The party did; it was sorry to have lost one of its most popular members but no one thought anything more of the matter until at Denver, after a telegram had been forwarded to the Van Rolsen house, in New York, asking just when Miss Dalrymple would arrive, as camping preparations for a joyous pilgrimage in the mountains were in progress.
Miss Van Rolsen gasped when this message reached her. Miss Dalrymple and her maid—a young woman newly engaged by Miss Van Rolsen—had left the house for the train to which the private car was attached; neither had been heard from since. The aunt had, of course, presumed her niece had gone as planned; she had received no word from her, but supposing she was of a light-hearted, heedless company thought nothing of that. It was possible Miss Dalrymple had actually missed her train; but if so, why had she not returned to her aunt's house?
Where had she gone? What had become of her? No trace of her could be found. Certain forces in the central railroad office at New York could not discover any evidence that the young girl had taken a subsequent train. There was no record of her name at any ticket office; no state-room had been reserved by, or for her; in fact, telegrams to officials in Chicago and other points west failed to elicit satisfactory information of any kind.
Miss Van Rolsen found herself with something real to worry about; she rose to the occasion; her niece, after all, was everything to her. The Van Rolsen millions were ultimately for her, and the old lady's every ambition was centered in the girl. She had been proud of her beauty, her social triumphs.
With great determination she set herself to solve the puzzling problem. Could people thus completely disappear nowadays? It seemed impossible, she asserted, sitting behind closed doors in her library, to the private agent of the secret-service bureau whom she had just "called in."
He begged to differ from her and pointed to a number of cases which had seemed just as strange and mysterious in the beginning. Ransom—the "Black Hand"—Who could say what secret influences had been at work in this case? It was a very important one; Miss Dalrymple had money of her own; she was known to be her aunt's heiress. The conclusion?—But this was not Morocco, or Turkey, Miss Van Rolsen somewhat vehemently returned.
True; we have had, however, our "civilized" Ransuilis, answered the agent and mentioned a number of names in support of his theory. No doubt, after an interval, Miss Van Rolsen would have news of her niece—through those who had perpetrated the outrage; or she might even receive a few written words from the girl herself. After that it was a question of negotiating, or, while professing to deal with the perpetrators, to ferret them out if one could. The latter course was dangerous, for those who stoop to this particular crime are usually of a desperate type; he and Miss Van Rolsen could consider that question later. Meanwhile she must avoid worry as much as possible. The young girl would, no doubt, be well treated.
Had the speaker looked around at this moment, he might have observed that the heavy curtains, drawn before the door leading into the hall and closed by Miss Van Rolsen, moved suddenly, but neither the agent nor Miss Van Rolsen, engrossed at the far end of the room, noticed. The drapery wavered a moment; then settled once more into its folds.
The telegram purporting to be from Miss Dalrymple to one of the party on the train, could—the agent went on—very easily have been sent by some one else; no doubt, had been. The miscreants had seized upon a lucky combination of circumstances; for two or three days, while Miss Dalrymple was supposed to be speeding across the continent, they, unsuspected and unmolested, would be afforded every opportunity to convey her to some remote and, for them, safe refuge. It was a cleverly planned coup, and could not have been conceived and consummated without—here he spoke slowly—inside assistance.
The curtain at the doorway again stirred.
"And now, Madam, we come to your servants," said the police agent. "I should like to know something about them."
"My servants, sir, are, for the most part, old and trusted."
"'For the most part'!" He caught at the phrase. "We will deal first with those who do not come in that category."
"There's a young man recently employed that I have not been at all pleased with. He leaves to-morrow."
"Ah!" said the visitor. "Not the person I met going out of the area way, with the dogs as I came in?"
She answered affirmatively.
"H—mn!" He paused. "But tell me why you have not been pleased with him, and, in brief, all the circumstances of his coming here."
Miss Van Rolsen did so in a voice she strove to make patient although she could not disguise its tremulousness, or the feverish anxiety that consumed her. She related the most trivial details, seeming irrelevances, but the visitor did not interrupt her. Instead, he studied carefully her face, pinched and worn; the angular figure, slightly bent; the fingers, nervously clasping and unclasping as she spoke. He watched her through habit; and still forbore speaking, even when she referred to the escape of her canine favorite from his caretaker and how the dog had later been returned, though the listener's eyes had, at this point, dilated slightly.
"After his carelessness in this matter, he seemed to want to get away from the house at once," observed Miss Van Rolsen, "without availing himself of the two-weeks' notice I had agreed to give him."
The visitor relapsed into his chair; an ironical light appeared in his eyes.
"Perhaps," added Miss Van Rolsen, "you attach no significance to the fact?"
"On the contrary, I attach every importance to it. Has it not occurred to you there was a little collusion in this matter of the lost dog?"
"Collusion?" Miss Van Rolsen's accents expressed incredulity. "You must be wrong. Why, the young woman wouldn't even accept the reward. And it was not a small one!"
"Two hundred or so dollars, ma'am! Not her stake!" he murmured satirically. "I am afraid two hundred thousand dollars would be nearer the mark these people have set for themselves!"
"But she didn't ask for a place here; only for me to look over her references—one was from a lady I knew in Paris—and to recommend her to my friends—"
"She knew your other maid had left; this confederate had, of course, told her. It was all arranged that she should come here. Rest assured of that. And having accomplished her purpose—clever that she is!—she at once started to ingratiate herself with your niece, to make herself useful. As a mistress of languages she was useful, in fact more so than any ordinary maid. Where did she come from? Find out whom she represents, and—we'll have the key to the mystery. But she, too, has disappeared; after turning the game over to the others, perhaps. I would suggest cabling those foreign references this young woman gave you. They will, of course, including your Paris friend, know nothing of her; the name she gave you was not her own."
"But by what unfortunate combination of circumstances"—Miss Van Rolsen spoke somewhat incoherently—"should these people have been led to settle on my niece as the victim of their cowardly designs? There are so many others—"
"You forget the publicity concerning this prince your niece is to marry." The old lady stiffened. "Pardon my mentioning it, but Miss Dalrymple has in this connection been very much before the public gaze."
"Against her wish, sir, and mine!" snapped Miss Van Rolsen. "She—I—have both lamented the fact. But what can one do? The journalists settled on the prince as a fruitful source for speculation. He is of noble family, very wealthy, no fortune-hunter; which has made it all the more distressing for him and us." She seemed about to say something further; then her lips suddenly tightened. "As I say, it has been very distressing," she ended, after a pause. "I expect it was one of the reasons my niece wanted to get away from New York for a time."
"No doubt!" The caller's voice was courtesy itself although he probably but half-credited Miss Van Rolsen's protestations in the matter. People liked to complain of the press and newspaper notoriety, when in their hearts, perhaps, they were not so displeased to be in that terrible lime-light; especially when the person associated with them happened to be a count, or a duke, or a prince. "Unfortunately, one has to put up with these things," he now added. "But you are positive you have told me everything?"
An instant she seemed to hesitate. "I am positive you know everything relative to the subject."
He arose. "In that event"—his manner indicated a sudden resolution—"there is one little preliminary to be attended to."
"To arrest this fellow, Heatherbloom!"
"At once! There is no time to be lost. Already—" He gave a sudden exclamation.
"What is it?" she asked.
He stepped toward the curtain; it moved perceptibly.
"Some one has been listening," exclaimed Miss Van Rolsen excitedly.
"Yes, some one." Significantly. As he spoke he threw back the curtain and revealed the door partly ajar.
"It must have been—Not one of my old servants—- They would not have—"
He stopped her. "There's the front way out of this house and the area way below," he said rapidly. "Is there any other way of escaping to the street?"
He darted out of the room to the front door. She followed.
"Quite in time!" he said, casting a quick look both ways along the avenue and then letting his glance fall to the servants' entrance below.
"You think he will try to—"
He regarded her swiftly. "While I stand guard here, would you mind getting some one to 'phone my office and ask two or three of my men to step over at once? Not that I doubt my own ability to cope with the case"—fingering the handle of a weapon on his pocket—"only it is always well to take no chances. Especially now!"
"Since he has practically convicted himself and confirmed my theory. We shall get at the truth through him. We're nearer the solution of the matter than I dared hope for."
"I'll telephone myself!" she cried. And started back to do so when an excited face confronted her.
"If ye plase, ma'am!" It was the cook.
"What is it?" Miss Van Rolsen spoke sharply.
"If ye plase, I think, ma'am, this Mr. Heatherbloom has taken lave av his senses."
"Why, what has he been doing?"
"He has, faith, just jumped over the fence into our neighbor's yard on the corner, and—"
The man on the steps did not wait to hear more; with something that sounded like an imprecation he sprang quickly down to the sidewalk and ran toward the corner.
WHO FIGHTS AND RUNS
As Mr. Heatherbloom prepared to issue from his neighbor's gate opening on the side street, the feminine voice of one of the servants in the rear of the corner house called out in alarm at sight of the strange figure speeding across their metropolitan imitation of a back yard. If anything were needed to stimulate the fugitive's footsteps, it was the sound of that voice. He stayed not on the order of his going, but pushing back the heavy bolt—fortunately his egress was not barred by a locked door—he tore open the gate and sprang to the sidewalk. Then without stopping, he ran on, away from the fashionable avenue. The street he traversed like many thoroughfares of its kind was comparatively deserted most of the time; nobody impeded his progress, though one or two people gazed after him from their windows.
He had gone about three-quarters of a block when the window spectators discerned a heavier built figure come lumbering around the corner, apparently in hot pursuit. Mr. Heatherbloom, glancing over his shoulder, also observed this person; his capture and subsequent incarceration seemed inevitable. Already the fugitive was drawing near to busier Fourth Avenue; there he would be obliged to relax his pace; he could not sprint down that thoroughfare without attracting undue attention. Behind, the pursuer called out; he was, however, too short of breath for compelling vocal effect.
Mr. Heatherbloom, on the contrary, had good control of his breathing and was, moreover, yet fresh and physically capable. Which fact made it the more difficult for him to settle down to a forced, albeit sharp walk as he approached the corner, when his gait suddenly accelerated once more.
A street-car had just started not very far from him and Mr. Heatherbloom ran after it. A fine pretext for speed was offered him; as he "let himself go" in the way he had once gone somewhere in the past in a hundred-yards' dash, he felt joyously conscious both of covering space quickly and that he did so without making himself particularly prominent. Fools who ran after street-cars were born every moment; he was happy to be relegated to that idiotic class by any onlookers. He caught the car while it was going; he didn't want it to stop for him.
Neither did it stop to pick up any one else for several blocks; there was a space before it unobstructed by traffic. The motorman turned on more power and Mr. Heatherbloom listened gratefully to the humming wheels. At the same time he looked back; at the corner where he had turned into Fourth avenue he fancied a number of people were gathering. He could surmise the cause; the stockily-built man—his pursuer—was asking questions; he had learned what had become of the fugitive and was presumably looking around for a "taxi." In vain. At least, Mr. Heatherbloom so concluded, because one did not appear in hot chase behind them.
The motorman still gave "rapid service"; the conductor looked at his watch, by which Mr. Heatherbloom imagined they had time to make up. He hoped so, then resented a pause at a corner for an old lady. How he wished she had not been afflicted with rheumatism, and could have got on without help! But at length the light-weight conductor did manage to pull the heavy-weight passenger aboard. Time lost, thirty seconds! The motorman manipulated the lever more deliberately now and they gathered headway slowly. Mr. Heatherbloom dared not remain longer where he was; as the car approached a corner near an elevated station, he got off. He was obliged to walk now a short distance but he did so hastily. Drawing near the iron steps, leading upward, he once more looked back; a "taxi" was whirling after him and he had no doubt as to its occupant. The street-car could easily have been kept in sight and his leaving it been noted.
Mr. Heatherbloom now threw discretion to the winds; dashing toward the stairway he ran up. Just as he reached the ticket window, the pursuing vehicle stopped below. Some one sprang out, did not pause to pay the chauffeur, but calling out to him his name, started after Mr. Heatherbloom. That gentleman had by this time boarded the train waiting above; he stood on the rear platform. Any moment the pursuer would appear. He did appear as the gates of the train were closed and the cars had started on their way.
Yet he did not give up for running alongside the last car he called out to the guard:
"Fugitive from justice! Criminal—on this train! Open the gate for me!"
An instant the guard hesitated; rules, however, were rules.
"Five hundred dollars if you let me on!" the voice panted.
The guard in his own mind decided he would let the other on—too late; the last car dashed past the end of the platform. A faint sigh of relief from Mr. Heatherbloom was drowned in the tumult of the wheels; then he endeavored to appear indifferent, apathetic. It was not easy to do so; the secret-service agent had been heard by many others.
A "fugitive from justice" on the train! Mr. Heatherbloom tried to look as little the part as possible, to simulate by his expression a preoccupied young business man of heavy responsibilities. Fortunately the train was crowded; nevertheless he fancied people glanced especially at him. He wished now he were better dressed; good clothes may cover a multitude of sins. Still there was no reason why he should be suspected more than sundry other indifferently-dressed people. He would dismiss the thought, tell himself he was going down town on some little errand; he even devised what that errand should be—to procure theater tickets. But his brain did not seem quite capable of concentrating itself solely on desirable orchestra chairs; it constantly and perversely reverted to that other disagreeable subject—a "fugitive from—"
Whoever could the fellow be? He endeavored by a mental process to eliminate himself and see but a mythical some one else in a mythical background. A short person; a tall one? What kind of person would the imaginary individual be, anyhow? And what had he done, what crime committed? Mr. Heatherbloom tried to think with the minds of all these other people on the train, to put himself figuratively in their shoes.
One young sprig of a girl, about fourteen, with sallow complexion and bead-like black eyes, kept regarding him. He conceived a profound dislike for her, shifted a foot; then straightened and banished her peremptorily from his environment. His principal interest lay now in casual glimpses of windows and speculation as to what was behind them. He varied this employment in a passing endeavor to decipher sundry signs that obtruded incidentally within range of vision.
He had made out only a few when the, train slackened and came to a standstill. Mr. Heatherbloom told himself he would get off as quickly as possible; then changed his mind and remained. People would, of course, argue that, under the circumstances, the unknown criminal would be among those to leave the train at the first opportunity.
A number got out; Mr. Heatherbloom noted the passengers who remained aboard and watched closely the departing ones. A few of the latter seemed slightly self-conscious, notably, an elderly spinster who, having never done anything wrong, was possessed of an unusual sensitiveness.
"See that slouchy chap—By jove, I believe—"
"Does look like a tough customer—"
"On the contrary, he just looks poor." Mr. Heatherbloom turned upon the two speakers warmly.
Why could he not have kept silent; why was he obliged to obtrude his opinion into their conversation?
They stared and he half turned as the train banged itself along once more. Where should he go? Reaching for a paper that some one had discarded, he sank into a vacant seat and opened the sheet with misgiving.
What would the big types say? Nothing! Miss Van Rolsen had managed to keep the strange affair of her niece's disappearance out of the columns of the papers. They knew nothing about it as yet—Only a single little item in the shipping news, in fine print, which suddenly caught his gaze bore in any way, and that a remote one, upon her niece and her affairs. Mr. Heatherbloom regarded it with dull glance. The few lines meant nothing to him—then; later he had cause to turn to them with abrupt wondering avidity. Now his eyes swept with simulated interest the general news of the day; he professed to read cable dispatches.
But an odd reaction seemed to have settled on him; the excitement of the chase became, for the moment, forgotten. The scope of his mental visuality no longer included the figure of the agent from the private detective bureau. An anxiety more poignant moved him; his thoughts centered on that other matter—the cause of Miss Van Rolsen's apprehensions—the while those emotions that had held him a listener behind the curtain in her library again stirred in his breast. He had not played the eavesdropper for any selfish purpose or through a sense of personal apprehension. The sudden realization of his own danger, had, perforce, awakened in him the need for quick action if he would save himself.
If? What chance had he? But for one compelling reason, one consuming purpose, he would not have fled at all; he would have faced them, instead! But he had work to do—he! A fugitive, a logical candidate for the prison cell! Ironical situation! Even now he heard a voice at his elbow.
"Mr. Heatherbloom!" Some one spoke suddenly to him and he wheeled with abrupt swift fierceness.
"Well, are you going to eat me up?" the voice laughed.
He looked into the pert face of Jane—the maid with the provoking nose—who had been at Miss Van Rolsen's. She had got on at the other end of the car at the last station, and after waiting a few moments for him to see her, had moved toward him, or a seat at his side just then vacated by some one preparing to leave. Mr. Heatherbloom's face cleared; he banished the belligerent expression.
"You look edible enough!" he said with forced jocularity.
"Indeed?" she retorted, surprised at such gallantry from one who had heretofore not deigned to pay her compliments. "I'll have to tell my husband about you." Playfully. "But how are things at Miss Van Rolsen's? Anything new?"
Mr. Heatherbloom murmured something about the customary routine; then, even as he spoke, became conscious of a sudden new disconcerting circumstance. The tracks for the up and the down trains on the elevated had widely separated and ran now on the extreme sides of the broad thoroughfare. From his side of the car the young man was afforded a view of the pavement below, between the two sustaining iron structures. A chill shot through him and his smile became set. Gazing down he discerned, on the street beneath and a little to one side of them, a motor-car, speeding fast, apparently bent on keeping up with them.
"How—how's your husband?" he said irrelevantly. The car was keeping up with them.
"Very well, thank you." (Would it reach the next station before them?)
"You—you have a pleasant home?" he asked. (A slight blockade below impeded, momentarily, the "taxi". Mr. Heatherbloom raised his handkerchief to his moist brow.)
"Lovely," she answered. "Are you going far?"
"Brooklyn," he said at random. What were they talking about? (The car was once more under way; fortunately their progress overhead would not be impeded by a press of vehicles.)
"That's where we live—Brooklyn," she said.
"Is it? Got a nice house?" He had practically asked this question before; but he hardly knew what he was saying. A policeman had stopped the "taxi" and was shaking his head, as at a rather "fishy" story. Mr. Heatherbloom by a species of telepathy, seemed to overhear the excited talk waging below.
"Oh, yes; lovely!" Jane's accents were but parenthetical to something else. The "taxi" had been allowed to proceed, in spite of the detaining thought-waves Mr. Heatherbloom had launched toward the officer of the law. The occupant had probably showed a badge; Mr. Heatherbloom stretched his neck out of the window.
"You can come around and see, sometime, if you want to." Pride in her voice. "And meet my husband." Husband was a very substantial baker.
"Charmed, I'm sure! Ha! ha!" He suddenly laughed.
"What is it?" She looked startled.
"Funniest accident!" He waved his hat, as at some one, out of the window. "See that taxi! Bumped into a dray. Ha! ha!"
"I don't see anything so funny in that." Straightening.
"No? You should have seen the expression on his face—"
"The—ah, drayman's, of course! He—looked so mad."
"I should have thought," she observed, "the man in the car would have been the maddest It couldn't have hurt the dray much."
"No? Perhaps that's what made it seem so funny to me."
"Well," she said, "I never noticed before that you had a great sense of humor."
"You never knew me." Jauntily.
They got off at Brooklyn Bridge together. As they made their way through the crowd, Mr. Heatherbloom appeared most care-free and very sedulous of his companion's welfare, especially when they passed one or two loiterers who seemed eying the passengers rather closely.
"Two for Brooklyn." Mr. Heatherbloom laid down a dime at the ticket office.
Soon, unmolested, he sped on once more; but as they crossed the busy river all his light-heartedness seemed suddenly to desert him; the questions he had been vainly asking himself earlier that day were reiterated in his brain. Where was she? What had become of her? His hands clasped closely. A red spot burned on his cheek.
A NEW-FOUND THEORY
"No; the prince isn't coming back to America, and she—Miss Dalrymple—isn't going to marry him!"
Jane's voice, running on rather at random, suddenly with unusual force penetrated Mr. Heatherbloom's consciousness.
"Not going—isn't—What are you talking about?" The young man's wavering attention focused itself on her now with swift completeness. He had hardly heard her, until a few moments before, when her conversation had first drifted to that ever fascinating feminine topic of foreign lords and American heiresses, then narrowed down, much to his inward disapproval, to one particular titled individual and one particular heiress "But you are mistaken, of course!" he said bruskly.
"Oh, am I?" she retorted. "I suppose you believe everything you read in the newspapers?"
Mr. Heatherbloom did not answer now; he was staring out of the window. Against the sky the jutting lines of buildings seemed to waver; new extraordinary angles and jogs seemed to assert themselves. His gaze had a glittering brightness when it turned. "Have you any better authority?"
His tone was a challenge. "I heard her tell him so myself," she said succinctly. "That she could never marry him and that he must never come back."
Mr. Heatherbloom's hand crumpled the newspaper; then mechanically he folded it and put it in his pocket. His look was once more bent outward; tiny specks, that were big steamboats going very fast, seemed motionless on the sparkling surface of the water afar. His thoughts scattered; he tried to collect them, to realize where he was, how he happened to be there; the identity of the speaker and what she had been saying! Certain preconceived, fixed ideas and conclusions had been toppled over, brushed aside in an instant. Was it possible?
"I was waiting to trim and fill the lamps," said Jane. (Miss Van Rolsen clung to oil lamps for reading.) "The prince and she were in the library. He has a loud voice, you know."
The young man did. "But why—"
"Search me!" Vivaciously. "He was the very pick of the whole cargo of dukes and the like. There isn't another girl in New York would have done it."
"But surely," scarcely hearing her last words, "no newspaper would dare to announce such a thing without—"
"Oh, wouldn't it? When it called up the house every day, almost, and got: 'There is nothing to say'? Didn't I answer the 'phone once or twice myself? 'Miss Van Rolsen declines to be interviewed concerning her niece. She has nothing to say.' I think I once giggled, the man's voice at the other end was so aggressive. He said he was the city editor himself. Is that very high up?"
Mr. Heatherbloom did not seem to hear. He scarcely saw his companion now; nevertheless, he was conscious of a desire to be alone, in order to concentrate, consider, reach for light and find it. But where could he discover a safe spot; his problem was a dual one; primarily, he must consider himself; he must not forget his own desperate situation and danger. The train, beginning to slacken, brought the sense of it once more poignantly to mind. His companion hadn't reached the station yet but he suddenly rose. The car stopped with a jerk; Mr. Heatherbloom murmured something hurriedly and dived for the door.
On the street he breathed deeply, standing as in a daze while the thunder of iron-rimmed wheels surrounded him. He was cognizant principally of certain words humming in his brain: The prince and she were not engaged! The nobleman not returning to America in the fall! Never coming back!
But that item in fine print in the newspaper he had in his pocket—what did it mean? Nothing, of course, beyond what it said; still—
Some one bumped into Mr. Heatherbloom; whereupon he suddenly realized that he was standing on one of the busiest corners and had been making himself as conspicuous as possible. Hastily he moved on. To what destination? He glanced toward a convenient saloon; it looked hospitable and inviting. Then he remembered they—man-hunters, in general—always searched the saloons first for criminals.
He started toward a side street but paused, reasoning that he was more prominent on comparatively isolated thoroughfares than on the swarming ones. A stream of women flowing into a big department store, exercised an odd attraction for him. Safety lay, perhaps, among numbers; at least, for the time, until he could devise a course of action. If he could conceive of one! If—
He must; he would. Every nerve in his body seemed to respond. Had he not embarked before this on desperate adventures; had he not fought in the face of overwhelming odds, and managed to hold his head up? A peculiar little smile played around the corner of his thin lips; it was like the flash of light on a blade. He joined the inflowing eddy.
Bargain day! He was crushed and crumpled but found himself ultimately on a stool in the rear of the store. No; he didn't want any marked-down collars or cuffs; he conveyed an impression to the solicitous clerk of some one waiting for some one. Patiently, uncomplainingly! With an unseeing eye for the hurrying and scurrying myriads! Time passed; he remained oblivious to the babble of voices. Timon in the wilderness, Diogenes in his tub, could not have been mentally more isolated from annoying human consociation than was at the moment Mr. Heatherbloom, perched on a rickety stool amid a conglomeration of females struggling for lingerie.
Suddenly he stirred. "Have you a book department?" he asked an employee.
"Straight across; last aisle to the left."
Mr. Heatherbloom got up; his tread was slow; a somnambulistic gleam appeared in his eye. Yet he was very much awake; he had never felt more keenly alert. He reached the book section.
Did they have any Russian fiction? Oh, yes; what kind did he want, nihilistic or psychological? The Fire and Sword kind, whatever that was; the second volume of the trilogy, if they had it in stock? Sure they had; but had he read the first volume? No; he didn't want that; he would begin in the middle of the trilogy. He always read trilogies that way.
The young lady in charge looked what she thought as she handed him the book. He paid her; unfortunately it cost more than the popular novels of the day. He rather gravely contemplated the few small bills he had left; the amount of his capital would not carry him very far, especially if unusual expenses should occur. Miss Van Rolsen still owed him a little money but he didn't see how he could collect that now.
Mr. Heatherbloom, armed with his book, sought a different part of the store—- a small reception-room, where customers of both sexes were at liberty to read, write, or indulge in mental rest-cure, after bargain purchases. There he perused hurriedly, and by snatches, the volume; there was plenty of fire and plenty of sword in it; human passions bubbled and seethed. Suddenly he sat up straight and a suppressed exclamation fell from his lips; he closed the book sharply.
One or two old ladies looked at him but he did not see them. His vision, clairvoyant-like, seemed to have lifted, to traverse broad seas, limitless steppes. His hands opened and closed, as if striving to reach and clutch something beyond flame of battle, scenes of rapine.
He got up dizzily. As he stepped once more into the street, the shadows had lengthened; twilight was falling. He stopped at a pawnbroker's, purchased a revolver and cartridges. He might need the weapon now more than ever. And money—he needed far more of that than he had. He spread in his palm the little wad of greenbacks he took from his pocket; counted them and a few silver pieces. Then seeking a ticket office, he made a few casual inquiries; a shadow rested on his countenance as he emerged from the place.
Next door to it a pile of gold pieces in a bank window shone mockingly before his eyes. So near—with only the plate-glass between him and the bright discs! Mechanically he began to count them, but suddenly turned from that profitless occupation and stood with his back to the window.
What availed resolution without dollars? His purpose might be strong, but poverty, a Brobdingnagian giant, laid its hand on his shoulder, crushing him down, holding him there, impotent, until the stocky man and his cohorts of the private detective office should come over and get him—to send him to the little island he had thought of when crossing the bridge to Brooklyn!
He fell back into a doorway. More money!—he must get it; must! He folded his arms tight over his breast. To think that this should be his one great, crying need—his!
Above, he heard footsteps descending the stairway at the foot of which he stood; Mr. Heatherbloom slipped out of the passage to the sidewalk and moved on. Chance took him back the way he had come; he had no choice of direction. Now he looked once more at the window of the pawnbroker, where he had stopped a short time before. He regarded the unredeemed pledges; seal-rings, watches, flutes, old violins; what not? If he only had something left; but all had gone—long ago.
All? He started slightly; considered; walked on. But he turned around, hesitatingly, and came slowly back. As he approached the door, his step grew more resolute. He walked briskly in. Without giving the proprietor time to come to the front of the shop, Mr. Heatherbloom moved at once to the back where the other sat behind his dusty glass cases.
"Here I am once more." He spoke with forced gaiety.
"What you want to buy now?"
"I don't want to buy anything; I want to sell something."
The pawnbroker's interest in the visitor at once departed.
"I have everythings! Everythings!" he grumbled. "Nearly every one wants to sell. I have no room for noddings more. Good night!"
"But I've something special," said Mr. Heatherbloom. As he spoke he took from an inner pocket a little parcel in pink tissue-paper; he fingered it a moment, removing an ivory miniature from a frame, passed the paper quickly about the picture once more, and returned it to his pocket. Then he handed the frame, over the case, to the pawnbroker. "What do you think of that, my Christian friend?" he said with a show of jocularity that didn't ring quite true.
The pawnbroker bent his dull face close to the article; it was gold. A pretty trinket, set with a number of brilliants, it might have come from the Rue Royale or the Rue de la Paix.
"Cost about five hundred francs," observed Mr. Heatherbloom, watching the other closely. "One hundred dollars, without the duty."
"Where'd you get it?"
"None of your business." With a smile.
The man moved toward a telephone at his back. "Do you know what I'm going to do?"
"I am curious."
"'Phone the police."
"Is that an invitation for me to depart? If so—" Mr. Heatherbloom reached for the little gold frame.
"Oh, no," said the man, retaining the graceful article. "The police will find out who this belongs to."
"Tut! tut!" observed Mr. Heatherbloom lightly. Something on the edge of the showcase pointed over it; the hand the proprietor professed to raise toward the telephone fell to his side; he seemed about to call out. "Don't!" said the visitor. "It's loaded; you saw me put in the cartridges yourself. Your little game is very passe; I had it worked on me once before, and placed you in your class—a fourth-rater, with a crib for loot!"
The other considered; this customer's manner was ominously quiet and easy; he didn't like it. A telepathic message that flashed from the gleaming gaze above the shining tube suggested an utterly frivolous indifference to tragic consequences. The proprietor moved away from the telephone.
"Fifteen dollars," he said.
"Twenty," breathed Mr. Heatherbloom insinuatingly.
The man put his hand in his pocket and counted out the money. The caller took it, said something in those same blithe significant accents about what would happen if the other made a move in the next two or three minutes, then vanished from the store. He did not keep to the busy thoroughfare now, but shot into a side street. Would the pawnbroker hide the frame and then call the police? It was quite possible he might thus seek to get into their good graces and revenge himself at the same time. Mr. Heatherbloom turned from dark byway to dark byway. He knew there was a possibility that he might keep going throughout the night without being taken; but what would he attain by so doing, how would that profit him?
He had to get back to New York at once, and as speedily as possible! The shining face of a street clock that a short time before he had looked at, admonished him there were no moments to spare, if he would carry out his plan, his headstrong purpose—to verify or disprove a certain wild theory—which would take him where, lead to what? No matter! Above, between black shadows of tall buildings, he saw a star, bright, beautiful. Something in him seemed to leap up to it—to that light as frostily clear as her eyes! A taxi passed; he hailed it.
"How much to Jersey City?" he asked in feverish tones.
The man approximated a figure; it was large, but Mr. Heatherbloom at once got in.
"All right," he said. "Only let her go! I've a train to catch."
"You don't want to land us in the police court, do you?" asked the chauffeur.
Mr. Heatherbloom devoutly hoped not.
Two days later, on a bright afternoon, a young man stood on the edge of a sea-wall called the Battery. It was not the Battery, commanding a view of the outgoing and incoming maritime traffic of the continent's metropolis, but another Battery, overlooking another harbor, or estuary, landlocked save for an entrance about a mile in width. Behind him lay, not a great, but a little, city; hardly more than a big town; before him a few vessels of moderate tonnage placidly plied the main or swash channels.
The scene was tranquilizing; nevertheless the young man appeared out of harmony with it. His face wore a feverish flush; his eyes had a restless gleam. He had only a short time before come to town, entering in unconventional fashion. As the train had slackened at a siding on the outskirts he had quietly, and unperceived, slipped off the back platform of the rear car; then made his way by devious and little frequented side streets to the sea-front.
There, his eager gaze scanned the craft, moving in the open, or motionless at the distant wharfs. An expression of acute disappointment passed over his features; his eyes did not find what they sought. Had that mad flight been for nothing? Had he but run into a new kind of "pocket" here, all to no purpose?
Mr. Heatherbloom sat down; he was weary and worn. The dancing sparkles laughed at him; he did not feel like "laughing back". Even as he leaned against the parapet a newsboy close at hand called out:
"All about the mysterious abduction! One of the miscreants traced to this city! Superintendent of police warned of his probable arrival!"
The lad looked at Mr. Heatherbloom as he shouted; that gentleman returned his gaze with unflinching stolidness.
"What abduction?" he asked.
"Beautiful New York heiress."
The voice passed on; the fugitive was once more alone with his thoughts. If they had been wild, turbulent before, what were they now? His hands closed; at the moment he did not bemoan his own probable fate, only the fact that the clue bringing him here had been false—false!
Another voice—this time a man's—accosted him. Mr. Heatherbloom sprang swiftly to his feet but the person, an old darky, did not appear very formidable.
"Got a match, boss?" he inquired mildly.
Mr. Heatherbloom's bright suspicious glance shot into the good-humored, open look of the other; that person's manner betrayed no ulterior motive. Perhaps he had not yet heard the newsboy; did not know—Mechanically the young man answered that he did not possess the article required, but the intruder still lingered; he had accosted the other partly because of a desire for desultory conversation. Mr. Heatherbloom, after a moment's careful scrutiny, showed a disposition to be accommodating in this regard; he even took the initiative—suddenly, asking question after question about this boat and that. Her name; when she had come; where she was going; of what her cargo consisted? The other replied willingly. Like many of his kind in the port, although he could not read or write, he was wise in harbor-front knowledge, knew all the floating tramps and the sailing craft.
"I suppose it's always about the same old boats drop in here?" Mr. Heatherbloom, after a little, observed insinuatingly.
"Yes, always de same ole tubs," assented the darky.
A shadow crossed the other's face, but he managed to assume a light air. "Battered hulks and sailing brigs of a past generation, eh?" He put the case strongly, but the darky only nodded smilingly. His strong point in conversation was in agreeing with people; he even forgot patriotism toward his own port in being amiable.
Mr. Heatherbloom glanced now beyond them to the right and the left; but no one whom he had reason to fear came within scope of his vision. His figure relaxed. When would they come to take him? The newsboy's words reiterated themselves in his mind. "Traced to this city!" Of course; Miss Van Rolsen's millions were at the command of the secret-service bureau; his description had been telegraphed far and wide. And when it should be fruitful of results, what would become of his theory? Nevertheless, he would go on, while he could, to the last.
If he tried to explain they would consider it but a paltry blind to cover his own criminality. He could expect no help from them; he had to triumph or fail through his own efforts. To fail, certainly; it was decreed.
For the moment something in his breast pocket seemed to burn there, a tiny object, now without the frame. Involuntarily he raised his hand; then his figure swayed; the street waved up and down. He had eaten little during the last two or three days. Scornfully in his own mind he berated that momentary weakness and steadied himself. His eyes, cold and clear, now returned to the colored man; he groped for and took up the thread of the talk where he had left it.
"Old hulks and brigs! You don't ever happen to have any really fine boats come in here, do you? Like Mr. Morgan's big private yacht, for example?"
"No; we ain't never seen dat craft yere. Dis port's more for lumber and—"
Mr. Heatherbloom looked down. "I saw an item in the paper"—he strove to speak unconcernedly—"a Marconigram—that a certain Russian prince's private yacht—the Nevski—had damaged her propeller, or some other part of her gear, and was being towed into this harbor for emergency repairs."
"Oh, yes, boss!" said the man. The listener took a firmer grip on the parapet. "You done mean de big white boat w'at lies on de odder side ob de island; can't see her from yere. Dey done fix her up mighty quick an' she gwine ter lebe to-night."
"Leave to-night!" Mr. Heatherbloom's face changed; suppressed eagerness, expectancy shone from his eyes; he turned away to conceal it from the other. "Looks like good fishing over there near the island," he observed after a pause.
"Tain't so much for fishin' as crabbin'," returned the other.
"Crabbing!" repeated Mr. Heatherbloom. "A grand sport! Now if—are you a crabber?" The darky confessed that crabbing was his main occupation; his boat swung right over there; for a dollar he would give the other several hours' diversion.
Mr. Heatherbloom accepted the offer with alacrity. A few moments later, seated in a dilapidated cockle-shell, he found himself slamming over the water. The boat didn't ship the tops of many seas but it took in enough spray over the port bow to drench pretty thoroughly the passenger. In the stern, the darky handling the sheet of a small, much patched sail, kept himself comparatively dry. But Mr. Heatherbloom didn't seem to mind the drenching; though the briny drops stung his cheek, his face continued ever bent forward, toward a point of land to the right of which lay the island that came ever nearer, but slowly—so slowly!
He could see the top of the spars of a vessel now over the high sand-hills; his body bent toward it; in his eyes shone a steely light. Their little boat drew closer to the near side of the island; the hillocks stood up higher; the tapering topmasts of the craft on the other side disappeared. The crabber's cockle-shell came to anchor in a tranquil sandy cove.
Mr. Heatherbloom, although inwardly chafing, felt obliged to restrain impatience; he could not afford to awaken the darky's suspicions, therefore he simulated interest and—"crabbed". He enjoyed a streak of good luck, but his artificial enthusiasm soon waned. He at length suggested trying the other side of the island, whereupon his pilot expostulated.
What more did his passenger want? The latter thought he would stretch his legs a bit on the shore; it made him stiff to sit still so long. He would get out and walk around—he had a predilection for deserted islands. While he was gratifying his fancy the darky could return to his more remunerative business of gathering in the denizens of the deep.
Five minutes later Mr. Heatherbloom stood on the sandy beach; he started as if to walk around the island but had not gone far before he turned and moved at a right angle up over the sand-hill. The dull-hued bushes that somehow found nourishment on the yellow mound now concealed his figure from the boatman; the same hardy vegetation afforded him a shelter from the too inquisitive gaze of any persons on the yacht when he had gained the summit of the sands.
There, he peered through the leaves down upon a beautiful vessel. She lay near the shore; whatever her injury, it seemed to have been repaired by this time for few signs of life were apparent on or about her. Steam was up; a faint dun-colored smoke swept, pennon-like, from her white funnels. Some one was inspecting her stern from a platform swung over the rail, and to Mr. Heatherbloom's strained vision this person's interest, or concern, centered in the mechanism of her rudder. The trouble had been there no doubt, and if so, the yacht had probably come, or been brought near the island at high water, and at low tide any damage she might have suffered had been attended to. Her injury must have been more vexatious than serious. Would she, as the darky had affirmed, leave when the tide was once more at its full? Her lying in the outer, instead of in the inner harbor, seemed significant. Time passed; the person on the platform regained the deck and disappeared. In the bushes the watcher suddenly started.
Something at one of the port windows had caught his glance. A ribbon? A fluttering bit of lace? A woman's features that phantom-like had come and vanished? He looked hard—so steadily that spots began to dance before his sight, but he could not verify that first impression. Yet he remained. The shadows on the furze grew longer, falling in strange angular shapes down the hillside; the sun dipped low. At length Mr. Heatherbloom, after the manner of one who had made up his mind to something, abruptly rose.
He walked back toward the cove where he had disembarked. As he drew near the darky caught sight of him, pulled up "anchor" and paddled his boat to the shore. But Mr. Heatherbloom did not at once get in; his eyes rested on the bushel or so of freshly caught, bubble-blowing crabs. He strove to appear calm and matter-of-fact.
"What do you expect to get for them?" he asked, pointing.
"'Bout fifty cents de dozen, boss. Crab market ain't what it ought ter be jest now."
"Why don't you try to sell them to the yacht over there?" Mr. Heatherbloom managed to speak carelessly but it was a difficult task.
"Jest becos she is 'over there', boss," returned the darky lazily. "Mighty swift tide sweeping around de head of dat island!" he explained.
"And you don't like rowing against it?" Quickly. "See here, I'll tell you what I'll do. I like a bit of exercise, and just for the gamble, I'll give you sixty cents a dozen for the lot, and keep all I can get over that. The owner of that craft is a Russian and all Russians like sea food. When they can't get caviar, they'll no doubt make a bid for crabs."
"Dat sounds like berry good argumentation, boss. Make it seventy"—avarice struggling on the dusky countenance—"an'—"
"Done!" said Mr. Heatherbloom, endeavoring to disguise the fierce eagerness welling within him. "Here's on account!" Tossing his last bill to the other. "And now, get out. It'll be easier pulling without you."
The darky grinned and obeyed. This was a strenuous passenger truly, not averse to stiff rowing, after a stiff walk, "jest for pleasure". But the dusky pilot had met these anomalous white beings before—"spo'tsmen", they called themselves. And a certain sense of humor, as Mr. Heatherbloom sat down to the oars, caused the colored man involuntarily to hum: I'se got a white man a-workin' for me. He had only finished a bar or two, however, when the tune abruptly ceased on his lips. "Dat's too bad," he said. "I guess de deal's off, boss." Regretfully.
"Eh?" Mr. Heatherbloom looked around. He meant to keep the man to his bargain now, by force if necessary.
"Look dar!" continued the darky.
Mr. Heatherbloom did look in the direction indicated. A puff of black smoke could be seen rising over the island, and—significant fact!—the dark smudge seemed to be crawling along beyond the sky-line of the sand-hill. The young man turned pale.
"It's de Russian yacht, boss. She's under way all right!"
Mr. Heatherbloom continued to gaze. Where the island was lower he saw the topmasts moving along—then the boat herself, white, beautiful, swinging out from behind, with bow pointed seaward and steaming fast.
"Dat's too bad," murmured the colored man. "I done be powerful disappointed, boss!"
The other did not answer. Going! going! He had waited too long to board her. He could not reach her now—he would never reach her. The flame of the dying sun flared in Mr. Heatherbloom's face, but he continued motionless.
ON THE ROAD
Gone! It was the only word he, could think of. Every thought, every emotion centered around it. He could not reason or argue. No plan occurred to him now. He continued to sit still, seeing but one picture—a boat vanishing. Night had begun to fall as they returned to the city. Its lights played mockingly in the darkness. Mr. Heatherbloom viewed them with apathetic gaze. The secret-service man, the chief of police and his assistants were on shore somewhere waiting to capture him, but he did not care. Let them take him now! What did it matter?
When the boat reached land he got out like an automaton. Perhaps he made answer to the darky's last cheerful good night, but if so he spoke without knowing it. The boatman let him go, willingly; Mr. Heatherbloom hadn't asked for his last bill back again and the other overlooked reminding him of his remissness. The greenback was considerably more than the fare.
Indifferent to his fate, Mr. Heatherbloom moved on; no one molested him. He walked along dark highways, not through fear of being apprehended, but because his mood was dark. He did not even notice where he went; he just kept going. He forgot he was hungry, but at length, as in a dream, he began to realize a physical weariness. Overwrought nature asserted itself; he was not made of iron; his muscles responded reluctantly. Without observing his surroundings, he sank listlessly to the earth; the cool grass received his exhausted frame. Beyond, some distance away, the lights of the city threw now a sullen glow on the sky. All was comparatively still about him; the noise of the city was replaced by the lighter sound of vehicles on the well kept, almost non-resounding country road. It seemed to be a main thoroughfare, but with little life and animation about it at that evening hour. A buggy did go by occasionally, however, and, not far from Mr. Heatherbloom, at a curb, stood a motor-car.
He had suffered himself to relax on the ground in front of a small house set well back among spectral-looking trees and surrounded by a stone wall overgrown with foliage. Mr. Heatherbloom remained unmindful of his surroundings. The lamps of the car near by were not lighted; a single figure on the front seat was barely distinguishable. Now this person got down and lighted a cigarette; he seemed restless, walked to and fro, and glanced once or twice at the house. From a single window a faint light gleamed; then it vanished, only to reappear a few moments later at another window. Among the masses of foliage fireflies glistened; a tree-toad began to make a sound but almost immediately stopped. The front door had apparently opened and some person or persons came out. The faint crunchings on the gravel indicated more than one person. Now they stepped on the grass, for there were no audible indications of their approach. The man near the machine threw quickly away his cigarette and opened the door of the car. Several people, issuing from the gate, crossed the sidewalk and got in. Mr. Heatherbloom was hardly aware of the fact; they seemed but unmeaning shadows.
The driver bent over and lighted one of his lamps. As he did so, the flare revealed for an instant his face—square, rather handsome and bearded. A faint flicker of interest, for some reason undefinable to himself at the moment, swept over Mr. Heatherbloom. He had been lying where the grass was tall and now raised himself on his elbow, the better to peer over the waving tops. The car had gathered headway and swung out into the road, when suddenly some one in it laughed and uttered an exclamation in a foreign tongue. That musical note—a word he did not understand—was wafted to Mr. Heatherbloom. It acted upon him like a galvanic shock; he sprang to his feet and, bewildered, stared after the machine. What had happened; was he dreaming? He could hardly at first believe the evidence of his senses, for the laugh, coming back to him in the night, was that of the woman for whom he had procured employment at Miss Van Rolsen's. He could have sworn to the fact now. And the man whose countenance he had so briefly seen was, no doubt, of her own nationality—a Russian!
Involuntarily, without realizing what he did, Mr. Heatherbloom started to run in the direction the car had gone, but he soon stopped. What madness!—to attempt to catch a sixty-horse-power machine! Why, it was nearly a mile away already. The young man stood stock-still while a cogent reaction swept over him. The woman had passed within fifty feet of where he had lain, head near the earth, moping. A mocking desire to atone for a great remissness found him impotent. There seemed nothing for him to do now but to reconcile himself to the irreconcilable, to stay here, while every desire urged him to follow her, to learn why this woman was in the car and who was with her. Naturally, he had expected she would be on the yacht now steaming away out to sea, and here she was. A new enigma confronted him.
Mr. Heatherbloom continued to stand in the center of the road. His head whirled; he panted hard, out of breath from his recent dash. A loud honk! honk! from another machine coming unexpectedly up behind, caused him to leap aside just in time. The second car whizzed by, although obeying an impulse born on the instant, he called out wildly, waving his arms to bring it to a halt. If they saw his strange motions—which was unlikely, the night being dark—they did not heed them. Soon the second machine was some distance away; then its rear light gleamed like a vanishing coal and suddenly disappeared altogether around a bend of the road.
He looked back; no other vehicle of any description was in sight now. But it profited nothing to continue passive, immovable. He had to act, to walk on, no matter how slowly; his face, at least, was set in the direction the woman had gone. How long it took him to reach the turn of the thoroughfare he could not tell, but at length there, he came again to an abrupt stop. Some distance ahead in the road appeared a machine, motionless—waiting, or broken down.
Which car was it? The one containing the woman, or the other that came after? If the former—He pressed on eagerly, yet keeping to the shadows, alive once more to the need of caution. His heart pounded hard; he could see a form passing in front of the machine; the light of the lamp enabled him now to make out the other occupants—three men. No woman was with them. This became poignantly, irrefutably evident as he drew nearer. He could see plainly the empty car and the trio of figures; he could hear them talking but was not yet able to distinguish what they said. These were the people whose attention he had tried to attract back there in the road. His purpose then, occurring to him in a flash, renewed itself strongly now. He would ask their aid; circumstances might enable him to do so now with better grace. He had had a good deal of experience with cars of divers kinds and makes at different times in the past. Why not proffer these strangers his fairly expert services? He felt sure he could soon learn, and repair, what was wrong with the machine. Having made himself useful, he could then intimate that a "lift" down the road would be acceptable. And he would probably get it.
But he did not carry out his intention. Something he heard as he came closer to them caused him to hesitate and reconsider. Mixed with anathemas directed against the car, of rather a cheap type, were words that had for him more than passing significance. These men were after some one, and that the some one was none other than himself, Mr. Heatherbloom soon became fully convinced. Fate had been kinder to him than he knew when he had endeavored, and failed, to win their notice. He crouched back now against a rail fence; their low disgruntled tones were still borne to him. For some moments they continued to work over the machine without apparently being able to set it to rights.
"If this goes on much longer," said one of them, "he'll get away from Brownville."
"Providin' he's there!" grumbled another. "People are always seeing an escaped criminal in a dozen different localities at the same time."
Brownville! The listener soon divined, from a sentence dropped here and there, that the place was a little fishing village a short distance down the coast. He surmised, also, that they had by this time the main harbor of the city fairly watched as far as outgoing vessels were concerned, and were reaching out to prevent a possible exit from the smaller community. Fishing craft leaving from there could easily take out a fugitive and thus enable him to escape. This contingency the authorities were now endeavoring to avert; that they also had some kind of a clue, pointing to their present destination and inciting them to make haste thither, was evident from the skeptical remark Mr. Heatherbloom had overheard.
A series of explosions, as sudden as spasmodic, broke in on the listener's thoughts. "Hurray!" said one. "We're off!"
And they were, quickly. Mr. Heatherbloom also moved with extreme abruptness and expedition. Waiting in the shadow until they had all sprung into the car and the machine had fairly started, he then darted forward, seized a strap and clinging as best he might, hoisted himself to the place in the rear designed for a trunk. One desire only, in resorting to this expedient, moved him—to get in touch as soon as possible, if possible, with the other car. This machine, of inferior build, suggested, it is true, a dubious way to that end but it was the best that offered.
He did not see the incongruity of his position, of being a passenger, though secretly and surreptitiously, of the car containing those embarked on a mission so closely concerning himself. Instead of fleeing from them he was actually courting their company, pursuing himself, as it were! At another time he might have smiled; now the situation had for him nothing of the comic; it was tragically grim, also decidedly unpleasant. A strong odor of gasolene permeated his nostrils until he was nearly suffocated by it and all the dust, stirred by their flight, swirled up on him, making it difficult to refrain from coughing. Fortunately the machine had a monopoly on noises, and any sound from him would have passed unnoticed. He had ridden the "bumpers" not so long ago on freights, and, perforce, indulged in kindred uncomfortable methods of free transportation in the course of his recent career, but he had never experienced anything quite so little to be desired as this.
The driver had begun to speed; as if to make up for lost time, he was forcing the engine to its limit. The machine, of light construction, shook violently, negotiated the steep places with jumps and slid down on the other side with breakneck velocity. The dust thickened about Mr. Heatherbloom's head so that he could scarcely see. His arms ached and every bump nearly tore him loose. He wound the strap around his wrist and strove to ensconce himself deeper in a place not large enough for him. He was on an edge all the time, and felt as if he were falling over every moment; the edge, too, was sharp and dug into him.
Mr. Heatherbloom, however, had little thought of bodily discomfort; he was more concerned in making progress and the difficulty of maintaining his position. His only fear was that he would be compelled to abandon his place because his physical energy might not be equal to the demands put upon it. He set his teeth now and began to count the seconds. The faster they went, the better was his purpose served; he strove to find encouragement in the thought. The other car could make a superior showing in the way of speed, but it might stop voluntarily somewhere after a while, or something might happen to arrest its progress. The race did not always belong to the swift. He endeavored to formulate some plan as to just what he would do if he did finally manage to overtake the woman and her party, but at length ceased trying. Sufficient unto the moment were the problems thereof; he could but strive in the present. He dispelled the fear that he could not hold on much longer, and filled himself with new determination not to yield. But even as he did so, a bigger bump than any they had yet encountered jerked him abruptly from his place.
When finally he managed to collect himself and his senses and sit up uncertainly in the road, the car was far away. The snap of exploding gasolene grew faint—fainter—then ceased altogether.
IN THE NIGHT
A wayworn figure, some time thereafter, moved slowly along the deserted road, where it ran like a winding ribbon over the top of a great bluff. A sea wind, coming in varying gusts, bent low the long grass and rustled in the bushes. The moon had escaped from behind dark clouds in a stormy sky and threw its rays far and wide. They imparted a frosty sheen to the wavy surface between road and sea and brightened the thoroughfare, which, lengthening tortuously, disappeared beneath in a tangle of forest or underbrush.
Mr. Heatherbloom gazed wearily down the road, then over the grass. In the latter direction, afar, a strip of ocean lay like an argent stream flowing between the top of the bank and the horizon. Toward that illusory river he, leaving the main highway, walked in somewhat discouraged fashion. It might avail him little, so much time had elapsed, but from the edge of the bluff he would be afforded a view of the surrounding country and the topography of the coast.
A vast spread of the ocean unfolded to his gaze before he had reached the brink of the prominence. His heavy-lidded eyes, sweeping to the right, rested on a heterogeneous group of dwellings scattered well above the sands and directly below a wooded uprising of land. Myriad specks of light glimmered amid shadowy roofs. Brownville? Undoubtedly! A board walk ran along the ocean and a small pier extended like an arm over the water. On the faintly glistening sands old boats, drawn up here and there, resembled so many black footprints.
Not far from where Mr. Heatherbloom stood a path went downward, a shorter way to the village than by the road he had just left. He stared unthinkingly a moment at the narrow walk; then began mechanically to descend. A dull realization weighed on him that when he reached his destination the woman would be far away. He wondered why he had gone on, under the circumstances—why he had ever thought he stood a ghost of a chance of overtaking her? Only the hopelessness of the situation, in all its grim verity, faced him now.
The path zigzagged through the bushes. At a turn the village was lost to sight; in front was a sheer fall to the sea. As he kept on, projecting branches struck him and raising his hand to guard his face, he, tripped and almost fell. Recovering himself, he glanced down; something had caught on his shoe and he leaned over to loosen it. His fingers closed on a long strip of soft substance—a veil, the kind worn by women motoring! Mr. Heatherbloom's eyes rested on it apathetically, then with a sudden flash of interest; a faint but heavy perfume emanated from the silky filament. It was darkish in hue—brown, he should say; the Russian woman was partial to that color. The thought came to him quickly; he stood bewildered. What if it were hers? Then how had it come here, on this narrow foot-path, unless—Had the big car stopped at the top of the promontory and discharged its passengers there? But why should it have done so; for what possible reason?
He could think of none. Other women came this way—the path was not difficult. Other women wore brown veils. And yet that odd familiar fragrance—It seemed to belong to a foreign bizarre personality such as Sonia Turgeinov's.
Crushing in his palm the veil he thrust it into his pocket. He would find out more below, possibly; if she had actually passed this way. A feverish zest was born anew; the authorities were looking for her as well as for himself, he remembered. She, apparently, had so far cleverly evaded them; if he could but lead them to her he would not mind so much his own apprehension. Her presence in the locality at the same time the Nevski had been in the harbor would fairly prove the correctness of his theory of Miss Dalrymple's whereabouts. If he could now deliver the Russian woman into the hands of the law, he would have a wedge to force the powers that be to give credence to at least the material part of his story—that the prince had left port with the young girl—and to compel them to see the necessity of acting at once. That he, himself, would be held equally culpable with the woman was of no moment.
Fatigue seemed to fall from his shoulders. He went along more swiftly, inspired with new vague hopes. Down—down! The voice of the sea grew nearer; now he could hear the dull thud of the waves, then the weird whistling sounds that succeeded. Springing from a granite out-jutting to the sands, he looked eagerly, searchingly, this way and that. He saw no one. His gaze lowered and he walked from the dry to the wet strand. There he stopped, an exclamation escaping his lips.
A faint light, falling between black rocks, revealed fresh footprints on the surface of the sands, and, yes!—a long furrow—the marks of the keel of a boat. He studied the footprints closer, but without discovering signs of a woman's; only the indentations of heavy seamen's boots were in evidence. Mr. Heatherbloom experienced a keen disappointment; then felt abruptly reassured. The impress of her lighter tread had been eliminated by the men in lifting and pushing to launch the boat. Their boots had roughly kicked up the sand thereabouts.
He was fairly satisfied the woman had embarked. The seclusion of the spot favored the assumption; the fishing-boats were all either stranded, or at anchor, nearer the village. But why and whither had she gone? The ocean, in front, failed to answer the latter question, and his glance turned. On the one hand was the village; on the other, high, almost perpendicular rocks ran seaward, obscuring the view. It would not be easy to get around that point; without a boat it could not be done.
Mr. Heatherbloom began to walk briskly toward the village; the moon threw his shadow in odd bobbing motions here and there. Once he stopped abruptly; some one on the beach afar was approaching. A fisherman? Mr. Heatherbloom crouched back among the rocks, when the person came to a halt. Clinging to the shadows on the landward side of the beach the young man continued to advance, but cautiously, for a single voice might now start a general hue and cry. Beyond, closer to town, he could see other forms, small dark moving spots. Not far distant, however, lay the nearest boat; to get to her he had to expose himself to the pale glimmer. No alternative remained. He stepped quickly across the sand, reached the craft and strove to launch her. But she was clumsy and heavy, and resisted his efforts. The man, whoever he might be, was coming closer; he called out and Mr. Heatherbloom pushed and struggled more desperately—without avail! He cast a quick glance over his shoulder; the man was running toward him—his tones now rang out loudly, authoritatively. Mr. Heatherbloom did not obey that stern command to halt; instead he made a wild abrupt dash for the sea. The report of a revolver awoke the echoes and a bullet whizzed close. Recklessly he plunged into the water.
The man on the shore emptied his weapon, but with what success he could not tell. A head amid the dark waves was not easily discernible. Another and larger object, however, was plainly apparent about a hundred yards from land—a fishing-boat that swung at anchor. Would the other succeed in reaching it, for that was, no doubt, his purpose, or had one of the leaden missives told? The man, with weapon hot, waited. He scanned the water, then looked toward the town. A number of figures on the beach were hastening in his direction; from the pier afar, a naphtha put out; he could hear faintly the sound of the engine.
Suddenly, above the boat at anchor near the man on shore, a sail shot up, then fluttered and snapped in the wind. A moment later it was drawn in, the line holding the craft to the buoy slipped out, and the bow swung sharply around. Mr. Heatherbloom worked swiftly; one desire moved him—to get around that point before being overtaken—to discover what lay beyond. Then let happen what would! He reached for a line and hoisted a jib, though it was almost more canvas than his small craft could carry. She careened and plunged, throwing the spray high. He turned a quick glance back toward the naphtha. The sky had become overcast, and distant objects were not so easily discernible on the surface of the water, but he made out her lights—two! She was head on for him.
He looked steadily ahead again. The grim line of out-jutting rocks—a black shadow against the sky—exercised a weird fascination for him. He was well out in the open now where the wind blew a half-gale. His figure was wet from the sea but he felt no chill. Suddenly the hand gripping the tiller tightened, and his heart gave a great bound; then sank. Not far from that portentous point of land he saw another light—green! A boat was emerging from the big basin of water beyond. The starboard signal, set high above the waves, belonged to no small craft such as the woman had embarked in. The sight of it fitted a contingency that had flashed through his brain on the beach. The realization left him helpless now—his last opportunity was gone!
He shifted the tiller violently, recklessly. At that moment a shrill whistle from behind reminded him once more of the naphtha; he could have laughed. What was the wretched little puffing thing to him now? The single green light—that alone was the all in all. It belonged to the Nevski he was sure; for one reason or another she had but made pretense of going to sea, and, instead, had come here—to wait. The woman was on her now, and, also—The thought maddened him.
Again that piercing whistle! The naphtha was coming up fast; amid the turmoil of his thoughts he realized this vaguely. He did not wish to find himself delivered unto them yet—not just yet! A wilder recklessness seized him. Clouds sped across the heavens like gripping furies' hands; the water ran level to his boat's gunwales but he refused to ease her. All the while he was drawing nearer the single green light—a mocking light, signal of a mocking chase that had led, and could lead, to nothing. Still he went on, tossed by the waves—sport of them. He had to play the play out. Oh, to see better, to visualize to the utmost the last scene of his poignant drama of failure!
In the naphtha some one's voice belched through a megaphone; he laughed outright now. Come and get him, if they wanted him! He would give them as merry a dash as possible. His boat raced madly through the water—nearer, yet nearer the green light. Now a large dark outline loomed before him; he would have to stop, to come about in a moment, or—A great wave struck him, half filling his boat, but he did not seem to notice.
A dazzling white glow suddenly surrounded him; from the naphtha a search-light had been flashed. It fell on him fully, sprinkled over on the wild hurtling waves beyond, and just touched the side of the outgoing vessel. Mr. Heatherbloom looked toward the vessel and his pupils dilated. The light leaped into the air with the motion of the naphtha, and, in an instant was gone, but the impress of a single detail remained on his retina—of a side ladder, lowered, no doubt, for the woman, and not yet hoisted into place on the big boat.
The wildness of the sea seemed to surge through Mr. Heatherbloom's veins; he did not come about; he did not try to. Now it was too late! That ladder!—he would seize it as they swept by. Closer his boat ran; a swirl of water caught him, threw him from his course. He made a frantic effort to regain it but without avail. The big steel bow of the great boat struck and overwhelmed the little craft.
On the Nevski, the lookout forward walked slowly back and forth. Once or twice he shook his head. But a few moments before the yacht had run down a small boat, he had reported the matter, and—the Nevski had continued ahead, full speed. She had not even slackened long enough to make the usual futile pretense of extending assistance to the unfortunate occupant, or occupants. His excellency, Prince Boris, evidently did not wish, or had no time, to bother with blunderers; if they got in his way so much the worse for them. The lookout, pausing to stare once more ahead, suddenly started. Though apathetic, like most of the lower class of his countrymen, he uttered a faint guttural of surprise and peered over the bow. A voice had seemed to rise from the very seething depths of the sea. Naturally superstitious, he made the sign of the cross on his breast while tales of dead seamen who came back played through his dull fancy.
Once more he heard it—that voice that seemed to mingle with the wailing tones of the deep! The little swinging lantern beneath the bowsprit played on his bearded face as he bent farther forward, and, with growing wonder not unmixed with fear, now made out something dark clinging to one of the steel lines that ran from the projecting timber to the ship. It took the lookout a few moments to realize that this dark object that had a voice—albeit a faint one—could not be other than a recent occupant of the small boat he had seen disappear. This person must have leaped upward at the critical moment, and caught one of the taut strands upon which he had somehow managed to hoist himself and to which he now clung desperately. It was a precarious position and one that the motion of the yacht made but briefly tenable.
Satisfied that the dark object was a reality and not an unwonted visitation, the lookout began deliberately to unloosen a gasket. Moments might be eternity to the man below, but Muscovite slowness is not to be hurried. The yacht's bow poised in mid air a breathless instant; chaos seemed leaping upward toward Mr. Heatherbloom, when something—a line—struck and rubbed against his cheek. He seized and trusted himself to it eagerly. The sailor was strong; he pulled in the rope. Mr. Heatherbloom came up, but his strength was almost gone. He would have let go when iron fingers closed on his wrists, and after that he remembered no more.
He awoke in a berth in a fo'castle, and it was daylight. Through a partly-opened hatch he could see the fine spray that came over the side of the yacht. Amid misty particles touched by the sun shone a tiny segment of rainbow. This Mr. Heatherbloom watched with a kind of childish interest; then stretched himself more luxuriously on the hard bunk. It was very fine having nothing more important and arduous to do than watching prismatic hues; his thoughts floated back to long forgotten wonder-days when he had possessed that master-marvel of toys, a kaleidoscope, and on occasion had importantly permitted the golden-haired child in the big house on the top of the hill to—
The dream was abruptly dispelled by some one laying a tarry hand on his shoulder. Mr. Heatherbloom raised himself. The person had a characteristic Russian face. For a moment the young man stared at the stolid features, then looked around him. He saw the customary furnishings of such a place; hammocks, bags and chests, several of the last marked with Russian characters. A trace of color sprang to Mr. Heatherbloom's face; he realized now what boat he was actually on, and what it all meant to him. He could hardly believe, however, and continued to regard the upside down odd lettering, when the sailor, who had so unceremoniously disturbed him, motioned him to get out. Mr. Heatherbloom obeyed; he felt very stiff and somewhat light-headed, but he steadied himself against the woodwork. The sailor drew a dipperful of hot tea from a samovar and thrust it into his hand. He drank with avidity; after which the sailor made him to understand he was to follow.
The young man hesitated—a new risk confronted him. To whom would he be taken? The prince? He had once been standing in the area way of the Van Rolsen house when the nobleman had approached. Had the distinguished visitor then been so absorbed in the sight of Miss Dalrymple coming down the steps that he had utterly failed to observe the humble caretaker of canines? Possibly—and again possibly not. In the former contingency he might yet have a brief breathing-spell to think—to plan for the future, unless—There was another to reckon with—the woman he had met in the park, whose automobile he had attempted to follow. She, too, was on the boat! He had been her dupe once. Was he now to become her victim?
The young man's jaw set. There was no holding back now, however; he had to go on—and he did, with seeming indifference and bold enough step. At the top of the ladder the sailor passed him on to some one else—an officer—who led him this way and that until they reached a secluded part of the deck, where, near the rail, stood a tall dark figure, glass in hand. Until the last moment Mr. Heatherbloom had hoped it might be only the captain he would be called on to encounter, and that that august person would summarily dispose of him, ordering him somewhere out of sight, below, to work his passage in the sailors' galley, perhaps. He would have welcomed the most ignominious service to have found now a respite—to be enabled to escape discovery a little longer. But the wished-for contingency had not arisen. He faced the inevitable.
"The man, your Excellency!"
His excellency looked. He had been scanning the horizon and his expression was both moody and preoccupied. Mr. Heatherbloom bent slightly forward; his lids fell to conceal a sudden glitter in his eyes; his hand touched something hard in his pocket. If his excellency recognized him—There was one way—a last mad desperate way to serve, to save her. It would be the end-all for him, but his life was a very small thing to give to her. He did not value it greatly—that physical self that had been such an ill servant. He gazed at the prince now with veiled expectancy, his attitude seemingly relaxed, innocent of strenuosity. Would the prince's gaze flare back with a spark of remembrance? If in that tense instant it had done so, then—
But his excellency regarded Mr. Heatherbloom blankly; his eyes were emotionless.
"You mean the fellow we ran down?" The prince spoke as if irritated by the intrusion.
"The same, Excellency!" The officer stepped back. Mr. Heatherbloom did not move.
"What did you get in our way for?" The prince's voice had a metallic ring; he towered, harshly arrogant, over his uninvited passenger. "Don't you know enough to get out of the way?"
"It appears not, sir." Heatherbloom wondered at the sound of his own voice. It seemed to come, small and quiet, from so far off. His excellency had not recognized him, but was he suspicious? Maybe not. No one would be fool enough to get deliberately in the way of the fast-steaming Nevski. Small craft were numerous in the bay and accidents to them would happen. There was nothing so out of the ordinary for a big boat to run down a tiny craft. It was somewhat uncommon for any one in the wee boat to save himself, truly, but even in this feature of the present case the prince experienced but a mild interest.
"Who are you?" he said. "A fisherman?"
"Not exactly," answered Mr. Heatherbloom, "though sometimes I crab. I was crabbing yesterday."
As he spoke his gaze swept beyond to not far-distant cabin doors and windows. He and the prince were standing on the starboard side of the boat; it was this side that had faced the island when the young man had gazed down upon the yacht from the big sand-hill, and fancied he had seen—
"What am I going to do with you?" The prince seemed more out of temper now. "My crew are all Russians and I don't want any of your—" He stopped; shifting lights played ominously in his gaze; a few dissatisfied lines on his face deepened. "I didn't ask you to come aboard," he ended with an angry gesture.
"Sorry to intrude!" Mr. Heatherbloom spoke at random. "But I really couldn't help it, don't you know. No time to ask permission."
His excellency frowned. Did he suspect in these words an attempt at that insidious American humor he had often vainly endeavored to fathom? Mr. Heatherbloom gazed at him now with seemingly innocent but really very attentive eyes.
A superb specimen of over six feet of masculinity, the prince was picturesquely attired in Russian yachting-garb while a Cossack cap adorned a visage as bold and romantic as any young woman might wish to gaze upon. And gazing upon it himself—that rather stunning picture the prince presented on his own yacht—a sudden chill ran through Mr. Heatherbloom. This titled paragon refused by Miss Dalrymple? A feudal lord who made your dapper French counts and Hungarian barons appear but small fry indeed, by contrast! The light of the sea seemed suddenly to dazzle Mr. Heatherbloom. A wild thought surged through his brain. Betty Dalrymple, bewildering, confusing, made up of captivating inconsistencies, had sometimes been accused by people of a capacity for doing the wildest things. Had she for excitement—or any other reason—eloped with the prince? Were they, perhaps, married even now? He dismissed the thought quickly. All the circumstances pointed against this theory; his original one was—must be—correct.
"Well, now you are here, I suppose I've got to keep you." The prince had again spoken.
"I suppose so," said Mr. Heatherbloom absently. He was studying now the near-by cabin windows. One, with beautiful lace and glimpses of pink beyond, caught his glance.
"What can you do?" Sharply.
"Oh, a lot of things!" Had the curtain waved? His heart thumped hard—he scarcely saw the prince now.
"Not manage a sail-boat, I'm convinced." He forced himself to turn again, as through a mist was aware of his excellency's sneering countenance. "Judging from your recent performance!"
"That was hardly a fair test," Mr. Heatherbloom replied anyhow. His thoughts were keyed to a straining-point; his glance would swerve; he strove his best to control it. She was there—there—Shrouds and stays seemed to sing the words. He would have sworn he caught the flash of a white wrist.
"Why not?" Was the prince still examining, questioning him? Again a primal impulse was suppressed, though his muscles were like whipcords. He yet compelled himself to endure the ordeal. What was the query about? Ah, he remembered.