A sharp whisper reached his ears. "Come here--quick!"

He floundered through the brush and almost fell prostrate over the
kneeling figure of a man.

"Take care! Lend a hand," whispered Sprouse.

Dropping to his knees, Barnes felt for and touched wet, coarse
garments, and gasped:

"My God! Have you--killed him?"

"Temporarily," said Sprouse, between his teeth. "Here, unwind the rope
I've got around my waist. Take the end--here. Got a knife? Cut off a
section about three feet long. I'll get the gag in his mouth while
you're doing it. Hangmen always carry their own ropes," he concluded,
with grewsome humour. "Got it cut? Well, cut two more sections, same
length."

With incredible swiftness the two of them bound the feet, knees and
arms of the inert victim.

"I came prepared," said Sprouse, so calmly that Barnes marvelled at the
iron nerve of the man.

"Thirty feet of hemp clothes-line for a belt, properly prepared
gags,--and a sound silencer."

"By heaven, Sprouse, I--I believe he's dead," groaned Barnes. "We--we
haven't any right to kill a--"

"He'll be as much alive but not as lively as a cricket in ten minutes,"
said the other. "Grab his heels. We'll chuck him over into the bushes
where he'll be out of harm's way. We may have to run like hell down
this path, partner, and I'd--I'd hate to step on his face."

"'Gad, you're a cold-blooded--"

"Don't be finicky," snapped Sprouse. "It wasn't much of a crack, and it
was necessary. There! You're safe for the time being," he grunted as
they laid the limp body down in the brush at the side of the narrow
trail. Straightening up, with a sigh of satisfaction, he laid his hand
on Barnes's shoulder. "We've just got to go through with it now,
Barnes. We'll never get another chance. Putting that fellow out of
business queers us forever afterward." He dropped to his knees and
began searching over the ground with his hands. "Here it is. You can't
see it, of course, so I'll tell you what it is. A nice little block of
sandal-wood. I've already got his nice little hammer, so we'll see what
we can raise in the way of wireless chit-chat."

Without the slightest hesitation, he struck a succession of quick,
confident blows upon the block of wood.

"He always signals at this spot going out and again coming in," he said
softly.

"How the deuce did you find out--"

"There! Hear that? He says, 'All's well,'--same as I said, or something
equivalent to it. I've been up here quite a bit, Barnes, making a study
of night-hawks, their habits and their language."

"By gad, you are a wonder!"

"Wait till to-morrow before you say that," replied Sprouse,
sententiously. "Come along now. Stick to the trail. We've got to land
the other one." For five or six minutes they moved forward. Barnes,
following instructions, trod heavily and without any attempt at
caution. His companion, on the other hand, moved with incredible
stealthiness. A listener would have said that but one man walked on
that lonely trail.

Turning sharply to the right, Sprouse guided his companion through the
brush for some distance, and once more came to a halt. Again he stole
on ahead, and, as before, the slow, confident, even careless progress
of a man ceased as abruptly as that of the comrade who lay helpless in
the thicket below.

"There are others, no doubt, but they patrol the outposts, so to
speak," panted Sprouse as they bound and trussed the second victim. "We
haven't much to fear from them. Come on. We are within a hundred feet
of the house. Softly now, or--"

Barnes laid a firm, detaining hand on the man's shoulder.

"See here, Sprouse," he whispered, "it's all very well for you,
knocking men over like this, but just what is your object? What does
all this lead up to? We can't go on forever slugging and binding these
fellows. There is a house full of them up there. What do we gain by
putting a few men out of business?"

Sprouse broke in, and there was not the slightest trace of emotion in
his whisper.

"Quite right. You ought to know. I suppose you thought I was bringing
you up here for a Romeo and Juliet tete-a-tete with the beautiful Miss
Cameron,--and for nothing else. Well, in a way, you are right. But,
first of all, my business is to recover the crown jewels and
parchments. I am going into that house and take them away from the man
you know as Loeb,--if he has them. If he hasn't them, my work here is a
failure."

"Going into the house?" gasped Barnes. "Why, my God, man, that is
impossible. You cannot get into the house, and if you did, you'd never
come out alive. You would be shot down as an ordinary burglar and--the
law would justify them for killing you. I must insist--"

"I am not asking you to go into the house, my friend. I shall go
alone," said Sprouse coolly.

"On the other hand, I came up here to rescue a helpless,--"

"Oh, we will attend to that also," said Sprouse. "The treasure comes
first, however. Has it not occurred to you that she will refuse to be
rescued unless the jewels can be brought away with her? She would die
before she would leave them behind. No, Barnes, I must get the booty
first, then the beauty."

"But you can do nothing without her advice and assistance," protested
Barnes.

"That is just why I brought you along with me. She does not know me.
She would not trust me. You are to introduce me."

"Well, by gad, you've got a nerve!"

"Keep cool! It's the only way. Now, listen. She has designated her room
and the windows that are hers. She is lying awake up there now, take it
from me, hoping that you will come to-night. Do you understand? If not
to-night, to-morrow night. I shall lead you directly to her window. And
then comes the only chance we take,--the only instance where we gamble.
There will not be a light in her window, but that won't make any
difference. This nobby cane I'm carrying is in reality a collapsible
fishing-rod. Bought it to-day in anticipation of some good fishing.
First, we use it to tap gently on her window ledge, or shade, or
whatever we find. Then, you pass up a little note to her. Here is paper
and pencil. Say that you are below her window and--all ready to take
her away. Say that the guards have been disposed of, and that the coast
is clear. Tell her to lower her valuables, some clothes, et cetera,
from the window by means of the rope we'll pass up on the pole. There
is a remote possibility that she may have the jewels in her room. For
certain reasons they may have permitted her to retain them. If such is
the case, our work is easy. If they have taken them away from her,
she'll say so, some way or another,--and she will not leave! Now, I've
had a good look at the front of that house. It is covered with a
lattice work and huge vines. I can shin up like a squirrel and go
through her room to the--"

"Are you crazy, Sprouse?"

"I am the sanest person you've ever met, Mr. Barnes. The chance we take
is that she may not be alone in the room. But, nothing risked, nothing
gained."

"You take your life in your hands and--"

"Don't worry about that, my lad."

"--and you also place Miss Cameron in even graver peril than--"

"See here," said Sprouse shortly, "I am not risking my life for the fun
of the thing. I am risking it for her, bear that in mind,--for her and
her people. And if I am killed, they won't even say 'Well-done, good
and faithful servant.' So, let's not argue the point. Are you going to
stand by me or--back out?"

Barnes was shamed. "I'll stand by you," he said, and they stole forward.

The utmost caution was observed in the approach to the house through
the thin, winding paths that Barnes remembered from an earlier visit.
They crept on all fours over the last fifty feet that intervened, and
each held a revolver in readiness for a surprise attack.

There were no lights visible. The house was even darker than the night
itself; it was vaguely outlined by a deeper shade of black. The ground
being wet, the carpet of dead leaves gave out no rustling sound as the
two men crept nearer and nearer to the top-heavy shadow that seemed
ready to lurch forward and swallow them whole.

At last they were within a few yards of the entrance and at the edge of
a small space that had been cleared of shrubbery. Here Sprouse stopped
and began to adjust the sections of his fishing-rod.

"Write," he whispered. "There is a faint glow of light up there to the
right. The third window, did you say? Well, that's about where I should
locate it. She has opened the window shutters. The light comes into the
room through the transom over the door, I would say. There is probably
a light in the hall outside."

A few minutes later, they crept across the open space and huddled
against the vine-covered facade of Green Fancy. Barnes was singularly
composed and free from nervousness, despite the fact that his whole
being tingled with excitement. What was to transpire within the next
few minutes? What was to be the end of this daring exploit? Was he to
see her, to touch her hand, to carry her off into that dungeon-like
forest,--and what was this new, exquisite thrill that ran through his
veins?

The tiny, metallic tip of the rod, held in the upstretched hand of
Barnes, much the taller of the two men, barely reached the window
ledge. He tapped gently, persistently on the hard surface. Obeying the
hand-pressure of his companion he desisted at intervals, resuming the
operation after a moment of waiting. Just as they were beginning to
think that she was asleep and that their efforts were in vain, their
straining eyes made out a shadowy object projecting slightly beyond the
sill. Barnes felt Sprouse's grip on his shoulder tighten, and the quick
intake of his breath was evidence of the little secret agent's relief.

After a moment or two of suspense, Barnes experienced a peculiar,
almost electric shock. Some one had seized the tip of the rod; it
stiffened suddenly, the vibrations due to its flexibility ceasing. He
felt a gentle tugging and wrenching; down the slender rod ran a
delicate shiver that seemed almost magnetic as it was communicated to
his hand. He knew what was happening. Some one was untying the bit of
paper he had fastened to the rod, and with fingers that shook and were
clumsy with eagerness.

The tension relaxed a moment later; the rod was free, and the shadowy
object was gone from the window above. She had withdrawn to the far
side of the room for the purpose of reading the message so marvellously
delivered out of the night. He fancied her mounting a chair so that she
could read by the dim light from the transom.

He had written: "I am outside with a trusted friend, ready to do your
bidding. Two of the guards are safely bound and out of the way. Now is
our chance. We will never have another. If you are prepared to come
with me now, write me a word or two and drop it to the ground. I will
pass up a rope to you and you may lower anything you wish to carry away
with you. But be exceedingly careful. Take time. Don't hurry a single
one of your movements." He signed it with a large B.

It seemed an hour before their eyes distinguished the shadowy head
above. As a matter of fact, but a few minutes had passed. During the
wait, Sprouse had noiselessly removed his coat, a proceeding that
puzzled Barnes. Something light fell to the ground. It was Sprouse who
stooped and searched for it in the grass. When he resumed an upright
posture, he put his lips close to Barnes's ear and whispered:

"I will put my coat over your head. Here is a little electric torch.
Don't flash it until I am sure the coat is arranged so that you can do
so without a gleam of light getting out from under." He pressed the
torch and a bit of closely folded paper in the other's hand, and
carefully draped the coat over his head. Barnes was once more filled
with admiration for the little man's amazing resourcefulness.

He read: "Thank God! I was afraid you would wait until to-morrow night.
Then it would have been too late. I must get away to-night but I cannot
leave--I dare not leave without something that is concealed in another
part of the house. I do not know how to secure it. My door is locked
from the outside. What am I to do? I would rather die than to go away
without it."

Barnes whispered in Sprouse's ear. The latter replied at once: "Write
her that I will climb up to her window, and, with God's help and her
directions, manage to find the thing she wants."

Barnes wrote as directed and passed the missive aloft. In a little
while a reply came down. Resorting to the previous expedient, he read:

"It is impossible. The study is under bolt and key and no one can
enter. I do not know what I am to do. I dare not stay here and I dare
not go. Leave me to my fate. Do not run any further risk. I cannot
allow you to endanger your life for me. I shall never forget you, and I
shall always be grateful. You are a noble gentleman and I a foolish,
stupid--oh, such a stupid!--girl."

That was enough for Barnes. It needed but that discouraging cry to
rouse his fighting spirit to a pitch that bordered on recklessness. His
courage took fire, and blazed up in one mighty flame. Nothing,--nothing
could stop him now.

Hastily he wrote: "If you do not come at once, we will force our way
into the house and fight it out with them all. My friend is coming up
the vines. Let him enter the window. Tell him where to go and he will
do the rest. He is a miracle man. Nothing is impossible to him. If he
does not return in ten minutes, I shall follow."

There was no response to this. The head reappeared in the window, but
no word came down.

Sprouse whispered: "I am going up. She will not commit you to anything.
We have to take the matter into our own hands. Stay here. If you hear a
commotion in the house, run for it. Don't wait for me. I'll probably be
done for."

"I'll do just as I damn please about running," said Barnes, and there
was a deep thrill in his whisper. "Good luck. God help you if they
catch you."

"Not even He could help me then. Good-bye. I'll do what I can to induce
her to drop out of the window if anything goes wrong with me down
stairs."

He searched among the leaves and found the thick vine. A moment later
he was silently scaling the wall of the house, feeling his way
carefully, testing every precarious foothold, dragging himself
painfully upwards by means of the most uncanny, animal-like strength
and stealth.

Barnes could not recall drawing a single breath from the instant the
man left his side until the faintly luminous square above his head was
obliterated by the black of his body as it wriggled over the ledge.

He was never to forget the almost interminable age that he spent,
flattened against the vines, waiting for a signal from aloft. He
recalled, with dire uneasiness, Miss Cameron's statement that a guard
was stationed beneath her window throughout the night. Evidently she
was mistaken. Sprouse would not have overlooked a peril like that, and
yet as he crouched there, scarcely breathing, he wondered how long it
would be before the missing guard returned to his post and he would be
compelled to fight for his life. The fine, cold rain fell gently about
him; moist tendrils and leaves caressed his face; owls hooted with
ghastly vehemence, as if determined to awaken all the sleepers for
miles around; and frogs chattered loudly in gleeful anticipation of the
frenzied dash he would have to make through the black maze.

We will follow Sprouse. When he crawled through the window and stood
erect inside the room, he found himself confronted by a tall, shadowy
figure, standing half way between him and the door.

He advanced a step or two and uttered a soft hiss of warning.

"Not a sound," he whispered, drawing still nearer. "I have come four
thousand miles to help you, Countess. This is not the time or place to
explain. We haven't a moment to waste. I need only say that I have been
sent from Paris by persons you know to aid you in delivering the crown
jewels into the custody of your country's minister in Paris. Nothing
more need be said now. We must act swiftly. Tell me where they are. I
will get them."

"Who are you?" she whispered tensely.

"My name is Theodore Sprouse. I have been loaned to your embassy by my
own government."

"How did you learn that I was here?"

"I beg of you do not ask questions now. Tell me where the Prince
sleeps, how I may get to his room--"

"You know that he is the Prince?"

"For a certainty. And that you are his cousin."

She laid her hand upon his arm. "And you know that he plans evil to--to
his people? That he is in sympathy with the--with the country that has
despoiled us?"

"Yes."

She was silent for a moment. "Not only is it impossible for you to
enter his room but it is equally impossible for you to get out of this
one except by the way you entered. If I thought there was the slightest
chance for you to--"

"Let me be the judge of that, Countess. Where is his room?"

"The last to the right as you leave this door,--at the extreme end of
the corridor. There are four doors between mine and his. Across the
hall from his room you will see an open door. A man sits in there all
night long, keeping watch. You could not approach Prince Ugo's door
without being seen by that watcher."

"You said in your note to Barnes that the--er--something was in
Curtis's study."

"The Prince sleeps in Mr. Curtis's room. The study adjoins it, and can
only be entered from the bed-room. There is no other door. What are you
doing?"

"I am going to take a peep over the transom, first of all. If the coast
is clear, I shall take a little stroll down the hall. Do not be
alarmed. I will come back,--with the things we both want. Pardon me."
He sat down on the edge of the bed and removed his shoes. She watched
him as if fascinated while he opened the bosom of his soft shirt and
stuffed the wet shoes inside.

"How did you dispose of the man who watches below my window?" she
inquired, drawing near. "He has been there for the past three nights. I
missed him to-night."

"Wasn't he there earlier in the evening?" demanded Sprouse quickly.

"I have been in my room since eleven. He seldom comes on duty before
that hour."

"I had it figured out that he was one of the men we got down in the
woods. If I have miscalculated--well, poor Barnes may be in for a bad
time. We are quite safe up here for the time being. The fellow will
assume that Barnes is alone and that he comes to pay his respects to
you in a rather romantic manner."

"You must warn Mr. Barnes. He--"

"May I not leave that to you, Countess? I shall be very busy for the
next few minutes, and if you will--Be careful! A slip now would be
fatal. Don't be hasty." His whispering was sharp and imperative. It was
a command that he uttered, and she shrank back in surprise.

"Pray do not presume to address me in--"

"I crave your pardon, my lady," he murmured abjectly. "You are not
dressed for flight. May I suggest that while I am outside you slip on a
dark skirt and coat? You cannot go far in that dressing-gown. It would
be in shreds before you had gone a hundred feet through the brush. If I
do not return to this room inside of fifteen minutes, or if you hear
sounds of a struggle, crawl through the window and go down the vines.
Barnes will look out for you."

"You must not fail, Theodore Sprouse," she whispered. "I must regain
the jewels and the state papers. I cannot go without--"

"I shall do my best," he said simply. Silently he drew a chair to the
door, mounted it and, drawing himself up by his hands, poked his head
through the open transom. An instant later he was on the floor again.
She heard him inserting a key in the lock. Almost before she could
realise that it had actually happened, the door opened slowly,
cautiously, and his thin wiry figure slid through what seemed to her no
more than a crack. As softly the door was closed.

For a long time she stood, dazed and unbelieving, in the centre of the
room, staring at the door. She held her breath, listening for the shout
that was so sure to come--and the shot, perhaps! A prayer formed on her
lips and went voicelessly up to God.

Suddenly she roused herself from the stupefaction that held her, and
threw off the slinky peignoir. With feverish haste she snatched up
garments from the chair on which she had carefully placed them in
anticipation of the emergency that now presented itself. A blouse
(which she neglected to button), a short skirt of some dark material, a
jacket, and a pair of stout walking shoes (which she failed to lace),
completed the swift transformation. She felt the pockets of skirt and
jacket, assuring herself that her purse and her own personal jewelry
were where she had forehandedly placed them. As she glided to the
window, she jammed the pins into a small black hat of felt. Then she
peered over the ledge. She started back, stifling a cry with her hand.
A man's head had almost come in contact with her own as she leaned out.
A man's hand reached over and grasped the inner ledge of the casement,
and then a man's face was dimly revealed to her startled gaze.



CHAPTER XIV

A FLIGHT, A STONE-CUTTER'S SHED, AND A VOICE OUTSIDE


He saw her standing in the middle of the room, her clenched hands
pressed to her lips. At the angle from which he peered into the room,
her head was in line with the lighted transom.

His grip on the ledge was firm but his foothold on the lattice
precarious. He felt himself slipping. Exerting all of his strength he
drew himself upward, free of the vines that had begun to yield to his
weight.

An almost inaudible "Whew!" escaped his lips as he straddled the sill.
An instant later he was in the room.

"Why have you come up here?" She came swiftly to his side.

"Thank the Lord, I made it," he whispered, breathlessly. "I came up
because there was nowhere else to go. I thought I heard voices--a man
and a woman speaking. They seemed to be quite close to me. Don't be
alarmed, Miss Cameron. I am confident that I can--"

"And now that you are here, trapped as I am, what do you purpose to do?
You cannot escape. Go back before it is too late. Go--"

"Is Sprouse--where is he?"

"He is somewhere in the house. I have heard no sound. I was to wait
until he--Oh, Mr. Barnes, I--I am terrified. You will never know the--"

"Trust him," he said. "He is a marvel. We'll be safely out of here in a
little while, and then it will all look simple to you. You are ready to
go? Good! We will wait a few minutes and if he doesn't show up
we'll--Why, you are trembling like a leaf! Sit down, do! If he doesn't
return in a minute or two, I'll take a look about the house myself. I
don't intend to desert him. I know this floor pretty well, and the
lower one. The stairs are--"

"But the stairway is closed at the bottom by a solid steel curtain. It
is made to look like a panel in the wall. Mr. Curtis had it put in to
protect himself from burglars. You are not to venture outside this
room, Mr. Barnes. I forbid it. You--"

"How did Sprouse get out? You said your door was locked."

He sat down on the edge of the bed beside her. She was still trembling
violently. He took her hand in his and held it tightly.

"He had a key. I do not know where he obtained--"

"Skeleton key, such as burglars use. By Jove, what a wonderful burglar
he would make! Courage, Miss Cameron! He will be here soon. Then comes
the real adventure,--my part of it. I didn't come here to-night to get
any flashy old crown jewels. I came to take you out of--"

"You--you know about the crown jewels?" she murmured. Her body seemed
to stiffen.

"Very little. They are nothing to me."

"Then you know who I am?"

"No. You will tell me to-morrow."

"Yes, yes,--to-morrow," she whispered, and fell to shivering again.

For some time there was silence. Both were listening intently for
sounds in the hall; both were watching the door with unblinking eyes.
She leaned closer to whisper in his ear. Their shoulders touched. He
wondered if she experienced the same delightful thrill that ran through
his body. She told him of the man who watched across the hall from the
room supposed to be occupied by Loeb the secretary, and of Sprouse's
incomprehensible daring.

"Where is Mr. Curtis?" he asked.

Her breath fanned his cheek, her lips were close to his ear. "There is
no Mr. Curtis here. He died four months ago in Florida."

"I suspected as much." He did not press her for further revelations.
"Sprouse should be here by this time. It isn't likely that he has met
with a mishap. You would have heard the commotion. I must go out there
and see if he requires any--"

She clutched his arm frantically. "You shall do nothing of the kind.
You shall not--"

"Sh! What do you take me for, Miss Cameron? He may be sorely in need of
help. Do you think that I would leave him to God knows what sort of
fate? Not much! We undertook this job together and--"

"But he said positively that I was to go in case he did not return
in--in fifteen minutes," she begged. "He may have been cut off and was
compelled to escape from another--"

"Just the same, I've got to see what has become of--"

"No! No!" She arose with him, dragging at his arm. "Do not be
foolhardy. You are not skilled at--"

"There is only one way to stop me, Miss Cameron. If you will come with
me now--"

"But I must know whether he secured the--"

"Then let me go. I will find out whether he has succeeded. Stand over
there by the window, ready to go if I have to make a run for it."

He was rougher than he realised in wrenching his arm free. She uttered
a low moan and covered her face with her hands. Undeterred, he crossed
to the door. His hand was on the knob when a door slammed violently
somewhere in a distant part of the house.

A hoarse shout of alarm rang out, and then the rush of heavy feet over
thickly carpeted floors.

Barnes acted with lightning swiftness. He sprang to the open window,
half-carrying, half-dragging the girl with him.

"Now for it!" he whispered. "Not a second to lose. Climb upon my back,
quick, and hang on for dear life." He had scrambled through the window
and was lying flat across the sill. "Hurry! Don't be afraid. I am
strong enough to carry you if the vines do their part."

With surprising alacrity and sureness she crawled out beside him and
then over upon his broad back, clasping her arms around his neck.
Holding to the ledge with one hand he felt for and clutched the thick
vine with the other. Slowly he slid his body off of the sill and swung
free by one arm. An instant later he found the lattice with the other
hand and the hurried descent began. His only fear was that the vine
would not hold. If it broke loose they would drop fifteen feet or more
to the ground. A broken leg, an arm, or even worse,--But her hair was
brushing his ear and neck, her arms were about him, her heart beat
against his straining back, and--Why be a pessimist?

His feet touched the ground. In the twinkling of an eye he picked her
up in his arms and bolted across the little grass plot into the
shrubbery. She did not utter a sound. Her arms tightened, and now her
cheek was against his.

Presently he set her down. His breath was gone, his strength exhausted.

"Can you--manage to--walk a little way?" he gasped. "Give me your hand,
and follow as close to my heels as you can. Better that I should bump
into things than you."

Shouts were now heard, and shrill blasts on a police whistle split the
air.

Her breathing was like sobs,--short and choking,--but he knew she was
not crying. Apprehension, alarm, excitement,--anything but hysteria.
The fortitude of generations was hers; a hundred forebears had passed
courage down to her.

On they stumbled, blindly, recklessly. He spared her many an injury by
taking it himself. More than once she murmured sympathy when he crashed
into a tree or floundered over a log. The soft, long-drawn "o-ohs!"
that came to his ears were full of a music that made him impervious to
pain. They had the effect of martial music on him, as the drum and fife
exalts the faltering soldier in his march to death.

Utterly at sea, he was now guessing at the course they were taking.
Whether their frantic dash was leading them toward the Tavern, or
whether they were circling back to Green Fancy, he knew not. Panting,
he forged onward, his ears alert not only for the sound of pursuit but
for the shot that would end the career of the spectacular Sprouse.

At last she cried out, quaveringly:

"Oh, I--I can go no farther! Can't we--is it not safe to stop for a
moment? My breath is--"

"God bless you, yes," he exclaimed, and came to an abrupt stop. She
leaned heavily against him, gasping for breath. "I haven't the faintest
idea where we are, but we must be some distance from the house. We will
rest a few minutes and then take it easier, more cautiously. I am
sorry, but it was the only thing to do, rough as it was."

"I know, I understand. I am not complaining, Mr. Barnes. You will find
me ready and strong and--"

"Let me think. I must try to get my bearings. Good Lord, I wish Sprouse
were here. He has eyes like a cat. He can see in the dark. We are off
the path, that's sure."

"I hope he is safe. Do you think he escaped?"

"I am sure of it. Those whistles were sounding the alarm. There would
have been no object in blowing them unless he had succeeded in getting
out of the house. He may come this way. The chances are that your
flight has not been discovered. They are too busy with him to think of
you,--at least for the time being. Do you feel like going on? We must
beat them to the Tavern. They--"

"I am all right now," she said, and they were off again. Barnes now
picked his way carefully and with the greatest caution. If at times he
was urged to increased speed through comparatively open spaces it was
because he realised the peril that lay at the very end of their
journey: the likelihood of being cut off by the pursuers before he
could lodge her safely inside of the walls. He could only pray that he
was going in the right direction.

An hour,--but what seemed thrice as long,--passed and they had not come
to the edge of the forest. Her feet were beginning to drag; he could
tell that by the effort she made to keep up with him. From time to time
he paused to allow her to rest. Always she leaned heavily against him,
seldom speaking; when she did it was to assure him that she would be
all right in a moment or two. There was no sentimental motive behind
his action when he finally found it necessary to support her with an
encircling arm, nor was she loath to accept this tribute of strength.

"You are plucky," he once said to her.

"I am afraid I could not be so plucky if you were not so strong," she
sighed, and he loved the tired, whimsical little twist she put into her
reply. It revived the delightful memory of another day.

To his dismay they came abruptly upon a region abounding in huge rocks.
This was new territory to him. His heart sank.

"By Jove, I--I believe we are farther away from the road than when we
started. We must have been going up the slope instead of down."

"In any case, Mr. Barnes," she murmured, "we have found something to
sit down upon."

He chuckled. "If you can be as cheerful as all that, we sha'n't miss
the cushions," he said, and, for the first time, risked a flash of the
electric torch. The survey was brief. He led her forward a few paces to
a flat boulder, and there they seated themselves.

"I wonder where we are," she said.

"I give it up," he replied dismally. "There isn't much sense in
wandering over the whole confounded mountain, Miss Cameron, and not
getting anywhere. I am inclined to suspect that we are above Green
Fancy, but a long way off to the right of it. My bump of direction
tells me that we have been going to the right all of the time.
Admitting that to be the case, I am afraid to retrace our steps. The
Lord only knows what we might blunder into."

"I think the only sensible thing to do, Mr. Barnes, is to make
ourselves as snug and comfortable as we can and wait for the first
signs of daybreak."

He scowled,--and was glad that it was too dark for her to see his face.
He wondered if she fully appreciated what would happen to him if the
pursuers came upon him in this forbidding spot. He could almost picture
his own body lying there among the rocks and rotting, while she--well,
she would merely go back to Green Fancy.

"I fear you do not realise the extreme gravity of the situation."

"I do, but I also realise the folly of thrashing about in this brush
without in the least knowing where our steps are leading us. Besides, I
am so exhausted that I must be a burden to you. You cannot go on
supporting me--"

"We must get out of these woods," he broke in doggedly, "if I have to
carry you in my arms."

"I shall try to keep going," she said quickly. "Forgive me if I seemed
to falter a little. I--I--am ready to go on when you say the word."

"You poor girl! Hang it all, perhaps you are right and not I. Sit still
and I will reconnoitre a bit. If I can find a place where we can hide
among these rocks, we'll stay here till the sky begins to lighten.
Sit--"

"No! I shall not let you leave me for a second. Where you go, I go."
She struggled to her feet, suppressing a groan, and thrust a determined
arm through his.

"That's worth remembering," said he, and whether it was a muscular
necessity or an emotional exaction that caused his arm to tighten on
hers, none save he would ever know.

After a few minutes prowling among the rocks they came to the face of
what subsequently proved to be a sheer wall of stone. He flashed the
light, and, with an exclamation, started back. Not six feet ahead of
them the earth seemed to end; a yawning black gulf lay beyond.
Apparently they were on the very edge of a cliff.

"Good Lord, that was a close call," he gasped. He explained in a few
words and then, commanding her to stand perfectly still, dropped to the
ground and carefully felt his way forward. Again he flashed the light.
In an instant he understood. They were on the brink of a shallow
quarry, from which, no doubt, the stone used in building the
foundations at Green Fancy had been taken.

Lying there, he made swift calculations. There would be a road leading
from this pit up to the house itself. The quarry, no longer of use to
the builder, was reasonably sure to be abandoned. In all probability
some sort of a stone-cutter's shed would be found nearby. It would
provide shelter from the fine rain that was falling and from the chill
night air. He remembered that O'Dowd, in discussing the erection of
Green Fancy the night before, had said that the stone came from a pit
two miles away, where a fine quality of granite had been found. The
quarry belonged to Mr. Curtis, who had refused to consider any offer
from would-be purchasers. Two miles, according to Barnes's quick
calculations, would bring the pit close to the northern boundary of the
Curtis property and almost directly on a line with the point where he
and Sprouse entered the meadow at the beginning of their advance upon
Green Fancy. That being the case, they were now quite close to the
stake and rider fence separating the Curtis land from that of the
farmer on the north. Sprouse and Barnes had hugged this fence during
their progress across the meadow.

"Good," he said, more to himself than to her. "I begin to see light."

"Oh, dear! Is there some one down in that hole, Mr.--"

"Are you afraid to remain here while I go down there for a look around?
I sha'n't be gone more than a couple of minutes."

"The way I feel at present," she said, jerkily, "I shall never, never
from this instant till the hour in which I die, let go of your
coat-tails, Mr. Barnes." Suiting the action to the word, her fingers
resolutely fastened, not upon the tail of his coat but upon his sturdy
arm. "I wouldn't stay here alone for anything in the world."

"Heaven bless you," he exclaimed, suddenly exalted. "And, since you put
it that way, I shall always contrive to be within arm's length."

And so, together, they ventured along the edge of the pit until they
reached the wagon road at the bottom. As he had expected, there was a
ramshackle shed hard by. It was not much of a place, but it was
deserted and a safe shelter for the moment.

A workman's bench lay on its side in the middle of the earthen floor.
He righted it and drew it over to the boarding.... She laid her head
against his shoulder and sighed deeply.... He kept his eyes glued on
the door and listened for the first ominous sound outside. A long time
afterward she stirred.

"Don't move," he said softly. "Go to sleep again if you can. I will--"

"Sleep? I haven't been asleep. I've been thinking all the time, Mr.
Barnes. I've been wondering how I can ever repay you for all the pain,
and trouble, and--"

"I am paid in full up to date," he said. "I take my pay as I go and am
satisfied." He did not give her time to puzzle it out, but went on
hurriedly: "You were so still I thought you were asleep."

"As if I could go to sleep with so many things to keep me awake!" She
shivered.

"Are you cold? You are wet--"

"It was the excitement, the nervousness, Mr. Barnes," she said, drawing
slightly away from him. He reconsidered the disposition of his arm.
"Isn't it nearly daybreak?"

He looked at his watch. "Three o'clock," he said, and turned the light
upon her face. "God, you are--" He checked the riotous words that were
driven to his lips by the glimpse of her lovely face. "I-I beg your
pardon!"

"For what?" she asked, after a moment.

"For--for blinding you with the light," he floundered.

"Oh, I can forgive you for that," she said composedly.

There ensued another period of silence. She remained slightly aloof.

"You'd better lean against me," he said at last. "I am softer than the
beastly boards, you know, and quite as harmless."

"Thank you," she said, and promptly settled herself against his
shoulder. "It IS better," she sighed.

"Would you mind telling me something about yourself, Miss Cameron? What
is the true story of the crown jewels?"

She did not reply at once. When she spoke it was to ask a question of
him.

"Do you know who he really is,--I mean the man known to you as Mr.
Loeb?"

"Not positively. I am led to believe that he is indirectly in line to
succeed to the throne of your country."

"Tell me something about Sprouse. How did you meet him and what induced
him to take you into his confidence? It is not the usual way with
government agents."

He told her the story of his encounter and connection with the secret
agent, and part but not all of the man's revelations concerning herself
and the crown jewels.

"I knew that you were not a native American," he said. "I arrived at
that conclusion after our meeting at the cross-roads. When O'Dowd said
you were from New Orleans, I decided that you belonged to one of the
French or Spanish families there. Either that or you were a fairy
princess such as one reads about in books."

"And you now believe that I am a royal--or at the very worst--a noble
lady with designs on the crown?" There was a faint ripple in her low
voice.

"I should like to know whether I am to address you as Princess,
Duchess, or--just plain Miss."

"I am more accustomed to plain Miss, Mr. Barnes, than to either of the
titles you would give me."

"Don't you feel that I am deserving of a little enlightenment?" he
asked. "I am working literally as well as figuratively in the dark. Who
are you? Why were you a prisoner at Green Fancy? Where and what is your
native land?"

"Sprouse did not tell you any of these things?"

"No. I think he was in some doubt himself. I don't blame him for
holding back until he was certain."

"Mr. Barnes, I cannot answer any one of your questions without
jeopardising a cause that is dearer to me than anything else in all the
world. I am sorry. I pray God a day may soon come when I can reveal
everything to you--and to the world. I am of a stricken country; I am
trying to serve the unhappy house that has ruled it for centuries and
is now in the direst peril. The man you know as Loeb is a prince of
that house. I may say this to you, and it will serve to explain my
position at Green Fancy: he is not the Prince I was led to believe
awaited me there. He is the cousin of the man I expected to meet, and
he is the enemy of the branch of the house that I would serve. Do not
ask me to say more. Trust me as I am trusting you,--as Sprouse trusted
you."

"May I ask the cause of O'Dowd's apparent defection?"

"He is not in sympathy with all of the plans advanced by his leader,"
she said, after a moment's reflection.

"Your sympathies are with the Entente Allies, the prince's are opposed?
Is that part of Sprouse's story true?"

"Yes."

"And O'Dowd?"

"O'Dowd is anti-English, Mr. Barnes, if that conveys anything to you.
He is not pro-German. Perhaps you will understand."

"Wasn't it pretty risky for you to carry the crown jewels around in a
travelling bag, Miss Cameron?"

"I suppose so. It turned out, however, that it was the safest, surest
way. I had them in my possession for three days before coming to Green
Fancy. No one suspected. They were given into my custody by the
committee to whom they were delivered in New York by the men who
brought them to this country."

"And why did you bring them to Green Fancy?"

"I was to deliver them to one of their rightful owners, Mr. Barnes,--a
loyal prince of the blood."

"But why HERE?" he insisted.

"He was to take them into Canada, and thence, in good time, to the
palace of his ancestors."

"I am to understand, then, that not only you but the committee you
speak of, fell into a carefully prepared trap."

"Yes."

"You did not know the man who picked you up in the automobile, Miss
Cameron. Why did you take the chance with--"

"He gave the password, or whatever you may call it, and it could have
been known only to persons devoted to our--our cause."

"I see. The treachery, therefore, had its inception in the loyal nest.
You were betrayed by a friend."

"I am sure of it," she said bitterly. "If this man Sprouse does not
succeed in restoring the--oh, I believe I shall kill myself, Mr.
Barnes."

The wail of anguish in her voice went straight to his heart.

"He has succeeded, take my word for it. They will be in your hands
before many hours have passed."

"Is he to come to the Tavern with them? Or am I to meet him--"

"Good Lord!" he gulped. Here was a contingency he had not considered.
Where and when would Sprouse appear with his booty? "I--I fancy we'll
find him waiting for us at the Tavern."

"But had you no understanding?"

"Er--tentatively." The perspiration started on his brow.

"They will guard the Tavern so closely that we will never be able to
get away from the place," she said, and he detected a querulous note in
her voice.

"Now don't you worry about that," he said stoutly.

"I love the comforting way you have of saying things," she murmured,
and he felt her body relax.

For reasons best known to himself, he failed to respond to this
interesting confession. He was thinking of something else: his amazing
stupidity in not foreseeing the very situation that now presented
itself. Why had he neglected to settle upon a meeting place with
Sprouse in the event that circumstances forced them to part company in
flight? Fearing that she would pursue the subject, he made haste to
branch off onto another line.

"What is the real object of the conspiracy up there, Miss Cameron?"

"You must bear with me a little longer, Mr. Barnes," she said,
appealingly. "I cannot say anything now. I am in a very perplexing
position. You see, I am not quite sure that I am right in my
conclusions, and it would be dreadful if I were to make a mistake."

"If they are up to any game that may work harm to the Allies, they must
not be allowed to go on with it," he said sternly. "Don't wait too long
before exposing them, Miss Cameron."

"I--I cannot speak now," she said, painfully.

"You said that to-morrow night would be too late. What did you mean by
that?"

"Do you insist on pinning me down to--"

"No. You may tell me to mind my own business, if you like."

"That is not a nice way to put it, Mr. Barnes. I could never say such a
thing to you."

He was silent. She waited a few seconds and then removed her head from
his shoulder. He heard the sharp intake of her breath and felt the
convulsive movement of the arm that rested against his. There was no
mistaking her sudden agitation.

"I will tell you," she said, and he was surprised by the harshness that
came into her voice. "To-morrow morning was the time set for my
marriage to that wretch up there. I could have avoided it only by
destroying myself. If you had come to-morrow night instead of to-night
you would have found me dead, that is all. Now you understand."

"Good God! You--you were to be forced into a marriage with--why, it is
the most damnable--"

"O'Dowd,--God bless him!--was my only champion. He knew my father. He--"

"Listen!" he hissed, starting to his feet.

"Don't move!" came from the darkness outside. "I have me gun leveled. I
heard me name taken in vain. Thanks for the blessing. I was wondering
whether you would say something pleasant about me,--and, thank the good
Lord, I was patient. But I'd advise you both to sit still, just the
same."

A chuckle rounded out the gentle admonition of the invisible Irishman.



CHAPTER XV

LARGE BODIES MOVE SLOWLY,--BUT MR. SPROUSE WAS SMALLER THAN THE AVERAGE


There was not a sound for many seconds. The trapped couple in the
stone-cutter's shed scarcely breathed. She was the first to speak.

"I am ready to return with you, Mr. O'Dowd," she said, distinctly.
"There must be no struggle, no blood-shed. Anything but that."

She felt Barnes's body stiffen and caught the muttered execration that
fell from his lips.

O'Dowd spoke out of the darkness: "You forget that I have your own word
for it that ye'll be a dead woman before the day is over. Wouldn't it
be better for me to begin shooting at once and spare your soul the
everlasting torture that would begin immediately after your
self-produced decease?"

A little cry of relief greeted this quaint sally. "You have my word
that I will return with you quietly if--"

"Thunderation!" exclaimed Barnes wrathfully. "What do you think I am? A
worm that--"

"Easy, easy, me dear man," cautioned O'Dowd. "Keep your seat. Don't be
deceived by my infernal Irish humour. It is my way to be always polite,
agreeable and--prompt. I'll shoot in a second if ye move one step
outside that cabin."

"O'Dowd, you haven't the heart to drag her back to that beast of a--"

"Hold hard! We'll come to the point without further palavering. Where
are ye dragging her yourself, ye rascal?"

"To a place where she will be safe from insult, injury, degradation--"

"Well, I have no fault to find with ye for that," said O'Dowd. "Bedad,
I didn't believe you had the nerve to tackle the job. To be honest with
you, I hadn't the remotest idea who the divvil you were, either of you,
until I heard your voices. You may be interested to know that up to the
moment I left the house your absence had not been noticed, my dear Miss
Cameron. And as for you, my dear Barnes, your visit is not even
suspected. By this time, of course, the list of the missing at Green
Fancy is headed by an honourable and imperishable name,--which isn't
Cameron,--and there is an increased wailing and gnashing of teeth. How
the divvil did ye do it, Barnes?"

"Are you disposed to be friendly, O'Dowd?" demanded Barnes. "If you are
not, we may just as well fight it out now as later on. I do not mean to
submit without a--"

"You are not to fight!" she cried in great agitation. "What are you
doing? Put it away! Don't shoot!"

"Is it a gun he is pulling" inquired O'Dowd calmly. "And what the deuce
are you going to aim at, me hearty?"

"It may sound cowardly to you, O'Dowd, but I have an advantage over you
in the presence of Miss Cameron. You don't dare shoot into this shed.
You--"

"Lord love ye, Barnes, haven't you my word that I will not shoot unless
ye try to come out? And I know you wouldn't use her for a shield.
Besides, I have a bull's-eye lantern with me. From the luxurious seat
behind this rock I could spot ye in a second. Confound you, man, you
ought to thank me for being so considerate as not to flash it on you
before. I ask ye now, isn't that proof that I'm a gentleman and not a
bounder? Having said as much, I now propose arbitration. What have ye
to offer in the shape of concessions?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"I'll be explicit. Would you mind handing over that tin box in exchange
for my polite thanks and a courteous good-by to both of ye?"

"Tin box?" cried Barnes.

"We have no box of any description, Mr. O'Dowd," cried she,
triumphantly. "Thank heaven, he got safely away!"

"Do you mean to tell me you came away without the--your belongings,
Miss Cameron?" exclaimed O'Dowd.

"They are not with me," she replied. Her grasp on Barnes's arm
tightened. "Oh, isn't it splendid? They did not catch him. He--"

"Catch him? Catch who?" cried O'Dowd.

"Ah, that is for you to find out, my dear O'Dowd," said Barnes,
assuming a satisfaction he did not feel.

"Well, I'll be--jiggered," came in low, puzzled tones from the rocks
outside. "Did you have a--a confederate, Barnes? Didn't you do the
whole job yourself?"

"I did my part of the job, as you call it, O'Dowd, and nothing more."

"Will you both swear on your sacred honour that ye haven't the jewels
in your possession?"

"Unhesitatingly," said Barnes.

"I swear, Mr. O'Dowd."

"Then," said he, "I have no time to waste here. I am looking for a tin
box. I beg your pardon for disturbing you."

"Oh, Mr. O'Dowd, I shall never forget all that you have--"

"Whist, now! There is one thing I must insist on your forgetting
completely: all that has happened in the last five minutes. I shall put
no obstacles in your way. You may go with my blessings. The only favour
I ask in return is that you never mention having seen me to-night."

"We can do that with a perfectly clear conscience," said Barnes. "You
are absolutely invisible."

"What I am doing now, Mr. Barnes," said O'Dowd seriously, "would be my
death sentence if it ever became known."

"It shall never be known through me, O'Dowd. I'd like to shake your
hand, old man."

"God bless you, Mr. O'Dowd," said the girl in a low, small voice,
singularly suggestive of tears. "Some day I may be in a position to--"

"Don't say it! You'll spoil everything if you let me think you are in
my debt. Bedad, don't be so sure I sha'n't see you again, and soon. You
are not out of the woods yet."

"Tell me how to find Hart's Tavern, old man. I'll--"

"No, I'm dashed if I do. I leave you to your own devices. You ought to
be grateful to me for not stopping you entirely, without asking me to
give you a helping hand. Good-bye, and God bless you. I'm praying that
ye get away safely, Miss Cameron. So long, Barnes. If you were a crow
and wanted to roost on that big tree in front of Hart's Tavern, I dare
say you'd take the shortest way there by flying as straight as a bullet
from the mouth of this pit, following your extremely good-looking nose."

They heard him rattle off among the loose stones and into the brush. A
long time afterward, when the sounds had ceased, Barnes said, from the
bottom of a full heart:

"I shall always feel something warm stirring within me when I think of
that man."

"He is a gallant gentleman," said she simply.

They did not wait for the break of day. Taking O'Dowd's hint, Barnes
directed his steps straight out from the mouth of the quarry and
pressed confidently onward. Their progress was swifter than before and
less cautious. The thought had come to him that the men from Green
Fancy would rush to the outer edges of the Curtis land and seek to
intercept, rather than to overtake, the fugitive. In answer to a
question she informed him that there were no fewer than twenty-five men
on the place, all of them shrewd, resolute and formidable.

"The women, who are they, and what part do they play in this
enterprise?" he inquired, during a short pause for rest.

"Mrs. Collier is the widow of a spy executed in France at the beginning
of the war. She is an American and was married to a--to a foreigner.
The Van Dykes are very rich Americans,--at least she has a great deal
of money. Her husband was in the diplomatic service some years ago but
was dismissed. There was a huge gambling scandal and he was involved.
His wife is determined to force her way into court circles in Europe.
She has money, she is clever and unprincipled, and--I am convinced
that she is paying in advance for future favours and position at a
certain court. She--"

"In other words, she is financing the game up at Green Fancy."

"I suppose so. She has millions, I am told. Mr. De Soto is a Spaniard,
born and reared in England. All of them are known in my country."

"I can't understand a decent chap like O'Dowd being mixed up in a
rotten--"

"Ah, but you do not understand. He is a soldier of fortune, an
adventurer. His heart is better than his reputation. It is the love of
intrigue, the joy of turmoil that commands him. He has been mixed up,
as you say, in any number of secret enterprises, both good and bad. His
sister's children are the owners of Green Fancy. I know her well. It
was through Mr. O'Dowd that I came to Green Fancy. Too late he realised
that it was a mistake. He was deceived. He has known me for years and
he would not have exposed me to----But come! As he has said, we are not
yet out of the woods."

"I cannot, for the life of me, see why they took chances on inviting me
to the house, Miss Cameron. They must have known that--"

"It was a desperate chance but it was carefully considered, you may be
sure. They are clever, all of them. They were afraid of you. It was
necessary to deal openly, boldly, with you if your suspicions were to
be removed."

"But they must have known that you would appeal to me."

She was silent for a moment, and when she spoke it was with great
intensity. "Mr. Barnes, I had your life in my hands all the time you
were at Green Fancy. It was I who took the desperate chance. I shudder
now when I think of what might have happened. Before you were asked to
the house, I was coolly informed that you would not leave it alive if I
so much as breathed a word to you concerning my unhappy plight. The
first word of an appeal to you would have been the signal for--for your
death. That is what they held over me. They made it very clear to me
that nothing was to be gained by an appeal to you. You would die, and I
would be no better off than before. It was I who took the chance. When
I spoke to you on the couch that night, I--oh, don't you see? Don't you
see that I wantonly, cruelly, selfishly risked YOUR life,--not my
own,--when I--"

"There, there, now!" he cried, consolingly, as she put her hands to her
face and gave way to sobs. "Don't let THAT worry you. I am here and
alive, and so are you, and--for Heaven's sake don't do that! I--I
simply go all to pieces when I hear a woman crying. I--"

"Forgive me," she murmured. "I didn't mean to be so silly."

"It helps, to cry sometimes," he said lamely.

The first faint signs of day were struggling out of the night when they
stole across the road above Hart's Tavern and made their way through
the stable-yard to the rear of the house. His one thought was to get
her safely inside the Tavern. There he could defy the legions of Green
Fancy, and from there he could notify her real friends, deliver her
into their keeping,--and then regret the loss of her!

The door was locked. He delivered a series of resounding kicks upon its
stout face. Revolver in hand, he faced about and waited for the assault
of the men who, he was sure, would come plunging around the corner of
the building in response to the racket. He was confident that the
approach to the Tavern was watched by desperate men from Green Fancy,
and that an encounter with them was inevitable. But there was no
attack. Save for his repeated pounding on the door, there was no sign
of life about the place.

At last there were sounds from within. A key grated in the lock and a
bolt was shot. The door flew open. Mr. Clarence Dillingford appeared in
the opening, partially dressed, his hair sadly tumbled, his eyes
blinking in the light of the lantern he held aloft.

"Well, what the--" Then his gaze alighted on the lady. "My God," he
gulped, and instantly put all of his body except the head and one arm
behind the door.

Barnes crowded past him with his faltering charge, and slammed the
door. Moreover, he quickly shot the bolt.

"For the love of--" began the embarrassed Dillingford. "What the dev--I
say, can't you see that I'm not dressed? What the--"

"Give me that lantern," said Barnes, and snatched the article out of
the unresisting hand. "Show me the way to Miss Thackeray's room,
Dillingford. No time for explanations. This lady is a friend of mine."

"Well, for the love of--"

"I will take you to Miss Thackeray's room," said Barnes, leading her
swiftly through the narrow passage. "She will make you comfortable for
the--that is until I am able to secure a room for you. Come on,
Dillingford."

"My God, Barnes, have you been in an automobile smash-up? You--"

"Don't wake the house! Where is her room?"

"You know just as well as I do. All right,--all right! Don't bite me!
I'm coming."

Miss Thackeray was awake. She had heard the pounding. Through the
closed door she asked what on earth was the matter.

"I have a friend here,--a lady. Will you dress as quickly as possible
and take her in with you for a little while?" He spoke as softly as
possible.

There was no immediate response from the inside. Then Miss Thackeray
observed, quite coldly: "I think I'd like to hear the lady's voice, if
you don't mind. I recognise yours perfectly, Mr. Barnes, but I am not
in the habit of opening my--"

"Mr. Barnes speaks the truth," said Miss Cameron. "But pray do not
disturb--"

"I guess I don't need to dress," said Miss Thackeray, and opened her
door. "Come in, please. I don't know who you are or what you've been up
to, but there are times when women ought to stand together. And what's
more, I sha'n't ask any questions."

She closed the door behind the unexpected guest, and Barnes gave a
great sigh of relief.

"Say, Mr. Barnes," said Miss Thackeray, several hours later, coming
upon him in the hall; "I guess I'll have to ask you to explain a
little. She's a nice, pretty girl, and all that, but she won't open her
lips about anything. She says you will do the talking. I'm a good
sport, you know, and not especially finicky, but I'd like to--"

"How is she? Is she resting? Does she seem--"

"Well, she's stretched out in my bed, with my best nightie on, and she
seems to be doing as well as could be expected," said Miss Thackeray
dryly.

"Has she had coffee and--"

"I am going after it now. It seems that she is in the habit of having
it in bed. I wish I had her imagination. It would be great to imagine
that all you have to do is to say 'I think I'll have coffee and rolls
and one egg' sent up, and then go on believing your wish would come
true. Still, I don't mind. She seems so nice and pathetic, and in
trouble, and I--"

"Thank you, Miss Thackeray. If you will see that she has her coffee,
I'll--I'll wait for you here in the hall and try to explain. I can't
tell you everything at present,--not without her consent,--but what I
do tell will be sufficient to make you think you are listening to a
chapter out of a dime novel."

He had already taken Putnam Jones into his confidence. He saw no other
way out of the new and somewhat extraordinary situation.

His uneasiness increased to consternation when he discovered that
Sprouse had not yet put in an appearance. What had become of the man?
He could not help feeling, however, that somehow the little agent would
suddenly pop out of the chimney in his room, or sneak in through a
crack under the door,--and laugh at his fears.

His lovely companion, falling asleep, blocked all hope of a council of
war, so to speak. Miss Thackeray refused to allow her to be disturbed.
She listened with sparkling eyes to Barnes's curtailed account of the
exploit of the night before. He failed to mention Mr. Sprouse. It was
not an oversight.

"Sort of white slavery game, eh?" she said, with bated breath. "Good
gracious, Mr. Barnes, if this story ever gets into the newspapers
you'll be the grandest little hero in--"

"But it must never get into the newspapers," he cried.

"It ought to," she proclaimed stoutly. "When a gang of white slavers
kidnap a girl like that and--"

"I'm not saying it was that," he protested, uncomfortably.

"Well, I guess I'll talk to her about that part of the story," said
Miss Thackeray sagely. "And as you say, mum's the word. We don't want
them to get onto the fact that she's here. That's the idea, isn't it?"

"Absolutely."

"Then," she said, wrinkling her brow, "I wouldn't repeat this story to
Mr. Lyndon Rushcroft, father of yours truly. He would blab it all over
the county. The greatest press stuff in the world. Listen to it:
'Lyndon Rushcroft, the celebrated actor, takes part in the rescue of a
beautiful heiress who falls into the hands of So and So, the king of
kidnappers.' That's only a starter. So we'd better let him think she
just happened in. You fix it with old Jones, and I'll see that Dilly
keeps his mouth shut. I fear I shall have to tell Mr. Bacon." She
blushed. "I have always sworn I'd never marry any one in the
profession, but--Mr. Bacon is not like other actors, Mr. Barnes. You
will say so yourself when you know him better. He is more like
a--a--well, you might say a poet. His soul is--but, you'll think I'm
nutty if I go on about him. As soon as she awakes, I'll take her up to
the room you've engaged for her, and I'll lend her some of my duds,
bless her heart. What an escape she's had! Oh, my God!"

She uttered the exclamation in a voice so full of horror that Barnes
was startled.

"What is it, Miss Thack--"

"Why, they might have nabbed me yesterday when I was up there in the
woods! And I don't know what kind of heroism goes with a poetic nature.
I'm afraid Mr. Bacon--"

He laughed. "I am sure he would have acted like a man."

"If you were to ask father, he'd say that Mr. Bacon can't act like a
man to save his soul. He says he acts like a fence-post."

Shortly before the noon hour, Peter Ames halted the old automobile from
Green Fancy in front of the Tavern and out stepped O'Dowd, followed by
no less a personage than the pseudo Mr. Loeb. There were a number of
travelling bags in the tonneau of the car.

Catching sight of Barnes, the Irishman shouted a genial greeting.

"The top of the morning to ye. You remember Mr. Loeb, don't you? Mr.
Curtis's secretary."

He shook hands with Barnes. Loeb bowed stiffly and did not extend his
hand.

"Mr. Loeb is leaving us for a few days on business. Will you be moving
on yourself soon, Mr. Barnes?"

"I shall hang around here a few days longer," said Barnes, considerably
puzzled but equal to the occasion. "Still interested in our murder
mystery, you know."

"Any new developments?"

"Not to my knowledge." He ventured a crafty "feeler." "I hear, however,
that the state authorities have asked assistance of the secret service
people in Washington. That would seem to indicate that there is more
behind the affair than--"

"Have I not maintained from the first, Mr. O'Dowd, that it is a case
for the government to handle?" interrupted Loeb. He spoke rapidly and
with unmistakable nervousness. Barnes remarked the extraordinary pallor
in the man's face and the shifty, uneasy look in his dark eyes. "It has
been my contention, Mr. Barnes, that those men were trying to carry out
their part of a plan to inflict--"

"Lord love ye, Loeb, you are not alone in that theory," broke in O'Dowd
hastily. "I think we're all agreed on that. Good morning, Mr.
Boneface," he called out to Putnam Jones who approached at that
juncture. "We are sadly in want of gasoline."

Peter had backed the car up to the gasoline hydrant at the corner of
the building and was waiting for some one to replenish his tank. Barnes
caught the queer, perplexed look that the Irishman shot at him out of
the corner of his eye.

"Perhaps you'd better see that the scoundrels don't give us short
measure, Mr. Loeb," said O'Dowd. Loeb hesitated for a second, and then,
evidently in obedience to a command from the speaker's eye, moved off
to where Peter was opening the intake. Jones followed, bawling to some
one in the stable-yard.

O'Dowd lowered his voice. "Bedad, your friend made a smart job of it
last night. He opened the tank back of the house and let every damn'
bit of our gas run out. Is she safe inside?"

"Yes, thanks to you, old man. You didn't catch him?"

"Not even a whiff of him," said the other lugubriously. "The devil's to
pay. In the name of God, how many were in your gang last night?"

"That is for Mr. Loeb to find out," said Barnes shrewdly.

"Barnes, I let you off last night, and I let her off as well. In
return, I ask you to hold your tongue until the man down there gets a
fair start." O'Dowd was serious, even imploring.

"What would she say to that, O'Dowd? I have to consider her interests,
you know."

"She'd give him a chance for his white alley, I'm sure, in spite of the
way he treated her. There is a great deal at stake, Barnes. A day's
start and--"

"Are you in danger too, O'Dowd?"

"To be sure,--but I love it. I can always squirm out of tight places.
You see, I am putting myself in your hands, old man."

"I would not deliberately put you in jeopardy, O'Dowd."

"See here, I am going back to that house up yonder. There is still work
for me there. What I'm after now is to get him on the train at
Hornville. I'll be here again at four o'clock, on me word of honour.
Trust me, Barnes. When I explain to her, she'll agree that I'm doing
the right thing. Bedad, the whole bally game is busted. Another week
and we'd have--but, there ye are! It's all up in the air, thanks to you
and your will-o'-the-wisp rascals. You played the deuce with
everything."

"Do you mean to say that you are coming back here to run the risk of
being--"

"We've had word that the government has men on the way. They'll be here
to-night or to-morrow, working in cahoots with the fellows across the
border. Why, damn it all, Barnes, don't you know who it was that
engineered that whole business last night?" He blurted it out angrily,
casting off all reserve.

Barnes smiled. "I do. He is a secret agent from the embassy--"

"Secret granny!" almost shouted O'Dowd. "He is the slickest, cleverest
crook that ever drew the breath of life. And he's got away with the
jewels, for which you can whistle in vain, I'm thinking."

"For Heaven's sake, O'Dowd--" began Barnes, his blood like ice in his
veins.

"But don't take my word for it. Ask her,--upstairs there, God bless
her!--ask her if she knows Chester Naismith. She'll tell ye, my bucko.
He's been standing guard outside her window for the past three nights.
He's--"

"Now, I know you are mistaken," cried Barnes, a wave of relief surging
over him. "He has been in this Tavern every night--"

"Sure he has. But he never was here after eleven o'clock, was he?
Answer me, did ye ever see him here after eleven in the evening? You
did not,--not until last night, anyhow. In the struggle he had with
Nicholas last night his whiskers came off and he was recognised. That's
why poor old Nicholas is lying dead up there at the house now,--and
will have a decent burial unbeknownst to anybody but his friends."

"Whiskers? Dead?" jerked from Barnes's lips.

"Didn't you know he had false ones on?"

"He did not have them on when he left me," declared Barnes. "Good God,
O'Dowd, you can't mean that he--he killed--"

"He stuck a knife in his neck. The poor devil died while I was out
skirmishing, but not before he whispered in the chief's ear the name of
the man who did for him. The dirty snake! And the chief trusted him as
no crook ever was trusted before. He knew him for what he was, but he
thought he was loyal. And this is what he gets in return for saving the
dog's life in Buda Pesth three years ago. In the name of God, Barnes,
how did you happen to fall in with the villain?"

Barnes passed his hand over his brow, dazed beyond the power of speech.
His gaze rested on Putnam Jones. Suddenly something seemed to have
struck him between the eyes. He almost staggered under the imaginary
impact. Jones! Was Jones a party to this--He started forward, an oath
on his lips, prepared to leap upon the man and throttle the truth out
of him. As abruptly he checked himself. The cunning that inspired the
actions of every one of these people had communicated itself to him. A
false move now would ruin everything. Putnam Jones would have to be
handled with gloves, and gently at that.

"He--he represented himself as a book-agent," he mumbled, striving to
collect himself. "Jones knew him. Said he had been around here for
weeks. I--I--

"That's the man," said O'Dowd, scowling. "He trotted all over the
county, selling books. For the love of it, do ye think? Not much. He
had other fish to fry, you may be sure. I talked with him the night you
dined at Green Fancy. He beat you to the Tavern, I dare say. It was his
second night on guard below the--below her window. He told me how he
shinned up and down one of these porch posts, so as not to let old
Jones get onto the fact he was out of his room. He had old Jones fooled
as badly--What are you glaring at HIM for? I was about to say he had
old Jones as badly fooled as you--or worse, damn him. Barnes, if we
ever lay hands on that friend of yours,--well, he won't have to fry in
hell. He'll be burnt alive. Thank God, my mind's at rest on one score.
SHE didn't skip out with him. They all think she did. Not one of them
suspects that she came away with you. There is plenty of evidence that
she let him in through her window--"

"All ready, O'Dowd," called Loeb. "Come along, please."

"Coming," said the Irishman. To Barnes: "Don't blame yourself, old man.
You are not the only one who has been hoodwinked. He fooled men a long
shot keener than you are, so--All right! Coming. See you later, Barnes.
So long!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE FIRST WAYFARER VISITS A SHRINE, CONFESSES, AND TAKES AN OATH


How was he to find the courage to impart the appalling news to her? He
was now convinced beyond all doubt that the so-called Sprouse had made
off with the priceless treasure and that only a miracle could bring
about its recovery. O'Dowd's estimate of the man's cleverness was amply
supported by what Barnes knew of him. He knew him to be the
personification of craftiness, and of daring. It was not surprising
that he had been tricked by this devil's own genius. He recalled his
admiration, his wonder over the man's artfulness; he groaned as he
thought of the pride he had felt in being accorded the privilege of
helping him!

Sitting glumly in a corner of the tap-room, watching but not listening
to the spouting Mr. Rushcroft, (who was regaling the cellarer and two
vastly impressed countrymen with the story of his appearance before
Queen Victoria and the Royal Family), Barnes went over the events of
the past twenty-four hours, deriving from his reflections a few fairly
reasonable deductions as to his place in the plans of the dauntless Mr.
Sprouse.

In the first place, Sprouse, being aware of his somewhat ardent
interest in the fair captive, took a long and desperate chance on his
susceptibility. With incomprehensible boldness he decided to make an
accomplice of the eager and unsuspecting knight-errant! His cunningly
devised tale,--in which there was more than a little of the
truth,--served to excite the interest and ultimately to win the
co-operation of the New Yorker. His object in enlisting this support
was now perfectly clear to the victim of his duplicity. Barnes had
admitted that he was bound by a promise to aid the prisoner in an
effort to escape from the house; even a slow-witted person would have
reached the conclusion that a partial understanding at least existed
between captive and champion. Sprouse staked everything on that
conviction. Through Barnes he counted on effecting an entrance to the
almost hermetically sealed house.

Evidently the simplest, and perhaps the only, means of gaining
admission was through the very window he was supposed to guard. Once
inside her room, with the aid and connivance of one in whom the
occupant placed the utmost confidence, he would be in a position to
employ his marvellous talents in accomplishing his own peculiar ends.

Barnes recalled all of the elaborate details preliminary to the actual
performance of that amazing feat, and realised to what extent he had
been shaped into a tool to be used by the master craftsman. He saw
through the whole Machiavellian scheme, and he was now morally certain
that Sprouse would have sacrificed him without the slightest hesitation.

In the event that anything went wrong with their enterprise, the man
would have shot him dead and earned the gratitude and commendation of
his associates! There would be no one to question him, no one to say
that he had failed in the duty set upon him by the master of the house.
He would have been glorified and not crucified by his friends.

Up to the point when he actually passed through the window Sprouse
could have justified himself by shooting the would-be rescuer. Up to
that point, Barnes was of inestimable value to him; after that,--well,
he had proved that he was capable of taking care of himself.

Mr. Dillingford came and pronounced sentence. He informed the rueful
thinker that the young lady wanted to see him at once in Miss
Thackeray's room.

With a heavy heart he mounted the stairs. At the top he paused to
deliberate. Would it not be better to keep her in ignorance? What was
to be gained by revealing to her the--But Miss Thackeray was luring him
on to destruction. She stood outside the door and beckoned. That in
itself was ominous. Why should she wriggle a forefinger at him instead
of calling out in her usual free-and-easy manner? There was foreboding--

"Is Mr. Barnes coming?" His heart bounded perceptibly at the sound of
that soft, eager voice from the interior of the room.

"By fits and starts," said Miss Thackeray critically. "Yes, he has
started again."

She closed the door from the outside, and Barnes was alone with the
cousin of kings and queens and princes.

"I feared you had deserted me," she said, holding out her hand to him
as he strode across the room. S he did not rise from the chair in which
she was seated by the window. The lower wings of the old-fashioned
shutters were closed except for a narrow strip; light streamed down
upon her wavy golden hair from the upper half of the casement. She was
attired in a gorgeously flowered dressing-gown; he had seen it once
before, draping the matutinal figure of Miss Thackeray as she glided
through the hall with a breakfast tray which Miss Tilly had flatly
refused to carry to her room: being no servant, she declared with heat.

"I saw no occasion to disturb your rest," he mumbled. "Nothing--nothing
new has turned up."

"I have been peeping," she said, looking at him searchingly. A little
line of anxiety lay between her eyes. "Where is Mr. Loeb going, Mr.
Barnes?"

He noted the omission of Mr. O'Dowd. "To Hornville, I believe. They
stopped for gasoline."

"Is he running away?" was her disconcerting question.

"O'Dowd says he is to be gone for a few days on business," he
equivocated.

"He will not return," she said quietly. "He is a coward at heart. Oh, I
know him well," she went on, scorn in her voice.

"Was I wrong in not trying to stop him?" he asked.

She pondered this for a moment. "No," she said, but he caught the
dubious note in her voice. "It is just as well, perhaps, that he should
disappear. Nothing is to be gained now by his seizure. Next week, yes;
but to-day, no. His flight to-day spares--but we are more interested in
the man Sprouse. Has he returned?"

"No, Miss Cameron," said he ruefully. And then, without a single
reservation, he laid bare the story of Sprouse's defection. When he
inquired if she had heard of the man known as Chester Naismith, she
confirmed his worst fears by describing him as the guard who watched
beneath her window. He was known to her as a thief of international
fame. The light died out of her lovely eyes as the truth dawned upon
her; her lips trembled, her shoulders drooped.

"What a fool I've been," she mourned. "What a fool I was to accept the
responsibility of--"

"Don't blame yourself," he implored. "Blame me. I am the fool, the
stupidest fool that ever lived. He played with me as if I were the
simplest child."

"Ah, my friend, why do you say that? Played with you? He has tricked
some of the shrewdest men in the world. There are no simple children at
Green Fancy. They are men with the brains of foxes and the hearts of
wolves. To deceive you was child's play. You are an honest man. It is
always the honest man who is the victim; he is never the culprit. If
honest men were as smart as the corrupt ones, Mr. Barnes, there would
be no such thing as crime. If the honest man kept one hand on his purse
and the other on his revolver, he would be more than a match for the
thief. You were no match for Chester Naismith. Do not look so glum. The
shrewdest police officers in Europe have never been able to cope with
him. Why should you despair?"

He sprang to his feet. "By gad, he hasn't got away with it yet," he
grated. "He is only one man against a million. I will set every cog in
the entire police and detective machinery of the United States going.
He cannot escape. They will run him to earth before--"

"Mr. Barnes, I have no words to express my gratitude to you for all
that you have done and all that you still would do," she interrupted.
"I may prove it to you, however, by advising you to abandon all efforts
to help me from now on. You did all that you set out to do, and I must
ask no more of you. You risked your life to save a woman who, for all
you know, may be deceiving you with--"

"I have not lost all of my senses, Miss Cameron," he said bluntly. "The
few that I retain make me your slave. I shall abandon neither you nor
the effort to recover what my stupidity has cost you. I will run this
scoundrel down if I have to devote the remainder of my life to the
task."

She sighed. "Alas, I fear that I shall have to tell you a little more
about this wonderful man you know as Sprouse. Six months ago the
friends and supporters of the legitimate successor to my country's
throne, consummated a plan whereby the crown jewels and certain
documents of state were surreptitiously removed from the palace vaults.
The act, though meant to be a loyal and worthy one, was nevertheless
nullified by the most stupendous folly. Instead of depositing the
treasure in Paris, it was sent to this country in charge of a group of
men whose fealty could not be questioned. I am not at liberty to tell
you how this treasure was brought into the United States without
detection by the Customs authorities. Suffice it to say, it was
delivered safely to a committee of my countrymen in New York. There are
two contenders for the throne in my land. One is a prisoner in Austria,
the other is at liberty somewhere in--in the world. The Teutonic Allies
are now in possession of my country. It has been ravished and
despoiled."

"So far Sprouse's story jibes," said he, as she paused.

"My countrymen conceived the notion that Germany would one day conquer
France and over-run England. It was this notion that urged them to put
the treasure beyond all possible chance of its being seized by the
conquerors and turned over to the usurping prince who would be placed
on our throne.

"As for my part in this unhappy project, it is quite simple. I was not
the only one to be deceived by plotters who far outstripped the
original conspirators in cleverness and guile. The man you know as Loeb
is in reality my cousin. I have known him all my life. He is the
youngest brother of the pretender to the throne, and a cousin of the
prince who is held prisoner by the Austrians. This prince has a brother
also, and it was to him that I was supposed to deliver the jewels. He
came to Canada a month ago, sent by the embassy in Paris. I travelled
from New York, but not alone as you may suspect. I was carefully
protected from the time I left my hotel there until--well, until I
arrived in Boston.

"While there I received a secret message from friends in Canada
directing me to go to Spanish Falls, where I would be met and conducted
to Green Fancy by Prince Sebastian himself. I was on my way to Halifax
when this message changed my plans. Moreover, the reason given for this
change was an excellent one. It had been discovered that the two men
who acted secretly as my escort were traitors. They were to lead me
into a trap prepared at Portland, where I was to be robbed and detained
long enough for the wretches to make off in safety with their booty. I
need not describe my feelings. I obeyed the directions and stole away
at night, eluding my protectors, and came by devious ways to the place
mentioned in the message.

"As you may have guessed by this time, the whole thing was a carefully
planned ruse. The company at Green Fancy,--you may some day know why
they were there,--learned through the man Naismith that the treasure
had been entrusted to me for delivery to Prince Sebastian and his
friends in Halifax. Let me interrupt myself to explain why the Prince
did not come to New York in person, instead of arranging to have the
jewels taken to him at Halifax. He is an officer of high rank in the
army. His trip across the ocean was known to the German secret service.
The instant he landed on American soil, a demand would have been made
by the German Embassy for his detention here for the duration of the
war.

"I was informed in the message that Prince Sebastian would take me to
the place called Green Fancy, which was near the Canadian border. A
safe escort would be provided for us, and we would be on British soil
within a few hours after our meeting. It is only necessary to add that
when I arrived at Green Fancy I met Prince Ugo,--and understood! I had
carefully covered my tracks after leaving Boston. My real friends were,
and still are, completely in the dark as to my movements, so skilfully
was the trick managed. I shall ask you directly, Mr. Barnes, to wire my
friends in New York and in Halifax, acquainting them with my present
whereabouts and safety. Now, that we know the jewels have been stolen
again, that message need not be delayed.

"And now for Chester Naismith. It was he who, acting for the misguided
loyalists and recommended by certain young aristocrats who by virtue of
their own dissipations had come to know him as a man of infinite
resourcefulness and daring, planned and carried out the pillaging of
the palace vaults. Almost under the noses of the foreign guards he
succeeded in obtaining the jewels. No doubt he could have made off with
them at that time, but he shrewdly preferred to have them brought to
America by some one else. It would have been impossible for him to
dispose of them in Europe. The United States was the only place in the
world where he could have sold them. You see how cunning he is?

"This much I know: he came to New York with the men who carried the
jewels. He tried to rob them in New York but failed. Then he
disappeared. So carefully guarded were the jewels that he knew there
was no chance of securing them without assistance. For nearly six
months they remained in a safety vault on Fifth Avenue. Evidently he
gave up hope and, falling in with Prince Ugo, joined his party. I do
not know this to be the case, but I am now convinced that he learned of
the plan to send the jewels to Halifax. It was he, I am sure, who
conveyed this news to Prince Ugo, who at once invented the scheme to
divert me to this place.

"And now comes the remarkable part of the story. When I arrived at
Spanish Falls, there was no one to meet me. The agent, seeing me on the
platform and evidently at a loss which way to turn, accosted me. He
offered to secure a conveyance for me, and was very considerate, but I
decided to call up Green Fancy on the telephone. I wanted to be sure
that there was no trick. To my surprise, O'Dowd came to the telephone.
I was greatly relieved when I actually heard his voice. I have known
him for years, and the belief that he had at last allied himself with
Prince Sebastian,--after being on the opposite side, you see,--was
cause for rejoicing.

"He was amazed. It seems that I was not expected until the next
afternoon. The car was out on an errand to some little village in the
mountains, he said, but he would telephone at once to see if it could
be located. Afterwards it turned out that the message announcing my
arrival a day ahead of the time agreed upon was never delivered."

"Sprouse's fine work, I suppose," put in Barnes.

"I haven't the remotest doubt. Nor do I doubt that he intended to
waylay me at some point along the road. O'Dowd failed to catch the car
at the village and was on the point of starting off on horseback to
meet me, when it returned. He sent it ahead and followed on horseback.
You know how I was picked up at the cross-roads. It is all so like one
of those picture puzzles. By putting the meaningless pieces together
one obtains a complete design. The last piece to go into this puzzle is
the mishap that befell Naismith on that very afternoon. He was no doubt
thwarted in his design to waylay me on the road from Spanish Falls by a
singular occurrence in this tavern. He was attacked in his room here
shortly after the noon hour, overpowered, bound and gagged by two men.
They carried him to another room, where he remained until late in the
night when he managed to extricate himself. I have reason to believe
that this part of his story is true. He knew the men. They were thieves
as clever and as merciless as himself. They too were watching for me. I
may say to you now, Mr. Barnes, that he has never posed as an honest
man among his associates at Green Fancy. He glories in his fame as a
thief, but until now no one would have questioned his loyalty to his
friends. I do not know how these men learned of my intention to come to
Green Fancy. They--"

"They came to this tavern four or five days in advance of your arrival
at Green Fancy," he interrupted.

"Are you sure?" she asked in surprise.

"Absolutely."

"In that case, they could not have known," she said, deeply perplexed.

"Sprouse told me that they were secret service men from abroad and that
he was working with them. Putnam Jones, I am sure, believes that they
were detectives. He also believes the same to be true of Sprouse. My
theory is this, and I think it is justified by events. The men were
really secret agents, sent here to watch the movements of the gang up
there. They came upon Sprouse and recognised him. On the day mentioned
they overpowered him and forced him to reveal certain facts connected
with affairs at Green Fancy. Possibly he led them to believe that you
were one of the conspirators. They waited for your arrival and then
risked the hazardous trip to Green Fancy. They were discovered and
shot."

She could hardly wait for him to finish. "I believe you are right," she
cried. "A little while before the shooting occurred, the house was
roused by a telephone call. I was in my room, but not asleep. I had
just realised my own dreadful predicament. There was a great commotion
downstairs, and I distinctly heard some one say, in my own language,
that they were not to get away alive. It must have been Naismith who
telephoned. One of the men, I have been told, was killed not far from
our gates. He was shot, I am sure, by the man called Nicholas, noted as
one of the most marvellous marksmen in our little army. The other was
accounted for by Naismith himself, who had managed to reach the
cross-roads in time to head him off. Naismith openly boasted of the
feat. The greatest consternation prevailed at Green Fancy because the
men succeeded in reaching the highway before they were shot. Prince Ugo
was distracted. He said that the attention of the public would be
directed to Green Fancy and curious investigators were certain to
interfere with the great project he was carrying on."

"I believe we have accounted for Mr. Sprouse, and I am no longer
interested in the unravelling of the mystery surrounding the deaths of
Roon and Paul," said he. "There is nothing to keep me here any longer,
Miss Cameron. I suggest that you allow me to escort you at once to your
friends, wherever they--"

She was opposed to this plan. While there was still a chance that
Sprouse might be apprehended in the neighbourhood, or the possibility
of his being caught by the relentless pursuers, she declined to leave.

"Then, I shall also stay," said he promptly, and was repaid by the
tremulous smile she gave him. His heart was beating like mad, and he
knew, in that instant, just what had happened to him. He was helplessly
in love with this beautiful cousin of kings and queens. And when he
thought of kings and queens he realised that beyond all question his
love was hopeless.

"You are very good to me," she said softly.

He got up suddenly and walked away. After a moment, in which he
regained control of himself, he returned to her side.

"What effect will Mr. Loeb's flight have on the scheme up there, Miss
Cameron?" he inquired, quite steadily.

"They will scatter to the four winds, those people," she said. "He
would not have fled unless disaster was staring him in the face.
Something has transpired to defeat his ugly plan. They will all run to
cover like so many rats."

"The government of the United States is a good rat-catcher," he said.

"The United States would do well to keep the rats out, Mr. Barnes,
instead of allowing them to come here and thrive and multiply and gnaw
into its very vitals."



CHAPTER XVII

THE SECOND WAYFARER IS TRANSFORMED, AND MARRIAGE IS FLOUTED


Mr. Rushcroft sent for Barnes at three o'clock. "Come to my room as
soon as possible," was the message delivered by Mr. Bacon. Barnes was
taking a nap. More than that, he was pleasantly dreaming when the
pounding fell upon his door. Awakened suddenly from this elysian dream
he leaped from his bed and rushed to the door, his heart in his mouth.
Something sinister was back of this imperative summons! She was in
fresh peril. The gang from Green Fancy had descended upon the Tavern in
force and--

"Sorry to disturb you," said Mr. Bacon, as the door flew open, "but he
says it's important. He says--"

"I wish you would tell him to go to the devil," said Barnes wrathfully.

"Superfluous, I assure you, sir. He says that everything and everybody
is going to the devil, so--"

"If he wants to see me why doesn't he come to my room? Why should I go
to his?"

"Lord bless you, don't you know that it's one of the prerogatives of a
star to insist on people coming to him instead of the other way about?
What's the use of being a star if you can't--"

"Tell him I will come when I get good and ready."

"Quite so," said Mr. Bacon absently. He did not retire, but stood in
the door, evidently weighing something that was on his mind and
considering the best means of relieving himself of the mental burden.
"Ahem!" he coughed. "Miss Thackeray advises me that you have expressed
a generous interest in our personal"--(He stepped inside the room and
closed the door)--"er--in our private future, so to speak, and I take
this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Barnes. If it isn't asking too much
of you, I'd like you to say a word or two in my behalf to the old man.
You might tell him that you believe I have a splendid future before
me,--and you wouldn't be lying, let me assure you,--and that there is
no doubt in your mind that a Broadway engagement is quite imminent. A
word from you to one of the Broadway managers, by the way, would--"

"You want me to intercede for you in the matter of two engagements
instead of one, is that it?"

"I am already engaged to Miss Thackeray,--in a way. The better way to
put it would be for you to intercede in the matter of one marriage and
one engagement. I think he would understand the situation much better
if you put it in that way."

"Have you spoken to Mr. Rushcroft about it?"

"Only in a roundabout way. I told him I'd beat his head off if he ever
spoke to Miss Thackeray again as he did last night."

"Well, that's a fair sort of start," said Barnes, who was brushing his
hair. "What did he say to that?"

"I don't know. I had to close the door rather hastily. If he said
anything at all it was after the chair hit the door. Ahem! That was
last night. He is as nice as pie this afternoon, so I have an idea that
he busted the chair and doesn't want old Jones to find out about it."

"I will say a good word for you," said Barnes, grinning.

He found Mr. Rushcroft in a greatly perturbed state of mind.

"I've had telegrams from the three people I mentioned to you, Barnes,
and the damned ingrates refuse to join us unless they get their
railroad fares to Crowndale. Moreover, they had the insolence to send
the telegrams collect. The more you do for the confounded bums, the
more they ask. I once had a leading woman who--"

Barnes was in no humour to listen to the long-winded reminiscences of
the "star," so he cut him short at once. He ascertained that the
"ingrates" were in New York, on their "uppers," and that they could not
accomplish the trip to Crowndale unless railroad tickets were provided.
The difficulty was bridged in short order by telegrams requesting the
distant players to apply the next day at his office in New York where
tickets to Crowndale would be given them. He telegraphed his office to
buy the tickets and hold them for Miss Milkens, Mr. Hatcher and Mr.
Fling.

"That completes one of the finest companies, Mr. Barnes, that ever took
the road," said Mr. Rushcroft warmly, forgetting his animosity. "You
will never be associated with a more evenly balanced company of
players, sir. I congratulate you upon your wonderful good fortune in
having such a cast for 'The Duke's Revenge.' If you can maintain a
similar standard of excellence in all of your future productions, you
will go down in history as the most astute theatrical manager of the
day."

Barnes winced, but was game. "When do you start rehearsals, Rushcroft?"

"It is my plan to go to Crowndale to-morrow or the next day, where I
shall meet my company. Rehearsals will undoubtedly start at once. That
would give us--let me see--Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday--four days.
We open on Tuesday night. Oh, by the way, I have engaged a young woman
of most unusual talent to take the minor part of Hortense. You may have
noticed her in the dining-room. Miss Rosamond--er--where did I put that
card?--ah, yes, Miss Floribel Blivens. The poor idiot insists on
Blivens, desiring to perpetuate the family monicker. I have gotten rid
of her spectacles, however, and the name that the prehistoric Blivenses
gave her at the christening."

"You--you don't mean Miss Tilly?"

"I do. She is to give notice to Jones to-day. There are more ways than
one of getting even with a scurvy caitiff. In this case, I take old
Jones's best waitress away from him, and, praise God, he'll never find
another that will stick to him for eighteen years as she has done."

O'Dowd returned late in the afternoon. He was in a hurry to get back to
Green Fancy; there was no mistaking his uneasiness. He drew Barnes
aside.

"For the love of Heaven, Barnes, get her away from here as soon as
possible, and do it as secretly as you can," he said. "I may as well
tell you that she is in more danger from the government secret service
than from any one up yonder. Understand, I'm not pleading guilty to
anything, but I shall be far, far away from here meself before another
sunrise. That ought to mean something to you."

"But she has done no wrong. She has not laid herself liable to--"

"That isn't the point. She has been up there with us, and you don't
want to put her in the position of having to answer a lot of nasty
questions they'll be after asking her if they get their hands on her.
She might be weeks or months clearing herself, innocent though she be.
Mind you, she is as square as anything; she is in no way mixed up with
our affairs up there. But I'm giving you the tip. Sneak her out as soon
as you can, and don't leave any trail."

"She may prefer to face the music, O'Dowd. If I know her at all, she
will refuse to run away."

"Then ye'll have to kidnap her," said the Irishman earnestly. "There
will be men swarming here from both sides of the border by to-morrow
night or next day. I've had direct information. The matter is in the
hands of the people at Washington and they are in communication with
Ottawa this afternoon. Never mind how I found it out. It's the gospel
truth, and--it's going to be bad for all of us if we're here when they
come."

"Who is she, O'Dowd? Man to man, tell me the truth. I want to know just
where I stand."

O'Dowd hesitated, looked around the tap-room, and then leaned across
the table.

"She is the daughter of Andreas Mara-Dafanda, former minister of war in
the cabinet of Prince Bolaroz the Sixth. Her mother was first cousin to
the Prince. Both father and mother are dead. And for that matter, so is
Bolaroz the Sixth. He was killed early in this war. His brother, a
prisoner in Austria, as you may already know, is the next in line for
the throne,--if the poor devil lives to get it back from the Huns. Miss
Cameron is in reality the Countess Therese Mara-Dafanda--familiarly and
lovingly known in her own land as the Countess Ted. She was visiting in
this country when the war broke out. If it is of any use to you, I'll
add that she would be rich if Aladdin could only come to life and
restore the splendours of the demolished castle, refill the chests of
gold that have been emptied by the conquerors, and restock the farms
that have been pillaged and devastated. In the absence of Aladdin,
however, she is almost as poor as the ancient church-mouse. But she has
a fortune of her own. Two of the most glorious rubies in the world
represent her lips; her eyes are sapphires that put to shame the rocks
of all the Sultans; when she smiles, you may look upon pearls that
would make the Queen of Sheba's trinkets look like chinaware; her skin
is of the rarest and richest velvet; her hair is all silk and a yard
wide; and, best of all, she has a heart of pure gold. So there you are,
me man. Half the royal progeny of Europe have been suitors for her
hand, and the other half would be if they didn't happen to be of the
same sex."

"Is she likely to--er--marry any one of them, O'Dowd?"

"Do you mean, is she betrothed to one of the royal nuts? If I were her
worst enemy I couldn't wish her anything as bad as that. The world is
full of regular men,--like meself, for example,--and 'twould be a pity
to see her wasted upon anything so cheap as a king."

"Then, she isn't?"

"Isn't what?"

"Betrothed."

"Oh!" He squinted his eyes drolly. "Bedad, if she is, she's kept it a
secret from me. Have you aspirations, me friend?"

"Certainly not," said Barnes sharply. "By the way, you have mentioned
Prince Bolaroz the Sixth, but you haven't given a name to the country
he ruled."

O'Dowd stared. "The Saints preserve us! Is the man a numbskull? Are you
saying that you don't know who and what--My God, such ignorance
bewilders me!"

"Painful as it may be to you, O'Dowd, I don't seem able to place
Bolaroz in his proper realm."

"Whist, then!" He put his hand to his mouth and whispered a name.

An incredulous expression came into Barnes's eyes. "Are you jesting
with me, O'Dowd?"

"I am not."

"But I thought it was nothing more than a make-believe, imaginary land,
cooked up by some hair-brained novelist for the purpose of--"

"Well, ye know better now," said O'Dowd crisply. "Good-bye. I must be
on my way. Deliver my best wishes to her, Barnes, and say that if she
ever needs a friend Billy O'Dowd is the boy to respond to any call she
sends out. God willing, I may see her again some day,--and I'll say the
same to you, old man." He arose and held out his hand. "I'm trusting to
you to get her away from these parts before the rat-catchers come.
Don't let 'em bother her. Good-bye and good luck forever."

"You are a brick, O'Dowd. I want to see you again. You will always find
me--"

"Thanks. Don't issue any rash invitations. I might take you up." He
strode to the door, followed by Barnes.

"Is there anything to be feared from this Prince Ugo or the crowd up
there?"

"There would be if they knew where they could lay their hands on her
inside of the next ten hours. She could a tale unfold, and they
wouldn't like that. Keep her under cover here till--well, till THAT
danger is past and then keep her out of the danger that is to come."

Barnes started upstairs as soon as O'Dowd was off, urged by an
eagerness that put wings on his feet and a thrill of excitement in his
blood. Half way up he stopped short. A new condition confronted him.
What was the proper way to approach a person of royal blood? Certainly
it wasn't right to go galumping upstairs and bang on her door, and
saunter in as if she were just like any one else. He would have to
think.

When he resumed his upward progress it was with a chastened and
deferential mien. Pausing at her door, he was at once aware of voices
inside the room. He stood there for some time before he realised that
Miss Thackeray was repeating, with theatric fervour, though haltingly,
as much of her "part" as she could remember, evidently to the
satisfaction of the cousin of princes, for there were frequent
interruptions which had all the symptoms of applause.

He rapped on the door, but so timorously that nothing came of it. His
second effort was productive. He heard Miss Thackeray say "good
gracious," and, after a moment, Miss Cameron's subdued: "What is it?"

"May I come in?" he inquired, rather ashamed of his vigour. "It's only
Barnes."

"Come in," was her lively response. "It was awfully good of you, Miss
Thackeray, to let me hear your lines. I think you will be a great
success in the part."

"Thanks," said Miss Thackeray drily. "I'll come in again and let you
hear me in the third act." She went out, mumbling her lines as she
passed Barnes without seeing him.

"Forgive me for not arising, Mr. Barnes," said Royalty, a wry little
smile on her lips. "I fear I twisted it more severely than I thought at
first. It is really quite painful."

"Your ankle?" he cried in surprise. "When and how did it happen? I'm
sorry, awfully sorry."

"It happened last night, just as we were crossing the ditch in front--"

"Last night? Why didn't you tell me? Don't you know that it's wrong to
walk with a sprained ankle? Don't--"

"Don't be angry with me," she pleaded. "You could not have done
anything."

"Couldn't I, though? I certainly could have carried you the rest of the
way,--and upstairs." He was conscious of a strange exasperation. He
felt as though he had been deliberately cheated out of something.

"You poor man! I am quite heavy."

"Pooh! A hundred and twenty-five at the outside. Do you think I'm a
weakling?"

"Please, please!" she cried. "You look so--so furious. I know you are
very, very strong,--but so am I. Why should I expect you to carry me
all that distance when--"

"But, good Lord," he blurted out, "I would have loved to do it. I can't
imagine anything more--I--I--" He broke off in confusion.

She smiled divinely. "Alas, it is too late now. But--" she went on
gaily, "you may yet have the pleasure of carrying me downstairs, Mr.
Barnes. Will that appease your wrath?"

He flushed. "I'm sorry I--"

"See," she said, "it is nicely bandaged,--and if you could see through
the bandages you would find it dreadfully swollen. That nice Miss
Thackeray doctored me. What a quaint person she is."

His brow clouded once more. "I hope you will feel able to leave this
place to-morrow, Countess. We must get away almost immediately."

"Ah, you have been listening to O'Dowd, I see."

"Yes. He tells me it will be dangerous to--"

"I was thinking of something else that he must have told you. You
forgot to address me as Miss Cameron."

"I might have gone even farther and called you the Countess Ted," he
said.

She sighed. "It was rather nice being Miss Cameron to you, Mr. Barnes.
You will not let it make any difference, will you? I mean to say, you
will be just the same as if I were still Miss Cameron and not--some one
else?"

"I will be just the same," he said, leaning a little closer. "I am not
so easily frightened as all that, you know."

She looked into his eyes for a moment, and then turned her own swiftly
away. Entranced, he watched the delicate colour steal into her cheek.

"You are just like other women," he said thickly, "and I am like other
men. We can't help being what we are, Countess. Flesh and blood
mortals, that's all. If a cat may look at a king, why may not I look at
a countess?"

She met his gaze, but not steadily. Her deep blue eyes were filled with
a vague wonder; she seemed to be searching for something in his to
explain the sudden embarrassment that had come over her.

"Ah, I do not understand you American men," she murmured, shaking her
head. "A king would have found as much pleasure in looking at Miss
Cameron as at a countess. Why shouldn't YOU?" A radiant smile lighted
her face. "The king would not think of reproving the cat. I see no
reason why you should not look at a poor little countess with impunity."

"Do you think it would be possible for you to understand me any better
as Miss Cameron?" he asked bluntly.

"I think perhaps it would," she said, the smile fading.

"Then, I shall continue to look upon you as Miss Cameron, Countess. It
will make it easier for both of us."

"Yes," she said, a little sadly, "I am sure Miss Cameron would not be
half so dense as the Countess. She would understand perfectly. She has
grown to be a very discerning person, Mr. Barnes, notwithstanding her
extreme youth. Miss Cameron is only four days old, you see."

He bowed very low and said: "My proudest boast is that I have known her
since the day she was born. If I had the tongue and the courage of
O'Dowd I might add a great deal to that statement."

"A great deal that you would not say to a countess?" she asked, playing
with fire.

"A great deal that a child four days old could hardly be expected to
grasp, Miss Cameron," he replied, pointedly. "Having lived to a great
age myself, and acquired wisdom, I appreciate the futility of uttering
profound truths to an infant in arms."

She beamed. "O'Dowd could not have done any better than that," she
cried. Then quickly, even nervously, as he was about to speak again:
"Now, tell me all that Mr. O'Dowd had to say."

He seated himself and repeated the Irishman's warning. Her eyes clouded
as he went on; utter dejection came into them.

"He is right. It would be difficult for me to clear myself. My own
people would be against me. No one would believe that I did not
deliberately make off with the jewels. They would say that I--oh, it is
too dreadful!"

"Don't worry about that," he exclaimed. "You have me to testify that--"

"How little you know of intrigue," she cried. "They would laugh at you
and say that you were merely another fool who had lost his head over a
woman. They would say that I duped you--"

"No!" he cried vehemently. "Your people know better than you think. You
are disheartened, discouraged. Things will look brighter to-morrow.
Good heavens, think how much worse it might have been. That--that
infernal brute was going to force you into a vile, unholy marriage.
He--By the way," he broke off abruptly, "I have been thinking a lot
about what you told me. He couldn't have married you without your
consent. Such a marriage would never hold in a court of--"

"You are wrong," she said quietly. "He could have married me without my
consent, and it would have held,--not in one of your law courts, I dare
say, but in the court to which he and I belong by laws that were made
centuries before America was discovered. A prince of the royal house
may wed whom and when he chooses, provided he does not look too far
beneath his station. He may not wed a commoner. The state would not
recognise such a union. My consent was not necessary."

"But you are in my country now, not in yours," he argued. "Our laws
would have protected you."

"You do not understand. Marriages such as he contemplated are made
every year in Europe. Do you suppose that the royal marriages you read
about in the newspapers are made with the consent of the poor little
princes and princesses? Your laws are one thing, Mr. Barnes; our courts
are another. Need I be more explicit?"

"I think I understand," he said slowly. "Poor wretches!"

"Prince Ugo is of royal blood. I am not too far beneath him. In my
country his word is the law. The marriage that was to have been
celebrated to-day at Green Fancy would have bound me to him forever. It
would have been recognised in my country as legal. I have not the right
of appeal. I would not even be permitted to question his right to make
me his wife against my will. He is a prince. His will is law."

"Isn't love allowed to enter into a--"

"Love?" she scorned. "What has love to do with it? There isn't a queen
in all the world who loves--or loved, I would better say,--the man she
married. Some of them may have grown afterwards to love their kings,
because all kings are not alike. You may be quite sure, however, that
the wives of kings and princes did not marry their ideals; they did not
marry the men they loved. So, you see, it wouldn't have mattered in the
least to Prince Ugo whether I loved him or hated him. It was all the
same to him. It was enough that he loved me and wanted me. And besides,
laying sentiment aside, it wouldn't have been a bad stroke of business
on his part. He has a fair chance to sit on the throne of our country.
By placing me beside him on the throne he would be taking a long step
toward uniting the factions that are now bitterly opposing each other.
I am able to discuss all this very calmly with you now, Mr. Barnes, for
the nightmare is ended. I am here with you, alive and well. If you had
not come for me last night, I would now be sleeping the long sleep at
Green Fancy."

"You--you would have taken your own life?" he said, in a shocked voice.

"I would have spared myself the horror of letting him destroy it in a
slower, more painful fashion," she said, compressing her lips.

He did not speak at once. Looking into her troubled eyes, he said,
after a soulful moment: "I am glad that I came in time. You were made
to love and be loved. The man you love,--if there ever be one so
fortunate,--will be my debtor to the end of his days. I glorify myself
for having been instrumental in saving you for him."

"If there ever be one so fortunate," she mused. Suddenly her mood
changed. A new kind of despair came into her lovely eyes, a plaintive
note into her voice. (I may be pardoned for declaring that she became,
in the twinkling of an eye, a real flesh and blood woman.) "I don't
know what I shall do unless I can get something to wear, Mr. Barnes. I
haven't a thing, you see. This suit is--well, you can see what it is.
I--"

"I've never seen a more attractive suit," he pronounced. "I said as
much to myself the first time I saw it, the other evening at the
cross-roads. It fits--"

"But I cannot LIVE in it, you know. My boxes are up at Green
Fancy,--two small ones for steamer use. Everything I have in the world
is in them. Pray do not look so forlorn. You really couldn't have
carried them, Mr. Barnes, and I shudder when I think of what would have
happened to you if I had tumbled them out of the window upon your head.
You would have been squashed, and it isn't unlikely that you would have
aroused every one in the house with your groans and curses."

"I dropped a trunk on my toes one time," he said, grinning with a
delight that had nothing to do with the reminiscence. She was quaintly
humorous once more, and he was happy. "I think one swears more
prodigiously when a trunk falls on his toes than he does when it drops
on his head. There is something wonderfully quieting and soothing about
a trunk lighting on one's head from a great height. Don't worry about
your boxes. I have a feeling it will be perfectly safe to call for them
with a wagon to-morrow."

"I don't know what I should do without you," she said.

That evening at supper, Barnes and Mr. Rushcroft, to say nothing of
three or four "transients," had great cause for complaint about the
service. Miss Tilly was wholly pre-occupied. She was memorising her
"part." Instead of asking Mr. Rushcroft whether he would have bean soup
or noodles, she wanted to know whether she should speak the line this
way or that. She had a faraway, strained look in her eyes, and she
mumbled so incessantly that one of the guests got up and went out to
see Mr. Jones about it. Being assured that she was just a plain damn'
fool and not crazy, he returned and said a great many unpleasant things
in the presence of Miss Tilly, who fortunately did not hear them.

"You've spoiled a very good waitress, Rushcroft," said Barnes.

"And a very good appetite as well," growled the Star.

Late in the night, Barnes, sitting at his window dreaming dreams, saw
two big touring cars whiz past the tavern. The next morning Peter Ames,
the chauffeur, called him up on the telephone to inquire whether he had
heard anything more about the job on his sister's place. He was anxious
to know, he said, because everybody had cleared out of Green Fancy
during the night and he had received instructions to lock up the house
and look for another situation.



CHAPTER XVIII

MR. SPROUSE CONTINUES TO BE PERPLEXING, BUT PUTS HIS NOSE TO THE GROUND


The morning air was soft with the first real touch of spring. A quiet
haze lay over the valley; the lofty hills were enjoying a peaceful
smoke, and the sky was as blue as the turquoise. Birds shrilled a
fresh, gay carol; the song of the anvil had a new thrill of joy in
every inspiring note; the cawing of crows travelled melodiously across
the fields, roosters split their throats in vociferous acclaim to the
distant sun, and hens clucked a complacent chorus. The rattle of
kitchen pans was melody to the ear instead of torture; the squeaking of
pigs in the sty beyond the stable yard took on the dignity of music;
and the blue smoke that rose from chimneys near and far went dancing up
to wed the smiling sky.

Barnes was abroad early. Very greatly to his annoyance, he had slept
long and soundly throughout the night. He was annoyed because he had
made up his mind that as her protector he would be most negligent if he
went to sleep at all, with all those frightened varlets hovering around
ready to go to any extreme in order to save their skins.

Indeed, he left his door slightly ajar and laid his revolver on a chair
beside the bed, in which, with the aid of a lantern, he promised
himself to keep the vigil, stretched out in his daytime garb, prepared
for instant action, the while he enriched his mind by reading "The Man
of Property." But he fell to dreaming with his eyes wide open, and few
were the pages he turned.

Suddenly it was broad daylight and the wick in the lantern smelled
horribly. He popped from the bed, rubbed his eyes, and then dashed out
in the hall, expecting to come upon sanguinary evidence of a raid
during the night. To his amazement, there were no visible signs of an
attack upon the house. It seemed incredible that his defection had not
been attended by results too horrible to contemplate. By all the laws
of fate, she should now be either dead or at the very least,
frightfully mutilated. Something like that invariably happens when a
sentinel sleeps at his post, or an engineer drowses in his cab. But
nothing of the sort had happened.

Mr. Bacon, sweeping the front stairs, assured him between yawns that he
hadn't heard a sound in the Tavern after half-past ten,--at which hour
he went to bed and to sleep.

Barnes was at breakfast when Peter Ames called up. An inspiration
seized him when the chauffeur mentioned the wholesale exodus: he hired
Peter forthwith and ordered him to report immediately,--with the car.
He was going up to Green Fancy for Miss Cameron's "boxes."

Whether it was the fresh, sweet smell of the earth that caused him to
saunter forth from the Tavern, and to adventure across the road to the
foot of the great old oak, or the ripening of spring in his blood, is
of no immediate consequence here. He had no reason for going over there
to lean against the tree and light his after-breakfast pipe,--unless,
of course, it be argued that the position afforded a fair and excellent
view of the window in Miss Cameron's room. The shutters were open and
the low sash was raised.

Presently she appeared at the window, and smiled down upon him. The
spell was at its height; the charm that had clothed the morning with
enchantment was now complete.

He waved his hand. "The top o' the morning," he cried.

"I detect coffee," she returned, "and, oh, how good it smells. Have you
had yours?"

"Ages ago," he replied, ecstatically.

She placed her elbows on the sill and her chin in the palms of her
hands. The loose sleeves of Miss Thackeray's bizarre dressing gown fell
away, revealing two round, smooth, white arms. The sun shot its mellow
light into the ripples of her tousled hair, and it shone like burnished
gold. Her white teeth gleamed against the red of her smiling lips. He
was fascinated.

The automobile driven by Peter Ames too soon came roaring and rattling
up the pike. She withdrew her head, after twice being warned by Barnes
not to reveal herself to the view of skulkers who might infest the wood
beyond,--and each time his reward was a delightfully stubborn shake of
the head and the ruthless assertion that on such a heavenly morning as
this she didn't mind in the least if all the spies in the world were
gazing at her.

Two minutes after Peter drove up to the Tavern he was on the way back
to Green Fancy again, and seated beside him was Thomas Kingsbury
Barnes, his new master.

"Needn't be afraid of trespassin'," said Peter when Barnes advised him
to go slow as they turned off the road into the forest. "Nobody's going
to object. You c'n yell, and shoot, and raise all the thunder you want,
an' there won't be nobody runnin' out to tell you to shut up. Might as
well try to disturb a graveyard."

There was not a sign of human life about the place. Peter, without
compunction, admitted his employer through the back door of the house,
and accompanied him upstairs to the room recently occupied by Miss
Cameron.

"Course," he said, but not uneasily, "I'm not supposed to let anybody
remove anything from the house as long as I'm employed as caretaker."

"But you are no longer employed as caretaker. You were discharged and
you are now working for me, Peter."

"That's so," said Peter, scratching his head. "Makes all the difference
in the world. I never thought of that. Come to think of it, I guess
Miss Cameron needs clothes as much as anybody. The rest of 'em took all
their duds away with 'em, you c'n bet. Would you know Miss Cameron's
clothes if you was to see 'em?"

"Perfectly," said Barnes.

"That's good," said Peter, relieved. "Clothes seem to look purty much
alike to me, specially women's."

They found the two small leather trunks, thickly belabelled, in the
room upstairs. Both were locked.

"I don't see how you're going to identify 'em without seein' 'em," said
Peter dubiously.

Barnes looked at him sternly. "Peter, be good enough to remember that
you are working for a man of the most highly developed powers of
divination. Do you get that?"

"No, sir," said Peter honestly; "I don't."

"Well, if I were to say to you that I possess the singular ability to
see a thing without actually seeing it, what would you say?"

"I wouldn't say anything, because I don't think it helps a man any to
call his boss a liar."

"You take this one," said Barnes, without further parley, "and I will
manage the other." He was in a hurry to get away from the house. There
was no telling when the government agents would descend upon the place.
He was at a loss to understand O'Dowd's failure to remove the trunks
which would so surely draw the attention of the authorities to the girl
he seemed so eager to shield. "And, by the way," he added, as they
descended the stairs with the trunks on their backs, "you may as well
get your own things together, Peter. We start on a long motor trip
to-night. I am afraid we shall have to steal the automobile, if you
don't mind."

"It belongs to me, sir," said Peter. "Mr. O'Dowd gave it to me
yesterday, with his compliments. It seems that he had word from his
sister to reward me for long and faithful service. Special cablegram
from London or England, I forget which."

"Did Mr. Curtis leave with the others last night?" inquired Barnes,
setting the trunk down on the brick pavement outside the door.

"'Pears that he left a couple of days ago," said Peter, vastly
perplexed. "By gosh, I don't see how he done it, 'thout me knowin'
anything about it. Derned queer, that's all I got to say, man as sick
as he is."

Barnes did not enlighten him. He helped Peter to lift the trunks into
the car and then ordered him to start at once for Hart's Tavern.

"You can return later on for your things," he said.

"I got 'em tied up in a bundle in the garage, Mr. Burns," he said.
"Won't take a second to get 'em out." He hurried around the corner of
the house, leaving Barnes alone with the car.

A dry, quiet chuckle fell upon Barnes's ears. He glanced about in
surprise and alarm. No one was in sight.

"Look up, young man," and the startled young man obeyed. His gaze
halted at a window on the second story, almost directly over his head.

Mr. Sprouse was looking down upon him, his sharp features fixed in a
sardonic grin.

"Well, I'll be damned!" burst from Barnes's lips. He could not believe
his eyes.

"Surprised to see me, eh? If you're not in a hurry, I'd certainly
appreciate a lift as far as the Tavern, old man. I'll be down in a
jiffy."

"Hold on! What the deuce does all this mean? How do you happen to be
here, and where are the--"

"Sh! Not so loud! Don't get excited. I dare say you know all there is
to know about me by this time, so we needn't waste time over trifles.
Stand aside! I'm going to drop." A moment later he swung over the sill,
and dropped lightly to the ground eight feet below. Dusting his hands,
he advanced and extended one of them to the bewildered Barnes. "Oh, you
won't shake, eh? Well, it doesn't matter. I don't blame you."

"See here, Sprouse or whatever your name is,--"

"Cool off! I'll explain in ten words. I didn't get the stuff. I came
back this morning to have a quiet, undisturbed look around. My only
reason for revealing myself to you now, Barnes, is to ask your
assistance in--"

"Ask my assistance, you infernal rogue!" roared Barnes. "Why,
I'll--I'll--"

"Better hear me out," broke in Sprouse calmly.

"I could drill a hole through you so quickly you'd never know what did
it," he went on. His hand was in his coat pocket, and a quick glance
revealed to Barnes a singularly impressive angle in the cloth, the
point of which seemed to be directed squarely at his chest. "But I'm
not going to do it. I just want to set myself straight with you. In a
word, I never got anywhere near the room in which the jewels were
hidden. This is God's truth, Barnes. I didn't stick a knife into that
poor devil up there the other night. Here's what actually happened. I--"

"Wait a moment. You intended to steal the jewels, didn't you? You were
not playing fair with me then, so why should I put any faith in you
now?"

"Honest confession is good for the soul," said Sprouse easily. "I
wasn't the only one who was trying to get the baubles, my friend. It
was a game in which only the best man could win."

"I know the truth now about Roon and Paul," said Barnes significantly.

"You do?" sneered Sprouse. "I'll bet you a thousand to one you do not.
If the girl told you what she believes to be true, she didn't have it
straight at all. She was led to believe that they were a couple of
crooks and that they fixed me in that Tavern down there. Isn't that
what she told you? Well, that story was cooked up for her special
benefit. I don't mind telling you the truth about them, and you can
tell it to her. Roon was the Baron Hedlund--But all this can wait.
Now--"

"Did you shoot either of those men?"

"I did not. Baron Hedlund was shot, I firmly believe, by Prince Ugo. I
might as well go on with the story now and have it over with. Tell that
chauffeur to take a little stroll. He doesn't have to hear the story,
you know. Hedlund came up here a week or so ago to keep a look-out for
his wife. The Baroness is supposed to be deeply enamoured of Prince
Ugo. He found letters which seemed to indicate that she was planning to
join the Prince up here. In any event, he came to watch. Well, she
didn't come. She had been headed off, but he didn't know that. When he
heard of the arrival of a lady at Green Fancy the other afternoon, he
got busy. He went right up there with blood in his eye. I admit that I
am the gentleman who telephoned the warning up to the Prince. They
tried to head the Baron and his man off at the cross-roads, but he beat
them to it. If there was to be a fight, they didn't want it to happen
anywhere near the house. Part of them, led by Ugo himself, took a short
cut up through the woods and met the two men in the road.

"There is only one man in the world to-day who is a better shot at
night than Prince Ugo, and modesty keeps me from mentioning his
illustrious name. That's why I believe Ugo is the one who got the
Baron,--or Roon, as you know him. The other fellow was halted at the
cross-roads when he made a run for it. A couple of men had been sent
there for just such an emergency. Hedlund was a curiously chivalrous
chap. He went to extreme measures to protect his wife's good name by
wiping out all means of identification. His wife's good name! It is to
laugh! Now, that is the true story of the little affair, and if you are
as much of a gentleman as I take you to be, Barnes, you will respect
Hedlund's desire to shield the woman he loved, and let him lie up
yonder in an unmarked grave. That is what he figured on, you know, in
case things went against him, and I'll stake my head that if you put it
up to the Countess Therese, she will feel as I do about it. She will
beg you to keep the secret. Hedlund was a lifelong friend of her
family. He was beloved by all of them. He married an actress in Vienna
three or four years ago. On second thoughts, if I were you I'd spare
the Countess. I'd let her go on thinking that the story she has heard
is true,--at least for the time being. She's a nice girl and there's no
sense in giving her any unnecessary pain. But that's up to you. You can
do as you please about it.

"Now to go back to my own troubles. When I got out into the hall night
before last, after leaving her room, I heard voices whispering in
Prince Ugo's room. Naturally I thought that some one had lamped us on
the outside, and that I was likely to be in a devil of a mess if I
wasn't careful. The last place for me to go was back into her room.
They would cut me off from the outside. So I beat it up the stairway
into the attic. Nothing happened, so I sneaked down to have a peep
around. The door to Ugo's room was open, but there was no light on the
inside. He came to the door and looked up and down the hall. Then some
one else came out and started to sneak away. I leave you to guess the
sex.

"Nicholas butted in at this unfortunate juncture. He made the mistake
of his life. I could see him as plain as day, standing in the hall
grinning like an ape. Ugo jumped back into his room. In less than a
second he was out again. He landed squarely on Nicholas's back as the
fellow turned to escape. I saw the steel flash. Poor old Nick went down
in a heap, letting out a horrible yell. Ugo dragged him into the room
and dashed back into his own. A moment later he came out again, yelling
for help. I heard him shouting that the house had been robbed,--and in
two seconds there was an uproar all over the place. I thought I was
done for. But he had them all rushing downstairs, yelling that the
thief had gone that way. There was only one thing left for me to do and
that was to get out on the roof if possible, and wait for things to
quiet down. I got out through a trap door and stayed there for an hour
or so. They were beating the forest for the thief, and I give you my
word, believe it or not, I actually sent up a prayer, Barnes, that you
had got off safely with the girl. I prayed harder than I ever dreamed a
man could pray.

"Well, to shorten the story, I finally took a chance and slid down to
the eaves where I managed to find the limb of a tree big enough to
support me,--just as if the Lord had ordered it put there for my
special benefit. I was soon on the ground, and that meant safety for
me. I had heard Ugo tell the others that Nicholas said the man who
stabbed him was yours truly. Can you beat it? And then every mother's
son of them declared it was a feat that no one else in the world could
have pulled off but me, and as I was nowhere to be found, it was only
natural that all of them should believe the lie that Ugo told.

"And now comes the maddening part of the whole business. He said that
the crown jewels were gone! I heard him telling how he was awakened out
of a sound sleep by a man with a gun, who forced him to open the safe
and hand over the treasure. Then he said he was put to sleep again by a
crack over the head with a slung-shot. He was only partially
stunned,--Lord, what a liar!--and came to in time to hear the struggle
across the hall. The thief was running downstairs when he staggered to
the door. It seems that the door at the bottom of the steps had not
been closed that night.

"Now, my dear Mr. Barnes, when I asked you to lend your assistance
awhile ago, it was only to have you tell me when it was that Mr. Loeb
left this place, which way he went, and who accompanied him. If we are
to find the crown jewels, my friend, we will first have to find Prince
Ugo. He has them."

Barnes had not taken his eyes from the face of this amazing rascal
during the whole of the recital. He had been deceived in him before; he
was determined not to be fooled again.

"I don't believe a word of this yarn," he said flatly. "You have the
jewels and--"

"Don't be an ass," snapped Sprouse. "If I had them do you suppose I'd
be fiddling around here to-day? Not much. I saw the gang making their
getaway last night, and I saw Peter depart this morning. I concluded to
have a look about the place. Hope springs eternal, you know. There was
a bare possibility that he might have forgotten them!" He scowled as he
grinned, and never had Barnes looked upon a countenance so evil.

"Why should I tell YOU anything about Prince Ugo? It would only be
helping you to carry out the game--"

"Look here, Mr. Barnes, I'm not going to double-cross you again. That's
all over. I want to get that scurvy dog who knifed poor old Nick. Nick
was a decent, square man. He wasn't a crook. He was a patriot, if such
a thing exists in this world to-day. If you can give me a lead, I'll
try to run Prince Ugo down. And if I do, we'll get the jewels."

"We? You amuse me, Sprouse."

"Well, I can't do any more than give my promise, my solemn oath, or
something like that. I can't give a bond, you know. I swear to you that
if I lay hands on that stuff, I will deliver it to you. Might just as
well trust me as Ugo. You won't get them from him, that's sure; and you
may get them from me."

"Is it revenge you're after?"

"My God," almost shouted Sprouse in his exasperation, "didn't he give
me a black eye among my friends up here? Didn't he put me in wrong with
all of them? Do you think I'm going to stand for that? Think I'm going
to let him get away with it? You don't know me, my friend. I've got a
reputation at stake. No one has ever double-crossed me and got away
with it. I want to prove to the world that I didn't take those jewels.
I--"

"Just what do you mean by 'the world,' Sprouse?"

"My world," he replied succinctly. "I'm not a piker, you know," he went
on, cocking one eye in a somewhat supercilious manner. "The stakes are
always high in my game. I don't play for pennies."

"Get in the car," said Barnes suddenly. He had decided to take a chance
with the resourceful, indefatigable rascal. There was nothing to be
lost by setting him on the track of Prince Ugo, who, if the man's story
was true, had betrayed his best friends. There was something convincing
about Sprouse's version of the affair at Green Fancy. He called out to
Peter.

"I suppose you know that the whole game is up, Naismith," he said,
lowering his voice. Peter was wrathfully cranking the car. "The
government is going to take a hand in this business up here."

"If you mean that as a hint to me, it's unnecessary. I'll be on my way
inside of an hour. This is no place for me. And that Tavern is no place
for--er--for her, Barnes. Just mention that you saw me and that I'm
going after Mr. Loeb. If I get the stuff, I'll do the square thing by
her. Not for sentimental reasons, bless you, but just because I like to
do things that make people wonder what the hell I'll do next. Tell her
the whole story if you feel like it, but if I were you I'd wait till
she is safe among her friends, where she won't be nervous. Hit it up a
bit, Peter, old boy. I'm in a hurry."

Peter eyed him in an unfriendly manner. "Where did you come from, Mr.
Perkins? Mighty queer you--"

Sprouse spoke softly out of the corner of his mouth. "Nice old New
England name, isn't it, Barnes?" To Peter: "It's a long story. I'll
write it to you. Speed up."

Barnes told all that he knew of Prince Ugo's flight. Sprouse looked
thoughtful for a long time.

"So O'Dowd knows that I really was after the swag, eh? He believes I
got it?"

"I suppose so."

"The only one who thinks I'm absolutely innocent is Ugo, of
course,--and Mrs. Van Dyke. That's good." Sprouse smacked his lips.
"Just send me on to Hornville in the car, and don't give me another
thought till you hear from me. I've got a pretty fair idea where I can
find Mr. Loeb. It will take a little time,--a couple of days,
perhaps,--but sooner or later he'll turn up in close proximity to the
beautiful baroness."



CHAPTER XIX

A TRIP BY NIGHT, A SUPPER, AND A LATE ARRIVAL


Shortly after sundown that evening, the Rushcroft Company evacuated
Hart's Tavern. They were delayed by the irritating and, to Mr.
Rushcroft, unpardonable behaviour of two officious gentlemen, lately
arrived, who insisted politely but firmly on prying into the past,
present and future history of the several members of the organisation,
including the new "backer" or "angel," as one of the operatives slyly
observed to the other on beholding Miss Thackeray.

Barnes easily established his own identity and position, and was not
long in convincing the investigators that his connection with the
stranded company was of a purely philanthropic nature,--yes, even
platonic, he asseverated with some heat when the question was put to
him.

They examined him closely concerning his solitary visit to Green Fancy,
and he described to the best of his ability all but one of the inmates.
He neglected to mention Miss Cameron. Realising that he would be
storing up trouble for himself if he failed to mention his trip to the
house that morning,--they were sure to hear of it in time,--he set his
mind to the task of constructing a satisfactory explanation. He
concluded to sacrifice Peter Ames, temporarily at least. Taking Peter
aside, he explained the situation to him, impressing upon him the
importance of leaving Miss Cameron and her luggage out of the
interview, and to say nothing about the return of "Mr. Perkins."

Fortified by Barnes's promise to protect him if he followed these
instructions, Peter consented to tell all that he knew about the people
at Green Fancy. Whereupon his new employer informed the secret service
men that he had gone up to Green Fancy that morning in response to an
appeal from Peter Ames, who had applied to him for a position a day or
two before. On his arrival there he confirmed the bewildered
chauffeur's story that the whole crowd had stolen away during the
night. He guaranteed to produce Peter at any time he was needed, and
was perfectly willing to discommode himself to the extent of leaving
the man behind if they insisted on holding him.

The officers, after putting him through a rather rigid examination,
held private consultation over Peter. To Barnes's surprise and
subsequent dismay, they announced that there was nothing to be gained
by holding the man; he was at liberty to depart with his employer,
provided he would report when necessary.

Barnes was some time in fathoming the motive behind this seeming
indifference on the part of the secret service men. It came to him like
a flash, and its significance stunned him. They had decided that there
was more to be gained by letting Peter Ames think he was above
suspicion than by keeping him on the anxious seat. Peter unrestrained
was of more value to them than Peter in durance vile. And from that
moment forward there would not be an hour of the day or night when he
was far ahead of the shadower who followed his trail. There would be a
sly, invisible pursuer at his heels, and an eye ever ready to detect
the first false move that he made. They were counting on Peter to lead
them, in his own good time, to the haunts of his comrades. He could not
escape. And he could make the fatal mistake of considering them a pack
of fools!

Barnes, perceiving all this, was in a state of perturbation. He had
devised a very clever plan for getting Miss Cameron away from the
Tavern without attracting undue attention. She was to leave in one of
the automobiles that he had engaged to convey the players to Crowndale.
It should go without saying that she was to travel with him in Peter's
ramshackle car. In case of detention or inquiry, she was to pose as a
stage-struck young woman who had obtained a place with the company at
the last moment through his influence.

Mr. Rushcroft was not in the secret. Barnes merely announced that he
wanted to give a charming young friend of the family a chance to see
what she could do on the stage, and that he had taken the liberty of
sending for her. The star was magnanimous. He slapped Barnes on the
back and declared that nothing could give him greater joy than to
transform any friend of his into an actress, and he didn't give a hang
whether she had talent or not.

"We'll write in a part for her to-night," he said, "and we'll make it a
small one at first, so that she won't have any difficulty in learning
it. From night to night we'll build it up, Barnes, so that by the end
of our first month your protegee practically will be a co-star with me.
There's nothing mean about me, old chap. Any friend of yours can have--"

Barnes made haste to explain that he did not want any one to know that
this friend of the family was going on the stage, and that he would be
greatly indebted to Rushcroft if he would keep "mum" about it for the
time being.

"Certainly. Not a word. I understand," said Mr. Rushcroft amiably.
"I've had it happen before," he went on, a perfectly meaningless remark
that brought a flush to Barnes's cheek.

It had been Barnes's intention to spirit his charge away from Hart's
Tavern under cover of darkness, in company with his other
"responsibilities," but the fresh turn of affairs now presented
difficulties that were likely to upset his hastily conceived strategy.
He had but one purpose in view, and that was to spare her an unpleasant
encounter with the government officials,--an encounter that conceivably
might result in very distressing complications. He had revealed his
plan to her and she apparently was very much taken with it,--indeed,
she was quite enthusiastic over the prospect of being whisked
unceremoniously to Crowndale, and thence to the home of his sister in
New York City, where she could at once put herself in communication
with friends and supporters.

He was looking forward with dubious hopes to a possible extension of
his guardianship, involving a voyage across the Atlantic and the
triumphant delivery of the Countess, so to speak, into the eager arms
of her country's ambassador at Paris. He was now in a state of mind
that inspired him with the belief that it would be a joy to die for
her. If he died for her, she would always remember him as a brave,
devoted champion; she would exalt him; in her tender, grateful heart
there would always be a corner for him, even to the end of her
days,--even to the end of her days on the throne of her country's
ruler. Far better that he should die for her,--and have it all over
with,--than that he should live to see her the wife of--But invariably
he ceased dreaming at this point and admitted that it would be
infinitely more satisfying to live. It was his matter-of-fact
contention that while there is life there is hope.

When the hour came for the departure from Hart's Tavern he deliberately
engaged the two secret service men in conversation in the tap-room.
Miss Cameron left the house by the rear door and was safely ensconced
in Peter's automobile long before he shook hands with the
"rat-catchers" and dashed out to join her. Tommy Gray's car, occupied
by the four players, was moving away from the door as he sprang in
beside her and slammed the door. The interior of the car was as black
as pitch.

"Are you there?" he whispered.

"Yes. Isn't it jolly, running away like this? It must be wonderfully
exciting to be a criminal, always dodging and--"

"Sh! Even a limousine may have ears!"

But if the limousine had possessed a thousand ears they would have been
rendered useless in the stormy racket made by Peter's muffler and the
thunderous roar of the exhaust as the car got under way.

Sixty miles lay between them and Crowndale. Tommy Gray guaranteed that
the distance could be covered in three hours, even over the vile
mountain roads. Ten o'clock would find them at the Grand Palace Hotel,
none the worse for wear, provided (he always put it parenthetically)
they lived to tell the tale! The luggage had gone on ahead of them
earlier in the day.

Peter's efforts to stay behind Tommy's venerable but surprisingly
energetic Buick were the cause of many a gasp and shudder from the
couple who sat behind him in the bounding car. He had orders to keep
back of Tommy but never to lose sight of his tail light.

Peter was like the celebrated Tam O' Shanter. He was pursued by
spectres. The instant that he discovered that he was lagging a trifle,
he shot the car up to top speed, with the result that he had to jam on
the brakes violently in order to avoid crashing into Tommy's tail
light, and at such times Miss Cameron and Barnes sustained unpleasant
jars. Something seemed to be telling Peter that the law was stretching
out its cruel hand to clutch him from behind; he was determined to keep
out of its reach.

There was small opportunity for conversation. The trip was not at all
as Barnes had imagined it would be. After the car had raced through
Hornville he decided that it was not necessary to keep Tommy's tail
light in view, and so directed Peter. After that conversation was
possible, but the gain was counterbalanced by a distinct sense of loss.
She relinquished her rather frenzied grasp upon his arm, and sank back
into the corner of the seat.

"Oh, dear, what a relief!" she gasped.

"What arrant stupidity," he growled, and she never knew that the remark
bore no relation whatsoever to Peter.

He confessed his fears to her, and was immeasurably consoled by her
enthusiastic scorn for the consequences of his mistake.

"Let them follow poor old Peter," she said. "We will outwit them, never
fear. If necessary, Mr. Barnes, we can travel with the company for days
and days. I think I should rather enjoy it. If you can manage to get
word to my friends in New York, to relieve their anxiety, I shall be
more than grateful. I am sure they will decide that you are acting for
the best in every particular. It would grieve them,--yes, it would
distress them greatly,--if I were to be subjected to an inquiry at the
hands of the authorities. The notoriety would be--harrowing, to say the
least. Moreover, the disclosures would certainly bring disaster upon
those who are working so loyally to right a grave wrong. They will
understand, and they will thank you not only for all that you have done
for me but for the cause I support."

"The first time I ever saw you, I said to myself that you were a brave,
indomitable little soldier," he said warmly. "I am more than ever
convinced of it now."

"The men of my family have been soldiers for ten generations," she said
simply, as if that covered everything. "They haven't all been heroes
but none of them has been a coward."

"I can believe that," he said. "Blood will tell."

"If God gives back my country to my people, Mr. Barnes," she said,
after a long silence, "will you not one day make your way out there to
us, so that we may present some fitting expression of the gratitude--"

"Don't speak of gratitude," he exclaimed. "I don't want to be thanked.
Good Lord, do you suppose I--"

"There, there! Don't be angry," she cried. "But you must come to my
country. You must see it. You will love it."

"But suppose that God does not see fit to restore it to you. Suppose
that he leaves it in the hands of the vandals. What then? Will you go
back to--that?"

She was still for a long time. "I shall not return to my country until
it is free again, Mr. Barnes," she said, and there was a break in her
voice.

"You--you will remain in MY country?" he asked, leaning closer to her
ear.

"The world is large," she replied. "I shall have to live somewhere. It
may be here, it may be France, or England or Switzerland."

"Why not here? You could go far and do worse."

"Beggars may not be choosers. The homeless cannot be very particular,
you know. If the Germans remain in my country, I shall be without a
home."

His voice was tense and vibrant when he spoke again, after a moment's
reflection. "I know what O'Dowd would say if he were in my place."

"O'Dowd has known me a great many years," she said. "When you have
known me as many months as he has years, you will thank your lucky star
that you do not possess the affability that the gods have bestowed upon
O'Dowd."

"Don't be too sure of that," he said, and heard the little catch in her
breath. He found her hand and clasped it firmly. His lips were close to
her ear. "I have known you long enough to--"

"Don't!" she cried out sharply. "Don't say it now,--please. I could
listen to O'Dowd, but--but you are different. He would forget by
to-morrow, and I would forget even sooner than he. But it would not be
so easy to forget if you were to say it,--it would not be easy for
either of us."

"You are not offended?" he whispered hoarsely.

"Why should I be offended? Are you not my protector?"

The subtle implication in those words brought him to his senses. Was he
not her protector? And was he not abusing the confidence she placed in
him?

"I shall try to remember that,--always," he said abjectly.

"Some day I shall tell you why I am glad you did not say it to me
to-night," she said, a trifle unsteadily. She squeezed his hand. "You
are very good to me. I shall not forget that either."

And she meant that some day she would confess to him that she was so
tired, and lonely, and disconsolate on this journey to Crowndale, and
so in need of the strength he could give, that she would have
surrendered herself gladly to the comfort of his arms, to the passion
that his touch aroused in her quickening blood!

Soon after ten o'clock they entered the town of Crowndale and drew up
before the unattractive portals of the Grand Palace Hotel. An arc lamp
swinging above the entrance shed a pitiless light upon the dreary,
God-forsaken hostelry with the ironic name.

Mr. Rushcroft was already at the desk, complaining bitterly of
everything seen and unseen. As a matter of habit he was roaring about
his room and, while he hadn't put so much as his nose inside of it, he
insisted on knowing what they meant by giving it to him. Mr. Bacon and
Mr. Dillingford were growling because there was no elevator to hoist
them two flights up, and Miss Thackeray was wanting to know WHY she
couldn't have a bit of supper served in her room.

"They're all alike," announced Mr. Rushcroft despairingly, addressing
the rafters. He meant hotels in general.

"They're all alike," vouchsafed the clerk in an aside to the "drummer"
who leaned against the counter, meaning stage-folk in general.

"You're both right," said the travelling salesman, who knew.

"Is there a cafe in the neighbourhood?" inquired Barnes, with authority.

"There's a rest'rant in the next block," replied the clerk, instantly
impressed. Here was one who obviously was not "alike." "A two-minutes'
walk, Mr.--" (looking at the register)--"Mr. Barnes."

"That's good. We will have supper in Miss Thackeray's room. Let me have
your pencil, please. Send over and have them fill this order inside of
twenty minutes." He handed what he had written to the blinking clerk.
"For eight persons. Tell 'em to hurry it along."

"Maybe they're closed for the night," said the clerk. "And besides--"

"My God! He even hesitates to get food for us when--" began Mr.
Rushcroft.

"Besides there's only one waiter on at night and he couldn't get off, I
guess. And besides it's against the rules of this house to serve drinks
in a lady's--"

"You tell that waiter to close up when he comes over here with what
I've ordered, and tell him that I will pay double for everything, and
to-morrow morning you can tell the proprietor of this house that we
broke the rules to-night."

For the first time in her life Miss Tilly sat down to a meal served by
a member of her late profession. She sat on the edge of Miss
Thackeray's bed and held a chicken sandwich in one hand and a full
glass of beer in the other. Be it said to the credit of her forebears,
she did not take even so much as a sip from the glass, but seven
sandwiches, two slices of cold ham, half a box of sardines, a plate of
potato salad, a saucer of Boston baked beans, two hardboiled eggs, a
piece of apple pie and two cups of coffee passed her freshly carmined
lips. She was in her seventh heaven. She was no longer dreaming of
fame: it was a gay reality. Emulating the example of Miss Thackeray,
she addressed Mr. Dillingford as "dear," and came near to being the
cause of his death by strangulation.

Miss Cameron submitted to the contagion. She had had no such dreams as
Miss Tilly's, but she was quite as thrilled by the novelty of her
surroundings, the informality of the feast, and the sprightliness of
these undaunted spirits. She sat on Miss Thackeray's trunk, her back
against the wall, her bandaged foot resting on a decrepit suit-case.
Her eyes were sparkling, her lips ever ready to part in the joy of
laughter, the colour leaping into her cheeks in response to the amazing
quips of these unconventional vagabonds.

She too was hungry. Food had never tasted so good to her. From time to
time her soft, smiling eyes sought Barnes with a look of mingled wonder
and confusion. She always laughed when she caught the expression of
concern in his eyes, and once she slyly winked at him. He was entranced.

He crossed over and sat beside her. "They are a perfectly irresponsible
lot," he said in a low voice. "I hope you don't mind their--er--levity."

"I love it," she whispered. "They are an inspiration. One would think
that they had never known such a thing as trouble. I am taking lessons,
Mr. Barnes."

She was still warmly conscious of the thrill that had come into her
blood when he carried her up the stairs in his powerful arms,
disdaining the offer of assistance from the suddenly infatuated Tommy
Gray.

"Rehearsal at eleven sharp," announced Mr. Rushcroft, arising from the
window-sill on which he was seated. "Letter perfect, every one of you.
No guessing. By the way, Miss--er--'pon my soul, I don't believe I got
your name?"

"Jones," said the new member, shamelessly.

"Ah," said he, smiling broadly, "a word oft spoken in jest--ahem!--how
does it go? No matter. You know what I mean. I have not had time to
write in the part for you, Miss Jones, but I shall do so the first
thing in the morning. Now that I see how difficult it is for you to get
around, I have hit upon a wonderful idea. I shall make it a sitting
part. You won't have to do anything with your legs at all. Most
beginners declare that they don't know what to do with their hands, but
I maintain that they know less about what to do with their legs.
Fortunately you are incapacitated--"

"Perhaps it would be just as well to excuse Miss Jones from rehearsal
in the morning," broke in Barnes hastily. "She is hardly fit to--"

"Just as you say, old chap. Doesn't matter in the least. Good night,
everybody. Sleep tight."

"I sha'n't sleep a wink," said Miss Tilly.

"Homesick already?" demanded Mr. Bacon, fixing her with a pitying stare.

"Worrying over my part," she explained.

"Haven't you committed it yet? Say it now. 'It is half past seven, my
lord.' All you have to do is to remember that it comes in the second
act and not in the first or third."

"Good night," said Miss Cameron, giving her hand to Barnes at the door.
She was leaning on Miss Thackeray's arm. He never was to forget the
deep, searching look she sent into his eyes. She seemed to be asking a
thousand questions.

He went down to the dingy lobby. A single, half-hearted electric bulb
shed its feeble light on the desk, in front of which stood a man
registering under the sleepy eye of the night clerk.

After the late arrival had started upstairs in the wake of the clerk,
Barnes stepped up to inspect the book. The midnight express from the
north did not stop at Crowndale, he had learned upon inquiry, and it
was the only train touching the town between nightfall and dawn.

The register bore the name of Thomas Moore, Hornville. There was not
the slightest doubt in Barnes's mind that this was the man who had been
detailed to shadow the luckless Peter. Only an imperative demand by
government authorities could have brought about the stopping of the
express at Hornville and later on at Crowndale.

Barnes smiled grimly. "I've just thought of a way to fool you, my
friend," he said to himself, and was turning away when a familiar voice
assailed him.

Whirling, he looked into the face of a man who stood almost at his
elbow,--the sharp, impassive face of Mr. Sprouse.



CHAPTER XX

THE FIRST WAYFARER HAS ONE TREASURE THRUST UPON HIM--AND FORTHWITH
CLAIMS ANOTHER


"That fellow is a rat-catcher," said Sprouse. "What are you doing here?"
demanded Barnes, staring. He seized the man's arm and inquired eagerly:
"Have you got the jewels?"

"No; but I will have them before morning," replied Sprouse coolly. He
shot a furtive glance around the deserted lobby. "Better not act as
though you knew me. That bull is no fool. He doesn't know me, but by
this time he knows who you are."

"He is trailing Peter Ames."

"Ship Peter to-morrow," advised Sprouse promptly.

"I had already thought of doing so," said Barnes, surprised by the
uncanny promptness of the man in hitting upon the strategy he had
worked out for himself after many harassing hours. "He goes to my
sister's place to-morrow morning."

"Send him by train. He will be easier to follow. There is a train
leaving for the south at 9:15."

"You were saying that before morning you would--"

"Be careful! Don't whisper. People don't whisper to utter strangers.
Step over here by the front door. Would you be surprised if I were to
tell you that his royal nibs is hiding in this town? Well, he certainly
is. He bought a railway ticket for Albany at Hornville the day he beat
it, but he got off at the second station,--which happens to be this
one."

"How can you be sure of all this?"

"Simple as falling off a log," said Sprouse, squinting over his
shoulder. "The Baroness Hedlund has been here for a week or ten days.
The Baron wasn't so far wrong in his suspicions, you see. He lost track
of her, that's all. I happened to overhear a conversation at Hart's
Tavern between him and his secretary. I have a way of hearing things
I'm not supposed to hear, you know. By a curious coincidence I happened
to be taking the air late one night just outside his window at the
Tavern,--on the roof of the porch, to be accurate. I told Ugo what I'd
heard and he nearly broke his neck trying to head her off. O'Dowd and
De Soto rushed over to Hornville and telegraphed for her to leave the
train at the first convenient place and return to New York. She was on
her way up here, you see. She got off at Crowndale and everybody
supposed that she had taken the next train home. But she didn't do
anything of the kind. She is a silly, obstinate fool and she's crazy
about Ugo,--and jealous as fury. She hated to think of him being up
here with other women. A day or so later she sent him a letter. No one
saw that letter but Ugo, and--your humble servant.

"I happened to be the one to go to Spanish Falls for the mail that day.
The postmark excited my curiosity. If I told you what I did to that
letter before delivering it to Mr. Loeb, you could send me to a federal
prison. But that's how I came to know that she had decided to wait in
Crowndale until he sent word that the coast was clear. She went to the
big sanatorium outside the town and has been there ever since,
incognito, taking a cure for something or other. She goes by the name
of Mrs. Hasselwein. I popped down here this afternoon and found out
that she is still at the sanatorium but expects to leave early
to-morrow morning. Her trunks are over at the station now, to be
expressed to Buffalo. I made another trip out there this evening and
waited. About eight o'clock Mr. Hasselwein strolled up. He sat on the
verandah with her for half an hour or so and then left. I followed him.
He went to one of the little cottages that belong to the sanatorium. I
couldn't get close enough to hear what they said, but I believe he
expects to take her away in an automobile early in the morning. It is a
seventy mile ride from here to the junction where they catch the train
for the west. I'm going up now to make a call on Mr. Hasselwein. Would
you like to join me?"

Barnes eyed him narrowly. "There is only one reason why I feel that I
ought to accompany you," he said. "If you have it in your mind to kill
him, I certainly shall do everything in my power to prevent--"

"Possess your soul in peace. I'm not going to do anything foolish. Time
enough left for that sort of thing. I will get him some day, but not
now. By the way, what is the number of your room?"

"Twenty-two,--on the next floor."

"Good. Go upstairs now and I'll join you in about ten minutes. I will
tap three times on your door."

"Why should you come to my room, Sprouse? We can say all that is to be
said--"

"If you will look on the register you will discover that Mr. J. H.
Prosser registered here about half an hour ago. He is in room 30. He
left a call for five o'clock. Well, Prosser is another name for Ugo."

"Here in this hotel? In room 30?" cried Barnes, incredulously.

"Sure as you're alive. Left the cottage an hour ago. Came in a jitney
or I could have got to him on the way over."

Barnes, regardless of consequences, dashed over to inspect the
register. Sprouse followed leisurely, shooting anxious glances up the
stairs at the end of the lobby.

"See!" cried Barnes, excitedly, putting his finger on the name "Miss
Jones." "She's in room 32,--next to his. By gad, Sprouse, do you
suppose he knows that she is here? Would the dog undertake anything--"

"You may be sure he doesn't know she's here, or you either, for that
matter. The country's full of Joneses and Barneses. Go on upstairs.
Leave everything to me."

He strolled away as the clerk came shuffling down the steps. As Barnes
mounted them, he glanced over his shoulder and saw Sprouse take up a
suitcase near the door and return to the desk, evidently for the
purpose of engaging a room for the night.

Before going to his room, he strode lightly down the hall in the
direction of room 30. There was no light in the transom. Stepping close
to the door, he listened intently for sounds from within. He started
back almost instantly. The occupant was snoring with extreme heartiness.

A glance revealed a light in the transom of room 32. As he looked,
however, it disappeared. Abashed, he turned and went swiftly away. She
was going to bed. He felt like a snooping, despicable "peeping Tom"
caught in the act.

He had been in his room for twenty minutes before he heard the tapping
on his door. He opened it and Sprouse slid into the room. The instant
the door closed behind him, he threw open his coat and coolly produced
a long, shallow metal box, such as one finds in safety vaults.

"With my compliments," he said drily, thrusting the box into Barnes's
hands. "You'd better have the Countess check them up and see if they're
all there. I am not well enough acquainted with the collection to be
positive."

Barnes was speechless. He could only stare, open-mouthed, at this
amazing man.

"Grip 'em tight," went on Sprouse, grinning. "I may relieve you of them
if you get too careless. My advice to you is to hide them and keep your
lips closed--"

"My God, Sprouse, have you been in that man's room since I saw you
down--"

"I forgot to say that no questions were to be asked," broke in the
other.

"But I insist upon having everything cleared up. Here am I with a box
of jewels stolen from a lodger's room, God knows how, and in danger of
being slapped into jail if they catch me with the--"

"All you have to do is to keep quiet and look innocent. Stay out of the
hall to-night. Don't go near the door of No. 30. Act like a man with
brains. I said I would square myself with you and with him, too. Well,
I've done both. Maybe you think it is easy to give up this stuff. There
is a half million dollars' worth of nice little things in that box,
small as it is. I went to a lot of trouble to get 'em, and all I'll
receive for my pains is a thank you from Mr. Thomas K. Barnes, New
York."

"I cannot begin to thank you enough," said Barnes. "See here, you must
allow me to reward you in some way commensurate with your--"

"Cut that out," said Sprouse darkly. "I'm not so damned virtuous that I
have to be rewarded. I like the game. It's the breath of life to me."

"The time will surely come when I can do you a good turn, Sprouse, and
you will not find me reluctant," said Barnes, lamely. He was completely
at a loss in the presence of the master-crook. He felt very small, and
stupid, and inadequate,--as one always feels when confronted by genius.
Moreover, he was utterly stupefied.

"That's different. If I ever need a friendly hand I'll call on you.
It's only fair that I should give you a tip, Barnes, just to put you on
your guard. I've lived up to my word in this business, and I've done
all that I said I would. From now on, I'm a free agent. I want to
advise you to put that stuff in a safe place. I'll give you two days'
start. After that, if I can get 'em away from you, or whoever may have
them, I'm going to do it. They will be fair plunder from then on.
Notwithstanding the fact that I put them in your hands to-night,--and
so wash my own of them temporarily,--I haven't a single scruple about
relieving you of them on some later occasion. I may have to crack you
over the head to do it,--so a word to the wise ought to be sufficient.
If you don't guard them pretty closely, my friend, you will regain
consciousness some day and find you haven't got them any longer. Good
night--and good-bye for the present. Stick close to your room till
morning and--then beat it with her for New York. I give you two days'
start, remember."

He switched off the light suddenly. Barnes gasped and prepared to
defend himself. Sprouse chuckled.

"Don't be nervous. I'm merely getting ready to leave you with your
ill-gotten gains. It isn't wise, you see, to peep out of a door with a
light in the room behind you. Keep cool. I sha'n't be more than a
minute."

There was no sound for many seconds, save the deep breathing of the two
men. Then, with infinite caution, Sprouse turned the knob and opened
the door a half inch or so. He left the room so abruptly that Barnes
never quite got over the weird impression that he squeezed through that
slender crack, and pulled it after him!

Many minutes passed before he turned on the light. The key of the box
was tied to the wire grip. With trembling fingers he inserted it in the
lock and opened the lid.... "A half-million dollars' worth of nice
little things," Sprouse had said!

He did not close his eyes that night. Daybreak found him lying in bed,
with the box under his pillow, a pistol at hand, and his eyes
wide-open. He was in a graver quandary than ever. Now that he had the
treasure in his possession, what was he to do with it? He did not dare
to leave it in the room, nor was it advisable to carry it about with
him. The discovery of the burglary in room 30 would result in a search
of the house, from top to bottom.

Cold perspiration started out on his brow. The situation was far from
being the happy one that he had anticipated.

He solved the breakfast problem by calling downstairs for a waiter and
ordering coffee and rolls and eggs sent up to his room. Singularly
enough the waiter solved the other and more disturbing problem for him.

"SOME robbery last night," said that worthy, as he re-appeared with the
tray. Barnes was thankful that the waiter was not looking at him when
he hurled the bomb, figuratively speaking. He had a moment's time to
recover.

"What robbery?" he enquired, feigning indifference.

"Feller up in one of the cottages at the sanatorium. All beat up,
something fierce they say."

"Up in--Where?" almost shouted Barnes, starting up.

The man explained where the cottages were situated, Barnes listening as
one completely bereft of intelligence.

"Seems he was to leave by auto early this mornin', and they didn't know
anything was wrong till Joe Keep--he's driving a Fierce-Arrow that Mr.
Norton has for rent--till Joe'd been settin' out in front for nearly
half an hour. The man's wife was waitin' fer him up at the main
buildin' and she got so tired waitin' that she sent one of the clerks
down to see what was keeping her husband. Well, sir, him and Joe
couldn't wake the feller, so they climb in an open winder, an' by gosh,
Joe says it was terrible. The feller was layin' on the bed, feet an'
hands tied and gagged, and blood from head to foot. He was inconscious,
Joe says, an'--my God, how his wife took on! Joe says he couldn't stand
it, so he snook out, shakin' like a leaf. He says she's a pippin, too.
Never seen a purtier--"

"Is--is the man dead?" cried Barnes, aghast. He felt that his face was
as white as chalk.

"Nope! Seems like it's nothing serious: just beat up, that's all.
Terrible cuts on his head and--"

"What is his name?" demanded Barnes.

"Something like Hackensack."

"Have they caught the thief?"

"I should say not. The police never ketch anything but drunks in this
burg, and they wouldn't ketch them if they could keep from stumblin'."

"What time did all this happen?" Barnes was having great difficulty in
keeping his coffee from splashing over.

"Doc Smith figgers it was long about midnight, judgin' by the way the
blood co'gulated."

"Did they get away with much?"

"Haven't heard. Joe says the stove pipe in the feller's room was
knocked down and they's soot all over everything. Looks like they must
have been a struggle. Seems as though the burglar,--must ha' been
more'n one of 'em, I say,--wasn't satisfied with cracking him over the
head. He stuck the point of a knife or something into him,--just a
little way, Joe says--in more'n a dozen places. What say?"

"I--I didn't say anything."

"I thought you did. Well, if I hear anything more I'll let you know."

"Anything for a little excitement," said Barnes casually.

He listened at the door until he heard the waiter clattering down the
stairway, and then went swiftly down the hall to No. 30. Mr. Prosser
was sleeping just as soundly and as resoundingly as at midnight!

"By gad!" he muttered, half aloud. Everything was as clear as day to
him now. Bolting into his own room, he closed the door and stood
stock-still for many minutes, trying to picture the scene in the
cottage.

No stretch of the imagination was required to establish the facts.
Sprouse had come to him during the night with Prince Ugo's blood on the
hands that bore the treasure. He had surprised and overpowered the
pseudo Mr. Hasselwein, and had actually tortured him into revealing the
hiding place of the jewels. The significance of the scattered stove
pipe was not lost on Barnes; it had not been knocked down in a struggle
between the two men. Prince Ugo was not, and never had been, in a
position to defend himself against his wily assailant. Barnes's blood
ran cold as he went over in his mind the pitiless method employed by
Sprouse in subduing his royal victim. And the coolness, the unspeakable
bravado of the man in coming direct to him with the booty! His
amazingly clever subterfuge in allowing Barnes to think that room No.
30 was the scene of his operations, thereby forcing him to remain
inactive through fear of consequences to himself and the Countess if he
undertook to investigate!

He found a letter in his box when he went downstairs, after stuffing
the tin box deep into his pack,--a risky thing to do he realised, but
no longer perilous in the light of developments. It was no longer
probable that his effects would be subjected to inspection by the
police. He walked over to a window to read the letter. Before he slit
the envelope he knew that Sprouse was the writer. The message was brief.

"After due consideration, I feel that it would be a mistake for you to
abandon your present duties at this time. It might be misunderstood.
Stick to the company until something better turns up. With this thought
in view I withdraw the two days' limit mentioned recently to you, and
extend the time to one week. Yours very truly, J. H. Wilson."

"Gad, the fellow thinks of everything," said Barnes to himself. "He is
positively uncanny."

He read between the lines, and saw there a distinct warning. It had not
occurred to him that his plan to leave for New York that day with Miss
Cameron might be attended by disastrous results.

On reflection, he found the prospect far from disagreeable. A week or
so with the Rushcroft company was rather attractive under the
circumstances. The idea appealed to him.

But the jewels? What of them? He could not go gallivanting about the
country with a half million dollars' worth of precious stones in his
possession. A king's ransom strapped on his back! He would not be able
to sleep a wink. Indeed, he could see himself wasting away to a mere
shadow through worry and dread. Precious stones? They would develop
into millstones, he thought, with an inward groan.

He questioned the advisability of informing Miss Cameron that the crown
jewels were in his possession. Her anxiety would be far greater than
his own. There was nothing to be gained by telling her in any case; so
he decided to bear the burden alone.

The play was not to open in Crowndale until Tuesday night, three full
days off. He revelled in the thought of sitting "out front" in the
empty little theatre, watching the rehearsals. At such times he was
confident that his thoughts would not be solely of the jewels. He would
at least have surcease during these periods of forgetfulness.

He spent the early part of the forenoon in wandering nervously about
the hotel,--upstairs and down. The jewels were locked in his pack
upstairs. He went up to his room half a dozen times and almost
instantly walked down again, after satisfying himself that the pack had
not been rifled.

Exasperation filled his soul. Ten o'clock came and still no sign of the
lazy actors. Rehearsal at eleven, and not one of them out of bed.

Peter came to the hotel soon after ten. He had forgotten Peter and his
decision to send him down to the Berkshires that day, and was sharply
reminded of the necessity for doing so by the appearance of the man who
had registered just before midnight. This individual strolled casually
into the lobby a few seconds behind Peter.

He acted at once and with decision. The stranger took a seat in the
window not far away. Barnes, in a brisk and business-like tone,
informed Peter that he was to leave on the one o'clock train for the
south, and to go direct to his sister's place near Stockbridge. He was
to leave the automobile in Crowndale for the present.

"Here is the money for your railroad fare," he announced in conclusion.
"I have telegraphed Mrs. Courtney's man that you will arrive this
evening. He will start you in on your duties to-morrow. I understand
they are short-handed on the place. And now let me impress upon you,
Peter, the importance of holding yourself ready to report when needed.
You know what I mean. Remember, I have guaranteed that you will appear."

The stranger drank in every word that passed between the two men. When
the one o'clock train pulled out of Crowndale, it carried Peter Ames in
one of the forward coaches, and a late guest of the Grand Palace Hotel
in the next car behind. Barnes took the time to assure himself of these
facts, and smiled faintly as he drove away from the railway station
after the departure of the train. Miss Cameron, her veil lowered, sat
beside him in the "hack."

For the next three days and nights rehearsals were in full swing, with
scarcely a moment's let-up. The Rushcroft company was increased by the
arrival of three new members and several pieces of baggage. The dingy
barn of a theatre was the scene of ceaseless industry, both peaceful
and otherwise. The actors quarrelled and fumed and all but fought over
their grievances. Only the presence of the "backer" and the extremely
pretty and cultured "friend of the family" in "front" prevented
sanguinary encounters among the male contenders for the centre of the
stage. The usually placid Mr. Dillingford was transformed into a
snarling beast every time one of his "lines" was cut out by the
relentless Rushcroft, and there were times when Mr. Bacon loudly
accused his fiancee of "crabbing" his part. Everybody called everybody
else a "hog," and God was asked a hundred times a day to bear witness
to as many atrocities.

Each day the bewildered, distressed young woman who sat with Barnes in
the dim "parquet," whispered in his ear:

"Can they ever be friendly again?"

And every night at supper she rejoiced to find them all on the best of
terms, calling each other "dearie," and "old chap," and "honey," and
declaring that no such company had ever been gotten together in the
history of the stage! Such words as "slob," "fat-head," "boob" or "you
poor nut" never found their way outside the sacred precincts of the
theatre.

Mr. Rushcroft magnanimously offered to coach "Miss Jones" in the part
he was going to write in for her just as soon as he could get around to
it.

"No use writing a part for her, Mr. Barnes, until I get through beating
the parts we already have into the heads of these poor fools up here.
I've got trouble enough on my hands."

And so the time crept by, up to the night of the performance. Miss
Cameron remained in ignorance of the close proximity of the jewels, and
the police of Crowndale remained in even denser ignorance as to the
whereabouts of the man who robbed Mr. Hasselwein of all his spare cash
and an excellent gold watch.

Hasselwein's story was brief but dramatic. He was recovering rapidly
from his experience and the local newspaper, on Tuesday, announced that
he would be strong enough to accompany his wife when she left the
"city" toward the end of the week. (Considerable space was employed by
the reporter in "writing up" the wonderful devotion of Mrs. Hasselwein,
who, despite the fact that she was quite an invalid, conducted herself
with rare fortitude, seldom leaving her husband's room in the hospital.)

According to the injured man, his assailant was a huge, powerful
individual, wearing a mask and armed to the teeth. He came in through
an open window and attacked him while he was asleep in bed.
Notwithstanding the stunning blow he received while prostrate, Mr.
Hasselwein struggled to his feet and engaged the miscreant--(while the
word was used at least twenty times in the newspaper account, I promise
to use it but once)--in a desperate conflict. Loss of blood weakened
him and he soon fell exhausted upon the bed. To make the story even
shorter than Prince Ugo made it, not a word was said about the jewels,
and that, after all, is the only feature of the case in which we are
interested.

Barnes smiled grimly over Ugo's failure to mention the jewels, and the
misleading description of the thief. He was thankful, however, and
relieved to learn that the one man who might recognise Miss Cameron was
not likely to leave the hospital short of a week's time.

No time was lost by the Countess in getting word to her compatriots in
New York. Barnes posted a dozen letters for her; each contained the
tidings of her safety and the assurance that she would soon follow in
person.

Those three days and nights were full of joy and enchantment for
Barnes. True, he did not sleep very well,--indeed, scarcely at
all,--but it certainly was not a hardship to lie awake and think of her
throughout the whole of each blessed night. He recalled and secretly
dilated upon every sign of decreasing reserve on her part. He shamed
himself more than once for deploring the fact that her ankle was
mending with uncommon rapidity, and that in a few days she would be
quite able to walk without support. And he actually debased himself by
wishing that the Rushcroft company might find it imperative to go on
rehearsing for weeks in that dim, enchanted temple.

It was not a "barn of a place" to him. It was paradise. He sat for
hours in one of the most uncomfortable seats he had ever known,
devouring with hungry eyes the shadowy, interested face so close to his
own,--and never tired.

And then came a time at last when conversation became difficult between
them; when there were long silences fraught with sweet peril, exceeding
shyness, and a singular form of deafness that defied even the roars of
the players and yet permitted them to hear, with amazing clearness, the
faintest of heart-beats.

On the afternoon of the dress rehearsal, he led her, after an hour of
almost insupportable repression, to the rear of the auditorium, in the
region made gloomy by the shelving gallery overhead. Dropping into the
seat beside her, he blurted out, almost in anguish:

"I can't stand it any longer. I cannot be near you without--why,
I--I--well, it is more than I can struggle against, that's all. You've
either got to send me away altogether or--or--let me love you without
restraint. I tell you, I can't go on as I am now. I must speak, I must
tell you all that has been in my heart for days. I love you--I love
you! You know I love you, don't you? You know I worship you. Don't be
frightened. I just had to tell you to-day. I could not have held it
back another hour. I should have gone mad if I had tried to keep it up
any longer." He waited breathlessly for her to speak. She sat silent
and rigid, looking straight before her. "Is it hopeless?" he went on at
last, huskily. "Must I ask your forgiveness for my presumption and--and
go away from you?"

She turned to him and laid her hand upon his arm.

"Am I not like other women? Have you forgotten that you once said that
I was not different? Why should I forgive you for loving me? Doesn't
every woman want to be loved? No, no, my friend! Wait! A moment ago I
was so weak and trembly that I thought I--Oh, I was afraid for myself.
Now I am quite calm and sensible. See how well I have myself in hand? I
do not tremble, I am strong. We may now discuss ourselves calmly,
sensibly. A moment ago--Ah, then it was different! I was being drawn
into--Oh! What are you doing?"

"I too am strong," he whispered. "I am sure of my ground now, and I am
not afraid."

He had clasped the hand that rested on his sleeve and, as he pressed it
to his heart, his other arm stole over her shoulders and drew her close
to his triumphant body. For an instant she resisted, and then relaxed
into complete submission. Her head sank upon his shoulder.

"Oh!" she sighed, and there was wonder, joy--even perplexity, in the
tremulous sign of capitulation. "Oh," came softly from her parted lips
again at the end of the first long, passionate kiss.



CHAPTER XXI

THE END IN SIGHT


Barnes, soaring beyond all previous heights of exaltation, ranged
dizzily between "front" and "back" at the Grand Opera House that
evening. He was supposed to remain "out front" until the curtain went
up on the second act. But the presence of the Countess in Miss
Thackeray's barren, sordid little dressing-room rendered it exceedingly
difficult for him to remain in any fixed spot for more than five
minutes at a stretch. He was in the "wings" with her, whispering in her
delighted ear; in the dressing-room, listening to her soft words of
encouragement to the excited leading-lady; on the narrow stairs leading
up to the stage, assisting her to mount them,--and not in the least
minding the narrowness; out in front for a jiffy, and then back again;
and all the time he was dreading the moment when he would awake and
find it all a dream.

There was an annoying fly in the ointment, however. Her languorous
surrender to love, her physical confession of defeat at the hands of
that inexorable power, her sweet submission to the conquering arms of
the besieger, left nothing to be desired; and yet there was something
that stood between him and utter happiness: her resolute refusal to
bind herself to any promise for the future.

"I love you," she had said simply. "I want more than anything else in
all the world to be your wife. But I cannot promise now. I must have
time to think, time to--"

"Why should you require more time than I?" he persisted. "Have we not
shown that there is nothing left for either of us but to make the other
happy? What is time to us? Why make wanton waste of it?"

"I know that I cannot find happiness except with you," she replied. "No
matter what happens to me, I shall always love you, I shall never
forget the joy of THIS. But--" She shook her head sadly.

"Would you go back to your people and marry--" he swallowed hard and
went on--"marry some one you could never love, not even respect, with
the memory of--"

"Stop! I shall never marry a man I do not love. Oh, please be patient,
be good to me. Give me a little time. Can you not see that you are
asking me to alter destiny, to upset the teachings and traditions of
ages, and all in one little minute of weakness?"

"We cannot alter destiny," he said stubbornly. "We may upset tradition,
but what does that amount to? We have but one life to live. I think our
grandchildren and our great-grandchildren will be quite as well pleased
with their ancestors as their royal contemporaries will be with theirs
a hundred years from now."

"I cannot promise now," she said gently, and kissed him.

The first performance of "The Duke's Revenge" was incredibly bad. The
little that Barnes saw of it, filled him with dismay. Never had he
witnessed anything so hopeless as the play, unless it was the actors
themselves. But more incredible than anything else in connection with
the performance was the very palpable enjoyment of the audience. He
could hardly believe his ears. The ranting, the shouting, the howling
of the actors sent shivers to the innermost recesses of his being. Then
suddenly he remembered that he was in the heart of the "barn-stormer's"
domain. The audience revelled in "The Duke's Revenge" because they had
never seen anything better!

Between the second and third acts Tommy Gray rushed back with the
box-office statement. The gross was $359. The instant that fact became
known to Mr. Rushcroft he informed Barnes that they had a "knockout," a
gold mine, and that never in all his career had he known a season to
start off so auspiciously as this one.

"It's good for forty weeks solid," he exclaimed. Both Barnes and the
wide-eyed Countess became infused with the spirit of jubilation that
filled the souls of these time-worn, hand-to-mouth stragglers. They
rejoiced with them in their sudden elevation to happiness, and
overlooked the vain-glorious claims of each individual in the matter of
personal achievement. Even the bewildered Tilly bleated out her little
cry for distinction.

"Did you hear them laugh at the way I got off my speech?" she cried
excitedly.

"I certainly did," said Mr. Bacon amiably. "By gad, I laughed at it
myself."

"Parquet $217.50, dress circle $105, gallery $36.50," announced Tommy
Gray, as he donned his wig and false beard for the third act.
"Sixty-forty gives us $215.40 on the night. Thank God, we won't have to
worry about the sheriff this week."

In Miss Thackeray's dressing-room that level-headed young woman broke
down and wept like a child.

"Oh, Lord," she stuttered, "is it possible that we're going to stay
above water at last? I thought we had gone down for the last time, and
here we are bobbing up again as full of ginger as if we'd never hit the
bottom."

The Countess kissed her and told her that she was the rarest girl she
had ever known, the pluckiest and the best.

"If I had your good looks, Miss Cameron," said Mercedes, "added to my
natural ability, I'd make Julia Marlowe look like an old-fashioned
one-ring circus. Send Mr. Bacon to me, Mr. Barnes. I want to
congratulate him."

"He gave a fine performance," said Barnes promptly.

"I don't want to congratulate him on his acting," said she, smiling
through her tears. "He's going to be married to-morrow. And I am going
to have Miss Cameron for my bridesmaid," she added, throwing an arm
about the astonished Countess. "Mr. Bacon will want Dilly for his best
man, but he ought to think more of the general effect than that. Dilly
only comes to his shoulder." She measured the stalwart figure of Thomas
Barnes with an appraising eye. "What do you say, Mr. Barnes?"

"I'll do it with the greatest pleasure," he declared.

The next afternoon in the town of Bittler the Countess Mara-Dafanda,
daughter of royalty, and Thomas Kingsbury Barnes "stood up" with the
happy couple during a lull in the hastily called rehearsal on the stage
of Fisher's Imperial Theatre, and Lyndon Rushcroft gave the bride away.
There was $107 in the house that night, but no one was down-hearted.

"You could do worse, dear heart, than to marry one of us care-free
Americans," whispered Barnes to the girl who clung to his arm so
tightly as they entered the wings in the wake of the bride and groom.

And she said something in reply that brought a flush of mortification
to his cheek.

"Oh, it would be wonderful to marry a man who will never have to go to
war. A brave man who will not have to be a soldier."

The unintentional reflection on the fighting integrity of his country
struck a raw spot in Barnes's pride. He knew what all Europe was saying
about the pussy-willow attitude of the United States, and he squirmed
inwardly despite the tribute she tendered him as an individual. He was
not a "peace at any price" citizen.

He gave the wedding breakfast at one o'clock that night.

Three days later he and "Miss Jones" said farewell to the strollers and
boarded a day train for New York City. They left the company in a
condition of prosperity. The show was averaging two hundred dollars
nightly, and Mr. Rushcroft was already booking return engagements for
the early fall. He was looking forward to a tour of Europe at the close
of the war.

"My boy," he said to Barnes on the platform of the railway station, "I
trust you will forgive me for not finding a place in our remarkably
well-balanced cast for your friend. I have been thinking a great deal
about her in the past few days, and it has occurred to me that she
might find it greatly to her advantage to accept a brief New York
engagement before tackling the real proposition. It won't take her long
to find out whether she really likes it, and whether she thinks it
worth while to go on with it. Let me give you one bit of advice, my
dear Miss Jones. This is very important. The name of Jones will not get
you anywhere. It is a nice old family, fireside name, but it lacks
romance. Chuck it. Start your new life with another name, my dear. God
bless you! Good luck and--good-bye till we meet on the Rialto."

"I wonder how he could possibly have known," she mused aloud, the pink
still in her cheeks as the train pulled out.

"You darling," cried Barnes, "he doesn't know. But taking it by and
large, it was excellent advice. The brief New York engagement meets
with my approval, and so does the change of name. I am in a position to
supply you with both."

"Do you regard Barnes as an especially attractive name?" she inquired,
dimpling.

"It has the virtue of beginning with B, entitling it to a place well
toward the top of alphabetical lists. A very handy name for patronesses
at charity bazaars, and so forth. People never look below B unless to
make sure that their own names haven't been omitted. You ought to take
that into consideration. If you can't be an A, take the next best thing
offered. Be a B."

"You almost persuade me," she smiled.

His sister met them at the Grand Central Terminal.

"It's now a quarter to five," said Barnes, after the greeting and
presentation. "Drop me at the Fifth Avenue Bank, Edith. I want to leave
something in my safety box downstairs. Sha'n't be more than five
minutes."

He got down from the automobile at 44th Street and shot across the
sidewalk into the bank, casting quick, apprehensive glances through the
five o'clock crowd on the avenue as he sprinted. In his hand he lugged
the heavy, weatherbeaten pack. His sister and the Countess stared after
him in amazement.

Presently he emerged from the bank, still carrying the bag. He was
beaming. A certain worried, haggard expression had vanished from his
face and for the first time in eight hours he treated his travelling
wardrobe with scorn and indifference. He tossed it carelessly into the
seat beside the chauffeur, and, springing nimbly into the car, sank
back with a prodigious sigh of relief.

"Thank God, they're off my mind at last," he cried. "That is the first
good, long breath I've had in a week. No, not now. It's a long story
and I can't tell it in Fifth Avenue. It would be extremely annoying to
have both of you die of heart failure with all these people looking on."

He felt her hand on his arm, and knew that she was looking at him with
wide, incredulous eyes, but he faced straight ahead. After a moment or
two, she snuggled back in the seat and cried out tremulously:

"Oh, how wonderful--how wonderful!"

Mrs. Courtney, in utter ignorance, inquired politely:

"Isn't it? Have you never been in New York before, Miss Cameron?
Strangers always find it quite wonderful at the--"

"How are all the kiddies, Edith, and old Bill?" broke in her brother
hastily.

He was terribly afraid that the girl beside him was preparing to shed
tears of joy and relief. He could feel her searching in her jacket
pocket for a handkerchief.

Mrs. Courtney was not only curious but apprehensive. She hadn't the
faintest idea who Miss Cameron was, nor where her brother had picked
her up. But she saw at a glance that she was lovely, and her soul was
filled with strange misgivings. She was like all sisters who have pet
bachelor brothers. She hoped that poor Tom hadn't gone and made a fool
of himself. The few minutes' conversation she had had with the stranger
only served to increase her alarm. Miss Cameron's voice and smile--and
her eyes!--were positively alluring.

She had had a night letter from Tom that morning in which he said that
he was bringing a young lady friend down from the north,--and would she
meet them at the station and put her up for a couple of days? That was
all she knew of the dazzling stranger up to the moment she saw her.
Immediately after that, she knew, by intuition, a great deal more about
her than Tom could have told in volumes of correspondence. She knew,
also, that Tom was lost forever!

"Now, tell me," said the Countess, the instant they entered the
Courtney apartment. She gripped both of his arms with her firm little
hands, and looked straight into his eyes, eagerly, hopefully. She had
forgotten Mrs. Courtney's presence, she had not taken the time to
remove her hat or jacket.

"Let's all sit down," said he. "My knees are unaccountably weak. Come
along, Ede. Listen to the romance of my life."

And when the story was finished, the Countess took his hand in hers and
held it to her cool cheek. The tears were still drowning her eyes.

"Oh, you poor dear! Was that why you grew so haggard, and pale, and
hollow-eyed?"

"Partly," said he, with great significance.

"And you had them in your pack all the time? You--!"

"I had Sprouse's most solemn word not to touch them for a week. He is
the only man I feared. He is the only one who could have--"

"May I use your telephone, Mrs. Courtney?" cried she, suddenly. She
sprang to her feet, quivering with excitement. "Pray forgive me for
being so ill-mannered, but I--I must call up one or two people at once.
They are my friends. I have written them, but--but I know they are
waiting to see me in the flesh or to hear my voice. You will
understand, I am sure."

Barnes was pacing the floor nervously when his sister returned after
conducting her new guest to the room prepared for her. The Countess was
at the telephone before the door closed behind her hostess.

"I wish you had been a little more explicit in your telegram, Tom," she
said peevishly. "If I had known who she is I wouldn't have put her in
that room. Now, I shall have to move Aunt Kate back into it to-morrow,
and give Miss Cameron the big one at the end of the hall." Which goes
to prove that Tom's sister was a bit of a snob in her way. "Stop
walking like that, and come here." She faced him accusingly. "Have you
told me ALL there is to tell, sir?"

"Can't you see for yourself, Ede, that I'm in love with her?
Desperately, horribly, madly in love with her. Don't giggle like that!
I couldn't have told you while she was present, could I?"

"That isn't what I want to know. Is she in love with YOU? That's what
I'm after."

"Yes," said he, but frowned anxiously.

"She is perfectly adorable," said she, and was at once aware of a
guilty, nagging impression that she would not have said it to him half
an hour earlier for anything in the world.

The Countess was strangely white and subdued when she rejoined them
later on. She had removed her hat. The other woman saw nothing but the
wealth of sun-kissed hair that rippled. Barnes went forward to meet
her, filled with a sudden apprehension.

"What is it? You are pale and--what have you heard?"

She stopped and looked searchingly into his eyes. A warm flush rose to
her cheeks; her own eyes grew soft and tender and wistful.

"They all believe that the war will last two or three years longer,"
she said huskily. "I cannot go back to my own country till it is all
over. They implore me to remain here with them until--until my fortunes
are mended." She turned to Mrs. Courtney and went on without the
slightest trace of indecision or embarrassment in her manner. "You see,
Mrs. Courtney, I am very, very poor. They have taken everything. I--I
fear I shall have to accept the kind, the generous proffer of a--" her
voice shook slightly--"of a home with my friends until the Huns are
driven out."

Barnes's silence was more eloquent than words. Her eyes fell. Mrs.
Courtney's words of sympathy passed unheard; her bitter excoriation of
the Teutons and Turks was but dimly registered on the inattentive mind
of the victim of their ruthless greed; not until she expressed the hope
that Miss Cameron would condescend to accept the hospitality of her
home until plans for the future were definitely fixed was there a sign
that the object of her concern had given a thought to what she was
saying.

"You are so very kind," stammered the Countess. "But I cannot think of
imposing upon--"

"Leave it to me, Ede," said Barnes gently, and, laying his hand upon
his sister's arm, he led her from the room. Then he came swiftly back
to the outstretched arms of the exile.

"A very brief New York engagement," he whispered in her ear, he knew
not how long afterward. Her head was pressed against his shoulder, her
eyes were closed, her lips parted in the ecstasy of passion.

"Yes," she breathed, so faintly that he barely heard the strongest word
ever put into the language of man.

Half-an-hour later he was speeding down the avenue in a taxi. His blood
was singing, his heart was bursting with joy,--his head was light, for
the feel of her was still in his arms, the voice of her in his
enraptured ears.

He was hurrying homeward to the "diggings" he was soon to desert
forever. Poor, wretched, little old "diggings"! As he passed the Plaza,
the St. Regis and the Gotham, he favoured the great hostelries with
contemplative, calculating eyes; he even looked with speculative envy
upon the mansions of the Astors, the Vanderbilts and the Huntingtons.
She was born and reared in a house of vast dimensions. Even the
Vanderbilt places were puny in comparison. His reflections carried him
back to the Plaza. There, at least, was something comparable in size.
At any rate, it would do until he could look around for something
larger! He laughed at his conceit,--and pinched himself again.

He was to spend the night at his sister's apartment. When he issued
forth from his "diggings" at half-past seven, he was attired in evening
clothes, and there was not a woman in all New York, young or old, who
would have denied him a second glance.

Later on in the evening three of the Countess's friends arrived at the
Courtney home to pay their respects to their fair compatriot, and to
discuss the crown jewels. They came and brought with them the consoling
information that arrangements were practically completed for the
delivery of the jewels into the custody of the French Embassy at
Washington, through whose intervention they were to be allowed to leave
the United States without the formalities usually observed in cases of
suspected smuggling. Upon the arrival in America of trusted messengers
from Paris, headed by no less a personage than the ambassador himself,
the imperial treasure was to pass into hands that would carry it safely
to France. Prince Sebastian, still in Halifax, had been apprised by
telegraph of the recovery of the jewels, and was expected to sail for
England by the earliest steamer.

And while the visitors at the Courtney house were lifting their glasses
to toast the prince they loved, and, in turn, the beautiful cousin who
had braved so much and fared so luckily, and the tall wayfarer who had
come into her life, a small man was stooping over a rifled knapsack in
a room far down-town, glumly regarding the result of an unusually
hazardous undertaking, even for one who could perform, such miracles as
he. Scratching his chin, he grinned,--for he was the kind who bears
disappointment with a grin,--and sat himself down at the big library
table in the centre of the room. Carefully selecting a pen-point, he
wrote:

"It will be quite obvious to you that I called unexpectedly to-night.
The week was up, you see. I take the liberty of leaving under the
paperweight at my elbow a two dollar bill. It ought to be ample payment
for the damage done to your faithful traveling companion. Have the
necessary stitches taken in the gash, and you will find the kit as good
as new. I was more or less certain not to find what I was after, but as
I have done no irreparable injury, I am sure you will forgive my love
of adventure and excitement. It was really quite difficult to get from
the fire escape to your window, but it was a delightful experience. Try
crawling along that ten inch ledge yourself some day, and see if it
isn't productive of a pleasant thrill. I shall not forget your promise
to return good for evil some day. God knows I hope I may never be in a
position to test your sincerity. We may meet again, and I hope under
agreeable circumstances. Kindly pay my deepest respects to the Countess
Ted, and believe me to be,

"Yours VERY respectfully,
    "Sprouse.

"P.S.--I saw O'Dowd to-day. He left a message for you and the Countess.
Tell them, said he, that I ask God's blessing for them forever. He is
off to-morrow for Brazil. He was very much relieved when he heard that
I did not get the jewels the first time I went after them, and
immensely entertained by my jolly description of how I went after them
the second. By the way, you will be interested to learn that he has cut
loose from the crowd he was trailing with. Mostly nuts, he says.
Dynamiting munition plants in Canada was a grand project, says he, and
it would have come to something if the damned women had only left the
damned men alone. The expletives are O'Dowd's."

Ten hours before Barnes found this illuminating message on his library
table, he stood at the window of a lofty Park Avenue apartment
building, his arm about the slender, yielding figure of the only other
occupant of the room. Pointing out over the black house-tops, he
directed her attention to the myriad lights in the upper floors of a
great hostelry to the south and west, and said,

"THAT is where you are going to live, darling."

THE END





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