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Title: Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier
Author: Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank), Sampson, Emma Speed
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 "Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier" ***

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The Bluebird Books

Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier



[Illustration]



  Mary Louise
  Adopts a Soldier

  By
  Edith Van Dyne

  Author of
  “Mary Louise,” “Mary Louise in the Country,” “Mary
  Louise Solves a Mystery,” “Mary Louise
  and the Liberty Girls.”

  [Illustration]

  Frontispiece by
  Joseph W. Wyckoff

  The Reilly & Lee Co.
  Chicago



  Copyright, 1919
  by
  The Reilly & Lee Co.

  _Made in U. S. A._

  _Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier_



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER                                       PAGE

        I MARY LOUISE CONSIDERS THE SITUATION        7

       II BACK HOME                                 13

      III DANNY DEXTER                              23

       IV DANNY CHANGES HIS UNIFORM                 30

        V DORFIELD GIRLS                            39

       VI A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE                47

      VII A TELEGRAM                                56

     VIII THE ARRIVAL OF JOSIE O’GORMAN             62

       IX THE MAN FROM BOSTON                       71

        X MARY LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY             79

       XI THE EMPTY ROOM                            87

      XII DANNY DISAPPEARS                          95

     XIII FACE TO FACE                             102

      XIV THE SEARCH                               111

       XV A JOURNEY BEGUN                          117

      XVI AUNT SALLY ENTERTAINS                    124

     XVII THE BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST                   129

    XVIII THE MOTOR TRIP                           136

      XIX THE ESCAPE                               145

       XX THE DESERT BUNGALOW                      150

      XXI A NEST OF CONSPIRATORS                   155

     XXII THE CAVE                                 167

    XXIII THE RIDE AT NIGHT                        174

     XXIV MARY LOUISE LOSES HER SLIPPER            181

      XXV A SUCCESSFUL RUSE                        187

     XXVI A GOOD NIGHT’S WORK                      196

    XXVII ON THE BALCONY                           217



Mary Louise Adopts a Soldier



CHAPTER I

MARY LOUISE CONSIDERS THE SITUATION


“Grandpa Jim,” said Mary Louise one May morning as they sat together at
the breakfast table, “I see the Dorfield Regiment is due to arrive home
to-day or to-morrow.”

“So I see,” replied the old Colonel, “if we may rightly call it the
‘Dorfield’ Regiment. The newspapers don’t mention the fact, but it
takes in the whole surrounding country, because there were not enough
Dorfield boys to fill the ranks completely and so we took all who
applied. I’m afraid you’ll find many unfamiliar faces among the ranks.”

“Still,” said the girl, “there will be some friends anyhow, and the
very fact that this is the Dorfield Regiment should arouse our loyal
enthusiasm. Why, I’ve followed them all through the war, and somehow
this practice has almost made it seem that the whole Dorfield Regiment
is a sort of personal possession.”

“I feel much the same way,” said Colonel Hathaway, composedly turning
over the Dorfield _Gazette_. “This is not a delightful country to
demobilize in--if we should judge by the Civil War, in which I was
somewhat more interested. The regiment may not be free to disorganize
for a week, or a month, according to the whim of the War Department.”

“But they’ll enjoy the recreation and the freedom from long marches
even if they’re kept here a long time,” returned Mary Louise, “and
their pay is the same as when at war. The boys who live here can visit
their homes every day, and there may be only a few who come from any
great distance. According to the papers, the Dorfield boys saw some
real fighting in France.”

“Yes, but new faces in the line are likely to be few,” prophesied the
Colonel. “Luckily, not many Dorfield boys lie buried in the French
battlefields.”

“What will become of the new men, Grandpa Jim?” asked the girl.

“Well, they will either be furnished money to take them home--second
class--or they may obtain positions in or near Dorfield. If there are
not too many, they will all get positions here. Many of the merchants I
have talked with are already grumbling because ‘help’ is scarce.”

“Let’s go down to the depot and see the trains come in,” suggested Mary
Louise. “We’ve none of our kith and kin to greet, but some we know and
can shake hands with. Besides, some of those substitutes may live far
away and don’t know where to go. They may need friends, or a home, or
may have been wounded, and have no one here to care for them. I’m sure
we can be of use in some way. We are Dorfield’s own people and must
show our appreciation of Dorfield’s own soldiers.”

The Colonel reflected for a time. “During the Civil War there wasn’t
another Hathaway in the whole army,” he mused; “yet I had my duty to
do, and did it. You know my utmost trial during the Great World War has
been my inability to take part in it in any way. A soldier is a soldier
always, and here I am on the back shelf unable to help my country in
its day of need. Beside being outside of the age limit I haven’t a
relative to take my place.” This had been the old gentleman’s grievance
for many months. He fumbled with his cane a few moments and then said,
“But get your automobile out, and we’ll go down and give the soldiers
the welcome they deserve.”

“It’s too rainy and muddy for the auto to-day,” said Mary Louise, “and
I don’t want to punish the dear little car by a mud bath. But we’ll
take our umbrellas and try to find one of those substitutes who are
stranded here, without friends or regular occupation, wondering what to
do with themselves.”

“I hope, my dear, you have no such idea as taking one of those
persons--what do you call the fellows?--‘substitutes,’ into our family,
even as a servant?”

By servant the precise old gentleman had no reference in any way to a
house-servant, as the house was fully cared for by Aunt Sally and Uncle
Eben. To introduce a stranger into their domestic affairs was indeed
preposterous. But Mary Louise understood him the moment he spoke.
“Haven’t the soldier boys all been servants of our glorious country?”
asked Mary Louise indignantly. “Yes,” he replied, “but they have come
from all classes and sections, some of them gentlemen, or scholars, our
equals in every way, while others have scarcely enough wit to bring
in an armful of wood.” “Even then,” broke in the girl, addressing
the aged but stalwart Colonel, “someone must bring in the wood, and
it’s an important matter to my mind.” She laughed in her piquant,
irresistible way. She continued: “You see, Grandpa Jim, we’ve found at
least one good reason for helping the brave soldiers who have so lately
fought for the country you fought for many years ago.” “You may be
right,” said the old gentleman, “but we are a little premature in this
argument, my dear; we only know that the Dorfield Regiment is coming
home again, and we only guess that there will be one or more extra
men to provide for. Indeed, there may be none at all, for all those
big, sturdy fellows had lives to live before they joined the colors.
Perhaps half a dozen may be left to find situations and boarding houses
for; perhaps two or three are so situated, perhaps one. When all are
mustered out and returned to the places from which they enlisted we may
have none at all to care for,--and that is a likely probability.”

“True enough, I admit,” said the girl with a little laugh, “so let us
patiently wait till the train is in and the boys are mustered out. Then
we can tell what duties are required from the loyal citizens of dear
old Dorfield. It isn’t a big city, nor did it have a very big regiment
to send to the front, nor very many soldiers to fight European battles,
so I suppose I am borrowing trouble unnecessarily. Anyhow before we
start, as the saying is, let us ring the doorbell and see if anyone is
at home.”



CHAPTER II

BACK HOME


They put on their raincoats, and with umbrellas started out into the
soggy, showery morning, for the drizzle had kept up nearly all the
night before. “Even if we still had your old rattle-trap automobile
which we exchanged for mine,” observed Mary Louise, “we’d have had hard
work to make it go this morning.”

“It’s a shame,” said the old Colonel, as they started along the path,
“to bring our soldiers home on such a rainy day. It ought to be a
bright and sunny day of welcome.” “Still it’s their home, and they’ll
be glad to get here under any circumstances,” asserted Mary Louise. “I
think it’s raining harder than ever, Grandpa Jim.”

They were now where they could see the station, which seemed dull and
deserted and the few people that were there seemed to be coming toward
them. “I don’t believe the boys are coming to-day,” said the Colonel,
“don’t you remember the paper said to-day or to-morrow?” “True,” added
one of a group which had paused before them and knew the Colonel well,
as all the earlier settlers did; “we’ll do better to get home where it
is warm than hanging around here this miserable day. The weather would
discourage any railroad train.” “That suits me,” said Mary Louise, and
they started for home, chatting about the Dorfield men and discussing
their usefulness.

There were no boys in “Grandpa Jim’s” family. He had had only one
daughter who grew to delightful womanhood, married Judge Burrows,
a prosperous lawyer, who died a few years later, leaving his baby
girl--Mary Louise--to the care of his invalid wife and the staunch old
grandfather.

Combining the two estates (the handsome old home belonged to the
Hathaways), made a very pretty property for the young girl to inherit,
and Mary Louise Burrows was known as the heiress of it all.

Colonel Hathaway naturally idolized this granddaughter, and it was from
her baby lips that he first acquired the title of “Grandpa Jim,” which
was cordially and affectionately followed by his many friends in the
pretty but modest little city, where he was regarded as one of the two
or three “leading citizens.”

Grandpa Jim’s wealth was sufficient for him to retire from any active
business, so he passed his time in cheerful gossip with the other
inhabitants and made many “travel trips” with Mary Louise, both in
order to educate the young girl and relieve his own ennui.

The Great War had kept him at home during recent years, but he had read
daily reports of its progress and talked them over with those of his
acquaintances who were most interested in the fray.

He was also tremendously interested in the early education and career
of his fascinating granddaughter, the more so after the child’s mother
contracted a serious disease which carried her away from them forever.

So here were these two, a big old gentleman and a small young girl,
located in one of the most prominent and attractive houses in Dorfield.
Here they were, beloved by many but envied by none so far as they knew.

Mary Louise had many girl friends. Indeed, you might say every girl
in the town claimed her friendship, for she was generous, bright,
initiative and had a glad and loving word for every girl she met.
Therefore it is no wonder that a lack of boys in the Hathaway family
should create an added interest in the one girl of the establishment
among the soldiers now returning from their victorious campaign. But
the young girl did not know that.

On her side, Mary Louise had no cousins or other relatives, with whom
she might intimately hobnob; Grandpa Jim’s male relatives were so
remotely connected to him by blood that he could not name you one of
them. But there were none in Dorfield--nor out of it--whose hearts
were more overflowing with patriotic enthusiasm than this fine old war
veteran and his charming granddaughter as they went down the hill the
next morning toward the depot. As they passed along, the electric lamps
in front of the station were still striving to penetrate the gray gloom
of foggy moisture.

Grandpa Jim said in his cheery voice: “It’s another one of those wholly
tantalizing mornings, Mary Louise, but that won’t dampen the joy of our
soldiers at getting home again.”

“To be sure,” she replied, “so let us hope the trains will make up for
lost time. Good gracious, Grandpa Jim,” pausing abruptly to peer ahead,
“they’re in now!” for her eyes were sharper than those of the Colonel.

She ran on a few steps in excitement, but then, remembering that in the
semi-darkness she was her “Grandpa Jim’s cane,” she abated her pace and
went back to take his arm.

“It won’t matter, child,” he said, laughing lightly; “we’re not
specially interested in those aboard, and they’ve all got to march over
to their old cantonment before they are disbanded. But we have the
right to shake hands with them.”

“We can say: ‘Hello, Bill!’ anyhow, if we see anyone we used to know,”
said Mary Louise, and even the old Colonel was interested enough to
hurry forward to join the throng of soldiers who had traveled all the
way to France to prove that they were real warriors.

Mary Louise had many humble acquaintances among the throng which moved
in well drilled ranks from the depot to the cantonment--a matter of
half a mile or so, and she nodded briskly here and there at “the boys,”
who flushed and threw out their chests proudly as they formed ranks.

A few of the young men were “calling acquaintances,” and these were
especially honored by the beautiful girl’s attention.

“Take it easy, my dear,” puffed Grandpa Jim, as he clung to the arm of
Mary Louise on the slippery pathway. “They’re marching faster than we
can walk, and they’re still covered with the dust and grime of travel.
Look down there at the cantonment! The places where they used to pitch
their tents are nothing but mud holes. I doubt if our soldiers under
present circumstances are as glad to see us as we are to see them.
Let’s go home.”

Mary Louise in her heart knew that he was right, but her tone was
somewhat peevish when she answered:

“If everyone felt as we do, it would be a nice reception for our
soldier boys, wouldn’t it--with just ‘poodle-ground’ to greet them? The
earnest shouts of those who are here must carry joy to the hearts of
those who have braved many a storm to drive back the Germans, and we
must prove we’re as loyal and brave as our men.” Thoroughly in earnest,
the beautiful girl continued: “For my part, I’m really enjoying it
all, Gran’pa Jim, and--Hello, Ned Clary!” waving her handkerchief and
nodding smilingly as they reached the beginning of the cantonment,
which was now a very busy place.

The girl gazed with interest upon the mud-stained uniforms. But the
soldiers themselves received the most of her attention. Their faces
were most attractive to her, and she scanned them as closely as if
really looking for some relative. Those who worked, worked quietly and
doggedly, having performed such duties many times. Others looked on,
smoking their cigarettes indifferently. Still others sat upon the stone
curbing and waited nonchalantly until something should happen that
might prove more interesting.

Mingled with these were all classes of citizens of Dorfield, and
suddenly Mary Louise cried out:

“Oh, Laura Hilton! Where on earth did you come from?” as if she had not
known that the other girl had followed or preceded her down the hill.

“Me?” answered Laura, as if in amazement; “why, I just came down to see
if Cousin Will was in this division. He said in his last letter that
he would be home next week; but they may have pushed him on ahead, you
know. Cousin Will is a big man--you’ll remember--wherever he happens
to be. At war he is a Sergeant--or a Corporal--or some such genius,
I’ve heard, yet somehow he doesn’t seem to have his own way quite as
much as when at home, clerking in the corner grocery store. He says he
had one boss in civilian life; in the army, he has a dozen.”

“Well,” said Mary Louise, taking her arm confidentially, “that was only
Cousin Will’s banter, you know. No one ever believed in him and I doubt
if he ever believed in himself. I am glad he is coming home with a
whole skin anyhow, and I wish all our poor boys were as safe to-day as
he is.”

“Well,” responded Laura, “neither you nor I can claim any of the
Dorfield boys, and yet it’s some satisfaction to see them coming home
from that long journey across the seas and know that they have fought
for us and died for us--whenever such foolish sacrifice was required.”

“Oh, Laura!” exclaimed Mary Louise, reprovingly. “Do you think it
was foolishness to save all our lives--to make the world safe for
democracy?”

“Don’t let us argue concerning politics,” said the other girl with
a shy shrug. “I am not much posted on such things, as you very well
know.”

“You belong to the Liberty Girls, though,” said Mary Louise.

“Oh, as for that,” said Laura, “I will do anything I can for my country
and its warriors, and the only reason I am not more interested in the
return home of the Dorfield Regiment is that none of my flesh and blood
is mixed up in it.”

“Then what are you down here for?” inquired Mary Louise.

“Just to watch these men greet their own friends, who must be supremely
proud of their work and anxious to see them safely home. They have
had some rather severe scrapping over there, I believe, and according
to all reports there has not been a shirker or a coward in the whole
lot of them. No wonder everybody has turned out to give them an
enthusiastic reception! Just look at the number of mothers and fathers
and whole families here to welcome their own back! It’s hard to tell
who is enjoying it most--the soldier boys who have come back, or their
families who have awaited them so long. But why are _you_ here, Mary
Louise?”

“Why, for almost the same reason. There has been a hint that some
soldiers from other parts of the country have been transferred to the
Dorfield Regiment, to take the places of those who have fallen in the
various battles. Grandpa Jim has an idea that some of these strangers
may need work or a home after they are mustered out.”

“How can we tell who are the strangers and who are not?” asked Laura.

“Why--why--by watching them, I suppose,” replied Mary Louise.



CHAPTER III

DANNY DEXTER


They walked through the thronging crowds to the other side of the
little city where the main activity was now located.

Here the soldiers were erecting their tents, arranging their personal
belongings, preparing for their brief stay--for here they were sworn
into the service, and here they hoped to be immediately mustered out.
The great war was over, every man had done his duty, and now they were
back again, each one determined to do better both in position and ways
than when he had left home.

Dorfield was not large enough to import many workers, therefore the
merchants were delighted at the return of its men and impatiently
waited until they should he mustered out. All the old jobs were
awaiting them, with an advance in wages which had followed the
increased cost of living.

There were busy scenes at the cantonment during the next few days while
the officers were dismissing the men who were no longer needed by the
government.

In a short time all of the returned soldiers were hard at work at their
old jobs, except those who were strangers and had no jobs to return
to. The government was supposed to attend to these, but the government
was lax in its duty, and though the number of such men gradually grew
fewer, there were still plenty for Gran’pa Jim and Mary Louise to
choose from. But although the girl begged for this or for that one, the
old gentleman was particular and suspicious.

“Why, I’d as soon have Danny Dexter as that fellow!” he would exclaim,
for Danny Dexter was quite a well known individual by this time. He
would sit upon a taut rope, swinging his feet and smoking his pipe all
day long, and if he was called upon to do anything, he was absolutely
unresponsive. Both in skin and clothing he was dirty and untidy. But he
was a cheery, smiling youth, and the more Mary Louise saw of him the
better she liked him.

As the encampment faded away, Danny Dexter alone remained to say
good-bye, and Mary Louise remarked that none left without a shake of
Danny Dexter’s hand.

Finally he alone remained of the big encampment. The tents had
gradually been struck and carted away to the government storehouse, but
Danny’s tent, with him lazily clinging to the ropes, still remained
to show the place that once had sheltered the Dorfield Regiment. One
day the inspector noticed this and mustered Danny out, too; but that
didn’t seem to make any difference to Danny. He had money, probably
left from his pay, so he still occupied the weather-beaten old tent and
carted his provisions from the village stores, cooking them himself and
gossiping with his old comrades when they were not busy.

“What you goin’ to do, Danny?” he was asked again and again.

“Don’t know yet,” was always the careless reply. “Government seems to
have forgot me just now, so I guess I’ll jus’ hang around here this
summer and when winter comes, go up to New York and see what’s goin’ on
over there. I’m in no great hurry.”

“Why don’t you get a job in Dorfield? It’s a pretty good place and
living is cheaper than in New York.”

“Money don’t interest me much,” was the careless answer. “What a fellow
needs is to see life an’ make the most of it. If you’re happy, money
don’t count.”

“Are you happy now?” they asked him.

“Oh, fairly so, but I’m gettin’ tired doing nothing at all; may skip
out of Dorfield any day, now.”

More than ever, old Mr. Hathaway had met and studied Danny Dexter and
disliked him; and more and more Mary Louise had seen him in the stores
and found him worthy her consideration. Often at dinner or breakfast
the girl and her grandfather spoke of him and disagreed about him.

“We needn’t adopt him for good, you know,” said Mary Louise. “Just
for a few months to see how he works in. And he needn’t be one of the
family or eat with us. He can work in the garden and keep the front
yard cleared up, and in that way he’ll get his living and fair wages.”

“Well,” said Gran’pa Jim, “I’ll speak to Danny Dexter in the morning.”

He did. Next morning he met the boy leaning over the counter at the
grocery store on the corner, where Will White, back at his old job, was
waiting on customers. The old gentleman noticed that Will saluted when
Danny entered the store soon after Gran’pa Jim did.

“Why did you do that?” asked Mary Louise’s grandfather, in a gruff
voice.

“Why, he was our top-sergeant, sir, while I was only a private,”
replied Will, “and I can’t get over the distinction. In the war I _had_
to salute him, and--don’t you know, sir, that Danny Dexter wears a
decoration, or could wear one, if he cared to? But he keeps it buttoned
up tight in his pocket-book. Medal of Distinction or something, earned
by saving the lives of some of the wounded soldiers. Danny was always
modest; they called him ‘The Lamb’ in our regiment--but, gee whiz, how
that lad can fight when he gets the thrills into him!”

All this was said while Top-Sergeant Dexter was in the rear of the
grocery, examining the labels on a vinegar barrel, so he heard nothing
of Will White’s commendation. Shortly after, when Gran’pa Jim had given
his own order, the old gentleman walked over to Dexter and said in his
point-blank way:

“Dexter, do you want a job?”

Danny sat down on a box, scuttled his feet and regarded his
interrogator with a smile that slowly dawned and as slowly faded away.

“I’m getting tired of hanging around here,” he announced. “What sort
of a job have you to offer?”

“Why, I live in that big corner house facing the park. What I want is a
young man to care for my garden--”

“Ah, I love a garden. Flowers are so spicy and bright and fragrant,
don’t you think?”

“And also to clear up the front lawn, and to rake up the leaves, and
see that the living room grate is supplied with firewood, and keep up
the yard generally and to clip the hedges--”

“I see,” said Danny, with another smile; “a sort of Private Secretary
as it were.”

“And attend to any errands my granddaughter may require.”

“I thank you, Mr. ----”

“Hathaway is my name, sir.”

“Mr. Hathaway. The job you offer does not impress me.”

“You fool!” roared the old gentleman, exasperated both by the refusal
and the dignity with which it was made by this uncleanly, disfigured
soldier. “Why do you turn down a position without looking at it? Many a
young fellow in Dorfield would be glad of the offer I have made you.”
He thought how Mary Louise would laugh at him when he told her how,
finally, he had offered “the job” to the solitary soldier and had been
ridiculed and refused. “Walk over with me to my place and inspect the
premises and then you may change your mind.”

“All right!” responded Danny, jumping up with a cheerful face that
betrayed he felt no malice at having been labeled a fool by the
irascible old gentleman. “Let’s walk over and look at your ranch. I
may find it better than I think it is. But I’ve a pretty good estimate
now of an old-fashioned country villa ‘facing the park.’ They’re very
grand, magnificent, you know, and usually belong to the most prosperous
men in town. Come on, Mr. Hathaway.”

“That’s right, Danny,” whispered Will White, as his friend passed out.
“It’s a whale of a place; and then, too, there’s Mary Louise!”



CHAPTER IV

DANNY CHANGES HIS UNIFORM


Of course, there was Mary Louise.

She was lying lazily on the couch by the front window this bright
though chilly May day, reading at times a book, and occasionally
hopping up to toss a stick of wood on the fire. Glancing through the
window, she noticed Gran’pa Jim and Danny Dexter crossing the park
toward the house.

It was early spring in Dorfield and although the numerous trees in the
park and surrounding country were leafless, the scene was far from
unpleasant to the eye of a stranger. Danny Dexter walked briskly--he
had to, to keep pace with Mr. Hathaway--and seemed to enjoy the
prospect keenly.

Mary Louise glanced at her gown. It seemed dainty and appropriate for a
spring morning, but the girl remembered one with prettier ribbons in a
drawer upstairs, so she dashed the book down and flew up the stairway.

Meantime Mr. Hathaway and the soldier had reached the house and
passed around the brick sidewalk that led to the rear. Danny glanced
doubtfully at the brick-paved driveway.

“No horses, I hope?” said he.

“No,” answered his conductor. “I love horses myself, but Mary Louise
prefers an automobile; so, as she’s the mistress of the establishment,
as you will soon learn, the horses are gone and a shiny little car
takes its place in the stable.”

“Employ a chauffeur, then?”

“No; Mary Louise loves to drive the thing herself, and if anything goes
wrong--something’s always going wrong with an automobile--there’s a
garage just back of us to fix it up again.”

Danny sighed.

“I can run the blamed things,” he remarked, “and I know how to keep
them loaded with oil and water and gasoline--”

“Oh, don’t worry about running it,” exclaimed the other. “Why, she
won’t let even _me_ run the thing, so I’ve never learned. As for the
chauffeurs, Mary Louise despises them.”

“So do I,” agreed Danny. “Your granddaughter, sir, must be a very
sensible girl.”

That won Gran’pa Jim’s heart, but just then Mary Louise herself came
tripping through the archway that led from the kitchen to the back
porch and the garden. She was most alluringly attired, as if for a spin
on a sunlit winter’s morning, and paused abruptly as if surprised.

“Oh, this is the new man, I suppose,” said she, a touch of haughtiness
in her voice. “Your name is Dexter, I believe.”

Danny smiled, slyly.

“What makes you believe that?” he inquired, doffing his little military
cap.

“I have heard Will White call you Dexter at the grocery store,” she
responded promptly.

“Still, I’m not ‘your new man,’” he said, explaining his presence.
“At the invitation of Mr. Hathaway I am merely examining his charming
grounds.”

“Yes. What do you think, Mary Louise, this hang-around ne’er-do-well
insists on seeing the place before he decides whether he’ll work here!”

Mary Louise gave the soldier a curious look. His wound wasn’t so
bad--merely a slash across the forehead, which, had it been properly
attended to at the time, would scarcely have left a scar. Otherwise his
features were manly enough, and might have been approved by girls more
particular than Mary Louise.

“I don’t blame him for wishing to see his workshop,” she averred with
one of her irresistible smiles. “I wouldn’t take a job myself without
doing that. Look around, Dexter, and if things are to your mind--we
need a man very badly, I assure you. Otherwise, we hope to serve you in
some practical way. I’m going over to Laura Hilton’s now, Gran’pa Jim,
so if you need me, I’ll be there until lunch time and you can telephone
me.”

The old gentleman nodded. Then with Danny, he followed her to the ample
stables--almost as ornate and palatial as the house.

“I preferred a five-passenger to a runabout,” explained Mary Louise
to Danny, “for now I can pack my girl friends in until the chariot is
positively running over--and I like company.”

She applied the starter, and away sped the gamey little machine,
bearing the girl who was admitted to be “the prettiest girl in the
county.”

Mr. Hathaway showed Danny the stables. In one tower was fitted up a
mighty cozy suite of rooms for the whilom “coachman.” There was another
suite in the opposite tower. Then they went down into the garden, and
as the boy looked around him his face positively gleamed.

“It’s magnificent!” he cried, “and just what I always imagined I’d like
to fool with. I shall move that row of roses, though, for the place
they’re in is entirely too shady. Probably laid out by a competent
gardener, but in all these years the climbing vines on his pergola have
got the best of his general scheme.”

“You accept the job, then?” asked Gran’pa, relieved.

“Accept? Of course I accept, sir--ever since I saw Mary Louise and her
automobile.”

When Mary Louise returned from her drive she found Danny Dexter raking
up the scattered leaves in the garden and merrily whistling as he
pursued his work. He came to the stable, though, as soon as she drove
in, and looked at the machine admiringly. She stood beside him, well
pleased, for she liked her automobile to be praised.

“Do you drive?” asked Mary Louise.

“Fairly well, Miss,” he returned; “but I’m not much of a mechanic.”

“That’s my bother,” she insisted, laughing; “but if you like driving
I’ll take you on my next trip and the girls will think I’m all
swelled up at having a chauffeur. Only--” she paused, looking at him
critically, and Danny saw the look and understood it. He blushed
slightly, and the girl blushed furiously. She had almost “put her foot
in it,” and quite realized the fact.

“The reason I have not kept my face washed,” he said in a quiet voice,
“is because our old surgeon at camp told me the wound would heal better
if I allowed nature to take her course. It was a bad slash, and while
this seemed a curious treatment, the fact has been proved that the
wound does better when covered with mud germs than with those from
water. The only objection is that it makes me look rather nasty at
present, but I made up my mind I could sacrifice anything in the way of
looks right now if it would improve my looks in the future.”

“Who was the surgeon?” asked Mary Louise.

“Oh, a crazy old Frenchman who had helped many of our boys and so won
their confidence.”

“I don’t believe in his theory,” declared the girl, after another
steady look at the cut. “Seems to me that broad gap will always remain.”

“Had you seen it at first,” he said, “you would now realize that it
has narrowed more than one-half, and is a healthy wound that is bound
to heal naturally. However, this fact assures me I may now wash up and
let the thing take care of itself. With my mud face there no object in
trying to keep the rest of me clean, so I’ve degenerated into a regular
tramp.”

“I suppose you’ve no clothes other than your uniform?” she said
thoughtfully. “Do you apply treatment of any kind to your wound?”

“Nothing at all--Nature is the only remedy. And as for clothes, I
haven’t the faintest idea what became of my old ‘cits.’ I was told to
ship them home, but can’t remember whether I did so or not.”

Mary Louise was dusting the car with a big square of cheesecloth. Danny
helped her.

“I wish,” said the girl, “you’d go down to Donovans’ and pick out two
suits of clothes--one for working in.” Her voice trembled a little.
She did not know how this queer fellow would regard such a suggestion.
“I’ll telephone Donovan right away to charge the clothes to Gran’pa
Jim’s account,” she continued.

Dexter was silent for awhile, plying his cheesecloth thoughtfully. Then
he said:

“In the days of the horse and coachman, did you clothe your men in
uniform?”

“Y-e-s, a sort of uniform. When mama was with us she loved to see
brightness, coupled with dignity. The Harrington uniform consists of
wistaria broadcloth, with a bit of gold braid. But it’s not so gorgeous
as it sounds.”

“Suits _me_, all right,” returned Danny, carelessly. “Would you mind my
getting a Hathaway uniform instead of the other clothes?”

Mary Louise was astonished.

“No, indeed,” was her answer. “The uniform will have to be made for you
by Jed Southwick, who keeps the materials. But I’m curious to know,
Dexter, why you prefer a badge of servitude to a respectable suit of
clothes. Do you mind telling me?”

After a little hesitation the soldier answered:

“That’s just it, Miss Hathaway--”

“My name is Burrows--Mary Louise Burrows. Mr. Hathaway is my
grandfather.”

“Thank you. Well, it’s the badge of servitude I’m after and that’s why.
My home’s a good way from here, Miss Burrows, and it isn’t likely any
of my old friends will wander this way, Dorfield being a half-hidden
if attractive old city, more dead than alive. But they _might_ come
and--just now--I don’t care to meet them and have to explain why I
didn’t do more toward winning the war. Every blamed fellow who set foot
in France, from private to general, won the war, except me, and that’s
rather embarrassing, you’ll admit.”

Mary Louise smiled mischievously, remembering the “medal for
distinguished service” even now reposing in Danny Dexter’s pocket-book.
But she only said:

“Go to see Jed Southwick at once--the sooner the better--for he’s a
good tailor and good tailors are always slow. And order two suits, for
something might happen to one of them.”

The boy shook his head.

“I may not stay long enough to wear out two uniforms, Miss Burrows, and
a good tailor is expensive, so they’ll cost a lot.”

“We always pay for our men’s uniforms,” protested the girl. “And--how
much wages--salary--money--do you get here?”

“Why, I never thought to inquire.”

Mary Louise hung her duster over a rail.

“Gran’pa Jim is always just, and even liberal, so don’t worry,”
she said. “Wash your face and then go to town and order your _two_
uniforms. I won’t use you as my chauffeur until you’re all togged out.
The girls will admire you more, then, and I’m anxious you should make a
hit with them.”



CHAPTER V

DORFIELD GIRLS


It is to be expected that Mary Louise, by virtue of her own wealth
and her grandfather’s political and social position, as well as her
own personal beauty and loveliness, was easily admitted “The Queen of
Dorfield.” There were many charming girls in the quaint little city,
nearly all being members of the “Liberty Girls,” an organization
conceived by Mary Louise Burrows which had done a lot of good during
the war. Indeed, many of these girls were heiresses, or with money in
their own right.

Yet wealth was no latch-key to the affections of Mary Louise. Just next
door to Colonel Hathaway’s splendid mansion was a neat story-and-a-half
dwelling that had not cost half as much as the Hathaway stables, but
it was cozy and home-like, and in it lived Irene Macfarlane, the niece
of Mr. Peter Conant, the most important lawyer of Dorfield, but by no
means a wealthy man.

With Peter Conant lived Irene, who was treated by “Aunt Hannah” (Mrs.
Peter Conant) and her husband as a daughter.

Irene had been crippled from birth and was confined to a wheel chair.
She was a bright little thing, and Mary Louise, as well as the other
girls, was very fond of Irene Macfarlane. Also among the “Liberty
Girls” were enrolled Betsy Barnes, the shoemaker’s daughter, and
Alora Jones whose father--Jason Jones--was by far the richest man in
Dorfield. Alora owned much of the best property in Dorfield but was
waiting for her majority to obtain it, for it belonged exclusively
to her dead mother. Then there was Laura Hilton, a popular favorite
whose father owned some stock in the mill and worked there. The father
of Phoebe Phelps was well-to-do, but not wealthy as either Colonel
Hathaway or Jason Jones.

Mary Louise never gave a thought to their worldly possessions. If they
were “nice girls” she took them to her heart at once.

All girls are prone to gossip (in Dorfield it was a distinctly harmless
amusement), and usually Mary Louise and her chums gathered in Irene’s
sitting-room, where the surroundings were sweet and “homey.” So, on the
day they took their ride with Danny Dexter as chauffeur--Danny dressed
in his new uniform--the four girls who had been favored by Mary Louise
as passengers met at the Conant residence and began to quiz their
friend. From them the news would fly throughout the city, where every
little thing is of interest, and Mary Louise was quite aware of that
fact.

Irene had been with them, of course, but Irene was a general favorite
and her “talking machinery,” as all the girls realized, had not been
affected by the trouble which made her an invalid. Then there were
Alora Jones, Laura Hilton, and last of all Phoebe Phelps.

“It’s really a ‘five-passenger,’” declared Mary Louise, “but it will
take six at a pinch, as you saw to-day. Gran’pa Jim’s old gas buggy was
called a seven passenger, but only six could ride in it comfortably as
the extra seat was always in the way; yet you know, girls, what a time
I had to induce him to sell his hayrack and buy me this beauty.”

“Uncle Eben could drive the Colonel’s car though,” remarked Alora,
“while you had to get a chauffeur.” Uncle Eben and Aunt Sally, an aged
black man and his wife, were the house servants. “That makes it more
expensive.”

“Well, we’ve the money to pay him, anyhow,” retorted Mary Louise, “and
then Eben is too old and stiff now to take care of the garden and do
all the outside work. Danny does all that now.”

“Oh, that alters the circumstances,” agreed Phoebe Phelps. “But it
seems funny to see an old black man and a young soldier boy wearing the
Hathaway uniform.”

“It is funny,” admitted Mary Louise, laughing, “but the soldier wanted
it that way. He said it made him proud to wear the Hathaway badge of
respectability. He’s a total stranger around here, you know--lives in
some Eastern city and has conceived a remarkable admiration for little
Dorfield.”

“Is that all you know about him?” asked Laura, suspiciously.

“He’s a soldier,” said Mary Louise proudly, “and entered the service a
common private and came out a top-sergeant. _That’s something._”

“Shows he’s popular with his mates and a good soldier,” agreed Irene.

“He was appointed to Company C of our regiment, together with some
others, after the battle of Argonne,” continued Mary Louise, lauding
her hero earnestly, “and was twice wounded before being sent home with
the Dorfielders. He had been offered an honorable discharge when he got
that terrible cut across the forehead, but in a week he was back with
the boys, fighting desperately.”

“Did he bring any recommendations?” asked Phoebe.

“Will White told me his story, and so far as recommendation is
concerned, every man in the Dorfield Regiment will swear by him
and stand for Danny Dexter to the last gasp. Don’t you like my new
chauffeur, girls?”

“_I_ do,” responded Laura Hilton. “Father offered him a nice job at the
mill, but he turned it down.”

“It was the same with _my_ father,” announced Phoebe.

“The back yard looks neater than it has in years,” commented Irene,
“and he surely proved to us this afternoon that he understood driving
an auto.”

“Gran’pa Jim declares it was my automobile that won him,” Mary Louise
stated. “He wasn’t anxious to be our hired man, either, until he caught
sight of the car, when he at once hired out.”

“Well, it _is_ a swell car,” declared Alora Jones, “and has every
modern appliance. Besides, it shines like a diamond in the sun.”

“My, she’s only had the thing a month,” said Phoebe, “and it’s the most
expensive little car in the market. Several have been sold in Dorfield
already.” There was envy in this speech, and all the girls sighed in
unison. Mary Louise, however, smiled slyly for she knew that with the
exception of Irene, any one of the girls present could afford to buy a
duplicate of her car.

“Well, the Hathaway establishment is blossoming out,” said Laura
lightly, “and one man--a hard-working soldier--seems responsible for
the transformation.”

“No, let’s put the auto first,” objected Irene. “First the old Colonel
is cajoled into selling his ancient rattle-trap and buying Mary Louise
a luxurious car, the latest model offered for sale; then comes along a
soldier who falls in love with the car, and to get the fun of handling
the machine hires out to the Hathaways. He proves a good man all-around
and soon has the old place slicked up as if it were new.”

“That’s all an example of Mary Louise’s luck,” commented Laura. “It
couldn’t possibly happen to anybody else.”

“I’m inclined to think that’s true,” added Phoebe, laughing at their
earnest faces. “Mary Louise seems to get the best of what happens
around Dorfield, but that’s not her fault--the dear little heart--and
I’m mighty glad things come her way for she deserves it.”

“The dealer, Lou Gottschalk, had six of these cars shipped in one
batch, the 1919 model,” explained Mary Louise, “and this was the last
to sell--merely because it had a few fixin’s not attached to the
others. The fixin’s made it some prettier, but no better running, and
there’s no change in the gear.”

Day after day Mary Louise won more praise from her girl friends by
taking them to ride in her new automobile, which her new man kept
shining as brilliantly as varnish will shine. When perched on the
driver’s seat in the Hathaway uniform--modest and inconspicuous--Danny
lent an added air of dignity to the outfit, and he certainly found
time, after looking after the garden, drives and lawn, to keep the car
immaculate also. Night after night Mary Louise could see the light
shining in his tower, which proved he did not waste an instant of his
time.

One afternoon, when the soldier was at the store, Mary Louise visited
this tower room and discovered there were several things that might
add to his comfort and convenience; so she purchased a cheap but
comfortable lounge, several cozy chairs, a new rug and a big “high-boy”
full of drawers and shelves. This was done in gratitude for Danny’s
faithful work, and he showed his appreciation by means of a smile and
nod, without ruining the event by a word of speech.

He kept up well, too, and was never a slacker in his work. If the
work got a little ahead of him he got up earlier in the morning and
accomplished his tasks in that way. Mary Louise was very proud of her
hired man’s ability.



CHAPTER VI

A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE


One evening she said to him:

“I’m going to drive to Sherman to-morrow, Danny, so we’ll get an early
start. Know where Sherman is?”

He shook his head. “No, Miss Burrows.”

“Well, it’s a straight road after we get to Bridesville, where we
went yesterday, so we can’t easily get lost. My dressmaker lives at
Sherman, which is fifty miles away. That’s only a short journey in the
car, and we’ll have luncheon at Bridesville. Just you and I and Irene
Macfarlane, you know.”

“Seven o’clock, Miss Burrows?”

“That’s about right, Danny.”

“I’ll be ready, Miss.”

So Mary Louise dismissed the matter from her thoughts and went to bed
without a single misgiving.

At a little before seven next morning Irene Macfarlane was wheeled
out upon the front yard nearest the driveway, happy and full of good
spirits, for a day like this was a rare treat for her. A day with Mary
Louise in the splendid new car, with only Mary Louise and her chauffeur
for company, luncheon at Bridesville and plenty of room on the back
seat was assuredly an event to be regarded with pleasure--and that’s
why Mary Louise had chosen her for comrade.

But neither the car nor the uniformed chauffeur were present. The
moments rolled on until 7:30 was reached and still no sign of the
automobile. Mary Louise ran around to the stables, to find both the car
and Danny Dexter absent. Danny had locked the door to his tower and the
front door of the stables stood wide open--just as if the young man had
prepared for a long day’s trip, but all else seemed in order. There
were two checkered robes belonging to the car, but these were gone,
as was all else that might be needed on the trip--including the extra
gasoline tank, always carried for emergencies. But Danny and car, with
its fittings, had absolutely disappeared.

“Perhaps he’s gone for gasoline or oil and been delayed,” pondered Mary
Louise on her way back to the side porch. “But it’s quite unlike Danny
Dexter to put off such an important thing until the last moment, so
I’m afraid one of the parts has broken, and Danny is waiting at the
garage to have it replaced. We may as well be patient, Irene, for our
fate is in Danny’s hands and I am sure he’ll get us started as soon as
possible.”

“It isn’t that,” replied Irene dolefully, “but I’ve got two music
lessons to give late this afternoon.”

“Oh, send them word you’re sick and have the dates changed,” suggested
Mary Louise. “I’m sure that will satisfy them. And after all, Danny may
be here any minute and then all our troubles will be over. As a matter
of fact, Danny told me yesterday that the carburetor needed adjusting
and that may be what is detaining him. So run along and have Aunt
Hannah telephone your pupils.”

“Oh, yes, I’ll go and tell Aunt Hannah right away,” responded the
crippled girl, “and I’ll tell her why Danny’s late, too.” She
immediately wheeled her chair around and started for her home, being
gone less than five minutes; but she needn’t have hurried for Danny
hadn’t returned by luncheon time. Irene and Mary Louise spread their
basket of lunch on the table on the side porch and had a merry time of
it in spite of the missing soldier and his automobile.

“Of course, if he doesn’t come pretty soon now,” admitted Mary Louise,
“we must postpone the trip to another day, but we’ll have all that fun
added to this, some day when the car is running properly,” promised the
owner, and they ate every bit of Aunt Sally’s delicious luncheon and
had a really “good time” in spite of their disappointment. Fortunately
most of their girl friends, learning of this intended trip, did not
come near them the whole day, so they were left alone to their own
devices.

As evening approached, nevertheless, Mary Louise began to be uneasy.
Gran’pa Jim came home from town and found the two girls playing
“muggins” on the porch.

“What! Back already!” he exclaimed.

“Why, we didn’t go,” answered Mary Louise.

“Dressmaker wasn’t ready for you?”

“No. We--we’ve lost the car--and Danny.”

The old gentleman sat down on a chair and whistled slightly.

“Tell me all about it,” he suggested.

Mary Louise complied. Really, there wasn’t much to tell. Danny Dexter
had been ordered to be ready with the car at seven o’clock, for a trip
to Sherman and had agreed to the proposition. He hadn’t appeared all
day; in fact, he and the car were both missing.

“I’ve telephoned the garage and the gasoline station,” concluded the
girl, “but he hasn’t been seen at either place to-day. Seems sort of
funny, doesn’t it, Gran’pa Jim?”

Grandpa Jim drummed with his fingers rather absently on the rail of the
porch.

“I insured the car but not Mr. Dexter,” he remarked slowly. “Odd that a
good soldier should turn out a thief, isn’t it?”

“He was absolutely in love with that automobile,” added Irene, eagerly.
“He would give anything to own it.”

“Danny is no thief!” asserted Mary Louise, positively. “He may have
gotten into trouble with the car, somehow; but _steal_ it--never.”

“Ought--oughtn’t we to do something right away?” asked Irene,
diffidently.

“We’ve wasted the whole day already,” Colonel Hathaway replied with a
smile; “perhaps a night and a day, if he had already made up his mind
to take the car. In that time he could get a long distance away from
us. And we’ve no idea what direction he took. Some auto thieves go
direct to the cities to hide, while others feel they are safer in the
country roads. Anyhow, I think we’d best call up Chief Lonsdale and ask
his advice.”

“To be sure!” exclaimed Mary Louise, excitedly. “Why didn’t we think of
that before? We’ve made mistake after mistake all day long. I’ll go in
and telephone him at once.”

The Colonel held her back. “If the Chief’s to understand what we mean
and what we want, I’d better talk with him myself. You grow more and
more muddled the more you talk with a person over the wire.”

So he rose deliberately and went into the house, and soon they heard
the Colonel telling the whole story of Danny Dexter to the Chief of
Police. He told it concisely and “without any frills or rigmaroles,” as
Irene admitted, and Chief Lonsdale ended by promising to come over at
once if they’ll give him some supper. “It won’t be as good as I’d get
at home,” he added, “but Aunt Sally isn’t the worst cook in Dorfield by
any means.”

The old Colonel chuckled and hung up the receiver, and before long, in
drove Chief Lonsdale in his Ford and anchored it near the front door.

“Evenin’, Charlie,” was the Colonel’s greeting as they shook hands.

“Evening, Colonel,” responded the Chief, hanging up his overcoat and
hat. “Been gettin’ yourself inter trouble, eh?”

“No, ’twas Mary Louise who considered a soldier must be, perforce, an
honest man.”

“I know him, and I believe she’s right in this case,” replied Charlie
Lonsdale. “If your man-of-all-work isn’t honest, I’m not honest and no
judge of an honest man.”

Irene, who had remained to supper, although she lived next door,
clapped her hands gleefully. Mary Louise walked around the table and
kissed the Chief upon his grizzly chin; the Colonel alone frowned.

“Think I’m going to eat over here and take ‘potluck’ for nothing?”
inquired the Chief.

“You’re an old idiot,” declared Colonel Hathaway, who was very fond of
the Chief of Police and often had him over for a Sunday dinner.

“If the stranger soldier hadn’t been all right,” responded the other,
“do you think I’d let you keep him and allow him to take charge of
Mary Louise’s precious auto? Or risk my poor stomach on corned beef
and cabbage, such as we’re going to have presently?”

“Why, how did you know that?” asked Mary Louise. “I didn’t know that
myself until you told me!”

“Eyes--nose--presently, taste,” said the policeman, laughing at them.
“Saw Aunt Sally lugging it home in a basket this morning--”

“But--”

“Smelled it when I came into the house just now.” Then he continued,
laughingly:

“Have been hankering for corned beef all day, and that’s the reason I
invited myself over.”

“You know you’re always welcome, Charlie,” said the Colonel, highly
pleased, “and we’ll have a couple of these fine ‘Cannel’ cigars after
the meal,” promised the Colonel. “I keep a few of them on hand just for
guests like you.”

“This don’t seem much like finding my car--and poor Danny Dexter,”
pouted Mary Louise. “That machine can easily go sixty miles an hour,
so we may be fifty miles farther away from it since you arrived, Chief
Lonsdale.”

“Possible,” admitted the Chief, “and it’ll take an hour more to eat
supper and--I may stay with you all night. Still we didn’t fix any
time limit on capturing the thief, so there’s no hurry that I can see.”

Irene and the Colonel were nervous and--to an extent--so was Mary
Louise, but the latter girl was more composed than the others. As for
the Chief, he seemed to have forgotten all about the task on which they
had embarked--after he had telephoned to some man in his office.



CHAPTER VII

A TELEGRAM


“What do you think of telegraphing to Josie O’Gorman?” asked the
Colonel, after taking his granddaughter into a corner after dinner.

“Josie?” cried the Chief, overhearing the question. “That’s a clever
idea, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been considering Josie for the
last hour or more. What that girl can’t stumble against is no work
for a detective. She isn’t clever, nor does she consider herself so;
but she’s a way of falling into traps set for others that is really
remarkable. If you know where Josie is, I advise wiring her the first
thing you do.”

“I’ll go down to the telegraph office at once and send the message
in your name, Mary Louise,” decided Colonel Hathaway, going into the
closet to get his hat and coat. “There’s nothing like promptness in
such a case, and my reflections during the past two hours have led me
to nothing at all, I must confess. I’ll just step over to the stables a
minute and then we’ll start.”

The two men and Mary Louise went to the stables, where the Chief
unlocked the tower in a wink of an eye, and then carefully examined the
contents of Danny’s private room. All was in perfect order, and nothing
indicated that the young ex-soldier had intended to be gone more than
a day at the most. In the standing room or garage, downstairs, all was
as neat as wax and ready for the automobile when it arrived home--if it
ever did.

“Nothing to be gained from an inspection here,” remarked the Chief, who
had allowed the Colonel to light his cigar but not to smoke it while
they were in the building. “You see, Hathaway, it’s a hard thing to
trace an automobile, especially if it’s a popular make.”

They stopped at the telegraph office and the girl promised to forward
their message at once.

“You see,” said she, “It’s a dull season and a dull hour, and
Washington messages supersede all other. This telegram ought to
be there in ten minutes, and I’ll send the answer to your house
immediately, Colonel Hathaway.”

“Could you send a duplicate to the Police Office at the same time, Miss
Girard?” inquired the Chief.

She nodded an assent, making her pretty hair flutter in all directions.

“Very well; put everything aside and get our telegram off at once,”
said Colonel Hathaway, and they proceeded to the police office.

“That blamed car worries me a good deal; I can’t see how we’re to
locate it, with no clue but a tire mark,” remarked the Colonel when
they were on the street again.

“Anything can be accomplished if we set our hearts on the task,”
returned Chief Lonsdale, somewhat testily.

“There have been six others of this make of machine sold right here,”
the Colonel said, “but the one we are looking for had several unusual
fittings to mark it. There’s a difference in the wheels of Mary
Louise’s car--couldn’t you tell by that; also the driver’s seat is
different.”

“I don’t remember having noticed these particular marks myself,” said
the Chief, “but a dozen or so of my men have done so, and at this
present moment are busy trying to locate Mary Louise’s car.”

“You’re a good fellow, Charlie,” remarked the Colonel gratefully. “I
feel sure we’ll get our clutches on the machine sooner or later, even
if the streets are crowded with automobiles of this and all other
makes.”

“You’re skeptical, of course,” replied the Chief, “regarding the power
of the police, but I’m not at all, so I’ll plod along and make the best
of a poor beginning. So please have faith in our ability and we’ll find
your car.”

“Oh, I’m not afraid of your ability,” said Gran’pa Jim.

“Let’s run down to the office,” proposed the Chief. “We’ll get the news
as quickly there as here--perhaps a bit quicker, and I can see you’re
too nervous--both of you--to get to sleep at your usual hour.” So they
got into the Chief’s auto and started for the police office, where
the man at the desk listened quietly but without astonishment to the
Chief’s story, referring to a sheet of notes at his side, “Guess I got
it all, sir,” he said.

“Is Olmstead out?” asked the Chief.

“Not just now, sir, he’s just back from the telegraph office, where he
listened to this message to Mary Louise coming over the wire.”

“Let us see it.” Without a word the desk sergeant handed over a paper
with some words scrawled upon it, but neither old Mr. Hathaway nor the
Chief of Police had any difficulty in reading it:

  “DEAR MARY LOUISE:

  “Will be with you to-morrow morning at eight o’clock. Remind Aunt
  Sally of my insatiable appetite as that’s usually your breakfast
  hour. With love,
                        “JOSIE.”

“Aha! that’s one thing off my mind,” cried Mary Louise, crushing the
paper and then spreading it out the full size of the sheet. “It’s well
for us that Josie is at home and willing to pick up a case of such a
character. There is too much mystery about the case for us to undertake
it without the help and backing of that clever girl, and if she is
unable to solve the mystery, her father will give her all the necessary
help to find both the automobile and Danny Dexter.”

By the time they had adopted Josie O’Gorman’s leadership and decided to
depend upon it, the three had left the police office and started for
home. It was very annoying both to the Colonel and to Mary Louise to
travel on foot after constant use of an automobile. The Chief, having
urgent business in another part of the city, was unable to take them in
his auto. As they slowly walked toward home, they discussed the mystery
and rejoiced that Josie was going to help them solve it.

“She isn’t much of a detective,” remarked the old Colonel, “but she
wins as often as she loses, and she’s earnest and hard-working;
more-over, she has her father’s brains to appeal to, and there are no
more skillful ones in all Washington than those of John O’Gorman.”

“To be sure,” said Mary Louise, as she clung to her grandfather’s
arm. “They first sent him to France to take charge of the Secret
Service bureau there, but he was recalled because there were more
important duties here. Josie wrote me there were a thousand suspects in
America to one abroad. Besides, each nation has its corps and band of
detectives and some are especially clever.”

“It’s a good thing for us,” declared the old gentleman, “for it gives
us Josie, and with her the advice of the shrewdest secret service man
in America.”



CHAPTER VIII

THE ARRIVAL OF JOSIE O’GORMAN


Josie O’Gorman did not bother to ring the doorbell next morning. She
went around to Aunt Sallie’s outside kitchen door, which always stood
open at this hour, and after a word of greeting to the black mammy,
made her way to the cosy little room which she always occupied when
visiting there. Afterward she quietly unpacked the contents of her
suitcase. This being accomplished Josie went downstairs to find Colonel
Hathaway there alone, sipping his coffee behind his newspaper while
awaiting Mary Louise.

“Good mornin’,” she said, and threw her arms around her old friend and
heartily kissed him.

“I hope that cackle I hear from the kitchen means an egg, and the egg
another kiss,” remarked the old Colonel, smiling at her. “I am very
glad you are here. You’ll be a great comfort to Mary Louise, I can
assure you, for she has already exhausted our resources and I’m quite
sure she’s on the ragged edge of nothing.”

“What’s wrong, Colonel?” asked Josie, as Aunt Sallie brought in her
coffee.

“Everything--and nothing,” replied Colonel Hathaway, in a way, testily,
and yet with an amusing expression. “But here she comes and you can get
all the points of the terrible tragedy.”

Mary Louise entered the breakfast room briskly, as if fully expecting
to find her old friend there, for she knew that Josie would not lose a
minute in answering her summons. Indeed, her telegram of the evening
before quite settled the matter as far as _she_ was concerned.

“What’s gone wrong?” she asked again, when they had seated themselves,
after the exchange of a hearty kiss, at the table.

Mary Louise, in a despondent voice, replied: “Everything has gone
wrong, dear. There was a beautiful automobile at the auto show a while
ago, and as Gran’pa Jim’s big old car had no one, from Uncle Sam to a
grasshopper, to care for it any longer, I induced him to let me trade
it in for the beauty I have referred to. _I_ didn’t care much for
Gran’pa’s rattletrap, but its wheels went round nevertheless.”

“I know,” nodded Josie, over her ham and eggs.

Then Mary Louise went on about her discovery of Danny Dexter, and his
quaint manners, and the methods he employed in abdication.

“We’ve tried every method we could think of,” concluded the girl, “and
the result is that yesterday we wired you, at Gran’pa’s suggestion.”

“What!” in amazement. “Do you mean that the dear Colonel has at last
acquired sufficient confidence in my ability to entrust me with a job
of this sort?”

The Colonel’s eyes could be seen just above the edge of his newspaper,
and both Josie and Mary Louise thought they twinkled.

“If it can be done,” he muttered, “Josie is as likely to do it as
anyone on earth. And she’s fond of Mary Louise, so I’ve an idea she’s
better fitted than anyone else. But it’s a stiff job.”

“Yes, it is,” said Josie, in the same monotonous voice. “To recover
lost automobiles is almost impossible in small towns,” added Josie.
“Tourists are mighty numerous, and if one of these transients took the
machine, such a person would surely drive off as soon as possible.”

“But how can that be,” protested Mary Louise, “when Danny Dexter had
the car in his keeping, and now he is missing as well as the machine?”

Josie laughed joyously.

“But who told you it was Danny who ran away with your beauty,” demanded
Josie. “On the other hand, I’m growing more and more to favor this
young man. If he can’t ‘own the dear little thing,’ the next best thing
is to be its chauffeur. Tell me some more about him--all you know.”

Mary Louise flushed at this tribute, but she allowed the Colonel to
depict Danny’s character before she gave her own glowing opinion of him.

Josie slowly shook her head.

“There’s something wrong about this whole affair,” she reflected;
“either he’s suspiciously bad, or he’s undeniably good--one of those
perfect examples given us by the good Lord to pattern after. I’m afraid
of those goody-goodies till I can make a hole in them and see what
they’re stuffed with.”

“At present your chauffeur is as invisible as your machine,” she said
at last, “and so we must wait for a more promising clue.”

“Well, what’s to be done first?” inquired Mary Louise, impatiently.
“While we’re talking and fussing here, that car is getting farther and
farther away from us.”

“True,” assented the girl detective, calmly, “but I need a good
breakfast to fit me for a hard day’s work--and I’m getting it.”

“You’re stuffing yourself like a cormorant!” said Mary Louise. “Why,
I’ve seen you go for twenty-four hours without eating, Josie O’Gorman.”

“Under other circumstances. My! how good this ham and these eggs taste
after a foodless night. But I’m thinking while I chatter, Mary Louise,
and if you don’t like my methods of detection, discharge me on the
spot, Miss Burrows,” she said with mock dignity.

“Oh, hurry up, Josie. What’s first on your program?”

“First, we must visit an old friend, Charlie Olmstead--and--”

“Oh, we’ve been through all that yesterday--and the evening before,”
Mary Louise retorted. “What do you imagine we’ve been doing all this
time?”

“Can’t imagine,” said Josie, meekly; “but anyone who would let a youth
and a bran’ new auto get away from them so easily would do ’most
anything. I suppose you’ve interviewed the postmaster, also?” She asked
in a tone that was meant to be casual.

“One of our first acts, of course.” Josie smiled over Mary Louise’s
head, but the old Colonel caught the expression and answered, to assist
his dearly beloved grand-daughter:

“We may have acted foolishly, Josie, but you may be sure we acted. The
interview has, you must admit, rendered it unnecessary for you to do
the same thing and so has saved you the loss of considerable time.”

Josie again smiled.

“You’ve now told me all you know about the automobile, and all you
know about the queer fellow who acted as chauffeur and did other jobs
around the place. You have practically ended your resources and want
to put the case in my hands. I want to take it, for it’s one of those
odd cases that appeal to an amateur detective. Why, even daddy has been
mixed up in some of these ‘lost automobile’ cases, and has found to
his embarrassment that some of them have baffled him to this day. Some
of those mysteries of stolen cars proved so tame that dear old daddy
fairly blushed to discover how cleverly, yet simply, they had fooled
him.”

“But you say he recovered _some_ of them?” asked Mary Louise.

“Why, yes; I must credit daddy with the fact that he has recovered most
of the machines--and some of the thieves.”

“Is it so hard, then, to arrest the drivers?” inquired the Colonel,
curiously.

“Yes, indeed,” was the answer. “For if an auto thief discovers he is
being followed by one with a faster engine or more ‘gas’ in his tank,
he can just hop out and take to the woods. In some unusual cases the
driver is also caught but you can see how easy it is for him to dodge
his pursuers.”

“Then if no one is chasing, he can get a long way in a couple of days?”
questioned Mary Louise, anxiously.

“So he can,” assented the other girl, “but I’ve had the idea that the
periods an auto thief may best be arrested are,--first, just after the
theft; and secondly, after time enough has elapsed to create a sense of
security in the mind of the thief and cause him to cease to worry.”

“Then you think our pirate has ceased to worry?” asked Colonel
Hathaway, in a misbelieving tone.

“Yes, and he’s given us a chance to follow one or two clues to our
advantage.”

“In what way?” questioned Mary Louise with interest.

“The ‘dear little car’--of course, you must have named it? All
automobiles belonging to girls must be named, I believe.”

“Of course. My car is called ‘Queenie.’”

“Certainly; and with a monogram on each side door.”

“Another very good clue,” said Mary Louise, “concerns the driver
himself. Danny Dexter is a rather conspicuous returned soldier--not
conspicuous because of his garb; he now wears the uniform of the
Hathaways’ instead of Uncle Sam’s--but because of a bad scar across
his forehead, which he cannot get rid of. So far, I admit we have only
circumstantial evidence against the soldier, who won a ‘distinguished
service medal’ and through modesty--or for other reasons--keeps this
thing in his pocket instead of wearing it on his breast, as others
seem proud to do. But that is no warrant for his taking ‘Queenie.’
But now let us visit the police headquarters and secure any further
information there.”

Josie was following Mary Louise out when she turned and asked: “Coming
with us, Colonel Hathaway?”

“Not this morning,” he replied. “You’ll want to get started and have
the case well in hand before you need my assistance. If I remember
rightly, Josie O’Gorman likes to work alone, so I predict it won’t be
long before she’ll fire even Mary Louise and shoulder the whole thing.”

“This isn’t like the other cases in which Josie has come to our
rescue,” protested Mary Louise. “It’s more like open warfare--get your
eye on the thief, or on the car, and you can raise the hue-and-cry as
much as you care to.”



CHAPTER IX

THE MAN FROM BOSTON


On their way to the police headquarters the two girls gossiped
pleasantly concerning the events that had happened since they last
saw each other, for there are other things in the world besides lost
automobiles and strange young men. There are even winter coats, and
how much fur it is good taste to trim them with this year. There
were, also, round hats, three-cornered hats and four-cornered hats
to discuss, as well as the broad-brimmed hats and matinee, church or
street hats. And by the time they reached the police station they had
scarcely touched upon shoes and stockings--never mentioned gowns at all!

They found Mr. Charles Lonsdale, Chief of Police, at his desk.

“Oh, here you are,” said Josie. “Good morning, Chief.”

“Good morning, I’ve been waiting for you for over an hour,” was his
response.

“Yes,” said Josie, “I knew you’d wait, knowing I’d arrived on the
morning train. You see, Chief, this is one of those peculiar cases that
can begin or stop at any moment, as we may decide. I don’t know what
the ‘dear little thing’--eh--eh--‘Queenie,’ I believe, is her proper
name--is worth, but--”

“Without a ‘trade,’ and with the accessories we loaded it with, our
poor little Queenie is worth thirty-two hundred dollars,” confessed
Mary Louise.

The Chief looked astonished; Josie regarded her friend with amazement.

“Whatever its cost,” commented Lonsdale, “the thing has been stolen,
and it’s my duty to try and find it. As for you, Josephine, you may
tackle it or not, as it pleases you. Thirty-two hundred dollars is a
good bit of money for a little automobile.”

“It isn’t entirely the money that bothers me or Gran’pa Jim,” remarked
Mary Louise, with another deep sigh. “We’d have paid a thousand more,
gladly, if necessary. It’s the thought that Danny would betray the
confidence we held in him.”

There was a brief silence, during which Josie took out her memorandum
book.

“What’s the record, so far?” she asked carelessly. “Well, I’ll answer
myself: not much, although the whole town knows that Mary Louise’s new
auto has been stolen and Danny Dexter has disappeared at the same time.
Meantime certain details have reached my ears that lead me to believe
that Danny Dexter is but one of half a dozen assumed names used by
this ex-soldier. The fellow accepted his position with the Colonel as
half-chauffeur and half-gardener so that, at the slightest warning, he
could use the little auto in making a getaway. In other words, he’s
playing a bigger game than we’ve given him credit for.”

“Who told you all this?” inquired Mary Louise, in amazement.

Josie O’Gorman laughed, but before she could answer, there burst into
the room from a side closet a big man with the marks of smallpox
scattered about his face, a broad, sensitive nose, and shrewd eyes. It
was evident at once that he was interested in their discussion.

“Anyone could see that with half an eye,” he made answer. “I’ll buy
you half a dozen better automobiles than ‘Queenie’ if you’ll find its
driver for me.”

“What about him?” asked Josie staring at him.

“Well, one name’s as good as another, just now, so we’ll still call him
Danny Dexter,” responded the detective, leaning back in the chair so as
to rest his feet against the wall. “For instance, I’m from Boston, and
my name’s Crocker. Understand?”

Josie shook her head. She’d met a lot of detectives at one time or
another, and this one seemed familiar, in a way.

“Then it’s a Boston case, after all,” she said in a disappointed voice.

“No, it’s just a Danny Dexter case, let us say,” responded the big man,
also in a disappointed voice. “They gave him up in Boston as a bigger
crook than they had time to handle, and the Bank was unwilling to spend
more money on so elusive an individual. But I had some information of
a floating character that came back to me time after time from the war
zone that justified me in resigning from the government deal and taking
up the case personally. So I’ve been in Dorfield ever since its famous
regiment arrived--for the truth is that the Dorfield boys put up as
game a fight as any Americans in the Expeditionary Force. Your boys
had no press agent, nor any motion picture concern to back them up, so
the truth will never be heralded broadcast in newspaper headlines, but
take it from me, Dorfield comes under the A-No. 1 class.”

They regarded him a time in silence.

“How did you make your way here?” asked Josie.

“I saw you arrive in town and recognized you as John O’Gorman’s
daughter. Was on old John’s force at one time. Josie O’Gorman is a
friend of Mary Louise Burrows, whose auto was stolen by the man I’m
hunting. That’s simple enough.”

“Have you been searching for him long in this locality?” asked Chief
Lonsdale, handing him a business card.

“Oh, you’re not unknown to me, Charles Lonsdale,” he said; “I’ve hung
around here for two days or more, and that’s long enough to tag any
man.”

“What’s the name of your Boston fugitive?”

“Here they call him Danny Dexter--his war name. In Boston he was best
known as Jim O’Hara.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Josie O’Gorman, in a low tone of surprise. “Then he’s
well worth finding. Forger?”

“Yes--and more,” replied the big man, gravely.

Chief Lonsdale was staring at both of them.

“What is your real name?” he asked the man. “A business card doesn’t
amount to much in our profession,” and he spun the proffered card
across the table.

“Well, where I live we don’t often resort to aliases. They just call me
Bill Crocker.”

“Oh!” again said John O’Gorman’s daughter, both surprised and
interested in the turn events had taken. “I’ll go bond for him, Chief,”
she continued. “It’ll do us both good to know Bill Crocker.”

The man with the pock-marks, who leaned back against the wall in
careless attitude, his clothing wrinkled and unpressed, his whole
appearance unkempt and unattractive, returned their looks with a mild
smile.

“Reputation is a vague thing,” said he, “and often undeserved or
exaggerated. To-day Bill Crocker of Boston might be called the John
O’Gorman of his city, but what will he be to-morrow? A few failures
and he is totally forgotten.”

Josie gave one of her sympathetic nods.

“That’s true,” she affirmed. “If you’re pretty big you’re given a
headline; perhaps your picture is printed, but in a few days no one
remembers who you were. That’s a good idea, for otherwise the Book of
Fate would be packed with nonsense. An author, painter or sculptor
stands a chance of living in name, but no one else has a ghost of a
chance.”

“Are you prepared to spend some money on this game?” asked Bill
Crocker. “The Bank offers a big reward for the man, with all expenses.
I’m going to try and get him.”

“Try for it,” repeated the Chief of Police. “We’re prepared to do
all the Bank would--and then some,” added Lonsdale calmly. “Eh, Miss
Burrows? But we want the auto more than the man.”

“That is true,” agreed Mary Louise, “and yet I will leave the whole
matter in your hands. With Charlie Lonsdale, who is regarded as an
especially clever Chief, and Josie O’Gorman, whom I have evidence to
prove is the brightest girl detective in America, and Bill Crocker of
Boston, who is regarded with such awe by his confreres, we certainly
ought to win against one common soldier who has turned criminal because
he likes a pretty automobile and thinks it safe to steal it from a
country town.”

“You forget yourself and your own talents, my dear,” said Josie.

“Why, I seem to have a real talent for stirring up criminal cases,”
Mary Louise admitted, “but not for unraveling mysteries.”

“The reason we’re not all better detectives,” commented Bill Crocker,
“is that we lose too much valuable time. Let us get busy on the case
before us. First, I want to see the old stables--lately used as the
garage.”

“This seems like doubling on our tracks,” retorted Josie; “we all know
this place so well. But as you insist on crowding yourself into this
gang of investigators, we’ll make a brief survey of the premises so you
may know the exact situation as well as the rest of us.”



CHAPTER X

MARY LOUISE MAKES A DISCOVERY


That night the air seemed breathless. A storm was threatening, and by
eleven o’clock the wind had risen from a gentle sigh to quite a steady
roar and was sending great dark clouds scudding across the full golden
face of the moon.

Mary Louise felt breathless too, and was strangely unquiet. A storm was
brewing in the very heart of her, and she could not understand just
why. All she knew was that there was no use trying to sleep as yet. She
simply had to think. So, pulling a silken sweater of a soft rose color
over her light dinner frock, she dragged her great wicker chair before
the window and curled up therein.

All her being was crying out in rebellion at the thought that Danny,
her kind, candid, cheery Danny Dexter, could be a forger. As if she
were in his presence, she could see the honest, straight-forward
glance of his clear, blue eyes, and as she lay in her big chair in
her darkened room and watched the wind play havoc in the garden,
she suddenly realized that she had at times believed that there was
something deeper in his eyes when they rested upon her.

This idea strangely disquieted Mary Louise. She made a remarkably
lovely picture as the moon shone full upon her in one of its fleeting
moments of freedom. The wind had loosened her soft dark hair and had
flung it in little tendrils about her flushed young face, and her lips
were parted in the eager recognition of a fact that had suddenly come
to her. She knew she believed in and trusted Danny Dexter!

“Oh, what can I do?” she moaned. “Danny, I know you’ve done nothing
wrong, but how can I make the others understand? And how can I ask
Josie to hunt for someone else; she will hunt down one clue until she
knows about it. Oh, dear me!”

And at this point a little sigh escaped from Mary Louise.

The wind evidently being in a mood sympathetic with her own, gave a
sudden gusty sigh of despair; it fairly shook the house, and whistling
about the chimney, finally expended itself in whirling through the
window the tiny bit of cambric Mary Louise called a handkerchief.

She rose listlessly to catch it, her thoughts all centered on her
problem, but the bit of white fluttered off in gay abandon among the
rose bushes. Mary Louise watched the speck of light out there, idly
leaning her rose-clad shoulder against the frame of the open window.

Suddenly she felt she could no longer breathe inside. She must, she
felt, get out in the wind, under the clouds, and feel the wildness and
vitality of the night. Her rose-pink bedroom opened on a little balcony
from which a few steps led directly into the garden. With a sudden
sense of relief, Mary Louise threw back her dark head, breathing in the
very storm about her, and ran down the steps into the dark. Straight
for the group of tall pines at the rear of the grounds she went, to
hear their wailing response to the wind, and to watch the hide and seek
of the moonlight through the long needles.

Refreshed and almost happy again, she leaned against the dark pungent
trunk of the oldest pine, and her dark eyes turned to the tower room
that had been Danny’s.

All at once she started quickly, for faint and dim though it was, a
light was unmistakably filtering through the drawn shutters of the
tower chamber.

“Oh!” gasped the girl, her voice trembling with relief. “Of course he
came back; I knew he would; but he must come to the house and tell
Grandpa Jim he’s back.”

So saying, she ran across the open space and finding the door of the
old stable to be unlocked though tightly closed, she pushed it back.
As she did so, the moon drifted out from behind its veil and shone
full and bright upon the smart trim car which Mary Louise had named
“Queenie.” Yes, there it was without a scratch or mar that Mary Louise
could see, and appearing as matter of fact as though it had never
vanished into thin air!

Mary Louise welcomed it home with a little pat of joy, but most of that
joy just now was for the Danny Dexter who had brought her automobile
safely back.

Standing there by her beloved car she called shyly, “Danny.”

After a brief pause, again, “Danny.”

But there was no answer, and suddenly it seemed to her that everything
was very, very quiet. Startled, she ran up the tower stairs calling in
frightened tones, “Danny, oh, Danny! Answer me!”

Not, however, until she had reached the top step did she get her
answer. Then the tower room door was flung back and by the dull glow of
a candle Mary Louise could see the dim outline of a man. A frightened
shriek rose to her lips but before it could be uttered, the man had
leaped forward and with strength born of desperation, had lifted her
bodily and carried her into the room pushing shut the door after him.

Gasping, Mary Louise sank onto the wicker couch which she had bought
for Danny, to make his room more cheery. Even in her great fear, a
sense of gratitude came to her that it was this stranger and not Danny
Dexter who had stolen her car. And thinking so, some of the fear
vanished and she dared glance up at the man.

His was not at all a criminal type of face. The mouth and the lines
about the mouth were very weak, but the eyes were kindly, and just now,
as she met their gaze, they seemed filled with apology and distress.
His tone, however, was firm and decided as he turned to Mary Louise.

“Keep absolutely quiet,” he commanded crisply, “and no harm will come
to you. But if you try to call out--”

Here he gave his shoulders a shrug and, with a bitter laugh, added:
“I’m pretty desperate. I’ve got to get away, and if you make a sound, I
may have to tie you up.”

Mary Louise most decidedly did not want to be tied up. Words choked
right in her throat but in some way she managed to convey the idea to
this waiting man that she was and always would be more quiet than the
quietest mouse. She felt she never, never could speak a word again, and
she was trembling as if from cold in the dead of winter.

When the man was reassured, he returned to the task from which he
had evidently been interrupted. This seemed to be page after page of
accounts, and he was going over them with infinite care. As he leaned
close under the candle flame, Mary Louise could see that he was a man
very far from young. His hair was quite gray and the lines upon his
face were heavy. As he turned the last leaf of the accounts, a deep
sadness was on his face, which, when he had slipped the package into an
envelope and addressed it, changed into as great a tenderness as Mary
Louise had ever seen. Then and there all fear dropped from her and she
wished she could aid this old man who so surely needed help.

Her presence had evidently been forgotten for the moment, but now the
man straightened up with a start as the town clock boomed midnight.

“Good Lord,” he muttered, “and I’m due in twenty minutes! There’s
nothing for it but to take the car again and the girl in it. I’m sorry
for Danny’s sake, but I don’t dare leave her to give the alarm.”

Deciding which, he muffled himself in a huge tan duster and cap, and
motioned to Mary Louise to follow him. As he stooped to blow out the
candle the long envelope slipped from his pocket to the floor. Mary
Louise, almost without thought, glanced down at it, and there, glaring
and flashing up at her from the envelope, was Danny’s name!

She had no time for puzzling, for already her jailor was halfway down
the stairs and calling her to hurry. In her anxiety to obey to the
letter, Mary Louise fairly flew down the stairs and found the stranger
climbing into her beloved place in her very own car. He ordered her
to sit beside him, and Mary Louise did so feeling as if she were in
a dream. Here she was at her home and in her own car and yet she was
a prisoner. Her captor seemed to have some thought for her welfare,
however, for as the car slipped quietly out into the night, he tucked a
robe carefully about her shoulders and then in silence the two flew off
into the wildness of the night.



CHAPTER XI

THE EMPTY ROOM


There was no depression in the spirits of Josie O’Gorman as she bade
Mary Louise good-night at her bedroom door, and jumping up the stairs,
two at a time, she entered her own room with a rush of energy.

With a quick twist of her wrist, she flooded the room with brightness.
It was a large room, furnished simply with a few splendid old pieces
of mahogany, but in some way, Josie in the few hours of her stay had
managed to impart an air of activity and alertness to her apartment.
A typewriter was installed on the low table at the front of the bed.
The telephone had been connected with her room, and files of notes and
time tables cluttered up the desk. Even the wonderful old four-posted
bed had caught the contagion of hurry and was quite flustered beneath a
shower of shirts, hats and dresses that had been tossed upon it.

To Josie the main intent and purpose of life was her work; orderliness
and prettiness were considerations that had to follow after. Even as
she entered the room the telephone was buzzing.

“Hello,” she called, seizing the receiver with one hand, pushing the
odds and ends from the desk chair with the other.

“Yes, this is Josie O’Gorman. You say you haven’t found a trace of
the car? Well, you needn’t have rung me up for that. I’d grasped that
much already. Oh, you’ve found positively no strangers have left the
neighborhood within the last forty-eight hours. That’s something to go
on at any rate. Yes, thank you. Good-bye.”

As she hung up the receiver Josie’s face wore a puzzled frown.

“It’s a riot of a mess,” quoth she, unbuttoning with quick jerks her
mannish-looking dress of dark blue linen. Then, having dropped it on
the floor, she kicked it with well directed aim into the corner. Her
remark could have been applied most aptly to her attire then, as it lay
a forlorn and crumpled heap. Evidently her thoughts were far from those
four walls. That any of her garments remained within reaching distance
was not due to Josie’s care, for with little kicks one small pump
lodged precariously on the window ledge, while its mate nestled more
securely in the waste basket. But Josie was puzzling over a problem,
and it was not coming out as clearly and as quickly as it might. These
automobile robberies were discouraging matters to trace, when one
realized how far one could drive a car in a few days and especially
when such a clever crook as this forger, O’Hara, was at the wheel.

Josie jumped into her bright pink pajamas, finally produced her
little bedroom slippers from her hat box, and covered herself with a
warm bathrobe of most brilliant hue. This done, she turned a further
glare of light upon the desk, pulled out a box of salty crackers and
proceeded to sit there and eat and think.

To all appearances, however, the crackers vanished quicker than the
problems and Josie’s head began to nod. Finally with a shrug she
admitted, “I can’t make head nor tail out of the thing to-night. I’ll
go to sleep and be a brighter detective in the morning.”

So saying, she turned out the light, made sure her little revolver was
safely under her pillow, and without a thought of the night outside,
she climbed into bed and was instantly asleep.

Josie O’Gorman’s slumbers were not undisturbed very long. For suddenly
piercing even to her sleep-drugged ears came the quiet hum of a motor
very near indeed. Instantly she was wide awake and reaching for her
bathrobe.

Yes, there was the same sound only growing fainter. She rushed to the
window but could see nothing whatever, the moon was completely covered
by the clouds and the automobile had no lights. Josie placed the
revolver in the pocket of her bathrobe and stole quickly from the room.

Her one idea was to waken Mary Louise immediately. Even as Josie
entered Mary Louise’s room, she felt a sense of someone quite near and
very much awake. There was no time to rouse her girl friend; she was
perhaps safer sound asleep. Without turning the switch, Josie made
her slow, careful way toward the open window. The scent of the lilies
from the garden was blown to her as she neared the balcony, her little
revolver held steady and ready for action.

Suddenly some pebbles from the path below were tossed again at the
window pane. Josie drew back waiting. The tiny patter came again; and
then as she still waited tensely, a man’s voice called “Mary Louise!”

Instantly all Josie’s faculties were alert. This man was undoubtedly
O’Hara, the fugitive from justice. Perhaps he intended to frighten
Mary Louise into hiding him about the premises; perhaps it was the
combination of the safe he wished to extort from her. Whatever it was,
she realized that she--Josie O’Gorman--daughter of John O’Gorman,
expert detective, was there to save her friend.

There was no thought of fear in Josie’s heart, her brain was clear and
her hand steady. She was living to the full this moment the life that
she loved best to live.

She stepped cautiously behind the fluttering curtain of the window and
reconnoitered. The moon had again struggled out from behind the clouds
and, shining palely down upon the white of the balcony, had lit up with
a weird glow the sun dial at the end of the garden path. The man who
had called out, however, remained a dark shadow against the wistaria
vine that clambered over the house. She could only distinguish that a
man was there leaning against the wall, and from the faint gleam of
white she knew he was facing toward the balcony.

As Josie remained hidden she saw the man bend again and, gathering some
pebbles from the path, proceed to toss them against the pane. At the
same time he called in a louder tone than before, “Mary Louise!”

With quick presence of mind Josie leaned slightly forward, keeping
always in the deepest shadow, her finger on the trigger of her weapon.

Her words were whispered in order not to show the difference between
her rather deep, full voice and the quiet, musical tones of Mary Louise.

The man evidently heard her question, “What do you want with me?” for
he turned eagerly, though he remained standing where he was.

“This is Danny Dexter,” he said slowly and distinctly. “Don’t be
frightened, Mary Louise, but I simply had to call you to the balcony.
There is something I cannot leave without telling you.”

Josie made a quick mental note of his immediate departure and proceeded
to extract further information by a whispered “Yes” of encouragement.

“I wanted to make you understand that although you would not want
me here any longer, still I am absolutely innocent of any forgery I
understand this Crocker is accusing me of. And, Mary Louise, your car
is safe in the garage.”

Astounding facts indeed for Josie to digest! The man’s tone carried
absolute conviction. She could not help the firm belief that this man
was not the forger O’Hara. And what was this he said, the car was safe?
Had he perhaps been searching for the thief himself?

Josie found her thoughts all in a turmoil. But one thing she did,
impulsively and kindly. Clutching her blanket robe more vigorously
about her and dropping the revolver in its pocket, she stepped out onto
the balcony.

“I’m sorry I deceived you, Danny Dexter, and I believe just what you
said,” she told him simply.

Then seeing the shadow of the man start in amazement, she added
quickly: “You see, I’m Mary Louise’s friend, Josie O’Gorman, and I’m
here to help find the car.”

Then Josie gave a hearty, tickled laugh. “And you just saved yourself
from arrest and perhaps from being murdered,” she added, brandishing
the weapon she produced from her pocket.

Danny Dexter perhaps appreciated the humor of it all more fully when
the revolver was restored to its resting place. At any rate he withdrew
into the shadow and quietly waited until Josie, taking pity on him,
said:

“You wait down there a few moments, Danny Dexter, and I’ll wake Mary
Louise and help her dress and send her out to you.”

“Thank you,” answered Danny, a slight quiver of anxiety in his voice,
“but I must leave soon, and if I cannot wait to see her, will you tell
her what you heard me say, and also say good-bye?”

“Of course I will!” said Josie O’Gorman, and then, turning, called
briskly: “Mary Louise!”

There was no answer; her own breathing was all that she could hear.
Frightened, she hurriedly ran across the room and turned on the
electric switch. Her startled cry brought Danny in one leap across the
balustrade, and together in a panic they gazed about the room. It was
empty!



CHAPTER XII

DANNY DISAPPEARS


Danny Dexter took a hasty glance at Mary Louise’s empty room, and then
with one running jump he was in the garden again, clutching his cap to
save it from the wind and cursing the clouds which just then made it so
dark he could not see his hand in front of him. He followed the path to
the old stables as best he could, and once he paused as a soft bit of
white blew into his face. It was Mary Louise’s little handkerchief that
was tossing about in the elements and had finally found a very welcome
lodgment. Danny recognized that soft perfume as of violets, and he
placed the foolish trifle carefully in the inside pocket of his coat as
though it were a very precious thing. Then he hurried on, his anxious
eyes straining in the darkness toward the garage.

Past the pines he hastened, never noticing their sighs and wailings,
and stopped with a hurt cry of amazement at finding the garage door
open and the automobile gone.

“Oh, Uncle Jim, why did you take it?” he groaned aloud--“just when
we’d worked for two hours quietly pushing it back in its place. Mary
Louise would have been so happy to have found it in the morning. I’d so
counted on her joy!” and the lad leaned wearily against the door.

There seemed no need to search the building further, but Danny rushed
up the stairs just to be sure Mary Louise had not been there.

“Of course she couldn’t have come here,” he argued with himself, “and
yet how kind of her if she had come, thinking Uncle Jim’s light meant
that I was back.”

The very thought that Mary Louise had utterly despised him sent Danny
flying around the tower room searching for a sign of her. But no sign
was given him. He saw where the man whom he called Uncle Jim had rested
through the evening and where his candle had dripped tallow on the
floor, but that was all.

“Good Uncle Jimsie!” thought Danny, as he quickly scraped up the candle
grease and locked the door to the tower room. “It was the one place I
could hide him where I felt they would not look for him again to-night.
But, thank God, we are saving him!”

Danny again went down the stairs. This time with an electric torch
he carefully searched the ground outside to find just where the car
had gone. “It started off in the right direction,” said Danny, as he
still strained his eyes for one glimpse of something or someone that
might turn out to be Mary Louise. Once he saw a gleam of white in the
darkness and tearing madly toward it found with a sinking heart that it
was only a bush of small white flowers.

His torch was playing upon every bit of ground about the garage, and
suddenly it stopped in his hand as though paralyzed. The faint glow
of its light had fallen directly upon a little bow from Mary Louise’s
slipper, evidently torn off in her scurry to reach the car.

Danny leaned over it as if trying to solve the mystery of its being
there. All that he could reason was that Mary Louise must have driven
off with Uncle Jim. Then the quickest and only thing for him to do was
to reach the crossroads.

His head jerked up in alarm. So engrossed had he been in Mary Louise’s
disappearance that he had failed to recall the alarm which Josie must
have given. Voices were floating down the garden paths and a glow of
light illumined the whole house. The face of Danny Dexter was stern
with resolve as with infinite caution he swung to the garage door and
crept into the darkness.

He made his way carefully and with instant decision. It was as though
by prearrangement, so steadily and yet so quietly he went, across the
road and into the waste of meadow beyond it.

The wind had hushed by now, as though in deference to the distant roar
of thunder, and a heavy warmth was weighing down the air. The perfume
of the drying clover was oppressive as Danny unerringly made his way,
his cap now in his pocket, and his thick hair damp on his bare forehead.

The sudden baying of a dog a long way distant caused him to pause,
but the sound ceased and only the restless rumble of the approaching
storm broke the perfect silence. Then Danny, convinced that he was not
followed, stumbled on and reached the edge of the marsh land which
skirted the river. It was an intensely lonely spot. Even the deep,
full-throated croaking of the bullfrogs seemed subdued by the dank mist
that hung low upon the water-soaked land, and the glimmer and sparkle
of innumerable fireflies were dim and tremulous through the dusk.

The moon, now very pale and yellow, was wanly glowing a last farewell
before succumbing to the piling clouds of the storm. It faintly
outlined a small woodland to the right, where willows dipped their
branches in the muddy soil and elderberry bushes ran riot undisturbed.

Danny smiled grimly as he thought of the trouble it had been to push
Mary Louise’s automobile from its hiding-place there and get it safely
home without the engine being heard. And it had all been in vain. But
the last part of his errand should succeed; of this he was assured.

Pausing not an instant, he went on as best he could, leaping and
slipping from hummock to hummock in the weird green of the moon and by
the glowworm’s flash.

At last he was quite at the edge of the wood, and distinctly he made
out the dim outline of a little Ford secluded amongst the trees which
had so recently held “Queenie.” Danny Dexter felt a thrill of joy and
gratitude.

“Are you there?” he called.

“Right-o!” answered a cheery voice, and from the Ford stepped Will
White.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Danny leaped over the railing and disappeared into the night Josie
rushed into the hall and up the stairs. Pausing only for a quick knock,
she flung open the door of Grandpa Jim’s room, awakening that worthy
old gentleman with the startling announcement, “Mary Louise isn’t here!”

“What’s that? Mary Louise gone?”

The realization that his beloved grandchild was in danger waked him
wide in an instant. Telling Josie to scamper, he was out of bed and
dressed in three minutes by the clock. Josie was but two minutes later
than he, which was very quick time for a girl detective.

They met in the library in front of the ashes of the little fire that
Mary Louise had kindled so happily the evening before. Grandpa Jim was
almost as gray as the ashes, and a great fear was in his eyes as Josie
told of hearing the auto and meeting Danny.

“We must telephone for Lonsdale at once, and you’d better ring up
Crocker, too,” he said, “for if Danny is innocent of this, our Mary
Louise must be in the hands of this O’Hara. Ransom, I suppose.”

The Colonel walked restlessly up and down the room while Josie
telephoned. He was still pacing about when she returned to tell him:
“They’ll both be here in a jiffy, Grandpa Jim. Lonsdale is bringing his
car, and we’ll all go along. Why, they just can’t escape us!”

The old man patted the head of the young girl tenderly. He knew she was
trying to give him courage, and indeed she was the picture of pluck
as she stood there, her scarlet cheeks reflecting the scarlet Tam o’
Shanter she had carelessly pulled down about her hair. So they stood
together as the minutes ticked away, the clock-hands seeming to move
with infinite weariness. Finally with a slight ring of the bell the
door opened and admitted Lonsdale, the local Chief, and Crocker, the
detective from Boston.



CHAPTER XIII

FACE TO FACE


When the automobile left the garage and spun quietly down the
thoroughfare, Mary Louise was amazed to find that she could not
possibly fear this man. The sadness of the set face that was kept
steadily upon the road was such that her kind heart ached for him.

Who was he? What could he be doing? She remembered with a quiver of
dismay the letter she had seen addressed to Danny. What could Danny
possibly have to do with him?

“After all,” thought Mary Louise, “how little Danny has ever told me of
himself!” And the depression of the night seemed suddenly reflected in
her spirits.

The car, being without lights, necessarily had to be driven very
slowly, but at that they could not have been traveling for more than
fifteen minutes when the man at the wheel turned the car into a narrow,
grass-grown lane which ran along the edge of the marsh toward the
river.

About half a mile down the lane he stopped the car. At the same time
the wind died down and a tense quietness came over the feelings of
Mary Louise as of breathless waiting. The man at the wheel stood up
and carefully gazed across the low land toward a willow copse near the
river’s edge. He stood quiet and intent for some few moments. Finally
his search must have been rewarded, for with a sigh of relaxation he
sank down in the seat again.

It was a full minute before Mary Louise could make out what the man’s
sharp sight had detected. A dark object was bobbing and dipping over
the marsh land.

She was instantly recalled from her discovery by the voice of her
companion. It was a kindly voice though thick and nervous, and he spoke
in jerks.

“Mary Louise,” he said, “I believe you are a friend of Danny’s. At
least I know he is a true friend to you, as God knows he is to me! I’m
Danny’s uncle, raised him from a kid, but I guess I’m no good. Anyhow,
when Danny found I wasn’t square, he ran off and enlisted with the
Canadians when the war broke out. But now that he knows they’ve found
me out, he has done everything possible to help me--believes that
blood is thicker than water, I guess. He took your car the night before
your trip just to get me to the junction, for the Santa Fe Limited. I’m
off for China. But Crocker came that night and we had to hide the car
and ourselves.”

Mary Louise was breathless with interest as the man talked. But why
should he be telling it to her? The voice jerked on.

“Danny was sick about worrying you, and finally insisted that we push
back the car and then meet here. Sorry I had to bring you but my
freedom was in pawn, and now--” the man’s voice grew husky--“that lad
has made me give my word to hand him my accounts. He swears he’ll make
up the deficit. Good Lord, what a boy!”

Mary Louise breathed a soft “Amen.” Her eyes were like twin stars from
pride and happiness, and as the man pressed a large envelope into her
hand, she realized that one mystery was solved.

“Will you give him that?” said the man, and added, “God bless you
both,” as he jumped to the ground and left her.

The strange individual seemed to be swallowed up instantly by the
darkness, and except when the flashes of lightning revealed it, the
dark bobbing object in the marsh was also invisible. Mary Louise
suddenly felt very much alone. She welcomed even the approach of the
mysterious something, which each vivid flash of electricity revealed as
coming nearer, ever nearer. It seemed to leap and dip and sidle, but at
the same time constantly to advance.

The weird hoot of an owl from a tree that edged the lane caused Mary
Louise to shiver and to draw the auto robe more closely about her,
although the heat of the night seemed to be weighing down all nature.
She felt cold and utterly deserted. The now incessant rumble of the
thunder drowned any sound the approaching object might be making, and
as Mary Louise sat waiting and trembling a great bat flew blindly down
and beat its loathsome wings against the car. That was enough and more
than enough for Mary Louise. With a gasp she sank on the floor of the
auto and covered her head with the robe.

So it happened that when the Ford runabout came close to the car she
neither saw nor heard it. Neither did she see one man jump out and help
the stranger into his vacant seat, as the latter wrung his hand and
bade him farewell in a queer, choked voice.

“My boy, God bless you,” muttered the older man, “and I promise to be
on the level for your sake from this time on. ‘Thank you’ are feeble
words.”

Danny’s voice was very gentle as he put his strong arm around the
trembling shoulders of the older man.

“Uncle Jim,” he said, “I understand a great deal more than before I
went into that Hell over there, and I can’t forget that everything
you did was for me--to give me money and education. It is just that I
should square up our accounts and I want to do it.”

At this point Will White, who had been sitting quietly at the wheel,
struck a match and, looking at his watch, suggested: “If my watch ain’t
fast and if that train ain’t slow, we’d better hustle.”

Danny stepped back after one last hand-shake, and the Ford went
chugging down the lane. With a feeling of regret not unmingled with
relief that his part of the escape was accomplished, he turned to Mary
Louise’s car standing empty in the shadow. He swung quickly into the
driver’s seat and quite as quickly swung out again, for with a stifled
“Ouch” a small tousled head appeared above the blankets and Danny and
Mary Louise were face to face!

“Oh, Danny!” cried Mary Louise, when she found breath to speak to the
intruder in her automobile, “Oh, Danny, I’m so glad that you’ve come to
me.”

Had Danny been a disciple of accuracy he could quite easily have
explained that he hadn’t the wildest idea he was coming to her.
Instead, hearing the welcome in her voice, and being so unbelievably
glad to see that tousled head and tear-stained face, he simply said,
“Of course I came, Mary Louise,” and then he could not say another word.

He stood bare-headed there on the running board and stared and stared
down at Mary Louise who was still sitting on the floor of the car and
gazing up at him. Suddenly a huge drop of rain splashed full upon the
upturned nose of Mary Louise. It roused her with a start and evidently
filled her with a spirit of prophecy for she sagely said, “Danny, I
guess it’s going to rain!”

Then Danny, too, felt the great drops beating down his collar, and
with a chuckle and an, “I’ll be darned, I never noticed it,” he was
swooping out the side curtains and adjusting them to their hooks.

Mary Louise insisted on helping. It was very nice to have her, though
of course it delayed matters, and they were both pretty thoroughly
soaked before they finally climbed back into the car. It was dry and
snug in there at least.

Outside, the storm was now lashing and howling with a fury that was
terrific. It was an impossibility to start the car until the wind and
rain abated, so Danny switched on the little light and turned once
again to Mary Louise.

Then, strange to relate, they were both tongue-tied. Mary Louise became
miserably conscious that her hair was in wild disarray, and Danny
became blissfully conscious that the wild disarray of Mary Louise’s
hair was very lovely. It is difficult to say how long the silence
would have lasted had not her hand touched the long, official envelope
upon the seat beside her. Then Mary Louise remembered she was playing
postman.

“Your Uncle Jim asked me to give you this, Danny,” she said, placing
the bulky letter on his knee.

Danny turned to her in wonder and almost in awe. “Mary Louise, you
know about me? You know about Uncle Jim, and still you speak to me?”

“Yes,” said Mary Louise softly. “Maybe I speak to you partly because I
know about your Uncle Jim, because I think it is so splendid of you to
take the responsibility of paying the checks he forged.”

“You can’t know that I took your car that night just to take him to the
junction. He came to me to help him and I had to. But, oh, Mary Louise,
when Crocker came and I had to hide your car--at least let me tell
you what I suffered at the thought of worrying you! I don’t ask your
forgiveness.”

Mary Louise found her voice again. “You don’t have to,” she told Danny.
“I know, too, of all the trouble you took to push it back safely,” and
she turned to him a face so lighted with trust and confidence that
Danny gripped the idle steering wheel very hard and gazed straight
ahead unseeing into the night.

If he had been observant, he would have noticed that the storm had
spent its wildness and was already dying down in the distance. The
cool, cleared air was creeping into the car. It was Mary Louise who
first saw the new-washed moon appear a golden ball again.

“See, it’s all clearing up,” she said; “we’d better go.”

Danny lingered though for a minute longer. Then--“Mary Louise, may I
ask you--” he started to say; then changed it joyously to--“Why, no; I
_know_ you won’t give Uncle Jim away to Crocker.”

“Of course not,” replied Mary Louise, and her eyes answered the steady
look of his.

Then Danny started the auto slowly and drove out into the lane.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SEARCH


When Crocker and Lonsdale entered the Hathaway home Josie O’Gorman
briefly outlined to them the coming of Danny and of hearing the
automobile. Crocker turned instantly and went through the kitchen into
the courtyard and across to the old stable.

Here it was plainly evident to his practiced eye that not only had a
machine come and gone, but at least three individual pairs of feet had
plodded around the doorway. Not pausing to investigate the footprints
further than to assure himself that one deep imprint was of a small and
high-heeled slipper, Crocker strode back to the house. The immediate
thing to do was to trace the car before the lowering storm broke in all
its fury and completely erased the tracks.

When he reached the house he found Aunt Sally and Uncle Ben fussily
scurrying about, trying to help and managing most successfully to be in
everybody’s way.

“Oh, Lawdy, Lawdy,” groaned Aunt Sally, as she slipped an
all-enveloping slicker upon Josie’s shoulders, “dat lightnin’ sho’ am
de bad sign. I jes’ opine I ain’ nevah gwine fo’ to see ma lamb agin!”
And then the woolly head of good old Aunt Sally was hidden by her huge
checked apron, which she flung over it, and her body rocked and swayed
with the moans and sobs that shook her.

Uncle Eben took special charge of his beloved master, the Colonel,
bringing his big sou’wester and cheering Grandpa Jim with the helpful
assurance: “Massa Jim, Ah knowed they’s somethin’ awful gwine fo’ to
happen caze las’ night Ah dreamt of a white mule. Ain’t nevah knowed it
to fail to mean death and destruction when Ah dream of a white mule.”

At last they climbed into the car, Crocker and Lonsdale in the front,
Josie O’Gorman and Colonel Hathaway in the tonneau. The storm seemed
just about to crash in all its fury above their heads and the lightning
was sharp and incessant. By the powerful searchlight of the car they
could easily trace the route of the machine they were pursuing until
they reached the macadam road. Here the wind in all its previous fury
had blow away all traces of the wheels.

Lonsdale stopped and Crocker climbed out to investigate the ground more
closely. As he did so the unmistakable chug-chug of a Ford was heard
evidently coming at full speed down the road.

Instantly alert, at Crocker’s command Lonsdale placed his automobile
directly across the road. The Ford came on until almost upon the
obstruction and then stopped with a jerk. As the searchlight played
upon the new arrival, Josie with a sense of disappointment recognized
Will White from the grocery store.

“Good heavens, man,” said Lonsdale testily, “were you trying to run us
down?”

Will White laughed his slow, lazy laugh. “Naw, not quite,” he said,
“but I was allowin’ as how Uncle Will and me might hit it home afore
the rain.”

As Lonsdale backed the car out of the way, the Colonel’s ever ready
courtesy came forth.

“So this is your uncle?” he asked, kindly nodding to the quiet elderly
man who sat beside Will White, his face perhaps a trifle pale.

“I’m named for him,” vouchsafed Will, his drawl was must pronounced.
Then: “Are you in trouble, Colonel?”

Quickly the whole auto load reached the same decision. They would
say nothing of their search to this village gossip unless they found
themselves powerless. Then they would wake the town. So with a curt
denial and a hasty apology for blocking the traffic, the larger car
sped on.

Finally, Crocker stopped at a farmhouse and roused the farmer from his
sleep by many bangs against the door.

The farmer came down cross and sleepy, but at least Crocker got from
him the information that they had heard no auto pass that evening.
“And only a fool would be out a night like this,” added the man as he
slammed the door.

The rain was now beating down and in a minute it was falling in such
torrents that the road could not be seen an inch ahead. The roar of
the thunder came the moment the zigzag flash was seen gashing across
the sky, and even as they gazed in helpless awe, they saw a giant oak
ripped limb from limb by the lightning.

Josie O’Gorman shrank back and hid her face. Colonel Hathaway, drawn
and gray at the thought of his beloved grandchild out in all the horror
of the elements, breathed a prayer for her safety. The two men on the
front seat tried in vain to light cigars, and vigorously cursed the
luck that brought this storm which would wipe away all traces of the
runaway car.

The roadway was now a veritable river, the water surging down from the
hill above and whirling about the wheels of the car. It was impossible
to stay where they were, so with infinite care, Lonsdale finally turned
them about. Then splashing through the flood, feeling every inch of the
road, they slowly made their way toward home.

Because of its fury, the storm spent itself quickly. It was with
intense relief that they noticed the first signs of first abatement
in the slackening of the rainfall and the lessening of the wind. The
thunder was already rumbling in the distance, and a whippoorwill sang
refreshed from a tree near by. Only the roaring floods along the
highway and the stripped oak standing stark and naked in the gathering
moonlight remained to show the destruction of that night.

As the searchers went more quickly now, the spirits of the occupants
of Lonsdale’s car were more depressed than ever. Their search was
absolutely fruitless.

Suddenly not far ahead of them they saw the faint gleam of the red
light of an auto. Putting on speed they splashed along regardless of
the smoothness or the roughness of the road. Then Grandpa Jim gave an
exclamation of rejoicing.

“It’s Mary Louise’s car!” he cried.

Faster went the Lonsdale car, gaining, ever gaining on its object.
Now they honked the horn repeatedly but the escapers evidently paid
no heed. Though their speed did not seem to increase, neither did it
slacken.

“Better not run a risk of their escaping again,” muttered Crocker, and
leaning carefully over the side of the car he fired two shots into the
rear tire of the machine. The effect was instantaneous. With a loud
explosion, the car swerved quickly, slowed down and then came to a dead
stop.



CHAPTER XV

A JOURNEY BEGUN


When Will White and Jim O’Hara realized that Lonsdale’s machine had
driven on, their relief was unbounded.

O’Hara turned to Will White and said: “I know that you are doing this
entirely for the sake of that boy of mine, but I trust that you will
never have a moment’s regret that you have aided my escape.”

“It ain’t nothin’ a-tall,” commented Will, chewing his quid with
energy. “It’s ben my hope that some time I could do something for Dan
Dexter, and when he come to me this evenin’ ter tell me of his fix, why
I sure was there to help with bells on.”

“It was splendid,” responded O’Hara, “and you were the one man of all
others upon whom suspicion would fall last. All the same you ran a
risk.”

“All the same, Dan Dexter ran some risk when he saved my life out there
in No-Man’s Land,” returned Will briefly. And seeming to feel that the
final word had been said, he turned his undivided attention to the road.

O’Hara, too, all this time had been peering anxiously ahead, fearing
to see through the heavy falling rain the headlight of the approaching
locomotive. It did not appear, however, and even through the wildest
part of the storm the little Ford plunged on.

“You’ll let me off at the water tank,” directed O’Hara, by this time so
restless that he could hardly remain seated. “I’ll climb on the train
from there,” and his long fingers trembled as they gripped the handbag
on his knees.

Slowly and steadily, nearer to the junction came the Ford, although to
the impatient man each turn of the wheel seemed an eternity.

The storm had made every landmark invisible. They had no way of gauging
where they were. Still the wheels kept turning, turning; and that was
at least something.

Then above the storm, above the noise of the engine, even above the
loud beating of the refugee’s heart, there came to him the shrill
shriek of a locomotive.

“We’re late--too late,” he almost shrieked; for at that moment he
realized as never before, all that his liberty--the chance to start
life again and to repay Danny--meant to him.

But Will White, accustomed as he was to his surroundings, had seen what
the older man had failed to notice--the hulking shape of the water
tower to their left.

Turning sharply, he ran the car over ditches, shying at a fence, full
speed right up to the very track. Here he stopped abruptly with the
emergency brake.

He was none too soon. The huge snake of the Santa Fe Limited was
crawling and writhing in its slow start for the distant desert. Without
a glance behind, without a second’s pause, O’Hara leaped from the
Ford, and in two steps he reached the handrail and swung onto the rear
platform of the Limited.

His journey had begun.

       *       *       *       *       *

As Lonsdale’s slowed up beside the punctured machine, Mary Louise
popped her head out of the door.

“Well, of all things,” shouted the Chief of Police, as Danny Dexter’s
head appeared beside the girl’s. “Why in thunder didn’t you stop when
you heard the honking? The thunder hasn’t deafened you, has it?”

“Honking?” gently inquired Mary Louise. “Honking?” echoed Danny in
dignified inquiry.

A grim smile twitched the corners of Lonsdale’s mouth as he looked at
the softened, preoccupied expressions of the two of them.

“Yes, honking,” he mimicked them; then hastened to add, “but only
honking loud enough to raise the dead.”

At this point Colonel Hathaway managed to extricate himself from the
robes and the sou’wester which engulfed him, and had come around to
Mary Louise’s side. At sight of him she gave a little cry of joy and
concern.

“Oh, Grandpa Jim, dear Grandpa Jim, you’ve been out in all this storm
to hunt me,” she said, as she flung her arms tenderly about his neck.

The Colonel surreptitiously wiped away a couple of tears, and then
patted the top of Mary Louise’s head.

“There, there, lassie,” he said quietly, as Mary Louise continued to
burrow her head in his shoulder; “we have you safe and sound again.”

Then turning sternly to Danny, who stood rather white and very much
mud-bespattered, he said, “What have you to say for yourself, young
man?”

Mary Louise’s head came up with a jerk. All through this silent drive
at Danny’s side she had been revolving in her thoughts just what she
would say to clear Danny and turn suspicion from his uncle. Her testing
time had come sooner than she expected, but she was ready. She stepped
between Danny Dexter and her grandfather as though to protect the
former.

As she did so, a fleeting vision crossed her mind of the broken old man
out somewhere in the night. Had he caught his west-bound train? She
wished she knew the answer.

“Grandpa Jim,” she said, distinctly and without effort, “let me tell
you all about it; for I’m the one that Danny saved.”

As she spoke they all gathered around her in the road, regardless, in
fact, unconscious, of the mud and wet. Josie drew nearest and slipped
her arm through Mary Louise’s, as she talked.

“I couldn’t sleep when I went upstairs to-night,” continued Mary
Louise, “so I sat at the window and finally went into the garden. There
I saw a light in the garage, and thinking that my car was safe I ran
toward it. As I reached the door a very tall, dark man jumped out and
told me to keep quiet. When I started to scream he put his hand over my
mouth and lifted me into the car and started off.

“The next thing I knew Danny jumped out from the roadside onto the
running board. The big, dark man didn’t seem to want to fight, just
to get away. Putting on the brake he jumped out and ran off in the
dark,--that way,” added Mary Louise, and waved a hand indefinitely
eastward.

At this point Crocker and Lonsdale lost all interest in the tale of
Mary Louise. Their man was escaping east on foot.

“Will you drive Colonel Hathaway and Miss O’Gorman home with you?”
crisply ordered Crocker of Danny. “We’ll continue the search for
O’Hara.” He and Lonsdale leaped in the Chief’s car and were off.

Colonel Hathaway turned to Danny with a word of thanks. “You may have
saved her life, my boy,” he said. At which, let it be recorded, Denny
had the grace to blush.

But as for Mary Louise, she never did have one regret for that fib she
told. In fact, as Danny helped her back into the automobile and his
warm fingers closed upon her little hand in a sudden quick pressure of
gratitude, the conscience of Mary Louise troubled her not at all. She
had done the right thing. Both her heart and her mind told her so.



CHAPTER XVI

AUNT SALLY ENTERTAINS


As the returning search party came within sight of the Hathaway home,
they saw that it was brilliantly lighted and the fat, comfortable
shadow of Aunt Sally could be seen waddling back and forth in front of
the kitchen window.

“Hurrah!” shouted Josie. “Aunt Sally sure is on the job and we won’t go
hungry!”

They knew her surmise to be correct the minute they opened the door,
for the smell of frying chicken and delicious coffee was wafted to
their nostrils.

To Danny, who had eaten nothing all that day, and who had hastily
consumed only a few hard, dry sandwiches the day before, the odor was
like a breath of heaven. Hurrying back to his old tower room, he flung
off the mud-stained livery with loathing, and gloried in a piping hot
tub. Then he quickly slipped into a neat, well-tailored suit of quiet
brown. It was the first time Mary Louise would see him really dressed
and, boyishly, we wanted very much to have her satisfied.

When he entered the dining room a few minutes later, Mary Louise was
also entering from the hall, and from the soft blush with which she
greeted him one would surmise that Mary Louise was satisfied. As for
herself, Mary Louise had never looked so lovely. Her soft, dark curls,
still a bit damp from the rain, had been caught at the top of her head
and held there by a narrow band of pink. It gave her quite the look of
a little woman, or perhaps it was the startled, wistful and yet happy
expression of her lovely eyes, under which lay violet shadows, that
caused the old Colonel to realize with a start that Mary Louise had
suddenly grown up. She had slipped on a quite grown-up garment, a soft
and clinging tea gown of shell pink chiffon, and she entered the room a
little wearily and very shyly.

It seemed to the surprised Danny that there had never been any one so
lovely in the whole wide world before.

“Bless ma soul,” Aunt Sally was fussing as she placed one wonderful
dish after another upon the table in true Southern style. “Bless ma
soul, Aunt Sally knowed as when dey brung the little missy home dead
or alive she would be hungry.”

The platter of chicken, fried to a perfect brownness, was placed before
the Colonel, and the voice of Aunt Sally called through the butler’s
pantry, “Eben, you lazy ole niggah, bring in de candied yams.”

Uncle Eben did so, just as Josie came bouncing down the stairs
fastening the final hook to the crumpled linen dress as she came. “Oh,
dear Aunt Sally, how perfectly delicious everything does look, and I
never, never before ate dinner at two o’clock in the morning.”

Just then the honk of an auto was heard outside. This time both Mary
Louise and Danny were aware of the disturbance, so evidently their
sense of hearing was not permanently impaired. In a moment the door
opened and two tired, disgusted and discouraged men entered.

But the insidious aroma of that coffee of Aunt Sally’s seeped even
through their depression, and with a “God bless Aunt Sally,” Lonsdale
and Crocker both decided that life was probably worth living after all.

It was in fact a very happy party which gathered around the table at
the places Mary Louise had assigned to them, with a new little touch
of dignity that became her well.

Directly after dinner Aunt Sally insisted on taking Mary Louise off to
rest, and with a sleepy little “good-night” to them all, Mary Louise
was led away and tucked in bed as tenderly as when she was a little
child.

With her departure the room seemed very queer and empty, and Danny
suddenly realized how tired he was himself. So with a good-night to
the Colonel he was off to his tower room and to the soundest of deep
slumbers.

Not so with Josie O’Gorman. She was on a job and until her work was
finished she would need no rest. As Crocker was pulling on his gloves
preparatory to leaving she faced him squarely.

“Is there one bit of use for either you or me working on this case any
longer?” she inquired. “If there is, I’m willing to stay and help, but
if there isn’t, I guess there’re more important things for both of us
in Washington.”

“You’re right, you are,” agreed Crocker most definitely. “I hate like
the devil to give up the case but the man could hide here in the dunes
indefinitely, and I haven’t time to wait.”

“Of course,” added Josie, “the auto theft solved itself; they didn’t
really need me.”

“I’m not so sure, you gave them confidence and courage when they needed
it,” said Crocker, kindly, and reaching out a huge hand in friendly
farewell, “you’re a game youngster and I hope I run across you often.”
And Crocker strode down the front stairs to the waiting Lonsdale.

Josie turned back into the hall, glancing at Danny’s cap that had been
left on the hall tree, and at the little parasol of Mary Louise’s
leaning near it. A whimsical smile flashed over her face.

“Well,” she soliloquized, “I’ve not made very much out of this case,
but at least I’ve detected one thing--and that is the way the wind
blows in that quarter.”

With an all-inclusive glance at the parasol and cap she fled up the
stairs.



CHAPTER XVII

THE BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST


The sun was away up in the sky and was flooding her room with a warm
radiance when Mary Louise awoke. The soft twitter of the birds and
the clip-clip of a lawn mower next door came in through the windows.
Stretching her slender body and yawning prodigiously, she clambered out
of bed. The breeze was softly fluttering the curtains, and a tiny moss
rosebud which had climbed that high, tapped alluringly against the sill
of the open window.

Mary Louise decided that it was a very wonderful world to be out in,
and that she would hurry and get dressed. In a short time she entered
the dining-room to tell Aunt Sally she would have her breakfast.

Suddenly she stopped short in sheer amazement at the table. Then the
recollection came to her. To be sure, to-day was her birthday! How like
Grandpa Jim to plan this surprise for her, and how like Aunt Sally to
carry it out so beautifully! The huge round mahogany table was covered
with a cloth of exquisite lace. In a low basket in the center of the
table, dozens of pale pink rosebuds were clustered together, their
graceful little heads bobbing in all directions about the handle of
the basket. A tiny rosebud nestled at all of the eight plates, to give
a dainty welcome to each young girl invited to Mary Louise’s birthday
breakfast.

Out in the garden Mary Louise caught a glimpse of her grandfather and
Josie O’Gorman walking arm in arm along the garden paths, and out she
rushed to them.

“What a perfectly beautiful surprise,” sang Mary Louise as she caught
up with them.

“Happy Birthday!” they both called out to her as in one breath.

Then the guests began to arrive. Irene came first from the house next
door, her wheel chair coming easily over the gravel path. She gave Mary
Louise a very tender birthday kiss, and pressed upon her a large box
filled with delicious home-made candy.

“Aunty Hannah and I made it for you this morning, dear Mary Louise,”
she said.

“How lovely!” cried Mary Louise, her eyes asparkle with excitement
and delight, and running to the gate, she met the other guests who
were just arriving. Each brought a little gift to tell their love for
Mary Louise. Laura Hilton brought an ingenious toy automobile with a
uniformed tin driver very erect at the wheel.

Aunt Sally appeared at this moment to ask them in to breakfast, so
the laughing, happy girls went in, their bright-hued gowns making a
veritable rainbow about the table.

“And now,” cried Alora, leaning across the table, “we’ve waited just as
long as we possibly can; tell us all about the automobile.”

“Yes, and the thief,” added Lucile Neal, eagerly.

Mary Louise most wisely held her peace. Instead of explaining she
turned to Josie O’Gorman saying, “Goodness, don’t ask me to tell you
when we have a regular unraveler of mysteries there to spin the yarn
for us.”

“To be sure,” exclaimed Phoebe Phelps. “Josie, be careful to tell us
every single word.”

So Josie, nothing loth, told her own version of the missing car, that
version being just what Mary Louise wished it to be. So the recounting
was highly satisfactory to all.

As they talked and exclaimed, Aunt Sally served one delicious course
after another, and the happy, healthy girls enjoyed it all.

As they left the dining room and strolled out on to the wide veranda,
resting in the wide and roomy swing or in the lounging cretonne chairs,
Josie said, with regret in her voice: “Girls, I’m sorry, but I’ve got
to go back to Washington on the next train.”

“Oh, Josie,” wailed Mary Louise; “must you really leave on my beautiful
birthday?” But realizing it was useless to try to dissuade her, she
added: “Well, anyway, we’ll all pile into the car and take you to the
station.”

“Yes, luckily we’ve got the car to pile into,” echoed Josie.

So with a great deal of laughter and much chatter the Liberty Girls
adjourned to the garage.

After Mary Louise had safely deposited Josie on the train for
Washington and her friends at their houses, she turned the car slowly
toward her own home. Somehow she did not want to return just yet. Of a
sudden her heart was strangely heavy.

She had had a perfect birthday, she told herself, so what more could
she possibly want? That she did want something more, however, was
quite obvious, or why should two fat tears start from her eyes and go
bouncing down the smoothness of her cheeks.

Mary Louise was not surprised to find that she was crying. It would
never do for Grandpa Jim to think her unhappy when he had been so dear
to-day, so she turned the corner and started quickly for a country road.

Anywhere, just any place where she could be alone and think.

“Grandpa Jim never, never has forgotten my birthday,” thought Mary
Louise, as her car spun along the macadam. “Oh, why couldn’t Danny
have remembered just this once,” and two more tears were added to the
collection.

This fact rather startled Mary Louise. Could that be the reason she was
crying? Because Danny had forgotten her? In her amazement Mary Louise
slowly stopped the car at the entrance to a grassy lane.

Instantly she realized it was the very lane where Danny had come to
her the night before and where she had been so glad to see him. Rather
dazedly she climbed out of the auto and wandered slowly down the lane.
Just to reach the spot where she and Danny had been together, and just
to be alone and think--that was what she wanted.

Her bright pink gingham was as fresh and sweet as the wild roses it
brushed in passing, and her cheeks were flushed a rose hue too. The
flower-wreathed Leghorn hat she wore made deeper shadows in her eyes.
But Mary Louise knew nothing of all that.

To the lad who ten minutes before had flung himself upon the ground,
her slow approach down the lane was like the coming of an angel.

He jumped up quickly and went to her. Mary Louise was startled by
the unexpected movement and as she glanced up quickly she saw Danny
approaching.

“Mary Louise,” said Danny simply, “I’m glad you came here before the
day was over. Yes,” he explained, as Mary Louise’s eyes questioned him,
“I haven’t forgotten it’s your birthday, and I want to wish you all the
happiness in the world; you deserve every bit of joy there is.”

“Oh, no,” said Mary Louise, with a happy little flush, “but I’m glad
you thought of me, Danny.”

“Of course, I did,” said Danny, and then added rather shyly as he
held out a little package, “Mary Louise, I know that to-day is your
birthday, and I want so much to give you what I cherish most. May I?”
And Mary Louise said he might. Mary Louise opened the package and
found the most wonderful birthday present any girl could have,--the
Distinguished Service Medal of her hero.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE MOTOR TRIP


Mary Louise flung back the wide hall door and danced into the room,
tossing her hat on a nearby chair. She had had such a happy birthday,
and she so loved Happiness! The tingling of the telephone in the study
caused her to turn into the room and pick up the desk telephone.

“Hello,” she said, her joyousness still singing through her tones. Then
in breathless amazement, “Why, Josie O’Gorman, didn’t you take the
train?”

“No,” answered Josie, “just as I was boarding the train a dispatch came
saying that O’Hara had been spotted on the westbound Santa Fe Limited.
Crocker had wired the authorities to get him at Albuquerque.”

“Oh,” stammered Mary Louise, feeling quite lost and dizzy at the
thought of this misfortune to the man who had raised Danny and cared
for him. “Isn’t there any hope--I mean danger, of his escaping?”

“Not a bit,” came Josie’s voice. “We’re playing in the very best of
luck. Probably right now they are arresting him.”

Mary Louise choked back a great sob that rose persistently in her
throat. “It’ll be just fine to have you come back, Josie,” she said,
remembering her loving hospitality even in her distress. “I’ll send the
car for you,” she added, as she hung up the receiver.

Then Mary Louise tumbled into a little crumpled heap on the floor by
the couch and buried her curly black head in its great pillows. “Oh,
it isn’t fair; it isn’t fair,” she wailed. “Danny would have paid back
the money. Danny’s uncle never meant to steal! If his oil well was only
out of Mexican hands, everything would have been all right anyway.” And
Mary Louise’s small fists beat the pillows to give vent to her emotions.

Suddenly the telephone peeled out again, quite briskly this time.

“Yes,” said Mary Louise, feeling with her free hand for a handkerchief
as she balanced the receiver with the other. The voice that answered
her was Josie’s, and as Mary Louise heard her she let the tears dry
upon her checks, for Josie was both angry and excited--an unusual
thing for the clever, active girl.

“Mary Louise,” she cried, “it’s the very deuce! Just as the train
slowed up for Albuquerque, that man O’Hara leaped from the car window
and has completely disappeared! It’s an outrage!” she raved on. “But
we’ll get him yet. Crocker and I are both taking this west bound train
that comes in a few minutes, so I won’t be back after all. Don’t worry,
Mary Louise, we’ll get him yet,” Josie consoled. “We’ve got our dander
up now and we’re on the job ourselves, and we’re going to finish it.”

Then Josie hung up the receiver and dashed to the ticket window.

Mary Louise, left alone, felt a great throb of gratitude. At least
O’Hara was safe for the time being. Now she must run instantly and tell
the news to Danny. However, the “instantly” extended into a moment or
two, while she made sure that her brown eyes were not tear-stained, and
that her little nose was powdered and quite presentable. Then she ran
out into the garden to hunt for her adopted soldier.

She had not far to seek for he was visible through the open window of
the garage, busily polishing the car which was in dire need of his
ministrations.

“Come here, Danny,” she directed, perching herself upon the bench just
outside the building.

Nothing loth, Danny threw down the chamois and rolling down his
sleeves, came toward her.

“Danny,” continued the girl, “I’ve something rather hard to tell you.”

The lad suddenly went white.

“Tell me. Have they caught Uncle Jim?” he demanded, gripping her arm as
though to drag the information from her quickly.

“No, no,” Mary Louise reassured him. “But they know he was on the
train, and as it slowed down at Albuquerque he jumped off and
disappeared. Josie and Crocker have both gone after him. I’m so sorry,”
she added, her hand touching his, which still gripped her arm with
unconscious force.

Danny’s fingers relaxed and he returned the warm handclasp of
understanding and sympathy. “I know you are sorry, and it helps a lot.”

Then he jumped to his feet and squared his shoulders. “But now I must
do something. I must help him.”

“Sit down again,” commanded Mary Louise.

“Don’t you see, Danny, we can’t do anything till we first think out our
plans.”

“You’re right, of course,” reluctantly admitted Danny, as he sank down
on the rustic bench. Even in his confusion, that comforting little “we”
penetrated his tired thought.

“Now, first,” continued Mary Louise, “where is your uncle likely to go
on foot?”

“Well,” replied Danny, thinking out his ideas as he said them, “I
imagine he’d strike out for the border. You see, he’s lived down there
a lot. He made his money in the oil wells there, and if the Huns in
Mexico hadn’t tried to stop England’s oil supply, he’d have had the
money to make good his deficit and all this would never have happened.”

“How could he live and cross the desert alone!” inquired Mary Louise.

“That’s what’s driving me distracted,” cried Danny, pacing up and down
the garden path. “If he once got near his old stamping ground, he could
find friends to shelter him. He’s done favors for every man within
a hundred miles of his place. If I could only be around the country
there, I know he’d find it out and would get word to me! But how to get
there when I’ve told your grandfather I’d help him through the summer.”

Utterly distressed and undecided, Danny leaned against the door and
gazed off at the far horizon. All in a breath an inspiration came to
Mary Louise. Her eyes glowed like stars and her little hands stretched
out to Danny in joyous appeal as she ran towards him.

“Listen,” she cried, “for months we’ve so wanted to take a trip, but
of course the war has cut us off from Europe, and I couldn’t drive the
car so very far. Now, Danny, we have you to take us and you’re going to
drive us touring through the West.”

A quick flush of hope and delight spread over Danny Dexter’s expressive
face. Mary Louise noticed it and rejoiced.

“Yes, yes,” she cried, her plans growing and expanding with each
moment. “Grandfather will be more than glad to get away, and we’ll take
Irene McFarlane with us. Think what it would mean to her!”

“But,” argued Danny, “we might have to spend some time in the desert,
if Uncle Jim should need us. It would be disagreeable for you, wouldn’t
it?”

“No, no, I just love the desert,” contradicted Mary Louise; “I love the
glow of the sand and the mystery of the distance. Why, Danny, I _hope_
we stay in the desert! Is it a bargain?”

Mary Louise turned a sparkling face up to him and Danny Dexter could
resist no longer. “If your grandfather agrees, it’s a go,” he admitted,
and then and there they joyously shook hands on it.

Colonel Hathaway, turning a corner in the garden path, was greeted by a
call from his lovely granddaughter as she came flying toward him.

“Grandpa,” said Mary Louise, tucking her arm cozily in his, and
starting slowly to pace the walks with him. “Do you know, Grandpa Jim,
I very, very much want to take a trip. We haven’t gone away together
for so long!”

“I myself am ready for a journey, dear child, but have not felt it
right to use our busy railroads for unnecessary travel,” replied the
Colonel.

“But, dearest grandfather,” coaxed Mary Louise, “we don’t have to
travel by rail or by boat either. With Danny to drive us we can go
wherever we want. Had you thought of that? Please let’s take a
wonderful trip in our motor car!”

Colonel Hathaway paused in front of a huge bed of purple pansies and
gazed down fixedly at them. Perhaps he was gaining inspiration from
their thoughtful little faces. More then anything in life he loved to
please his charming granddaughter, and as for himself, the monotony of
this quiet life had begun to pall on him. He rather liked the idea of a
bracing motor trip.

“Where would you suggest our going?” he asked Mary Louise.

“Oh, Grandpa Jim, out West by all means,” she answered.

Her grandfather hesitated only a few minutes longer and then said, “I
think a western trip would be enjoyable, and if we’re going to start, I
think the sooner done the better.”

“So do I, dearest,” cried Mary Louise, “and don’t you think it would do
Irene just worlds of good if we would take her with us?”

“We might walk over and discuss the matter with the Conants,” said the
Colonel. “The whole plan pleases me mightily. It will do us all good, I
firmly believe.”

By this time Colonel Hathaway was “firmly believing” the plan to be
entirely his own, and in his case, to decide was to act. So it happened
that within two days a very happy and expectant little party was
gathered about Mary Louise’s car. The car itself looked eager and ready
for the trip, and proud to carry the trunks and tires securely strapped
upon it. The Conants had been most grateful and delighted to have Irene
go, and she was now comfortably settled on the back seat surrounded by
pillows, with her crutches tucked out of sight beside her.

It was very early in the morning; the faint glow of the sunrise was
spreading over the sky, as the car quietly slipped out of the yard
and started on its adventures. Mary Louise, seated in front beside
Danny Dexter, turned to smile at the Colonel and Irene and to wave a
last good-bye to Uncle Eben and Aunt Sally. Then turning their faces
straight to the west she and Danny started trustingly and determinedly
on their errand of mercy.



CHAPTER XIX

THE ESCAPE


It was not difficult for James O’Hara to realize that his presence on
the Limited was discovered. The rolling of the porter’s eyes in his
direction and the interested glances of the train men, as they took
especial occasion to glance at him was enough to tell that fact to this
man, keyed up as he was from sheer excitement. He sat very tense and
stared out of the window, every faculty alert, his body straight and
rigid.

When he did act it was with tiger-like agility and without an instant’s
forethought.

As the train neared the Albuquerque station, a women across the aisle
raised her window to lean out and see more clearly. She had no time to
make a further move. O’Hara had leaped across the aisle, and brushing
her aside, had flung himself through the window of the now slowly
moving train.

It was done so quietly and so quickly that it was a few seconds before
the occupants of the car realized what had happened. A hue and cry was
then immediately raised. The whole car, which up till now had been the
usual poised and indifferent gathering, turned loose into a veritable
bedlam.

As the train stopped at the station the passengers piled out one after
another to gaze across the sand by the tracks and watch the fleeing
man. But their amazement was great when, strain their eyes as they
would, they could see no trace of any man. The only sign of activity
was the flying dust of a distant automobile, so they turned their
attention to the officers who had been waiting for the refugee and were
now hastily mounting ponies to ride in pursuit of the fleeing man,
undoubtedly hidden somewhere in the sagebrush.

As the horsemen vanished in the cloud of dust, the tourists, once again
their normal and conventional selves, turned their full attention to
the most conventional but utterly abnormal Indians of the Harvey Eating
House.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a moment O’Hara was stunned by his fall to the ground, but shaking
himself and finding no bones broken he rose and started for the narrow
sand road, still too dazed to know just what he did. Subconsciously,
he heard the hum of a motor and turned aside to let it pass, but
a voice hailed him, speaking in the perfect accent of a cultured
gentlemen: “Can I give you a lift?”

Scarcely noticing the magnificent car which slowed up beside him,
O’Hara, swung open the door of the tonneau and leaped in. Even as he
did so the car gained speed, until at fully forty miles an hour they
were speeding farther and farther into the desert.

The man at the wheel did not speak a further word. His whole attention
was engrossed in keeping his powerful machine in the rut of the
narrow road that stretched itself interminably out into the sand of
the desert. The sun was glaring fiercely down upon them and the sand
reflected its intense heat. O’Hara leaned back in the seat and closed
his eyes. The rush of air, hot as it was, revived him and he felt
relaxed and quite indifferent as to where he went.

The car plunged at its terrific speed and yet the little roadway, the
far horizon, the gray of the sagebrush and the cactus never changed.
It seemed to stretch on, gold and drab, into infinity. The sun sank
gradually in the West, until it hung a great red ball of fire, just
balancing above the dim silhouette of the foothills. Still O’Hara
dozed and the driver of the car continued his unceasing and perfectly
controlled speed.

Presently, however, the driver turned abruptly and addressed O’Hara.

“I saw your leap through the car window.” He spoke with peculiar
distinctness, a clearer English than O’Hara was accustomed to hear.

By this time the fugitive was fully awake and himself again, and he
noticed with keen interest the splendid physique of the man addressing
him. His shoulders had an erect bearing that instantly reminded one of
long military training, and his face was highly intelligent, though the
mouth and eyes were indefinably cold and cruel.

O’Hara waited quietly while the man continued:

“You see I knew you were escaping from something; I could at any time
deliver you to the authorities. But I also know that you are quite
intelligent. I have many business interests in Mexico and I need a
keen, intelligent agent to attend to them for me. If you fail me, there
are always the authorities, remember. If not, you’ll find this work
both pleasant and lucrative.

“We are staying out here on account of my wife’s health. Her condition
is improved, but we still fear a moist climate, and of course I remain
with her. Do you accept this work? Will you keep your own counsel,
or--” and the cut of a knife was the tone of the man “--shall we return
to Albuquerque?”

The first impression of distrust of the man deepened into conviction
with O’Hara, but no choice seemed open to him. So with a strange
foreboding in his heart and with a sense of toils encircling and
strangling him, he accepted the position.



CHAPTER XX

THE DESERT BUNGALOW


The sun had set and the brilliant gold and rose of a marvelous desert
evening was flooding the sky. Against this flame of color appeared
the outlines of a shack or bungalow surrounded by the few outlying
buildings. As the automobile rapidly drew nearer, the door was flung
back and a woman stepped out to meet them.

Even in the quick glance that he had of her before the automobile
stopped, O’Hara realized she was the most beautiful creature he had
ever seen. Very tall and superbly formed, she carried herself with a
hauteur and coldness that instinctively reminded him of the man in the
car. Her hair was of a Saxon fairness, and waved back from her forehead
in exquisite undulations. As she spoke, her accent too, was more
perfect than O’Hara often heard, and her tone was crisp and impatient.

“I thought you would never arrive.” She addressed herself entirely to
the driver of the car and showed absolutely no curiosity in, or even
consciousness of the passenger in the tonneau. “Is there any mail or
news whatever, Henry?” The man whom she called Henry handed her a large
package of mail. Much of it, O’Hara noticed, bore a foreign postmark.
The woman took it without a word and turned languidly into the shack.

O’Hara’s employer stepped out of the car, and motioned him to do
likewise. Instantly from the side door of the house a small Japanese
slipped quietly out and, entering the car, drove off to a shanty
evidently used as a garage.

“Follow Jo and he will direct you to your quarters,” the stranger said,
motioning toward the softly disappearing Japanese. “My name is Brown
and I shall not need you further this evening.”

He entered the house and in the lighted interior he could be seen
bending over the beautiful woman as she sat absorbed with her mail.

O’Hara followed Jo into a large roomy kitchen which composed the entire
space of one of the outbuildings. A huge Mexican woman was just taking
up the dinner and she gave a low grunt as they entered. Jo motioned
to a white enamel table set for two, which was placed in a corner
underneath a window. O’Hara made mental note that this Brown was
evidently expected to bring someone back with him.

He had no time for further thought, for at this point a huge, burly
man, with a face like a bulldog entered and sat down at the small
table. Another grunt from the Mexican woman somehow made O’Hara
understand that his place was opposite the newcomer. So, having
noticed a basin and towel just outside the door, he gave himself a
good cleaning up and then entered, seating himself opposite his dinner
companion.

For several days life for O’Hara went along in a very humdrum way,
though always under the surface he could detect the current of unrest.
He had a large airy room which he shared with the burly man who was
named Tom Whalen. His days were spent in small activities about the
place and in caring for the car.

The Jap was in constant attendance on his master or mistress, either
serving their meals or assisting at some variety of clerical work
at which they seemed constantly occupied. But there was no request
for O’Hara’s presence in their cabin, and he could only await their
pleasure.

Neither the man called Henry Brown nor his beautiful wife had left
the place for many days. She seemed content to remain within the huge
living room, which, as O’Hara could see through the window, had been
decorated with the soft grays and creams of Indian blankets, with
here and there a splash of scarlet in a brilliant rug. All about were
couches with innumerable pillows, and at every conceivable point a
softly shaded lamp was placed. It was an alluring room and when the
cool evenings of the desert came upon them, O’Hara often watched from a
distance the flames leap and crackle in the broad stone fireplace.

The couple in front of the blaze certainly did not feel the beauty of
the spot; they usually sat apart, as indifferent to one another as to
their surroundings. The woman always gowned herself as exquisitely for
the evening as though in a fashionable hotel. It was evidently second
nature to her to always look her best.

O’Hara glanced in as he passed the living room one evening. She was
leaning back idly in a reclining chair in front of the fire, her full
white throat in startling contrast to the dead black of her evening
gown. She had ceased her constant figuring and was listening to her
companion as he leaned forward talking eagerly, with now and then a
quick gasp of emphasis.

The watching man felt a strange sense of foreboding as he saw a cold,
cruel smile twist the lips of the woman, and as he caught the quick
nervous closing of the fists of the man who was speaking. He paused a
moment longer, watching with intentness the peculiar, almost hypnotic
loosening and clenching of those hands that rested upon the knees of
the man.

Suddenly O’Hara felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and he was jerked
away from the window. Turning quickly, he encountered the bulldog
person of Tom Whalen.



CHAPTER XXI

A NEST OF CONSPIRATORS


Since his arrival O’Hara had felt that Tom Whalen was watching him.
In his short walks out into the waste a few miles from the place, he
knew that he was always followed by this burly giant. Even in the night
watches he had been wakened by the consciousness that this man was
peering at him intently and suspiciously.

Not only so, but every attempt of O’Hara’s to get a note or message
sent to his nephew, Danny Dexter, had been futile. The Japanese was
the only one who had left the place. He had the habit of slipping
quietly away in the huge motor car, especially toward evening he was
wont to start, and usually his path lay in the direction of the border,
far to the south. Often O’Hara lay awake into the small hours of the
morning, disturbed by the steady stare of Tom Whalen and listening for
the hum of the returning motor car. He was never quite sure of hearing
it, but always when the morning came there was Jo, the Japanese
man-of-all-work, servile and alert and quiet as ever.

There was evidently no hope of any message reaching Danny from that
quarter.

As time went on, O’Hara’s perplexity, instead of diminishing, became
deeper and more acute than ever. True, there had been no visitors to
the ranch, and as far as he could see, there was little likelihood that
his presence in this remote spot would be discovered. In this respect
Providence had been kind to him. What disturbed him most of all was
the sepulchral silence of the place--the air of mystery that seemed to
brood over the lives of the few inhabitants. Hour after hour O’Hara
pondered the matter, but the mystery was still as clouded as ever. No
summons had yet come to him from the bungalow occupied by Brown and his
beautiful consort, nor had he been able to penetrate the reserve of the
scowling Tom Whalen or the sleek, cat-footed Jap.

O’Hara’s mind was still in a state of turmoil, when, a few days later,
an incident happened that shook his equanimity to its very foundation.
The day in question had been hot and sweltering, and in O’Hara’s case,
had been followed by a sleepless night. After hours of tossing about,
he had risen from his couch, making his way through the darkness to
the unlocked door. Flinging it open, a flood of pale moonlight poured
into the room. A silvery sheen enveloped the slumbering buildings of
the ranch, making them stand out in ghostly silhouette against the
moon-lit background of sandy waste. As O’Hara softly closed the door
behind him, a deep continuous snore from the opposite side of the room
informed him that Tom Whalen had fallen into a profound sleep, and was
likely to remain dead to the world for some hours at least.

The clean, crisp night air caused the blood to tingle in O’Hara’s
veins. He surveyed the peaceful prospect a moment, then started on a
brisk stroll among the various outbuildings, stopping now and then to
fill his lungs with the glorious desert air.

Passing the odd-looking garage, he noticed that the doors were flung
wide open, as though Jo, the Jap chauffeur, expected to return with
the car before morning. He had retraced his steps to the door of his
sleeping-room, and was about to woo sleep for a second time when the
distant chugging of a motor car sounded on his ears.

“That’s only Jo,” he said to himself. “I wonder what the close-mouthed
Oriental does on those lonesome night trips?”

But his own question caused him to smile. Jo’s night excursions were
certainly mysterious, to say the least, but not more so than a hundred
other things about the ranch that had risen to perplex him. Indeed, he
was obliged to confess to himself that he had found out next to nothing
about the real life of the strange group in which he was placed.

By this time the motor car had drawn much closer to the ranch. The
steady chug-chug of the escaping gas, magnified tenfold by the vast
impressive silence of the night, fell on the ear of the listener like a
succession of sledge-hammer blows on a blacksmith’s anvil. O’Hara crept
into a convenient patch of shadow, and waited for the car to pass on
its way to the garage. But before coming into his angle of vision, the
huge machine swerved abruptly to the right and made directly for the
ranch-house.

Curious and interested now, the concealed man cautiously stepped forth
from his hiding-place and peered round the corner of the building.
The machine had come to a stop at the door of the Brown bungalow.
Straining his eyes, O’Hara was able to make out several blank shapes
that descended from the tonneau and noiselessly entered the house. A
fraction of a minute later the chugging recommenced as the car was
driven over the quarter-mile that lay between the house and the garage.

As O’Hara stood in the shadow, reflecting on the import of what he
had seen, a strange feeling came over him--a sense that important
events were impending in which he was somehow involved. He was about
to dismiss the thought as an idle fancy when he noticed a tiny
flicker of light which same through a slit in the drawn curtains of
the ranch-house. Suddenly a daring thought gave him pause. Should he
attempt to carry out the hare-brained plan that had gripped him so
suddenly? Dare he do so?

For several moments he stood lost in reflection. Then, James O’Hara did
a curious thing--a thing that might well have aroused a spectator’s
curiosity, had a spectator been there to observe it. Though already
lightly clad, he noiselessly entered the room where the giant Tom
Whalen still lay breathing heavily. Hastily disrobing, he garbed
himself in khaki shirt and trousers, which were almost mustard-color
from many washings, and left the room again as quietly as he came
in. Softly but swiftly, he made his way to the rear of the building,
keeping in shadow as much as possible. Then, striking out on hands
and knees in a direction at right angles from the beckoning gleam of
light, he stopped when he had put a distance of about a hundred yards
between himself and his starting-point. The moon continued to beat down
on the yellow sands as the creeping figure, visible only as a dark
retreating mass against an amber background, suddenly dropped flat on
the ground and was lost to view. The khaki costume was now no longer
distinguishable, but blended perfectly with the sand, which stretched
out for miles on every side in little flats and hillocks.

Resting in this position a few moments, and raising his head now and
then to ascertain whether he had been observed, O’Hara started to crawl
slowly through the sand in the direction of the bungalow. Fifteen
minutes later he had gained the side of the building whence the flicker
of light had come.

A thrill of satisfaction gripped him for a moment as he realized that
thus far his plan had been successful. And now, as he was considering
what further measures to take, the sound of voices engaged in earnest
conversation floated out from a window just above him.

A deep voice that quavered with suppressed emotion came to his ears,
and a tremor passed down O’Hara’s spine as he realized that his
employer was speaking.

“Listen to me, Schwartz,” the commanding voice was saying. “I tell you,
this thing must be done. Understand? It _must_. The Mexican government
is friendly to Germany, and would like nothing better than kicking
the hated Yankees out. Villa is with us, and will do what we say. But
he must be paid. It will take money--lots of it. But later on we will
get it back with interest--yes, double interest, and triple interest.
Germany must line her pockets, too. The time to do it is now. Later, we
will not have so good a chance. Why, man,” and here the voice held a
confidential note, “the Fatherland is interested in our success. We are
simply carrying out instructions!”

“Ach!” ejaculated the awed listener. “Ve must all help der Vaterland.
Ve must all be good Chermans.”

These sentiments must have fallen on grateful ears, for Brown’s next
words were uttered in a friendly tone that warmed the heart of his
confederate:

“Schwartz, you are a true son of Deutschland. It is men like you who
must again make the Fatherland great!”

The pleased Schwartz drank in the words of appreciation eagerly,
emitting meantime an enthusiastic “_ja! ja!_” of assent.

“Millions of dollars are to be had in Mexico,” continued the speaker.
“Mines, oil lands--everything. But the hated, money-loving Yankees have
gobbled up everything they could lay their hands on. But we have found
a way to beat them. Our German friends, who have suffered so much in
this hated country, have given us ample funds. We have much influence
with the government at Mexico City. Simply pull the wires--the thing
is done! Our ambassador will see to it. But there is much work for all
of us. Never shall it be said that Germans accepted the leavings of
Americans. Rather will we all go down in destruction!”

As this conversation was proceeding, a tense-muscled man stood outside
beneath the window, listening with bated breath to every word that
fell from the plotters’ lips. James O’Hara was deeply stirred.

American rights were menaced. So much was plain from the words of the
conspirators. That American lives would be endangered, if not lost, was
almost certain.

Again and again, as the plot was more fully developed in his hearing,
the concealed man struggled silently with himself to keep down the
rising flood of anger that threatened to explode and reveal his
presence to the Germans. He was a lover of his country, though, by an
unlucky stroke of fate, a fugitive from his country’s justice. By every
consideration of manhood he was bound to uphold the honor and dignity
and safety of America. He was an American citizen, and these were the
obligations that citizenship imposed.

O’Hara fought down the angry outburst. He realized that his best
course of action lay in keeping cool. The thing to do was to learn all
he could about their plans. Then would he be the better prepared for
action when the time for action arrived.

Meanwhile, in short, rapid sentences, Brown was conveying his
instructions to the other, who was plainly a subordinate figure:

“First, you must deliver these papers to Herr Schmidt, the German
consul. He will supply you with the necessary funds. You will then
meet Villa’s representative at the designated spot. You will convey
my instructions to him, and urge immediate action. You will in turn
receive his latest report. I will send for this in a week’s time. I
have here on the ranch an escaped criminal named O’Hara. He knows
nothing of our work. He suspects nothing. You are to deliver the sealed
papers to him in Mexican Juarez, and arrange to have him sent back over
the border. Now, we understand one another. Do not fail.”

The interview was over.

A few minutes passed without any further sounds from the interior of
the house.

Then a slight chugging sound informed O’Hara that the motor car with
its Jap chauffeur was again on its way to the house, doubtless to carry
the German emissary toward the border. The front door opened, a single
dark figure glided out, the tonneau door closed, and the huge machine
rolled rapidly away. Then, silence.

Quivering from the astounding adventure through which he had just
passed, O’Hara made his way back to his sleeping-room. He hastily shed
the few light garments that covered him and sank into bed, but the
amazing events of the night were too recent to allow any hope of sleep.

In the quiet of the night, as he reviewed his experiences from the day
of his arrival at the ranch, O’Hara was able to understand many things
that hitherto had seemed to border on the mysterious. The remembrance
of his first meeting with Henry Brown, the military bearing of the
latter, the careful diction with just the merest trace of a German
accent, the nightly comings and goings of the Japanese chauffeur, the
aloofness and secrecy that characterized the actions of every member of
the ranch from the very beginning--all these things, when analyzed in
the light of the conversation he had overheard between Brown and his
visitor, lost their cloak of mystery and became links in a chain of
evidence that held fast at every point.

The more O’Hara thought of it, the more certain he became that he had
stumbled across that long-sought-for outpost of German intrigue that
was beneath so many of the Mexican troubles. For many months Uncle Sam
had known of the existence of such activity, but diligent search had
failed to trace it to its source. Throughout the war, reports poured
into the government concerning the operations of a crafty German band
that was engaged in sowing seeds of hatred against the Americans.
Though the armistice had brought a decided let-up in this activity,
there was still evidence of a deeply-laid plot to injure the United
States and libel its aims in the Latin republic.



CHAPTER XXII

THE CAVE


The morning of the next day O’Hara went about his chores as usual, at
the same time keeping a sharp lookout for any suspicious signs that
might betray the further plans of his employer.

About three-thirty in the afternoon he was just leaving the kitchen
when he was surprised to hear the voices of Brown and Tom Whalen raised
in rather an excited discussion.

“Yes, Jo had definite word that the officers suspected O’Hara’s
presence here,” said the voice of Brown.

“Oh, let ’em catch him then,” replied Tom Whalen gruffly, “I’m tired of
watching him anyhow.”

“Keep still and attend to your own part of this business. The man
will be useful. I need him and desire to have you hide him. Do you
understand?”

The very tone was a command, and to the great interest of O’Hara he saw
Tom Whalen straighten and salute. Then O’Hara slipped again into the
kitchen and now he emerged noisily.

The men turned to him and as they did so, Brown said in a low tone,
“Put him in the cave.”

Then he spun on his heel and departed. He had no sooner left than the
startled eyes of O’Hara made out a cloud of dust on the far horizon in
the direction of Albuquerque.

“Come on,” exclaimed Tom Whalen, hurrying his huge bulk toward the
garage, “or the devil take you.”

Wondering, O’Hara easily kept pace with him and paused beside the
garage. Tom Whalen had by now removed the top of the hole where the
huge gasoline tank was buried, and to O’Hara’s amazement, the tank was
revealed to be empty. Whalen slipped carefully into the tank and O’Hara
followed as directed. Whalen then pressed some hidden spring in the
metal and the sides slowly revolved, leaving an opening large enough
for a man to slip through. His guide ordered O’Hara to step through the
aperture, and with a shiver of apprehension, but helpless to disobey he
did so. Then the man handed him a lantern somewhat resembling a miner’s
lamp and the wall swung back slowly.

O’Hara stood perfectly still in the darkness. The air was dank and
musty but there was means for allowing fresher air to enter, for it
was not breathless. Slowly he flashed his lantern about the place. The
walls of the small room in which he stood seemed to be made of adobe.
He searched the sides most carefully, there was nothing to break the
absolute uniformity of line until the lantern’s rays reached the third
side, the side through which he had entered. Here faint and far away,
he could discern up through a small hole the dim light of day.

About a foot out from this wall, standing sinister and black, was the
only object within the room, a huge iron safe.

The light of O’Hara’s lantern passed carefully over it and then went
on to the fourth wall. The lantern flickered and then beamed steadily
upon the gleaming wall. With a shiver of amazement, O’Hara realized
that here in this desert spot, in his beloved country, the floor of the
garage reached down a full twenty feet of solid concrete emplacement!

Astounded beyond measure, he recalled the many reports he had heard
about the huge concrete emplacements supposed to have been built by
the Germans during the war, and even before the war, in various parts
of the United States.

He had not believed these reports at the time. They had seemed too
incredible. He had considered them figments of imaginations that
had been fired by the fears and excitements of war. No, such things
were too fantastic for sane, sensible Americans to believe. It was
impossible that our country would be betrayed by those whom she had
welcomed so heartily to her shores.

But here in this desert spot, for an unknown purpose, stood tangible
evidence that these reports were true. They were not idle fancies. And,
so, it must likewise be true that America did harbor base creatures who
would sell their adopted country’s honor for gold and silver, men who
sought to injure her, and lower her prestige in the eyes of the world.
Very well, it would be America’s duty henceforth to ferret out these
creatures. It would be her duty to strip them of the possessions and
privileges that a generous country had showered on them with a profuse
hand.

Again and again these reflections kept running through O’Hara’s mind,
as he explored every nook and cranny of the curious subterranean
hiding-place. He wondered what criminal plan had dictated the
construction of this great gun emplacement. Where did Brown intend
to get the enormous gun that such a base would accommodate? These
questions were too deep for solution. Perhaps the future would supply
an answer.

O’Hara looked at his watch and found it had been about twenty minutes
since he saw the dust of the approaching automobile. He figured that
the officers were just now arriving at the place, but of course no
sound could penetrate to his dark hiding place. Wishing to save the
oil, he turned out his lamp and sat down on the hard sand of the floor.
He placed his shoulder against the back of the safe so that he would be
facing the one ray of light which struggled in from the hole above, and
settled down to wait.

Thus it happened that he was entirely invisible when the opening in the
wall suddenly revolved again. Thinking merely to remain quiet until
Tom Whalen called him, O’Hara made no move. He heard the sound of two
voices, one undoubtedly that of Jo the Jap, the other with an Irish
accent.

“Sure,” the latter was saying, “I’m after helping ye turn the trick.
Begore, I hate the English, but niver a cint have I seen yit, and the
money will be welcome,” and there squeezed through the opening a
small, red-headed, freckled-face Irishman, wearing a detective’s star.

“I’ve saved ye from suspicion time and agin,” he grumbled, “and now I
come with the crowd to-day fer pay, and shure, I’ll be after gettin’ of
it.”

The Japanese had been carefully covering the tank, and now he turned
softly toward the safe. The combination came quickly and deftly to
his fingers, and O’Hara could hear the safe swing back. Then from the
comments and remarks of the Irishman, he judged that the latter was
being given a portion of his ill-gotten gain.

“All right,” he now said in a pronounced brogue to the quiet servant,
who as yet had spoken no word; “I’ll be after hurryin’.” He then
added: “Raise the door quick; sure and I can’t be missed.” Then as he
evidently tucked away his money in his pockets, he added a sentence
which made O’Hara’s breath come quick: “It’s a hen party we be after
havin’; there’s two gurrls joined the chase and a lad along with ’em.
It’s shrewd and wide-awake they be, I’m tellin’ ye!”

While he was speaking, the Jap crowded quietly to the trap door of the
tank and cautiously glanced around. “All right,” he whispered, and the
Irishman extinguished his light and followed him.

Quick as a flash O’Hara crawled around the safe and reaching in the
open door took out a package from the lower shelf. Instantly he was
back, and then the Japanese returned. He closed the door of the safe
and leisurely turned and secured the lock. Then quietly as ever he
slipped up the secret entrance.

When he was positive the man had gone, O’Hara sat for a moment almost
stunned by the hope that Mary Louise and Danny had come again to save
him. Then he lit his lamp and flashed it upon the package in his hand.
It was just such a package as he had hoped to attain. Sheet after sheet
of documents relating to the Mexican lands and oil wells, one or two
translated into code. With great care he placed them, equally divided,
in the two inside pockets of his coat. Then again he settled down to
wait and to plan his escape. For now O’Hara realized clearly that even
if he were arrested, he must hand these papers to the government he
loved.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE RIDE AT NIGHT


The long, delightful days of summer stretched before the happy tourists
in Mary Louise’s car. Every day seemed to beckon them on to further
adventure, and each evening found them further along in their journey,
weary and eager for rest, but expectant of the morrow. Often Mary
Louise and Danny spoke in low tones to one another of the kindly man
they were hastening to help. They had much to say in these days of
happy, intimate companionship--much to tell each other of their hopes
and aims, their likes and dislikes. They were very young and filled
with the joy and wonder of mere living, and though often they were
longing to know of O’Hara’s safety, still their spirits could not be
dampened, and their happiness soared very high.

To Colonel Hathaway, the changing scenes and the changing personalities
along the way were like a tonic.

The old gentleman was a born traveler and always took the rough places
with the smooth, so that he made a splendid companion with whom to take
the road. On this trip he was thoroughly enjoying the ecstasy with
which Irene greeted every lovely scene they passed. Her cheeks were
taking on a healthy flush that made the dear friends with her very
glad, and day by day they all could see how she was gaining strength.

So on they went as day by day their car carried them across uplands and
through valleys, now humming for miles through waving fields of grain,
and again running through the lowlands near some river bed. One State
after another they left behind as the days sped by, and always some new
beauty lay before them.

Old Uncle Eben carefully forwarded all their mail, and each day Danny
and Mary Louise watched eagerly for some word from O’Hara. But each day
they were doomed to disappointment. The letters which came frequently
from Josie, however, kept up their hopes mightily. Crocker, it seemed,
had returned East disgustedly, but Josie was each day scouring the
country in some new direction. One day when they had reached a spot not
far from Albuquerque Mary Louise opened a letter from Josie, as she
was rocking on the wide veranda of the hotel in the twilight.

Josie had scrawled on bright pink paper:


  “DEAREST MARY LOUISE:

  “If you only knew how happy and glad and generally rejoicey I am
  to think that you and Grandpa Jim and Irene will be with me in
  two days! I’ve been hot and homesick ever since I came, but now I
  do believe it’s going to be worth while to have stayed.

  “There’s a small ranch out about forty miles from here. It’s the
  mystery of the countryside, though there’s nothing ever seemed
  wrong with it, and O’Callahan, the little Irish detective, swears
  there’s nothing wrong. You see, they have two men besides the
  ‘Boss’--one, a huge, criminal-looking creature, and the other,
  a little Jap. The other evening I motored out that way and when
  the boss and his wife were out in front I saw through my field
  glasses that _three_ men entered the kitchen!

  “Now that looks strange to me. O’Callahan has always scoffed at
  our going there as nonsense, but to-morrow, willy-nilly, Josie
  O’Gorman is going out to that place and ferret out that man. Who
  knows when you come on the next day my work may be done, and oh,
  won’t I jump at the chance of going on with you on your perfectly
  grand trip?      Devotedly,
                              “JOSIE.”

Mary Louise silently handed the letter to Danny who sat on the veranda
steps at her feet. Danny Dexter glanced over the letter and then up at
Mary Louise. Their thoughts were evidently alike for both exclaimed in
unison: “We’ll have to travel to-night.”

“And start immediately,” added Mary Louise.

Then without further pause, Danny leaped down the steps and out to the
automobile to prepare it for the long and sudden trip before them.

“It’s seven now,” thought Danny, glancing at the auto clock. “With luck
we’ll get there by two to-morrow morning. It won’t really be so bad,
and the moon is full.”

In the meantime Mary Louise had hastened to her grandfather. “Grandpa
Jim, don’t put on those comfortable old slippers. I’ve received a
letter from Josie. She expects to catch her forger to-morrow, and,” she
truthfully added, “I feel sure we will be needed.”

The Colonel was instantly solicitous for Josie, of whom he was
especially fond and whose activity he admired immensely.

“But,” he objected, “can we possibly make it through the night; and
what about Irene?” Mary Louise flung her arms about her grandfather’s
neck. “I knew just how game you would be!” she declared. “I’ve been
thinking about Irene. The wife of the proprietor seems very kind, and
I’m sure she’ll start her safely on the train to Albuquerque in the
morning.”

Her surmise proved to be correct, and half an hour later the automobile
started off.

So it happened that next morning as she entered the dining room of the
hotel, Josie’s joy quite flew away with her, as she beheld the tired
but victorious faces of her three friends beaming up at her.

“Why--why--you blessed people! How very dear of you to come and go with
me to-day,” she stammered. “With Mary Louise to help, I just can’t lose
that man again.”

Josie clapped her hands in enthusiasm, and then dug with such unbounded
energy into the grapefruit at her plate that her “dear friends” blinked
and ducked with great agility.

“Grandpa Jim must go to bed this minute, but we’re ready to go right
away,” directed Mary Louise. A few minutes later she kissed the kindly
Colonel and watched him mount the stairs. Then turning, she joined
Danny and Josie O’Gorman who were already climbing into the waiting
auto.

O’Callahan was at the wheel with a tall policeman seated beside him,
while Josie, Mary Louise and Danny were seated in the tonneau. Both
Mary Louise and Danny must have dozed after their long night ride, for
they woke with a start as the automobile slowed down in front of the
Brown bungalow.

As Danny stepped from the car he stooped and quietly picked up a
small gold pencil half buried in the sand; he knew the pencil and the
monogram “J. O’H.” O’Hara had dropped it as he left the automobile that
first day and had failed to find it when he searched for it. Clearly
then, the uncle that he loved was here and in sure danger.

All that Danny could do was to keep still and watch. And watch he did
to no avail. The place was searched from top to bottom. The Browns were
graciousness itself, accepting Josie’s apologies for intruding with
amusement.

“You are afraid some man is hidden here?” the woman had inquired of
the girls, a faint sneer upon her beautiful mouth.

“I shall have to ask you to let us investigate thoroughly,” returned
Josie decidedly, and the woman smilingly stepped aside.

Then she shrugged her shoulders. “You see we have no secrets,” she
said.



CHAPTER XXIV

MARY LOUISE LOSES HER SLIPPER


When the party had about given up the search, Danny at last found an
excuse to get Mary Louise by herself in the shadows of the small garage.

“Let’s sit down a moment by this queer old tank,” he said, “for I’ve
something most important to show you, Mary Louise.”

Danny handed her the small gold pencil with its monogram “J. O’H.”
Startled, Mary Louise took it from him. “Why--why--Danny, then it is
certain that your uncle has been here, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” answered Danny grimly, “and it’s certain he was here yesterday
if Josie saw three men!”

“Mary Louise,” he added, “I don’t like this place at all. I can’t tell
you how distressed I feel about Uncle Jim. Why, any person on this
spot--that beautiful woman included--would kill as indifferently as
they’d tell lies!”

Mary Louise was white with horror and her hands were clasped in
despair. She was digging with the heel of her little pump into the
packed sand as though to tear up the secret of O’Hara’s whereabouts.

Suddenly a strange thing happened. Her toe caught in a running root and
pulled the pump from off her foot, and then, wonder of wonders, the
pump completely disappeared! Amazement was written wide upon the faces
of the two as they stood up to hunt for it. But look as Danny might,
with Mary Louise hobbling after him as best she could, there was not a
single trace of the missing slipper.

“I sympathized with Cinderella,” ruefully remarked Mary Louise, as she
very carefully placed her stocking foot upon some twigs crossed loosely
on the ground.

Then she gave a little scream of fright. Her foot had broken through
the twigs and she sank to the ground caught in a good-sized hole.

“Oh, I am so sorry!” cried Danny, as he helped her to get her balance
again.

Instantly, however, his attention was attracted to the opening Mary
Louise’s fall had uncovered. It seemed to be a carefully excavated hole
and they could see no bottom to it.

“No wonder,” said Mary Louise, “that my slipper completely vanished.”

Just as she spoke they both leaned forward tensely as a quick flash of
light came directly in their faces as they gazed down. It came again as
they leaned near.

Quick as a flash Danny leaned over the opening. “Uncle Jim?” he called,
his voice trembling with shock and excitement.

“Good boy, Danny!” came O’Hara’s voice, muffled by the earth, but
sounding strong and hearty, to Danny’s great relief. “You saw the flash
of my lantern?”

“Listen!” quickly continued the voice from the cave. “I’m safe enough,
so don’t worry, but I have some important papers to deliver to the
government. Danny, I must get them off to-night. Is there any way you
can return and meet me?”

As Danny stood in thought, Mary Louise touched his arm. “Couldn’t we
take you almost here, Danny?” she asked; “Just so they wouldn’t hear
the engine. It’s dark to-night, and you could hide in their big motor
car perhaps.”

“It’s like you to think of it,” said Danny, admiringly, “and of course
I can.”

He repeated the plan to O’Hara below.

“That’s good!” the man said eagerly. “We’ll have to run some risks of
course, but it’s our best plan. Now mark me carefully.”

Danny leaned even lower to the opening.

“When they let me out, I’ll put these papers under the back seat of
their car. The Jap is evidently ignorant of the fact they put me down
here, and does not suspect that anything is missing, so he won’t be
especially watchful. Then you hide in the back of the car. Each night
he goes upon some errand southward. Ride with him a way and then roll
out and wait for your own car. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” answered Danny.

“Then hurry off,” ended O’Hara.

“But,” wailed Mary Louise, “Can’t you fish me out my slipper, Danny?
They’ll all wonder where it went.”

Danny looked around and saw a long pole leaning against the garage.

“Uncle Jim, will you put the slipper on this stick?” he called down,
and in a moment it was balanced to the surface.

Without further speech Mary Louise put it on and the two started
slowly, with seeming indifference, back to the house. Almost
immediately the party clambered again into their waiting auto and
started back for Albuquerque.

Poor Josie O’Gorman was feeling pretty blue and discouraged, and she
surreptitiously wiped away a few tears from her blue eyes. But soon she
was her splendid, cheery self again, and said to Danny and Mary Louise,
who sat beside her: “In my business, now and then, we have to learn to
be good losers. I want to be a good sport, and I do admit that this
time I’ve been beaten.”

Then her face was lighted up with joy as she turned to Mary Louise and
said--“And now I’m ready to finish up your wonderful trip with you.”

For the first time in her life Mary Louise felt that she could not tell
Grandpa Jim what she was going to do, and she did not like the feeling.
But to Mary Louise, as to most American girls, her love of country
was the first thing in her life; so after seeing her grandfather
comfortably settled at a game of rummy with Irene and Josie, she bade
all three good-night and quietly slipped out of the room and down to
the hotel corridor.

Danny was waiting for her with a heavy wrap and carefully bundled her
up in the seat beside him. Then swiftly they started off.

The evening was cool and crisp as are all desert nights, and they
were grateful that there was no moon. Danny and Mary Louise sped along
uplifted by their patriotism and the thought that they were helping
Uncle Jim. The miles fairly flew beneath the wheels and almost before
they realized it they saw the distant lights of the Brown ranch. A mile
farther on Mary Louise slowed up the car and Danny jumped out.

“Now I’ll drive round about slowly to the south,” said Mary Louise,
“and good luck to you, Danny!”

Danny Dexter pressed the little hand she held out to him for quite a
while. It was hard for him to let her vanish alone into the desert.
However, it was their duty which lay before them. So, finally, he
turned away, and Mary Louise proceeded southward at a brisk pace for a
mile or two. Stopping the car, she settled down to her long wait, alone
in the vastness of the desert night.

Danny stood straining his eyes after the departing machine, until he
could no longer hear the hum of the motor. Then he turned and quietly
ran toward the dark group of buildings.



CHAPTER XXV

A SUCCESSFUL RUSE


As he neared the ranch the light which had been gleaming in the
kitchen was extinguished. Danny paused, and saw the Mexican cook go to
her quarters and close the door. Then he crept on close to the main
bungalow.

Here lights were lit in each of the rooms and he saw preparations for
hasty departure. The tall, blond man was ordering the Japanese to some
activity. Just what, Danny could not make out, for the man spoke in
German. Sure then that he was not watched from that quarter, Danny
slipped close against the bunk house. Creeping in, he saw by the faint
light that was burning that O’Hara and the burly man named Whalen were
the only occupants. O’Hara seemed asleep, but the other half lay upon
his bunk awake and watching him.

Danny Dexter had not planned his moves but he was ready. He flung open
the door, and with a quick, cat-like leap, he was upon the man. Huge
and powerful as Whalen was, Danny caught him at a disadvantage. Before
he could regain his balance, O’Hara roused from his feigned sleep,
sprang upon him, seizing Whalen’s arm, and freeing Danny so he could
seize the towels which hung near by and gag the man’s mouth before he
could make a sound. Then as O’Hara held him still firmly, Danny bound
Tom Whalen’s arms together, then his legs.

Without another look at him, Danny and O’Hara slipped into the darkness.

“Have you the papers?” whispered Danny.

“I put them in their auto,” answered O’Hara. “Didn’t dare keep them;
they search me every night.”

Quietly they glided on to the garage. The door was open and they
entered unobserved and crawled down in among the robes in the tonneau
of the car. Here they settled down to long and tedious waiting, and now
in quick, jerky sentences, old Jim O’Hara recounted the striking chain
of events that led up to his present position.

However, the two men were pleasantly disappointed in the length of
their hiding. Scarcely had they concealed themselves than the Japanese
appeared and climbed into the car without a backward glance toward
the tonneau. Softly, they hummed out of the garage and turned to the
southward.

When they had gone about a mile, Danny quietly pressed O’Hara’s arm
and without a sound unlatched the door of the machine. Then as it
noiselessly came open, Danny Dexter slipped out onto the ground. A few
feet farther O’Hara did the same. Both lay absolutely still until in
the distance they heard the Jap swing to with a slam the open door, and
they knew as he continued on his journey that he was entirely without
suspicion.

Danny took an electric torch from the pocket of his coat and flashed it
here and there. He was answered by a similar flash not very far to the
west and soon Mary Louise drove up to them and reached out eager hands
of welcome.

“Oh, you are safe and here so quickly,” she cried, a little catch in
her breath as she realized her plucky vigil was now over.

She moved over to let Danny have the wheel and O’Hara stepped into the
back.

“Danny,” whispered Mary Louise, as she leaned toward him confidingly on
the return trip, “do you think it will be necessary for Uncle Jim to
leave the United States now? After risking his life the way he did to
secure those papers, don’t you think the government would be lenient in
his case?”

“I hope so,” said Danny in a low tone. “As you know, all Uncle Jim
wants is a chance to make good and rectify his old mistake, and I
hardly think they will refuse him that.”

“They shouldn’t,” said Mary Louise with conviction. “It would be mean
if they did.”

Danny glanced sideways at the girl, whose brow showed a few tiny
furrows.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your interest in Uncle Jim,”
Danny said. “I want you to know that we have both talked the matter
over, and I have persuaded Uncle Jim to remain in Albuquerque until the
government has acted in the case of Henry Brown and his treasonable
outfit. He will certainly be needed as a witness if the government
apprehends them and they are brought to trial.”

“I can be of some assistance to him, too,” said Mary Louise. “After I
tell Josie O’Gorman all that has happened, I know she will feel very
different about your uncle. Maybe she can interest her father in the
case, and no man in the department at Washington has more influence
then John O’Gorman.”

As the two young people sat conversing in low tones, heads close
together, a soft smile played about the corners of James O’Hara’s lips.
Did he see in the charming tableau before him a reflection of his own
lost youth? Perhaps. Out of the dim past, recollections of his own
youthful romance may have arisen, luring his mind to years long gone by.

Danny and Mary Louise kept up an intermittent fire of conversation as
“Queenie” sped along the sinuous roadway that led to Albuquerque. Now
and then, the lovely girl, her face wreathed in smiles, would turn
around and address a word or two to the quiet man in the rear.

In less than an hour’s time, the little machine, under Danny’s
practised hand, had reached the outskirts of the busy New Mexican
town, which now lay wrapped in night. A few minutes more and the car
drew up at the hotel entrance. After a final few minutes of hurried
conversation and a chorus of “good-nights,” Mary Louise darted into the
entrance and ran straight up to her room. Ten minutes later she was in
the depths of slumber.

Danny, left with Uncle Jim in the Hathaway car, met a twinkle in the
older man’s eye that caused him to blush profusely.

“My boy,” said O’Hara, “you have been mighty fine to me. I don’t know
what I could have done without you. Nothing, I’m afraid. You deserve a
great deal from life, Danny. I’d be the first to admit it. But the chap
who wins Mary Louise will be overpaid,--even you, my boy. She is pure
gold. I hope you will win.”

Danny had tried to interrupt his uncle’s speech several times, but
it was useless. The older man laid an affectionate hand on the boy’s
shoulder.

“Say nothing about it,” he said. “Words, after all, are but feeble
things. It is life alone that counts.”

There were a few minutes of silence before either of the two spoke
again. Then O’Hara resumed:

“I want to say just one more thing, Danny, and that concerns my oil
well, or, rather, _your_ oil well, for I mean to turn it over to you.
When I am free of this trouble, I expect to take personal charge of the
well. A few months’ production will suffice to pay all of my debts.
Then the well is yours. You will find, my boy, that you will have
enough, and more than enough, to live in plenty.”

Tears stood in the young man’s eyes as Uncle Jim made his generous
offer.

Then he said:

“No, no, Uncle Jim! I couldn’t think of it! If you will let me take
half of the work and responsibility, I’ll share the proceeds with you.
But on that condition only, Uncle Jim!”

“Well, well,” said O’Hara. “Have it your own way. We’ll draw up a
partnership agreement. There’ll be more than enough room for both of
us, I’m sure.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Uncle Jim, I don’t think we ought to lose a minute in rousing the
government authorities. Brown evidently has scented danger, though from
what source, I don’t know. He was making preparations to leave when I
looked through his window. What do you say, uncle? Shall we chance it?”

“You are right, as usual, Danny,” replied O’Hara. “Let us go at once.
I need not reveal my identity to-night. There will be time enough
to-morrow or the next day to tell the full story of how I happened to
be on the ranch. Then we will see if there is such a thing as mercy
for one who has been weak.”

Danny glanced at the kindly, weather-beaten features of his uncle, and
vowed that he would leave no stone unturned to help the good old fellow
regain the honor and respect that had formerly been his.

Then, turning the machine in the opposite direction, he fairly flew
over the deserted streets until the municipal building was reached.
Rapidly ascending the steps of the building, Danny and O’Hara fairly
rushed into the office of the police magistrate.

Half-sitting, half-lying, in a large, commodious, upholstered swivel
chair was the single individual the office contained. This bestarred
person was giving vent to a capacious yawn as the two men hurriedly
entered the room. Rubbing his eyes and staggering to his feet, the
officer looked at them as though uncertain of the reality of their
existence.

“What’s the matter?” he finally exploded.

And then, as Danny, prompted from time to time by O’Hara, recited the
main outlines of their evening’s experiences, and finally produced
their bundle of papers as evidence, amazement and consternation was
written in every feature of the man’s countenance.

“Jehosaphat!” exclaimed the astounded officer.

A minute later and the three were motoring furiously through the crisp
night air in the direction of the home of Mr. Southwick, the Federal
officer for that district.



CHAPTER XXVI

A GOOD NIGHT’S WORK


In record time the little machine drew up before a substantial building
located in one of the residential sections of town.

Alighting, the three men proceeded at once to awaken the government
agent. But it was ten minutes before they succeeded in gaining entrance
into the building and were ushered into the beautiful library by Mr.
Southwick himself.

As chief of the local division of the Department of Justice--that
great department at Washington which fought the agents and spies that
Germany had placed in America--Mr. Southwick had distinguished himself
during the war in his own state, and indeed his name was a familiar one
throughout the whole Southwest.

A large man physically, he towered well over six feet as he stood
before his three nocturnal visitors, clad in a dressing-gown of
variegated pattern. A glance at the man revealed the secret of his
success. Strength and determination were written in every feature of
his massive leonine countenance. His piercing gray eyes were set deeply
in his head, which was crowned with a shaggy mane of iron-gray hair.
It was plain to the beholder that this man was to be respected as a
friend, to be feared as a foe. Obviously, he was one of those mortals
who seemed destined to be a power in any field in which he chose to
turn his abilities.

When America was finally drawn into the Great War, it was he who was
appointed by the government to fight the enemy’s propaganda in the
border states. The appointment was in itself a high tribute to the man,
for on every side his post was recognized as one of the most difficult
that the country afforded. His name had become a terror to the few
enemy sympathizers who were left in the state, and his reputation
sufficed to keep these few from any overt acts of destruction.

Motioning Danny and O’Hara to a seat, he turned to the policeman and
went at once to the heart of the matter:

“I suppose something extremely important must have induced this
midnight call. I am ready to hear you.”

The policeman pointed a finger toward O’Hara and said:

“This gentleman is the one to tell you about it.”

Mr. Southwick turned toward O’Hara with a look of inquiry.

O’Hara met it squarely. Then, searching a moment for words to put the
matter succinctly, he said:

“Mr. Southwick, I have evidence in hand which shows that you are
harboring a traitor in your midst. You may know the man. His name is
Brown--owner of a big ranch near the city. Without telling the story of
how I happened to get there, I’ll simply say that I finally managed to
escape with these papers. I arrived in Albuquerque about an hour ago
with my nephew here, and we decided to come to you immediately. Here
are the papers. I think they will establish the truth of what I have
just been saying.”

The chief reached for the bundle of papers, but said nothing, nor
indeed were the onlookers able to discern any expression of surprise on
his face as he listened to O’Hara’s disclosure.

He untied the papers, and spreading them out on the desk at which he
sat, he glanced through them hurriedly. When he again looked up, Danny
and O’Hara could see that he had already arrived at a decision.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “this bundle of papers contains enough evidence
to put a dozen men in the penitentiary if we can lay our hands on them.
We must immediately gather in as many of these traitors as we can.
Burns,” he addressed the policeman, “go out and locate every detective
and officer that you can. Have them meet at my residence in half an
hour. There’s not a minute to be lost. I will get in touch with several
men from my own office. In thirty-five minutes exactly we will start
for Brown’s ranch with as much of a force as we can organize.”

“Sooner if possible, Chief,” suggested Danny. “We left the ranch almost
two hours ago, and something was in the wind then. It looked like they
were planning to leave. They may be gone now.”

Burns had left to do Mr. Southwick’s bidding, and the next half hour
sped by in hurried preparation.

From time to time a new arrival swelled the little group of men who
were waiting patiently for the minute of departure. Burns was evidently
successful in rounding up his men.

Finally, five minutes before the time of departure, two big motor cars
rolled around the corner and stopped in front of the house. A moment
later, Burns came up the steps, puffing from his exertions.

Mr. Southwick appeared, and after assuring himself that every man in
the party was fully armed, he led the way to the waiting automobiles.
The two men at the wheel, who were members of Mr. Southwick’s office,
appeared to have received their instructions already. Doubtless, their
chief had informed them of the nature of the job to be done.

Danny and O’Hara were loath to leave Mr. Southwick and his aids, now
that the expedition was about to set out. So, after a hurried word
with the government official, they again boarded Mary Louise’s little
machine and started with the others for the distant ranch.

For a considerable distance, the three machines sped over the road
that Danny and O’Hara had already traveled earlier in the night. To
prevent the quarry from escaping, in case the pursuit were discovered
prematurely, Mr. Southwick decided to steer a course far to the
southward. About five miles from the ranch a wide detour was made, and
after an hour of rapid driving over bumpy, dusty roads, the party drew
up and halted at a signal from the leading machine.

Gathering the force around him, Mr. Southwick said:

“Now, men, I hardly need to tell you that this venture is a dangerous
one. We are dealing with desperadoes, and they will fight for their
lives. I have been thinking over a plan of action, and I think the
best thing to do is to divide ourselves into three groups. Burns,
you will command the first group, and when we get within a half
mile of the ranch, you will turn to the left and approach from that
direction. Maitland, I’ll put you in with Mr. Dexter and Mr. O’Hara.
You three will take your position on the right. I’ll take the center
and go straight north. If escape is attempted, you must shoot. Under
no circumstances must we allow these traitors to escape. Shoot, if
necessary. Take no chances, but be sure that bullets are necessary
before you start in. Each man will have to take care of himself. And
remember, no matter what happens, you are doing no more than any loyal
American citizen is expected to do.”

Approval was written on the faces of the assembled men, and when Mr.
Southwick put the question, “Is everybody ready?” their response was
unanimous.

A moment later and the three machines were again in motion.

The ranch was now very near. The moon shone down with crystalline
clearness as the various buildings, separating themselves from the
background, appeared to the spectator only as towering black objects.

“Spread apart, men!” commanded the leader of the party.

Instantly the machines in command of Burns and Maitland swerved in
opposite directions.

Danny was at the wheel of Maitland’s machine. Knowing the lay of the
land, he put on full speed, and was soon leading the others by a
comfortable margin.

As their machine bore down on the ranch, Danny and O’Hara realized that
their course would bring them just to the rear of the Brown bungalow.

Closer and closer drew the raiding party.

Suddenly, as their eyes were fixed on the prospect ahead, the sleeping
camp seemed roused to activity. Silhouetted figures dashed here and
there. It was evident that the noise of the oncoming cars had been
heard and the alarm sounded.

The first clear indication of this came in Danny’s quarter.

Before the three men had time to form a definite plan, a loud chugging
announced the presence of Brown’s huge car in the immediate vicinity.
Evidently the occupants of the camp had determined on flight, and, even
now, were prepared to dash for the open.

Suddenly the big car rounded the corner of the bungalow, and instantly
picking up speed, darted away to the southward.

“Stop that car!” shouted Maitland. “Shoot low! Don’t let him get away!
Aim for the tires.”

A fusillade of shots rang out as O’Hara and Maitland poised their
rifles an instant and started to pump bullets at the dark retreating
mass.

Another volley, and another.

There was a sudden snap as a bullet found its way into one of the rear
tires of Brown’s car. Then a baffled cry of rage rose on the air.

Swinging the little machine around at an abrupt angle, Danny started
toward the other car, now arrested in its flight. As he pulled up a
short distance away, a shot rang out and he heard the whistle of lead
as it winged its way past his left ear.

“Down, men!” he shouted. “Crouch down!” And suiting the action to the
word, the three men sought protection in the depths of the machine.

As they were preparing to return the fire, they heard the noise of
Mr. Southwick’s machine as it approached from the opposite side. That
redoubtable official had heard the sound of the shots, and as he came
up, he took in the situation at a glance.

“Surrender!” he called out. “Surrender in the name of the Government of
the United States!”

What feelings that voice inspired in the hearts of Brown and his
confederates may never be known. But it must have sounded to them like
the voice of doom, for now their consciences must have told them that
retribution was at hand. They had dared to be traitors, and had sought
to betray a great free country. For gold, they had sacrificed honor and
respect, and now, gold had failed them, as gold always does.

Again Mr. Southwick’s voice boomed out:

“Do you surrender?”

There was no answer, but three dark figures stepped from the car, and
with hands raised high in the air, moved into the open.

Instantly, Mr. Southwick, attended by the men in his car, moved forward
to meet them. O’Hara and Maitland, followed by Danny, also joined the
group.

His features distorted with hate and chagrin, Brown stood before the
stern government official. At his side stood Tom Whalen, sullenly
defiant, and Jo, the little Jap chauffeur, who, with oriental calmness
and imperturbability, surveyed his captors without moving an eyelash.

In the meantime, the third machine had already reached the ranch.

Jumping from their machine, Burns and his companions quickly searched
the outbuildings of the ranch, and finding nothing of consequence, sat
down to await the arrivals of the others. While they were thus engaged,
the sound of purring automobiles in the distance suddenly ceased, and
the sound of shots, carried on the still night air, fell on their ears.

Instantly alert, and without waiting to start their car again, the four
members of the party rushed across the ranch in the direction of the
firing. As they swung around the corner of the bungalow, they were
astonished at the spectacle that confronted them.

Three menacing revolvers were pointed at Brown and his companions,
who had been marched to the side of the bungalow at Mr. Southwick’s
direction. There, arms in air, they stood, uneasily moving from side to
side as they awaited the further commands of the government official.

With a hurried “At your service, sir,” Burns and the three detectives
joined their superior.

“Search these fellows!” commanded Mr. Southwick.

The men jumped forward, and while leveled revolvers continued to insure
the good behavior of the three captives, Burns and his agile-fingered
helpers went to work, turning their pockets inside out, and removing
everything that they came across.

In a few minutes they had exposed a veritable arsenal--revolvers, a
half dozen boxes of bullets, wicked-looking knives, and a considerable
amount of American and Mexican money. Brown’s inside pocket yielded
a bulky packet of papers, and this was immediately placed in Mr.
Southwick’s keeping.

While this scene was being enacted, Danny and O’Hara, accompanied by
Maitland, had conducted a search of Brown’s automobile. Nothing was
found in the front part of the machine, but under the tonneau seat a
heavy wooden chest was revealed, locked and bolted on three sides.
After they had transferred this to Mr. Southwick’s car, they returned
to the group by the bungalow.

The eastern sky was now shot with faint streaks of light, which
proclaimed the coming of dawn. Now, for the first time, it would be
possible to make a thorough search of the premises.

As O’Hara came up, Brown glared at him as though seeing him for the
first time since the arrival of the raiding party.

“So you’re the informer, are you?” he said, wrathfully. “A fine
patriot you are! Your friends must be pretty bad off to get help from
criminals.”

O’Hara was about to reply, when Mr. Southwick turned to the German, and
said, acidly:

“You’ll have plenty of opportunity to talk later, Brown. Just now, what
we want from you is information. I have evidence that your wife was
here last night. Where is she now? Speak the truth. Where is she?”

A sneer passed over the cold face of the man.

“If it will do you any good to know,” he said, “she is in Mexico by
this time. Perhaps you’d like to catch her, too, eh? Yes, and maybe the
Mexicans will help you. Suppose you try?”

Doubtless the man spoke the truth.

The stately woman whose beauty had so impressed O’Hara on his arrival
at the ranch, was nowhere to be found. By this time the bungalow and
its adjacent buildings had already been searched by the busy men.

O’Hara turned to Danny, who was standing at his side, and said in low
voice:

“I can’t say that I am sorry for that, Danny. This is a terrible
situation for a woman to be mixed up in, and somehow, I hate to see a
woman in trouble even when she deserves it.”

Danny gave a nod of approval.

“That’s right, Uncle Jim,” agreed the young man. “I know exactly how
you feel. I think every real man feels the same way. Somehow, we hate
to think that a beautiful woman could be mixed up in anything so
disagreeable as this. Well, we’ve got this man Brown, anyway, and he’s
the real power behind the throne. At least, I think so.”

Meantime, Mr. Southwick was receiving reports from the detectives who
were searching every nook and corner of the ranch.

“The ranch is deserted, sir,” said one of the detectives who had come
down in Burns’s car. “We’ve gone over every shack on the place with a
fine-tooth comb, and everything is just about cleaned out.”

Mr. Southwick turned to O’Hara.

“By the way, you mentioned something in my library about being locked
up in a subterranean cavern. You said something about a safe being
there, filled with documents of all kinds. Do you know how to reach it?”

“Yes,” replied O’Hara. “It is right under that big gasoline tank over
there. There’s a secret trap-door, but Brown and his tools here are the
only ones who know how to work the combination.”

Glancing at the three captives, Mr. Southwick’s eyes fell on the little
Jap chauffeur.

“Come here, Togo,” he commanded.

The Jap obeyed with alacrity.

“I want you to show these men how to open that door. Understand?”

The little yellow man instantly donned a servile manner, as though he
realized that the overlordship of Brown was over, and new masters must
now be served.

Leading the way to the tank, he descended into the huge hollow, closely
followed by O’Hara and two of the other men.

After they had made their way to the farther end of the tank, the Jap
suddenly stooped and touched something that seemed to be one of the
rivets that held the giant steel tank together. Instantly the steel
walls moved as O’Hara had seen them do earlier, and the aperture
leading to the cave opened up directly in front of them. The men
marvelled at the ingenuity which had devised this hidden retreat.

O’Hara was the first to file through the opening and descend into the
depths of the cave.

“You next!” said one of the detectives to the Jap, as the latter was
edging to one side.

The oriental obeyed without a word, followed by the two detectives.

It was several minutes before the men were able to make out their
surroundings in the dim light of the gloomy interior.

After O’Hara had ushered the men over the cave, and had shown them the
huge concrete emplacement rising to a height of fully twenty feet,
he led the way to the bulky safe which stood in the same position as
before.

“Get to work, Jo, and open this up!” commanded O’Hara.

The Jap was at the side of the safe and turning the dial almost before
the command was given. Finally, with a vigorous pull, the huge steel
doors were forced out, and the interior of the safe was revealed.

Empty! Not a sheet of paper remained.

“They’ve stolen a march on us!” exclaimed one of the detectives in a
disappointed tone.

“I’m not so sure of that,” said O’Hara.

He cast a look in the direction of the Jap, who stood by, as silent and
inscrutable as the race from which he sprang.

“Where are all the papers that were here, Jo? You might as well tell
us.”

“Papers?” he questioned, blankly.

“Yes, papers,” countered O’Hara. “The same papers that were here when
you came down into the cave with that Irish detective from the city.
Don’t you remember?”

Did the Jap’s eyes suddenly turn downward under O’Hara’s steady
scrutiny? It was hard to tell in the gloom of the cave, but he uttered
a quick “Yes, yes!” of dismay, and said in liquid tones:

“Papers! Yes, I know. Papers in Mr. Brown’s automobile. You find them
in box. Mr. Brown take away.”

O’Hara turned to the detectives.

“This doesn’t surprise me, boys,” he said. “We’ve already got our hands
on those papers. Before you arrived on the scene, we took a whole
chestful of them from Brown’s machine, and put them in Mr. Southwick’s
car. I felt pretty sure then that there wouldn’t be anything here for
us when we came. What do you say about going back?”

“I’m ready!”

“Me, too!”

They filed from the cave in the order in which they entered, O’Hara
opening and closing the entrance several times by pressing the neatly
camouflaged button.

On reaching open air, the party rejoined Mr. Southwick’s forces which
were still beside the bungalow.

The big man’s only comment, as O’Hara reported the result of the trip,
was, “Just as I thought.”

Preparations were busily under way for the return to the city. The
search of the ranch had been completed, and at Mr. Southwick’s order,
the huge touring car of Brown had been mended and placed in readiness.
In the tonneau of the car sat the crestfallen owner, and beside him was
Tom Whalen. To prevent any attempt at escape, the two were handcuffed
together, and an armed guard was placed over them.

The Jap was ordered into the front seat of the machine, and beside him
was seated a second detective.

It was a tired group of men who raced over the long desert road to
Albuquerque on the return journey. The early morning sun was beating
down from the east, and the intense heat of the desert was making
itself felt over the refreshing coolness of the night.

Mr. Southwick’s car led off, and was followed by Brown’s machine, which
was carefully watched by the occupants of “Queenie,” the next one in
line. One of Mr. Southwick’s lieutenants brought up the rear of the
procession.

Early morning pedestrians on the streets of the thriving little town
glanced curiously at the row of machines, and wondered at their
presence at that hour. They would have been still more surprised had
they seen the four machines draw up a few minutes later in front of the
county jail. Luckily, the street on which this stood was still deserted.

After the captives were safely lodged behind bars, the raiding party
separated in all directions. Mr. Southwick walked over to Danny and
O’Hara, and slapping them on the back, said:

“We are greatly indebted to you two men. As one loyal American to
another, I want to thank the both of you from the bottom of my heart.
You have done your country a great service--greater, perhaps, than you
know. Good luck to you, and I hope I may call on you later when we
bring Brown and his assistants to trial.”

“You surely can, Mr. Southwick!” answered Danny.

As O’Hara shook hands with the famous official, the letter said, kindly:

“There may come a time when I can be of some help to you, Mr. O’Hara.
If so, do not hesitate to call on me. You have my promise.”

“Many thanks!” answered the other.

And as the towering figure entered his machine, O’Hara turned to his
nephew and said:

“Danny, do you think he knows who I am?”

“I think so, Uncle Jim. I have felt that right along,” replied the
young man.

O’Hara sighed, and continued:

“I wonder what Mr. Southwick meant about helping me?”

“I don’t know,” responded Danny, “but I do know that Mr. Southwick
appreciates what you have done. He is the kind of man who doesn’t
say much, but I know he attaches the greatest importance to the raid
we have just been through. You’ll have to admit, Uncle Jim, you were
responsible for that!”

“It was little that I did,” answered O’Hara.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed the young man. “You were behind the whole thing.
We couldn’t have proven anything without that bundle of papers. Mr.
Southwick knows that. The capture of Brown will be a big feather in his
cap when the news reaches Washington, and he’s bound to give you full
credit. No, Uncle Jim,” continued Danny, “I don’t think you need fear
anything more. It looks like smooth sailing to me from now on.”

“Do you really think so?” In O’Hara’s voice there was a note of
yearning that did not escape the younger man.

“Yes, Uncle Jim. Now, don’t worry!” he encouraged. “We’ve made a good
friend. Mr. Southwick means what he says. I am sure our troubles are
just about over.”

As the two men motored slowly through the streets in the direction of
the hotel, a share of Danny’s optimism entered the heart of the older
man, and a smile of childlike happiness stole over his saddened face.



CHAPTER XXVII

ON THE BALCONY


Early the next morning Mary Louise was aroused by a tapping at her
door, and Josie burst into the room, followed by Irene, who came more
slowly on her crutches.

“We just had to wake you up, Mary Louise,” cried Josie, “to tell you
the exciting news. They sent out officers to arrest those Browns. They
found his name was Heinrich Braun, and he’s a German up from Mexico.
Who could imagine such a thing!”

Mary Louise leaned back on her pillows, and her eyes looked very large
and lovely with their violet shadows.

“Josie,” she said, “I’ve got a confession to make to you.”

“I’ll bet it isn’t very serious,” laughed the girl.

“Irene, oh, Irene!” Mary Louise called out. “You stay and hear it,
too!” The well-bred girl was almost outside the door before Mary
Louise’s voice halted her.

Then, as the two girls sat on the side of her bed, Mary Louise told
them the story of James O’Hara--the kindly, courageous uncle of Danny
Dexter. She told them of the terrible mistake he had once made--a
mistake atoned for time and again. She told how O’Hara happened to
be on the Brown ranch and how he discovered its dangerous character.
And lastly, she told of the amazing events of the previous evening,
expatiating at length on the heroic part that O’Hara played in them.

When she had finished her recital, Josie burst out:

“Oh, Mary Louise, why didn’t you let me know about O’Hara sooner? I
would never have caused him so much trouble.”

“Well,” said Mary Louise, “he had not proven his mettle at that
time, and that makes a great difference, doesn’t it? But you see how
everything has turned out for the best.”

As Josie sat on the bed, still almost unable to comprehend the amazing
turn that events had taken, Mary Louise turned to her and said softly:

“Josie, dear, don’t you think it would be possible for O’Hara to
arrange to repay that Boston bank in the near future, and go free in
the meantime? I think he deserves the most considerate treatment.”

“I do, too!” spoke up Irene, whose admiring gaze had not shifted from
Mary Louise since the latter started her narrative.

Mary Louise cast a look of gratitude on the sweet-faced girl, as Josie
reflected in silence for a moment.

“Such things are done now and then,” said Josie quietly, “but only in
the most extraordinary cases.”

“But this case _is_ extraordinary!” urged Mary Louise. “Why, Josie,
just think of the heroic way he managed to escape from the ranch! Even
now, he is in danger of arrest because he chose to be loyal under the
most difficult conditions! Could a man be anything but worthy who
thinks more of his country than his own personal safety?”

Mary Louise was about to say more in behalf of Danny’s uncle when Josie
placed her hand on the girl’s arm.

“There’s no need to argue O’Hara’s case further, dear,” she said. “I
agree with you. O’Hara is a real American, and I promise to help him
in every way I can.”

“I’m so glad!” sighed Mary Louise, and she lay back on her pillows.

“And I am, too!” added Irene, whose tender heart had been deeply
touched by Mary Louise’s recital of O’Hara’s story.

“Then, we’re unanimous!” smiled Josie, and added, good-naturedly: “Have
you noticed that it’s always unanimous when Mary Louise sets her heart
on a thing?”

Mary Louise laughed lightly.

“Oh, Josie, how you exaggerate!” she said.

“Girls! Girls!” exclaimed Irene. “Here we are exchanging pleasantries,
and we haven’t yet decided how we are going to help Danny’s uncle!”

Irene was the most practical-minded of all of Mary Louise’s girl
friends, and she was never so happy as when planning some kind deed for
others.

“What would you suggest, Josie?” asked Mary Louise, after a little
silence had fallen on the group.

“Well,” said the girl slowly, “I think my best plan would be to get in
touch with dad. He is still in Washington; at least he was there when I
left several weeks ago. I might wire him about the case, and tell him
to have Crocker patch things up with the Boston bank. I am sure dad
would do it for me. What do you think of the idea?”

“Just the thing!” exclaimed Mary Louise, enthusiastically. “Your father
is the very man! Oh, Josie, how can I ever thank you! I know Danny
would like to hear about the plan, too. Won’t you see him and tell him
about it? He can tell you more about his uncle than I ever could.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Josie, decisively. “I’ll get O’Hara’s whole
story from Danny, and then I’ll wire it to dad. Father will receive it
this afternoon, and we should receive an answer from him not later than
to-morrow night.”

“That will be splendid!” said Mary Louise.

“Yes,” echoed Irene, “and just think of the happiness it will give
Danny’s uncle to know that he is free once more to retrieve himself in
the eyes of the world!”

Mary Louise smiled a glad smile, and thought to herself that Danny,
too, would be overjoyed at the news, but she did not give her thought
utterance. An unaccountable shyness came over her when she thought of
Danny and the delightful night ride of the evening before.

Then the tired girl fell back on her pillow. The strain of the night
before had told on her, so, sending her girl friends from the room, she
turned over into a wonderful slumber that lasted almost through the
afternoon.

About five, Mary Louise arose, bathed and slipped into her soft pink
dressing-gown. Her grandfather entered her little private sitting room
as she was turning from her mirror, and on Mary Louise’s assuring him
that she was perfectly well and rested now, he seated himself in the
one large chair the hotel room held.

Then Mary Louise threw a pillow at his feet and clasping her knees in
her hands, she told him all of her adventure: the tale of O’Hara, the
night ride and the lost automobile.

The Colonel tenderly smoothed her dark curls as she talked, and when
she had finished, he told her of his pride in her in words which made
Mary Louise’s heart glow.

“Have you seen Danny?” Mary Louise asked at last.

The wistful look did not escape the Colonel. Each day both esteem
and affection had increased in him for Danny Dexter. So now he asked
gently: “Shall I send him up to you after dinner?”

“Yes,” said Mary Louise, and suddenly hid her head on her grandfather’s
shoulder.

So it happened that Mary Louise waited for Danny out on the balcony
of her little sitting-room. She had flung a warm dark fur about her
shoulders, and her soft and simple gown gleamed in sweet contrast
to the fur’s richness. She was leaning against the railing as Danny
entered, looking off into the loneliness of the desert.

The final glory of the sun was flooding the whole world with light, and
the mystery of the vast sandy distances was upon her. Mystery was in
her dark eyes, too, as she turned to greet Danny.

The blaze of light turned to the soft dusk of twilight as Danny
stood and gazed at her. Then simply, naturally, and with an infinite
tenderness Danny Dexter stepped through the door and took Mary Louise
in his arms.


THE END



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation has been standardised. Other changes to the original
publication have also been made as follows:

  Page 36
    you clothe you men _changed to_
    you clothe your men

  Page 57
    and Washington messages supercede _changed to_
    and Washington messages supersede

  Page 69
    a rather conspicuous returned solder _changed to_
    a rather conspicuous returned soldier

  Page 72
    There as a brief silence _changed to_
    There was a brief silence

  Page 76
    and he spun the proferred card _changed to_
    and he spun the proffered card

  Page 106
    a feeling of reget _changed to_
    a feeling of regret

  Page 175
    enjoying the ecstacy _changed to_
    enjoying the ecstasy

  Page 192
    There was a few minutes _changed to_
    There were a few minutes

  Page 213
    machine, anad beside him _changed to_
    machine, and beside him





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