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Title: His Great Adventure
Author: Herrick, Robert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "His Great Adventure" ***

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                          [Picture: Book cover]

                          THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                   NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO • DALLAS
                         ATLANTA • SAN FRANCISCO

                         MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
                        LONDON • BOMBAY • CALCUTTA
                                MELBOURNE

                    THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
                                 TORONTO

     [Picture: “She drew up a few rods from the center of activity”]
           “She drew up a few rods from the center of activity”



                           HIS GREAT ADVENTURE


                                * * * * *

                                    BY

                              ROBERT HERRICK

                 AUTHOR OF “TOGETHER,” “ONE WOMAN’S LIFE”
                          “THE COMMON LOT,” ETC.

                                * * * * *

                           _WITH FRONTISPIECE_

                                * * * * *

                                 New York
                          THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                                   1913

                          _All rights reserved_

                                * * * * *

                             COPYRIGHT, 1912,
                     BY THE FRANK A. MUNSEY COMPANY.

                             COPYRIGHT, 1913,
                        BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

                                * * * * *

           Set up and electrotyped.  Published September, 1913.

                                * * * * *

                         FERRIS PRINTING COMPANY
                         NEW YORK. N. Y., U.S.A.



PART I: FORTUNE


I


It was dusk of an April day, and Fifth Avenue was crowded.  A young man,
who had emerged from a large hotel, stood in the stream of traffic and
gazed irresolutely up and down the thoroughfare.  He wore a long, cheap
rain-coat, and his head was covered by a steamer-cap of an old design,
with two flaps tied in a knot across the top, behind which an
overabundant crop of dull black hair pushed forth.

His thin, sallow face was unshaven, and his eyes were rimmed by round
steel spectacles that gave him an almost owlish expression.  An air of
dejection hung about him, as he loitered by the curb—not the imaginative
depression of youth, soon to float off like a cloud before the sun of
life, but rather the settled gloom of repeated failure, as if the
conviction of final doom had already begun to penetrate deeply into his
manhood.

He looked first up the avenue, then down, vacant of purpose, seeing
nothing in the moving pageant.  Finally, as if aroused by certain curious
glances that the less hurried passers-by cast on him, he bestirred
himself and moved on down the avenue, his shoulders stooped, his legs
trailing wearily.

Thus he proceeded for several blocks, never raising his head, stopping
mechanically at the street crossings, resuming his discouraged pace as
the crowd moved on.  Once he plunged his hand into his coat pocket, to
assure himself of some possession, and then withdrew it with a bitter
smile for his unconscious anxiety.

When in this vacant promenade he had reached the lower part of the
avenue, where the crowd was less dense, and less gay and rich in
appearance, he lifted his head and looked musingly into the misty space
before him.

“Well,” he muttered, with tightening lips, “it’s only one more
throw-down.  I ought to be used to ’em by now!”

Nevertheless, his face relapsed into its melancholy expression as he
turned into one of the side streets with the unconscious precision of the
animal following a beaten path to its hole.

He crossed several of the shabbier commercial avenues, which were crowded
with traffic and blocked by men and women returning from the day’s work.
Compared with these tired laborers, he seemed to have a large leisure—the
freedom of absolute poverty.  His thoughts had turned to supper.  Should
he buy a roll and a piece of pie at the bakery on the next corner, or—mad
venture!—dissipate his last resources at the saloon opposite, where the
Italian wife of the Irish proprietor offered appetizing nourishment for a
quarter?

Meditating upon this important decision, the young man entered his own
block.  At one end the elevated trains rattled; at the other, heavy drays
lumbered past in an unbroken file on their way to the ferries; but
between the two there was a strip of quiet, where the dingy old houses
were withdrawn from the street, and in front of them a few dusty shrubs
struggled for life in the bare plots of earth.

In the middle of this block there was an unusually animated scene.  A
group of children had huddled together about some object of interest.  A
horse must have fallen on the pavement, the young man thought dully, or
there was a fight, or a policeman had made a capture.

He hurried his lagging steps, moved by a boyish curiosity.  As he drew
nearer, he perceived that the circle was too small to contain a horse or
a good scrap.  The center of interest must be some unfortunate human
being.  He shouldered his way through the crowd.

“What’s up?” he asked of a small boy.

“A drunk,” was the laconic reply.

Looking over the heads of the boys, the young man could see the figure of
a stoutish, well-dressed man lying prone on the pavement.  His black coat
was spattered with mud, his gray hair rumpled.  His eyes were closed, and
through the open lips his tongue protruded.

“Say, he’s bad!” the boy observed knowingly.  “Just look at him!”

A convulsion shook the prostrate figure.  The face began to twitch, and
one arm waved violently, beating the air.  One or two more mature
passers-by who had been attracted by the disturbance drew off, with the
selfish city excuse that the proper authorities would come in time and
attend to the nuisance.  Not so the idle young man.

“He isn’t drunk!” he exclaimed, pushing his way into the circle and
stooping over the figure.  He had seen too many plain “drunks” in his
newspaper days to be deceived in the symptoms.

“There he goes again!” the boys shouted.

“He has some sort of fit.  Here, one of you give me a hand, and we’ll get
him off the street!”

The boys readily helped the young man to drag the prostrate figure to the
nearest steps, and one of them ran to the corner after a policeman.  When
the officer arrived, the young man, who had steadied the stranger through
another convulsion, said:

“You’ll have to call an ambulance.  We’d better carry him somewhere—can’t
let him lie here in the street like a dog.  We can take him to my room.”

He motioned toward the next house, and with the officer’s assistance
carried the sick man into the rear room on the first floor, which he
unlocked.  Then the policeman drove the curious boys out of the house and
went off to summon the ambulance.  Left alone, the young man dipped a
towel in his water-pitcher, wet the sick man’s brow, then wiped his face
and cleaned the foam and dirt from his beard and lips.

The stranger, lying with half-closed eyes, looked to be rather more than
sixty years of age.  Judging from the quality of his clothes, and from
his smooth hands, he was a well-to-do business man.  Presently his
eyelids began to twitch, then the whole face; the right leg shot out and
beat the air; then the right arm began to wave, and foam oozed from his
lips.

“I wish they’d hurry that ambulance!” the young man thought, as he wiped
the sick man’s face again with the damp towel.  “He won’t last long, at
this rate!”

This convulsion gradually passed off as the others had, and the stranger
lay once more as if dead, his eyes almost wholly closed.  The young man
went to the door and listened nervously, then returned to the prostrate
form, unbuttoned the coat, and felt for the heart.  Immediately the sick
man opened his eyes, and, looking directly into the eyes of the man
bending over him, tried to raise his hand, as if he would protect himself
from a blow.

“It’s all right!” the young man said reassuringly.  “I was just feeling
for your heart, friend.”

The sick man’s lips twitched desperately; and finally, in the faintest
whisper, he managed to stammer:

“Wh-who are you?”

“One Edgar Brainard,” the young man replied promptly.  “Let me unfasten
this vest and make you more comfortable.”

“N-n-no!” the sick man gasped suspiciously.

He managed to clutch Brainard’s wrist with his wavering right hand; his
left lay quite powerless by his side.  His eyes closed again, but the
lips moved silently, as if he were trying to frame sounds.

“He’s going this time, sure!”

The young man slipped his wrist from the feeble grasp, inserted a pillow
under the sick man’s head, and sat back to wait.



II


It was very still in that back room.  No step sounded in the hall, and
the noise from the street came muffled.  In the stillness, the sick man’s
desperate efforts to breathe filled the little room with painful sounds.
Brainard felt the stifling approach of death, and opened the window wide
to get what air would come in from the small court outside.

He studied the figure on the lounge more closely.  The thick, red under
lip curled over the roots of the gray beard.  A short, thick nose gave
the face a look of strong will, even of obstinacy.  There was a foreign
expression to the features that might indicate German descent.

On the third finger of his right hand, the sick man wore an old, plain
gold ring, which had sunk deep into the flesh.  From the inside pocket of
his short coat bulged a thick wallet, over which his right hand rested,
as if to guard precious possessions.

“He thought I was going to rob him!” Brainard observed.  “Expect he’s
been up against it already—and that’s what’s the trouble.”

It was quite dark.  The young man lighted a gas-jet, then went again to
the door.  As he stood there, listening, he felt the old man’s eyes on
him, and turned to look at him.  The eyes, now wide open, held him,
asking what the lips refused to utter.

Brainard went back to his patient and leaned over to catch the flutter
from the moving lips.  At last, as if with great exertion, the murmur
came:

“Wh-wh-what are you go-going to do—to do—with me?”

In spite of the faintness of the whisper, it was the voice of one
accustomed to being answered.

“I’ve sent an officer for an ambulance,” Brainard replied.  “It ought to
be here before now, I should think.  They’ll take you to some hospital
and fix you up,” he added encouragingly.

The lips twitched into a semblance of a smile, then mumbled:

“No—not—th-this time.”

“What’s the matter—accident?” Brainard asked.

The sick man did not attempt to reply, as if he considered the question
of trifling importance.  Instead, his eyes studied the young man’s face
intently.  Evidently his brain was clearing from the shock, whatever had
caused it, and he was revolving some purpose.  Soon the lips began to
move once more, and Brainard bent close to catch the faint sounds.

“Wh-wh-what’s your bus-bus-i-ness?”

“Oh, I’ve had lots of businesses,” the young man replied carelessly.
“Been on a newspaper, in the ad business, real estate, and so on.”  He
added after a moment, with a little ironical laugh, “Just now I’m in the
literary business—a dramatist.”

The sick man looked puzzled, and frowned, as if disappointed.  Perhaps
his cloudy brain could not assort this information with his purpose.
Presently his brow contracted, his face twitched violently, the right leg
shot out.

“I say!  It’s too bad,” the young man exclaimed sympathetically.  “I wish
I knew what to do for you.  Where can that ambulance be?”  He laid one
hand on the sick man’s hot brow, and held his arm with the other.  “Easy
now!” he exclaimed, as the right arm began whirling.  “There!  Steady!
It’s going off.”

Instead of closing his eyes, as he had done after the previous attacks,
and relapsing into coma, the sick man made an immediate effort to speak.

“Co-come here,” he articulated faintly.  “Important, very important.”

He groped feebly for his inner pocket.

“You want me to take out this bundle?” Brainard asked, laying his hand on
the bulky wallet.

The man made an affirmative sign, and kept his eyes steadily on Brainard
while the latter gently extracted the pocketbook.

“You—you will do something for me?” the stranger said more distinctly
than he had hitherto spoken, as if urgency were clearing his mind.  “You
can—you can start to-night?”

“I’m not very busy,” the young man said, with a laugh.  “I guess I could
start for Hong-Kong on a few minutes’ notice.”

“Not Hong-Kong,” the old man labored forth literally.  “You’re honest?”

It was said in a tone of self-conviction rather than of question.

“Oh, I guess so,” the young man answered lightly.  “At least, what’s
called honest—never had a chance to steal anything worth taking!”  He
added more seriously, to quiet the sick man, who seemed to be laboring
under excitement, “Tell me what you want done, and I’ll do my best to put
it through for you.”

The sick man’s eyes expressed relief, and then his brow contracted, as if
he were summoning all his powers in a final effort to make a clogged
brain do his urgent will.

“Lis-lis-listen,” he murmured.  “No—no, write—write it down,” he went on,
as Brainard leaned forward.

Brainard looked about his bare room for paper, but in vain.  He felt in
his pockets for a stray envelope, then drew from his overcoat a roll of
manuscript.  He glanced at it dubiously for a moment, then tore off the
last sheet, which had on one side a few lines of typewriting.  With a
gesture of indifference, he turned to the sick man and prepared to take
his message.

“All ready,” he remarked.  “I can take it in shorthand, if you want.”

“Sev-en, thir-ty-one, and four.  Sev-en, thir-tyone, and four.  Sev-en,
thir-ty-one, and four,” he repeated almost briskly.

Brainard looked at him inquiringly, and the stranger whispered the
explanation: “Combi-na-tion pri-vate safe—understand?”  Brainard nodded.

“Where?”

“Office—San Francisco.”

The young man whistled.

“That’s a good ways off!  What do you want me to do there?”

“Take _everything_.”

“What shall I do with the stuff?  Bring it here to New York?” the young
man inquired, with growing curiosity.

The sick man’s blue eyes stared at him steadily, with a look of full
intelligence.

“I shall be dead then,” he mumbled.

“Oh, I hope not!” Brainard remarked.

But with unflinching eyes, the sick man continued:

“You must have—pow-er—pow-er of attorney.”

He brought the words out with difficulty, not wasting his strength by
discussing his chances of recovery.  He was evidently growing weaker, and
Brainard had to bend close to his lips in order to catch the faint
whisper, “Take it down!”

And with his face beginning to twitch, and the convulsive tremors running
over his body, the sick man summoned all his will and managed to dictate
a power of attorney in legal terms, as if he were familiar with the
formula.  When he had finished, his eyes closed, and his lips remained
open.  Brainard dropped his paper and felt for the sick man’s heart.  It
was still beating faintly.

After a few moments, the eyes opened mistily, and again the man made an
effort to collect himself for another effort.

“What shall I do with the stuff?” Brainard inquired.

“Ge-get it out of the country.  Take it to—to Ber-Ber-Ber—”

“Bermuda?” Brainard suggested.

“Ber_lin_!” the sick man corrected with a frown.  As if to impress his
messenger with the seriousness of his work, he added, “If you don’t get
away, they’ll—kill you.”

“Oh!” Brainard exclaimed, impressed.

The blue eyes examined the young man steadily, as if they would test his
metal.  Then, satisfied, the man murmured:

“Quick—must—sign—quick!  Now!” he concluded, as his face began to twitch.

Brainard handed him a pen, and held his right arm to steady him while he
scrawled his name—“H. Krutzmacht.”  The sick man traced the letters
slowly, patiently, persisting until he had dashed a heavy line across the
t’s and another beneath the name; then he dropped the pen and closed his
eyes.

When another moment of control came to him, he whispered uneasily:

“Witness?  Must have witness.”

“We’ll find some one—don’t worry,” the young man replied lightly.  “The
ambulance man, when he comes, if he ever does come!”

Brainard did not yet take very seriously the idea of starting that night
for San Francisco to rifle a safe.

“Mo-mo-money,” the voice began, and the eyes wandered to the fat wallet
which Brainard had deposited on the table.

Brainard lifted the wallet.

“Plen-plen-plenty of mon-money!”

“I understand,” the young man replied.  “There’s enough cash for the
journey in here.”

As he laid the wallet down, there was the welcome sound of feet in the
passage outside, and with an exclamation of relief the young man flung
open the door.  The ambulance surgeon was there with an assistant and a
stretcher.  With a muttered explanation for his delay, the doctor went at
once to the sick man and examined him, while Brainard told what he knew
of his strange guest.

“Tries to talk all the time—must be something on his mind!” he said, as
another convulsion seized the sick man.  “Been doped, I should say.”

“Looks like brain trouble, sure,” the ambulance surgeon remarked,
watching the stranger closely.  “He can’t last long that way.  Well, we’d
better hustle him to the hospital as soon as we can.”

They had the sick man on the stretcher before he had opened his eyes from
his last attack.  As they lifted him, he mumbled excitedly, and Brainard,
listening close to his lips, thought he understood what was troubling
him.

“He wants that paper witnessed,” he explained.  “I forgot—it’s something
he dictated to me.”

“Well, hurry up about it,” the surgeon replied carelessly, willing to
humor the sick man.  “Here!”

Brainard dipped his pen in the ink-bottle and handed it to the surgeon,
who lightly dashed down his signature at the bottom of the sheet, without
reading it.

“Now are we ready?” the doctor demanded impatiently.

But the blue eyes arrested Brainard, and the young man, stooping over the
stretcher, caught a faint whisper:

“You’ll g-g-go?”

“Sure!”

“Gi-gi-give it all to—”

Krutzmacht struggled hard to pronounce a name, but he could not utter the
word.

“It’s no use!” the doctor exclaimed.  “Tell him to wait until he’s
better.”

But Brainard, moved by the sick man’s intense look of mental distress,
raised his hand to the doctor and listened.  At last the whispered
syllable reached his ear:

“M-M-Mel—”

“I tell you it’s no use!” the ambulance doctor repeated irritably.
“They’ll find out at the hospital what he wants done.  Come on!”

As they bore the stretcher through the narrow door, the agonized
expression gave way, and the sick man articulated more distinctly:

“Mel-Melo—”

“Melo-melodrama!” Brainard said.  “It’s all right, my friend.  Don’t
worry—I’ll fix it up for you!”

With astonishing distinctness came back the one word:

“Melody!”

“All right—Melody!”

The sick man would have said more, but the ambulance men bore him swiftly
to the waiting vehicle and shoved him in.

“Will you come along?” the doctor asked.

“No.  I’ll look in some time to-morrow, probably—St. Joseph’s, isn’t it?”

The sick man’s eyes still rested on Brainard, when the latter poked his
head into the dark ambulance.  They seemed to glow with a full
intelligence, and also with a command, as if they said:

“Do just what I’ve told you to do!”

“He knows what he wants, even if he can’t say it,” Brainard muttered to
himself as the ambulance moved off.  “Poor old boy!”



III


When Brainard opened the door of his room, he heard the rustle of papers
on the floor, blown about by the draft from the window.  He lighted his
lamp and picked up the loose sheets, which were the typewritten leaves of
his last play—the one that he had finally got back that very afternoon
from a famous actor-manager, without even the usual note of polite regret
from the secretary.  The absence of that familiar note had dejected him
especially.

He shoved the rejected play into his table drawer indifferently, thinking
of the sick man’s last urgent look, and of the terrible effort he had
made to articulate his final words.  What did he mean by “Melody”?
Perhaps the old fellow was really out of his head, and all the rest about
his valuable papers in some private safe at the other end of the
continent was mythical—the fancy of an unhinged mind.

But the memory of the old man’s face—of those keen blue eyes—made
Brainard reject such a commonplace solution of the puzzle.  The sick man
had been in this room with him for a full half-hour, and the place still
seemed filled with his positive, commanding personality.

No!  The man who signed “H. Krutzmacht” to the sheet lying on the table
before him was no vague lunatic.  Though he might be at the extremity of
life, almost unable to articulate, nevertheless his purpose was clear to
himself, and his will was as strong as ever.

Brainard was hungry.  Snatching up his old cap, he went out to the
neighboring avenue, and, without hesitation, entered the most expensive
restaurant in sight—a resort he frequented only on rare days of opulence.
Instead of the oyster-stew and doughnuts which had latterly been his
luxurious limit, he ordered a good dinner, as if he had earned it, and
devoured the food without the usual qualms of prudence.

His spirits had undergone a marvelous change from the timid, fearful
state in which he had been that afternoon.  He wondered at his own
confidence.  Complacently selecting a good cigar at the cashier’s desk,
he strolled back to his room, his body peacefully engaged in the
unaccustomed task of digesting a full meal.

When he entered his dreary little room, his eye fell upon the wallet,
which lay under the table where he had dropped it.  What was he going to
do with that—with this whole Krutzmacht business?  Why, simply nothing at
all.  In the morning, he would go around to St. Joseph’s and see how the
sick man was.  If Krutzmacht recovered, there was nothing to do but to
return his pocketbook.  But if he got worse, or was dead already?  Well,
Brainard could turn the wallet over to the hospital people or the
coroner, and that would end the affair for him.

With this prudent resolution he took his play from the drawer, and looked
it over.  His interest in the thing had quite gone, and the sting of its
rejection no longer smarted.  Very likely it was as bad as the managers
to whom he had submitted it seemed to think.  He tied the manuscript
together with a piece of twine, and shoved it back into the drawer.

One sheet—that last one on which he had taken down Krutzmacht’s
dictation—was missing from this roll.  That sheet contained his final
curtain.  He looked at the lines, and smiled as he read.  The Lady Violet
was parting from her lover, with the following dialogue:

    VIOLET.—Oh, Alexander!

    ALEXANDER.—Violet!

    VIOLET.—What will you do, dearest?

    ALEXANDER.—I go on my great adventure!

    VIOLET.—Your great adventure?

    ALEXANDER.—Life!

He turned the sheet over.  On the other side were the few shorthand notes
he had hastily jotted down—the figures of the safe combination and the
power of attorney with its legal phrases, the latter written out again
below in long hand.  At the bottom of the sheet, just beneath Alexander’s
heroic announcement to Violet, were the three signatures.  The old man’s
blunt name dominated the others—a firm, black scrawl with a couple of
vicious dashes.

The powerful will of the sick man, working in what might be the agony of
death, spoke in that signature.  Brainard felt that there was something
mysterious in it.  The name spoke to him as the eyes had spoken to him,
personally.  Criminal?  Possibly.  Dramatic?  Oh, surely!  He felt
instinctively that there was more drama on this side of the sheet than on
the other.

He folded the paper carefully and put it in his inner pocket.  It would
be an interesting souvenir.

As the young man sat and smoked in his little room, the comfort of his
abundant meal penetrating his person, he felt more and more the drama of
actual life touching him, calling to him to take a hand in it.  He
reached unconsciously for the fat wallet, and opened it.  There were some
legal papers—contracts and leases and agreements, at which Brainard
merely glanced.

He felt into the inner recesses of the old-fashioned wallet, and from one
pocket extracted a thick sheaf of bank-notes.  They were in large
denominations—hundreds, fifties, and twenties.  Brainard smoothed out the
bills on his knee and carefully counted them; in all there was rather
more than four thousand dollars.

“The old boy traveled with quite a wad!” he muttered, fingering the crisp
bills.

The touch of the money gave a curious electric thrill to his thoughts.
Here was an evidence of reality that made the old man’s mumbled words and
intense effort assume a reasonable shape.  When Krutzmacht let Brainard
take possession of this wallet, he knew what it contained.  He trusted to
a stranger in his desperate need.

Still feeling around in the folds of the wallet, Brainard extracted a
railroad-ticket of voluminous length for San Francisco.

“He was on his way to the train!” Brainard exclaimed, and added
unconsciously, “when they got him and did him up!”

Already his busy mind had accepted the hypothesis of enemies and foul
play rather than that of disease.

With the railroad-ticket and the money in his hand, he stood staring
before him, still debating the matter.  Something seemed to rise within
him, some determination—a spirit of daring which he had not felt for
years.

Mechanically he put the papers and bank-notes back into the wallet, and
shoved it into his pocket.  Then he looked at his watch.  It was nearly
ten o’clock.  If he was to leave to-night, as the old man had ordered,
there was no more time to lose.

Without further hesitation, he threw a few articles into an old bag and
started for the ferry.  On the way he stopped to telephone the hospital.
After a delay which made him impatient, he learned that the sick man was
resting quietly—“still unconscious,” the nurse said.  So he had not
spoken again.

When Brainard reached the station in Jersey City, having a few moments to
spare, he wrote a brief note to the hospital authorities, saying that he
was leaving the city on business, and would call on his return in a week
or ten days.  He inclosed several bank-notes, requesting that the sick
man should have every comfort.  Having dropped his letter into the box he
stepped into the Chicago sleeper.  The exhilarating beat of his heart
told him that he had done well.

The disdainful look that the porter had given him when he took charge of
his shabby bag, as well as the curious glances of his fellow passengers,
the next morning, made Brainard conscious of his eccentric appearance.
But all that he could do, for the present, to improve his neglected
person, was to have himself shaved and his hair cut.  He was obliged to
keep his rain-coat on, although the car was hot, in order to cover up a
large hole in his trousers—the only pair he possessed.

He resolved to employ the few hours in Chicago, between trains, in making
himself as decent as possible.  Meanwhile he ate three good meals and
furtively watched his more prosperous fellow travelers.



IV


It was a very different person, in appearance, who seated himself on the
observation platform of the Overland Limited that evening.  Only the
round steel spectacles were left as a memento of Brainard’s former
condition.  He had had no scruples in helping himself freely from the
store of bills in the wallet.  What lay before him to do for the sick man
would probably be difficult, in any event, and it would be foolish to
handicap himself by presenting a suspicious appearance at Krutzmacht’s
office.  He would play his part properly dressed.

So, when he glanced into the little mirror beside his berth, he smiled in
satisfaction at the clean-shaven, neatly dressed, alert young man who
looked back at him.  With his ragged habiliments he seemed also to have
discarded that settled look of failure, and not a few of his years.
Without unduly flattering himself, he felt that he might easily be taken
for one of the energetic young brokers or lawyers whom he observed on the
train.

Removing his new hat, and stretching his well-shod feet on the cushioned
seat opposite, he took up the evening newspapers and glanced through them
for some telegraphic item about the fate of his mysterious employer.  If
Krutzmacht were a well-known figure, as he supposed likely, reporters
must doubtless have discovered him before this and proclaimed his
predicament to the world.  But Brainard could find no reference to any
such person in the newspapers, and with a sigh of relief he let them slip
from his lap.

His task would be easier, if it could be accomplished while the sick man
lay undiscovered in the hospital.  If he should already be dead, when he
arrived, there would be an end to Brainard’s job altogether; and that
would have been a keen disappointment to the young man.

His job?  A hundred times his mind reverted to this perplexing
consideration—what, exactly, was he to do when he had reached the end of
his long journey?

First, he would find where Krutzmacht’s offices were, and then?  He had
been told to make off with whatever he might find in the private safe.
For this purpose he had provided himself, in Chicago, with a bulky
leather valise, in which his discarded raiment was now reposing.  It all
sounded like an expedition in high piracy, but he quieted any scruples
with the resolve that he would make off merely to New York, if Krutzmacht
still lived, instead of Berlin, and remain there to await further
developments.

So, as the Overland Limited rushed across the prairie states, Brainard
took counsel with himself, mentally sketching out his every move from the
moment when he should step from the train.  The readiness with which his
mind reached out to this new situation surprised himself; he was already
becoming in some way a new person.

The journey itself was a revelation to him and an education.  With his
Broadway prejudice that the United States stopped somewhere just above
the Bronx and behind the Jersey hills, he was astonished to find so much
habitable country beyond these horizons and so many people in it who did
not seem to depend upon New York City for their livelihood or happiness.
At first he was so much preoccupied with his errand and himself in his
surprising new rôle that he paid little attention to the scenes spread
before his eyes.  Chicago impressed him only as a dirtier and more
provincial New York.  But the next morning when he awoke at Omaha he
began to realize that America was more than a strip of land along the
Atlantic seaboard, and by the time the train had left Ogden his respect
for his fatherland had immensely increased.

He noticed also that the character of the people on the train was
gradually changing.  Large, rough-looking men, with tanned faces not too
carefully shaved, and sometimes with a queer assortment of jewelry and
patent leather shoes took the places of the pallid, smooth shaven
business men that had been his companions from Jersey City to Chicago.
There were also a number of women traveling alone, large, competent, and
not overrefined.  Brainard, whose ideas of Americans other than the types
to be seen on the streets of New York had been drawn from the travestied
figures of the stage,—the miner and the cowboy with flapping sombrero and
chaps,—watched these new specimens of his fellow countrymen with keen
interest.  In spite of their rather uncouth speech and their familiarity
with the negro porters, they were attractive.  They had a vigorous air
about them, indicating that they came from a big country, with big ways
of doing things in it, and a broad outlook over wide horizons.  The
would-be dramatist began to perceive that the world was not peopled
wholly by the types that the American stage had made familiar to him.

A little way beyond Ogden the train rolled out into the bright blue
inland sea of the Great Salt Lake and trundled on for mile after mile in
the midst of the water on a narrow strip of rocky roadbed.  Brainard had
read in the newspapers of this famous “Lucin cut-off” where in an effort
to save a detour of a few miles around the shore of the lake millions of
tons of “fill” had been dumped into an apparently bottomless hole.  The
pluck and the energy of that road builder who had conceived this work and
kept at it month after month, dumping trainloads of rock into a great
lake had not specially thrilled him when he read of it.  But now the
imagination and the courage of the little man who did this sort of thing
thrilled him.  Harriman, the bold doer of this and greater things, was of
course a popular Wall Street hero to the New Yorker,—one of those
legendary creatures who were supposed to have their seat of power in the
lofty cliffs of that narrow Via Dolorosa and somehow like the alchemists
of old conjure great fortunes out of air, with the aid of the “tape.”
That was the way in which this young man had always thought of
Harriman,—“the wizard of railroad finance.”

But now as he glided smoothly over the solid roadbed that ran straight
westward into the remote distance with the salt waves almost lapping the
tracks and leaving a white crust from their spume, with lofty mountains
looming to south and to north,—as he stood on the rear platform of the
heavy steel train observing this marvelous panorama,—a totally new
conception of the renowned financier came to him.  This was not done by
watching the tape!  It demanded will and force and imagination and
faith—spiritual qualities in a man—to do this.  The young traveler
mentally did homage to the character that had created the wonderful
highway over which for a day and a half he had been comfortably borne in
luxurious ease.

As he watched the blue mountains about Ogden fade into the haze, it
seemed that New York, his life there, and all his conventional
conceptions of the little world in which he had vainly struggled for
existence also receded and grew smaller, less real.  The train in its
westward flight was bearing him forward into a new world, within as well
as without!  As the track began to wind up again to higher levels before
taking its next great leap over the Sierras, Brainard went forward to the
smoking room, his usual post of observation, where he sat through long,
meditative hours, listening to the talk about him and gazing at the
fleeting landscape.  Whatever else it might mean,—this jaunt across the
continent on a stranger’s errand,—it was bringing him a rich cargo of new
ideas.

Of all his fellow travelers the man who happened to occupy the
drawing-room in the car where Brainard had his section aroused his
curiosity especially.  He was one of those well-dressed, alert young
business men who had made Brainard conscious of his shabby and
inappropriate appearance when he first started on his journey.  The door
of his room had been closed all the way to Chicago, and Brainard had seen
nothing of the man.  But since the train left Omaha the door to the
drawing-room had been open, and from his section Brainard observed its
occupant diligently reading a book.  What aroused his attention and
interested him in the stranger more than his pleasant appearance of frank
good humor had been the sort of book he had chosen for this long journey.
It was bound like a “best seller” in a gaudy red cloth, and a picture of
a starry-eyed maiden with floating hair adorned the cover.  But it was
labeled in unmistakable black letters _Paradise Lost_.  Brainard, who had
made a painful and superficial acquaintance in his youth with this poetic
masterpiece, decided that the smartly dressed young American could not be
devoting the journey to Milton’s epic.  It must be that some writer of
best sellers had cribbed the great poet’s title and fitted it to a less
strenuous tale of love and starry-eyed maidens.  This theory, however,
broke down before the fact that from time to time the young man consulted
a small black book that was indubitably a dictionary, and Brainard taking
advantage of a moment when the traveler had left his room assured himself
that the book was really a copy of Milton’s poem set within profane
modern covers.  Just why this young man should spend his hours on the
train reading the puritan epic of heaven and hell puzzled Brainard and
whetted his curiosity to know what sort of man the stranger was.

Earlier this morning as the train was climbing down from the Rockies into
Utah, an opportunity had come to speak to his fellow traveler.  The train
had pulled up somewhere before a desolate station whose architect had
tried to make a Queen Anne cottage that looked singularly out of place in
the bare, wild landscape.  While the engine took its long drink, the
passengers stretched their legs and enjoyed the crisp mountain air.  The
stranger came to the vestibule, yawned, and read the name of the station:

“Palisade, is it? . . .  The last time I was over this way it looked more
lively than this.”

“What was happening?” Brainard inquired.

“There was a bunch of miners somewheres in Utah making trouble, on a
strike.  The company had brought in a couple of carloads of greasers, and
the miners were down here shooting up the party.”

He got down to the ground, yawned again, and opened a gold cigarette case
which he offered to Brainard,—“Have one?”

Brainard took one of the monogrammed cigarettes, and they sauntered
together in the sunlight.

“Yes, sir,” his new acquaintance continued, “they sure did have a lively
time.  The greasers were over there on the siding in their cars, and they
just let go at ’em with their guns.  Now and then they’d hit the station,
for fun, you know.  I guess maybe you can see the holes yet.”

The young man pointed up at some scars among the shingles and a broken
window in the upper story.  “Sure enough they left their marks!”

“What did they do to ’em?” Brainard asked naïvely, as they returned to
the car when the conductor droned “all aboard.”

“Who?” the stranger asked.  “The police?”

He waved a hand at the desolate stretch of sage brush backed by grim
mountains and laughed.  As the train moved off, he added, “Lord, I don’t
know!  They were still popping when my train pulled out.  There weren’t
many greasers fit to work in the mines.  What was left after the
reception must have walked home—a long ways.”

Brainard was somewhat impressed with the possibilities of a country that
could offer such a scrap, _en passant_, so to speak.  The stranger
invited him into his room and gave him another cigarette.

“From New York?” he inquired.  “Not a bad sort of place,” he observed
tolerantly.  “Ever been on the Coast?  You’ve something to see.”

“How is San Francisco since the earthquake?” Brainard inquired, thinking
to come cautiously and guardedly to the topic of Krutzmacht.

“It’s all there and more than ever,” the stranger cheerily responded.
“You won’t find any large cracks,” he jested.

“It’s queer that you all went straight back to the same ground and built
over again.”

“Why?  It was home, wasn’t it?  Folks always have a feeling for the place
they’ve lived in, even if it has disadvantages.  It’s only human!”

Brainard reflected that this was a sentimental point of view he should
hardly have expected from the practical sort of man opposite him.  In the
course of their conversation Brainard inquired about the graft
prosecution then in full swing, which had attracted the notice even of
eastern papers on account of the highly melodramatic flavor that a
picturesque prosecuting attorney had given to the proceedings.  The man
from San Francisco readily gave his point of view, which was unfavorable
to the virtuous citizens engaged in the task of civic purification.  When
Brainard asked about the celebrated prosecuting attorney, the stranger
looked at him for the first time suspiciously, and said coldly:

“Well, as that gentleman has just been parading up and down the state
saying he was going to put me in state prison for the better part of my
remaining years, I can’t say I have a high opinion of him.”

“Indeed!” Brainard emitted feebly.  The stranger was more mysterious than
ever.  He did not seem in the least like a candidate for state prison.

“You see,” the young man continued cheerfully, “I’m loose now on about
seventy-five thousand dollars of bonds.  Time was up in fact day before
yesterday, and I’ve been wondering some what they are going to do to my
bondsmen.  Well, we’ll find out at Ogden when we get the coast papers.”

And when they reached Ogden Brainard ventured to inquire, seeing his new
acquaintance deep in the folds of a San Francisco newspaper,—“Well, what
did they do to those bondsmen?”

“Nothing yet, so far as I can see.  Oh, hell, it’s all bluff anyway!” and
he dropped his newspaper out of the open window. . . .

A man of such cheerful and frank presence, who read _Paradise Lost_ (with
the aid of a dictionary) and traveled to New York on seventy-five
thousand dollars of bail bonds was a curiosity to Brainard.  He very much
wished to ask him a few impertinent questions in order to satisfy his
curiosity, but could not summon sufficient courage, though he felt sure
that the agreeable stranger would cheerfully enlighten him.



V


As Brainard entered the smoking compartment of the “club car,” he
observed that his interesting fellow traveler was in close conversation
with a new arrival, who had taken the section opposite Brainard at Ogden.
He had already noted this grizzled, thickset person, about sixty years
old, who wore a black frock coat, had a large seal ring and a massive
Masonic charm.  When the newcomer opened his grip to extract a black
skull cap, he had seen that the remaining contents of the bag were a mass
of papers, a few bits of loose rock, and a bottle of whisky.  Whatever
toilet articles the traveler carried were carefully concealed.

Already the oldish, grizzled traveler with the skull cap was at home, the
center of a little group of men at one of the card tables,—a bottle of
beer in front of him, a cigar tilted at an angle between his teeth.  He
was conversing with that perfect naturalness and freedom that Brainard
had observed was the custom in this large country, even among complete
strangers.

“Yes, sir,” he was saying, “I came back from Alaska in 1907 broke,—that
is, what you might call broke,—a couple of thousand dollars all I had in
the world.  I said to my wife, ‘I’m done with mines!  For good.  I’ve
spent the better part of thirty years chasing gold, and there may be
money to be got out of the ground, but it ain’t for me.’  And would you
believe it?  The next morning I was starting for Union!  Met a man I knew
at the hotel in Seattle and he showed me some samples of the ore they
were taking out there.  And I started.  The old woman too.  Been there
ever since!”  He paused as if to let the others say “Kismet!” and
repeated,—“Been there ever since, working the next claim.  My wife died
six months ago, and I got lonely and thought I’d come out and see what
had happened to Frisco since the quake.”

From this point the talk drifted on erratically as the train rushed
towards the Sierras.  The agreeable young man who read _Paradise Lost_
and was under bonds to justice seemed to have an extensive acquaintance
in common with the grizzled miner.  They discussed some Scotchman who had
been mining but now owned an oil well in the “Midway field” that was
reputed to be bringing in five thousand dollars a day.  Another of their
friends—an Englishman—had a silver “proposition” in Mexico.  There was
also Jimmie Birt who owned a string of horses and had sunk a fortune in a
mine in British Columbia, but Jimmie, it seemed, was making good in
Oregon timber land.  So it went with one adventurer after another,
roaming this side of the continent, now penniless, to-morrow with
millions, restlessly darting from subarctic Alaska to subtropical Mexico
along the coast or the mountain spine of the continent.  They sought gold
and silver and copper, oil and wood and cattle, water-power, wheat, and
wine,—it made little odds what.  Everything was a “big proposition” in
which to make or lose.  Brainard drank in the varied biography of this
company of adventurers, his brain fired with the excitements of their
risks.  Krutzmacht, it seemed to him, must have been such a one as these.
He was on the point of asking the old miner, who was the principal
talker, if he had ever heard of Krutzmacht, when his ears caught the
words:

“I see by to-day’s San Francisco paper that a receivership has been asked
for the Shasta companies.  That means they’ve got Krutzmacht, don’t it?”

“I expect so—he’s been on the edge some time from what I hear,” the
younger man replied.

“So they got him. . . .  I thought Herb would make good—he was a nervy
Dutchman, if there ever was one!  But he couldn’t go up against that
crowd.”

“When he began building his road through the mountains to the Bay, the S.
P. crowd went for him and shut off his credit.  You’ve got to get
permission to do some things in California.”

“I’m told he’d built up a big property.”

“That’s right—if he’d been able to hold on, there would have been
millions, what with the power company, the timber, the railroad, and the
land.  That’s why the S. P. people wanted it!  They waited, and when the
panic came on, they began squeezing him.  I saw him in New York a few
days ago.  I suppose he was trying to get money from some of those big
Jew bankers where he’d got it before.  But it isn’t the right time to
pass the hat in Wall Street just now.”

The talk ran on desultorily about “the S. P. crowd,” who it seemed were
the financial dictators of the Pacific Coast and “the nerve of the
Dutchman who went up against that bunch.”  Brainard listened closely to
every word, but refrained from asking questions for fear of betraying an
undue interest in Krutzmacht.  As far as he could make out, with his
inexperience in business affairs, Krutzmacht’s companies were valuable
and solvent, but he himself was embarrassed, as many men of large
enterprises were at this time, and his enemies had taken this opportune
moment to get possession of his properties, using for that purpose the
courts of which they seemed to have control as they had of the
legislature and the governor.

“It’s a shame,” the younger stranger remarked frankly; “I expect they’ll
put him through the mill and take every dollar he owns.”

“They’ll eat the hide off him all right!”

“Well, well,” the miner sighed in conclusion.  “So Herb’s lost out!  He’s
a nervy one, though, obstinate as a mule.  Wouldn’t surprise me if he
crawled through somehow.  I remember him years ago when he had a mine
down in Arizona, a big low-grade copper proposition.  That was in
nineteen four, no,—three.  It was another of those big schemes, too big
for any one man,—a railroad and a smelter besides the mine.  He claimed
there was a fortune in it—and I guess it was so—only he was forced to
shut down, and the next I heard of him he was out here on the Coast in
this Shasta proposition.”

And that was all they had to say about Krutzmacht.



VI


“Do you know who that man is?” Brainard asked the old miner as the
gentleman under bonds to return to California strolled out of the smoking
room.

“Why, that’s Eddie Hollinger.”

“And who is Mr. Hollinger?”

“Say, young feller, don’t you ever read the papers where you live?  Why,
he’s the boss of the prize ring business here on the Coast,—the ‘fight
trust,’ as they call it.  Made lots of money.  Mighty fine feller Ed is,
too.  He’s having his troubles these days the same as the rest of us.
They’re trying him for bribery, you know.”

After he had delivered himself of an impassioned defense of the “business
men who were being hounded by a lot of hypocrites,” Brainard led him back
to Krutzmacht, or as the miner preferred to call him, “that nervy
Dutchman.”  But beyond elaborating the story of his own personal
encounter with the German a number of years before somewhere in Arizona,
the miner could add little to what had already been told.  The German was
a daring and adventurous man, who had been “known on the Coast” for
thirty years or more,—always involved in some large financial venture in
which he had been backed by capital from his native land.  “But it’s up
and down with all of us,” he sighed in conclusion and drifted on to tell
his own story.  He talked with the volubility and hopefulness of youth.
When he said that he hadn’t seen a white man in six months except the
dozen “dagoes” working his claim, his volubility seemed to Brainard
excusable.  It was less easy to explain his hopeful mood, for it appeared
that he had knocked about the mountain states for the better part of a
lifetime with scarcely more to show for his efforts than what was
contained in his lean bag.  But the roll of blue prints of his claim,
with the little bag of specimen ore, was in his eyes a sure guarantee of
fortune.

“You’d oughter see my mine,—the Rosy Lee I call it because that was my
wife’s name.  It’s a winner sure!  I’m expecting they’ll break into the
vein every blast.  May get a wire in Frisco that they’re in, and then you
bet I’ll go whooping back to pick up the dollars!  The Union, next door
to me, so to speak, got some ore that ran forty thousand to the
ton—they’ve taken out four millions already.”

He rambled on about “shoots,” “winzes,” “stopes,” “faults,” and
geological formation until he had thoroughly fired the young man’s
imagination with the fascinating lure of the search for “metal.”  They
examined the specimens in the old miner’s bag and talked far into the
night while the train panted up the steep grades and the moonlight lay
white on the snowdrifts of the mountains outside.

“Come back with me, young feller,” the miner said in his simple,
expansive manner, “and I’ll show you some life you’ve never seen! . . .
It’s kind of lonesome up there now the old woman’s gone. . . .  You’ll
make money.”

“I’d like to,” Brainard responded warmly.  “Nothing better!  Perhaps I
will some day, but I can’t this trip.”

“Come soon,” the old fellow urged, “or you’ll find me at the Waldorf in
your own town.”

                                * * * * *

Brainard lay awake in his berth long afterwards, listening to the
laboring locomotives as they pulled the heavy train over the mountains,
rushed through the snowsheds, and emerged occasionally to give glimpses
of steep, snowy hillsides.  The rarefied air of the lofty altitude had
set his pulses humming.  So much it seemed had happened to him already
since he stepped aboard the train in Jersey City that he could hardly
realize himself.  The “boss of the fight trust” and the cheerful miner
who had “lost the old woman six months back” and still had faith after a
lifetime of disappointments that he would dig a fortune from that “hole
up in them hills,” were real experiences to the young man.  The simple,
natural, human quality of these strangers appealed to him.  “It must be
the west,” he generalized easily.  “I suppose Krutzmacht is the same
sort,—large-hearted, simple, a good gambler.”  But the man who had signed
his name between convulsions,—H. KRUTZMACHT,—didn’t seem to fit the same
genial frame.  He was of sterner stuff.  “Anyway he’s given me one fine
time and I’ll do what I can for him out there!”  It was useless to
speculate further as to what awaited him in San Francisco.  It might be
that court proceedings having already begun, the affair would be taken
out of his hands completely.  He might find a telegram from Krutzmacht
countermanding his orders.

At last he dropped to sleep, buoyant and eager for that unknown future
that lay before him, while the train having surmounted the last mountain
barrier wound slowly down into the green, fruit-covered valleys of
California.



VII


The Overland was several hours late; it was nearly four o’clock of a
foggy April afternoon before Brainard emerged from the ferry station with
his big valise in his hand.  His first intention had been to go to a
hotel and there deposit his bag and make inquiries.  The miner had urged
him to accompany him to the old “Palace.”  “They say it’s finer than ever
since the quake.”  But Brainard, reflecting that it was Saturday
afternoon and considering that a few hours’ delay might mean the loss of
two days, shook hands with his fellow travelers and turned to the
telephone booths to discover Krutzmacht’s city address.  When he had
memorized the street and number he started up Market Street, still
carrying his bag.  He was astonished to see how thoroughly the city had
recovered from its disaster in little more than a year.  There were large
gaps in the business blocks, to be sure, but it was a lively, substantial
city with a great deal of building going forward, especially in the noisy
erection of tall steel buildings.  The very sight of these ambitious
structures inspired courage!

After a short walk Brainard found himself at the entrance of a large, new
building on Sutter Street that corresponded with the number he had
memorized.  He stood on the curb for a few moments staring up at the
windows.  Now that he had reached his goal, a trace of his former habit
of despondency came over him, making him hesitate before the final
effort, but shaking himself free from the old morbidness he walked
briskly into the building.  When he emerged from the elevator on the top
floor, the boy pointed down the corridor.  “The last one on the right,”
he said.

Brainard passed a number of offices whose doors bore in small black
letters the names of different companies,—“Pacific Northern Railroad,”
“Great Western Land and Improvement Company,” “The Shasta Corporation.”
At the extreme end of the corridor was a door with the simple lettering,
“Herbert Krutzmacht.”  The plain black letters of the name had something
of the same potency that the signature at the bottom of the power of
attorney had.  Like that, like the sick man himself who had painfully
gasped out his last orders, they were a part of the substantial realm of
fact.  So far, at least, the dream held!  There was a real man named
Krutzmacht, engaged in important business enterprises, and from what
Brainard had learned on the train he knew that there was a crisis in his
affairs.

With his hand on the door-handle he paused.  His heart beat fast, and he
looked around him nervously as if expecting to see an officer of the
court lurking somewhere in the corridor.  There was no one on this floor,
however.  The quiet of a late Saturday afternoon had settled down on the
busy building, but within the private office Brainard could hear the slow
click of a typewriter.  He pushed open the door and entered.

It was a large, rather barely furnished room, evidently used as an
ante-room to other offices.  Near the window a young woman was seated at
a desk, lazily examining a mass of papers and occasionally tapping the
keys of a machine, with the desultory air of an employee killing time at
the end of the day.  She was a distinctly good looking woman, Brainard
observed, although no longer young, with abundant coarse black hair,
fresh complexion, and decidedly plump.

The stenographer looked up from her work at Brainard with a start as if
she had been expecting some one, but quickly composed herself.

“Well, what is it?” she asked with a peculiar intonation that indicated
hostility.

Brainard was at a loss for a reply and stood gaping at the stenographer
foolishly.  He had not thought of meeting a woman.  He had known few
women, and he lacked confidence in dealing with them.

“Is—is Mr. Krutzmacht in?” he stammered awkwardly, and cursed himself for
the silly question.

The woman gave him a suspicious look and answered shortly:

“No, he ain’t.”

“Oh,” the young man remarked, looking about the office.  Near the
stenographer’s desk was a door partly open, which led into an inner room.
In the farther corner of this room could be seen the projecting corner of
a steel safe.  This Brainard felt must be his goal, and he unconsciously
stepped toward the door of the inner office.  The woman rose as if to bar
his further progress and snapped irritably:

“What do you want here?”

“Why, I just want to talk to you,” he replied as amiably as he could.

“Cut it short then, young man.  I haven’t any time to waste in
conversazione.”

“You don’t seem very busy!” Brainard observed smiling.

“I’m always busy to strangers, little one—I do my day-dreaming outside of
office hours.”  She thrust the metal cover on her machine with a clatter.
“See?”

“Oh, yes, I see,” Brainard replied and again tried to approach the inner
office.  The stenographer confronted him alertly and folding her arms
demanded:

“What’s your game, anyway, young man?  If you’re one of those lawyers—”

“No, I’m no lawyer,” Brainard said laughing.  “Guess again!”

“Haven’t the time.  It’s Saturday afternoon, and this office is supposed
to be closed at one o’clock.”

“So it is Saturday—I’d almost forgotten the fact.”

The stenographer eyed him very sourly and observed coldly:

“Where do you keep yourself that you don’t know the day of the week?  Go
home, young man, and think it over.”

Brainard saw that in this national game of “josh” he could make no
progress against such an adept and came bluntly to the point:

“Are you in charge of Mr. Krutzmacht’s office?”

“What’s that to you?”

“Because I’ve been sent here by Mr. Krutzmacht to—”

“Sent here by Mr. Krutzmacht—the one you were asking for just now? . . .
Try something else, sonny.”

Brainard felt foolish and completely baffled.  He wanted to strangle the
woman and throw her out of the window.  But aside from the fact that she
appeared to be vigorous and of a fighting disposition he realized that
the less disturbance he made the greater chance he would have of carrying
through his mission successfully.  It is not clear what the outcome
between the two would have been, if at that moment there had not appeared
from the inner office an elderly man whose mild face had a worried look.
Brainard noted the man’s near-sighted, timid air and regained his calm.

“Here’s a young feller, Mr. Peters, who says he’s looking for Mr.
Krutzmacht,” the girl said.

“Mr. Krutzmacht is not in the city,” the man said nervously.

“Yes, I know that!” Brainard replied easily.  “You see I was sent here by
Mr. Krutzmacht himself.”

“You come from Krutzmacht!” the man gasped in excitement, while the
woman’s face expressed incredulity.  “Where is he?  We’ve been
telegraphing all over the country the last week trying to locate him.
Mr. Snell has just gone east—left this office only an hour ago—to see if
he can find him.”

Brainard reflected that the Overland Limited had probably served him a
good turn by being late; for he judged that the fewer persons he had to
deal with in the present emergency the easier it would be for him to
accomplish his purposes.  This mild-mannered, flustered clerk did not
look formidable.  His tones gained confidence.

“Mr. Krutzmacht,” Brainard explained glibly, “has met with an
accident—not a serious one, I hope.  He is in good hands.  He has sent me
out here to get some papers that he wants from his safe.”

“But, but,” the bewildered clerk stammered, “don’t you know that the
court—”

“They’ve fixed up a receivership, I know,” Brainard interrupted, “that’s
the reason perhaps—”

“I’ve been expecting ’em in here all the afternoon,” the clerk said
nervously, looking at the door.  “Then there’ll be the devil to pay
generally.”

“All the better!” Brainard exclaimed.  “Let’s get busy before they
arrive.”

“But who are you, anyway?” the old man demanded with a sudden access of
caution.

Brainard merely smiled at the worried old man.  He was more and more at
his ease, now that he knew the caliber of the timid old clerk, and though
he felt the necessity of haste in his operations, if an officer of the
court was momentarily expected to make a descent upon Krutzmacht’s
private office, yet he spoke and acted with calm.

“Suppose we lock these outer doors—if you think any one is likely to
interrupt us—and then we can proceed undisturbed.”

He shot the brass bolt in the door through which he had entered and
glanced into the inner office, but apparently this one had no exit upon
the corridor.  Meanwhile the stenographer was whispering vehemently to
the old clerk, who looked at the intruder doubtfully and seemed
irresolute.  Brainard leisurely pulled down the shade over the glass
window in the door.

“There!” he said.  “Now we are ready.”

He took the sheet that bore Krutzmacht’s signature from his pocket and
held it out to Peters.  “Want my credentials?  That’s a power of attorney
Mr. Krutzmacht dictated and signed just before I left him.”

He waited for the clerk to adjust his glasses and read the hastily penned
sheet, thinking what he should do if by chance the old man refused to
recognize it.  He did not feel disturbed.  The ride across the continent
had rested him bodily and mentally.  The good meals and the unwonted
luxury of eating and sleeping without care, which had been his daily
companion for all the years he could remember, had given him a fresh
spirit.  He could think quickly and with precision; he felt himself amply
capable, full of power to meet any emergency that might rise—for the
first time in his life.

“What do you want to do?” Peters asked, handing back the power of
attorney.  He seemed somewhat reassured by the sight of his master’s
signature at the bottom of the scrawl.

“Mr. Krutzmacht wanted me to get the stuff out of his safe—I suppose it’s
the one in there?”

“But—but,” the clerk protested.  “If the court has granted this
injunction, I don’t suppose I ought to—”

“That’s just why you ought!” Brainard interrupted impatiently.  “Don’t
you see this is Krutzmacht’s one chance of getting his property out of
their reach?  Once the court puts hands on it, there won’t be much left
for the owner!”

Without further delay he strode into the inner office, saying lightly:

“Krutzmacht is keeping out of sight for the present—until trouble blows
over, you see.”

“The safe’s locked,” the clerk objected weakly, “and no one here has the
combination.  Mr. Snell didn’t leave it.”

Without taking the trouble to reply, Brainard walked over to the heavy
steel door and began twirling the knob as if he had opened office safes
all his life.  The clerk and the stenographer stared while the little
nickel wheel revolved in Brainard’s fingers.  When finally the bolts shot
back and the door swung open, Peters gasped:

“But how will you get all that stuff out of here?”

“Just bring me that bag from the other room, will you please?” Brainard
asked the stenographer.  As she turned unwillingly to fetch the bag,
there came a loud, resolute knock at the door of the outer office.

“There!” the old clerk exclaimed.

The stenographer started for the door, but Brainard with one leap
overtook her, pushed her back into the inner room, and closed the door.
Again the knocking on the outside door came, even more insistently, and
the knob was rattled as if the visitor was determined to gain entrance.
The three in the inner office stood still listening, not speaking.
Brainard noticed an angry red flush spread over the woman’s features.  As
no further knocking came after a few moments, Brainard turned to the
stenographer sternly.

“You can sit at that desk, miss.  I’ll answer the door.  Come on, Mr.
Peters, and show me the most important things in here—the papers
Krutzmacht’s enemies would hate to lose.  You know them, don’t you?”

“Some of them,” the clerk admitted, rather doubtfully, his eyes running
over the close-packed shelves of the vault.  “They’re ’most all valuable
in here, I suppose.  The general papers are kept in the other vault
downstairs.  But the most important are in these drawers.”

He pulled out several receptacles that seemed crammed with engraved
certificates and legal papers.

“Mr. Krutzmacht kept all his personal papers up here where he could get
at them day or night,” he explained.  “I guess it’s all valuable to some
one!” he concluded hopelessly.

“I can’t put it all in that bag,” Brainard observed, his eye running over
the contents of the well-filled vault.  “Well, let’s try the drawers
first—the cream is likely to be there.”

He began to pass out the contents of the drawers to the clerk, who shoved
them hastily into the large valise.  But before Brainard had quite
finished the second tier of drawers, the bag was almost filled with
crisp, tightly packed bundles of securities and legal papers.  There
remained books and other rows of documents.  Brainard looked at some of
them impatiently, trying to decide what could best be left behind.  At
last he exclaimed:

“It’s no use my trying to pick it over.  I might leave the best of the
lot.  I must have a small trunk.  Can you get me one, Peters?  While you
are gone I will fetch it all out here and sort it over. . . .  No, don’t
go out that way!” he exclaimed, as the clerk started for the outer door.
“Where does that go?”  He pointed to a small door behind the corner of
the safe.

“It’s the fire escape,” Peters explained timidly.

“Just the thing!”

He opened the door and peered out into the dark, inclosed well down which
ran one of the modern circular fire escapes.

Brainard handed Peters a bill, and shoved him toward the door.  After the
clerk had gone, Brainard turned to his task, and emptied the safe in a
few minutes.  Then he began to sort the books and papers and securities
into piles for convenient packing, stuffing the bonds and stocks, which
he judged to be the most valuable part of the loot, into his valise.

There had been no movement by the stenographer for some time, and
Brainard had almost forgotten her presence.  Suddenly, while he was in
the safe, he heard a slight sound outside, like the movement of a woman’s
dress.  He jumped to his feet.  The stenographer, with one hand on the
desk telephone, was about to take off the receiver.

“Put that down!” Brainard ordered, and added more gently, “What are you
telephoning for?”

“Just going to call up a friend,” the woman replied pertly, and started
to take the receiver off the hook again.

Brainard cleared the intervening space in a bound, and snatched the
instrument from the woman’s hand.

“You’ll have to wait a while to talk to your friend!”

“What are you doing here, anyway?” she asked angrily.

“You can see—packing up some papers.  You might give me a hand.”

“Say,” she replied without moving, “I don’t believe that yarn you told
old Peters.”

“Oh, you don’t?”

“Not for one minute!”

“Well, what will you do about it?”

The girl tapped sullenly with her foot, without replying.

“Want to let that friend of yours know about me?” Brainard continued
meaningly.  As the stenographer tossed her head and moved again toward
the telephone, he added, “Come over here where I can watch you!  Quick
now, pack those bundles into the bag.”  As she still hesitated, defying
him, he said sharply, “Get down on your knees and go to work!”

She whimpered, but fell to her knees.  They worked silently for several
minutes.  The vault was stripped bare.  The smaller papers were packed
into the bag, and the bulkier stuff was stacked on the floor, ready to be
thrust into another receptacle.

Brainard glanced at his watch.  Peters had been gone more than a quarter
of an hour.  Had he been detained, or had he become suspicious and
decided to get advice before going any farther?  Brainard considered
departing with what he had already packed in his bag, which he judged was
the more important part of the safe’s contents.

“I guess it’s about time for me to be going home now,” the stenographer
remarked, plucking up her courage.  “I’ll leave you and Mr. Peters to
lock up.”

“You want to see that friend badly, don’t you?” Brainard asked.  “Not
quite yet; the day’s work is not over yet.  Be patient!”

He did not dare to trust her beyond his sight, nor did he think it wise
to leave her behind him.  The girl walked idly to the window, then edged
along the wall.  Beside the safe there was a recess, from which the rear
door opened.  When the stenographer reached this, she, darted for the
door.

“Good-by!” she called.  “I guess the police will take care of you!”

The little door fortunately stuck.  Before she could open it, Brainard
had dragged her back into the room.

“You’re just a common second-story man!” she cried angrily.

“Exactly!  How clever of you to penetrate my disguise!  I’m a car-barn
bandit—Texas Joe—anything you please!  But before you skip, I want you to
look through those drawers in the vault, to see if I have missed
anything.”

He shoved the surprised woman into the empty vault, and swung the door.
As the bolts shot back into place, a muffled cry escaped from within.
Brainard called back:

“Save your breath!  There’s enough air in there to keep you alive for
some hours; and I’ll see that you get out in plenty of time to join that
friend for dinner.  Just keep quiet and save your breath!”

A sob answered him from the vault.



VIII


At that moment a low, confidential knock came on the door of the outer
office, followed by a discreet rattling of the knob.

“There he is at last!” thought Brainard, with a sense of relief.

He hurried to unbolt the door; but instead of Peters’s mild face, a
chubby, spectacled young fellow, wearing his derby hat pushed far back on
a round, bald head, confronted him.

“Who are you?” Brainard demanded, trying to close the door.

The man grinned back:

“And who are you?”

He had shoved his right leg into the opening, and with his question he
gave a powerful push that almost knocked Brainard from his feet.

“Well?” he said, once within the office, grinning more broadly.  “I’m
Farson—Edward, Jr.—from the _Despatch_.  We just had a wire from New York
that Krutzmacht’s been found, dead!”

“Dead!” Brainard exclaimed.

“Had a stroke or something, and died this morning in a hospital.  One of
our old men down East got on to it, and tipped us the wire.”

The intruder settled himself comfortably on the top of the stenographer’s
little desk, and drew out a cigarette.  Dangling his fat legs, he eyed
Brainard with an amused stare.

The latter stood for the moment dumfounded.  Although he had at first
looked for this outcome, as the days had gone by he had come to believe
that the old man was recovering.  Now he realized swiftly that with
Krutzmacht dead his power of attorney was no better than a piece of blank
paper.  His position was doubly tenuous.

“Say!”  The reporter interrupted his meditation in a burst of cynical
confidence.  “The old man was a good pirate—fought to the last ditch, and
then got out.”

“What makes you think he got out?” Brainard inquired.

The reporter shrugged his shoulders.

“They had him, and he must have known it.  That railroad crowd would have
taken the hide off him, and put what was left in the penitentiary.”

“Perhaps they made away with him,” Brainard suggested meaningly.

“You think so?  My, that would be a fat scoop!  What makes you think so?”

Brainard raised his eyebrows mysteriously, and the reporter nimbly filled
in a reasonable outline of the story.

“You mean he got the money down East that he needed to stop this
receivership, and they knew it, and put him out of the way, so that he
shouldn’t interrupt the game?”

“Possibly,” Brainard admitted.

The reporter jumped from his seat briskly.  “Well, I must get
busy—they’re holding the paper for me.  Who’s in charge here?”

“I am,” Brainard replied promptly.

“And what’s your name?”

He pulled a dirty note book from his hip-pocket.

“Wilkins,” Brainard answered quickly, “of Wilkins & Starbird, Mr.
Krutzmacht’s New York attorneys.”

The reporter looked at Brainard and whistled, but he wrote down the name.

“You folks didn’t lose any time in getting busy!  I s’pose there’ll be
litigation and all that.  Do you expect to save much from the wreck?”

“That’s what I am here for—to keep those pirates from making off with the
stuff!”  His eye fell upon his valise, and a sudden resolution came to
him.  “See here, Farson,” he said confidentially, laying a hand on the
reporter’s pudgy thigh, “do you see that bag?  The Pacific Northern that
they’re after and the Shasta Company are right inside that bag, together
with a lot of other valuable property.  I’m going to take it where those
pirates can’t lay a finger on it, in spite of all the courts in
California!”

The reporter’s eyes grew round.

“You’ve got your nerve!” he said admiringly.

“You see, time’s money—big money.  So I can’t stay here all night gassing
with you.  There is a train on the Santa Fé at ten, isn’t there?”

“Ten ten,” the reporter corrected.

“I must make that train, or—”

“Lose the trick?” the reporter suggested affably.

“I’m going to make it!”

“You’ll need some help in the get-away, I suppose?”

“Just so!  If I make that train all right with this stuff, there’ll be a
couple of hundred dollars for you, my boy; and what’s more, you can have
the story all to yourself.  It will be better than the old man’s death.”

A pleasant smile circled around the reporter’s chubby face.

“All right, Mr. Wilkins!  What do you want now?”

“I’ve sent out for another bag,” Brainard explained.  “I’ll just pass the
rest of these papers out to you, and you can stack them ready to pack
when the bag comes.”

Brainard opened the inner door and listened.  There were faint sounds
like sobbing within the safe.

“If she can cry, she’ll last,” he said to himself.  “Now for it!  Where
in thunder can that fellow Peters be?  I hope he hasn’t heard that the
old man is dead!”

He began to shove the books and papers through the door, which he kept
nearly closed, for fear that the reporter might detect the sounds that
came from the safe, and ask questions.  It was dark now, but he did not
dare to turn on the electric lights, for the windows faced the street,
and he feared men might already be watching the office.

He had transferred all the packages not packed, and was struggling at his
heavy valise, when he heard a voice behind him, and started.

“I guess you thought I was never coming back,” Peters stammered
breathlessly.  He was dragging a small trunk through the little back door
behind the safe.  “It nearly broke my back getting this thing up those
five flights of stairs.”

“Bring it this way, Peters!” Brainard shouted nervously, pushing the old
man through the door into the outer office.

He banged the door shut just as a muffled scream issued from the safe.

“What’s that?” Peters asked, dropping the trunk to the floor.

“Somebody in the hall, I suppose,” Brainard replied coolly.

Fortunately the old man’s attention was distracted from the scream by the
sight of the reporter.  Farson had lighted another cigarette, and was
swinging his legs and smiling amiably.

“Didn’t expect to see me, did you?”

“Who—”

“That’s all right.  Your friend here seems to be in a hurry.  He asked me
to stay and help in the spring moving.”

“Come, get to work!” Brainard called out, on his knees before the trunk.
“Cigars and explanations afterward!”

They slung the books and the packages of papers, which the reporter had
neatly arranged, into the little trunk.  Then they closed and locked it.
Brainard unbolted the outer door.

“I wouldn’t make my exit by the front door,” the reporter advised.  “I
reckon you’d be spotted before you got to the street.  There’s a back
way, ain’t there?”

Brainard, thinking of the woman in the safe, hesitated.

“That’s how I brought up the trunk,” Peters said.  “There’s nobody out
there.”

Brainard opened the door to the inner office, and listened.  It was quite
still.  Probably the woman had fainted.

“Come on!” he called, grasping one end of the trunk.

The reporter caught hold of the other, and Peters followed, tugging at
the heavy bag.  As they crossed the inner office, there was not a sound.

Brainard hesitated at the door, thinking that he must release the girl
before he left; but as he stood before the safe, there was a squeal from
within which indicated sufficient liveliness on the part of the
stenographer.  There would be time enough to attend to her after he had
got his loot to the street.  If she were released now, her temper might
prove to be troublesome; so he joined the others on the landing, closing
the little door behind him.

“The old man used to get out this way sometimes,” Peters observed.

“I reckon he never will again,” the reporter laughed.

The hall opened on a narrow, circular iron staircase, without a single
light.  Down this pit Brainard and the reporter plunged, tugging at the
trunk, which threatened to stick at every turn.  The old man got on more
easily with the bag, which he merely allowed to slide after him.
Brainard was soaked in perspiration; the reporter puffed and swore, but
he stuck manfully at his job.

At last they tumbled out into the dark alley at the rear of the building.
After he had caught his breath, Brainard inquired where he could find a
cab.

“If I were you, young man,” the reporter replied, “I wouldn’t try being a
swell.  I’d take the first rig I could charter.  There’s one over there
now.”

He pointed down the alley, and waded off into the dark.  Presently he
returned with a plumber’s wagon.

“He says he’ll land your baggage at the ferry for four bits.  You can
ride or walk behind, just as you like.”

They loaded the trunk and the bag into the wagon, and the reporter,
perching himself beside the driver, announced genially:

“I’ll see you aboard!”

“How much time is there left?” Brainard asked.

“Thirty-two minutes—you can do it easily in twenty-five.”

“Wait a minute, then!”

Brainard took Peters to one side, and said to him in a low voice:

“You remember that noise you heard up there in the office?  It came from
the girl—the stenographer.  She got fresh while you were out, and I had
to lock her up in the safe to keep her quiet.  I think there is enough
air to last her some time yet; but her last squeal was rather faint.
Suppose you run up and let her out!”

Peters, with a scared look on his face, made one bound for the stairs.

“Hold on, man!” Brainard shouted after him.  “You don’t know the
combination.  Here it is!”

He searched in his pockets for the slip of paper on which he had copied
the figures, but in the dark he could not find it.

“This ain’t any automobile,” the reporter suggested.  “You’d better put
off your good-bys until the next time!”

“Try to remember what I say,” Brainard said to the frightened Peters, and
began repeating the combination from memory.  “I’m pretty sure that’s
right.  Say it over!  There, again!”

The shaking man repeated the figures three or four times.

“Good!  Keep saying it over to yourself as you go upstairs, and I’ll
telephone the office from the ferry and see if you’ve got her out.”

But Peters had already disappeared into the darkness within the building.
Brainard climbed into the plumber’s wagon, the man whipped up his horse,
and they jolted out of the alley.  As they came in sight of the ferry
building, the reporter compared his watch with the clock, and remarked:

“Eight minutes to the good—fast traveling for a plumber!”

“Just look out for my stuff while I telephone!” Brainard exclaimed.

All the way to the ferry he had been anxious about the girl in the safe.
He had already resolved that if he found Peters had failed to open the
safe, he would go back and run the risk of capture.

When the operator rang up the number of Krutzmacht’s private office,
there was an agonizing wait before any one answered.  Finally a woman’s
voice, very faint, called:

“Who is it?”

Prudence counseled Brainard to assume that the voice was that of the
stenographer, and to hang up the receiver.  But he wished to make sure
that it was the woman herself, and so he asked:

“Are you feeling all right, miss?”

“You thief!” came hissing over the wire to his ear.  “You won’t get—”
And there was no more.

She had dropped the receiver, probably for action.  When Brainard stepped
from the telephone booth, he looked uneasily in the direction of Market
Street, as if he expected to see the stenographer flying through the
hurrying crowd.  The reporter beckoned to him.

“Your trunk has gone aboard the ferry.  Here’s the check—to Chicago.  I
thought you’d rather tote this bag yourself, though it’s pretty heavy.”

“Much obliged for all your trouble,” Brainard replied warmly.  “And now
for you!”

He pulled his roll of currency from his pocket, and handed five
hundred-dollar bills to the reporter.

“You earned it!  I never should have got away in time without you.”

“I guess that’s so.  Much obliged for the dough; but the scoop alone is
worth it.  What a story!  A light-fingered attorney from New York blowing
in here under the court’s nose and lifting the whole Pacific Northern,
and goodness knows what else besides, clean out of the State!  Some folks
who think they know how to do things will be sick to-morrow morning when
they get the _Despatch_!”

He shoved the bills into his trousers pocket and pulled out another
cigarette.

“There’s the gong!” he remarked.

“Thanks!” Brainard said warmly, shaking the reporter’s fat hand.  “I’ll
want to see your story.  Send it to me!”

“And say, I’d make up a better yarn than that lawyer story, when you have
time.”

“So you didn’t believe me?”

“I guess I’m no cub reporter!” the _Despatch_ man laughed complacently,
as the ferry-boat began to move out of the slip.

Then he started on a run for the nearest telephone booth.

“If that girl means business, as I think she does, I shan’t get as far as
Chicago!” Brainard muttered to himself, turning into the cabin of the
ferry-boat.



IX


When Brainard awoke the next morning the train was moving through the
Mojave desert.  He lay for some time in his berth trying to collect
himself and realize all that had brought him thither.  It was intensely
hot in the narrow compartment that he had taken, and when he raised the
window curtains the sunlight reflected from the desert was blinding.  As
he drew down the curtain, his eyes fell upon the large bag beside him,
and with a start the adventure of the previous day came over him.  He
laughed aloud as he recalled the different scenes in Krutzmacht’s
office,—the stenographer’s suspicious reception, the endless bumping down
the circular iron stairs with the bag and the valise, old Peters’s
horrified face when he learned that the woman had been shut in the safe.
Indeed, the entire week since he ran across the dying stranger at the
door of his lodging seemed like a dream, peopled with faces and scenes
that were extraordinarily vivid and of a kind he had never known in his
narrow, sordid life.  With a luxurious sense of new possession he went
over all the little details of his journey across the continent.  The
week, he recognized, had been a liberal education to his mentally starved
self.  But what was he going to do now?

Hitherto he had been carried along easily on a wave of events that
demanded instant action, and he had not worried about the future.  Even
when the reporter had given him the news of Krutzmacht’s death in the
hospital he was already too deep in the affair to stop, although he
realized that the crude power of attorney, which had been his sole legal
protection in looting the safe, had lost all its force the instant its
maker ceased to breathe.  After that, he was, as the stenographer had
said,—merely a burglar.  Yet he had not hesitated to obey the dead man’s
will rather than the law.  But now?

Thus far he had been executing Krutzmacht’s direct orders, with an
unconscious sense of a living personality guiding him, taking the real
responsibility for his deeds.  The stranger who had been stricken near
his door had seized upon him as the nearest available tool, had imposed
on him his will, and had sent him hurrying across the continent on an
errand the full nature of which was even yet a mystery to Brainard.  And
he had obeyed the dying stranger with a curious faith in his
reasonableness,—had responded to him pliantly as to the command of a
natural master.  But now that this master was dead, the situation was
altogether different.  Should he still attempt to execute his scarcely
intelligible wishes?

He had learned enough about Krutzmacht these last few days to understand
that the old man had been engaged in a life-and-death struggle for the
control of large properties,—one of those peculiarly modern duels fought
with bankers’ credits and court decrees.  Apparently his enemies, more
powerful than he—at least with larger resources at their command—had been
closing in on him for the final grapple, which threatened utterly to ruin
him.  He had gone to New York to raise the funds with which to evade
impending bankruptcy and loss of control of the properties which he had
created.  Brainard now fully believed that Krutzmacht had succeeded in
this, and that he had been stricken at last by the hand of a hired thug
and thrown on the street to die.  But even in the torture of his final
convulsions the old man had exerted his powerful will to defeat these
cowardly foes, and had lingered on in life just long enough to enable his
agent to snatch the prey from their jaws.

What now was he to do with this bag of documents and securities that lay
there, its fat sides bulging in proof of his deed?  The obvious thing
would be to seek the nearest federal authority, deposit his plunder, and
allow an impartial court to settle the dispute between the dead man and
his enemies.  A week before, such a timid and safe course of conduct
would have seemed to Brainard the only possible action to take.  Now he
found it not in the least to his taste, and dismissed it without further
consideration.  He had become an altogether different person, even in
this week, from that beaten man who had stumbled homeward from a petty
defeat through the New York streets in the gloom of an April day.  For
this one brief week in all the years he could remember he had been
alive—fully alive—and with his hand now in the thick of this vital web he
was not willing to withdraw.  The one who had used him as a tool was
dead, but his strong will lived on in him, not yet fulfilled, and to that
strong will whose only hope of fulfillment lay in him—the chance
stranger—a new sense of loyalty responded.  He would not desert the old
man in the present crisis, no matter what the merely legal aspects of his
situation were.  Already the stranger’s will like fertile seed was
germinating within this fresh soil.

“Take everything,” Krutzmacht said.  “Take it all to Berlin.”  That he
would do if he could.

But then what?

There was a strange name—Mell or Melody—that the dying man had been at
such pains to enunciate.  What had Melody to do with the matter?  Was it
the name of a person?  Or an institution?  He exercised all his ingenuity
in trying to invent a reasonable explanation of this one word.  Possibly
Krutzmacht had tried to pronounce Mendel or Mendelssohn.  Brainard
thought there was a firm of German bankers with some such name.  Light on
the puzzle might be found in the contents of his bag, but at present he
did not like to open it.  At any rate Berlin must be his next
destination.

He pondered all these things at his late breakfast, where in the
close-shaded car electric fans buzzed to make a semblance of moving air.
The fellow travelers on this train—returning tourists from Southern
California resorts—did not interest him as had the varied company on the
Overland, and he shut himself up in his compartment with his secret, not
even leaving it for luncheon.  It seemed that already the cares of
property—even of another, unknown person’s property—were beginning to
separate him from his fellows, rendering him less eager to make
acquaintances, more suspicious than he was by nature.  In the present
circumstances he preferred to keep to himself.  So all that long day,
alone in his hot room, he thought, while the train slowly traversed the
mighty Arizona plains, arid, limitless, austere, broken here and there by
solitary rocky peaks that rose majestically out of the desert into the
still, clear atmosphere.  It was a stranger land than he had ever
dreamed, outside all the world that he knew, remote, mysterious, calm.

He did not open the bag for fear of possible interruption.  He thought,
and as the hot day wore on into the afternoon he began to lose that sense
of security he had had when he caught the train in San Francisco.  The
burden of the bag became heavier.  If he were any judge of newspaper men,
that reporter Farson had by this time spread the story of his deeds
broadcast over the civilized world.  Messages might be speeding past him
even now on the wires, directions to intercept his flight at some
convenient point farther to the east.  He first planned to make for New
Orleans as a port of departure for Europe, having altogether abandoned
the idea of returning to New York, which probably was the one most
dangerous spot for him on the globe.  Even New Orleans seemed a
desperately long way off.  The sooner, he reasoned, he could put an
international boundary between himself and Krutzmacht’s enemies, the
better would be his chance of reaching Berlin with his plunder.

He examined the crude map in the railroad folder and made out that by the
next noon, if the train were on time, he could make connections at
Albuquerque in New Mexico with a train for El Paso.  To-morrow noon
seemed far off, but he concluded that it was the best he could do.  Until
then he should have to run his chances, and possess himself with
patience.  The day drew slowly to its conclusion.  The sun streamed more
horizontally across the arid plain, touching the distant mountains with
blood-red tints.  A desolate, man-forsaken country!  For miles and miles
there was not a living being, not a habitation in sight from the
railroad.  Somewhere far off beyond those purpling mountains lay the
romantic land of Mexico, which seemed the proper haven for any kind of
lawlessness.  Fortunately he was abundantly supplied with ready money.
In addition to the large sum he had found in the old wallet he had come
across in one of the inner drawers of the safe a canvas bag of gold coin,
placed there no doubt by the thrifty German for some emergency such as
this when it might not be convenient to get money from a bank.  So he had
on his person very nearly ten thousand dollars in gold and bills, which
ought to suffice for an extended journey.  Ready money gave the young man
a comfortable sense of security that he had never hitherto experienced
for any length of time. . . .

At a division headquarters where the train was changing engines, Brainard
with his head out of the window was gazing interestedly at the motley
crowd of plainsmen, greasers, and blanketed Indians.  The door of his
compartment was brusquely thrown open and one of the trainmen demanded:

“What’s your name?”

Brainard jumped back from the window, replying mechanically, “Edgar
Brainard—why?”

“Don’t be scared, stranger!” the official replied with a chuckle at
Brainard’s startled look.  He glanced through his spectacles at a yellow
envelope.  “I’m lookin’ for a party named Wilky or Wilkins.  You ain’t
the feller.”

Brainard stepped forward to take the telegram, but the man had already
turned away.  It flashed over Brainard at once that probably Farson was
trying to communicate with him, using the foolish name he had given the
reporter half in jest.  The friendly newspaper man, grateful for the
liberal gift he had received, was perhaps trying to warn him of some
possible danger.  It was too late now to get possession of the telegram.
The conductor was passing through the car, asking the passengers their
names and exhibiting the yellow envelope.

For the next hour Brainard sat with his nerves on edge, his mind keenly
alert to some impending danger.  Suddenly the train drew up with a
forcible application of the emergency brakes that brought the passengers
to their feet.  All the men in the car streamed out to the vestibules,
and Brainard among them, to see what had happened.



X


“Only a bridge gone,” was the word disgustedly handed back from mouth to
mouth.  There had been an unusual fall of rain in the arid country to the
north, and for a few hours one of the _arroyos_ had become a boiling
flood, which had swept away a substantial new bridge.  The passengers
straggled forward to the scene of trouble.

In the curious half light of the sun sinking into the desert behind and
illuminating all the vast high plain with a brilliant reddish light, the
huddle of passengers along the right of way and the stalled cars seemed
singularly out of place, accentuating the desolate loneliness of the
country, where for miles and miles as far as the eye could reach nothing
was to be seen rising above the sagebrush and cactus except a range of
misty, purple mountains a few miles to the south and a huge water tank a
mile or two in the rear.  On either side of the petty stream that had
already subsided to its normal shallow condition several trains had been
caught and held by the loss of the bridge, the Eastern Limited being the
last to join the confusion.  The passengers on these various trains had
mingled along the right of way and were watching the efforts of a large
gang of laborers to build a temporary track across the gully, which was
almost completed.  Some of the passengers had been there since early
morning, and these greeted the newcomers from the Limited with joking
inquiries about the state of the larder on their train.  It was a good
hundred miles in either direction to any station possessing a lunch
counter, and the question of supper was becoming of serious importance to
the less fortunate travelers.  As Brainard talked with some of these
passengers from the East, he was given a newspaper brought on the last
train.  It was the Sunday morning _Albuquerque Star_.  Brainard drew to
one side and scanned its pages by the fading light.  It did not take long
for him to find what he was seeking.  On the front page of the first
section, in the place of honor, there was an associated press dispatch
from San Francisco, describing the sensational robbery in the office of a
prominent business man.  It told without material exaggeration the events
of the afternoon before; there was no hint that the affair was more than
a daring, but common burglary by a reckless and experienced hand.
Brainard rather resented this aspect of the story.  In conclusion it said
that the authorities had strong clews and expected to lay their hands on
the robber before he would have any chance to dispose of the more
valuable part of his haul.  Brainard handed the paper back to its owner,
chatted for a few moments longer about their common predicament, then
strolled thoughtfully back the way he had come.

His was almost the last car of the three trains on the westerly side of
the _arroyo_, and as he picked his way beside the track he could hear the
few elderly ladies that had not left their seats talking about the delay.
It amused him to think what they would say, if they knew that their
quiet, well-dressed fellow traveler was the hero of the tale he had just
read in the _Albuquerque Star_.  There was a peaceful calm here in the
rear, for even the porters and the train hands had gone forward to watch
the operations of the laborers.  The engines puffed slumberously; there
was an intense stillness in the air; the sun had just disappeared,
leaving a dull red glow in its place.

It was perfectly evident to Brainard that he could not hope to reach
Albuquerque without arrest; he must leave the train at the next station
of any size, but even that was extremely risky.  With searching eyes he
examined the country, which was now sinking imperceptibly into the
vagueness of dusk.  There was nothing for miles in any direction for the
eye to rest upon but cactus and forlorn sagebrush, except that lonely
water tank in the rear.  There were the mountains, to be sure, but they
were many miles away, and he knew that he could never reach them alone
with his bag, even if he were sure that he could find a refuge in them.
No, it would be suicidal to attempt an escape in this desert!  Whatever
came, he must run the risk of waiting until the train stopped at some
more favorable place.  He had come to this conclusion, standing beside
the rear platform of the last car, where he could get an uninterrupted
view of the vast landscape and was about to seek the seclusion of his own
little room, when his eye caught sight of an object in the cactus not far
from the track.  He soon made out the moving figure of a small horse and
a rider, and waited with curiosity to see what sort of person would
appear in this desolate country.

The horse dropped to a walk, then halted altogether, as if timid, but
soon approached at a slow walk.  As far as Brainard could see, the figure
was that of a young girl, riding astride a rough yellow pony.  The pony
crawled within a few yards of the cars, then refused to go farther in
spite of its rider’s efforts with a quirt to overcome his fear.  Brainard
walked down the track nearer them.

“Good evenin’, stranger,” the girl called out.  “What’s all the trouble
he-ar?”

“Bridge gone,” Brainard replied succinctly.  “Live around here?”

“A ways back, up yonder!”  The girl hitched a shoulder in the direction
of the south.

“Live in the water tank?” he queried.

“I reckon I don’t, stranger,” came back in the severe tones of a child
whose dignity has been ruffled.

“Then where can you live on this desert—is there a town concealed
anywhere abouts?”

The answer from the figure on the pony was a pleasant girlish laugh, and
then in the soft, southern tones:

“I reckon, stranger, you won’t find much of a to-own this side of
Phoenix—and that’s a mighty long ways from he-ar!”

By this time Brainard and the pony had come sufficiently near together so
that he could make out the small straight figure.  The girl could not be
over fourteen, he judged; she was thin and slight, with dark skin and
small features concealed beneath the flap of an old felt hat.  She wore a
faded khaki skirt and leather leggings.  In her small bony hand dangled a
heavy man’s quirt with which she swished the ground, and at times she
looked up shyly at the “stranger.”

“Where you from?” she inquired.

“New York,” Brainard replied.

“New York!” she repeated with an accent of wonder and surprise.  “That
must be a mighty big ta-own.”

“Rather more populous than this—what do you call it?”

“They call the siding back there by the tank Phantom.”

“Phantom—is that because it’s only a mirage?”

“I can’t say. . . .  Where be you going?”

“Mexico!” Brainard hazarded at a venture.

“Mexico!” the girl drawled.  “That must be a sight farther off than
Phoenix.”

“I guess it is.”

“What are you going to Mexico for, stranger?” the girl persisted.

“Mining business,” Brainard fabricated glibly.

“Copper or gold?”

“All kinds, my child,” Brainard replied flippantly.

The girl drew herself up with considerable dignity, and remarking,—“I’m
agoin’ to see what they all be doin’ down yonder,” stirred up the yellow
pony and rode off in the direction of the _arroyo_.  She drew up a few
rods from the center of activity and stood there in the twilight.
Brainard was sorry for his foolish answer that had apparently frightened
her away.  He went back to his compartment, and after a few moments’
thought grasped his valise and got off the car.

“If she can live in this country, I guess I can,” he muttered to himself.

He flung his bag down in the sagebrush and sat on it, waiting until the
girl came back.  Presently there was a series of jubilant toots from the
engine of the first train as a signal of the successful reopening of
traffic; then the east-bound trains began slowly to move one by one down
into the gully over the temporary track.  When the last train had crept
by him Brainard rose and sauntered in the direction of the girl.  She was
still sitting motionless on her pony, absorbed in the spectacle of all
these moving trains,—a peculiarly lonely little figure, there in the
gathering dusk of the desert, watching as it were the procession of
civilization pass by her. . . .  After the eastbound trains had got away
and were steaming off towards the horizon, the west-bound trains began to
file across the break, having picked up the wrecking crew and their
equipment.  The girl did not move.  Evidently in her life this was a rare
treat, and she did not mean to lose any part of it.  So Brainard waited
until the red rear lamps of the last train shone out by the water tank,
and then as the girl slowly turned her pony back he rose from the ground
and hailed her.  “Hello!”

The pony shied at Brainard, but the girl easily reined it in.  She did
not seem much discomposed by the sight of him.

“Lost your train, stranger?” she observed with admirable equanimity.
“There won’t be no more along ’fore to-morrow morning, I reckon,” she
added.

“I don’t believe I want a train,” he replied.

“Goin’ to Mexico on foot with that trunk?” she asked.  He detected a
mirthful note in her voice.  Evidently she took neither him nor his
pretended mining business with great seriousness.

“That’s just what I’m going to try to do!”

“Well, you won’t get there to-night, I reckon.”

“I suppose not.  Can you tell me some place where I could spend the
night?”

“There’s the water tank,” she suggested, with a little laugh.

“Isn’t there somebody where you come from?”

The girl shook her head quite positively.

“There must be some one in this God-forsaken country who would take a
stranger in!  I don’t care about spending the night out here.”

The girl laughed as if it were all a great joke.  “There won’t be nobody
to hurt you, stranger.”

“Thanks!”

She started on her road.  Brainard thought he was in for a night in the
open and cursed his folly in jumping off into the desert.  But the girl
pulled up after a few steps, and he could hear her gay chuckle as she
called out:

“You sure did want to stay in Arizona bad—you lost six trains!”

“I meant to!”

“That mining business must be very important.”

“Something else is,” he said boldly.

“Was it very bad, what made you want to get to Mexico—a killing?”

“Not as bad as that.”

“What was it?”

“You wouldn’t understand, I am afraid.”

“You might try tellin’ of me, all the same.”

“It isn’t anything bad.”

“They all say that,” she suggested mockingly.

“I’m merely trying to carry out some one’s orders.”

The girl looked mystified, and after a moment’s further thought remarked:

“There’s old man Gunnison.  He might take you in for the night.”

“Where does he live?”

“Back a ways up the trail.”

“Won’t you show me the way?”

“I might,” she admitted.  “Better give me that trunk,” she said, pointing
to the bag.  “You would sure be tired if you toted that all the way to
Gunnison’s.”

The girl slipped from the pony and expertly made the bag fast to the
saddle with the thongs.  Then taking the reins, which she drew over the
animal’s head, she strode out into the darkness.  Brainard stumbled on
after his guide as best he could.  Presently when he became more
accustomed to the dark and to progress over the uneven ground he joined
the girl and tried to make her talk.  She developed shyness, however, and
replied only briefly to his questions.  She lived somewhere up in the
mountains towards which they were traveling and which could be dimly
perceived ahead, a soft, dark barrier rising in the night.  But what she
did there, who her people were, she would not say.  In spite of her youth
and her inexperience she had a shrewd child’s wit that could turn off
inconvenient curiosity.  Although she drawled and spoke the slovenly
language of uneducated people, there was something about her, perhaps her
instinctive reserve, that bespoke a better breeding than her clothes and
her speech indicated.  She did not make further inquiries about
Brainard’s business; he surmised that she refrained because she thought
him to be some kind of a wrongdoer.  He wanted to explain to her his
erratic conduct, but he realized that it would be not only foolish but
almost impossible to make clear to her limited mind just what the
situation with him was.  So for minutes there was silence between them
while they plodded on.

Brainard liked the girl, felt a strange sort of pity for her, an
unreasoned pity for a forlorn and lonely child, who he instinctively
divined was sensitive and perhaps unhappy in spite of her flippant
speech.

“What were you doing down there at the railroad?” he asked in another
attempt to start conversation.

“Oh,” she replied vaguely, “nothin’.”

“Nothing!  It must be a long way from your home to the railroad?”

“It takes three hours to ride it,” she replied.

“And do you ride down there often just to look at the trains go by?”

“’Most every week, stranger,” she said softly.

Brainard whistled.

“What makes you do that?”

He could feel her toss her head.  Her answer was vague.

“They’re goin’ somewheres.”

“And you want to go on them?”

“Perhaps. . . .  I expect I shall some day.”

“Where?”

“Oh,” she sighed, “anywheres—California, maybe,—New York—somewheres I can
live!”

The energy with which she uttered these last words had something pathetic
in it.  As if to avoid further confession, she urged the tired pony to a
shambling trot and Brainard again found difficulty in keeping the pace.
After another half hour of this blind progress behind his taciturn guide,
the girl stopped before what seemed to be a mound of dirt and remarked:

“Here’s Gunnison’s.  Maybe the old man is abed—I’ll raise him for you.”

She proceeded to pound vigorously with the butt of her quirt on the door
of the dugout.  Presently there was a sound within, and a human head
appeared at the door.

“Here’s a gentleman who wants to go to some place in Mexico,” the girl
said in her gentle Southern voice.  “I told him it was pretty fur from
these parts, but I reckon you know how to git there, if any one does.”

“Will you put me up for the night, anyway?” Brainard asked.  “That’s the
first thing.”

“I can do that,” the sleepy Mr. Gunnison replied after a time, coming out
of the door.  “But if you be in a hurry to reach Mexico, stranger, you’d
better go back to the railroad you come from, and take the next train.”

“We’ll see about that in the morning,” Brainard replied.

The girl had already unfastened the bag and mounted her pony.

“Much obliged to you, miss, for all your help!”

“That’s all right, stranger,” she said cheerily, starting the pony.

“Going home now?” Brainard asked.

“Yes!”

This childish figure, astride the tired pony, riding back into the lonely
mountains, seemed to him extremely pathetic.

“Good-by!” he called after her.  “Hope we shall meet again some day!”

“Reckon we might, stranger!” came back to him in the soft voice.

“Perhaps in New York?”

“Ye-as—or in Mexico.”

Then the pony’s feet padded rapidly off into the darkness, and the girl
was gone.

“Who is she—do you know?” he asked the man.

“Belongs over in Moniment, in one of them mining camps, I expect,” the
old man replied indifferently.  “I seen her riding past this afternoon.”

“Where is she going alone at night?”

“I dunno—guess she knows her own business.”

“Such a small girl!”

“They know how to look after themselves, in these parts, as soon as they
can creep,” the old man remarked calmly.  “They have to!”

“Monument!” Brainard repeated to himself, wondering where he had heard
that name before.

“That’s what they call it.  It ain’t much of a place now.  There used to
be a big mine near there, but it ain’t been worked in years. . . .  You
can come right in and bunk alongside of me, stranger.”



XI


Brainard did not follow the old plainsman’s advice to stick to the
railroad for his travels.  Instead, he induced Gunnison to leave his
dugout and guide his chance guest across the Mexican border.

It was not as easy as it looks on the map in the railroad folder to get
from Phantom, Arizona—which was the name of the water tank where he had
dropped from the train—into the State of Chihuahua; but Brainard did not
feel pressed for time.  Indeed he judged it might be as well for him to
remain out of all possible contact with civilized centers for several
weeks, to “let things settle down,” as he phrased it.  Pursuit would
naturally relax after the first unsuccessful attempts and would probably
concentrate upon New York where it might be supposed that he would
ultimately turn up.  Moreover, every day of delay made it less likely
that some observing busybody would recall the sensational newspaper story
and identify him and his bag with the description of the robber who had
left San Francisco on the evening of April 26.  Gunnison asked no
questions.  The virtue of reticence, Brainard found, was admirably
cultivated in these sparsely habited parts of the earth.  The old man
seemed to have no pressing duties to recall him to his dugout, and so
they followed the trail leisurely, making a few miles each day and
occasionally stopping for a day or two to rest while Gunnison procured
supplies from one of the small mining towns.

Those weeks on the trail with old Gunnison and the pack train of two
horses and a mule were full of joy to the city-bred man, who had rarely
escaped the pavements.  The high altitudes, the vivid desert colors, the
beauty and the savage wildness of this little-known part of the world
filled him with ecstatic happiness as well as abounding health.  He
became hard and rugged, losing the pallor of the city man and all the
petty physical weakness that had contributed largely to his fits of
depression.  Health made a new man of him in mind as well as in body.  He
hardly recognized himself when he awoke in the morning.  Never before had
he known what it was to be heartily in love with life, thoroughly vital,
eager to act, to plan, to embrace the struggle of living; so light and
free from distressing doubts, so willing to test what destiny held in
store for him!  Just as the exciting events of his sudden journey and his
hours in Krutzmacht’s office had awakened his will and his self-reliance,
so these weeks of wandering free through the desert and the mountains
were the best sort of preparation for a strong, active manhood.
Fortunately they had come to him before it was too late, before his
character had finally settled into its groove, and new powers were evoked
in him, even physical possibilities, that he might never have suspected
to be his.

The nights under the glittering cover of the Arizona heavens, the long
days of peaceful activity in the sunlight, the silence and the majesty of
these vast desert spaces appealed to him strongly, satisfied that love of
beauty and of mystery that had been crushed hitherto.  Lying awake
beneath the stars, his head pillowed on his bag, which had rapidly lost
its suspicious appearance of newness, he speculated upon much that had
never before entered his head.  And his feeling about Krutzmacht and the
accident that had brought them together changed.  It was no longer a mere
wild jaunt, something unreal, like an adventure in piracy.  It was part
of the great enfolding mystery of the universe that had touched him and
enlisted his life.  It seemed that he had embarked upon a mission that
must end in a great experience.

At this time of life, with the blood flowing actively through his body,
his mind awake to all the voices of the earth, it was but natural that
woman should enter into the affair.  Krutzmacht’s last mumbled word,—that
dubious “Melody,”—served him as point of departure for romantic dreams.
Forgetting altogether his reasonable hypothesis that it might prove to be
the name of some firm of German bankers he assumed that “Melody” must be
the name of a woman.  A queer name, doubtless, especially for one in any
way connected with the old German, who seemed to have no affinity for
fine art or even womanhood, other than the common stenographer of his
office.  Nevertheless, in obedience to the desire of his heart, Brainard
created a person to fit the name, and thought of Melody as a woman.

From this his thoughts wandered occasionally to the little girl who had
guided him to old Gunnison’s.  He saw her slight, wistful figure as she
stood motionless watching the procession of trains, heard her soft voice
and gurgling laugh.  He resolved to return some day to this wonderful
country, his mission fulfilled, and discover that abandoned mining town
of Monument, and find there the little girl on the pony who had come to
his rescue in the darkness.  He had probed old Gunnison for more exact
information about the girl, but either he knew nothing more than that
“she belonged up Moniment way” or did not care to tell what he knew.

On other matters he was more communicative.  He had been long in the
country, knew it in the old days before it had been invaded by railroads
and large mining companies.  He had prospected from the Colorado River
south to Chihuahua in old Mexico.  He had driven cattle from Texas to
Nebraska, and latterly worked on the railroad.  He knew Indians,
“greasers,” miners, cowboys, and for hour after hour he talked of what he
had seen “before it got so dern ceevilized in these parts.”  In other
words, before there was a railroad line two hundred miles to the east and
another three or four hundred miles west!  He knew where to camp and
where supplies could be got without arousing undue curiosity.  He knew
horses and mules and men.  And he taught the young man some of these
useful things that he knew so that when they parted in the city of
Guadalajara Brainard felt more grateful to him than to any one of the
regular instructors of youth, who had given him his so-called
“education.”  He paid him liberally for his services, and the old man,
sticking the bills beneath the band of his felt hat, made a few final
remarks to his patron:

“I don’t know where you come from, my son,—hain’t asked yer, and I don’
want to know.  You’ve treated me right, and I’ve treated you right.  I
guess if you keep free of cards, and drink, and women, and keep on agoin’
due saouth, you’ll likely strike the City of Mexico, before you be much
older, and keep your belongin’s with yer,” he added, smiling upon the bag
that Brainard had so carefully guarded.

“I think I’ll try the railroad for a change,” Brainard laughed back.

“It’s quicker—sometimes,” the old man admitted, “if you don’t find too
many troublesome persons traveling the same way!”

With this last hint he waved farewell and started northwards for the
States.



XII


The next day Brainard entered the City of Mexico, lean and brown and
hard, with a very much travel-stained valise.  So far as he could learn
from the few American newspapers he had come across, there had been no
further excitement over Krutzmacht’s death, and the robbery of his safe.
If a pursuit had been undertaken, the fact had been carefully kept from
the press; and he felt confident that by this time either it had been
given up, or the persons interested were watching the wrong places.

There was a steamer sailing for Havre from Vera Cruz sometime towards the
end of the month, and he resolved to take it, meanwhile resting and
making a few preparations for his voyage.  It was the first time in his
life that he had been outside his own country, and every sight and sound
in this bastard Spanish metropolis filled him with curiosity and
pleasure.  He secured his cabin on the _Toulouse_, and then set out to do
the sights.

The second evening, as he was resting after a busy day in the cool
courtyard of the old Hotel Iturbide, a little man in a bedraggled linen
duster hitched his chair across the stones toward Brainard.

“Just come down from the States?” he inquired.  Brainard nodded.

With this slight encouragement, the stranger launched forth upon a
rambling talk about himself.  He had come to Mexico, several years
before, to manage a rubber-planting enterprise, and the “dirty dagoes”
had done him out of his last cent.  Soon he proposed having a drink with
his compatriot, “in honor of the greatest country in God’s world.”  When
Brainard refused, saying that he was tired and was going to bed, the
American shambled along by his side through the corridors.

Judging that his fellow countryman was a harmless dead-beat, Brainard put
his hand into his pocket, and drew forth a bill, as the easiest way of
ridding himself of an unwelcome companion.  At sight of the money, the
man’s eyes filled with tears.  Taking his benefactor’s arm, he poured
forth a flood of personal confession and thanks that lasted until they
were at the door of Brainard’s room.

“Let me come in and talk to you a minute,” the stranger begged.  “Ain’t
often I see a decent man from God’s country, and I get lonely down here,”
he whimpered.

“All right,” Brainard replied reluctantly, wondering how he could rid
himself of the fellow.

When he turned on the electric light, the stranger’s eyes roamed
carelessly over the room.  It seemed to Brainard that his guest exhibited
much more keenness than his forlorn and lachrymose state warranted.

As Brainard turned to the wardrobe to fetch a box of cigars, he caught
the man’s eyes fastened on the valise which was shoved under the bed.
Brainard gave him a cigar, but did not invite him to sit down, and after
a little while he left, thanking Brainard profusely for his hospitality.
As he went out of the door, his eyes rested once more on the bag beneath
the bed.

After his visitor had left, Brainard prepared to undress.  First he
placed his watch and pocketbook on the night table.  Over them he laid
his revolver, which he had purchased in his wanderings, and, under
Gunnison’s directions, had learned to use.  Now that he was outside the
States, whoever might dispute with him the possession of Krutzmacht’s
property would have to make good his demands.  He had lost every trace of
that nervous fear which had made miserable the day after his departure
from San Francisco.

Before turning out his light, he glanced into the courtyard, and caught
sight of his recent acquaintance skulking behind a pillar.  For several
minutes Brainard stood behind his curtain, looking into the courtyard,
and in all this time the man did not move from his post.

There was no reason, Brainard said to himself, why this dead-beat should
not spend the night in the courtyard of the Hotel Iturbide.  Turning out
the light, he got into bed; but he could not sleep, and presently he rose
and peered cautiously out into the dark.  The courtyard, faintly lighted
by the lamps in the office, was empty.  This disturbed him rather more
than the skulking presence of the American, although he could give no
reason for his suspicion beyond the stranger’s apparent interest in his
valise.

He got back into bed, but not to sleep.  After tossing restlessly for
another hour, he rose and dressed.  As soon as the first light appeared,
he took his bag and groped his way through the dark corridors to the
office.  He inquired of the night porter about trains and found that
there was an early morning train to the North.  Saying that he had had a
bad night and thought he would go to the railroad station and wait there
for the train, he paid his bill, not forgetting to add a good tip.  The
man offered to get him a cab, but he refused, saying that he could easily
pick up one in the street.  As the porter who had been roused to
something like animation by his _pour boire_ unbarred the great door,
Brainard asked him casually:

“Do you know that _Gringo_ who was talking to me last evening—the one who
was hanging about here all the evening?”

“No, _señor_,” the man replied.  “He’s been in and out at the hotel for a
week.  Just come from the States, and lost all his money at cards so
soon.  A bad lot!” with a final shrug of the shoulders.

“He told me he had been here several years!” Brainard exclaimed.

“No, _señor_, that cannot be.  He knows no Spanish.  Probably he wished
money from you to go back to the States.”

“Very likely—well, he didn’t get much!”

After a short walk Brainard came out upon the plaza in front of the
cathedral.  The cracked bells of that great edifice were clanging
inharmoniously for the early mass.  Already country people had arrived
with market produce, and there was considerable stir in the beautiful May
morning.  Brainard walked about the plaza until he found an old, muddy
diligence drawn by four little mules that was about to start for some
village of an unpronounceable Indian name.  Brainard took a place inside
and waited for it to fill with passengers.  At last the driver climbed
into his perch, and the diligence rattled off through the square over the
stone streets just as the sun was rising into a clear sky.  A regiment of
_rurales_ came galloping down the narrow street, with its band playing a
lively air.  The diligence pulled to one side, then turned off towards
the west, and soon it was out in the flowering fields of the great
plateau.  As he left the city pavements, Brainard smiled to himself at
the disappointment his acquaintance of the night before might be having
at the railroad station.  Of course, he might be nothing worse than a
stranded dead-beat anxious to sponge a few dollars from a good-natured
compatriot who appeared to be in funds.

But Brainard would take no chances!  If the contents of his battered
valise were as valuable as he thought they must be, the persons
interested in securing them would spare no effort or expense in tracking
him.  Although he had grown brown from the sun and much stouter and had
discarded his spectacles, still it would not be difficult for a good
detective to identify him from a description furnished by the
stenographer.

And if this fellow were really after him, it was not likely that he was
alone.  So it was important that he should find some small place where he
could spend the remaining days before the departure of the French line
boat.  It was a pity that the diligence he had chosen at random should
apparently be making in the opposite direction from Vera Cruz.  But the
morning was too brilliant, and Brainard’s nerves were too sound to let
anything worry him.  Thus, with the few words of Spanish which he had
acquired while he was with old Gunnison, he launched himself again gayly
upon the unknown in Mexico.

“The world is full of ways,” he said to himself.  “All you have to do is
to take one!”



XIII


If there was a spot on the round earth where a somewhat weary fugitive
might spend a few quiet days in absolute retirement, undisturbed by
inquisitive intruders, it must surely be the little Mexican town of
Jalapa.  Situated on a gentle hill not far from the snowy dome of
Orizaba, about midway between the hot coast and the lofty central
plateau, Jalapa is a mass of green verdure and possesses a delightful
climate.  All about on the slopes of Orizaba and in the green valleys are
extensive coffee plantations, watered by delightful streams.  Everywhere
great umbrageous trees, tropical in their luxuriance, shade the
approaches to the old town.  Jalapa itself consists of a few streets of
white buildings with irregular tile roofs, a squat cathedral of the
Spanish-American type, fertile green gardens carefully walled in, and of
course a plaza, which at this season of the year was abloom with fragrant
lilies.

To Brainard, after a week of circuitous wandering through Mexican
villages, sleeping and eating in filthy places, it seemed a veritable
oasis.  As the mule cart in which he had completed the last part of his
erratic journey slowly dragged him up the shady hill, he had visions of a
good bath and a day or two of complete idleness before moving on to Vera
Cruz, to take the boat for Havre.  His clothes sadly needed attention,
and he was uncomfortably aware that in addition to a useful acquaintance
with the Spanish language he had also acquired a miscellaneous assortment
of vermin from his recent wandering.  The somnolent streets in the hot
May afternoon were nearly deserted, so that his arrival in the town
aroused little attention.  As the mule cart drew up in the courtyard of a
clean-looking hotel next to the cathedral and opposite the pretty plaza,
he congratulated himself thoroughly on his luck.  Having seen his bag
deposited carefully in one of the enormous bedrooms that faced the plaza,
and accomplished the desired bath, he descended to the patio on an
exploring expedition.  Near the trickling fountain in the center of the
_patio_ a well-dressed man was seated, reading a book.  Brainard
instinctively felt that he must be an American from the appearance of his
clothes, although his face was hidden by the book.  On the small iron
table by his side an iced drink was standing.  The stranger reached for
this and dropped his book long enough to perceive Brainard.

“Hello!” he said calmly, “when did you arrive?”

Brainard recognized the fight-trust magnate whom he had met on the
Overland Limited.

“You here too!” he exclaimed.  “What brings you down here?”

Hollinger sipped his drink and eyed the young man as though to say,—“we
don’t ask that sort of question in these parts—it is very crude of you.”

“Oh, business and pleasure,—that combination which carries us mortals
most everywhere,” he observed and with a slight stress added,—“the same I
judge that brought you to Mexico.”

“Exactly,” Brainard laughed.  “I can’t say how much is business and how
much pleasure.”

“And possibly a dash of—something else?” Hollinger suggested genially.
“Well, let’s have another drink on it.  _Mozo_! . . .  A southern
gentleman who resides in Jalapa has taught these people how to make his
favorite form of booze.  It is cooled by snow brought from the mountains
on mule back—and is very refreshing.”

When the waiter had brought two high glasses filled with the crystal
flakes of snow, the fight-trust magnate grew more expansive.

“Yes, shortly after I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance I
found the climate of California uncongenial to my nerves, for the first
time in my life, and having business interests in Mexico I took a little
vacation.  Delightful time of the year here, don’t you think?”

Brainard agreed enthusiastically.

“You didn’t make a long stay with us on the Coast,” Hollinger remarked,
with the shadow of a smile.  Brainard knew that the fight-trust man
suspected his story, but judged it wiser to avoid personal confidences.
For this reason he refrained from inquiring whether the American’s
business had to do with some notable encounter that was to be staged in
Mexico in order to avoid the laws in the States.  Hollinger’s next remark
seemed to indicate that such was his “business interest” in this country.

“We are apt to look down upon Mexico,” he said sententiously.  “But it is
a great country.  We say that it is not civilized.  That is just why it
is a great country.  It is not civilized in our peculiar, narrow way, and
hence we deny that it has any civilization.”

“It certainly has fleas,” Brainard threw in flippantly.

“Exactly, young man—it has fleas and therefore you think it is barbarous.
You have been brought up among a people that regards cleanliness as above
godliness and the other fellow’s godliness of more importance than his
own!  That is what is called Puritanism.  You understand me?”

Brainard nodded.  He began to comprehend the results of Hollinger’s
reading on the Overland.

“Now,” continued Hollinger, clearing his throat, “I have nothing to say
against Puritanism.  It’s a very good thing for some people.  It did some
mighty fine work in the world.”

“Discovered Plymouth Rock, for instance.”

“Yes, and created the nicest lot of little hypocritical tight-wads there
in New England the world has ever seen.  We needed those tight-wads out
west—we needed their bank accounts, I mean to say.  But we don’t need ’em
any longer, only they can’t understand it and keep shoving their morals
in our faces.  That’s the trouble with America all over at the present
date.  Puritanism breaks out here, there, and everywhere, like the
measles.  And it always means trying to make the other feller as good as
you think he oughter be—and a damn sight better than you are yourself!”

He paused to send for another drink.  Brainard wondered what the august
author of the great epic would have thought of this twentieth century
criticism of his theory.

“Now Mexico is free from all that sort of cant, and that is why I said
Mexico was destined to be a great country.  In Mexico they let the
individual alone.  You see, the Church is supposed to look after the
morals of the community.  That is a great relief—it simplifies life and
makes it much more honest.  The Church does the best it can, and the
State helps it out when necessary.  But the Church don’t expect too much,
the Catholic Church I mean, of human beings, and so it isn’t
disappointed.  It all works beautifully!  You’ll never find in Mexico
such a fool performance as that going on in San Francisco to-day.
They’re no puritans in California either.  They don’t want reform—they
don’t want to shut up the cafés and French restaurants and prevent the
city council from getting its little rakeoff—not a bit of it!  It’s only
this puritan bug has got hold of some ‘better than thous’ among us, and
they are raising hell.”

He paused to finish his drink and wipe his brow.

“It always heats me to think,” he explained.  “But I was saying that for
this reason Mexico has a great part to play in the future.  For one
thing, it furnishes us Americans a possible place to live in when our own
country has one of these righteous attacks and is cleaning house.  Lovely
country, lovely climate, lovely people—if you know how to handle ’em
right.  No, sir, I hope they’ll never civilize Mexico in my time any more
than it is civilized at present.  The natural man needs a country, and
Mexico is his country. . . .  Come on—let’s have a look at the town.  The
band will be playing in the square a little later, and you will see some
of the prettiest girls you ever saw in your life.”

The fight-trust man lighted another cigar, put on his panama hat, and
tucked an arm under Brainard’s elbow, and thus they sallied forth to
explore Jalapa.  Brainard might not agree with his friend’s
anti-puritanism, but he heartily agreed with his praise of Mexico.  At
this gentle hour of the late afternoon soft rosy clouds hovered about the
white head of old Orizaba.  The gardens, glimpses of which might be
caught through iron-barred gates, were fragrant with flowering trees, in
which the birds sang madly.  After a short ramble about the outskirts of
the town, they returned to the plaza, which was now fairly filled with
men and women and children, gathered to hear the military band and to
enjoy the fragrant coolness of the dying day.  Many of the brown _peon_
girls were pretty, and the Spanish women, pallid and black-haired, with
white mantillas, quite fascinated the young American.  A fountain shot a
lively jet of water into the sunlight.  The great white lilies drooped
their golden chalices under shining leaves.  The band of Indians at the
other end of the square played operatic music that came through the soft
air languorously in harmony with the atmosphere.

“Where in America, the land of the puritan, can you get so much for your
money?” Hollinger demanded.  “It is only in the lands of license that the
people delight in innocent things.”

He flung a copper coin to a beggar woman, who crossed herself and blessed
him.

“It is even pleasant to give to the beggars, instead of subscribing to an
orphan asylum!  We make virtue so dull and inhuman.” . . .

As they strolled towards the hotel for dinner, they were joined by a
tall, lean, lank fellow countryman, whom Hollinger introduced to Brainard
as Major Calloway,—“from Alabama, superintendent of the Jalapa-Vera Cruz
branch of the railroad.”  The three dined together in the _patio_ with a
young German, who was the agent for a firm of coffee merchants in
Hamburg.  They had an extraordinary Mexican dinner, consisting of the
most fiery condiments that Brainard had ever put into his mouth.  His
eyes were constantly watering, and he drank quantities of water, much to
the amusement of the others, who swallowed the pungent food with relish.
They sat for a long time over their coffee and some very black cigars
that Calloway produced, listening to the stories the Southerner told.  It
seemed that he had been in the country forty years, in fact ever since
the close of the Civil War, in which Calloway had gained his title.
Until recently the railroad had been but a mule tramway and Jalapa not
even a “spot on the map.”  He regarded it now as a metropolis.  Mexico
according to this old resident was hopelessly tame and civilized under
the firm rule of Diaz and the influx of money-making Americans and
Germans.  “You should have seen it in the old days when a man could live
as he liked.  Why, they have even got extradition laws for most things
now,” he complained.

“But they don’t use ’em,” the fight-trust man put in suavely.

Listening to the regrets expressed by the railroad manager, Brainard
perceived that the perfect era of freedom and joy was always somewhat
removed from the present time and place.  Calloway was most friendly to
the young American.

“I’ll show your young friend one of the old-time places to-morrow.  It
isn’t far from here—just a pleasant ride of a couple of hours.”

So a party was arranged for the early morning, and then Brainard excused
himself because of his fatigue, while the others went out to a café for
the rest of the evening.

Before sinking into his clean, inviting bed Brainard stepped to the
balcony to look once more at the snowy crown of Orizaba that shone softly
in the starlight across the valley.  The plaza and the street beneath the
balcony were deserted except for an occasional figure that slouched
along, covered even to the head with a long cloak.  At the next corner he
saw a young man leaning against the window of a house, talking to some
one within, doing his courting in the manner of the country.  A sharp
call rose into the night from the distance, answered by another, and then
all was silence.  From the plaza across the street came the sweet scent
of lilies.  It was the rich, languorous night of the semitropics, full of
perfume and mystery,—romance for youth,—a bit crude, perhaps, and
elementary, but appealing to every sense.

Brainard sank asleep to dream of a land of enchantment, full of hidden
gardens, the sound of swaying trees and falling water, the scent of
lilies, the sweet glances of dark women.



XIV


Very early the next morning after the usual deep cup of chocolate
Brainard joined Hollinger and Major Calloway, and the little party set
forth on horseback.  They rode through the silent town, between high
walls jealously guarding the privacy of large gardens, out into the
fields which were drenched with a heavy dew like rain.  The birds sang in
the arching trees above the road.  The sun came up from a golden mist in
the lowlands below and touched the hoary crest of Orizaba.  Brainard had
never seen such an incarnation of spring upon the earth as this glorious
May morning, and his heart sang joyously, free of care, forgetful of the
burden of his heavy bag and all the coil of events that had brought him
hither.  Like a schoolboy he was resolved to have his holiday.  The
lively chestnut horse with which Calloway had mounted him danced
mincingly, chafing at the heavy bit.  The magnate of the fight trust in a
short jacket and leather breeches, a broad straw sombrero on his head, a
long black cigar in his mouth, had the appearance of a bull fighter on
parade.  He too seemed gay in mood, and called Brainard’s attention to
the richness of the land, the varied specimens of tropical trees beneath
which they rode, the beauty of the landscape, always dominated by the
symmetrical snow-crowned mountain.  Calloway and the German took the
expedition more phlegmatically, discussing the prospects of the new
coffee yield.

From the shaded hill road they emerged upon a fertile valley where the
_peons_ were already at work in the fields.  And they also began to meet
the country population moving towards Jalapa for the weekly fair.
Hollinger, who seemed to have a fair command of Spanish, joked with men
and women along the road.

“You couldn’t do that in the States!” he remarked to Brainard.  “They’d
just give you a couple of sour looks and vote for no license.” . . .

The little party rode up to the Haçienda di Rosas in time for the second
breakfast.  The old Englishman seemed delighted to welcome Calloway’s
friends and presented them to his placid Mexican wife and his two
daughters.  The younger of these fell to Brainard at the breakfast, which
was served in the cool _patio_ shaded by a thick canopy of rose vines.
Señorita Marie was very small, very pretty, and very naïve,—just home
from a convent near Madrid, she told the young American.  She spoke
English daintily, mixed occasionally with French and Spanish phrases and
some very modern American slang whose meaning she seemed scarcely to
understand.  She was so unlike the few American girls that Brainard had
known, so little able “to look out for herself” as they were, so
appealing with shy glances from her black eyes, that from the first
moment he scarce remembered where he was or heard the conversation at the
other end of the table.  She was exquisitely small and dainty, like one
of those Spanish beauties by Goya that Brainard had seen in the
Metropolitan Museum.  Her black hair was drawn close about her delicate
head, concealing her ears and setting off the fairness of her skin, which
had an underglow of faint rose.  Her voice was a murmur and a whisper, at
times like broken bird notes, as if meant for one ear alone.  They talked
of the nothings that mean much to youth.  She told him of her life in the
convent, her one winter in the City of Mexico with its formal parties,
her brother studying to be an engineer in a New York school.

After the siesta they went into the plantation, and Brainard lingered
while the others drifted on discussing the culture of coffee and its
future.  Señorita Marie showed him her favorite walk with a view of
Orizaba across the valley, told him that her favorite poet was Tennyson,
the flower she loved best was the rose, the time of the year spring, the
time of the day twilight.  And she asked him if he had brothers and
sisters and was a good Catholic.  The time might come, and shortly
perhaps, when the childishness of this little mind would be apparent to
Brainard, but on this heavenly May afternoon with the birds singing in
the thickets and lazy white clouds floating across the snowy summit of
the volcano, their talk seemed quite wonderful and the girl herself the
most exquisite and adorable creature he had ever known.

“American girls do not talk like that, no?” she murmured, appealing to
him.

“No, they don’t!”

“Ah, but you see it’s different down here—we have only little things to
think about, we women, all day long.”

“It is very pleasant down here,” the young American sighed.

“You like it?” she responded eagerly.  “But you would not like it for
always. . . .  You American men are like that.  You come to see the
plantation and drink coffee and talk—maybe you flirt a little, no?—and
then you ride away and say you will write.  But you never write, and you
never come back!”

“I shall write, and I shall come back.”

The small lady shook her head with a demure smile.  They returned slowly
through the fields.  Yes, this girl was utterly different from the women
of his own race, and her difference appealed to him.  She seemed, even in
her simplicity, more womanly, more as women were meant to be, the
protected and the adored.  His imagination built up a pretty picture of a
dreamy existence in a beautiful country with such a trusting, simple,
lovable creature as companion.

“Why do you go away so soon?” she demanded as they neared the house.

“I must take the boat for Europe,” he replied.

“There will be another boat in a month.”

“Would you like me to stay?”

“Of course!  Don’t you know that?” . . .  Calloway and Hollinger were
already on horse-back in the courtyard, about to start without him.

“Are you coming with us?” the fight-trust man asked with an ironical
smile.

The Englishman and his wife gave the young stranger a cordial invitation
to remain and make a long visit.  Brainard was about to accept when he
remembered his bag left unguarded in the hotel room.

“I shall have to return to the hotel for to-night,” he said reluctantly.

“Well, I’ll drive over for you and your luggage to-morrow,” the
Englishman insisted cordially.

And Señorita Marie whispered demurely, “Au revoir—there’s another
steamer—in a month!”

So Brainard rode off with the others, very much pleased with himself and
life, lightly putting aside his settled purpose of taking the _Toulouse_
two days hence.  What urgent reason for haste, when life was so full of
promise and of beauty?  Another month would do as well for Krutzmacht’s
business. . . .

“You didn’t see much of the plantation,” the Southerner drawled to
Brainard as the young man’s horse drew up abreast.

“He saw a great deal of something more to his liking,” Hollinger
observed, a little ironical smile on his lips.

“I had a very good day,” Brainard responded simply, wishing to avoid
further reference to the girl.

                                * * * * *

The daylight quickly faded, and before they reached the hill on which
Jalapa lies, the moon was up, flooding the valley and the mountains.
Calloway became confidential, and for the first time told the full story
of their recent host.  Years before, the Englishman had arrived in Mexico
and bought this plantation.  He was a young man then and single.  He
never went home.  It seems that he had absconded from a shipping firm in
Liverpool where he was employed and had taken ten thousand pounds.  Later
he married a Mexican woman of good family and had prospered.

“But he never leaves the country.  The woman and the girls go—the son is
being educated in the States—but the old man has never been beyond the
line.”

“It must be hard on them—the girls,” Brainard said.

“What do they care?  Harlow is rich and respected in this country.  The
women are Mexican, though the girls have been well educated.  It was a
long time ago when he took the money, and as you see he lives like a
perfect gentleman with his own wife and family.  There are a good many
citizens here who have better antecedents than Harlow and aren’t as
respectable.”

He looked suddenly at Brainard.  The young man did not reply.  He was
thinking that even if the Englishman had been a thief, there was no
reason why he should not like the daughter,—yes, and visit the Haçienda
di Rosas, if he so desired!  He supposed that Calloway had told him
Harlow’s story for a purpose.

“After you have lived here awhile,” the Southerner continued, “you don’t
ask questions about newcomers, so long as they play fair and don’t try to
borrow money of you.  Live and let live—that’s a good motto, young man.
You never can tell when you will need the same charity for yourself that
you hand out to another fellow!”

That philosophy seemed a bit specious, and Brainard felt an instinctive
repugnance to the morals of his new acquaintances.  He suspected that the
Southerner might have his own story, which would explain why he was
living a lonely old age so far from his native Alabama.  Hollinger added
nothing to the conversation.  It was a somewhat delicate subject with him
also.  But all the young man’s chivalry rose in behalf of the little
Mexican girl.  This was the reason why young Americans never wrote and
never came back!  Well, he would show her that there was one who had the
courage to forget that her father was an embezzler.

When they reached the hotel Calloway said good night and went to his
room.  Brainard was about to follow him when Hollinger yawningly
suggested having a drink of _pulque_.

“Ever tried it?  It’s not so bad; like the sort of yeast mother used to
make out of potatoes,” and as Brainard demurred, he said more urgently,
“Oh, come on!  If you’re going to live on a Mexican haçienda, better get
acquainted with the national drink—though that was pretty good claret the
Englishman put up.”

They went across the way to a café that was still open and ordered
_pulque_.  Brainard, after tasting the sirupy, yeasty stuff put his glass
down with a grimace.  Hollinger drained his and ordered another.

“All you have to do with most things is to get used to ’em.  The question
is,” he added, looking meaningly at Brainard, “whether you want to get
used to ’em! . . .  Young man,” he remarked, as they turned back to the
hotel, “I don’t want to butt into your business—I am not that kind.  I
don’t know whether you are traveling for your health, the same as I am,
or for some other fellow’s health.  But, in any case,—” here his voice
became quietly emphatic, “all is, if you’ve got a job to do, do it!
Whether it’s cracking a safe or running a city mission, my young friend,
go at it and finish with it.”

Brainard threw up his head with all the haughtiness of the young man who
considers that he has thus far done very well without outside assistance.

“Just cut out any woman business until the job’s done,” Hollinger
continued.  “Women are likely to upset most business—they distract the
mind, you know.  Pardon me for calling your attention to the fact that
you seem still young and somewhat inexperienced in life, in spite of your
achievements.  Have you fully made up your mind to join the exiles down
here for good and all?  Better think it over first far away from the
señorita’s eyes, out at sea. . . .  Well, here endeth the first lesson,
and good night, and pleasant dreams!”

“Good night!” Brainard replied stuffily.

The porter handed them both candles, and by way of ingratiating himself
with his generous patrons announced that two more _gringos_ had arrived
late that afternoon.  Brainard, who was smarting under the fight-trust
magnate’s moral advice, paid little attention to the servant’s chatter
and went directly to his room.  He undressed slowly, thinking of the
charming girl at the Haçienda di Rosas and the happy day he had spent
with her.  Hollinger’s frank warning to get to his “job” and let women
alone rankled all the more because he felt the good sense of it.  But
something within him tempted him to rebel at good sense.  He was young,
and he had been through a series of strenuous weeks, living a lonely,
rough life.  There seemed nothing unpardonably weak in allowing himself a
bit of good time here in this lovely place.  Of course Hollinger’s idea
that he would straightway marry the embezzler’s daughter and settle down
in Jalapa for life was needlessly exaggerated.  Probably there would be
another steamer in less than a month.  And so forth, as youth under such
circumstances reasons with itself!

Continuing this debate he went out to the balcony for a last look at the
beautiful moonlight night.  He lingered there, charmed by the stillness
of the deserted streets, by the soft scented air, by the beauty of the
white peak towering into the southern heavens.  The pleasant murmur of
the girl’s voice sounded in his ears.  He was not in love, he said to
himself,—that would be quite ridiculous!  But he was, without knowing it,
in a state where a young man soon thinks himself into love.

All his experience since leaving New York led up, as a matter of fact, to
this very state.  Señorita Marie need not be so extraordinarily
fascinating, nor Jalapa so wonderfully picturesque, to set the stage for
the eternal drama.  He was just repeating to himself one of the girl’s
naïve remarks when he became conscious of low voices above him.  English
was being spoken, and by a woman.  He remembered what the porter had said
about new arrivals at the hotel, and strained his ears to hear what was
said.  But the speaker was evidently seated within the room overhead, and
her voice was too low to reach out and down with any distinctness.  There
was something in the timbre of it, or the accent, that seemed to Brainard
familiar,—perhaps nothing more than its Americanism.  A man’s voice,
rather guttural and entirely unfamiliar, broke in on the woman’s speech.
The man must be standing nearer the balcony, for Brainard could hear
distinctly what he said.

“I don’t see how Mossy let him slip through his fingers in Mexico City,
do you?”

An unintelligible answer came from within the room.

“Anyway, it was clear luck our stopping off here to send that wire.”

And then suddenly in perfectly distinct though low tones came the
sentence:

“You didn’t see the grip?”

Brainard knew _that_ voice!  The pert, crisp twist to the words might
resemble a thousand other stenographers in style, but he knew only one
that hissed her final words slightly.  He held his breath and listened.
The woman came out on the balcony, and Brainard noiselessly glided back
into the shadow of his dark room.  He had seen the profile of the figure
above and knew beyond doubt that she was Krutzmacht’s former
stenographer.  The man said:

“I wish I knew which way he meant to jump next.  He’s just fool enough to
go back North.”

“We’ll get him, either way,” the woman replied with a snap and retreated
into the room, closing the French window.



XV


Brainard stood without moving until his muscles ached.  Then he dropped
to the floor, crawled over to the bed, and felt beneath the bolster,
where he had taken the precaution to conceal his bag when he had left
that morning.  It was still there.  The room had been casually searched,
or possibly his pursuers had only just arrived by a delayed train.

At any rate, he had until the next morning.  The woman and her companion
would not be likely to make a disturbance that night, feeling that they
had him and his plunder safe within grasp.  They knew as well as he that
all escape from Jalapa was impossible before the early morning train for
the North.  It must be said that from the moment Brainard first heard the
stenographer’s voice, every thought of Señorita Marie and of the Haçienda
di Rosas dropped from his mind.  Danger was a panacea for the early
symptoms of love!

While he thought, Brainard took off his shoes, tied them together by the
laces, and slung them around his neck, as he had done as a boy, when he
wished to make an early escape from the parental house.  Then, placing
his precious bag on his shoulders, he crept inch by inch toward the open
window.  It was hazardous, but it was his only chance.  He was morally
certain that he could not enter the hall without making sufficient noise
to attract attention.

When he reached the balcony, he listened.  Not hearing any sound from the
next room, he stepped out into the moonlight, and walked as rapidly as he
could along the open balcony to the corner of the building, and around to
the other side.  He knew that the fight-trust man’s room was somewhere in
the rear wing, and his plan was to make an exit through his room.  But
the balcony did not extend to this wing, and he was brought to a halt.
He looked over the rail to the street, thinking to drop his bag and
follow it as best he could.  It was a good fifteen feet from the balcony
to the hard pavement beneath.  As Brainard debated the chances of
breaking a leg, he saw approaching the spot the figure of a night officer
on his rounds.  Instinctively he drew back, felt for the nearest window,
and pushed it open.  He prayed that it might be an empty room; but he was
no sooner within than he heard the loud snoring of a man.

Perplexed, Brainard listened for a few moments, then quietly crossed to
the bed.  Feeling about over the night table, he secured the pistol that
he suspected might lie there, then boldly struck a match.  With a snort,
the sleeper sat bolt upright.  Luckily it was Calloway, the manager of
the railroad.  Brainard whispered tensely:

“It’s all right, but don’t speak!  There’s your gun—only don’t shoot!”

“What’s the matter?” the Southerner demanded coolly, now wide awake.

“You said,” Brainard whispered, “that there was always a time when a man
might need charity.  Well, I want your help.  I have a bag here that
contains valuable papers belonging to some other person.  I’m trying to
get them to a safe place, as I was told to.  I haven’t stolen anything,
you understand, but of course you won’t believe that.  I’ve been followed
here by some enemies of the man who owned the stuff.  They’d kill me as
quickly as they would a fly to get possession of this bag.  If they can’t
murder me, and take it that way, they will probably put me in prison
to-morrow and keep me there.  I must get out of town to-night!”

“You can’t do that before to-morrow morning,” the Southerner replied,
yawning, as if he wished Brainard would take himself off to bed and let
him alone.

“I must get out of this hotel now, to-night, and away from Jalapa, and
not have a soul know where I’ve gone.  I’ll pay you well for your
trouble!”

“Keep your money, my son,” the man answered gruffly.  “It wasn’t for
_that_ I had to come down here.  But I’ll help you out, if you are in
trouble.”

He reflected yawningly for a few moments, while Brainard held his breath
with impatience.  For all he knew, the man and the woman might already
have entered his room and discovered his flight.

“If it were daylight, it would be different, but you know I couldn’t
start a train out of here at this time without the whole town knowing
about it; and I reckon that isn’t what you want.”

“Not much!”

“Can’t you bunk here with me until morning?  Then Hollinger and I can fix
up something.”

Brainard shook his head.

“I’d run you down myself in an engine to the coast—”

“That’s it!”

“But there isn’t an engine that can turn a wheel in the place.  The first
train comes up in the morning.”

“I might get a horse and go over to the haçienda,” Brainard suggested.

The Southerner scratched his sleepy head for a while.

“You might,” he admitted.  “But that wouldn’t put you out of your trouble
and might put other folks into danger.  You want to lose these urgent
friends of yours for good.”

“That’s so.”

“Got some nerve?”

“Enough to capture this stuff from a court and tote it ’cross country
from Frisco!”  He patted his valise.

“Come on, then!”

The Southerner drew on his trousers and boots.  As Brainard turned
impatiently toward the door, he said:

“Not that way!”

He pulled back a hanging at the foot of his bed, revealing a little
wooden door, which he opened, and, candle in hand, led the way through a
close, dusty passage.  After making several turns, they descended a
flight of narrow stairs, and Brainard’s guide pushed open a door at the
bottom.  The musty odor of old incense told him that they had entered a
church, and the wavering candle-light partially revealed the statues of
the saints and the altars of the chapels.

“The cathedral,” the Southerner remarked, and added, “Convenient
sometimes!”

Brainard followed him closely across the nave of the church to a door,
which Calloway unbolted after some fumbling.  They emerged upon a narrow
lane with blank walls on either side.

“That hotel used to be the bishop’s palace,” the Southerner explained.
“It’s a pretty handy place to get out of on the quiet, if you know the
way!”

It was only a short distance to the railroad terminal.  Calloway walked
rapidly and noiselessly on the toes of his boots, and kept to the dark
side of the lane.  They entered the yards beyond the station building,
and went to the farther end, where several tracks were occupied by
antiquated coaches that looked like a cross between open street cars and
English third-class railway carriages.

“We used these rattletraps before they changed the line to steam.  It
took six mules to haul one of ’em up from the junction of the Mexico and
Vera Cruz road; but they can go down flying!  It’s down grade all the way
for nearly forty miles.  They are rather wabbly now, but if you get one
with a good brake, it will last the trip.”

He tried several of the old cars, and finally selected one with a brake
that worked to his satisfaction.  Together they could just start it, and
they pushed it out to the main track.  Brainard threw his valise aboard,
and took his post, as the railroad man directed him, at the handbrake.

“I’ll open the gate for you, and set the switch; then it’s clear sailing.
Go slow until you learn the trick, then let her sail.  There’s a bad
curve about seven miles out, and a couple of miles farther on you’ll find
a considerable hill and some up grade.  You must let her slide down the
hill for all she can do, and take the grade on her own momentum.  If you
don’t, you may get stuck.  I can’t think of anything else.  You’ll roll
down to the junction in a couple of hours, as pretty as coasting, if that
confounded _peon_ hasn’t left the switch open at Cavallo.  If he has,
you’ll just have to jump for it, and foot it down through the chaparral,
if you haven’t broken your neck.  Needn’t bother to return the car,” he
chuckled.  “Is there anything else I can do for you, young man?”

“You’ve got me out of a tight hole,” Brainard replied warmly, “and I
can’t begin to thank you for it.  I hope I shall see you up North some
day, and be able to do something for you!”

“It isn’t likely we’ll meet in the States.  They don’t want me up there!”
the Southerner answered slowly.  “But perhaps, sometime, you’ll be able
to help a poor fellow out of _his_ hole in the same way.”

“That woman may strike the scent, and come hot-foot to Vera Cruz by the
first train.  Well, I’ll have to take my chances there before the boat
sails.”

“Leave her to me and Hollinger.  We’ll give her a tip that you have gone
North.”  Calloway laughed.  “If she won’t take it, there are other ways
of stopping her activity.  There’s a good deal of smallpox hereabouts,
you know, and if the mayor suspected these _gringos_ had the disease,
he’d chuck ’em into the pesthouse.  Don Salvador does pretty much what I
tell him—and the hotel-keeper, too.  I think we can keep your friends
quiet.”

“Get me twelve hours, if you can!  And tell Hollinger I’m on the job
again.”

The two men shook hands; Calloway pushed back the great gate; and the car
slid down the track out into the warm, black night, groaning to itself
asthmatically as it gathered impetus.



XVI


The Transatlantique line steamer _Toulouse_ lay off the breakwater of
Vera Cruz, smoking fiercely, anchor up, passengers all aboard, ready to
sail for Havre.  Her departure had been delayed nearly eighteen hours by
a fierce “norther,” which had not yet exhausted its fury.  They had been
anxious hours for Brainard, who had gone aboard the night before, in the
expectation of sailing immediately.  Now the black smoke pouring from the
funnel indicated that the captain had decided to proceed, and Brainard’s
spirits rose.

Nothing had been seen or heard of the stenographer and her companion.
Either they had lost the trail, or his friends at Jalapa had succeeded in
holding them there for almost two days, and had kept them away from the
telegraph, too.

Brainard was about to leave the deck, where he had been anxiously
watching the land, when his attention was caught by a small launch that
was rounding the end of the pier and heading for the steamer.  His hands
tightened on the rail; he suspected what that launch might contain.  He
noted that the steamer was moving slowly.  Would the captain wait?

The _Toulouse_ had swung around; her nose pointed out into the Gulf of
Mexico, and her screw revolved at quarter speed.  The launch approached
rapidly, and signaled the steamer to wait.  Brainard could see the smart
French captain, on the bridge above, examining the small boat through
glasses.  He himself could detect two figures in the bow, waving a flag,
and he smiled grimly at the comedy about to take place at his expense.

The screw ceased to revolve.  As the launch came within hailing distance,
there was an animated colloquy in French between the officers on the
bridge of the _Toulouse_ and the man in charge of the launch.

“Some late passengers,” remarked the third officer, who was standing
beside Brainard.  “A woman, too!”

Apparently neither the stenographer—for now he could recognize the young
woman—nor her companion, a stout, middle-aged, red-cheeked American,
understood the French language.  They kept gesticulating and pointing to
Brainard, whom they had discovered on the deck.  The captain of the
launch translated their remarks, and threw in some explanations of his
own.  The officers from the bridge of the _Toulouse_ fired back vigorous
volleys of questions.  It was an uproar!

Brainard, in spite of his predicament, burst into laughter over the
frantic endeavors of the two Americans to make themselves understood.
The captain tried his English, but with poor results.  Finally, with a
gesture of disgust, he yanked the bell rope.  Brainard could hear the
gong sound in the engine room beneath for full speed.  The _Toulouse_
would not wait.

The steamer began to gather speed, the launch to fall behind, while the
woman at the bow shrieked and pointed to Brainard.  The captain of the
_Toulouse_ merely shrugged his shoulders and walked to the other side of
his vessel.

“Some friends of yours?” the third officer said to Brainard, with a grin,
as the little launch fell into their wake and finally turned back toward
the inner harbor.  “The lady seemed anxious to join you—might be a wife,
_non_?”

Apparently he knew enough English to enable him to conjecture what the
two Americans wanted.  If, thought Brainard, the captain had known as
much English as his third officer, it might not have gone so happily for
him!

“The lady isn’t exactly my wife,” Brainard replied, with a laugh; “not
yet!”

“Ah!” the Frenchman said, with a meaning smile.  “What you in the States
call a breach of the promise?”

“Exactly!” Brainard replied hastily, glad to accept such a credible
fiction.

“She seems sorry to let you make the journey alone, eh?”

“Rather!”

The story circulated on the ship that evening, and gave Brainard a
jocular notoriety in the smoking room among the German and French
business men, who composed most of the _Toulouse’s_ first-cabin list.  It
was forgotten, however, before he emerged from his cabin, to which the
remains of the “norther” had quickly driven him.  By this time—it was the
fourth day out—the _Toulouse_ was in the grasp of the Gulf Stream, lazily
plowing her twelve knots an hour into the North Atlantic, and the
passengers were betting their francs on the probable day of arrival at
Havre.

That evening, at dinner, Brainard ordered a bottle of champagne, and
murmured, as he raised the glass to his lips:

“Here’s to Melody—whoever and whatever and wherever she may be!”

His youthful fancy, warmed by the wine, played again with the idea of an
unknown mistress for whom he was bound across the seas with her fortune
in his grip.  With the insistence of youth, he had made up his mind that
Melody must be a woman—what else could she be?  He always saw her as a
young woman, charming, beautiful, of course, and free!

And yet she might well be some aged relative of Krutzmacht, or a fair
friend of his youth, to whom, in the moment of decision allowed him, he
had desired to leave his fortune; or some unrecognized wife, to whom, at
the threshold of death, he thought to do tardy justice.

“An old hag, perhaps!” the young man murmured with a grimace.  “We’ll
see—over there!”

But his buoyant fancy refused to vision this elusive Melody as other than
young and beautiful.  And he gave her the attractive shape and
personality of Señorita Marie.  He began to think of her as living in
some obscure corner of the great world, waiting to be dowered with the
fortune that he had bravely rescued for her.

When Brainard felt that his stomach and his sea legs were both
impeccable, he descended to his cabin, bolted the door, pulled the shade
carefully over the porthole, pinned newspapers above the wooden
partitions, and proceeded to make a leisurely examination of the valise.
It was the first safe moment that he had had to go through the contents
of the bag thoroughly; and when the key sank into the lock, his curiosity
was whetted to a fine edge.

He had already made a careful count of the notes and gold left after his
devious journey to Vera Cruz.  The sum was eight thousand dollars and
some hundreds.  This he had entered on a blank leaf in a little diary,
under the heading “Melody, Cr.”  On the opposite page he had put down all
the sums that he remembered to have spent since leaving New York, even to
his cigarettes and the bottle of champagne which he had drunk in honor of
his unknown mistress.

“Here goes!” he said at last.  “Let’s see what Melody’s pile is, anyway.”

It took the best part of the night to examine thoroughly what the bag
held.  Even after he had gone over every piece, Brainard, untrained in
business matters, could but guess at the full importance of his haul.
There were contracts and deeds and leases relating to a network of
corporations, of which the most important, apparently, was the Pacific
Northern Railway.

Despairing of understanding the full value of these documents without
some clew, Brainard contented himself with making a careful inventory of
them.  The meat of the lot, he judged, lay in certain bundles of neatly
engraved five-per-cent bonds of the Pacific Northern, together with a
number of certificates of stock in the Shasta Company.  In all, as he
calculated, there were eight millions of bonds and fifteen millions, par
value, of stock.

“Melody doesn’t look to me to be a poor lady,” Brainard muttered,
bundling up the bonds and stock, and packing them carefully away at the
bottom of the valise.  “They are welcome to the rest, if they’ll let me
off with these pretty things!”

What was more, he had come across the name of Schneider Brothers,
bankers, Berlin, on the letterhead of several communications, indicating
that they had been the dead man’s foreign fiscal agents.  That would be
of use to him, he noted, as he wrote the name in his little diary.  Then
he went on deck, lighted a long Mexican cigar, and began to think.  The
value of his haul made him very serious.  Latterly his adventure had more
or less the irresponsibility of a boy’s lark about it, but now it assumed
larger importance.  What he had done was a serious matter in the eyes of
the law, and he must justify his proceedings, not only to himself, but to
others. . . .

The days of the lazy, sunny voyage slipped away.  As the vessel drew
nearer Europe, Brainard speculated more and more anxiously on what might
be waiting for him on the dock at Havre.  Now that he knew how valuable
his loot was, he felt certain that old Krutzmacht’s San Francisco
enemies, who had tracked him to the dock at Vera Cruz, would hardly be
idle during the sixteen days that the _Toulouse_ had taken to cross the
seas.  There had been ample time for them to hear from the stenographer
and their other agents in Mexico, to communicate with the French
authorities, to have detectives cross from New York by one of the express
boats and meet him at Havre.  There would be a fine reception committee
prepared for him on the dock!

Cudgel his brains as he might, hour after hour, he could see no way out
of the predicament that was daily drawing nearer.  After the incident at
Vera Cruz, he could not approach any of the officers of the vessel and
seek to enlist their help.  He thought of bribing the sociable third
officer to secrete the contents of his valise, but he mistrusted his
volatile temperament.  There was a Frenchwoman who sat next him at the
table, a dark-haired little person, clever and businesslike, who had been
very agreeable to Brainard, and had undertaken to teach him French.  He
could tell his story to Mme Vernon, and ask her to assume charge of the
troublesome valise.  But an instinctive caution restrained him from
taking any one into his confidence.  He preferred to run his chance of
arrest, and to fight against extradition.  Whenever he resigned himself
to this prospect, his sporting blood rebelled, and there rose, also, a
new sentiment of loyalty to the interests of his unknown mistress,
Melody.  He had come too far in his venture to be beaten now!

“Whether the old man was straight or not, whether he really owned the
bunch of bonds and stock or not, it would be a pity not to get something
out of it for Melody.  She’s not in the scrap,” he said to himself.  “No,
I don’t chuck the game yet!”

His anxieties were quieted by another fit of seasickness on the day
before they were due to arrive at Havre.  As she approached the coast of
Brittany, the _Toulouse_ lost the balmy weather which had prevailed since
they entered the Gulf Stream, and ran straight into a gale that was
sweeping over the boisterous Bay of Biscay.  Brainard went to bed, to
spend altogether the most wretched twenty-four hours he had ever
experienced.

In his more conscious moments he gathered that the old _Toulouse_ was
having as hard a time with the weather as he was.  Her feeble engines at
last lay down on the job, and the captain was forced to turn about and
run before the storm.  It mattered little to Brainard, just then, whether
the ship was blown to the Azores, or went to the bottom, or carried him
into Havre, there to be arrested and finally deported to the United
States for grand larceny.  He turned in his berth, thought of the
_Bourgogne_, and closed his weary eyes.

Toward evening the gale blew itself out, and the battered old _Toulouse_
was headed north once more across the Bay of Biscay.  Sometime in the
night the engines ceased to thump, and Brainard awoke with a start.  When
he had hurried into his clothes, and groped his way to the deck, he was
astonished to see ahead, through the gray fog of early morning, faint
lights and, farther away, the stronger illumination that came from some
city.

“Is it Havre?” he demanded of the third officer, whom he met.

“No, monsieur—St. Nazaire!” the Frenchman answered.  “Monsieur will be
disappointed?”

“I don’t think so!” exclaimed Brainard.

It was, indeed, the port of Nantes.  The captain had not chosen to risk
the voyage around the stormy coast of Brittany with his depleted coal
supply, and had taken the old _Toulouse_ to the nearest port.

“Here’s where Melody scores!” Brainard muttered, when he realized the
significance of the news.  “Now for a quick exit to Paris, before the
telegraph gets in its deadly work and notifies the civilized world where
we are!”



XVII


Three hours later the passengers of the _Toulouse_ were aboard a special
train for Paris, and in a first-class compartment Brainard was seated,
facing his valise, and looking out upon the pleasant landscape of the
Loire valley, a contented expression on his brown young face.

He had already formulated to himself the exact plot of his movements from
the moment he reached Paris.  From the pleasant Frenchwoman who had been
his neighbor at the ship’s table he had learned the address of a little
hotel in the Bourse quarter, where she assured him that Americans rarely
appeared.  It was not far from the large bank in which he intended to
deposit Melody’s burdensome fortune until he could make arrangements for
disposing of it.

It did not take him long, therefore, to install himself at the little
Hôtel des Voyageurs et Brésil, and to rid himself of his troublesome
loot.  Then he wrote a letter to Schneider Brothers, of Berlin, who, he
had learned at the Crédit Lyonnais, were a well-known firm of bankers
with an agency in New York.  He wrote the Messrs. Schneider that in
obedience to the instructions of the late Mr. Herbert Krutzmacht, of San
Francisco, he wished to consult with them in regard to the disposal of
some securities that he had in his possession.  He would remain for the
present in Paris, and he begged to suggest that the bankers should send a
responsible agent to meet him at some place—preferably The Hague, whither
he was going the following week.

He had selected The Hague as a safe middle ground, after consulting the
map of Europe in his guidebook.

“That will draw their fire,” he thought complacently.  “We shall see on
which side of the game they are!”

Having mailed the letter, he strolled out to the boulevards to enjoy his
first whiff of Paris.  This was the city that he had walked in his
dreams!  He had never hoped to see it; but now he was strolling along the
Boulevard des Italiens, and there before his eyes lay the great Place de
l’Opéra, with its maze of automobiles, ’buses, and pedestrians.  And
there—Brainard stopped in the middle of the crowded _place_, wrapped in
wonder, staring at the gilded figures on the façade of the Opéra, until
an excitable official with a white baton poured a stream of voluble
expostulation into his ear, and he dodged from under an omnibus just in
time to fall into the path of a motor, causing general execration.

The official with the white stick finally landed him on the curb before
he became an obstruction to traffic.  He sank into an inviting iron chair
and ordered a drink, as he saw that that was what the Parisians used
their sidewalks for.  In answer to his labored French, there came back in
the purest Irish:

“Whisky, sor?  Black and White, sor?  Very good, sor!”

“Well, I never!” he murmured, radiant with happiness.

When the waiter reappeared with the drink, he was gazing down the broad
avenue, entranced.

“Where does that go?” he whispered to the waiter, thrusting a bill into
the curving palm and pointing vaguely before him.

“The Luver, sure, sor.  You’ll be wanting a nurse before the day is
done!” the Irishman muttered.

And indeed the self-contained young American began to act like a lunatic
let loose.  Gulping down his whisky, he set off at random, plunging again
into the sea of traffic, finally escaping to the shelter of a cab.  The
driver, after vain attempts to extract an intelligible order from his
fare, just drove on and on through the boulevards, across great squares,
up the noble avenue to the lofty arch, and then came back to the center
of the city and stopped suggestively before a restaurant.

Somehow Brainard managed to get fed, and then the fatherly cabby received
him and bore him on through the gas-lighted streets, soft and lambent and
vocal, and at the end of another hour deposited him in front of what
Brainard took to be a theater—a modest-looking building enough.  From the
poster he saw that it was the Français.

The great Théâtre Français!  He beamed back at cabby, who gesticulated
with his whip and urged him on.  Cabby had begun sympathetically to
comprehend his lunatic.

They played _Cyrano_ that night, it happened.  Though the fluent lines
rolled too swiftly over Brainard’s head for his feeble comprehension of
the language, he understood the wonderful actors.  For the first time in
the twenty-eight years of his existence, he realized what is art—what it
is to conceive and represent life with living creatures, to clothe dull
lines of print with human passions.  This was what he had dreamed might
be when he descended from his gallery seat in a Broadway theater—but what
never was.

Cabby was asleep on the box outside when Brainard emerged from his dream.
At the young American’s touch, he awoke, and, chirping to his decrepit
horse, bore the stranger to his hotel.  At the door they exchanged vivid
protestations of regard, and a couple of pieces of gold rolled into
cabby’s paw.

“He understood!” Brainard murmured gratefully.  “_Demain_—_demain_!” he
cried; and the _cocher_ cracked his whip.

The next two days were the most wonderful that Brainard had ever spent.
He slept but a few hours each night—was there not all the rest of life to
sleep in?  Under the fat cabby’s guidance he roamed day and night.  He
would murmur from time to time some famous name which seemed to act on
cabby like a cabalistic charm,—Louvre, Panthéon, Arc de Triomphe,
Invalides, Bastille, Luxembourg, Nôtre Dame.  At noon and at night they
drew up before some marvelous restaurant where the most alluring viands
were to be had.  Each evening there was a theater, carefully chosen by
cabby; and there Brainard spent enchanted hours, drinking in at every
sense the meaning of the play, savoring the charm of intonation, of line,
of gesture—the art which seemed innate in these people.

For was he not, as he had said to Krutzmacht, by profession a dramatist?

The third day he bethought him of the French lady of the _Toulouse_, and
gave her address to his guardian.  With her he made an expedition to
Versailles.  On their return from the château, they dined at a little
restaurant at Ville d’Avray, the Frenchwoman carefully ordering the food
and the wine.

As the twilight fell across the old ponds and over the woods where Corot
had once wandered, Brainard murmured softly:

“Melody, my dear, I owe you a whole lot for this—more than I can ever pay
you, no matter how much I can squeeze out of those Dutchmen for your
bonds and stock!”  And then, aloud, “Here’s to Melody—God bless her!”

“Mel-odie!” said the French lady daintily.  “It is a pretty name.  Is
that the name of your _fiancée_?”

“No, madam!  I have never seen the lady—but I hope to, some day!”

The Frenchwoman smiled and made no comment, puzzled by this latest
manifestation of the lunatic American.

After dinner they strolled through the ancient park of St. Cloud to the
river, and took a _bateau mouche_ for Paris.  Mme. Vernon seemed to
understand all the pleasant little ways of enjoying life.  It was a warm,
starry night.  The French lady sat close to Brainard, and looked up
tenderly into his eyes, but though his lips were wreathed in smiles, and
his eyes were bright, he did not seem to comprehend what such
opportunities were made for.

“Not even took my hand once!” she murmured to herself with a sigh, as she
mounted the stairs to her apartment alone.  “What are these Americans
made of?  To drink to the name of an unknown, and spend their dollars
like sous.  And always business!”

For when she had suggested an excursion for the morrow, the young man had
excused himself on the plea of “my business.”

“Always business!” she murmured.

But the lady did Brainard an injustice.  He was thinking little of
business.  If she had but known it, he was in love, and dreaming—in love
with life, and dreaming of the wonderful mystery of Krutzmacht and of the
still more mysterious Melody!

                                * * * * *

At his hotel there was a dispatch from the Schneider Brothers, appointing
a meeting at a hotel in The Hague for the following evening.



XVIII


When a servant had ushered Brainard into a private _salon_ of the old
Bible Hotel, and discreetly closed the door, an alert, middle-aged German
with grizzled hair and close-trimmed beard rose from a table and advanced
with outstretched hand.

“Mr. Brainard, I presume?” he said in fluent English.  “I am Adolf
Schneider.”

“So it’s important enough for the old boy to come himself!” Brainard
thought as they shook hands.

Herr Schneider cast a quick look at the small bag which the servant had
taken from Brainard’s hand and placed beside his coat and hat.

“You haven’t brought the papers with you!” the banker exclaimed with
unconscious disappointment.

“They are in a safe place,” Brainard replied; “but I have a pretty
complete inventory of them.”

He drew from his pocket a copy of the list that he had made on board the
_Toulouse_, and also a copy of the power of attorney that Krutzmacht had
signed.  The former he handed to the banker, who seized it with a poorly
assumed air of indifference, and ran his eye down the list.

Herr Schneider’s face expanded, it seemed to Brainard, as he neared the
bottom; but without making any comment he took a list from his pocket and
compared it with Brainard’s.  When he had finished, he looked at the
young man with fresh interest.

“There’s some more stuff—books and files of papers, which I packed in a
trunk,” Brainard explained.  “But I had to leave the trunk behind me.  It
should be safe in Chicago by this time, and I can get it, if it’s still
there, when I return to America.”

“You were thorough!” the banker exclaimed with a smile.  “You did not
leave much behind you.”

Apparently Herr Schneider already knew something about the raid upon
Krutzmacht’s safe.

“I took everything in sight,” Brainard said simply.

“And I am to understand that you have these”—the banker pointed to the
inventory—“with you in Europe?”

“They are where I can get at them easily,” Brainard replied guardedly.

For several moments the two men looked at each other across the table.

“What do you mean to do with it?” the banker asked casually at last.

“I don’t know yet,” Brainard replied lightly.  “I want to find out what
it’s worth, if I can.”

“Your _coup_ has created much excitement in certain quarters.  I suppose
you are aware of that,” Herr Adolf observed in a warning tone.  “You will
find it difficult to negotiate any securities you may have—if you escape
worse complications!”

Brainard realized that the German was speaking diplomatically—bluffing,
to use a plainer word.

“I have merely obeyed the orders I received,” he observed innocently,
handing the banker a copy of Krutzmacht’s power of attorney.
“Unfortunately, as you know, Mr. Krutzmacht died suddenly, and I am left
with only the most general instructions to direct my future movements.”

The banker glanced at the power of attorney, and, shrugging his
shoulders, handed it back to Brainard.  Apparently he preferred to regard
the young stranger as merely a clever adventurer.

“That can’t be of much use to you,” he said coldly.

Brainard tipped back in his chair and eyed the banker.  Finally he
brought the chair down on the floor with a bang, and, leaning forward,
tapped the banker pleasantly on the knee.

“I’m no crook, Herr Schneider—not really, you know!  You can think so, if
you want to, but it won’t make the price of the goods any cheaper in the
end.  You might like to hear how I happened to get mixed up in this
affair?”

He proceeded to tell the story of his movements since that April evening
when he had found Krutzmacht in a fit on a New York street.  He omitted
all references to the vague Melody, who seemed irrelevant for the moment.

“An extraordinary story!” the banker commented, with more warmth, but
still dubiously.

“And it’s all true!” Brainard cried.  “Now I want to know a lot of things
from you.  First, who was Krutzmacht?  And why was the old man so dead
set on getting his property over here?”

The banker’s manner relaxed into its habitual suavity.  This
extraordinary young American, who looted safes for a chance acquaintance,
amused as well as puzzled him.  Evidently Brainard was not easily
intimidated.  The banker resolved upon another method of attack.

“Really, young man,” he said, “you know nothing more than you have told
me about your—employer?”

“Hardly a thing—except that he was mixed up in some big business deals.
Naturally, these past weeks, I have wondered a good deal about who he
was.”

“I should think you might!” the banker agreed, with a laugh.  “I can tell
you in a few words what I know about him.  Mr. Herbert Krutzmacht was a
countryman of mine, as you might infer from his name—a native of
Mannheim.  He went to the States when he was a young man, back in the
fifties.  Like so many of my countrymen, he carried nothing to your land
but his brains and his will.  He had many adventures out there.  After
your Civil War, he moved to the Pacific coast, engaged in mining
operations, made a great deal of money, and lost it.  He put it all into
one property, from which he expected to take a vast fortune, but—”

“At Monument, Arizona?” Brainard interrupted.

“In Arizona, I think.  I don’t remember the name of the place.  The mine
was called—let me see—yes, the Melody mine.”

“The Melody!” Brainard exclaimed, startled.  “So that was it, was it?”

“What was?”

“Nothing—merely a guess of mine.  Please proceed!”

“After the failure of his mine he had a hard time, and everything seemed
against him.  Then, a few years ago, he got control of a company to
develop water power in northern California—the Shasta Company, it was
called.  From this he went into land and timber business, and finally
began to build a railroad, the Pacific Northern.  From time to time, as
he needed money for his various enterprises, he applied to us, and we
found the capital for him when he could not get it in the States.  It was
our capital, mostly, that went into the railroad, which was to go
northward into a region controlled by other roads.  That started the
opposition in California to him and his schemes, and trouble quickly
developed.  Your countrymen, Mr. Brainard, are not always scrupulous in
the weapons they use.  These hostile parties had bought up one of the
judges in California, and they struck their blow while Mr. Krutzmacht was
in New York a month or more ago conferring with our representative.  It
had been arranged to raise the necessary funds to pay the interest due on
the outstanding bonds, and to complete the railroad.  Then Mr. Krutzmacht
disappeared, the California court granted the other side their
receivership, and he was found dead in a New York hospital!”

“It must have been foul play!”

“What do you mean?”

“As I figure it out, those crooks must have been watching him all the
time in New York, and when they learned that he had succeeded in raising
this money he needed to keep his property out of their hands, they did
not wait.  They—”

“What?” the banker demanded.

“Made away with him—drugged him, probably, then chucked him out of a cab
into the street.”

“Quite possibly that was it.  Your people do such peculiar things!  Well,
the crooks, as you call them, got their receivership for the Shasta
Company—the parent company—the very day he died.  Krutzmacht was a
fighter, a hard man to conquer, and if he had lived, I have very little
doubt that he would have succeeded in worsting his enemies.”

“And now?” Brainard asked with a smile.  The banker made a comical
gesture.

“The receiver found very little to receive, naturally, after your visit.
Of course, you can understand what they were after was not the Shasta
Company, but its rich subsidiaries.  You had left the shell, of which the
Court has taken physical possession.”

Brainard laughed.

“The old boy knew what he was about,” he said.  “There was no time to
lose!  Tell me,” he asked abruptly, “do you know whether Krutzmacht had
any relatives—any heirs?”

“He must have some connections at Mannheim.  Krutzmacht is a common
enough name there.  But I do not think that any of them were closely
related to Mr. Herbert Krutzmacht.”

“I don’t mean thirty-third cousins.  Had he a wife or children?”

The banker hesitated, and then said:

“Several years ago, when I was in New York, I remember meeting some woman
with Mr. Krutzmacht at a hotel—a very handsome woman, from one of your
Southern States, I judged by her accent.  But,” he added hastily, “I have
no reason to believe that she was his wife.  It is probable that one
might find out in San Francisco, where he lived the latter part of his
life.  I could not say.”

“So far as you know, there is no one interested in this deal?” Brainard
persisted.

“The heirs will announce themselves soon enough, if there are any.  Until
then,” Herr Schneider remarked slyly, “we need not go into the question.”

The young American stared at the banker with honest, uncomprehending
eyes.

“But that’s just what it is my business to do!” he exclaimed.  “There was
some one, I am sure, whom the old man tried to tell me about.”

“Oh!”

“He was too far gone to say the whole name, but I think he had in mind
some one whom he wanted to have his money.  You see how it is, Herr
Schneider.  I am acting as this old fellow’s representative—his executor,
so to speak—to take care of his property and hand it over to some one
named Melody, or—”

“Melody?” inquired the banker, puzzled.

“Yes—that was what I made it out to be,” Brainard said, blushing.

“But that was the name of the Arizona mine.”

“It might perhaps be the name of—of a person, too.”

The banker shrugged his shoulders.  He turned to the inventory.  Putting
on his glasses, he re-read the paper carefully.  When he had finished, he
glanced up, saying:

“Well, Mr. Brainard, now for business, as your people say.  What do you
want me to give you in exchange for these securities and papers?”

“What they are worth.”

“Ah, that would be very hard to say!”

“What would they be worth to Mr. Krutzmacht, if he were here?”

“If Mr. Krutzmacht were alive, they might be worth a great deal,” the
banker said cautiously, “and yet they might have no value, now that he is
dead.”

“He seemed to think they had some value,” Brainard said flatly.

The banker fidgeted.

“Oh, of course, naturally!”

“And they can’t have lost all their value within a few weeks.”

“One company is bankrupt already.  This suit, the irregular manner in
which possession of these papers was obtained—” began the banker,
fencing.

“What will you give, cash down?” demanded Brainard.

The banker rose from his chair and walked to the window.  He pulled out a
fresh cigar, lighted it, laid it down, and turned to Brainard.

“It is a great risk.  We do not know what we can do with the properties.
We shall doubtless have lawsuits.  We may lose all.  Let us say fifty
thousand dollars for everything—everything!” he repeated.

The banker looked keenly at Brainard, as if he thought he had been
impressive.

“There are over eight millions of Pacific Northern bonds, and about
fifteen millions in stock—besides all the rest,” Brainard observed
reflectively.  “It won’t do, Mr. Schneider—guess again!”

“Stocks and bonds are worth what you can get for them.”

“Then I’ll wait, and see if I can get more for these,” Brainard suggested
smilingly.  “There’s no hurry about the matter.  I came to you first,” he
said, “because I supposed you would have the old man’s account checked
up, and know just what was coming to him.”

The banker smiled at the young man’s simplicity.

“Business is not done that way.  It is a question to whom the property
belongs,” he added meaningly.

“I see!  Well, it belongs to me at present—”

“Let us say a hundred thousand—in cash, paid to you personally,” the
banker interrupted hastily.

“You think you are bidding for stolen goods, eh, and can get them cheap?”
Brainard suggested.

“Four hundred thousand marks is much money!”

“A whole lot of money—no question about that!” the young American
remarked with a quizzical smile, thinking that ten dollars was more ready
money than he had had, of his own, for many months.  “But it isn’t
enough!”

“Are you not ready for dinner?” the banker suggested genially.  “We can
have our dinner here and talk matters over quietly.  I will explain.”

They dined at great leisure, while the banker gave Brainard his first
lessons in corporation finance, with apt illustrations from the history
of Krutzmacht’s enterprises.  He explained how an individual or a
corporation might be put into bankruptcy and yet be intrinsically very
rich,—the spoil always going to the stronger in the struggle.  He had
ordered a magnum of champagne, and pressed the wine upon the young man
with hospitable persistence; but Brainard felt that if he ever wanted to
keep his head clear, this was the time, and he drank little.  He
suspected the banker’s geniality.

From finance the banker drifted to the topic of Krutzmacht himself.  He
told many stories of the old man, which showed his daring and his ability
to take what he could get wherever he found it.

“He was always talking about that mine—the one in Arizona.  He expected
to make a very big fortune from it some day.  It was to get money with
which to develop his mine, I believe, that he went into all the other
things,” Herr Schneider explained.

“The Melody mine!” the young man murmured to himself.

“That was it!  He sank one fortune in it, but he would never let go—that
was his way.”

When they had reached their coffee, the banker turned suddenly upon
Brainard.

“Have you made up your mind to take my offer?”

“Your people here have a good deal of money tied up in this business?”

“A good deal more than I wish we had,” the banker replied frankly.  “So
we must send more down the well to bring back what’s there already.  We
shall have a fight on our hands, too.”

“I don’t understand business,” the young man said.  “The chances are that
Mel—Krutzmacht’s heirs don’t, either.  That’s why he told me to come over
here to dispose of his stuff.  The best I can do is to take cash and
quit.”

“Exactly!” the banker beamed.

“Of course,” Brainard drawled, “we don’t sell Krutzmacht’s private
things—the mine, I mean—the Melody mine.”  The banker waved his hand
indifferently.  “And for the rest you can give us”—the banker held his
cigar poised in the air—“two millions.”

The banker leaped to his feet.

“You swindler!” he shouted angrily.  “You have the impudence—”

“Careful!  That’s not a pretty name, Herr Schneider,” Brainard replied
coldly.  “Perhaps I am not the only crook in this business.  Don’t get
excited.  You don’t have to take my offer.”

The banker slowly subsided into his chair.

“We shall appeal to the courts!” he snarled.

“What courts?  I thought you might try to bluff, and so I suggested
having our talk in some neutral place.”

“You are pretty shrewd, my young man.  You take all these precautions for
the sake of Mr. Krutzmacht’s heirs, I suppose,” he sneered unpleasantly.

“Careful now!  I don’t mind one bit going to a Dutch jail for slugging
you; but what good would that do either of us?  The stuff isn’t here, you
know.”

With this Brainard rose to his feet and took his coat and bag.

“Where are you going?” the banker asked in some alarm.

“Oh, I’ll take a look about the place, I guess, and then go back to
Paris.  I don’t believe you and I can do business to advantage in your
present mood.”

“Your plunder won’t do _you_ any good,” the banker observed.  “You can’t
raise a penny on it.”

“We’ll see about that.  There are others who might be willing to pay me
something for the paper.  I have a pretty good idea that their agents are
hunting for my address at the present moment.  Suppose I let them find
me?”

“Call it a million marks!” the banker snapped.

“I said two million dollars, and I’ll keep the bonds, too.  You said they
were no good, as I understand.  They might as well stay with me, in that
case.  They look pretty!”

The banker gave him an evil look.  Brainard, unconcerned, rang for a
waiter, and when the man appeared he ordered his bill and a cab.

“When can you deliver the papers—those that you have with you in Europe?”
the banker asked briskly, when the servant had departed.

“Whenever you are ready with the cash—two million dollars, not marks—Herr
Schneider!”

“One doesn’t carry two million dollars in one’s trousers pockets, over
here,” the banker sneered.

“I will give you one week to deliver the cash in Paris,” Brainard replied
carelessly.  “Just seven days.”

“Your cab is waiting, sir,” the waiter announced.

“All right!  You will have to excuse me, Herr Schneider.  I want to take
a look about the town.”

And thus they parted without shaking hands.

“Tell the driver,” Brainard said to the waiter, “to show me everything
worth seeing in your town.”

As he settled himself into the cab for his sightseeing, he mused:

“I wonder if I got enough!  There’s no telling what the stuff is really
worth.  I’d have given it to him for a million, all of it, if he hadn’t
taken me for a common sneak thief.  Well, I guess I touched his limit.
If he lays down on my proposition, I’ll have to look up the other crowd,
and I suspect there isn’t much to choose between them so far as their
methods are concerned.  But I bet old Schnei will turn up in Paris before
the week is out with a bag of dollars.  And there are the bonds—they may
be worth something, after all, to Melody!”

He interrupted his meditation to squint an eye at a palace toward which
the _cocher_ was furiously waving his whip.

“All right, _cocher_,—you can drive on,” he replied, having taken in the
monument sufficiently.  “Well”—he concluded his meditation aloud—“two
millions, cash, is a pretty good bunch of money for any girl.  I don’t
believe she could have done any better herself.  And there are the eight
millions of bonds.  Now where in thunder _is_ Melody?”

“_Was_?” the coachman demanded.

Brainard waved him on, and continued his thoughts without speaking.

“There is the mine, too—the Melody mine.  Queer name for a mine, and a
queer name for a woman, too, now you think of it!  Is there any Melody
girl—woman, anyway, anywhere?”

The mere doubt of the existence of such a personage dampened his good
spirits.  If Melody was a fiction of his youthful imagination, he was
loath to part with her; for she had become the possible reality that held
his dream together.

“No!” he concluded aloud.  “No man would have made all that effort, when
he was dying, to speak the name of a mine!”

With this sage reflection he dismissed from his thoughts the teasing
puzzle of Krutzmacht and his heirs, and devoted his entire attention to
the monuments of The Hague.



XIX


Five days later Brainard stood chatting with Herr Adolf Schneider and
Herr Nathan Schneider on the broad granite steps of the Crédit Lyonnais
in Paris.  The transfer of all Krutzmacht’s papers, except the packages
of bonds, had just been completed within the bank, and receipts for them
had been given to the young American, together with drafts on New York
for two millions of dollars.

“May I inquire what you intend to do now?” Herr Nathan asked, simple
curiosity on his broad face.

“I’m going to put in one week more here, then pull out for San Francisco,
and try to hunt up my principal,” Brainard replied.

“You are not afraid to return to the States?” Herr Adolf inquired.

“Why should I be?  Our people know when they are licked.  Those crooks
won’t worry me any longer.  More likely they’ll be after you now!”

Brainard laughed pleasantly.

“I think,” Herr Nathan observed complacently, “we can take care of them.”

“I hope so!  I want to see those bonds make good some day.”

“Don’t be in a hurry to sell your bonds, young man.  That is my best
advice,” the banker said gravely.

“I’ll tell Mel—my principal what you say,” Brainard laughed back.  “Now
good day to you, gentlemen, and good hunting!”

Herr Adolf shook the young man’s hand cordially.

“If you ever want a business—after you have discovered this mysterious
heir to Mr. Krutzmacht—why, come over here to me, and I will make a
financier of you!”

“Thanks!”

                                * * * * *

Brainard sauntered slowly down the crowded boulevard.  He had before him
seven more days of Paris—seven beautiful June days.  For he had resolved
to give himself one week of pure vacation in Paris as payment for
services performed for his unknown principal.  Thus seriously did he hold
himself to his mission.

At the end of the week he would take the first fast steamer for New York,
and begin the hunt for an heir for the money he had obtained from old
Krutzmacht’s property—for that shadowy Melody whose name so persistently
haunted his imagination.  But now how best could he spend these last
precious hours of freedom and delight which he had well earned?

The young American with two million dollars in his pockets paused beside
the curb and watched the brilliant stream of Paris life flow past him for
many minutes.  Then he beckoned to a cab, and drove to a steamship
office, where he engaged passage for that day week from Cherbourg.  Next
he went to a tailor, and ordered clothes to replace his Chicago
ready-made suit, which no longer satisfied his aspirations in the way of
personal appearance.  He did not mean to go shabby any longer, no matter
what fate might be in store for him at the close of his present
adventure.

These necessary duties performed, he betook himself to a famous
restaurant near the Madeleine, where he ordered an excellent breakfast.
While he ate, he laid his plans.

Brainard had made most of his journey through life without congenial
companions, but now he felt a desire for companionship.  It was another
of those hitherto unsuspected capacities that had been stimulated by his
recent experiences.  He bethought himself of the only human being he knew
in all Paris—the amiable Mme. Vernon, his friend of the _Toulouse_; so
after his breakfast he proceeded to the Frenchwoman’s hotel.  Mme. Vernon
welcomed him cordially.

“I thought you had returned to America.”

“I have another week,” he explained, “and I want you to show me how to
spend it.  Think of everything that a man twenty-eight years old, who has
never had a day’s real vacation in his life, would like to see and do in
Paris, and we’ll do it all together.  That is, if you can give me the
time!”

The good-natured Frenchwoman, who had returned to her native country
after a long absence in “barbarian lands,” did not seem greatly occupied,
and was not averse to spending a few days with this _naïf_ American.  She
smiled upon Brainard.

“It is a serious matter,” she said after meditation, wrinkling her placid
brow.  “And you must see all?”

“Everything!”

“In one week!” she cried.  “_Allons_—let us start!”

There began seven days of wonder and delight—enough to pay with good
measure for all the sordid years of struggle that the young man had
endured; enough to last him, if need be, for a lifetime of dull toil.
The amiable Frenchwoman entered into the spirit of her task with
enthusiasm and a high intelligence, and Brainard paid the way with
unquestioning liberality.

“It’s my commission on two millions,” he said to himself, entering the
items scrupulously in his little account book.

From gallery and church and restaurant to theater and opera and café they
trailed through the sunny days and the soft nights.  They haunted the
theaters especially, for the young American—would-be dramatist—felt with
sure instinct that here he had discovered the pure gold of his art after
the sounding brass of Broadway.  They went to the little theaters hidden
away in obscure corners, to the theaters of the people, as well as to the
stately stages of the Français and the Odéon and to the popular boulevard
playhouses.

Brainard was like a dry sponge that soaks and soaks but never satisfies
its thirst, so Mme. Vernon declared.  With her help, the rapid dialogue
of the theater became easily comprehensible.  For the young man’s ears
seemed attuned, his whole intelligence quickened.  He was like one
arriving, after a long journey, at the promised land.

“You are an artist,” the Frenchwoman flattered, “and should stay here
with us in the land of artists!”

Brainard merely smiled, murmuring:

“We, too, are artists over there, in our way—artists of life!”

The last day came.  At midnight the two companions emerged upon the busy
Place du Théâtre Français, beside the plashing fountain.  It had been
“Phèdre,” and the Frenchwoman had yawned through the stately lines of
sublime passion.  She would have preferred the farce at the Palais Royal,
or to prolong their last intimate dinner at Lavenue’s, which she loved so
well.  But the young American had sat enthralled, and now he walked as in
a dream, with head erect.

In a few hours more this dream in which he had lived, this inspired world
of beauty and art, would have vanished from his sight, never again,
perhaps, to dazzle his eyes.  Some careless god had taken him from his
dingy corner and had shown him what a wonderful place this world can be.
Now, after a week spent in the city of his desires, he must return to his
own little hole, and let the clouds of reality fall between him and his
vision.

“But why, oh, why,” he murmured aloud, “can’t we have something like
that?  Why isn’t there a place in all America where poor devils like
myself could drop in for a few hours of paradise?”

“My poor poet!” the Frenchwoman exclaimed, guiding his footsteps gently
toward a lighted café.  “If you like it so much, why dost thou leave thy
paradise?”

“Because it is so ordered,” he replied simply.

“By whom?”

And as he did not answer, she suggested with a slight smile:

“By that one of whom you spoke—that Mélodie?”

“By Melody!” he affirmed gravely.

For to-night, on the eve of his departure for America, that elusive
mistress seemed especially real and compelling, no mere figment of his
heated brain.

“Then, indeed,” said the Frenchwoman, with a touch of pique, “you must be
in love with your Mélodie!”

The young American laughed.

“Hardly.  I don’t know her!”

“I do not understand.”

“Nor I!”

With two millions of ready money lying close to his heart in the drafts
of the Schneider Brothers, it never entered the young man’s mind that he
might prolong his vacation indefinitely.

“Stay with us another eight days,” urged his companion, laying a
caressing hand upon his arm.  “Your Mélodie will wait for you!”

Brainard laughed, and for reply paid the waiter and rose from the table
where they sat.  They walked out into the soft night, and passed through
the Tuileries Gardens, across the great square beyond, with its silent
monuments and gleaming lights.  When they reached Mme. Vernon’s
apartment, the Frenchwoman urged him to enter.

“It is the last time,” she said sentimentally.

Brainard held out a friendly hand; but she would not let him go.

“I have not thanked you enough for this!”  She pointed coquettishly to a
lovely pendant which she had admired in a window of the Rue de la Paix,
and which Brainard had bought for her.

“That’s nothing—just to remember me by!”

“I do not need it for that!”

“Good night,” he said, “and good-by—it has been a great week!”

And that was all.

“‘Good night and good-by—it has been a great week!’”  The Frenchwoman
mimicked the young man’s words to herself.  “_Ciel_, what manner of man
can he be?  Or have I grown so old?”  And she answered herself with a
sigh: “No, he’s only a poet, and he is in love with—an idea!  Mélodie!
Foolish poet!”

So that was the final judgment of Mme. Vernon.

But out in the gentle June night, under the dark Paris sky, the poet was
sauntering beneath the dusky shadow of the Louvre, the music of the lines
he had heard that evening floating through his brain.  He drifted on past
the empty courts of the old palace, toward the river, exalted by all that
he had seen and felt during these last seven wonderful days.  The
spinning moments of his brief dream were too precious to waste in sleep.
As he went, he talked aloud to himself.

“We ought to have something like it over there.  It _could_ be done, too!
Melody should do it for us, with a portion of all this loot that I am
bringing back to her.  She should give something to America to justify
her name!”

If Mme. Vernon had heard these muttered words, she would doubtless have
qualified her judgment of the young American by adding:

“He is a crazy poet!”

Indeed there was something scarcely rational in the young American’s
enthusiasm, the glowing intoxication of spirit in which he enveloped
Paris.  That too had been preparing for him through all the vicissitudes
of the past weeks,—by the sudden resolves to commit himself to the sick
man’s purpose, the growth of will as he met each fresh complication, the
physical and moral regeneration of the long trail into Mexico, above all
by the sense of triumph gained in his encounter with the Berlin banker.
The crust of his starved nature had broken, and at the magic touch of
Paris there appeared the better spirit of the man,—fearless,
enthusiastic, worshiping,—the spirit of the artist, as Mme. Vernon had
said.  Even in his quixotic renunciation, his determination to turn away
from the happiness he had found, there was a glowing conviction that this
was not the end.  The spirit would survive.  ’Twas, indeed, but the
start, the preparation for another adventure, larger, more thrilling,
that loomed before him, across the ocean.  Paris also was but revelation
and preparation; more was to come! . . .

The graceful lines of the Palace of the Louvre rose mysteriously into the
night, and recalled to Brainard the pages of old Dumas, from whom he had
learned to know France.  Home of the past, of a great race, home of
beauty and art and romance, it called to him, young barbarian that he
was, cast by chance upon its shores!

Beneath the stone parapet on which he was leaning, a laden barge passed
stealthily over the black surface of the river.  He followed it up the
quays, crossing the Pont Neuf, over which loomed the shadowy figure of
the king on horseback, on toward Notre Dame.  All was still and silent
about the old cathedral as he paced under the shadows of the springing
buttresses.  At last, while he lingered on the point of the island, out
of the east came a rosy light that touched the great gray towers of the
cathedral.  It was the misty dawn.

“To think,” he murmured prayerfully, “that I might have died without
knowing all this!”

The old stone buildings along the winding river gradually emerged from
the gray mist of the dawn and hung as if suspended, floating before his
eyes.  The thin branches of a tall poplar waved lightly above his head,
dropping to him a yellow leaf.  A _gendarme_ who was patrolling the quay
looked interrogatively into the face of the young American, as if he were
suspicious of his proximity to the river at that hour of the morning.

“_Beau temps_,” he observed amicably to the loiterer.

“What do you say?” Brainard asked, coming a long way down to earth.

The officer repeated his innocent remark about the weather.

“Yes, the _temps_ is all right,” the young man agreed.  “Fine!”

Evidently another of those foolish Americans, star-gazing in the early
dawn!  The officer lingered near, cocking his eye on the stranger; but
Brainard had started for his hotel, talking to himself as he walked.

“There’s a whole lot, Melody, I can never pay you for, even with two
millions and a bunch of five-per-cent bonds!  Where are you, Melody, in
all this wide world?”

Suddenly he stopped, and stood very still.  Then, slapping his thigh, he
shouted into the dawn:

“Why, Monument!  Monument, Arizona!  That’s it!  That’s what the old boy
was trying to say at the very end, when he was too far gone to make
himself clearly understood.  He was trying to give me the address, of
course!”

The _gendarme_, thinking there must be something wrong with a young man
who acted in this fashion, followed Brainard to his hotel, whither, now
that he had solved his puzzle, he went at a brisk pace.



XX


To get to that pin-prick on the map called Monument, Arizona, you drop
off the railroad at Defiance, which is somewhere east of the water tank
named Phantom, and then follow an old post road across the lofty plateau
in the direction of the mountains to the southwest.  After something more
than twenty miles, the trail strikes a deeply sunk river bed that winds
like a gigantic serpent over the desert toward the declining sun.  In one
of the coils of this dead river serpent lies what is left of the mining
camp of Monument.

From the dusty trail over the alkali plain Brainard emerged one blazing
July afternoon, saddle-sore after his unaccustomed exercise, and
red-faced from the pitiless glare of the Arizona sun.  As he climbed the
rocky path on the farther side of the river bed, the sun was sinking in a
gorgeous sky behind the wooden shacks of Monument.

The place had the desolate air of a mining camp that had been smothered
before its boom had really come.  The stack of a large smelter rose from
a group of corrugated iron buildings at the further end.  Beyond, on the
summit of a curious detached mound, set quite apart from all other
features of the landscape, there was a considerable mansion with tall
pillars along its southern front.  This, Brainard surmised, must have
been the residence of the owner or the manager of the mine, and his
present goal.

Apparently Monument had not enough life left to bestir itself, even on
the arrival of a stranger.  Brainard slid from his horse unobserved in
front of the Waldorf Hotel, which was apparently the most pretentious
hostelry in the town.  Inside the Waldorf, a Chinaman was serving a
customer with a meal of fried steak and liver-colored pie.  The only
other person in the establishment was a fat Irishwoman dozing in one
corner of the large bar-room, to which the Chinaman referred the
stranger, with a silent nod.  The landlady—for such he took her to
be—looked at Brainard stupidly, and to his request for a room merely
dropped her head on her ample breast and resumed her nap.

Brainard turned back to the street, and there the only human being in
sight was an old man sitting in front of a tiny cottage, which seemed
more decent in appearance than the other residences of Monument.
Brainard hailed him, and inquired if there was another hotel in Monument
in which he might take refuge.

“There’s hotels enough,” the old citizen replied with placid irony, “but
they ain’t doing business these days.  I reckon you’ll have to put up
with the Waldorf, stranger—it ain’t so worse!”

In reply to Brainard’s complaint that the landlady of the Waldorf would
not take notice of his arrival, the old man remarked:

“I expect Katie’s just getting over her yesterday’s booze.  She’ll come
around after sundown.  Come over and sit awhile.  There ain’t any use of
worryin’ yourself in this here country!”

He waved an arm slowly over the empty landscape.

“That’s a fact—Monument doesn’t seem greatly rushed with business,”
Brainard observed, taking the proffered seat beside the old man.  “What’s
the matter with the place?”

“The matter is that nothing has been doing in this here camp for ’most
ten years,” the miner replied, pointing to the smokeless smelter.

“Mine gave out?”

“Mine’s all right—they never really got into it.  The money gave out!”

The old man explained, in his placid drawl, how Monument once had great
hopes.  Then there had been a dozen Waldorfs in full swing.  The smelter
had been built, and shafts sunk in the red-brown hills behind the town.

“The Melody Mine?”

“That’s what they called it, and it’s as good a mine as there ever was in
Arizony—better ore than the El Verde ever had—more money in it than three
El Verdes rolled into one, I say!”

“Gold?”

The old man spat contemptuously at a venturesome lizard.

“Gold!  Hell, no—copper!  High-grade ore.”

“What was the matter?”

“Them panic times came along, and the fellow that owned the Melody went
broke.  He went back to Frisco.  I always expected him to ride into camp
some day, when the panic was over, hitch down there at the Waldorf, and
sing out, ‘Howdy, Steve!’ and things would begin to hum once more.  But
he never come back.  Guess it’s likely he ain’t made good out in
California.”

“Perhaps he’s dead now,” Brainard suggested.

“P’r’aps—but some other feller will work the mine, one of these days.
Copper’s booming all over the world, you understand.  I’m waiting for
that day!”

The old man spat meditatively.

“What is that large house on the hill?” Brainard asked, pointing to the
lonely mansion beyond the town.

“That’s where the old man lived—Krutzmacht’s house,” he replied.  “He
used to live there with his folks.”

“He had a family, then?” Brainard inquired quickly.

“Some said she warn’t really his wife—couldn’t be, because she had a
husband where she came from, back East.  I don’t know.  I never asked
him.  Folks always talk, you understand.  Well, she’s dead now.  The old
man left her here when he went away.  She stayed on with the girl—”

“With what girl?”

“Her darter, stranger—not his, I guess.  She was a scraggly little
black-haired thing, more like a boy.”

Brainard smiled as his young man’s dream of a beautiful heroine, with
aristocratic manners and gracious character, crumbled at the miner’s
touch.

“She used to ride all over the place on her pony—she was a wild sort.
Sometime after her mother died, she disappeared.”

“Where did she go?”

The old man shook his head slowly.

“Nobody could tell.  One night, a month or more ago, she just rode off on
the trail.  I seed her going down there at a run on her pony, and she
never came back.  P’r’aps she was going to look for Krutzmacht.  They
caught the pony over by Phantom, but nothing has been heard of her
since.”

“Melody—”

“Yes, that was her name, stranger!” the old miner said with a look of
surprise.  “Melody White!  How did you come to know it?”

“I must have guessed it,” Brainard replied with a smile.

“The mine was named after her, or she after the mine; I don’t know
which.”

Brainard stared out into the grim Arizona landscape, before which rose
the deserted mansion.  There was a Melody!  He had never really doubted
her existence, but this assurance of his conviction pleased him, even
though she might not be all that his ardent fancy had imagined.

“And now the house is empty, same as the mine, and I dunno what will
become of it all.  Sold for taxes, I expect, if they can git any one to
buy it!”

They strolled up the road in the direction of the house upon the hill.
The austere dusk of the desert was settling over the dreary habitations
of Monument.  Far away along the horizon purple mountains lifted their
heads in grandeur.

The house was so placed that it gave a large view of the horizon from the
mountains to the distant rim of the desert and again to mountains.  Close
beneath, in wide folds, the river bed wound its serpent course westward
into the dusk.  Before the broad southern veranda there were signs of old
flower beds, which had once been cherished with precious water brought in
iron pipes from the river below.  The great white pillars had peeled
their one coat of paint, and underfoot the sun-dried boards rattled.

The scene was large and grand, but inhumanly empty—as empty as the great
house itself.  No wonder that the young girl, her mother dead, had fled
from this parched desert and these bony mountains in search of the world
of men and women, in search of life!

“Kind of lonesome here?” the miner observed.

“It’s like death!”

“But you get used of it, same as death. . . .  She and her mother stayed
here by themselves after the old man went, and I guess the girl had
enough of it.”

“How old was she, do you think?”

The old miner wrinkled his brows thoughtfully.

“She must have been nigh on sixteen,” he said.  “She warn’t quite ten
when Krutzmacht left.”

This girl of “nigh on sixteen” had gone forth alone in search of the
stepfather, who for long years had left her and her mother neglected
here.

“Don’t you want to see the house?  Krutzmacht fixed it up real
elegant—carpets and mahogany stuff.  Nothing like it in this country.”

The old man pressed against the warped door, which yielded after a slight
resistance.  An odor of warm, musty air from the empty dwelling filled
the lofty hall, which was quite bare.  The miner opened a door leading to
a western room.

“They lived mostly in here,” he said.

On the floor was a thick Oriental rug, and there were several pieces of
handsome furniture, especially a massive, old-fashioned mahogany writing
desk and a large divan.  On the divan lay a quirt and a woman’s cloak, as
if they had been thrown there carelessly the day before.

The dust of the desert had already settled on the rug, the desk, the
table, and the chairs.  Nevertheless, the room presented a singularly
living look, such as only the life of people with certain habits and
education can impress upon an abiding place.  Brainard felt as if he had
entered a drawing-room whose mistress had left it in the care of
neglectful servants.

Beside the window a small piano stood open, with a piece of music on the
rack.  Some dead stalks of flowers drooped from a vase, and on the hearth
lay a charred log.  Among the spools and pieces of cloth on a worktable
was a drawing board, to which was fastened a water-color sketch.  A
brush, carelessly dropped, had stained one corner of the sketch with a
blotch of red.  Brainard looked at the water color with some curiosity.
It was a young girl’s attempt to seize the barbaric splendor of the arid
plain outside of the window, fringed with ranges of savage mountains,
lighted by the fire of the setting sun.

The two men went up the broad staircase with its white-painted handrail.
Only one of the bedrooms had been recently occupied—the one in the
southwestern corner, facing the winding river.  There a dresser drawer
was pulled out, as if it had been rifled by hasty hands.

“Seems as if they were really coming back agin!” the old miner remarked,
feeling the personal touch of occupancy.  “They allus kep’ to themselves.
You see, they didn’t really belong,” he added, as if in explanation.

Brainard went back into the living room once more, and examined the
water-color sketch.  It seemed to him that this rough sketch was like a
sign left for him.  It breathed the passion and the longing of the girl
hidden away in this lonely corner of the earth.  He detached it gently
from the board, and put it into his pocket.  Then, with another glance
around the deserted room, he followed his guide out upon the veranda.

While the old man busied himself carefully shutting up the place,
Brainard leaned against one of the white pillars and stared into the gray
evening that had stolen over the plain.  She had gone—the mistress whom
he had tried to serve so faithfully.  She had disappeared into that vast,
gray outer world, that the twilight was gradually covering.

All the way across the ocean and the land, and especially on the blazing
trail over the alkali plain from Defiance, he had pictured to himself the
woman he hoped to find at the end of his journey.  He had imagined his
interview with her, her emotions of surprise and delight, when he
accounted for the fortune he was bringing her.  At first she had been but
a name, then an idea, and this idea had gradually assumed, in his
imagination, the vivid sense of personality.  But somehow, in all his
speculation, he had never contemplated this!  She lived, but she had just
flitted forth—whither?

Suddenly it came over him that there was no clear next step.  For the
first time since he had obeyed Krutzmacht’s will and taken the train
westward for San Francisco, his spirit was dampened, and in the gray
evening a weight of depression fell upon him.  For the moment he had no
will, no plan.  That which had held all his acts together and made them
reasonable to himself had vanished.

Yet the girl had left behind her an impression—a sense of being some one,
a person—which he had never had completely before.  Somewhere in the
universe there really was a young creature with the strange name of
Melody White, to whom belonged sundry important properties now in his
possession.  It was clearly his business to find her if he could! . . .

The old miner came stamping over the loose boards of the veranda.

“The place will sure drop to pieces, like all the rest,” he observed, “if
something ain’t done to it mighty quick.”

“Where do you suppose she went?” the young man asked abruptly.

“The girl?  Goodness only knows.  P’r’aps she went to her mother’s folks,
or p’r’aps out to the coast after him—who can tell?  ’Twould be like
hunting for a young rabbit out there!”  He nodded toward the gray plain.

By the time that Brainard reached the Waldorf, the landlady had roused
herself, and she undertook to provide the traveler with food and room.
After disposing of John Chinaman’s fried steak and liver-colored pie, he
went forth again into Monument, seeking further information about the
former occupants of the mansion beyond the town.  But nothing was known
of the two women except the vague rumor that the mother had come
originally from “Louisiany way.”  She had held herself apart from the
little community, and most of the present inhabitants of the place, it
seemed, were derelicts who had gathered there after the closing of the
mine.  All the vital population had taken the trail back to the railroad
shortly after Krutzmacht’s disappearance from the scene.

“Faith, I knew the gurl,” admitted Kate, of the Waldorf.  “A queer wan
she was, too, ridin’ around by night and singin’ loud up there in the
big, lonely house.  When you heard her singin’ in the dark, it would
frighten the heart in you!”

But more positive information the landlady did not possess.  When
Brainard went to his hot room for the night, he felt “lonesome,” as the
miner had said—as if some one had missed an appointment with him here in
the Arizona desert.

The more he thought about the description the old miner had given him,
the date of her final departure, the more he became convinced that he had
seen this elusive Melody that night at Phantom when he had dropped from
the Santa Fé train and practically thrown himself upon the girl’s good
nature to guide him into safety.  He was so preoccupied with his own
danger at the time, and the loss of his precious bag, that he had not
given much thought to the girl, had not even remembered the talk about
Krutzmacht’s mining venture in Arizona until later.  So he had passed her
in the dark almost at the start of his adventure—the one whom now he was
seeking in a circle!

Even then, in all probability, she had planned her flight,—he remembered
how evasive she had been in reply to his blunt questions,—and she had
left not long afterwards, within a few days, as far as he could make out.
Yes, that must be Melody White,—the girl “nigh on sixteen,” the shy
little girl with the appealing Southern accent, who had seemed to him so
lonely sitting her yellow pony among the cactus as the night fell on the
desert.  His imagination fastened strongly on this belief, for it gave
him fresh courage and purpose.  If she were a being of flesh and blood
four weeks before, she must be somewhere now.  It was his business to
find her.  Probably she had gone first to San Francisco in search of
Krutzmacht; but when she had learned of his death, where had she gone?
At any rate California was the place from which to start the long trail.

And a long trail, indeed, it might prove—the search for a wild young girl
on her first journey into the wide world.



XXI


In the morning, when he descended to the bar-room of the Waldorf in
search of nourishment, the old miner greeted him.

“I thought,” he said suggestively, “maybe you’d like to see the mine.
The Limited don’t reach Defiance until evenin’.  The mine ain’t but a
little ways out from here.  You might be interested in lookin’ it over.”

“All right!” Brainard exclaimed.  “Let’s see the mine.”  He had been so
much preoccupied with Melody, the girl, that he had altogether forgotten
about Krutzmacht’s interest in the Melody mine.  “How far is it?” he
asked.

“About three miles back in the hills.  The old man was building a trolley
from the mine to the smelter here beside the river.”

The miner pointed out the rusty rails and bleached sleepers of the
trolley road as their horses picked the way over the rough ground up to
the opening of the main shaft of the mine.

“Defiance lies off there,” the miner said, pointing to the blue horizon,
“twenty-five miles in a straight line north.  He meant to run a railroad
right across the sagebrush.  It’s down grade all the way, so the cars
could go out by gravity.  They reckoned on gettin’ power for the trolley
from the river, by damming it above the smelter.”

“It was to be developed on a big scale!” Brainard exclaimed, impressed by
the scope of Krutzmacht’s plans.

“You bet!” the miner agreed.  “It ain’t no use to do things in a small
way in this country.  Krutzmacht knew that.”

Brainard scanned the steep, savage mountains above the shaft.  They were
devoid of all vegetation on the lower slopes, dull brown in color, with
their flanks seamed by little gullies.  Behind, the higher peaks lifted
their heads in broken lines of serrated edges; and in the far distance,
glittering in the cloudless sky, were snowy tips of dazzling white.

The miner picked up a piece of purplish ore from the pile heaped high
about the mouth of the shaft.

“Look at that!” he said admiringly.  “There’s enough ore of that sort
right under our feet to pay almost to tote it out to Defiance.  And they
had just scratched the surface, here and there.  The old man didn’t
reckon to begin mining until he had things fixed right.”

They descended from the ore pile and proceeded to the entrance of the
main shaft.  It was cluttered with timber and abandoned machinery, some
of which had never been installed.  They spent a couple of hours
examining the mine, stumbling about the dark tunnels by the light of a
candle which the old miner had brought, looking at the ore bodies already
exposed, ready to be worked.

When at last they emerged into the dazzling sunlight, and were resting,
Brainard remarked wonderingly:

“It’s queer that a man like Krutzmacht should have abandoned a large
property such as this, when he had gone so far with it.”

“He hain’t abandoned it, I tell you.  He paid the taxes up to last year.
It takes an awful sight of money, stranger, to develop a big mine so far
from the railroad.  Krutzmacht’s pile wasn’t big enough, and he wasn’t
the kind who’d take anybody in with him.  All or nothing for him—that was
his way.  So he went back to California to get his stake.  If he’s alive
still, he’ll be coming in here some day ready to work this bonanza!”

“I am afraid that will never be,” Brainard said slowly.  “Krutzmacht died
in New York two months ago.”

The miner stared in astonishment, exclaiming at last:

“Well, well!  So the old man died before he made good!”  Brainard nodded.
“Maybe you are looking at the property for yourself?”

“Do I look like a miner?  No, I came to Monument to find out if the old
man left an heir.”

“I reckon the only folks he had was that girl and her mother, and one is
dead and the other gone goodness knows where,” the old miner replied.
“So the Melody mine don’t belong to nobody now!”

“It belongs to that girl, if we can find her.”

“It may be sold for taxes before that.”

“Then I’ll buy it in,” Brainard said promptly.

They ate the bread and bacon they had brought with them for lunch under a
pine tree on a slope of the steep hill above the mine.  The old miner
shook his head from time to time, and muttered to himself over the
strange dispensations of Providence that left a rich mine like the Melody
abandoned.  Brainard thought of the girl who had escaped him, and planned
vaguely what his next steps should be.

“There’s an old crater up among them hills,” the miner vouchsafed, when
the last slice of bacon and bread had disappeared, “and some sulfur
springs.  There’s another fortune, maybe, if you could get at the
sulfur.”

“I’ll take a look at it,” Brainard said.  “How do you go?”

And so, while the old man turned back to look after their horses, which
they had left tethered far below, Brainard clambered on among the sharp
peaks toward the snow beds that lay in drifts along the ragged edge of
the mountains.  He passed the circular depression of which the miner had
spoken, and noticed the yellow crust upon the earth; but for a long time
he kept on upward.  He wanted to be alone, to think over a certain daring
idea that had seized hold of him while the miner was showing him the
neglected riches of the Melody mine.  Perhaps the keen mountain air,
blowing dry and fresh from the desert below, had its part in stirring his
brain to unwonted excitement.  Perhaps it was the reaction from his
disappointment of the evening before in not finding his young mistress
waiting to receive her fortune.  However that might be, his idea kept
teasing him, expanding all the time in reasonableness and urgency.

Why should he not take up Krutzmacht’s purpose—use part of the money he
had obtained from the bankers in developing this great property?  While
he was prosecuting the search for the young girl, which he foresaw might
take much time, might indeed end in failure, this work would give a new
incentive, a new meaning to his long adventure.

“Give it all to Melody!” the old adventurer had whispered with his last
breath.  Yes, all to Melody in one form or another, as soon as possible.
He would dive deeper than the letter of Krutzmacht’s word—he would do as
the old man might have done himself, if his life had gone on.  He would
fulfill his inmost purposes.

He had humor enough to smile at his own daring.  “One Edgar Brainard,” as
he had described himself to Krutzmacht, unsuccessful playwright, scrub of
the city streets, to run a mine!  But why not?  For that old self, that
“one Edgar Brainard,” buffeted, discouraged human chip on the muddy
surface of the stream of life, had completely disappeared, never again to
exist, he earnestly hoped.  These eventful weeks of vital living,
constant and quick decision, of prompt, forceful execution, of vivid
feeling and yet calm self-reliance, had made a totally other man of
him—one whose possibility he had never suspected, but one whom he liked
and respected an infinite deal more than that old, familiar “one Edgar
Brainard.”

Thanks to Krutzmacht and the elusive Melody, he could never again become
the timid, inefficient struggler earning his precarious crust of bread by
humiliating tasks, dreaming futile dreams and putting them into equally
futile words.  He had tasted of life, action, power, and he found them
sweet.  He would not resign them!  Thus Krutzmacht had bestowed on the
chance stranger who had befriended him in his last need more than those
millions he was leaving to Melody.

His rapid thoughts swept over these last weeks.  Everything in them, it
seemed, had prepared the way for this decision, had fitted him to dare,
to take the responsibility.  If it had confronted him a month before,
when he and Melody had passed each other unknown, he would not have been
ready; if it had come a fortnight before while he was in Paris, he would
not have risen to the opportunity.  It had come Now, at the fertile
moment. . . .  His thin, weak body had filled out, just as his harassed
face had taken on firm lines of real manhood.  He was no longer afraid of
life, nor of any of its chances.  He would act for this girl as he would
act for himself; he would be her trustee, her faithful servant, and the
guardian of her property until such time as it could be given into her
hands.  And the idle millions should set about their proper task of
breeding more millions.

At this point in his thinking he gave a boyish whoop that even caught the
ear of the old miner below and made him look up.  Brainard waved his hat
and laughed from the glorious fun of it all,—the risk and the joy of
life,—living at last! . . .

As was characteristic of the new man, having projected an idea, committed
himself to a decision, his mind at once bent quickly to filling in the
details of the pattern in action.  He should go to-morrow across the
mountains to look for his old friend Gunnison, to learn what more he
could, if anything, about the girl’s sudden departure.  Gunnison might
also give him information of value concerning the mine.  Then he should
take the evening train for San Francisco, and there first of all he would
look up the friendly reporter Farson, to enlist his aid in the search for
the girl.  In this he must exercise great caution, because San Francisco
might not yet be a perfectly salubrious climate for him, nor did he wish
to stir cupidinous desires in the breasts of possible claimants to
Krutzmacht’s fortune.  What he should do afterwards was not clear as yet,
but he thought that Farson might be helpful in suggesting the best
methods for prosecuting such a search as was before him.  Hollinger, if
he had returned to the States, might also be useful.  He would willingly
confide in the “fight-trust magnate.”  In any case he should try to find
the grizzled miner from Union,—just why, he could not say.  But he felt
that the old man who had searched fortune in the earth for thirty years
might be useful in “handling the Melody proposition.”  He would run
across him either at the Palace in San Francisco or, if not there, could
stop at Winnemucca on his way east and make the journey to Union.  He had
the man’s name written down somewhere.  And then he must call for that
trunk in Chicago, in which he hoped to find the title deeds to the mine
and other interesting documents.  There was much to be done, and to be
done speedily.  Yet he felt no haste, no nervous anxiety to be adoing.
Time for thought was needed also. . . .

So he climbed on rapidly toward the glittering banks of snow until he
reached a small plateau gleaming like a jeweled robe in the sunlight.
Beneath him lay the little valley about the shaft, scarred by the ore
pits with their abandoned rock piles.  Far down, the old miner was
leading the horses from the shed where they had been tied.  Above
beckoned the peaks, reaching into the steely heavens like naked icicles.
A broad-winged bird circled majestically, tracing its dark shadow on the
gleaming snow field, as with a brush.

Not a sound upon the earth nor in the sky!  A broad, deep silence!  The
clear light, the lofty peaks pointing heavenward—nothing more, except his
own beating heart!

The man stood there in the immense silence, his soul poised like the hawk
above his petty world, surveying in one swift rush of thought that little
self of his past, with its small ambitions and desires.  Up to this level
the road that Krutzmacht had opened for him had led.

He gazed steadily upward into the wonderful sea of blue sky, deeper than
the blue depth of the Gulf Stream, above the snowy peaks, beyond the
world, into his future.  What he saw there was a vision of will, man’s
will.  He was all will—a vitalized mass of glorious energy to conceive,
to create, to do!

He laughed in the cloudless amplitude of snow and blue heavens, laughed
at the small self he had left behind, writing play pieces, making tiny
scenes for a tiny stage.  The world was the great stage upon which he
would present his masterpiece!  Krutzmacht had played on that stage, and
Brainard had helped him to put up a rousing melodrama at the close.  His
own play thereon should be something different.

Krutzmacht’s will had made the fortune; his will should take it, if need
be, reshape it, and speed it to some more perfect end than the old
buccaneer of the West had ever dreamed of.  Where Krutzmacht’s will had
ended, his will would start.

There rose, too, a vision of art as he had felt it in Paris at dawn,
beneath the towers of the old cathedral.  And sweetly the two united in
his fecund mind.  He laughed softly in the joy of this vision, and his
laugh tinkled strangely among the silent mountain peaks.  Throwing up his
head to the dazzling rampart of snow that broke the wavering azure lines
of the heavens, he exclaimed:

“That, too, will come true!  That will be!  We’ll make life our stage,
and write the play in life, as God writes upon the snows up here.  That
is creation!”

Brainard could see the old man below holding the horses by their bridles
and shielding his eyes with his free hand, as he searched for his
companion.  And faintly, very thinly, through the valley came the old
man’s hail.

Brainard gave a last, lingering look to the immensity above, beyond,
around him—the place where his great idea had been born.  Then he turned
his steps downward, the light of distant thoughts in his eyes, a smile
upon his lips which said:

“I have seen.  Now to _do_!”

                                * * * * *

“You will meet me again before long,” he said to the old miner, when they
parted.  “And then we’ll make the Melody sing!”



PART II: MELODY


I


“So that’s why I missed you in San Francisco four years ago!” Brainard
exclaimed.  “Because you wanted to write a play!”

He threw back his head and laughed as if the idea was peculiarly
ironical.

“Yes!” the ex-reporter Farson replied, with an echo of Brainard’s irony.
“You see I had always meant to be a playwright and took to reporting to
make a living.  When you came along and gave me that five hundred for
helping you crack the safe and get away with the contents, I chucked the
newspaper job and moved on to Broadway—been here ever since.”

“Well, how has it gone?”

Farson’s face wrinkled comically.

“I haven’t quite persuaded Broadway that I am another Sardou.  In fact
the only creation of mine that ever saw the footlights is a melodrama,
founded on our adventures that evening in Frisco.  And I sold that for
fifty dollars to a western syndicate.  I have never heard from it since.
I need hardly say it does not satisfy my aspirations.”

“So you went back to reporting?”

“Of a kind,” the young man replied with a sudden attempt to become
important.  “I am on the staff of _Bunker’s Magazine_.”

“And they sent you here to interview me!” Brainard laughed again.

“_Bunker’s_ thought that the public would be interested in your rapid
rise into the limelight, and as I had some experience in the great West
they sent me to extract from you the crude ore of a personal document
article,” Farson explained with engaging impudence, glancing
appreciatively at his subject.

The interview happened to take place in the parlor of a suite in the same
large hotel on Fifth Avenue from which almost exactly four years before
Brainard had slunk away with the manuscript of his rejected play in his
pocket, and had thence wended his way disconsolately homeward to meet the
fate that whirled him on during four years of exciting adventure.
Numerous trunks and other impedimenta cluttered the room, indicating that
the miner, who in the words of Farson “had succeeded in climbing into the
limelight” had but just arrived from Arizona and did not yet know that he
needed a man servant.

Through the open windows came the roar of the traffic on the avenue, so
long unfamiliar to the miner’s ears.  He rose from the table, where over
a bottle of wine he had been telling the magazine man something about the
wonderful Melody mine, and gazed out of the window into the seething
stream of humanity below.  This unexpected meeting with the reporter of
the _Despatch_ who had helped him in his first exploit with Krutzmacht’s
fortune had brought to his memory sharply the great contrast between his
last appearance in New York and the present.

His face, now adorned by a mustache and a short brown beard, which the
hotel barber had not yet had an opportunity to trim to an artistic point,
was reddened and roughened by exposure to the fierce Arizona sun.  His
hands were large and coarse, as if they had handled every instrument but
the pen.  His whole person had filled out solidly, and he walked with the
awkward gait of one accustomed to the saddle rather than the motor car.
But what occupied his mind at this moment was the curious consciousness
of that other self, so vastly different, so inconceivably discouraged and
weak, whom he could see down below on the pavement, dragging his thin
body through the April mist.  Whole worlds separated the two! . . .

The magazine man disturbed his revery by a question.

“You went out there after copper in the first place, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Brainard said, turning with a twinkle in his eyes, “I went after
copper and got sulfur instead!  That often happens in life.”

“You went out there as a rank greenhorn,” Farson translated, “and come
back as the chief representative on this earth of his satanic
majesty,—the Sulfur King.”

“The Sulfur King!” Brainard repeated with an appreciative chuckle.
“That’s good.  Are you going to write me up for _Bunker’s_ as the Sulfur
King?”

“You had rather have me do that than play you up as a successful
safe-breaker?”

Farson looked at the miner with admiration mixed with a little envy,
perhaps, as one to whom splendid chances of living had come.  From the
professional point of view Brainard would make excellent material for
eulogy as type of “the man who does things,” so ardently beloved by
magazine editors.

“Do whatever you like with me,” Brainard remarked slowly.  “You couldn’t
make it too wonderful,—nor explain it all. . . .  Do you know that four
years ago, just at nightfall like this, I stood out there in the crowd,
wondering how I could best spend my last quarter for a meal?  I never
dreamed I should be looking down from this window some day!”

He chuckled quietly to himself over the picture.  The magazine man
pricked his ears for “the human interest note,” divining a life story,
and hinted broadly:

“What really put you into mining, after you left Frisco?”

“How did I get to Arizona?  Oh, that’s a long story.  I went by way of
Mexico and Paris and New York.  Help yourself to another cigar.”

After a few moments he added in a less joking tone,—“I went out there in
search of an heir to Krutzmacht’s property.  I didn’t find her—instead I
found the Melody mine!”

“I’d like to hear that story,” Farson said quickly, with the keen scent
of the old newspaper man.

Brainard shook his head.

“Not to-day—perhaps sometime. . . .  But not for publication—that!  I’ve
given you one good newspaper scoop four years ago, and this thing for
your magazine.  But the other I’ll keep for myself.”

Farson’s face expressed a momentary disappointment.  But he merely
remarked:

“I’ve often wondered about you ever since I helped you aboard the ferry
with that big bag.  Got it still?”

“Yes, what’s left of it.” . . .

Frank as Brainard had become under the influences of his new life and
much as he was attracted by the careless, good-humored young newspaper
man, he could not bring himself to tell him the intimate details of his
story, which in his feelings was so much more concerned with his unknown
mistress than with himself.  Ever since that evening when he had stood in
the abandoned house above the Arizona desert, surrounded by the mute
evidences of the girl’s existence, he had prosecuted vigorously the
search for the elusive Melody, using every means known to him—and all in
vain.  There had been no clew whatever that led beyond the railroad
tracks.  Neither in San Francisco, where he had looked first, nor in New
Orleans, where he had gone in the hope of finding some trace of the
girl’s mother, nor in New York, where the old German was well known,
could he learn anything definite of Krutzmacht’s family affairs.  There
were many who had known the business man, but as sometimes happens the
business man had admitted no one into his personal confidence.

After the first few months of this search, when forced finally to fall
back upon the usual devices of advertising and employing detectives,
Brainard returned to Monument,—the spot where he had found and lost his
one substantial proof of the girl’s reality,—and there he had taken up
the project he had conceived of working the abandoned mine until some
heir should be found.  Into this project he had thrown himself with all
the ardor of his newly awakened temperament and found in the struggles
that ensued a relief from the aimless hunting for the lost girl.  As time
passed with no results from all the agencies he had used in his search,
his mind became less occupied with the vision of his unknown mistress,
and his life concentrated itself upon this accidental undertaking,—all
the more as it proved unexpectedly difficult and failure frequently
threatened.  His pride and good faith as well as his new manhood were
challenged in the struggle, which had only quite recently resulted in
abounding triumph.  Now that he was free to look about him again and
direct his energy into a new channel, the thought of Melody returned to
haunt his mind.  One of his purposes in coming to New York was to start
afresh the hopeless search.  An idea came to him as he talked with Farson
about the mine.  Perhaps publicity of his success with the Melody mine in
Arizona might attract the attention of the one most concerned.  With this
thought in mind he said to the magazine man, turning away from the
window:

“I’ll tell you all you want to know about the mine—you can put it in your
story.”

He gave him a lively account of the vicissitudes of the great Melody mine
at Monument, Arizona, and his experiences with it.

“So,” Farson summed up at the end, “the copper gave out?”

Brainard laughed.

“I should say not!  There are millions of tons of copper in those hills.”

“Then what was the trouble?”

“It cost too much to mine and smelt it at present prices.  After pouring
a good bit of money into the thing, I found that out.  The sulfur looked
promising, and we went in for that; but that, too, came near taking our
last dollar before it made good.”

He told the magazine man how he had discovered traces of sulfur in an old
crater among the hills, had made tests, and had found that the mineral
existed in great quantities and almost pure.  But when they went after
it, new difficulties were encountered—quicksands.  One method after
another was tried and found useless, until the experts he had summoned
were ready to give up the job.  Then, almost in despair, Brainard had
experimented with a novel method of extracting the sulfur by pumping
steam through one pipe into the earth and taking the solution out by
another.  It was successful.

“It’s a steady yellow stream out of the bowels of the earth—a stream of
gold!”

The young man sighed with envy.

“Better than gold,” Brainard continued.  “A thousand per cent better!  I
wouldn’t dare tell you how much money that yellow stream pours into my
pockets every twenty-four hours.”

Farson’s eyes gleamed, and he looked covetously at the bulging pockets of
the miner’s loose coat.

“So you made good,” he said; “and of course you came up here to New York,
straight off, to spend your money.”

“That’s it,” Brainard assented with a laugh.

“It’s a good place to enjoy oneself.  What are you going to do?”

Brainard looked quizzically at the ex-reporter.  “Get some clothes,
first.  I need ’em, don’t you think?”

Farson candidly admitted that he did.

“But,” he added, “you don’t seem the sort to blow your money the usual
way—chorus-girls, or country places, or yachts, or stock market, or—”

Brainard shook his head vigorously at each item of gratification
mentioned.

“What _are_ you going to do with that yellow stream?”

“I have my idea,” Brainard admitted.

“That’s what I want to know.”

“I’ll tell you, and you can make another article about it, if you like.”

The young man leaned forward, all eager attention.  Brainard smoked
thoughtfully, then began.

“You’ve written plays—got one in your pocket this minute, probably.”

“You don’t mean you are going to write plays!” Farson said disgustedly.

“No, my boy—not now.  I tried it once.  But I hope to make it possible
for you and other young men to write their plays and get them put on the
stage.  I’m going to build theaters, here and in other cities.  I shall
found a national society of dramatic art.  That’s the way I’m going to
blow in the money from the sulfur stream as long as it flows!”

“Whew!” The magazine man whistled dubiously.  “Another uplift movement
for the poor drama?”

“Let me explain,” Brainard continued.

With much more eagerness than he had shown over his exploits with copper
and sulfur, he sketched the story of his great idea, which had first
taken possession of him that last night of his week’s stay in Paris,
while he wandered through the silent streets.  He told of the vision that
had come to him in the snowy heights of the Arizona mountains, in the
silence of earth and sky—a vision of beautiful art that might be created
into reality by the aid of the wealth which he could give it.  He had set
himself earnestly to the task of getting the necessary gold out of the
ground, and all through these years, in the vigils of his lonely nights
in the mining camp, he had nursed his vision.

He poured out his heart freely to Farson, because he was young and a
would-be dramatist, and could understand; and Farson, listening to the
story of this idea, became warmed with the enthusiasm of the other and
forgot his habitual journalistic skepticism.

“It’s big!” he murmured.

“And now it will no longer be just an idea.  It’s to become fact!  I have
the money—at least, it’s mine for the present.”  Brainard corrected
himself.  “One can do something with half a million or so a year.”

“Half a million a year!” the young man gasped.

“More or less—at present rather more, I should say,” Brainard admitted
carelessly.  “Depends on the market for crude sulfur, you understand.
It’s pretty strong just now.  And there’s the copper to fall back upon,
when the price of copper goes up.  There’s no need to worry about the
money.”

Just here they were interrupted by a boy with a card.

“Show the gentleman up!” Brainard exclaimed, glancing a second time at
the card.

The magazine man rose reluctantly to go, saying:

“Another time, if you would be good enough to tell me more about your
plans—”

“Don’t go!” Brainard interrupted warmly.  “If you are interested, stay,
and you will hear more about my great idea.  This gentleman has come from
Chicago by appointment to talk it over.”

“Thanks!”

“Why don’t you drop that magazine job?” Brainard suggested abruptly.  “I
shall need a secretary.  I think you would be the right sort.  Why not
begin _now_?”

“Done!” the journalist exclaimed boyishly, and they shook hands.  This
was a millionaire after his own heart, who did things casually at the
drop of the hat with the most surprising ease.

“You’ll have a better chance to write your plays,” Brainard remarked
genially.

It pleased him to think that here, on the spot where he had experienced
his last defeat, he was able to play the part of good fortune to youth.

“Somehow,” said Farson enthusiastically, “I feel it’s going to be like a
play all the time with you!”

“The chap that’s coming up to see me,” explained Brainard, “is an actor
and a manager in a small way.  He calls himself Ferris MacNaughton—an odd
genius, a Scotsman who has played all over the world.  I ran across him
in a small Arizona town, doing Shakespeare to the mining camps, and doing
it well, too.  He seemed interested in the idea, and so, when I got ready
to pull out, I wired him to meet me here.  He hasn’t lost any time,” he
added as the door swung open.



II


It was a curious figure that entered the room.  The Scotsman was short,
thick-set, about fifty years old, with a round, bald head fringed with
white hair.  He was dressed with an evident attempt at youthful
smartness, and dangled a small cane.  Between his thick lips was the end
of a black cigar.  His large face, portentous brows, and mild blue eyes
looked as if he had started as Falstaff and ended as a Scottish Hamlet.

MacNaughton bowed profoundly, and said in deep, measured tones, that were
reminiscent of blank verse:

“Good afternoon, gentlemen!  I received your telegram yesterday, Mr.
Brainard.  It found me at an unoccupied moment in my career, and I am
happy to place myself at your disposal.”

Farson grinned.  He judged from his acquaintance with Broadway that the
unoccupied moments in the Scotsman’s career had been frequent of late
years, and that he had spent a good many of them in the outer offices of
theatrical managers.  He wondered how his new employer, who seemed wide
awake enough to capture one fortune and make a second, had come to mix
himself up with this seedy actor.

“Good!” Brainard exclaimed genially, shaking MacNaughton’s hand.  “This
is my secretary, Edward Farson—Ferris MacNaughton.  Let us get to work at
once and see how we can spend the better part of half a million a year on
the theater!”

At the casual mention of this large sum of money, the old actor did a bit
of unpremeditated acting, displaying astonishment so genuine that it set
the secretary laughing.  He recovered himself, and remarked in his
Shakespearian tones:

“One might do a good deal on even less!”

The three sat down about the table, and lighted fresh cigars.  Brainard
presently drew a small, much worn note book from an inner pocket, and
began turning its leaves, reading thoughtfully from time to time:

“Item first—create an organization that will build and support theaters
in the chief cities of the United States—to be called in every instance
‘The People’s Theater.’

“Good!” the actor assented loudly.  “I have always maintained that the
drama came originally from the ranks of the common people, and should be
the chief means of their education.”

The magazine man made a wry face.  The “People” according to Broadway
were visitors from out of town who would pay two fifty apiece for the
“show”—any show.  Brainard read on:

“Item second—no boxes and no reserved seats in the People’s Theaters.
Highest price of seats, one dollar, and free matinees on Saturdays.”

“You will need a million!” Farson murmured.

“I used to find it so hard to get a good seat when I wanted to go to the
theater,” Brainard explained.  “Even when I had scooped together the
price, for some extraordinary occasion, I couldn’t get nearer than the
twelfth row.  Every theater was always sold up to that row, no matter how
early in the day I got to the box office.  I have an invention in mind
that will register every seat sold or given out, and show it on a
diagram, to put an end to the usual practice.  But let us get to more
important matters!”

He read out different items:

“Exchange of the different companies in the organization—a college of
dramatic art—cafés in the theaters—libraries of dramatic
literature—open-air theaters in the suburbs and city parks, etc.”

“But,” the actor inquired sententiously, “what do you propose to give the
people in your theaters?”

“Plays, of course!” Brainard replied.  “All sorts of plays that are worth
while, old and new!”

“Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Hauptmann,” the actor remarked voluptuously.
“Sophocles, Molière—”

“Hold on!” Farson put in.  “Where will you get the people to sit through
that?”

“My dear young sir,” the actor retorted paternally, “the people love the
_best_.  I have played the classics in every State in the Union to
enthusiastic audiences,—sometimes small.”

“You bet!” Farson murmured.

“But always enthusiastic!”

“We must have modern plays, too,” Brainard added.

“But all the modern plays are copyrighted, and the dramatists are under
contract to Einstein & Flukeheimer, and their brethren.”

“Then we’ll make our own playwrights,” Brainard replied placidly.
“Here’s one!”  He tapped the younger man fraternally on the knee.

The secretary subsided.

“And the companies?” the Scotsman inquired.  “They make the piece!”

“The very best actors, of course,” Brainard agreed enthusiastically.
“We’ll pay the highest salaries and give long contracts and
pensions—that’s all in the scheme.  You will help us to organize the
parent company, Mac.  I’ll give you a free hand.”

The old actor closed his eyes in a happy dream.  He saw himself at last
as a metropolitan impresario, dealing magnificently with the “talent.”

Brainard read on, but before he had finished the note book—which
contained a remarkable mixture of detail and aspiration—dinner came up.
They talked as they ate, and they talked afterward as they sipped their
coffee and smoked.  They became heady with enthusiasm, for Brainard’s
imperturbable optimism and faith in his idea were like drafts of Arizona
air, intoxicating to those who lived in lower altitudes.

The actor, mellowed by good food and good wine,—and more by the
confidence this new Croesus seemed to have in him,—discoursed almost
tearfully of aspirations and ambitions suppressed through long years that
were now within the possibility of realization.  He had always wished to
devote his life to Ibsen and the great classics, he declared, but the box
office had prevented the fulfillment of his artistic ideals.

“I’m the box office now,” Brainard laughed, “and I am here to fulfill
ideals!”  He picked up the note book again.  “I had forgotten the college
of actors, for both sexes, which we must run in connection with the
enterprise.  It will give free tuition, of course, and there will be
scholarships for promising pupils.  You will have to look after that,
too, Mac.”

“Haven’t I been training lads and lassies who couldn’t speak the language
all my life?” the old Scotsman burred.

“We should recruit our road companies from the college,” Brainard
suggested.

“It will take a good deal of time to do all that,” Farson remarked.

“We’ve all the time in the world,” Brainard retorted confidently.  “Make
a note of that, Mr. Secretary!”

So they talked on as men will talk, when it is still a matter of words
and not actions.  Late in the evening, or rather early in the morning,
Brainard developed his plan for an outdoor theater in some beautiful
mountain spot, or on an island along the seacoast.  It was a bit of fairy
fancy which he called the “Summer Festival.”  Every summer, for a few
weeks in August, in some sylvan spot of great natural beauty, with a
background of lofty trees and cliffs, there would be held a dramatic
festival, where lovers of the art could resort to live for a time in the
atmosphere of Sophocles, Calderon, Molière, Goethe, Shakespeare.

“A kind of theatrical camp meeting,” the secretary jokingly named it.

“Exactly.  Imagine an open-air theater built upon a cliff, with the blue
sea below, backed by thick trees and a wild forest park, where the
audience might stroll between the acts and after the performance.  Think
what could be made of such a place!”

It was the final flash of Brainard’s vision, and they sat for some time
in silent contemplation of what was before them.  At last the old actor
spoke in a husky voice:

“My boy, it is sublime!  It has come almost too late for me.  I cannot
walk your great stage and triumph in your triumph.  My days are nearly
over, spent in miserable efforts to exist and not debase my noble art.
But I can help, and I pledge to you and to the People’s Theater all the
strength that is left in me.”

The old Scotsman’s eyes were moist with tears.  Here was another whom the
great idea had touched and lifted to unexpected heights, Brainard thought
happily.

“You’ll have your chance to act, too,” Brainard remarked consolingly.

“What do you mean to do first?” the secretary demanded impatiently.

“Incorporate, and find an architect,” Brainard replied concisely.

“Another trust!”

“A beneficent trust.”

“What we need is publicity,” the young magazine man announced.  “I’ll
look out for that!”

“What we all need now,” laughed Brainard, “is sleep.  We’ve done enough
for one day.”  For the early morning procession of drays had begun to
thunder over the pavements beneath the window.  “And to-day I must engage
a tailor and consult with my banker.”

“Before we go,” Farson said, “let us drink to Aladdin and his sulfur
lamp!  Here’s to Aladdin, the Sulfur King!”

They drank the toast, and another proposed by the actor:

“The American Drama!”

And a third which was scarcely intelligible to Farson, although the old
actor considered it quite suitable:

“To Melody!”

Then they separated.  In this gay and careless fashion the plot was laid
for pouring half a million a year into the Sulfur King’s great Idea.



III


The new secretary had some difficulty in convincing Brainard of the
importance of what he called “publicity.”  His own varied experience as a
newspaper and magazine writer had given him a deep faith in this modern
method of propaganda.  He constituted himself at once the publicity agent
of the new undertaking.

“It’s the only way to do things in this country.  You must scatter your
idea about in the newspapers and magazines, get people to talk about it
and read about it, or it is dead before you start.”

Rather against Brainard’s inclination, Farson set off the first of a
series of journalistic squibs concerning the “Sulfur King,” his
spectacular fortune, and the novel manner in which he purposed to spend
it, in a profusely illustrated article in the new _Bunker’s Magazine_.
Brainard submitted to this indignity because of his desire to advertise
the Melody mine and in this way possibly attract the attention of its
unknown mistress.  But of all the letters that came to him after the
publication of his spectacular biography, not one was from “Melody.”

The People’s National Drama Society had not been incorporated before the
sputter in the daily press began, with long-winded remarks by theatrical
experts—actors, managers, and critics—predicting failure and ridiculing
“the new uplifter of the stage from Arizona.”  The public yawned and
skipped.  There was nothing new in this “uplift” talk about the drama;
but the “Sulfur King” was new, and the public was much more interested in
him and his golden stream of wealth than in his dream of creating a
popular drama.

All sorts of mythical tales began to appear in print concerning his
personality.  The story that obtained the widest vogue was that Brainard,
having in his younger and penniless days sighed in vain for the favor of
a theatrical lady, had gone off to Arizona with despair in his heart,
“struck sulfur,” and now had returned to build a palatial theater on
Broadway for his old flame.  A rather obscure young actress was named as
the heroine of the tale, and the lady, when asked about the story by
reporters, failed to deny it.  Instead, she coyly led the newspaper men
to embroider further details on the theme.

“See what you’ve got me into with your publicity business!” Brainard
exclaimed ruefully, holding out the morning newspaper to Farson, when the
latter came for the day’s work to the little house on Gramercy Park into
which Brainard had moved.

The secretary, who had already seen the article, merely grinned and
admitted:

“She has the cheek!  They are all like that—anything to get themselves
talked about.  But it’s all right—it helps to spread the great idea.”

“I should say it did!  Look at that!”  Brainard pointed to a sack of mail
that had been poured out over the library table.  “And there’s a lot
more, they tell me, at the post office.  We shall have to open an office
and hire some clerks, or chuck it into the fire.”

“It all helps,” the ex-reporter affirmed, dipping his hands into the mass
with zest.  “You don’t understand the American public yet.  It has to
have Romance with a capital R to sugar-coat any idea before it will
swallow it.”

“There was pretty nearly everything in yesterday’s mail, from an offer of
marriage to a recipe for making a successful play, not to mention one
hundred and eighty-seven specimens of original American drama.”

“Here are a few more of the same sort,” the secretary laughed, tossing
out a handful of bulky packages.  “The literary committee will have
something to do when it finds time.  That’s me!”

He tossed the manuscripts into a corner.

“The thirty-first application for position as leading lady from an
actress ‘of established reputation, at present on the Oregon
circuit’—that goes to Mac’s pile,” he remarked, throwing the lady’s
letter into a basket.  “Proposal of marriage, marked ‘strictly
personal,’” he continued, handing over an envelope to his employer.  “We
must get out some printed forms for acknowledgment of these—one for
marriage, one for plays, and one for positions in the company.”

“If this is publicity, let’s try for privacy!” Brainard groaned, tearing
the marriage letter into bits.

“Here’s a new note!” Farson exclaimed, pausing in his swift disposal of
the mail to read aloud a letter.

    “GENTS:

    “I saw in yesterday’s Kansas City papers a piece about your new
    theater.  I think your idea is fine!  It’s all right!  Have you got a
    part for a beginner who will take anything or everything, but wants
    to begin?  I know I’ve got stuff in me, and I must see New York.
    Please reply.

                              “Yours anxiously,

                                                     “LOUISIANA DELACOURT,
                                              “P. O. Box 8, Iole, Kansas.”

“I think that Louisiana should get a chance to see New York,” Brainard
observed.

“She might take less than everything then.  What do you say?”

“Put her down for the college,” laughed Brainard.  “She thinks the Idea
is fine.”

And that is how Miss Louisiana Delacourt, of Iole, Kansas, became the
first pupil in the new college of dramatic art, which was not yet
founded.

When the second mail came in with a large assortment of begging letters
and more manuscript plays, Brainard rose in disgust and seized his hat to
flee from his own house.

“Don’t forget Mrs. Pearmain’s—luncheon at half past one!” the secretary
warned.

“Confound Mrs. Pearmain!” Brainard muttered.  “Just tell her I’ve gone
out of town, Ned.”

A look of horror spread over the secretary’s handsome face.

“It wouldn’t do!  She’s to have a lot of important people there to hear
about the Idea.  She would never forgive you.  It would spoil everything
at the social end,” the young man pleaded.  He had worked for weeks to
“start the social business,” as he called it, and thus arouse an interest
of a fashionable kind in their undertaking.  This luncheon at Mrs.
Pearmain’s was to be the brilliant opening of a social campaign that
should go hand in hand with the more democratic press campaign.  It was
unthinkable for Brainard to refuse from whim or shyness or fastidiousness
the gracious advances of Society!

“I don’t like all this woman business,” Brainard remarked sulkily, laying
aside his hat.  “Whatever did you get us into it for, Ned?  I don’t need
their money.”

“No, you don’t need their money,” Farson pronounced oracularly, “and
that’s just why you’ll get what you do need.  You need their influence.
You can’t get anything started without the women—not in America.  A
movement for art in any form couldn’t exist, if the women didn’t take it
up.  Why, there isn’t any Art in any form in this country, except what
the women keep going.  So far as literature, drama, and music go, there’s
but one sex in America, and it doesn’t wear trousers either!”

“Lord!” the young Mæcenus groaned, “I didn’t know that, Ned.”

“There’s a good deal you don’t know about America and Americans that
you’ll have to learn, if you want to make good in this thing,” the
secretary commented severely.  “That’s what you need me for—to open your
eyes.”

“Thanks,” Brainard murmured humbly.

“You will find Mrs. Donnie Pearmain the very one to give the right
_cachet_ to the movement.”

The young man rather prided himself on his social knowingness acquired
since his return to New York.  Brainard sighed, and, with a grimace,
resigned himself to Mrs. Donnie Pearmain.  The secretary proceeded to
prepare his master for the coming luncheon.

“You know what she did for the half orphans last year?  The year before
it was the tuberculosis campaign.  But now she’s giving up mere charity
for art, and ours is the very thing to interest her.  The Rev. Thomson
Spicer will be there.”

“The clergy, too!”

“Of course.  They make the next best publicity agents after the
newspapers.  They preach about popular movements, you know.  You’ll see
what Spicer will do for us next Sunday.  He’s much interested in the
moral influence of the theater upon the masses.”

Brainard groaned.

“President Nathaniel Butterfield of Eureka University has also promised
to be there.”

“Professors?  Ye gods!  Where will you stop, Ned?”

“Dr. Butterfield has views on the educational value of the stage.”

“I’m not founding a religious kindergarten!”

The secretary, ignoring this feeble protest, consulted his note book for
further details.

“Jaggard, the banker, has been asked, and Toowit, of the _Daily Beacon_,
and my old boss, Howard Bunker.  A very representative gathering of
prominent persons!” the secretary commented complacently.  “They would
make an admirable board of trustees.”

“What do you propose to trustee—me?” Brainard roared.

“Every movement has to have a board of trustees—a list of good names to
print at the head of the note paper, you know,” the young man explained
patiently.  Brainard’s simplicity was occasionally wearisome, and he was
proving more difficult to handle than Farson had expected.  It required
considerable tact at times “to keep the ‘Sulfur King’ all on the track.”
He remarked to pacify his employer, “They don’t interfere unless you ask
them for money, and of course you won’t have to do so in this case.”

What Brainard might have said about wrapping his great idea in a wad of
distinguished trustees was prevented by the appearance of MacNaughton.
He came into the library at that moment, with the air of an old diplomat,
which was the rôle he had affected since he had joined the movement.  His
quiet gray suit was adorned with a small red button.  He wore horn-bowed
eyeglasses and carried a large leather portfolio.  An unlighted cigar
protruded from his mouth.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” he remarked, settling himself in a chair
opposite the secretary and turning over the pile of applications for
positions in the companies of the new society.  He slowly dropped the
letters to the floor.  “All rotters, every one of them,” he announced
with a profound sigh.  “My boy, will you please hang out the sign, ‘No
lady help wanted’?”

“Are you sure they are all so bad?” Brainard asked hopefully.

“My dear fellow,” the old Scotsman replied languidly, “there are at least
three thousand women in New York to-day, young and old, who think they
can act and want a chance to take your money.  I’ve seen twenty-nine
hundred and ninety-nine of them!”

“There must be some good ones eager for the opportunity we offer.”

“All those that are any good, and many that aren’t, have signed up with
Einstein & Flukeheimer and the other managers.  I tell you they have
passed the word up and down Broadway to have nothing to do with us.  They
call us cranks!” the old actor cried.  “We are blacklisted, sir—that’s
what it is.”

“But with this great chance to do something for dramatic art?” Brainard
protested, quoting from a conversation he had had with a famous actress.

“Talk!”

“The opportunity to devote themselves to their profession, relieved of
all sordid cares?”

“More talk!”

“Their desire to subordinate personal ambitions for the good of dramatic
art?”

“All talk!”

“We’ll have to double the salaries, then.”

“Even that won’t bring the better ones who have made names already.  They
don’t want to compromise themselves with highbrows.  We shall have to
start with unknown talent and build up our company gradually.”

“That will take time, but I like it better,” Brainard replied
optimistically.  “Show him Louisiana’s letter, Ned.  That’s the right
spirit.”

“The little dear,” MacNaughton commented ironically.  “How many like her
there are!”  He dropped the letter in the secretary’s basket.

Presently there appeared the architect who had been asked to prepare
plans for the first playhouse.  The three gathered around him and
examined the voluminous prints and watercolor sketches that he had
brought with him.  He was a young man, and he had seen his opportunity,
with the wealth of the sulfur king behind him He had planned a monumental
building of marble, with beautiful colonnades, a magnificent foyer,
reception rooms, a restaurant, and a library.  Behind, in the form of an
annex, was the college of dramatic art with its own little theater,
lecture rooms, and dormitory.  The whole looked like a public institution
for the insane rather than a simple theater.

“What do you think it would cost to build?” Brainard inquired, as they
came to the last sheet.

“I should think it could be done for three millions,” the architect
replied glibly.

“Three millions,” the secretary repeated easily.

“Three millions—um!” MacNaughton echoed, as one who dealt habitually in
seven figures.

Brainard said nothing.  He was thinking, perhaps, that the Melody sulfur
spring must gush like a yellow geyser to pour forth enough gold for the
Idea as it was expanding from day to day.  He had learned, however, not
to be daunted by large figures—the mine had taught him that—nor did he
ever allow himself to worry over expense.  He had wasted his youth in
such fruitless cares.  As a man he would do what he could, and then stop.

Presently the three left for Mrs. Pearmain’s luncheon.  The secretary
thoughtfully took with him the plans for the new theater.



IV


Mrs. Donnie Pearmain, as everybody knows, is the only daughter of old
Joseph P. Barton, the founder of the milk trust, and derived her very
ample personal fortune from that famous financier’s successful
manipulation of the milk market.  Starting as a plain New Jersey farmer,
who peddled his own milk, Barton organized the great trust, and when he
died was its largest individual stockholder.  It was he, too, who first
generally introduced the use of the small glass bottle instead of the
large tin can in the distribution of milk, thereby enabling the trust to
add at least thirty per cent to the retail price of its product.

In spite of these accomplishments, financial and hygienic, Barton was one
of the most widely misunderstood and execrated of the older generation of
millionaires, doubtless because of the abnormal increase in cost of this
necessary article of domestic consumption, and its deterioration in
quality, since the formation of the milk trust.  Consequently, although
Barton’s daughter had married into glue—one of the Pearmain sons—which
is, of course, an eminently quiet and respectable fortune that has
escaped the keen eyes of the muckrakers, she had never been able wholly
to live down the taint of milk.  Too many even of the social leaders of
the city remembered the small bottles of Barton’s pale-blue fluid,
retailed as milk at nine cents a quart, to forgive the social ambitions
of Mrs. Donnie Pearmain, in spite of her respectable veneer of glue.

The energetic little lady, however, had learned from her rich father his
great life axiom—if you can’t do what you want in one way, you can in
another.  So she attacked the citadels of social leadership by the way
first of Philanthropy and now of Art, as the magazine man had accurately
related to Brainard.  Thanks to her energy as patroness in these allied
fields, she was in a fair way of living down at last the odor of milk and
attaining the coveted reward of social leadership.

Mrs. Pearmain had received Edgar Brainard most graciously in the previous
interviews that had been arranged between them by the young secretary,
and had shown a most intelligent interest in his scheme of creating a
People’s Theater.  The young sulfur king appealed to her all the more
because he expected no financial assistance in developing his hobby.  She
would not be called upon to pour any milk into this philanthropy.

She did not in the least doubt that Brainard’s controlling purpose was
the same as hers—to become properly known in society by identifying
himself with a popular cause, and she commended his sagacity in taking
this means of living down sulfur.  Therefore she had easily been brought
to lend her influence to the Idea.  At Farson’s suggestion, she had
gathered together, in her great house on the upper avenue, a most
distinguished luncheon party, which, as the secretary had shrewdly said,
would give éclat to any letterhead.

When Brainard arrived, with his companions, he was shown into the picture
gallery, where Mrs. Pearmain was chatting with her guests.  He was
immediately presented to each one.  They examined him with curiosity, for
even in New York a young man with an annual income of more than half a
million, which he desires to spend upon the public, is not a common
phenomenon.

The university president, who looked like a banker, was especially
affable, and stuck closely to Brainard’s side.  Dr. Butterfield sincerely
regretted that he had not had the good luck to capture this young Croesus
before he had committed himself to this freakish idea about the drama,
and hoped that there was still some stray million which he might divert
into the channels of the higher education at Eureka.  It was for this
purpose that he had torn himself away at midday from his many duties at
the university.  The other guests, understanding the game, looked on with
sympathetic smiles.

Brainard had spent two dreary years at Eureka where he had found little
to relieve the ignominy of his dire poverty, and thus he knew something
about “old Nat,” as the head of that institution was familiarly known
among the undergraduates.  When in the course of their conversation
Brainard admitted that he had been enrolled at the university,
Butterfield beamed upon him with a new warmth and remarked eagerly:

“How interesting!  I didn’t know that you were a Eureka man.”

“I didn’t graduate,” Brainard confessed.

“Ah, that’s too bad!  I presume you left college for the more arduous
education of a business career?” the college president suggested.

“I left it to earn a living,” Brainard replied simply.

“Exactly,” the president said with a deprecatory cough.  “That’s what I
meant.”

He made a mental note of the fact that Brainard had been a student at
Eureka.  The university should be able to use that happy fact; the
trustees might consider it proper to bestow an honorary degree upon this
distinguished half son, who had somehow managed to achieve fame and
wealth after deserting the maternal halls.  And immediately he began to
compose in imagination a few of those celebrated periods with which he
was accustomed to bestow academic honors upon similar practical “sons of
Eureka.”

“Can’t you find time to come out to us some day?” he inquired
deferentially.  “I’m sure the boys will be delighted to welcome you back
to your old home.  A little address at chapel?  It is a great inspiration
for young men thus to come into touch with persons who have made their
mark in life.”

Brainard merely laughed.  He remembered a number of occasions when “old
Nat” had introduced distinguished visitors to the academic audience in
somewhat similar words. . . .

At the luncheon Brainard was seated between the college president and his
hostess.  He easily recovered from his natural shyness and talked
fluently of Arizona and sulfur.  The others listened deferentially to
him, and in the many subtle ways that these people understood of
testifying their consideration for a promising man he was made to feel
welcome.

The banker, who had already put him on his list of capitalists that might
be interested in some “undigested” railroad bonds his house had on their
hands, was especially attentive.  Indeed there was something of a contest
for the guest’s attention between the banker and the university
president, who each understood the other only too well.  The banker, of
course, did not commit the crudity of talking finance or even business;
instead he discussed “public service” and “the new spirit of capital.”
The kindly gleam of his shrewd blue eyes seemed to say to Brainard,—“You
are one of the new kind, who will do everything for the dear Public!”

And so before the succession of excellent courses had gone far, Brainard
had forgotten his distaste for the social side of life, which he had
expressed so vigorously to Farson that morning, and really believed that
all these good people were as eager as he was to give the American public
a superior form of dramatic art at prices within the reach of the
poorest.  And when he began to talk to the company at the conclusion of
the luncheon, after a few words of flattering introduction from the
hostess, he had no trouble in finding what he wanted to say.

“First, you will forgive me if I say a word about myself, by way of
introduction,” he began, with an engaging smile.  “Four years ago, just
about, I was here in New York, down and out—a poor, discouraged
scribbler, earning a precarious existence by writing furniture
advertisements, and sneaking into the upper gallery of a theater when I
could get the price of an admission ticket.”

The magazine man, at the farther end of the table, writhed uncomfortably
over this introduction.  Why, he said to himself, go back—so far back?
But the others seemed much interested, and as Brainard went on with his
personal story, describing, in simple, straightforward language, life as
he had lived it on the other side of the fence—its monotony and
sordidness, its lack of interests that relieved from toil and worry—it
was apparent that he had hit upon the best way to secure the attention of
these people.  There were some present, like Butterfield and Haggard, who
had begun very near the beginning, and these liked to feel again the
unmeasurable distance that separated them from their former state.
Others, like Bunker and Mrs. Pearmain, thought the story so “picturesque”
or “dramatic.”  It served to increase their complacency at not “having
been through all that, you know.”  To Toowit of the _Beacon_ and the few
of a middling prosperity the tale of a rich man’s marvelous rise was
exasperatingly titillating to the nerves.

Brainard touched briefly on the dramatic occurrence that had suddenly
lifted him into action.  His auditors looked as if they would like to
hear more of this; but he paused after saying:

“I won’t go into that.  It made another man of me—the man you see here
now, that’s all!”

In a few moments he resumed, throwing back his head:

“My friends, I have had a vision!”

“Oh,” thought the secretary, “why doesn’t he come to the point?  They
don’t want to hear about his dreams!”  But with that simple earnestness
which was the most characteristic quality in his developed character,
Brainard persisted in his effort to share his idealistic enthusiasm.  He
concluded his confession of faith with the words,—“It is not mere
amusement, my friends, that I wish to further—it is life!”

Dr. Butterfield nodded his head approvingly at this point.  He had said
something not unlike this a few weeks before, when his college dedicated
a new hall, the gift of a whisky millionaire.  But the editor of the
_Daily Beacon_ looked thoroughly bored, and presently slipped away.  All
this idealistic talk was merely angel food for ladies and parsons, he
seemed to think.

“I promised myself,” Brainard continued, “that if I were ever free to do
so, I would give myself wholly to this Idea—give myself and all that I
could command of resources to found a national theater worthy of our
great people.”

Then, taking his little worn note-book from his pocket, Brainard ran
rapidly over the details of his plan, most of which we have already
learned.  The magnitude of the scheme seemed to appeal at first to this
fashionable audience; they were accustomed to deal in large figures,
complex enterprises, and size stimulated their imaginations like alcohol.
Oddly enough, it was only when he mentioned a small detail—the low, fixed
scale of prices to be charged at the theaters—that the first dissenting
voice made itself heard.

“You will pauperize the people!” the banker objected.  That, he urged,
was the trouble with so many humanitarian movements; they deprived the
poor people of the joys of competition.  The point passed, however, after
a feeble discussion.  That was a detail evidently to be settled later
when the exigencies of deficits would doubtless force a more practical
view upon this enthusiast.  But a chorus of objections rose when Brainard
said that the theaters were to have no reserved seats and no boxes.

“No boxes!” Mrs. Pearmain murmured, as if personally affronted.  “But
where shall _we_ sit?”

“Where the others do,” Brainard replied promptly.

Significant glances were exchanged about the table.  Was this a socialist
who had slipped in among them in disguise?

“Think what the opera would be without the boxes!” a large bejeweled
woman whispered to her neighbor.

“These are to be the people’s theaters!” Brainard remarked somewhat
sharply.

“Oh, I hadn’t understood!”

“Where will your theater be in New York?” some one asked.

“That is yet to be decided.  I am looking into the matter to determine
where the largest number of people can most easily reach a theater by the
transportation system of the city.  Somewhere on the lower West Side, I
suspect.”

“Nobody will ever go down _there_!” several protested.  “Everything is
going up town all the time. . . .  The Opera is too far away. . . .”

“Everybody can get there most cheaply and easily,” Brainard returned.

From this point interest waned visibly, and the company merely gave a
polite half attention to the remaining notes, including the plan for a
great summer festival of drama.

“It sounds like a Chautauqua,” Butterfield superciliously remarked.  He
detested these popular efforts for education, regarding them as “scabs”
on the genuine industry.

“It would be exceedingly drafty, an open-air theater in the American
climate,” said an old gentleman.  “Think of a Bar Harbor fog!”

When these trivialities had passed, Brainard hastily read a few notes on
the ideals of the enterprise—the careful staging of plays, the giving of
classics, the revival of old plays, the need for purity of speech,
something about poetic plays and the new drama.

As he read, there were signs of impatience.  At the close came the hard,
round voice of the Rev. Thomson Spicer:

“What sort of plays, may I inquire, Mr. Brainard, do you propose to give
in your theaters?”

“All sorts,” Brainard replied, surprised.

“I trust there will be a strict moral censorship.”

“I agree with you, Dr. Spicer,” Mrs. Pearmain added in a severe tone.
“The greatest care should be taken not to incite the people to discontent
with their lot.  Many of the plays given to-day are most dangerous in
their tendency.  They hold us up to ridicule, and even criticize our
morals and our fortunes!”

It was here that Brainard committed his unpardonable blunder, and the
secretary knew that he had finally “queered himself” with these
influential people.

“I think,” he said sternly, “that the people should be the judge of what
plays they want to see.  You would not try to tell them what to eat or
drink, would you, Mrs. Pearmain?”

There was an unfortunate allusion, perhaps, though unconscious, in the
word “drink”; for that was precisely what Joseph Barton had done to the
people—he had made them drink a very inferior grade of blue-white fluid
called milk.

Brainard was rebuked by a stony silence, for his unintentional _faux
pas_, and then there burst forth a flood of criticism.  For an hour these
good people tore to tatters the fabric of his dream.  There seemed to be
a perplexing double fire of objections.  A few, the Reverend Spicer among
them, felt that Brainard’s ideas about the sort of dramatic art suited to
the people were dangerous and anarchistic.  Unless such a scheme were
carefully hedged in by a sound conservatism, it might work more harm than
good.  Others—and these were in the majority—asserted that it was
altogether a mistake to found a people’s theater on the level of the
people.  Art was always aristocratic, they maintained, and the people
should be invited guardedly to partake of the intellectual entertainment
provided for them by their superiors in a playhouse situated where the
best classes could patronize it, with obscure galleries to which the
commonalty might penetrate.

“You must appeal to the intelligent classes,” the college president told
Brainard dogmatically.

“Where are they?” he asked caustically.

Thereafter he sat silent, and did not answer any of the comments made.

At this point Farson circulated the plans for the new theater, in order
to create a diversion, if possible, and explained to a little group the
design of the grandiose edifice.  Here the banker, who prided himself on
his knowledge of architecture, took a hand and condemned the plans
severely as “mixed in style,” “not indicative of the purpose of the
building,” and so on.

The sheets passed up and down the drawing-room, to which the party had
adjourned, and were ogled by fine ladies with lorgnettes, until Brainard
rose, and, bowing to his hostess, prepared to leave.

“It’s so interesting, your plan, Mr. Brainard,” Mrs. Pearmain gushed;
“but I think you must modify some of your ideas.  You must start from
_above_ always, and work _down_.”

“Perhaps I shall, when I discover what is above,” he retorted.

The secretary gathered up the plans, and overtook Brainard in the hall.
MacNaughton was already there.  The old actor’s face was very red; he had
not said a single word all the afternoon, and his self-control was making
him positively apoplectic.  He stalked majestically past the footman,
metaphorically shaking the dust of the milk-trust millions from his feet
as he crossed the threshold.

“Asses, fools, imbeciles!” he cried, as the three reached the pavement.
“What do _they_ know about the drama?  About anything but food and drink?
They want us to build a theater for _them_!”

“Rather a frost, wasn’t it, Ned?” Brainard observed, smiling humorously
at the secretary.

Farson said nothing; he was too utterly depressed for words.  The great
social engagement on which he had counted so much had utterly missed
fire, and he blamed himself for the fiasco.  He should have written
Brainard’s remarks for him and rehearsed him carefully beforehand, thus
guarding against the “bad breaks” that his employer had been guilty of.
And yet he had not expected to encounter such stiff prejudice, such
conservatism as took offense at trivialities, and stuck fast on some
nonessential detail.  But his experience with the “patron” class of
society had not been large.

They walked back to Brainard’s little house, and all the way the old
Scotsman delivered himself of invective against the leisure class.
Brainard remarked once:

“This is a democracy, so called!  Art is to be handed to the public on a
gilt plate by the upper classes!”

He laughed sardonically.

When they entered the library, the fire was burning cheerily on the
hearth.  Brainard, taking the roll of plans from his secretary, glanced
at the elaborate blueprints and water-color sketches of the palatial
theater, which might be built for three millions.  Slowly he poked the
roll into the flames, and watched it burn until the last bit was licked
up.  His companions looked on in consternation.

“You are not going to give up?” Farson asked.

“Not much!”

“I’m so sorry for this afternoon,” the young man said apologetically.
“How could one tell—”

“You couldn’t!  I don’t regret it.  They taught me a lot—a whole lot,”
Brainard mused.  “It was worth while for that.  We shall learn all along
the way, all of us.”  After another silence he roused himself suddenly,
and said, with characteristic optimism and good humor: “There’s been too
much talk—let’s get to work!  You, Mac, go ahead and engage the best
company you can get together for love of art or of money.  I will attend
to building the theater.  Farson can read those.”  He pointed whimsically
at the pile of plays in the corner.  “We’ll let publicity take care of
itself for a time.”



V


It was very nearly a year from the day of the disastrous luncheon at Mrs.
Pearmain’s before the new theater was ready for rehearsal of the first
play.  The year, as Brainard had foreseen, had been replete with
education, if nothing else.  To find a suitable site for a popular
playhouse, to erect thereon a pleasing building, commodious and
attractive in design, and to engage a competent body of actors, would not
seem a tremendous task.  It had been done before; in fact, Messrs.
Einstein & Flukeheimer, and their fellows, were doing it all the time.
But the amateur with ideas and ideals was at a disadvantage.

Brainard had chosen the site, which was removed from the theater district
but quite accessible—in fact, not far from the side street where he had
once lodged.  As the result of a large search he had discovered an
architect who would devote himself to making a useful and suitable
building instead of exploiting his patron’s purse, and together they had
worked over the plans until a satisfactory theater of modest proportions
was evolved.  It was decided to postpone the starting of the Actors’
College until the general scheme had established itself.  Almost all the
other features of Brainard’s model playhouse for the people were included
in the plans.

The site bought and the plans finished, Brainard thought that his
difficulties in regard to the building were over, but in fact they had
not yet begun.  There was one strike after another upon the building from
the excavation up, with an annoying regularity and persistence.  They
were usually ended by a compromise, which consisted in Brainard’s paying
a contractor a slight increase in contract price, to “square” some union
or labor leader.  MacNaughton, whose imagination was much given to plots
and dire machinations of the enemy, held that these labor troubles
emanated from the offices of Einstein & Flukeheimer in upper Broadway.
Farson and Brainard tried to convince him of the folly of this delusion,
telling him that the noted managers probably had enough troubles of their
own to keep them busy, and indeed would doubtless be glad to give the
People’s Theater one of their own empty playhouses for a reasonable
consideration if Brainard would take it off their hands.  But they could
not convince the Scotsman, who would go to Brainard’s house at all hours
with mysterious information about the plot, which had to be confided in
deep whispers.  He had thought it all out in his own mind and believed
that their hated rivals were working through the powerful agency of the
Catholic Church.  He said that was their favorite weapon when they wished
to put any rival out of business or ruin a promising star, who had
refused to listen to their offers.

When Brainard on his return from a hurried trip to Monument to inspect
the mine found all work suspended upon the theater building, he was
almost inclined to take Mac’s view of the plot against the People’s.
This time it proved to be a dispute between two rival unions over the job
of electric lighting.  The contractor had given the work to the regular
union, and the union of theatrical electricians had declared war.  Every
workman was called out.  Brainard’s patience was exhausted, and he would
not listen to the usual proposal for compromise suggested by a suave
“business agent.”  Instead he telegraphed his manager in Arizona to send
up at once old Steve and the “emergency gang,”—the name by which a choice
collection of spirits under the command of the old miner Steve operated
either as miners or strike breakers.  On the third day they
arrived,—twenty lean and lank specimens from the plains, in sombreros and
riding boots, prepared for immediate action.  They did not know much
about gas fitting, electric wiring, tile laying, and allied trades, but
they took possession of the unfinished building with an unconcern that
created a sensation in labor circles, and before long work had begun
again and this time was pushed uninterruptedly towards a belated
conclusion—all under the careful supervision of the “emergency gang,” who
rolled cigarettes and spat upon the premises, while they discussed the
drama with MacNaughton.

This prompt action by Brainard raised him highly in the esteem not only
of the contractors and workmen, but of his associates in the venture.
They saw that beneath his good nature and smiling placidity, he was a man
to be reckoned with who meant to carry out his purposes.  After this
final flurry he took more pleasure in watching the work on the building,
and thus realizing as far as the outside went his old dream.  It would
be, he flattered himself, the most delightful and convenient recreation
center in the city,—not merely a garish, ugly auditorium where the
largest number of unfortunates possible would be packed into the smallest
area. . . .  At last the building was sufficiently near completion to
permit the beginning of rehearsals. . . .

                                * * * * *

On his way to the first general rehearsal Brainard stumbled over the
marble workers, who were laying the mosaic floors with what seemed
incredible deliberation.  At this rate, push the work as he might, the
theater would be a rough barn on the night of its opening to the public,
which had been announced for the first of December.  It was easier to
capture a fortune and develop a great mine than to build a playhouse in
America!  That gave him something to think of.

He dropped his coat and hat in the pleasant library on the second floor,
where the carpenters were languidly putting up bookcases.  He had watched
these same carpenters at their work for a number of weeks and had
marveled at their grudging slowness of movement.  Certainly they were not
touched with enthusiasm for the great Idea, although the philanthropic
object of the building had been carefully explained to them.  Some of
these carpenters lived in the neighborhood, and the theater was designed
to give pleasure to them and their wives and their children—it was to be
their playhouse.  And yet they seemingly took no more interest in it than
they would in the Octopus Building farther down town, on which they would
be employed next.  Brainard himself had put much more than money into
every detail of the place; he had given it loving thought and care, and
he wished a beautiful product which should reflect that spirit in every
line and tone,—something intimate and lovely and human.  But nothing of
all this could he evoke in workman or contractor.  It was all just
“business,” to be skimped and shirked wherever possible.  With a sigh
from these reflections, thinking dubiously of the state of mind it
betrayed in that “public,” on which he was counting so hopefully, he
turned toward the stage.  It gave him a thrill of real pleasure to push
aside the heavy hangings and enter the mysterious darkness of the empty
auditorium.  At least this was real!

In the bare spaces of the undecorated stage, with a background of white
brick wall, the new company was rehearsing _Lear_.  It had been
Brainard’s idea to open with what he considered to be the greatest play
of the greatest English dramatist,—to be followed, he hoped, by a new
American comedy.  Thus the new company would pay their respects both to
the past and to the future.  Farson had tried to dissuade him from
attempting _Lear_, saying lightly,—“You don’t want to queer us with the
profession at the start.”  But Brainard, whose first conscious interest
in the drama had been aroused by a performance of _Lear_ by the elder
Salvini, which he had witnessed with his father in the hazy years of his
youth, clung to his idea.  Perhaps the part of Cordelia also touched his
feeling for that lonely girl, whose memory in some way this undertaking
was to commemorate.  And MacNaughton came to his support in the
discussion with Farson, assuring him of the popular triumphs he had
scored throughout the West in this masterpiece.

It was not until the parts were to be assigned that Brainard discovered
the reason for the old actor’s unshaken faith in the ability of the
people to rise to _Lear_.  He wished to play the title rôle himself, and
had broken into tears when forced to yield to a more suitable actor.  It
had been a very painful incident, and also an enlightening one, to the
inexperienced patron of the theater. . . .

At the moment of Brainard’s arrival this morning, little Margaret Leroy,
who, for the lack of a better actress, was their present leading lady,
was languidly reciting Cordelia’s lines:

    No blown ambition doth our arms incite,
    But love, dear love, and our aged father’s rights,

In a few moments a voice with a beery tang boomed forth heavily into the
dusky auditorium:

    Aye, every inch a king;
    When I do stare, see how the subject quakes!

At this point Brainard had his first misgivings.  Perhaps, with their
present company, _Lear_ was overambitious.  It gave him a pang to realize
that the faded little Leroy, with her childish blond wig, was the best
actress they could secure.  She had had a quarrel with her manager at the
opening of the season, because he wanted to send her to Omaha, in
somebody else’s last season’s success, and had accepted the offer of the
People’s Theater in a fit of pique, and with obvious reluctance.

“It queers one so with the profession,” she had told Farson
confidentially.

She had insisted upon bringing along with her that ancient idol of the
matinée, Dudley Warner.  He was doing _Lear_ in the style of _Beau
Brummel_, in which he had made his last tour on the road.

As Brainard listened to the shrill pipings of Cordelia answered by
Warner’s beery bass, his heart sank.  He recalled all the rebuffs he had
received from the better players whom he had approached—their insincere
and voluble sympathy, their flimsy excuses, and the selfish fears that
kept them from offending Einstein & Flukeheimer, in spite of the generous
salaries and all the other temptations Brainard could think of to win
them to the cause of art.

“Maybe your gold mine will give out, or you will get tired of the stage,”
one well-known actress had said to him pertly.  “Anyway, Einstein has
promised to put me on in one of Dudu Smith’s plays, and that’s good
enough for me!”

The People’s would have to do the best they could with second-rate and
third-rate people until they had “made good,” or could train their own
actors, Brainard reflected.  Meanwhile Miss Leroy continued to pipe and
Dudley Warner to bawl, interrupted now and then by MacNaughton’s resonant
voice from the wings “No, no!  That won’t do at all.  Begin that once
more, Miss Leroy,” etc.

“Ah, it’s rotten!  Cut it out!” a voice murmured out of the darkness
close to Brainard.

The fresh young voice so near to him startled Brainard, and he turned to
see who had spoken.  In the gloom he could make out a girl sitting
hunched up, with crossed legs, a newspaper on her lap, from which she
seemed to be eating her luncheon.

“It _is_ pretty rotten,” Brainard admitted.

“The whole bunch is no account trash, anyway,” the young person continued
impersonally, dangling a slice of sausage before her mouth.  “Like last
year’s grass or yesterday’s supper.  But that Jenny!  Why, she couldn’t
decorate a cemetery properly!”

Thereupon, having disposed of the company, the young woman devoted
herself unreservedly to her food, ignoring Brainard’s presence.  The next
time that the stage manager opened a discussion with Miss Leroy that
promised to last for some moments, Brainard turned to the girl.

“Pardon my curiosity,” he said, taking the seat behind her, “but I should
like to know how you happen to be here at the rehearsal.”

“Me?  Why, I belong!” she replied, with a funny wrinkling of her small
lips.  “I’m part of it—this great uplift movement for the American
drá-ma!”

Brainard winced at the gibe.

“Is that what they call us?”

“And a lot of other things,” the young woman admitted frankly.
“Highbrows and amateurs and boneheads and—”

“I don’t know you, and I thought I had met every one in the company.”

“I’m not in the front row, you see.  I am what they call a nee-o-phyte—a
pupil in the Actors’ College, when there is any college.”

“Oh, I remember now!” Brainard said, recalling the first and only pupil
enrolled.  “Your name is—”

“Delacourt—Louisiana Delacourt,” the girl rolled out with gusto, as if
she enjoyed her name, and hadn’t many opportunities of using it.

The slightly Southern accent of the girl set puzzling currents of memory
at work in Brainard’s mind.  He looked at her more closely, but in the
dim light of the auditorium could not make out distinctly the face which
was shrouded in one of the inverted “peach-basket” hats of the period.
She seemed a slight little body.

“Say,” Miss Delacourt remarked confidentially, “I bet I could show that
wiggle-tailed Flossie a stunt or two!”

“Do you know _Lear_?”

“Do I know _Lear_?  I was nursed on Shakespeare.  My mother knew the
plays by heart, and used to recite ’em all over.  Mr. Farson says he’ll
get me a boy’s part in the last act.  Five lines—but you’ll see how I’ll
make ’em hum!”

Just then Farson came up to them out of the darkness of the auditorium,
and nodded to the girl, who presently slipped off.

“So you know Miss Delacourt?” Brainard observed.

“Of course!  Everybody about the place knows Louisiana.  Queer little
piece, isn’t she?  Slangy and fresh, but she knows how to handle herself.
. . .  It’s pretty rotten!” he remarked cheerfully, glancing at the
stage.

“Just what Louisiana said.”

“I guess she knows!”

Brainard and the secretary thereupon went out to lunch, and tried to
forget their troubles.



VI


At last, amid turmoil and excitement, the opening day came.  Brainard and
Farson had been at the theater since early morning, doing what they could
to bring order out of chaos.  About lunch time MacNaughton rushed up to
them, his face white with excitement.

“A telegram from Miss Leroy!” he gasped.  “Doctor thinks she’s got
appendicitis.  She’s got Einsteinitis, all right,—that’s what is the
matter with her!  We can’t raise an actress in New York who knows
Cordelia’s lines, let alone having rehearsed it.  We’ll have to postpone
the opening!”

“Not that!” Brainard said, with tightening lips.  “Not if you read the
lines, Mac!”  The old actor stormed back and forth, snapping his fingers
and cursing with equal warmth stars and managers, the stage and life.

“Isn’t there some one in the company who could take the part?” Brainard
asked.

“Not one, man or woman!” the Scotsman growled.  “We’re using the whole
company.”

“Where’s Louisiana?” Farson inquired, a little smile wreathing his lips.

“You mean that Kansas kid?  She’s knocking about the stage somewhere,”
MacNaughton replied.  He had had several passages with Miss Delacourt
already, and had no great opinion of her ability except in repartee.
“You aren’t thinking of that child?”

“Let’s find her,” Farson said.  “She knows Shakespeare by heart—her
mother used to put her to sleep on it—she’s always getting it off when
she isn’t ragging the show with her Kansas slang.”

They found Louisiana sitting on a pile of properties, playing with a
lanky pup.  She smiled on Farson in a friendly fashion, and ignored the
manager.

“Say, what’s broken down now?” she drawled.  “Have Miss Leroy’s stays
given warning, or did the big bass fiddle bust a string?”

“Look here, Miss Louisiana,” Farson replied.  “Quit your guying, and get
ready for Cordelia.  We’ll rehearse you all the afternoon.”

“Gee whiz!” the young woman remarked, rising and yanking the puppy by the
leash.  “But you’re sudden, my dear!”

“Miss Leroy is sick—going to have an operation.”

“She needed it, if ever a woman did!” Miss Delacourt tossed back over her
shoulder as she tied the puppy to the gilded throne.

“She’ll do!” Farson whispered encouragingly.

“She’ll do something,” MacNaughton growled gloomily.

It was not an auspicious outlook for the opening of the People’s Theater.

                                * * * * *

At eight o’clock that evening, the new playhouse was fairly well filled
with what the local press calls a “highbrow audience.”  Of these, not a
few had come to scoff, for from the beginning the newspapers, led by the
_Beacon_, had taken the People’s Theater as a pet toy with which to play
during the silly season.  It was variously described as the “Sulfur
Extravaganza,” the “Cowboy Show,” or the “Arizona Théâtre Français.”

For ever since that fatal luncheon, the editor of the _Beacon_ had
directed the most skillful members of his celebrated stiletto gang in
their sneers at Brainard.  To the New York newspaper mind it was simply
inconceivable that a man with a great fortune could put it to so purely
childish a use as running a popular theater.  A few friendly souls,
however, were scattered up and down the house—those who follow the banner
of “new ideas” wherever it may wave; and there were a few of the
“people”—a very few—on free tickets.

As the curtains slowly parted, Brainard, sitting alone in the rear of the
house, regretted more than ever that they had attempted to open with
_Lear_.  There were surely some in the audience whose memories, like his,
would carry them back to the godlike fury of the elder Salvini.  What
could they make of the squat figure, the perspiring muscularity of Dudley
Warner?

As the fated king waddled forth and began, Brainard shut his eyes.  He
opened them suddenly on hearing:

    What shall Cordelia do?  Love, and be silent.

It was Louisiana in walk and bearing,—the swagger from Iole, Kansas,—but
the voice was rich and sweet, with an unpremeditated, girlish modulation
that suggested depths of feeling unsuspected.

The audience, puzzled, was respectful through Cordelia’s humble replies,
until the young actress essayed her first long speech:

    You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
    Return those duties back as are right fit . . .
    Haply when I shall wed,
    That lord must take my—my—

Louisiana stumbled at the word, then brought out triumphantly:

    My fist—

There was a ripple of amusement.  Miss Delacourt heard it, flushed
defiance in an un-Cordelia-like manner, and tore through the concluding
lines.  She got on well enough in the short responses, but the critics
were waiting—as was Brainard, with trepidation—to see what the girl would
make of her next long speech.

Alas!  Miss Louisiana sailed in, as she would have said, to paint the
lines.  She drew herself up in all her girlish dignity.

    I yet beseech your majesty,
    If for I want that glib and oily part
    To speak and purpose not; since what I well intend
    I’ll do’t before I speak—that you make known—

A frightened look came over the girl’s face.  “She is rattled,” Brainard
said to himself, “and will break!”

Evidently the audience thought so, too, and there was a painful hush, in
which MacNaughton’s efforts to whisper the words from the side could be
heard.

“It is no—no—oh, hang it all, how does the talk go?” Louisiana muttered
audibly, swinging on her heel toward the wings.

There was a roar of laughter from the house.  With one contemptuous
glance at the audience, Cordelia walked deliberately into the wings, and,
returning in fierce haste, finished her speech.  As she made her exit at
the end of the scene, she jerked the train of her dress and gave it a
kick in good vaudeville style.  The galleries caught fire, and began to
stamp and hoot.  Louisiana turned and distinctly made a face, as a child
might, at her tormentors.  The applause was furious.  It lasted so long
that to resume the play with any degree of seriousness seemed utterly
impossible.

At the end of the act, the manager pushed the unwilling Cordelia out upon
the stage.  She made a sulky little bow and another face.  There were
calls and whistles.  She was a hit.  But _Lear_!

Brainard, laughing in spite of himself, bit his lips with mortification.
After this nothing could bring the audience to take the performance
seriously.  The galleries began to guy Warner, and to exchange repartee
with the fool.

Fortunately, Cordelia did not appear during the next two acts.  When she
came on at the conclusion of the fourth act, for the affecting scene with
the blind king, the gallery received her uproariously.  She was white,
with set lips, and she threw herself into her lines with a fine scorn of
the mirthful house.  When her memory failed her, she cut or improvised
with fluent inspiration.

“She’s acting!” Farson whispered in amazement to Brainard.

“Yes, she’s acting, but they don’t know it!”

For the house, having amused itself once with Miss Delacourt, refused to
take her seriously, and was ready to explode with derisive mirth at any
unconventional gesture, any wrong accent.  Poor Louisiana gave them
enough openings; but she held herself steadily, and was winning her way
with the sweetness of her voice and her real charm, when, alas, there
came a long, hard line.  She wavered, tried to bluff it out, but broke
down, burst into tears, and fled to the wings.

“Poor child!  It was too much for her,” Brainard murmured, while Farson
tried to hiss down the laughter.

It would not down, however.  Finally Brainard rose and walked down the
aisle to the front.  Holding up his hand to still the noise, he said:

“Miss Delacourt came to us merely as a pupil.  We were compelled to ask
her to take the difficult rôle of Cordelia at five hours’ notice, owing
to the sudden illness of Miss Leroy.  I think that Miss Delacourt
deserves our thanks and our sympathy, instead of these jeers.”

There was silence, but _Lear_ was doomed.  The critics had left, and
others followed.  Those that stayed until the curtain swept together for
the last time snickered contemptuously over the affair.  Louisiana had
saved the occasion from dismal dullness; she had turned _Lear_ into a
farce!



VII


The pleasant drawing-room and the library of the theater, which were on
the second floor above the foyer, had been thrown open after the
performance, and a few well-wishers of the enterprise lingered there to
examine the new playhouse and to meet the shamefaced members of the
company, to whom Brainard was giving a supper.  Miss Delacourt did not
appear with the others.

“She’s probably gone home, poor girl,” Farson said, as Brainard started
to find her.  He went directly to the dressing rooms and knocked at one
of the closed doors.  He had to knock twice before a sulky voice replied
irritably:

“Well, come in!”

Louisiana had torn off the blond wig in which she had played Cordelia and
tossed it into a corner.  She had also removed the embroidered gold
bodice of her costume and put on a rumpled dressing sack, and was sitting
curled up on her long train, the big puppy in her lap.  She was pulling
his ears; her brown hair fell about his head.  It was plain that she had
been crying.

“What do you want?” she asked crossly, recognizing Brainard.

“I came to—to thank you for helping us in our emergency this evening,”
Brainard stammered.

“Helping!  That’s a smooth word, I must say!” the girl flashed.  “You may
like that sort of help; but it’s the last you’ll get from me, I reckon!”

“I hope not,” Brainard protested heartily.  “You saved the performance
from being just a soggy failure, anyway.”

He could not help smiling at the memory of her saucy antics, yet the
picture of childish despair she presented, crumpled, with her hair
falling about the puppy’s head, roused another unfamiliar feeling of
sympathy and pity.  She was such a forlorn little person, for all the
bravado of her speech!

“Is that what you call saving it?”  Louisiana turned the puppy from her
lap and devoted all her passion to scorn.  “Saving!  To make yourself a
guy, to be ‘it’ for the merry haw-haws of the smart Alecks in New York!
I must say I don’t like your taste.  I’d rather fail in some other way.”
She pushed back her falling hair and tied it excitedly in a knot, then
shrank into her dressing gown and glared at Brainard very much like a
kitten that has been cornered and is ruffled, “Let me tell you right
here, dear sir, if you are the big gun responsible for this whole show,
you haven’t got much to be proud of!”

“I heard you say that once before,” Brainard admitted humbly.  “You said
it was rotten, and I guess it is.  But we are going to try to make it
better.”

“Yes, try!  You’d better try.  I haven’t seen much acting, but I’ve seen
road shows in one-horse towns back in the State of Kansas that could play
all over your swell outfit.  You think you are uplifting the theater, do
you?  What do you know about the theater, anyway?  You’d better go right
out to Iole, or over in the Bowery, and look at a ten-twent’-thirt’ show
and learn something about play-acting.  This young ladies’
boarding-school sissy show—oh, why did I ever come to you?  I’d have
learned more in a Kansas City variety!”

She crossed the room to hunt up a cigarette, and puffed the smoke with a
disdainful shrug of her thin shoulders, walking to and fro in the small
dressing room, kicking her dress about like a football, and generally
emitting sparks.

“So I saved your show from being too awfully dull—at the expense of my
reputation!”

Brainard could not help laughing at this display of childish vanity.  She
was a child attempting to be dignified with something more than a child’s
intelligence.  He suppressed his laughter and let her emotion explode.

“What do you think those writer-guys in the front row are going to say
about Louisiana Delacourt to-morrow morning?  They’ll hand me the merry
laugh, that’s all.  I’ll be a deader in the profession after this.
Anyway, I’ll have to make up another name.”

“Your name wasn’t on the program, you know,” Brainard suggested
soothingly.  Louisiana merely cast him a withering glance.  “Of course,
our company isn’t what it should be yet,” he admitted.  “We’ll try to
give you a better chance—”

“You’ll have to do some mighty smart trying,” the girl sneered fiercely.
“You highbrows think all you’ve got to do is to open a theater and print
‘Ideals’ in big letters on the program, and the public will run to your
show.  Folks have been going to the theater some before you undertook to
uplift it!”

“Do you think they do good work at the other theaters?”

“They ain’t all they might be, perhaps, but they’re so much more in the
game than you are, Mr. Head-in-the-Clouds, that you can’t see ’em at all,
at all!  And to start off with Shakespeare, of course!”

She sniffed outrageously.

“_Lear_ was a mistake.”

“I should say it was!” she agreed with infinite sarcasm.  “Why don’t you
look around and see what the others are doing—what the horrid trust is
putting on?  They know their business, anyway.”

“Oh, come—you are a little hard on us!”

“I mean it. . . .  Now, if you don’t mind stepping along, I’m going to
shake off this meal sack and hike home to bed.  Good-by to high art for
me, thank you!”

Brainard started for the door on this broad hint, but paused with his
hand on the knob.

“Miss Delacourt,” he said, facing the angry girl, “I came here to-night
to say to you what I sincerely believe—that you have in you the making of
a fine actress.  I gather from what you have said about our undertaking
that my opinion means nothing to you.  But let me assure you that I
didn’t see your mistakes to-night as much as the spirit and the
talent—the very great talent, if I am not mistaken.”

“Very kind of you, I am sure,” the girl snapped.

“I don’t wish to persuade you to stay with us against your inclination.
In our present shape, we can’t give you what you need.”

“I should think not!”

“One of my purposes, however, in this enterprise was to discover just
such talent as I think you have, and develop it.  Perhaps, if I can’t
help you in one way to develop your talent, I can in another.”

Miss Delacourt deigned to pause in her toilette to stare at Brainard.

“I’m sure you have the real thing in you, even after this one unfortunate
performance.  I can’t tell whether the vein will hold deep, whether you
have the character to develop it thoroughly, or will be content with the
superficial success you might easily achieve in one of the commercial
theaters.  But I want to help you to do better than that—to give your
talent a chance.”

“Well?”

“You must go where you can study—where you can see good acting also.  You
must go abroad—to England and France and Germany.”

The girl’s eyes opened wider and wider.  She murmured:

“But that would take a sight of time and money, and I haven’t a cent in
the world!”

“You have the time, at your age, and I can give you all the money you
need,” he went on earnestly.  “To-morrow Mr. Farson and I will talk the
matter over with you and decide on what’s the best way to go about it.”

Louisiana threw back her head, as if to embrace the splendid vision
opened before her.  Still gazing at Brainard to see whether he really
meant it all, or was perpetrating a cruel joke, she gave a long sigh.
There was something pathetically wistful and desirous in her small face
that stirred Brainard strongly.  He seemed to be looking into a little
starved soul that was trying to grasp the meaning of his promise.

“You don’t mean—”

She began and stopped.  Her look wavered for one moment, as if an
unpleasant idea had crossed her mind and made her doubt Brainard’s
disinterestedness.  Brainard understood the expression.  Probably in her
short experience of life she had met with little real generosity from
men.

“I mean exactly what I said—and nothing more!” he added with meaning
emphasis.

The girl’s face cleared with wonderful rapidity.  Once more it had the
eager, wistful expression of the child.

“My, but you are a good one!” she exclaimed at last, convinced of his
earnestness and his singleness of purpose.  “After all those fancy
compliments I just passed you, too!”

“I guess we deserved a good part of what you said.  Perhaps you’ll save
the day for us again sometime—when you come back.”

“I sure hope I can!  But not that way!” she blushed.  “You mean it
all—the study and travel?  To go to Paris?”

“And London and Berlin and Vienna,” Brainard added with a smile.  “And a
lot of hard work, too, remember!”

“That never rattled me!” Louisiana exclaimed, gathering the sleepy pup
into her arms and hugging him until he yelped.  Presently she held out a
hand to Brainard with an expression on her mobile face more mature than
he had yet seen there.  “Some day I’ll tell you my story, and then you’ll
see what it means to me.  You’ve given me—life!”

He left her hastily to spare her the embarrassment of a second fit of
tears.  In spite of all the humiliation that the evening had brought him,
Brainard returned to his house in a happy and contented frame of mind.



VIII


When Brainard confided to Farson the plan he had formed for Louisiana
Delacourt’s education, the younger man looked sharply at him for one
moment as if he also suspected ulterior motives in this unexpected
interest in the young woman, who had given the People’s Theater such
dubious notoriety by her performance of Cordelia.  In that rapid
interchange of glances between the two men, Brainard felt for the first
time a slight antagonism to his cheerful and companionable secretary.
Why should Farson immediately infer that there was anything more than a
disinterested desire on his part to help a poor and promising girl, whom
fate had rather casually thrown in his path?  Was it necessary that in
the theater world this should inevitably be the implication,—that there
could be no simple kindness between men and women!

“No!” he exclaimed, with a slight smile, answering Farson’s glance, “I
don’t mean that!”

“Why do you think that it would be a good thing for Louisiana to go
abroad now?  She’s got a good deal to learn that she could learn here
just as well,” the secretary observed evasively.

Brainard smiled more openly.  It was plain enough that the young
secretary did not like the idea of losing sight of their Kansas star, of
whom he had seen a good deal in the course of business these last months.

“She’s nothing but a kid, you know,” he added in an indifferent tone.

“Exactly!  And it’s just because she is so much of a child that I think
the best thing for her is to have a lot of new experience of a totally
different kind from any she’s likely to get over here.  What she wants is
to grow,—not learn grammar and elocution.  She must develop in every way
to become the actress that is in her, and that development she will get
more easily somewhere out of her old environment—apart from all the
inspiration that will come to her eager little mind by seeing real acting
and real plays, of which there is much more just at present in Europe
than in New York.”

“I see you have thought it all out,” the secretary replied dryly.

“Yes, I have thought a good deal about Louisiana since last night,”
Brainard admitted.

It had occurred to him possibly in the course of this thought that the
secretary’s growing intimacy with the girl was not altogether
advantageous.  His nature was too generous, however, to entertain this
consideration seriously.  The idea of rivalry between them for the girl’s
interest was too ridiculous to be thought of, and yet he was forced to
recognize in himself a trace of that subtle sex jealousy that seems
inevitable wherever two men are concerned with one woman, no matter how
trivial the occasion.  He put it summarily out of his head.

“She won’t be away for always, Ned,” he observed good-naturedly.  “And we
must give the girl her chance—it’s the least we can do after encouraging
her to come on here and join our organization, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” the secretary agreed more cordially.

When Brainard told MacNaughton of his purpose, the old actor expressed an
unfeigned and unflattering surprise.

“What do you want to turn that silly’s little head for?” he roared,
flourishing his cigar.  “Send her abroad to study!  You’d much better
send her to a grammar school or a young lady’s fem sem where she could
learn ordinary deportment.  She’ll never make an actress.”

“I don’t agree with you,” Brainard replied quickly.  “She’s the best
we’ve got already.”

Farson watched the two with an amused smile.  The old actor shrugged his
shoulders in mute disgust.

“It isn’t saying much either,” the patron of the People’s Theater
continued somewhat tartly.  “Cordelia wasn’t the worst that happened last
night by any means.”

“My God!” the Scotsman groaned fervently.  “I hope nothing as bad will
ever happen to me again in this life.”

Brainard’s doubts of MacNaughton’s fitness for his position of manager
grew rapidly from this moment into a conviction that eventually produced
difficulties in the hitherto harmonious management of the theatrical
enterprise.  Another disturbing current set in motion by the young person
from Iole, Kansas!

Brainard and Farson discussed at some length the details of Louisiana’s
trip.  The secretary was firmly convinced that some sort of chaperone
should be provided for the girl.  She needed a duenna or guardian, he
said, to keep her out of scrapes, if ever a woman did.  When this idea
was suggested to Miss Delacourt, it received an immediate and positive
discouragement.

“I don’t know any female whom I could endure to have trailing around
after me,” she said.  “And what’s the use, anyhow?  They won’t eat me up
over there, I reckon.  I’ve always managed to look out for myself so far,
and I’m not likely to forget how now I’ve something worth doing to keep
me busy. . . .  No, I’ll go it alone, thank you, or not at all until I’m
ready to select my own guardian.”

With this she cast Farson a belligerent look that delighted Brainard.
When the secretary tried to explain in circumspect terms the manifold
dangers to which a young woman traveling alone was necessarily exposed,
she said:

“I’m going to take the pup along.  A good dog is worth any two chaperones
in case of trouble.”

Brainard observed finally:

“I think Miss Delacourt is right.  She will get on very well anywhere by
herself.  She has the habit of independence.”

“You see!” the young woman remarked, nodding loftily to Farson.  “You are
too conventional for the theater.  I have the habit of perfect
independence, as your boss said.  And I don’t propose to give it up in a
hurry either.”

With this second jab at the secretary she squeezed her dog in an ecstasy
of good spirits.

This important question being settled, there remained merely the plan of
work and travel, which Brainard undertook to prepare and to which he gave
much careful consideration.  Then the passage was engaged, and the
morning of the sailing the three had a pleasant breakfast together at a
little down-town restaurant.  Louisiana appeared in what she called “the
proper make-up for her new part,”—a smart traveling costume, with fresh
hat, gloves, boots, and parasol.  Brainard was glad to see that she had
made such an immediate and natural use of the liberal means he had placed
at her disposal through his secretary, although the transformation worked
by her new costume took away a certain quality of primitive girlishness
that was pleasant to him.  Louisiana was emerging rapidly from her
chrysalis under the stimulus of the opportunity he had provided for her.
As he sat back and watched her spar with Farson, he wondered whether the
old Louisiana would ever return from Europe.  What sort of woman would
take the place of the girl who had made her début in the most
unconventional Cordelia the English stage had ever seen?

At any rate everything was spontaneous in her now,—not a trace of
self-consciousness in her attitude to him as her benefactor, and all the
simplicity and directness of the child which had first touched him.

“He says he’s going to write a piece for the theater and put _me_ in,”
Louisiana remarked turning to Brainard.  “He’d better let me see it
first—I’ll give him a few points most men writers overlook. . . .  You’ll
keep the theater open until I get back?”

“Longer than that, we hope!” Brainard laughed.

“I want to make my début there—my real début,” she said importantly.

“I promise you we’ll keep it open for that!”

“You’d better fire the whole bunch and start over,” she observed
thoughtfully. . . .

At the last moment, when Farson had already gone down the gangway, the
girl drew Brainard to one side and uttered the first serious words they
had had since their talk in her dressing room the night of _Lear_.

“It’s no use saying thanks, you know!”

“I don’t want you to thank me.”

“I know you don’t and I’m not—but I want you to know I understand.”

“What?”

“What you’re doing for me. . . .  I’ll make good.”

“I believe you will!”

“Good-by!”

She gave him a lean little hand that gripped his nervously.  The last he
saw of Louisiana Delacourt as he went over the ship’s side, she was
chasing her dog into some stranger’s deck cabin.  As he made his way from
the dock towards the People’s Theater that morning, his world seemed less
gay and amusing with Louisiana out of it.



IX


After the inglorious failure of _Lear_, they tried _She Stoops to
Conquer_, with Cecilia Pyce, an English actress of advancing years and a
large and bony physique, whom MacNaughton much vaunted.  Brainard
suspected that Cissie, as Mac called her, had been the Scotsman’s
sweetheart in her palmier days, and thus he was now paying his
sentimental debts by giving her a lucrative position at his patron’s
expense.  However, nothing better offered at present, and Miss Pyce at
least knew how to act in the solid old English fashion.  The people came
sparingly, and sat in the first four rows of the big auditorium, which
was a lonesome sort of place these days.

It was little better when the company essayed an “original American
play”—as it was advertised—that Farson had culled from the mass of
manuscripts he had examined.  _May Magic_ lasted a week, and then fell to
pieces before an audience consisting of the author and about twenty of
his friends.  The management could not even give their tickets away. At
_May Magic_ the critics took final leave of the People’s Theater with
such parting kicks as this:

    What in the name of common sense is the amateurish aggregation at the
    so-called People’s Theater trying to do?  In what sense is it a
    popular theater?  The “people” are conspicuous by their absence.  The
    worthy gentleman who is spending his money giving the public
    fifth-rate productions of English classics and such rejected modern
    masterpieces as _May Magic_ had better go over to Broadway and learn
    his trade.

Brainard was thankful that Louisiana was safe on the high seas on her way
to Munich, and would not see this article!

Somewhere Farson ran across a statuesque young woman of German extraction
who spoke English as if she had a cracker in her mouth, and became
persuaded that the mission of their organization was to introduce to the
American public the new plays of the advanced European theater.

“We must become the theater of ideas,” he said to Brainard.

So, with the assistance of Miss Beatrice Klinker in leading roles, the
People’s Theater became frankly “highbrow” and went after Brieux,
Hauptmann, Strindberg, and the tribe of the peculiar.  Brainard poured
out money like water in buying rights at exorbitant prices, in preparing
new scenery, and in expensive additions to the company.  He foresaw that
at this rate, instead of starting a chain of popular theaters across the
continent, he would have all he could do to maintain one organization in
New York, with possibly a couple of road companies.  For the receipts
were always negligible.  To such comparatively modest limits had his
great Idea already shrunken.  If he had not thus far succeeded in
enlightening any large section of the American Public in dramatic art, he
himself had received a very thorough and costly lesson, not merely in the
drama, but in human nature and life.  That, however, had not been his
purpose!

It was not until the People’s Theater produced an erotic piece by a new
Danish writer, whose name was unknown to the critics, that the house
began to fill.

“We’ve struck our pace!” Farson declared jubilantly.  He exercised all
his journalistic ingenuity in whetting the appetite of the New York
public for the play with immediate results in the box office.  Brainard,
although he had no high opinion of the play, felt relieved not to
encounter at each performance the same dreary waste of empty seats.  He
comforted himself with the thought that if the Public could be induced to
come to a “sex play,” they might be captured for less hectic
entertainments.  MacNaughton and Farson, with the easy sophistry of the
theater, maintained that what people cared to see must be good art and
stoutly defended the Danish piece.

But their good luck did not hold.  At the Saturday matinée of the first
week the police visited the theater and the curtain was ordered down
after the bedroom scene in the second act.  There was a mild
demonstration among the audience, whose curiosity was defeated, and the
price of their tickets was repaid to all who demanded it.  The press made
considerable noise over the event.

“We’re made!” MacNaughton announced in great excitement.  Farson was busy
with the reporters, trying to get the most out of this unexpected bit of
publicity.  Brainard set forth in search of the virtuous police
commissioner to protest in the name of outraged Art.  But the
commissioner was impervious to Art.

“That sort of show don’t go in New York,” he pronounced austerely, in
reply to Brainard’s argument that the play had been given even more
boldly in Vienna and Berlin and was held to be a “moral document” by the
best European critics.  The police commissioner seemed to think that New
York had a different and better morality than that obtaining in Europe.
He was obdurate.  When Brainard reported his failure to his associates,
Farson took it very lightly.

“All we’ll have to do,” he suggested, “is to make some slight changes—put
a screen in front of the bed scene—and see the inspector.  I’ll take care
of him.”

But Brainard refused to pay the police to be allowed to produce his play,
and so on Monday night the People’s Theater remained dark.

“And just look at all that money!” MacNaughton wailed, as something of a
crowd began to form in front of the theater for the first time.  “The
governor is a miserable puritan,” he said to Farson, wringing his hands.
“To think of turning his back on his luck just because of the morality of
the New York police!  He ought to run a Sunday school.”

Brainard was not to be moved, although the theater would have to remain
closed for a week until the company could prepare another play.  He was
deeply disgusted with the whole affair, with the notoriety as well as the
cheap pretense of morality by the police commissioner.  For the first
time in four years his faith in the great Idea began to waver, and he
longed to escape from New York to the more vital air of Arizona.  There
had been some difficulty recently with the pumps at the Melody mine, and
he might well take this opportunity of running down to Monument.  Once
there it would be a temptation to abandon the great Idea altogether and
to remain in the mountains developing the copper mine.  Or he could buy a
coffee plantation in Jalapa, as he had once fleetingly thought of doing,
and settle himself in Mexico like a medieval prince.  Possibly the little
señorita Marie had not yet found another Prince and had waited all these
years for his expected return.  The vision of that beautiful semitropical
valley dominated by the snowy crown of the old volcano returned to his
memory with alluring colors.  Life in such a far-off Eden with a gentle
creature as mistress of a rose-covered haçienda was an inviting contrast
to the glare and vulgarity of New York. . . .

Brainard and the secretary left the theater in glum silence, each
possessed by an unhappy train of thought.  On their way uptown they
passed a billboard on which some flaming posters displayed certain
tempting scenes from a soul-and-body-stirring play called _The Stolen
Bonds_, now being given for the first time in New York.  Brainard paused
before the gaudy billboard.

“What the public really likes!” Farson commented with a grin.

Brainard remembered Louisiana’s angry taunt,—“Go and see a good
melodrama—see what folks are willing to pay real money for!”

“Let’s take it in!” he exclaimed, seizing his companion’s arm.  “We
haven’t anything else to do this evening.”

“We’ll get all the goods before we reach the show,” the secretary
observed, pointing to another series of immense posters that represented
a gloomy bank vault in which a masked gentleman was holding a lantern
above the prostrate form of a woman.  “They’re not afraid of giving away
their story!”

“Perhaps we shall find the great American play we have been hunting for
all this year,” Brainard replied, as they came into the garish foyer of
the theater.  At one side was the entrance to a brilliant saloon, which
seemed part of the establishment.  “Democratic and convivial this,” he
joked, thinking of the dainty “tea room” at the People’s.

There were only box seats left.  When the two pushed aside the plush
curtains that concealed these luxurious retreats, the curtain was up and
the first act had started before a house packed with prosperous-looking
citizens and their women.

“Not a dead seat in the house, I’ll bet!” whispered the secretary.

The scene represented the inside of an office, with a large safe at one
side.  The short, black-haired heroine was striving ineffectually to bar
the way of a brawny villain, who had her covered with a revolver in one
hand, and with the other whipped an ether cone from an inner pocket.  She
was rapidly crowded into the vault, where she succumbed in due time,
after a muscular struggle and curdling shrieks, to the ether cone.
Thereupon the burglar set busily to work to fill an enormous sample case
with piles of yellow currency and bundles conveniently labeled BONDS, in
large letters, so that a child might read.  The villain then departed,
carefully locking the door of the safe upon the etherized heroine.

But the villain had reckoned without the telephone.  In the next scene
the stenographer-heroine slowly grabbed the ether cone from her face,
gaspingly crawled to the corner, where the telephone hung conspicuously,
and called Central.  Presently the bolts began to grumble, and were shot
back by a young man who rushed in and dragged the tottering woman from
the safe, while she murmured in a dying whisper audible for two blocks:

“The ferry, Jasper!  The ferry!  The thief!”  Then the noble girl fell
swooning and apparently lifeless.

“There’s something doing!” Farson remarked with an appreciative grin, and
added with a peculiar expression, “They’ve taken more than a hint from my
one play.”

“And several more from life,” Brainard muttered.

“I believe it _is_ life through the medium of my play—but altered
somehow,” Farson observed.

“Oh! much altered!”

The next scene was labeled, “AT THE FERRY SLIP—SAN FRANCISCO.”  As the
curtain rose, the villain—no longer masked, but with a long ulster
concealing all but his sinister eyes—was deftly transferring himself and
his sample case, stuffed with money and bonds, on board the ferry-boat.
The bell rang—business in the wings.  Then on rushed the hero-lover,
clutching vainly at the disappearing sample case.  There was a desperate
tussle between the hero and the villain, while the dummy passengers on
the deck above obligingly turned their backs.  The villain cut loose from
his pursuer with a wicked knife, threw the case upon the moving boat, and
leaped two yards after it, leaving the prostrate figure of the hero-lover
half dropping over the slip.  The stenographer-heroine appeared—in a neat
traveling suit—and pulled her lover safely ashore.  Curtain.

“Bravo!” Farson shouted enthusiastically.  “If it isn’t exactly life,
it’s the way we’d all like to have it happen, anyway.”

“It may be nearer life than you think,” Brainard assented with a queer
smile.  In this scene he had been able to get a good view of the heroine
of the piece.  Beneath the coarse make-up he thought he recognized
familiar features, and felt sure that he had heard in real life that
pert, nasal voice which had just uttered the last speech—“Escaped!  We’ll
track him into the darkest wilds of Africa!”

“Recognize a friend?” Farson inquired.  Brainard nodded.  They turned
over the leaves of their program to find the name of the heroine.  It was
Lorilla Walters, in large black type.

“Lorilla,” Farson murmured.  “Good stage name.”

“It sounds like her!” Brainard agreed.

Just then the curtain went up for the third act.  Here was a rapid
succession of scenes representing the pursuit and escape of the villain
in the Arizona desert, with one very lurid background of flaming
mountains and sagebrush plain.  Pistol shots and a chase through an adobe
haçienda outside a Mexican village concluded the act.

“Whew, these people have wire nerves!” Farson commented, wiping his brow.

“They have treated the story rather freely,” Brainard remarked grimly.
Farson talked nervously.

“Louisiana would like that!” he said.  “There’s something doing all the
time.  I bet that’s Lorilla.  What do you say to trying her at the
People’s?  She’s a trifle broad in her methods, but sound—and lets
herself go all the time.  It’s just a bit loud in tone.”

“Not louder than life sometimes.”

“It carries home—look at the audience!”

In the fourth act the villain was at last cornered by the
stenographer-heroine and the hero-lover, aided by a United States
cruiser, which intercepted the villain and his sample case as they were
about to sail away from the port of Vera Cruz on a Spanish steamer.  The
captain of the steamer on which the villain had taken refuge with his
sample case blasphemously defied the flag of the United States with loud
curses.  But a booming shot from the wings knocked his smokestack out of
service, and brought him to his senses.  The captain thereafter
gracefully received the smart American lieutenant who came aboard in
holiday uniform and collared the villain, denounced by the heroine, as he
cowered behind the fallen smokestack—still wearing the long ulster.

They applauded vigorously and were about to drift out with the crowd of
candy-eating females and their escorts, when the curtains of the box were
parted by a gentleman in evening clothes, who stood smiling, holding his
spotless silk hat in one hand and extending the other to Brainard.

“Hello!” the stranger said easily, as if he were greeting a casual
acquaintance whom he had not seen for several days.  He came forward into
the box, and sat on the edge of a chair, dangling his glossy silk hat.
“Saw you from behind,” he added, smiling slightly upon Brainard, whose
surprise was evident.

“You, Hollinger!” the latter exclaimed, recovering himself.  “What are
you doing here?”

“Oh, in the show business,—same as you,” he added with a little laugh.

“The last time I saw you—”

“Was in that Jalapa hotel where I had the pleasure of delivering a little
lecture on life for your benefit,” the fight-trust man supplied.  “You
profited by it at once—that very night, if I remember rightly.  Rarely
does a teacher of morals get such a rapid reaction!”

“Yes!” Brainard laughed.  “Necessity pointed the moral to your talk with
a kick.  I left on a mule car, and got away just in time.”

“So Calloway told me the next morning.  We tried to keep your friends
interested in Jalapa until the boat sailed.  I take it that we
succeeded.”

“Yes, I owe you a great deal for that good turn.”

“Don’t mention it,” Hollinger murmured, slipping into the chair, “always
ready to serve a friend.”

Brainard introduced Farson, who knew the “king of the prize ring trust”
by sight, for Hollinger had been a celebrated figure on the Coast in the
days before the graft trials.  The three chatted for a time while the
auditorium emptied.

“How did you like our play?” he inquired casually.

“Your play!  It’s suspiciously like mine.”

“Perhaps we drew from the same sources.”

“How did you get into the theatrical business?” Brainard inquired.

“I got into it in a rather roundabout way,” the fight-trust magnate
explained.  “You remember the event at Jalapa?  The American papers were
full of it at the time.  I was interested in the moving picture
concession for the States.  We expected to make big money out of it.  But
they had another spasm of virtue in this country about that time, and we
were shut out of the best circuits.  So from the movies I got into
vaudeville and then into the regular show business.  Have a couple of
circuits on the Coast and interests in the East also.  This is one of my
companies.  They’ve done a tremendous business out West in this thing—did
it appeal to you?”

He smiled genially at Brainard, and added: “We couldn’t work in the
haçienda scene,—roses, moonlight, Orizaba, pretty Mexican girl, and the
rest,—it took too much scenery.”

“We thought it was a trifle overdrawn,” Brainard observed.

“Oh, the theater demands that, you know,—exaggeration.  Art is never
quite like nature.  Even Milton threw it on thick at times, if I
recollect. . . .  But it stirs the blood—that’s what you want in these
dull times.  People come to the theater to feel, their lives are so dull.
That’s the first thing I learned in the show business.  Give the public
something to tease the nerves, keep ’em on the jump.  And the second
thing I learned was that you must always hold up a high moral standard.
It never pays in the long run to cater to the small class that can afford
to think about morals as freely as they act.”  He looked at Brainard
meaningly.  “I saw your show last week,” he explained.  “It’s not really
tough, but it don’t pay to do that sort of thing.  Most people, of
course, are not half as good as they like to think they are.  But even
the worst want their art and literature better than they know they are
and better than they think their neighbors are.  That’s the way they
square themselves with life,” he concluded sententiously.

This was the second time, Brainard reflected, that he had received a
valuable lesson in ethics from the fight-trust magnate.  He understood
now why Hollinger had been reading Milton when he first made his
acquaintance on the Overland Limited.  He was a business philosopher.

“If you are going to deal with people,” he added gently, “you must know
how they act and feel about things.”

“I suppose that is why you let the heroine capture the thief in this
piece?” Brainard remarked.

“Precisely!  The clever young dramatist who knocked the thing together
for me was all for another ending, a more convincing one, perhaps, where
the heroine was bought off for a good share of the bonds and currency.
But although admitting the truth of his reasoning, I could not permit him
to ruin the success of our play.  We were compelled to violate nature
again, and in deference to the public’s unquenchable thirst for Virtue we
allowed the slow-moving heroine to accomplish the dire purpose of her
vengeful passions with the assistance of the government.  In its present
form our play is terribly satisfying to our public.  It gratifies
especially that common human desire to get somebody.  Half our criminal
justice is built upon the same unpleasant trait of human nature. . . .
By the way,” he remarked, interrupting the flow of his philosophical
analysis, “I almost forgot!  There’s a friend of yours in behind who
wants to see you.  I promised to bring you back.  You’ve no objections?”

“None at all!” Brainard laughed.  “You see our encounter didn’t turn out
quite like the play, fortunately for me!”

“So I understand,” Hollinger replied demurely, holding the curtain aside
to let the others precede him.



X


They found the leading lady waiting for them on the darkened stage.  She
was dressed quite handsomely in her street costume, with the inevitable
fur coat that seems the most characteristic mark of her profession.
Without her makeup and stage costume she looked much older than Brainard
remembered her to be and also stouter.  But her dark face and flashing
eyes still preserved an air of confident assurance in her good looks that
had characterized Krutzmacht’s stenographer.

“Good evening, Mr. Wilkins!” she said promptly as the men approached her.
At that unfortunate _nom de guerre_ Farson laughed outright.  Hollinger
came to the rescue.

“Mr. Edgar Brainard, of the new People’s Theater; Miss Lorilla Walters of
_The Stolen Bonds_ company,” the fight-trust man said with a little
cough.

“We seem both to have changed names,” Brainard observed, shaking hands
with the leading lady.

“Walters is my stage name,” the former stenographer snapped.

“Wilkins was mine—for a few hours!” Brainard laughed.

There followed an awkward pause.  In spite of the amiable greeting,
Brainard could see fire in the woman’s dark eyes and realized that it was
not simply for the pleasure of meeting her former antagonist again that
she had got Hollinger to bring him behind the scenes.  He realized also
from the determined bearing and solid form of the woman he had once
unceremoniously locked up in Krutzmacht’s safe for an hour, that she
possessed a kind of vindictive energy which might easily become
troublesome to any man she disliked.  For a brief moment he wished that a
wayward fate had not led his steps on this evening into the Boulevard
Theater.  But it was so patently absurd that the woman could in any way
touch him now after all these years that he easily put aside the thought.
He had led his new life so long, tested himself with men and affairs so
thoroughly that his early adventures in Krutzmacht’s service seemed to
him more like a youthful escapade than reality.

During this mute encounter Farson and Hollinger watched the two with
interest.  Hollinger leaned against one of the properties of the last act
in _The Stolen Bonds_, a slightly satirical smile on his lips as if he
found much intellectual amusement in the situation.

“That’s a pretty lively show you have made out of our little affair,”
Brainard remarked at last to the leading lady.  “You’ve touched up the
story all along and the _dénouement_ isn’t according to the facts as I
remember them.”

Miss Walters gave a little twitch to her short veil as she snapped
meaningly:

“Perhaps it isn’t finished yet!”

“As our friend Hollinger has been proving to me,” Brainard continued in
his scoffing tone, “Art and Nature don’t always jibe.  The artist has
always found fault with dull fact, and he gets his revenge upon the real
world as you took yours to-night in the play.”

“One gets it somehow,” Miss Walters replied enigmatically.

“If you are going to discuss Art and Nature,” Hollinger put in genially,
“let’s go to some place where we can have supper.”

“A good idea,” Brainard agreed.  “Come home with me.  My man usually has
something ready for me at this time.”

He felt that something more vital than a discussion of Art and Nature was
impending and thought that his own house would be a better place for an
animated interview than a public café.  So the four picked their way in
the gloom among the bulky properties of _The Stolen Bonds_ to the stage
exit and there found a cab, which carried them quickly to the little
house in Gramercy Park.  Miss Walters did not open her mouth during the
ride; Hollinger and Farson maintained a factitious conversation on
politics, and the contrasts between San Francisco and New York.  The
fight-trust man ridiculed “progressivism,” which was just then coming
into vogue, shrewdly pointing out that it merely cloaked the aspirations
of “the little fellows” to “get big Capital,” and praised California as
the only place for an American to live in.  From time to time Brainard
eyed the actress from his corner of the cab, wondering what her relations
with his versatile acquaintance might be.  She did not seem interested in
the conversation and stared steadily into the street.

There were bottles and cold meats on the table in the dining room as
Brainard had promised.  Farson discovered in the pantry the ingredients
for a hot dish, and Hollinger showed himself to be an expert in this sort
of an impromptu feast.  The three men were soon busy with chafing dish
and corkscrew in a comradely way, but Miss Walters, refusing to lay aside
her long fur coat and hat, sauntered about the cheerful room, examining
carefully the pictures and prints upon the walls, the furniture and
appointments, which though not especially luxurious were thoroughly
comfortable.

“Is this your house?” she asked her host point blank, and when he nodded
she remarked:

“A pretty cozy sort of place.”

“It is comfortable,” Brainard agreed, “and very convenient.  I can’t
stand hotels,” he added by way of excuse.

“Some of us have to stand ’em and be mighty thankful when they’re fit to
live in.”

Not having any appropriate reply to this remark, Brainard urged the
actress to lay aside her wraps and sit down before the fire, which he had
stirred into a blaze.  She grudgingly unbuttoned her coat and sat on the
edge of the large chair he pushed to the hearth, stretching forth her
worn shoes to the warmth, and hitching up her skirt in a slightly vulgar
manner.

When Hollinger announced that his dish was ready, the four drew up at the
table and had supper, which, thanks to Farson and the fight-trust man,
was lively enough.  They discussed theatrical matters, especially the
Danish play on which the People’s had come to grief.  Hollinger
maintained that the trouble with the play was that it was neither moral
nor immoral enough.  It was simply too much like life.  “If you are going
in for vice, you must paint it red,” he pronounced.  The leading lady
listened and taciturnly ate her supper.  Afterwards she accepted a
cigarette and turned again to the fire.  Brainard searched his brain for
a topic that might interest her and finally asked:

“How long have you been on the stage, Miss Walters?”

“It was a good many years ago, the first show I was in,” she replied, and
added with intention,—“before I met Krutzmacht.”

“Where was that?” he asked lightly.

“In Los Angeles in ninety-two.”

“You gave up the stage for a time?”

“Yes,” she said slowly.  “He wanted me to.”

“Oh!”

Supper being finished, Brainard led the way to the large living room on
the floor above.  Here there were books, pictures, and old theatrical
bills that seemed to interest Hollinger.  He and Farson remained at one
end of the room and thus gave Brainard a further opportunity for
conversation with Miss Walters.  Somewhat softened by the good supper and
the friendly reception, she began to talk more freely of herself, her
early experiences on the stage in a small stock company that played in
the little towns of central and southern California, until she met
Herbert Krutzmacht, who happened to be in Los Angeles one night when she
was playing.  Brainard, who was curious to find out all he could about
Krutzmacht, observed carelessly:

“You were working in his office when I—when we last met?”

“Yes—I was working for him,” she said shortly.

“Then why,” he asked suddenly, “did you try to sell him out to his
enemies?”

“I had good reasons,” she replied, looking him defiantly in the face, “a
woman’s reasons.  He hadn’t played fair with me!”

“That is, hadn’t married you as you hoped he would?” Brainard suggested.

“I didn’t say that!” she flashed quickly, realizing that she was in
danger of committing herself.

“Well, I hope the railroad people paid you well for your services.”

“They quit paying me, naturally, after you got over to Europe with the
stuff they wanted and sold it to the Germans.”

“They dealt with the Germans instead,” Brainard laughed.  “It might have
paid better to stick by the old man to the end? . . .  So, after we
parted at Vera Cruz, you went back to the stage—into the legitimate?”

“Mr. Hollinger suggested it when I met him at Jalapa.  He got me a place
in one of the San Francisco theaters a friend of his was running, and
then later on when he went into the show business himself, he took me for
one of his companies.”

“Do you like the work?”

“It’s as good as anything else,” the leading lady replied, “so long as
you’ve got to work for your living.”

“Most of us have to do that.”

“Unless we are clever enough to get somebody else to do the work for us,”
she sneered.

“Then I think we lose most of the fun.”

Miss Walters stared at him skeptically.

“What’s the use of your taking that lofty tone with me?”

Brainard laughed good-naturedly.  He found in this case, as he had in so
many others, that a little personal contact with an enemy modifies and
humanizes any antagonism.  “Eat with an enemy and lose your hate,” is an
old proverb, the truth of which he was proving.  In spite of the hardness
and vulgarity of Miss Lorilla Walters, actress and stenographer, there
was something pathetic in her commonplace struggle with life, which he
felt through her brief admissions.  She had been fighting all her life
for herself with somewhat coarse weapons, the only ones she knew how to
use, and her appearance, now that she had lost the advantage of youth and
was declining towards middle age, her cheap clothes, her defiant
manner,—all told of the losing game.  He was already beginning to wonder
what he could do for Krutzmacht’s old stenographer, wondering whether by
any chance she could be fitted into the People’s company, when his
amiable meditations were disagreeably interrupted by the actress.

“It’s no use your playing the great philanthropist with me,” she said
truculently.  “I know what you are.”

“What?”

“A crook.”

“You think so?”

“I happen to know it.”

“The trouble always has been from the moment I entered Krutzmacht’s
office that afternoon that you have persisted in this wrong idea.  You
took me for a common thief then, and you think me a successful swindler
now.  Well, it happens that I am neither.  So you can’t understand!”

She looked over the comfortable room, which for the moment they had to
themselves, as Farson had taken Hollinger into the library.

“You seem to have done very well by yourself,” she observed.

“I was Krutzmacht’s legitimate agent then, when I entered his office, and
I have been his executor so to speak every since,”—and as she shrugged
her shoulders skeptically, he added, “I haven’t a cent of my own—really
not a cent; I am poorer than you!”

“You want me to believe that song? . . .  How about the theater and the
mine in Arizona?  You see I have been following you up.”

“They belong to somebody else.”

“Indeed—to whom?”

“I shan’t tell you that!”

“Because you can’t. . . .  They belong to _me_.”

“Prove your claim then!”

“And you will hand them over on a platter with a fine bow? . . .  You
_are_ smooth!”

She looked into Brainard’s smiling face with an expression of perplexity.

“But until you can prove your claim, beyond doubt, I shall continue in
possession both of the mine and of the theater as guardian of the
property.  And I shall fight you with all the resources I have until I am
convinced that your claim is sound.”

The actress slowly walked to the fire and threw away the cigarette she
had been smoking.

“Well, I guess we understand each other,” she said in a less truculent
voice.

“I think we do!”

“You are a curious sort of idiot,” she remarked musingly.  “I don’t see
why we should fight.  There’s enough money for two from what the papers
say about that mine.”

“There’s a great deal more than enough for two,” Brainard laughed, “in
one sense, but only enough for one in another—the right one,” he added
meaningly.

The actress watched him closely as he crossed the room to straighten a
picture that hung awry on the wall.  She swayed gently to and fro in the
vulgar pose of the heroine of _The Stolen Bonds_, looking into the fire.
When she glanced up she saw that Brainard was observing her, a slight
smile on his lips.  He was thinking that she had the temperament that
might have made a good actress, but had been hopelessly spoiled by her
bringing up and environment.

“Well?” he said.  “Are you ready with the proof?”

“You are a queer sort of Willy,” she replied.  “I don’t believe you and
me can ever rightly understand each other.”

“I think I understand _you_,” Brainard laughed; “you want Krutzmacht’s
money—that is quite intelligible!  And you may not think so, but I am
sorry for you—I would really like to help you out—get a better position
for you!”

“But you won’t divide!”

“Never—all or nothing.”

“Do you know where I’m going to-night when I leave your swell little
house?  Over on Second Avenue into a third-class hotel where my mother
and I get along with one bedroom between us.  Hollinger don’t pay any big
salaries!”

“I am sorry.”

“Krutzmacht treated me like most men treat women they’ve got cheap.  I
had no reason to be loyal to him, as I told you.”

“Unless,” Brainard suggested lightly, “you happened to be his wife!”

Miss Walters ignored the implication and continued explanatorily:

“When we lost you at Vera Cruz, and the railroad men I was working for
had no more use for me, I was down and out.  There didn’t seem to be
anything for anybody from Krutzmacht’s money except what the Germans got
and you!  So I went into the show that I told you of.  But it seems there
was a good deal more property I didn’t know about—he was always close
mouthed.  You were clever enough to find that mine and keep it for
yourself. . . .  It wasn’t until you struck New York that anybody heard
about it.  Then the papers and the magazines were full of it and of you
and of all the money you were throwing away on a theater.”

“Publicity is one of the penalties of success,” Brainard observed.

“It helped me to find you!”

Brainard bowed in acknowledgment.

“You don’t want any more trouble?” she suggested in a gentler tone than
she had previously used.

“Don’t mind trouble,” Brainard retorted quickly.

“If I was content with a half million—”

“Why not make it two?”



XI


At this point Hollinger and Farson returned to the room.  Hollinger
looked quickly at the position of the two, smiled placidly, and helped
himself to another cigar from the box on the table.

“Exchanging confidences?” he inquired.

“Miss Walters persists in acting all the time,” Brainard replied.  “She
thinks this is a sequel to the play and wants me to hand over to her a
lot of money.”

“Sometimes,” Hollinger observed sententiously, “that’s the easiest way to
square things, isn’t it?”

Brainard looked at the fight-trust man in astonishment.  Was he an
accomplice in a vulgar blackmail game?

“It’s not _my_ way,” he said sharply.

“Half a loaf when no part of the loaf is really yours is always more
enjoyable than a legal scrimmage over the whole loaf, it seems to me.”

“What do you mean?”

Hollinger threw himself into an easy-chair, lighted his cigar carefully,
and beamed at Brainard.

“Did it ever occur to you, my young friend,” he began, “that we four are,
so to speak, all in the same boat?  We are all adventurers—of that noble
company of gentlemen and lady adventurers in life—to paraphrase the
quaint motto of the Hudson Bay Company.  Now in the course of the
complicated tissue of adventure that happens to have brought us three
together from very unlike walks in life, you”—he thrust the glowing point
of his cigar towards Brainard,—“have proved to be the Star.  You’re It!
You hold the bag, so to speak.  You seem to have shared some of its
golden contents with our young friend here who wants to write plays, as
he tells me.  I do not happen to want anything for myself.  I am
perfectly disinterested in this case,—fortunately can afford to be.  For
I have other and sufficiently fat fish frying in my own little pan.  So I
can play the gracious rôle of Wisdom. . . .  Why not be generous to the
lady who lost in this matter of the old Dutchman’s millions—you can
afford it—and nothing becomes a young unmarried Idealist more than
princely generosity with other people’s dollars.”

“But—” Brainard began.

“Pardon me—one moment—to finish clearing the ground.  I don’t know the
precise manner in which you came into possession of Herbert Krutzmacht’s
money any more than I know exactly how he got it away from those who
wanted it.  I presume the methods were not essentially unlike.  It never
interests me, these details of acquisition,—to know just how our
plutocratic masters have raked together their pelf.  But the method of
distribution does interest me tremendously.  The rich usually show such
little capacity for imagination or daring in the disposal of their
wealth!  However, that is another theme. . . .  Now this lady, whose
slender talent as an actress I have had the honor of supporting, thinks
she has some cogent claim to the unearned increment of the deceased
Dutchman.  Her idea is probably fantastic—most of our ideas about
‘rights’ are—but it is a fixed idea with her!”  He leaned forward and
waved his cigar rhythmically to drive home his words.  “Unless her idea
is adequately gratified, I am afraid she will be unhappy and make you
considerable trouble in the course of her effort to satisfy her quite
unreasonable desire.  _Voilà tout_, as the French say.  Or if you prefer
English, Better pay and forget, rather than save a few dollars and
regret, my friend.”

“You are a good anarchist,” Farson observed.

“Thank you for the explanation.  I know that I am a practical man.  If
our rich, our very rich citizens, would only recognize more frankly the
truth I have been stating, they would be happier and so would we others.
But they are very timid and conservative; they rarely get beyond
libraries, museums, and hospitals.  All dull and comparatively useless
affairs!”

The fight-trust man sank back into his chair and smoked with half-closed
eyes.

“Your talk is interesting, Hollinger, as always,” Brainard remarked, “but
unfortunately this time I can’t follow your advice.”

“And why not?”

“Because it happens not to be my own money that Miss Walters desires.”

Hollinger waved one hand deprecatingly and murmured:

“A mere matter of words that.”

“No, I mean it!  As I have been explaining to Miss Walters, I am really a
poor man—”

“Poverty is a relative matter—science has demonstrated that.”

“Everything of Krutzmacht’s I hold as trustee.”

“Sounds like Carnegie, or was it the Emperor William? . . .  Pardon me,
that is another formula.  We are all trustees, of course.”

Brainard paused and then resumed in a different tone:

“I have been over this matter with Miss Walters and explained my
position.  I think she understands it quite well.  If she can produce
proof that she was legally married to the late Herbert Krutzmacht—”

“You would not be as crude as that!” Hollinger exclaimed, opening his
eyes.  “You know as well as the next man how purely accidental marriage
is—the ceremony I mean.  The law fastens on that of course—it has to have
some nail to cling to—”

“As I told Miss Walters, the trouble with her, and I am afraid with you,
too, Hollinger, is that you can’t comprehend an honest man.  I happen to
be a mere honest man.”

“Pray, don’t believe I doubted it.”

“Just plain, old-fashioned, vulgar honest,” Brainard continued irascibly.
“Neither of you seem to understand that simple fact.  You proceed on two
false assumptions,—first that I am a crook and second that I am a
coward—I might add a third, that I am a fool.  So long as these false
assumptions remain embedded in your mind, we simply can’t do business
together.”

He walked suggestively towards the door.  Hollinger also rose, a little
wearily, a bored look on his face, and chucked his cigar into the
fireplace.

“I am sorry,” he said gently, “that we have succeeded in straining your
sense of humor. . . .  The trouble with you virtuous people is that you
bristle so easily at the least touch.  I should think that Virtue would
be more self-satisfying to its practitioners.  Now I don’t bristle
because you assume that I am a petty blackmailer and am trying to get
money for Miss Walters in order to share with her.  That’s what you
think—confess it!”

“It looks that way,” Brainard said.

“If it does, it doesn’t worry me in the least.  I don’t waste our time
trying to prove to you that I am Honest and Disinterested, that I came
here to-night really out of friendly interest in you—to try with the aid
of my equable temperament and clear intelligence to avoid the mistakes
that are likely to occur when excessive desire meets excessive virtue.
But I have failed.  You two will have to make up your accounts alone—or
with the vulgar assistance of the courts.  Good luck to you.  And good
night!”

He extended one hand to Brainard and the other to Farson.

“I will give myself the pleasure of setting you down at your hotel,” he
said to the actress, who was slowly and somewhat regretfully buttoning
her fur coat.

When Farson and the actress had left the room, Brainard detained
Hollinger and said contritely:

“I’m afraid I did suspect you of collusion with Miss Walters—I’m sorry,
for I have always liked you.”

“It’s very natural.  You yourself must know how hard it is in this world
to be really disinterested without incurring unjust suspicions.  However,
that’s nothing!”

“The trouble is I can’t understand you—never did!”

“I’m afraid I can’t return the compliment.  I flatter myself that I
understand you thoroughly.”

“Do you remember that first time I met you—on the train, the Overland
Limited, going to California?  You were in your compartment reading
_Paradise Lost_ with the help of a dictionary.”

The fight-trust man blushed slightly, probably at the mention of the
dictionary.

“You mean the occasion when that active young seeker for notoriety, the
special district attorney of San Francisco, was trying to put me in
state’s prison?”

“You were under bonds then, seventy-five thousand dollars of bonds.  I
remember how awed I was at the size of your bonds!”

“Yes, I recall the occasion now,” the prize ring magnate said with a
pleasant smile.  “I didn’t remember that was our first meeting—I meet so
many people everywhere—nor that I happened to be making the acquaintance
also of the famous puritan poet. . . .  The trouble with you, my friend,
if you will permit me to indulge in a last bit of advice, is that you are
so terribly conventional in your judgments of character, in your
expectations of what people are to be.  That is a very common limitation.
You expected to find in me a bloody and brutal bounder, smelling of
whisky and dazzling with diamonds.  Instead you found an intelligent
gentleman, interested in literature and life.  The prize ring, Mr.
Brainard, is as much an arena of Art in its way as the popular theater to
which you are devoting so much effort and such large sums of money.  And
I was engaged in it as a business, as I am now engaged in the theatrical
business.  A financier, even of the prize ring, is not obliged to dirty
himself with vulgar contacts.  That explains the lofty idealism of some
of our most prominent citizens.  You plan and dream from above—the
degrading associations are left to others, as doubtless you have already
learned in the management of your own properties. . . .  Well, I must not
keep Miss Walters waiting below.  Good night, my foolish Idealist!  Good
luck and more wisdom to you before our next meeting.”

They descended to the hall which they found empty.  Farson was getting
the actress a last cigarette.  As they waited, Hollinger observed
musingly:

“You doubtless know about the marriage laws in California?”

“No, I don’t.”

“They are extremely,—what shall I say?  Lax—liberal.  You see our people
out there are so unconventional and accidental in their habit of life,
that the courts are forced to take the most liberal view of these
personal matters.  And we are as a people chivalrous towards women—much
more so than you are here.  So the courts are inclined to decide the
question of marriage largely on whether the woman ought to have been
married, rather than on the mere fact of the ceremony.  That accounts for
the large number of posthumous wives and their claims that turn up after
the death of a rich man on the Coast.”

“Am I to regard this as a threat?” Brainard inquired.

“Bless you, my dear boy, don’t be so sensitive!  Advice, just
impertinent, uncalled-for advice, which I am so fond of giving.  I should
have left all that to Miss Lorilla’s lawyers—they are the proper persons
to expound the California statutes.”

“You don’t believe for one instant that Miss Walters was really married
to old Krutzmacht?” Hollinger shrugged his shoulders.

“_Quien sabe_? as the Mexicans say.  I have no doubt she ought to have
been.”

“That is a very different matter.”

Hollinger again shrugged his shoulders.  In the pause that followed,
Hollinger began to muse aloud softly, as if he were presenting a case to
himself:

“Her life has been typical.  Born on a dreary little ranch, educated for
a few years in one of our national institutions for the stultifying of
youth, then deserted by her worthless father and forced to do something
for herself and her useless mother,—what is the answer to that?  Chorus
girl.  Twelve dollars a week and mother to support as well as herself and
no special talent or exceptional looks,—what is the answer to that?
Man.”

“Whom the girl in her gratitude tried to sell out when he was in a tight
place.  No, I am afraid you can’t make out a very good case for charity!”

“Just what had Krutzmacht done for her? . . .  Changed her job from a
dubiously respectable one to an undoubtedly disreputable one—and made her
work in his office besides.  No, the balance is on her side of the
ledger. . . .  Now she has matured,—oh, very much matured; has no
protector, and mother still to support as well as herself,—what is the
answer to that?”

“If you put your claim on the ground of social service, pure and simple,”
Brainard replied, “it might be considered, I suppose.  But I don’t think
Miss Walters would accept charity.”

“Charity—justice—prudence?  What’s the use of finding the right name?  In
the last analysis they are all meaningless.”

“You forget they mean something to me.”

“She hungers for some of life’s goodies.”  Hollinger resumed his musing,
ignoring Brainard’s reply.  “But comparatively little would satisfy her—a
secure home somewhere in southern California for herself and that tough
relic of a parent, a little income, enough to assure permanent idleness.
Consider what a boon that would be to the stage in itself!  Possibly
matrimony later on, why not? . . .  As Krutzmacht’s residuary—er,
trustee,—that’s what you called it, I believe, you ought to provide
decently for his emotional lapses. . . .  I put it to you now as a
Sentimentalist, Idealist, Lover of Great Ideas.”

“You would talk me into giving her everything I have,” Brainard laughed,
“if I could only once bring myself to accept your point of view.”

“And that is?”

“That life is merely a juggle of words.”

“Ah, you are too young.  One cannot fight successfully against youth,
even with ideas!”

Miss Walters appeared, followed by Farson, and the conversation was at an
end.  The actress looked at Brainard from beneath her flaring hat, and
her eyes had an unpleasant luster in them.  No, mere charity would not
satisfy that “thirst for vengeance upon life!”

“Well, Mr. Wilkins,” she began with a heavy effort at irony, “it is
always sad for old friends to part.  But in this case we may hope to meet
again before long.”

“I hope so!” Brainard replied politely.  “Let me put you into the cab.”

Hollinger followed them slowly down the steps.  At the very door of the
cab he lingered.

“In that brief visit which you made to the Coast did you ever come across
a rattler in operation?  No!  It makes a slight, but perfectly clear
noise first by way of warning—and then it strikes!  Some women resemble
the rattler.  Look out for the sting!”

“Thanks!  I shall.”

“Oh!” the prize ring magnate sighed in farewell, “my poor Idealist, what
a lot of useless trouble you make for yourself and others!”



XII


Brainard carefully put out all the lights on the lower floor and then
mounted the stairs to the room above.  There he found Farson smoking a
cigarette before the open fire and staring straight before him, as if his
mind was occupied with a novel set of ideas.  At sight of Brainard a
curious smile crossed his face, and he looked interrogatively at his
employer.

“Well?” he murmured.

“They are a pretty pair of—I was going to say crooks.  But I don’t think
my friend Hollinger is exactly that—I hope not.”

“He used to have the reputation of being the squarest man in his
profession—the very soul of honor in the fight business.  That was what
gave him his prestige with the politicians, until the district attorney
got after him.”

“I can’t make him out!”

“It’s not hard to make _her_ out,” Farson commented.

“Her methods are only too obvious!”

“Did I ever tell you just what happened that evening in San Francisco
after I saw you off on the ferry with your bag?”

“The last I saw of you,” Brainard replied, “you were on the run to the
telephone booth to get your beat about me and Krutzmacht to your paper!”

“Well, after I ’phoned the story I streaked it back to Krutzmacht’s
office.  I fancied there might be something doing there after the woman
got loose from the safe.  There was!  She had the marshal’s office and
the police department—I don’t know but the fire brigade too—all up there
buzzing, and she was trying to raise Crane,—you know the big railroad gun
on the other side?  She’d kept that telephone working ever since Peters
threw the combination.  If you had seen the temper she was in, you might
have left her in that safe somewhat longer to cool off....  She seems to
have quieted down a good deal.  But I could see signs of her old temper
this evening.  I don’t believe adversity has improved it materially.”

“Probably not!” Brainard remarked, yawning and looking at his watch.
“Three o’clock!  Our friends made the time pass quickly.”

Farson did not move from his position before the dying fire.  The late
hour made no impression upon him, and Brainard did not seem anxious to
get to bed.

“What are you going to do?” the young man asked.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing!” Farson exclaimed in surprise.  “You don’t mean to say—”

“I will let Lorilla make the next move—it’s up to her.”

“You won’t take Hollinger’s hint?”

“Buy her off?  It would take too much, if we began that game.  Besides,
why should I?”

The young man was evidently puzzled.

“The only thing she can do,” Brainard explained, “is to produce a wife or
heirs to Krutzmacht.  I don’t believe she can do that successfully.  If
she does, I am quite ready to resign without a fight.  But,” he repeated
musingly, “I don’t believe she can prove that she was his wife.”

“There would be harder things to prove,” the secretary ventured,
“especially in a California court!”

Brainard smiled.  He knew that Farson thought him a fool to run the risk
of a law suit and possibly failure in exposing fraudulent claims to the
property that he held on such slight legal authority.

“I believe I never told you the whole story,” he said.  “You probably
think, if you think about it at all—just as Hollinger thinks—that I am a
lucky and none-too-scrupulous adventurer, who had a fortune dropped into
his hands by a peculiar accident and have enjoyed its possession
undisturbed by any claimants up to this moment.  But it isn’t quite like
that.  And there’s rather more drama in the true story of Krutzmacht’s
fortune than anything we have yet offered at the People’s Theater!”

He took another cigar, remade the fire, and told Farson all the details
of his hunt for the vague Melody ever since he had first found positive
indications of her existence in the deserted house above Monument.

“Latterly,” he concluded, “Melody has grown somewhat dim in my mind.
Perhaps the theater has taken her place as reality and as mistress; for I
have always thought of myself as doing it with her money!  But to-night
when that woman turned up here with her vulgar, brazen air and tried to
hold me up in a blackmailing way, something made me feel that Melody is
still alive, in spite of all the chances that she isn’t, and that she
will turn up in time to get her own.”

“She will have to appear soon!” Farson exclaimed.

“I felt in talking to Lorilla that she was perfectly conscious she has no
legal right to the money—knew all along that Krutzmacht was married and
had an heir or had made a will—”

“Did you ever get hold of that trunk, the one I checked for you to
Chicago when you were telephoning Krutzmacht’s office to inquire about
Lorilla’s health?”

“It had disappeared before I was able to claim it.  I suppose it went in
the unclaimed baggage sale.”

“Never—it was too soon.  She’s got it!”

“I don’t believe there was anything in it except some ledgers and letter
files that might interest the railroad people.”

“A will?”

“Perhaps.  But I doubt it.  She would have used it before this!”

The secretary seemed more concerned over the situation than did Brainard.
The latter said musingly as he dropped his cigar into the ashes:

“Of course, if there is no Melody, or if I can’t find her, which amounts
to the same thing, that woman might as well have the money as anybody
else.  At least, a reasonable amount.  Krutzmacht probably owed her
liberal compensation....  But I shan’t give up my belief in Melody until
the courts compel me to!”

“You don’t mean that you would let that Walters woman have the money?”
the younger man demanded in astonishment.

“Farson, you don’t understand.  I suppose it seems absurd to you—it does
to me at times.  But I have never for one moment considered myself the
owner of Krutzmacht’s millions—never!  I suppose that has given me my
freedom of action, my feeling that I could do things like this
theater,—not for myself.  In my own mind I was always acting for some one
else.  It may be all imagination, but if it is, Melody just as an idea
has helped me tremendously,—to keep my hands clear, not to be corrupted
by the large sums of money at my disposal,—to make a man of me!  It’s a
mighty helpful thing to be in the position of trustee to some unknown
person.  It might solve some of our hardest economic problems if more of
our wealth was held on the same terms.  I can’t explain it all, but it
makes you free really not to have a cent of your own!”

Farson murmured something that sounded like the term which Hollinger had
twice used, by way of contempt, in describing Brainard.

“No, I can’t understand!” he sighed.

“Well, you’d better get to bed,” Brainard laughed.  “There’s nothing to
worry about.  That’s one happy result of my attitude.  If it will make
you feel any more sure of my sanity, I will see my lawyers in the
morning.  They are not likely to take sentimental views, I can tell you.
I have been too profitable a client!”

After Farson had taken the hint and removed his bewildered person from
the room, Brainard sat for another hour before the dead fire, in a
sleepless revery.  The unexpected visit of the stenographer and the
fight-trust man had brought back vividly a long train of memories of what
had constituted his active life for the last four years.  The situation
that had developed had again emphasized the dream quality of all living.
It is the conventionally expected in life that makes what men ordinarily
term reality.  A slight turn from the ordinary course of events produces
a sense of unreality.  For four years there had come to Brainard, turn
after turn, utterly unexpected and unforeseen, each one producing this
sense of the essential unreality of life.  But behind it all had grown
the living reality of his own will and character that had been formed by
meeting and dealing with the exigencies of each situation fairly
according to the laws of his nature.

As he had said to his secretary, the result was that he found himself now
ready to abandon his adventurous position upon demand without a sense of
overwhelming loss and disaster.  He had no more feeling of enmity or of
contempt for Lorilla Walters than Hollinger evinced.  She was playing her
little part in the complex scheme of destiny, playing it vulgarly and
crudely, and he suspected improperly.  But what occupied his thoughts at
this crisis, much more than the possible machinations the actress might
be able to set on foot against him or the instability of his own
fortunes, was the woman’s situation.  What Hollinger had said for her in
plea of extenuation had touched him more deeply than he had let the
fight-trust man see.  It was perfectly true that she should be provided
for out of Krutzmacht’s loot in life.  He tried to think how this could
be brought about without compromising himself or his elusive mistress’s
rights.  He resolved on the morrow to see not only his lawyers but
Hollinger also, and contrive some plan by which the ex-stenographer could
obtain justice without gratifying her spite.

“But she is not the old man’s heir—of that I am sure!” he said to himself
as at last he sought his bed.  “And Melody lives—I stick to that!  The
dream will hold to the end, not go to pieces in any vulgar fashion like
this!”



XIII


The perfectly correct New York lawyers to whom Brainard told his tale
later that morning evinced no surprise.  There was nothing in the heart
or brain of man, they seemed to say, that could flutter a New York
lawyer.  “It would be advisable to find Miss Melody straightway,” they
felt, and inquired what sort of title Brainard held to the Arizona mine.
When he confessed that it was only a tax title, they remarked that under
the Arizona laws any heirs of the dead German had a year more in which to
redeem the property.  That did not trouble Brainard.  The lawyers very
strongly urged their client not to make advances to Miss Walters or to
her friend and manager on her behalf.  That would be suicidal, they
averred, opening the way at once to endless blackmail and even criminal
prosecution.  “Let the matter rest until the interested parties make some
move,” they advised, in a perfectly cautious and obvious way.

“I’ve done my best to find the heirs, as you people very well know.  I’m
convinced there’s only one, and I’m not sure that she has any legal
claim.  But hers was the only name the old man mentioned the one time I
saw him.”

“You certainly made a mistake in not getting hold of that trunk!”

“After my settlement in Paris with the bankers,” Brainard explained, “I
felt that it was of the first importance to go to Monument as soon as
possible; and by the time I turned up at the Chicago railroad station,
the trunk had disappeared.”

“If no heir can be found, there is not much danger of trouble; but if
they should happen to get hold of this girl you call Melody, it might be
awkward.”

“I should be only too glad if she could be found, by them or any one
else!” Brainard exclaimed with sincerity.  “I could then wash my hands of
the whole matter.”

The lawyer looked at him uncomprehendingly, then resumed:

“Assuming that no heir of the old man is forthcoming, the only harm that
these persons could do you would be to stir up the attorney-general to
take action to recover the lands for the Territory.  They would have to
move quickly to get their action before the courts, and the proper
representations at Washington would discourage any such litigation.”

“That doesn’t worry me.  But that woman!  She’s perfectly capable of
becoming Krutzmacht’s widow and providing a whole brood of children.”

“You mean fraudulent?”

“Or left-handed,” Brainard suggested.  “I believe she’s training them
now!”

“We shall have to wait until she produces them in court, then,” his
counsel remarked with a grin.

                                * * * * *

As the weeks and then the months slipped by without any sign from
Krutzmacht’s former stenographer Brainard almost forgot the midnight
visit that she and the fight-trust magnate had made and the disturbing
conversation which had taken place.  During this summer the People’s
Company played a short season in Chicago, and were so cordially received
in that city, which seemed to be more open-minded in theatrical matters
than New York, that Brainard felt he had made a mistake in not starting
his dramatic enterprise in this thoroughly American community.  An
opportunity offering of securing the lease of a new theater in Chicago,
Brainard decided to take it and support a second company in the West to
interchange with the parent company.  He placed MacNaughton in charge of
the new company, having found a younger and more adaptable man to work
with him in New York.  All these arrangements took much time and thought
and involved many trips between the two cities to complete the
negotiations.  Brainard had the satisfaction of knowing that if they had
failed in their first season to make the impression he had hoped, at
least they had shown courage and determination.  The Idea was far from
dead,—was growing slowly and adapting itself, as all large Ideas must, to
the environment and the conditions. . . .

One morning, the day after his return from one of these hurried journeys
to Chicago, Brainard found Farson immersed as usual in the folds of a
newspaper over his coffee.  Instead of the customary greeting, the
secretary handed over the paper with the simple remark:

“She’s struck!”

A front page story of the usual type, emanating from the Pacific Coast,
related that a woman claiming to be Krutzmacht’s lawful widow, married to
him several years before in a small southern California town, was about
to institute legal proceedings to recover the remnants of the dead
promoter’s scattered fortune.  At the time of Krutzmacht’s death, so the
story ran, it was supposed that his large fortune had been completely
swallowed up in his unsuccessful enterprises, but recently through a
series of extraordinary events a very considerable amount of unsuspected
assets had been discovered, to which the widow now laid claim.  Eminent
counsel had been retained in the case, and sensational developments were
promised, involving a capitalist well known in New York and Arizona.

As Brainard having finished the story laid the newspaper down with a
slight smile, Farson observed:

“So it’s on!”

“Apparently. . . .  It took her some time to get into action.  I suppose
she was collecting her properties.”

“She’ll produce a son in court lisping ‘Pap Krutz,’” the secretary
growled.  He could not forgive Brainard for what he called his “weak”
manner of handling the affair.

“Now we shall have an opportunity of seeing what sort of story she can
put up,” Brainard remarked, proceeding unconcernedly with his breakfast.
“Perhaps this action, through the notoriety it will give to Krutzmacht’s
affairs, will serve to produce the real heir,” he added hopefully.

But after a visit to his lawyers Brainard was less optimistic.  They
pointed out to him that undoubtedly the first legal move would be to tie
up the great Melody mine by an injunction.  Whether the so-called widow
could prove her marriage to the satisfaction of the court or not, the
mine must remain idle.  And the case might drag on for a couple of years
or more, depending upon the resources the widow could command.  During
all this time there would be no income from the property; instead it
would greatly deteriorate.  The lawyers’ prediction was quickly
fulfilled.  Brainard found himself without the large monthly income from
the flow of the sulfur wells, with an expensive law suit on his hands,
and two greedy theatrical companies to be provided for.

“As Hollinger warned me, Lorilla _is_ a Rattler,” Brainard said to the
secretary when the two went over the situation.  “It looks very much, my
boy, as if this law suit would be the final curtain for the great Idea.
I’m tied up short.  The Chicago theater has taken a lump of money.  I
don’t believe I could lay my hands on fifty thousand dollars cash, all
told.”

“I wonder where she is getting her money to fight the case,” Farson said.

“Perhaps Hollinger is putting it up—as a promising speculation!”

“You don’t think he would do that?”

“Why not?  It goes with his philosophy.  He gave me my chance to
compromise—”

“If you’d only taken it!”

“And when he saw that I wouldn’t compromise, he might decide to play on
the other side.  It makes little difference, anyway.  If Miss Walters has
any sort of claim, she can easily get all the money she needs.  There are
always ‘eminent counsel’ ready to take that kind of case on a good
contingent fee.”

“Well, what will you do now?” Farson asked in a depressed tone.

“First I must get rid of the lease of the Chicago theater.”

“It’s too bad—the Chicago theater opened well.  Mac thinks it will almost
make expenses.”

“What Mac thinks and what the public thinks we have found to be two
different propositions,” Brainard replied.  “I don’t believe Chicago will
miss us much.  But I hate to close the New York theater.”

“Will you have to do that?”

“You know the figures—they don’t improve!”

“I suppose that dishes my play.”

Farson had been hard at work during the summer on a play of American
life, based largely on material that Louisiana Delacourt had contributed
in a series of amusing confidences about her own experiences, before her
departure to complete her education in Europe.  It was to be called _Her
Great Adventure_, and had been coming on very fast latterly.  The plan
between the two friends had been to try it out toward the close of the
present season, and, if the play proved successful, to open with it in
the fall.

“I hadn’t thought about your play,” Brainard exclaimed sympathetically.
“We must keep the house open until we can produce _Her Great Adventure_.
There’s money enough in the bank for that.”  He patted his secretary
affectionately on the back.  “But finish it, my boy, as soon as you can.
That place eats money, and when the news leaks we shan’t be able to keep
our company together long.  Can you be ready by the first of March?”

“It will have to be ready!  It’s awfully good of you, Brainard; and the
play might possibly make money, you know.”

“If that happens, it will break all records for the People’s.  We will
give it every chance, anyway.  How shall we cast it?  Will Clara Dudley
do for the girl?”

Forgetting all about Krutzmacht’s new widow and their financial
predicament they began to discuss the cast for _Her Great Adventure_.
The leading character was a young woman who had come fearlessly and
pennilessly out of the great West, to find a career in New York.
Brainard remarked suddenly:

“The woman to play that part is Louisiana herself.”  Farson, for some
reason, did not welcome the suggestion strongly.  He preferred to take
his chances with a more experienced actress.  “Where is Louisiana, by the
way?  You haven’t given me any news of her for some time,” Brainard
asked.

Farson blushed slightly as he replied:

“She’s in London just now—having a great time, I judge from the number of
dashes and exclamations scattered over her letters.  Characteristic
style, you know.  She hasn’t taken down much of the original bunting she
carried.”

“She wouldn’t!” Brainard exclaimed with a laugh.  “Louisiana is a genius.
Don’t tell her what’s going to happen over here.  Let her have her little
dance out as long as it is possible.  Her hard times, poor child, will
begin soon enough!”

“She writes that Cissie Pyce is over there.  Remember Cissie—our first
experiment as emotional lady?”

“She wept all over this carpet when I fired her—_do_ I remember?”

“Louisiana says that Cissie has been taken up by Bantam, and is coming
back to the States to play in _The Star of the Seven Seas_.”

“We’ll make somebody’s fortune yet,” Brainard commented, “by discharging
’em, if in no other way.  But Louisiana was really our first and only
find—the one personality that we might have developed and produced.”

“And she found us!” the secretary corrected.

“Let’s see what it has cost all told.”  He ran over on his fingers the
different large items of expense that the great Idea had involved: “The
theater building eight hundred, the first year in New York two hundred,
Chicago . . . one million six hundred thousand odd for Louisiana!”
Brainard concluded whimsically.  “And she’s not yet launched.  Our kind
of art comes high, Ned!”

“You’re a tip-top loser,” the young man said admiringly.  “Don’t you ever
think what it will mean to you, if Lorilla should win her suit?”

Brainard stretched himself leisurely.

“Except for being licked in this theater business—and I don’t like being
beaten any better than the next man—I should howl for joy when they
produce the fictitious widow and the orphan son in court.  It would set
me free for another great adventure.  That’s what Herbert Krutzmacht and
Melody have done for one Edgar Brainard!”

In his eyes was the azure glitter of the sky above the stern Arizona
mountains.  For it was, indeed, a glorious world of venture for him whose
soul was keyed to the right pitch.



XIV


Nevertheless, Brainard felt depressed as the time drew near when the
doors of his theater would have to close, the windows be boarded up.
Even should he win the case against the fraudulent claimants of the
Melody, the great Idea could never be wholly perfected in all the
splendid details that he had dreamed.  No one man, were he Croesus
incarnate, could create a national art.  He had learned that. . . .

On the afternoon of the first rehearsal of _Her Great Adventure_,
Brainard came early to the theater and waited in the library.  It was a
pleasant place, he reflected, as his eyes wandered over the empty room,
with its polished marquetry floor richly covered with rugs, and the
charming empire furniture, clocks, and ornaments that he had taken the
pains to place there.  He had tried to make these public rooms as
clublike as possible, with ample lounging places, so that the theater
might be something of a home for the players, as well as a workshop.
Above the library was a glorified green room, where simple meals were to
be had for a moderate price.  All these details were part of the Idea, as
he had seen it.

The People’s had a much better company this year, he reflected,—no great
talent, but all fairly competent, and they worked together well.  His
enthusiasm and Farson’s had finally penetrated the ignorant and selfish
surface of theatrical nature.  Mac had been tactfully relegated to
Chicago, and the promising young actor Leaventritt was fast making a
place for himself as manager.

The company was really getting into shape.  Ignored as they were by the
critics and the “intelligent” public, or ridiculed for their efforts, the
People’s Theater had won the allegiance of its players.  They were
developing a fine loyalty to the Idea, and a respect for themselves as
members of an institution that had not been founded for profit.  The week
before, when Brainard had felt obliged to tell the company of his
financial difficulties, and of the fate probably in store for the
theater, there had been genuine, unselfish concern.

“Your salaries will be paid until the close of the season,” he told them;
“and, in addition, each one will receive the percentage of his pension
earned by his length of service.  Unfortunately, there are no profits to
share; but of course I have assumed all losses.  And now I want you to do
your utmost for our last play—this piece by Mr. Farson.  Give it the very
best you have in you.  It is a strong play, an American play, the sort of
play for us to produce.  Let us end well!”

Then they had proceeded to the reading of the piece.  Afterward, many of
the company had come to him to express personally their honest
disappointment at the enforced closing of the People’s Theater.  They
seemed to realize that their loss was more than that of salary.

“And we’ll make _Her Great Adventure_ go!” they all said.

The spirit of the players had been comforting to the embarrassed patron.

“The People’s might have won out in time, with such a company—who knows?”
he mused to the secretary.

“We may win out yet!” the young playwright answered, with a certain touch
of vanity.

“I hope so, for your sake, I’m sure; but one play, no matter how
successful, could not keep the Idea afloat.”

On the eve of failure, a new light had dawned in the enthusiastic mind of
the founder.  He realized that whatever one man tries to carry through
alone, by brute force of will, without regard for the sympathy and the
help of others, is destined to fail, especially where it is a matter of
art that should appeal to the many.  Not Mrs. Donnie Pearmain and her
“upper classes” were needed, to be sure, but the People; and the People’s
Theater had failed to touch the People.  Very likely, Brainard mused,
Lorilla was the hand of fate needed to prove this deeper truth to him.
He had failed to find his vanished mistress, Melody, and with her
inheritance he had tried to achieve the impossible.  Now that inheritance
might be taken altogether out of his control, and the great Idea vanish
into the air from which his will had conjured it. . . .

A page brought Brainard a letter with a foreign postmark just as he was
leaving the library for the theater.  It was a hasty little scribble from
Miss Delacourt—one of the few with which the young lady had favored him.
In a hand that galloped unevenly over the paper, she informed him:

    “I’m coming home—sail Saturday, on the _Amerika_, with Cissie Pyce.
    Best wishes!

                                                                   “L. D.”

Brainard wondered what freak had possessed the youngster thus to cut
short her lark, as he went to the telephone to inquire when the _Amerika_
was due in New York.  He determined to say nothing to Farson of the
girl’s homecoming and to meet the young woman at the dock himself.

There might, after all, be some method in her insanity—and there might be
some good fortune in it for Farson and his play.  For the little
neurasthenic Miss Dudley, who, to the most casual eye, had evidently
never been farther West than Hoboken, was hardly the ideal of adventurous
American womanhood that the dramatist had drawn in his Gertrude.  He
would see Louisiana first, and make up his mind whether she was safe to
try before speaking to Farson, whom he suspected of a more than friendly
liking for the young woman.

When Brainard returned to the auditorium he found a stranger leaning over
a rear seat, an unlighted cigar between his teeth, apparently interested
in the lines of the new play that Leaventritt was going over with the
company.  As Brainard approached, the man turned his head; it was
Hollinger.

“Hello!” he said, and nodding his head toward the stage asked, “New
piece?”

For a few moments the two men listened to the halting lines from the
stage, then Brainard asked coldly:

“Did you want to see me?”

Hollinger looked at him coolly, the merest smile on his curving lips.

“Yes,” he replied, “that is if you aren’t busy?  I was in New York and
thought I’d look you up.”

Brainard led the way to his private office, which was in the front of the
theater behind the library.

“What is it?” he asked shortly, closing the door and standing above his
visitor, who had seated himself and crossed his knees comfortably.
Hollinger’s smile deepened to a grin.

“I suppose you have something to say to me,” Brainard added impatiently.

“Nothing in particular,” Hollinger replied.  “I wanted to _see_ you!”

“What for?”

“Well, to see how you take it for one thing.”

Brainard sat down in his chair more calmly and waited.

“Don’t you think you made a mistake?” Hollinger inquired.

“No!”

“You don’t mind the—er—row?”

“Not in the least.”

“You don’t want to stop it all before it’s too late?”

Brainard shook his head slowly.

“Not _your_ way,” he said emphatically.

“I didn’t suppose you would,” the old fight-trust magnate sighed.

“You knew I wouldn’t!”

“Sometimes your kind come to their senses—too late.  I just thought I
would sound you again before the case came to trial.”

“And save your money for counsel fees?” Brainard inquired suavely.

“Oh, that doesn’t trouble me,” Hollinger replied lightly.  “You guessed
that I was putting up the money?  How clever of you!”

“But I can’t yet bring myself to believe that you mean to share with that
woman in the profits of her perjury, if she succeeds.”

Hollinger smoked a few moments before replying.

“I don’t mind telling you that I have no intention of taking a cent from
Miss Walters, or Mrs. Krutzmacht, as I suppose we ought to call the
lady.”

“Then why do you go to all this trouble?”

“For various reasons, my dear young man.  For the amusement I find in it
for one thing.  Can you understand that?”

“With some difficulty.”

“A sort of sporting interest in seeing whether she can win and carry off
the bag, with the mine, from your hands, just as the other time I was
immensely interested in seeing you escape from her hands at Jalapa. . . .
She has a very pretty case, a very pretty case,” he mused.  “The best
legal talent have passed on it and found it quite flawless.  It ought to
go through without a hitch.”

“Unless the real heir should turn up meanwhile.”

“You still stick to that romantic fiction—that young man’s fancy?”

“You said that you had other reasons for helping Miss Walters?”

“One other reason: I felt that you had treated her—unsympathetically—oh,
quite correctly from your puritan point of view; morally you are always
above reproach, my young friend.  But you are slightly inhuman.  Your
attitude that night when we discussed this matter at your house was both
narrow and inhuman.  It disgusted me, if you care to know frankly what I
thought.”

“And in order to punish me for not following your advice you are
conniving with this woman in the perpetration of fraud,” Brainard
sneered.

“You use words rather crudely,” Hollinger replied in a mild tone.  “I
don’t understand ‘punish’ and ‘fraud’ in the way you do.  You are
determined to complicate a simple enough situation, and I am determined
to give your virtue an all-round test. . . .  Well, your mind is made
up?”

“Absolutely!” Brainard exclaimed, rising to terminate the interview.

“Perhaps you have your own widow and child?” Hollinger suggested with a
laugh.

“Possibly!”

Then they went into the library, which the fight-trust man looked at with
much interest.

“Would you like to see the house?” Brainard asked good-naturedly, always
proud to show off his beloved theater.

“Above everything!  I’ve read so much about it.”

Brainard conducted Hollinger over the building, explaining to him his
purposes in making it more than a mere auditorium with a stage.
Hollinger admired generously and intelligently all that he saw.  As they
came out at last in the darkened auditorium where the new play was still
being read, he remarked to his host:

“I am very much obliged.  It is all extremely interesting, a kind of
kindergarten for the drama.  Is this one of your products?” he nodded
towards the stage.

“It’s Farson’s new play.  We have high hopes for it!” Brainard said.

“Well, hurry up with it.  I suppose you won’t be running theaters for
amusement after—er—the event?”

“That remains to be seen!”

“If you find that you want to get rid of this place, let me know, will
you?”

“Thanks!”

“I might find a use for it. . . .  I believe Miss Walters has ambitions
to be a real star with her own theater.  That is more _chic_ these days
than owning a copper mine, and she will need occupation.”

“So that was another of your reasons for this call?” Brainard suggested
with a laugh.

Hollinger smiled.

“She might take you on as manager—how would that do?”

“I’ll discuss it with her personally, when the time comes!”

“I shall advise her to let you manage the mine instead!” Hollinger
retorted, after listening to another of Farson’s rather flamboyant
periods.  “I think she and I have better notions of what the ‘People’
like.”

With a last smile he slowly sauntered towards the exit, where he paused
long enough to catch a few more of the speeches in _Her Great Adventure_,
which seemed to cause him unhappiness.

“Oh, Lord!” he murmured, and rushed for the door.



XV


As the big, pot-bellied steamship was being slowly pushed into her berth,
Brainard, standing at the end of the pier, fancied that he could
recognize two little figures on the upper deck.  These feminine figures,
rather eccentrically dressed, were evidently the knot of a laughing,
joking circle of American men, all exhilarated by their approaching
return to their beloved city.  When the great black hull threw its shadow
over the dock, one of the little figures waved both arms.

“That’s Louisiana, sure enough!” Brainard exclaimed, much relieved to
know that the impulsive young woman had not abandoned her home-coming at
the last moment from some fresh whim.

Ever since he had received her little note on the previous Monday, he had
been astonished at himself.  The prospect of seeing Louisiana again had
often come into his mind with an agreeable sensation, hopping in without
reason, as if sure of a welcome.  This morning he had displayed a greater
nervousness at breakfast than he had shown over the possible loss of the
Melody mine, and had reached the dock an hour too early.

All this anxiety he explained to himself on the score of his desire to
help on his secretary’s play.  From the beginning Miss Dudley had shown
such an inability to understand her part, and to cope with the character
of Gertrude, that the young playwright was in despair.  And yet
Brainard’s interest in the maiden effort of his young secretary had not
led him to confide the news of Louisiana’s unexpected return.  He had
been gratified indeed to learn that the young man did not suspect it.

Brainard wormed his way into the crowd at the foot of the gangway and
waited impatiently while the thin stream of passengers filed down to the
dock.  The two actresses came together.  Louisiana reached out a thin
little arm to grasp Brainard’s hand with a ringing “Howdy!” before she
gained the dock.

The European trip had made little surface change in the young woman.  She
was hugging to her a variety of flowers, several parcels, and a toy dog—a
substitute for that shambling pup with which she used to appear at the
People’s Theater.

“Thanks!” she bubbled, as Brainard relieved her of these impedimenta.  “A
lot of trucky rubbish I couldn’t jam into my trunk nohow, though I got a
tub of a German steward to do the dead-weight act on the lid.  You see, I
started from London on the run for the steamer—didn’t have time to pack.”

She glanced furtively at Brainard, then down the long pier.

“This town looks good to me, even after Vienna and Paris.  Yes, I’d like
some real breakfast, thank you!  You must have camped out here all night
to turn up at such an hour.  And how’s everything?  How’s the—”

Her voluble stream suddenly ceased, and her gray eyes rested full on
Brainard’s face, as if even in her heedless mood she hesitated to ask
certain painful questions.  Louisiana was very pretty and quite smartly
dressed, as Brainard noticed, with a sense of satisfaction in the size of
the letter of credit that he had replenished generously from time to time
during the last year.  Yes, in spite of her careless chatter, any one
could see that Miss Delacourt was something of a person now.

Her companion joined them.

“You know Miss Pyce, of course,” Louisiana said.  “Spell it with a _y_,
please!  We ran bump into each other in Piccadill last week.  Cissie had
engaged a deck stateroom all to herself, little swell, and that’s how I
could get back on this boat.”

“But why did you come in such a hurry?” Brainard asked, when Miss Pyce
was diverted to the inspection of her trunks.  “I thought you were to
stay over until the fall.”

Louisiana looked softly up out of her gray eyes.  “But you see Cissie
told me all about it!”

“Told you what?”

“That your mine had gone dry, or something, and the theater had to close,
and you were in a hole generally.”

“But that wouldn’t have made any difference about you—at least at
present.  I told Farson not to write you of our troubles.”

“He didn’t.  If it hadn’t been for Cissie, I shouldn’t have known a
thing, though she said it was all in the papers.  But I never read the
papers over there.”

“I wish Cissie had kept her mouth shut!”

“She couldn’t, you know, if she had something nasty about the People’s to
tell.  But ain’t you the least bit glad to see me, after all my hustle to
get here as quick as I could?”

“You know I am awfully glad!”

“Naturally I couldn’t stay over there, batting around, and you folks in
trouble—just couldn’t have swallowed a mouthful of food!”

Brainard held out his hand.

“Thank you!  That’s the nicest thing I have heard for many a day.”

“Perhaps I could do something to help?”

“What?” Brainard asked jokingly.  “Discover the real heir to the
property?”

Miss Delacourt looked puzzled by this reference to his predicament.
Evidently Miss Pyce’s information had been only of the most general
character.  The details of the threatened suit had not been considered of
sufficient importance by the news agencies to cable to Europe.

“I can do something,” the girl said, drawing herself up haughtily.  “I’m
no stage-struck kid now.  I’m going to act.”

“There _is_ something you can do for me—for us,” Brainard hastened to
say, remembering his chief excuse for meeting her at the dock.  “I want
you to come up to my house for breakfast right away, and hear what it is.
Bring Miss Pyce, too, if she will come.”

“Oh, she’ll come!  Cissie carries around a trunkful of floppy airs, but
she’s a right good sort.  I’m going to stay with her until I strike a
job.  She’s half promised to get me something in _The Star of the Seven
Seas_—kitchen wench, I fancy.  Cissie isn’t giving much away.”

“There’s something better than that ready for you.  We want you to do the
Gertrude in Ned’s play.”

“Is the People’s still open?” she cried in astonishment.  “Cissie said it
had gone dead broke, and was shut for good.”

“This is our last effort; and we want to go down waving the flag.  It’s
Farson’s play—”

“Yes, I know—he tried to put me in, but I bet he didn’t succeed.”

“It’s a good play, though!  And Ned has slaved for the theater these last
two years.  We must do our best for him.  Has he written you about the
play?”

“Oh, yes; I should say he had—lots.”

The calm, impersonal way in which she admitted her correspondence with
the young secretary pleased Brainard unreasonably.

“He’ll be there for luncheon; so speak to your friend, and let’s be off.”

Miss Pyce condescended to accept the invitation to breakfast from the
proprietor of the People’s Theater, as she had nothing better to do with
her time.  Her own manager had wounded her vanity by not appearing at the
dock with an automobile.  So the three were soon tucked into Brainard’s
motor and crossing the ferry.  Miss Pyce inquired after the fate of the
People’s company in a tone of lofty kindness, until Louisiana kicked her
about the ankles, causing her to relapse into a sulky gloom.

“The salubrious air of Broadway will do you good, I hope, Cissie,”
Louisiana remarked severely.  “I’ve stood your nonsense for six days
because I had to.  Now come to, please!  Just because you’ve got a fool
play, and a fool manager to waste his money on you, you needn’t try the
Duse-Bernhardt-Ellen Terry pose on old friends!”

Miss Pyce promptly descended several steps and began to converse about
the New York weather, which she said was trying to English nerves.

When they arrived at Brainard’s house, they found that Farson had not yet
come in from rehearsal.  The two women were shown into the little den
behind the library, while Brainard glanced over his mail.

Five minutes had scarcely elapsed when a shriek came from the inner room,
and the door was thrown violently open.  Louisiana stood on the
threshold, clasping against her breast a little picture framed in a thin
gold molding.

“Where did you get _this_?” she demanded breathlessly.

Brainard looked at her admiringly.  As she stood there against the dark
shadows of the inner room, the sun from the window falling in a great
gold bar across her auburn hair and violet-colored traveling dress—thin,
erect, full of the passionate eagerness of youth—he saw Farson’s
character created.

“Bravo, Gertrude!” he cried.

“Tell me, where did you find _this_?” she insisted impatiently.

“What have you got there?” he asked, taking the picture from her hands.

Her face followed his with curiosity and expectation, her eyes searching
him.

“Where did you get it?” she repeated.

“This water color?  I picked it up in Arizona—out there where my mine is
located.  It’s a long story—_my_ story.  I’ll tell it to you some of
these days.”

“Now!  Tell it to me now!” she insisted, with something more than
childish impetuosity.

But just then Cissie Pyce, patting the marvelous folds of her hair, came
from the inner room.

“Not now,” Brainard replied, looking meaningly at Miss Pyce.

Taking the water color from Louisiana’s reluctant hands, he replaced it
above the desk in his private study, where it had always hung since he
had moved into this house.

Farson came in presently, and in the flurry of his surprise and greetings
the subject of the water color was apparently forgotten.  Now and again,
however, during their lively breakfast, Brainard found Louisiana’s gray
eyes resting on him with a peculiar intentness.  She did not seem so much
excited over the prospect of playing Gertrude in _Her Great Adventure_ as
he had expected.

After the meal Cissie tore herself away reluctantly, and the three others
went over the new play, the author explaining some of his ideas, and
seeking to get the young actress interested in her part.  Louisiana
listened, but evidently her thoughts were far away.  Farson was visibly
disappointed.

“I think Miss Delacourt must be tired after her journey and the early
landing,” Brainard interposed in kindly fashion.

“Of course—pardon me!” the young dramatist said, throwing down his
manuscript.  “Let me set you down at your hotel on the way to the
theater.”

“No, you are already late for the rehearsal.  I will take Miss Delacourt
home when the motor comes back.  I have something to say to her.”

Farson left with reluctance, after making an engagement for the morrow
with the young actress.

“And I’ll know my lines by that time,” she promised him.

No sooner had the door closed upon the secretary than she leaped to her
feet.

“Now for the story!  And may I see the picture again?”

Brainard fetched the little water color and placed it in her hands.

“As I told you,” he said, “it’s by way of being the story of my own
life—at least, of the only part that counts as life!”

“Yes?” she said expectantly.

Looking over her shoulders, he pointed to a spot in the distant mountain
background of the sketch.

“In there is the site of the great Melody mine—”

“Melody—what?  Why, what do you mean?” the girl stammered in renewed
excitement.

“The Melody mine—that’s the name of the mine about which there is the
litigation, you know.  That’s where all the money for the theater came
from.  It’s the famous pot of gold—my Aladdin’s lamp—only it’s likely to
change owners.”

“But why did you call it Melody?” Louisiana demanded, with glistening
eyes.

“That’s all in the story, too,” laughed Brainard.

“Then tell it to me—_all_!”

She dropped the picture into her lap, and, holding her little hands
tightly clasped, fastened her eyes on Brainard’s face, as if what he had
to say was of momentous interest to her.  But that, he reflected,
somewhat flattered, was just Louisiana’s way.

“Here goes, then, Miss Delacourt, for the story of my life, which
explains that water-color sketch being in my possession!”

And Brainard retold the tale of _his_ great adventure since he played the
part of good Samaritan to the dying stranger.  It took some time to tell
the story, and he did not hurry.  The motor came back and waited below,
while he went into all the details of the story with which we are
familiar.

At certain places Louisiana opened her lips, as if she could not control
an exclamation; but when Brainard paused, she merely motioned him
impatiently to continue.  As he told of his dropping from the train at
the lonely water tank, and of the strange little girl who had guided him
to Gunnison’s shack, Louisiana’s mobile lips parted in a curious smile.
She was not so much interested in his Mexican adventures, nor in the
European chapters, but when he described his first visit to the deserted
house on the hill above Monument, the girl’s face sobered to a wistful
expression, and she caught her breath as if she might sob.

“And there I missed her by a few weeks!” Brainard said.

Louisiana laughed aloud, as if it were all a joke.

“It sounds,” Brainard remarked, having rapidly concluded the account of
his experiences as a miner, “like a dime-novel yarn, but it happens to be
all true.  And throughout my adventures, all through these six years,
I’ve clung to the idea of just being the trustee for this unknown
lady—this Miss Melody Krutzmacht, or whatever her real name may be.  I
think that is what has saved me from becoming a plain gambler, and the
whole business no better than the melodrama Farson and I saw, _The Stolen
Bonds_, where we met my old friend Hollinger.  I’ve got Melody to thank
for saving my moral character, as well as doing a lot else for me.  But I
haven’t much hope now of finding the lady, to thank her for anything!”

“She ought to have something to thank _you_ for, I should say!” Miss
Delacourt exclaimed warmly.

“I’m afraid not.  I really feel in my bones that those crooks will beat
me out of the property, unless a miracle comes along.  I’ve been a poor
sort of steward while I had charge of the money.  I put every cent I
squeezed out of the bankers into developing the mine, and saved myself by
a fluke with the sulfur wells.  Then all the money they brought in I’ve
sunk in this theater game, without much to show for it, as you know.”

“Didn’t you keep a few dollars for yourself?” Louisiana inquired with
childish directness.

“Oh, there are a few thousands lying around—enough, young lady, to have
kept you going in Europe another year, and to put on this play of
Farson’s.  That wipes the slate clean, and I must pawn these duds to
stake myself!”

“Maybe this play will make money,” the actress suggested thoughtfully.

“That will be the miracle, then!” Brainard exclaimed whimsically.  “It
will be a greater miracle than the one that made me into a millionaire.”

“Don’t you believe in Mr. Farson’s play?”

“Of course!  But I don’t believe in our luck, nor in the people’s taste
in drama, as I once did.”

The girl sat staring at the little picture, clutching its frame with her
hands.  After a time she looked up into Brainard’s face with a winning
expression about her small mouth.

“Will you give me this?”

Brainard hesitated.

“I would give you pretty much anything else I have,” he replied.  “But,
you see, that sketch is all I have of Melody—supposing it was hers!  You
understand?”

“You have a good deal of feeling for this Melody?”

“Yes,” Brainard admitted, slightly reddening, and added more lightly,
“She’s been my benefactress, you see.”

The girl raised her gray eyes and looked steadfastly at him.  Her face
was older, Brainard suddenly perceived, than he had remembered it.  Yes,
the trip abroad had done much for the wild young girl.

“I want _this_!” she insisted.

“Then you shall have it!” Brainard exclaimed impulsively, and added with
another blush, “It’s about all that I can give you!”

“I know it—and that’s why I want it so much!”

After that there was a conscious silence between them, until Miss
Delacourt rose to leave.  She walked slowly to the door, as if loath to
go; then she turned and reached out both hands to Brainard.  He took
them, and they stood facing each other mutely.

For the first time in all these years his loyalty to his unknown mistress
completely vanished.  The ideal of Melody had faded from his mind.



XVI


If the young dramatist had been disappointed by Miss Delacourt’s apparent
lack of interest in his play and in the part of Gertrude on the occasion
of that first luncheon, he was quickly reassured by the energetic way in
which, beginning with the next day, she threw herself into her work.  As
soon as she had time “to roll up her sleeves,” as she expressed it, she
plunged into the rehearsals, an incarnation of work and enthusiasm.

To be sure, she put the author through some uncomfortable hours while she
criticized his piece and suggested many important changes with her usual
frankness and point.  She “combed it out,” as she said, line by line, and
convinced him, against his will, that he should cut freely and sharpen
his dialogue all through.  Moreover, she set him right on several subtle
points in the heroine’s psychology.

“She knows what she’s about, too,” Farson reported to Brainard.  “I don’t
see how she’s done it, but in her flip way she’s absorbed a lot in
Europe.  She knows what all of them are doing.  She was quoting Brieux,
Barrie, and Shaw at me last night all in one gulp.  I must rewrite that
third curtain to suit her ladyship.”

“You must remember that you are dealing with a star,” Brainard observed
dryly.  “Louisiana may be new to the firmament, but she knows
instinctively what belongs to her starship.”

In much the same manner the new leading lady took hold of the other
players, and “shook ’em all by the neck and woke ’em up.”  There were but
three weeks left, and she wore the company almost to the point of revolt
by the long rehearsals she demanded.  When they grumbled, she read them a
characteristic lecture.

“It’s your last stunt for the old People’s.  You know you have all got a
lot out of the concern—for one thing, better pay than some of you will
ever see again; and much more besides.  So show that you’ve got something
warm inside your anatomy where your hearts ought to be—at least a dog’s
gratitude for the hand that’s fed you.  The piece is all right, too; it
will make the jaded pulse of Broadway flutter like an _ingénue_.  Just
you give the public a chance to discover that here is a play as _is_ a
play!”

During these strenuous weeks of rehearsal Brainard was absent most of the
time in Arizona and Washington, where the already celebrated case of the
Krutzmacht widow was now imminent.  He had come to believe that Farson
had more than a professional interest in his Gertrude, and he preferred
to be absent from the scene of the wooing; but on the day of the dress
rehearsal of _Her Great Adventure_ he returned to New York and dropped in
at the theater on his way home, slipping into a seat in the rear of the
dim house.

The piece went with amazing swiftness and smoothness, thanks to the hard
work Miss Delacourt had got out of the company.  Absorbed by the play,
Brainard was completely taken out of the wearying round of his daily
perplexities.

“It _is_ a play,” he muttered excitedly to himself, “and they do it
wonderfully well.  That girl is almost great.  If the public will only
come to see her, and not believe what the newspapers say, they’ll
understand.  She’s an actress!”

He repeated these warm words of praise a little later in Miss Delacourt’s
dressing room, where he went to congratulate the actress.  Louisiana was
in street costume, buttoning up her gloves, when he arrived.

“I saw you in the back row,” she said in reply.  “Any better news?”

“I am afraid not.  The first court reserved its decision.  They put up an
amazing case, the impudent rascals!  They almost made me believe them in
spite of myself.  I must tell you all about it sometime.  I think we
shall be able to pull off _Her Great Adventure_ just in time before the
sheriff closes the doors.”

He laughed good-humoredly at the situation, and handed her his cigarette
case.  Louisiana lighted a cigarette, then said abruptly:

“I hope you won’t be angry with me.  I’ve borrowed something of yours
while you were away.  Couldn’t wait to get permission.”

“Honored that you found anything worth taking!  What is it?”

“I borrowed a new name for myself!”

“I remember you said that we had ruined the old one for you!” he laughed.
“You were sitting over there in the corner, too mad to cry, when you said
it.”

“After making such a guy of myself as Cordelia I couldn’t bear to see the
old name on the billboards.  Besides, I think I like this one better,
anyway.”

“What is it?”

“I’m calling myself Melody—”

Brainard’s expression changed suddenly; and he turned away.

“You don’t like it,” she said coaxingly.  “But it’s a pretty name!”

“Melody what?” he asked with a touch of sternness.

“Oh, just Melody White—that’s all.”

“But Melody was _her_ name,” he protested.

“I know!  You told me so.  But that Melody doesn’t exist really; she’s
just a name—an idea you have.  I took a fancy to it—my dotty point, see?
I’m superstitious about it.  I want to make this play a great big
success, as you made the mine,” she said swiftly.  “So don’t be cross
with me for making free with your unknown lady love’s first name!”

Brainard smiled in spite of himself at the girl’s insistence on a trivial
thing.

“I don’t know why I should object,” he said slowly.

But he realized that even in speaking he did object.  It was one thing to
ask him for Melody’s sketch, the only memento he had of his mistress, but
another to take this liberty with the mythical Melody’s name, and to post
it up for the whole world to see on a theatrical billboard.  In a moment,
however, Brainard’s common sense came back to him.

“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t take that name as well as any other,
if you can make it right with Farson and the manager.  I should think
they might object, after all the press work they have done for Louisiana
Delacourt.”

“I can manage _them_ all right!”

The new Melody puffed these gentlemen aside in a cloud of smoke.

They drove uptown together in Brainard’s car, but neither spoke.  The
girl, Brainard observed, was unwontedly excited, her little hands gnawing
at the muff in her lap, her keen eyes devouring the passing crowd on the
streets.  Brainard, who was tired in mind and body, was content merely to
watch his companion from his corner through half-closed eyes.

After all the hard work of the past weeks, Louisiana—or, as she now
preferred to call herself, Melody—was marvelously fresh and pretty.  She
had the lithe body, the deep-set eyes, the sensitive, mobile features of
a real temperament.  He wondered whether she cared deeply for Farson.
The young secretary was undoubtedly attractive, and should this play
bring him the attention it ought, he might become a good dramatist; but
if the girl had an ambition to be a great actress, she had better not tie
herself yet to any man.  And it comforted Brainard curiously to remember
how unmercifully she had handled the young man’s play.

“_The Star of the Seven Seas_ is to be withdrawn,” she said at last,
breaking in on his meditation.  “Only two weeks’ run—dead failure!
Cissie thinks New York audiences are exceedingly provincial.  She is
going back to dear old Lunnon as soon as she can get there.  Maybe I
shall be able to help her later.”

As the car stopped before a third-rate hotel in the Forties, Brainard
inquired:

“So Cissie has moved from the Astor?”

“Yes, Cissie is visiting me now,” the actress replied.

“Times change—for us all!”

“They do that—sure—and for the better sometimes!” the young actress
averred with a contented smile.



XVII


Latterly the critics had completely ignored the existence of the People’s
Theater.  Its announcements aroused no more public interest than the
program of an ethical culture society.  Brainard, who had at last learned
the real importance of publicity, feared lest this same contemptuous
indifference on the part of the press might bury his young secretary’s
play in hasty and undeserved oblivion.

But as he sank into his seat on the following Monday night he was
surprised and relieved at the size and the character of the audience.
All the leading critics of the metropolitan press were there, also many
of “those who know,” and whose verdict is useful indirectly.  There were
some theatrical people, and a few fashionable folk from Mrs. Donnie
Pearmain’s world.  The rest were of the ordinary, semi-intelligent
theater-going sort.

It was an ideal house before which to try out the new piece.  If the play
had anything enduring in it, there were those present who could recognize
the fact.  Ned Farson had many personal friends in the city—college mates
at various clubs, young literary aspirants, dramatists, newspaper and
professional men.  Among these, evidently, the word had been passed
around that Ned’s play was to be produced—and that was enough.  Louisiana
had also worked Cissie, and Cissie Pyce had reached other professional
circles.

“And now for the play,” Brainard sighed, dropping his glasses after this
preliminary reconnaissance, “and for our one actress!”

At last, in the hush of a well-trained, expectant audience, the heavy
curtains drew apart noiselessly, revealing the first scene—a rough shack
in a mining camp, with a splendid background of mountains and desert.

There was no doubt from the first curtain that the piece would go—would
hold this audience, any audience, by the simple power of its story, its
honest pathos and humor, its vitality and veracity.  But it was not until
the first scene of the third act that the people gathered there awoke to
the fact that a real actress, and one whose very name had not been heard
before that night, was taking this piece, and the part of the Western
girl, Gertrude, to present herself as an artist.  “Melody White” was her
name on the program.

“Who is she?” was the whisper that ran around the theater.

Certainly she was not the Louisiana Delacourt whose liberties with
Cordelia had made a farce of Lear!  Quiet, almost subdued in her methods,
with an extraordinary variety of power, she gave the lines—many of which
had a real poetic quality—with a musical accent that swept over the ears
of the audience like a soft, summer wave.  Her face was lighted with a
glow; her slightest gesture seemed to reveal something of the
character—the free, fearless, capable woman of the great West.

As the play went on, hardened theatergoers looked at one another in
wonder and joy.  Here, beyond the shadow of doubt, was a fresh talent, as
Brainard had predicted.

At the close of the act, after the furious applause, the flowers, and the
curtain calls for company, actress, and author, there was a clamor behind
the scenes for a speech from the founder.  The company gathered about
Brainard and insisted that he “must say something.”

“You talked to ’em when I was down, do you remember?” Melody remarked.
“I think you ought to say a word now that I am up!”

So for the second and last time Brainard faced an audience in the
People’s Theater, and the irrepressible young actress was the occasion
for both his speeches.  In a few rapid words he reviewed the purposes he
had had in mind in opening the theater, two years before.

“We have made many mistakes, of course.  Perhaps some of you may think
that we have made more mistakes than anything else.  We have learned a
great deal; and first of all, that in our country there is no ‘people’—no
_one_ public.  At least, they haven’t patronized their own theater!  But
I can’t think that we have altogether failed, after such a night as this.

“One of our desires was to produce truthful American plays of American
life.  _Her Great Adventure_ is American to the core, and you seem to
think it good.  Another object was to discover and educate persons of
unusual dramatic talent, to create artists and free them from the base
compromises of the commercial stage.  To-night you have witnessed the
début of such a talent.  Having given the world _Her Great Adventure_ and
Miss Melody White, who shall say that we have failed? . . .”

After the play, the company gathered in the library for supper, to
celebrate their triumph.  It was Brainard’s custom to give such a feast
at every premiere, but to-night there was among the fifty or sixty guests
an unaccustomed air of success and intoxication that bubbled into
speeches and songs and kept them until long after midnight.  At last,
after dreary failures, contempt, and neglect, the People’s had achieved a
real, big, popular success!  The critics had scattered to tell all New
York to go to the People’s Theater in West Twelfth Street, to see _Her
Great Adventure_ and a real American actress.

“We shan’t be closing right off, I reckon,” Miss White whispered across
the table to Brainard.

“Not as soon as I expected!” he replied with a smile.

When the party finally broke up, he looked to see the successful author
lead away his triumphant star; but, to his surprise, Farson went off with
some young men, to finish his triumph with them at a club.  Brainard
questioned the actress with his eyes.

“Yes, you’ve got to take me home in your car!  Cissie has left.  Don’t
you see that I have waited until all the women are gone, and now you are
making me ask you for a ride outright?”

“I merely wished to efface myself before the hero of the occasion,” he
replied joyfully.

“No need of such consideration.  He’s left me to cab it up alone.”

“Have you already had the usual tiff between two collaborators?”

“Oh, no,” she drawled, as the car started with them.  “Not at all!  But
you see, he wanted to push the contract.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ned asked me yesterday to marry him.  It would be a convenient
arrangement, you know; he could write the plays and I make ’em famous!”

“Don’t put it that way!” Brainard protested quickly.  “He’s the best of
fellows, and I know that he cares for you.”

“It won’t hurt him, I reckon.  Clever boy—my, how big his head will be
after to-night, though!”

The young actress yawned, and snuggled under the fur robe.

“How about yours?”

“I’m just happy.  You see, I was right.  The play is going to be a great
money-maker.”

“It certainly looks that way to-night That means that we shall be able to
keep the theater open till the end of the season, and close with the band
playing.  For all of which we have to thank you!”

“And your clever secretary!  Tell me, have you heard anything more about
the case?”

“The lawyers telephoned me late this afternoon that the judge had given
his decree—in _their_ favor.”

Her hand stole across to his under the robe.

“Of course, we appeal,” Brainard went on; “but they’ve got a strong case.
Fraud, of course, but we can’t prove it.”

“Why not?  Tell me more about the case.  I’ve been meaning to ask you all
along; but this play has filled every corner of my little head.  Now I
can think of something else.  Come on upstairs.  I don’t feel the least
bit sleepy, and you can tell me all about your case—why they won when
it’s a fraud.”

“That’s simple enough,” Brainard began, when they had seated themselves
in the actress’s tiny parlor.  “This man Krutzmacht, it seems, had
married his stenographer out there in San Francisco.  At least, she’s got
a perfectly good certificate.”

“But how could he have really married her, if he was already married?”

“You mean if he was already married to the lost Melody’s mother?  But
_was_ he married to her mother?  We can’t find any record of it.  Nobody
knows, unless we could find Melody herself, and I have given up all hope
of that.  Krutzmacht might have deceived her, too, you know.”

“Why, of course he _was_ married to Melody’s mother—and wasn’t divorced,
either!”

“What do you know of it?”

“Stupid!” she said gently, rising and putting her hands on his shoulders.
“Can’t you see that—I am Melody—yes, the real Melody!”

“Louisiana—”

“Name of my mother’s State.  I made up Delacourt for the stage.
Louisiana Delacourt was to be my stage name but Cordelia spoiled it.”

She laughed at his astonishment.

“And you are Melody Krutzmacht?”

“Lord, no!  Melody White.  Krutzmacht wasn’t any father of mine, thank
goodness!”

“And your mother?”

“Was Mrs. Della White—legally married to Herbert Krutzmacht in the
American consulate at Guatemala City.  He met mama down there, and
married her, when I was a child, and adopted me, too.  I’ve got
everything necessary to prove what I say.  So you just telegraph that
judge to hold his horses and get ready to write another decree!”

“And they hadn’t been divorced?” Brainard pursued, bewildered.

“Not that!  He was bad enough, gave mother a dreadful life, took her up
to that desolate mining town in Arizona, and left her there.  Poor ma!
But he sent her money when he had any—even that last time when he was in
New York—and always called her his wife.  I have letters to show it.”

“But you weren’t his child!” Brainard mused.

“Only by adoption; but I am my mother’s only living relative, and she
died _after_ him!”

“So, as the old man seems to have had no other living heirs to make
claim, it is all your money!”

Melody shook her head smilingly.

“Not quite that!  A good part of it must belong to my able trustee, who
discovered the sulfur and made it pay.  Dad Krutzmacht couldn’t have had
very much to the good when he died.  He wasn’t a nice sort of man, Dad
Krutzmacht,” she added thoughtfully.

“Well, he left you a nice little fortune—something that should run into
the millions.  You will have to think more tenderly of the old fellow.”

“Ugh!  How I hated him and Monument!  That’s why I dropped his name.  And
just as soon as mother was gone, I fled.”

“In the night—rode down to the railroad.  I remember it all.  But tell
me, where did you go then, and what happened to you?  How did you escape
the search I made for you all over the world?”

“That’s _my_ story!  I’ll tell it to you some day—how I dishwashed and
cooked on a ranch for a living, peddled corsets, and worked in a
factory—it’s a long yarn.  Some of it is in the play; I told Ned the
amusing things.  But he has fixed it up a whole lot—I don’t know myself!”

“It must have been hard for a girl.”

“It was, but I am not sorry.  It gave you a chance to work the mine, for
one thing.”

There was a pause, and then Brainard rose to leave, saying:

“Well, Miss White—”

“Just plain Melody, please!  I like the name—don’t you?”

“It means a good deal to me, as I told you.”

The girl blushed, remembering what Brainard had said about his unknown
mistress, and drawled:

“But you didn’t like my taking it a little bit.”

“No,” Brainard admitted.  “But I don’t mind now.”

“You oughtn’t to, really, seeing that it is my own name by baptism.”

They both laughed at this.  Melody danced about the small room, woke up
the new Boston bull, and made him dance with her.  She was once more the
child Brainard had first known at the opening of the theater.

“You’ll have to squelch that woman who’s trying to take poor mama’s
place,” she remarked, in a pause.

“Of course I shall attend to that at once—and all other business until I
can straighten out your property and hand it over to you clear of
tangles.”

“What do you mean?  Do you think I am going to take your old mine?”
Melody fairly shouted.  “It’s yours, yours, all yours!  You won the first
stake with your nerve, and you made the rest of it.  And you’ll keep it,
too, my friend—at least, most of it.  Perhaps some day, when I get the
fool-bug in my head, and want a company of my own, I’ll come around and
call on you for a couple of hundred thousand.”

Brainard looked at the girl almost severely.

“All the property is _yours_, of course.  Krutzmacht meant it so.  Your
name was the last word on his lips.  I have been merely your guardian.
It would be impossible for me to keep it now.  You can see that it would
be entirely different from what it has been while you were only a name to
me.”

“I see what _you_ are,” she replied slowly.  “The honestest, most
generous, most unselfish of men—and the foolishest!  Come, let’s stop
this swapping of compliments like a couple of children—‘You take it,
George!’  ‘No, you take it, Edith!’ . . .  So old Pap Krutz wanted me to
have his money when he was dying!  I suppose he thought to make it square
for what he put mother and me through.  He treated us like _peons_!”

Brainard laughed.

“You may think differently about your millions in the morning.  We’ll
wait till then.  Good night, and double congratulations, Melody!” he
said.

“Yes, we’d quite forgotten how good I was in the play.  I’ll send you
those papers about mother to-morrow morning, and you see that the
scalawags don’t make good!  I can’t be bothered with law suits and things
until after the season closes.  I’m making _my_ great adventure now, the
same as you did once!  I don’t want to be disturbed until I have carried
it through.”

“I’ll see that you are not disturbed.  Before I go, please tell me why
you didn’t let me know the truth when you found that picture in my room?”

“I had my idea,” Melody replied vaguely, her eyes shining into his.  “I
shouldn’t have given it away now—not until I had really made good—if it
hadn’t been for that woman winning the law suit.  When I discovered what
the trouble was, I had to tell, of course.”

“I almost wish you hadn’t!” Brainard exclaimed, starting for the door.

“Why?”

“I think you can tell why!”

And he was gone, leaving Melody with a thoughtful smile on her pretty
face.

“I believe,” she remarked after a time, as in rapid, unstarlike haste she
divested herself of her clothes, “that I shall find a way of compelling
him to keep the money—somehow or other!”



XVIII


As he had promised, Brainard attended to the business affairs of Melody’s
estate.  The lawyers easily obtained a stay of proceedings and a retrial.
With the proof of Krutzmacht’s real marriage to the mother of the young
actress, the case dropped like a cracked egg, before it got to court.
Hollinger and the counsel, who had been “staking” Miss Walters in her
attempt, foresaw dangerous consequences and withdrew precipitately from
the case.  After the smoke had cleared away, Brainard did not forget the
plea that Hollinger had made in behalf of Krutzmacht’s former
stenographer.  He resolved to use whatever influence he might have with
the new heiress to secure for Lorilla Walters a modest crumb from the
rich cake she had fought for that would make her independent for life and
allow her to withdraw permanently from the stage.  The last that Brainard
heard of the versatile fight-trust magnate he was employed in the
capacity of financial adviser to a Chinese prince, who had conceived the
idea of developing a railroad in his province with the aid of Western
capital.  Hollinger, whose headquarters were generally in London,
achieved a signal success in this kind of financial diplomacy for which
his temperament and his morals both fitted him.

After the suit had been disposed of, Brainard amused himself by preparing
an elaborate report of his trusteeship of the estate, in which everything
was accounted for, to the original items he had spent on his first
journey.  He also put his own affairs in order, in preparation for that
day at the close of the theatrical season when the young actress would
deign to give her attention to business matters.  She was too busy at
present.

For the improbable had really happened.  _Her Great Adventure_ proved to
be the one undoubted theatrical success of the past four seasons.  That
intelligent first-night audience had gone home and told its friends that
they must not miss the new play at the queer theater in West Twelfth
Street.  They, in turn, had promptly told their friends, and the news had
quickly become contagious.  Instead of a two weeks’ run the house sold
out until the end of June, and a road company was already being prepared
to satisfy the curiosity of the provinces.  Incredible fact!  The
People’s Theater was making money, even with its low scale of prices.

At the close of the fourth week, when the new manager came to see
Brainard in regard to the next season, Brainard smiled at him in
amusement.

“I’m out of the theater business, Leaventritt.  The place isn’t mine any
longer.”

“I saw that you had won your suit.”

“Yes, but the theater isn’t mine.”

“Sold out?” the manager asked, a disgusted look on his eager face.

“Not that, but I’m out of it, just the same.  You’ll have to see Miss
White about another season.  Perhaps she can help you out.”

“And just when the blamed sucker had fallen into the mint, so to speak!”
the manager complained to a subordinate.  “So it’s up to Miss Melody
White, is it?  Well, that lady’s no sucker.  I’ll have to show her good
cause!”

                                * * * * *

The next day, as Brainard was superintending the dismantling of his
rooms, word was brought to him that Miss White had called and wished to
speak to him.

“Sure it isn’t Mr. Farson that Miss White wishes to see?” he asked the
servant, thinking of the new play which Farson had begun for the actress.

“Sure it isn’t!” a laughing voice answered from the hall, and Melody
pushed her head through the doorway.  “You’re pulling out?” she asked in
surprise, remarking the disheveled condition of the pleasant library.
“Where to?”

“Don’t know yet—just stripping for action,” Brainard replied buoyantly.
“You gather a lot of moss about you whenever you plant yourself.”  He
pointed to the books and pictures ranged along the walls, ready for the
packing-cases.  “And one sinks into the moss, too, so that it becomes
hard to tear up,” he said less cheerfully.

Melody sat down on a lounge, crossed her knees, and slowly pulled off her
long gloves, as if she had come to stay.

“My!” Brainard remarked, looking attentively at her clothes, “how dressy
the lady is getting to be!”

“Marks of my position,” Melody replied, with elaborate indifference.  “It
makes Cissie’s eyes water when the things come home.  It’s almost as good
fun as telling her that I will try to save her a small part in the new
play, or something in one of the road companies.”

“Haven’t you paid Cissie in full for all her airs?  Or do you still get
amusement out of teasing the poor thing?”

“One has to do something, you know,” Melody sighed.

“The _ennui_ of success has come so soon!” Brainard mocked.  “You’ll be
taking to ’citis and lap dogs.  But I have a document that may distract
your starship’s idle moments meanwhile, and give you something to think
about.”

He stepped into the inner room and returned with a typed manuscript.

“Another play?” Melody inquired in a languid tone.  “Have you taken to
writing plays, too?”

“Not exactly,” Brainard replied, running over the sheets.

“Leaventritt came to see me yesterday,” Melody remarked carelessly.

“I sent him.”

“So he said.”

“You want to be careful.  There’s a mercenary streak in his blood, and
success is likely to bring it out; but he’s intelligent and honest
enough.”

“You’re still set on making an idiot of yourself about the money and
things?”

“If you mean that I am still determined to render unto Melody the riches
that are Melody’s by rights, why, yes!”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“Any one of a number of things,” Brainard replied cheerfully.  While
Melody negligently turned over the pages of his elaborate report, he
continued musingly: “It was just six years ago this month when my play
was turned down—the last one I ever wrote.  I walked back up the avenue
with the manuscript in my pocket, feeling that the bottom of the world
had dropped out.  I was a forlorn, broken specimen.  It was a day
something like this, too.”  He glanced at the lowering April sky.  “It is
very different now.  I’m not much richer than I was then, but I am a
totally different being.  In fact, I think now I could call myself a
man!”

“I think so,” Melody agreed, in a rather doleful voice.

“And a man can always face the world with a light heart, no matter how
light his pockets happen to be.”

Melody nodded sympathetically, and murmured,—“for the great adventure!”

“Yes!  Life is the great adventure!”

After a long silence, Melody looked up into Brainard’s face and stretched
out her hands to him.

“Won’t you take me—with you—on the great adventure?”

Brainard grasped her hands, and, leaning forward, tried to read the full
purpose in the gray eyes.

“Melody!”

“Must I ask twice?” she said, blushing.  “It’s more than most women have
the nerve to do once.  You see, after you left that night, I
guessed—and—”

As Brainard took her in his arms she threw back her head, and, holding
him away, said:

“And you’ll have to take the Melody mine along with Melody.  I said I’d
make you keep the old thing!”



XIX


“And what shall we do with the theater?” Brainard asked, in a lucid
interval, early in June.  “Shall we sell it to Einstein & Flukeheimer for
vaudeville?  Or shall we keep it for a certain American actress when she
wearies of matrimony?  Or shall we try to put new life into the great
Idea, and keep on giving the dear Public what bores it, because it’s good
for the dear Public to be bored?”

“I never thought much of your great Idea,” Melody confessed candidly.
“The trouble with it is that it doesn’t do any good to give people what
they aren’t willing to work for.  You’ve got to earn your bread, so to
speak, in order to digest it properly.  The Public’s got to want good
plays and good acting enough to pay the proper price for ’em.  You can’t
get people interested in an art they don’t understand and don’t want
enough to work for.  Let ’em give themselves the best they can understand
and like until they kick for better!”

“That even I have begun to comprehend, O Minerva and Melody in one!
Still, there are exceptions to your philosophical principle—for example,
yourself, goddess, and me, who digest with an excellent appetite our
heaven-sent cake.”

“Didn’t you earn it—and me?  As few men ever earned the love they take!
And I reckon I earned you, too.”

There followed an unlucid interval.

“But what, then,” Brainard resumed, after the interval, “shall we do with
one large, commodious theater building; also one great Idea with a hole
punched in it, through which the gas has escaped?”

“I’ve been thinking of that problem, too.  We might turn it into a
coöperative company, and let the players own it and run it to suit
themselves.”

“Even into the ground?”

“Just that!  But there are some good heads in the company, and it will
give them all a chance.  Besides, we can afford it, dear!”

“Yes, we can much better afford to give it away than to keep it running,”
Brainard admitted.  “As your husband, I can’t countenance all the follies
I put on you as mere guardian!”

So the last night of the season, a warm June night, the People’s players
got together at the close of the performance in the pleasant library of
the theater, and Brainard and Melody made them two little speeches.
First, Brainard explained to the players the plan of a coöperative stock
company, in which all members were to own shares, with a board of
directors, of which Leaventritt was to be chairman and Farson secretary.
Then Melody said:

“You heard the boss on the new plan.  You’re in great luck, let me tell
you!  And you will be awful chumps if you fight among yourselves, or
otherwise don’t make a go of it.”  Melody looked severely at Cissie Pyce,
who was seated obscurely in the rear of the room.  “Of course, you’ll all
think yourselves Coquelins and Sarahs.  Well, you’re not.  Mind what the
manager says.  You’ve got the prettiest, nicest theater in the city, a
fair company, and a good start with Mr. Farson’s new play.  I shan’t be
with you next season.  As you’ve doubtless heard, I’ve taken a new
manager—for life—and we’re going abroad on our first tour.  So buck up!
Don’t fight!  Good luck!”

And thus was formed the independent Company of Actors, with one Edgar
Brainard as honorary president, and Mrs. Edgar Brainard, _née_ Melody
White, as honorary vice president.  All the company came to the wedding,
and later trooped to the dock to see the couple depart for Europe.

A floral offering from the company—an elegant version of the great scene
in Farson’s play, done in roses and carnations—filled their stateroom to
the exclusion of much else.  It was labeled, “Their Great Adventure.”

“That’s right,” Melody said when they went to inspect their quarters.
“It’s life, not art!”

“We’ve made a fair start, don’t you think?” Brainard added.

Melody replied by raising her lips for the expected kiss.





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